About Tom D’Amico
Tom D’Amico (@TDOttawa) is the Director of Education with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. He has over 31 years of experience in education and has had many roles including as a teacher, school administrator and as Superintendent of Human Resources and Superintendent of Learning Technologies and as the Associate Director of Education.
An award-winning educator he has been recognized with the Prime Minister’s Award for teaching excellence and with Canada’s Outstanding Principal award. As a Superintendent he received the EXL award to recognize excellence among members of the superintendency.
He has presented across Canada on the topics of educational technology and leadership in the 21st Century. Tom is the Canadian co-lead for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL), a global partnership of over 1500 schools across 12 countries focused on practices to develop deep learning and the development of global competencies.
In addition to his educational qualifications, he holds an Osgoode certificate in education law; a workplace mental health leadership certificate, diversity and inclusive management certificate, an executive certificate in conflict management with a focus on alternative dispute resolution, and safe schools certification.
Tom is an off-ice official with the NHL and prior to his career in education was the general manager of Ottawa’s professional soccer team, The Ottawa Intrepid, and also spent time as the general manager of Malkam Cross-Cultural Training, a provider of cross-cultural communication, diversity and employment equity training.
“I believe in the empowerment of youth and their ability to make our world a better place, especially through the use of social learning and technology in a connected global society”.
Connect with Tom: Email | Twitter | Linkedin
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
New Pedagogies for Deep Learning
Ottawa Catholic School Board
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Tom D’Amico. Tom is the director of education with the Ottawa Catholic school board. He has over 31 years of experience in education and has had many roles including being a teacher school administrator, a superintendent of human resources and superintendent of learning technology.
Sam Demma (01:02):
An award-winning educator, he has been recognized with the prime minister’s award for teaching excellence and with Canada’s outstanding principal award, as a superintendent, he received the EXL award to recognize excellence among members of the superintendent. He has presented across Canada on the topic of educational technology and leadership in the 21st century. Tom is the Canadian co-lead for new pedagogies for deep learning NPDL, a global partnership of over 1,500 schools across 12 countries, focused on practices to develop deep learning and the development of global competencies. Tom has a wide breadth of information and knowledge when it comes to education. I really hope you enjoy this interview and conversation with Tom this morning. He truly believes in the empowerment of youth and their ability to make our world a better place, especially through the use of social learning and technology in a connected global society. I’ll see you on the other side.
Sam Demma (02:04):
Tom, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start here by introducing yourself to the audience?
Tom D’Amico (02:15):
Happy to join you, Sam. Thanks for the invitation. I’m Tom D’Amico. I’m the director of education here in the Ottawa Catholic school board. And this is my 31st year in education within Ottawa.
Sam Demma (02:26):
And did you from a young age, think you were gonna get into education or what was your childhood dreams and how did that progress you to where you are now?
Tom D’Amico (02:33):
Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question because I, both, my parents were teachers, so when I was growing up, the last thing I ever wanted to do was become a teacher I saw how they worked every night and every Sunday and I, my passion was soccer. So my, my goal all along was to play professional soccer and that’s what I wanted to do. So I played a high level in high school and then went to McMaster university for, to take Phy-ed. And I, I ended up playing soccer for four years, but my last year I ended up with a serious knee injury. So I had to, to change my plans and I, I realized I could no longer have that dream. So I had a backup plan and my backup plan was I went, went on, did a master’s of, sorry, masters of sports administration at OTAU and the Canadian soccer league, the CSL was just really getting going around that time.
Tom D’Amico (03:27):
And I ended up working with the team and then I was offered the job as their general manager. So it was a new dream and it was exciting and I was I was enjoying it, but then you also have to look at life. And the time I just was just got married, the league was not financially stable. Neither was the team. So I needed another backup plan. And cause my passion was sports and PHED I, when did I did my teachers college teachers, teachers college at Ottawa U and ended up leaving the team and becoming a, and just as aside I found out that my passions actually changed again and it wasn’t PHY ed. And where I found that I really enjoyed working with youth the most was with computers. And this was back in the late eighties and early nineties. And I saw how excited students were with technology and what it could do for them. And I ended up going back and taking some more courses and resulted in me becoming a business department, head and computer teacher. And from there I’ve moved throughout the board into different positions, every vice principal, principal, superintendent, associate director, and now director. So long story. But the answer to your question was, no, I did not dream of being a teacher. And in the end it was the right, right role for me to become an educator.
Sam Demma (04:45):
So bring me back to the day you’re on the field. I believe it was in Windsor. You, you know, you, you, you had an injury, you busted up the back of your knee and after that how did you decide teaching? Because like, that seems like that’s what you, you got into, you went back and finished your master’s of education like, or, sorry. No, you did your, you did a master’s you did a, master’s not in education, in soccer at sport administration.
Tom D’Amico (05:11):
Sam Demma (05:11):
Tom D’Amico (05:13):
So, in my last year, because I, I really, you know, I needed, you never know if your professional sports is gonna work out for you. Yeah. It doesn’t mean you get rid of that dream. So when I did blow up my knee completely, it was a posture, Cru lateral collateral, ligament, and meniscus all went at the same time. So I actually went into shock on the field ended up in the hospital. They couldn’t do surgery right away cuz of the swelling, but eventually they, they did the surgery. So as I’m recovering, I’m thinking, my dream is dead. What am I gonna do? And I would say, although it wasn’t diagnosed, I was very depressed because your dream is just pulled from you in a, in a split second. So I had to reground myself and I liked learning and I, I knew I was interested in sports.
Tom D’Amico (05:56):
I loved coaching. I loved working with youth. So I, I changed that direction and ended up working in professional sports as I mentioned. But then when I looked at thinking, all right, professional sports might not work out. Cause the auto Intrepid were not very stable at the time. And the league wasn’t stable. I knew I liked working with youth. I knew I liked learning. And I had parents obviously in the past that have been educators. So that was my natural go-to. And that’s where I ended up going into, into teaching. It still allowed me to be a coach to coach soccer, to run soccer camps. I just couldn’t play at a high level anymore. But at when I entered that, that new door opened, I found all kinds of new opportunities.
Sam Demma (06:38):
Awesome. And what about coaching? Do you enjoy? It sounds like you’ve yeah. Enjoy in both the player experience, but also the coaching experience.
Tom D’Amico (06:47):
Yeah. And, and I, I coach both boys and girls at the time for, for club and then in, in high school itself very different. So with the with the guys team at, at high school, you know, many of them were not wanting to learn. They felt they were peaked and they knew everything. And at the time with the girls teams, it was really about the passion of learning that they wanted to learn how to get better in different skill sets. So that might’ve just been my experience of that school. So I don’t wanna general on gender. But that was my experience and the camps, because the camps I was doing for younger kids I, I found that I had some skills in being able to make it fun and enjoyable. So whether it was working with Tim bit soccer, which is, you know, the four and five year olds and bringing water balloons into the, the practices, just do whatever I could to engage them.
Tom D’Amico (07:40):
But with the goal of helping them develop their own skillsets and passions. So it didn’t matter to me that it was recreational or highly competitive. It was that people were getting out, they were doing what they enjoyed and I had an opportunity to help them with that. So that, that would be where I received some enjoyment from the coach side. The competitive side was still there. So when you, in Ontario, your goal was to get to offset, which you know, we had some success getting to the provincial levels. So that competitive thing side never went away. But I think I had learned that you need to have that balance. It’s not, not everyone is gonna go on and play at university or play professional and they don’t have to be that doesn’t need to be their goal. It could be just fitness, but it also could just be fitting in and socializing.
Tom D’Amico (08:27):
And as a teacher, I really learned that early on that if you could learn the passions of your students and find ways of engaging them, they’re gonna be more successful. And as a teacher, you all have less challenges because the behavioral problems are there. When there’s a relationship mm-hmm behavioral problems tend to come when there isn’t a relationship and they may not have a, an interest in your particular subject at all. So how do you relate to, to kids especially teenagers that don’t wanna be in your subject and the way to do that is find what their interests are and find ways of modifying the curriculum to match their interests.
Sam Demma (09:01):
That’s a great point. I was gonna say, you know, similar to your experience on the soccer field, having a team that’s open-minded and wants to learn is makes it a lot more enjoyable as a coach. And I would probably argue the same as someone in a classroom. You want kids that, you know, want learn and you hit it on the nail by saying, you know, you have to be invested in their interests for them to care about what you’re saying at the front of the classroom. What does that actually look like in a classroom? How do you ensure that you, that you do that as a teacher?
Tom D’Amico (09:28):
Well, I have not been in the class for a long time. So things have certainly certainly changed since I was last lost as a, a classroom teacher. So I certainly don’t espouse to have the talents that many of our new teachers have, but what it looked for me at the time, it was going out if I knew, for example, for sports, if it was a student in my class that was on the volleyball team and there was a game I would be there in the gym to watch them play, to cheer them on. So I was showing interest in, in their excitement and their passion. If it was a student that was in the, the band or in the drama, I made sure that I was there. I would ask them about it early in every class I taught. I always tried to find out as much as I could from, you know, whether it was interviews or just writing opportunities.
Tom D’Amico (10:07):
And I could find out that, you know, someone was caring for their grandmother and the grandmother had moved into their home and was ill and asking them, I saw not, not in front of everyone, but just say, you know, I appreciate you sharing that. How’s your grandmother doing? So you’re showing interest in the person first and the subject second. And to me, that’s what makes some of our teachers, the best they can be is not because they’re passionate about their subject. But they’re passionate about the students and helping students to be the best they can be. And recognizing that sometimes students are, are having a rough day and you need to accept that. And you, you need to, whether you’re bending rules or you’re just pausing them for some point sometimes because a student is late for class, the last thing they need is to be sent down to the office.
Tom D’Amico (10:55):
What they need is someone to know why they’re late or so maybe if they’re not willing to share, right, right. At that time, have a teacher, an educator that knows there’s so much going on in their life. That goes beyond what I’m teaching in this class, subject wise. And I need to respect that and they may not be ready to share with me but find the opportunity to ask them. So, you know, often I, I, I rarely gave detentions as a teacher, but if someone did something that was completely inappropriate, inappropriate, you needed to have a detention. I would never send it down to the office for, for things like that. I would say, okay, you’re gonna meet with me at lunch. That’s your consequence. And at lunch, we’d have a chance to talk. We could, whether it was one on one, or it was in small groups or was using the academics.
Tom D’Amico (11:40):
If I had a duty, I would ask them, come and walk with me. I did the same thing. When I became a vice principal or principal, I would often have people have their consequences doing cleanup in the yard, but I was out there with them and we would do it together. And when you’re doing it together, you have that opportunity to connect and to have discussions and let people know that, you know, they’re human, they make mistakes, we all make mistakes. And sometimes there’s consequences for the mistakes, but it’s the behavior that’s being trying. We’re trying to change, not, not saying to a person that they’re not worthy of being there. So I think all of those are pH fee that goes into what makes people strong.
Sam Demma (12:15):
Educators and walking beside the student, you know, during those moments shows them that you do care about them, as opposed to them being out there by themselves. You know, potentially thinking my school is against me and no one wants to see me succeed. It’s like, oh, you know, we care about you as a person and your development. And, you know, I’m willing to, to walk with you to show you how much I care. I think that’s a really good point when you have the time to do so. You know, you, you did the masters in sports administration, then the masters of education. And then what did your journey look like in education? So tell me more about your first role and how it evolved to where you are now.
Tom D’Amico (12:50):
Yeah, my, my first job in teaching was really interesting. One if as the I, I still remember the principal that hired me and this is, this things have changed now. I’m not sure you’d be able to do this anymore, but , I was teaching at the time in Ontario was called basic math. So grade 10 math, I was teaching pH ed. I was teaching grade 12 economics. I was teaching grade 13 religion. Oh, wow. I a section of adult ed. And then I had one extra course I needed to teach. And he called me into his office. And he said, for your last course, you have a choice. You can teach Spanish or you can teach computer programming. And I looked at him, I said, John, I, I don’t know anything about computers and I don’t teach Spanish and he, he responded by looking in the eyes and saying, Tom, I don’t think you heard my I’m giving you a choice, which of these two do you want ?
Tom D’Amico (13:38):
And I said, well, I guess I have a little interest in computers. So I’ll take computers. So that was in August and school started in September. And what he did was he gave me one book. So there was one book on it was called Wacom Pascal at the time. And I had to read that book to try and fit, figure out how to teach programming grade 10 Pascal. And as I said, I never would’ve picked that on my own, but because he had given that opportunity to me, it, it really changed my career path because I found out I had a passion for computers and technology. And I found out most of my students had the same and were no, no behavioral problems because they were so engaged and motivated to be on the computers. And there was instant rewards from any of them because they would be doing something.
Tom D’Amico (14:24):
And then if you, you, you see the results right away, cuz the computer, whatever you’ve programmed, they could see it work. So it was, it was really interesting. And I went on and took some more courses and ended up really changing away from my degree, which was phys ed and geography. And instead of teaching PHS, ed and geography, moving towards business courses like entrepreneurship at time, which brand new, which we started, I started the first multimedia computer course in Ontario. It was a pilot project. We wrote to the ministry at the time, the cost of a a scanner was about $3,000. The, we had, I think, three computers that had sound cards. And so we had dial up connections for the internet. And what we did was we created what we called the multimedia. So it was project based learning a bit ahead of its time and the multimedia manner.
Tom D’Amico (15:15):
Everyone had different tasks. We had managers, we had staff that would students that would become experts in sound. Some would become experts in videos. And then we looked for real life projects because technology was so new in 1990, you know, what could we do with this? How could we help companies how we helped small businesses? So we were doing real real life projects while learning the material. And I remember contacting the government, the federal government. So I saw a grant opportunity and it was probably 1991. And they were offering money to the, anyone that was interested in helping to digitize real Canadian artifacts. So I contacted them and they said, I said, I’d love to get my students involved. And the response was, we hadn’t thought of students, but that’s a great idea. And the project they gave us two amazing projects.
Tom D’Amico (16:03):
One was digitizing the books of remembrance. So the books of remembrance showing Canadian shoulders that had died, sit sits on parliament hill in house of near the house of commons. And one page at a time was being turned. So you had to be there on that day to see a relative’s name in the book. Wow. And they trusted us and our students to get the proper equipment. And we digitized it page by page and put it online in, in early nineties so that anyone could see their relatives names in the book. So the students that worked on that, you knew they weren’t doing it for a mark. You know, they were doing it to make a difference. And the second project they gave us was digitizing RTO hall. So looking at what happens with the governor general, and I took a group of students in the summer, a small group, they got to meet the governor general.
Tom D’Amico (16:52):
They got picture is they got the back behind the scenes tour and they had so much pride in all their, all of their work. So those were some early things in my career that I really saw the advantages of technology and what students could do with their passions. So my roots from there was I, I had been tapped on the shoulder by some other leaders to say, you should consider adminis. I loved teaching. I didn’t wanna leave teaching, but I took the courses just in case I wanted to open those doors later on. And sure enough, once I had taken the two courses, there’s a principals part one and a principals part two course. I was offered opportunity. I had to lead the school and go to another school as a vice principal. And I loved that role because as a vice principal, some people think the vice principle is both the disciplinarian.
Tom D’Amico (17:40):
And I think of a vice principle approaches. That is their job. It’s not gonna be a very fulfilling role. Yeah. If all you’re doing is chasing kids for skipping class and dealing with kids that were smoking on property, et cetera. But I viewed it as a chance to build relationships and help students that sometimes people call ’em at risk. I, I would call ’em students that need the most support. Mm. So the ones that need the most support are the ones that I had an opportunity now, regardless of who their teachers were to try and help them. And I wasn’t always successful and I made mistakes. But for many, I, I would think that I hoped that I was able to help them make some better decisions. And when they made wrong decisions, whether it was a suspension or detention, make them feel that when they were back, you have another shot, keep going.
Tom D’Amico (18:24):
You know, you turn that page. You’re not gonna be painted with a brush that you’re, you’re a bad person. You’ve made mistakes. So that was my experience as a VP. And then I had the opportunity for a principal. And as a principal, you delegate a lot of the tasks to your VP. So I, I think you have even more opportunity to shape culture as a principal. Mm. So as a principal, you can really delegate some of the day to day managerial tasks and you have a lot of time to work on leadership. So I loved being a principal, both in a couple, several schools. I was a principal at, I left the board at one point, I was doing the continuing education department, ed and ESL. And I left to become a general manager of Malcolm cross-cultural training. So it was just because I had that entrepreneurial spirit and the business side, I took a leave of absence from the board and started working from Malcolm.
Tom D’Amico (19:18):
And it was fabulous because you were going into companies, helping them with their equity. Again, the timing, this is 2001. So we’re looking at different society 20 years ago. And when the tragedy on September 11th hit, all of a sudden our services were in so much demand because companies needed people to come in to help people learn how to get along and not be fearful of people from other cultures. So I had to make the decision whether to buy into the company and make that a new career change or go back to education because I was on a one year leave of absence. Mm. And what I missed was the community. So I, I did let the owner know that I appreciated the opportunity and I was choosing to go back to the board. So I went back to the school board and give up that business side because I missed just dealing with people so much not having to deal about money and setting contracts and all, all of those areas.
Tom D’Amico (20:16):
So I came back and became a principal at a downtown school in Ottawa and backed a lot of high school, which I, I loved. I was there for six years, which is wonderful because you get to see students coming in. We were a seven to 12 school. So I got to see students coming in grade seven and then see them grad like grade 12. And you can see how much people changed from, you know, 11 to 12 year old to a 17 year old. Mm. And then from there a lot of these were tapping on shoulders. So I always took the courses I needed to be available if I decided to do something else, but I, I never left a job because I didn’t like it. I’ve always loved every job I’ve had. But one of the things, the next step, if you’re looking at a hierarchy is a superintendent and our board auto Catholic operates in a very flat model.
Tom D’Amico (21:02):
So although there are different positions, we really always have believe that leadership can be with or without a title, and everyone has a role to play. But I took the courses I needed because to become a superintendent, you have to do your supervisory officer qualification programs. So I, I did take those and sure enough, an opportunity came and technology and I applied and was successful, but it’s not just technology that portfolio. I also had the equity portfolio. I had the data portfolio, the, the computers, I had families at schools. So I got to work with, with principals. And I, I learned more skills in that, in those areas. And then there was an opportunity to switch into human resources. So I, I moved into superintendent of human resources and, and again, you’re, you’re dealing with good and bad, right? So there’s some good things or some bad things that happen.
Tom D’Amico (21:51):
We, we, at the time probably about 4,500 employees now we’re up to 6,000 employees. So you’re looking at little city, so good and bad things will, will happen. But I think as a leader, as an educator, you need to anticipate that there will be bad days and bad things happen, but then move on it from them and not get your judgment clouded by when you’re stuck with a bad thing, move on to all the good things you can do. And then the structure in our board was we have an associate director that all the superintendents report to, and then the director. So I ended up becoming the associate director for five years. And then two years ago, I switched the roles to director when one of my mentors said, Denise, Andre retired as director. And I was easy, easily easy for me to move into her position. All of us have different styles. So you’re never trying to be the leader that you’re replacing, but you’re trying to build on what they had built before you, so that’s been my my journey. Wow.
Sam Demma (22:46):
What a diverse experience. It’s, it’s really cool to hear all the different positions you’ve worked in and what you learn from each of them, and also how you think they impact the school and the community. And like you’re saying, the mini city that is a board, a board of education where do you think your beliefs, values and principles come from, you know, as an educator, because what you shared with me at each of those steps, your beliefs and values and how, although there’s bad things, you know, you want to focus on the good, and, you know, when you, you know, you had principles in the way that you dealt with students, like where did you, where did you get all those insights and principles and values from?
Tom D’Amico (23:24):
Yeah, everyone is different. Sam was I’m sure. You know, but I, I would say for me, it started in my house with my, in my, both my parents, I, I grew, grew up in a, a Catholic household with two Catholic educators. So I obviously saw them model. And I think I was taught at a young age that, although we didn’t, we were, I would say middle class, we never went without food or had some of the challenges that I know many youth have in our city. But we didn’t have a lot. So, you know, both my parents were when they were both teaching teaching, didn’t pay a lot back in the seventies and when I was growing up but we had what we needed. And I think I learned the value of hard from them. I learned the value of sharing, what you have when you do have enough that you help others.
Tom D’Amico (24:11):
So I would say it came largely from my parents and from my faith, but then my own experiences in my schools. I I’ve always believed that it’s a sort of a silly saying, but experience comes from experience, not from age . So when I was growing up, you know, a lot of times you could see people. And even though as a young educator, some of the students are always waiting to leave. They’re waiting for the next year. You know, you’re in grade eight, I’m gonna wait till I’m in high school in grade nine grade nine, you think, well, I’m just a, a, a rookie in grade nine. I’ll wait until I get into grade 10 before I take a leadership role. And then in grade 10, you think, well, I’m gonna be a senior in grade 11, and then you wait to grade 12 and by then you’ve missed four years or opportunity to lead.
Tom D’Amico (24:53):
So I’ve always believed that that anyone can lead at any time at any age. And the role of the adults is to remove some of those barriers and to help people with resources. So even as an educator, as a principal, I may not always be dealing with students. It could be staff, but I think those values are there. That don’t be so quick to say no to a, to a creative idea instead look at, well, what are the, not just the pros and cons, but what can I do to help them to see what can be done? And is the timing, the issue? Is it the resort to the issues, but always look at what we can do with, with youth, you know, we, we had someone that wanted to start a belly dance club. So I remember as a principal thinking, is this a joke?
Tom D’Amico (25:37):
Am I being set up? And when I looked into it, no, this was someone that, that’s what they did in the community. And they were good at it. And they wanted a way to let their peers know that this is what they could do. So brought than saying, no, you can’t, because this is gonna be problematic. It’s find a teacher supervisor. If you can find a teacher, supervisor, we’ll support where you need to get it going. I think it only lasted for a year or two, but for that student, it, it made a difference. So that’s where I would say that what’s what shaped and formed me as well as some fabulous mentors. I always look to mentors and leaders and ask them questions, looked at what can I learn from them? But I’ve never tried to replicate a leader. As I said, I’ve always tried to build on those skills.
Tom D’Amico (26:19):
And I think that’s another area where some people experience some, some failures is they see someone really strong or a great idea at one school and they try and replicate that person’s skillset or that idea instead of how do I iterate it, how do I take what’s working there and now apply it to my context. And certainly with equity, it’s so important to look at the cultural backgrounds of our students before taking an idea and saying, well, this is working at this school. If I need to look at that school and say, yeah, it’s working. And it’s a, you know, far majority Italian background, as opposed to another school, far majority Filipino background. I need to understand who I’m supporting and then recognize within that you have also other subcultures and different areas to look at. So that would be my my experience growing
Sam Demma (27:09):
Up. Oh, that’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing. I have to ask too, cuz you mentioned computers and you know, the board having three of them and how expensive they were. And my dad used to tell me growing up that they’d use these things called floppy disks. Do you remember, do you remember this?
Tom D’Amico (27:24):
I could bet your dad on that because even before floppy discs I actually did take a course in, in high school when I was in grade 10 or 11 and it, it happened to be computer programming. So although I said, I didn’t have any background, I took one course. And the way it worked to Sam was we had these bubble. So we had to program, we had these cards that had ones and zeros and you had to fill ’em in by pencil to write your program. They would then get mailed to the university of Waterloo and they would send it back about a week later and let you know where the errors were. So it was just unbelievable how awful that process was. Wow. and then yes, I started my first computer had a tape drive, so it wasn’t even a floppy disc.
Tom D’Amico (28:10):
It was a tape drive. And then from that, there were different sizes of floppy discs. So I’ve experienced all of those up to today’s. I, I try and stay as current as I can with the technologies, but they, they certainly have gone through lots of iterations and I member even records. So record records. I had a record in my garage and my daughters are both adults now, but at one point she saw this record in the garage and she said, dad were the CD ROMs ever big at your, in your age? had to explain to her, it wasn’t a CD rom it was a, a record for a record player. So that’s, funny’s a fun activity taking some of those items and give them to young children now and say, what do you think this
Sam Demma (28:48):
Is? I heard old cell phones used to be massive too. carrying around a brick. But
Tom D’Amico (28:53):
Yes, we had a staff member at my, at my first job as a teacher in, in 1990. He had a brief case that he carried around with them and in the briefcase was the cell phone. Wow. Cause he had a part-time job in the construction industry. And so when we would be on break in the staff room, he would take out this phone, which was literally you know, probably 10 to 15 times today’s phones. Look, it looked like a really large walkie talkie. Yeah. And that was one of the first cell phones that I ever saw and saw someone using. So we we’d come a long way.
Sam Demma (29:25):
So if you could travel will not back to the future, but back to the past and you know, speak to yourself in your first year of education, both the experience that you’ve gone through and the wisdom you’ve gleaned now, like what advice would you give your younger self walking into that classroom?
Tom D’Amico (29:43):
That, that’s a great question. And not having thought of that one prior to right now, the two things that come to mind one of them is letting myself know that there’s going to be bad days, but there’s gonna be way more good days. And that would be at my, my earlier advice. But I think early in my teaching career, it was so hard with teaching six different subjects that I wasn’t prepped for. There weren’t all the resources that we have now today. And every night staying up so late just thinking, you know, how am I ever gonna keep up? So that would be one piece of advice I would give myself, just know there’s gonna be bad days and expect it. And then you can move on. There’s gonna be way more good days. That would, that would be one key piece of advice.
Tom D’Amico (30:29):
And I guess the other piece I would give now is knowing that you can, you’ll never be able to accomplish everything, whether it’s teaching or it’s leading. So you have to know when to stop and when to say no to take care of yourself. So that, that reflects wellbeing. So, you know, if you’re, whether it’s marking as a teacher or it’s working on the perfect assignment, a lot of these are lessons learned during the pandemic. But I think my message to a younger self would’ve been don’t aim for perfection aim to do your best and sometimes doing your best. You means not doing everything could be missing deadlines. It could mean not having the best perfect assignment like something that might take two hours only spending an hour, an hour and a half and leaving that half hour for you for your own wellness and wellbeing. That would be my advice because there’s a lot of workaholics in, in teaching and a lot of type a personalities and that’s not necessarily healthy. And it’s, it shouldn’t be a badge of honor to say that you work till midnight, seven days a week. Mm. And the badge of honor would be, I, I worked to get enough done to be appropriate and support all my students, but also to dedicate time to myself and my family. I, I think that’s a shift that we need to continue to see.
Sam Demma (31:45):
I love that. And what do you think are some of the opportunities and some of the challenges that exist in education today as well? I know, you know, it’s changed a lot over the years and I think every year offers a new learning but yeah. What do you think are some of the, both the challenges and opportunities
Tom D’Amico (32:02):
Re reflecting that I’m doing the podcast with you during the pandemic. I mean, that obviously brings the challenges right away challenges during the pandemic have been huge because people are coming into schools with fear and having experienced trauma. And I think one of those challenges is that sometimes we just focus in the last two years, the pandemic being the physical, if you don’t catch COVID, you’re all good, but that’s not reality that people are afraid. They’re afraid they’re gonna catch COVID, they’re afraid they’re going to either lose their life. Or even if they’re not worried about they’re gonna catch it and spread it to someone else like, but so we have to have the opportunity there is for trauma-informed teaching and trauma-informed teaching needs, focusing on relationships. So I think that’s a real positive that’s come out of a pandemic and the people have seen the need to support one another, whether it’s student or staff, but also to have check-ins to check-ins to see how are you doing?
Tom D’Amico (32:57):
And it goes back to what I said about 1990s which really worked for me, was getting to know people first in subject second, we’ve had to intentionally do that during the pandemic to make sure are you okay? Are you, you know, is your family getting food? Do you have internet? Do you need a device before we can worry about teaching? The other challenge I’ll highlight and it’s, it’s a good one. And being called to task in this, in our current world, in society with the injustice of equity. So I, I, I use poverty as one example, but we’ve certainly seen anti-Asian racism. We’ve seen anti-black racism. We’ve seen challenges for members of the LG T. There’s so many unjust situations right now that we have to do better. And we have to recognize we just finished national truth and reconciliation day yesterday in orange shirt day.
Tom D’Amico (33:50):
That’s a sad chapter of our country, but we have to recognize it and learn from it and make things better. So those are the opportunities that as we recognize the problems, we can make them better. I’ll, I’ll give an example from our board. And I’m just taking one piece of equity. It could be many different areas of equity. So we have students that are, are black in our schools and our high schools, and what we’ve created are black student associations, so that they have more of a voice and they can look for what change are needed. And that’s a great opportunity to create those groups for, for equity seeking groups, but also to give ’em a voice. And so what I did as director was I said, I want to take one student from each of these black student associations and create an advisory committee so they can meet with me as director.
Tom D’Amico (34:37):
And we meet about every six weeks and they can tell me what’s going well. And what’s going well in our schools. And then being in a, in a privileged position of leadership and having some power, I’m able to try and implement some changes for the changes coming because of them. So they’re identifying things. We will have another black student association form, I think November 18th, this, this current school year. And I took part last year. I, I just listened. I, I was there and students led everything and they shared some terrible stories. So when they share stories of someone using the N word and how it made them feel, or seeing an educator that didn’t react when that was done, or didn’t know how to react having someone you know, read to kill a Mockingbird, you know, things that we can change structurally that we just hadn’t done.
Tom D’Amico (35:24):
So I think those are challenges, but they’re great opportunities. Black lives matter movement that can be really difficult in a school, or it can be empowering. So we need to find ways to do things appropriately and to empower youth so that they see that they can make changes, cuz they can make changes. We had a school, not all of our Catholic schools in Ottawa have dress code. Only four. I believe of the 15 have not dress code. They all have dress code, but they have uniforms. So two examples one of our schools they went the principal and they said, we wanna do something more for black lives matter. And we’ve designed a t-shirt and we wanna sell the t-shirt and the principal was completely giving them power by saying, I think that’s Agus idea. And what if we make that shirt be allowed as part of the uniform?
Tom D’Amico (36:12):
So people don’t have to just wear the school uniform that can also wear that and, and what a great activity. It, it raised money and the money went to a graduate of nut school who was raising money for a program. I believe it was in Uganda starting a, a sports program there. So it was just one thing after another, that was really positive out of their, these students generating that idea. Another example would be the group that met with me saying, you know, we have a bad policy in our board that students can’t wear bandanas. And it, it really reiterates inappropriate conclusions that a student wearing a bandana is part of a gang. And it’s an outdated concept that we just never changed. And it doesn’t reflect the fact that there needs to be some culture awareness that some headgear should be allowed in schools.
Tom D’Amico (37:02):
Yes. You could say a baseball cap is not gonna be allowed cause we’ve seen that as honor respect, but there are other headgear that is culturally appropriate. So we changed our policy because of those students. And now each school is going back and they’re implementing it and they’ll have some challenges because some people will push it to limits because that’s something teenagers do. And, and we need to expect them to push the limits and find what a reasonable solution or balance is. So those are challenges that have resulted in new opportunities and I feel are resulting in, in a better school board, overall, a more educated staff and a more educated group of leaders. As, as we continue to look at a, do we improve equity and how do we learn we’re on the same journey together. It sounds
Sam Demma (37:43):
Like a very student-centric view that you and your colleagues in the school board has, which is awesome. It’s cool to hear the different challenges, but also the equal seat of opportunity in each of them and how the, how those things are being brought to life in the schools. If another educator is listening and is at all inspired by this convers or enjoy to laugh about old technology and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to, you know, shoot you a message what would be the best way for them to reach out?
Tom D’Amico (38:10):
So if it’s an educator, I would say Twitter (@TDOttawa). I know I have not reached the platform I need to be on for our students. So I should be on TikTok and Instagram. our school board is I’m not, but it’s on my learning path to, it just keeps changing. But I know for students they are there and I work with our students and for them, I have to teach them how to use email so that they can email me. But that’s the other path, certainly just do a search for our school board, Tom D’Amico, co-director of education that can email me Director@ocsb.ca. I will respond to every email I receive usually within 24 hours. That’s my, my time to get back to people and on, on Twitter, because it’s such a fabulous way for educators to share what they’re doing.
Tom D’Amico (38:58):
I’m always on Twitter just to lurk to see what their people are doing and to respond. We have 83 schools, so it’s not possible for me to get 83 schools, but in 30 minutes, as long as they’ve used common hashtags, I can see what’s happening right across our board. And then recognizing not everyone’s on Twitter. We have to also find other ways to, to be there in person when we can. And for our, for our students, I do know that our, we have a student Senate that our associate director meets with and I try and make those meetings when I can they’re on Instagram. So they will share all as much as they can. The great successes at their stories with other student, Senate leaders and student council co-presidents so they can borrow ideas and then modify them to make them work at their schools.
Sam Demma (39:43):
Awesome. That’s amazing. I love the hashtag idea too. Tom, thank you so much for taking some time outta your day to come on the show here today. I really appreciate it. It’s been an honor chatting with you about your philosophies, values and journey throughout education. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.
Tom D’Amico (39:58):
Yep. Perfect. Thanks Sam. Really appreciate it. Take care.
Sam Demma (40:02):
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 for. 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 promise. I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
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