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President

Elijah Johnson – Secondary Division National President Business Professionals of America

Elijah Johnson - Secondary Division National President Business Professionals of America
About Elijah Johnson

Elijah Johnson (@BPAPresident) is a 17-year-old senior at Blaine High School, in Blaine, Minnesota. Although he’s involved in a variety of extracurriculars, he’s most proud to serve as the National Secondary Division President of Business Professionals of America (BPA), a business education non-profit that changes the lives of students all around the world. 

This year, he, along with the BPA Executive Council, has worked tirelessly to tackle some of the issues that the coronavirus has created for students. By the end of his term, he hopes to create a variety of positive opportunities for both students and teachers. 

Elijah will be pursuing his post-secondary education at Harvard as part of the class of 2026.

Connect with Elijah: Email | Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America (BPA)

How to Win Friends and Influence People (book)

Minnesota BPA

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):
Elijah, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are?


Elijah Johnson (00:12):
Sure. My name’s Elijah Johnson or I go by Eli and I’m the national secondary division president of business profess of America, which is a business education nonprofit mainly based in the United States, but also with an international presence in Haiti, Peru, China as well as Puerto Rico.


Sam Demma (00:32):
That’s awesome. What led you down this path to get involved in BPA and these different leadership opportunities?


Elijah Johnson (00:41):
Sure. So at my high school I’m a part of the, the engineering program that’s called Sims. And one of the things that some students have to do freshman year is do a computer skills class and the computer skills class is taught by bla high school’s resident. Overly friendly, super boldly, like always super cheerful teacher, miss Bosman. And she’s actually one of the VP’s core advisors at Lynn high school. So she eventually pulled me in to BPA just through talking to me and knowing what my interests were. So I eventually joined BPA through miss Bosman. And then when I was a junior, I started becoming an officer in the organization. And then a couple of months ago in may, I was elected as the national president.


Sam Demma (01:27):
That’s so amazing. And when you were in high school, was it that teacher’s bubbly personality that kind of drew you into BPA? Did she tap you on the shoulder and say, Hey, you should get involved or tell me more about how that unfolded.


Elijah Johnson (01:41):
Sure. It was exactly like that she’d burst into class and then she’d start pointing at people and she’d be like, you should join BPA and you should join BPA. I was one of the students that she pointed at and eventually like kind of just gave in and I was like, okay, sure. I guess I’ll, I’ll try it out for a little bit and see how it goes. And four years later and still in my…


Sam Demma (02:04):
That’s. Awesome. Tell me more about miss. Is it bossman?


Elijah Johnson (02:08):
Yes. Miss bossman. Yeah.


Sam Demma (02:09):
What was it like being a student in her class? Was she tell me more about her? I’m curious.


Elijah Johnson (02:15):
Sure. At times it was a little scary that you’d walk into a class cuz I had her first hour and somebody was already that hot be and like excited to start the day. like, especially as a freshman who was just getting orientated into high school. Just having that, that personality. I mean I’m, I’m being sarcastic. Obviously. I love miss Bosman and she was super fun, brought a lot of energy to teaching. Being a student in her class was pretty refresh she to start out your day with someone that was that supportive of everybody’s future and their education. Because one of the reasons that she’s an advisor is because she cares about students that much that she’s willing to put in all the time, it takes to be a VP advisor.


Sam Demma (03:02):
So what do you think makes a good leader? It sounds like miss bossman was a, a great leader for yourself and many of the students in your classroom. And now that you’re in a leadership position, I’m sure you are trying to live out certain characteristics and traits and mindsets yourself to make sure that you’re all a good leader. So what do you think some of those traits and characteristics are?


Elijah Johnson (03:23):
Right. Definitely the ability to relate to other people. I feel like you can’t be a leader of anything if you’re not able to connect to the people that you’re serving you need to know what their issues are. What’s important to them. Some of their problems are because then you need to work to be able to solve those problems and create solutions to the things that they need help with. I’d also say being a very open-minded person because as a leader you’re obviously exposed through different types of personalities, different types of socioeconomic backgrounds and, and such. So just having an open mindset and being able to work with anybody I think is really important.


Sam Demma (04:07):
And have you learned these things through your own personal experience or do you also have mentors and leaders that have poured into you at the, you know, at BPA or in other areas of your life?


Elijah Johnson (04:20):
I’d say both. A lot of my, my what’s the word kind of like not traits but values. Sorry. A lot of my values come from my family. And just being raised by my mom and dad, but for sure a lot of my professional values have definitely come from VP experiences. VP mentors, like miss Bosman, another one of my advisors, supposedly, and then also just the students that I work with getting able to interact with them and learning through them.


Sam Demma (04:52):
That’s awesome. And as a student yourself, like thinking about your whole journey through high school, just your whole journey as a student, what do you think has been the most helpful in terms of what teachers and educators have done for you? I think we all have teachers who pour a lot into us and maybe believe in ourselves sometimes more than we do. And those teachers can shape our future and, you know, push to make decisions that are helpful. What do you think some things are that educators have done for you that have made a massive impact?


Elijah Johnson (05:28):
Definitely being accessible. I’d say that’s the biggest thing that’s impacted me personally. Getting into the position that I’m in right now and running for national office was hands down, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And I know for a fact that I would not have been successful as I’ve been, if it wasn’t for another one of my advisors, Ms. Boley I would text her questions at all hours of the night. Like, how do you do this? How am I supposed to do this? You have any idea what I’m gonna be asked in the caucuses. So just being there having that presence for students is one of the most important things in my opinions that a teacher can do to support their students of that.


Sam Demma (06:12):
I think presence is so important, not only in the classroom, but also in every conversation you can tell when someone’s mind is elsewhere and not paying attention to the words that you’re saying. and I think we both know what it feels like to have those conversations. How do you, like, how do as a leader, do you ensure you stay present when someone is sharing or, you know, speak to you because there’s not, not only now being that you’re involved in BPA, but for the rest of your life, there will always be thousands of things pulling you, your attention and your energy and your thoughts away from the present moment. How do you like kind of remind yourself to stay present?


Elijah Johnson (06:54):
Right. So that’s a great question. And what I personally do is I try to ask questions. So if the, the person saying something that I don’t really understand or if I feel myself starting to drift away from what they’re saying, I try to write down mental questions of clarifying points that I can ask to kind of show that I am paying attention and also force myself to go back to paying attention with him, starting to drift away a little bit.


Sam Demma (07:21):
That’s amazing. There’s there’s a really great book called how to win friends and influence people written by this guy named Dale Carnegie. And he talks about the importance of being interested in somebody else rather than being interesting or trying to be interesting. Your, and I think that aligns so much with your idea of asking questions, which is awesome. On the topic of books, like, have you found any resources helpful for you as a leader and as a student that you think are worth sharing or do you watch any YouTube channels or listen to any podcast that you wanna give a shout out to?


Elijah Johnson (07:56):
Unfortunately I don’t honestly, the only book that I live by as a leader is Robert Robert’s rules. Cause that’s kinda elementary procedure that runs all over board trustees meetings. I see in terms of leadership development, really what I turn to is people that I can interact with. So different mentors within the organization that I can go to and say, Hey, how do you do this? How could I get better at this? So for sure books and, and different types of videos and YouTube series is something that I can start personally. Looking more into,


Sam Demma (08:33):
I, I would argue if you have access to the people who are doing exactly what you wanna do, then they’re probably your best source of learning anyway, like something that I always remind myself is that like all opinions are not created equally, that if you wanna learn how to fly a plane, you know, go and find the pilot instead of asking an attendant or somebody else. And if you have access to those people that are doing what you wanna do, then you don’t have to read books or watch YouTube videos. Anyway, you could just go ask them questions. I’m sure that along your journey, you’ve had so many supportive people, people that have propelled you forward and given you beliefs that were empowering, but there’s probably been situations or the opposite has occurred, or someone told you that your dreams are too big or that it was not gonna be possible or wasn’t gonna work out or you weren’t smart enough or you weren’t good enough. How do you deal with the limiting opinions and beliefs that other people place on you?


Elijah Johnson (09:32):
Honestly, just by moving on, you have to, to be thick skin sometimes and not care about what other people say to you. I remember very, very clear when I told my dad that I was gonna run for national office, he kind of just looked at me and went, okay. And then brushed me off and kind of forgot that I had said anything. He didn’t really start taking me seriously until I ended up becoming middle soda’s candidate in the national elections. And he was like, oh, you are serious about that. And then also kinda similarly, I tried to run for state office in Minnesota and one of my advisors told me that I was too young to run. So I, I actually didn’t end up running. And that kind of impacted me personally a lot because my VP journey almost stopped there. Being told that I couldn’t do something that I had been trying to work towards to, to work towards for years was really, really impactful. But I kind of did what I suggested and I just brushed that off, collected my thoughts. And I ended up asking if I, I could run for nationals and because the limitations that apply to my school regarding age don’t apply at nationals and I ended up completely skipping state and just ran in the national election.


Sam Demma (10:49):
that is such a good story, man. Do you tell this on stage at BPA events?


Elijah Johnson (10:55):
I have told it a bunch in online meetings like this, but not at any conferences so far


Sam Demma (11:00):
Sometimes we get so worried or upset when something doesn’t work out, but oftentimes it’s because there’s something better just waiting around the corner. I, I read this quote online recently that said, you know, when a door closes it’s because the universe, God faith wanna call it is telling you, you just have to walk up the hall and open the next one. And there might be something better behind that door than you had ever expected. I think that’s such a beautiful story that explains the importance of persistence, but also staying true to your vision. Like most people maybe would’ve hit that first limitation of age and decide, you know what, I’ll just wait, I’ll just wait till I’m older. But you know, you continued staying true to your, your dream and your vision, which was to get involved with BPA as an officer and you kind of founded a loophole with the national level and it worked out. What advice do you have for students who are dreamers, who might be dealing with the opinions of other people trying to make their own unique dreams, a reality. Do you have any general advice or feedback for someone trying to do something that might seem a little unrealistic to those around them?


Elijah Johnson (12:11):
Yeah, for sure. What I say is create a plan because especially if you’re dealing with external forces regarding a, a lack of belief that other people have in you, I’d say, if you can articulate what your goal is and the steps that it’ll take to reach that goal, then it’s a lot easier for people to start taking U seriously and for other people to say, okay, maybe they do have a chance. And also it’s easier for you because the steps that you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to go, are that much clearer when you have them running down and you know what you need to do.


Sam Demma (12:48):
Can you bring us back to your own plan? like, what, what was your plan after telling your pops? I wanna get involved ATPA as an officer


Elijah Johnson (12:59):
Sure. So I was sitting at the kitchen table. We were eating lunch. I think it was, we were eating sandwiches from Jersey mics and I was like, Hey dad, I’m gonna run for chapter office. Then I’m gonna run for regional office. Then I’m gonna run for state office. And then I’m gonna try to be elected as a national officer. And like I said, he kind of just looked at me and went whatever and rolled his eyes. The chapter in regional office went good, but then like we just talked about, I kind of hit a wall at state, but everything ended up working out in the end. So kind of like you said, when doors close others open that’s for sure.


Sam Demma (13:37):
That’s awesome. Sounds like your plan was to just start small and continue moving up from there. I think like sometimes what stops people is, you know, maybe the first goal they said is I’m gonna be represented by national office. I think, which was really helpful in your journey in your own plan was, let me start in my school, let me then go to regional, let me then go to state and let me then try and crack the national board. And I think when you break it down like that, you’re setting yourself up for more success. Because even if the first one or two levels of your plan are a little easier to accomplish, just the fact that you accomplish something is gonna give you the confidence to continue going and the momentum to continue moving forward. And it’s very clear that you’re someone who has lots of confidence and you speak very passionately. And clearly you brought, you know, one of your own dreams and goals that you told to your dad to life, despite the odds, where do you think your confidence comes from? And how do, how have you developed that as a young person?


Elijah Johnson (14:40):
Definitely by failing a lot. Like there’s absolutely no way to be successful if you don’t fail. I remember when, when I was elected as a chapter officer, I was actually the treasurer of my school. And at first I was a little upset cuz I’m like, how am I gonna eventually reach my goals if I’m starting out as just a treasurer? I mean, of course that position meant absolutely nothing. Like it didn’t matter that I was the treasurer. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was the president. The fact the only important part was that I had accomplished a part of what I wanted to do. So I just took that and moved forward and went on with my life. And there’s a lot of other areas of my life, where I failed like in sports where maybe I had a performance on guitar, that didn’t the way I wanted to. You just take the experiences and lessons that you learned, you pick yourself up and you move on.


Sam Demma (15:39):
One of my favorite, speaking of music, one of my favorite artists is this rapper named Russ. He has very affirmational music and one of the lyrics is that he takes his failures and uses as stepping stones. Like almost, you know, each of them is like a learning. And I think, especially in today’s society, we spend so much time focused on how successful people are and how great their life is. And it gets so, so much more like pronounced when you go on media, because everyone’s only highlighting the best parts of themselves. What is something or an area in your life or a situation where you, you defined to yourself that you failed that you’ve learned from that you think might be helpful for other people listening?


Elijah Johnson (16:28):
Yeah, I think that’s a very, very important question, cuz like you said, especially since everybody’s on social media now and really all we see on those platforms is perfect worlds with perfect people in them and you don’t really see the imperfections that make up who those people really are. So I’d say an area that I’ve definitely failed at, especially being a student leaders in the early months of my term, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. Like I was going to meetings, voting on things that I barely had an understanding of. And I was having all this, these difficult conversations with only a surface level knowledge or some of the topics that I needed to know because for better or for worse, one of the things that BPA likes to do is throw their students into things. So I was thrown into overseeing a $2.1 million budget thrown into an advocacy committee, thrown into policies and procedures.


Elijah Johnson (17:28):
So definitely struggling in those first few months, I’d say was a failure because not knowing the things that I need to know to effectively serve the students that I represent. That was definitely something that I look back on and wish that I was more prepared. So that, that didn’t happen. But like we talked about, you take your failures and you use them as stepping stones. So I, I went back and I said Hey, what could I have done to be better prepared? And then I worked on the areas that I was deficient at. And now that’s something that isn’t as much of a problem anymore.


Sam Demma (18:05):
That’s awesome. I love that. I was gonna ask you if you didn’t ask, what would you have done differently, but you did a great job answering that yourself. So thank you. I’m writing a book right now and the title of the book is gonna be called dear high school. Me and the premises that a lot of people that write books that contain advice for high school students are so far removed from the student life. That it’s hard to kind of give or accept advice from those people. Like if someone is 45 or 50 years old, yeah. Their advice is relevant, but it’s so far removed from what a student life might look like today. And so I thought it would be a unique idea to talk to people like yourself and also use my own experiences to write a book of advice for my younger or high school self. And if you could give one or two pieces of advice to your high school self, even right now, what would you tell yourself? Like if you could go back to the first year of high school and give yourself a one or two pieces of advice.


Elijah Johnson (19:05):
Number one, the biggest thing of all is don’t procrastinate. That’s something that I still struggle with as a senior in high school. Getting worked done when you get it initially is the best way to go. Cuz it’s immediately off your plate. You don’t have to worry about it two weeks later. It’s not gonna come back to haunt you. So just being proactive in the work that you’re given and the things that you need to get done and is for sure, one of the things that I wish I would’ve had drilled into my mind as a freshman in high school. And then also another piece of advice I give is just surround yourself with friends and students that you want to be like, cuz I can, I can say personally I’m still develop. And for sure, when I started out in high school, I was nowhere near the person that I am now. And I’ve partially developed because of BPA, but I’ve also developed because of the people that I’ve been surrounded by who I’ve admired and they’ve pushed me to become a better person. So I’d say lean on your friends. They’re the people who are gonna support you the most in addition to your family and other people. So procrastination and the importance of the people you surround yourself with are for sure the two pieces of advice I’d give.


Sam Demma (20:22):
All right. Love it. Awesome. Well, thank you again, Elijah, for coming on the podcast here, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. If someone wants to reach out or connect with you we’ll would be the best way for them to get in touch.


Elijah Johnson (20:34):
Sure. So if you went to the bpa.org website, you just type in bpa.org you can go to a tab called the executive council and then right on that is my email. So ejohnson@bpa.org. You can reach out to me at any time you wish.


Sam Demma (20:51):
Awesome, Elijah, thank you so much. Keep up the great work with yourself, your future endeavors and BPA. And we’ll talk soon.


Elijah Johnson (21:01):
Thanks for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Elijah Johnson

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.

Ash Baer – Mental Health Advocate and speaker

Ash Baer - Mental Health Advocate and speaker
About Ash Baer

Ash Baer (@ashbear_) is a mental health advocate and speaker who has been facilitating leadership programs for the past nine years. She’s travelled across Canada and to Europe, working with the coolest student leaders and sharing her passion for authentic, positive, and fun leadership experiences.

Ash is a Summer Camp enthusiast and spends her summers at Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC) as the Summer Camp Director. For the remainder of the year Ash is planning for the summer ahead as well as supporting student leadership conferences across Canada, empowering youth to reach their full potential to make their own positive impact!

Ash’s passion is to create safe and positive spaces for the youth she has the opportunity to work with. She incorporates important leadership lessons into fun and interactive activities, and works hard to be a strong mental health advocate.

Ash is excited to learn and grow with you through her two workshop opportunities; Mental Health Awareness and Leadership Team Building.

Connect with Ash: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Baer Leadership

Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC)

Global Student Leadership Summit (GSLS)

Ontario Student Leadership Conference (OSLC)

Canadian Youth Speakers Bureau

Mental Health Awareness Workshop

Leadership Team Building Workshop

Nipissing University

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 Ash, Ash Baer has been facilitating leadership programs for the past nine years. She’s traveled across Canada and to Europe working with the coolest student leaders and sharing her passion for authentic, positive, and fun leadership experiences. Ash is a summer camp enthusiast and spends her summers at YLCC as the summer camp director.


Sam Demma (01:02):
She now does mental health programs across the nation and today she talks a little bit about those presentations, managing student mental health and your own mental health and how her journey in education has shifted due to the recent challenges. This is a very awesome conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Take lots of notes. I will see you on the other side, Ash, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself, who you are, and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Ash Baer (01:33):
Yeah, perfect. Well, it’s a pleasure to be here so thank you so much for the opportunity. So, I currently work with youth in a couple different capacities. The one that I’ve worked in the longest is through youth leadership camps, Canada (YLCC) and in their summer camp program, I am the summer camp director. I also help out with, we also run the Ontario student leadership conference, the global student leadership summit and events like that. So I’m also helping out with that with the student volunteers there. And then another thing with youth leadership stuff is I do Baer Leadership. So my last name’s bear. So that’s where the bear comes from. And I’ve been doing programs along the lines of mental health and team building.


Sam Demma (02:24):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And what got you into the work that you’re doing with young people? Why did you decide to join Y L C C? Was there a teacher that pushed you in that direction or was student leadership a big part of your life? What led you down this path? Totally.


Ash Baer (02:39):
So definitely was really involved in high school leadership. I went to Waterloo, Oxford and Jeff Gerber was my advisor. And he really created an environment where there was no limits to what we could do. So I really enjoyed that sort of environment in the, the environment of student leadership where you can think big and do big things. And there were the only barrier was your own perspective. So I was really into that. And then from that involvement, I got involved with OS L C and then got to know Stu Saunders who owns Y L C C in the camping world. And I haven’t left since, so it’s all kind of merged together into a beautiful timeline of what I’ve done.


Sam Demma (03:33):
That’s awesome. And you went to school in Waterloo. Did you also go to university in Waterloo or what you do?


Ash Baer (03:40):
No, I did university in north bay at Ning.


Sam Demma (03:43):
Nice. That’s awesome. Did you study something along the lines of social work or teaching or working with young people or was it something totally unrelated? Unrelated? nice. No, I love that. Yeah. Yeah. Me too. Right. Like I was studying environmental stuff before getting into this work. And like now doing totally different things. So there’s no, there’s no one right path to any destination. Right, exactly. So you do a lot of presentations now and programs in schools what kind of led you down that path? So you took a step towards doing your own thing on the side, where did that all stem from?


Ash Baer (04:19):
Yeah, for sure. So, so for the last 10 years I’ve worked with Y L C C. And like I said, I’m the camp director there for our summer programs. And with that, I really fell in love with the concept of being able to have a lot of fun. So that’s what we do at camp have tons of fun, but there’s also always messages embedded in everything that we do and leadership opportunities and growth there. So I fell in love with the team building aspect of that got to travel a lot with Y L C C been to Europe and all across Canada running programs and then started to develop some things on my own. And then also from the mental health perspective of it, I started to recognize in youth that mental health was something that was widely talked about and people were aware of what mental health was and stigma is going away, which is awesome.


Ash Baer (05:14):
But I also recognize that even though that stigma’s going away the language of how to talk about it, isn’t really there. So there’s not that toolbox of what is the definition of depression? Am I depressed or am I feeling sad? Is this anxiety, or am I just like worried at this exact moment? So I wanted to kind of take my own journey and learn a little bit more about my own mental health and got educated in courses like mental health, first aid and some living works courses as well to better facilitate and create safer environments for the students that I was working with. And then from that, I was like, if I have the opportunity to speak to more students. Awesome. actually one thing that I really push for in the student leadership conference world was I was like, I wanna see more women on stage because there’s lots of student leaders who are identify as women. And I want them to see themselves on stage too. And whenever I would go to even myself or other conference coordinators, I’d be like, Hey, get some more women on stage. And they were like, well, why don’t you just do it? And I was like, well, okay, fine. I feel comfy with a mic , I’ll learn some stuff and I will also share some messages there that way too.


Sam Demma (06:32):
Awesome. No, that’s amazing. And what challenges are you currently face with right now? Because of the current state of the world?


Ash Baer (06:40):
Yeah, for sure. Obviously there’s ton . And I think for me specifically if I look at our programs that we traditionally run in a year through conferences and camp camp specifically was shut down with no other option for the summer. So we kind of adapted in a way that we brought everything online conferences obviously in person were canceled. It was great to see you at O S L C you got to come into the first hybrid of a sort of event where you were on stage in front of a green screen. So obviously the challenges of just kind of figuring out how we keep leadership alive in these programs alive when we can’t be literally sitting beside each other or interacting in the way that we typically would.


Sam Demma (07:30):
Amazing. And if an educator’s listening and is thinking the exact same thoughts, what advice do you have to share, or what could you share with them that might be, do you have any ideas that have worked so far during COVID or things that you’ve tried that you think are worth sharing?


Ash Baer (07:44):
Yeah, for sure. So I think first of all, I wanna say to all educators listening, like you’re all amazing and adapting to such different times and I’m sure one day is completely different than the next day. I I’m a lot, I have a lot of close friends who are educators and I just have so much respect for them right now. And I’m wishing them in a couple weeks, two weeks of just the ability to sleep over the holidays. But some things that are tangible that I have seen happening specific with us, we the moment that things shut down, back in March, we opened an online camp on zoom. The schools shut down on Thursday and the next Monday I was like, yeah, we gotta do it. It’s like a March break zoom camp. And I honestly expected, it would be like a two week thing.


Ash Baer (08:39):
We do some crafts of the materials that I have in my home, which is like paper and Q-tips and we bring it to life, but we ended up running it for 30 weeks on zoom. And obviously this is lasting a little bit longer than anyone would’ve been anticipated. But I think the overall for adapting to the challenges that are happening right now, it’s important to not cut anything out that you think is important. Right. So if you run an event at your school that is so important for your school culture don’t say like, well, COVID canceled that. I think it’s important to bring it to life in some capacity, obviously there’s barriers. And obviously it’s not gonna be the exact same, but how can you still bring that to life via something virtual or maybe going super old school and doing a snail mail, like stuff like that. Like there’s ways to like, still build that community, but it might not be the exact same, but like thinking outside of the box. And I think the students that we’re all working with have the answers, right? Like, they’re, they’re so creative, they’re so smart. They want it to happen. So if they want it to happen, they’ll find a way.


Sam Demma (09:56):
That’s awesome. And with your, with regards to your own presentations, how are you delivering them right now? I know things are a little bit different.


Ash Baer (10:03):
Yeah, for sure. So whatever sort of online platform via zoom or Google room sort of thing, I’ve been delivering speeches that way. and just, I’ve done a couple throughout the summer that were in person and distanced, but I, I really am craving the opportunity when we can all just be in one room together.


Sam Demma (10:31):
yeah, me too. And, you know, you spend a lot of time hanging around with students. You understand there’s struggles, you’re not far removed as well. What do you think would be the best way to support our youth, like right now through this challenging time?


Ash Baer (10:45):
Totally. I think the best way would, and I think this is the way, no matter if there’s COVID or not COVID is to meet people where they’re at. And I think ESP with youth meeting them where they’re at is, is where you’re going to have the most success. And I think there’s so much authenticity that comes from that. So, you know, I don’t think there’s a cookie cutter answer to that of being like, well, this will work for all students, cuz I know everybody listening knows that that’s not the case either. Like for some students social media is, is a great way to connect with them and get on their level for some people that’s not. And I think it’s just on a very individual meet people where they’re at sort of vibe.


Sam Demma (11:36):
Awesome. Sounds good. And that makes a lot of sense and I totally agree. I think you can approach every kid with the same plan because they all learn different. It’s like trying to teach your curriculum the same to every single student. You can’t support every single student the same either. That’s awesome. I cannot wait to see you back on a stage or at camp or in a classroom doing a speech. If an educator is listening right now, wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around, maybe have a conversation about your programs or anything that they, that they heard today on today’s episode, what would be the best way for them to get into touch?


Ash Baer (12:13):
For sure. So a couple different ways. Email is ash@baerleadership.ca and Baer is spelled “baer”. And then Instagram or Twitter @ashbaer_ because somebody already took my name so.


Sam Demma (12:33):
All right. Awesome. Thanks so much for coming on the show, Ash. Really appreciate it. 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 Ash Baer

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.

John Lucas Guimaraes – Post-secondary National President of Business Professionals of America

John Lucas Guimaraes - Post-secondary National President of Business Professionals of America
About John Lucas

John Lucas Guimaraes (@JohnlucasMA) serves as the Executive President of the Post-secondary Division of Business Professionals of America, an international Career and Technical Student Organization. 

John Lucas lives in Massachusetts and is studying Civil Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He loves running, nature, and trading state pins with members at the BPA National Leadership Conference. After college, John Lucas hopes to go into the environmental or transit areas of engineering and government. 

Connect with John Lucas: Twitter | Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America

Career and Technical Student Organizations

Past and Future National Leadership Conferences (BPA)

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is John Lucas Guimaraes. John Lucas serves as the executive president of the post-secondary division of Business Professionals of America, an international career and technical student organization. John Lucas lives in Massachusetts and is studying civil engineering at the university of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He loves running nature and trading state pins with members at the BPA national leadership conference. After college John Lucas hopes to go into the environmental or transit areas of engineering and government. As I’m sure you’ll will be able to notice after, and while listening to this interview, John Lucas is someone who is filled with passion and doing incredible work in his community and the organizations and associations that he’s a part of. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. John Lucas, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


John Lucas Guimaraes (02:09):
Awesome. Well thank you for having me. My name is John Lucas Guimaraes. I am a junior at the university of Massachusetts. And I am currently the post-secondary president of the national CTSO career technical student organization in called business professionals of America, where we sort of prepare students outside of the classroom for the, their futures for the, their careers and their professional lives, because there’s only so much you can learn in the classroom. So having that outside exposure I think is really bad, valuable, and that’s something that we aim to do here at BPA.


Sam Demma (02:49):
Tell me more about your journey to where you are now. What got you interested and involved with BPA and how do you think that’s shaped you as a student leader yourself?


John Lucas Guimaraes (03:01):
It started off like a progression. It wasn’t like I joined BPA and then I, the next year I became the national president I sort of was jealous of my peers of why, like they, they just talked about going to the state leadership conference here in Massachusetts and they had a wonderful time. Not none of them made it to the national competition, which is like the big, the big event of the year, but they just talked about how the state leadership conference was so meaningful to them. They got so many experiences and I was like, oh, geez, I wanna try that. And I didn’t even know what BP was. I just wanted that experience. So I didn’t know what I had to go through. I just wanted that end goal. So I thought that BPA was like, you sit around in a, in a round table and just come up with a great idea for a project and then you all do it together, but it’s so much more than that.


John Lucas Guimaraes (03:55):
You work as individuals, you work as teams. You can knock compete, you can do other service projects. So definitely getting into that and getting overwhelmed. That was what kept me here a lot of the times I do get asked that question of why I joined BPA, but I think an even more valuable question is after eight years, why the heck am I still here? What what’s kept to me here. So I think the people definitely the people and the experiences and with every passing year, I, I, I feel like I’ve want, I’ve wanted to get more involved, more more behind the scenes because you know, a national CTSO that’s not easy sheet to accomplish. So there’s a lot of behind the scenes. There’s a lot of governance that has to happen. So I I’m, I’m really appreciative of like, I think my, my ambition, but also my desire to help to always keep and grow my involvement as much as I can so that, you know, I’m doing what my teachers and my fellow leaders did to me. And that’s to prepare me for the role so that I can return the favor and pass the torch to those next leaders coming up the ladder.


Sam Demma (05:20):
That’s amazing. Eight years. I gotta give you a round of applause for that. , that’s a, that’s, that’s a lot of service, fun time. Yeah. Congratulations.


John Lucas Guimaraes (05:31):
I’m a BPA grandpa.


Sam Demma (05:33):
Literally. You mentioned other leaders kind of helping you in shaping you, were there some advisors and teachers, your life that have played a massive role in your development as a young person and also as a leader?


John Lucas Guimaraes (05:49):
Definitely. I think it was my my junior year. Oh no, no, it was my junior. Yeah, it was my junior year. We had this, I was in the video production event where we prepared a video and that year it was how to counter Driving under the influence against with like alcohol or other substances. And we finalized the project. I was so passionate about it. I had the idea my, the entire year, so we’re probably like two weeks out before the state leadership conference. So our advisor had each, each member of BPA of our chapter come to her and present our projects. So we did and I was, my heart was skipping. I got chills. And then I turned to her and she has this like, disappointed look, well, not a disappointed look, I don’t wanna say that.


John Lucas Guimaraes (06:45):
But but a like, like a concern, very confused. Yeah. Yeah, because we included a very popular song as the background song, and then she, like, that’s not a copyrighted song and the entire video was constructed on like the beat dropping the, the drum hits everything, like all the shifts. And we had to change the entire song. Looking back at it, it wasn’t this like, crucial like dire moment, but I, at that time, I was like, how did I not see this? So I just, there’s been a lot of experiences with my advisors where they’ve pointed out things that I didn’t see or told me what I needed to hear, but didn’t want to hear. So looking back at it, I value all those disappointing this encouraging moments that I felt, because that’s sort of like built me to, like now when I’m tackling a project or event, I sort of come up with I play like the devil’s advocate and come up with like, what will people bring up to me that I need to fix right now before, you know? So I can like prepare myself for those tough questions.


Sam Demma (08:01):
Love that. It sounds like those were all teachable moments for you. And what’s interesting is those all could have been breaking moments that stopped you from pursuing this path at all, but you took it as feedback and used it to iterate your own processes, which have enabled you to grow, which I think is amazing. yeah. What is, what is that advisor’s name? And were they the same individual that kind of tapped you on the shoulder and initially said, Hey, maybe you should get involved in BPA or did you discover BPA just on your own?


John Lucas Guimaraes (08:33):
Yeah, so I went to a vocational technical school. So we did ha every week we did on academics and then the following week, we did like a technical program. So I was in the carpentry program. But going into the school, you sort of took like a month and you went through each, each technical program. So they were the advisors of the business department Mrs. Powers and Mrs. Sylvia, and they sort of, they, they just marketed BPA. They spent that entire hour that we had with them, just marketing BPA and why it was so important. Nice. And that sort of, that’s what got me hooked initially. But yeah, just, and then when I, I did return because I didn’t speak to them until after that at, at all, because I chose the carpentry program. It wasn’t until the following year that the that’s when they were like, oh, we’re glad you finally joined us. And, you know, they definitely inspired me to keep growing. They’re still, one of them is still the advisor of the, of my high school’s BPA chapter. And it’s just amazing to see like little versions, not of me, but like little versions of leaders coming from the same teachers that inspired me to be where I am now.


Sam Demma (10:02):
Yeah, absolutely. And do you think providing constructive criticism and feedback as an educator is something that ex is extremely important and helpful for developing leaders? And if so, how do you think more leaders and educators can do that without discouraging, you know, their students or discouraging the young person they’re trying to provide feedback for?


John Lucas Guimaraes (10:26):
Yeah. I definitely think that’s very important because if you didn’t, what would be the alternative, you know, it would be sort of your sugar coating someone’s experience and sort of setting the ’em up to fail versus you having more of a control of what that what that criticism is gonna be, because it, you know, an educator’s never going to like purposely want to sort of, you give negativity to a student, they don’t wanna do that. They wanna just prepare them and give that soft criticism if you know what I mean. So definitely that criticism early on is very important because if you don’t, they they’ll get that same criticism, but even rougher from projects the people reviewing their projects or, you know, future employers. So I, I, I definitely think that it’s something worth doing in high school. And while you have these experiences with these students and even peers, like my, my classmates were actually watching me on that, in that video, you yep. When I was presenting that video and they, you know, said the same thing they gave me like, oh, you, you like had a product placement there and it, I don’t think that should be there. So definitely getting the perspective of your peers, I think, is really valuable and gives you sort of an outlook on, or a perspective that you don’t see yourself.


Sam Demma (12:01):
That’s amazing. And you are someone who have developed yourself into a leader based off of the feedback given to you by others. But also, as you mentioned earlier, you’re based off some of your own ambition. What do you think are some of the key characteristics or traits that you’ve developed and have seen other leaders kind of exhibit and live out themselves that you think makes for a really strong leader?


John Lucas Guimaraes (12:30):
I think it’s sort of different for everyone. You know, for me, I’m someone who loves the behind the scenes work, the gathering people, the raising scholarships, the the running crunching, the numbers looking at financial statements and sort of the adult boring work behind the scenes. So I’m as a, as the president of my division of BPM also on the board of trustees and, you know, we do a lot of the oversight work which my peers could see that is very boring. Yeah. But to me, it’s just something that excites me. It’s just something that you know, sometimes I find myself at like 1:00 AM working on a BPA policy and procedures amendment, or just reading the meeting minutes, which is just a black and white document with no, really with not a lot of fun substance.


John Lucas Guimaraes (13:29):
But that, it’s, it sort of gives me a little taste of what I want to keep going on, keep growing and doing with my life. You know, I’m, I’m in college right now studying civil engineering, but I also love governance. I love giving time to those in need and sort of doing what, what I can do to help others around me. And I think one way I Excel at that is looking at those boring documents and looking to plan strategic events and making sure that, you know, we have the budget for that and we can, we can ethically provide a good event for our stakeholders. So I think that that ambition comes from your passions and your sure you can run for an office just for the power of it. But I think a true leader, a true servant leader is someone who uses their passions to their passions are what drives their ambition. And as long as you can keep doing that, you know, what your end goal is, you know, what you like to do and how you can utilize your passions to help people. I think that’s what makes people’s ambitions really selfless and not so much an ambition for oneself, but an ambition to better, not only the world, maybe that’s two grand of a scale, but your country, your, your municipality, your state, or even just your local community.


Sam Demma (15:07):
Yeah. I love that. And you said something earlier in the interview, you, that really stuck with me, you mentioned you had no idea how you were gonna get there and you weren’t sure about, you know, you weren’t sure about how you were gonna get to, you know, the working as a president at BPA, but you were so obsessed with the goal that you just stuck with it, like you were so obsessed with the goal. Do you think goal setting has also played a big part in your own personal journey and like, how do you go about, you know, setting goals for yourself or outlining those things that you wanna work towards and accomplish?


John Lucas Guimaraes (15:47):
I definitely think that you know, nothing is out of your reach at the 2018 national leadership conference in Dallas, Texas, which I’m so excited about cuz we’re returning this year. So it’s my like sort of returning to my origin. But at the 2018, NLC I jokingly said with my with one of my peers that, you know, I’m gonna be secondary president. And at the time, like that was so far out of my reach, that was like a million years ahead. So I think that, you know, Jo having those humor moments and making sure like I’m gonna be president of the United States saying that, but also like, you know, joking around and things like that, but also, you know, pre-planning and making sure that, okay, am I qualified for that? Am I, am I headed in that right direction?


John Lucas Guimaraes (16:45):
And will I be a good whatever role you’re gonna be? Am I gonna be that, am I gonna serve that role to its and most efficient potential? And I think, and I think that my experiences sort of shaped me to reach that end goal. So it was sort of, it was like a not overnight thing. It was an like over time and steadily growing sort of experiences that led me to here. So I, I do think goal setting is important as well, but also make sure that making sure that it’s something you truly want, like you, you reach that end goal. Just think about it right now, close your eyes and think about like, I, that end goal, am I happy? Am I like changing my environment for the better? And I am I like, sort of, is this what I plan to do because sure, sure.


John Lucas Guimaraes (17:49):
You’ve reached your goal, but if that’s not anything you want, if that’s just like a, a gold medal in your mind, like high above a ladder, if that’s not really what you want, you achieved your goal, but you’re not really happy. So making sure that, you know, setting up these ambition is bold goals for yourself, but making sure that you often reflect on them and you know, all right. I, I, I don’t wanna be a city counselor. I want to be a mayor. Cuz I’m, I work better alone and I work better delegating tasks. So just going back to your like when you’re going to sleep or in English shower going back and amending your goals and saying, I can actually tackle it this way and I can achieve it better by also feeding that inner hunger, inner hunger that I have inside me. So I, I definitely think that setting goals is important, but also, you know, you can change your goals. They’re not really set in stone. You’re the one who drives that, that sort of steadily inclined to that goal. You’re the one who drives that steam book.


Sam Demma (19:01):
I love the idea of making sure it’s authentic to your core, making sure it’s something that you’re actually excited about pushing and working towards and above all else, making sure that it will also positively impact all the people around you or change something in a positive way in your environment, which leads me to my next question. How have you dealt with the opinions, thoughts, and expectations of others? I think something that sometimes holds people back is the expectations of others. You know, maybe a student’s parents wants them to get into a specific field or career, but deep down in their heart, they know that they wanna do something different. How have you personally dealt with the opinions and thoughts of others along your own journey? Because I’m sure there’s a lot of people telling you to do lots of different things with your path.


John Lucas Guimaraes (19:56):
Yeah. And, and to add to that, it’s very, it becomes very stressful and like having this cons constant pressure I’m gonna be a first generation. If I graduate of course with so ho hoping for that degree, but I’ll be a first generat graduate of an American college. Cuz my family came from Brazil. So there is a lot of pressure and expectations that come from my family. But, but making sure, I think it’s so important to make sure that your ambitions and your goals and your expecting for yourself or a more or a bigger priority to you than those expectations of your families and your peers and your, your, your friends and your teachers. But also knowing that it’s also important to get those expectations, to get those, that, that feedback, because some people might believe in you more than you believe in yourself and like hearing that like from an educator, from a peer, like, wow, you’re gonna do so, so great in life.


John Lucas Guimaraes (21:10):
I think that can be miscontrued as a, that can be miscontrued as like a, a very sets, a lot of pressure, but also knowing that that is beneficial to yourself because you have someone in your, in your court that believes in you and that is passionate about what you’re doing and believes that you can achieve anything you want to do. So I definitely think that looking at all the expectations around you, but also valuing your expectations for yourself more is it’s sort of that, that energy drink that gets you to overcome the expectations of others, because there are gonna be a lot of people, you know, especially like I think our, the younger generation is getting more vocal and is getting more decisive about what they wanna see different in the world and in their envi environments. And I think there is a, a misconception that we’re too young where we’re not experienced enough to know about these problems, but I think that’s something and that, that I even experienced myself, you know, I’m a board member, but I’m 23 years old. So it’s not so much just like I can go around telling people what to do, but it’s a team environment where all voices are equal. So I, I definitely think that it’s something that people have to evaluate for themselves because if you don’t, if you just keep listening to people around you, it’s not gonna get you anywhere. You have to tell yourself no I’m going to achieve that. No.


Sam Demma (22:58):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I think especially when you’re young, there’s a lot of pressures as you grow up, it, it shifts and adjusts a little bit. And I appreciate your commitment to making this interview happen despite the fact that you’re tuning in from school as a dedicated student should. So don’t worry too much about the background noise. We can hear you super clearly, but I think when you’re young, those expectations are even louder because you’re not as sure of yourself or your own abilities, or maybe you don’t have as much confidence as you have maybe at later stages in your life. Whereas you continue to have experiences and build that skill of self confidence by achieving things and checking things off that you once said you were gonna do. I like to think of it like a giant bag on our backpack or a giant bag strapped to our shoulders, like a backpack.


Sam Demma (23:50):
And in that bag, as we experience life, it fills up with the thoughts and opinions of others, but also our personal experiences. And if we never stop to remove those opinions from others that maybe actually holding us back from being authentic to ourselves, then those start to become and grow into bricks that we carry around and weigh us down. Stop us from moving in a direction that maybe we actually wanted to go down. So thank you so much for, for sharing that. I really appreciate it. And something I always like to also mention is that like sometimes your decision will disappoint others and that’s also okay. I think it’s a part of the process. What’s more important is that you’re authentic and true to yourself because if you do end up deciding to live your life or take action, just to please somebody else’s expectations and you know, it’s going against your own authentic court desires at some point, the regret that you feel will far outweigh the disappointment that someone else will experience that may only last a couple minutes, a couple weeks or sometimes a few years, like you’ll have to deal with the regret for the rest of your life.


Sam Demma (24:58):
And you’re someone who has boldly and fearlessly pursued your authentic ambitions. And I can’t wait to see your name as the mayor or even the president of the country. where do, where do you see John Lucas in a couple years from now? What are the things you’re working on right now that you’re excited about and wanna share?


John Lucas Guimaraes (25:21):
I, yeah, I definitely don’t think I’m gonna be president. Just because I don’t qualify, but I think if, if I was born in the United States, I feel like that would’ve be, that would definitely be something I would think about a lot. I nice. But no, I, I imagine myself as governor of Massachusetts or at least the secretary of the United States department of transportation, but but that’s like far out, you know, something that I, you know, evaluate at first I was saying, I love foreign relations and I’m going to be secretary of state, but I think over time, and this is like recent, like with the last two years, maybe the last six months, I’ve sort of shifted and gone back to more my engineering passion. Right now I’m studying civil engineering and I’m really loving the transportation and the road work side of engineering because engineering is already so huge, but civil engineering is, you know, a branch in engineering, but it’s still as equally huge.


John Lucas Guimaraes (26:29):
There’s so many areas and sort of coming to school, I get overwhelmed with all the opportunities I have. You know, cuz you can fail. You know, like if I go to soil evaluating soil, you know, if I don’t know everything, you know, I could feel, but knowing that I have the choice to choose which path, which area I wanna focus on, I think that’s so that’s such a positive to feel, to know that you, you are aware you know, some of your family members might not have been in the same position that you are in. Some of them had to be like Jan janitors for a school, which there’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing that you have all these availabilities and all these possibilities in, in, in front of you and going back to your previous our previous couple statements, you know, at, to be blunt, you are going to work an eight to five full-time job probably until you retire.


John Lucas Guimaraes (27:38):
If you’re lucky enough to retire, do you really want to spend that much time of your life doing something that someone else imagined or expected you to do? I feel like that’s so much time that could be utilized to do something that you, that truly feels truly makes you feel happy and makes those around you happy because if you’re doing a job that you dislike, just because of someone’s expectations, the people around you are not gonna be happy as well because you are that, that not resentment, but that lack of happiness, that lack of enthusiasm, motivation, that’s gonna, you know, you can’t hold that in. That’s gonna come out and reflect on you and gonna to link back to the people around you. But for me personally, I think that my family respects that now as I’ve grown older and just know that if you have hard, strict expectations from your family, they’ll, they’ll change as long as you’re do being successful, being authentic to yourself and doing what you want to do, but also making sure that it’s something that will bring you success, your family’s expectations, your friends’ expectations, those will change as long as you stay true to yourself.


John Lucas Guimaraes (29:03):
So for me, I definitely want to works. There’s nothing better than working for the government in my opinion. So I definitely want to get work with the Massachusetts department of transportation or even in the private sector. I think there’s so much opportunity or success, but also happiness. All of the opportunities that I have available to me. So , I’m sort of just working on my classes and then I will evaluate what careers I have for me when I get there. I don’t wanna limit my,


Sam Demma (29:44):
Yeah, I love it. I totally agree. And can relate. That’s so many empowering perspectives are being shared and I couldn’t agree more, you know, you spend so much of your life working. It makes sense to do work that you love and you enjoy Steve jobs said in one of his commencement speeches, you know, the only way to do great work is to love what you do. You know, if you don’t love what you do, you’re not gonna give it your all or use your skills and talents and be obsessed enough with it to work on it. Like you said, at 1:00 AM in the morning, doing policy changes and that not only applies to students, but it also applies to educators. And not that you have to hustle and stay up til 1:00 AM every single night, but you have to love the work you’re doing.


Sam Demma (30:26):
You know, I think back to education as an educator, you know, your love for your work of impacting youth can literally change lives. Like you’re, you’re not only teaching content in a classroom, but you’re changing the neurons in a kid’s brain. You’re shifting their perspectives on a daily basis. And if you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing and teaching, you could have an impact on that student that, you know, changes their path for the rest of their life. And I know that because I had a teacher who changed my life and my perspective, and I’m sure you’ve had educators in your life who made a big impact, but John John Lucas, this has been an amazing conversation. And I want to thank you so much for taking your time out of your school day, to hop on this interview and have a conversation, a genuine conversation about, you know, your path and what you think it takes to be a great leader and how other leaders have poured into you. If someone is listening right now and has enjoyed this convers and what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


John Lucas Guimaraes (31:27):
You can definitely find me on social media. I’m sort of a very marketed BPA member. So you can just find me on social media, John Lucas, Guimaraes or you can just you email me jguimaraes@bpa.org. And if you have any questions for me or, or anything that I can sort of help you feel free to reach out. I feel like I tell that to a lot of people and I feel like everyone tells that to people. But I can’t emphasize that enough if you can’t reach out to me, reach out to those around you and your peers, your teachers, these people wanna see you succeed. So just make sure that you are utilizing your resources.


Sam Demma (32:20):
Awesome. John Lucas, thank you so much. Good luck going beyond your limits at the, the next Texas national leadership conference. I wish you all the best in all your future endeavors and let’s definitely stay in touch.


John Lucas Guimaraes (32:33):
Awesome. Thank you so much, Sam, for having me.


Sam Demma (32:37):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, 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 John Lucas

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.

Brent Dickson – Leadership and P.E. Teacher at Centennial High School

Brent Dickson - Leadership & P.E. Teacher at Centennial High School
About Brent Dickson

Brent Dickson (@brent_dickson) is a leadership & physical education teacher at Centennial High School. In 2005 Centennial High School started with one leadership class of 25 students.  Now Centennial has six leadership classes per year with around 200 students total. 

At Centennial, students have hosted and run two Alberta Student Leadership Conferences in 2009 and 2016.  Each conference welcomed 900 students and 150 advisers from across Alberta as well as guests from other provinces and territories. 

Centennial students also organize and run an annual Rockathon fundraiser. Last year 240 students raised $25,000.00 for the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  Brent Dickson is happily married to the amazing Krista and is the proud father of four boys.

Brent has been teaching student leadership in BC and Alberta for over 20 years. He has presented in schools and conferences across Canada and is the Director for the Canadian Student Leadership Association. Previously, he has served as President of the Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers. His previous schools have also hosted the Jr. High and the Adviser Alberta conferences.

He is currently teaching leadership and P.E and is the Department Head of Student Leadership at Centennial High School in Calgary, Alberta. He also coaches rugby there as well and he is the certified Link Crew coordinator there. Brent was awarded the Canadian Student Leadership Association Leader of Distinction Award in September 2012 as well as being an Alberta Excellence in Teaching Award Finalist in 2004.

Connect with Brent: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Brent Dickson’s Personal Website

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers (AASCA)

The Boomerang Project

Centennial High School Website

Kahoot

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 a more recent friend of mine. His name is Brent Dickson and in 2005, Centennial high school started with one leadership class of 25 students. Now they have six leadership classes with over 200 students and at Centennial students have hosted and run two Alberta student leadership conferences in 2009 and 2016, each conference welcomed 900 students and 150 advisors from across Alberta, as well as guests from other provinces and territories. Students of Centennial organize and run an annual walkathon fundraiser.


Sam Demma (01:20):
And last year, the students (240 roughly) raised $25,000 for Alberta children’s hospital. Why am I telling you this? Because Brent Dicksonn is the teacher and educator who runs these programs and helps these students accomplish these milestones. Brent is married to the amazing Krista and the proud father of four boys. He has taught student leadership in BC and Alberta for over 20 years (longer than I’ve been alive.) He’s presented in schools and conferences across Canada as one of the directors for CSLA, the Canadian student leadership association. Previously, he was the president of the Alberta association of student councils. And currently he teaches leadership and PE, and is the department head of student leadership and coach of rugby at Centennial high school in Calgary, Alberta. There is so much more to learn and to absorb from Brent’s genius and his knowledge. He gives you a ton of gems and information on today’s episode, but I highly encourage you, after listening to reach out to Brent! Ask him about his programs, his different experiences, or ask him a question or just connect and have a nice phone call. Without further ado, let’s hop into the episode with Brent Dickson. I’ll see you on the other side. Talk soon. Brent, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. Huge, huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the work that you’re doing in education today? What did that career journey look like for you from a young age?


Brent Dickson (02:53):
Sure. Well, I’m Brent Dickson. I teach leadership and phys ed in Calgary at Centennial high school. I also am the junior boys rugby coach, which I hope to one day coach again, when we get past all this craziness. I actually grew up in Edmonton and then moved out to BC to do my education degree there and I started teaching in Abbotsford . And actually, the story of how I got into leadership was kind of funny because I was at one high school at WJ Mouat, which some of your listeners will probably know. And I was surplus after a year there because I was taking over someone’s leave and I was coaching football and I was teaching social studies and just thought I was in heaven. It was the best thing ever. And then I got transferred to another school, Yale Secondary which was a great school, but they didn’t have a football program.


Brent Dickson (03:43):
So I was devastated at the moment I wasn’t doing what I really hoped to do. And so I was teaching classes and just kinda, and I was also coaching some basketball and I felt like I really needed something to kind of energize me to be a lot of fun. And there was this guy, Wade Perry, who a lot of people know who was teaching leadership there and he was transferring to another school. And I didn’t really know Wade very well, but I kind of saw a little bit about what they were doing in leadership. And I thought that looks pretty cool. I’d like to be involved with it. I don’t really know what it’s all about, but it looks kind of neat. So this is the thing I’ll tell my kids, you gotta be proactive sometimes. So I went into the principals office and I said, you know, I’m only have taught two years at this point.


Brent Dickson (04:23):
And I said, I’d really be interested in teaching that leadership class if you need somebody. So I found out later that then they went and asked eight other teachers on staff to see if they would be willing to teach it. Cause they were probably a little nervous about a rookie coming in and doing it. And all eight teachers said no. And then they came to me and said, Brent, we would love to have you teach that leadership class. Mm. And then so I was, I had no idea at the time that I was choice number nine in the school, I was just really excited to teach it. yeah. So basically I was just going off of what can I remember we did in high school and things I saw in university and one of the very best things that Wade did for me was he me up for the BC provincial conference in November for me and two cast. So we went off to Harrison, hot Springs resort, and I got to meet amazing people like norm Bradley and Debbie coy and Hanta, and my whole vision and world opened up to what student leadership actually could be as I met these amazing teachers and mentors and the journey since then, I never could have predicted going into education, but it’s been far better than, than probably what I would’ve wished for heading in as a teacher.


Sam Demma (05:33):
That’s phenomenal. And now if I was to take you back a, another 10 years before you specifically even got into leadership, at what age did you know that you wanted to get into education just generally become a get into teaching or, or like, did you know, or was this something that you stumbled into?


Brent Dickson (05:51):
I knew I was not going to be a teacher cause my parents are teachers and you cannot do what your parents do because that would be embarrassing. So all the way through, I was kind of lost in like when I, I just knew I wanted to go to university. I, I figured, well, I like socials and English, so I’ll go into humanity stuff. At one point I was looking to kind of do a business type thing, but I got really lucky. I ran into my old football coach. I, I went to Harry Ainley high school in Edmonton and he invited me to come back and help coach his football team. And I thought, that’d be great. It’s a good thing on the resume, be fun. And I needed some stuff like that to apply to, you know, business programs and things. And this crazy thing happened. It turns out that it was so fun coaching kids, and it wasn’t like the football was great, but it was really about kids. These grade 10 football players. I had so much fun with it. And then I decided to humble myself and realize there’s actually a career out there where you can work with kids all the time. So I kind of reoriented and went into education and have loved it. Haven’t looked back.


Sam Demma (06:56):
And I’m guess sing growing up? You also had a huge passion for sports. It seems very obvious that you love sports and whether it’s rugby basketball, like the, all the different sports that you’ve played or coached. And how has that affected your experience as a teacher? I know this year, it’s, it is a little different because of the pandemic. But what is it like, what, what is teacher sports taught you that, that has helped you with your teaching? And why do you love doing it so much? Like gimme another peek into the coach side of Brent.


Brent Dickson (07:28):
I think that that coaching and teaching like leadership and other, they all kind of compliment each other. Like you’ll see kids in different ways. You know, like, like if I’m teach in an academic class, this kid might not be very successful at all. And then they come out on the rugby pitch and they’re like an amazing leader and that’s where they shine. And I also find you can build these amazing connections with athletes in a different way. And then when it comes back into the classroom and whatnot, you know, you kind of have that sort of vibe. I even remember my first year, you know, a rookie teacher at Moit and I didn’t know what I was doing. And a couple of these football players were in my class. I remember, and some kids were donkey around and they actually gave the business to the other kids and said, don’t mess with coach. not that that’s the most important part, but it talks about the relationship. Yeah. Have, like, I know know you, you were high level soccer stuff, so, you know, you, you talk about that same kind of thing. I think, I think it’s just different Avi or different areas where they can shine and show. And I think all those skills, they really meld together nicely.


Sam Demma (08:34):
And I think if the students, if the student sees you praise them on the field, but they’re struggling academically, they’re confidence might be even raise when they go back into the classroom because they think, oh, Brent knows I’m a, I am a phenomenal athlete and he wants to see me succeed. And, and I think it’s really cool that you’ve done so many different things inside the schools you’ve worked at. You mentioned, you know, a bunch of your friends, some of which I don’t really, I don’t know too much about Wade and your mentor, shout out to all of them who helped you when you were just getting started in leadership. How are you staying in touch with you know, your peers, your friends, your colleagues around the country right now during this time?


Brent Dickson (09:12):
Trying , it’s kind of hard. Yeah. To be honest, we all get a little zoomed out as you can imagine. I like it. I think the one thing I’ve actually enjoyed was actually your podcast especially when it’s friends of mine. So I, I just listened to one you had with Ren Lacone. And so I sent her a message after, and I said, this was awesome. I I’m working out, I’m listening to you talk. And it felt like I was back at CSLC, the Canadian student leadership conference, sitting in the advisors lounge and having an awesome conversation with you. I found that with these different ones, I know I’ve also enjoyed the ones, you know, people, I don’t know, they have insights and things from different areas, but I think those little connections are great. Even I got a little boost like I, I’m a director with Canadian student leadership and I primarily do the social media posts along with Maddie and some others. And so I even just had a conversation with Lenore pool and out at hope, BC. Nice about she’s recommending great children’s literature books for leadership kids. Well, even just that 15 minute conversation on the phone gives you a boost, cuz this is my kindred spirit. We both believe the same things about kids. And I think even just those short little births kind of give you energy, you know, as you stay connected. Yeah.


Sam Demma (10:29):
I, I totally agree. And the only thing


Brent Dickson (10:31):
All over the place here now though, yeah,


Sam Demma (10:33):
I know, honestly, the only thing that kinda stops is ourselves. Like, you know, we can pick up our phone and make a quick phone call. Unfortunately we can’t see them in person right now, which is a little more difficult. But it’s still possible.


Brent Dickson (10:46):
I’ll add, add some to that too. I think is important for all of us as teachers. Is that personal connection? You know, I got into, I went, did my workout this morning. I got in, I had a few jobs I wanted to get done before we did this podcast and I didn’t get any of ’em done but instead I spent 40 minutes talking with some other PHY ed teachers. I don’t get to connect with as much. I then ran into a, a French teacher she’s actually retiring the end of the semester. We were able to talk about what’s next and so forth. Then as I’m making my way to a classroom my good friend, the drama teacher was there. And you know, you have to remind yourself, that’s actually more important than the list of other things. Mm-Hmm, , you know, taking time for people and talking to them. I think it gives to them, it gives me energy, especially when we’re all distanced out like this right now.


Sam Demma (11:29):
Yeah. No relationships are so important. And whether it’s relationship with your colleagues or with your students, and you mentioned that, you know, earlier that it’s so important to build relationships on and off the field also in the classroom during this time, I’m sure you’re finding it a little more difficult to build those relationships with some kids at home, some kids in school. How are you striving to still build relationships with your students during this time?


Brent Dickson (11:54):
I think the thing I found we’re, we’re a little different. We’ve been live okay. In person a lot. And then we got, we got put totally online mid November. Okay. So I had the advantage that I already had built a face to face relationship with these kids. Mm-Hmm so I’m not the guy to necessarily say starting on line, how you do it. Yeah. But I think one thing that I really learned, actually, I was kind of mad. We were told that every day we had to do attendance with these kids on our timetable. And as a leadership guy, I was kind of frustrated. I thought these kids have so much on their plate trying to figure out their core stuff. Why are we like adding on and dumping on to what they already have to deal with? And I was very wrong.


Brent Dickson (12:34):
I know that’s shocking. I should have had everything figured out in my life now. But what I realized very quickly is those kids wanted to see me and they wanted to see each other. And the attendance was probably like 95% all the way through. Wow. So then I decided now I, there was sometimes where I was doing instruction and things, but a lot of times I was like, they just need something fun. So I’d, I’d show a five minute video or we’d do a little thing where I’d pick five kids and you had to tell me two truths and a lie. Or, and then I, at the end, actually, one thing I did is I called it the five minute free for all. And so they could all turn on their mic if they wanted to go, they could go, but they could all turn on their mics.


Brent Dickson (13:15):
They could type stuff into chat with each other. They could make jokes, they could do whatever. And you know what Sam, most of them stayed all the time. Eventually like after 20 minutes, sometimes I’d have to cut it off and say, okay, D actually has to go do some things. Yeah. But it reinforced to me how important connection was. Like they, they just wanted to be there with each other and, and get a little inspiration and have some fun. So I think no matter what you’re doing, you gotta find a way to put that into your to your teaching. Like I think when, when kids come into my leadership class, there needs to be almost every day. Even if it’s just five minutes, a little active type lesson that does some team building teach is a value or a skill. And that’s that idea of, you know, you build your house brick by brick. And I think that, and I think that’s possible to do online as well is you start drawing them out and using different different tools and skills and whatnot. Totally


Sam Demma (14:09):
Agree. And I’m sure those five minute free for alls become a highlight in the class. And the kids probably all look forward to them. I’m curious to know as well during regular curriculum, have there been moments this year where you had this idea that you were gonna cover certain subjects and topics today and the conversation that the kids wanted to have was just different and you had to adjust, veer off curriculum and, and address this conversation. And were there any moments like that as well that you’ve experienced so far?


Brent Dickson (14:41):
Actually, when, when kids first came back mm-hmm so we, we like everybody we’ve been out since mid, since mid-March and then Alberta decided that all kids were gonna come in at once. And so I found the first couple days, like we did our team building things and name games and all these kind of stuff, they needed to talk through and process what had happened to them. Yeah. And I think in some ways they needed to grieve a little bit, especially my elevenths and twelves about what they’d lost out in the semester before they needed to talk about what it felt like being back what made them even feel safe. Like I remember there was one kid I had who, you know, her mom was immune compromised and she was pretty stressed about everyone needs to make sure they have their mask on and sometimes kids would forget.


Brent Dickson (15:26):
Right. And so she, she came to me and said, Mr. Dixon, can you talk to ’em about that? Cuz I’m, I’m really stressed. And so there was kind of that processing stuff we had to go through. And and then I know everyone hates the word pivot, cuz we’ve used it way too much but we have just this last semester we have had to constantly figure out ways to adapt. So, you know, we actually decided for the first time, not that this is rocket science to everyone, but we, we came up with a plan for how we were gonna do a virtual pep rally. Mid-December and we do one pep rally a year. Normally it’s a big, huge tradition. Of course you can’t come into the gym. Kids, kids were awesome. They had a plan. We were, we were just about ready to make a video of teachers.


Brent Dickson (16:06):
We were gonna do an online Kahoot. We were, you know, all these kind of things. And then on the Wednesday it’s announced that the following Monday school’s all online. Mm. So the whole thing kind of blew up. And I was really proud of these kids because instead they said, well, let’s do a virtual Christmas spirit week. And they came up with the plans while we’re online, they came up with idea, you know, like it was traditional stuff like the ugly Christmas sweater day and things like that. And we re reached out to this new burger place that had opened just by us. And so they gave three burgers away a day for kids were participating. But to me it was the idea. I was super proud of them that they were able to find a way to say, well, okay, we’re not gonna just give up we’ll we’ll adjust and do something else because like we have those, I’m sure like most programs, we have those key anchors that are traditions at different times of year and a whole lot of ’em there isn’t really a way to adapt. They kind of just get blown up. And so you just gotta find a way with something else.


Sam Demma (17:02):
I love that. And I’m, I’m assuming the Christmas stuff wasn’t really successful because I, I feel like any opportunity to come together and do something fun. Kids are just jumping on them these days.


Brent Dickson (17:13):
What tell you one little cool story that happened with it. Yeah. Can’t take any credit. It was total fluke. Okay. One of our special ed teachers. So our special ed classes were still coming into the building. Everyone else was online. Yep. And so it was I think it was Christmas hat day. And so she had some Santa type hats. So she took them around. She ’em on her special ed kids and took some pictures and submitted it to me. And I put ’em out on Instagram. And then what I would do is I would have a kid we’d figure out how many total pictures came in and then they’d tell me the number. And then I’d just say, okay, number 22 is the winner just random? Well, randomly this special ed kid got picked, he’s not on Instagram or anything like that.


Brent Dickson (17:55):
And so I had to kind of figure out who he was. And so I went to the teacher and I was able to go into the classroom where they were at. And I said, Hey, did you know you won like a burger meal at icy Berg and kids? Like what, what he’s like kind of freaking out excited. He came back to me three times in the next two days to my classroom, just to confirm that it was really true and that he’d actually won this. Wow. So then his his teacher aid and him, they, we, I called over there and said when they were coming. And so they, they walked over for lunch on a day and he got his meal and everything, I got picture of it. And so that was really cool. Like, so, you know, I mean, that’s like the Disney moment. I couldn’t have really planned for it, but it was awesome.


Sam Demma (18:37):
No, that’s phenomenal. And those moments are, are, I would say right now they might be few and far in between because of COVID. But in normal school, those moments are, are, are everywhere. And I’m sure that you, over your, over your whole career of teaching, there’s been so many moments like that. And, and so many students who you’ve impacted and who your colleagues have impacted and your whole team at your school have impacted. I’m curious to know out of all the stories you’ve heard and maybe you have one of those files on your desk called the bad day files where you like pull out the notes. Kids have sent you to kind of lift your spirit. It’s I’ve had some other teachers talk to me about it. Of all those moments, which those moments of transformation are, those, those Disney moments, which, which of those stick out the most, and the reason I’m asking, and you can just choose one or two. And if it’s a serious story, you can obviously take away their name as well. Just so you don’t disclose it. The reason I’m asking is because there might be an educated sitting right now, who’s burnt out. Who’s considering not teaching anymore who might want to leave the vocation. And your story of impact might remind them why this work is so important despite the challenges they’re currently faced with.


Brent Dickson (19:45):
Yeah, actually, you know, I was thinking, I, I kind of knew the question was coming. Cause I heard you ask other people before. And I, you know, I have some that are like really dramatic, like, oh, this kid went to a conference and I saw how it changed their life or things like that. But there’s actually one that came that I kept thinking about. And it was this student named Zach and he was a three year leadership student. He since graduated and he was almost like an positive way, the poster child for the introvert, like this kid never said anything in class ever. I knew not to ask him for like in front of the whole class to give a comment, cuz he would just, he just couldn’t do it or wouldn’t yet there every day he’d be there at lunch for the activity to help set up and clean up.


Brent Dickson (20:33):
He’d be dressed in the thing you were doing that whatever it was we asked him to do. And even some of the conferences like the day horizons type conferences we’d go to he’d sign up for those. And sometimes I’d be a little surprised, you know, I thought that might be a little outside of his his comfort zone, but he’d be there. And actually in grade 12, was this other student, Ethan who kind of just decided to be his self-appointed buddy. And he was beside, I mean, he’d be with class, not that he like, you know, didn’t have any friends or anything, but just, you know, kind of like that reaching out thing. And and I just really appreciated this kid, his consistency. He’s a kid that you could maybe not notice if you don’t really pay attention. Hmm. And then so in his grade 12 year we were doing ugly Christmas sweater day and he always is dressed up in whatever it was.


Brent Dickson (21:20):
He comes in and he’s wearing an Oilers hoodie and I can’t figure out what’s going on now. This kid is a horror, hardcore flames fan. Like at least every other day, he’s got some flames thing on. So I’m looking at him and I can’t figure out what he’s doing. And then all of a sudden I get it. He’s decided that the Oilers hoodie is the HAPPI sweater that he can wear. And I’m like, so I start halfway through the sense I’m like, why are you wearing? And then I realized what it was and I just started laughing that is the funniest thing ever. And so he kind of, and he doesn’t laugh, he just smiles. Right? Yeah. And then I said, well, where did you get that? And he says, oh, my uncle has one. Justin said, he’s an Oilers fan. Well, about a week later, this is one of, really one of my highlights of my career.


Brent Dickson (22:04):
A week later as the semester was, you know, right before Christmas, he brought me a Christmas present and, and it was bigger. Usually it’s just, you know, like some little gift card or card or something. And he says, don’t open it now, open it later. And I’m like, okay, well, thank you very much. Well, I opened it later and it was a fancy Oilers glass. Wow. And, and I thought that’s really cool. In spite of the fact that we’re enemies on the hockey rink that he kind of thought that much of me yeah. To give, to give me something that was kind of our personal joke and also something that I would really like. And, and I thought, you know what, that’s awesome. Like in three years, I know that leadership made a difference for him. And it would be different experience for him than maybe that kid that would be happy to get on the mic or jump around or be that crazy kid. But I think it was just as meaningful for him. And he was able to give as much to the class for us as any other kid.


Sam Demma (22:58):
There’s so much to unpack. I think that’s a phenomenal story. And what this makes me wanna say is that in leadership, there’s a space and a place for everyone. And I’m curious to know how you made your student feel comfortable enough safe enough, appreciated enough to still want to participate because there might be some introverted students who don’t feel valued or appreciated and always keep to themselves. It seems like you got through to this one kid and I’m curious to know, how do you think you get through to students? Is it just by listening? Is it by asking them question, tapping them on the shoulder and saying, Hey, here’s an opportunity for you? Like how do you make your students feel appreciated, valued and, and comfortable in the class?


Brent Dickson (23:39):
I think that’s a three hour lecture. yeah. I think, you know what, it’s a lot of little things and, and most of it I’ve been taught by those mentors that have come before me about things you do. Like it’s little things like whenever I can, I try to make sure music’s playing. When they come into a class at the beginning of class, every time almost we do some kind of a fun, interactive activity and they get a chance to meet different people and talk to them. I don’t just, when we do discussions, it’s not just one kid saying their idea in front of the whole class, you try to get ’em in smaller, you know, with a partner or with a small group where they can talk. I think it’s the, a huge part is the tapping on the shoulder and saying, Hey, I think you’d be good for this.


Brent Dickson (24:20):
You should come to this conference. You should sign up for this group. We need you. And you know, it’s all the things we do as teachers like getting to know that kid, like, you know Zach loves the, or the loves the flames. So you talk about the game the night before and, and you built, and I think it’s just that little step by little step. And you create, you create that environment. And I think sometimes there’s some kids where you don’t necessarily know how much they appreciate it, even though maybe they haven’t seemed to be as engaged in it as some others. But then they’re the kid that faithfully shows up on that zoom meeting and hangs around for the five minute free for all, even if they don’t chat or anything, they just wanna be there and be a part of it. Right. So I think that, I think sometimes as as teachers leadership advisor, we underestimate how much kids thrive and appreciate and need that kind of environment.


Sam Demma (25:12):
No, I, I, I wholeheartedly agree. And it’s so true. And sometimes it might be as simple as a, as a tap on the shoulder. And what you mentioned about, about talking about the, the Oilers game or the flames game to Zach, because I was, he, that’s what he was interested in. My grade 12 world issues teacher would do the exact same thing. We’d walk into class and by, you know, week three, week four, he started to know what most of the students liked. And I don’t think he remembered it all up here. I think he wrote it down because it was, it was pretty impressive, but he would take his content and material. And after teaching, it would, would apply individual students and be like, Sam, for you as an athlete. This means this. And kaon for you as someone who’s interested in fashion, this means this and Olivia for you, someone who’s interested in, in the movies, this means this.


Sam Demma (25:58):
And he would, he would take his material and almost like give us the personalized applications or call to actions based on our, our likes and our dislikes. And it always stuck in my mind. So I, I think doing that is so impactful. It had a huge impact on me. I’m still a young guy. I’m 21 and I still remember it. So I think that’s great that you talk about that as well. Okay. If you could travel back in time and speak to younger Brent, and be the, be the mentor to yourself when you’re just starting teaching, what would you have told yourself? What advice would you have given yourself?


Brent Dickson (26:35):
I think I would say to not get obsessed about your to-do list. Hmm. I think that we as teachers, we have a to-do list that we have no choice about things that must get done. And then we have things that we really wanna get done. And I actually keep one each week, like I got on my computer to remind me of stuff I gotta get through. And we have these windows in our school day. You can get, ’em done. Mm-Hmm and depending on your prep time and what’s going on, or I’ve got so much time after school and we sometimes you can get obsessed with that and you need to make time for kids. And that’s something I had to learn. So like, for example, you know, there’s the leadership classroom here and the door is open and it’s right after, or lunch or something.


Brent Dickson (27:24):
And you see a kid kind of just hanging around outside, you know, and they’re sort of making like, they’re not really there to see you, but they really would like to talk to you. My advice to young Brent would be, unless it’s an absolute emergency, ignore the to-do list, invite the kid to come in and have a five minute conversation. Or even like I talked about this morning, right? Like I had some things I wanted to get done, take some time to talk to colleagues. You’re never gonna regret a relationship building moment. And you’re never gonna remember the, the one report card thing you had to fill in or some form for a trip or, you know, and those things are, we gotta get ’em done. But I think that, you know, worst comes to worst. You say to somebody, I can get that job done today because I needed to talk to this kid. And I think we’re always gonna win in the end if we do that.


Sam Demma (28:13):
I think you’re so right. And if, if someone’s listening right now and is thinking to themselves, I wanna have a relationship building moment with Brent and it’d be, it’d be really cool to connect with him and just chat with him, ask some questions, share some of their own stories for whoever’s listening. What would be the best way for them to reach out to you and just have a conversation?


Brent Dickson (28:33):
Well, they could email me brdickson@cbe.ab.ca and I would catch ’em there or Instagram @brdickson. And actually I have a website that’s kind of a side hobby of my it’s brentdickson.net. And I try to just post every week or two, just some leadership ideas or this kind of cool thing happened in my classroom or stuff. And, I don’t know, maybe there’s some ideas there they might wanna connect to but I’m always open to the, the back and forth conversation because I find anytime you talk to someone else, you get two things good back.


Sam Demma (29:06):
And you’re also available for a few select keynote speeches per year. So give yourself a quick shameless plug there as well if an educator’s listening who might wanna bring you in.


Brent Dickson (29:17):
Used Carl salesman pick!? Yeah. I, I love speaking in other schools, working with other leadership programs or full keynotes to schools and things like that. And so when things calm down, I would love to come to your school. I’ve spoken in conferences and schools all across Canada and it’s been my fun side thing to do. And it’s so energizing to spend time with kids or teachers, share the things you know, and you get so much back. So if someone’s looking for a presentation or consultation or just some good clean fun, they can contact me as well. And, information about presentations and stuff is all on my website. Perfect.


Sam Demma (29:56):
Brent, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to come on the show. Hopefully you can cross this off your to-do list if it was on it. this has been a pleasure. I’ll stay in touch with you soon and keep up the amazing work.


Brent Dickson (30:08):
Awesome, thank you.


Sam Demma (30:10):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. 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 working 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 Brent Dickson

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.

Joanna Severino – CEO and Founder of PrepSkills and the US College Expo

Joanna Severino - CEO and Founder of PrepSkills and the US College Expo
About Joanna Severino

Joanna Severino (@joanna_severino) is the Founder & President of PREPSKILLS and the US College Expo. Joanna has been an educator for over 25 years, helping students to excel in achieving important milestones in education. For many Canadian families, applying to private schools and US colleges can be daunting.

PREPSKILLS helps navigate this process by giving families the tools, resources and connections to maximize opportunities. Joanna created the US College Expo in Canada and PrepConnect events to help families explore their educational pathways. Education is really about resourcefulness.

As a certified teacher and passionate mom-preneur, Joanna is always looking for ways to ensure that students connect with these opportunities and get the valuable information they need to make informed decisions about education.

Connect with Joanna: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

PREPSKILLS

US College Expo

Prep Connect – Private School Admissions Networking Event

PREPSKILLS Franchise

OSCA Conference Speaker

School & Athletic Seminars

Wings of Hope

PMH Mentorship

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 my good friend, Joanna. Joanna Severino is the founder and CEO of prep skills and the US college expo. She helps students prepare for their SATs SSATs, any of their standardized tests that they might need to get into a school in the US or a specific program here in Canada.


Sam Demma (01:00):
She also, I mentioned runs the US college expo, which helps to connect US admissions reps with students who are interested in going to their schools in the states. She’s been in education for over 20 years. She’s a powerhouse. She is a mother of her sons and she just, she never runs out of energy. As someone described it, she is a trailblazer and I hope you enjoy this interview and get something valuable from it. I’ll see you on the other side. Joanna, thank you so much for coming on to the High Performing Educators podcast. It seems like forever ago, I was sitting in your workshop with my dad, prepping for my SAT to hopefully get a scholarship back when I was just a young man and you’ve continued that work ever since then. And recently we’ve reconnected. I’m curious to know, and I’m sure everyone listening is as well. Who are you? I’d love you to share a little bit about yourself and what got you into the work that you do with youth today.


Joanna Severino (01:56):
Thanks Sam. Thanks for having me and I, and I remember, I think I, I tossed a stress toy at you. It was a soccer ball, wasn’t it?


Sam Demma (02:06):
Still have it!


Joanna Severino (02:08):
Love it. Hope you’re using it. My name’s Joanna Severino and I’m the founder and president of prep skills and the US college expo. So I’ve been an educator for over 25 years and a mother of three incredible boys; ages 14, 11, and eight. And really what we’re here to do is help students through their transformative years essentially, and support them as they embark on their journey through the middle and high school years.


Sam Demma (02:43):
That’s awesome. What prompted you to do the work that you do? Was there an experience you had, if you could go back to 25 years, I’m asking you to go back a long time. what prompted you to get involved in this sort of work with youth?


Joanna Severino (02:58):
Well, really, I, I, I was an educator and, and loved it. And from a very young age, I had this entrepreneurial spirit. My, my father passed when I was 11 and my mother was left to raise four children on her own, through social assistance. And, and we really built resilience and confidence through that process. But what I did know is that education was really key to recreating essentially my narrative and that’s really what I wanted to do. And so as an educator, when I graduated and then became a teacher, was super passionate about that. However, I felt like I could do more, more globally as an educator and found myself thinking about that a lot and then life threw me a curve ball. So really it was my experience with cancer and having gone through chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant, that that was really the launchpad to creating prep skills today.


Sam Demma (03:34):
Wow. That’s, that’s crazy. I didn’t know that about you, so I appreciate you sharing. And I’m certain, there’s so many educators listening who have gone through tough challenges, just like the ones you all outline, and I’m hoping they’re, they’re hearing what comes up after you get through it, especially if someone’s going through the same sort of challenge right now, and speaking of challenges and getting through them right now. So many educators, so many schools, so many companies are faced with the instrumental challenge, which is COVID having to very quick pivot and shift and do things virtually. I know you’ve done a great job with the virtual prep skills connect event, where I showed the little stress ball live and you’re doing the expo virtually, you’re doing school tours virtually. How have you overcome the challenges of COVID and what was that experience like for you in education?


Joanna Severino (05:02):
Well, I think we’re still overcoming challenges on a, on a daily basis minute by minute. And really, I think what’s important is, is taking action. Action is super important and not worrying so much about perfection. I’ve I’ve been known as the trailblazer in the space. And so I tend to pave the way for, for a lot of people in a, in a lot of innovative things that occur in education, it was a pleasure actually to hear from a few of the educators that reached out to us before the prep connect. And they said, can we join and just watch and learn from what you due? And, and sort of referenced me as being the best in, in the space, which was a wonderful compliment, but really, I, I think rooted from my childhood and my resilience and, you know, having lost my father at a young age surviving cancer I’m, I’m pretty resilient and, and love to turn no to yeses. So I think that’s really what drives me. It’s, it’s sort of like, what’s the worst that could happen. Let’s go. And I think that’s an important mindset to have during COVID, especially.


Sam Demma (06:20):
No, that’s amazing. And you did a great job with the virtual event. I was there, I CEED. And I’m curious to know what do you think? Awesome. Thank you. what do you think are some unique, unique ways to engage people during COVID? You know, if you, if you could put the mindset on of an educator, maybe more classical that works in a school, and they’re struggling a little bit right now, you know, what can we do to help these young people during this time?


Joanna Severino (06:47):
Well, you know, I think we underestimate these, these students and they are resourceful and resilient. And, and I think this online world is, is more familiar to them than it is to us. Mm. So getting them involved in really activities, such as the ones that we’re hosting, there are lots of opportunities to volunteer virtually. Your program is fantastic. Sam, you know, top performing students to really engage and connect online. And they’re, they’re very familiar with this world. So I, I don’t know, you know, outside of there being challenges, especially through the early stages with mental health and, and really being and lockdown at home, I think that this is actually progressing in a positive way where students are now back at school, back with the structure, back with their peers and teachers. And, and I see that with my own boys. So I, I think, I think we’re moving in a good direction.


Sam Demma (07:58):
And you’re somewhat who radiates joy. You radiate hope, even through tough times, you have this positive mindset and mentality, and it’s so evident even if people are listening to this right now, what gives you hope to keep going to trail blaze away, as you said, even when everyone else might be stopping or hesitating?


Joanna Severino (08:18):
Well, I think life experience and a mindset. And you know, I, I, I really attach myself to the symbolism of a butterfly mm-hmm and a butterfly in a cocoon that then transforms into this lovely butterfly the, the caterpillar to the butterfly scenario is something that I revisit a lot of days of my life . And so looking at the, that transformation and seeing it as every ending has a new beginning, and there’s a reason why this is happening. And how do you overcome obstacles? How do you strengthen your core? These are all important things that I think we need to do and reflect on. And what can you personally control? Because there’s so many UN outside of yourself and you really shouldn’t be worried about those things. Mm. You know, what is it about you that you can really tap into your core strengths and be able to, to support your growth, your mindset, and then through that process, you can help others. So it really begin with you.


Sam Demma (09:36):
I love that. And the focus on the core strength is so important. And I know from working with you and, and watching you do your amazing work, one of your core strengths is helping young people prepare for post-secondary education for getting into the schools, their dream schools. We talked about Kevin who went to UCLA and, and I believe it was Sam who went to Haga and had a great experience at boarding school. You know, can you share an experience of a young person who’s been directly impacted by your work, maybe when they came to you, they were uncertain. They were unclear. They didn’t know where they were going. Didn’t know how to do what they needed to do to get to where they wanted to go. And through your work, you had a tremendous impact hacked on them, not only with their schooling, but maybe even their mentality or their mental health. And if you wanna share a, a touching story, you can also change the name for the sake of privacy totally up to you.


Joanna Severino (10:27):
Well, there, there’s so many stories and, and that’s really what I love about what I do. And because I’m a trailblazer and I keep moving, how I, I know that I’m leaving a footprint and I know that there are people that are being supported and helped. I, I have to admit I don’t always stop and, you know, analyze the, the situation. Yeah. Until later when someone tells me that. So, and so has been impacted by whether it was a, a war, a statement I made or has successfully been admitted to, you know, their, their school of choice. Just this week. I discovered that one of our students from many years ago must be probably at least 10 years. And he’s currently studying at brown university. And I remember him, I thought, oh, wow, that’s amazing. I’m getting older. but there’s no stories because what happens is you don’t know what you don’t know.


Joanna Severino (11:26):
And, and really success is a group project. So I found myself dealing with students and parents who are maybe limiting themselves mm-hmm . And I remember a situation where a parent came in and she wanted her son to apply to a particular school. And I asked her why. And at that point, the sticker price in terms of tuition was a little lower than some of the other school choices. And I said, so you’re not considering these other schools. And she said, no, I couldn’t afford it. That’s, that’s just completely out of our realm. And I said, well, did you know about this and this and this, these financial opportunities that you could take advantage of? And she said, no, I, I didn’t know about that. So we embarked on this journey together. He obviously ended his reach in terms of school options.


Joanna Severino (12:15):
And then he was admitted to all the schools and offered financial support at all of them. And guess what? He ended up at a school that was different from the initial choice that he had when he and his mother came to me. And I think that’s so awesome. And he’s since graduated and loved the experience, and that was the right fit for him. So I I’m really here to crush obstacles for parents and, and families, if they, if they’re concerned. I, I wanna be able to help there are so many incredible stories. A family that, that came into the city recently was during COVID and was looking for a school. And and really, it seemed like an impossibility, like how can you possibly get into a school for September and it’s June? And I love those challenges. . So there, I went and I, I went door knocking for, for the family and lo and behold it happened. And so we were able to get them into a school. So that that’s really, what I love to do is I, I really love to, to create things that don’t exist and to create opportunities that don’t exist and support families in that way.


Sam Demma (13:33):
I wanna highlight the fact that you said you hadn’t seen this young person for 10 years, and the first story you just shared, or maybe 10 years had gone by, and you vividly remember who the person was. And now they’re at their dream school at Browns college. That’s so cool, because I think so often in education or in any service based business, sometimes you don’t realize the impact of your contribution until a decade down the road. When they write you a handwritten note, or you see them standing on some podium, delivering a talk, and it’s such a, oh my gosh moment where you realize your impact has been, has been realized through that person’s life and their activity, these, and any educator who’s listening. I want you to take Joanna’s story as a, a reminder to yourself that maybe you’re not seeing the impact of your teaching or your perseverance right now, but maybe 10 years down the road, like she did, you’ll have a crazy experience where someone reaches back out to you and tells you how much it meant to you that you, you kept pushing through and, and you kept going Joanna you’re someone who has worked with so many schools has worked with so many organizers and events and planned a dozen different opportunities, hundreds by now for young people, you’ve hired dozens of speakers.


Sam Demma (14:52):
I’m curious to know how do you choose who to bring onto your stages and, and who to work with because you brought on Mike Weaver, former NHL player, Jillian apps, Olympian, you know, what, what makes a good presenter and how do you choose someone to put in front of young minds?


Joanna Severino (15:08):
Well, first, you know, as I said, I really love a great challenge. And so, you know, oftentimes we look to these, these individuals, and we think that it’s almost impossible to connect with them, right? Mm-Hmm oh, former NHL player Olympian. We had Dr Chopra from Harvard medical school, like all of these great, great inspirational speakers. And it becomes a little bit like, you know, how, how do we engage? How do we interact with them? And I, as I said, love to create opportunities that don’t exist. And so, you know, I, I find ways to connect and make sure that it’s of value to these speaker, the individual, and a value to the families that we serve. And so, you know, the, the speakers that we selected for, for example, the us college expo primarily graduated from a us college, their Canadians. And so we wanted them to reflect that story, that journey and that inspiration. That’s really how we, we go about selecting our our speakers and you of course have transformed so many students in lives. And, and with your positive, inspirational enthusiasm, we thought Sam Demma is our guy for CE this event. So thank you for doing that.


Sam Demma (16:37):
No, I appreciate it. And I was gonna say, it sounds like it’s a needs basis. You know, if there’s a need in your school, if there’s a need for the event, you find the person who can fill it, which is, sounds like a very logical way to approach the, the conversation, which is awesome. This has been an amazing conversation. I have a couple more questions for you. I’m curious to know what keeps you motivated. So we talked a little bit about what gets you hopeful, and I know you’re very obstacle oriented and you love crushing obstacles and you love creating opportunities. What motivates you to keep going? Is there someone in your life that motivates you? Do you, who do you look up? Who do you get inspiration from?


Joanna Severino (17:16):
Well, it, you know, my father passed when I was 11. I, I didn’t really get a chance to, to know him, but I do know that he, he was an entrepreneur and mm-hmm, he did you know, start a business that that was not successful actually over the course of a 10 year period, apparently in Australia. . So I, you know, I, I don’t know much about that, but I do know that there is this, this entrepreneurial spirit inside of me where I feel like what I do can impact the world globally. And, and that’s what motivates and drives me. So this, this, this spirit that I have and connection with my father, definitely. And then the miraculous transformation through the restoration of my health through cancer and then having these three wonderful boys. So, you know, I have a, a 14, 11 and eight year old, and they drive me every single day, along with my, my great husband, but the, the boys really tell the story. I can see it and live it every single as to what they’re going through, what their needs are, how the world is changing. And and, and, and it’s, it’s really motivating for me to support them. And in turn support all these families that we serve on a daily basis,


Sam Demma (18:44):
If you went on ancestry.com, I’m sure you’re a whole lineage was people that were all entrepreneurs. doing amazing know.


Sam Demma (18:56):
Educators are listening, principals, teachers, parents who wanna apply the same mindset to school. I know a while back, not too long, maybe 20 years, my age , you were once a teacher, how can a teacher or an educator that works in a more formal scenario apply that entrepreneurial mindset? Is it just, you know, doing things that are outrageous and crazy you know, what would you tell an educator in a more classic scenario how they can use an entrepreneurial spirit maybe in their classrooms or schools?


Joanna Severino (19:26):
Well, I was a, a business and computer studies teacher, and so I always bought, brought the world outside, inside mm-hmm . And so it wasn’t traditional textbook type teacher. So with, with the teachers that we serve, I think they’re doing a tremendous job because they actually do reach out to me to prep skills for the support that they need to be able to better serve the student. I mean, the American university admissions process, for example, there are over 4,000 options in the us. It’s, it’s impossible for any one person to really understand that entire system. And so they, through professional development, reach out to us they engage in the counselor day and event. And I think what they’re doing is, is fantastic. And and we see that with, with the students that we serve that foundationally and primarily come from these schools and the teachers are, are supporting them. So they’re the, the real heroes. And I just come in to, you know, to, to sort of, of finesse that and, and support them as they move on to their next stage.


Sam Demma (20:37):
That’s awesome. I love that. And you mentioned educators reach out a lot to wrap this up. I would love for you to share where they can reach you if they wanna bounce ideas around chat with you, connect, use prep skills for some preparation for students, or just to connect with you and chat about some things that you’ve done in your life. Where can they do that?


Joanna Severino (20:56):
They can, they can do that by connecting through prepskills.com or uscollegeexpo.com. And I’d be happy to, to, to meet with them or connect with them and support their process for sure.


Sam Demma (21:12):
Awesome. Joanna, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. It’s been a pleasure and I wish you all the best in the future, and I’ll be watching you behind your car as you trail blaze through this industry. I can’t wait to see what comes up next.


Joanna Severino (21:27):
Thank you, Sam pleasure.


Sam Demma (21:30):
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 this 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 Joanna Severino

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.

Heather McCaig – President of Alberta Association of Student’s Councils and Advisors (AASCA) & Student Leadership Advisor

Heather McCaig - President of AASCA & Student Leadership Advisor
About Heather McCaig

Lead by example, treat each other better than you expect to be treated, and live life to the fullest!  These are mottos that she lives by. She has taught at Crescent Heights High School since 1999.  Leadership,  Social Studies and teaching English Language learners are her passions.  She is a teacher with a big heart and is heavily involved in Student Council, SADD and Key Club at school.

She believes very strongly in helping others and that half of teaching is actually the relationships that you can build with your students. Her door is always open, and students know that they always have an ear to listen to them and a mentor to ask questions to. She has been a member of the Alberta Student Leadership Association since 2005, becoming the President a couple of years ago.

Outside of school Ms.McCaig(@Heavendawn) is an avid motorcycle rider who puts on about 10,000 km every summer when she’s not working.  She also enjoys world travel and has taken four trips to Africa.  

Connect with Melissa: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Crescent Heights High School School Website

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisors

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 Heather McKay. She is a social studies teacher and leadership advisor, and she loves leading by example, treating others better than you expect to be treated and she lives that motto to the fullest. She teaches at Crescent Heights high school since the year I was born in 1999. She does amazing work in leadership and in social studies, has a huge heart, as I’m sure you’ll hear through the audio in this episode. She believes very strongly that helping others is a way to teach and that relationships are super important to build with your students. Her door is always open and students know they always have an ear. If they want to chat with her, have some mentorship or ask questions. She also is an avid motorcycle rider.


Sam Demma (00:56):
She puts about 10,000 kilometers in every single summer and she loves traveling and will be taking her fourth trip to Africa this summer. Didn’t actually ask her about that on the episode, but if you do reach out, consider bringing it up and on top of all of this, she is also the president of AASCA, A A S C A, the Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisors. She’s doing amazing work and I can’t wait to share a little bit of her wisdom, insight, and passion with you in this episode. I hope you enjoy this. I’ll see you on the other side, Heather, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you just getting over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m glad you had a great time socially distant. Can you tell a little bit about who you are to our audience and why you got into the work you do with young people today?


Heather McCaig (01:45):
Sure. I am a teacher at Cresent Heights High School in medicine hat, Alberta, Canada. And I am also part of AASCA, which is the Alberta Leadership Association for leadership teachers in the province. And I have been doing high school leadership type things since I was in high school. And it just kind of continued throughout my career in various ways. And I have always just wanted to be with kids and help kids out. So I’ve really loved my job.


Sam Demma (02:15):
Where did this passion come from? Did you know in high school and when you were just a student that one day you would be in the positions you are today, or was there someone who pushed you into this direction?


Heather McCaig (02:26):
Not entirely. I’ve, I’ve been extremely blessed with li with amazing parents. And my mom was a teacher as well, and I watched her be involved in a lot of things with her students and with her professional association and that kind of thing. So they may have had a 10 year plan for me. I’m not sure, but I definitely have followed in, in her footsteps and, and all the educators that were around her. Right. I got to watch them and how they worked with kids and the impact they had on people’s lives. And I just decided that if, if I can make somebody else’s life better, that’s something I wanna do.


Sam Demma (02:59):
That’s awesome. And you mentioned you had great parents, I’m sure you had great educators as well. Is there a standout educator that you can think of back when you were in high school that had a huge impact on you? And if there was maybe one or two, if there wasn’t a standout one, can you think about different characteristics that educate, have that make a huge impact on young people and just share those things with the audiences, a reminder to, you know, what we can do right now during this crazy time to make young people feel appreciated and valued?


Heather McCaig (03:29):
Well, I think I was very lucky in having a number of people that I connected with in high school. Yeah. They, they went beyond the classroom, right? They were not just here’s your homework. See you later. And they didn’t care about you as a human being. They always felt that they always made me feel like they cared about me on a deeper level, on a personal level. And if I had a problem, you know, or I looked like, I, I wasn’t happy that day. They actually came and said, Hey, what’s going on? You know, that kind of thing. So I believe it’s those relationship piece. And throughout my, my whole, you know, education, I can think of my grade one teacher who did that, Mrs. Reinhardt, she was amazing. And I still remember things in her classroom because of that. And my grade three teacher, she was a scuba diver and we connected cuz I always wanted to, you know, go swim with turtles and, you know, moving up through, through the grades, there was a always somebody, but it was always that personal relationship piece. So that’s something that I’ve always strived to do with my students is make sure I know what’s going on with them. You know, I help them if I can help them and just be there as a, as a human to lean on not just the educator, as a person in their world, somebody that they can come to if they need it. And I think that really makes a difference in education.


Sam Demma (04:42):
Tell me more about how you strive to do that. Is it just asking questions? Is it like how do you ensure that you get to know your students on a personal level?


Heather McCaig (04:52):
Well, I, I try to pay attention to changes in demeanor even, right? So if I have a kid who comes in and normally for four days in a row, they’re super happy be, and then they look totally bummed out. I’ll take ’em outside and say, Hey, you know, you, you don’t seem like you’re happy self today, are you okay? Is everything fine? Mm. And or if you have a kid that you see crying, you know, you go whisper in their ear. You may not wanna talk to me now, but I’m here. If you need me, you know, feel free to go take a quick little walk, come back at yourself together. Know, but I’m here. If you need me, it’s just those little nuances, right. To let them know, I am somebody willing to talk to you and I’m here. If you need me without pushing them. Right. And, and I think even when you have classes that some of us do on occasion that are high numbered, that kind of thing, you can still make those little tiny nuances and, and they will come to you if they need to talk to you, they will at least know that you’re there. And it does make that difference to them.


Sam Demma (05:49):
I’m sure over the years you embodying that teaching philosophy of being a shoulder to lean on, not just an educator has had a huge impact on the lives of if not hundreds, thousands of students that have gone through your classes and through your leadership. I’m sure you have, as many other educators do a, a bad file folder on your desk, filled with all the notes. that students give you over the years. Can you think of a story that you might want to share? And if it serious story, you can change the name for privacy reasons. Yep. That will display the impact that, you know, living that teaching philosophy had on this young person, just to inspire other educators about the work that you’re doing, why it’s so important and now more than ever needed.


Heather McCaig (06:31):
Well, well, I, this, this spring, actually, I had one of my kids who sort of disappeared during COVID. Cause when, when they, the kids all went home, of course you only had contact on the computer and you could only have contact if they showed up. Yeah. So we couldn’t find this kid. We had no idea where he went and it was his grad year. He needed, you know, 20 credits to graduate. So I looked at in his file and I got his phone number and that didn’t work and I got his address. So I went to his house and knocked on the door and this guy comes up and he didn’t know who this kid was, but he was a grandpa with dementia. So that, that was understandable. And then his dad came around the corner and said, well, this was my step kid.


Heather McCaig (07:15):
They moved out, you know, you go to the gas station, turn left, go three blocks turn. Right. And it’s in the apartment building and you knock on the window. Hmm. So I’m like, okay, so no address, no phone number. Nope. Just talk, knock on the front window of the apartment building. I’m like, okay, so let’s try this. So I go driving and I find an apartment building sort of in the right location. And then I thought, okay, well, I’ve left messages at this number before. And I got a hold of mom once, like a year ago. So I tried again and just out of sheer luck, she answered the phone and I just said, Hey, I think I’m at your house. This is your kid’s teacher. And I really need to talk to him. Would he be home? And she’s like, oh, well, yeah. So she, she arranged for me to get to the right window.


Heather McCaig (08:02):
And I literally banged on the window and got this kid up outta bed in one 30 in the afternoon. And he came up to the front door and he was like, oh my God, Ms. Mckay. And I’m like, Hey, I said, we have some schoolwork to talk about. So many visits later and, and you know, doing homework via the front steps and me standing on the lawn and, and that kind of thing, that kid graduated in the spring. Wow. So, and, and if, if, you know, if I hadn’t have gone that extra mile, he may not have come back to school at all. He was aging out and, you know, he was, had all these other issues, but I mean, that’s one thing that will always stand in my memory.


Sam Demma (08:43):
Hmm. What, what gives you the hope to, to do something like that? What gives you the motivation to do, to take that extra mile and go that extra step? Even during a crazy time? Like COVID?


Heather McCaig (08:53):
Well, I’ve, I’ve always believed that living in Canada and north America and having the life that I’ve had, I’m truly blessed. Mm. So, you know, I know my kids don’t all have that home life. I know, like I have parents that have been together for 65 years. Yeah. So, you know, even a split home can have a huge impact on families no matter how hard they try to keep their kids protected. So if I can, if I can give back any little bit to somebody, to me, that’s huge. If I can have them realize how lucky they are to be where they live and grow up and be here in north America and have the schooling that they have and that kind of thing, they will end up being better people for understand that gratitude piece. Yeah. Because having traveled around the world and watched little kids take water out of a ditch that I know they’re going home to drink, I, I have a greater understanding now of what that actually means to live here. Mm. So I really try and pass that on to my kids.


Sam Demma (09:52):
And the principle of going the extra mile can be applied and everything that we do. I’m curious to know during COVID, have you had any mistakes that you’ve made that you’ve learned from, or great successes that you might wanna share with other educators? And this can be from the perspective of a teacher or also the president of the Alberta leadership student association. And the reason I’m asking is because right now, all educators are learning from throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks, and maybe you found some things that have fallen or stuck, and it would be awesome for you to share Can you hear me, Heather?


Heather McCaig (10:38):
I you’re very digital. We have been attempting things from are you, no,


Sam Demma (10:51):
I’m good. I can hear you now. Can you hear me?


Heather McCaig (10:55):
Oh, you there? Okay. Okay. All right. Yeah, you’re moving again. Perfect. You paused in a really great pose though. okay. So I think we have been trying really hard to find unique ways to do things and reach out to our membership. So we’ve, we’ve our, our leadership team at ASCA have been starting a coffee shop where people can get together and talk. We’ve had members in Calgary that have done some brainstorming to try and find unique things that can be done online. And we’re in the process of trying to build that kind of a resource for our membership so that they have, you know, go to things that they can still do. A couple of the things that we have been attempting just locally is we’re trying to do things that we did in person, but through technology.


Heather McCaig (11:49):
So right now we’re writing stories with seniors with dementia, but we have people at the nursing home that are adults with computers and then kids in the classroom. And we’re still trying to run those programs and we’re trying to mentor young people. So we have great ones with computers and high school kids with computers, and they’re trying to talk back and forth. So it’s, it’s doing what we do, but doing it in ways that we have to right now. And there’s lessons every single second when we’re trying to set up those programs that make them happen. So we’re trying those, you know, a variety of different things to make things work.


Sam Demma (12:25):
That’s awesome. Tell me a little bit more about the, the work you’re doing with seniors with dementia. I would love to hear more. Maybe it’s something that another school could take on if they’re curious and want to get involved?


Heather McCaig (12:37):
For sure. Well, we have always had programs with seniors. So students typically have gone to seniors homes and done different things with the senior citizens. So we have a, a secondary program here in the city that works with seniors homes. So they reached out to, and they have some adults that can go to the seniors home. So the adults are there working with the seniors and then our students are in class and they look at pictures and then they write stories about the, the pictures to help keep the seniors minds kind of sharp and that kind of thing. And then they collaborate on, on writing these stories. So, you know, it could be done in any senior’s home. Realistically, you just have to get the, the pieces together to make it work. And it’s been very successful. The kids are loving it. The seniors are quite enjoying the students. And the stories that are coming out are extremely interesting. And and we’re doing it on a weekly basis right now. So it’s very cool.


Sam Demma (13:35):
I know there’s an increasing need for this sort of a thing. Funny enough that you mentioned seniors at one 30 T I’m actually speaking to a senior’s home in Ajax over the phone. So I got how you said, reached out to someone from the community center. And he said, Hey, Sam, you know, we have a bunch of teenagers who are teenagers. We have a bunch of seniors who are tech challenged, and they don’t have zoom, but we do, you know, teleconferencing, would you be opposed to doing a speech? And I was like, okay. Yeah, but how am I gonna do it? He said, through your cell phone I was like, yeah. Okay. Yeah, we can, we can make this happen. And because they can’t, you know, connect with their family, I think any, any small way to get in touch with them can be a huge impact.


Sam Demma (14:16):
And that could be a cool initiative for any school listening to take on. If you don’t already do things with the seniors in your community. For sure. My, my question to you, there might be a, there might be an educator listening, who is burnt out right now, who needs some words of inspiration who needs a little bit of wisdom from a veteran like yourself? What pieces of advice could you share with them? Maybe it’s an educator who’s in their first year of teaching or an educator who’s been teaching for a long time, but just lost a little bit of their passion.


Heather McCaig (14:46):
For sure. I think all of us are feeling that right now. And I think it’s super important that we continue to reach out to networks of people that can support us, because if you’re sitting there and you’re, your brain is empty and you don’t have any go-to ideas sending that quick little email saying, Hey, do you have anything that you could help me with on blah, blah, blah. And then those of us that are out there in that network, recipro, Kate, it means so much because it can get us over that hump. And we need to remember that we have to be kind to ourselves right now. Every little thing that we do makes a difference. And even if we’re not performing up to where we’re normally consider our standard, we’re still doing the best jobs that we can because this is hitting people way harder in of mental health and isolation and all those other kinds of things, financial burdens, way worse than we ever could imagine. So it’s really, really important that we be kind to ourselves and, and look at gratitude every day, look at caring ourselves every day, doing self care and really reaching out and, and teams and networks where we can support each other, because that’s how we’re gonna get through this.


Sam Demma (15:56):
Hmm. And if any educator listening wants to reach out to you, Heather and bounce some ideas around, or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Heather McCaig (16:05):
They’re more than welcome to email me or call me. So my email address is my name. So heather.mccaig@sd76.ab.ca. And my phone number is (403) 528-0562. And I’m more than happy to share anything and everything I can with people and talk to them. And, and I love helping other people. So, and I can always get great ideas from them too. So it is a win-win.


Sam Demma (16:33):
Always a win-win Heather, thank you so much for taking some of your time to share your insights, wisdom, and stories on the high performing educator podcast. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.


Heather McCaig (16:43):
You too. Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (16:45):
I almost cried listening back to this episode. And when Heather broke down the impactful and inspired story that she shared about the student in her class, who needed just a little push, just a little more attention, just a little more belief, just a little more, and I hope it inspired you as well. I hope you took some notes. I hope you feel energized and are reminded why it’s so important to go the extra mile and do what we need to do to take care of ourselves and our students, cause they are our future. And if you did enjoy this, please consider leaving a rating and review. It would help more people just like you. More educators find this content and benefit from it. And if you are someone who has inspiring stories to share in education or innovative ideas, please send us an email at info@samdemma.com so we can get you on the show as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melissa Wright

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.

Tina Edwards – President of the Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors

Tina Edwards - President of the Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors
About Tina Edwards

Tina Edwards has been an educator in Saskatchewan for the past 27 years, but still considers herself a rookie in the education game. Student leadership has been a passion of hers since she entered the teaching profession in 1994.

Two highlights of her career are hosting the Saskatchewan Student Leadership Conference in 2012 and again in 2019. Projects like these prove that students can accomplish anything if they are willing to work hard and work together as a team.

Tina believes that every person has the ability to be a leader, as long as they are willing to work on being a good human first. After that, anything is possible!

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors

Winton High School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s special guest was referred by a past guest and her name is Tina Edwards. Tina has been an educator in Saskatchewan for the past 27 years, but still considers herself a rookie in the education game. Student leadership has been a passion of hers since she entered the teaching profession in 1994. Two highlights of her career are hosting the Saskatchewan student leadership conference in 2012 and again, in 2019. Projects like these prove that students can accomplish anything if they’re willing to work hard and work together as a team. Tina believes that every person has the ability to be a leader as long as they’re to work on being a good human first after that, anything is possible. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Tina Edwards and we’ll see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:32):
Tina, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. You are highly recommended by not one but two past guests. Why don’t you start by yourself?


Tina Edwards (01:44):
Oh my goodness. The pressure you’re putting on me. So earlier, my name is Tina Edwards and I’m a teacher at Winston high school in Saskatchewan. I’m also the president of SASCA, which is our student leadership in Saskatchewan and yeah, that’s kind of me!


Sam Demma (02:05):
When in your journey, did you get involved in student leadership and what prompted you to move in that direction and get more, more engaged?


Tina Edwards (02:14):
Well, I, I was a student leader when I was in high school myself, so that’s kind of where my journey started. And I just, as I got into the teaching, that opportunity opened itself to me and I began taking students to leadership conferences and 20, some years later the opportunity came up that I decided let’s try and host the conference, which is a huge undertaking. Did that in 2012. And when you are hosting, you automatically go onto the SASA executive and then they just couldn’t get rid of me. And I stayed and eventually became president and hosted the conference a second time.


Sam Demma (02:55):
Ah, that’s amazing. And let’s go back for a second to you as the student leader in high school. Yeah. So if you could think back what as a student prompted you to get involved as a student leader, did you have a teacher who tap you on the shoulder or how did that journey look like?


Tina Edwards (03:12):
Well, I grew up in a small town and, and when I say small town, I’m saying under 200 people, oh wow. I, and it really just became that every project we did in that town, it needed everybody to, to make it happen. And so I grew up just watching and participating and knowing that you needed to be an active member in whatever the project ahead of you was. So that’s kind of where it started. And then I think I just had some really strong leadership skills and I wasn’t really afraid to take action. So it just kind of flowed naturally for me. And it, nobody really told me, I just thought, Hey, why can’t I, so why can’t I be a student leader? And I couldn’t come up with a good reason. So there we go.


Sam Demma (03:59):
That’s awesome. And do you still remember the teachers that were overlooking student leadership and student council back when you were in high school?


Tina Edwards (04:06):
Yeah, definitely. I do. And, and I guess I always kind of looked up to them and, and allowed them to show me what it was like to be a leader, but not necessarily being in charge and working with other people. And I really kind of admired that.


Sam Demma (04:24):
Oh, that’s awesome. And let’s continue down the journey. So you finished high school and did you know at that age that you wanted to get into teaching or how did you navigate the career search for yourself?


Tina Edwards (04:34):
Yeah, I didn’t really have a choice. It teaching career found me and I, I always coached, I taught swimming lessons. I babysat, it just was a calling and, and it, there was just no question about it. I was going to be a teacher and I had to work really hard to get into university for my first year. Cuz at that time the marks were really high to get in and I just worked hard and kept going. And that was a really easy decision for me.


Sam Demma (05:04):
Well, tell me more. Did you have like teachers tapping you on your shoulder saying, you know, Tina you’d be a great educator. Did your parents work in teaching or Nope. How did it, how did it exactly find you?


Tina Edwards (05:15):
You know, it just, I grew up wanting to be a teacher and I loved kids and I always found ways to engage in, in working with kids, whether it was volunteering or summer jobs working in a living in a small town of 200 people. You just, everybody was family and that’s, that’s what I knew I wanted.


Sam Demma (05:39):
That’s amazing. And you mentioned coaching a little as well, was four, it’s a big part of your own childhood.


Tina Edwards (05:45):
Yeah, definitely. In a small town there isn’t much to do other than the sports that happened to be in that season at that time. And, and you know what, I was never a great athlete. I, I just really enjoyed the team aspect and being part of a team and I was just happy to be there and do my part. Hmm that’s awesome. And the coach, the coaching just kind of evolved and it’s coaching and leading was never something I had to work really hard at. It just, it just felt natural for me.


Sam Demma (06:17):
And do you think coaching and leading a group are two very similar things like whether or not you’re teaching a sport, you know, working as the, you know, president of SASCA is probably similar to coaching a team in some way, shape or form. Is there a lot of similarities between the two?


Tina Edwards (06:32):
Well, I always say I’m lucky because when I think when you coach a sports team, you’re given some, some opportunities or some, some times where you have to make some really hard decisions where you’re not gonna make everybody happy. And I feel in the, in the job I have and all the, the positions I’ve had, I, I’ve never had to make somebody unhappy. Mm I’m. Just there to be a cheerleader and, and get us working towards a common goal. And, and I selfishly really appreciate that. I get to live in my happy land. Mm . I don’t have to make any game day decisions.


Sam Demma (07:09):
Yeah, I okay. Yeah. So there is one stark difference. Everyone’s happy. yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And so start teaching or you go to teachers college, it’s a tough first year. You work through that. What did your first job in education look like? Let’s go back there for a second.


Tina Edwards (07:27):
Well, my first job was actually in another small town of Combs where actually I do live right now. Nice. I, I just took a, a maternity leave for just a few months there and I knew it was coming to an end. And so then I took a job. I was in Carlisle for two years, which was about a four hour drive away. So that was really great. It got me definitely out of my comfort zone, met some new people, really had time to figure out what I wanted my teaching career to look like. And I dove right into the community there right away. And of course, such great positive connections were made. And, and then it was just straight on from there. And then I knew I was wanting, I was going to be getting married and eventually took me a few years, but I made my way back closer to where I was getting married and where I actually live now. And now I’m in Watchers high school, Winston high school in Watchers. And this has been my 22nd year in this school.


Sam Demma (08:32):
That’s awesome. And education has had many, you know, turns and twists. And I would say most of them happened over the two and a half years. what, what are some of the challenges that the school has been faced with over the past two years? And you know, how have you strive to kind of overcome those things as a community?


Tina Edwards (08:52):
Well, our, our school really prides ourself in being a family. First, we talk about the Wildcat family and, and usually when, when people say we’re a Wildcat family, they might think we’re talking about sports. And really it is sports is a piece of it, but it is just a piece of it. We work really hard in our school to make sure everybody feels connected. We started something called wild cap pride, where all the students are divided into color groups, mixed within different grades. And we do projects every couple, couple times a month and where we get the whole group family together, a whole school together and just work together on as a team at, and we do projects like we’ll play outdoor games. We might volunteer in the community. And so when COVID hit our family, we talk about isolation and that’s what our family had to do. We, we had to break apart. We, we could no longer get together as a whole, a whole family. And, and that was really hard on us. Mm.


Sam Demma (09:59):
Yeah. And I, I couldn’t imagine, it seems like every school I talked to has had a similar, but sometimes different experiences based on location. Was your school closed down? How long did you have to isolate or did the school ever close?


Tina Edwards (10:13):
Yeah, we, we closed from may until, or sorry, March until June of 2020. Yep. And then we, where we were online a little bit in there, but that it definitely was optional for students. Mm. So it was really hard. We were trying to engage people. We were trying to get connected with our students and some didn’t wanna be you connected with, and some, maybe couldn’t be connected with cuz where they were living rural. They didn’t, their families maybe didn’t have internet connections. So it was just, it, it was a tough time cuz we were trying to make it seem normal and it, it just wasn’t.


Sam Demma (10:52):
And you were also juggling SASA at the same time. So how did that yeah. Adjust or pivot or change, you know, based on the situation, you know.


Tina Edwards (11:01):
Really ironically our school hosted the last leadership conference in, in 2019 in September, 2019. And had we known what was to come? I, I don’t know, like we were able to host it. We were so very lucky. We had to province with us. We had a thousand leaders in our town of about 2000 people. Wow. they’re


Sam Demma (11:25):
All bill it out into like different, oh,


Tina Edwards (11:27):
Bill it out. Yeah. It, it was a great experience, but we did had no idea what was coming down a few months later. So then juggling Saska was really hard because what do we do? What do we do with this poor host community Goll lake that is supposed to be hosting in, in 2021 and, or I guess it’d be 2020. Do we, do we try to make it go? Do we cancel it? What do we do with the money that they’re out? It, it was, there was just no answers. We had to really struggle hard.


Sam Demma (12:00):
Yeah. That’s a tough situation. Did did, did the conference go on in 2020? Was it postponed or yeah,


Tina Edwards (12:08):
We actually gave them the option. They could postpone it, they could cancel it. They chose to cancel it just given the group of students that they were kind of framing the conference around would then have been graduated. So and they were, they were fairly far in their planning, but money wise, they weren’t too terribly invested. Mm. So we, we supported them in counseling it and trying to just make things balance out at the end and, and call it a year. And then Melfort was, had the next host bid host and they ended up canceling theirs as well. They were just really hadn’t even really started their, their planning. So it, it, it was okay. The problem we have now though, is how do we pick this up again? Yeah. How, when, who, how, where, and that’s what we’re struggling with right now. Mm.


Sam Demma (13:06):
So future planning is currently happening. Some, some in some way, shape or form


Tina Edwards (13:11):
well and, or no planning. We, yeah, we just don’t. I mean, how does a school take upon this venture when you don’t know what tomorrow’s gonna look like? Right. And, and it takes a good solid two to three years to plan a conference like this. Yeah. So I, I have some fear that I’m not sure when the next one is going to happen.


Sam Demma (13:31):
What does the planning look like? Like give some insight into people, people listening to what a thousand person conference building and the homes in your community, the what kind of planning looks like for something like that oh,


Tina Edwards (13:43):
The planning itself. Oh my goodness. I don’t wanna scare anybody off, but it is, it is, it is so much work, but it is so rewarding at the same time. Yeah, it , I don’t even know where to begin, but yeah, it, it is, it is a lot of work, but it is, it is great to see those kids coming together and planning and, and, you know, if I always tell the students, you can’t write a marathon tomorrow, you can’t think about up that marathon. You gotta break it down into little pieces. And, and that’s what we really did. And, you know, we got our group, our planning group together. We got our community behind us, started thinking about what we wanted our conference to look like. What, what things did we wanna give to our attendees? What what are the date? What are the activities? And just broke it down into little chunks. And before you knew it, the three years of planning was over and it was go time.


Sam Demma (14:45):
I was telling you before the interview started, that, you know, I felt that when COVID initially hit, it seemed like all the emphasis and support was being placed on the students and PE you know, educators getting supported as well. But maybe it was a little more behind the scenes. And I’m curious to know, what do you think the struggles and challenges were for educators during that time, and even now coming out of it? Maybe some of the things you experienced personally, but saw your peers going through as well.


Tina Edwards (15:11):
Yeah, our, I don’t think the average teacher goes into teaching for the academic part of it only. Yep. We, we are here cuz we like, we like kids, we like, we like their energy. We like seeing what they’re capable of. And that was really difficult to see everything come to a halt and, and not being E even able to interact with the kids. Like we used to be able to last year we were in cohorts, we were all in different times and schedules and breaks and noon hours. And we literally did not see each other. And, and that was lonely. And, and you just, you’re on a little bit of an island.


Sam Demma (15:53):
Mm. And did, does SASCA also support staff or is it solely towards the student?


Tina Edwards (15:59):
It, it is advisors. Yeah. It, it is geared towards advisors. Our, our main, our main purpose though, is supporting advisors in leading and leadership in, within their schools. So we did do an online conference for students and advisors last year. I, I think we’re, we’re getting to the point though, where everybody’s had enough of online, everything like, we it’s, it’s hard to stay engaged and, and have students just stare at a computer all the time. And so we’re actually in the middle of planning, what this year’s gonna look like for SASCO we’re, we’re hanging on, we’re trying to keep our membership strong. We’re trying to offer different activities, but it’s, it’s hard.


Sam Demma (16:44):
Yeah, no, I hear you. If you, if you do something virtual, just make sure there’s some, there’s some music and dancing. Yeah.


Tina Edwards (16:53):
Our conference last year was really good. Nice. And I think the people who attended it were, were really appreciative of having that opportunity. I just don’t know if we can do it two years in a row and, and still engage the people that we’re trying to engage. So we’re really struggling on where we go from here and what it looks like, and, and it’s important. And we don’t wanna say, all right, we’re not gonna do anything for the next three years. That would be terrible if all these years of leadership conference and the memories kind of go on, go forgotten. And, and that’s what I’m trying to work hard at right now is making sure SASA and student leader stays at the front, even though we can’t do a lot of, of those typical activities.


Sam Demma (17:40):
Yeah. I think it’s an important conversation to have and start having. And it’s cool to hear that you are having it. I think that extracurriculars student leadership clubs, all of those things just add such a huge student experience to yeah. Everyone in your school, you know? Yeah.


Tina Edwards (17:55):
And students, they don’t come to school for the academics. Yeah. There’s a small majority that, that do, but I would say the most people come here for the other things, the other activities and, and , you know, the kids have been doing so well that last year they had everything canceled. Mm. And we were able to focus more on academics and they just, they did what we needed them to do. And there, there was no pity parties. We were just moving on. And so appreciative of what kids are able to do and how resilient they can be.


Sam Demma (18:31):
If, if, I guess if education was like a three course meal, academics would be like the appetizer or the dessert and oh, a


Tina Edwards (18:37):
Hundred percent. Absolutely. Yeah. And yeah, it’s just, it’s just hard cuz we know that a lot of students are struggling either in their home life or in their peer circle and or their academics. And we try to help students as a whole, not just as one part. So we’re really trying hard to connect all of those pieces and COVID is not helping us.


Sam Demma (19:02):
And why do you think student leadership and you know, everything else aside from academics is a school in a school is so important because there might be someone out there who’s not fully bought into the idea that, you know, student leadership can change a kid’s life or extracurriculars can help them build skills. They would never build elsewhere. Like why do you think student leadership and extracurriculars are important?


Tina Edwards (19:23):
Well, you know, when you look at academics, not everybody’s an academic student, they could work. So, so very hard and still never improve their academics. That can be said as well with athletics. Mm-Hmm , some students are not athletic. They could work every day and still not improve. Their athleticism student leader is about being a good human. And I really believe that everybody can be a good human. And so it’s so something that everybody can achieve and it makes a, it’s a, a fair playing ground and everybody can feel like they have an important part. And, and like I said, at the beginning, it’s like, I’m coaching a team, but I never have to make any hard decisions. Yeah. Or it’s happy


Sam Demma (20:11):
Land. Yeah. No disappointing decisions.


Tina Edwards (20:14):
Yeah, absolutely. We’re just here to make everybody’s day. Just a little bit better.


Sam Demma (20:18):
Love that. I love that. And I wanna ask you, so if, if like, if you could try and pinpoint things that teachers did for you growing up that made you happy as a student, that if you can remember, like, what do you think some of those things are that teachers can do to make their students feel good about themselves to help students realize their own potential? Because another educator might be listening and wanting to have a similar impact on their own kids.


Tina Edwards (20:45):
I just think I remember teachers who would know my name and I, they didn’t actually teach me or I, I was in a larger school and, and I just thought, you know, there’s taking a moment to say hello to me, I’m the only person with this name. They are, they’re connecting with me. And I just always thought that was really special. and I, I remember too going on sports trips and thinking this teacher is spending the whole weekend with me instead of at home with their own family. And I knew, and I knew that was something that I wanted to be able to do for other students.


Sam Demma (21:24):
I love that. So the investment of time, and also, so the personal relationship to a point where, you know, teachers go out of their way to remember your name or even like know personal things about you.


Tina Edwards (21:35):
Yeah. Yeah. And, and that’s, that can go such a long way in, in a student’s life. And, and that’s what I really miss the most about COVID is when students are in my, in my classroom, in our school, I kind of have my eyes on them. I know I can see when they’re struggling. I can see when somebody hasn’t eaten a very good breakfast. I can see when somebody’s had a fight at home. I can see when somebody’s struggling academically. But when I had to stay at home, I had no idea what, how my students were doing like really doing, I could, would tell maybe academically how they were doing, but all of those things that I worry about, and I wanna connect with students, I was completely removed from that. And I, I struggled with that.


Sam Demma (22:19):
And I would argue, you know, back to the name example as well, remembering people that remembered your name. I think it just applies to being, like you said, a good human people appreciate when you can address them by their name. I’ve been at the grocery store and I’ll say, hi, and address the person behind the cash by their name. And they’ll look up and be confused and say, do I know you, are you


Tina Edwards (22:42):
Shock me? yeah.


Sam Demma (22:44):
I’m like, no, I just, I just used your name. It’s on your name tag there. And you know, then they end up, you know, bursting out the biggest smile and you end up having a good two minute conversation before you put your groceries in your box and leave. Yeah. And I think when you take interest in other people, it just builds good relationships. Right?


Tina Edwards (23:01):
Absolutely. And, and what, what, just imagine what you can do once you’ve connected with somebody, once you’ve, you’ve been able to have a, a one on one conversation with them, the rest of their day, you just, you don’t know what’s gonna come after that.


Sam Demma (23:16):
Yeah. And you also never know what someone’s carrying, which is why I think kindness is so important, you know, just because you can’t see, it doesn’t mean they aren’t carrying it. And that’s something I always try and remind myself because yeah, we, we, you know, you only see them in the school building and now with COVID, you know, like you’re saying you don’t even see them in the school building, so it’s even, you know, even more important to be you.


Tina Edwards (23:35):
Luckily for us, the COVID like COVID is still here obviously, but we, we have been able to have our extracurricular activities within our school and our clubs. We can have, we, we are cohorted, but not quite as much as we were last year or as strictly, we’ve been able to do some outside whole group activities while mask. So this year’s already better than all of last year put together.


Sam Demma (24:04):
Yeah. Ah, you’re right. That’s and it’s good to see the positives too. even if they’re in a smaller.


Tina Edwards (24:10):
And that’s what, like I said to the, the students last year, we’re not having a pity party here this year. It’s, it’s, it’s different, but we’re gonna make the best of it. And, and through leadership, we, we did bingo virtually we, we did some trivia contests virtually. We did, we did our pep rallies virtually. We, we still wanted to make it, you know, those activities part of our, our school year. Although, you know, they’re not the same this year. We’re already noticing that people have a little bit more of a pep in their step. Mm. They can still have their football games. They can still go to their volleyball tournaments. There’s been a little, so some hiccups along the way, maybe a, a tournament has had to be canceled or a football game, but we’re just moving on. We don’t have time to sit and dwell in the, the negatives, no


Sam Demma (24:56):
Pity party focusing on the positives. Those are two great, no pity partying, no two great phrases and pieces of advice. I’m gonna ask you to put your thinking hat on for a second. And if you could like travel back in time you know, back to the future, but back to the past, actually. Yeah. Yeah. And you could speak to first year, Tina, when you just started teaching, but with all the wisdom and experience that you have now, like if you could walk into your own classroom, you know, that first city that you taught in that was really small, and you could walk into your own C and speak to yourself and give yourself some advice. What are a couple things that you would share?


Tina Edwards (25:32):
Well, I know for sure, I would not focus so much on the academics. Mm. Of course, when you’re coming out of university and you have your teaching degree and you’ve done your student teaching, that’s what it was about. It was about academics and I I’m a teacher and this is what I’m going to teach. Yep. And it really didn’t take me long to realize that there’s so much more to teaching than just the academics. And so I think if I could give myself a little bit of advice, I would just say, let’s not worry about that. Let’s, let’s focus on just the students themselves, the P the academic piece. We’ll talk about that a little bit later. I love, but of course, as a new teacher, you thought it was all about academics.


Sam Demma (26:15):
Yeah. And, and what does focusing on the student look like in the classroom? Is it making time for them to share their stories or like, what do you, what do you think that other time looks like?


Tina Edwards (26:24):
Yeah, just, just connecting and really appreciating where some of these students are coming from. I didn’t know what their home lives were like, and I didn’t even stop to even think about it. I just thought, okay, everybody’s coming into my classroom at the same level. And it, it really didn’t take me too long to realize that yeah, you know what, this is not quite the case. Mm. They’re not coming with the same skillset as the person may be sitting next to them.


Sam Demma (26:52):
Yeah. It’s a really smart reminder. That’s a good piece of advice to share with you, younger self. Awesome. Tina, thank you so much for coming on the show. If an educator listening and feels inspired or just wants to reach out and chat, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Tina Edwards (27:09):
My email is probably the best way at work. It’s tina.edwards@horizonsd.ca. And it’s funny cuz when, when you said that if somebody would wanna reach out, I often think, you know, I’m in my 27th year of teaching, but what do I really know? I wonder like what would somebody ask me? I don’t really know, but yeah. I I’m here. I’ll do my best.


Sam Demma (27:35):
That’s called the curse of knowledge. yeah,


Tina Edwards (27:38):
Yeah. Maybe.


Sam Demma (27:39):
But again, Tina, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been awesome conversation. Keep up with the great work with school and SASA and I look forward to seeing whatever happens with the conferences and events.


Tina Edwards (27:51):
yeah. I think our, our paths are good across again, Sam.


Sam Demma (27:54):
Awesome. I’ll talk to you soon, Tina.


Tina Edwards (27:56):
Okay. Take care.


Sam Demma (27:58):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast asked 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.highperforming.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 Tina

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.

Chelle Travis – Executive Director of SkillsUSA

Chelle Travis - Executive Director at SkillsUSA
About Chelle Travis

Chelle Travis (@TheChelleTravis) is the executive director of SkillsUSA, a national organization of nearly 400,000 teachers and students within career and technical education. Travis was appointed in 2019 to lead a staff of 35 that manages a federation of 52 state and territorial associations. SkillsUSA’s mission is to empower members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible citizens. It improves the quality of our nation’s future skilled workforce.

With more than 17 years’ experience in career and technical education, Travis has served in a variety of academic settings, including secondary institutions, universities, and technical and community colleges. Most recently, she was the senior director of workforce and economic development at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), where she was charged with building partnerships with employers, workforce agencies and postsecondary institutions. She was the primary point of contact at THEC due to her knowledge of technical education, work-based learning experiences, alternative credentialing, competency-based education and experiential learning. She also managed all external workforce grants issued by THEC.

Formerly, Travis served as associate vice chancellor for students for the Tennessee Board of Regents College System of Tennessee, where she provided leadership in promoting student initiatives across 40 technical and community colleges.

Travis holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance, and a master’s degree in business administration, from Middle Tennessee State University. She is a doctoral student at Tennessee State University.

Connect with Chelle: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

SkillsUSA Organization

What is Career and Technical Education (CTE)?

SkillsUSA Membership Kits

SkillsUSA New Chapter Guide

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma today’s guest on the podcast is Chelle Travis. She is the executive director of skills USA, a national organization of nearly 400,000 teachers and students within career and technical education. Travis was appointed in 2019 to lead a staff of 35 that manages a Federation of 52 state and tutorial associations skills. USA’s mission is to empower members to become world-class workers, leaders, and responsible citizens. She’s been in this work for more than 17 years, and it is my absolute pleasure to bring her on the show here today, to talk about her journey into leadership and all the challenges that they are overcoming at skills USA during this tough time. I hope you enjoy the interview. I’ll see you on the other side, Chelle Travis, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you start off by sharing with the audience who you are and why you got into the work you do with young people today.


Chelle Travis (01:07):
So I’m Chelle Travis. I’m the executive director of skills USA, and I’m very excited to be here with you today. Thank you for having me, Sam. I actually got into education and specifically career technical student organizations because of an advisor I had in high school. So like many of our students across the nation, there is that one person, their advisor that makes an impact on their life. And Ms. Webb was that for me that she taught me leadership skills. I was very shy. Didn’t necessarily like to speak in front of people. And she opened me up to a world that I did not know that would exist for me. She took me on my first my first trip in, in a plane to a student conference, a leadership conference and, and actually started my journey there, so wanted to reinvest in and pay it forward for what someone had done in my life. So I would a lot to her.


Sam Demma (02:21):
That’s awesome. Shout out, Mrs. Webb, what point in your journey did you know I’m going to be a worker in education? Was there like, was there a certain moment you made the decision that you can remember or was it just a lifelong decision?


Chelle Travis (02:37):
So my mother was as Siki educator and I said, I would say there were two very strong women in my life. I’ve Ms. Webb. And then my mother my mother was CP educator for 40 years and a CTSO advisor. I watched her advocate for CTE my entire life. And so I always was very impressed by her passion and her dedication to her students. However like many young adults, you don’t necessarily want to do what your parents did. Right. So thought it gets that thought it gets that for, for a while. And then I met my next mentor Dr. Williams when, my first about first day actually on my college campus, I became his student worker. And he was in the office of student services again, working with students organizations. And then at that time I realized that you know, this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I started I stopped fighting it and started running towards it. And and really embracing that at that point.


Sam Demma (03:48):
And I know you’ve been doing this for years now. The challenges this year are unique to all the challenges you might’ve faced in the past. And I’m sure there’s things that have been very successful and things you have also learned from one of those huge successes, which we briefly talked about before this recording was the fact that you raised your organization and your partner, a partner raise over $300,000. Can you shed some light on that success during COVID and as well as some learnings, if you have any?


Chelle Travis (04:14):
Absolutely. So I would say that in this moment in time right now we can make a significant difference in elevating our public perception of the value of career and technical education. Now is really our time and our student skills have always been essential. But I think the pandemic has really put a light, a spotlight on the need for CTE in America and right now. And so our our partners very, very excited about the commitment of our partners. They really stepped up and, and saw this need and really wanted to help us elevate career and technical education and wanted to make sure that skills USA had the resources that it needed to actually be able to provide services for our students across the nation. We serve students across all 50 states two territories and the district of Columbia approximately 400,000 members, students and instructors every year and over 20 and about 20,000 classrooms in the United States.


Chelle Travis (05:27):
So so a very large large range and an opportunity to reach even more students every year as a, as we elevate CTE and they see the importance and we’re able to tell our story and they are, and Carhartt who is a great partner, longstanding partner of skills USA. So our labor day as an opportunity to really recognize the value of skilled trades to elevate CTE and to support skills and the mission of our organization. So I’m very excited to have such a great partner. They aren’t our only partners. We’ve had other partners that have set up during this time to really help our students and our instructors during very challenging times.


Sam Demma (06:15):
That’s awesome. And out of the smorgasborg of challenges we’re faced with right now, what are some of the ones that you’re currently facing as an organization? Maybe some of what you’ve already overcome, but some you’re still dealing with today.


Chelle Travis (06:29):
So a large challenge, as you say, across America, as we’re going into the fall and into a new school year is normally a time for if you’re an instructor, if you’re in education. And also if you’re a student, I have a, a second grader and, and, you know, you love getting that new if you have a elementary school student. And I think I even did in high school enjoy, you know, getting those new school supplies, getting that new backpack. And there was always this anticipation of the new year to come and, and for an instructor and advisor, that new group of students that you’re going to be able to impact their lives and, and really grow with them throughout the year. And it’s always very exciting and this year was a little different and then than normal it not knowing the, the difference from state to state and even within each district from district to district about what the move forward plans would be, whether classrooms would be all grounds virtual or a combination of the two in a hybrid classroom.


Chelle Travis (07:36):
And as we’ve seen that in, you know, our instructors concerned about their safety and their students and how they would put precautions in place if they were going on grounds to make sure that, you know, their students and the protection of their students and themselves their safety was first. And so those challenges and as students, you know, we’ve seen across our membership where students have gone on Graham one week and then instructors in their online the next weekend. And really, so the many challenges that our students and instructors space, we face as an organization and trying to make sure that we’re, we’re meeting them where they are. So we really did see in the summer making sure that we could pivot all of our resources to make sure that they were on all available to our instructors and to our students, no matter what that learning environment not be.


Chelle Travis (08:39):
And because we know even with all the challenges and, and our instructors and our students are so resilient and have been so adaptable during this time and very strong, I really do applaud everything that they are doing and make sure that they’re still able to meet their students’ needs in the classroom. But we, we spent a lot of hours and still are pivoting everything that we do from what they would normally receive possibly in person to making sure that all of that was available to our students and instructors in a virtual format and even more because not knowing if you’re going to have a chapter online or whether it’s online or whether it’s going to be virtual, or how do I meet with my students for my chapter, if they’re not going to get together, or if half of them are online and half of them on our ground.


Chelle Travis (09:36):
And so it’s such a challenging time, but we’ve tried to encourage our instructors about providing them resources for their classroom that it’s not time to pause. Our students really do need skills USA right now more than, than ever in skills USA. Not only do we, do we provide students with those personal skills workplace skills and their technical skills grounded on academics to really make sure that they’re ready to enter the workplace, but we give them a sense of belonging and a place you know, that, that they can be with their their fellow students. And at a time when so many things have been canceled and their, their life, we can, can be a positive a positive place for them to to belong in and also to make a difference in their lives, still in a virtual world. So we’ve really tried to provide those resources and continue to provide those to our instructors. And I think the challenging thing that we all face is just really continuing to adjust to what is our for now our new normal.


Sam Demma (10:57):
Yeah, I totally agree that this type of work, this selfless work is needed now more than ever when students are down, I think that’s when they need the most help. And with all the challenges that we’re facing, those three pillars of technical skills, personal skills and career skills are so important. And I would assume that a lot of the personal skills that are taught at skills USA are through live events, like case competitions and conferences and national conferences. How are you adjusting those? Are they being put online? Are they being put on hold this year? What’s the direction that your company has taken organization has taken to address that


Chelle Travis (11:34):
Again? We, we do feel that it is no time to pause for our students. So I’m very proud of the work of our state and of our staff at the national office to make sure that that can happen. So right now we, throughout the summer we trained our state officers virtually for our state. Now we are leading into season four. If states needed assistance, they would normally have all leadership conferences. We have assisted our states in making sure that they can have those virtual experiences for students for their leadership conferences and also with online as state officers and chapter officer experiences and making sure that they’re, they are able to, to have those leadership experiences as well. We have a, we have an empowering experiences team and that empowering experiences team have really, they’ve done a great job in making sure that that there are experiences all year long for our chapters.


Chelle Travis (12:46):
So while we know our our state and our capture advisors have a heavy list this year in trying to provide additional resources and additional activities that they can take in and put into their classroom. And why virtual events for their students to be connected through a series of task force and in, in looking at what our students would be interested in and would be engaged in and making sure that we can meet their needs. We also, for our instructors this year we elevated the number of professional membership resources that they have so toolkit that they can take videos that they can use lesson plans that they can use in their classroom to make sure that they’re still integrating that skills USA experience and that we are integrating all of those framework skills into the classroom and providing those resources for our for our advisors and also our our experiences also for our chapters, our program of work tool kit.


Chelle Travis (13:58):
So they are chapter activities can still take place. We have developed those chapter it tool kit, and then also in looking at their championships, cause you talked about those and local championship guides that can assist them in their classroom. During this time in technical in technical opportunities as well. So you, you asked about conferences, so we have those happening this fall. One commitment that we have made and that we’ve made to our membership is that we will have a national conference this year. So look for more information on that. And November 16th is, is the date that we shared with our membership at the beginning of this fall that we would share the decision of the delivery of our national conference. And so, so then our championship team and our education team, as well as our health staff has been working on what that national conference may look like championships is, is also looking at how we can deliver how we can help states deliver virtual conferences, if that is, is what their state is going to need or hybrid conferences and in assisting in providing resources and platform opportunities for that delivery.


Chelle Travis (15:21):
But we will be offering our national conference with, with sessions and and actually opportunities to connect with employers our textbooks, whether that’s on ground or online and, and also we will be offering competition opportunities and all of our trade areas. So we’ve really been working hard this year, not only to learn from those experiences across the nation and in what we can do for our students. But also we belong to a community of world skills and we’ve been learning from our, their nations and in what they’re going through as well. We’re not alone in this pandemic and skilled trades are needed not just in our country, but around the world. And and so learning from those nations and how they’re meeting the needs of their students as well have informed our decisions.


Sam Demma (16:22):
That’s amazing. I want to take you back for one second to Mrs. Webb and explore what she did for you. And you were a student that really lit a fire within your heart to, to, to chase this stuff. Where’s she, like, if you can pinpoint some of her character traits that really stood out to you, so other educators listening might be able to do the same thing for their students, that’d be really helpful.


Chelle Travis (16:46):
So I said that I was shy. So if somebody saw that and then you made it in high school, they would probably say that’s not true. Most people would have thought that I was, I was an extrovert. I love surrounding myself with people like making a difference in other students’ lives. However, I was say Saferight was as something that I had, and he might not have thought that either, but so Ms. Webb of one of the things is that she saw something in me and, and believed in me and actually instilled the confidence in myself that that I could become both a leader on our campus, but later a student later in our state and in our region and and, and believes in me and that was the first thing is that she gave me an opportunity.


Chelle Travis (17:44):
That is something that I share with, when I was in Tennessee and worked at the state director is skills USA. I’ll always said, it’s our it’s our responsibility. It was my responsibility as an instructor. It was our responsibility as as a state association to give students opportunity and it’s up to them what they do with those and a lot of times, but to come alongside them and to support them and help them. But sometimes that’s all it takes is to, to believe in your students, to give them the opportunity and to instill in them the confidence that they can do, that she showed me and helped me overcome my fears and, and helps me work through those. And, and that opportunity was mine if I was if I wanted to and would they committed. And so I will never forget that Phantom of the opera I’ll just share with you that was, she played that. So before any we would be in her car growing, going across the state, I would be getting ready to speak. And I came from a very small high school. So I was my high school, I graduated with 68 people. I was preparing to speak to 5,000.


Chelle Travis (19:03):
And so and so we played Phantom of the opera all the way across the state until we got until we got there to that conference. And then, you know, and then the next thing was to prepare me and one of my classmates to, to present to a to a national conference as, as well. So she took me on step to mentor Ernie and, and really made sure that that whatever it was that I needed to, to come on earth to get over that hurdle, she was going to help me find that and then and practice and, and make sure that I was ready for that opportunity. So


Sam Demma (19:46):
That’s amazing. I resonate with their story so much because I’ll throw a high school. I want it to be a pro soccer player. I ended up having some major knee injuries lost a scholarship to the U S and I had a teacher. I was supposed to go to Memphis and Tennessee, and my teacher’s name was Michael loud foot. And he believed in me when I was down. Like, I didn’t believe in myself. And he taught me this lesson that a small, consistent action can make a massive change and then challenged me to go out in the community and do something. And that led to a bunch of social enterprise work here in Ontario with picking up garbage. It’s a funny story. I’ll get into it a different time, but I so deeply resonate with you. And I’m curious to know if in your reverse role as a mentor for thousands of students. Now, if you have any stories of students that were just like you, who who’s who’s, who was impacted by the work you do with skills USA that you’d like to share. And it could be a very personal story of a student who has been profoundly impacted, but you can change their name for privacy reasons. The reason I is because an educator might be listening, who is a little burnt out, and I want to remind them why this work is so important, because I think it has the power to transform lives.


Chelle Travis (20:54):
It does. And so I often say in technical education, and especially when it’s coupled with skills USA is integrated into that opportunity that the work that we do is life changing. And so I can tell you that there’s not just one story. I there are many stories of not just changing that life of that individual student, but you can literally change the trajectory of not just that lie, but that student’s family and the community and the nation, because that confidence that you instill in them and the opportunities that you give in them, it doesn’t just impact that individual. It impacts an entire family and in the role that I have here and the way I, I see it, it can impact a generation of students across our nation, the work that we do from I love student stories.


Chelle Travis (21:53):
I would love as an instructor. Probably one of the the, the greatest gifts that you get is when a student returns and comes back to you. And with that first paycheck whether it’s that that a new car or a story about the house that they were able to buy, or they bring in their family for the, for the first time and you eat and you get to see that, that your work had somehow just a small, a small part and, and making that person, and that individual become who they are today. I’ve seen the changes in the lives, not just of our secondary students, but also in our post-secondary students that come back to us possibly after having first careers. And, and now they see, they may not have seen technical education as an option for them at the time.


Chelle Travis (22:47):
And then along the way they they come back to us, they see technical education as an opportunity for them, and you get them to to you get, to see them achieve what has been their lifelong dream. And, and just the change in them. And, you know, in going through this program and the leadership skills that they say I have several of those friends are, or former students are now you know, I get to watch their journey on on Facebook or something like that. And I get to see the difference and then get to see them achieve their dreams. And I think that’s so, so important. And, and I think if as an instructor, I know that it is a challenging as a former instructor myself, I cannot imagine what the classroom and the challenges are like, we do work alongside our instructors, but every day I know that it is, it is a challenge for them and I’m, so I’m encouraged by seeing what they are how they are trying to meet their students’ needs.


Chelle Travis (23:57):
I do know that you know, when I would say my instructors go from go from being classroom instructors to integrating skills, you’re saying to their classroom, and now becoming instructors that are skilled, she would say advisors as well. I could see a different, so it can take a a, an instructor that was a good instructor to an instructor. That’s a great instructor with a new renewed passion for for career and technical education and for the work that they do. I don’t, you know, in working with our students for a number of years, I don’t see how you can be in technical education and not just and not just be excited about the work that you do and the difference that you make in your students’ lives. If you just take a step back and, and look at the number of lives you’ve impacted and changed for the better every year.


Sam Demma (24:48):
And I think you mentioned it, you know, you hit it on the nail, impacting that one student life that could put them on a trajectory to impact another thousand. And if every student did something that impacted the lives of others, it’s this huge ripple effect that just goes on forever and ever which is so awesome. I think what you all stand for is amazing. If anyone’s listening right now and wants to bounce some ideas around maybe another national director from another student organization and wants to have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out with you if you’re open to it?


Chelle Travis (25:18):
Oh, absolutely. Well, if you are interested in contacting me if you’ll just go to skillsusa.org you’ll be able to find my contact information. That’s cell phones. They’re also my my, my email. But it just, if, if you want to reach out and learn more if you want to know more about the stories of our champions, if you go to champions.skillsUSA.award there, you can very, you can see success stories of our students and the impact that our work has on students’ lives across the nation. And I think that is what is so exciting is, is just the it, seeing the work that you do have an impact on students’ lives and in our future generation or future workforce.


Sam Demma (26:08):
Nice. Awesome. Shelly, thank you so much for taking some time to do this has been an absolute pleasure chatting with you,


Chelle Travis (26:13):
Sam, thank you for the work that you’re doing. I think it’s a, it’s the right work in, I’m very excited to see where these podcasts late,


Sam Demma (26:21):
Amazing information insights and ideas for this current challenging time. And I hope her story into leadership really inspired you to reflect on, the personal impact you have on the young people in your life. We always have the opportunity to make a huge impact on the lives of everyone around us. And with that being said, if you enjoyed this interview and you enjoy this, please consider leaving a rating and review. It’ll help more educators just like yourself, find these episodes and learn from them. And if you are listening, thinking that you would love to share something on the show as well. Please send us an email at info@samdemma.com so we can get your insights and your ideas on the show as well. Anyways, I will see you on the next episode talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chelle Travis

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.

Eric Windeler – Founder & Executive Director of Jack.org

Eric Windeler Founder and Executive Director of Jack.org
About Eric Windeler

Eric (@EricWindeler) started Jack.org with his wife Sandra Hanington and their closest friends in May 2010 after losing their son Jack to suicide. Since then, Eric has put aside his business interests and leads Jack.org full-time. Eric works tirelessly to inspire discussion about mental health, especially among young people. In 2013, Eric received the Champion of Mental Health award from CAMIMH and the QE Diamond Jubilee Medal.

In 2015, Eric was honoured by Queen’s University, receiving an honorary degree (LLD) recognizing his work in the field of mental health. In 2017, Eric and Sandra Hanington received the Meritorious Service Cross (Civil Division) from the office of the Governor-General. Most recently, Eric was selected as one of the 150 CAMH Difference Makers for mental health in Canada. Eric is also the recipient of the 2018 Queen’s Alumni Humanitarian of the Year Award and the 2020 Ontario Psychiatric Association’s Mental Health Advocate of the Year Award. Eric sits on the board of Frayme, a youth mental health best practices charity.

Connect with Eric: Email | Twitter | Linkedin | Website | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.bethere.org

Jack Chapters

Jack Talks

Jack Summits

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 dot high-performing educator.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 Eric Windeler. Eric started jack.org with his wife, Sandra Hanington and their closest friends in May, 2010 after losing their son Jack to suicide. Since then, Eric has put aside his business interests and leads jack.org. Full-Time. Eric works tirelessly to inspire discussions about mental health, especially among young people.


Sam Demma (01:10):
In 2013, Eric received the champion of mental health award from CAMH and the QE diamond Jubilee medal. In 2015, Eric was honored by Queens university receiving an honorary degree, recognizing his work in the field of mental health. Eric and his wife, Sandra have been acknowledged and recognized by the office of the governor general. Eric was selected as one of the 150 CAMH different makers in mental health in all throughout Canada. He was the recipient of the 2018 Queens alumni, humanitarian of the year award and the 2020 Ontario psychiatric associations, mental health advocate of the year award. Everything that Eric and his wife, Sandra and the entire team at jack.org do is helping to create the future of mental health in Canada. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Eric. It’s filled with actionable ideas and resources to start mental health conversations in your schools. We’ll see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (02:11):
Eric, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today.


Eric Windeler (02:18):
Yeah, it’s my honor, Sam, to have talked with you before and seen you in action and just a real pleasure to be here and represent our work at checkout over. So thank you.


Sam Demma (02:28):
Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and maybe sharing a little bit about your upbringing and what brought you to where you are today?


Eric Windeler (02:34):
Sure. So you know, I’m an old guy, not like you Sam. Ive been around for awhile. I often say, you know, kind of start with humble beginnings to come from a large family. My dad was from a very rural part of Nova Scotia. My mom was from Cape Breton and my dad had six brothers and sisters and I have five brothers and said, I’m sorry, he had five brothers and sisters. I do too. So so grew up with a big family. I was the second youngest and we were at Halifax when I was born, but we, we did move all over the country. So live for Halifax for a while. Then in Calgary then just outside of Ottawa, you probably have heard of Canasta. It was just a, you know, just a little tiny suburb, but those times it’s grown now.


Eric Windeler (03:23):
And then back to Halifax for high school. And then I went on to Queens university. That was, that was in the time that was sort of a little bit you know reaching because you may not remember this, but Ontario used to have grade 13, but most of the rest of the country didn’t sound. So you know, I arrived having you know, gone through grade 12 and I did fine. And but everybody else sort of had one more year and they had, some of them had taken pre-calculus and things like that. But so first year it was a little challenging for me at university, but I caught up and then I went on to I did business school eCommerce at Queens, and then I always had the desire to be an entrepreneur.


Eric Windeler (04:10):
My dad always told me about how he wished he had tried to start something. And so I had a paper route when I was like 11 years old. And then I started a little paint contracting company when I was in high school. And so I worked in consulting for four years, right out of university. But then I got involved and started up an automotive firm with, with another fellow. And then we brought in a junior partner and kind of a firm that backed us. And that from that, that that company grew rather large. And that kept me busy until 2003. We sold the business at that point and then got into the software space and that really taught me a lot about that aspect of it. And I mentioned that in particular, because the, the entrepreneurial background, but also the business, you know, getting involved in software and internet related things has really helped our work at jack.org. But I was about seven years into into the software business when we lost my son, Jack, and that really, you know, appended and changed my, my life that was in March of 2010.


Sam Demma (05:24):
Wow. Let’s, let’s, let’s explore the startup jack.org for a second. So, you know, Jack passes away, what did the weeks, months, years, you know, immediately after the event, like, like how did that all lead up to jack.org starting?


Eric Windeler (05:40):
Yeah. Well, thanks for asking that. And it’s, it’s heavy. Obviously we, we didn’t even know my son Jack was struggling. I often say, you know, intellectually, it took after my, my wife, because he did great in school. He actually streamed gifted no trouble getting into his university of choice, which happened to be Queens university. And and yet you may know this, but these transition years, age 15 to 24, roughly where jack.org focuses that’s the time of about 75% of the onset of mental illness. So, you know, back in 2010 people, weren’t really weren’t really talking too much about mental health. It was just getting going. And frankly, we weren’t talking about it as a family and we didn’t even know he was struggling. And I’m assuming he was feeling very bad about the fact that he couldn’t go to class class and, and was probably going to lose this year, et cetera.


Eric Windeler (06:35):
And, you know, then we got a call from a police officer. So unfortunately you know, our tragic story is they found him in his residence room. He had died by suicide and it’s devastating for any family as you can appreciate and you know, to lose, to lose a young person in any way, shape or form, but, but straight out of the blue like that. But, you know, I often say as we, as we started to pick ourselves up, we started to look into it. And I feel very fortunate that my co-founder Sandra Hannington, my wife, and a really close family, friends were kind of behind me to kind of look into it. And Sandra and I made a significant Memorial donation to kids help phone in Jack’s memory, you know, just thinking that would do some good, but that led to me not going back to my business career.


Eric Windeler (07:32):
But I actually you know, every day I went to the kids help phone office as a volunteer and we, we decided, and they were really, really helpful in guiding me to think through this, to not just plunge in and do something, but to really do a landscape scan and see what was going on out there and find out where we could really make a difference. And so that pilot study led to what has become the jack.org model. We found out that young people were both at the highest risk, but really being left out of this mental health conversation. So that has led to so for two years of our kids help phone, we, at that time, we were called the Jack project at kids help phone. Cause we were technically a project we weren’t a charity.


Eric Windeler (08:21):
And then we tested our model by shifting our funds and our initiative to Queens university. And the young leaders there supported our work to reach out to young people all across the country. And then we said, no, we’ve got something here. So and we had raised quite a bit of money by then. So we we started we did the application process. You, you actually incorporate, and then you apply to be a chair of a charity. And because we had done all that, pre-work with kids help phone and Queens, we got our charitable status literally in less than 60 days, which is a is a bit of a record. And and we’ve been growing ever since. So it was very, very critical and we still work closely with kids help phone, but to get the guidance of that organization.


Eric Windeler (09:10):
And then the support at Queens to help us launch as an independent charity and you know, fast forward to today, we have over 60 staff and there’s about 3000 young people who volunteer in our programs because we are all about engaging young people and using what we call a peer to peer model of it, upstream education of young people to really help them you know learn about the mental health situation that they may face, or one of their friends or family, you know, brothers and sister may face you know, learn about resources. And it has the effect of both reducing stigma and increasing help seeking, you know, so to, to make it personal again for a moment you know, Jack received none of that type of training, nor did the residents dawns or the students on his floor.


Eric Windeler (10:03):
So they didn’t know how to reach out to support, nor did he know how to reach out for, for assistance. And you know, it, it kind of reminds me of a study that was done I think about 2016. And at that time 53% of young people were having their first interaction with the mental health system when they were in crisis. And so they were taken to an emergency room and, you know, probably, you know, or having suicidal thoughts, et cetera, and you don’t want to, you know, you don’t want to have your first interaction in that kind of situation you want to you wanna, you know, learn about mental health, learn how to build your own coping mechanisms and figure out where you can get more of what we call community care. That is more appropriate because we also have learned that if you get help early the outcomes are very good.


Eric Windeler (10:57):
So we feel that if we had, if we had known enough to talk to Jack about it, if those around him who were at, you know, seeing his change in behavior had known we more, more than likely would have had a much different outcome. Yes, he may have lost a year of school, but we would have figured out a way to get him some support and, and you know, once a year in a long lifetime, right. You know, it’s almost just like taking a gap year. So unfortunately that didn’t happen for us, but we’re committed to, to helping other young people and communities all over Canada with our work and happy to explain more, if you’d like to know more about about the work we do.


Sam Demma (11:37):
Absolutely. this is phenomenal. I was actually going to start by asking you, can you clarify for everyone listening, what mental health actually is? Because I feel like sometimes there is still this idea that it’s, you know, mental health is having a, a challenge or a mental problem. And it’s like, no, I think mental health is something we all experience. So what is like the jack.org view on mental health?


Eric Windeler (12:00):
I will, I’ll, I’ll just qualify that by saying, you know, I am an advocate okay. With a business background and yes, I’ve been in the space for 11 years, but I’m not a trained psychiatrist, but what I have learned is we all have mental health, just like you alluded to, you know, we all can have good days and bad days. But at least one in five of us will live with a mental illness and people often, you know, conflate or confuse those terms. You know, like someone will say, oh, that person has a mental health. I mean, it’s just wrong. And that person may live with a mental illness. So it’s really on a spectrum and this actually happens in our Jack talks. We teach the youth audience about the spectrum of, of, you know, from healthy to struggling from you know, all and all about how you may be in, in, you’re not in one place all the time.


Eric Windeler (12:59):
And what’s really interesting about mental health and mental illness is you can actually live with a mental illness, a diagnosable mental illness, but you, if you have the right care and that may, in some cases be talk therapy, it may be your own you know toolkit that you’ve built to take care of your own mental health and maybe medication, et cetera. But you can, you can actually thrive. And the flip side of that is you can really struggle if you, if you’re not taking care of your mental health appropriately, even though you might not have a diagnosable mental illness. And you know, I’ve come across so many young people in our, in our journey that have, have learned how to take care of their mental health. And they may have even been in a place previously where they were actually hospitalized, but they’ve learned how to take care of their mental health if got the appropriate care.


Eric Windeler (13:53):
And now they’re doing just great. And many of our young leaders in our network are amongst them because they, they also get a benefit of giving back. And that really, you know, I’ll say it’s really helped me in our family to be open about this and to help others. It, it, it has a payback in, I always see the same thing with our young leaders that when they’re helping their peers it really also helps them you know, in their journey as well. I don’t know if that totally answers your question, Sam, but, but people should really understand we all have mental health and some of us live with a mental illness that is at a diagnosable level, but in any event, we all should be learning how to recognize those signs and symptoms and learn how to take care of our own mental health and do our best to support those around us ourselves, but also to help them navigate to to the appropriate care. Should they need it?


Sam Demma (14:51):
You alluded to a couple of things I want to go a little deeper on. You talked about Jack talks. So what is a, or what is it, what is Jack toxin? Yeah. Tell, tell me more about that. Why you think it’s so important and how it’s been going so far in the schools that you’re affected.


Eric Windeler (15:06):
So as an authentic youth engagement youth leadership charity, we have always developed our programmatic work by listening to young people and and incorporating, you know, what they what they wanted to see and bringing their voice to the table. So very early on in the process, it was actually in March, 2013, we had our first national what we call Jack summit. So it was a national conference where we had at that time 200 youth speakers or not youth speakers, young people from every province and territory brought them to Toronto for a conference. And I distinctly remember two things that I’ll share with you. One was that a lovely young person who was giving a speech and sharing her story on stage was actually telling her story in a way that triggered the audience. And it was in such a way that several of the audience members left the room.


Eric Windeler (16:05):
They were, it, it was upsetting to them. And so we learned from that experience, but a lot of the youth started telling us, we’d like to learn how to share our story, but I’m not trying to blame that young woman, but not like that. We want to do it in a safe and appropriate way. So we did the research and have followed the evidence and ever since then, our Jack talks program has existed in evolve each year. So in short, a Jack talk is a peer to peer mental health education. Each, each summer, we train about 150 young people who volunteer to go through about 50 hours of public speaking training. And remember Sam, not, not all young people are naturals like yourself.


Eric Windeler (16:53):
I didn’t know you had that technology, but I’m serious about that. You know, I happen to be fairly comfortable with public speaking when I was your age. And, you know did, did some talks and that sort of thing, but not everybody is, but we take them through public speaking and teach them how to learn how to safely and in a hopeful way share their mental health story. So a typical Jack talk is delivered by two of these trained and certified youth speakers. They each share their story, which is a small part of this hour long presentation, but they also educate youth all about mental health and how to recognize those signs and symptoms and how to support people. And overall, it’s just a very engaging way. You can imagine. In typical times, two youth speakers up on the stage of a high school auditorium.


Eric Windeler (17:49):
It’s very engaging for those youth to, to, to to learn about mental health from their peers. It’s way more impactful than, you know, an old guy like me preaching at them, or even a physician preaching at them that peer-to-peer is known to be a very effective way to transfer that information. So this year actually starting last year, we had to pivot our JAG talks and now we do them in digital format. And soon we hope we’ll be returning to both in-person talks and we’ll continue the digital format. So we actually provide schools and school boards with options. They can either share like a personal Jack talk, which a young person could watch on their own time. We also have a classroom addition that the teacher can take their classroom through. And we also offer livestream Jack talks.


Eric Windeler (18:44):
So some schools or communities might prefer them to be delivered in this format over, over zoom or another platform where they, they are alive. And we do a whole number of other things related to that other workshops, et cetera. And we’re continually evolving the program because we evaluated each year and we evolve at each year to, to be that much better. But you know, it’s, it’s an incredible way to, and it’s just one of, one of our key programs that really kind of opens the door and gets a young people, more aware of mental health and and, you know, starts them on that journey of learning. We have lots of ambitions about how we’ll get into things like curriculum development and so on, but, but that was the very first program that started.


Sam Demma (19:34):
That’s amazing. And, you know, you mentioned the impact of peer to peer, and when you’re in high school, a lot of interactions with mental health and mental illness, hopefully, you know, are seen between friends and groups of friends, and maybe you have a friend that’s struggling. I remember when I was in high school, we had one friend who’s struggled a lot, and we all tried to be there for that person. And sometimes you’re not sure, you know, how to be there for the person. What the correct thing to do is you don’t want to do the wrong thing. And I know that, you know, jack.org and you and the team have put together an incredible resource that not only teaches you how to be there, but it takes you through, you know, what you need to do and how to identify, you know, the situation. And can you talk a little bit about that resource and share what inspired the creation of it and the impact it’s having today?


Eric Windeler (20:20):
Yeah. And that’s, that’s one of our four key programmatic pillars. And you use the words be there. That’s exactly what young people started saying to us. And again, it was back about four years ago as, as their audiences of the, of the JAG chapters and the JAG talks you know, it was making young people more comfortable disclosing what they’re going through to each other. So many of our young leaders started saying we need some additional training for how to be there for, for our peers. And so again, we started with, you know, like we were taught back in the early day, we started with a landscape scan to see what was out there. And we couldn’t find either nationally or globally anything that was really engaging and also relevant for young people. There’s other good programs. I’m not trying to discredit them, but there was a real opportunity for us to make a contribution here.


Eric Windeler (21:18):
So we put out a request to our funders and literally in about three months raised about 600,000. And I only mentioned that because we didn’t sort of build this off the side of our desk in 15 minutes. It was a very thoughtful process to see what was out there, do the evidence. And we landed on something, we call the five golden rules, which, which help you learn about mental health recognize signs and symptoms, and, and learn how to kind of weigh into these difficult conversations and to do so in a way that also protects your own mental health on the way. So that digital resource, which is called, be there, and it’s at our, we only have two websites, jack.org, and be there.org. It’s a free available website. It’s been, it’s been used by over 800,000 young people to date in just over two years.


Eric Windeler (22:13):
And we’re really excited about the next phase of be there because it’s a, it’s a resource and that you can go and check out, but a lot of young people frankly, would go and quickly check it out, might spend five or 10 minutes on the site, but to learn all the content you need several hours. And so we’re developing what we’re calling a B their certificate program. And this is really for people like residents dawns. So they, you know, that their employer, the university could say, you know, we don’t want you to just check out that site. We want you to learn all this content. And we’re partnered with a us foundation. I think I told you on our warmup call, it’s their founders, a little better known than me lady Gaga and her mother founded born this way foundation.


Eric Windeler (23:02):
And they reached out to us when the pandemic hit and asked if they could get involved with the meta resource. And at that time it was just the regular, resouce. bethere.org. But they’re helping us fund, we’re doing the development work, but they’re helping us fund and they will be spreading the, be their certificate program across the U S while we’re doing it here across Canada. And we’re really excited about that. And looking forward to launch that in early 20, 22, so another, you know, five or six months. So that’s the resource and it’s, it’s not just for young people to help other young people. It’s really for anybody who wants to learn how to support a young person in their life. And you know, not everybody is as passionate about mental health as our young leaders. And I know you have a big passion for it, Sam, but if they know about it and they see one of their friends struggling, it’s a place they can go and learn how to, you know, weigh into those difficult conversations. So it’s made up of a bunch of engaging videos of really storytelling of how one, you know maybe one friend was there for his or her friend how a parent was there for their or their child. You know, how you know how one, one peer can support another. So, thanks for asking about that.


Sam Demma (24:26):
It’s a phenomenal resource. And I enjoyed hearing about it the first time we chatted and I thought it would be something worth highlighting and sharing as well. Those were, those were the two of the four pillars. So now we’ve talked about Jack talks, we’ve talked about be there, you mentioned there being four key pillars. What are the other two? And can you speak on those very briefly as well?


Eric Windeler (24:45):
Absolutely. So the, the next program after Jack talks is something called Jack chapters. So these are youth led groups at high schools, colleges, universities, and in community settings. And now they exist all over the country and every province and territory. And you know, it probably makes sense to you that if you just do one Jack talk and then the school does nothing else, period, things just sort of settle back to normal. And that’s why, you know you know, we have the vision of creating more content and more curriculum down the road. And we’re in the early stages of planning that, but chapters are a way that a youth led group conform at one of these schools or in one of these communities and kind of keep that conversation going all year long. So a typical job chapter, and there’s, there’s about 250 of them.


Eric Windeler (25:41):
It has been the most difficult program to operate during the pandemic. So a little under 200 of them have been very active during the pandemic, but at a lot of schools and some of the harder hit areas extracurricular activities have just been put on hold. But they’re really trying to share share resources, share engagements in a typical time, they’ll get together with, with peers, you know, and it could be a sporting based event. It could be an art based event. We try to reach out to different parts of the community, and then we’ve the importance of mental health into those conversations. So it’s we’re, it often call it the real core because yes, it’s great that we have, you know, 250 chapters, but there’s over 3000 high schools in Canada, Sam. So we really need to expand that program. And it is so fantastic to see what many of these chapters have done.


Eric Windeler (26:38):
And we now are evolving the program so we can have what we call sort of low and high engagement chapters. So some of the chapters do just fun little initiatives to kind of get the awareness going lower stigma. Some of the more advanced, mainly post-secondary chapters are doing some very sophisticated things. We have now a youth informed campus assessment tool, for example. So they actually learn how to partner with our administration, do a landscape scan on their campus and really interview students about the resources that are on campus. Do you know about it? Does it work for you what could what’s missing, et cetera, and that underpinned some of their advocacy work to have a kind of an evidence-based informed way of, of advocating for, you know, better services you know, in their, their school or in their community.


Eric Windeler (27:32):
So that’s the Jack chapters program the file program actually maybe I should have started with that because it actually came first and that’s called the Jack’s summit program. So these are you know, we’re trying to reach a very broad audience, but we do have these young leaders in our network and the Jack summits are a way to bring together these young leaders to train them really connect them to one another, let them learn from one another, have collaboration sessions, bring in expert speakers, et cetera. And this year there’s about I think about 25 of these summits across the country. Obviously sadly, they all had to be virtual this year, but that program has worked very well virtually. So we have the national Jack summit, as I alluded to earlier, we have six large regional Jack summits one in BC, one in the far north with students from all three territories involved one in the Prairie’s one in Ontario, one a Francophone one that I used to say was based in Quebec, but it’s really just for any Francophone students, cause there’s many Francophone students outside of Quebec.


Eric Windeler (28:43):
And then there’s one in Atlantic, Canada, and then the local Jackson mitts are smaller events where like one high school may invite the student leaders from the neighboring high schools. And they’ll have a smaller event really focused on their, their community, wherever that might be. So that’s the four programs talks chapter summits, and then the digital resource be there. We do a lot of other things, but I think that’s you know, that that will be the, a good summary for your amazing audience.


Sam Demma (29:13):
I never forget after we first connected and I asked you for more information and you sent me over the email with documentaries and videos and programs, and it was like a never ending resource. That’s what it felt like when I opened it. And it just so cool to see how many things are getting done behind the scenes that soon will no longer be behind the scenes. And yeah, I, I just, I can’t wait to see the continued impact. What personally keeps you motivated? Like what personally keeps you motivated and hopeful to continue doing this work?


Eric Windeler (29:48):
Well, it’s you know, often put it in another way. I’d say I’m incredibly, obviously we had a tragedy which got this all started, but I’m incredibly fortunate. And I, I, I would wish for others who are in the later stages of their career to have an opportunity to give back. So just giving back period is a very motivating thing. But you know, I had a successful business career and all I could really say was, well, we created lots of jobs and that is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong. But this is truly helping people and, and in many respects changing the trajectory of their life. And in some cases, you know, we don’t have, I can’t point to exact evidence, but, but you know, it is a public health initiative and we kind of think, you know, if you, I may have used this analogy when we spoke earlier, but if you can help somebody learn not to start smoking you can probably have an impact on the health of them, their physical health later in life.


Eric Windeler (30:51):
And it’s the same with mental health. If you can provide that knowledge upstream, you will change the trajectory. And yes, suicide remains the the leading health-related cause of death of young people, which is completely unacceptable. But it’s still a fairly you know, it’s not happening it’s happening far too often, but it’s, it’s fairly infrequent, but it’s just a marker for the amount of struggle that is out there. And if you think about, you know, living with a mental illness and, you know, you’re having trouble getting out of bed, you can’t go to class, you can’t maintain employment, you can’t do relationships. There’s also a huge payback to, to the economy by, by letting young people sort of perform at their best. Because then they’re going to be gainfully employed. They’re going to be paying taxes, all those sorts of things, their, their relationships will be better. Their schooling will be better. So it’s tremendously satisfying. I’ve frankly never worked harder, but never never also wanted to work harder than this it’s, it’s, it’s been very gratifying to be involved in. And we’re so grateful for the supportive community that we’ve created not only of young people, but of, you know, donors and sponsors and volunteers who support that work that we do to allow it to happen.


Sam Demma (32:18):
Amazing. That’s awesome. And I can’t, yeah, I can’t wait for the future and to continue to see the impact and the implementation of the pillars and the curriculum as well. I think it’d be so cool if there was a mental health class in every high school, maybe that’s something that you guys are working with.


Eric Windeler (32:33):
It’s kind of hard to believe that there isn’t, when you thinkbout it, it doesn’t make sense. You know, it’s interesting, we’ve started discussing things cause there are curriculum organizations. And so we’re, we’re thinking about how we might, we’ve been in touch with a few of them, how we might either partner with those kinds of organizations, because frankly they don’t have much expertise in mental health. And we think we would be very well positioned to you know, I have a bit of a vision. I’m probably talking a little out of turn, but to pilot that with a school board or ideally a provincial ministry and really test it. But, but you know, definitely, there should be, there should be some mental health basics even before high school, but by the time you get to high school, there should be a content because we’re reaching lots of young people, hundreds of thousands of young people, but we’re not reaching every school in every community. And you should learn about something this important to your life, just like you should learn how to read and write and do arithmetic, you know, and it will be there. It will, it will happen. And we’ve got a lot of the content that will help inform that and be part of it. So that’s part of the big plans that are out there. It’s just a matter of when, right? It’s not what just as a one. But this has been a great conversation, Eric, thank you so much for taking some time to chat about jack.org, the pillars, what you’re working on. You know, the view on mental health, how it differs from mental illness and just the whole conversation.

Sam Demma (33:19):
I hope that now you listening right now, taking something valuable away from this. And if you want to get in touch with Eric, Eric, please share how an educator can reach out or get ahold of you guys.


Eric Windeler (34:18):
Well, I mentioned earlier, obviously, we have two websites to check out, jack.org, and bethere.org. There’s, there’s a way you can reach out generically to the organization. And we monitor that, that it’s, it’s we call it the whole inbox. It’s just hello@jack.org. But you can also, for example, a great way for schools or educators to start is with a Jack talk. And, you know, you can just go to jack.org/talks and it lays out, you know, if you’d like to arrange a talk, there’s a way you can get in touch with us there. We, we are on socials quite active and I would say disproportionately active for a mental health organization. We have bigger followings than most. We’re at, we’re at jack.org, but it’s spelled out its jackdotorg on most platforms, but probably most active on, on Instagram because that’s where a lot of young people are.


Eric Windeler (35:17):
One of our interns this summer got us just barely kicked off on TikTok. We’ve always been active obviously on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn. But Instagram is probably the quick way to start. I’m at Eric Windeler. But so if people wanted to reach out by socials, they could do that. I’m easy to find online eric@jack.org. So you know, obviously I don’t necessarily, can’t keep up with a thousand emails, but I’d love to hear from educators and I would guide them to the right person on the team, for more information. So thanks, for offering that up to Sam.


Sam Demma (35:55):
Again, Eric, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you, keep up the great work it’s very needed. And I look forward to talking to you again soon.


Eric Windeler (36:02):
Absolutely. Sam, just a pleasure and thanks again and congrats again for the amazing grad talk you gave, I really found that incredible.


Sam Demma (36:13):
And there you have it, another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoyed 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 want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Eric Windeler

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.

Douglas Gleddie, PhD – President of Physical and Health Education Canada and Professor at the University of Alberta

Douglas Gleddie President PHE Canada
About Douglas Gleddie

Douglas L. Gleddie, PhD, is a husband and father who also happens to be an Associate Professor and Acting Vice-Dean/Associate Dean Academic in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta (UofA). He teaches physical and health education curriculum and pedagogy to undergraduate students and graduate courses in health and physical education, reflective practice, physical/health literacy and research methods. Doug’s research focuses on narratives of physical education, school sport, physical literacy praxis, meaningful physical education, and teacher education.

Doug’s life-long journey of exploration into joyful and meaningful movement has enabled him to work with a wide variety of people and organizations across Canada and around the world. Doug began his career as a K-12 teacher, spent 6 years as the Director of the Ever Active Schools program, served 2 years as the Alberta Board member for PHE Canada and has chaired local, national and (coming soon) international conferences. He co-authored three books including the most recent – Healthy Schools, Healthy Futures. Doug can be found on Twitter (@doug_gleddie), writes a blog at www.hslab.ca and takes care of his own wellness by being active with his family; improving his guitar picking and seeking new adventures.

Connect with Douglas: Email | Twitter | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Meaningful Physical Education: An approach for teaching and learning

Healthy Schools LAB

PHE Canada

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 dot high-performing educator.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 Doug Gleddie. Doug is a husband and father who also happens to be a professor at the university of Alberta in a career filled with change. The only true constants have been physical education activity, working with students and how joys filled the spaces in between this lifelong journey of exploration into joyful and meaningful movement has enabled Doug to work with a wide variety of people and organizations across Canada and around the world.


Sam Demma (01:16):
He has published numerous articles in academic and professional journals, and co-authored four books, including the most recent, meaningful physical education and approach for teaching and learning. Doug is a founding member of the healthy schools lab, and his research interests include narratives of physical education, school sport, physical literacy Praxis, meaningful physical education, and teacher education. Doug does his best thinking on a mountain bike or around a campfire. I’m so excited for you to hear today’s conversation with Doug. I will see you on the other side of this interview. Enjoy!


Sam Demma (01:57):
Doug. Welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are today in education?


Douglas Gleddie (02:08):
Yeah, sure. Thanks Sam. I appreciate you having me on it should be fun. You promised it would be fun anyways, so that’s good. Yeah. So I’ve been in education now for almost 25 years, which seems kind of strange. Cause I don’t feel that old, but I guess I am so yeah, it took me a while to kind of find my way into education a bit because I you know, with my own kids now, I always, I always encourage them to think about no matter what they’re working in or what they’re doing. Just think about what they enjoy about it. Right. And, and what are they good at and what skills are they learning and how does that apply to different things? So for me, a couple of commonalities emerged the first was just a love working with children and youth anywhere from Sunday school to babysitting, to playing with cousins.


Douglas Gleddie (03:05):
I just, I really enjoyed that piece. So that’s kind of stuck. And then, you know, physical activity movement has always been a key part of my life from like I grew up on a farm and I basically had free range of the half the section and could, you know, run around with very few restraints and you know, climbing trees, hopping, fences, getting chased by cows. It’s all, it’s all part of the game. And so that, that physical activity was really good. And just so those two things kind of connected eventually and led me to a career in education and specifically more physical education. So that went through from, you know, I spent almost 14 years as a teacher K to 12, but most of that time, junior high, but I’ve, I’ve taught everything except food studies, I think. And then and phys ed K to K to 12, settled at kind of junior high that seven to eight and then eventually ended up getting a master’s degree and then a PhD in ending up at the university. And sometimes I still feel I don’t belong, but I’m still a teacher first.


Sam Demma (04:13):
That’s awesome. It’s a cool journey. What about physical activity appealed to you or phys ed. And where did that interest come? Did you also play sports growing up like a lot or?


Douglas Gleddie (04:24):
Yeah, I did. I, you know, I played a lot of sports. I still do. It’s I really think it’s the environment. It’s just, it was that opportunity. Like we didn’t have, I mean, I certainly don’t have the distractions that kids have today with, with devices and social media and everything else. Like we were barely allowed to watch TV and there was only really out on the farm. We only got one or two channels consistently anyways, so it wasn’t a big draw. And so it was just, I think that foundation of, of just being encouraged to be outside and we made up our own games, we played and then like I never played organized sports until junior high. I played one season of outdoor hockey before it moved into or, and then it was too expensive. And so we couldn’t do it anymore, but we always played, you know, we played hockey on our pond.


Douglas Gleddie (05:19):
You know, my brothers and I, and my sister, we, we invented games, you know, throwing a tennis ball at the back steps and you had to catch it before, you know, one person will throw it. The other person have to catch it. And if it hits the screen door, y’all ran like hell, cause mom would get mad. So he figured out the rules. But I think it’s also just, just the freedom of being able to choose what you enjoy. So if you feel like what you need is a walk in the woods, then you choose that. If you feel like what you need is a, a super competitive game of tennis with someone who really pushes you to be better than you can choose that.


Sam Demma (05:53):
That’s awesome. I love that. And I’m really fascinated farming for him. We’ll get to that in a second with, with this idea that if you don’t, if you don’t so anything, you don’t reap anything to go at a young age, you get taught, like if you don’t plant the seed, you’ll never get the vegetable. So I feel like whether, you know, it or not, you’re taught that if you want something, you have to work for it. And I’m curious to know for you personally, if that life of growing up on a farm, like taught you a lot of principles that you think you still hold today.


Douglas Gleddie (06:25):
Oh. And you know, you have to, you certainly have to take care of things. There’s responsibilities. Like we, we had mostly livestock. I mean, we did crops and we had a massive vegetable garden. And so you do, you have to put the work in and you can’t just plant the seed. And then, you know, three months later start picking tomatoes, you know, there’s, there’s weeding, there’s pest control, there’s fertilizing, there’s, you know, all that kind of stuff in there and it takes work. Right. And and then with livestock, you learn a lot of both sacrifice because you can’t, you can’t take care of your own needs before your livestock’s needs because that’s your livelihood. And so, you know, there were years, like I remember a year when my dad, my dad hurt his back and I was, I was one of the only, I think I was the only kid at home.


Douglas Gleddie (07:13):
My older brothers were away at college and it was like minus 50. So we had sheep and we had, you know, probably six, 700 ewes to take care of. And so they’re all outside and, and they had shelter, but you need to get on feed them. So you, you bundle up and you put on your ski goggles and you, you do what you need to do, but you have to take care of that before you take care of your own needs, because literally they will die without your care. So I think that work ethic, that, that ethic of care, and, and also like we did things together as a family, like it was a family farm. We work to get stuff done. And when, you know, when it’s time for the, you know, the, the, the phrase making hay while the sun shines and comes from a real place, because you got to get that hand. So, you know, I spent time sitting on a Baylor past midnight you know, picking up hay bales, stacking bales because you have to get it done. And it was, it was hard work, but we did it together. Right. You’re in it together. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:19):
That’s awesome. Like I, my, so my grandfather worked on a farm for most of his life. He came here with nothing and he work at GM at night and then on a farm during the day and barely ever saw my, my dad, my dad would tell me that once a week on Fridays at like 2:00 AM, he would come home and get off early. And he would wake the family up for a pizza and a, they would all eat together and like the mall, cause tomorrow tomorrow’s not school, everyone can sleep in. And you know, it’s funny cause like the things you’re saying are like similar things to my grandfather, I think passed down to me about like hard work and these types of values to transition the conversation slightly. I was just curious about asking you about that. But to, to transition this slightly what, what, what led you into education? So you could have taken like the passions you grew up with in many directions, coaching athletics. Why, why did, why did it end up that you went into teaching?


Douglas Gleddie (09:16):
And a good, good question. Sort of go back to what I said earlier about trying to find what, you know, what kind of makes you tick and what you enjoy, like the outdoors children and youth mood. But, you know, I, I considered being a conservation officer like being an official wildlife cause that’s outside. But so I think for me, I, like I had an experience of, I ended up teaching overseas for, for a year in south America. And I really enjoyed that experience of working with the kids. And I think for me the difference was that being a part of a kid’s learning journey and being a part. And, and when you see, when you, when you have a student in specifically in phys ed, that they kinda, they kinda get it and that, that, you know, that switch kind of turns it or that, that switch flicks and you kind of know, they go, wow, this is really fun.


Douglas Gleddie (10:13):
Like I enjoy this and you see them picking it out. Like I’m a big mountain biker. I love, I love to mountain bike. And I used to run in the junior high. We ran a mountain bike club and we did stuff. And to, to, to see someone and specifically there’s a, there was one girl. I remember she was pretty tentative about stuff, but she came on a trip with a bunch of us and there, she was the only girl on the trip, but she did awesome. And she went off like this two foot jump that she never would have done before. And she was just so excited. Right. So, so to kind of see that and to encourage that and to get people excited about movement and, and taking care of themselves, I think that’s where I ended up, you know, going down that road to teacher education. Cause I didn’t, I did an undergrad degree in, in basically history and physical education, a major concentration. And then I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a while. And I played around with stuff and I, I played sports. I did some coaching, but it was really that, that physical education piece in those early, that early learning and being able to connect with kids that way, I think.

Sam Demma (11:20):
Cool. And whereabouts were you in south America when you taught overseas? Oh,

Douglas Gleddie (11:23):
I was improved. Oh wow.

Sam Demma (11:26):
That’s awesome.

Douglas Gleddie (11:26):
Very small jungle town.


Sam Demma (11:30):
Did you ever hear music like this? [inaudible] That’s awesome.


Douglas Gleddie (11:39):
You just have that handy right there.


Sam Demma (11:41):
Whatever, whenever you tell bad jokes, I’ll crack this one, but that’s awesome. What brought you out to Peru? So like w was there like an opportunity? Tell me more about that.


Douglas Gleddie (11:55):
Yeah, it was it was. after I graduated from my first degree I just, I wanted to, actually, I was looking at traveling the world that wants to just maybe take a year and travel around, but I wanted to kind of give back. So I wanted to either go and, you know, volunteer somewhere or work on a mission or do whatever. And so I was looking at opportunities and I just actually wanted to do that for about a month. And then I just wanted to travel. But one of the guys I talked to he’s like, well, we’ve got an opportunity at this school if you want to come here and teach. But it’s a full year. And I was like, nah, not interested in, he looked at me, he said, I think you’ll be back. And it was at this big, I don’t know mission Fest.


Douglas Gleddie (12:37):
It was called all these different opportunities for different service organizations and that sort of thing. And so, and yeah, I was back and I talked to him a little bit more and, and and you know, they needed someone to teach phys ed and a little bit of history. So it seemed like it was tailor made for kind of the training that I’d had. And so that’s how I ended up there. It was great. It was a fantastic experience just to be immersed in completely different culture, different language. You know, I took some Spanish classes before I went down, but I basically learned on the fly, which was fun. And I was teaching mostly Americans at the school. But just to, just to live in the community and, and I would love to go into town and go play basketball and volleyball with people. And there’s just different, different cultural situations that you have to learn and figure out. So it was yeah, I would say it was a pretty formational experience.


Sam Demma (13:33):
That’s amazing. And did you find it challenging or if so, like what were some of the challenges at first?


Douglas Gleddie (13:40):
Oh, yeah, it was challenging because like, I didn’t know anyone there. Right. And you, at the time, like you have to think this is, so this was in, let me see 1993, it seems like a long time ago now, but very little internet. I did get an email address when I went down there, but I literally only knew one of the personal email address. And that was my brother who was at the university of Saskatchewan at the time. Like even phone lines were one way. So literally if I would phone you, I’d be like, Hey, how’s it going, Sam over, over?


Douglas Gleddie (14:23):
So, you know, a little bit of isolation, but great community. The language was a challenge, but I, you know, I enjoyed that. I’m, I’m pretty open and pretty willing to take risks. So you just kind of jump in and you mess up some words and you, you know, you figure some stuff out. Yeah, I don’t, I just found it to be a really, like, there were lots of challenges, but nothing seemed unsurmountable. You just kind of go through and, you know, you’re 23 and you figure it out. Right. You know what that’s like?


Sam Demma (14:57):
Yeah. I mean, in two more years I will. But people always talk about gap years, fifth years especially now with COVID, it’s being talked about even more. And something that always emphasize is travel. Like, do you think traveling to another country is an experience that everyone should go through living somewhere else? Kind of off topic, but just curious about your thoughts on that.


Douglas Gleddie (15:22):
Yeah. I do. Like with my, with my classes, with pre-service teachers at the U of a, I, I certainly encourage if you have the opportunity to try and like go teach in Cambodia, go teach in Thailand. There’s lots of opportunities. You can still teach, for example, using Alberta curriculum and some of these schools. And so it doesn’t, it doesn’t hold you back for your career in Canada. But and I do think there’s a difference between just traveling and visiting. Like you can go, you know, you could go visit Peru for a couple of weeks and you’ll get a sense of things, but when you live there, you know, I, I kept on my favorite phrase after I’d been there for awhile is a, I’m going to butcher the Spanish, but it’s like, I’m not a tourist. I live here like this. So I go to the market and someone would go, oh, this is, you know, this is five solos. And I’d be like, no, no, no, I’m not a tourist. I live here. Oh, you know, half that.


Douglas Gleddie (16:22):
But so I do think going somewhere and spending a significant amount of time with the people that are there. Like I had an opportunity to spend three weeks in Kenya, a number of years ago, and it was different than spending a year improve. And I still, you know, we were working with the local community and, and we were you know, we, we shared tents with, with locals and we shared meals and we did that the whole time. And so that was really good, but it was still only three weeks. And so you’re still kind of parachuting in and then running away. Whereas when you’re there for a longer time, you can deal with Velop relationships. You can get deeper understandings, I think, but I would definitely recommend if you have opportunity, not everyone has the opportunity and you know, it can be difficult to find the funds and to find the support to do that. But if you have the chance, but yeah. Going to a, you know, a resort and Ken Kuhn doesn’t count as visiting another country.


Sam Demma (17:18):
Yeah. I think that’s very important to state. I actually, I’m a big fan of traveling just for new perspectives and awareness. Like I did Iceland two summers ago before COVID and we drove in a car, slept in the car, like crazy experiences, but to the whole country in like 10 days, and I’m actually going to Calgary and we’re going to do like again, a big road trip, not staying at any hotels, they’re all like hostels and Airbnbs, but yeah. And I think it’s a great experience for anyone to have only teachers, but people in general, I’m curious about people who made an impact on you while you were still in school. If you can remember. I know you’re not that old, but, but think back to, you know, you and high school, even in college university, did you have any teachers that at the snap of a finger you can think of this person had a big impact on me as a student? Maybe even like pushed me in this direction a little bit.


Douglas Gleddie (18:16):
Yeah. I think there’s certainly, I mean, I, I did have I had a physical education teacher in elementary, junior high, who and I didn’t really recognize it until later kind of looking back his impact. And it was interesting like quite a number of years later, I was doing a workshop out our teacher’s convention here. And he signed up to to introduce me, which was kinda neat because it was like, oh, that’s Mr. Goodell. He gets to, he gets introduced, man. So he started out, he’s like, well, this is Doug. I taught him in elementary and junior high. And if this is a great session, I taught him everything. He knows if it’s not a good session, he couldn’t teach that dang kid anything.


Douglas Gleddie (19:02):
But, you know, he, he was very innovative in his own way. He tried some really unique things with participation in schools, Ford and not, and, and those are things that I’m working on now. So I think looking back, like I wouldn’t have recognized it at the time, but looking back, I, I see, yeah, there’s some, there’s some impact there. I had a volleyball coach and just for one year in my last year of high school who came in and, and took a completely different approach to coaching that was much more developmental and fundamental that just let’s play games. Let’s just scrimmage.


Sam Demma (19:33):
What does that look like? Like what did she, or what did that person do that made a big difference?


Douglas Gleddie (19:38):
Yeah. Well, I think first of all, he came in with like, he had some high-level coaching experience in Japan and different places. And so, you know, we would, instead of just all these set drills and we would still ran some drills, but he, he had all these different games, like small side of games that helped you become a better player. And you know, it just, and he had ways to motivate. And I know not, not every player necessarily have the same experience that I did, but I just found the year before, when I played, it was just basically just scrimmage. And if you’re on the starting six you’re on that side and you got a different approach, and if you weren’t in the starting six, whereas this coach, he was just like, no, I want to develop everybody. I want everyone to be better at what they’re doing.


Douglas Gleddie (20:21):
And, and he was setting up plays and he was teaching us new things and there is a sense of fun. And so yeah, I took a lot on of his instruction. And then I had, you know, I had some, some you know, other T like a chemistry teacher and English teacher in high school who had just, again, more looking back, I just recognized, no, I had an English teacher in grade 10, and I don’t know if people still read death on the, the classic Canadian story of, of sealing outside of Newfoundland and stuff, but she was looking for what’s the big theme. What’s the, and I basically wrote a whole paper saying, it’s just a book. Like, it’s just a book. It doesn’t have to teach it. But as I was writing at events, I came around, well, okay, fine. There’s themes. And, and she really challenged me in a good way.


Douglas Gleddie (21:09):
Right? Like she could have just given me a zero on the paper and said, you didn’t do what I asked, but she said she actually engaged with me and went through and that’s good. Right. I had a chemistry teacher who chemistry, biology teacher who kind of made things real. And it’s interesting. I went back and told him, so he he’s actually directly responsible for me being able to, to save a couple of people’s lives, which is kind of crazy. And I was actually when I was in group. So he told us a story and in a grade 12 biology class about carbon monoxide poisoning and how, when they were on a road trip with the school and not in those days, kids could drive their own vehicles and go to school events. And, and there was a couple of kids who they had the exhaust was leaking into the car and they started to fall asleep.


Douglas Gleddie (22:03):
And so he was saying to us, well, you know, someone has carbon monoxide point and you cannot let them fall asleep. You got to get them out in fresh air. You got to get them breathing. You got to get moving. So, you know, probably eight, nine years later, maybe not quite five, six years later when I was on a, a boat trip across lake Titicaca in between Bolivia and Peru. And it’s a big lake, it’s one of the highest navigable lakes in the world and the boat, we are on the diesel fumes. It was a stormy stormy afternoon. And the diesel fumes are coming in the, in the cabin when we pulled into port. And I spent most of the time outside in the rain, cause I didn’t want to breathe the fumes. And we came in and one lady from France was completely passed out and her son was going in and out. And so I knew what to do B because of this teacher. And so I got them outside and literally with the young man, I just, I really just slapped the hell out of him because I had to keep him awake.


Douglas Gleddie (23:07):
And then for the, for the woman, like she she was completely out she had locked up her jobs, so I couldn’t give her multimode. I had to give her mouth, the nose to kind of keep her in oxygen. And then we had to there’s no ambulance is there. So we had to call basically called a cab and took a cab to the hospital. And I was trying to remember all my high school, French. And but anyways, by the time we left, she was, she was sitting up on oxygen. She was healthy and thankful, and I hope she didn’t have any damage. But so yeah, there’s, there’s some, but just the fact that this teacher was trying to be real with us and trying to share, not just, this is what carbon monoxide poisoning is and you know, the carbon oxide of fixes to your red blood cells. So that oxygen can’t. And I mean, he taught that stuff too, but he also talked to rural applications. So that was pretty cool.


Sam Demma (24:02):
Have you already written a book or are you going to what? The Frick dude, like these stories are crazy. Find this 50 degree weather with sheep and saving some lives.


Douglas Gleddie (24:15):
Yeah. I’ve had a good, I’ve had a good life. I’ve had a good life.


Sam Demma (24:19):
It’s cool, man. It’s cool. Well, that’s awesome. I love it. Real world application is always something that inspired me in class. Cause it made me feel like I could use the things I learned right away. Maybe not in that case, but some point in your future, you could use the thing passion to, it sounds like this teacher was someone who was passionate about what he was talking about. And when I think back to the educators that made the biggest impact on me, it was the passion that really spoke through.


Douglas Gleddie (24:46):
And I, and I think they, the teachers that have the most impact, you can tell that they enjoy what they do. Right. And they also enjoy the people they work with, which includes students. Like when I was teaching too, there’s always a few people in the school I’m going, why are you here? Like you clearly don’t like kids, you clearly don’t like the subject that you’re teaching. So why are you here? And even when I had student teachers, I would just tell them, listen, if you’re passionate about teaching or your subject area, just like you said, you’ve got that passion for it. And you enjoy working with kids. There is no better job in the world as far as I’m concerned. However, if you don’t and you’re just here because you think it’s good benefits, it’s a decent salary for the education level. You like the summers off, you know what, honestly get the hell out. Cause we don’t need you here and we’re going to be blunt, but that’s, we’ve got better things to do. And these are, these are young people’s lives that you’re messing with.


Sam Demma (25:44):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t agree more. I think there’s, there’s a lot of other careers where you could be mindless and just show up and do the work and go home and it doesn’t have an impact on others. Yeah. Education is definitely not one of them. And especially when it comes down to the things we say, you know, kids look up to their elders and teachers most of the time and you tell a kid something like it might stick with them for the rest of their life, you know and, and affect them either positively or negatively. So, yeah, I totally agree.


Douglas Gleddie (26:14):
Although on that note, you never know what might stick. Cause I a number of years ago I met with a former student who we had reconnected on Facebook and, and so we went out for coffee and, and it was great. And he’s now a teacher actually in a, I think a very, a very good teacher. But I taught him in grade 7, 8, 9. And so he’s like, oh Mr. Gladney like, it’s so good to connect it to you. And he goes, I’ll always remember that one lesson that you taught us. And I was like, well, less than is that Never order a messy down there on the first date.


Sam Demma (26:54):
What’s the story. Can you share the story real quick?


Douglas Gleddie (26:57):
Yeah. So it’s like, I’m like, well, thanks that I’m glad you got one thing out of tire. Well, so what I, what I did, I was teaching grade nine, social studies and I used to run a virtual stock market. And so I give each of the kids a hundred, a hundred thousand dollars and they had to invest. And it was a, it was this website that was actually pulled numbers from the Toronto stock exchange and it kept track. And so I made a bet with my classes. I said, whoever can earn more money than me in this three months, time span with your a hundred thousand dollars, I’ll buy you lunch. And so it was these three, these three boys they all earned more than I did. And so I took him out for lunch and we went to this local dinner tour. And at first, you know, their typical junior high, you’re like, I’ll get a small something with this. I’m like, guys, I’m buying your lunch, get the jumble don’t air. They’re like all in. And then we’re eating these things and there’s mess everywhere. And that’s when I, I said, well, word of advice, guys, never order, you know, a big message in there on a first date.


Sam Demma (28:03):
Was so funny, man. That’s awesome. That’s funny. That’s, it’s, it’s true sometimes. Depending on what that person needs, maybe that person just needed a humor that day. Right. And like something to lighten the load. Like I sometimes I’ll do a speech and what I think is so important, someone else comes out to me and says, oh, and you said this, it was so important. And I was like, I don’t even like, think that’s an important thing, you know? And I think that’s also really important to remember every everything we say matters. Awesome. And so you’ve worked in a range of different school environments different settings. Explain a little bit about where you are now and what the job entails.


Douglas Gleddie (28:44):
Yeah. So I’ve been at university of Alberta and the faculty of education now for nine years. I think it’s sorry. I’m in my ninth year, I guess it would be more accurate. And I’m currently an associate Dean of graduate studies in the faculty. So I’m doing more admin than teaching which it’s been an interesting journey doing administration. And I do enjoy aspects of more leadership than administration, but I do miss the teaching. So I haven’t taught undergrads for a couple of years. I’ve been teaching grad students and I do love teaching grad students because we have a program. We have a health and phys ed master’s cohort program, which every few years we take in a new group of 24 students. And that is fantastic. It’s so rewarding. But yeah, so you know, we’re going through lots of change right now.


Douglas Gleddie (29:37):
So there’s, there’s budget cuts, there’s program changes there’s institutional. So it’s dealing with that stuff, but, but change management is very interesting. Just to see, you know, who’s, who’s okay with taking a risk moving forward and who wants to just stay comfortable. And the fact is we’ve been forced out of comfortable from because of the budgets and stuff like that. But I do really enjoy working with grad students. For example, I just, I just had one of my PhD students just successfully defended her dissertation on Tuesday morning. So that’s super exciting. And she’s got a wonderful career ahead of her. So that’s give a little shout out to Dr. Harden Krieger as of freshly minted, but yeah, I think, I mean, a university is a unique place and as a, as a teacher there is a lot of education that goes on there.


Douglas Gleddie (30:32):
It’s, there’s a lot of flexibility and there’s a lot of opportunity to try new things. So like this master’s cohort, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It took us about five years to get it up and running. But once we did now, it’s very successful. I’ve got some great colleagues that I work alongside that help out and, and share the load and bring their own expertise, passion, and innovation to the program. And so that’s, you know, good work with good people is, is really, that’s kinda my kryptonite. It’s hard to say no to


Sam Demma (31:05):
Awesome love that. Cool. And what do you think are some opportunities right now in education? Like I know COVID has changed things a lot. It’s given us tons of challenges, but I think along with all challenges or some little opportunities here and there, curious if you have some of that.


Douglas Gleddie (31:21):
I think you know, I kinda, I kind of get annoyed when people are like, well, what was the silver lining of? COVID like, well, there’s no silver lining. A lot of people died. A lot of people got sick and it really sucked for the last 18 months. But at the same time, like you said, we definitely learned something, right. So I think we, we learned that or were reminded maybe I always liked one of my favorite mark Twain quotes, and he’s got a lot of good ones, but never let school stand in the way of a good education. That’s a rough paraphrase, but school is just one way to get educated. You know, there are so many different places to get educated. And I think for post-secondary institutions, we’re learning that we can’t just sit back and say, Hey everyone, this is where it’s at.


Douglas Gleddie (32:09):
You need to come to us. We need to be out there, but we need to be innovative. We need to be reaching people where they are providing what they need. That doesn’t mean we give up on theory. It doesn’t mean we give up on the idea of a university in the idea of a university is to share ideas and discuss and debate. So I think that’s one way you know, even with our health and phys ed cohort, we, we recognize early on that the way to bring people in is to not have them all come to campus all the time. So we do a summer, we do like two consecutive summers where you come for two weeks and it is important that we connect face to face and then the rest is online, but they’ve created those relationships. So, you know, the fact that you can, you can interact and create pretty deep relationships with people without being in the same room. Now I still think ultimately face-to-face is where it’s at. And you have to get there eventually. But, so I think that, I think we’re going to see a lot of post-secondary programs that are pushed to innovate and the ones that don’t, they’re going to fall behind.


Sam Demma (33:16):
Got it. Cool. Awesome. And you know, I can’t remember how many years you said you’ve been teaching 29, 25?


Douglas Gleddie (33:23):
I think 25


Sam Demma (33:24):
Okay. And this is, might be a tough question, but if you took all the experience and knowledge you have now through the past, you know, two decades of teaching and you could give some advice to your first year younger self when you were just getting into the job, like knowing what you know now, what would you tell that first year Doug?


Douglas Gleddie (33:50):
Well, I think the consistent thing all the way through is that like teaching what’s like life, it’s all about relationships. So if you don’t care about relationships, the rest of the rest falls behind. And I think the biggest piece of advice is it’s not about you because as a young teacher, like I remember going on the gym and shooting around and, and you know, I used to play a lot of basketball and, and I’m, I’m pretty tall and I used to be able to jump. And so, you know, I go in there and I’d be like, I’d be like Dunkin on kids and stuff. And I’m like, yeah, I just dumped on a 14 year old look how good I am. That’s part of that’s just because I was young and part of it too, you’re insecure and you’re trying to cement your place into things. But I often tell my, my student teachers right now, as you may tell, I like a lot of quotes and a lot of different things, but there’s a, there’s a Soundgarden line. You know, be yourself, it’s all that you can do or it’s all that you can be. And so that’s really, you have to be yourself. And if you’re your honest, authentic self, and you’re also reflective and you’re relational, I think you’ll go far.


Sam Demma (35:06):
Cool. This has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for sharing some of your experiences and stories. And if someone’s listening is been inspired by anything and just wants to connect, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and get in touch?


Douglas Gleddie (35:20):
Hmm. Well, probably I’m the only social media I’m on at the moment is Twitter. So I think I’m, I don’t even know what my handle is. Yeah. I think it’s d_ bloody pretty original. My email is dgleddie@ualberta.ca. Chances are nowadays, you can just Google stuff and you’ll find people I’m fine with emails to connect up. That works for me. Awesome. I also really appreciate the work you’re doing Sam in terms of this, like, podcasts are so great. Like I’m a huge podcast fan. I listened to a wide variety when I’m working out or just walking or biking to work or whatever. And there’s so many, you know, you asked about the way like institutions change and education changes. Like I write peer reviewed papers and there’s an important piece for that. But if it never gets into the hands of teachers or into the hands of people who can use it, it doesn’t go anywhere. So to do things like this, podcasts, blogs, talking to teachers, book clubs, whatever it is, that’s where it’s at. Yeah.


Sam Demma (36:29):
I appreciate that. I appreciate it. And I hope it continues to reach more educators so they can learn about everything we talked about. And I think I’ve interviewed like 120 people now, selfishly, I’m learning a lot. And I think everyone’s getting to learn from each other. It’s like free peer to peer personal development


Douglas Gleddie (36:48):
Now. So I’ve got a question for you. If that’s allowed?


Sam Demma (36:52):
Sure, we’re still live.


Douglas Gleddie (36:56):
It’s not an embarrassing question. So you’re, you know, you’re interviewing all these folks and you’re looking at education and you’re doing this. What’s your, what’s your plan moving forward. Are you, are you going to go into more formal education? Are you like, I think you’re educating people now. But what’s your, what’s your immediate then maybe longterm plan.


Sam Demma (37:14):
It’s funny. You mentioned never letting school get in the way of education. I’m someone that believes that, that as well, there’s so many ways to get educated, educated and informed. I actually went to university for two months. I’m a student to take a gap year. A fifth year, went to school, realized that it wasn’t what I wanted and then dropped out and coming from a European family, my parents immediately were like, what the heck are you doing? You know, it’s talking about us laughing that kid inside the head when you were in Cambodia on the boat. You know, I got, I got some math, a couple of times metaphorically. And I told my parents, I want to speak to kids. I have stories that I think would inspire them to follow their dreams, to be servant leaders, to give back. And I just started doing that at the age of 19 and I found a youth speaking university and I went and I, I flew to California.


Sam Demma (38:06):
I flew to Vancouver. I bought these programs found a coach, hired a coach kinda like dove in. And so all the work I’m doing is catered towards helping young people and youth realize the importance of their own potential and possibilities. And then also along that line, understanding that life isn’t all about you, but you have to also give back and be a good human being. So like, what’s, what’s the future right now. I’m actually working on a spoken word album and I won’t share it live, but after we hit the stop recording, I’ll, I’ll share it with you. And I’m also working on a book called dear high school. Me, which much of life lessons for students from someone not far removed from school. So I’ll get into formal education. I’m not sure I will continue doing the stuff I’m doing now, but just try and do more.


Douglas Gleddie (38:55):
Yeah. And just know, I don’t ask that question out of a, “you should really do formal education” because I do think we push, we push kids to university too much for some it’s absolutely the right place to be. Right. But like I said, there’s so many different places to learn. There’s so many opportunities to grow and develop. And so I think it’s really cool to see what


Sam Demma (39:17):
I appreciate that. And I, I love the question and I’m, I’m very cautious about giving other young people advice, because again, it’s not like it depends on where you want to go. Right. It’s like if I wanted to be a doctor engineer or a teacher, like you have to take certain paths. So yeah, I appreciate the question. And again, this has been an honor. Thank you so much for coming on the show, keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Douglas Gleddie (39:39):
Yeah. Likewise. Thanks for having me.


Sam Demma (39:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and 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 want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and sign up to join the exclusive network. You have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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