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Student Leadership

Mac Fred Mbonimpa — Event and activities coordinator at the Student Association of College La Cité

Mac Fred Mbonimpa — event and activities coordinator at the Student Association of College La Cité
About Mac Fred Mbonimpa

Mac Fred Mbonimpa (@MbonimpaMac), is the event and activities coordinator at the Student Association of College La Cité. After his graduation 2 years ago at college La Cité, Mac started his professional career at La Cité in events as the event coordinator.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa has been a dedicated and accomplished event coordinator at College La Cité, bringing a wealth of expertise and creativity to the realm of event planning. With a passion for creating memorable experiences for students, Mac has played a pivotal role in organizing and executing a variety of successful events for the college community.

Throughout his tenure, Mac has demonstrated a keen eye for detail, ensuring that every event is meticulously planned and flawlessly executed. He has collaborated with various stakeholders, including faculty, staff, and students, to bring innovative and engaging events to life.

One of Mac’s notable strengths lies in his ability to adapt to diverse event requirements. From academic conferences to cultural celebrations, as he was an international student himself, he has consistently delivered events that resonate with attendees and leave a lasting impression.

Mac is not only known for his organizational prowess but also for his exceptional communication skills. He has fostered positive relationships with vendors, sponsors, and participants, contributing to the overall success of each event.

As Mac reflects on his career as an event coordinator at College La Cité, he takes pride in the collective achievements and the positive impact created through memorable and well-executed events.

Connect with Mac: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

College La Cité

Student Association at College La Cité

Canadian Organization of Campus Activities (COCA)

COCA Conferences

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. This is your host, Sam Demma. And today I have a very special guest, a young guest, someone that I met this past summer at a conference called COCA, the Canadian Association of Campus Activities. And we connected, we stayed in touch. This young man is doing amazing work in the university space, in the college space at La Cite, as an event programmer. Today’s special guest is Mac Fred Mbonimpa. Mack, please start by introducing yourself.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
Thank you, Sam. Yeah, as you said, my name is Mac Fred Mbonimpa. I’m an event coordinator at La Cite College. It’s my second year as the occupying that post, and it’s been a great experience. As you said, we met in COCA. It’s a conference that happens every summer where universities and colleges, event coordinators and artists and everyone with talent get together to meet and to experience a good, the magic of events, I’ll say like that. Magical events and marketing, programming. Yeah, and I think it was a good experience there at COCA. I went there as an event coordinator and Sam was there as a, I’d say, a keynote speaker going to meet others, right? So I don’t know if I said it right, but this is where we met and we connected. And I’m glad that he invited me today. It’s a pleasure. So tell me a little bit about the work that you do with La Cite and what got you interested in events? Because I know you not only do work with the college,

Sam Demma
So tell me a little bit about the work that you do with La Cite and what got you interested in events? Because I know you not only do work with the college, but you also just love the magic of events in general. So where did that passion start? And tell me about the work that you do.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
To be honest, when I started, I just finished college and I didn’t know what to do because I wasn’t planning to stay here in Canada. I was thinking of getting my PR and go back to Burundi, but I got a chance, I was working in Quebec City in a car dealership, and I had a friend who worked at the Students’ Association of Les Clay Collegiales. And he called me, he was like, oh, Mark, I know you just graduated and we’re looking for someone in events. And I know you, he’s a friend of mine, I know you, we go out sometime together, and I know your vibe and I know it’s something you would do. And I was like, okay, well, what is the job exactly? It was like, you know, you’ll be coordinating events. I was like, okay, never done that. Instead of, it’s not my birthday or my sister’s birthday. So, I was like, okay, I graduated in business administration. And so I thought I would be doing, going to work in an administration somewhere in a hospital or something like that before I get my PR. And I wasn’t happy where I was in Quebec City. I wasn’t feeling good because I was so far from the family, so far from the friends. I was alone there. And the sales were not going good. I wasn’t selling that much. So I was like, okay, I’ll give it a try. What is the interview? He’s like, okay, you can just submit your CV. I submitted it and then I had the interview. It was a Friday and I came back from work so pissed because I was trying to negotiate with my boss to raise my pay because I wasn’t selling and I wasn’t getting that much money. So he said, he wasn’t agreeing with me. So I was like, oh, I have an interview for a job. And that was, in Quebec City, I went there for my internship when I finished. So I just finished and I heard it’s a job at La Cité and I lived like three minutes from La Cité. I was like, that’s good. So I didn’t know what I’m going into. I go to the interview, Al was there, Allen was there, and they were interviewing me, asking me questions about the student association. I didn’t know anything. I was like, what do we do at the student association? It’s like, I went three years at Slashy Tether. I don’t know anything about the student association. It was so bad. But when it came to my character, when it came to talking, animating, you know, cause I was young too. So he said, it’s a really, it’s a job. It’s a good job when you’re young cause you’re more motivated, more ready to move, more ready to organize and be more creative. So Al liked me like that. He was like, okay, thank you. After the interview was good. And he was like, okay, we’ll call you back. And I call my friend, the friend, I was like, man, I just did the interview. And I think, I don’t know how he went, but I missed some questions. And my friend was like, okay, we’re gonna see. And I get another call back like two minutes after, and I didn’t know it was Alain. So he’s like, hey, I get the call. I’m like, I thought he’s one of my friends, that was the same friend who just called me. I picked up the phone, I was like, yo. And I was like, hi, I’m Al, we were in the interview together. I was like, oh, I’m sorry, I thought it was my friend, Colin, so I felt so down, like, wow, I just, this is my potential boss, and I’m paying you. But he said, you know, you start on Tuesday. I was like, what? You start on Tuesday. So five minutes after the interview, I got the job. Wow. I was so impressed. And he told me the pay and I was so glad and so happy. And he told me that I’ll be working like from home when I want. So it’s like a really easy job to do. Like you can be home, you can work from school. If I don’t have any event, I can be working from home. I was like, that’s so good. And I’m still in Quebec city, which is five hours from Ottawa and I’m starting on Tuesday. So I was like, wow. So Saturday I go, I see my boss. I’m like, man, according to the discussion we had yesterday, I thought about it. I can’t stay here. And going back to Ottawa, I was like, okay. But we had a good relationship with my boss. He’s young. But I wasn’t agreeing to what he was proposing. So I went back, I came back to Ottawa and then I started on Tuesday and Alan told me the first day he was like, the reason why I chose you is because I saw you’re a guy who’s motivated, energetic and everything. So I want you to use that to learn, to learn because for real I had zero experience in it, zero. So and Al is a good teacher, I would say that Al’s been my mentor in events. He knows, I always tell him that most of everything I know I learned it from you. So it was in May I think, yeah it was in May. So the school was starting in September so I had a lot of months to learn. So we started, we started, he taught me everything from cables, how to keep cables, how to keep them, how to roll everything, how to use mics, how to sign contracts. He taught me, we used that summer to prepare the September and I was learning. And two weeks after it was COCA. Two weeks after that I got the job was COCA. So it was a good thing for me. I went to Koka and then I met the schools. I met many people who do my job and I didn’t know anything about my job. And that’s what I’ll tell people. Once you have an experience, everything, you don’t know anything. So it was a good time, was a good time. You know, Koka, we were partying every day. And some, after that, I was like, wow, everyone is organized. Everyone has their shit together. Everyone has their things lined up, you know, almost asking, can you show me your schedule? Can you show me your September calendar? I was like, I don’t have any of that. But the good thing, we had a group chat and we were like, we would be sharing ideas, asking questions, you know. So this is what helped me too. COCA helped me a lot. So because in September, at some point, I had like weeks when I didn’t have anything planned. I was like, okay, I don’t have any more ideas. And I would ask friends from COCA. So it really helped me. This is where I started. So by the time it was in September, I was ready to start. It was a good time and a good experience.

Sam Demma
So two years ago, Al asked you the question, what does the Student Association do? The Student Union. And you didn’t have an answer. Let me ask you that now again, so you can redeem yourself. What does the Student Association do, Mac?

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
The Student Association is, I’ll call it, it’s like the parent, your parent, when you are in school, by the time you’re in school, it’s your parent because it gives you everything you need, they’re capable of giving you, except from academic wise. So they deal with the student life. So what we do in the Student Association, we give you insurance, we give you, we have the bank food, we have, say, any question you have, any questions students have, they can come to our offices and we’ll figure out a way to answer them. Yeah, so we make sure we’re diverse, we include everyone. So I’ll say something I missed as a student was a student association, because I didn’t know it existed. If I knew, I feel like my college life would have been better, because I could have enjoyed the privileges, I could have used it, I could have used the insurance, I could have used the many things that we give. I could have participated to the events, to the activities organized every time. So I was that kind of student who used to go from school after my class or go back home. But now I’m always advocating to say, stay, stay, check, check our IG, check. You know, we have things planned for you. We have gifts. We give a lot of gifts to students. We have students who can’t afford groceries. We have a food bank. So I’ll say we manage the student’s life. So this is how I can explain it in easy words.

Sam Demma
One of the things I know you’re passionate about being an international student yourself is ensuring that every student on campus feels like they have a community, feels like they’re a part of the community, that they belong, that they’re taken care of. Tell me a little bit about your passion for ensuring international students also feel welcomed and supported through their university and college experience.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
So I feel like the way I can explain it, I’ll say international students, they arrive in Canada and they arrive as, it’s their first year, first winter, first everything, right, mostly. And the person that they go to look for help is gonna be other people from the same country. You know, I’ll go look for another Burundian to ask him questions. But the other Burundian asked another Burundian. And we stay in Canada, but we stay in Burundi. Gotcha. So we keep the mentality from Burundi. And you never get to experience the Canada’s, what Canada gives, at the gifts, you know, or you don’t, you know, they don’t learn how to, how to use their credit cards. They don’t learn how to get a good job, how to have a, you know, so I feel like this is where they get stuck. Because they come here, they don’t have a family. So they go find families in their friends and their friends, which is good, though, but their friends are bringing them like them. So they’ll go to school and go back home. So go back home to their friends. So what I always trying to do is always do activities that are Canadian, like more of that shows you the Canadian culture. Like, let me say like last this month, we did a buffet and the buffet was really like, was a Canadian, the Canadian culture. The Canadian culture one, we were giving turkeys, things like that.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
So, and I wanted the international student to know what is the Christmas of Canadians? What is, what do they do during this time? You know, I know sometimes that it doesn’t align with their cultures and religion, which is good, which we respect. But if it aligns, you should try it. In gen, I’m planning to take students to ski, to do some hikes, to things like that. So yeah, so I always, when I’m organizing events, I always go to look for the international department. And I’m like, yo, I’m not asking any of your budgets, but I’m asking that you promote these activities because I want international students to participate. Because we’re two different departments, international department and our department is two different. They have their own it’s, it goes back to, they try to align to their culture, right? But, so what I always fight for is them to know, them to learn, and be, have friends, Canadian friends, to be open, to be open to have, at some point, I’d say, when I was in college, I didn’t have, I had friends but mostly was friends from Ivory Coast because I’m trying to find people like me, I’m trying to find people who think like me but once you participate in those activities you will meet other people. They will explain to you, you go to watch a hockey game, you don’t know anything about it, you have another friend sitting, another colleague, classmate sitting next to you. He’s a Canadian. He will explain everything to you and you’ll like the sport. I didn’t watch, I watched the first game of hockey. I was so confused. I was like, why, why everybody’s going out, who’s left with two people? Why is there many things, many? But if you have a friend, you should go there with a team, with a group. You, you, you, you learn and you make friends and maybe you like the sports, you know. So this is something I always advocate for. I’m so, so close to the international department because of that, because they understood it and now we’re really working together. it’s been a good thing to the students because last month we had the hockey tournament or organized by our team, our hockey team. And we had many schools coming and I was asked to find volunteers to work on that tournament. I was like, why not look for international students to volunteer?

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
So I went to the international department and they sent like a big team of international students to work there. They arrived early in the morning, they taught them how to use the timer, how to see foes, things like that. And at the end of the day, they liked the game. They’re like, you see, you came, you didn’t know anything about hockey, but you were controlling the game. You were putting the points out, you know, things like that. So, and it’s a good experience. They liked it, and this is something that gives me joy, because I’m like, didn’t get that chance, but let me try to give it to international students, yeah.

Sam Demma
I think that’s what most educators aspire to do when they get a similar job in education. It’s to make a life of a human being better, to provide them with a unique experience that they know will enhance their lives or that they didn’t have in the past, so they want to give it to others. It sounds like collaboration is a big part of your strategy, not competing with other departments, but collaborating, ensuring that everyone works together to provide the best possible experience to students. In your experience, how do you effectively build relationships with students on campus so that they trust you and they come to you and they have questions and they want to ask you things? How do you build that relationship?

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
First of all, I’ll say it’s easy for them because they think I’m a student. I had friends, student friends, realizing one month after, two months after that, I’m a staff, I’m a full-time staff. I’m like, oh, for real, you graduated?

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
And I’m like, you didn’t know? You think the whole time that I spent at school is because I’m a good student? So, yeah, so first of all, that’s the first thing is they relate. They relate. They feel like we’re in the same group of age. And the second thing, I feel like I don’t… What would I say? Yeah, I make them my friends. I make them my friends. I try to listen when I can, because sometimes it’s hard to deal with students. Sometimes they don’t wanna listen. But, and I feel like I have this way of approaching people with, I don’t know, I had a student who came to our office was so, so, so pissed off. This is an example I’m gonna give you. So pissed off, he was from another campus and he came and he was loud telling everyone in our department how we’re not helping the other campus, things like that. And then I arrived, I saw him, he was a guy like around my age. I was like, so because I saw the other staff, because they’re more older, they were trying to calm him down and I took him outside and I’m like, oh bro, let’s go and talk. So I talked to him like another friend, like I was like, don’t think I’m one of them, like I’m, you know, okay, what’s your problem? You know, you don’t have to say it like that because, you know, people listen when you come, you know, people, this is how people gonna like you because if they want to help you, they have to like you first, you know, they have to like the way you approach them. So yeah, and he came and we talked, like we talked and after it’s where he realized, oh, oh, you’re one of them too. You know, like you work with them, but I gave him his answers, but he didn’t realize that because I didn’t come with the approach of being, I’m not gonna say, I’m not gonna use this word, I was gonna say being too polite, you know how teachers talk to students, like, oh, calm down. I came like a friend, I came like, yo, bro, let’s go and talk outside, you know. And it really helped him, it really, we answered his questions and it really helped me too to engage with him. So I feel like, I don’t know how to name it, but I’m more, I’m easy to talk to because you would feel like I’m approachable.

Sam Demma
I was going to say the word that comes to mind for me is authentic. You are the same, whether you’re talking to your friends or you’re talking to a student, it’s just Mac. People probably resonate with that because there’s no different version of you. This is what you get. And I’m sure students appreciate that because maybe in certain scenarios, they feel like they’re being talked down to, or they feel like the person talking to them is exercising their superiority or the fact that they’re in a position of power, whereas you approach it just like a human. Hey man, let’s go talk. So it sounds like collaboration, authenticity are two of the big things you’ve kind of shared and talked about so far. I’m curious, in the 2024 school year with event programming, what are some of the experiences that you and the team are working on that you’re really excited about providing to students on campus? And if there isn’t one in the future that you’re excited about, maybe you can reflect on one that happened in 2023 that you’re really proud of? 

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
Yeah, I’ll say I’m part of one event we did last year. It was during the Black History Month. It was called a multicultural show. Nice. Where we had many artists from all over different cultures. Like we had even Burundian drummers, of course, I have to represent.

Sam Demma
Nice.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
But we had, like, we had a, it was a good show. It was a really beautiful and gave us, gave us good points. Like I would say, students liked it. Like, it helped us recruiting other students because they were like, oh, this is what they do at La Cite. So it was a good event. And I’m planning to redo it this year. And this year we’re trying to do it in two separate forms. We’re trying to have a panel inviting businessmen, black businessmen, politicians to come and have a panel discussion with students. They’ll be asking questions. That will be the first event. The second event will be the multicultural show again. So, which is good, which I’m excited to see again. But the second one that I’m really, really working on and I’m trying to put all my efforts in it because I feel like I’m ready for next year. But when it comes, I always like new challenges. I always like new events that I’ve never done. But the event that I’m planning, but I’ve done it last year, but in a small way. I did it, it wasn’t a big event. It’s called Cité Talon, it’s a talent show. It’s a, yeah, a big talent show. I’m planning to organize a big talent show this year. I want, my goal organizing this is for students, for the winner, who wins Cité Talon, I want him to feel like he’s a talented person. He can use that, he can put it in his CV and say, I won at La Cité among us many students. So, always work on how big is the event, how did you organize this? Because last year we did it, but it wasn’t that big. The prize the student would win last year he would win $300 and go to and have a trip to Peterborough to participate in other talent shows between schools. So this year I want I want hours to be big, hours to be… I want many students to participate. I want to be ready in advance. And yeah, I’m still figuring you out, thinking what kind of prices would we give, you know, what kind of things we would give the student to feel like it’s another value to his talent. He would, you know, I’m gonna use you as an example, right?

Sam Demma
Okay.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
For example, like when we’re presenting Sam Demma, we can say Sam Demma has been on TV, Sam Demma has been on TED Talk. So these are things that adds value to your name. So things like that. So I want students to mention, oh, I’ve won La Cité talent show. So this is what I’m working on. And I hope it’s gonna be good. I hope the budget is going to match. I hope everything is going to be good. But yeah, I’m so excited for the event. Yeah.

Sam Demma
It sounds awesome. I think it would give so many students an opportunity to shine their light. There’s probably so many young people on campus who have passions, who have interests that nobody else knows about because they don’t have an opportunity to share it. And this talent show is going to give them an opportunity to showcase that talent in front of everybody and be recognized for it, which is really cool, especially for international students that may have a barrier to connect with people. But an activity, a talent is universal. You don’t have to speak the language to share, share your light or showcase a talent. So I’m excited to see it come together. La Cité’s got talent, you know, it’s kind of like Canada’s got talent.

Sam Demma
Well, it’s really great to hear about some of the things you have planned for the new year and the event that went well last year. If you need some connections to some business people to sit on your panel, I happen to know a few that I think would match what you’re looking for and that could do a really great job for you. So reach out to me after this conversation is done. But tell me to wrap this up, if you could go back in time to when you were just starting your position at La Cité, when you didn’t know anything about the role, you’re overwhelmed, stressed out, maybe even a little bit anxious, if you could go back in time and speak to that version of yourself, but knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself? What advice would you give?

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
I’ll give him first, a word of encouragement. I’ll be like, the Reds, it’s a good experience. It’s something you don’t wanna miss, you know, because I feel like, 100% events are so hard to do. So complicated that demands a lot of details, small, small details. You forget one, you’re done. You forget one, you lose a lot of money. But yeah, I’ll say, I’d say to Mark, to be more organized, to be more organized, plan these things ahead. To know that as the more you’re organized, the more you have space to plan for others, the more you see what’s missing. And then I feel like this is the thing I didn’t know, I didn’t have in me, is the organization, organize my documents, keep my things together, write everything down, give myself tasks and due dates, you know, things like that. That would have helped me a lot when I started, but, you know, I had to learn it through experience and I feel like I’m still learning, but it’s a good thing. So, but one is be ready, you enjoy. To this day I’ve never went to work not happy. I’m a believer so I always thank God for having gave me this job because I like it and then I’m willing to continue doing it. So yeah, so I would say I would out there.

Sam Demma
Mac, thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate hearing your reflections. I appreciate your time, your energy, your passion for the work that you do. Keep up the amazing work. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, all the best in 2024. And I hope that our paths cross again sometime soon.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
Thank you very much, Sam. Yeah, happy holidays to you and your family. Wish you, I already texted you what I wish you for 2024, but I said it again, I wish you more success, man, and I’m so proud to be your friend, because I’m, you know, it’s a flex. It’s a flex.

Sam Demma
Appreciate you, brother, thank you. Thank you so much. Thanks.

Mac Fred Mbonimpa
Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mac Fred Mbonimpa

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

Michael Saretzky — Recipient of the Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM

Michael Saretzky — Recipient of the Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM
About Michael Saretzky

After graduating from the University of Victoria’s Education program in Cranbrook, BC, Michael Saretzky started teaching in Fox Creek, AB. Michael spent three years there teaching a variety of grades from grade 5 to grade 11. After his time there, Michael moved with his wife, Shauna, to Hinton, where they both taught for 9 years, even teaching PE 8 together. While in Hinton, Michael taught mainly grade 8, and social studies. It was also in Hinton where Michael started his Master’s in Educational Technology through UBC. Also in Hinton, Michael and Shauna had their two children, Peyton and Macy.

In 2017, Michael and Shauna made the move to Red Deer, AB, to be closer to family. In Red Deer, they both teach at St. Patrick’s Community School, the only year-round school in the city, and where both of their children now attend. Michael completed his Master’s in 2021, while implementing a variety of technology programs within his own classroom, as well as his colleagues. Michael has taken many of his classroom practices and presented on them at different teacher conventions. He has spoken about video games in the classroom, using cooperative games to teach, setting up an esports team and using a classroom government to link the federal government system. This spring, Michael will also be presenting on running a media program at a middle school, something Michael has been doing at his current school with students from grade 6 to 9. Since first implementing this program, which started as an idea during online learning, it has morphed into a student led twice a week announcement program. Furthermore, Michael was recently recognized for his use of technology in the school by being awarded The Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM – Certificate of Acheivment.

Connect with Michael: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Victoria’s Education Program

Master’s in Educational Technology at UBC

St. Patrick’s Community School

The Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM – Certificate of Acheivment

I Love it Here – Clint Pulver

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
Welcome back to another episode of The High Performing Educator. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a new friend of mine, Michael Saretzky. After graduating from the University of Victoria’s education program in Cranbrook, B.C., Michael Saretzky started teaching in Fox Creek, Alberta. Michael spent three years there teaching a variety of grades from grade five to grade eleven. After his time there, he moved with his wife Shauna, to Hinton, where they both taught for nine years, even teaching physical education grade eight together. While in Hinton, Michael taught mainly grade eight and social studies. It was also in Hinton where Michael started his master’s in education technology through UBC. Also, in Hinton, Michael and Shauna had their two children, Peyton and Macy. In 2017, they both moved to Red Deer, Alberta to be closer to family and today, they both teach at Saint Patrick’s Community School, the only year-round school in the city and where both of their children now attend.

Sam Demma
Michael completed his master’s in 2021 while implementing a variety of technology programs within his own classroom and as well with his colleagues. Michael has taken many of his classroom practices and presented on them at different teacher conventions. He has spoken about video games in the classroom, using cooperative games to teach, setting up an eSports team, and using a classroom government to link the federal government system. This spring, Michael will also be presenting on running a media program at a middle school, something he has been doing at his current school with students from grades 6 to 9.

Sam Demma
Since first implementing this program, which started as an idea during online learning, it has morphed into a student-led twice-a-week announcement program. Furthermore, Michael was recently recognized for his use of technology in the school by being awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM, Certificate of Achievement. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Michael, and I will see you on the other side. Today we have a very special guest that I had the pleasure of meeting more recently toward the end of the school year here.

Sam Demma
And our guest today is Michael Saretzky, from, born and raised, Vancouver Island. Michael, how are you doing?

Michael Saretzky
Good, thanks. How are you?

Sam Demma
I’m doing well. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I know that you were born and raised in Vancouver Island, but where is home for you now?

Michael Saretzky
Right now, my wife and family were in Red Deer, Alberta.

Sam Demma
What brought you from the beautiful Vancouver Island to the beautiful Red Deer in Alberta? 

Michael Saretzky
A lot of different paths along the way brought me out to Alberta initially and then we eventually settled down in Red Deer. So, story’s kind of long, but my wife was finishing up for practicum on Vancouver Island and I got a phone call on, I think it was a Wednesday that I had a job offer up in Fox Creek, just between Edmonton and Granbury. And they asked me if I could be out there for the Monday. So we, I said yes. And so we drove from on Friday after she was done her last day of school, drove from my hometown of Gold River down to Victoria about four hours to say goodbye to my grandma.

Michael Saretzky
And then from there, we drove up to Cranbrook to her family because she had to get ready for her wedding that was happening in a couple weeks. And on the Sunday I drove from Cranbrook to Fox Creek, which was probably about 14 hours, and I got the last hotel room in Fox Creek. It was during the break-up in the oil field. And the room was only available because the guy couldn’t come in that day. He actually canceled his room. So it was literally the last hotel room in town.

Michael Saretzky
And so the next day, he was supposed to be coming in. So I had to pack up all my stuff and moved everything to the hotel room, went up to start teaching my first class of high school English. And that was my introduction to professional teaching. And did that for three days and had teacher convention on that weekend. And I was still living in and out of hotel rooms. And went to teacher convention up in Grand then was able to actually go live at a vice principal’s house for a couple days there. And then on Tuesday, I think it was after school, I drove from Fox Creek down to Red Deer, where my dad and stepmom live, and stayed here. And then went and met my wife down in Calgary and her family, and then we flew to the Dominican Republic to get married. So yeah. And then, yeah, we were down there for a couple of weeks, got married, a bunch of family down there, came back up, went to my wife’s convocation in Cranbrook, and then I introduced her to Fox Creek.

Sam Demma
What a story. So you redefined what it means to couch surf. It’s not just about bouncing around. You literally, you bounced around working, like finding a job, finding a permanent place to work. And so tell me a little bit about why you wanted to work in education. Did you know growing up that you wanted to be a teacher or how did you, how did you find this vocation?

Michael Saretzky
Another long convoluted story. Now I had a lot of great teachers in my schooling. My grade three teacher, Mrs. Erb. My grade six teacher, I remember she was brand new to the profession, Ms. Fisher. We were her first class. And a bunch of other ones in high school, my stepdad included. And my mom was an EA, so I had that introduction to school, but I always wanted to be a pilot. And unfortunately, well, I guess fortunately now, I’m colorblind and I was told I could not be a pilot. So, I decided to go into school for business and I want to work in the airline business, but obviously just not as a pilot.

Michael Saretzky
And I was walking down from Camosun College in Victoria down to the mall with this guy. I can’t remember his name. He was in school with me. I think his first name was Chris. And we’re walking down and I was deciding if I wanted to get into education or if I wanted to continue with business. And he said, well, which one’s going to make you happier? And I remember crossing the road and by the time I crossed the road, I said, you know what? I think teaching. And that kind of got me into the path of education. Just a random conversation with a friend from university.

Sam Demma
There is an individual who is a speaker and author by the name of Clint Pulver. And he has a very inspiring story about wanting to be a pilot since he was a little kid, but having a decline in his vision and not being able to actually fly. And he pursued it for something like 10 years before he had to give it up and he was so upset. And he ended up pivoting, taking a different pathway. And today he speaks all over the globe and he’s a professional drummer. And just recently he launched and announced that he was releasing a YouTube special about his journey back to flying.

Sam Demma
Apparently he’s had some special operation on his eyes and it was a very inspiring story. So I don’t know, when you mentioned the pilot situation and things not working out, like yourself, this Pathways probably brought you so much fulfillment in the same way that Clint’s Pathway has and it just made me immediately think of his story. So I appreciate you sharing that.

Sam Demma
It sounds like business was also a passion of yours. How do you integrate your passion for business into the work that you do in education? Is there any way that you do that? Or are you involved in extra curricular stuff with students? Like tell me more about what you love about school. 

Michael Saretzky
Well, one of the things like during COVID, I remember we were doing our online teaching, the grade eight team, and during the first half an hour of the classes, we were getting the students ready and the teachers, we’d just talk online. And I remember the students saying, no, you guys should have like a TV show. And so we started talking, oh yeah, we could call it Wake Up St. Pat’s. And that’s just when we came back in the classroom, we had to do options and the option classes had to be in your cohort, you could like the students can leave. I was like, you guys came up with this idea of having a talk show. How about you guys have the talk show as your option class? In doing that, I structured as a business. That’s probably where that idea of structure came from, just from my experience in business courses. We actually have a COO, we have a crew director, and we have a whole hierarchy in the class where if you’re in charge of the class, you actually need to be able to do everyone’s job, and you need to be able to step in if someone else is absent. You actually were able to meet our two CEOs of our class. They were the ones that interviewed you when you were in here.

Sam Demma
Yeah, that’s awesome. I didn’t know there was an entire structure to the two students that I met who conducted a phenomenal interview. For everyone listening, I met Michael at a presentation in Red Deer and two of his students interviewed me following the presentation and it was a phenomenal conversation. They had amazing tech equipment. How long have you been operating that show and this hierarchy of students in the classroom?

Michael Saretzky
So that would be, sorry, I just got to think. Those students are now in grade 11 that were in grade 8 at the time. So, about three, four years, and now it goes all the way down to grade six, and we have – it’s running three, four days a week now with different classes doing it. Some of the grade sixes are doing an awesome job with interviews, with their part. And what’s interesting is I’ve kind of let the students kind of morph it into what they want. My idea when I brought it to them was sitting behind a news desk, just a very traditional news program.

Michael Saretzky
But they’re each in charge of a segment if they’re part of a production crew. So in the production crew, you have your production crew director who’s in charge, and then you have your camera person, and you have your anchors. And sometimes the anchors are in front of the camera, sometimes they’re behind the camera, kind of prompting questions. And they kind of just come up with their own segment ideas. Last year we had, I think it was grade 6 and then grade 7, say, let’s do finish the lyrics. So now they have a, they’ll play a song and then students as young as grade 1s, maybe even kindergarten, all the way up to our staff have to finish the lyrics. So it might be Taylor Swift or it might be something from Disney, but it’s pretty entertaining.

Sam Demma
How have you witnessed student change throughout being a part of this class in terms of their leadership abilities and personal development? 

Michael Saretzky
Just, yeah, some who kind of might sit in the, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a lot of these guys in a variety of different subject areas. Those grade 8s that started this program actually taught them in grade 6, some in grade 7, all of grade 8, and even some in grade 9. And teaching them in grade 6, I know some were much more quieter in the traditional classroom setting, but they’ve just taken on a leadership role and taking on different responsibilities on their own with editing. Our editors are some of the strongest students, but they’re also some of the quietest ones. And it’s just been amazing to see how strong they are in these classes. And it’s been interesting, too. Some of them have actually come back and offered to edit.

Michael Saretzky
When tvhey’re in high school, they’ve come back and done volunteer hours so they can do a grade nine farewell video and stuff.

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Sam Demma
If someone was listening to this and wanted to replicate something similar with their classroom, what are a sequence of steps you would share with them to encourage them to get started doing something similar? Listen to the students and be willing to let control go.

Michael Saretzky
This generation is so powerful with technology and they have amazing ideas. I know sometimes, I know for myself, from my experience as a teacher, you don’t want to sometimes let go of the control of the classroom, but it’s amazing what sometimes, what can develop when the students are in charge.

Sam Demma
Oh, I love that. Thanks for sharing. When you think back to your own, you mentioned grade three teacher who had an impact on you, what do you think they did that made a big impact on you that educators listening can strive to provide to the students in their classrooms? 

Michael Saretzky
I don’t like my grade three teacher. She was a very traditional teacher, but she just had expectations that you’d need to reach. My grade six teacher being new to the, um, education, she was just, it was a very unique setting where she was willing to try different things. She brought different ideas into the classroom. I remember we were in a split class and she actually had like a different area for the grade sevens where they’re learning about Egyptian tombs and stuff. And so they had like their own little sitting area around the library that was kind of more, there’s hieroglyphics that the students were creating and stuff.

Michael Saretzky
So I don’t know, it’s always interesting what new teachers bring into the classroom. I’ve had a lot of student teachers come in and they’re just a wealth of, like a breath of fresh air, I guess, and a wealth of knowledge. And it’s always neat to bring in ideas off of them and keep them. I had a student teacher last year, she’s actually a teacher here now, and she set up a Sudoku board in my classroom just this year. And it’s a big board on the bulletin board and the students just spend time making their own Sudoku’s. It’s pretty cool.

Sam Demma
Oh, no way.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Is it like a trivia you start with the beginning of classes sometimes or they fill it in at lunch or how does it work?

Michael Saretzky
A lot of times it’s free time they have in the class that they can work on on their own. Because I know some of them get a little frustrated. They’re working on it, someone else comes in and they make a mistake. But it’s an interesting process just having them realize that people are at different levels of learning

Sam Demma
and not everyone’s familiar with the Sudoku. Yeah. It sounds like you’ve done a great job of building relationships with the students in your classroom by providing different learning opportunities, whether it’s with technology or creating puzzles on the wall. How do you think you build a relationship with a young person, with a student in your classroom? I think the biggest thing is listening to them.

Michael Saretzky
I know I came into the profession and I was very traditional in my teachings where I’d stand at the front, maybe rows of students, and it was, you know, I’m teaching and then here’s your work to do. But getting to know the students as an individual, they have so many different stories that we can learn, we can use that in the classroom, we can just get to know who they are and maybe maybe what they have to bring or what needs you can also help them with.

Sam Demma
I love that. I think when I think back to my experiences in school, I think it was the teachers who listened the most to me, that I felt understood me the most, and therefore I paid more attention to their class and the material they were sharing with us, which led to a greater experience and a better relationship with those individuals. So I think based on my experiences, that what you’re sharing had a big impact on me and I hope other educators listening take that into account.

Sam Demma
What are some of the things that you try and do in your classroom to foster that space where students wanna listen and you wanna listen to them, just to make students feel like they’re safe and understood and appreciated?

Michael Saretzky
it’s kind of different this year because I’m in a new field. For several years I’ve been teaching language arts. Yep. And building that trust with them, with their writing, it has been a big value. So students, I always used to have a, like when I was teaching language arts, I would have a journal and we’d do a topic every Thursday. And their journal was between, like, they would write in the journal and they knew I would read it. And they were quite honest, especially once they knew that it was, like, not for everyone else to read. being in math, it’s been a little bit different because it’s not the same sharing, I guess. But it’s also, I mean, math is different from when I went to school because we were always taught like this is the right way to do things. And I was quite, I always enjoyed math, but there’s so many different ways to learn math. And so just giving students the different ways and allowing them to explore that way that they learn best.

Sam Demma
I guess math can be an analogy for building relationships. Like there’s many different ways to build relationships with students. That’s just one. Tell me a little bit about, oh, sorry, go ahead.

Michael Saretzky
Well, it’s just not always being in the classroom. Like I mentioned, like we have this field trip tomorrow and allowing students to see you outside of the classroom. I also coach a bunch of different activities such as eSports and volleyball. And I mean, eSports has been so huge because now you have the students who might not typically want to join a sports team coming out for a sports team. And there’s so much that you can build with eSports. And like last year was our first year having an eSports team.

Michael Saretzky
And now it’s moved into option class from grade six all the way to grade nine. And you have a lot of interaction between students from grade six and seven, from eight to nine. And it’s just, yeah, there’s so much value in those extracurricular activities and stuff that like, that’s where you build a lot of connections with students.

Sam Demma
Did you get involved in extracurricular activities as an educator first thing out the gate when you were just getting settled? Did it take you a while to say, let me try this? I think there might be some newer educators listening wondering when’s the right time to put your hand up and get involved.

Michael Saretzky
Yeah, I was probably I started coaching volleyball at my first school, but probably it wasn’t until my second or third year. And then at my second school in Hinton, I took on one of my first jobs there was as a phys ed teacher. So that just naturally came. If a coach was needed in a specific sport, then I would take that on. But as you get more and more comfortable in the profession, then I think it comes more naturally to take on that extra responsibility.

Sam Demma
Have you had any teachers or educators that mentored you, or any books you’ve read or conventions you’ve attended that have been instrumental in your own development as an educator?

Michael Saretzky
Oh, there’s countless teachers who have helped me along the way or administrators. I could start listing them, but it would be… I’d feel badly about leaving some out, but definitely my stepdad, as I said, he was a teacher.

Michael Saretzky
He taught me… He was a teacher librarian, and so I was in his class for that. But he’s just been a wealth of knowledge for, getting into the profession. And then my wife is a teacher. We actually teach in the same school. And so, I mean, she’s always being such a strong supporter. And then a lot of admin have helped me along the way, but also all my colleagues. Curious.

Sam Demma
Curious, when you think about the things that they’ve helped you with or shared, are there a few key cornerstone lessons that you go back to or things that you think really make all the difference?

Michael Saretzky
The biggest thing I think like with my wife, we’re both very different teachers. And we were both actually teaching the same subject and just seeing it from a different perspective. And we’re able to communicate like I’ll do things quite differently in my class than she would, but then I also make sure I come back to some of the more like some of the things that she might be teaching. Actually, this tomorrow we’re going on a field trip to a Christmas carol. And although I’m not teaching LA anymore, she’s the one that got me doing that in my class. But she kind of got me going a different avenue.

Michael Saretzky
She always used to take her students to the play in Edmonton.

Sam Demma
Ah.

Michael Saretzky
And so she kind of suggested, like, maybe look at it as a play. So rather than being the traditional text, we would do kind of a reader’s theater in the class. And it’s just, the kids love it. You got your performers who can take on the bigger roles and then you got other students who might take on a smaller role but might do the first time reading in class. So it’s kind of better I think than maybe reading the traditional text because if a student has to read a whole paragraph but they don’t want to read it in front of the whole classroom, it’s kind of a safer environment.

Sam Demma
Sounds like the big lesson is to be open to teaching differently. Have that perspective that you could be teaching the same subject but doing it totally different than somebody else. So even if you have the opportunity to sit in the back of someone else’s classroom and see how they teach it, to have conversations about what you’re teaching, is that a common practice? Like sharing what you’re teaching in your classroom with your other colleagues that are teaching the same things and then sharing ideas?

Michael Saretzky
Yeah, and actually our admin team, they’re big advocates of collaboration.

Sam Demma
Cool.

Michael Saretzky
Actually, once a week we are meeting with our grade team or PDs. If there’s time available, we will meet with our subject team. So, you’ll be able to connect with different people. And actually, they just had us going in and observing our, our grade team. So I would go into like another grade eight teachers class. And it was an excellent experience and just being able to see how people do it differently with the same students.

Sam Demma
If someone is listening to this in the spirit of collaboration, if they want to reach out to you and me too, or have a conversation, ask you some questions about your journey through education, or some of your philosophies and beliefs around teaching, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out to you?

Michael Saretzky
Well, my social media is put up pretty tightly. I use Twitter a bit, but probably email. Just, yeah. Yeah. Which would be michael.saretzky@rdcrs.ca. Awesome. Yeah. Perfect. 

Sam Demma
I’ll make sure to put it in the show notes of the episode just so people can reach out to you if they have a question.

Sam Demma
It’s been an absolute honor having you on the show, Michael. Thank you for taking the time. So close to the holiday season. I hope you enjoy the field trip. By the time this is released, the field trip will have been long gone, but I know it went really well. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Thank you for making the time to come on the show. Thank you for making the time to come on the show.

Michael Saretzky
Thank you for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Saretzky

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.

Ireland Black — Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View

Ireland Black — Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View
About Ireland Black

Ireland Black, is the Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View. She facilitates the Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) program for both schools which uses a positive mental health focus to provide universal programming to students in Grades K-8.

After receiving her degree in Psychology, Ireland chose to step away from her job as an Advanced Leader 1 Lifeguard in order to find a position that was better aligned with her future goals. The YES program is a perfect fit for her as she has not only been able to utilize her knowledge from obtaining her degree & to use the skills she developed volunteering with the RCMP but it allows her to continue to foster healthy and positive relationships with the students, staff and communities.

Ireland believes that each child should have a good understanding of what it means to have positive mental health and continues to encourage students with her motto “You can do hard things.”

Connect with Ireland: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) program

Muriel Summers – Leader in ME

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Red Deer Polytechnic

The Bubble Gum Brain by Julia Cook

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and best-selling author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is my friend, Ireland Black. She is the success coach in Bowden and Spruce View, Alberta, and facilitates the Youth Empowerment and Support Program for both schools, which uses a positive mental health focus to provide universal programming to students in grades K through 8. After receiving her degree in psychology, Ireland chose to step away from her job as an Advanced Leader I lifeguard in order to find a position that was better aligned with her future goals. The YES program was a perfect fit for her as she has not only been able to utilize her knowledge from obtaining her degree and to use the skills she developed volunteering with the RCMP, but it allows her to continue to foster healthy and positive relationships with the students, staffs, and communities she serves. Ireland believes that each child should have a good understanding of what it means to have positive mental health, and continues to encourage students with her motto, you can do hard things. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ireland, and I will see you on the other side. Ireland, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Please, let’s get started by having you just quickly introduce yourself to the listeners.

Ireland Black
Awesome. So thanks for having me. I’m Ireland Black. I’m a success coach out of Bowden in Spruce View, Alberta. So what that means is I’m a facilitator with the Youth Empowerment and Support Program, which is the YES program. So that’s about my role. It is formulated to support resiliency skills in kids from K-12. So we support students with their mental health awareness and to enhance their social and emotional skills.

Sam Demma
I’m kind of jealous I never had my own success coach when I was going through school to be honest. Is this a newer position within the school board? Like, tell me a little bit more about how you came to becoming the success coach. I believe the program’s been around for quite some time now, at least within Chinook’s Edge?

Ireland Black
I can’t speak for other divisions. I started in May, so I’m still pretty new to the position, but I have a degree in psychology, so I was really looking for a role where I could use my degree and I love working with kids. So this was just kind of the perfect fit.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Tell me some of the things that you would be talking about with a student and how the role actually operates. Do you walk into a certain amount of classrooms each day? Is it more like a guidance counselor role where they walk into your classroom and you help them through things? Like, tell me a little bit more about what it looks like day to day.

Ireland Black
Yeah, so it’s a little bit of both. I’m responsible for universal programming. So that means every student K to eight in the division is receiving the same like programming within their classrooms. So I think that’s really cool. That kind of looks like me. I come in with a PowerPoint, I have games, activities. Um, just yesterday I taught one about flexible learning. So we read a book called The Bubble Gum Brain, and I had them all like try and squish a piece of gum between their like two peace sign fingers. So that’s a lot of fun, but I also have my own classroom in each building. So students are always welcome to come in, have a chat. I’m in the, I call it the first line of defense. I find that kids, because of the role I’m in, are very open to having chats with me. They’ll come in and ask for hot chocolate, they’ll sit on the couch, but they can’t take on that counselor role. So if it’s just like they’re having a bad day, I absolutely am there for them, but if it’s anything bigger than that, then I refer them to the family school wellness worker. Outside of that, I put on lunchtime programs, so that’s anywhere between small targeted groups for maybe anger management, friendship skills, or at something fun like Lego, coloring, and crafts. And then after school is the same. So we try and pick kids. We call them our yes kids. The kids who might need that extra support, um, need a safe place to land after school before they head home. So we range from a variety of topics between sports. We’ll do mini sticks in the hallway, we’ll do bake clubs, we do craft clubs, basically whatever the kids want, I will provide.

Sam Demma
It sounds like, although you’re not the counselor role, you create so many safe spaces for students to explore their skills and to feel like they belong or are a part of something. Can you think about an experience you’ve put on that has had a big impact on students, maybe one that you consistently like doing over and over again with different groups because it just works so well?

Ireland Black
I found recently that the baking club has been a huge hit. I’ve ran three of them now. I have one coming up in December for Christmas. And I thought it was simple enough. I used to love baking cookies, but those kids come in and I vary the age groups when I run them, but it takes patience

Ireland Black
when they come in because they’re so excited and they don’t always understand like with cooking and baking comes the cleaning and comes measuring and so When I walked into it, I was just expecting you know, like here’s your recipe. Here’s your ingredients Go ahead have fun. But then it was like sitting them each of them down and being like, okay, like this is a measuring cup and this is what the numbers mean. And, um, this is why we do it this way. And this is how we have to preheat our ovens. And so I found that it was super impactful for them because they got to not only learn that skill, but it’s also like I saw them work through and problem solve. And there was some frustration when things didn’t turn out. But it’s the one that they keep coming back and being like, can you do this again? Like it was so fun. And so I think they get the most from it. And being in the position I am and with the knowledge I have, I get to see like the skills that they’re practicing and that they’re learning. So that’s beneficial for me to see as well.

Sam Demma
And you get to eat some of their creations probably?

Ireland Black
Absolutely.

Sam Demma
Which is so great. For someone listening who is thinking right now, oh my goodness, baking club? That sounds amazing. I’m stealing that idea. What does it look like in terms of preparation, facilitating that, and how often would you do it? Like, paint a little bit of a picture so if there’s a teacher listening, they could take some of these ideas and implement them in their own school.

Ireland Black
Absolutely. So I have implemented this year, I try and run each program for a month length. So I pick one day of the week after school, usually two and a half hours for the big club I find to be enough, especially for those kiddos learning how to clean and wash dishes. But yeah, so I’ll pick like a Monday after school, I have them sign up two weeks in advance. And then I, once I get those forms back, I usually ask them what kind of recipes they want. I start with something very minimal, simple. I don’t even jump to cookies right away. It’s like box cake, just so we can practice measuring and following instructions. And so I think no matter what age group you pick, you have to be really mindful that you might be getting the kids who don’t know how to measure and don’t know how to clean. And so setting yourself up for success and setting them up for success is taking those smaller steps by starting with the box cake, which might seem a little ridiculous. But then by the end of it, when they’re baking their brownies and their cookies, and you’re getting to the point where they’re feeling confident, it’s so worth it. I’m lucky enough to have a very decent budget for my position to be able to provide all of this. I know when certain staff or support staff they hear bake club, the first thing that comes to mind is price tag because it can be huge. It’s not cheap for all those ingredients, especially when you’re putting it on for eight to ten kiddos. So my advice, research what you need beforehand, buy in bulk, and just know that at the end of the day, you’ll need a little bit extra because stuff is always, always going to end up on the floor.

Sam Demma
Nice.

Sam Demma
It sounds like the Bait Club has been one of the highlights. Is there maybe one other program that you’ve experimented since you started that isn’t like a typical club that you’d find in a school? Like, Bait Club is very unique. Is there anything else that you do that you think is a little bit unique that others may have never tried before? 

Ireland Black
I actually just this month kind of ran a club of my own that I came up with. So it’s called noodle noggins. And the purpose is to take kids from, I want to say, grade three to six and target the kiddos who aren’t doing very well academically, who might be struggling with writing skills or research skills. And but they still have that drive, like they want to succeed. And not every kid is going to be an honor roll student, but sometimes with that comes lack of self confidence or they keep getting the grades back and they’re not happy with them, but they’re trying their best. So I invented this lunch program where the kids come in and they pick a topic, any topic that they’d like to research and to find three fun facts. They have to, I make up three research questions for them and they go and they put it on a poster or a PowerPoint and every week when they come in, I give them a couple of noodles for lunch. And so, I haven’t seen anything like it. It was something that I know watching my sisters, like my sisters are very smart people but they have people in their friendships, even I had people in my friendship growing up that just were like defeated because no matter how hard they tried, they weren’t doing as well academically as they wanted. And so I’ve really seen these kiddos regain some confidence and trust in their own abilities. And I always tell them like, it’s not the grade, we’re not grading this. I just want to remind you that like, when you work hard, you are successful based on the outcome that you get. So, if you give it 110% and you get a 65 and that’s good for you, then you’re golden. That’s successful. So, I haven’t seen anything like it. It might be popping up in other schools because I’ve shared it with all of my team. So, yeah, that’s probably one that I haven’t really heard of before.

Sam Demma
Free noodles and extra help and resources sounds like a great club to me. What does empowerment mean to you? I know empowering young people is a big part of your your role and from your passion as you explain these different clubs, I can tell that you care about it. What is it like, what does empowerment mean to you?

Ireland Black
That’s a great question. I think being in this role, empowerment means making an impact. I think when if we put too much pressure on the mental health or the emotional side of things, of course, empowerment is uplifting and it’s encouraging and it’s positive. And of course, I believe in those things. But at the end of the day, if I can make the impact on any student, I’ve empowered them. I think empowerment comes in so many different forms. I have a student in eighth grade who I’m running a program, hood up, won’t look at me. Sorry. That’s okay. Hood up, won’t look at me. And by week three, she took her hood off. And so I like went up, we have a water bottle, it’s called the Heroes Program. And I gave her a water bottle and she looked at me, she’s like, pay attention. And I was like, right. But I could tell that you’re, you’re getting there. You took your hood off for me today. That’s huge. So yeah, I think empowerment to me is really focusing on putting those kids first and extending my reach as far as I can to collect all those kiddos in between. Whether they’re super successful, academic, athletic, or they’re on the end where they’re maybe quieter or isolated even, I just want to get my impact and my reach on as many kids as I can. What is the HERO Program? The HERO Program is one of the programs we run for grades seven and eight. I believe it’s the Impact Society. It’s awesome. It’s fantastic. It’s working with real life stories and giving them meaning and showing the kids like if you take down your walls and just let people in, you’ll be more successful and you’ll feel connection and you’ll be able to express more empathy for others because others will finally be able to give empathy to you. be able to express more empathy for others because others will finally be able to give empathy to you. And they have this water bottle and it’s my favorite thing. Every time I hold up the water bottle the whole class says I have gifts and abilities and the desire to succeed. And I just think it’s phenomenal because the water bottle represents, it doesn’t matter the package you come in, if you run a 10k rates, at the end of the day like if you grab your $50 water bottle or the water bottle you bought in bulk from Costco, the water is what’s important. So it’s what’s on the inside that counts. So I love the Heroes Program. I can’t speak highly enough about it. The kids love it. They come up to me all the time, chasing me on the hallways, Miss I, Miss I, I have the gifts and abilities and the desire to succeed. And I don’t always have a water bottle with me, but I recognize that and I know that they’re trying and whether they’re saying it for the water bottle or saying it because it’s important to them, I know eventually it will click and they’ll start to believe it. And that’s really what matters, so.

Sam Demma
The moment where that student of yours took the hood off must have just gave you goosebumps and been such a empowering moment for yourself to remind yourself that the work you’re doing is also making a difference and an impact. Have you had any more moments like that one? It didn’t have to be a student, you know, removing a piece of clothing or something, but like, is there any other moments you’ve had since you started in this position that just reminds you how important this work is? 

Ireland Black
I wanna say that this past week has been such a huge reminder The kiddos I work with they have faced a lot of change through this position, I think there’s been Three of us now which is unfortunate But life happens and so they really struggled when I started being like how much do we want to invest in this lady? Like she might not be around and I think they’re getting to the point now where there’s that trust and that relationship. And I really saw an impact when I had a student in the third grade. And she came up to me one day after school, she’s like, Miss I, you told me that I can do hard things. And when I went home, like I finished my math homework and she hadn’t done her math homework since September. And so I was like, oh my goodness, that’s amazing, good job. And she was so excited, she was jumping up and down, she ran over and gave it to her teacher and he just kind of looked at me, he’s like, she did her math homework? And I was like, yeah, she did her math homework. I was like, he looks at me, he goes, it doesn’t look like any of it’s right, but it doesn’t matter. And I was like, no, it’s handed in and it’s done. And so it was kind of a kind of chuckle because it’s just math homework. But she was so excited. And she, we can do hard things is kind of like a personal model of mine. And so just hearing some little kid just full of excitement, and that they took that to heart was like, mind blowing to me. It was so impactful and I just think it meant so much to me to just see how excited she was even though she got nothing right. And to do that and to hand it in.

Sam Demma
The idea is that you can do hard things. I would argue it’s not just math homework. Like that is a foundational belief that this young person may carry with them for the rest of their life. And remember when they’re in the middle of a hard project at a future job or a hard time in their personal life and running up to you and saying, Miss, I did my math homework. It could be like a foundational moment in developing that principle they carry forward with them. And so I think what you’re doing is just so important and I hope more school divisions create a position like yours to empower young people and remind them of these very important lessons. I’m curious, you are having a positive impact on these young students. I’m wondering if you had a teacher when you were a kiddo who had a very positive impact on you and if so, what did that teacher do for you?

Ireland Black
My most impactful teacher was Jeff Madsen. He was my English teacher from grade 11 to 12. And I was going through a really rough time in my life. I had lost three immediate family members within two years. So I was struggling with a lot of grief. And I was recently diagnosed with Graves’ disease. So I was going through a lot. And I just remember always being so welcomed in his class. And I was very shy in grade 11. And very meek. And I remember I was having a bad day and I was in Radius, which was the writing club in our school that he ran. And there was a little office upstairs and he came in after lunch to his English class, I was just having the worst day. And I came and I sat down and grabbed my book or whatever and he was like, I didn’t know how much that meant, but looking back, like, that was such a critical moment for me. Being able to have someone care and not relinquish expectations, like, I still had to go read the book, but to be put into a safe space and an environment where I was comfortable was huge. And he mentored me through all my writing. And he was someone that I could trust and rely upon. And so I think, in this position, although I’m not an English teacher, and I don’t run a writing program, the care that he had and the empathy and the compassion, and just the kindness, and how he treated us in grade 12. He’s like, you’re grade 12 students. If you have to go to the bathroom, don’t ask. I’m trusting you to come back without Tim Hortons. And so I carry that with me being like, I got to trust these kids and I need to show them empathy and compassion. And I just want to embody what he gave to me.

Sam Demma
I was recently attending a divisional PD day in the Livingstone Range School Division in Lethbridge, Alberta. I had the pleasure of speaking at it, and I also listened to this lady keynote called Muriel Summers, and she runs a program called Leader in Me. And one of her phrases was, could it be that simple. And you’re telling your story about Jeff and the fact that he offered you a safe space. You know, sometimes we think we have to do something so huge to make a positive difference in the life of a young person. But more often than not, it’s just about showing them that we care. It’s about showing a young person that you have time for them, that you believe in them, that they can talk to you. And I’m curious, like how do you think you connect with young people and make a difference in their lives?

Ireland Black
I think the number one thing I try and do is something you just mentioned is make time for them. I never want to turn a student away. So if they come to me, whether it’s to push them on the tire swing at recess or to sit and have a hot chocolate and talk about their bad day, I have to make time for them. And I want to make time for them, because I need them to know that I care. And I always tell them, you’re always welcome here. You can tell me about your bad days. You can tell me about your good days. But you need to know I care about how you’re doing. And I want you to be having the best day you can. So whether that’s you’re having a bad day and we can make it a little bit better, then that’s the best day you can have. And so for me, I always say like, these kiddos will come first to me. And I think that’s what I try and do is care for them and show them in the hallway. I smile, I say hi, I use their names, I give them high fives when I walk past their room, I give them a big smile and a wave. I just try and make myself present for them all the time.

Sam Demma
You mentioned at the start of this interview that you’re a psychology major and you love psychology. Are there any, not doesn’t have to be related to psychology, but are there any resources or books or anything that you’ve read that has informed some of your own beliefs in teaching or helping others? You mentioned using people’s names and I remember as a young person, I had a teacher who told me to check out this book called How to Win Friends and Influence People. And it was all about building these interpersonal skills and relational skills. And one of the chapters was about the importance of people’s names. And I was just so fascinated by it that after I read the book, whenever I was shopping in a grocery store or anywhere, if a person had a name tag on, I would address them by their name. And there was one occasion where the cashier looked at me and said, do I know you? I was like, no, but I just saw your name tag there. And she went, oh my goodness, thank you so much. And we ended up talking for two minutes and she ended up giving me a 15% discount on my order. I didn’t – I wasn’t expecting a discount, but I just became fascinated by that idea. And I’m curious if you’ve read any books or followed any people that have impacted the way that you show up every single day?

Ireland Black
That’s a tough question. I think there was a moment in my positive psych class during my degree and my professor, Anami, she’s lovely, she’s out at Red Deer Polytechnic for anyone who’s curious, she kind of stopped and she was like, Listen, I know to some of you, this is nothing more than telling you to be mindful and be positive. And this is things you’ve heard before. But how often do you apply them? How often do you take that minute to be mindful? How often do you take that moment to actually ensure you’re actively listening to someone, that you’re making eye contact, that you’re using their names, you’re repeating info back to them. How often do you do that outside of these four walls, outside of this classroom? And everyone’s kind of looking at each other like, oh, she got us there. And after that, I just remember taking that to heart and leaving the room being like, that’s exactly what I have to do. Growing up my grandpa had always told me like always take the high road. The V was always worth it and so I think I’ve carried myself through that lens and then when she had kind of called us out in class that day it kind of reminded me like it doesn’t take this big huge grand gesture it’s holding the door and acknowledging someone, it’s saying good morning. Positive psychology and being having a positive and a growth mindset is huge. But it’s so easy to get caught up in life sometimes that we forget that all it takes is that hello and being mindful and connecting with yourself just as much as trying to connect with others. And so I think that, although it’s not a specific book, was probably where I got a lot of my insight was that positive psychology class.

Sam Demma
Take the high road. It’s worth the view. That’s gonna be stuck in my brain for the next couple of weeks because of this conversation. I thank you so much for sharing that.

Ireland Black
Of course.

Sam Demma
This has been an insightful conversation from start to finish, whether it was the bake club, talking about the teachers who had an impact on you, talking about the moments that teachers create when they give their students time and believe in them. Thank you for making the time in your busy schedule to share with everyone listening with myself. I really appreciate it. If there is an educator listening right now, they want to reach out to you and have a conversation or share a compliment, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Ireland Black
Oh, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to be here. It’s been lovely and I was excited coming into this because I don’t think a ton of people know about the position. And so I’m happy to spread the word. I hope it carries on to other divisions. The best way to get a hold of me would be my email. So that’s iblack@cesd73.ca.

Sam Demma
Awesome, Ireland. Thank you so much or Miss.I I should say. Awesome, Ireland. Keep up the great work and I look forward to crossing paths with you again very soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ireland Black

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.

Darlene O’Neill — Director of employment and student entrepreneurial services at Fanshawe College

Darlene O’Neill — Director of employment and student entrepreneurial services at Fanshawe College
About Darlene O’Neill

Darlene (@Darlene68615693) started her career in the Department of National Defence where for 21 years she worked in a variety of roles – the final 7 years were as the senior human resources business manager, for the civilian workforce supporting the east coast navy.

Prior to joining Fanshawe College, Darlene worked for Nova Scotia Community College as a career practitioner and a project manager in essential skills.

Darlene joined Fanshawe College in 2011 as the assistant manager, career services, community employment services and cooperative education. In 2012, she became the manager of the department, and in 2015 became the senior manager. In 2017, Darlene was appointed director, employment and student entrepreneurial Services. Darlene is the lead administrator for the military-connected college initiative at Fanshawe and is currently the administrative co-lead in the college’s united way corporate campaign. Darlene is also a part-time professor in the career development practitioner post graduate program.

Darlene holds a Bachelor Degree in Psychology, a Master of Education Degree (Adult Education) and a Career Development Practitioner postgraduate certificate.

She is the recipient of the Michelle C Comeau Leadership in Human Resources Award (Federal), The National Federal Government Managers Network Leadership Award (Managing Change), the National Defence Human Resource Leadership Award, co-recipient of Employment Ontario (MTCU) Leadership Award (Collaboration), The Fanshawe College Presidents Award (Administrator) and the CCVPS Art King Award ( Student Service).

Darlene is committed to creating inclusive environments where student centric mindsets are prevalent. Strategy, empathy and empowering effective change are of utmost importance to her in her leadership and work.

Connect with Darlene: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Department of National Defence

Royal Canadian Navy

Fanshawe College

Nova Scotia Community College

Military-Connected Student in Trades Pilot Project (MCSTPP)

Career Development Practitioner Post Graduate Program

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator. Today’s special guest is a new friend of mine. I met this individual in person in November. She is a powerhouse. Her name is Darlene O’Neill. Darlene, welcome to the podcast. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Darlene O’Neill
Hi, Sam. Thank you very much. Yeah, my name is Darlene and I’m the Director of Employment and Student Entrepreneurial Services at Sandshop College here in London, Ontario.

Sam Demma
You are someone who has so much energy. I remember just watching you absorb the first keynote presentation of the Ignite Conference and you’re fully engaged. It was so cool to see you sticking around for the entire day and supporting the event. Tell me a little bit more about your role and why you’re so passionate about the work that you do on campus. 

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, so I’m really, really fortunate. I have the responsibility for helping all students at our campus, as well as all our alumni and community members find employment, which is really, really important because we all know that the main reason students go to college is to get a job. So I have a wonderful, wonderful team made up of a lot of co-op consultants, career consultants, entrepreneurial consultants, and community employment consultants. And I think it’s really important that we demonstrate passion ourselves as leaders if we want our team to demonstrate passion.

Sam Demma
And recently, you also started doing a little bit of support for our students taking on a military pathway. Is that correct?

Darlene O’Neill
That’s right. Yes. I’m the lead administrator here at Fanshawe College for the Military Connected Campus Initiative, which provides a holistic support for our military connected students. So, not necessarily serving members and or veterans, but also their families. And we just want to make sure that they’re supported academically and socially through their journey here at Fanshawe. So, I’m really blessed to be leading that initiative.

Sam Demma
Sometimes I ask people that work in education, when they realize they wanted to do so, I get typically a few different answers. The first category is people that tell me they used to create little doll houses or little school classrooms in their basements when they were little kids. A second subset tell me that they had parents who were in education and they decided to follow in their footsteps. And the third group tells me they had no idea and they stumbled into it. Which group do you fit in and what did your journey look like that brought you to education?

Darlene O’Neill
Oh wow Sam, that’s a big question. I think a little bit of all of it. When I was a little girl I used to be the person in the middle of the circle in kindergarten reading stories to the other students while the teacher went about their business and doing things that they needed to do. So I’ve always loved education, but I was working for National Defence for 21 years. And I hit a glass ceiling in National Defence where I didn’t speak French, unfortunately, and I had just finished a master’s degree in education. And I thought, oh well, well just leave Defence and I’ll go and try my hat in education and here I am now almost 20 years later and loving what I do. I did choose, I chose college education as the pathway for me because my education is in adult education and I’m really passionate about watching young people and people of all ages that come to college specifically for that aspirational better life.

Sam Demma
I love that. Can we talk about your experience working in defence for just a moment? Like what were you doing with National Defence and what are some of the skills you developed there that you think have bridged into the work you’re doing today at Fanshawe?

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, so my career in national defense started with the submarine inventory control point. And I was buying parts for submarines. But that, you know, it progressed. I went on to do my undergraduate degree and I ended up in the Self-Directed Learning Center. I actually opened a self-directed learning center at Defence in Halifax and that was really fun. And then I went on to become a senior human resources business manager, working directly for the admirals on the East Coast. And my role was strategic HR for about 7,000 civilians that support the Navy on the East Coast. It was so enlightening for me. I was a young leader. I was there when 9-11 happened. And that taught me some great lessons in determination, in commitment, in ethics, in just supporting people and being very, very proud of the work that the military does to give us a better home.

Sam Demma
Young leadership is something that may relate to some of the educators tuning in who are getting into the profession at a very young age, that feel a little bit like an imposter at times, are very intimidated by everybody else in their school or in the spaces they’re operating. How did you navigate as a young leader? What did you do to be sure of yourself and know that you were a valued member of the team so you could show up and use your gifts to the fullest of their potential? 

Darlene O’Neill
Great question. I think I’ve been very fortunate throughout my entire career, especially as a young leader, to have amazing mentors. I will never forget the first meeting I attended with an admiral in the room. And you know, an admiral is a pretty big guy in the Navy. And, you know, the admiral told me afterwards, Darlene, you’re going to have to learn to wear a poker face. And I was like, oh my goodness, okay, so that was lesson number one, wear a poker face. But try to come with a solution. So if you’re going to ask a question, have a possible solution to present when you’re asking the question. Always treat people with respect and dignity and expect that for yourself as well. Even though you’re young, doesn’t mean that you don’t have good ideas, doesn’t mean that you’re not committed and dedicated, it doesn’t mean that people won’t respect you. A lot of, you know, young people build our world. They’re our future, so we need to invest in them. And as a young leader, I think, you know, the biggest lesson I learned was find a mentor, too. And spend time with them and learn from them. Watch them. Watch people that you respect. Don’t speak before you think is another good one because sometimes the most important things you say are unsaid.

Sam Demma
I’m just absorbing all this information right now as I’m sure that the guests tuned in are doing the same. Speaking about developing young people and the fact that they’re our future, that’s literally what you’re doing at Fanshawe. When you think about the impact the program is having on students, do you have any stories that come to mind of students who have joined the college and when they first came, they were a little uncertain and unclear. And a few years later, they were graduating and getting placed and doing amazing work in the community or in a job. And, you know, you may not have a specific story if you do great, but if you don’t have a specific one, maybe you can talk a little bit about some of the pathways that students take when they come to Fanshawe?

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, I have lots of stories of students that have entered into the doors of our office and have gone on to do amazing things. There’s been a few that stick out. We have a number of young entrepreneurs that took advantage of our summer incubator, and they’re now quite successful in their own right. We have Kelvin, the fritter guy. If you’ve tried Kelvin’s fritters, they’re amazing. And we have a fashion designer that’s lived quite a great life as a result of taking advantage of opportunities. Also, there are a number of international students that touch my heart quite often. I have one who’s actually now on my team, but I watched this young man from his very first days at Fanshawe navigate COVID, navigate online learning. He went on to become the student union president. So he’s had a wonderful career path. And when I look at all of the things that he’s done to find his way, they’re all reaching out, finding mentors, asking for help, not being afraid to say, I don’t know, but I want to learn and building relationships. Another young woman, she’s now quite successful in Tech Alliance, which is a part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem here in London. It does all of their media, all of their marketing and social stuff for them. There’s so many of them. There’s accountants and there’s law clerks and there’s a young man that was paralyzed as a result of an accident and he’s gone on to become quite a young accountant. He’s an athlete, plays sledge hockey, he just lives his best life. And I think these students are the ones that come through the doors, they study hard, but they build relationships, they get involved in student life, they get involved in their mentorship programs, they attend workshops, extracurricular activities, Ignite at one point or another. So, yeah, so I think that those are some of the students that really stand out for me. And then from a community perspective, we also have a community employment agency. And our community employment agency has seen so many people that are facing some pretty tough times, walk through the doors, swallow that pride, ask for help, and now they’re contributing members of society, which is a wonderful thing when you work in the employment field and career field and education field. It’s amazing watching people grow.

Sam Demma
It’s like the caterpillar to butterfly story.

Darlene O’Neill
Absolutely, it sure is. You know, the biggest part is asking for help, right? And once you walk through that door, the world of possibilities opens for you.

Sam Demma
You reiterated the importance of relationships. Many educators know how important it is to build relationships with their students, to build relationships with their colleagues. How do you think you build relationships with young people, with students that are going through your school buildings and programs?

Darlene O’Neill
So I think the secret sauce is simply a smile. A smile and some eye contact can make the world of difference. You know many people when they come to post-secondary they’re scared, they might have been, you know, traveling from another world by themselves, from another country, they might have come from rural Ontario and have never been in the city, and they might be someone that’s just been laid off of a job or a career changer. And it’s a lonely, lonely place if you don’t build relationships. So I intentionally walk the halls of the college and I try to make eye contact and smile with students. And they remember who I am because when they catch your eye and smile back, that’s an instant I see you. I see you. I believe in you. I recognize you. And I’m here to support you. And I think that’s really important in the life of students is to know that somebody cares about them.

Sam Demma
And not only do you build relationships with the students, but you also want to build strong relationships with colleagues. A lot of educators that tune in, especially the ones that are just getting started in education, they’re worried because they don’t know too many of the people that they’re working with. How do you go about building relationships with colleagues and collaborating and just, yeah, building a stronger relationship amongst members of your team?

Darlene O’Neill
That’s a great question. So I think, you know, oh Darlene’s extroverted so she can talk to anybody. That’s true, but it’s also true that introverts can make impactful relationships and build impactful relationships. I think, you know, as I said earlier, the first thing to do is to model the behavior share with others. So, ask for help. Like, if you feel that your team can’t do this on their own, build a relationship with somebody else. The Student Union, the International Office, the Student Services Office, the Counseling Office, the academic teachers, and the deans, we’re all on the same agenda. We all want our students to be successful in post-secondary. And so I think, you know, following through on what you say you’ll do is really important. Be a doer, practice reciprocity. So if somebody does something for your team to make your team shine, then you return the favor somehow. Or at least at minimum recognize what they’ve done to support your team’s success. Recognize as a leader what your individual team members have done. Always say thank you. And it doesn’t need to be a big hoopla, but thanking your team members in public is really important. It empowers them, it emboldens the work that they do, and it verifies the work they do. It makes them feel valued. So if you can make another human being feel valued, then they’re going to feel commitment, and they’re going to want to help you. And I think that that’s a secret sauce as well, is always, you know, make sure that you know or make sure that you recognize the good work that other people do.

Sam Demma
I love that. You’re supporting student success in many ways, your team’s success. I know there are some exciting developments that are coming together at Fanshawe, maybe even a new wing being built or a facility. Are we not allowed to talk about it?

Darlene O’Neill
No, we can. Absolutely. We’re super excited. I can, absolutely.

Sam Demma
Okay, tell me some of the new developments

Darlene O’Neill
that are coming together that you’re really excited about. Yeah, so 10 years ago we started Leaf Junction and Leaf Junction is our entrepreneurial arm. Creativity and innovation is a game changer at Fanshawe College. And so we are super excited that on January 26th, we’re going to be opening Innovation Village in partnership with our student union, our Center for Research and Innovation, Leap Junction, and our Library Learning Commons. So a lot of partners living together in one building, but we have created the most exceptional space for students ever. And I look at you, Sam, in your green room, you know, with your mic and your earphones. And we have all these rooms for these students now where they can go in and do broadcasts. And we have a virtual reality room. There’s makerspaces. It’s so exciting. We had a sneak peek last week. And it’s a look into the future for Fanshawe College and lots of opportunities to partner with us and to help our students grow, but also to solve challenging situations for employers. So, as I said earlier, young people are going to be the future, and so we’re going to give them an opportunity through Innovation Village to solve problems in our community and with our employers and to help them make this place a better place to be in.

Sam Demma
This village sounds amazing. What does it physically look like? When I hear village, I think collaborative and lots of different shops. Like, what does it look like physically?

Darlene O’Neill
There’s lots of spaces, there’s lots of alcoves, there’s lots of wide open spaces. It’s bright. It’s really honouring our Indigenous culture as well. It has external gardens. It has a fire, a sacred fireplace outside. It’s like, there are three So it’s huge and airy and bright and lots of glass, lots of windows, lots of greenery, funky colors. It’s really, really cool. When you come back to Fanshawe, Sam, I’ll take you on a tour.

Sam Demma
Please.

Darlene O’Neill
It sounds like the perfect place to brainstorm creative ideas, talking about innovation.

Sam Demma
It certainly is, yes. And outside of this massive project, are there anything else that you’d like to spotlight that’s coming together at the college or programs or anything that other people might not be aware of that’s really awesome that’s happening behind the scenes?

Darlene O’Neill
Well everything Fanshawe is awesome, I’ll just say that. I love Fanshawe College, I love the opportunities and that it creates for people. I love the people I work with, I’m very happy. My boss always tells me that I remind her of the little girl in the Maxwell House commercial. I’m not sure if you’ve seen that, but you know, she’s always like, I love my job and I love my family and I love my friends. So, awesome things happening at Fanshawe. Well, Sam, we met at Ignite, which is our student conference, a career conference for students. And it’s pretty exceptional that about 400 students spend a Saturday with us. This year, 2024, will be Ignite’s 10th anniversary. So we’re always looking for employers to support our students with opportunities for growth and employment and to make a difference in their workplace. So yeah, Fanshawe just continues to be an amazing place to be.

Sam Demma
Ah, I love it. If you could travel back in time, speak to yourself when you were just starting your work in education but with the knowledge you have now and the experience what would you tell your younger self that you think you need to hear when you were just starting the journey? 

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah that’s a great question Sam. I think I would tell my younger self earlier you talked about imposter syndrome and young people having imposter syndrome I would tell my younger self that you know what it’s going to be okay do what you do be authentic be true to yourself and good things will happen and always always give back make sure that you say thank you younger self just be authentic and don’t give up don’t ever give up I once one of my mentors once told me, you know sometimes young people that are successful are seen as the golden child or the golden employee. And I was that person at one time and it hurts the core sometimes when people would say things like that. And my boss would say to me, my mentor, she would say, you just rise above that. Rise above it. There’s better days ahead, and you will be successful. Don’t be angry, don’t be sad. Learn from what these people are saying, and the biggest lesson that you can learn from a leader or a colleague is what you don’t wanna be. And so always remember what you don’t wanna be.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Darlene, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast, talk about some of your beliefs around education, a little bit about your career journey and your own personal trajectory, some exciting developments happening at Fanshawe College. If there is someone who’s listening to this feeling very inspired by you and would love to just ask a question, what would be the most effective way for them to get in touch and reach out?

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, so anybody can email me at any time at doneill@fanshawec.ca.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Thank you again, Darlene. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work. Enjoy your upcoming travels, and I will see you at some time in 2024. Awesome. Thank you again, Darlene. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work. Enjoy your upcoming travels, and I will see you at some time in 2024.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeff Armour

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Jeff Armour — Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University

Jeff Armour — Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University
About Jeff Armour

Jeff Armour (@WesternUSC) is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University. Jeff graduated with a B.Sc. from Western University and after a few years of service overseeing the Wave and Spoke restaurant and bars on campus the USC encouraged Jeff to enroll in the Project Management program through Western’s Continuing Studies. Jeff was subsequently promoted to higher-level leadership position in the organization until ultimately landing at the COO role he currently holds. Jeff also recently completed his EMBA at Ivey in July 2023.

Jeff has an extensive background in strategic planning, project management, operations restructuring and realignment, change management and financial strategy.

Jeff is married to Mindy and has three children, Kennedee, Ben and Brad. He was born in BC but grew up in Peterborough, Jeff moved to London for school at Western and never left.

Connect with Jeff: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University Students’ Council (USC)

B.Sc at Western University

Western’s Continuing Studies

Eccelerated Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) at Ivey

Sebastian Sassaville – From Everest to the Sahara

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jeff Armour. Jeff is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the University Students Council at Western University. Jeff graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Western University, and after a few years of service overseeing the Wave and Spoke restaurant and bars on campus, the USC encouraged Jeff to enroll in the project management program through Western’s continuing studies. Jeff was subsequently promoted to a higher level leadership position in the organization until ultimately landing at the COO role he currently holds. Jeff also recently completed his EMBA at Ivy in July 2023. Jeff has an extensive background in strategic planning, project management, operations, reconstructing, and realignment, change management, and financial strategy. Jeff is married to Mindy, has three children, Kennedy, Ben, and Brad, was born in BC, but grew up in Peterborough. Jeff moved to London for school at Western and has never left. I hope you enjoy this insightful interview with Jeff, and I will see you on the other side. Jeff, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate it.

Jeff Armour
Hey, thanks for asking me. I’m excited to talk with you.

Sam Demma
Something that piqued my interest, obviously we met at the orientation week at Western, but something that piqued my interest that we haven’t talked about is your start in construction, because I come from a family of tradespeople and my dad is a plumber by trade and builds homes. Tell me a little bit about your start in construction and how that led to working at the university?

Jeff Armour
I’ll try and give the Coles notes because I don’t want to take up the whole time, but the Kohl’s notes are essentially, when I was really, like, I don’t think I was 16, my dad was, who’s a doctor, was having his office renovated by a contractor who actually became a close family friend. And he suggested I approach him to see if, you know, I could do some work with them, you know, trying to get in those values of work and then getting pay. And I was the oldest child, so, you know, get out there and lead the way for everyone else kind of thing. So that job, I got it. And that guy, his name’s Robert Thurnbeck, who has passed away since, but was really formative for me. A lot of, even to this day, a lot of the leadership things he taught me, even though I don’t think I for sure he was not trained or anything, it just came naturally to him. He was leading a construction company and working with customers. So it was all of that sort of massaging of, there’s money at play, there’s timelines and all the rest of it. Learned a ton from him. When he passed away, I kind of took over the reins at like 19 years old of this company that had projects that still needed to, and it kind of split a little bit, but there was a chunks of it that, you know, I continued on and did some of the work that he underway. And it was kind of like, I was currently enrolled in the university doing my bachelor of science and it was really appealing to me to be doing that construction. So in the summer I was doing it, I was getting to lead a team of like, you know, there was like 20 years old, let’s say, or 19 years old. And there were, you know, carpenters that were working with me that were like 45 or 50. And the plumbers didn’t want to show up and the electricians were like, I think the price is going to go up. And here I am learning all of these, like you’re thrown into it, trying to make a go of it, and a great learning atmosphere. At the same time, I was finishing my BSc, and at that time, there were some challenges in some of the operations, and I was working at The Wave, which is an on-campus restaurant, not just in terms of financially, and we’ll probably get into that later on about how I sort of like view services in the post-secondary environment. But there was challenges with like people, bumps in seats too, like it wasn’t, you know, working. The general manager, the role I’m currently in, which I now call the chief operating officer, but the general manager at the time called me up and asked my suggestion for improving some of those spaces. And I gave him the recommendations and then he offered me a job and said, like, yeah, I want you to come and do all of that and see if you can fix it. I was young still, like 22, 23, somewhere in that range. And I thought, you know what? I can always come back to the construction, but this kind of interests me. And I will say my parents kind of pushed me a little bit. I think they felt like I was growing up maybe too quickly. I was working seven days a week with the construction thing. You work five days a week and then you do quotes and billings on the weekends and you pay deposit. It was non-stop. And it was probably a little too much. I don’t know. I’ve never asked him about that. Maybe over the holidays I will. But came to the USC, University Students Council, which is interesting because every university has a University Students Council. But the USC, for example, at McMaster, it’s the MSU, McMaster Student Union. Across Canada, the USC is known as the Western USC kind of thing. So I’ll say that a lot, so I’m just preparing the listener for that. Came to the USC, and that’s where things really changed in terms of like, it struck a chord in me where the construction money was great, but I suddenly had these thoughts mid-20s, late-30s of like, maybe it’s not about money entirely. You got to be able to pay your bills. I want to be able to like make sure my kids have what they need to, you know, if they want to play sports or whatever. But you know, me working seven days a week and just, you know, the thing about construction was you could literally see something at the end of the day and be like, wow, we showed up here and there was no second floor and now there’s a second floor on. And when I go back to Peterborough, which is where that happened and where I’m from, I’ll drive around the city and be like, oh, I put the roof on that house, there’s all the addition or like music. Can’t believe that chimney’s still up. The mortar was a little cold that day when we were repointing the channel. My point is, there’s a satisfaction that comes with physical creation. And I think what I tapped into, even though I was just working at the bars and restaurants, was the impact and the purpose that interacting with students at probably one of the most critical phases of their life when they’ve left home and they’re trying to figure out their way and they’re trying to learn and they’re trying to figure out how to make friends all over again and all of that, but in a different, they’re reinventing themselves, but also trying to invent what they’re going to be. And it just really resonated with me. That’s how the two came together.

Sam Demma
Can we go back to Robert for just a moment? It sounds like he had an instrumental impact on you. When I think about people in my life who have played big roles and taught me lots of things. Many of the greatest lessons came in moments when I was extremely emotional or something was happening or I made a mistake or things fell apart and this voice of reason from another human being just changed my beliefs or shifted my perspective in a big way. And I think back to a gentleman named Chris who, when during the pandemic my work was falling apart because all these schools were canceling engagements. And he helped me realize that, although it’s a changing and challenging time, there will be opportunities if you shift your focus and focus on the fact that people are gonna need this work now more than ever, and less people are gonna be doing it. And if there’s less people doing it and more people that need it, don’t you think that could be a cool opportunity if you figure out how to deliver things virtually. And it was like, it just, it was a big shift mentally for me. And so I’m wondering, when you think back to your time spent with Robert, do you have any experiences you can remember where you may have had a challenge or something come up and his lesson kind of pushed you forward? And if so, what was one of those examples?

Jeff Armour
Like, there are several I reference all the time, so I could probably give you an example in different realms. But before I do that, I want to say what you just said about finding a way to deliver this message. I think one of the… I don’t know that I would have accepted this invite from someone else if I didn’t feel like what you’re doing and what you’re talking about is absolutely critical. mental, the access to information that the world has, the mental health struggles that we have, the inability to make mistakes or accept that something is wrong because everything is perfect that you see online. I can tell you right now, it’s not even 9.14 in the morning, I’ve already made like four mistakes. And I love it because if it takes you 100 mistakes to get it right, let’s get through 99 of them real quick so we can get to it being right. But that isn’t the way the world is right now. And people need to hear that. Yeah, you’ve got crap in your backpack, as you say, and you got to get it out of there. You got to own it and accept it. And sometimes that stuff is good. Mistakes are good, right? And I think that’s to answer your question now, is I got to borrow a company truck. He had all these F-150s that had the red and white stripes and they all looked the same. And there I was, you know, and I had just gotten my license the year before and I put one of them in the ditch and I had to call him. And we had just had radios, there was no cell phones. So it was like these, you know, radios that we shared with all the trucking companies and everything. And I had to call and say over that radio, so I knew like 300 people in Peterborough were going to hear this. Hey, I need you to come out to quarter line. And I expected this is a job. He gave me a dollar raise every year, a 50 cent raise every year. You have a job. As soon as you’re done school, you just show up. You’re going to get a 50 cent raise. I expect with every paycheck, you’re going to buy a tool. Here’s a tool belt and a hammer just from a shop. You just pull it down. He goes, and I’m going to get you started. But like you want to see a tape measure in there, I want to see this, you want to see that. And if I took you to the garage right now, I have, it looks like you’re walking into a Rona or a Home Depot because he forced me every paycheck to buy a tool, but he gave me a raise every year. I knew it was coming, right? And I knew I had a job. So there was stability there, but there was also patience when I made a mistake, right? Like put the truck into the ditch. But then there was also like life lesson stuff. Like, you know, so I was the young lad. They always called me the young lad, right? Where’s the young lad today? Oh, I’ve got him in another job site. He’s cleaning up this. Well, we need him over here because we’ve got to move a bunch of drywall and like we don’t want to hurt our backs, that sort of thing, right? But he’d go pick me up and drive me over and he goes, tomorrow’s payday and he’d kind of look at me, you know, and he, you know those Colts, the wine dipped, rum tipped Colts, you know, like I’m sure they still exist, but he always had one in his mouth and he would pull it out and look at me, and he’s like, what do you think if I just paid him on Friday instead of tomorrow, right? And I’d be like, I think they’d be really upset, you shouldn’t do that, you know, and he would do it and then he said, he said, you know, what were they saying, right? And, you know, and he’s like, it’s good to remind them that they’re getting a paycheck and their work is valuable and you take him up for pizza lunch and make a big joke about it and big celebration and like it wouldn’t hurt anyone or anything like that but he really understood the balance and at the time I thought he was being I don’t know what the word is for it it wasn’t self-centered but I believe that it brought joy him handing a paycheck to a person and that person going like thank you. Mm-hmm Do you know I mean like I did a good job and there’s money coming to me because I worked for you and the customers Are happy and he was always so happy he was like a big bundle of joy all the time and all that like and and Even though we’re doing construction and sometimes it was like pouring rain and right out there putting tarps on stuff and it was brute, you know Everybody was happy and I think it was connecting. Everyone now connects work and work life and what’s that work life balance and all the rest of that. Like there has to be a division and work is where you’re unhappy, but life is where you’re happy. Do you know what I’m saying? And I think just separating that is terrible. Like I referenced Wayne Gretzky earlier on. He was someone, it was a podcast recently and they asked Wayne, what’s the magic number? How many hours a week were you practicing? How many hours a week? And he laughed and he’s like, zero. I never practiced. I was just playing the game.

Sam Demma
Ah.

Jeff Armour
The mindset of like, when are you putting in that work so you can go get the joy of in the game is separate. It’s all part of the game, right? I like to just, the game was something that we got to organize once in a while as a bonus, but being able to go out there with my friends and shoot, you know, stick or whatever. So there was a lot of those little kind of lessons about like people finding their purpose in their work and then understanding that, you know, the people that are putting up the skyscrapers in Toronto so people can live closer to their work downtown and make that city more vibrant are critical. That’s critical work that’s going on in the world. And I don’t think, I think people don’t see it that way anymore. They’re all jumbled up about what’s the purpose and what their job is and what they’re trying to do and maybe chasing the dollar a little bit. And they’re not finding happiness in that, I don’t think.

Sam Demma
You mentioned earlier that you realized maybe it’s not so much about making lots of money, making enough money, yes, to pay the bills and have some cool experiences, but that there was more important things. When did that realization come to you? Was that when you were transitioning into working in schools? Because I think, especially for younger teachers and even young professionals, there is this, I guess there’s this belief that to be successful, you have to make X amount of dollars. And I think it traps so many people into doing things that they don’t love just to check a box.

Jeff Armour
Right. Yeah, and yeah, for sure. And I’m not trying to be, there’s a lot of people who work really hard to make a lot of money doing that. And I don’t wanna suppose that I understand that that’s what motivates them or keeps them happy. That’s for a therapist to do to figure out where that comes from, you know, and maybe they ate, maybe they grew up in a household that struggled, you know, with food insecurity and who knows. And then now, having enough money is really important and that’s what makes them happy. Great with that. Great with that.

Jeff Armour
But for me, I think it was the building piece, the builder, the contractor part of me that was great at it. I really feel like I understood it and I connected with it. But I feel like there was a few moments when I was like sitting with a young student. It was – so I worked some nights and sitting there with a young student and they were just talking about how their roommates like – it’s late at night. We’re waiting for their buddies to come pick him up because you know he got left at the bar and whatever whatever and you know Most bars, you know in the world would be like it’s closing time get the hell out We don’t we don’t do that on campus. We make sure everyone gets home safe We try and see that people are leaving and you know, hey, you’re walking by yourself Let me get you foot patrol or whatever like we take it’s just a different approach not not as a maybe as a value proposition But it’s more just like, could run campus and, you know, people are trusting us to take care of their children.

Jeff Armour
Exactly, yeah.

Jeff Armour
So sitting with, and then just broke down and then we had a long conversation. I’m pretty, if memory serves me, we actually gave him a job and he was waiting for his buddies to come back and he’s like, you know, I gotta go home for Christmas and like, I’m pretty sure I’m failing a course and my dad’s not going to be okay with that. Not going to be. And, you know, we had some conversations and it was, I remember that one specifically, because it was outside the bar, it was out, we call it Concrete Beach, it’s outside of the building, but there’s this big area where students, you know, gather on campus. And it was a good conversation that made me realize, you know, wow, like, maybe, I’m going to struggle with this all the way through, but like, because I’m much better at self-deprecating, but like maybe I made a difference in that person’s life, right? And although I can’t see it like I built a second floor in a house, I have to believe I’m making a difference. And that statement, I have to believe I’m making a difference, I say to myself weekly weekly ever since in the 25 years that I’ve been at USC.

Sam Demma
You might not be seeing the second floor, but you’re definitely building a foundation in a person’s life the same way you built a foundation in a building with the work that you do with the USC. What are a few of the parts to your work that you find really rewarding? I’m sure there’s so many, but what are a few that come to mind?

Jeff Armour
Well, an easy one is, so my role is the chief operating officer. I am the, again, I hate talking hierarchically, but just so the listener can understand, on an org chart, I’m the top full-time staff person. So we are staff-run, but we’re student-led. So the boss, my boss, is the president who sits on the board of directors. There’s nine of them, so eight students at large, and then the president. That board is my boss that hires, fires me, does performance evaluations and all the rest of it. That president changes over every year. So they get elected. We come back in January, this, like, in four weeks or three weeks, and we’re going to hear who’s running to be president next year, and one of those people will be my boss and the new board of directors representative. So, first out of the gate, if you think, you know, well, thinking it’s bizarre is okay, because it’s awesomely bizarre, but not being okay with it means you should never work for a student association. You’re not gonna ever accept it if you’re like, oh, I couldn’t take orders from a 22, 23 year old. So that’s probably the best part for me though, is every single year, there’s a new slate of ideas, a new, fresh, sort of like, hey, I love that thing they did last year, I didn’t love this part of it so much. You know, and they run, they develop a platform, and then they open up, you know, I kind of call it when the person gets elected, they get to sit down with the current president because they don’t start until June 1, and myself and we open up the big book of truce, right? Okay, so you said you were going to reduce the price of coffee at Starbucks. We don’t run the Starbucks, right? But let me tell you how we use our on-campus operations to advocate for affordability in terms of food on campus, because we’re always cheaper than the, right? So it was like, oh, well, that’s all I really wanted. And right. So then what we’re going to do is we’re going to do a heavy advertising campaign that says, you know, hey, if you want to bottle a little water, we’re 25 cents cheaper. And we won’t we don’t directly say, you know, the school is this and the school is that we just advertise it because we’ve got a great relationship with the school. They’re actually but they got to pay bills as well. They’re a business and their purpose is a little bit different than what our purpose is. Our purpose, our mission, our vision statement is students have the power to change the world. And specifically, we say students, because although we have elected student leadership, you might think that’s the students that have the power to change the world. We actually it’s all students. So like we do something called midnight breakfast where we put out food during exams. And when those students are studying over and well, then they need that pick me up around 11 o’clock. They can just come over and grab a free plate of eggs and waffles and bacon and whatever. Fill their belly, see some people, get away from their desk, and then go back and study. And we believe that those students, one of them’s gonna go on and figure out a cure for the common cold, or is gonna go write some amazing poetry, or is going to be a great track star, and you know, whatever, and they’re gonna change the world in some way, shape, or form. So that’s why we do what we do, that’s why I get out of bed every morning, is I believe that students have the power to change the world.

Jeff Armour
The second thing is how we do that, our mission statement is we do that by enhancing the educational experience. So we don’t do the educational experience, we do mentoring and training and all of that, so there is some huge educational component, but in this moniker, it’s uppercase educational experience, which is what Western does. So we just enhance it, bus pass, health and dental, bars, orientation week, as you saw, stuff like that.

Sam Demma
With the USC, you’re also directly managing lots of different staff members and I’m assuming people would be reporting to you lots of times during the day. It sounds like you also were managing people on the construction site. In your experience managing people on the construction site and even at the university, what have you found to be effective when it comes to managing other human beings? I’ve had a couple of experiences and it’s challenging. It’s challenging.

Jeff Armour
It is. And that’s the beauty of it is people are challenging. If it was easy, they wouldn’t need a chief operating officer, right? If everyone just came in and did exactly what they said they were going to do and they never got sick and they never were confused about about what the priorities were or all that sort of thing, then it would be really easy. But the key to remember for me anyways is, first of all, you have to have the belief that everybody coming into work wants to contribute and feel valued. So that goes back to, it can’t just be about money. It has to be about something else. And I’ll tell you, if it’s, they’re not finding purpose where you’re at and I’m not talking I’m not talking specifically But the USC If you’re not finding purpose working for a consulting firm in Toronto My hope for you as a fellow human being is that you figure that out quickly Because what you are wasting is resource that you can’t get back You can always make more money, but you can’t get time back if your impact and purpose is somewhere else boy I hope you figure that out quickly. And so that is the approach that I take when managing people is, first of all, are you okay? And do you understand, like, what makes you happy and where you’re finding purpose? And if that isn’t the case, let’s talk about that and work through that. No hard feelings, no harm, right? I’m here to be your, I’m here to help you navigate all this if I can, if I can have the honor of doing that, right? The second thing is you understand then, now if you’re connected to what we’re doing, if you believe the students have the power to change the world, if you believe that this consulting firm that you’re working for is really making the agricultural sector a better place to be and that’s important to you because you’re down as a farmer, then awesome. Like you’re doing, you found it, right? Now do you understand from a leadership level, hierarchically, right? What the expectations are from either strategic planning or what makes impact or where we’re going as a team. And even if we’re all going in the wrong direction, let’s go in the wrong direction together, right? Figure out it’s the wrong direction, make corrections and then figure out what the right direction is. Because you’re not gonna get it right the first time, which is where the third thing comes in, which is patience. So is the person okay? Have they found their purpose? Are they able and willing to contribute? Because I don’t believe nobody comes into work to do something wrong. I’m like, oh, today I’m going to like make these mistakes or whatever. If they’re making mistakes, it’s either because they haven’t been trained. That’s the management’s fault. Or they don’t understand where they’re going. Management’s fault. Or they’re not propped up with the tools and resources to do what they need to do, management’s fault. So someone failing at the frontline level or even middle management, I see that as my, that’s my fault. I haven’t had enough time to talk to them. They’re not getting enough direction. They’re not getting enough. Or, or they’re unhappy. And this goes back to, you know. 

Sam Demma
Wrong position.

Jeff Armour
Are you, and if, and sometimes and I’m not gonna I’m gonna stick with construction to keep it at work from what I’m currently doing There were there were times where I had to sit down with someone not sit down because it’s construction site you know you’re having a coffee and the person be like It’s getting harder to get her to bed on Monday and Tuesday now and when I’m like, oh, what do you like? You know, I always like to do this like well, why not like just do it You know, how about you work here half time so you still get a solid paycheck and you got some money and go try that out. Yeah, yeah, you know what I mean? So encouraging people to be their best and if they happen to be their best where I’m the chief operating officer, that’s a win. The win-win is, or that’s a win-win. The win of that person going and figuring out what, but that attitude goes to the entire place. And people start to feel like, hey, I don’t get what’s going on here. I’m not afraid to ask because I want to be at my best because I don’t want to disappoint the students or I don’t want to disappoint my manager or whatever it is. So those are kind of the three ways. So it’s not really about I’m not much of a like during COVID. Yeah, I had to take a more, you know, firm hand on the wheel, if you will say, but that’s because we weren’t in a normal operating environment. It was like, yeah, you’re all not coming to work. This is what we can do, and this is what we can’t do. And this is, I know you used to like, whatever, like flip pancakes for midnight breakfast. But today what you’re doing is you’re doing a newsletter and you’re helping to copyright that. Like, cause, but you’re going to get, you have a job. So you go back to Maslow’s, like the primary thing is like, are you safe? Do you, can you pay your bills? Can you, you know, and that’s, that’s where you went during COVID. So other than that, I’m, I’m more of a carrot type of person of like, if we do this, wouldn’t this be great? And we can move the needle and move down this path as opposed to running around the office, trying to catch someone doing something wrong. You know, I saw you left five minutes earlier. And like, you know, the madmen approach of like the sixties and seventies and in fair and probably early two thousands as well. I think that approach has entirely changed.

Sam Demma
I was recently attending an event in Quebec City and saw a speaker by the name of Sebastian Sassville, and he has climbed Everest and done these crazy endurance adventures, 240 mile runs across the Sahara Desert. And he recently, more recently, did a bike ride across America, which is one of the most physically challenging, I guess, long-term races you can do. And he mentioned a time during the race when he was about to give up, and he had a team of, I wanna say, seven to 10 people that were supporting him along this two-week journey. He had to be on the bike 22 hours a day for the entire experience. And he talked about a moment where he broke down, it was very close to the finish, maybe a couple of days before the end. And he said, I think I’m gonna give up. And he had a team member basically tell him, no, you can’t because it’s not about you, it’s about us. There’s 10 of us showing up every single day. Sass, you gotta pull your weight. This is about our mission, our race, it’s not yours. And he shared this lesson with all of us in the audience to just remind us that our missions aren’t about us, it’s about we, the team, and all galvanizing towards and moving towards a common goal or a common mission. It sounds like that’s very similar to how you approach the call to action.

Jeff Armour
In my first week taking over this role, it’s funny you say that, for all the management team, the place was, it needed some of what you’re talking about there, and I printed up a sign that said we, and I had all the senior managers put it up. So reporting to me, there were eight senior managers at the time, and they all report, one was like each of the divisions, right? That support the organization and students and put WE up in their office. And within two weeks, everyone was asking like, what’s the WE all about? And it’s like, well, we’re either gonna fail together or we’re gonna win together, right? So that’s a very cool story though. Wow. 22 hours on the bike.

Jeff Armour
22 hours on the bike.

Sam Demma
And not just one day, it’s like two weeks in a row. He was talking about moments where he had hallucinations and he mentioned how vulnerable he had to be. At certain points, he couldn’t even reach down and touch his toes. He’d have to have other team members dress him every single morning. He had people making all of his meals. Talk about relying on the people around you to get the job done and recognizing that you can’t do it all alone. It was just a really cool, really cool, powerful analogy. And I’m carrying that with me in my backpack moving forward. And this conversation just reminded me of it a little bit. 

Jeff Armour
That’s huge. It’s almost like, and I don’t want to dehumanize him, but like, it’s almost like he represented the organization that was doing work 24 hours a day. It was happening. And there were all these people that were propping it up. And even when the organization was ready to fail, everyone was like, they rallied around him, like, you can’t. We’re not gonna let this stop, because this thing we value a lot. And I’m not, I know I realize I’m referring to a human being as a thing, but like, he sounds like he wasn’t even thinking for himself, he was just like, wait, literally just, you know, people were functioning for him, which is, yeah, unbelievable.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Jeff Armour
I’ll think of that name for you again. I don’t have a pen and paper with me, so I’ll get that.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I’ll share it with you right after the podcast is done. Sebastian Sassaville. Sassaville. And anyway, yeah, it was very inspiring and it reminded me of this conversation. It sounds like you’re also very passionate about the services on campus, like the restaurants. And you worked in operations, you talked about working in the restaurant. Tell me a little bit about how those operate and why you’re passionate about them.

Jeff Armour
So yeah, we have a ton of, the benefit of being a big student association, we have a wide breadth, but we also have depth. So, like we do, we have a club system.

Jeff Armour
Every school has a club system, for most schools have a club system, but our club system has, you know, there’s 13,000 unique members and over 17,000 memberships. So some of those 13 have two memberships in clubs. That’s like a third of campus is involved in our club system, right? The spoken wave operations, although I’m happy that they generate revenue and that’s all great, what I’m really happy about is they’re lined up and working in those operations, 95% of the staff are, yeah, 95 or higher, are students. So they’re students that come in and get trained and work in the environment. And again, that’s important because they have a job, it helps them, you know, we pay back over a million dollars in salaries back to students every single year so that they can, you know, it’s no small, these aren’t small operations. The big thing it comes from is the community, right? And those people get exposed to other people they wouldn’t have met. And I feel like we’re at a bit of a crossroads, and not just post-secondary education wise, but we’ll stick to that, because that’s what this is about, in terms of like, especially with COVID, and you’ve got people in second and third year that didn’t get to go to their grad prom in high school or they didn’t, you know, have those formative experiences in high school. And high school is way too short. They used to be a grade 13. And that’s created a whole other mixture of issues because the drinking age is 19 and they’re coming at 18 or 17 in some cases. And so then that creates, well, what are you going to do when you’re 17, 18? You’re going to go to a house party. Well, this is an unpopular, students would call it a hot take is what I’m about to do here. But I would rather have the students drinking legally in a venue where they can be supervised with smart-served people. And we can put plates of nachos out and they can get food and it can be spread out over the course of the night. And we know what they’re drinking is safe. Or what’s worse is, you know, the recreational drugs that have turned into other things because it’s easier to get that thing going to the LCBO and get, buy a, you know, bottle of vodka or whatever. It isn’t about the vodka. It isn’t about the food and beverage operations making money. It isn’t about the clubs being used by—all those things are touch points on community and whether we want to accept it or not on the drinking and other stuff, the party side of the social side of things, or on the usage side for the services, students are looking for community. And I believe it’s our job to provide that and the universities, and not just Western, across the board. Parents are handing their to us at 17, 18 years old. And there’s an expectation there, in my opinion, that there’s going to be some resources and opportunities for them to build communities and develop and grow the way I did. When I came out, there was OAC, and that was grade 13. And then I moved into university, and I think I was able to go to the bars and all that right out of the gate. And so I made friends really quickly. And those friends were the ones that right before Thanksgiving, one of them would come back and be like, man, I got a turkey dumped. My girlfriend came back from Queens and she dumped me after Thanksgiving. It was called the turkey dump. I don’t know. They probably break up with them now over Instagram or TikTok or something. And then we’d all sit around, go to the spoke and grab some nachos and some wings, listen to Rick McGee and like, you know, sort of like everything would be okay. Instead of now, they don’t know where to go, right? And their roommates, maybe they’re not getting along with or nobody’s home. And so they go on Instagram or they go on social media and then there’s their community isn’t a real community. It’s a fake representation of what the world is. And so when you’re comparing yourself against that with the access to information, but it’s never been higher, the access to information, access to social media and all the rest of that. But there is an all-time low for patience for people making mistakes, saying the wrong word, doing something wrong, and an all-time low of community building. It’s a powder keg for what we see going on right now, which is widespread, you know, anxiety and pain, the actual, like, you know, people can cry on the drop of a dime. And so that’s what gets me going when you ask, well, what are the services? What do they mean? It’s an opportunity for you to, it’s just like, as you know, going back to my biology as you know, the electrons bounce around and hit more things, the more interactions you have, the more chance you have for a reaction. And that’s what the USC, I think, is trying to do is create opportunities for those interactions, which you did and you saw during orientation week. And like, after you left the stage, the number of students who either emailed or texted or DMed, they took a video of you and then sent it to my president Sunday and said like, that was awesome, you know, and right in the middle of the week, you know, they’ve been away from their family for three days now, and we hit them with something like what you had to say, that interaction maybe made them turn around and go to someone that they wouldn’t normally talk to and say like, how great was that? Like, the backpack guy, you know, like, you know what I’m saying, right? And that’s, we’re trying to create those interactions to create a community so that we can create some, at the end of the day, some reiliency.

Sam Demma
I wanna be just cautious of the time. You okay for one more question?

Jeff Armour
Yeah, great.

Sam Demma
Okay, cool. And I think reminding yourself, you said earlier, that I have to believe that I’m making a difference is something that I do consistently. Even after walking off a stage, you know, one time I was doing a presentation and there was a student sitting 90 degrees away from me facing the wall. And the entire presentation I was in my own head thinking, is this person listening? I was getting frustrated and a little bit upset. Is it me? Is it my delivery? What’s going on? And I remember driving home, being a little bit upset about it. And it’s funny because the whole room was engaged and it seemed like this one person was not potentially paying attention and I focused on that. But when I got home, this individual had sent me an email and it was a really long email. And I told this to a mentor of mine named Chris, the whole situation, and he told me, he’s like, it’s not up to you to decide how other people receive the information you share when you’re on stage. It’s up to you to just deliver it authentically, to lead with the mission and the purpose and hope that people will digest it and do with it what they need to. And so that always sticks with me, especially when I walk off stage and I’m not sure if it connected or I’m not sure if it made a difference. So I lean on those words you were saying and even what Chris tells me. But how do you pick yourself up in moments where you might doubt your own impact?

Jeff Armour
Well, I doubt it all the time. That’s why I have to say it all the time. Because although I don’t know that I could recount a moment like what you just shared, which is very, very cool. I kind of see it like I’m a constant sort of I try and be for the world, this constant kind of like, just a light.

Jeff Armour
Do you know what I mean? And it’s there. You want to look at it. And you in your case, yeah, actually look at it. You want to look at it or you don’t want to look at it. Sometimes you want to lay on the beach and get a tan. Other days, you know what, I just want to look at it through a window a little bit. And like, as long as it’s there, I can’t, it goes back to my management principles, like, I can’t assume where you are at in terms of like, you know, if you’re happy or not. But I want to present some thinking that maybe this world’s a little bit different than the way you’re perceiving it at the moment. Because the moment you’re in, if I had looked at myself when I was 20 years old being a contractor, I would have thought, is this my life, working seven days a week? But it was preparing me for a contrast, but also it was giving me data points on what was actually gonna make me happier. So it’s not a failure, it’s like, oh, well you tried being a contractor, it didn’t work. It actually worked great. And I probably could have afforded a bigger Christmas tree if I’d taken it. But like, yeah, it’s, the obligation is to just, I think, share it, and that’s why I say I have to believe I’m making a difference. The nice thing is, is that you have moments like you had that you just shared where someone sends you an email. Or there’s a president that you worked with, you know, six years ago, and they happen to now work for someone else, and you hear them say something to someone else that you told them September of their year, six years ago. And they say, you know, it’s not really about, you know, someone else. You just have to present the best version of yourself and share the light. And, you know, and then you’re like, oh my goodness, that’s the thing that I talked to them about. And now it’s made it different. You don’t realize it until you start see it reflecting back on yourself. And you’re like, okay, maybe this is catching on. Does that make sense?

Sam Demma
Yeah, it does. I think we need more lights in the world. So keep shining.

Jeff Armour
I meant it more like from a chemistry standpoint, that it’s not a river where you have to get in or you get out. It’s just kind of a passive presence, not like the light, like a church or something like that. It sounded like we got religious there, but yeah, I know it’s more, you can take the light in and you can not, you can stare directly into the eclipse if you want. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Sam Demma
You might lose your vision. Last question, what are you most excited about? There’s so many changes happening in the world. There’s so many diverse student needs. What are some opportunities that you’re very excited about as we move into 2024?

Jeff Armour
I think that what the world is experiencing right now from AI and deep learning to the escalating conflict going on around the world in many different areas, that’s a very challenging time and I have to believe that challenges like that, humanity has always come out on the other side as a better version of itself. And I have three kids and I want to make sure that what the world looks like when they’re ready to shine their own light, we’re running with the analogy now, is a good place to be. And that’s what gets me up every single day is like, can we have to make a change here? There has to be a change that comes from all of this. And we’re being pushed for some reason, and you can never see it in the moment. You know, in that moment, when you’re going through that exam that you’re going to maybe not do well on, or you got to go home and tell your parents that you’re not going to pass or whatever it is. On the other side of that, if we can be patient with each other and we can help each other find our purpose and then we can be clear communicators and give like that’s what the direction is, is clearly communicate without trying to compare ourselves to each other. You know, like you always hear the adage, the only person you should be comparing yourself to is the version of yourself the day before. If we can get to that state, you know, where we just want to better ourselves and find ourselves, that’s what’s driving me. Specifically in 2024, I don’t know, I kind of want to see, I just want, you know, Travis and maybe Taylor Swift to break up or get married one or the other. It’s like something has to happen there because it’s like consuming everything. I’m excited for, you know, we’ve had a good cycle of the route of COVID and the student voice and activities coming back. I’m really excited to see what comes next with that and just, you know, continue to make a difference and hopefully hear more stories about, you know, that light reflecting back for myself so I can keep going.

Sam Demma
Love that. Jeff, this has been an insightful conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time, for sharing some of your ideas, your management principles, and the work that you’re doing with USC. Keep up the great work and all the best in 2024. Keep up the great work and all the best in 2024.

Jeff Armour
I’ll keep going as long as you keep going.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeff Armour

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.

Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services

Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services
About Lynne Jenkinson

Lynne has a diploma in Communication Arts; Broadcast Journalism and has had a varied career in private broadcasting and working many Government contracts for different levels of Provincial and Federal Governments. Lynne is currently the Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and has been in this position since 2011.

Lynne is also an active FIRST Board member, FIRST is Flagstaff’s Informed Response Sharing Team. She is also an active member of the Flagstaff Food Bank Board and currently serves as Secretary and main fundraiser and grant writer. Lynne takes great pride in knowing what services are available not only in Flagstaff, but in outlying areas as well as what is available Provincially and Federally. Lynne writes many different grant proposals annually to introduce or sustain programs in Flagstaff and manages those many different Government grants through FFCS and FIRST.

Lynne is very community oriented and likes to be involved with projects that assist citizens live a successful life: mentally, physically and holistically.

On the personal side Lynne and her spouse Austin Hanson operate a year-round 10 site campsite in Camrose County that serves visiting workers and tourists. That operation continues to attract new people to Camrose County each year.

Connect with Lynne: Email | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Flagstaff Website

YESS (Youth Employment & Skills Strategy) Program

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is my good friend from Daislin, Alberta, Lynne Jenkinson. Lynne has a diploma in communication arts, broadcast journalism, and has had a varied career in private broadcasting and working with many government contracts for different levels of provincial and federal governments. Lynne is currently the Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and has been in the position since 2011. Lynne is also an active FIRST board member. FIRST is a Flagstaff’s informed response sharing team. She’s also an active member of the Flagstaff food bank board and currently serves as secretary and main fundraiser and grant writer. Lynne takes great pride in knowing what services are available not only in Flagstaff, but in outlying areas as well, as what is available provincially and federally. Lynne writes many different grant proposals annually to introduce or sustain programs in Flagstaff and manages those many different government grants through FFCS and FIRST. Lynne is very community-oriented and likes to be involved with projects that assist citizens in living a successful life mentally, physically, and holistically. On the personal side, Lynne and her spouse, Austin Hansen, operate a year-round tent site campsite in Camrose Country that serves visiting workers and tourists. That operation continues to attract new people to Camrose County each year, including myself and the backpack team in the spring of 2023. I hope you enjoyed this insightful conversation with my good friend Lynne, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest, a guest that we met on the road as a part of the Empty Your Backpack Speaking Tour, Lynne Jenkinson from FIRST. Lynne, thank you so much for coming here and being on the show.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, it’s always a thrill when people invite me to be on a podcast because to an old chick like me, this is kind of new stuff, but it’s also old stuff because we used to do documentaries all the time years ago when I was in radio. So yeah, podcasts are really becoming such a large and big thing. So it’s quite exciting for me. I’m excited

Sam Demma
I’m excited to have you on. Thanks for saying yes. Tell the audience a little bit more about yourself and what broughy outo where you are today.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, I started way back in radio, Sam, way back in 1984, a long time before a lot of people were even thought of. And then I retired at the young age of 30 because I was kind of burnt out before burnout was even a term. And then I started just doing government contracts and now I’m the executive director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and also the executive director of FIRST, which is a charity we run, which is Flagstaff’s Informed Response Sharing Team Society. And our mission in life is to promote healthy relationships. So we’re always looking for ideas and speakers to bring into our local schools through FIRST and the government grants that I get or grants from donors, grants from corporations. So we can leave, I guess, a footprint for the young people in the Flagstaff area. So I always say if I can bring a speaker in and they touch one person, we have done our job because from testimonials we see that people say, wow, like I learned that from that speaker and that is going to be maybe what I follow in life or I’m going to make sure I instill that in my life.

Sam Demma
When you finished in radio, how did you find this opportunity at first? Tell me more about the transition.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, it took a long time because I was 30 years old and I thought, okay, I want to do more in life. So over about the next 14 years, I just looked for different jobs. Hey, I even worked in a liquor store, even worked as a cobbler. I shouldn’t choose for a while. I just went and learned new things and did things. I’m even a meat cutter by trade because I went to school for five months to learn how to be a journeyman meat cutter. I didn’t like meat cutting because you’re kind of a linsicle all day because it’s kind of a cool job you’re doing with the whole meat. But then I started getting just government contracts. I was working for this and that. And then I just kind of fell into a job at FFCS because they needed a teacher for a year for a federal government program to teach youth age 15 to 30 how to work and how to keep jobs. And then after that, it just seemed a good fit. And I got hired at Flagstaff Family and Community Services, which also partners with FIRST. So we sort of partner and run the charity as well. And then in 2009, I got a full-time job. And in 2011, I became the executive director. So that’s what happens in rural Alberta. When you decide to stay in a rural area, it’ll happen in rural Ontario too. You find the job that fits you, and you kind of figure out how it works into your life.

Sam Demma
Let’s talk a little more about that one year you spent teaching. What was that experience like for you?

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, that was a federal government-funded program. Right now it’s called the YESS program, Youth Employment Skills Strategy. Years ago it used to be called Skills Link. And the federal government will fund agencies to run programs, they call them interventions. And we had 15 students, and for six months, they were with me in a classroom, and we taught them how to do resumes. We even had one student teach others how to play chess, because that was once again, using your brain, right? So they learned how to do resumes, they learned how to find jobs, they learned how to keep jobs. And we said way back when, the old executive director, her name was Gail Watt. We said way back when what we’re teaching them to do is how to have coffee How to do coffee how to sit around and chat with people?

Sam Demma
And did you feel the work in the classroom was just as meaningful as the work you do now as an executive director Or what aspects of it did you really enjoy and found and on the reverse found challenging?

Lynne Jenkinson
Oh, very challenging is when you’re dealing with different people. Even think of a classroom with 15 people and they were aged 15 to 30 years old. Some were school dropouts. They didn’t call them school dropouts. They called those alternative schools and I think they still use that word now. And we had a lady who was 30. So you had people from age 15 to 30. So what was the most important thing is, wow, they’re all individuals. And I can’t imagine how teachers do it today, either grade 1, grade 8, grade 12, when you have 30 to 60 students in a classroom, because each of those people have a different personality, and they have different needs and wants. And how do you serve everyone? Very hard to serve everyone, but we talk about inclusive societies. societies, you have to figure out a way to connect with each of the people in that classroom. And me, that was 2003 and 20 years later, I still know where some of those youth are. 

Sam Demma
That’s incredible. What do you think helped you connect with the students in your classroom? How did you get to know them and tailor some of the content to their needs during the time in the room?

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, I’ll tell you this, Sam, I would never be able to be a teacher because I’m not politically correct. I connect with people by being honest and truthful and sometimes by swearing.

Sam Demma
And they receive it. They’re used to that. That’s their world, a lot of students.

Lynne Jenkinson
The one thing about youth is they can smell a fake as soon as they walk into a room and and the other thing we did I’ll tell you it’s If people well people are gonna hear this because I’m gonna say it there was Students in that classroom because they’re figuring out how to work for a living and stuff Yeah, if they weren’t there by 830, I knew where they lived. There was one couple. I literally Threw the sheets off their bed and dragged them out of bed in the house They lived in and said, you know, come on, I’m not playing this game and let’s go. You got to get up and go to work. You can’t do that for school, right? Teachers can’t do that, but you have to go that extra step. And that’s why 20 years later, some of these youth are still working. They have, gosh, one guy has grandchildren.

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Lynne Jenkinson
He had twins when he was 16 years old. And now 20 years later, one of those twins has had their own children. So that’s a huge thing when you… And they’ve been successful. They’ve stayed working. They’ve had families. These are federal government funded programs that no one really knows about because they run under the radar. And these are the changes that these federal government grants are making in people’s lives through educating and assisting them through the hard times in life.

Sam Demma
Without your guidance and the government funded program, that young man who now has grandkids, maybe you would have went on a totally different path in life. Thinking and hearing about his success story now, how does it make you feel?

Lynne Jenkinson
It makes me feel that we all work together as community, came together because in our program, we never had a problem finding employers who would take the youth that came through our program. Sometimes the youth in those six months that they worked and they were paid like the employers were paid a subsidy to take them on and that would still happen today if we had a current contract. Our last one ran out last year. But what happened was it really showed how community gets together to make sure that youth are successful. You can’t do it alone, Sam, and you know that, right? You know that from your speaker’s tour and building up all these relationships is that we cannot do it ourselves, and everyone has a story. And that’s the other thing that is so, so important. Listen to the story and see what you can pick out of that story as an educator to make a difference in that youth’s life.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that that one time you went to the individual’s house and pulled the sheets off and said, hey, let’s go. You know, today teachers wouldn’t be able to do that. It’s a different time. But the principle behind that action is you seriously believing and investing in these human beings’ success to the point where you’re willing to hold their hand and walk them to school, basically, or the facility, where does that principle or that level of belief in others come from for you?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think it comes from, I grew up on a Air Force base, CFB Cold Lake, and I think it comes from learning through life, watching my parents work. It comes through knowing that once we have discipline in our lives, and it’s not because I’m military, but it is. Like there’s a discipline and there’s rules that we must follow, and even if we don’t fit in, there’s still a way that everyone can fit in. Like right now I see a lot of youth struggling, and this is a post-pandemic, oops that bad word, but it is, struggling with anxiety. Well how can we give them the tools to live with that anxiety? How can we give them the tools to make sure they get out of bed every day feeling good? About themselves not just about everyone else. It’s about themselves It all starts with the way we feel in self, but I look at that the way I grew up It was it was discipline. It was accountability. It was responsibility to ourselves, but also to others.

Sam Demma
Did you have roles and responsibilities that were a part of your everyday life growing up, that was a part of your accountability to others, i.e. your parents?

Lynne Jenkinson
And I’m gonna say yes, but I’m the youngest of five and my oldest sisters would say, parents went way easier on me than they did on the first children in the family, right? And my dad-

Sam Demma
That’s what they always say.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I’m sorry.

Lynne Jenkinson
And my dad used to say to me when I was a teenager, he says, you can go do anything and it’s not gonna shock me because your brothers and sisters pretty much did everything except murder somebody. And I wasn’t going to shock them by doing that.

Sam Demma
No. Hopefully not.

Lynne Jenkinson
But it is, like when we have expectations, years ago somebody said to me, as like when you have, when you’re dealing with youth, are youth going to love the parent who has no expectations or are they going to love the parent who has expectations. And you’ll find that youth will really gear toward the parent with no expectations because that makes life easier. When you have to deal with the parent with expectations, it does make life harder. But once we have those expectations instilled in us, we keep growing to get out of that mediocre, adequate life. And we kind of want to have expectations for ourselves where we are a little bit better than we ever thought we could be.

Sam Demma
Would you say that mentality also applies in a classroom with teachers and their students? Should teachers have some sort of expectations or hold their students to some form of standards?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think they should, but for teachers, when you’re dealing with everything we’re dealing with today, is I think it’s hard to have expectations for everyone. And I think some teachers just say, you know, to have a good sleep at night, it’s like, oh, you know, I just got to wash that out of my brain because that would just add to so much stress. And teachers do have a lot of stress today. But you can see teachers that come in every day and flight staff and say, you know, my expectation is that today will be a better day than the last day. And, you know, I hang out with a grade one teacher, retired grade one teacher, and we just see a difference now in our schools. And, but boy, those teachers just shine who do have those expectations that each student will do what they can do or do better each day.

Sam Demma
And I think pouring self-belief into students is so important. One of the educators that changed my life had high standards for me. After I lost the ability to play soccer, he believed that I was going to do something else great in the world. And it was his expectation and the standards that he held me to that helped me find that belief in myself. And I can’t thank him enough. In fact, I invite him to speeches every once in a while and him and his wife come and hear about the impact he had on me and it makes them emotional. And I think every educator has that opportunity to hold their students to high standards in a non pressuring way, but in a very positive way. And you know, I’ve had many interactions with you, you seem to always be very optimistic and try and see things from a positive perspective. And I’m curious to know where that where that mindset comes from?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think it just comes, some people say, well, she’s the most negative person you ever met because she’s always talking politics and what’s happening in government and what’s affecting us. But it’s not that, you wouldn’t get through life if you didn’t have that thinking that everything can be better and will be better. And I’m always looking, always look to learn. And I did learn something and you will love this. I really think I went to an open house for the Battle River Community Foundation and an educator was speaking. His name was Patrick Whittleton. He lives in Daisland and works in Camrose and he said what’s happening right now because he’s um they’re doing like summer school to teach people to read or get better at reading. He says what’s happening right now is an acronym TLTR and it’s going to make people like me angry. It means too long to read. That is coming from our social media, right? And reading, and that’s how we learn. We continue to read, we continue to talk, we continue to converse. And that’s made a difference in my life that I took communications in college. Communication has changed over the years, but we still have to converse, we still have to be relational. You know yourself, when you’re out there speaking to the students, how they just glom onto you later. Remember, we ordered 200 books and we said, let’s just leave the books at the end rather than handing the books out to all the students. And the lineup at the end of your speech, we had 200 books. We left that day with only six books and then parents phoned us and we ran out of books because we gave away six books within the next week. Yeah. But that’s why, like the expectations are, that’s I guess the way I stay positive is I never have assumptions. People continually disappoint me but people always continually surprise me and the youth of today continually surprise me because a lot of people are negative about them saying this and this and this. It’s like, yeah, but they’re living in a way different world than I did 50 years ago with technology, everything else, but have the expectations that they will surprise you every day, they won’t disappoint you.

Sam Demma
You talked about the importance briefly there of being relational and building relationships. And it’s definitely something that I try and do when I’m working with students or delivering a keynote in front of an audience. How do you think you build a relationship with young people?

Lynne Jenkinson
I try so hard by getting the government grants that I can bring speakers in because that’s how the young people know me in this area. They know me as that lady from First or that lady from FCS, and parents begin to know. And then I think I build a relationship with the youth because we are here at FFCS, they begin to know that we’re here at FFCS and at first, and they know that they could pick up a phone. I’m not into texting. I will never give out my cell phone number because I like to sleep at night and other people don’t. And it’s the phone number and they just know that, hey, I can phone that office where that lady Lynn is and maybe I can ask her a question. I get people to phone about scholarships, those sorts of things. It’s not my job to know this and to help, but it’s my job to build my community. So I would never turn somebody away. It might take me two days to answer your phone call, and I want to talk to you. I want to hear your voice. I want to hear emotion. I want to meet you if I can. I want to see your face. I want to know your story.

Sam Demma
I love that you said it’s not my job to know, but it’s my job to build the community. And I think so often, not only in education, but in workplaces in general, people will say, well, that’s not a part of my job, so I’m not doing it. And I think if each of us were in positions that we were passionate about, and we always led with curiosity and the intent to build community and help the people around us. We would just have much more happy, optimistic places to work and employees to work with.

Lynne Jenkinson
And we would build better teams. We would build better teams. We would build better communities. But a lot of people are just scared sometimes to say what they really want to say so that’s that that’s that inclusive society We may disagree and I always say to the youth when we do our federal government programs You don’t have to like the people you work with but you have to work with them Yeah, like and hate is an emotion that really just sucks the wind right out of you So just figure out how to like people like the way their eyebrow goes, like their blue eyes, just like something about them and then you’ll get through the day and we will then continue to build our teams and build a community that is going to be successful.

Sam Demma
Great advice for a teacher who has one student that gets on their nerves. Find something to appreciate about them, find something to enjoy about them. There is always something even when it seems like there isn’t because we’re so similar as human beings, more ways than we are different. What is your wisdom for an educator who is just getting into the work, teaching young people who might be a little overwhelmed and intimidated by the current state of the profession and they came to you and said, Lynn, I’m really struggling, I just started doing this, I need some advice. What would you tell them?

Lynne Jenkinson
And I would say, I know it’s really hard because you all belong to a teacher’s association, but find somebody in your community, whether they’re a teacher or not, who can mentor you and that you can talk to and be honest with, that you can tell your story to without judgment. Judgment is so big these days, but let’s do no judgment and just find somebody you can talk to because we have to worry about FOIP and those sorts of things, but you can still tell a story without identifying anyone, no matter whether you’re in a small place or a big place, but find somebody to talk to because if you carry it within yourselves, which I see a lot of teachers do because they just feel they can’t share because it might identify that student or that issue, it won’t. If you tell your story, there’s no use of names, there’s no use of addresses, there’s no use of phone numbers. Just tell a story to somebody, but find that trusted individual that you can talk to.

Sam Demma
How have those types of conversations played a role in your own story?

Lynne Jenkinson
I’m very good at sharing, as you may have noticed already. But it is, as I said, I retired at 30 from radio because I was burnt out, but I didn’t stop. I took six months off. I could afford it at the time. I took six months off. I figured out what I wanted to do in my life. And counselling is a great thing too. I recommend counselling for everybody. But the other thing is you got to be able to pivot, and you got to be able to pivot in a positive way. But when you find a trusted individual, for me, I have a very good partner, right? So I can drop everything on Austin and he will be non-judgmental. He may not even have anything to say, but I dropped it on him and it’s just like a counselor. But that’s the most important thing, to be able to know that you can share and there’s always somebody else out there who is going to care.

Sam Demma
It’s so important that you mentioned he might have nothing to say but you can still share it all with him. I was listening to a podcast recently with a author named Simon Sinek and he was talking about the value of just sitting in the mud with people, not sitting beside them when they need you to give them advice or tell them what to do, but just to sit in the mud with them and be a shoulder. And sometimes that’s all we need. And sometimes that’s all students really need in their teacher or a mentor. And sometimes that’s all human beings need. And oftentimes when people tell me they’re going through a challenge or they’re struggling, my first gut reaction is to give them advice. And I stop myself and I remind myself, this is not what they need from me right now. They just need me to be here for them. If they need advice, they’ll ask for it. And they’ll make that request, or if they want my perspective. And if not, I’m just going to sit in the mud with them. And I think that’s one of the best ways to support young people. Have you had an experience where a young person was struggling and you kind of sat in the mud, the other thing that is so hard to do, Sam, is sit in silence.

Lynne Jenkinson
Sit in silence. There’s no judgment. There’s no nothing. And that eye contact, really important. You’re there with them in the room. And yes, I have numerous examples over the years, and it’s very hard for me to sit in silence. And people who know me and youth know that. And it’s like, so when you dump something on me and I just sit there with no look on my face not even you know and I just sit there and look at them and possibly you know just you sit in that silence you sit in that mud as you say and and that I guess numerous times and they know right then and there that that person has connected with them and they’re where I’m not even thinking anything anymore. I’m just sitting there with them and yeah, numerous times. And that is one of the best things you can do. And boy, does that build trust as well. No judgment, just silence. And then it’s, and as you say, no advice. Everyone has to figure out their own story.

Sam Demma
Such a good reminder.

Sam Demma
Because I mean, speaking about myself, I always feel the urge to jump in and connect the dots behind how what they’re explaining and experiencing connects to my own life. And the reality is, most of the time, people don’t wanna hear it. They just want you to be there. And I think being there is one of the characteristics or traits of a high-performing educator. Being willing to spend time with the student, having, as we said, high expectations for them, or just some standards that you believe this young human can grow into and the version of themselves that you think they can become, even if it’s a little higher than they have for themselves. That’s another high trait of a or another great trait of a high performing educator. What else do you think makes a high performing educator? What traits make a effective teacher or someone who influences you?

Lynne Jenkinson
One thing that I really find and it is so hard because of the stress on the educators, is just that ability to be present. The ability for those youth to know that you’re present, as I said earlier, they will call out a fake within seconds. But that ability to be present, whether it be speaking to them, just understanding where they’re at. at and in a classroom atmosphere it is that each youth knows you’re there. That you are not clicking on your phone and looking at your phone, you’re not looking at your watch as your watch is talking to you. It’s that ability to be present and more and more people are losing that ability because there’s just so much other stuff coming at them. So it is that ability just to know this is where I’m at right now and I’m here for you as an educator. And I’m here for you at break too, if you need me. But during that classroom too, to be present for every one of those youth, very, very difficult.

Sam Demma
There may be an educator listening, thinking, gosh, I wish we had FIRST in our community to support some of our schools, to bring in speakers and to help bring these programs in front of their youth. Are there similar organizations in different provinces that you’re aware of? If there’s an educator in Ontario listening to this or there’s an educator in BC or is it just in the Flagstaff area? 

Lynne Jenkinson
For what we do, I’ve just seen it in Flagstaff, but there are other groups. There’s charitable groups within any community, whether it be a Lions group or a Knights of Columbus, groups like that could help people bring in speakers. It’s always looking for partnerships, once again, relationships, once again, building community, and somebody with the passion. For me, I have the passion. I think bringing in speakers will change lives because it gives the students in our area, remember, we’re 8,440 people over 4,065 square kilometers. So bringing in a speaker, you from Ontario, a young man who has a message, that just knowing and if I can build that passion in somebody else to say, wow, if I go raise some money, maybe that school will work with me and we can bring in a speaker. Schools to me are very open to bringing in new ideas and new people. They will give you a couple hours of their day, and it may change the life of that one student in an audience of, around here it’s 200-600 students. In a large center, it could be 1,200 students listening to you, maybe more, Sam, right? You don’t know till later, that’s one thing about technology today. They can e-mail you later and ask questions, and teachers can get in contact with you. We have to share our knowledge and our passion and then we will build up the youth continually.

Sam Demma
I was so grateful for the opportunity to come to Daislin. It was such an amazing experience and I talk about it with Cross and Alion and Nina, the team, that it was so awesome because because although a small community, sometimes in the rural communities that we visited, including Daislin, there was so much gratitude, or at least that’s what it felt like from our perspective. And I just really enjoyed it, the hospitality, the experience, the location. So thank you for making it possible for us. And I hope to come back sometime soon. If there is one piece of advice you could give yourself when you were just starting your career, like you could travel back in time with the knowledge and the wisdom you have now and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, hey, I know you don’t think you need to hear this right now, but here’s what you need to hear. What would you tell your younger self?

Lynne Jenkinson
I would tell my younger self, and it’s interesting because I still see the same issue today, and I am a woman and I was entering a career that was very male dominated broadcasting at the time, I would say to myself still say it every day, you are worth it. Just keep going. No matter your gender, no matter, like you are worth it. Somebody else may not recognize that, but when you recognize it in yourself, you just keep moving forward. You are worth it.

Sam Demma
I love that. Lynne, thank you so much for coming on the show today. If there is an educator who wants to reach out to you, ask a question or share their thoughts about this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Lynne Jenkinson
My best way to get in touch with me is via email. So it’s director@flagstafffcs.ca. I usually get back to people within a day on email. I do have a real life, but I will get back to you within a day because I do have my email hooked up to my phone and I believe that’s the best way and a lot of people have gotten a hold of me that way. And it’s a great way to build relationships and then when I email you back, you get my phone number.

Sam Demma
And if you’re ever camping in the Daisland area, she happens to have a beautiful campsite. So feel free to email her about that as well.

Lynne Jenkinson
Thank you, Sam. I really appreciate that. And I do hope that like with speakers, especially the youth, I hope to have you back in three to four years because then we get another group of students.

Sam Demma
I look forward to the day. Thank you for coming on the show again, Lynne. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Sam Demma
Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lynne Jenkinson

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

Shane Chisholm — Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, Alberta

Shane Chisholm — Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, Alberta
About Shane Chisholm

Shane Chisholm (@ShaneChisholm1) is the Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, AB. He began his teaching career in 1997 after graduating from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. For ten years, he taught Grades 7-12 Physical Education and Social Studies. In 2007, he completed his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Calgary. In 2007, he became vice principal and he was in that position for 4 years. Then he transitioned to principal where he led 4 schools over the past 12 years. 

Through those years he has witnessed the joy, compassion and empathy that each of his colleagues bring to their classroom each and every day. Finding a balance between personal and professional life has been a work in progress for Shane. He holds out hope that someday his Calgary Flames will hold up the Stanley Cup!

Connect with Shane: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bachelor of Science in Human Kinetics – St. Francis Xavier University

Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership – University of Calgary

Denzel Washington Commencement Speech at Dillard 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
Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a special guest, Shane Chisholm, who is the Principal of Father Henry Vosin School in Red Deer, Alberta. He began his teaching career in 1997 after graduating from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. For 10 years, he taught grade 7 through 12 physical education and social studies. In 2007, he completed his Master’s of Education degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Calgary and became Vice Principal and remained in that position for four years. He then transitioned to Principal where he led four schools over the past 12 years. Throughout those years, he has witnessed the joy, compassion, and empathy that each of his colleagues bring to their classroom each and every day. Finding a balance between personal and professional life has been a work in progress for Shane. He holds out hope that someday his Calgary Flames will hold up the Stanley Cup. Keep on dreaming Shane. I’ll see you on the other side of this episode and I hope you enjoy this conversation. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today, joined by Shane Chisholm. Shane, so excited to have you on the show today. Thanks for being here.

Shane Chisholm
Thanks so much, Sam, really appreciate it.

Sam Demma
I see a Detroit Red Wing in the background over there. I guess we’ll just not talk about it.

Shane Chisholm
Yeah, we’ll leave that be, that’s okay. Yeah, I’m not a Flamie’s fan, but Detroit’s a different story, yeah.

Sam Demma
So, one of the questions I always love to ask, starting these conversations is, did you know you always wanted to be in education? And if yes, tell me why, and if no, explain the journey that brought you to where you are today.

Shane Chisholm
Whoa, Sam, that’s kind of a really loaded question because it actually reminds me of your story. I wasn’t as gifted as an athlete as you and when I heard your story, it actually hit me hard knowing about your story about soccer and your knee injuries. And I graduated from high school. I wasn’t really leaning towards education at the time in the 90s. I wanted to be an RCMP officer. I played hockey, I played softball at a very high level. So, and I was, my education was quite decent. So I was felt and was getting coached towards that in high school that that was a possible stream for me. So I went into a Bachelor of Science Phys Ed degree at my university, which is one of the areas where the RCMP came to recruit from. Because we did some of the fitness testing that the RCMP does. So in our first and second year university, we do fitness testing. So I think it’s a part you test that they used to do. And we would do that. Unfortunately, every Friday morning at 8:15 class, so it was a it was not the best time for some of my colleagues in school to test. Yeah, but my second year university, unfortunately, hockey got in the way. And what happened was I had a check from behind. And I can tell you, it was three days before Christmas I can remember it and it was eight seconds into the game after O Canada just popped on my chin strap and puck went towards our bench and I went towards it and I don’t know if I caught a rut or I didn’t turn properly but the guy in behind me caught me square from behind and all I heard was a crunch and I knew that wasn’t the door opening and that was my shoulder. And so I just skated I didn’t even wait for the whistle I just skated right to the end boards to get taken in the dressing room and at that time we had hockey sticks not what Stories from aging myself, but my trainer knew what was up and he Took a piece of the end of the hockey stick of his cut and he stuck it right in my mouth right away to chew on Wow, and I got in the dress room and from there I had a significant separated shoulder and that took me away from, I had to get reconstructive surgery on my shoulder, rebuilt again and I mean it’s brand new, it works great now, but that time period for that year or two, I lost that opportunity to go into RCMP because physically I was unable to do the fitness testing and because of the rehab I had to go through and realized I had to shift gears. And it wasn’t such a bad one. I was still in the phys ed program and getting my degree and realized that I had still a potential to do something else in education. Fifth as well, really impactful teachers in my middle school and high school years that I really thought highly of and I thought, okay, this can be a plan B and 26 years later, here’s plan B.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. And I’m wondering, you mentioned you had middle school and some high school teachers that had a really big impact. What did those teachers do for you that stuck out in your mind?

Shane Chisholm
Boy, my English teacher in grade nine just took an interest in me. Actually, just took a genuine interest in me. I had a math teacher in grade eight and math was my worst subject ever. I could not do math. And in Nova Scotia, they streamed math even in middle school. So, we kind of got separated into high and low classes. And I was in the high class and unfortunately, got streamed into the lower class. And very thankful because my parents moved me into that class, seeing my struggles, but this teacher in that lower level took an interest in my… sat down with me and helped me re-engage with math. So they actually just sat down, find out who I was, and said of me, you’re that student that is not doing well in my class. And so I kind of felt brushed aside, and I was a quiet student at that time. Yeah, no, I just found that two teachers really just took an interest and took the time to get to know me as well. And so I find that important here in my job is to find out who the kid is

Sam Demma
before even what they do in school. It sounds like sitting down with the student and making time for them is like one of the things to figure out who the kid is. Like what other things do you think a teacher can do to show genuine interest in the student in their classroom?

Shane Chisholm
I think that’s that is probably the biggest thing I know. I’ve gone to student events and and that means a lot to kiddos to go to go to those events. However, I also recognize the balance of being with my own family too. So that you know the teachers do a lot and I’ve seen in the past I’ve done a lot too where in school and so it’s just finding those opportunities not even just in class even at lunchtime. Like and I see it here in my building like my vice principal and my counselor are modeling beautifully they set up lunch dates every day voluntarily with students and students now come down the office and book lunch dates with my VP and counselor And the kids just love it and it’s not about school It’s just what happened on the weekend and they’re the kids just find it so nice to see that and I guess it’s just good for kids to see us in a different light that we that we do sit to eat lunch and we just like the chat like they do in their classroom and I don’t think they see enough of us as a person. They see us as a teacher and we are people too that do neat things, right?

Sam Demma
Yeah, they see you in the grocery store in the town and they go, oh my goodness, you’re here? You’re outside the school buildings?

Shane Chisholm
Yeah.

Shane Chisholm
The principal let you out, yeah, exactly. And I think that’s it. Like the kids love to hear about our holiday or what we did or how terrible a golfer I am. They want to talk about the hockey on the weekend. So I think that’s just, they just want to talk to us because they look, they certainly look up to us as models, but they also, you know, that positive relationship and discussing with kids, just anything with them, I think helps break down barriers as well in the class as far as teaching them.

Sam Demma
You mentioned, you know, education was at first your plan B. And for me, I didn’t even have, I felt like I didn’t even have a plan B. It was like sports and sports ended and this venture, speaking and podcasting and writing, became plan B for me. But the more I leaned into plan B, I realized I actually think I like plan B more than I would have maybe liked plan A had it worked out, do you feel similarly about the way that things have played out for you? And like, yeah, tell me a little bit more about the 26 year journey in education so far.

Shane Chisholm
So, Plan A kind of came up out of really the big plan like you say. I thought I was going to be going somewhere in hockey until about Bantam and at that time I learned, I realized that I wasn’t being watched and and my parents were beautiful about it. They were very humble about it and I think it was just switching gears and I was still good at school at that time but I was just realizing, okay I am not going to the show. But there’s always different opportunities so I shifted gears and started focusing still on my school to get to university and then like I said I had the injury and then I shifted to plan B. And plan B really took me out of Nova Scotia all the way up to a little town in northern Alberta. So plan B took me on my first plane ride. Plan B took me my first, because I lived at home when I was in university. So plan B took me totally out of my comfort zone, being away from home on a plane, no vehicle, in a little northern Alberta town. And plan B didn’t look so good the first day because I got my keys and my box of chalk. So that would really date how old I am. What’s chalk? Yeah, sidewalk chalk. I got my box of color, my box of white and my brush.

Shane Chisholm
And I was like, what is this? And I was a phys ed teacher.

Shane Chisholm
And so I was teaching social studies and phys ed up north for three years. And I was up there and I guess one of the beautiful things about being in a rural area was I learned so much about myself and I learned a lot about education because you have to. You don’t have the resources that a city has but it was a very tight-knit community up there and it was weird because plan B I thought, okay, I’ll be up north forever and the principal pulled me aside after my three years up there and he said, you need to move. And I said, why? And he said, well, either you move or you’re going to be up north for the rest of your life. So either you want to stay up here or now is the time. And the north is beautiful. It’s like, it was incredible up north. A lot of learning, beautiful people. But he said, if you want to move down to southern regions or into more of the city area, it’s time for you to move. And it was this sage advice I received in that third year in February. And so then I came down to Southern Alberta and I was about year two or three here in Rocky Mountain House. At that time, I kind of got tapped by one of the principals there and he said, hey, have you thought of administration? And I was like, no, okay, let’s give that a try. And I guess I ought to look back at it and I kind of just kind of like that continuous learning. And so I signed up for my master’s degree and while still teaching and learned the hard way though. I thought, oh, I’m getting my master’s degree and the principals tapped me, maybe I’ll have a chance at administration. And in our division here at the time, we had what we call the admin pool. So you have to apply to get into this administrative pool, and you have to interview and go through questions, and then you have to get interviewed, and then you have to go in front of a panel of five to nine people to get in. I never made it past a phone call in two years in a row. I actually failed the initial interview twice in a row. And then the third year, I actually wrote a letter to the superintendent saying, I’m not ready for this interview to get to the next level. I’m going to focus on my master’s and becoming a better teacher and a better person. Because at that time, Sam, I was cocky. I was strutting around. I thought I knew what I, because the principal tapped me and because I was doing my master’s. And I wasn’t very reflective at that time. I had a little bit of a ego kind of about me about year 8 to 10 in education there and I always look back and go why was I like that but I was and I think humbling was just learning more about what teachers do and watching the teachers those excellent teachers and how they relate to kids and how they speak to kids with relationships and how they deal with staff as well. That took a lot of, I did a lot of watching and reflecting. So it actually took me four years to get into the admin pool even though I had my master’s completed within that time. So I always tell principals and vice principals, I failed three times basically to get in. The third time was me saying to the superintendent, I’m not doing it this year. So it was almost a fourth time to get into the pool to say, hey, I can do this and want to do this, but I’m a different person. And so I tell, now that I’m older, I hopefully, wiser, I tell young principals, there are times you’re going to fall. And I said, I fell before I even became one. And, you know, I picked myself back up again and that was okay. I fell three times and I learned from that.

Sam Demma
There’s a commencement speech with Denzel Washington and he always talks about fail fast, fail forward, fail often. And I just thought of that when you were explaining your story and it made me reflect on all the times where I have fallen or lacked reflection in my actions and thought I knew everything and I’ve had moments like that, you know? And it takes a lot of self-awareness to zoom out from that current experience you’re going through and look at yourself objectively and change behavior and change the path you’re taking. And so I think that’s really cool to share because there might be a teacher listening to this who’s wanted to be an administrator for a long time and faced similar challenges and hurdles. You said that after those first two years, you kind of refocused on becoming a better teacher and learning more and even like shadowing those excellent teachers and looking at them. And like, what are some of the things that you saw in those excellent teachers? 

Shane Chisholm
Well, one of the things I saw is what I saw first in myself and was I was doing the same thing over and over again and I was not doing a good job of my teaching. So the definition of insanity, right? So, you know, I kind of compare it to my story Calgary playing fans But my Calgary flames have done the same thing over and over again for the same years and they’re getting worse Yeah, so that’s the definition of insanity So and I seen that that kind of a quote like that you continue to do the same thing over and over again you’re not going to get better and I realized I was Traditional in my teachings. I was teaching high school and I was very lecture bound, Charlie Brown type teaching and I wasn’t engaging my students. And so those were some of the things I was looking for elsewhere. And I had a very wise math teacher and he pulled me aside and he just said, Shane, you’re working too hard. You must be exhausted every day standing all day talking. And I said, What do you mean? He said, you’re not allowing the kids to co-create their own learning. He said, you’re not allowing the kids to develop or make mistakes. You’re just lecturing 80 minutes and then another class. And he said, yeah. I said, yeah, I’m exhausted. And he had taught for a number of years and he said, I teach for 10 to 15 minutes and then I allow the kids to… I teach with them and then they teach together themselves and it can be done. Like, you’re allowing, allow that trust to the kids. The kids know how to regulate themselves. If there’s good learning and good framework in the classroom. And he was so right. And in that, because I would safely say I was getting, I was marking like crazy, I was teaching like crazy, and I was like, oh boy, this is all burnout, this is crazy. And then I found a rejuvenation in that, watching the kids create learning out of my teaching instead of just listening to me. That was the biggest.

Sam Demma
And what about some learnings on managing people? Like as an administrator, you know, I’m assuming that that’s also one of the big challenges for new principals, you do a lot of learning on how to manage others. And when you’re a teacher yourself, you manage your classroom and you manage yourself, but you’re not responsible for managing all the other teachers in the school and trying to support everybody so everyone can succeed. What have you learned in managing people?

Shane Chisholm
The tricky part about principal is the actual management piece. There’s so much management, the building and they’re almost like little things on the side that kind of nitpick at you. So it takes away from the real working with students and the staff and the teachers. And so it’s finding the balance of those managerial pieces and setting them aside so that you can be with your teachers and your students. Because those managerial things on the side can really actually impact your day and take you away from what you really want to do. And so the struggle even for me day to day is making sure that I’m not getting caught in the managerial of the building and working with students and staff and getting out in the building to do say walk-throughs or even just a visibility and having conversations with the kids even at lunch break or going out and just volunteering, going out for supervision. Like, I love doing that. It’s just that the minutiae, the managerial stuff of the day can get in the way. Because we’re still a teacher, right? I mean, I’m a teacher, I’m just a teacher. I look at it as, I’m a teacher with a different title.

Sam Demma
Mmmm.

Sam Demma
I love that.

Sam Demma
And there’s also lots of schools where the principal even teaches classes, right? Like depending on who’s available in the school or if there’s a shortage that day or there’s a gap that needs to be filled, you know, it seems like principals wear lots of different hats.

Shane Chisholm
And sometimes I think you’re absolutely, I love those hats and that piece covering classes. I mean, I’m a more middle school, high school trained, so doing kindergarten is quite an adventure for me and I guess you know what it’s kind of a different boost right you get the little ones in kindergarten grade one and two they’re just absolutely love your presence and enjoy your time it’s the it’s the balance of those hats they’re there for the right reason and wearing the proper hat to be there for teachers and students and being a teacher yourself in the school.

Sam Demma
You mentioned a little earlier, making sure that you balance the amount of time you spend getting to know the students in school as you do spending time with your family at home. Because I assume in education, and I see it, it’s like you could be on 24-7. There’s always another assignment to mark and thing to do, but you are also a human being that goes grocery shopping in the community after the school hours and has a family. How do you make sure that your cup stays full and you balance your time? What do you do to make sure that Shane’s taken care of? Well, to be honest, there have been times I’ve not.

Shane Chisholm
There’s just times that it’s unfortunate that I’ve not made, like the cup has overflowed and into another cup. You know, it just seems like a quite overwhelming. I think the bigger thing is, as I gotten older in the past couple years is, you know, I get I’m several years away from retirement. You know, and I want to be happy and healthy going into retirement. Loving the jobs I’m currently in. And part of that is looking after my personal health. So you know I haven’t been in the gym in years and so I got back in the gym. I still play a little bit of golf but nothing nothing is taken seriously. It’s for fun, it’s for enjoyment, it’s for what we call maintenance and I think that’s a big piece. You know it Friday nights and Saturdays the phones put away. I know the school will still be here and I still even though I’ve been doing this for a couple of years, there are times that I wonder what’s happening. But you know what, most often, 99% of the time, there’s nothing happening on Friday and Saturday night that I have to check out. So that’s taken a long while for me to figure out Sam was that balance piece, right? And giving myself time, grace in the weekends where other people have. And you’re kind of like, I have it too. It’s just that maybe I felt guilty and wanted to get things done. And I guess looking at my practice as a principal or as a teacher, what are some good efficient ways to get my job done through week two? So I was looking at where I was getting caught in managerial things, Sam, and I wasn’t getting my principal, teacher, or principal with student work done. And I was starting to prioritize that. The managerial work will take care of itself. And it was also learning how to balance the work within the office suites here as well. So a good flow of communication between my office admin team, my vice principal, has taken, has balanced the work out, and as well ensuring their opinion on it as well. And how can we balance this all out because the whole office actually feels the weight of what’s going on in the principal’s office. The counselor and even the office admin team, the administrative team, they get the whole weight because they’re all moving pieces within the the way I look at it. It’s like the big heart it’s like if one half of the heart is aching the whole hearts experiencing it you know.

Sam Demma
Yeah, absolutely. Maybe that’s what the admin office is the heart of the school. Yeah. So I’m curious, I see a bookshelf behind you and I’m not going to put you on the spot, but like over the years, have you found any resources that have been really helpful in your own personal development? Obviously your master’s degree is a massive educational journey that is invaluable and learning it provides to you and everyone who goes through it. But have you found any other resources that have been really instrumental in your beliefs and philosophies around education or any individuals who have really deeply contributed?

Shane Chisholm
Well, some of the books on the back of my bookshelf there, I’ll be honest, those are about NHL players.

Sam Demma
Nice, that’s fair.

Shane Chisholm
I’m intrigued about their biographies. So Theo Fleury, Sheldon Kennedy, Mark Messier, Bob Iorre. So those are kind of some guys I’ve read about. Just kind of from a Mark Messier, obviously his leadership. Theo Fleury, his life and some of Sheldon Kennedy and Bob Iorre again, kind of the type of player he was. So I can’t, and as well Bob Kroeberg. So I just, and then I guess some of that was just looking at that scene you made it to the pinnacle of the top and Even they struggled Mmm, all of them. Oh, you’ve heard messy like even his struggles in New York with the New York Rangers It just it was in Bobby or I mean obviously when he got traded Chicago after he played the book with the Bruins with his knees, right we have most beautiful skater in NHL and so I think it was just listening and reading their books and seeing that even the people at the top also struggle. And they admitted their struggles and they still wanted to be the best too. And they were still learners. Those are just unique stories. And so to be honest, Sam, I read more of those books to get away from education. Because you can get really caught into it. And again, that’s why I appreciate your book as well, because it’s not necessarily about education, it’s about just growth, and mindset. And I think that’s what I appreciate reading stories about sports and athletes and similar to yours, because it talks about growth and mindset and just how to continue that. And that and that applies in education.

Sam Demma
And it applies to life, right? Whether you’re a teacher or any profession. I read a autobiography of Muhammad Ali over the summer months. And for a while I was so burnt out of reading books. And then I picked up this one and I couldn’t put it down. And it just like reignited in me a passion for reading books again. And I’ve loved reading since I was about 16 years old and I started choosing the books I wanted to read. And that one was a game changer for me. And I remember one specific part of the book that sticks out in my mind is when Muhammad Ali was gifted a bike and he didn’t grow up in the most financially stable household. So getting a bike as a kid was a big deal. And he got a bicycle and he’s driving it or riding it up and down the streets. And one day he stops to grab something at a store and comes outside and the bike’s gone. And he’s losing his mind, his brother’s losing his mind because how’s his bike? And so they start walking around the neighborhood and he stumbles into a boxing gym, or right outside a boxing gym. And at the time he was a young kid, but built like a big dude, like six feet tall, 13 years old, and this boxing coach says, hey man, do you box? And Muhammad’s like, no, I don’t. And he’s like, come on inside. And he taught him the basic foundations of a jab and some of the punches. And Muhammad ended up going back multiple times to this gym over the summer months and started developing what would be his initial start of his career. And the author of the book said, you know, destiny is a function of both chance and choice. Like, the chance was that he would stumble into the boxing gym, but the choice was that he would return back multiple times. And, you know, maybe in your career, what happened by chance was you’d get injured in hockey and be introduced to education, but your choice was to keep showing up and keep learning. Even when you got into principalship and administration, you know, you had some challenges the first two years, first four years, but you kept, you decided, you made a choice to keep showing up. And if there’s an educator listening to this right now who’s struggling or who’s burnt out and they’re feeling defeated and you could kind of share some encouragement with them, what would you say? One, I guess it took a lot for me to ask for help.

Shane Chisholm
One of the things I sense, and I hope it’s not the case for others, but I sense in education it’s very isolated in a sense, because you are given that degree, you’re a teacher, and they say you’re a teacher, and then you get your license from the province, and they say you’re certified, and then you feel the need to be that teacher, and you don’t want to, or I didn’t want to tell someone I need your help asking a colleague for that and and it’s very much the other way around I think we need to lean on each other right away as soon as we come out of university for our brand new teachers and even I see it still our young teachers come out and they don’t want to ask for help because it’s a fear that they don’t know what they’re doing. And I’m still 26 years in, I’m still learning. I’m still learning new ways to do what I’m doing. And so I still ask for help from teachers, senior administration, you know, reading your book, kind of those little tidbits, right? Those, those things always help. So I think that’s the biggest pieces to not necessarily avoid burnout, but just to recognize that there’s always someone there that’s more than willing to give a lending hand or listen to you on the rough days or to help you with resources. And we all, I guess, it’s strange, but education is very neat at paying it forward. And I think a lot of our teachers and principals and vice principals, counselors, and even educational assistants, we all pay it forward. We want to help someone be successful. And I think, and very similar to our students. And I think we miss that piece is as adults, we do the same thing with our own adults helping each other as much as we do with the kids. So lean in on those people that are there and don’t look at it as a sign of weakness, look at it as a sign of strength and joining the team.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Shane, this has been a awesome conversation. 30 minutes flew by. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on the podcast. Keep up the great work, and I hope we cross paths again very soon.

Shane Chisholm
Will do. Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your time. This was awesome.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Shane Chisholm

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.

Ted Temertzoglou — Highly sought-out speaker and lead author on health,  physical literacy and well-being

Ted Temertzoglou — Highly sought-out speaker and lead author on health, physical literacy and well-being
About Ted Temertzoglou

Ted (@LifeIsAtheltic) believes in a world where the skills learned through Health & Physical Education enable all to lead authentic, happy and fulfilling lives. He creates this world by working with Governments, School Boards to implement UNESCO’s Quality Physical Education Guidelines. Ted is an advocate and thought leader for quality Health and Physical Education. He is a highly sought-out speaker and lead author on health & physical literacy and well-being.

With a Master’s Degree in teacher-student relationships and 33 years of educational experience, Ted shares his expertise to help more teachers and students flourish and thrive. He is the recipient of the R. Tait McKenzie Award, Physical & Health Education Canada’s most distinguished award. He is also a certified Personal Trainer with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.

Connect with Ted: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

R. Tait McKenzie Award

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP)

Outlive by Peter Attia

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) – Teacher Education

Brock University – Master’s Degree in teacher-student relationships

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Ted Temertzoglou. Ted believes in a world where the skills learned through health and physical education enable all to lead authentic, happy, and fulfilling lives. He creates this world by working with governments, and school boards to implement the UNESCO’s Quality Physical Education Guidelines. Ted is an advocate and thought leader for quality health and physical education. He’s a highly sought out speaker and lead author on health and physical literacy and well-being. With a master’s degree in teaching student relationships and 33 years of educational experience, Ted shares his expertise to help more teachers and students flourish and thrive. He is the recipient of the R. Kate McKenzie Award, Physical and Health Education’s Most Distinguished Award, and also a certified personal trainer with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ted. It left me very energized, and I’m sure it’ll do the same for you. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma and I’m very excited to be joined by our guest today, Ted Tamurtsuglu. He is a friend of mine who is connected through a friend of mine named Joyce, and I’m honored to have him on the show here today. Ted, how are you?

Ted Temertzoglou
Good, Sam. I am super excited to be here with you, and thank you so much for asking me to be a part of your show. I gotta ask because the listeners can’t see what I can see. Behind you is a beautiful home gym. When did you get it, and when did fitness become a big part of your life? Oh, okay, so I’ll start backwards. So fitness has always been a part of my life. I’m an aspiring athlete through school, trying to acquire as much athleticism as I possibly can. And then this is our garage. We converted this, ah, about six years ago. We started building it. And because work got so busy, we weren’t able to get to the gym and stuff, so my kids work out of here, my wife works out of here, I work out of here every day, and now this is what we call Life is Athletic World Headquarters. This is where my work is. Did you have an experience in your own life that tested your health, that inspired you to take it more seriously, or did you just continue from your athletic journey as a student? Yeah, I know I really did, Sam. I knew, you know, I went to six elementary, I went to five elementary schools in six years. So like from kindergarten to grade six. And so that kind of put a pretty big strain on my numeracy and literacy skills as it did our entire family. My parents immigrated from Greece to here. But, you know, the people, the teachers that really kind of saw something in me were my health and physical education teachers. And it was because of them I went on this journey to figure out, you know, I want to do this for a living. It makes me feel good and I want to continue doing it. So that’s kind of really started, started at a really, really young age. I wasn’t an athlete by any means, but I acquired it because of the teachers that I had and the, you know, the areas that I happen to be in. So, yeah, that’s basically how I came to it. And at some point, you decided, not only do I want to feel healthy, but I want to help other people feel healthy too, especially people in the education industry. You know, you’re someone that I look up to for your physical fitness. And if there’s a teacher listening or a superintendent or a principal right now, and you haven’t talked to Ted about how to get your teachers and yourself healthy and feeling good, this is your sign to do so. When did supporting educators and other human beings in their physical health and mental health journey become a part of your story? Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do, Sam, similar to what you’ve done. So when I was younger and I was playing sports and then played on the university level, I always knew, at grade 11, I knew I wanted to be a physical health education teacher and a professional athlete Those were the two things that meant the world to me because I thought I could really affect change If you were kind of like on the world stage right or on a national stage and playing and playing professional football So I got to that level after University and I signed my contract with the Argos and then got hurt at that camp But had at least my education degree to fall back on. So as I got teaching, what I noticed in health and physical education is we didn’t have what was called evidence-based resources. So I kept on teaching the way I was taught. And that’s good for kids who like football and like soccer and like those sports, but the vast majority of kids, they’re not on school teams and they don’t like that stuff. So I thought, oh my goodness, I have to expand my pool here. So what I started to do is inquire about how do we get evidence-based resources into our school. And that’s what really exploded into teacher training. Tell me more about what you mean by evidence-based. Is it tested with large groups of people? I want to know more about the resources that you’ve created that might be of value to the listeners. What we did was in 2,000, 99, 98, 99, 2000, my wife and I were lucky enough to be chosen to write some curriculum for the Ministry of Education, for specifically health and phys ed. So they’re making a new curriculum. And, you know, when you’re in a math class, you have these beautiful textbooks or these visuals that are done by professors and with teachers. And it’s all based on evidence. And there’s so much evidence in the health and wellness field that applies to the health and phys ed curriculum. I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could get a publisher, get the best researchers, get their research, break that knowledge down where teachers can understand it to deliver it to our kids? Well, now we’re speaking from a place of evidence rather than a place of opinion. Like I may think I know what’s really good for kids as far as exercise progression, but do I really? Like, what does the science say? So that’s what I mean by evidence-based resources. And then we were lucky enough to create textbooks, workbooks, fitness charts that are used in many, many, many schools across Canada and some internationally. So that’s how we got it from there. 

Sam Demma
You started creating this curriculum, you built out these resources. Take me to today. How are you supporting students, schools, administrators, superintendents with their health and with their students and staff’s health today?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, great question. So, largely across Canada, the exception being Manitoba, we don’t have what are called specialists in health and physical education at the younger years. So, what we call the foundation years or the physical literacy years, the years where kids minds are truly like clay and sponges and they absorb a whole bunch of stuff about movement. Whereas other countries like Germany, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, et cetera, they do. And I’m not saying that, you know, it has to be a specialist, but we need people who are really passionate about helping kids wellbeing and health and physical education. So the way I support them is we create now I create these online learning modules where teachers take boards, subscribe to them and buy them, and then they disseminate the teachers. I do a lot of live, like in-person face to face workshops, either showing them how to use my resources or showing them how to use the resources they currently have in the classroom. Like literally, I meet the teacher where they’re at, we push in a chair, and then we’re doing movement, and then we’re linking that to numeracy and literacy. So I think the biggest gain we’ve had is that’s where we are. But Sam, I think the real pinnacle happened in 2015 when the United Nations, UNESCO, launched a massive massive literature review on, hey, what would happen if we ran quality, and I’ll define that in a second, physical and health education programs? What would that look like for health care? What would that look like for mental health? What would look, what would that look like in society at large? So they released that. And I just said, okay, I’m UNESCO, I’m going to help you put that into schools. And then helping schools understand the power of health and physical education and how that can make people, you know, well, not only healthy, but feeling really great about themselves. So that’s where we are now. And I wish I could tell you, Sam, that it’s amazing and it’s working really well, but it’s a grind, man, you know, cutbacks in public education, teacher shortages, etc, etc. So but, you know, there’s always a bright side, we got to keep moving forward.

Sam Demma
I was reading a book recently by Dr. Peter Atiyah called Outlive and he talks about, there let’s go, for all the listeners, he just put it in front of the camera and he talks about this concept that for so long people were obsessed with lifespan, which is how long you live and he says it’s not only about how long you live, it’s the quality of life you have while you live a long life, which is your health span. And he talks about the four horsemen, which are these diseases that take us out most often in life and how to avoid some of those things. And he makes this argument that the best possible treatment to avoiding those four things is exercise. Above all else, he talks about sleep and nutrition and all these other things, but exercise. And I’m wondering what your perspective is on exercise and when people ask you, hey Ted, how do I get healthy? You know, how do I feel good? What is your thoughts? What do you share with them? First of all, I got like a major research crush on that guy. So Dr. Peter Atiyah actually went to Mowat High School in Toronto.

Ted Temertzoglou
So he’s TDSB. Yeah, absolutely love it. Sam, I truly believe, and I know this through evidence, that the health and physical education curriculum stands to be the greatest healthcare intervention we have ever seen, if we teach it, especially at the younger grades. And so everything Peter talks about in his book, that’s all in our health and physical and health education curriculum, right? The top 10 diseases that end our lives largely before they should, like that lifespan that you said, and then our health span within it, are all largely preventable if we just moved a little bit more and ate a little better. And not only that, Sam, we’re talking about billions, tens of billions of dollars saved in direct costs to healthcare. So giving kids these tools at a very young age is critically important, more so today than it’s ever been. So I’m not sure if that was your question Sam, sorry I got a little carried away on that. But yeah, that’s where we’re at. 

Sam Demma
How do you prescribe a program for a teacher or a student? Do you have to assess their current abilities or is there a basic foundational level where everyone should start? Like if there’s someone listening to this who let themselves slip through the past couple years and they haven’t exercised much at all and they’re thinking gosh I want to start showing up for myself again. Just as much as I’m showing up for everyone around me. What would be like the first steps?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, the very first step would be truly What thing do you enjoy doing like what really makes your heart sing and then I would build movement around that So if someone was to say, you know, I really really love just being out in the garden. Okay, great, right? So being in the garden is a great physical activity. You know, I like going outside and going for a walk. Fantastic, you know, getting up from a chair and walking is a phenomenal exercise. And then we would vary that. We’d slowly progress the overload, meaning that, okay, yes, you’re walking now and you’ve walked this distance. So now, you know, between this lamppost and that lamppost, every time you go every other lamppost, walk a little quicker and then slow it right back down again. So the gentleman that does a lot of research in this area is a guy named Martin Gabala, another Canadian, who’s been on all kinds of podcasts, including Tim Ferriss. And he wrote a book called The One Minute Workout, because largely the number one reason people do not work out is because of time constraints. But he has shown in all his research, like the minimal amount of exercise that’s actually needed to get people from not healthy or not very healthy to adequately healthy where they’re going to avoid what Atiya calls the four horsemen or those 10 non-communicable diseases is very little, Sam. And we know that prescription. For adults, that’s 150 minutes a week, 22 minutes a day, and two times a week where you’re pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting, lunging things. Those are the easiest things. But the first place I start with either my clients or the students or the teachers is what do you love to do? And there’s so many areas of movement. We gotta find something. I don’t even care if it’s a TikTok dance. That’s amazing for cardio, right? Like I’m trying to bust some of those moves in here, Sam. I’m telling you, I’m cutting rug in here. I mean, those things get your heart rate up fast. So any which way that you can find where movement’s a part of it, and they’ll get hooked because the body craves it, like we really do need. A great book for you too, Sam, after you finish Dr. Atiyah’s, is Dr. Kelly McGonigal from Stanford called The Joy of Movement. She doesn’t talk about exercise, she just talks about when muscles move, here’s what happens to the brain. And a lot of my work right now is that, is connecting muscles to brain, because we know today muscles are like an endocrine system. They’re not just these things that move things. They actually release proteins and they activate certain hormones. And that’s why it’s important to move, because it feels good. 

Sam Demma
It does feel good. It feels great. I was telling a friend of mine, I’m very competitive with myself. I like pushing myself and reaching new heights. And, you know, as much as I push myself in business or professionally with the work that I’m doing that’s usually tied to spending more time in front of my computer and even when I push myself in those arenas and reach new goals and heights and reach more people I Don’t feel the same way I feel when I lace up my shoes and do a 5k run around the block like that physical activity gives me an emotional emotional response and physical response in my body that pushing myself professionally just can’t give me and I recently inspired a friend to start running as a result and after he finished He’s like I haven’t felt this good in years like yes. I’m out of breath. Yes I’m feeling kind of nauseous and tired right now, but I feel so happy and I’m curious like You sound like someone who’s done lots of research. Is there like a link between feeling great and happy and moving the body? Like what is that connection?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, Sam, we’ve got our own pharmacy and it’s right in our head. And the way you access that dealer, I’ll call my drug dealer for now, is the way you access that drug dealer is you move. So there’s this new discovery about 10 or so years ago called endocannabinoids. You probably have heard that ending of that word somewhere, right Sam? Cannabinoids, like cannabis, it produces the exact same effects. So, you know, when it releases serotonin and dopamine and all these epinephrines, we call this the dose response. So D is dopamine, O is the oxytocin, you know, that’s that social hormone that, they call it the hug hormone, where when you’re around friends, you just feel lifted, and we call that energy. Well, that energy is a direct product of oxytocin, right? And then you got your dopamine, and then you got your endorphins and those endocannabinoids. Yeah, we have a drugstore that’s frigging free, and it’s really worth getting addicted to those drugs, you know, because there’s no side effects.

Sam Demma
Yeah, that’s awesome.

Ted Temertzoglou
The side effects are what you just described, smiles, feeling good, wanna take on the world, you know, the sun’s always brighter You know Even the darkest days are a little bit brighter because that’s where your body wants to be we want to avoid pain We seek pleasure and movement is the key to that. 

Sam Demma
It’s crazy You brought up the end of that word and how it relates to Cannabis because this friend of mine that I inspired to run has recently kicked the habit of smoking a vape, which I’m sure many of the educators listening to this right now are very familiar with. And funny enough, every time he gets an urge, the way he stops himself from reaching for it is running or doing pushups. And he says he runs or does pushups and the desire to grab it immediately vanishes. So there is something special happening in the brain when we push our bodies physically and move. And after I was reading that book by Peter Atiyah, I started thinking about my own life and how much time I was spending sitting versus standing versus moving. And I didn’t think the body was made to sit all day. And I want to be someone who’s 80 or 90 years old and able to walk and able to pick up my grandkids, able to enjoy the daily activities of life. And so I think making sure we follow a routine similar to the ones you create for people is really important. I’m curious, out of all the work that you do, what work brings you the most joy and fulfillment?

Ted Temertzoglou
It’s when I’m working with the students, because often when I do the workshops, it’s with teachers and I invite the teachers to bring their kids. And it’s turning on those kids who didn’t think or didn’t see themselves as athletes, right? And you know, my tagline, Sam has always been it’s my like my Twitter handle to life is athletic. We push, we pull, we squat, we lunge, and we do all of these things in normal day-to-day life. So when those kids get hooked on movement, man, I just feel like, you know, I made it a little bit better today. I learned from them because I always ask them, like, what are your limitations? Like, what’s stopping you from doing these things? Because we all want to feel good. I think most people want to feel good. Or at least when we when we feel bad, we want to know what the strategies and tactics are, where we can hit the reset button really quick, right? So we get kids to realize, look, mistakes aren’t a period, it’s a comma. And then you first create your habits and then your habits create you. So finding these things in a positive light for kids, that’s what really lights me up. That’s what makes my heart sing. That’s why I still do this. And that’s why I’m gonna continue to do it. But I think the biggest learning I can have is when people actually tell me why it won’t work. Like, give me roadblocks or perceived barriers, and we got to find a way around these things because, you know, Sam, life expectancy for our kids, like, there was a big paper written, this was way before the pandemic, announced that prevention, a pound of trouble. And basically what it outlined was, this is probably the first generation of kids that will not love their parents. That was before, you know, before smartphones. And I’m not vilifying smartphones, it’s amazing. We have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, for goodness sakes. It’s a really good thing, it’s not a bad thing. However, too much of it is a bad thing. And when we hook kids, and you know, their attention is drawn to other things and away from movement, man, we’re gonna be in a world of hurt. Not only in our healthcare system, but for them. So, you know, I’m getting on here in my age, and I’m thinking my kids are roughly your age. And I’m thinking, hey, when they start having kids, and I have grandkids, like, I want them to have, you know, very exciting and fruitful lives, but I need them to be feeling really good about themselves. And that’s health and physical education to me. That’s why it’s so critically important. But yet it’s below the maths, it’s below the sciences, but really it’s the most important subject we teach. What can be more important than our health, right? 

Sam Demma
I couldn’t agree more. I heard a quote once that said, people with their health want a million things and people without it only want one. And if I don’t have my health, personally, I’m not gonna be able to focus in math class. If I don’t have my health, I’m not focused in any other subject in school. The only thing I’m thinking about is helping myself feel better. And in Outlive by Peter Etieh, he cites a little study of students that exercise versus students that didn’t and how it improved their cognitive performance in school. So, I mean, prioritizing health not only helps the physical body, but it helps you perform better as a student. So how can it not be the most important thing? And the fact that it’s accessible to everyone on this planet, even if you don’t have a gym in your garage, you know, like you said, walking outside, running outside, just moving the body, makes this such an important topic to teach everybody about, because it could save so many years in someone’s life, not only in terms of their lifespan, but so they can enjoy it longer.

Sam Demma
I did mention it.

Ted Temertzoglou
Oh, sorry, Sam. Go ahead. Go ahead.

Ted Temertzoglou
Sorry.

Sam Demma
No, you go. I have a thought afterwards.

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, and then when you think about as well, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Association did this great commercial, Sam, I’m not sure if you saw them, and it’s like, you know, for the most Canadians, the last 10 years of their life, so what Atiyah calls the marginal decades, they’re living in and out of hospitals, or they’re living in and out of chronic care units. They’re not vital. It’s not a vitality part of their life at that point. Like, think about that. You know, seven different drugs. You’re going in and out of hospitals. You’re not feeling really good. And all of those were things that, you know, Hemingway has always said, you know, it happens really, really slowly, and then it hits you like a ton of bricks. So these are really important things for us to get across to our kids. So those last 10 years, we don’t know when we’re gonna get them, but you wanna be going out like you said, like picking things up that you wanna pick up and hiking in the mountains that you wanna hike. You wanna have those things, what Atiyah calls the centenarian decathlon. I wanna be able to do those top 10 things into my 90s or 100s or whatever, you know, God graces this on this planet with whatever. That’s what I want to do. And that’s what I want for people too. 

Sam Demma
You mentioned earlier in the podcast and I caught it and I wanted to circle back to it. You said, me and my wife wrote curriculum. So does she work in the same space that you do? Like, tell me more about this power couple dynamic?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah.

Ted Temertzoglou
Oh, you’re too kind. Yeah, that’s so cool. Yeah, Carolyn and I, Carolyn works, so she was a teacher as well. We actually met at the faculty of education at the University of Toronto. Cool. I was a pub manager, so I got to meet a lot of really cool people. I was very lucky. And Carolyn now teaches at the University of Toronto. She’s in teacher education. So she teaches phys ed teachers how to teach physical education, K to grade 12. It’s funny because I used to call them gym teachers. Yeah, and when we do our work together internationally.

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah.

Ted Temertzoglou
And I remember a teacher was like, no, the gym is the physical space. I am a physical education teacher. I’m like, damn, I’m sorry. But there is a distinction. Yeah, I’ve got a quick side story for you. So when we were in Newfoundland doing some work, the health and phys ed teachers there, they have t-shirts that they wear. And they say on the back, I teach physical and health education, Jim lives down the street.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. I love that, man. Thank you for sharing some of your passion for movement today on the podcast. I know you’re headed to Vienna to spend a week with some schools and administrators internationally and I’m sure they’re gonna change and build some new habits that are gonna help them as a result of the programming you’re doing with them. If someone wants to learn more about you, check out some of your resources or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to reach out?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, I don’t have a website up and running just yet, but yeah, if they Googled my name or if they want to get a hold of me through email, they can do that too. We can put that, I guess, if you like, in the show notes or what have you. And Twitter, I’m @LifeisAthletic.

Sam Demma
You mentioned, we’ll wrap up on this, you mentioned sometimes the thing that brings you the most joy is helping people overcome those barriers within themselves to reach their fitness goals or to even just get started. It sounds like you’re helping people empty their backpacks and that’s something that we love doing in all of our work. If there was one piece of advice or one thing you would share and encourage anybody listening right now related to their physical and mental wellbeing that you wish the whole world could hear, you know, if everyone was listening, what would you tell people?

Ted Temertzoglou
I would say, just start. Just move one foot in front of the other, baby steps, and then once you get past all those, the rest will just start to come for you, right? The world will open up for you. So from the movement standpoint, that’s what I would say. From a mental standpoint, I would say, look, it’s kind of, I think Seneca said this, we suffer more in imagination than we do in reality. Stop listening to the negative self-talk that we take ourselves through and start focusing on all the great things that you get to do on this limited time that we have on the planet.

Sam Demma
I love it. Ted, it’s been an absolute honor having you on the show. We’re going to have to do this again. Thank you so much for making the time. Keep up the great work, enjoy your travels, and I’ll talk to you soon.

Ted Temertzoglou
Thank you so much, Sam.

Ted Temertzoglou
It’s been an honor and really love being on your show. So good luck with all your great stuff that you’re doing as well. Cheers, my man.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ted Temertzoglou

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.

Alain Cyr-Russo —Senior Manager of Student Life at Algonquin Students’ Association

Alain Cyr-Russo —Senior Manager of Student Life at Algonquin Students’ Association
About Alain Cyr-Russo

Since 2010, Alain has worked in student life for La Cité Student Association. Originally hired as a programmer, Alain has since proven exceptional skills and dedication, rising to Senior Manager, Student Life.

While there, he oversaw various committees within the Student Association, including the student life committee. He also led events programming, creating a memorable student experience for thousands of students over the years. Alain lent his expertise to La Cité Student Association’s marketing and communications team and the Café-Bistro by overseeing operations for those teams in addition to student life. He recently accepted a position as Senior Manager, Student Life for the Algonquin Students’ Association where he oversees Events, Food Cupboard, Clubs and communities as well as the Equity, Diversity and inclusivity subject matter specialist.

Alain is passionate about the student experience, and he knows that it goes beyond events and programming. For eight seasons, he also served as head coach for the women’s and men’s volleyball teams for the La Cité Coyotes. He also brought the Food Bank to La Cité students and developed a well-being program, ensuring safety while leaving events.

In addition to all of this, Alain has found time to volunteer. From 2021 to 2022 he served as National Conference Chair for the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities (COCA) and is currently serving as the President of COCA.

Connect with Alain: Email | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

La Cité Student Association

Algonquin Students’ Association

La Cité Coyotes

Canadian Organization of Campus Activities (COCA)

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
Today’s special guest on the High Performance Educator podcast is Alain Cyr-Russo. Alain, since 2010, has worked in student life for the La Cite Student Association. Originally hired as a programmer, Alain has since proved exceptional skills and dedication in rising to the senior manager of student life. Alain is passionate about students’ experience, and he knows that it goes beyond events and programming. For eight seasons, he also served as head coach for the women’s and men’s volleyball teams for the Lassiter Coyotes. He also brought the food bank to Lassiter students and developed a well-being program, ensuring safety while leading events. In addition to all this, Alain has found time to volunteer. From 2021 to 2022, he served as National Conference Chair for COCA, the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities, and is currently serving as the president. He has recently made the exciting transition to the senior manager of student life over at the Algonquin College Student Association. And during this conversation, we talk about what it takes to organize great events that actually fulfill the needs of your students and the students on your campuses. We talk a little bit about his experiences and journey through education that brought him to where he is today and some of his beliefs around building relationships with young people. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with my friend, Alain. I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Alain Cyr-Russo. He is someone that I met at the COCA Conference this past June in Vancouver. He has such infectious energy. He’s just recently made a big transition in his life. Alain, I’m so excited to have you here. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Sam. This is exciting. And again, like you said, we met at COCA where I’ve been part of COCA for over 10 years now. I’ve been president for the organization now for two and been working for La Cité, which is a small French college in Ottawa. We have about 5,000 students and just recently changed to Algonquin College and now Senior Manager Student Life for the Algonquin Students Association where I left La Cité after 13 years. So, crazy news.

Sam Demma
For educators listening to this that don’t know too much about COCA, you’re someone who has given their heart, their soul, their blood, sweat and tears to this organization. Can you just explain what COCA is and what prompted you to get involved?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, absolutely. I first attended COCA back in 2012 as an event programmer. And it was an opportunity for me to just network with different people that share the same knowledge or interest within campus life. At the end of the day, we’re all there to, you know, regroups universities and colleges from across Canada, east to west coast, and we give ed sessions, keynote speakers, and we also give an opportunity for people such as you and other artists to showcase in front of these programmers in hopes to give you that opportunity to present in front of students from across Canada. And you mentioned that you recently transitioned from La Cité to

Sam Demma
Algonquin. How has that move been so far over these first few weeks of school?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, it’s insane to say the least, but it’s been great. You know, when you leave an organization after 13 years, you’ve been there, you’ve cared for it, you’ve started projects that are yours and that you’re leaving and you’re hoping that it’ll stay alive while you’re gone type thing. But the transition has been really good. Algonquin Student Association have been really great and the transition has been smooth. Just because I’ve been doing this for 13 years and I moved into a position that’s very similar, just a little bit more, what’s the word I’m looking for here uh but like a little bit more not niche but um you know I’m focusing just on student life as in before I was focusing on multiple things I felt like I wasn’t giving my 100 percent and I felt like this is an opportunity for me to move to Algonquin, bigger challenges, more students uh and uh an opportunity to to put forward great events and just enjoy my time and learn as well, right? Because as humans, we’re always learning. You never stop learning, and this, for me, was the next path for my personal growth.

Sam Demma
When you say the role you’re in now, you’re mainly focused on students. What are you hoping to accomplish over the next couple of years? And what do you think some of the challenges are that students are facing that you and the association are hoping to address or improve?

Alain Cyr-Russo
That’s a very, that’s a great question. I think it’s important to know that like a senior manager student life, one thing that you oversee is events, you know, just make sure that students are, you know, entertained during their time on campus. I mean studies are important but to network, socialize and enjoy your time on campus is an important factor in you know your life and that’s where you meet friends and maybe possibly co-workers. But I also oversee our student food cupboard as well as clubs and communities and just recently opened a position for equity, diversity and inclusion coordinator which I’m super excited to have on campus. As we know, you know, the international community on campuses is growing, and we just want to make sure that we best serve those students. In terms of food cupboard, I think, you know, we all know that food insecurity is a real issue, and I want to make sure that we help those students in need, because you have to stay focused. And then for us to be able to provide some food to students in need is very important to us. You know, I think most campuses have a food cupboard or food bank now on campus. And I think it’s a great service to have. And it’s just to know how to better that service as well. You know, in terms of international students, we now have a winter coat drive where we ask students and staff to bring lightly used winter coats and or pants. And then we give that out free to international students or whoever needs them. And then clubs and communities. Again, this is like a great place for students just to have common interests, to get together, socialize and play whatever they need. Like, you know, we have an eSport, we have a knitting club, and we have all sorts of clubs on campus just so that students can find other students that have the similar interests.

Sam Demma
You’re someone who’s spent their whole life

Sam Demma
surrounded by education. You’re a student, you got involved in COCA, you worked at La Cité for 13 years, now you’re at Algonquin. When you were growing up, did you know that you wanted to be a director of student life? Or how did this, like tell me more about your personal journey that led you to where you are now.

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, that’s actually a great question because I’ve never really like thought about it. Truthfully, when I was younger, I wanted to be a gym teacher then I was like, I don’t know if that’s for me. I’ve always been active playing sports and staying busy. Afterwards, I wanted to be a police officer. So I originally went to college to become a police officer and that didn’t work out at the very beginning. I’ve done a few interviews and I decided to go back to school in leisure studies. And that’s where I stayed at La Cité. They offered me a job after graduating, saying we’d love to have you as an event programmer on campus. I’ve always kind of been, Even in high school, working with the sports club, or we had two different kind of, one was the workout club and then one was the sports club. I was always involved in student life on campus and even in high school, and I enjoyed it. I enjoy organizing stuff. I enjoy making people happy and just keeping people busy because at the end of the day for me, staying busy and out of trouble is what kept me sane when I was in high school and in college. And I think that’s what’s important to give back to students. So you grew up having passions for sports.

Sam Demma
I think similarly, sports and teaching, you’re mentoring people, you’re providing unique experiences for students. So it makes sense that you landed where you did now. Do you ever think back to your own experience as a student? And were there any teachers in your life that you think had a big impact on you and maybe slightly pushed you in this direction? Another great question.

Alain Cyr-Russo
I don’t know, like my volleyball coaches in high school from from Dallas how really had a huge huge impact on me they were you know recent university graduates when they first started teaching I was in 10th grade at that time and they they kept me busy they kept me you know people that were open to conversation and I think they kind of did push me to just being mindful of things and being, you know, polite and give back to the community. So, you know, I think they did have an impact with me without necessarily noticing it, you know, but did I end up where I really wanted to be? I don’t know, but let me tell you, I very much enjoy it because when I was at college, I played volleyball, which kept me busy, played for four years, but I never really participated into events. And I’ve seen a couple events here and there, but never really went to them. And then when I put on my event in leisure studies, I did a huge comedy show and I saw how students enjoyed it. So when the job offer was offered to me back in 2010, I was like, you know what, I’d love to just do more of this and see students smile and enjoy the events on campus and diversify whatever I can to keep these students interested, engage on campus and socializing and networking. So yeah, that’s kind of where I end up and the impact that I feel that I had from maybe those two teachers. events is a big part of your role now, and was a big part of your role at La Cite.

Sam Demma
Educators listening to this right now, some of them may have the responsibility of planning events for their schools,

Sam Demma
universities, and colleges. You’ve planned so many. What do you think makes for a great event? And how do you kind of consider what events to bring to your school?

Alain Cyr-Russo
So in order to do a great event, I think it’s understanding your clientele, who you’re working with, and who you’re doing the event for. You might have a good idea yourself, but it doesn’t necessarily answer the student needs. I love to interact with students and just understand what they want and would like to see on campus. And then I try and put it together. You know, venues an important part, budgets an important part, logistics and just being organized and make sure that you’re not just doing this on your own, but you also have maybe a team supporting you to give you more ideas in terms of that event. Because I’m a French-Canadian guy, I grew up in Ottawa and I know what I like, but I also try to be part of the organization or like the, you know, build up of this event so that I understand what they actually want and what they’d like to see. You know, do they know artists and people in the community that they’d like to see at this event that would better answer, you know, those student needs? And I think that’s very important. It’s not just about you, if you want, as a programmer or somebody putting an event forward. It’s about understanding the students and what they’d like. I mean, obviously, I don’t have the budget to bring in Drake. I think we have to be realistic here. But it’s just, you know, let’s listen to what they want and need. And when you also have students that are part of an event and putting forward an event, often enough, their students will, or sorry, their friends will want to come and support them as well. And that’s where you get people to come in.

Sam Demma
It also makes me think about how great of a leadership opportunity is for the students when you give them some responsibility in the choosing or planning or organizing of the event. And I would assume that a lot of the events that you put on are widely attended because you listen to what the students need and want and try and cater to those needs. What are some of the events that you’ve put on over the past 13 years that when you think about them, you have these fond memories? And I’m sure every event has been special in its own way, so it’s hard to just single one or two, but what events do you think had a really great impact and really reached those kids due to the needs they had at that point in time?

Alain Cyr-Russo
I mean, obviously, I’m fairly new to Algonquin, so it’s a little bit harder to answer that in terms of the Algonquin side of things. But being at L’Essie T’Aye for 13 years, I’ve put on a lot of events that either work or didn’t work. Obviously, times have changed, so some events weren’t as popular as before. We had a lot of Acadians way back when, like 2012, at L’Essie T’Aye from New Brunswick and they want to do you know uh an Acadian party. So we we brought in like uh you know being here from New Brunswick we we worked with Moosehead as well for getting some decor and just making that vibe. So that was really cool because it brought like all the Acadians on campus together without necessarily them knowing who was from New Brunswick and that part of the world. But then I think one of the biggest events that really I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of years just because we really work with the international department and our students from, you know, Africa, Haiti, is our what we call a multicultural night in the month of February for Black History Month. And we normally get a lot of students wanting to engage and be part of that event. So we’ll normally have, you know, like, we’ve had an event where we had a flag from every country that we have on campus, walk down this tiered seating that we had, and everybody was kind of carrying a flag, they kind of crisscross. And that just gave a real perspective to students of like, hey, like we have people from all over the world on campus, and that really just touched me because I never realized how diversified we were on campus. And then, you know, just part of that night we had students from Morocco, we had students from Canada, from Beronzi, like performing on stage. So it just brought all these cultures to perform together. And it was just really nice to see. And we had over like three, 400 students attending that event, which was fantastic. Especially when you’re looking at a smaller campus, it’s not always easy to get that many people out. But that event really have touched me in the past. And now that is one of the biggest events we’ve put together.

Sam Demma
I know a good fella from Burundi.

Sam Demma
My friend, Mac.

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sam Demma
When you’re thinking about students’ needs and desires, how do you collect them? What have you done in the past? Is it about walking the campus and having conversations, using surveys, how have you tried to figure out what students are looking for?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Yeah, one thing that I enjoy doing is just after events, letting students know that like, hey, if you’ve got an idea, come see me. And often enough, like they’ll come see you right after the show or the event and be like, hey, be cool if we could have this. Because surveys Surveys are good, but often enough I find people either don’t answer them, but also you can’t have that real conversation with them. And I find often enough their answers are a little bit grandiose if you want. So like, I’ve had somebody say, I’d love to see you fill in Vion at La Cité. And it’s like, okay, great. I love your idea, but unfortunately it doesn’t fit within the budget. But when you can sit down and actually have a face-to-face talk with a student and actually like hear their passion and what they’re looking for, it’s always great. And I love to just walk, like sometimes just, you know, when we’re just looking at clubs, if I see students are playing chess, for example, and I’m like, oh, we don’t have a chess club, I’ll, you know, approach them and be like, hey, did you know you could, you know, get clubs and funding and, you know, we can do promotion for you, try and get more people interested in this chess community. And they’re like, oh, that’d be great. Like, we’d love to have more people come play chess with us. So just having those approaches and conversation with students is so important.

Alain Cyr-Russo
We had so many different clubs in my school.

Sam Demma
And I think even back to when I was in high school. And I think one of the most beautiful things about clubs is you find like-minded individuals who are passionate about the same things that you are. And I met some of my closest friends doing similar interests as a part of clubs or extracurricular activities. You touched upon the idea of connecting with students one-on-one. I think it’s so important to build relationships with young people when you talk to them face-to-face and hear what they’re looking for. How do you think you build a relationship with a young person?

Alain Cyr-Russo
Well, I think it’s important to not be afraid of students. I find like as we grow older, sometimes like it’s we have a little bit of that disconnect, I find with with our crowd. But I think it’s important to just approach and have that conversation. You know, we’re often stuck, stuck behind Facebook and Instagram and texting, but you can’t build a great relationship with someone when you’re always behind a screen. So I think that face-to-face is important. I think it’s also important to, I think you touched on it, networking. I believe networking is the most important aspect of life because you don’t know who you’re gonna cross paths with, you don’t know who you’re gonna be working with, you don’t know whose help you’re going to need in the future. So just the networking, which is something like COCA has given me a lot, is just a family, a community, and that’s actually, you know, we both met there. So I think networking is a huge, huge factor in life that will bring you forward networking will also give you opportunities and maybe ideas for the future.

Sam Demma
We did meet at COCA and I met so many amazing humans just like yourself there. I’m so grateful that I pushed myself to go. I was listening to some students after an event that I was at recently and they’re walking off the campus and they said to themselves, I’m so great that I’m so happy and grateful that I made the decision to show up. I think that half the time the battle is just convincing ourselves not to stay comfy in bed, but to go to the events and to meet the people and to have conversations. And I’ve found that when you start asking questions, it helps you realize how small the world is and how interconnected we all really are. And I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast here today and talk a little bit about your educational journey, what you think it takes to put on a good event and what the heart of an event is, which is addressing the needs of the people that are going to be in the audience. I appreciate you sharing a little bit about, you know, the idea of how you go about getting that information and having those one-on-one conversations after events finish. And if you haven’t heard it recently, congratulations on the big move to Algonquin. I wish you nothing but the best in the new position. A question I always like to ask all my guests before I finish with the interview is if you could travel back in time and speak to Alain when he was in his first year working at La Cité 14 years ago or 13 years ago, but with the knowledge and the wisdom you have now, knowing what you know, what would you tell yourself? What do you think your younger self needed to hear when you were just beginning the position?

Sam Demma
Wow.

Alain Cyr-Russo
One thing that I wish I did more when I was younger is just read and inform myself. I feel like I often act like I knew everything, and we don’t. I always like to learn, but I never took the steps to get there. So one thing is do communicate with people, do reach out, don’t be afraid, and get out of your bubble, get out of your comfort zone and try something. It may or may not work, but you’ll never know until you do it. So that is one thing that, you know, back in 2010, I was afraid, and it’s something that I definitely tell myself. Well, keep reading. Thank you, Alain, again, for coming on the podcast.

Sam Demma
It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. If you’re comfortable with it, I’ll put your email in the show notes and if any educator tuning in wants to connect with you or have a conversation, they can reach out. But until we meet again, hopefully soon, keep up the great work and good luck in this new adventure. Awesome, I appreciate it. Thank you so

Alain Cyr-Russo
much again for having me on your podcast. It’s been a pleasure and excited to hear the final result if you want. But yeah, anytime, if you wanna share that email, I have no issue.

Sam Demma
Awesome, thanks, Alain. Awesome, thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alain Cyr-Russo

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.

Daniette Terlesky  — Student Leadership Teacher at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta

Daniette Terlesky — Student Leadership Teacher at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta
About Daniette Terlesky

Daniette Terlesky (@mrsTerleskysmch) has been teaching for 21 years with Elk Island Catholic Schools. She is currently at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta. She has taught grades 7-12 sciences primarily and in the last 4 years has also taken on leadership classes in high school.

She is an avid believer that the more involved students are in extracurriculars at school the more they’ll enjoy their overall experience. Connections are important and celebrating the gifts and talents of all students are very important to her. Leadership gives students those opportunities to get involved and use their gifts and talents to make a difference in their schools and communities.

Connect with Daniette: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Elk Island Catholic Schools

Our Lady of Mount Pleasant 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
Today’s special guest on the High Performing Educator podcast is Daniette Terleski. Daniette Terleski has been teaching for 21 years with the Elk Island Catholic Schools. She currently is at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School in Camrose, Alberta. She has taught grades 7 to 12 sciences primarily and in the last four years has also taken on leadership classes in high school. She is an avid believer that the more involved students are in extracurriculars at school, the more they’ll enjoy their overall experience. Connections are important and celebrating the gifts and talents of all students are very important to her. Leadership gives students those opportunities to get involved and use their gifts and talents to make a difference in their schools and communities. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Daniette Terleski and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode

Sam Demma
of the High-Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Daniette Terlesky. Daniette, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. 

Daniette Terlesky
Tell me a little bit about where you grew up, what your childhood was like, and maybe provide some context that brought you to the person that you are today.

Daniette Terlesky
Most of my time growing up has been in Camrose, Alberta, and I was big into dancing, so I danced. A lot of my life, wanted to do some sports, but it was hard to fit in with dancing, so I got some track and field in there. Family was super important. Spent a lot of time with my family. I have a younger brother, he was big into hockey, played WHL, so followed him around a lot to watch. And yeah, I didn’t know if I was gonna be a teacher. My dad always said, don’t be a teacher or a nurse. So here I am, I am a teacher. It was kind of to defy him in a little bit, but it was the right fit place for me. And, yeah, now I have two children and we’re back in Camrose and it’s just, it’s a great place to be. And I don’t know.

Sam Demma
Yeah. When you said you’re back in Camrose, did you leave for a period of time and live somewhere else or have you been in Camrose your entire life?

Daniette Terlesky
No, so when I started teaching, I taught my first four years here in Camrose, which was lovely. And then I moved, I stayed with the same school division, but I was able to move and transfer and I worked in Vegreville for about 12 years and then transferred back here and I’m about to start my seventh year back in Kamrose. That’s awesome. You mentioned

Sam Demma
your dad said don’t ever become a nurse or a teacher but also that family was very important to you back when you were growing up and still now. What did your parents do and did it, I guess your dad not so much, but did your mom’s profession inspire you to do what you’re doing today?

Daniette Terlesky
Well mom and dad have business so they they work together in a business But my mom It was highly involved with many different things when I was a kid and still to this day she volunteers She does lots of crafts and she has lots of hobbies. And she’s really taught me to volunteer and help other people. And I think that’s part of why I do what I do.

Sam Demma
What kind of volunteering did you experience growing up? So I can’t even think of all the things

Daniette Terlesky
So I can’t even think of all the things that my mom has done in her time. Like, she helped out at the hospital with palliative care. She’d help out in the church. She just always seems to be involved. And now she’s involved with Rotary, which is great. And trying to get my group of students involved with Rotary too. So whenever there’s a place for her to help, she’s always tried to make herself available. And so I think that’s kind of where I get it from that I think it’s important to help out where we can help out.

Sam Demma
It sounds like she had the heart of an educator, although she got into business.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah. She was kind of in the nursing profession for a period of time too,

Daniette Terlesky
but it just worked out better to work in the business with my dad. So. Gotcha. Oh, that’s awesome. Out of curiosity,

Sam Demma
Tell me a little bit about your own educational journey that brought you from a student to your first teaching job. So grade 12, I didn’t know what I wanted to do still.

Daniette Terlesky
I had to figure it out and I thought, Oh, maybe physiotherapy, you know, like, just would get me in the door. But I went into general sciences to start off with, okay, thought about pharmacy. And then it was just like, my, my heart kept saying, I think I want to be a teacher, I really do. And so soon as I transferred into education, I think it was my second year university, right fit. I was around the people that were similar to me, we had common interests, and it just felt like the right place to be. So I finished my four years of university at the University of Alberta. I got to teach with a few teachers that had taught me. And now I’m in that position since I’ve been teaching so long that I’m teaching with students or people that I taught.

Sam Demma
Oh, cool.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah. Been around a while.

Sam Demma
It’s a really unique experience when there’s a full circle moment. And I’m sure although it reminds, you know, those veteran teachers of their age, it’s a full circle moment and it probably, I would imagine makes you feel very fulfilled and significant. What does it feel like when one of your former students ends up on your staff?

Daniette Terlesky
I think it’s pretty cool because obviously we didn’t turn them off of the profession.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Daniette Terlesky
When they’re in school. Like, it must have been a positive experience. And it’s just, it’s really neat to see them as adults and being in that same profession.

Sam Demma
I think creating those positive experiences for students is one of the most important things that educators can do. You know, some students will struggle with certain curriculum, but making sure they know they’re walking into a safe space where they can express themselves, be who they truly are, and know that they’re being supported by the adults in their life is something that every student has access to if the adults in their life and their school strive to create those spaces. How do you think we create those spaces where students do have exceptional experiences and want to be around school or be in school?

Daniette Terlesky
I think we create the connections. Trying to have those authentic conversations and connections with the students, I think is so incredibly important. Providing clubs, different extracurricular is really important so those kids can kind of blossom and thrive. Our school is, has a great athletic reputation, we have great sports teams, but I see the need for leadership and for the drama programs and those arts and different things like that because not all those kids fit into that route and You want everybody in the school community to feel Valued and important and have something that they can really do well at so I really just think those one-on-one Connections and just different opportunities for them. It’s really important Can you think of a student who you’ve taught or someone in your school?

Sam Demma
That was that was not shy, timid, or struggling, but that wasn’t reaching their full potential, and then through an opportunity, or tapping them on the shoulder, or building a connection, you saw them really personally grow and flourish. Does any students like that come to mind?

Daniette Terlesky
There’s definitely a few. There’s definitely a kid who just graduated this past year. He got involved a little bit with leadership and even when he wasn’t taking the class, he just stepped up anytime we were planning. He’s like, you need extra help.

Daniette Terlesky
So that was really cool.

Daniette Terlesky
And then on a side note, one of the drama teacher and I were involved with some community theater last year. And the drama teacher like tapped him on the shoulder and was like, you should come out and like audition. And he had never done anything like that. And he, he did the show with us and it was just really cool to see him trying new things. And I think he’s just going to be better off a little bit more well-rounded because he, he took that step to try something different.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
Knowing that you’re extremely involved in the school and like your mom, try to volunteer when you can as well. Why do you think those personal skill building classes like leadership and extracurricular activities are so important in a school setting?

Daniette Terlesky
I think they just give students an opportunity to do something, maybe in a little bit more relaxed environment. There’s not the stress of the studying and the test anxiety and the things like that. You know, they can be them, maybe. And if it’s something that interests them, then it just kind of helps them grow more. And those connection things are really important in real life when you leave the school and everything’s big and scary It’s like if you’ve had those opportunities to try some new things. It’s not maybe as daunting

Sam Demma
You know, you know one of the analogies that I talked about and I share is about the backpack that we all carry and You know I had some educators in my life growing up who helped me empty my backpack and instead filled it with self-belief and courage. And they believed in me a lot. And I’m curious when you think about your own experience through education, if there was any educators in your own life or caring adults that played a really significant role in helping you believe in yourself and inspiring you to keep moving forward. Is there any teachers who played a big role?

Daniette Terlesky
I’ve had some really amazing colleagues, but there’s like an administrator that really sticks out in my head. She was big on praising people in the things that they do well, allowing you the opportunity to do the things you do well, and just always being in your court, helping you, being your biggest cheerleader and things like that. So, I really, yeah, she really helped me to grow and to see a little bit and understand a little bit more also about servant leadership.

Sam Demma
And is this someone who you’ve stayed in touch with or had at one point at the school or a school you worked in? How did you cross paths?

Daniette Terlesky
So yeah, she was principal for three years at the school in Vegreville I was at. And then she moved on, I moved on, and then she actually came in and worked at the school that I’m currently at for a little bit of a short period of time. So it was great to connect again. And yeah, we’re still in contact definitely.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. It’s funny I think sometimes educators they don’t hear about the impact they have not only on students but also on their colleagues or their their peers. You know maybe you get a lot of handwritten notes or you get every once in a while a student that comes and tells you how significant of an impact you had on them. But I think you know as teachers you also impact the teachers around you. And when things get difficult, you probably lean on the staff in the school building. So I think it’s really cool that she was able to understand the impact she had on you and that you reconnected after a couple of years. I’m just curious, like, what resources have you found helpful in teaching? What resources have you found helpful in trying to engage students or just in general that have helped you in your own personal development and professional development as an educator?

Daniette Terlesky
I’m going to be honest, I’m not big on like reading books and getting the ideas from that. That’s totally fair. I totally am one of those people who love to hear other people’s experiences. I like to see what they’re doing. So, any chance I can go for professional development, I totally take that, especially if I can find free professional development. Just in collaboration with other teachers is huge. But again, I’m one of those people who has to see it. I need to understand it a little bit more. Cause sometimes just reading about it doesn’t mean anything to me. So seeing, doing, um, is really important. And like going to those leadership conferences and hearing from other educators and, and amazing speakers. It just like inspires me to like take their messages and try and use it in my everyday life and teaching.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
I love that. I think learning from other people’s experiences is one of the best ways to pick up ideas. You mentioned collaborating with teachers. What is a collaboration with another teacher look like? Can you provide an example or how would you go about doing that with someone in the school?

Daniette Terlesky
I’ve been lucky enough to have a few teachers that were teaching the same subjects the same semester and so it’s just like sitting down in their classroom at the end of the day and being like, hey, I was thinking about doing this, like, what do you think? And like, working together to come up with the activity or, you know, and then be like, I did this, don’t do it, it doesn’t work. Or, like, you need to tweak this before you do it, right? So it’s really nice to have somebody else who’s also doing the same thing as you so you can like bounce ideas off of them and just work together and sometimes it kind of lessens the workload a little bit if like somebody’s like hey I already created that you can just use it you know oh like fix it as you need it that really that really helps like why reinvent the wheel they always say I think there’s so much to be learned from collaborating sometimes and a newer teacher might be a little nervous to reach out to the people around them.

Sam Demma
What’s your advice for a new educator who’s tuning into this feeling a little bit overwhelmed or anxious about? starting this new chapter of their life I

Daniette Terlesky
Think you just need to figure out the person on staff who’s still got energy, still positive. Because you’re going to, like this work can get to you and they kind of are stuck in a rut. But if you can find those people who are positive and like so many teachers, like I really actually haven’t come across too many educators who won’t share what they have. Because we’ve all been there. A lot of the stuff I use is still from a teacher I worked with years ago, right? And I just like am tweaking it, but ultimately she just passed it over to me and it helped so much, right? Like you shouldn’t have to start from square one. There should be somebody there who can kind of help you along, give you some training wheels.

Sam Demma
Yeah, it’s fair. It works with biking. Why not teaching? Yeah. That’s awesome. And if there is an educator listening to this podcast and they think, hmm, Inyet seems like an educator that’s still passionate and has lots of energy, I might want to ask her a question. What would be the best way for them to reach out or get in touch with you?

Daniette Terlesky
They could definitely email me. I don’t know if you provide an email, but email is probably the best. I am on Facebook, but I think I have a privacy setting there, so it might be a little bit harder to find me, but my name’s on there. You could try and find me on Instagram too. I’m not really great with all the social media.

Sam Demma
With your permission, I’ll include your email in the show notes of the episode so someone can reach out if they want to get in touch.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah, absolutely.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Well, this has been a fun conversation. Thank you for taking the time to come on the podcast, talk a little bit about your beliefs in education, the pathway that you took, and share a few ideas for educators to improve themselves and also their practices. So from the bottom of my heart and all the educators listening, thank you so much, and I hope we cross paths again very soon. thank you so much, and I hope we cross paths again very soon.

Sam Demma
Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Daniette Terlesky

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.