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Guidance Counsellors

Vickie Morgado – Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher

Vickie Morgado - Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher
About Vickie Morgado

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

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

Connect with Vickie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Master of Education, Curriculum Studies – Brock University

English BA – York University

Connect Conference

ISTE

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE)

Global Mentor

Nearpod PioNear

Global Goals Ambassadors – United Nations Association

National Geographic Educator Certification

Micro:bit Champion

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Vickie Morgado.

Sam Demma (00:59):

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

Vickie Morgado (02:00):

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

Sam Demma (02:21):

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

Vickie Morgado (02:28):

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

Sam Demma (03:12):

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

Vickie Morgado (03:19):

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

Sam Demma (04:18):

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

Vickie Morgado (04:29):

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

Sam Demma (05:07):

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

Vickie Morgado (05:24):

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

Vickie Morgado (06:22):

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

Sam Demma (06:34):

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

Vickie Morgado (06:47):

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

Vickie Morgado (07:34):

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

Sam Demma (08:16):

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

Vickie Morgado (08:34):

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

Sam Demma (09:37):

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

Vickie Morgado (09:57):

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

Vickie Morgado (10:47):

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

Sam Demma (11:25):

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

Vickie Morgado (11:36):

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

Vickie Morgado (12:26):

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

Sam Demma (13:07):

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

Vickie Morgado (13:34):

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

Sam Demma (14:47):

I didn’t say this. I’m

Vickie Morgado (14:48):

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

Sam Demma (15:14):

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

Vickie Morgado (15:20):

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

Vickie Morgado (16:12):

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

Sam Demma (17:25):

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

Vickie Morgado (17:32):

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

Sam Demma (17:58):

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

Vickie Morgado (18:08):

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

Sam Demma (19:27):

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

Vickie Morgado (19:33):

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

Sam Demma (20:00):

<laugh>. I’m with you. I’m with

Vickie Morgado (20:01):

You. Yeah. Okay. <laugh>

Sam Demma (20:02):

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

Vickie Morgado (20:52):

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

Sam Demma (21:48):

<laugh>.

Vickie Morgado (21:48):

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

Vickie Morgado (22:32):

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

Sam Demma (23:35):

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

Vickie Morgado (24:07):

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

Vickie Morgado (24:20):

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

Vickie Morgado (25:08):

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

Sam Demma (25:54):

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

Vickie Morgado (26:11):

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

Sam Demma (26:31):

I was like, are you the only.

Vickie Morgado (26:33):

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

Sam Demma (26:38):

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

Vickie Morgado (26:47):

Thanks. Thanks so much, Sam.

Sam Demma (26:49):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Vickie Morgado

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

Shane Beckett – Principal at Donald Young School/Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program

Shane Beckett - Principal at Donald Young School/Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program
About Shane Beckett

Shane Beckett (@MrShaneBeckett), is the Principal at Donald Young School in Emo, ON. He started his career as a teacher at Onigaming School at Onigaming FN and then moved to Fort Frances High School where he was a Physical Education teacher and a Guidance Counsellor. Six years ago he became a Vice Principal at Robert Moore School before moving to Donald Young School where he has been the Principal for the past four years.

He enjoys working with students of all ages and has really learned to enjoy leading an elementary school. Shane still coaches high school athletics (football and soccer).

Connect with Shane: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Donald Young School

Onigaming School

Fort Frances High School

Robert Moore School

Natural Helpers Program

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.


Sam Demma (00:59):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Shane Beckett. Shane is the Principal at Donald Young school in Emo, Ontario. He started his career as a teacher at, Onagaming school, in Onagaming FN, and then moved to Fort Francis high school where he was a physical education teacher and a guidance counselor. Six years ago, he became a Vice Principal at Robert Moore school before moving to Donald Young school where he has been the principal for the past four years. Shane enjoys working with students of all ages and has really learned to enjoy leading an elementary school. Shane still coaches high school athletics, along with his teaching career, coaching football and soccer. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Shane, and I will see you on the other side, Shane, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Shane Beckett (01:54):
Yeah, sure. You bet. Thanks for having me on. My name’s Shane Beckett. I’m a Principal at Donald Young school in the small town of Emo Ontario, which is about halfway between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. We’re a little rural school, K to 8 and I’m excited to be on the show.


Sam Demma (02:11):
When did you realize throughout your own journey as a student looking for careers, that education was the field for you?


Shane Beckett (02:19):
Well, I mean, for me, I guess it started, I had some you know, traumatic stuff happen as, as a kid and school was a safe place for me and teachers were kind of that inspiration. And so always growing up, those were the, those were the people I looked up to. Those were the people that made me feel safe. And so I guess it would, you know, in, in a, in a way when I was little thought about that, I wanted to aspire to be those people. And now it’s more me thinking about wanting to give that back to to kids and help motivate kids to move forward to


Sam Demma (02:48):
When you say it was your safe space, what do you think made it a safe space and those educators that contributed to you feeling that way? What did they do that helped you feel that way?


Shane Beckett (02:57):
Well, you know, what was interesting as a kid, I didn’t really know any better that things weren’t going well for me as a kid. Cause I just thought that all kids were going through the same thing as me, but now when I, when I look back at it, you know, these these teachers accepted me for who I was and for some of the behaviors I might have had at that time, didn’t single me out. Didn’t make me feel like I was any different than any of the other kids. And, you know, sometimes when I was getting into situations as a, as a young kid rebelling a bit, they you know, they’d sit and they’d listen to me. They’d they’d I guess, relate to where I was coming from. And sometimes, you know, maybe gimme the benefit of the doubt or gimme that motivational talk you know, some of that nice sports chatter. And I think some of those things really helped me to feel safe in that Mo in that moment. And then being able to have some of those teachers be involved in sports for me too, really was a, was a, was a key thing for me. I got to be around the right group of people and got to get some of that aggression and behavior out on the sports field rather than having it own in the playground.


Sam Demma (04:04):
I love it. We definitely need educators who accept human beings for who they are and hear them out and listen. And it sounds like the ones you had in your life did an amazing job at what point. So growing up, you know, you aspired to be like, like, like the educators you had, at what point did you formalize it and start making the decision to pursue the path. And from that moment forward, what did the journey look like?


Shane Beckett (04:29):
Well, so high school being an athlete and, and probably doing fairly well in, in athletics, the goal was to be a PHED teacher. That’s what I was gonna do to grow up nice. And a BU my buddy, and I mean, my best friend and I were both, that’s what we were gonna do. We were gonna grow up to be, you know, the, the high school PhysEd teachers in a way we go what was great was that we had an opportunity to do co-op placements when we were in grade 12 and I got to do the first semester and he hit the second semester doing the co-op placement in, at an elementary school with seven. And eights really helped me to realize, yeah, this is exactly what I want to do. And then my buddy, when he went into it, he’s like, man, I, I don’t like kids, like, and it was an opportunity for him to realize that rather than going through, you know, four or five years of university, and then realizing that he doesn’t like kids.


Shane Beckett (05:16):
So I’ve always kind of thought that I wanted to get into education in particular into the Fette into things and be able to coach and give back in that regards too. And co-op gave me that opportunity to really solidify. Yeah, that’s what I want to do. And then the process was really a roundabout way. I was a football player and had some looks in the states and blew up my knee and, and then bounced around a couple of schools in, in Canada and ended up at the university of Manitoba. And from there got some pretty cool exposure got to volunteer with a Paralympic sport called gold ball and took my coaching career kind of in that regards became the national coach of the, of the Paralympic team and got to travel the world. So I got some cool experiences there that helped me as a PHED teacher to learn how to adapt programs and specialized programs in that regards.


Shane Beckett (06:07):
And then PHED naturally leads it to guidance, I guess, is kind of a natural thing when you’re doing all of that coaching and you get those connections with kids and got into, got into guidance and really felt that I was making a difference in that regards, not just so much on the sports field, but now making those connections that educators had with me as a as a student. And so I never thought I’d get into being a principal. It was never something E ever, ever wanted to do. My wife gave me a little nudge and cause it was something she was aspiring to do and I thought, well, I’ll go for it and, and, and see what happens. And just as the wheels kind of kept moving it it seemed to work one of the real cool, cool moments.


Shane Beckett (06:52):
And as I said, we’re going through the show notes. I was kind of saving the story for later, but I’ll jump into it now. Yeah, please. Yeah. So I’m a, I’m a guidance counselor and I went into went to a workshop about some local resources and not resources. I’m looking you know different programs and you know, government programs, those types of things that can help kids. And I saw they did a presentation on a program called natural helpers and it’s a big program in the states and there’s some school in CA schools in Canada that run it. And this there, the mom was from thunder bay and she mentioned that there was a double suicide at the high school and this natural helpers program really helped to support the kids and get, and kind of keep school normal and, and, and rolling.


Shane Beckett (07:42):
And so I went back to my administration and said, so like, what would happen at our school if we had a double suicide? And, you know, we talked me through some of these processes. And so I started to think, you know, what would we do at the school? Then I got to go to a, an anti-bullying workshop. And it was really based on the attachment theory. And I started to see myself in a lot of the discussion that they were having, cuz as a young kid, I was I was a bully and I could see that, that connection between having a caring adult and you know, and, and that student that needs it. So I went to my vice principal at the time and I said, Hey, do I got a deal for you? You give me one section per semester and I’ll be a caring adult for for kids that are coming into the schools in particular, we were thinking grade nines at the time they’re transitioned from elementary and you know what, you go to your administrator, that’s never really gonna happen.


Shane Beckett (08:39):
And he came back to me a couple weeks later and he goes, you got it. And I said, what do you mean? I got it goes, you got it. I says, what do I do now? He goes, I don’t know, you’re the one who wanted the time . So from there we, so from there we developed, we developed this it was kind of like a, a coach for kids and then moved into natural helpers program. But as I got to talk to this vice principal a little bit more, who’s now a superintendent in our board. It, he said he never wanted to get into administration either and it, but he realized that the higher he went, the more impact he could have on kids, not necessarily that direct impact, but through programming through these types of opportunities. And I thought, you know what? I’d like to be that guy that provides that spark for a teacher who comes in and has a crazy idea and then try to fight to get that, that idea rolling. And the program, when I ran, I mean, we, we saved lives through, through those years 110%, and we can get into those stories too, if you want. But it was that, that idea of being able to give people that opportunity, like he gave to me that really did spark my move into administration.


Sam Demma (09:48):
I had a pass guest and I mentioned this a few times now who told me the best candidate for principals are teachers who don’t wanna leave the classroom. And the best candidate for superintendents are principals who don’t wanna leave administration. You know, when you love the work you’re doing so much it, it means you’re in a good position, but it, you know, if you love it and you truly enjoy it, you could probably make a bigger impact. Like you’re saying in a, in a, in a much larger way at a higher level where you’re seeing, you know, this Eagle view or bird’s eye view, as opposed to on the ground, which is still very important. They’re both extremely important jobs. You mentioned saving lives and I would love to hear maybe one of the stories that comes to mind. I think something that really inspires educators who are considering this vocation and people who are in it, who need a little reminder is a story about how a program changed the student’s life. And if it’s a serious one, absolutely changed their name just for the privacy.


Shane Beckett (10:46):
Oh yeah. I’ll leave I’ll I’ll yeah, I’ll definitely do that. So this natural helpers, program’s pretty, it is a pretty cool program because it, it basically takes kids who are naturally helping their, their peer group and it teaches them to be better helpers. So we would, we made a little tagline in our group, you helping helpers be better helpers. And so what we did is we used our school climate survey. And again, this administrator that I worked with, he moved into being the principal of the school and I said, Hey, can I get on the school climate survey? Like, I just want, I need names of kids. I, I need to know you know, it, you know, Johnny goes to Sally for all, for all of her his problems, right? Like that’s the go-to person in this group. And I need to find those 20 kids from all walks of life around the school so that we can pull them and help them be better at helping their friends, being able to see the red flags, know the resources and people to go to, and also having a contact point, like someone like myself, that they can come to and say, Hey, you know what, like this is what’s going on.


Shane Beckett (11:46):
And I need a hand on trying to fix it. So we, we got on the school climate survey and for we, we started this program where you do a, at the beginning of the school year, you do a retreat with these kids, no cell phones, no whatever. And we, we learn how to be better helpers. And some of the best moments in that retreat is around the campfire at night when these kids don’t really know each other, cuz they’re coming from all the different corners of the school, they start to share and start to become this cohesive group, which is a really cool thing. Like, you know, after two nights kids are crying cause they don’t wanna go back to school because it feels so safe to be in that group. And then we do monthly check-ins and, and training. And so one of the, one of the training pieces that we did was around teen suicide and we did kind of a modified version of safe talk and talked about the process that this is, you know, too much of a load for kids to carry.


Shane Beckett (12:44):
They need to be able to, you know be okay with their friend being upset with them, for going to an adult and saying, this is, this is too much for me. And then we worked on that process. And so where you see where it really worked was one night I got a I got a phone call from one of my students and he’s like Mr. Beckett, can I can I come see you in the morning? I said, sure. What’s going on? Oh, not, no, no big deal. We got this figured out. I, I just want to come and touch base with you. I said, sure. So the way the story went was we had two grade 12 students, overachieving kids. They weren’t necessarily friends, but they would Skype together and, and do homework together in like, you know, for you physics.


Shane Beckett (13:26):
And one of the big things we talked about with these kids is lots of times when you’re talking to your friend and they say, you know, something’s going hard. We like to come back to them with, oh yeah, we understand. Cause it’s hard for me too. And we don’t ask that, that why question. So this kid they were studying away and, and you know, one of the kids says, oh man, I’m so tired. And so rather than, you know, the student is part of my program saying, oh, I know me too. I was up late last night. He said, oh really? Why? And just like that, this kid said, well, last night I tried to end my own life. And so, wow. So now my students freaking out that he doesn’t know what to do for me. So he caught, he texts his buddy and says, Hey, what are we gonna do?


Shane Beckett (14:11):
He goes, we’re gonna go talk to Beckett in the morning. That’s what we’re gonna do. And we’ll get this all figured out. So they came in, they spoke to me, I spoke to the guidance department and the the school counselor. And without me ever talking to that student who said that they were talking about ending their own life. We got help for that student. And and got him the counseling that he needed and everything worked out a few weeks later, I ran into that student. I know he knew, I knew. And I knew that he knew that I knew and right. And so we were at I think it was an elementary Christmas concert or something. And I ran into him and I just said, Hey, you have a really good friend in Johnny. And he just smiled. And he said, yeah, I know.


Shane Beckett (14:53):
I said, are you doing okay? He goes, I’m doing great. And that’s it. I never had to talk to the student. I didn’t, but the process was in place. And we established that as part of this program. And we saved that kid’s life without me ever having to be directly involved in it. And so it just spoke so, so loudly about the importance of the program and what it was doing for kids and the awareness that these high school kids were having around those situations. So that’s the story. One, one particular story of saving a kid’s life without me directly doing it.


Sam Demma (15:22):
Tell me a little bit more about the program itself. It sounds really impactful. What does it look like? Is it something you still do in schools today? Like tell me more about


Shane Beckett (15:30):
It. Okay. Well, Matt, it’s, it’s a can program. Like I Googled it and it’s these two binders you buy for a thousand dollars, right? And then you kind of morph it into your own. It’s pretty big in the states. If you Google natural helpers, you’ll see that there’s a lot of school districts in the states that have these natural pro helpers, you know, websites and programs and whatever else, but we hadn’t seen it in our school district. Now the unfortunate part is I guess, twofold. About four years into the program, we had to work rural situation where we weren’t allowed to do extracurriculars. And so this was deemed an extracurricular. And so, because we went on retreats and we did those things. And so I wasn’t able to continue the program that one year. And the following year I switched positions and moved to as a technology coach out of the board office, cuz now I’m in the principal’s pool and all of these things and no one picked up the slack behind me.


Shane Beckett (16:26):
And so after that story, basically the program kind of died, but one of the cool things too, that it did for our high school getting on that school climate survey and let that administrator allowing me to get onto that survey. One of the questions was named two teachers that you go to. And at that point in time, I mean, sure, I had lots of hits. Okay. But that was my role. Our principal had more hits than our entire guidance department at that time. Wow. Cause our guidance department was really geared towards the academia, the post-secondary, the paperwork side of things, but not the, you know, heartfelt touchy, feely part of it. And that was an issue. But because we got that data, it, it started to morph how our guidance department looked. And so they brought in new counselors that did the academia part of it, but also then provided more of a counseling part of it on that end. And so now I feel even though at our local high school, we don’t have that program in place. We have changed the way that that pro the, the actual department runs. And so it is still a safe place and it’s a, and, and a secure place for kids to go a supportive place for kids to go. And maybe there’s not as much of a need for that natural helpers program anymore because we help change the face of that department in general. So if


Sam Demma (17:49):
That that’s awesome it makes total sense. What keeps you personally inspired and motivated with a full cup to show up and try and make a positive difference on so many young people’s lives?


Shane Beckett (18:01):
Well I have on my whiteboard at work there’s two, two quotes that, that I have on there. So that’s the first thing I see every time that I, that I walk in. And so the, the the first one is the good is the enemy of great and the sports kind of quotes that I’ve used when coaching, but it works for school as well. And it’s that idea of if things are going well and things are good, we’re afraid to make changes because we don’t wanna wreck good. Right. But we’ll never get to great unless we make those changes. So being able to just kind of see that and remember that when staff is coming in and saying, Hey, I’ve got this idea or when students are coming in and, and having ideas for clubs or those types of things, like being willing to be flexible enough to make some changes, because things are going well at our school, but we’ll never get to great unless we make some changes.


Shane Beckett (18:52):
And then the other quote that I have up there that we developed as part of my coaching is the ABCs of win. And so ABC is anything but chance and win is what’s important now. So what’s important now is anything but chance. So there was one thing that I used a lot in my counseling with kids too, is like, let’s not leave it to a coin flip and say like, am I gonna have a good day heads or tails? Let’s let’s do all we can right now, so that we’re not leaving it to chance that, you know, so it’s that kind of proactive approach and that, that empowering approach too, that I, it, it’s not just chance that life doesn’t happen to me. I happen to life. And so those are two things that every day I see up on my boards, that help to inspire me when working with kids or working with teachers.


Sam Demma (19:34):
I love that being a sport, having a sport background, my myself also blowing out my knees and my senior year of high school and having three surgeries losing out on a full ride scholarship to Memphis, Tennessee, like, oh, awesome. We have some similarities. That proactive mindset I think is so important. What resources have you found helpful in terms of your own professional development and learning? That’s helped you in education that you kind of proactively Seeked out and maybe it’s well, you shared one, which is a natural helpers course, which is amazing. Yeah. And people can definitely check that out, but I’m wondering if there’s any other philosophies, people, you follow books, courses, things that you’ve been exposed to throughout your career that you really resonated with or found helpful.


Shane Beckett (20:22):
Well, you know, it’s that’s a tough question as far as resources. Yeah. But not much of a reader. Like that’s just not my jam. And I think that if I was to write the literacy test right now that I’d have a difficult time passing a literacy test, just cuz it’s not, not my thing, but it, I mean, I’d use that as an inspiration too, because I have other skills that allow me to get to where I am. Like I don’t have to have that skill. I can use, you know, Grammarly to help me do my writing and, and that type of thing. So not much of a reader, but it’s I mean, learning from the kids really has been a big resource for me and actually sitting and, and listening to them. And then what’s been really empowering for me too, is when you’re in the high school and you’re teaching and now we’re in a small town and I see those kids that I didn’t know, I made an impact with that now, you know they’re running the local gym and my kid’s now going to that gym.


Shane Beckett (21:14):
I know you can sit back and say, Hey, you know, Mr. Beckett, like it was a really big deal when, when this happened and, and learning, learning in some of those decision points that, that I made, whether I went the right way or the wrong way, it’s been a real valuable, valuable lesson for me. So it’s that, that reflection part. And then my brother-in-law, who’s younger than me and wise, beyond his years has really got me thinking into those, you know, Shiism and some of those types of things and, and the, the power of being in the now, you know, and being the master of your own destiny. And those are some really big things for me. And then, geez, now you’re gonna put me on the spot. I don’t know the name of this newsletter. I, I, I subscribed to one newsletter, man. No worries, but it’s, but it’s a leadership, it’s a leadership newsletter that has a sports reflection on it. Nice. So it talks about, you know, bill Belichick and, and how he does this with his players to motivate them. And it’s a quick little snippet, you know, once a week kind of a hit. And so that resonates with me because it’s sports leaders and then being able to learn from their leader leadership abilities and bring that back into the school.


Sam Demma (22:21):
Love it. I love it. And it sounds like you’ve had some great experiences learning from the students themselves. I’m sure you’ve probably also had great experiences learning from colleagues, whether it’s other principals you’ve worked with even teachers you’ve worked with. I think if you approach every situation with an open mind, knowing that you can learn something from every person you meet, you grab a lesson from anything you experience, which is really empowering.


Shane Beckett (22:50):
Yeah, absolutely. Like, like talk about this superintendent that we have now. Like I’ve just learned so much from him in where he inspired me by giving me that opportunity to then talking to me about being able to be a, a bigger impact, the higher you go, the less direct and the less of those like interactions, but then at the same time, being able to provide those opportunities. It’s, it’s people like that. And it’s nice to be able to, again, in a small town, be able to have that opportunity to go back to him and say, Hey, I want you to know the impact that you had on me. And the reason I am where I am today is because of some of the things you did for me, whether you knew you were doing it for me or not.


Sam Demma (23:29):
I love it. What if you could go back to your first year in education, what advice or feedback would you have given to your younger self that you think would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting and not that you would tell yourself anything to change your path, but advice you think that would be helpful for someone who’s just considering getting into education or that you would’ve liked to have heard more of when you were just starting?


Shane Beckett (23:56):
Well, I mean, I think some of the, some of the mistakes I made in my first year was trying to be friends with the students rather than friendly with the students. Mm. And it, and it’s tricky when you’re, when you’re coaching and you’re teaching PHED it’s that different environment. Right. But I think sometimes being young and being new and teaching 18 year olds, it’s it, it’s hard to differentiate, differentiate that. And I made the mistake, I think a few times of thinking that you know, being friends and then we’d do the right thing and then it wouldn’t come back to bite me did come back to bite me. Like I had some early times in my career where I got written up by administration because of the decisions that I made that I, you know, and maybe being a little bit too open and honest with, with my students where, because I’m thinking more of the friend line than I am, you know, that, that separation between teacher and whatever.


Shane Beckett (24:52):
So learning some of those things. And the, the other thing too, was really that the face to face communication, some, you know, earlier in my career as a athletic director, you know, sending the email rather than talking to the person, you know, and the way that you text on a page can be misread or misunderstood or tone can be misunderstood. And not having that face to face or even the phone call where the tone of voice can, can come in. And one thing I learned from teaching career studies as part of my high school career was that seven per 7% of your message comes from the words that are said, and the other 93% comes from your tone of voice in your body language. And so the words on the page just don’t do enough. So that was one thing I really learned too, is sometimes you need to have that face to face, even if it’s not the diff the, you know, the challenging conversation, it may end up being a challenging conversation because of the way that people read, read the words on the screen.


Sam Demma (25:52):
Something one of my mentors always tells me is people will interpret your written words, whether email or text based on the emotional state that they’re currently in. Yeah. If someone is really upset and it has nothing to do with you, they’ll open your email and read it from a more upset lens or a frustrated lens. And yeah, you’re absolutely right. I even think about a recent situation where I had to break bad news to somebody in my life. And I was thinking about writing an email and then I thought to myself, no way, cuz this could be interpreted in so many different ways. And you know, you take that time and that at first, what feels like an uncomfortable situation to have the phone call and have the real time conversation. How did you get over those situations where you knew making the phone call was the right decision? Although it was uncomfortable, you know, you do it anyway.


Shane Beckett (26:43):
Well, I, one, there was something that I read somewhere. I think my quote unquote online boyfriend is Tim Ferris back in the day. And some of the things that he would talk about in his podcast or some of the readings that I would do was challenge himself to be an INCOM uncomfortable situations every day. You know, if it’s walking in the mall and making eye contacts with someone and playing chicken with eye contact, who’s the first person to look away. It’s not gonna be any sort of conflict with that person, but it’s challenging you to feel uncomfortable and be okay with that. And so having some of those moments where you it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, it helps you then to make that move. And then ultimately it’s experience like you, you just gotta bite the bullet and do the first one, then the second one’s easier.


Shane Beckett (27:29):
Right. And then the third one’s easier. And then I guess finally being prepared sometimes for those difficult and challenging conversations. The little piece of advice we, we did a, when I first got into the leadership pool, we did a a workshop on challenging conversations. And I can’t remember who the author was. I’ve got the book at the school, but I’ve opened it one time and it was for a challenging conversation and it was to look at it. But in there it really did lay out how to set up yourself for that challenging conversation. And then the piece of advice that she gave. And I’m a softie, I’m an emotional guy and very quick to like even move the tears when I’m feeling challenged. Her suggestion was to spin her up when you’re in that situation. And so what, and so we asked what that meant and she said like, if you literally, and like spanked her up, like puck her up the bottom end there it’ll actually make it biologically almost impossible to cry. And so by like squeezing your cheeks, like that’ll take that opportunity that, that, you know, it removes that from you. And so I’ve actually tried that a couple times and it works. So hopefully I don’t make a face when I do it so that the other person on the other end knows that I’m doing that. But some of the, you know, you need some little, little tips and tricks to be ready to have those things. And so being prepared for the challenging conversation is, is definitely a big one too.


Sam Demma (28:54):
I love that. That’s a cool, it sounds like an awesome book. I definitely want you to email it over when you go back to school. I’d love to include it in the show notes. This has been a, a great conversation. I appreciate you taking the time this evening to hop on here and chat. If someone wants to have a conversation with you, reach out, ask a question, bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to get in touch.


Shane Beckett (29:14):
Well, I’m, I am on Twitter. So it’s @MrShaneBeckett, just as it is with two ts at the end. Sometimes people make that mistake and I mean, I’ll fire up my email. That’s fine too. So it’s basically my name, shane.beckett.rrdsb.com. Yeah. And I’m, I’m always available to chat, to try to figure things out to bounce ideas off one another. It only makes us better in the long run.


Sam Demma (29:42):
Awesome. Shane, thank you again for doing this. I appreciate you. Keep up the great work you’re doing in education and we’ll talk soon.


Shane Beckett (29:49):
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much, Sam. It’s been a, it’s been a lot of fun. Thanks.


Sam Demma (29:52):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Shane Beckett

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

Karen O’Brien – Re-Engagement Counsellor

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Karen: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board

Western University – Bachelors of Education

Book Clubs in Ontario

Google Hangouts Guide for Teachers

The Transcript

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (17:55):
Were good from


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Karen O’Brien

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

Lara Spiers – Secondary Vice-Principal at Durham Catholic District School Board

Lara Spiers – Secondary Vice-Principal at Durham Catholic District School Board
About Lara Spiers

Lara (@MrsLSpiers) is a secondary school educator and administrator. She is the secondary vice-principal at Durham Catholic District School Board. She taught me (Sam) when I was in high school! She has her Master of Education – MEd focused in Educational Leadership and Policy Development from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.

Her passions include Analytical Skills, E-Learning, Student Counseling, Critical Thinking, and Social Justice Pedagogy.

Connect with Lara: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Durham Catholic District School Board

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

George Couros’ “Innovator’s Mindest”

Kristin Souers and Pete Hall’s “Fostering Resilient Learners”

Tony Robbins

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. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview Lara Spiers. Our guest today was one of my high school teachers. We haven’t stayed in touch as much, although it was a breath of fresh air to have a conversation with her on the podcast. She is now a vice principal at a Secondary School Catholic school out in Whitby, Ontario.


Sam Demma (01:04):

And she’s in the midst of completing her masters of education, which is focused in educational leadership and policy development from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. She is super passionate about e-learning student counseling, critical thinking, social justice and philosophy slash religion. And I’m super excited to dive into a bunch of different topics on today’s conversation. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed the conversation and I will see you on the other side, Lara, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. You know, it started from sitting in your religion class or English class religion, religion.


Lara Spiers (01:48):

It was religion. I’ll never forget it.


Sam Demma (01:50):

I’m already outdating myself already forgetting about high school.


Lara Spiers (01:53):

I’ll ever forget you. No, not really. I, I remember that you had brought in cake, I think your mom had made banana bread or, or something along those lines for my birthday. No. And I just thought that that was so classy and delicious. So that’s my favorite things.


Sam Demma (02:06):

No, I love that. Well, why don’t you start by introducing yourself, just sharing a little bit about, you know, how you got into the role you’re in education right now. And where that, where that spark or desire came from to be a teacher?


Lara Spiers (02:19):

It’s a loaded question, but I’ll try. So this I’ve been in education for about 15 years or 16 years and it wasn’t really something that I always wanted to do to, you know, to be Frank. I always saw myself in law, I really enjoyed thinking about, you know, ethics and morality and right and wrong. And I thought that I would be kind of one of those crusaders always in defense. Right. Never impressed. But as I got closer to the actual, I even applied to, I took the LSATs and I applied to law schools. And, and as I was going through the application process is when I actually started thinking about the type of life that I wanted to lead. So Le less about the ideas and more about the actual results, right? The fruit of the labor.


Lara Spiers (03:06):

And I realized, and I was holding both acceptances in my hand, right? One for Osgood, one for U of T or OISE. And I realized that the one path was, you know, what I had always wanted, but it wasn’t the actual life that I wanted to lead. It was what I wanted as a child. And I realized as I was aging, that, you know, it wouldn’t be as meaningful as a life dedicated to the service of others. So that’s why I chose teaching cuz that’s exactly what I consider teaching to be. You know, I’m not strong enough to to start a nonprofit. I’m not going to green peace or I’m probably not saving any whales, you know, or, or golfing. I won’t intentionally hurt them, but I, this is, this is my contribution to the world. I, I firmly believe it right through education.


Lara Spiers (03:52):

So that, that is what drives me. And and now this year I’m in a different role, I’m vice principal at a, a high school. And I see that as an extension, that’s the reason I wanted to move out of the classroom and into, you know, this sphere was really to exert that influence whatever positive kind of change or that I could possibly bring to as many kids as possible. Right. So onwards and upwards. I mean to, if you’ve got it, you gotta give it. Yeah, no it’s talent, everyone. It’s so true. That’s, that’s the name of the game?


Sam Demma (04:27):

What, what sparked the desire to teach though when you were in that moment, holding both acceptance letters, bring back, you know, if it wasn’t, if it wasn’t law, how come it wasn’t something totally outside of teaching? Like why a teacher specifically?


Lara Spiers (04:43):

Well, because that’s the best way to change the world. Mm. The best way to change the world is to, is to educate the youth. And the best way to enact positive social change is to make sure that those values are transmitted through the next generation. So parenting is one of the most important jobs that they is one of the hardest and one of the most important. Yeah. And and you’ll know that one day, you know, I hope and and then teaching teaching is the next year in local parentis. You’re, you’re the parent substitute for those children. And even if you’re a teenager, you’re still a child, right. Sorry, sorry. I left true. And you know, it’s a huge responsibility, but with great, you know, work with great effort comes great reward. And the reward for me is like, even the fact that I’m sitting here today, having this chat with you, right. I didn’t I’m not taking, you know, credit for your goodness and your, you know, greatness, but I was a part of your story. And I think that that’s quite something, you know.


Sam Demma (05:44):

True story. Yeah. It’s and, and you’re a part of student stories who you might even never hear from again. And they could have had a hu you know, you could have had a huge impact on them. I find it really funny, but I find it makes sense that when I reach out to educators and I ask them to come on the show, I always get a couple of responses, you know, first being, no, why do you wanna talk to me? And, and second, usually being, I don’t wanna talk about myself. And, and I realize that like every educator says it, but it’s because the work that they do day in and day out to them becomes so natural, so normal. And they almost get this curse of knowledge where the things that they might have and possess that might be beneficial to others. They just think are normal things that everyone knows.


Lara Spiers (06:30):

That’s very astute, you know, that’s, that’s a, I, I think you’re absolutely right. The curse of knowledge well is being for sure. I mean, as Socrates said, right, the, the truly educated man knows that he knows nothing, nothing. Right? Like it, the more, you know, the more you become aware of how little, you know, right. And that’s also true that that comes from lifelong learning. That’s not, I don’t think that’s just for educators, but I personally am a strong advocate for you know, self improvement and betterment and learning and knowledge and all that good stuff. Right. Because that’s how that shapes your perspective of the world and other people. And that lets you kind of see the path that lays before you. Right. I think that’s the only way. Also why history is so important too, because you have to check out the trails that other people have left before you.


Lara Spiers (07:16):

Right. I think all, it all comes down to really humility. If you have the virtue of humility, then you have a sense that you’re just like a little bit, like you’re a piece you’re a grain of sand and it’s really mind blowing to think about it that way. Like, if you think about your experience in your life as being just a, you know, a, like such a small part of, of kind of the universe and you know, that’s the sort of thing I think about all the time. It’s like, and that’s probably why for me anyway, I don’t wanna talk about myself and well, I’m so great. You know, I’m a great teacher because you know, again, who that question, who am I right? Who am I? And I struggled with that a lot, actually the first few years of teaching, especially you know, this impart of knowledge, decider of grades, you know, like you’re, you know, you pass, you fail, you know, it’s like a gladiator, you know, like yeah.


Lara Spiers (08:11):

Thumbs up, thumbs down. But I’ve come to terms with that. Like I got the more you become familiar or accustomed to kind of being that helper. You stop seeing yourself as less of like a Sage, you know, Sage on the Sage and then your guide on the side. Yeah. That we can all be that we can all be a guide on the side. Right. And I’m not gonna have all the answers for you, certainly not today and not in the classroom either. Right. But that’s because the answers are all always, there are always more questions than answers and that’s part of the fun.


Sam Demma (08:44):

Tell me more about what helped you shift your mindset. Now I can tell you a crazy story right now. Like when I first started speaking in schools, I used to post a picture at every school saying, look at me how great I am speaking at a school. And you know, I turned 21 and I sat myself down and had like an honest reflection on my social, social media usage and the way I was putting myself out there. And I just decided, like, I don’t think this is helpful to the young people that I’m speaking to. Like they’re looking at these pictures, probably thinking, I don’t know if I can ever speak on a stage in front of 500 people that makes to me nervous. And, and so I stopped posting all that stuff. And in fact, I’ve been taking a social media break aside from Twitter, which a girl named Rachel helps me manage. And I haven’t posted anything in the past like five months. And I’m trying to make that shift from Sage on a stage to a guide. Right. The helpful guide. And I’m curious to know kind of what helped you make that shift when you were of starting your teaching journey?


Lara Spiers (09:37):

Well, it wasn’t, I think a lot of, a lot of it really came down to this board I had from other teachers, like the teachers have been there longer than me. I know you’ve spoken about Mr. Loud foot quite a lot in the past, right? Yeah. He was, I worked with him at St. Mary. He, we were in the same department, Mr. Eck. Miss Menardi, who’s still there Mr. Val Aaron shadow. Mr. V shadow. Mr. V. Well, these are the people that you know, I maybe it’s like this for other careers. I don’t know, but certainly in education it can be a lonely job, you know, you think you’re always kind of surrounded by by people or by kids, but it’s isolating, it’s very isolating. And I think a lot of people are struggling with that very much so now. But if you’re lucky, like I was you’ll have, excuse me, you’ll have the support of people that not only maybe have a lot more wisdom than you do, but are willing to share it. So that was what got me through definitely those first few years, like, you know, I’m thinking back now and it feels a lifetime ago to be honest, but I, I am constantly every step I take. I, I know that I’m doing so because of the support I had of those colleagues of mine.


Sam Demma (10:47):

Oh, that’s awesome. And for an educator who might be just starting to teach now, it might be a little, it’s scary. It might be a little different, but do you have any P of wisdom that you could share with someone who’s just starting now?


Lara Spiers (11:01):

No. No. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Like, it’s, it’s the ones that it’s those individuals and I think this is translatable across profession. If you act like, you know, everything or you’re, you’re kind of in that frame of mind where you have perfected your in ever you know, it’s, you’re the furthest thing from it. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s like an oxymoron right. Of sorts. It’s a, it’s that humility piece, but it’s also just reality that, you know, we are not going to be able to you know, invent fire alone. Right? Yeah. We’re not going to be able to move mountains alone. They can be moved even though it’s these tasks seem Herculean and impossible, but but they’re not in community, in you know, a consortium of individuals working together, figuring out best practices. Like the only thing I actually just wrote for our yearbook, I don’t wanna give too much away cuz you know, the kids are gonna read it in the fall. But I, I had to write like a message of support and kind of words of wisdom. And I, they probably were only asking for like a line.


Lara Spiers (12:10):

Yeah. I did actually wrote an essay about how the heck I’m gonna tell you about how you want to embrace failure, how to, you know, lower your expectations because the root of all disappointment in life comes from high expectations. And if you are constantly expecting perfection of yourself, of others, of the world, then you are inevitably invariably disappointed. And sometimes that disappointment is like a, a small word. Like sometimes you are traumatized, you’re, you’re torn, you’re you’re done. Right. Because you think, oh my gosh, things are not the way I thought they would be. My life is over my life is ruined. I stink, you know, I’ll never get it. Yeah. And it’s, it’s Ugh, awful. Like it’s a very normal human feeling it’s natural and it takes effort to really get yourself out of that mindset. But that’s something that I’ve been, I’ve strive driven to do you know, over the years.


Lara Spiers (13:05):

And I think when you teach religion and you know, I have a background in philosophy that helps, right. And a lot philosophy, you know, some people are, you’re feel philosophical or you’re not right. So I guess I am. But it, it really is about kind of reframing your expectations of, of who you are and what you want and how you’re gonna get there. And it doesn’t mean settling for less. It, it doesn’t mean like accepting that you’ll, you’ll be a failure. It means seeing that failure as actually just in the road. Right. And I, and I think, you know what I mean? Right. In terms of having a path and then the path changes. And does that mean because I’ve taken a different road, does that mean I’m never gonna get to my destination? Well, maybe you’ll get to a different destination, but I mean the car doesn’t stop moving. Yep. We don’t stop living and we don’t stop growing if we, if we choose to keep our mind open and we choose to keep learning.


Sam Demma (13:58):

No, it’s so true. And I think you’re right. Our, our expectations either make us happy or disappointed dependent on the result that occurs. I think what’s really cool. Is that in any specific scenario or situation, we get to choose what we perceive as real. Like we get to, we get to choose our perception, which, you know, Mike, Latford always used to say your perception is your reality. And we would, we all, didn’t get it back when we were in high school. And that can be dangerous though.


Lara Spiers (14:24):

Yeah. You have to, you have to watch with that. Right. Because what you’re talking about.


Sam Demma (14:28):

Oh, I totally, I totally agree.


Lara Spiers (14:31):

Right. Right. Cause certain, sometimes that can be used to twist in bad ways.


Sam Demma (14:34):

Yeah.


Lara Spiers (14:36):

Right. Just look to our neighbors in the south. Yep. And you know, we’ll say no more, cuz this is not a political podcast. Yeah. We’ll talk about another time. Very true perception, reality. Right. I can choose to see this 75 as, you know, a great mark or I can choose to see it as a disaster. Yeah. And I mean, there are students I talk to and, you know, always have as a teacher, but maybe even more so now as an admin students and parents who are devastated by receiving like an eight, like an 80, 85, you know, this is this won’t do, you know, and, and looking outward, looking like who to blame, what, what, how can I fix this? And that’s the sort of thing that you can’t really fix. Like, well, you can’t fix it. I can’t fix it for you them because it requires that shift from within.


Sam Demma (15:26):

Yeah. They have to change what they believe is success or yeah. You mean, yeah. So it’s so, so true. How do you manage to differentiate between expecting a lot out of a student that, you know, has a ton of potential and not being disappointed if they don’t fulfill it or if they, you know, over exceed? Like I know that there’s a difference there talking?


Lara Spiers (15:46):

About like my own children now at home, because I totally could translate there and even of ourselves, yeah. Right. That’s, that’s towing the line. It’s it’s a daily adjustment. It’s a minute by minute adjustment, to be honest, it’s not like you can find the formula of expectation versus reality and say, oh, there it is. I’m done. You know, I will live in bliss forever more. Days I think anyone, one who’s trying to do anything. Like I’ve never really been into sports, let’s say, but I, but I played the piano for many years. Like I took lessons for about 15 years and the musical, like I’ve never been as nervous as I had to be when I had to play the piano. Like if I had a concert or I had a competition, oh my goodness. Like still to this day, like that was just the, the height of nerves.


Lara Spiers (16:34):

And I imagine that that’s the case even for the most seasoned of professionals. Right. And and athletes and what have you, because those performances, you can practice a million times, right? Yeah. And you get better of course. Right. And you do become more seasoned, however, game time, never know, right. Like that it’s you win or you lose or you fall or you make it like it’s it’s not in our control. So I don’t think I have, I don’t think I, I manage my expectations perfectly all the time. Right. I think I’m constantly reevaluating. Like I tend to spend a lot of time reflecting and I think most teachers good teachers, they do are, they’re constantly reflecting on their practice, on their lessons. How did that go? The way I expected it to go, what will I adjust for next time?


Lara Spiers (17:24):

And the good thing about teaching is that you do to like, in a way you do kind of get to relive the experiences, right? Like yeah. Each master each year, you, you get kind of fresh starts, you know? And, and we get used to a new new school year and new classes, new kids. Right. And the good teachers, I think there are not just living the same year over and over and over. Like, I read a good quote one time and don’t ask me who it was. I don’t remember. But it was like, you could have 20 years of experience, but you could be reliving the same year, 20 times. Right. Are you really improving or are you recycling? Mm. Recycling is good, but not in this case. Right. Like, you know it’s important. It’s important to be reflective. And I tend to do that every single day. Whether I’m conscious of it or not, you know, I don’t necessarily journal. I know people journal and they love it. I think I would love it. But even if you just do it informally with yourself, right. How did that work out? Was that what I expected to happen? What could I change for next time and just honing your, your practice, right. Teaching practice, but like life practice, so true. And that’s, you know, that’s what we’re all doing. We’re all figuring it out. We’ve never lived this day before.


Sam Demma (18:42):

Yeah, no, it’s, it’s so true. When I first started speaking one of the, one of the first mentors I made his name’s Chris and he’s in his fifties and he’s been for 20 years, he told me, get yourself a notebook. And after every presentation you give, make three columns, the first one says add, if you, if you said something that you didn’t expect, you were gonna say, and the students loved it. And it was a really great point. You write it down to make sure you include it next time. Third second column said change. Maybe you worded something really poorly. And it was taken outta context. You have to, you know, readjust what you’re gonna say next time. And then the third column is remove if you, you know, crack a terrible joke and nobody laughs and you’re gonna take that out of the presentation. Yeah. And after doing the work a hundred times to a hundred different schools, by being proactive in reflecting and giving all feedback, the presentation looks totally different. And I would say it’s probably the same with, with teaching. I’m missing like every year or after each lesson, a teacher would sit down and kind of go through a similar exercise again.


Lara Spiers (19:41):

I would hope like this is what a good teacher would do. This is what a good practitioner would do. Just like a doctor, like the things, think of things that they call practice. Like that’s why I mentioned like earlier, right. Cuz you’re practicing and performing teachers are performing right. And practicing medicine. You’re practicing medicine. Yeah. Because there is no definitive static answer that will be a one size fits all or one, one cure. All right. It’s a constant re reimagining reinvigoration. You’re constantly learning. You’re going to seminars. You’re adapting based on demographics. You’re adapting based on economics. You’re adapting based on COVID. Yeah. You know, and who knew who thought we would have to adapt in the way that we have, like we’re all Gumby. Right. We’re all in.


Lara Spiers (20:30):

And that’s and that’s what we do. Like that’s called survival of the fittest, so to speak, it’s very Darwinian. Yeah. You know, but it’s, it’s, we’re evolving as we speak. I honestly do feel that way. Like it’s, it’s imperceptible of course. Right. But, but we have evolved as a society. And we only track that, you know, by looking back of course. Right. But I think in the last year we’ve had a huge leap in our advancement, in our evolution, in our technological advancement because of our our situation and our challenges. So that’s, that’s the bright side of of having, for having yourself kind of be in a situation that you didn’t really want. You know, like the like COVID and et cetera, but also working together with the people around you and, and finding your way through and seeing the, seeing the silver lining and the, the hope and the love of others. Yeah. And really the rise in solidarity.


Sam Demma (21:27):

Yeah. I think honestly there was a couple months where I felt super isolated and alone when COVID first hit, but I have to agree with you as it progressed, things have like totally changed. And again, if I was always looking at the negative sides of the, the issue, I would’ve always felt those emotions, but I started looking at the great things that were happening because of it. And I, I changed how I felt about it as well. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still crazy. And there’s so many, yeah. There’s so many struggles, you know.


Lara Spiers (21:57):

But just from, from a teacher’s perspective, like, you know, we we’ve advanced cuz cuz people are generally slow to change. Right. Institutions especially are slow to change. Right. Like look at the churches for instance. Right. And that’s what we like about them. Right. If institutions change too rapidly, then we would lose our grounding you know, in society. Right. We’d kind of fly off the, the planet. But this has forced, like I said, you know, that that evolution in thinking we’ve, we’ve been forced to reimagine our practices and it’s been like, like PD, do you know what PD like professional development? Yeah. It’s been like a year of PD for every day. All day. Everyone. Yeah. Like even those. So like I’m a nerd, right. I always like to learn and read and yeah. You know, kind of, oh, look what they’re doing over here, you know?


Lara Spiers (22:42):

But not everybody is, is that way. And I understand, but this has kind of thrusted upon us where I think across the board we’ve seen the, the highest kind of rates of, I, I don’t wanna, I’m hesitant to use the word improvement, but of change we’ll say change. Right. Innovation, innovation. Yeah, that’s right. That’s one of my favorite books for teachers is called the innovators mindset and it’s and it’s great. It’s by George Couros. Oh cool. And he’s got he’s got wonderful ideas about how to change cultures in the school and, and how to like adopt best practices and, and use the word out there. And that’s probably one of my greatest sources of inspiration of inspiration for my current job. Yeah.


Sam Demma (23:27):

Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. Shout out. Maybe we get, we post the episode and maybe he’ll he’ll listen to it.


Lara Spiers (23:34):

Go. He has a podcast as well.


Sam Demma (23:36):

Oh, very cool. That’s awesome. On the topic of books and being a nerd, what are some other books or resources that you’ve read that have reshaped some of your thinking about how you’ve done your work or that you’ve pulled inspiration from?


Lara Spiers (23:50):

Okay, well just recently, I mean, I’ve read a few books over the summer. I read a book called fostering resilient learners, which was very inspiring in the sense of, you know, kind of seeing seeing people through the lens of trauma informed approach. And and that’s something I don’t think we all always think about as teachers, we tend to kind of, some of us can focus too much maybe on the curriculum itself, which is very important, however, not as important as the per the human being in front of you. So that’s my own, that’s my personal philosophy, which is backed up by, you know, science and and definitely, you know, from a mental wellness perspective. So trauma informed thinking I, I was reading a lot of information about culturally relevant pedo pedagogy. Geez, I’m getting tongue tied here.


Lara Spiers (24:38):

There’s a lot of words. Yes. Culturally relevant pedagogy, which is a relatively new field with critical race theory. And it’s again, reframing the narrative that we have been telling ourselves as, you know, me a, a white individual for, you know, an entire lifetime. Right. And it’s again, perspective taking right. It’s one of the, one of the most difficult things to do is to not have sympathy for others, but yet to actually have true empathy. And we use that word, like it gets used so much, right. Empathy empathize, but what it really means is, is quite difficult. Right. It’s quite difficult to actually see, you know, a scenario from another person’s perspective. And even when we try, we’re not actually going to do it, like there’s no way we will never match or mirror another person’s experience and history and feelings and sentiments. Right.


Lara Spiers (25:30):

Doesn’t mean that we don’t, that the endeavor is not necessary. Right. So the last book, the book that I read most recently over the summer that was along those lines was called white fragility. And it was like, it was so good. It was, have you read that book? I just started it. Oh, wonderful. Yeah. Well, there is a part cuz Sam, you know, we share the the Italian background, right? Yeah. There was one part there, especially that I found so actually practically useful because I’ve had you know, I grew up kind of sharing my my learning with my parents and I’m an only child. So, you know, I had nobody, I told my friend and what have you, but my parents were the prime depots for whatever I was learning in school that week. And so, you know, in university it’s like, don’t stop talking about philosophy all the time.


Lara Spiers (26:19):

We think you’re a psychologist, you know, because I would take psychology. Yeah. And then I became a teacher stop talking to me like, I’m one of your students you know, over the years and older Italian people, you know, generally have particular particular ideas and I don’t wanna stereotype them all. But you know, the older generation in general is, is not as attuned to 21st century social politics, right. Like, you know, as we are, that’s just the fact. So I’ve been, it’s been my mission to kind of move them along in the spectrum. Right. And yeah. Even use words like spectrum with, with regarding like, you know, sexuality and human experience and yeah. And racism. And my mother for years has insisted that you know, Italians faced a lot of racism, a lot of discrimination in the fifties and which they did. Right. But there’s a, there’s a part in the book that really frames that experience in the, in the, and compares it to anti-black racism of today in such a where it’s like, you know what guys? No, it’s not the same.


Sam Demma (27:26):

Yeah. It’s not, it’s not the same apples and oranges.


Lara Spiers (27:29):

Exactly. I mean, they’re both fruits, you know, let’s steal from my big fat Greek wedding now. Right. We’re both, but which I showed you in grade 10 religion, by the way. Yeah. I remember. But yeah, it’s not the same, so it’s, that’s okay. And it’s okay. Not to be sure. And it’s okay not to understand and it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to say, you know, I’m learning and it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to, you know, move on from them. So yeah.


Sam Demma (27:55):

All those so good. So such a good, such a good lessons to take home.


Lara Spiers (28:01):

I’m cooling you. No, no, it’s, it’s not, not like that. It’s just it’s I think we should be always helping each other. Like, it doesn’t matter that, you know, the fact that I’m a teacher or the fact that I’m, whoever, you know, is, is helpful, I guess. Right. Because at least you can, you know, you know, to trust what the person is saying, right. If it’s like, they’re a P they have a PhD and, or they’re an expert in their field, but they don’t have all the answers.


Sam Demma (28:24):

No one does. No one does. I think it’s just important. I think it’s important that we all be like aunt. And this is an interesting analogy I heard, but there’s you probably know him, Jim Rowan. He’s like a he’s passed away now. He was one of the early mentors of like Tony Robbins. Who’s like all into like self-help and personal development. And he said, this analogy, Jen, one of his tapes, you know, he had tapes back in the day. This just outdates me a lot. But one of his young, I dunno.


Lara Spiers (28:54):

What are these tapes you speak of?


Sam Demma (28:55):

Yeah. In one of, in one of his tapes, he was talking about being like an aunt and he said, you know, and when an aunt is carrying a piece of food or doing a job, it doesn’t it. And stop. If you step in its way, it’ll just go around your shoe or it’ll find a new path. And I think like that’s important for anyone, whether you’re a teacher or any, any person working any job, it’s like, you know, you might, you might hit a brick wall and then you’re gonna have to find a different way around it, but don’t drop the food and just call it a day, you know, figure it out, find, find a different answer, ask somebody or help read another book, gain a different perspective.


Lara Spiers (29:30):

That’s one of the single most important pieces of advice. I think you can give people, read a book. Mm. Read, read, read, and make sure that you read a variety of sources. Yeah. Right. If you don’t wanna read a physical book, get a knee reader, I don’t care, but I need a book. You need, you need that knowledge. Right. That that’s the only way that’s literally the only way it’s like expecting to be a chef, but you don’t wanna touch food. Mm it’s not gonna happen. Yeah. Right. You need, you need the raw dough to make the pizza pie. You know, you, you need the information so that you know how to feel about certain things, what, what to adopt, what practices to adopt, what, what ideas to dismiss. Right. And we, we’re so quick, you know, ideas to teach world religions for a long time.


Lara Spiers (30:12):

And and also just, you know ethics, but we’re so quick to rely on our gut feeling and, and our gut can be useful, especially in an ethical sense. It can alert us if we have had the right experiences. And if we have had you know, the proper socialization, we’ll say it can alert us to dangerous situations and, you know, maybe wrong situations, but the only way to really know why or how, or to even sometimes know if what you’re feeling is correct, is, is that knowledge yes. You know? And I think it’s, I think we’re to, of like, we’re too quick to judge a lot of times, like that sounds trite, but, you know, and I don’t wanna start saying I blame social media, you know, but I kinda do. I, I blame, I blame a lot of our conveniences. I blame my cell phone for the reason why I don’t seem to be able to remember anyone’s phone number anymore. Right. My AI is getting a lot smarter than me and and then the robots are gonna win Sammy. And then what are you gonna do? Like we have to hold on to our humanness. Yeah. As long as, you know, as long as we can. And ultimately that just comes down to relationships and taking care of others and learning for of mothers.


Sam Demma (31:24):

I love it. If you could, if you could create a time that’s, if you could create a time machine, you know, using AI and travel back in time and speak to yourself the first year you started teaching, what would you say? Like, what would you tell your younger self based on what you know now? And I, you know, I know you have the mindset of you. I know, I know very little, but with.


Lara Spiers (31:46):

Or something, you know, why do I have to go back to Jesus? Right after I met with Jesus and said, what’s up, I would I’d go back to myself. And I would, I would warn myself that I was gonna get sick a lot cuz you know, jurors. But also I think just to trust myself and trust trust people and, and just really reiterate the, the fact that, you know, just because we don’t have the answers now doesn’t mean we’re not on the right path. And even if I didn’t know what the path was gonna be just to kind of follow, follow what I know is right. Make sure to treat other people well and and cultivate those relationships with the, with those that I had around me, you know, it took me a long time actually. Like when I, when I started, I was very hesitant, like I said to, to reach out right away.


Lara Spiers (32:34):

And I remember, you know, I, I was so focused on work, work work, and I had a VI, there was a vice principal at the time and his name is and he still is, he was a principal in our board. He is retired. His name is mark Lacey. And he conducted one of my first inter evaluations. Right. My teacher evaluation. And he was, he was impressed by my plan and he was impressed by what I did. And you know, here, I’m in my first year thinking that it’s garbage, you know, like, I don’t know, you know, I wasn’t always fold itself down and, and he said to me, he said, well, you know, you’re gonna be a, a leader in a school one day. And I think I giggled, you know, nervously like, oh, what do you mean? You know, I thought he was kind of putting up airs and but he was dead serious.


Lara Spiers (33:16):

And, and, and then I don’t remember the rest, but that line and his feedback that day has always stuck with me. And he’s also the one that when I the next year had to come and talk to me because I had been spending too much time in my portable, I had a portable. Right. And I would like have lunch in the portable and teach in the portable. And I was getting notes, like tunnel vision, right. About like, oh, I gotta do at the work time, et cetera, et cetera. And he said, you know, there’s more to teaching than teaching. I’m like, I don’t understand what do you mean? And I’m like, I’m just trying to do a good job. He’s like, no, no, that’s right. You are. But you have to also remember to, to step outta here, step out of this, like little Shelly and and head into this school and look around.


Lara Spiers (34:01):

Right. And to have a conversation with with other people and, and you know, get involved. And cause at that point, I don’t think I had even been involved in extracurriculars. And what have you, cause I’m naturally, I’m quite introverted, you know, as a general rule. And it was that conversation that really at first, like, no, no, no, I’m just, I’m gonna focus. I, you know, he doesn’t, I dunno, he’s got me mistaken with someone else, you know, and years later, oh my gosh, was he right? Like totally right. Yeah. Cause he knew he had the wisdom. Right. And he dropped it on me and it took me a bit to really appreciate it. And then it took Mr. Val, Karen, you know, to, to tap me and say, Hey, you know, there’s the group here that could use some help. You know, would you like to help?


Lara Spiers (34:46):

And you know, of course me saying, yes, cuz I was so flattered that he asked me, you know, and, and that group was the Alliance for compassion at St. Mary and and the rest was history. Right. And then it, it just became naturally it became my favorite part of work. That’s part of also the reason why I’m, I’m not in the classroom and why I’m here because that’s all I get to do that all the time. Now I get to work with, you know, other teachers and student groups and board level initiatives and like the equity steering committee and, you know, during the parent involvement committee and, and just trying to get our community as a whole to feel United, to feel connected and especially now, right. Have a little bit of grounding right. In, in some semblance of hope and love and you know, just spread the word.


Sam Demma (35:34):

Yeah. That that’s awesome. I love it. I love it. And if someone’s listening to this and at all inspired by the conversation or thought something, one of us said was interesting or something that you said was intriguing and they wanna learn more, what would be the best way for a fellow educator to reach out to you and maybe just have a conversation?


Lara Spiers (35:54):

That would be great. I personally, I love everything that you said Sammy. So why wouldn’t someone reach out? It’s lara.spiers@dcdsb.ca and that’s my email.


Sam Demma (36:11):

Lara, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I appreciate it.


Lara Spiers (36:17):

It’s cool to see you again. Thanks for asking.


Sam Demma (36:17):

Yeah, I know this has been awesome. I’ll stay in touch and keep up with the great work.


Lara Spiers (36:21):

For sure. Good luck to you. You too. We’re very proud.


Sam Demma (36:23):

Thank you. 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 self 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 Lara Spiers

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.

Jennifer Lemieux – Teacher, Guidance Counselor and Student Leadership Advisor

Jennifer Lemieux - Teacher, Guidance Counselor and Student Leadership Advisor
About Jennifer Lemieux

Jenn Lemieux (@misslemieux) feels blessed to serve the staff and students at St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School in Barrie, Ontario (SMCDSB). She has been a teacher, guidance counselor, and a student leadership advisor. As an educator for the past 22 years she continues to be inspired by the students and staff she works with.  

Her favourite quote is by John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”  The actions of educators have a large impact on the lives of students, families, colleagues, and the community.  As educators, we are gifted with many opportunities to be able to inspire others to dream, learn, and become more. It is one of the most amazing jobs in the world!

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School

Ontario Student Leadership Conference (OSLC)

Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC)

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Jennifer Lemieux . I met her a couple years ago, presenting at a conference in Ontario, known as the Ontario student leadership conference. She was one of the teachers that were in my breakout room and we stayed connected and I thought it’d be really awesome to have her on the show.


Sam Demma (01:00):
She has such a diverse experience in teaching. She’s a teacher, a guidance counselor, and a student leadership advisor, and also an Ontario director of the Canadian student leadership association. Her teaching roles occur at St. Peter’s Catholic secondary. She lives out in Barrie and she’s a part of the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board. I have an awesome conversation with Jennifer on today’s episode about so many different topics and her philosophies about teaching and education. And I hope you truly get a lot out of this interview and reach out to her towards the end when I, when I give you her email address. So without further ado, enjoy this interview with Jen and I will see you on the other side. Jenn, 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 the reason behind why you got on why you got into education?


Jennifer Lemieux (01:56):
Well, thanks for having me. It’s an honour to be here. You’re doing amazing things, so that’s pretty awesome. I just got noticed that my internet actually is unstable so that’s how this goes. Why I got into education? Well, when I was young, my mom was a teacher, so that’s sort of where some of it, I guess would’ve begun. She taught elementary school. So we’ve had our share of being in classrooms; helping mom out. In high school of my history teacher, Mr. Adia, he was one of my inspirations in becoming a teacher. He was just an amazing individual who could inspire us to do awesome things with history and I actually majored in history and then ended up, it was either law school or education. Those were my two sort of goals. And after three years of school I was liked, I really wanted more and education was calling my name and so that’s where I begun. And I’ve been at the same school, this is going on 22 years. I haven’t had to leave and so it’s been a pretty awesome experience.


Sam Demma (03:06):
That’s awesome. And at what point in your own career journey, did you know that you were gonna be a teacher? Like, was there like people who pushed you in this direction? Did you know it since you were a little kid or how, how did you make the decision that it was gonna be education?


Jennifer Lemieux (03:25):
I don’t think, I mean, I just loved always. I mean, coaching when I was young doing thing with youth and, you know, it was just part of a natural habit to, to want, to help people. And though I think, you know, having the inspiration of, of course my mom and Mr. OIA was, was lovely to have and just wanting to be able to make a difference in the lives of people. So that was that I think was my go to.


Sam Demma (03:53):
I love that. And if you could pinpoint what the things were that Mr. O did that had a huge insignificant impact on you? Like, what would you say was it that he tried to get to know his students and build relationships? Or what was the main thing he did that made you feel? So, you know, stern, a scene heard and appreciated and inspired you so much so that you wanted to get into education yourself.


Jennifer Lemieux (04:20):
He was definitely human first teacher second. Right. So, so you could see those connections. He tried to make, I’m also from a fairly small town in Northwestern, Ontario, and he was also my driving instructor. nice. And he taught me how to drive . So he just, you know, sometimes people, he didn’t coach me he did coach golf where we were from. But he was just, just authentic and human and he cared and he challenged our thinking. And so it just was a great relationship we had.


Sam Demma (04:54):
Hmm. That’s amazing. And funny enough. He was also your, your driver’s teacher, you were saying, it sounds like he was a teacher in all aspects of life.


Jennifer Lemieux (05:03):
You betcha.


Sam Demma (05:04):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And so then you grew up do you still stay in touch with him today? Do you still talk to him?


Jennifer Lemieux (05:13):
I’ve seen him because I still have family in the small town we were from actually just saw him. Last time I was home in the grocery store and just had a little convers and with him, you know, in the aisles of the grocery store, I mean, that’s not a, a constant communication, but he knows he was pivotal.


Sam Demma (05:30):
Yeah, no, that’s cool. I was gonna say sometimes teachers see the impact that they, that they’ve created. Sometimes they, they don’t see it. Sometimes it takes 25 years for a student to turn around and, and let the teacher know. And I’m sure you of that, I’m sure you’ve, you know, had stories of transformation and maybe some that are, you know, 10, 15 years out of school and then they come back and they, they speak to you and tell you about the impact you had. I’m curious though out of all the students that you’ve seen transform due to education, maybe not directly in your class, maybe in your class or on your sporting teams do you have any stories that really stick out that were really inspiring? And the reason I ask is because another educator might be listening, being a little burnt out for getting why they got into education in the first place. And I think at the heart of most educators it’s students, right. They really care about young people and the youth. And so do you have any of those stories of transformation that you’ve seen that really inspired you? And if it’s a, if it’s a very personal story or serious story, you can, you know, give the student a fake name. just to keep it private.


Jennifer Lemieux (06:35):
Well, I mean, there’s, there’s many in instances. I mean, I wear two hats right now. I still teach classes, but I’m also a guidance counselor. Nice. so you have, you have two sort of different things to look at. I mean, as a teacher, you work with your students and, and I just love to see them gain their confidence and grow. I mean, I taught history. Then I went in and taught psychology G and so I say, I teach the life courses. My husband says I don’t teach the real courses of math and science. So I like to think leadership is life and psychology is life. Yeah. And just watching some of the students, especially in the leadership classes that they come in and they’re not really there. Some are make it, and they don’t know why they’re there and just a watch their confidence grow throughout the time you have with them.


Jennifer Lemieux (07:22):
I mean, we’re in the business of human connections. Yeah. I struggle sometimes to really think about, you know, I’m a, a task person and I like to do my tasks. And, and so I really have to consciously think sometimes people first tasks later same with, I think all teachers, we need to think students first curriculum later, mm-hmm . And I know a lot of my colleagues probably agree with that as well. But it’s really hard to do that sometimes. And so, I mean, I’ve watched students who have passions in their high school career go in, I mean, I’ve got one student working at Google in Cal now. Wow. So he’s working, he’s working there in high school. He was that kid who created websites, created videos for the school. Nice. So, you know, you have these kids who have their passions and to foster them and provide those opportunities and let them grow.


Jennifer Lemieux (08:14):
Those are some big transformations you see in kids. And then you also have the kids that, you know, have no family support and no, you know, they rely on the caring adults in the school to be their family to speak and to help push them to grow. Right. And you have those kids too, that have a lack of confidence or are the introverts who join your classes and you give them opportunity to try to shine, even though they don’t wanna do those presentations, you know, you provide some safe parameters and boom, off they go. So, you know, to say that there’s one specific, there’s a lot in the very many categories, if that makes sense. Yeah. That we can, you know, providing, I like to think we provide opportunities for students to grow. Yeah. In the very different capacities that we have. Right. And I, you know, kids come back and say, thank you so much, like you did this. And I’m like, all I did was provide the opportunity. You took it. Yeah. And you lost them. Right. So that’s sort of where I like to think we have the huge responsibility and opportunity for, to provide opportunities for our students to, to flourish and blossom.


Sam Demma (09:28):
What does and support them. Yeah. No, I agree. What, what does providing the opportunities look like? Is it a, to cap on the shoulder? Is it an encouraging, you know, word? Like what does that actually look like from a teacher’s perspective?


Jennifer Lemieux (09:42):
Well, it varies from giving them opportunities to attend conferences, right. To actually plan and execute and deliver a full event from start to finish, to provide them your full trust that you believe in them that they’re going to be able to do. Right. I mean, I had one student, we have a massive event in our school called clash of the colors and it’s a big, loud, crazy event. That’s four extroverts. And this one student had entered my grade 11 class and was like, but I’ve her bin. And I’m like, that’s okay. Right. Mm-hmm so how do we make you go? And so she was like, well, I don’t know, like maybe a board game room. And so we were like, okay, let’s create a board game room. And so we created this board game room and, you know, we ended up having kids that we never had and she then felt included.


Jennifer Lemieux (10:37):
Right. So she, she spoke up, had the courage to say, yeah, well, you know, I’m in this class and here we’re planning this thing I’ve never attended. Right. And I also had the flip where I had a brand new student come in last year or two years ago cuz COVID he came in and has no idea what our school culture is about and he’s lumped into a leadership class. Right. And he’s just like, yeah. Okay. And he ends up leading an entire assembly when he really knew nothing that was going on. Wow. You know, and I’ve had an ESL kid come in who couldn’t speak English. So basically they were put in my class for socialization and just to watch the, the student engagement and the support and students helping each other. I mean, those are the opportunities we get to provide for them to build confidence.


Sam Demma (11:28):
If that makes sense. Yeah. No, a hundred percent. You’re you are the person that provides the opportunity for growth, whether it’s the planning of an event, whether it creating inclusive opportunities where everyone, whether introvert or extrovert feels included and can use their specific gifts to make a difference in the school. That makes a lot of sense. And I, I appreciate hearing a little bit more about your philosophies. I, if we wanna call them that, you know, I think that everyone builds their own personal philosophies based off their experiences. And it sounds like one of the philosophies you have around education is that, you know, humans first curriculum, second, like you were saying, and I’m curious to know, what other philosophies do you have around education? Or what other things do you believe, you know, over the last 22 years of, of teaching that you think might be beneficial to reflect on personally, but also to impart upon another educator listening right now?


Jennifer Lemieux (12:23):
Well, one of my biggest flus, I have a few that are speakers. So Mark Sharon Brock, he used a quote that I order forget to leave things better than you found them. Mm. Right. So he uses it cuz that’s apparently how we use leave camp sites is better than how you found them. Nice. Right. So I heard him say that in a speech one time and I was so excited to actually see him at an Ontario student leadership. One like conference one year I was as like a kid, like meeting their idol anyway, nice. I use that now even with, with the kids at school and and just as a philosophy in general, to always try to get them to leave our school better than they fit as well as people. Right. So to just try to leave the people and places better than you found them. And that is something we, I do try to impart when I meet people is to try to do that. Right. So that’s, I mean, not a huge philosophy per se, but it, it was a line from him that I won’t ever forget that has stuck with me and is now in my day to day living.


Sam Demma (13:38):
Yeah. I love that. I it’s so funny. You mentioned Mark Sharon Brock a few months ago. I just picked up my phone and called him and his wife. Wow. Yeah. His wife answered the phone and she’s like, hi, and I can’t her name now, but it was on his website on the contact page. She was holding up a Phish on the contact page and we had a beautiful conversation. And I, I said, you know, you know, would it be crazy to think that mark might talk to a young guy who’s 21 years old who just has some questions? And she’s like, let me check. And she put me on hold and she called his office and he answered the phone and, and gave me his time. He gave me 30 minutes of his time, answered a bunch of questions. And I just remember thinking to myself like, wow, this is someone who owes me, nothing who doesn’t know who I am, who just took 30 minutes out of their very busy day to just share some wisdom. And I, I, I sent them a handwritten thank you note for, for, for giving me some time. But I think that that relates also to education that when we give students time to, to make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated when we go out of our way to show them that we care. Despite the fact that we all have our own busy lives, it, it makes a huge difference and a huge impact. I’m curious though, it’s


Jennifer Lemieux (14:55):
A nice bike story right there.


Sam Demma (14:57):
So for everyone who doesn’t know what that is, you wanna summarize it?


Jennifer Lemieux (15:03):
Oh, mark. always talks about nice bike. How he was at a big bike, I guess, convention, I guess. Yeah. And all you have to do is, you know, come up to big Burley guys who drive bikes and say nice bike and they kind of don’t seem so intimidating anymore. Yeah. it was a nice bike story.


Sam Demma (15:23):
That’s awesome. I like it. it’s so true. Right? A little, a little compliment, a little, a little appreciation, I think goes a, a really long way for an educator who’s listening right now and might be in their first year of teaching. right. During this crazy time, knowing what you know about education and about teaching and the wisdom you’ve gained over the past 22 years, like, what would you tell, like, imagine it was your yourself. Imagine if you just started teaching now, but you knew everything, you know, what would you tell your younger self as some advice?


Jennifer Lemieux (16:01):
Well, it’s interesting. Cause I remember being in teachers college and they like to tell you, you know, to set that stage when you enter that room and don’t smile until Christmas and all of those sort of things. And I would yes. Agree that there needs to be structure and parameter in a classroom and boundaries. But I also think it’s okay to be you and be your authentic self. I remember teaching an ancient history course and I never studied ancient history. I mean, I had, you know, American history, Canadian history and they plunked me into one of those and I was struggling in this grade 11 course knowing nothing. And I had to not lie to them. Right. Like it was like, okay, we’re gonna learn this together. We’re going to be okay. You know, because they’re going to see through you. So if you, you can be your authentic self.


Jennifer Lemieux (16:57):
I think sometimes we’re scared to let students see we’re human. And one of the first things I always try to remind them on the first day of school is yes, I’m your teacher, but I’m a human being. Right. And I have two rules in my classroom about respect and honesty and just, just be you because we just need to be us and be our authentic selves as scary as that is. Right. Yes. Again, we have boundaries. Like we don’t talk about what we do outside of school and you know, our lives to an extent, but for your, your personality and what you’re comfortable with. I think it’s fair to, to share some of those things with students and be okay doing that. It’s not about don’t smile until Christmas, at least in my world now. Right. When it, you know, when I first started, I think I was a bit scared and to lean on lean on your peers, like lean on people that have been there a while that are willing to help. Because it’s a pretty, pretty powerful thing. If, if you can be mentored, had huge mentorship in my career. I look at like St. Saunders, Phil Boyt one of my old athletic director partners I mean, they’ve all mentored me, right? Dave troupe was a huge mentor of mine, Dave Conlan. So they’re, they’ve all gotten me to be a better person and a better educator. And you want to be able to rely on those things and not be afraid to be you.


Sam Demma (18:30):
Hmm. That’s awesome advice. That’s such, such great advice. You mentioned that you created two rules in your classroom. Can you share exactly what they are and when you, when did you create those? Was that something that you started right when you first started teaching or did that, was that created some years in?


Jennifer Lemieux (18:46):
Oh, when I first started teaching, I of course had every rule they tell you to do. Right? Yeah. And like, and sign this contract. And then later as I developed, it was, I mean, honesty that was rule number one, be honest to yourself, me and everybody else. And if you know, your homework’s not done because you were too tired to do it, or you just didn’t get it done. Or it was a bad night. Don’t lie to me. I don’t wanna be lied to. Mm. Just tell me life is happening or something’s going on, you know, don’t have your parents write me a note. That’s not telling the truth, you know, try to just be, be real. And of course, to me, respect encompasses everything being prepared as a student. So again, I’ve remind them to respect themselves, to respect others. And of course it’s a mutual respect between all of us and, and we’ll get along.


Jennifer Lemieux (19:40):
Right. And sometimes you have to have those tough conversations with kids. I remember where a uniform school and I remember one student didn’t really love wearing her uniform. And so we butted heads a lot. Mm. Right. Because I was following the rules and that was not, that happens sometimes. And so often when that happens, students think you’re targeting them or you’re after them. And I always try to remind them, it’s the behavior. I’m not impressed with. It’s not their personality. It’s not them. Right. It’s their behavior. That’s not driving with me. And so I ended up having a tough conversation with that kid and we ended up figuring out a way to, to exist and coexist and be okay. Right. Because it’s not the behavior. It’s, I mean, it’s not the person, it’s always the behavior. I usually, you know, don’t, don’t like, so if you can separate that with students too, I find that’s helpful.


Sam Demma (20:33):
Right now there’s a ton of challenges. But in the spirit of leadership, we always try and focus on the opportunities. And I’m curious to know, from your opinion and perspective, what do you think some of the biggest opportunities are right now in education?


Jennifer Lemieux (20:51):
Well, in trying to stay positive, I think some of the biggest opportunities we have right now is challenging our creativity. We are being forced to, to change the, the things that we know to be right. So our course is how we deliver them. When I speak to many staff, they’re, they’re a bit challenged and discouraged that they’re having to destroy their big, awesome courses because they just can’t do the same in person activities and things just aren’t the same. And so we have an opportunity as educators to use different tools jam boards Google interactive, Google slides with para deck. So we’re using a lot more technology and having to force ourselves to be a bit more creative than we’ve ever been when it comes to teaching the things we love to teach. And of course, we’re, you know, challenged to keep our, our person surveillance up and just to keep plugging away. But I think we have to look at, you know, while we’re facing all of these challenges, now we are still growing. And we have the opportunity to become better differently. Yeah. If that makes sense?


Sam Demma (22:04):
It does. It makes a lot of sense. And I love that. And the piece about creativity D is so true. I actually, right now I’m reading a book, it’s a handbook that helps you become more creative. It’s called thinker toys. And the whole book is about different strategies and techniques to bring creativity out of you. The author believes that creativity isn’t something that you, you are born with, but it’s something you can create within yourself. So it’s an interesting book and I think it’s so true. Everything’s changing. The world is changing, which is bringing out so many different ideas and so many different innovations and I think education is at the forefront of a lot of it. Awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation. If someone wants to read out to you, ask you a question, have a phone call, bounce, some ideas around what would be the best way for somebody to get in touch with you?


Jennifer Lemieux (22:59):
Well, I’m not really active on Twitter, but I have a Twitter @misslemieux but my school email is probably the most frequently thing I access. So that’s jlemieux@smcdsb.on.ca, it’s for the SIM Muskoka Catholic district school board. That’s what the SMCDSB stands for. Yeah, I don’t know if it’s been helpful, but that’s, that’s who I am and how I roll.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Thanks, Jen. Really appreciate it, you did a phenomenal job.


Jennifer Lemieux (23:35):
Thank you for the opportunity.


Sam Demma (23:37):
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 Jennifer Lemieux

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.

Steve Bristol – Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management and Strategic Planning

Steve Bristol - Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management and Strategic Planning
About Steve Bristol

Steve Bristol is the Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management and Strategic Planning at the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey.  He is a coach, mentor, and someone that deeply cares about the success of the young people in his school.  

Connect with Steve: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Hun School Website

US College Expo

Maine Summer Camps

Who is Gary Vee?

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 great episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today we, you have on someone that I met through an event called the US college expo. He was one of the US admissions representatives who was speaking to students about how they could pursue their education in the States. And he is the director of admissions and financial aid at the Hun school of Princeton in New Jersey.


Sam Demma (00:59):
He is also a former coach, a mentor, and someone who really cares deeply about the success of his students. It’s very evident in this episode that Steve Bristol, today’s guest has a mission to help as many students as he can while also, you know, keeping himself young by being surrounded by the contagious energy of today’s youth. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed recording it, and I will see you on the other side. Steve, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a pleasure to have you on here. Start by sharing a little bit about who you are and why you got into the work you do with young people today?


Steve Bristol (01:38):
It’s my pleasure Sam. Thanks for the opportunity to, to chat with you. I’d love to give you an altruistic reason about why I work in schools and, and how I wanna shape the youth of America and of the world so that, you know, they’ll take better care of the world, and all of that, but really my motives are pretty selfish. It keeps me young. Oh, working with kids is, you know, it keeps you in touch with your own youth. I, I took a couple of years in my career where I went and I worked business schools and in those four years, I think I gained 15 pounds, my eyesight went, I had to start where and glasses, you know, that lifestyle just didn’t work for me. I felt like I’d aged 20 years and four years. And so I came back into schoolwork because it does keep you energized and keeps you young. So my motives are, are purely selfish. I do care about the future and I think kids are, are gonna lead that charge. But but I can’t be as generous with that as I probably should be.


Sam Demma (02:46):
That’s awesome. I love the authenticity. I’m curious to know, at what point in your own career search, did you make the decision? Yep. I’m going to work in education. Was there a defining moment or was it just a progressional choice? Yeah,


Steve Bristol (02:59):
There was actually was a kind of a moment there. I’m a product of the system. I went to a, a, an independent boarding school in, in the us nice for high school. And as I worked with a college counselor there who was helping me sort of decide what kind of colleges to go to. And, and at one point, you know, I was a little bit lost and , and he said, well, you know, what would you like to do after college? And, you know, at that point, I, I wouldn’t been exposed to very much. So I said, yeah, maybe I’d like to come back to a place like this and, and teach and coach. And he said, well, in that case, you know, go here, come back in four years and I’ll give you a job. So that combined with I did a, a lot of summer camp work as a teenager. And and so you get sort of your experience working with kids that way and living with them. And, and so when I did graduate from college, I, I went right into boarding school work where I ran a dorm, coached a couple of seasons and taught classes. And so I, I was the stereotypical, triple threat. They call it boring schools where you do a little bit of everything.


Sam Demma (04:08):
That’s awesome. Tell me more about the summer camps. Were you young when you did those? Not that you’re old now, but well


Steve Bristol (04:17):
yeah, I started working summer camp camps, probably in maybe 11th and 12th grade. I think I started, I did it for I was a camp counselor for three or four years, and then I took some time off and I came back and sort of became an administrator and ultimately became a co-director of a, kind of a traditional summer camp in Maine, which, you know, little SPO, little waterfront, little camping trips, you know, a very sort of, you know, very boarding school-like kind of place where you, you want kids to have a balanced experience and, and, and get exposed to a lot of different things. One of my worries with our kids today is that they, they need to be specialists. They need to be great today. You know, as eighth grader, they need to have found their passion and pursued it and, and be a young little expert. And, and I would rather kids keep trying some new things and to continue to be beginners at things for as long as they can. And I think summer camp and school can do that for kids.


Sam Demma (05:23):
No, it’s so true. There’s advice that this marketer, Gary V always gives, and he says, you don’t have to find what you like right away. That’s why when you go to a buffet, there’s a thousand options. And the way you figure out what you enjoy is you take a little piece of each little bin, you try it and you stop eating what you don’t like, and you keep eating what you do like, and yeah, I think sometimes kids limit themselves to one little portion of a buffet instead of trying all of it and


Steve Bristol (05:47):
Absolutely true. I, I actually used the buffet analogy in my own work here as I talk to families and I talk to them about, you know, hun, where I am now being a, a, a buffet where, you know, there’s lots of different clubs and activities and sports and music and art and all of those things who knows what’s gonna capture your attention. And, and if, if there’s anything we learned, it’s, you know, kids are gonna change as they grow up. They, they don’t need to lock in quite so early.


Sam Demma (06:16):
That’s so true. And right now at hunt, I know there’s some very unique challenges that all schools are facing. And I’m curious to know someone recently told me the state of education is like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks . And I’m curious to know out of the spaghetti, you’ve already thrown in the challenges you’re facing, what seems to be working really well. And what are some earnings you’ve also had.


Steve Bristol (06:39):
It’s a great question. And, and it is, and the spaghetti analogy I think is, is a pretty accurate one. there’s a little more thought behind it before we throw it, but yeah. You know, obviously, you know, the hunt school, Princeton, where I am now, we’re a, we’re a boarding in day school in Princeton, New Jersey. And so we have local kids who are day students. We have domestic borders. So kids from around, you know, 18 different states in the us. And then we have kids that come from, you know, 20, we’ve got, these are trying to manage. What we’ve done is we put our kids into two teams and they come to school on alternate days. So kids come every other day for in-person classes and that’s reduced the density in our classrooms. A lot of our international kids are, are studying virtually and they’re logging in from home and attending classes that way.


Steve Bristol (07:44):
It’s, it’s a phenomenal challenge for teachers that are on the, the, the ground floor of this that are standing in a classroom with, you know, five kids sitting at a table in front of them and another seven kids on a screen behind them. And, and how do you serve both of those groups and, and, you know, and work intentionally in our classes are small and we, we want to give personal attention. And so they’re trying to engage all of those kids into the conversation and into the class, and, you know, and, and into practical work, instead of, you know, the old kind of teaching where the teacher just lectures and the kids take notes, we’ve moved pretty far away from that to where our classrooms are really dynamic and active and interactive trying to do that. Both virtually and in person at the same time is I think is a phenomenal challenge on top of that. You know, we’ve gotta keep everybody safe. You know, we, we’ve got, we’ve put in a phenomenal amount of safety and health protocols. We all get screened every morning before we come to school. Yeah. You know, I get my temperature checked and I get a little bracelet that the screener gives me that says, I’m, I’m good to go for today. But it’s, you know, the health and safety piece is, has dominated our work all summer long and, and on a daily basis.


Sam Demma (09:07):
Yeah, no, that’s, that, that makes a lot of sense. Things are definitely changing really, really fast. And sounds like unschool was doing a great job of adjusting on the fly and trying to still be of service to students as much as they possibly can. I’m curious to know when you were a student, did you have someone in your life who like maybe a coach who guided you, who pushed you that helped you when you were at a low point in your life? There might be a coach that sticks out in mind. And the reason I’m asking is I’m curious to know what that coach did for you, so that other educators listening might think about doing the same thing for their students.


Steve Bristol (09:45):
Yeah. I, I, I have a very specific experience that really set me in a lot of ways. It’s been the foundation of my own teaching coaching. I was a senior in high school and, and was a pretty serious soccer and lacrosse player, but I didn’t really play a sport in the winter. I’d done a little basketball, but, you know, I peaked on the JV team I think was as good as I ever got. And the athletic director came to me one day and asked if I would help coach the freshman basketball. They had a lot of kids out there. They had a teacher that wasn’t really, you know, he was more of a science teacher than a coach and, and kind of needed someone out there to help keep order. So, because the athletic director was also my advisor, I thought it would be a good idea to, to sort of do whatever he asked me to do.


Steve Bristol (10:34):
He where I knew it, I was coaching my own basketball team and we had a group below the freshman, you know, sort of freshman B is essentially who I was coaching. So these are the least athletic kids in the school. I’m doing it in a sport where I don’t feel a tremendous amount of confidence. You know, it, it was a recipe for disaster. So we went to our first away game and the athletic director drove the van and, and brought us there. And, and he just sat in the bench and he didn’t say a word the whole time, and I never shut up. I mean, I talked those kids through every step, every pass, every shot, I was just a, a constant voice in their ear in, in, you know, my trying to help them, you know, be successful and win the game and do all of those things.


Steve Bristol (11:22):
And, you know, when the dust settled, we, we lost by about 40 points. It wasn’t even close to being competitive. And I, you know, I’m destroyed, I, this is my first experience. It’s very public, you know, all, any coach knows, you know, your, your work is public. And so when you have a bad day, you know, there’s people watching. And so I’m kind of hanging my head and the athletic director came over to me and he said, you know, you actually did a pretty good job. He goes, but you make the kids nervous. You talk too much. Sometimes just let the kids play. And that idea that sometimes just let the kids play mm. Has guided, you know, I’ve done a lot of coaching since then and have had a fair amount of success and not every day was like that. But I can, I can think of specific games where I used that advice, where I realized I kids are doing a great job. They didn’t need me to keep coaching. The part of my job was to step back and let them be successful. It was about them, not about me coaching a win, and, and to tell yourself in those moments to just be quiet and just let, what you’ve been hoped would happen happen. Yeah. But I think coaches and teachers forget to recognize.


Steve Bristol (12:37):
And as a parent now, sometimes I gotta let my kids play and sometimes they’re gonna fail and fall and all of those things, but, you know, that’s part of teaching. And part of teaching is knowing when to keep your mouth closed and just let kids experience things.


Sam Demma (12:52):
I love that so much. That’s, that’s an amazing piece of advice. And have you in your role now maybe you can even talk about this as a coach or as a head of enrollment. Have you used that same advice personally with your students and have seen any massive transformations or some students that have been deeply impacted the same way your coach impacted you? And if there’s a serious story about how someone’s life has been changed, you can change their name for privacy reasons, but the reason I’m digging for it is because an educator might be listening right now. Who’s a little burnt out. And I wanna remind them that the work we do in education and coaching it has the power to transform lives. So if you have any stories that this take out to you it would be cool to hear. And so,


Steve Bristol (13:37):
And, and I think particularly as, as you say, under these circumstances, this is really hard. And the challenge for teachers under the best of circumstances is you don’t typically see the results yeah. Of your work. You know, you’ll have somebody come back 10 years later and tell you how impactful you were and things like that. And, and but in the moment there’s days where it just feels like I’m not making a dent here, you know, they’re, they’re just coming back. And they’re the same kids today that they were yesterday, despite everything I tried to do. So I think my best advice, advice to teachers is, is to remember, there’s a long game here. Yeah. That you, you, aren’t gonna change kids in a day, but being steady and being consistent and approaching your work with their best interests at heart does pay dividends. And, and part of that is you just have to trust that, that it will.


Steve Bristol (14:37):
For me personally, there, there’s been a lot of times where, you know, kids have come back and, and surprised me in, in what they’ve remembered that I said at one point, or, you know, a lot of times it’s embarrassing stuff where they’ll say, oh, I remember that time you did that. And I’d be like, yeah, those were the things I’ve tried to forget. . But I had a, a, a tremendously talented and had a really, really difficult time. And , and he, and I had sort of exchanged messages and I didn’t realize the extent of it. And he came into my office and, and began to talk to me about things where I could really tell something was very, very wrong and, and I didn’t realize it. And after he left his mom called and as a woman, I had a really good relationship with, for many years and, and said, I’m so sorry.


Steve Bristol (15:33):
I didn’t, you know, I didn’t tell you in advance, so you could be prepared. Mm. And what we found out is he, he was bipolar and they didn’t know it. And that came out and he was home from college with nothing to do. And, and I said, well, come to look, cross practice every day. And you’ll be my assistant coach, and you’ll stand next to me and you’ll learn how to coach and work with kids. And, and he came every day and, you know, he, as he’s learning to adjust to his new situation and medication and things like that, he had safe space to come to every day. Mm. And, you know, and to this day, you know, he’s the father of twins and in his, you know, probably mid thirties we still talk about that spring. You know, we’ve stayed in touch, he’s in great shape now. And he tells me, his mom still sends me a note once a year, that says, you know, you changed his life because you, you took him in when, when he was lost. And, you know, it was, to me, it was sort of an obvious thing to do. He is a great kid, you know, I love having him around. And, and, but it was at a time in his life when he needed somebody to invest a little extra in him.


Sam Demma (16:43):
I love that. That’s an amazing, it’s an amazing story. And you mentioned, you know, small actions in there somewhere. My teacher, Mike always told me, you know, small, consistent, massive changes. Absolutely. And it applies to education. It applies to mentorship with young people, and it just applies to everyday life, whether you’re trying to change something personally or something in a school or student’s life. If there’s a, that’s


Steve Bristol (17:07):
Interesting, I think one of the big to do is to sort of teach through the positive as opposed to the negative. I think we’re all very quick to point out when kids make mistakes and candidly, that’s really easy to do. You know, I, I can, I can watch a field hockey game and tell you when somebody makes a bad pass. I don’t have any idea how to teach someone to play field hockey and I can think the more we start to celebrate the positives that kids do and teach through their successes. That’s where I think we start to really generate a lot of momentum. And if we spend all our time just pointing out when they make mistakes, well, then that’s what they’re gonna hear.


Sam Demma (17:48):
Hmm. No, that’s so true. And on the topic of great advice for educators, if someone’s listening, who is maybe teaching for the first year and thinking like, what the heck did I sign up for? This is not what I was expecting. What advice would your current self have to give your past self or someone else listening?


Steve Bristol (17:58):
Boy, that’s a really good question. My when I started, I think it, it was, as I sort of said earlier, it was all very personal to me. Yeah. It was, you know, am, am I a good teacher? Am I doing this? Are, are they responding to me? It was very me centric. Mm. And I think, and you know, obviously, you know, you look at it now, it’s, you know, you have to get to know your kids and, and get to know them personally. So that when, you know, I, I talk about working in boarding schools as sort of being, you know, a surrogate parent. And, you know, when my kids come home from school and they’ve had a bad day, I know it.


Steve Bristol (18:49):
But before they’ve even opened their mouth, I can read their body. I can feel it in the air that this was not a good day. And we’re, we’re gonna have some work to do tonight. If teachers can get to that point with their kids in class, where you can kind of read their body language and know when they’re with you. And when they’re not boy, you can ha you know, now you can create an at fear where they can be comfortable, and if they’re comfortable, they’re gonna find a voice. And when they find that voice, they’ll start to engage with each other. And that’s when, you know, that’s when the magic happens and finding a way to make kids comfortable in your class as opposed to uncomfortable. And I think when I started teaching, I wanted them to be uncomfortable because I was so uncom, I, I just needed to control things, making sure they’re comfortable.


Sam Demma (19:40):
Hmm. That’s a great piece of advice. If I was teaching right now, I would say, thank you. good. That’s amazing. And if anyone’s listening and they, they’re inspired by this convers, they wanna reach out, maybe bounce some ideas around, or get some coaching advice from a former or former or current basketball coach. What would be the best way for them to reach out?


Steve Bristol (20:02):
I’d love doing that and I love, you know, as you can tell, I love talking about education and would welcome anyone that wants to reach out on anything. Along these lines, you know, you can reach me through the, the Hun school website at www.hunschool.org and under the admissions tab. There’s a, a funny picture of me in my email address. Or my email is SteveBristol@hunschool.org, and would welcome strangers, reaching out love, talking about this stuff.


Sam Demma (20:32):
Awesome. Steve, thanks so much for taking some time today to chat. It’s been a huge pleasure.


Steve Bristol (20:36):
My pleasure Sam. Thanks so much for creating the opportunity and, and sharing all of this information with, with folks. I think it’s real important today.


Sam Demma (20:44):
Cool. Thank you. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to 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 Steve Bristol

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.

Richard Vissers – Director of Admissions at Holy Trinity School

Richard Vissers – Director of Admissions at Holy Trinity School
About Richard Vissers

Richard Vissers joined Holy Trinity School (HTS) in 1996 as the senior chemistry teacher. Since then, he has also served as the Grade 9 and 10 Coordinator, Guidance Counsellor, Director of HTS Camps, and Chair of the Miller Thomson Scholarship Committee. Whether coaching a team, guiding the yearbook, or organizing the House and Leadership programs, Richard has worked in all areas to provide opportunities for students to engage and develop pride in their school, which will stay with them for a lifetime.

Richard attended Trent University to achieve a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and then Queen’s University to achieve a Bachelors of Education.

Connect with Richard: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Holy Trinity School

Trent University

Queen’s University

Prep Skills College Expo

Lifelong Learning

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Richard Vissers. He is the Director of Admissions at Holy Trinity School. He joined Holy Trinity School in 1996 as the senior chemistry teacher. Since then, he has also served as the grade 9 and 10 coordinator guidance, counselor, Director of the Holy Trinity School camp and chair of the Miller Thomson Scholarship Committee. Whether coaching a team, guiding the yearbook or organizing the health and leadership programs, Richard has worked in all areas to provide opportunities for students to engage and develop pride in their school, which will stay with them for a lifetime. And I can tell you from my interview with Richard, there’s a ton of value he has to share and advice to provide. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed recording it. I’ll see you on the other side. Richard, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I know we met at the beginning of the year, which for both of us felt like a long time. We go as a part of the Prep Skills College Expo, but tell the audience, why don’t you start by telling the audience a little bit more about yourself and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Richard Vissers (01:12):

Sure. Well, first off Sam, thanks so much for having me today. I really appreciate the opportunity and I have been teaching. I’m almost embarrassed to, I’ve been teaching for a long time now and I started at a boarding school over 20 years ago, and that was that was trial by fire. When you work at a boarding school, you have lots of different hats. And so I’ve been at the current school HTS right now for over 20 years. And I’ve had lots of great opportunities here. And as when, when you first reached out to me and invited me to participate, I started thinking about, you know, what got me into this role, what got me into teaching, I suppose. And really, I started to think about some of the people in my life back when I was in school, high school in particular, but even before that, you know, teachers that took an interest in me and that’s those of the memories that I have that are strongest and most positive and actually reflect a lot of what I’m doing now on a daily basis.


Richard Vissers (02:09):

So it was teachers that took the time to get to know you took an interest in you and, and came forward with ideas and, and kind of pushed me a little bit to, to try some new things that I probably you know, slightly she that I probably wouldn’t have done without some, some motivation, some encouragement and a little and a little bit of a push. So I think that’s probably, what’s mostly gotten me into what I, what I’m doing today. And those are the, some of the things that I thought about when you reached out.


Sam Demma (02:40):

Tell me more about those teachers and what they did or how they pushed you. I’d love to know.


Richard Vissers (02:48):

Let’s see you know, one of the people I had an English teacher, she reached out to me she said, you know, I’m really looking for someone to join and be a photographer, take some pictures around the school and get involved in that way. I had a, I, I tried in for the hockey team. I wasn’t the greatest hockey player, but I tried out, I didn’t make the team. But the coach you know, we had a good relationship. I was in a class that he was teaching. He, he connected with me a couple days later and said, you know, Richard saw you worked hard and we’d still like you to be involved. Could you help about and come along? And, you know, there’s managing and there’s on the bench and travel and all that. So you know, those are some people that really stuck their neck out for me and saw, you know, got me to be involved in the school.


Richard Vissers (03:30):

And, and so those are some of the things that kind of stuck with me. And I had some friends too at school that reached out and said, you know, you should really do this. And had a, one of my, one of my friends the track and field team was leaving. And I said, yeah, I’m doing track this year. And then I didn’t, I wasn’t gonna go. And she jumped in said, why aren’t you going, you know, that’s the best part of the day. You get to leave, you get to compete. And so I managed to get outta my class and jump on the bus and had a great day, and it was pretty successful and and kept at it for a few more years. So those are some memories of people kind of extending themselves to me. And, and that’s the, that’s the type of work that I’m doing now. I really think work in my position, Director of Admissions is really about finding kids and finding great families and providing some opportunity so they can come in and take advantage.


Sam Demma (04:17):

I love that that’s a, it’s an admirable role and every single player on the team, including the management, if you’re talking about hockey is super important, and I’m sure, you know, the school, the students, the administration is a little different this year in terms of the challenges you’re faced with as compared to maybe last year or time in the past. What, what are some of the challenges this school is facing right now? And how are they overcoming them or how are you overcoming them?


Richard Vissers (04:47):

It is a challenge, Sam. There’s no question about it. This is a different world a different environment and families, however, still are, are looking into finding a place for their children, finding a school for their children. And, and it’s a huge investment emotionally. It’s a, it is a huge investment financially as well, and they take a lot of time. They take it very seriously and you know, their children’s education is, is probably the single most important thing they’re going to consider as they, as they have children and, and their families grow. And it’s, it’s a very touchy, feely process. Families want to come into a school, they wanna see it, they want to feel it. They want to hear it. And the biggest challenge in, in my role and the people that I work with here the, the challenge is to replicate that somehow.


Richard Vissers (05:37):

And I’m very fortunate. I work in a school where I know that the students here take great pride. They love coming to school. They really do. They really, really do run to run to the doors when they get here in the morning, you know, they’re that excited to be with their teachers and their friends. And so how do you replicate that? How do you, how do you allow a family to look under the hood, so to speak and get a sense of how things work here and get, and get that feeling. That’ll make them feel good about their decision when they choose to apply or enroll at the school. And so those are the biggest challenges. That’s the number one challenge that that we’ve faced here. And every admissions office in every school’s faced with right now.


Sam Demma (06:18):

Yeah, no, that’s a, it’s a tough challenge, but it sounds like you’re doing a, a pretty great job at, at overcoming it. I’m curious to know what’s working in the school and with admissions what what’s working right now.


Richard Vissers (06:32):

Absolutely. Student voices are probably the big guess thing that we’ve leveraged. And we always have, but we’ve just had to find a new way to, to leverage that, you know, the parents would normally show up at school and say, hello, a few words to myself and my colleagues. And, and then we would pass them off to one of our student ambassadors, one of our tour guides and, and they take it from there. And invariably they’d come back 20 minutes later, half an hour later, an hour later, and there’s all smiles. And you can just tell that they’ve really gotten a sense of what the school looks like, and, and the kids here have done a great job. So it’s their voices that we want to include. And so, you know, just like you and I are chatting video conference now, we we’ve extended that.


Richard Vissers (07:14):

We’ve got lots of students that join us online to meet with families and to answer questions, we’ve run some student panels so that we have some of our student leaders all lined up with some questions ready to go, and parents are invited to log in and they’re, we invite them to make sure their children are paying attention to and with them. And so that they can hear these student voices. We really kind of leveraged friends as well. We wanna know when we, when we meet families who do you know, that might already be at the school and so that we can connect them and, and connect them with maybe students that are coming from a similar school, similar background. And so that you know, that there’s some credibility there that they’re not just seeing it virtually. They’re actually hearing it from people that, that they know and have some faith in already.


Richard Vissers (08:01):

And, and so those are ways we’ve also leveraged our parents in the same way. You know, most schools would say their parents are their biggest tool for marketing. You know, word of mouth is there’s, there’s no better form. And so we’ve gotten parents involved for in panels discussions like that as well, where they can come on board and answer questions, and the prospective families can, can listen in and hear their experience. And, and some of the thoughts and emotion that went into their decision making. And so it’s not rocket science. We’re putting people together online, virtually like this. But it it’s worked well. And I, and I think parents appreciate the effort and appreciate the access to some of these parents and students that are with us.


Sam Demma (08:45):

Oh, that’s awesome. And, you know, you mentioned people that, you know, and it, it jumped for me, it jumped to your colleagues like anyone in education would be, you know, happy to have a conversation with yourself, with anyone else who’s, you know, working in a school. I’m really curious to know, I know we touched upon it earlier about, you know, how you got into your role. Right now I’m curious to know what actually directed you to education though. And what, what emotions made you decide you wanted to get in, into, you know, the role of a teacher or admissions officer. Where did that come from?


Richard Vissers (09:20):

That’s a great question. And I had to think about that a little bit too and think about some of the influences earlier on in my life before I even got to university. And I mean, for, for so many people, it starts with their parents and, and my mom in particular manner, my, at her, right. And I’ve used that line with families that I meet every day, but it, my mom and instilled in me a sense of manners and, and respect for people. And that started out in an early job delivering papers. And I know that doesn’t happen very much anymore. So the car drives by and tosses the paper into my, into my driveway, but it made you, it made me get out there and meet people and talk to people and, and have to use my manners and develop some kind of customer service skills so to speak.


Richard Vissers (10:06):

And I found I was pretty good at it. And over the years, I had lots of jobs growing up that were, that were in kind of a customer service area. And so when I got through to university and I was looking around at things that might be a good fit for me, I thought, you know, I really enjoy working with people. I really enjoy working with students. And, and it was a really great teaching program at the school that I was at. And so I applied after my first year of university and I was accepted and had some great intern along the way. And so it took off from there and I’ve, and I’ve been doing it ever since.


Sam Demma (10:43):

And when you’re feeling down or unmotivated, what do you kind of reflect on to keep yourself going? What, what keeps you motivated during tough times?


Richard Vissers (10:51):

That’s an easy, easy answer here because I have the ability to still get up from my desk, walk down the, a hall and jump into the kindergarten classroom. Mm. And you don’t have to spend too many minutes with a group of four year olds and five year olds to understand why you’re in, why you’re in a school, why you’re teaching those kids. They look at you, you know, your, their friend right away. Right. big smile goes a long way and, and come. And so you end up reading with them, you end up sitting and talking with them. And so when I’m having a tough day at school or, you know, you kind of need some, some motivation it doesn’t hurt to wander down and, and see some of the youngsters, it really it’s better than a better than a cup of coffee.


Sam Demma (11:34):

I love that. And, and what, you know, that keeps you motivated, what keeps you hopeful? What, you know, what keeps you hopeful about the work that you’re doing in a school?


Richard Vissers (11:46):

Well, a school like this HTS that I work at it really truly is about opportunity. I think that’s the word that I’ll use with families and with students more often than, than most others. We want students that are gonna come in and take advantage. We have some really great facilities. We have really fantastic teachers. We have really fantastic programs and we want students that’ll come in and, and take advantage and, and look at this as an opportunity and kind of, we want them to come in with big dinner plates of eyes. Right. They’re so excited to, to jump in and, and to be able to try some of these things so forth. So that that’s something that resonates with, with most families when we’re sitting down.


Sam Demma (12:28):

No, that’s awesome. And you know, if I wanted to stop by of the school, would it be too much to ask to stop by the kindergarten section?


Richard Vissers (12:40):

I would love to. Absolutely. You know, I I’ll tell families. We have strategically placed the kindergarten classroom pretty much in the heart of the school. Nice. And whether you’re in grade 12 and coming down for lunch, or you are in our middle school heading to the gym you’re going to have to walk by those classrooms and they see and hear everything you say and do. And they, they, when they can, they wanna hug you and say hello to you and high five, you, they want you to stop in and, and be their friend. And and so absolutely Sam and when we can have visitors back in the building, you are most welcome to come in and have a, and I’ll take you by the kindergarten classroom. You’ll have 16 new friends just like that.


Sam Demma (13:18):

That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And, you know, if you could go back in time, speak to your younger self and, you know, give advice you’ve been in education, you mentioned for over 20 years, I’m sure you’ve learned some things and gain some invaluable wisdom. If you could, your former self, what pieces of advice would you give knowing what you know now?


Richard Vissers (13:39):

Absolutely. you know, one of the, kind of the, the philosophy right now, the language at our school that we’re using every day is to be a lifelong learner. Hmm. And, you know, at times you, people are resistant, they’re set their path, you know, they’re, they’re comfortable with what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And change is always a challenge for people. But I really think that as I reflect especially now in a new technical world, digital world, you know, there’s lots of skills that that I can still be using and learning about and leveraging every day. And so you know, our message for our kids here is you’re gonna be learning for the rest of your life. Well, you know, that applies to me too. And so right now I’m kind of in the middle of it.


Richard Vissers (14:26):

This is something that I haven’t done before, you know, interviewing like this. And so you know, I want to take advantage of that and, and go through processes like that all the time and chow myself. So being a lifelong learner is something that I think everyone needs to have to kind of develop and, and come to grips with and have an understanding that it’s your benefit. You might try. You might, you might not love it. And that’s okay too, because then maybe you’ll go on and try something different that you do discover that you love.


Sam Demma (14:52):

And for every educator listening, I think it’s so relatable, especially right now, we’re being tasked with learning how to teach online or learning how to do interviews with families online, or, you know, learning how to run conferences online. It takes that perpetual learner’s mindset to continue, you know, figuring things out and learning along the journey. If a teacher wants to reach out to you to have a conversation was inspired by anything we talked about, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch with you?


Richard Vissers (15:21):

You’re most welcome to certainly call the school or send me an email. Those, those are probably the best ways. The admissions number is 905-737-1115 and my email is rvissers@hts.on.ca. But yeah, those are the best ways to get in touch with me. Unfortunately, I can’t say drop by the school, because right now in the world that we live in visitors are, you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s a tough situation.


Sam Demma (15:43):

The kindergarten kids don’t wanna see you right now, guys, don’t come. Haha!


Richard Vissers (15:47):

They wanna see you. They just they know they have to wait. Haha!


Sam Demma (15:51):

That’s true. Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and learning a little bit more about HTS and, and all the work you guys are up to, and the changes you’ve been making to adjust. I really appreciate it.


Richard Vissers (16:03):

Thank you, Sam. I appreciate the opportunity too. It’s a pleasure to have a conversation with you.


Sam Demma (16:07):

There’s the entire interview with Richard. I hope you enjoyed it. It inspired you to stop in front of the kindergarten class. If you have one in your school today, and maybe just look at the smiles on those little students’ faces and get re-energized about the real reason why he got into education in the first place. If you did enjoy this, consider leaving a rating and review, consider reaching out to Richard and having a conversation. And as always, if you have something that you need to share that you think should be heard from other educators around the world right now, please reach out at info@samdemma.com and we’ll schedule a time for you to come on the show as well until then I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Richard Vissers

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.

Christa Ray – Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) Coordinator at the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB)

Christa Ray - Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator at ALCDSB
About Christa Ray

Christa is passionate not only about teaching & guiding the next generation but also intently interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment. She is also an Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator(OYAP) at the ALCDSB. Her career path has been very rewarding so far and she always looks forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector! 

Connect with Christa: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Queens University Bachelor of Education Degree

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 to 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. Today’s guest is Christa Ray. Christa is the Ontario youth apprenticeship coordinator at the ALCDSB, the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board. She’s passionate, not only about teaching and guiding the next generation, but also interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment.


Sam Demma (01:01):
Her career path has been very rewarding so far, and she’s always looking forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector. I hope you enjoy today’s interview as much as I enjoy doing it and I’ll see you on the other side. Christa, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Christa Ray (01:27):
Sure. Thanks Sam. It’s it’s great to be here with you today. I, I’ve been in education for about 17 years now. I started at the high school that I actually graduated from and initially I was a geography teacher among a few other things, and then I jumped into guidance shortly after my career started. So I was a guidance counselor for about 10 years and then I decided to take a leap of faith and I left the school that I loved and a job that I loved and I came to the board office. And now for the last three years I’ve been working with five high schools and a couple of college, local colleges. And for the first two years, I worked with student success teachers mainly. And this year starting in September, I have a new role called the OYAP(Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program) coordinator. So those that’s rounded out the last three years of my career.


Sam Demma (02:20):
Awesome. And what made you take, tell me more about what made you take the leap of faith. Why did you make that decision? Was there anything behind that?


Christa Ray (02:30):
Oh, that’s a good question. I, I loved what I was doing in the high school and I was coaching and I was doing a few clubs, but I was getting tired and I had needed a change of scenery and had young children at home. And so I thought I would try a different venue. And it was very nerve wracking, actually. I, I didn’t, you know, normally people change jobs when they don’t like something, but I was leaving something that I really liked to the unknown. And so it, it turned out it’s been really great for not just myself. And I’ve learned probably more in the last three years than I have in the, in the full 17 years that I’ve been teaching. So it’s, it’s been a good, a good move for me.


Sam Demma (03:16):
Oh, that’s awesome. And at what point in your own career journey, did you know, I wanna work in education. Was this something you knew from a young age? Did you stumble upon it? Did someone kind of guide you in that direction? Or how did you come to that decision that you wanted to work in schools?


Christa Ray (03:31):
You know, my sister and I always had a little Blackboard in our house growing up and we would always play school as I’m sure a lot of people do. So that was a something that we just enjoyed. But I don’t think it was really until my third or fourth year of university that I had confirmed with myself that I wanted to get into education. And my main driver was was geography actually, because I had an amazing geography teacher in high school who really propelled me into not, not the world of teaching, but the world of geography. Thanks and sustainability. And I mean, I know you have your pick waste initiative. Those, those were all things that I really wanted to to talk about with students. And I felt that the, maybe the biggest way I could have an impact on the world would be to spread my love for the environment with kids. So that’s why I mainly got into it and I didn’t foresee myself getting into guidance, but that just sort of fell into my lap. And I love that just as much so.


Sam Demma (04:29):
Oh, that’s awesome. And I’m sure the first 10, 15 years are a lot different than what school looks like specifically this year. as you exhale that’s right. I’m curious. What, what is different? I mean, what, what are the challenges that you’ve been currently faced with? I know you you’ve put put in a slightly different role this year, but what are the challenges specifically that your school board is facing?


Christa Ray (04:54):
Being the OYAP coordinator? I really rely heavily on hands on activities with students you know, bill building things and talking about the trades and the importance of tools. And so that’s probably my personal big, biggest challenge would be not being able to do the traditional activities with students. We generally try and work with our two local colleges, as I mentioned earlier, and we get students bused into the colleges to see the programs there. We’re not allowed to be busing students. So we are really having to think outside the box and do some alternative planning. And I have been going into schools and I’ve been doing like smaller presentations because I’m still allowed to travel into schools. But I find even just a small thing would be students wearing masks and myself wearing a mask while I present. It’s very unusual for teachers to see a room full of masks in front of you. And you don’t really necessarily get I mean, I’m only in a classroom for an hour at a time doing my presentation. So I feel like I don’t get to know the students very well, especially when they’re have their faces half covered.


Sam Demma (06:11):
No, that’s so true. yeah. It’s so, so true. I, I know they come out with these masks and now called mingle mask, which is like a, it’s like a clear visor. Okay. But then it has other problems, like it’s not close to the nose. It’s like, it’s a whole disaster , but it might be too early to ask, but someone described to me education, like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And I’m curious to know if there’s anything that your school board has done or tried that has stuck so far. Maybe there’s maybe one little nugget or one thing you might share about teaching online or something the schools have tried.


Christa Ray (06:49):
Yeah, I, I feel like our school is still forging ahead with some plans we have to downscale it a little bit and because we can’t get together in large groups due to COVID we are targeting a smaller classroom type activities. So for example, there’s an activity that we’re going to be doing in December, just building a birdhouse with some grade seven, eight students. Oh, cool. And hopefully they’ll be able to, to put that together. It prefab kit actually from one of our local colleges and we’ll take those out and then students can build them and maybe wrap them up and put them under the Christmas tree as gifts. Nice. And and that’ll tie in nicely with when I have my OAP presentation and where I, you know, cuz my job this year is to promote the trades with students.


Christa Ray (07:37):
And oftentimes college and university pathways are really well spoken about in school with guidance counselors, but sometimes the apprenticeship doesn’t doesn’t get highlighted the way it should. So that’s one thing that I feel even though we’re not be allowed to have 300 kids in a room at a time building a bird house, we can still have 20 or 25 building. Yeah. And, and you know, we might have to sanitize things a little more frequently than we normally would, but it’s just one of those challenges that we will, we will overcome.


Sam Demma (08:10):
That’s awesome. I love that. Mm-Hmm and I wanna go back to your geography teacher for a second. What made that teacher really impactful for you? I’m sure the content was great and, and they taught it really well, but there was probably some other characteristics that made this teacher really impactful for you personally. Is there any traits that stick out when you think about this teacher that you think made it such an impactful class?


Christa Ray (08:32):
Yeah, actually as you’re asking that question, I just got goosebumps because he was pretty amazing and I still work with him. Oh fun. Because the irony is he was my geography teacher. I went away for five years. Got my geography degree, came back to the same high school and he was still teaching. Nice. So I was his student and his colleague and I just saw him the other day, but he, I don’t know, he just made learning really fun because he was a storyteller. Mm. He had a story for almost anything and everything, any of our lessons, he, he had done a lot of traveling and I just thought that that was really really interesting. And he was very passionate. Even when he talked about things, places that he had never traveled, he, he made you feel like you were there anyway.


Christa Ray (09:19):
Mm. And so I just felt like you know, that was something that he really instilled in us was to become knowledgeable global citizens. Even though, even if you’re not traveling, you can still do a lot of research. And obviously the worldwide web is really good for checking out initiatives across across the world. And I tried to do that with my students as well. You know, we talked about some of the people that really make a difference. I mean, I was so interested to read a little bit more about your pick waste initiative that you did with your friend and you know, that it’s just two high school students picking up trash. It seems insignificant, but when you get a, when you get a bit of a following, especially now with social media, mm-hmm, you find out that you can really make a difference really fast. Yeah.


Sam Demma (10:08):
So, so small actions compounded over time. Right? Small, consistent actions. exactly. Yeah. That’s awesome. And you know, your teacher had a huge impact on you. I’m sure there’s so many stories that you’ve seen of students transforming due to education. And I’m curious to know if any story that you know of, whether it’s a student that you had, or it’s a student that you’ve heard of that had a huge transformation due to the support and care of a teacher. And the reason I ask is because there might be an educator listening right now, who’s a little bit burnt out who is maybe on the edge of even getting out of this calling and, and getting into a new job or career because they’re totally stressed out, but those stories are transformation might remind them why it’s extremely important and why the work they’re doing is so necessary and needed now more than ever. And if it’s a serious story, feel free to totally change the name to John DOE or whatever. You’d like . And anyways, yeah. Does any story come to mind?


Christa Ray (11:09):
Oh, I have a few. But one in particular that really sticks out in my mind was a student that came to our high school. He was a, a grade 12 student at the time. He came from Toronto to a small town in Beville to finish up his high school diploma. And when he came to my class, he was a grade 12 student in my grade nine geography class, cuz he had failed geography a few years prior and I’d never had a Stu an old, older student in my class and I was a little worried, but I realized really soon that he became he was kind of like a role model for the younger students. So even though the everybody else was in grade nine and he was in grade 12 and about a foot taller than everybody I, I realized that he was a really good resource for me to have.


Christa Ray (11:58):
And I mean, as a guidance counselor, I could see his transcript and I knew that it wasn’t very shiny. He hadn’t been doing really well. Due to many circumstances his life in Toronto was very difficult and not to get into too many details. He, he was trying to make his life better for himself. Hence the reason why he had moved to Bellville. And so when he came I, I think my biggest mistake was kind of pre-judging him, mm-hmm , you know, this is, this is gonna be a student where I’m really gonna have a lot of troubles and I actually didn’t at all. So near the end of his grade 12 year when he had accumulated his geography credit, which is a prerequisite to graduate in Ontario. Yeah. And he had accumulated other credits. He, he, I was so proud of him and I think he was proud of himself.


Christa Ray (12:52):
And I, I told him specifically that I don’t know what I would’ve done without him because he was a good motivator. He always had his homework done. When other students didn’t, he would sit with them and ex like, say, you know, I, I like to help you, which baffled my mind because I thought that he would just stick to himself, but he literally was a, like an older role model for the students. And he helped a few other students get through my class as well. It was like having a peer helper. Yeah. Actually, and I he went on to do welding at a college program. That’s and I’ve since lost track of him. I, I always wonder what he’s up to, but I don’t know. He, he is definitely one story that sticks out in my mind and I will remember him for as long as I live, actually.


Sam Demma (13:42):
That’s awesome. That’s such a beautiful story. And maybe this podcast is a reason to try and reach out and figure out what he’s up to these days. And if, you know, if you’re listening to this, remember that these stories are not far in between that, I think so much transformation happens inside schools or even outside the school walls with conversations because you, as an educator, you take on the role of parent. Sometimes you take on the role of teacher. Sometimes you take on the role of coach. It’s like, you’re so many things to these young minds and you can have such a huge impact. And it sometimes transforms students lives, which is pretty cool. Anyways, this has been really, really awesome. If you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you were just starting teaching with all the wisdom you have now, what advice would you, would you share when you were just starting?


Christa Ray (14:36):
Hmm. I think, well, I mean, you learn more and more each year. So even though I’ve been teaching for quite some time I would tell my younger self that you’re, you’re basically on a journey. You’re not gonna know all of the answers. You’re not gonna have it all figured out in your first fifth or even 10th year of teaching. And as we all are very aware of this year has thrown everybody for a loop and we’ve had to change our teaching style significantly, especially earlier in the spring when we went to remote learning. But I just think that teachers need to not be so hard on themselves. Mm. They need to you know they need to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their classrooms. Yeah. And you might not be able to get it all done in a day.


Christa Ray (15:28):
So try not to be too overworked because I know a lot of teachers and myself included, we bring our work home with us. We try to make things as good as we can make them. And sometimes we can’t have perfection a hundred percent of the time. And I think that’s probably the biggest piece of advice I’d give people is you know, doing a good job is okay. You don’t need to do an awesome job every day because it can get very tiring. And so just do as best as you can do. And that’s good enough.


Sam Demma (15:59):
I love that. That’s great advice. And I think it applies in all areas of life. Like if you’re tr if you’re trying to be perfect, 24 7, you’re gonna burn out fast. And then instead of being great each day, you’re gonna be poor on a couple of them now, because you’re not actually able to physically perform and show up for your kids. Correct.


Christa Ray (16:18):
We, we talk a lot about, sorry to interrupt. Like, we talk a lot about mental health with students mm-hmm , but we really should also focus a mental health with teachers because I know a in particular this year, a lot of teachers are feeling very strapped. Our, our schooling system right now is in an Okta master system. So yeah. Credits are being accumulated at a very rapid pace in 23 days. And that’s, it, it’s a very different reality from what we’ve been experiencing in the past. And so I think teachers need to get sleep. They need to eat. Right. they need to do something fun on the weekend yeah. To re-energize their batteries.


Sam Demma (16:59):
So, yeah, I think it’s true. Almost like a teacher retreat or something


Christa Ray (17:03):
If yes, that’s right.


Sam Demma (17:04):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Cool. Well, Christa, thank you so much for taking some time and to come on the show, I really appreciate you sharing some stories and ideas. If another educator listening wants to reach out, have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Christa Ray (17:18):
Well, they can email me. My email is raychris@alcdsb.on.ca. And if they want to email me, I can, I can do what I can to help.


Sam Demma (17:34):
Okay. Awesome. Thank you so much. Again, I look forward to staying in touch and watching all the cool things you do with the school board.


Christa Ray (17:40):
Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (17:43):
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 Christa Ray

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.

Marc England – Teacher and Leadership Advisor at Fleetwood Park Secondary School

Marc England
About Marc England

Marc England (@mreteacher) is a teacher and Leadership Advisor at Fleetwood Park Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He is now in his 23rd year of teaching. For 20 years, he has been involved in Student Leadership as a Student Council Advisor and leadership educator. He is a strong believer of “people first” in schools, and that if we have strong school cultures, the rest will look after itself.  

Marc has presented for many years across Canada at various Student Leadership events. He has worked with the BC Association of Activity Advisors and worked with his students to host a BC Student Leadership Conference in 2017. Since 2008 he has been involved with the Canadian Student Leadership Association in various capacities and helped develop their Leadership Advisor Certification Program. 

He is a husband, an uncle to his amazing nephews and nieces, a sports nut, and still thinks he has the best job in the world. 

Connect with Marc: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian student leadership website
Fleetwood park secondary
Canadian student leadership conference (CSLC)

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 student podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Marc England. Marc is a teacher as well as a student leadership advisor and a director for the Canadian student leadership association. He teaches out in Surrey, BC. In this episode, he talks a lot about school culture and a dozen actionable ideas that you can take with your students in your school to boost student morale, to increase engagement, and bring everyone together to build some real community during this tough, challenging time professional life aside, marc loves hockey, specifically the New York Rangers, his grandfather played in the league and he even draws some parallels along the lines of hockey and student leadership. In this episode. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this episode. It’s packed with nuggets and gems. Get a pen and a sheet of paper and enjoy the interview. I’ll see you on the other side, marc. Thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. We just chatted a little bit about your family lineage with the New York Rangers. Please let everyone know who you are, where you teach and why you got into the work you do with young people today.


Marc England (01:16):
Awesome. Well, first of all, thanks for having me on, this is a great opportunity and you know, to give you a little bit of a shadow before we even start, you were part of the global loose to the global student leadership day therein may, that Stu put on. And when I asked her my kids’ reflections, you were on more than a few about what they had to say about the day. So something about what you said is surely identifying with our kids and that’s important. So a little tip of the hat to you, my friend. So yeah, my name’s Marc England and I work in Surrey, British Columbia at Fleetwood park secondary, and I started out as a humanities and social studies teacher and evolved into student leadership. And right now that’s kind of the hat I wear is teach a little bit of humanities, but run our student leadership program and teach a couple of blocks to that and leadership department head and, and work with some other things around here too.


Marc England (02:06):
So yeah, that’s, that’s my job. And as far as why I do what I do, you know, Conlon always says it best Dave Conlin, a fellow I work with with the Canadian student leadership association says we have the best job in the world. So why would, why would you not want to do and not do the work when you have the best job in the world? I think like most teachers were really in this to see and help kids succeed and to really see their journey. And for our case in BC, at least in Surrey, we don’t have a middle school model. So for five years, we get to see that evolution and see that success grow including the bumps in the road sometimes, but that makes it rewarding at the end. So whatever that might be most for some, it might be graduation and some of it might be a full-ride scholarship to uni.


Marc England (02:51):
Whatever that success is when they leave, that’s what we want. And that’s why we love what we do. I love working with student leaders. It’s honestly, that’s, that’s the part of the job that keeps me going every day still. I mean, I love teaching and teaching humanities and social studies, but 23 years in, I’ve been doing that. And student leadership is different every day and it’s a different group of kids all the time. Those are the kids that are engaged. Those are the kids that are, that want to contribute to their community, contribute to their schools. I mean, who would want to work with those kids? And you know, to be honest with you, I’ve always kind of asked for, for us, we started at eight and go to 12 and I’ve always wanted to have great 8, 10, 12’s, because I, I don’t like just teaching seniors. I want to have the newbies, cause I want to try and get them excited about our school and make them feel, feel belong. So those are a whole bunch of reasons, kind of why I do what I do.


Sam Demma (03:44):
At what point in your life did you make the decision I’m going to be a teacher? Was it because someone else tapped you on the shoulder? Was it because your parents told you to, or was there just an innate feeling that you wanted to teach? One day?


Marc England (03:59):
It’s funny. I didn’t really set out to be a teacher. I went to school, my mom was an instructor in the psychiatric nursing department at a local college university. And so she was fairly academic and there was that pressure to go to school. But I didn’t really set out to be an educator. I kind of was working in the business for a buddy who had his own business. And I pretty soon realized that that wasn’t really something that I wanted to do. Not because I didn’t enjoy the work and being part of a business, but I just didn’t really find it that rewarding profession. Like, you know, you go to work, you kind of go do the grind and, and it just, wasn’t what I kind of was looking for. And I could feel that in my soul. But I had been working, I, part of my youth was working at, with softball, Canada.


Marc England (04:46):
I played ball and then I started umpiring at the age of 11. And as I kind of got older, I got, we got to climb the ranks of the empire world. And I got to work with kids as I got older in a mentor capacity and a local kind of park empire and chief. And so part of that was teaching the clinics. And part of that was working with kids and something with that, just kind of jived with me and being able to see them learn and then see them apply skills. I thought you know what? This is kind of cool. Maybe this is something that I want to do. And a lot of the guys that I kind of hung out with within that world were educators, or either already established, dedicated educators or going in to be educators. And so I thought, well, you know what, this, this might be cool.


Marc England (05:26):

So I reached out to a, to a local, to one of my favorite teachers. And I mean, I think we all have those people in our school lives that really kind of pushed us and drove us and got us and, and really inspired us to do what we do with kids. And for me, the first guy like that was Mr. Jamison in grade five, you know, the brand new kid from Winnipeg just made me feel welcome and was, probably one of the best teachers that I’ve ever seen in my life. And then my 10 English teacher grade eight and 10 English teacher, Mrs. Hilman. I approached her and she was hard. Oh, she was hard, but she was good. And talk about keeping kids at the center of what she did. And I think that’s why I reached out to her and said, you know, I’d like to maybe think about this. She said, come on in. We did some volunteer work. And from then I was hooked. It was, it was, that’s what I wanted to do. So it wasn’t necessarily that I’ve always felt this string, but there is no doubt in my mind that I have ended up doing what I was meant to do.


Sam Demma (06:28):
What did those teachers in your life do for you that made all the difference? Jamison and the teacher you just alluded to?


Marc England (06:35):
Oh, man. Mrs. Hellman. Both of them I’ll tell you the one thing, and this is what I draw. This is what this is at the center is, is relating to kids and keeping it’s the relationships piece, right? Like everything on, you know, Phil boy talks about the relationship pyramid or the leadership pyramid. And at the bottom of it is this is the relationships, it’s the foundation of everything we do. So there was never any, like the first day I walked into school. It wasn’t like, you know, I remember as the new kid from, from December too wasn’t, even in September, I remember he’s like, Hey, how are you? Tell me about yourself. Who are you? Where do you come from? What’s your story? So that was huge, right? What’s your story? Who are the, who are you coming into my room here? And it wasn’t a bad thing.


Marc England (07:13):
It was like, I just want to know you and the other stuff took a back seat. And then the other Mrs. Hilman same thing. But boy, like I said, she was tough. She was firm, she was a hard teacher, a hard marker, but at the center of it was relationships. And you talk to, you know, she sadly passed away a few years ago, but you talk to anybody who went through that school. And some people, you know, didn’t like her class because it was hard, but I don’t think you’d find too many people that didn’t love her. Right. And that’s the key is that you know, it, if you keep the kids at the center of what we do and every kid at the center of what we do, it’s that it’s the success. That’s awesome. That’s the common denominator between those two. I like that.


Sam Demma (08:01):
And during COVID it’s a challenging time. How do we still keep students at the center? There are so many things to worry about. There are some challenges you’ve been faced with, how do we make sure students still stay at the center of our focus during these tough times?


Marc England (08:15):
You know, it’s an interesting calm kind of question because we’ve talked about this. One of my hats that I wear is I work with the Canadian student leadership association. I’m part of their board of directors, but you know, really I’ve been working with them for 15 years on, at the board level anyway. And, and, and I’ve been, you know, to go back to your, how did I get into this work question? Can I go back and answer something on that? Of course I just, you know, that I F I feel like there are things in our lives and in our, in our careers, that when they happen, they happen for a reason. And I was in about 2001 as a brand new, not brand new teacher, but new to a school teacher who, and they, the principal said, you know, what would you mind taking over student council?


Marc England (09:07):
And I had never been, I was a wannabe student leader in, in high school. And I, you know, my best friend, she was on student council and I always kind of admired it from afar. And I thought you know what? That would be cool. I would really, that that’s something that I would like to do. And I liked all the events that we were running at the school. I liked the planning stuff. I thought it would be just something that would be right up my alley little did I know that I would be still doing it this many years later? The thing is too, is that the average leadership life teacher’s lifespan is about what Dave says. It’s about three to five years, just simply because it’s all-encompassing, right. And you’re running events all the time and doing all these things, but it’s so amazing.


Marc England (09:51):
And I fluently kind of fell into what I do. So this one principal just kind of said, Hey, do you wanna? I said, sure. And then what, like go back to the empire thing. One of the guys that I was umpiring with when we were kids, he was doing a leadership program in hope, British Columbia, and he and his wife were planning a national conference or part of a committee. And they said, do you want to join us here? And that was, that was how I got hooked into CSLC and the Canadian conference, and the Canadian student leadership association. And that was 2002. So here we are in 2020. And, and it’s something that still is amazing. So, you know, sometimes it’s people that tap you on the shoulder, and sometimes it’s people that you have things in common and, you know, some things just happen at the right time in your life and really guide you in what your path might be.


Marc England (10:37):
So going back to your COVID question. Yeah. You’re the COVID question, you know, it’s I think the struggle question is, is the hardest piece. And the biggest piece that in schools is culture. School culture right now is really, really suffering during COVID-19 and it’s nobody’s fault. Honestly, everybody’s doing the very best that they can, but most events in schools that bring people, kids, staff together are not happening. Yeah. So you have some instances of a little bit of student culture where the kids are interacting and, you know, there may be hanging out at lunch and this kind of thing, and you have some instances of staff culture where the adults in the building might be hanging out, but there’s very little beyond the actual dynamics of the classroom. There’s very little activity between staff and students in those events that really form the basis of school culture. So I think that’s probably our biggest struggle within the school system right now.


Sam Demma (11:38):
Great point. And not that I was going to ask if the school has done anything or had any unique ideas that they’ve tried, maybe you’ve tried something, it hasn’t worked out. Maybe it’s been a home run. I’m just curious to know if you had any ideas that you thought were good or that tried so far.


Marc England (11:53):
Well, you know, it’s interesting. We I have to backtrack and we have to kind of figure out where people are at and now we’re, we’re kind of almost, we’re a month into school out here. We’re in Surrey, we’re three weeks into full-time. This is week four of like full-time classes. We’re on a quarter system. So we’re basically, we switched over and kids are taking two classes at a time for basically two and a half, three hours a day. And one in the morning, one in the afternoon, seniors are remote in the afternoon, except for one day. So, you know, kids are overwhelmed a little bit it’s nobody’s fault. Like I said, it’s kind of the only system that we can make work. And so I think anything that we plan has to work around that, and, you know, the kids we forget about the kids that might have algebra, or, you know, they might have pre-calculus 12 and chemistry 12 in the same quarter and or English 12.


Marc England (12:49):
You know, I have one of my leadership kids has chemistry 12 and English 12, and that’s hard. She’s going home and doing a lot of work right now. So kids are overwhelmed a little bit and especially the seniors. And, you know, the one thing that we have to have to look at when we’re starting to plan how we can make this work is how do we build collegiality? How do we build back that collegiality with kids that collegiality with our colleagues in the building, we have, you know, a hundred plus adults in this building? How do we build that collegiality back? How do we get out of our isolation? Cause it’s easy to stay in, want to be safe in your classroom and close the door and do those kinds of things. And again, Phil boy talks about silos, but how do we do that?


Marc England (13:31):
We don’t have big lunches. You know our PE department, you know, I give them credit. Our PE office was always kind of a magnet for lunch. People went down there and ate lunch. So what they’ve done is, you know, spread some tables out in the small gym so that adults can come and eat lunch together. Our library and our teacher-librarian said you know what, I’ll open up the library. So rather than small prep rooms, people can space out and start to have that collegiality. Because I think by week two, we recognized that it was missing in building our staff culture. So I think in terms of how do we overcome things and creative ideas? I’m lucky that I work in a district with a director of instruction who, I don’t know whether a principal tapped her on the shoulder or somebody that she knew, but she is such a phenomenal educator herself.


Marc England (14:23):

And she you know, Gloria is, was beloved as a principal and now she’s working in the district office and she just said, you know what? I’m going to gather as many people as I can safely together at the district center. And let’s have a brainstorm as to how we can run events safely. So last week, in fact, she held two days where she brought together elementary schools and secondary schools, one administrator and perhaps a leadership teacher, but two people from each school. And she had a list of kind of the main events that would happen. So starting with the Terry Fox run right through to Halloween, right through to Christmas, right through to Valentine’s day. And we kind of the whole year, and you could, it was, she ran it almost like a speed dating thing where you could sit six feet apart and talk safely, but from other schools.


Marc England (15:08):
And then she kept a live document as to how, you know when you get a hundred people brainstorming, how we could do these things safely. And man, some of the ideas that came out of there, you know, Terry Fox run, for example. So rather than having somebody, having the whole school out on the field and say, go and collecting coins that are, you know, we can’t do so how can we do that safely? Well, most schools now have an online payment system. So encouraging your kids to, if the, if they can make a donation through the online payment system, let’s do that. So that’s safe. And then some schools ran staggered walks where the different cohorts were going off at different areas. And they were going at different times and they were starting at different places and they were ending at different places and the teachers were walking with them.


Marc England (15:52):
But they were all in the community and there was kind of marker posts around and it was all done with that Terry Fox run mentality in mind. So it wouldn’t be lost. Hope secondary did something I just found out about yesterday called T Terry Fox 40, this being the 40th year, of course, rather than, you know, they didn’t do their run, but what they had was they contributed each kind of classroom contributed something around 40. So the woodshop made 40 pieces of, you know, their project, the cooking class made 40 cookies. And so they did whatever their kind of curriculum area was, you know, the French class conjugated, 40 verbs, whatever it was, they were doing things around 40. And they made that their number for the day that they were, they were honoring Terry Fox’s purpose.


Marc England (16:43):
And so all sorts of creative ideas that you, you may not be able to do the event that you’ve way you’ve done it. But if there’s a purpose to the event, is there a way that we can do the event and still honor that purpose? So I think that’s kind of the nugget that I took away from last week and through conversations with people and, you know I think I give all the credit in our world to ours, my staff that I work with. I’m fortunate to work with some amazing people. Our biggest event here at the fluid park is something we have run for our grade eight. It’s called the grade eight retreat. And essentially every year we take 250 or 300-grade eights away to camp. And so half of them go have one night and half of them go the next night.


Marc England (17:26):
And it’s just a day of activities, fun team building activities and what it means to be a dragon, and how they give back to their school. Here are the clubs, but it’s all run by our student leaders and they run the sessions. They do the, they do the breakout things. They run the games, you know, teachers, are there, basically to serve lasagna and kind of supervise. It’s awesome. So you talk to any kids when they graduate. What do you remember about the fluid park? It’s always, you know, I wish I may be gotten involved more, but man graded retreat that’s and the kids, the amount of kids that want to sign up when they’re grade 10, 11, 12 to be mentors is incredible. So it truly is one of, it’s probably our secret event. It’s our traditional it’s, it’s rooted in our, in our traditions. And it is part of our culture.


Marc England (18:12):
So obviously we can’t go to camp. We can’t put kids on buses, we can’t do things like trust falls. We can’t do things that are, you know even, even team-building hot potato games where they’re touching the same thing, we can’t do that. How do we, so we asked ourselves, how can we take the mentorship piece? Because when we looked, I said to the colleagues that I was working with on this what’s our purpose with this? What, what purpose does this serve? Well, it really came down to mentorship and it came down to basically having our grades have something coming into our school. So we decided the purpose has to be well, let’s still have them. They’re Fleetwood park shirts that they’re going to wear with pride, and let’s try and do something where we can still have that mentorship piece. So through some creativity our team sat down and they hammered out.


Marc England (18:59):
Basically, each graded cohort of 30 kids is going to have two hours with senior leadership kids this week in, and it’s not retreat at camp, but it’s retreat activities outside on one of our fields. Cause the weather is supposed to be nice. So every grade eight is still going to get two hours of team building and what it means to be a dragon, but it’s going to be done safely. It’s going to be done at a distance. It’s going to be done, but we haven’t lost our purpose. So when I think when you step back and ask you that what’s the purpose of the event, I think that’s, that’s something that you can sometimes overcome.


Sam Demma (19:30):
Tony, Tony Robbins always says the quality of our life is determined by the questions we ask. And when you ask yourself those questions that leads to a positive outcome. If you have enough brains in a room like you did with your brainstorm with your school board and Gloria, of course, you’re going to have some amazing ideas. I think this is a great takeaway for any educator listening, who might be out of province, struggling to come up with ideas. The classic mastermind principle is so key and your school is evident of that. Marc, you’ve obviously built over the past dozen years, an amazing school culture at Fleetwood. I’m sure there’s been dozens of stories of students when they graduate writing you letters and reaching out that you didn’t even know you impacted, but telling you how big of an impact that you had on their life.


Sam Demma (20:16):
Can you think of a story, maybe the first story that pops into your mind of a student who’s been deeply impacted by student leadership work by your work, by your colleagues work. And can you share that student’s story? You can change their name for privacy reasons. If it’s a very deep story, the purpose of sharing, this is in the hope that another educator might be inspired to remember why the work that you do, that we do is so important, especially if this is their first year in education and they’re thinking, oh my goodness, what did I sign up for? So what stories come to mind?


Marc England (20:47):
Oh, Man! You know, so student leadership, like I said, that I keep you’re right. I have, I mean, I hate talking about myself, Sam, I’m not going to lie, but I sometimes show my kids this, when we get too stressful points, I keep what I call my bad day file. And it’s literally, it’s probably too big for one file now, but it’s every card, every note, every piece of every letter that I’ve ever gotten, I just keep it in the file. And then that’s 20 years now of, of stuff. I keep a wall of fame in my classroom with kids that have graduated from various things that we do as far as specific kids there, there’s a few I think, let me, let me answer your question through a little bit of a different lens if that’s okay. Of course.


Marc England (21:40):
Let me tell you about why student leadership’s rewarding for me. And it, it is, it is along the same lines of your question, but here. So I had a kid Brittany that came into my classroom in grade eight and you know, she was like any other grade eight and nervous and self-conscious and all of those things that go along with your first year in high school. And, you know, I think it was grade nine. We tapped her on the shoulder to get involved with the student council and she just started her journey. And, you know, she came from a family of four kids with a single mom. I taught, attended up. I taught all the kids, the whole family, and she, her mom was such a hard worker. Oh, just worked so hard for those kids. And she was always at school doing what she needed to do. A good student.


Marc England (22:30):
You know, she was a good academic student, but just jived on the student council stuff, grade 12, we can, she came to PEI with us, for Canadian student leadership conference. And for her, I could just see the light bulb go off for her. And that was something that she loved. So she’s a great example of, you know, sometimes all it takes is to ask that kid to alter or find a way to get them involved. And it takes them through four or five years of their high school journey. And the reason Brittany’s story is special to me is that, you know, she was one that wrote me this beautiful letter upon her graduation that I put into my bad day file. And it sat there for 5, 6, 7 years and last year or two years ago, I guess it was because she wasn’t here last year.


Marc England (23:21):
Brittany ended up as a colleague at my school and she’s become a teacher. And so here we were from mentor and teacher and student relationship to now colleagues. And, you know, she’s still a pretty special person. She came to my wedding last year. But you know, I showed her, I said, you know, when you’re doubting your purpose as a teacher, don’t forget that you never know what somebody’s journey is. And I pulled that out and I showed her, and I think that reaffirmed for her that because she’s with the student council here and working on some things here in student leadership. So for me, that was a special moment. That’s a special kid that, that I was able to see, go and end up, you know, doing something similar, but just she’s similar to me. And she just loves what she does and keeps kids at the center.


Marc England (24:13):
So there’s been others, there’s been other kids that I’ve seen. You know, I have a student who was with me and was my student council president. Who’s now, you know, one of the local managers, team management, a high up management team with one of the most successful restaurant chains locally. And she’s doing well and succeeding and you know, and those are skills that she learned through student leadership. So whether it’s a kind of personal story and you see the personal growth or whether it’s a professional story and you see the professional growth of these kids, to me, that’s worth everything.


Sam Demma (24:46):
That’s awesome. So cool, marc. I absolutely love the story. And again, I wanted to ask because there might be a teacher who’s starting their first year thinking, what the heck did I sign up for here? And if you could travel back in time to when you were starting your first year, what would you have told your younger self? What pieces of advice would you give your younger self?


Marc England (25:09):
I would say don’t get frustrated by policy and don’t get frustrated by people or things that seem to be in your way. You know, they’re there for a reason I would say, keep working at finding solutions. And I think that’s something that I’ve always pushed for. You know, if something I find, if something frustrates me, I just ask my principal, how can we make this work? What can we do? And nine times out of 10, we find a way to make it work. You know, it may not look as exactly as it is in my brain, but I think, honestly, your question, if I were to go back, I would tell myself, you know, don’t ever stop keeping kids in the center of what you do. When I first started, I was young I was easily relatable to kids and it was easy to kind of get them, right?


Marc England (26:05):
And I got kids, kids got me. And, but now, you know, here we are 23 years later and I still find it relatively easy to relate to kids. And so why is that? Well, I think it’s because kids are the purpose of what we do and it doesn’t necessarily matter that I’m going to get through a, to Z of the curriculum. I’m going to teach all the skills and I’m going to do as much as I can, but some days, some days it’s more important to just ask kids how they’re doing rather than teach that one lesson.


Sam Demma (26:37):
That’s Awesome. I love that so much. And as an off-topic question to wrap this up, your grandfather, New York Rangers mentioned at the beginning, it looks like you’re also wearing a hockey Jersey. First of all, do you see any connection between hockey and student leadership? Could you draw any connections between the sport and the game and two, what makes you so passionate about hockey?


Marc England (27:00):
Well, I grew up, I grew up partly in Winnipeg so, you know, there’s not much else to do besides the sports there, but, yeah, you know what I was, my grandfather played in the New York Rangers, he’s in the hockey hall of fame and, you know, it’s always been, it’s something that as a kid, we took for granted, I won’t make any bones about it. He’s my hero. And my role model. I was lucky to grow up with three incredible male role models in my life. My grandfather and my stepdad and my dad, all three of them had such a profound impact on where I am in life. But for my grandfather, though, hockey player, what, what I learned from him is how to treat people. And he, we would be with him and he would stop. And whether it was somebody that wanted an autograph or somebody that just wanted to chat, he made time for everybody.


Marc England (27:45):
And he was never in a rush, drove my grandmother nuts, but he made time for people. And I think that’s the lesson learned is that I might need to get out the door, but there’s a kid standing at my door that wants to talk, and I need to give that kid that time. Right. And make time for people. And people will make time for you. The other thing I learned about that is his teamwork. You know he was a goaltender, he was kind of the backstop of that team, but it really took, you know, five other guys on the ice at the time or 15 other guys on the bench at the time to find any kind of level of success. And always said that he said, you know what, we, we did, we had didn’t have the greatest the clubs as he would say, but he said, we really got along and we worked hard and we did well together that year.


Marc England (28:31):
And they made it to the Stanley cup final game seven-double overtime. And so he, that’s something that I even take to education is that I’m, you know, I’m part of a team, I’m part of a team of adults in this building. I’m part of a team with our student leadership family around the country. I’m part of a team with my kids. I always say to my kids in class, I’m like, listen, what I do reflects you, what you do reflects me. And so, we’re in this journey together. It’s not me, the teacher, it’s us as this group. And I think the final piece around what I would say from hockey to, and sports to this is that nobody’s bigger than a game and, you know great hockey players retire, and yeah, they’ve made an impact and they’ve done some things, but there’s always somebody else that’s going to move into that position.


Marc England (29:24):
And I’ve learned that I’ve learned that, you know, in my young days I thought, oh, I’m, I’m good at what I do. And, and there was some swagger, but there’s always somebody that’s going to, if I were to be gone tomorrow, somebody would roll into my chair and do a good job and make it different and make it better. And nobody’s bigger than the game. And so sometimes we need to check ourselves as teachers and revisit that relationship piece and revisit that purpose piece. And what drives us. We were talking about this with you know, part of the thing that kind of pushes me as I move forward. And it’s not just kid’s success, but seeing all of our leadership friends, we didn’t get to go to the CSLC this year with Canadian leadership conference. But seeing people post about how special our jobs are and how, how awesome it is to work with kids and, but work with each other and get ideas from all around the country. So, yeah, it’s pretty, pretty awesome.


Sam Demma (30:21):
I think what you said about nobody’s bigger than the game, not only applies to the teacher, but about anyone in life, and it’s a beautiful analogy and I’m glad you pulled it from the sport. And I love the Jersey. I love the backdrop. It’s cool to see the passion for it. Anyways, this has been an incredible interview. The audio sounds great. Shout out to your headphones that no one can see right now, but those are awesome.


Marc England (30:44):
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And you know, oh, sorry. Go ahead, Sam.


Sam Demma (30:48):
I was going to ask you if an educator from around the country wants to reach out and bounce some ideas around what would be the best way for them to do so.


Marc England (30:56):
Oh, probably email. It can be reached at, if you go to the Canadian student leadership website: student leadership.ca under the contact, the team I’m there, or just, my email is england_m@surreyschools.ca that’s, that’s easy as well or DM through Twitter at @mreteacher or Instagram mreteacher27.


Sam Demma (31:19):
Awesome. And any last thoughts? Any last thoughts to share?


Marc England (31:23):
Yeah. You know what I do I’ll share a story a little bit about the struggles that we’re kind of working on. And, and as we kind of, I, you know, this isn’t going away, Sam COVID is not going away anytime soon. And so when I started this, this year, coming back to school, there was a lot of uncertainty, myself included. I was anxious. Like everybody else, there’s a lot of anxiety in our buildings. There’s a lot of anxiety amongst staff. There’s a lot of anxiety amongst kids. My advice and what I, my, I think as we navigate this together, as we are, we are in together. Stu likes to say, we’re all in the same ocean, different boats, which is a good analogy, but we all are on our journey. Kind of experiencing different things in the same way, like the same ocean as he says.


Marc England (32:10):
So, you know, I think for me, it’s about helping colleagues and just say, let’s, let’s not give up. Let’s focus on the, let’s revisit the purpose. When we were in the spring, we had a kid, and again, you kind of your COVID question. You know, we had an email from a dad and this is a shout-out to my colleagues at our school here. We had an email from a dad that said, thank you. And the reason he was saying, thank you was that there was a lot of discussion as to whether you do a synchronous session or an asynchronous session for your academic classes. And the dad simply said you know what, thank you for not making everything synchronous because I have four kids. I’m a single dad. I got four kids in one laptop. And that to me, he really made me step back and say, okay, you know what? Everybody’s circumstances are different, but when we truly are appreciative and we understand, and we help each other through their journey through this, I think we can overcome what we need to overcome. Right? School’s not going to be the same, but let’s revisit our purpose, our events, our culture, and find ways that we can try to make things happen as best we can. If it’s virtual, it’s virtual, if it’s six feet apart is six feet apart, but let’s always kind of keep that purpose at the root of what we do.


Sam Demma (33:29):
Awesome. Thanks so much, marc. This has been a phenomenal interview. I really appreciate you taking some time to share some ideas on the show.


Marc England (33:36):
Oh, thank you. Thanks for having me, Sam, I look forward to, I’ve been listening to some of your work with the student podcasts. So you know, keep doing what you do as well. It’s, it’s inspirational to the kids. And like I said, you’ve made an impact even on my kids, just through your work with the global student leadership day.


Sam Demma (33:52):
Appreciate It, marc. I’ll talk to you soon.


Marc England (33:53):
Okay. Thanks, man.


Sam Demma (33:56):
Wow. What a jam-packed interview with Marc England. He has so much to offer and so much to provide. I’m sure you took so many notes away from this episode. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope it was valuable and worth the investment of the time you put in to listen to it. And if you did enjoy it, consider leaving a rating and review on the show. So more educators like yourself, find this. And as always, if you have something to share, please reach out to us at info@samdemma.com so we can get your stories and actionable ideas on the podcast for your colleagues around the world to hear, learn from and implement and as always, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Marc England

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.

Erika Rath – Director of Student Services at The Sacred Heart School of Montreal

Erika Rath - Director of Student Services at The Sacred Heart School of Montreal (Part 2)
About Erika Rath

Erika Rath is the Director of Student Services and teacher at The Sacred Heart School of Montreal. Erika has been working in the educational field since the late 1990s. She was always involved in her community recreation programs and worked as a camp counsellor and director for several summers.

While studying in Cegep and University, Erika worked with pre-school children and led classes for parents and young toddlers. In 2004, while completing her Bachelor’s degree in Human Relations at Concordia University, Erika became a teaching assistant in the department and realized that she loved working with people and leading groups. After finishing her BA, she decided to obtain a certificate in Teaching English as a Second language so that she could travel the world and teach. Before making any firm plans, she was accepted to do her Master’s in Educational Psychology at McGill University and was also offered a job in a learning centre at her old high school.

Both opportunities led her to realize that working with students was her passion. She went on to teach English and Social studies at the high school for 5 years and then was accepted to do the one-year teaching program at The University of Toronto.  Upon returning to Montreal, Erika was finally able to use her TESOL certificate and worked for Concordia in the continuing education department.

On a whim, Erika applied to The Sacred Heart School of Montreal and was hired for a part-time position. Over the years, Erika has been fortunate to experience a variety of roles within the school. She has taught English, been the Student Life Coordinator, the Director of Academics, helped out with enrolment and advancement, advised students on post-secondary choices and more.

Currently, Erika oversees all of student life, the boarding program, the grade 12 program, the discipline at the school and teaches the PD-personal development class to all grade levels. Erika is passionate about educating the whole student and hopes to help in their growth and development by creating an environment where students can talk openly without fear of judgment.

Erika is the proud recipient of the 2021 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

Connect with Erika Rath: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now (Part One)

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

Listen Now (Part Two)

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

Resources Mentioned

Erika Rath Personal Blog

TED Talks

Trunk or Treat

Award for Teaching Excellence

National Coalition-Girls School (NCGS )

Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS)

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):
Erika welcome back to the high performing educator podcast. This is your second time on the show. It is a pleasure to have you here today because you’re celebrating a huge milestone because of the impact that the program that you’ve been running in your school is making, why don’t you introduce yourself in share a little bit about that milestone moment?


Erika Rath (00:24):
Sure. Thanks. Sam for having me again, I, love being here. So yes, I’m the director of student services at the sacred heart school of Montreal in Montreal, Quebec. And I’m also a teacher. I teach a class called PD – personal development. And basically I was given the award for teaching excellence for helping to empower young women and and you know propel them forward to be change makers and, and make a difference in this world. And I think in order to do that, we have to understand who we are and where we come from and be vulnerable and be open to having challenging and sometimes conversations. So the class is pretty unique. I see the students for one hour, every eight days and it’s not mandated by the ministry, so there’s no homework, there’s no grading, there’s no marks, which is great for them. And for me, of course, and it gives us the ability to be ourselves and see where the win. Of course, I go in, obviously with a plan, a video to share an activity that we can work on, but it’s amazing to see that the, the, we, we find ourselves going in different directions based on what we need that particular moment.


Sam Demma (01:37):
Students often hear the word PD when they have a day off No, we, we have a PD day and every kid goes home to watch Netflix and eat chips and teachers go and improve their practice or teaching. What inspired the creation of a, a PD class for students. And what does the content and the curriculum actually looked like in that Classroom?


Erika Rath (02:05):
Sure. Great question. So, so first of all, here we call it a P day. So we try not to confuse the students with PD and PD, but, but it’s funny because teachers when we have PD days or we have we do professional development, right? So that’s, so it’s, it’s a bit similar in the sense that for the students, we are, we’re growing, we’re personally, we’re developing ourselves. And so the, the course is not something I created it already existed before I even came to the school, but it was called GI and that was general instruction. And so when we think of what is generally taught, you know, that could be a whole gamut of things. And of course what did, was, I tried to modernize it a little bit and realize that you know, there are certain things that still were really important, like mass etiquette, right?


Erika Rath (02:52):
Like how to sit properly in a chapel or in any place of worship and be respectful. But there were some other things that I just, you know, maybe weren’t my forte or I didn’t know them well enough. And so I, I kind of said like, let, what else can we be teaching? So digital citizenship and literacy, like what, what is your place online? How to, how to be, how to act online, things like that. And then also just like looking back at my own experience in high school and thinking like, what were some of the things is that I was missing there? Oh, like a place to have a conversation about how I’m feeling as a woman or as a teenager growing into a body and, and, and a discussion around that. And, oh, I’m sure if I’m feeling that 10 other students are feeling that too. Could we at least try to be comfortable in an uncomfortable place together and come together through that that, that the, the sense that we’re the same and how could we connect over that? And so that’s really kind of where I was teaching general instruction, and then I thought, I don’t want it to be so general anymore. I want it to be a little bit more about our growth and development. What could we be calling this? And we played around with some names, and that’s what we came up with.


Sam Demma (03:58):
You mentioned sometimes you go to the class and obviously you have ideas of activities, videos to watch. What are some of the resources, maybe books, videos that you and the class work through to prompt some meaningful discussion, maybe, you know, name a couple of those resources that you think might be helpful if someone else’s listening and will wants to have a meaningful discussion with a group of young women.


Erika Rath (04:23):
Sure. So I, I mean, I’ll be honest. I use a lot of videos from Ted talks. I really, I think those are great. It’s great to see people you might not really ever get to see in, in real life. You know, just walking down the street or in your community. So I use a lot of that. I short snippets I use a software called my B, so what I’ve done is it creates like a portfolio system for the students. And so what is really cool is that they can see kind of their growth and development over the course of five years. So, wow. How did I respond to a reflection in grade seven and then, wow, I’m now a mature young adult in grade 11. How do, how am I responding a little bit differently, maybe to a similar topic, but we’re delving in a bit deeper.


Erika Rath (05:02):
I also bring in a lot of guest speakers because let’s be honest, I’m not an expert in everything and, and any, you know, in all, in all of things. And so I think it’s really important to have people who know a lot more or who are more research based than I am coming in. So, you know, like mad will come in and do a talk about driving under, under the influence. We’ll have guest speakers about mental health coming in. We might have residents or doctors in, in in from different hospitals coming in to talk to us about different things. I, I wanna make sure that the students are getting the right information. And if I don’t know it, I, I don’t wanna pretend to. So I don’t think there’s any, you know, anything, there’s no shame in saying, I don’t know, but let me figure out how I can know it and present it to you in the best way.


Sam Demma (05:50):
That’s awesome. And the sharing of uncomfortable things like you mentioned earlier, yeah. Often happens when trust is built. At least that’s how I look at it when I am about to share something that I think is very private or maybe a little bit embarrassing or something. I only talk to with some of my best friends. How do you think you build, build that trust with a student and a group of students to this degree where they’re willing to share this uncomfortable conversations?


Erika Rath (06:27):
That’s such a great question. I mean, trust is definitely not built overnight. And, and I find that I’m in a bit of a difficult position here. As a director of student services, I’m also in charge of discipline at, at the school. And so I, I don’t want a student to feel that she can’t come tell me something just because I might have given her a detention the week before for uniforms or lates or, or whatever else the, the infraction might have been. So it’s really hard to juggle the two, but I think being approachable, you know, like the door to my office is always open. Also just being physically close to the girls and where they keep their belongings, that helps. But also, like I often tell stories about my own childhood or my, my parents or my family or what it was like growing up.


Erika Rath (07:07):
And then I think it’s like, oh, Ms. Roth is sharing. She’s putting herself out there. She’s being vulnerable. She’s trusting us with this story. Then they do learn to trust me also, I do wanna have a good of time with them. I do wanna share, I do wanna address topics. The other part of the job, the discipline part is not the fun part. It’s not like I get joy outta that. It’s just that that’s part of what I have to do. And, and the truth is that’s a teaching, that’s a teachable moment as well. Like we’ve asked you to do something. You might not agree with it. But we’re asking you to do it. We’ve given rationale and we’re asking you to follow it the same as at work, right? Your boss says you have to come in at eight 30. Well, you like to sleep until nine 30. Well, you have to figure out how to get there at eight 30 and, and be respectful and do that. So I think it’s about life skills and realizing that we work with a lot of different people. We might not always like the rules, but we still have to follow them. You know, we can find out why there are rules. But I think it all really comes back to the trust, the teachable moment. And hopefully the girls can see me like and separate the fact that the discipline is involved.


Sam Demma (08:11):
I love that. A big part from talking to you previously, I know a big part of your work is also encouraging service, the importance of giving back. And I know right now you’re doing some unique things in this school, not only to give back to the students, but also to fundraise and give back to the community as a whole. What are some of those things that are going on that you think are unique ideas that other schools may be able to implement and also touch upon the importance of service?


Erika Rath (08:38):
Sure. That great, great high. I mean, we’re so devoted to service. It’s, it’s one of our our goals social awareness, which empowers to action. And so this year’s a little bit tricky again with COVID. We often do huge boxes of food in every Homer homeroom. Every student is responsible for bringing in, you know, like ketchups and mustards and cereals and things like that. We also do toy drives and warm, mittens gloves, hat, socks. Unfortunately, a lot of the places that we support have reached out to us and said due to, to limiting of space and just with COVID, they don’t want the actual items this year. So everyone’s donating money so that we can buy gift cards at grocery stores to donate to needy families so that they can have a Christmas meal on their, on their table.


Erika Rath (09:22):
In addition we’re selling hot chocolate at lunch, just raising money in, in different ways. We have a spare change challenge. So we decorate those huge water bottles and the grades have to put change in their water bottles and grade who raises the most money in change will win like a free dress day or a pizza lunch in the new year. You can also kind of like if you have a rival grade, you could stick bills into their ch into their jug. And then it kind of like offsets their amount, but we’re still obviously raising money. So it’s still good. And then an idea that we came up with this year, which I’m super proud of, which a lot of fun is a call the advent calendar. So everyone knows, you know, you get an advent calendar, you open it up every day.


Erika Rath (10:02):
There’s a little chocolate. Sure. That’s a little fun surprise. We, the school, we are the advent calendar this year. And so students have prepaid for the entire month of December and every day they come to school and we dispense a small all gift to them. That was a surprise. The night before we might email them with a clue, or we might tell them, you know, it’s a free dress day tomorrow because you bought the advent calendar passport. Today they got to pie a teacher or their class rep we’ve given out like 10 bits. We will give out things like Christmas cookies. And then on Fridays, we double up the gift, cuz they’re are not here on the weekend. So we raised quite a bit of money that way, and it’s just nice to see students participating and having fun and doing good for the community. And, and I want them to understand that it’s an integral part of who we are, but we can also have fun in a meaningful way as well.


Sam Demma (10:53):
When you say Tim bits, do you mean Tim BES?


Erika Rath (10:56):
So we, we got this Tim bits. Yeah. Now I’ve been wanting to see the Tim BES. So we, we we had preordered, so we just got a lot of Timbits


Sam Demma (11:04):
That’s so awesome. And this past year has been unique for you as an educator because it’s been full of transition, you know, COVID slowing down, hopefully fingers crossed, not speeding up a good in with new variants and whatnot. How have you continued to educate yourself and you know, continue with your own PD and personal development. What are any conferences you attended over the past year, since we last spoke that you found meaningful or resources that you’ve you’ve read or watched that you as an educator thought were helpful, that someone else may been it from?


Erika Rath (11:38):
That’s a great question. I, I think it’s the students that really continue to inspire and, and energize me this year has been so much better than last year. You know, I feel like we’re kind of back to normal just with the mask, which is fine. You know, we’re all used to wearing it. It’s part of our lives. We had our first school assembly in September and I could feel the buzz in the room and like just the sheer, like wanting to be together and the applause and the raw rawness of it. I, I was sitting in, in the chair at the front and I could feel tears coming down my cheek because I was so happy to be happy and so happy to be like, oh my God, we’re together. This is actually happening. And it, it made me realize like the togetherness, the community that we have is I always knew it was important, but we had been missing that for over a year.


Erika Rath (12:27):
We did it in other ways online and things like that, but it obviously wasn’t the same. It just, it made me realize how much the girls need each other. And it, it made me quite emotional. So I, I can say that, yes, I attend PD and, and it’s always good, but I feel it’s, it’s the learning I get the day in and day out here that I think really propels me to do more good. I really, I do some work with NC a national coalition of girl schools. I do some work with C a I S Canadian accredited, independent schools both fantastic organizations that I love doing PD with. And obviously our sacred heart network as well. It’s, it’s amazing, you know, winning this award actually people from the network started reaching out. Can we talk about your class? Ask, can we talk about PD? And all of a sudden I’m on zoom calls, sharing with people like around the world at sacred heart, which is such an amazing opportunity. So the PD and the connecting and, and the networking has been really good, but like I said, it’s the girls, it’s, it’s really the girls.


Sam Demma (13:29):
Yeah, it’s so cool. And if someone’s in another school wanting to start something similar with a group of girls, how would you instruct them to start? Or where do you think they should take their first step to bring something like this to life?


Erika Rath (13:48):
I would love that first of all, anyone can reach out to me, you know, through you. That’s not a problem. But also it’s so funny, your, your question just sparked like a, like a memory for me. I was doing a bachelor’s in human relations at Concordia university. And everyone was like, what is that? And I’m like, it’s a way to learn how to talk to people and run groups and be a leader. And it’s funny for our field placement for our, our stage. We had to find, we had to come up with a program, design it and implement it. And as I look back, I, I realize now my program was done in an elementary school with grade five and six girls for eight lunch times. And I ran activities about body image. Ah, and so I’m thinking back now and I’m like, oh my God, this was kind of like in me the whole time, like, I feel like this is a way, like what I was of meant to do. So I think if you have an idea, you, and you wanna like, just run it by your students and they’ll tell you if it’s good or not, like, believe me, I run a lot of ideas by my students and they’ll be brutally honest. So but they’ll tell you, you know, like I think, I think there’s a lot of like power in at least trying. And I know it’s hard to like sometimes put yourself out there, but these conversations are too important to not be had.


Sam Demma (15:00):
Yeah, I totally agree. And if someone does want to learn a little more about how you run the program and potentially even have you give them a little blueprint or the first steps to try it in their school, who knows maybe this program grows and becomes its own thing that other educators, you know, can learn from you and implement in their own schools. But if someone does want some more information and has some questions for you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch, reach out, ask a question.


Erika Rath (15:29):
Sure. That would be my email, erath@sacredheart.qc.ca. I check that all the time. So that would be the best way to reach me.


Sam Demma (15:37):
Awesome. And as we enter the holiday season, depending on when this interview comes out, it might not logically make sense. So , as we enter the hypothetical holiday season any last words any last pieces of wisdom for an educator who might be listening anything you wanna se share or send as a parting word?


Erika Rath (16:01):
So I think just, you know, we are all looking forward to the holidays, cuz I think we do need a break educators work really hard. We’re with students all the time. We’re on all the time. And I say this to students too. Like we all need some downtime to be with our friends and our family and then, and to come back, you know, refreshed and energized in the new year. I think it’s really important to do something for yourself to take a little bit of time for self care and also to continue realizing why we do what we do for me. It I’m, I’m passionate about it and brings me a lot of joy. And so I just think it’s important to give back at this time some time for yourself and, and, you know, be happy to be with family and friends and enjoy the moment and be present.


Sam Demma (16:43):
Erika, congratulations again on the huge milestone and award. So deserving enjoy the holiday season and we’ll talk to you soon.


Erika Rath (16:52):
Sounds good. Thank you too.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Erika Rath

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.