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Student Leadership

Chris Andrew – Teacher, Administrator and Coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for Over 30 years

Chris Andrew - Teacher, Administrator and Coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for Over 30 years
About Chris Andrew

Chris has been a teacher/administrator/coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for over 30 years. He began his career as an High School English teacher in 1988. Since then, he went on to teach at middle school and elementary. In his teaching career he has taught every grade from Pre-KIndergarten to Grade 12. He began his administrative career as a Curriculum Coordinator in the areas of Language Arts, Social Studies, and Early Education. He has been Vice Principal at the Middle and High School level and a Principal at the Elementary, Middle and High School levels.

Chris obtained his Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Saskatchewan majoring in HIstory and English and received a Master of Arts Degree Majoring in Special Education from San Diego State University. He is a proud parent of three children Jack (15), Geordan (24), and Amy (27) and is happily married to his wife, Charlene for over 30 years.

Connect with Chris: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division

Bachelor of Education – University of Saskatchewan

Master of Arts Degree Majoring in Special Education – San Diego State University

Understanding Response to Intervention

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Chris Andrew. Chris has been a teacher, administrator, and coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for over 30 years. He began his career as a high school English teacher in 1988. Since then, he went on to teach at middle school and elementary. In his teaching career, he has taught every grade from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. He began his administrative career as a curriculum coordinator in the areas of language arts, social studies, and early education. He has been vice principal at the middle and high school level, and a principal at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Chris obtained his Bachelor of education degree from the University of Saskatchewan, majoring in history and English, and received a masters of Arts degree majoring in special education from San Diego State University. He is a proud parent of three children, Jack 15, Jordan 34, and Amy 27, and is happily married to his wife, Charlene for over 30 years. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. Today we have a very special guest. His name is Chris Andrew. Chris, please start by introducing yourself.

Chris Andrew (02:20):

Well, hi Sam. Thanks very much for having me on the show. I am a administrator in the Red Year Catholic School Division. I’ve been teaching and administration for 34 years. This is my 35th year, and I’ve been in every level of school from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. So both as an administrator, and as a teacher.

Sam Demma (02:45):

Did as a student growing up that you wanted to work in education, did anyone in your family work in education? What directed you down this path?

Chris Andrew (02:54):

No, no one worked in education. My family, I grew up on a small family farm but I had a pretty great educational experience In grade 10, I left home to attend a boarding school and met some incredible teachers there that were big influences in my life. They had fun every day. They joked around and had fun every day and they made the learning fun for us. And so we’d come to tests and I’m having a test on what and all the information there and just going like, Man, I know all this stuff. And it was hard to like we were learning. So a lot of great mentors at that school.

Sam Demma (03:36):

You mentioned you had a lot of great teachers. What is it, I guess having fun was one aspect of it, but what is it that they did in your life as a teacher and you being a student that really inspired you and uplifted you?

Chris Andrew (03:52):

The relationship that they had with the students, they knew us well actually one of the tricks that they used or that they did to learn about us, I used in my classes, and that was because I became a high school English teacher to start with. One of my favorite teachers was a as English teacher, and they gave us these autobiographies to write every year. Well, because kids at a boarding school come from a lot of different communities, a lot of different places. In order to connect your lessons to them, they had to find out where people were from. And I took that lesson from them so that I knew what my students were about. And when they taught their lessons, just like I taught mine, it was all about relationships. Who had pats? What was their biggest life experience so far? What kinds of things did they enjoy? And so when they thought about structuring the lessons that they had, they keyed in on the things that would make people excuse the

Chris Andrew (04:56):

Interruption.

Sam Demma (04:59):

It’s part of the everyday life of an educator. It makes it more real <laugh>.

Chris Andrew (05:05):

They connected things in their lessons to the things that were important to the people in their class. And I did exactly the same thing in mind.

Sam Demma (05:15):

Would you finish the day of school, go home and work on the farm?

Chris Andrew (05:20):

If you can come to you said to

Chris Andrew (05:23):

The office When I was living at home, for sure. Yeah, we had chores every night. The boarding school that I went to though I actually stayed over. We went on that Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, so we became super independent and then also to our teachers were our dorm teachers, so they would actually supervise us at night too. So we got to see all sides of them. We got to see them in their classroom and we got to see them personally as well.

Sam Demma (05:52):

Oh, that’s amazing. Did you finish your high school experience in the boarding school or was it just for one or two years?

Chris Andrew (06:00):

No, I went from grade 10 to grade 12, so I had all kinds of rules. I was a senior student my second year, meaning that I had new students to the school, kind of guiding them through the different things of would happen, answering questions as roommates. And then in my senior year, I was a house leader, so I was in charge of an entire floor with another teacher, which meant we made schedules for jobs and supervised, making sure that everybody was in bed at night and those kinds of things, making sure that students were in bed and lights out at a certain time. So it was kind of a military style school at night, so it was kind of fun.

Sam Demma (06:42):

When you finished high school what did the rest of your journey look like and was there a defining moment as a high school student where you decided, Wow, this teacher had such an impact on me, I want to do this when I grow up, or did you still go to university or college and we’re still exploring your options at that point?

Chris Andrew (07:00):

Yeah, yeah, for sure. My high school teachers that I was speaking about earlier really set a great example for me. I came from a small community school. Teachers changed every year, so bar as far as teachers and their experience was pretty low before I went to this school. Then I saw these outstanding high connection teachers and I said, Man, that’s what I want to be. And so when I went to university, I went to the University of Saskatchewan and combined my education degree with three years of cis or university level football at the same time. So they were all super athletic. It was an athletic school that I went to. So it was a natural transition both to go into education and also to continue as a student athlete at university.

Sam Demma (07:56):

Do you think you pulled any principles from athletics or just disciplines from sport that have really helped you as a teacher and generally in life?

Chris Andrew (08:08):

Yeah, for sure. Always taking a look at your class as your team. These are the people on my team and looking at their skills. I taught with another teacher by the name of Lee Kane when I was at school and we had a cooperative learning class and we would divide the students into groupings for a unit and we would divide them based on different skills that they had so that each person relied on the other for their skills, just kind of like a team. And then taking it into about year 2000 or so, I started to get into administration. I started looking at the teachers in my school as my team and then looking at their individual skills and how they could help one another grow it to be effective teachers in their classroom.

Sam Demma (08:59):

That’s awesome. I think sport teaches so much and especially when you have a coach that unifies the team, aka a really great teacher in a classroom, <laugh> some of my coaches had really big impacts on my development as a young person and taught me principals as well. That stuck with me for a long time. So you finish high school. Tell me about the next steps in your journey that brought you to your first role in education. As I think you said, an English teacher.

Chris Andrew (09:27):

That’s right. If I first job interview with Red Deer Catholic they were actually looking for a high school football coach. Oh wow. They could teach. So I remember sitting in the interview room beforehand and the guy before me or a guy after me was an offensive lineman. I could tell for sure <laugh> and the guy coming out he definitely was something to do with defense cause guy too. And I went in, I remembered that the interview they asked me to, What was wrong with this sentence and a tragedy is when the character falls down. And I said, Well, there’s two things wrong with that sentence. First of all, that’s not the definition of a tragedy. And the one guy set up really quickly and he’s said, Okay, well is there anything else Ronen? I said, That’s not proper English. Should never have his. And when in a sentence together, <laugh> said, ok, we’re gonna go on question number two now. And they started looking at other characteristics, more traditional interview, but it was pretty fun to send in that interview and go, Oh my gosh, I definitely, they’re looking for an offense line coach. I’m definitely out.

Sam Demma (10:38):

That’s awesome. <laugh>. So you became an English teacher. How many years did you stay in that role and what were the different roles in education you worked until you moved into administration and even into the role you’re in today?

Chris Andrew (10:54):

For sure. It was probably about my first five years I was in that role. I went from a high school English teacher to an elementary generalist for a year. And it was at that time I said, Wow, you know what? I can see the impact I have in a class. If I could possibly get into administration or somebody felt I had the skills to be a decent administrator, I wonder what kind of impact I could have on a school community. So at that point I kind of started to look at different opportunities that would help me grow my experience. So I spent a year in elementary as an elementary general teacher at grade five level then transferred back to high school. I spent two years as a special education teacher in a program called Integration Occupation program for students that weren’t able to get a high school diploma through kind of traditional routes but needed some academic support and as well as some job experience.

Chris Andrew (11:56):

And that’s how they got their certificate of completion. From there, I went to a junior high At the time, we now have middle schools, but it was a junior high to try all those things out. And it was at that point I started to go into my master’s work. So I studied at San Diego State University, a cohort that was centered out of Central Alberta, and we did summer classes in different places. One summer it was in ASFA with a whole group from across the province. Our second year was actually down at San Diego State where we spent a month with classes down there and we graduated in 2001 with my master’s from San Diego State University.

Sam Demma (12:38):

I’m sure you didn’t mind the warm weather down there, did you? <laugh>

Chris Andrew (12:41):

Beautiful weather, same weather every day. Crazy how great it is there.

Sam Demma (12:46):

That’s awesome. Well, did you have some mentors or administrators in your life to tap you on the shoulder and said, Hey Chris, you should consider administration or what did your journey into administration look like?

Chris Andrew (12:58):

Yeah, yeah, for sure. There were some key people. My first principal was really a very organized guy and I learned a lot about organization from that particular person. Our superintendent at the time I made that transition from high school to junior high was a guy by the name of Don Dolan and he was super influential in saying what, you’ve got a lot of different experience, you’ve got lots to offer our school division, we like how you are so student centered in your classes and if you could convert that into being teacher centered as administrator we would really like to see you grow in that direction. So those were two big influences for

Sam Demma (13:53):

At what point in your educational career did you start getting involved in helping out with extracurricular activities?

Chris Andrew (14:02):

From the very beginning, Sam I remember in my first year of teaching, I was as a first year teacher, head coach of a football team. And my roommate at the time became the head coach of the senior basketball team. So I went from being really involved in the football program to going to every basketball game. And then in the spring one of the teachers at the school convinced me to be his assistant rugby coach. So I enjoyed it so much that watching basketball and I had some back background in basketball the next year I coached football in the fall and then as soon as that was over, he had about two weeks off and then the basketball program started and then about three weeks off and then it was right into rugby. So the relationships we formed with kids in the classroom were great but the ones we formed with them after school as school, at school coaches, and in school sports really carried us. I think that young teacher, when we started out, it really carried us in the classroom because kids just had us so much respect for us and they also were so gracious to us when we made mistakes too. They just said, It’s okay, just like we did in practice, they just do better tomorrow Mr. Andrew. It’s okay.

Chris Andrew (15:32):

It was fantastic. Sports are a big part of our teaching.

Sam Demma (15:38):

How do you think it allows you to build such a deep relationship? Is it the extended amount of time spent with the young person or what do you think about sports and those extra cookers? What is it about them that allows you to build these super deep relationships with the students?

Chris Andrew (15:56):

They get a chance to see a different side of you. You’re spend that extra time with them. It gives them that opportunity to ask you those one-on-one questions, whether they be school related or not school related. If they guide and make sure that they go in the right direction, that they’re not going too far into your personal life <laugh>. But also too, if you just take that opportunity to listen to what’s going on in their lives and ask them questions back. Or even better yet when you’re driving home from a late night game, just listen to the conversations. You really get an idea what’s topical with the kids and what’s important in their life. And I love the relationships that I made with all my students in the class. Any of the conversations that you had but you just got on such a deeper level with the kids that you worked with from four o’clock to six o’clock or four o’clock to 11 o’clock when you’re on a road trip with them or on a weekend with them. It’s a special relationship you have as a coach and it’s truly one of the benefits of being a teacher.

Sam Demma (17:10):

You also volunteer and help out with the Middle Years Council conference. Was that an event that you also began attending almost the moment you started teaching or when did you start attending conferences for your own professional development and relationship building amongst other colleagues?

Chris Andrew (17:27):

Yeah, that that’s been all along. That’s attending conferences. It’s really a matter of good, better, best, never let it rest until your good becomes better and your better becomes best. And conferences, those sessions are great and you get some great ideas and definitely help you grow. But even more so after the session or the person that you’re sitting beside at the session saying, How do you do this? And what are some great ideas that you have? I’ve learned a ton from conferences and other professionals. The milli years conference that you’re talking about, that’s an interesting one. <laugh> I was actually, a couple of my friends are high up in the leadership of that and convinced me to join it. And really we organize a great conference, but it’s a great group of people to organize a conference with. So we have a lot of fun doing it. And as a result, the conference is a lot of fun and we advanced the education of the middle years teachers in the prophets of Alberta through the Middle Years conference.

Sam Demma (18:34):

Word on the street is that you had a different name at that conference. Is that true?

Chris Andrew (18:39):

There is a rumor going around that I might have a name when I go in I I’m thinking of we get special clothing each year with our names on the back that signify that we’re helpers at the conference and if you have any questions. So they always put our names on the back so people can feel like they can connect with us. And my name will be Jamar next year. We’ll see how that goes.

Sam Demma (19:05):

That’s awesome, man. What resources, if any, in specific or particular have you found really helpful in developing your mindset around education and the importance of relationships? It could be specific individuals, it could be books, courses you mentioned a conference already, but maybe there’s some other ones that you’ve attended that you found really helpful. It could be certain people you follow. Yeah. Is there anything in specific that has been foundational in your creation around your educational beliefs?

Chris Andrew (19:38):

Yeah, probably one of the most fundamental experiences I had as a leader in a school was to take a group of teachers to a solution tree conference around response to intervention and just the Cole’s notes on response to intervention it. It’s the ability to have either a group of teachers through several grades concentrating on the same outcomes so that students are, if we concentrate on all the outcomes in our curriculum with the same amount, everything if everything gets the same amount of emphasis, nothing’s important. So I took this group of teachers to this conference. They weren’t very sure about what their goal or their role was but when we listened to it, it made so much sense to where our school was at. It was about teaching a small number of outcomes so that every kid could do the most important outcomes. Teachers were still responsible for the entire curriculum, but emphasizing that the same time.

Chris Andrew (20:50):

And when students didn’t get the material, that opportunity for a individual teacher to go back and reteach it to a group of students that didn’t get that content because this is fundamental for a student to be successful in high school and beyond. So we were super successful. I took this group and they weren’t sure and by the end of the first morning they were saying, How do we do this in our school? And I said, Chris, you have to bring this back and you have to do this in our school. And I said it, it’s not the power of me, it’s the power of, I said, I can’t introduce this as a school leader. You’re the authentic people. And they brought it back and did all the in servicing at teachers and sold the teachers on our staff. And I said, The only thing I wanna do is I want to be able to, they just do the question session at the end.

Chris Andrew (21:47):

And they did such a great job of selling it and I rolling it out so teachers could understand it and believe it and our school went to it. But we got to the question session and one teacher asked, they said, Yeah, that’s great. This is your new idea. You’re gonna break it to school. What’s gonna say as soon as you leave, this doesn’t die. And I said to them, I just said like, You know what you guys, I’ll tell you from my aspect as a leader, if I came to a school and I saw something that’s as good as what this could be and how passionate you guys are about it my job as a leader is to be able to fuel that fire in the people that are running it. It’s not the power of me, it’s the power of we will do a great job on this.

Chris Andrew (22:37):

And if I came in and you guys were doing a great job on something, all I tried to do is just get outta your way so you could do a great job and learn as much as I could so that I could help support you with whatever challenges came in year two, year three, year four, whatever year you are in with this. So if I’m thinking of one conference that changed my career, it would absolutely be that. It would because I learned a lot about teaching and instruction. Nice. But I learned an awful lot about leadership and it’s about what make it the teacher’s decision to do something, point them in the right direction, make it their decision, help them support them, and you have a much stronger product when you’re done and when people believe in it it will happen.

Sam Demma (23:22):

What was the resulting impact on the school community? It sounds like the teachers really bought into this, which probably had a big impact on all the classrooms and the students, but what did you see going on in the school?

Chris Andrew (23:35):

We created this program, it was called deal. It was called Drop Everything and Learn. And two time we changed our schedules on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that we had a 25 minute block of time where students could be assigned to a reteach, which would be, here’s a concept that we’re not sure you’ve got, but it’s an opportunity for you to go to. Again, they could either be assigned to it or students could sign them up themselves up for it. I’d just some more practice at it. They could go to an enrichment session, which would be taking that concept a little higher. And we would challenge students to be involved in that. If they got that information, they could sign up for a homework working session. So basically it would just be an opportunity where they could do homework. We created a lunchroom will hour. It was something that I ran and basically it was a homework room where kids could come and do homework.

Chris Andrew (24:30):

They had a practice, they had a game they wouldn’t have time to do their homework at night. They could get their morning homework done or we said, We gave you time to do it in class. You chose to do it at home so you didn’t get it done at home. You will get it done and you’ll get it done with Mr. Andrew at will hour. So we’d give ’em time to eat and then they would have time so they could get assignments done, change. It changed the mentality of the school kids at first thought it was punitive. Then kids were starting to go like, No, I need extra time to work on this. So I’m gonna go into Mr. Andrew’s Willow and do, I’d have 50 kids in a classroom working. I go, You guys, it’s gotta be quiet. If you’re working with a group, it’s gotta be quiet.

Chris Andrew (25:12):

If it’s not what we’ll find a spot for you outside to work. And assignments were coming in, teachers were like, they were getting to teach the stuff they had to teach or was most important. They recognized the next year that the skills that the students brought forward to the next class, they were so much better prepared for their next year of what they were supposed to learn. Teachers were on board teaching the same thing at the same time. So if we go back to that conference conversation we had, they were talking about the same topics at the same time and they were using the energy of the ideas that we’re getting to really build great and engaging lessons. Kids were comfortable going to other teachers and saying, You know what? I like the way you taught this. Could you please reteach it to me? Because I heard from my friend who’s learning at the same time as me that you did a really great job.

Chris Andrew (26:09):

I’d like to hear how it was everybody learning together and moving together. And teachers went. They couldn’t believe the difference. Not only in the student’s attitude towards learning, but also towards their knowledge that they brought forward the hooks that they could, if they said certain words, kids would go, I remember this from last year. And they were ready to learn. And other students would say, Remember when we did this in Mr. So-and-so’s class? And then automatically everybody was ready to learn and then they could put that new information on top and we could struggle with it for a while. We could get some help with it. And then we moved on and it was truly amazing to watch teachers say, I can’t believe how good these students are at these particular skills. This is the best group of students I’ve ever had. And the best thing I could say as administrator was, this is now the worst group that you’re gonna have because the other group’s gonna have this for two years. This other group gonna have it for three years. And it was unbelievable. I mean it’s one tool for measuring it but our provincial achievement test scores went crazy. They were the best they ever were under this. That was the third reason for doing it. <affirmative>, the first reason for doing it was kids were so much more confident. And the second reason was teachers were just so much more enthusiastic about the topics they were teaching because the students were so much ready, more ready and engaged to learn.

Sam Demma (27:41):

That sounds amazing. It sounds like it had a significant impact and the students and staff loved it. And it sounds like you were passionate about it. So the whole school sounds like metaphorically it was on fire, everyone wanted to be there, everyone is super excited. Can you think of a story maybe even during that time or any time throughout your educational journey where an individual student was really struggling and was supported by an adult and even just through education and had a serious transformation? And the reason I ask is because I think most adults and most people get into education because they wanna help and impact young minds and help change their lives or help them make better decisions. And sometimes when things get difficult, educators might forget their personal reason why they started or why they even got into education in the first place. And I think it’s stories of transformation and change in young people that remind them that the work they’re doing matters and is really important. So do you have any stories that come to mind of students who you’ve seen transform

Chris Andrew (28:52):

<laugh>? Yeah, yeah, for sure. I had this student, I learned a little bit more about his story by being his coach. He came from a small northern community to move to Red Deer, which is a little bit larger community. It was a big change for him. He moved from a farm into the city and he had, basketball was his big hook and he made a lot of friends through basketball and that certainly helped in his transition. It was pretty difficult though because one of his parents that was a teacher in our school division and really had high expectations. So he was trying his hardest and doing his best and he was one of my basketball players and he was gaining in confidence and his mom came in for parent-teacher interviews and I just finished marking one of his assignments and I brought it out and I showed it to to her and I just said, You gotta know that he is really working hard and he’s had all this growth.

Chris Andrew (29:55):

And it was a great interview. The mom was really super happy and I remember this student’s name, his name, staff staff He comes in the next day and he just gives me high five. He goes, You know what? Thank you Mr. Andrew. He goes, That helped a ton. My mom, mom’s been on my case and saying, Basketball’s taking too much of my time and thanks for acknowledging the hard work I did on this. And while what I’m totally your fan, whatever you ask, I’m gonna totally do. Steph went in to become a teacher. Steph taught in the same integrated occupation program that I had once taught in. So he really worked with some challenging learners. Went on to get his doctorate. He studied at Goza and finished his doctorate. And last year Steph got his first principalship.

Sam Demma (30:54):

Wow. A cool full, Are you still in touch with Steph?

Chris Andrew (30:59):

Steph? Yeah. Steph’s principal in my school division. So really, really excited. I sent him an email right away. I said, Welcome to a place at the table, brother. Great job, great journey. He’s in his home community now. It’s a smaller community outside of ours, but I just can’t wait to watch that school explode cuz it’s just gonna be an awesome experience having him as their school leader.

Sam Demma (31:21):

That’s an amazing story. What a cool full circle moment. If you could take your experiences in education, travel back in time to your first teaching role in that English class knowing what now, what advice would you have given your younger self or any other people who are just starting their first year as an educator?

Chris Andrew (31:45):

You know what I mean? I really think it’s important that you take that time regardless of what role you’re in, education to listen. You listen to what your, learn as much as you can about your students so that you can relate the content back to them in a form that means something to them. And I think that they really appreciate it. And I would go back and say, Just learn even more than you already are trying to learn about your kids because they are not only going to be the best way that you can teach them, but they will help you become the best teacher you can be.

Sam Demma (32:29):

That’s awesome. I love it. Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show, man. I really appreciate you and your insights and ideas. If an educator or anyone’s listening to this interview wants to reach out to you, ask a question, send you an email, what would be the most efficient way for them to reach out?

Chris Andrew (32:47):

What, if any educator has any in any way I could help ’em out, please don’t hesitate to send me an email. You can send it to my school email address. I check that one every day. It’s chris.andrew@rdcrs.ca.

Sam Demma (33:14):

Awesome. Chris, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Chris Andrew (33:19):

Same to you, Sam. Take care.

Sam Demma (33:21):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chris Andrew

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

Brent Dickson – A masterclass on events, engagement ideas and becoming the least popular teacher in your school (It’s not what you think…)

Brent Dickson – A masterclass on events, engagement ideas and becoming the least popular teacher in your school (It’s not what you think…)
About Brent Dickson

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

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

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

Connect with Brent: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Brent Dickson’s Personal Website

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers (AASCA)

The Boomerang Project

Centennial High School Website

Kahoot

What is a Walkathon?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s episode is a little bit different. Firstly, we don’t have the normal intro playing. You may have already noticed that. Secondly, we have a repeat guest. Our repeat guest today is Brent Dixon. Brent is a leadership and physical education teacher at Centennial High School in Alberta. In 2005, the high school started with one leadership class of 25 students, and it now has six leadership classes per year with around 200 students total. I’m so grateful that Brent took the time to come back on the show. We used today’s conversation to talk about so many amazing ideas that he has implemented in his school, in his classrooms, with the help of his student leaders that have created massive impact and generated awesome results in the hope that you can steal and borrow some of these and his ideas. We talk about everything from the power of colouring to running a rock athon, to using candy <laugh> to generate some very meaningful conversation and ideas, to having a special appreciation for students on their birthdays. Like there are so many amazing ideas in today’s conversation, and I hope you really enjoy it and take something away. I will see you on the other side of this conversation with Brent. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine, Brent Dixon. Brent, welcome back to the show. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Brent Dickson (01:41):

Well, hello, my name is Brent Dixon and I’m a teacher in Calgary at Centennial High School. We’re a 10-12 school and for the most part I teach student leadership, and then I occasionally have a phys ed class. Also, in the spring I coach junior boys rugby. So I’m a man of many efforts, I guess. Not talents. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (02:03):

You’re a man of many both. And I can say that from personal experience. There are tons of teachers listening to this, some of which are always looking for new ideas. They can’t see that. Behind you. During this interview is a collage of colored superheroes and cars and unicorns and just beautiful pictures that your students colored behind you on the wall. Can you explain what those pictures are, why they’re up there, and how a teacher could use something similar to engage their students in a leadership perspective?

Brent Dickson (02:36):

Sure. So it was actually as Covid forced us to get a lot more creative. when I was doing leadership classes, we didn’t run near as many activities and sometimes we weren’t even doing any. So I really had to find stuff to engage them. And so I, I can’t credit where I got the original idea. I saw it somewhere, but the idea to let kids color in class. So once a semester when they come in, I have four different designs out specifically Spider-Man and cars and a unicorn, and of course SpongeBob squarepants, but it could be whatever, nice. And a whole bunch of crayons. And then they come in and I say, it’s just time to color. And so they’ll start coloring one thing and they are very into it. And then on the instruction it says that we’ll put them up around the classroom once you’ve shown it to me.

Brent Dickson (03:24):

And so I kind of talk about how it’s kind of like a fridge door at home where you know you color something great and your mom puts it up nice. So they, the first time I did it, I couldn’t believe how into it they were. And then I realized I really gotta limit this to once a semester. And so I chose a Friday where our, our Fridays are shorter class. And even that day we had a modified schedule, so it was a little shorter. We never actually got to doing any leadership work. Cause kids would come up and they’re like can I color a second one? I’m like, well, it has to be different. Okay, so now I’m doing SpongeBob. Can I color a third one? Sure. by the end of halfway through the second class, I had to run down to the photocopy room and make more copies cuz I realized I wasn’t gonna have enough for the day.

Brent Dickson (04:04):

And then they show you very proudly and they put ’em up around the room and we just use like some green painters tape and I’ll leave them up until the, well, until the end of the semester. And there’s actually three I can’t really show you, but they’re up behind a screen. This was last spring. These three kids said, we want ours to last longer, <laugh>. So they’re behind the screen we pull down so you can sort of see ’em sometimes. I’m looking at ’em right now and so they might just be there a long time. But oh, one little tip though. Don’t put green tape on your windows cuz I discovered if I left them up too long, the sun would make it leave residue. Ah, we were scraping tape off of those windows. It was not good. So

Sam Demma (04:47):

Do you stick to the walls?

Brent Dickson (04:49):

Stick to the walls? That’s right. Otherwise it’s awesome. And so actually we did that last Friday and so now it’s Tuesday. I still have kids. They’re all coming in. They, they’re checking out each other’s, they actually take their friends to show them their drawing. And then there’s one that’s that my grade tens thought was amazing. They all had to look at and find out what kid in grade 11 had made that post or colored that thing. So it’s, it’s a simple little thing, but they just need a break and they need something a little different and something that, that they can feel good about and be engaged. So

Sam Demma (05:22):

I think it’s the simple little things that make the biggest impact. Sometimes the small ways in which we appreciate other people engage our students leaves the biggest impression. I remember being in your classroom, facilitating some workshops, speaking in the school, and there was something that you do for every single student’s birthday that I think is priceless. And it’s one of those simple little things that really makes them feel appreciated and included in a part of the community. Can you explain your little birthday hack and where it came from? <laugh>?

Brent Dickson (05:55):

Yeah. Well it, most of my ideas, I either copy from someone else or they’re by accident. And so I had some ring pops left over this a few years ago, just kind of little, the cheap candy you put on your finger and then you suck on the ring pop. I had a few left over in from some activity and then it was a kid’s birthday and I said, well, why don’t you have a ring pop? And they got like all excited and then the other kids are, can have a ring pop. And I’m like, well, it’s not your birthday <laugh>. And so then it became a tradition and so I, I was hitting I think it was superstore to get ring pops and then there was a real crisis because they weren’t carrying them anymore. And you can tell my generation, it didn’t occur to me that I could just go on Amazon and order buckets.

Brent Dickson (06:39):

So once I figured that out, started bringing them in. So what happens is I’m, I’m lucky on my attendance program, it tells me two weeks out every kid’s birthday. Nice. And so when it’s their birthday, the very first time we practice, there’s a very specific song. So it’s happy birthday to you. And then they have to point their fingers and they go Cha Chacha. They do that a few times. And then at the end we say, happy birthday Dear Sam, and we draw your name out and happy birthday to you. And then they have to show jazz hands and we say, and many more <laugh> and it’s super cheesy, but they all know how to do it and they expect it. And then sometimes they’re writing their names on the calendar that the birthday’s coming up, the kid comes up and they choose their ring pop and I take a picture of them with it.

Brent Dickson (07:26):

And and then some of the kids they like, they’re asking, well, can I get a ring pop? It’s not your birthday. oh it is. Well show me your id. You know, they have <laugh>. And then the kids like, well what if it’s not my birthday this semester? I’m like, well, you come on your birthday or close to it and I’ll get you one. Well what if my birthday’s in the summer? You come last day of classes in June and we’ll take care of you <laugh>. Several kids will come in looking for their ring pop for sure. So wow, it’s a little thing. But if you make the ring pop a big deal, then it becomes a big deal to them. They can’t get one. I mean, they can obviously go to the store and buy their own, but I will never give a kid a ring pop for anything other than their birthday. I got other treats and stuff for other things, but it’s just the event and making a big deal of it that I think and, and letting ’em know that, that we know and that we care about ’em.

Sam Demma (08:13):

You could use any object, but if you hype it up and make it significant, the students will also hype it up and believe it’s significant. And I think that’s such an important reminder, not only for physical gifts and little objects, but for teaching. When you’re passionate about what you’re teaching, you’re passionate and enthusiasm about the subject will hopefully rub off on the students. your Ring pop idea made me think back to a conversation I had with Josh Sable, and you might know the name Josh is from Tanem Bomb Chat. It’s not a west A school in the west. He’s, he’s here in Toronto, but they do this thing at the end of the year that they call the Golden Bagels. And it’s like the Oscars, but they hand out these shelac bagels <laugh> on a golden piece of string. And it’s like the school’s big end of the year celebration.

Sam Demma (09:08):

And I, I was at the school recently and they gave me one as a parting gift and it’s, it is ugly, it’s a bagel with sesame seeds on it, glued on. And you, you would think to yourself, who the heck would want this? But it’s what’s attached to it, the meaning that’s attached to it. And I think there’s so many things that you do that have such good important meanings in your classroom and outside of it, one of the things that I loved was the wall of cell phones. Can you talk about what inspired that decision? And I, I just think that in a world that’s always glued to their phones, it’s such a cool idea and one that I think other educators could benefit from trying in their own classrooms if done correctly at the start of the semester, <laugh>.

Brent Dickson (09:52):

So this is how you can become the least popular teacher in your school,

Sam Demma (09:56):

<laugh>.

Brent Dickson (09:57):

 so I had a couple years ago, I had a semester that put me over the edge with a class that the phones were such a problem and they were just getting worse and worse. They just couldn’t leave ’em alone. And so they were addicted to ’em all the time. They’re on top of that. They weren’t engaging with each other, they would, I even had like a guest speaker in one time and third of the class is on their phone. And so it just kind of had decided that’s enough, but you can’t, you can’t really do it mid-semester. You have to kick it off at the beginning. So some friends of mine at SKO High School in Edmonton had been doing this, so I copied their idea and I found out that there are phone caddies you can order off of Amazon. I had no idea.

Brent Dickson (10:37):

 and then when I went and searched it, like there are tons and tons of them. So apparently this is a market, I shouldn’t be surprised that this is a big market for teachers. So it’s a thing you kind of can hang over your blackboard. And so I ordered one that’s got 42 slots in it. You wanna order the bigger one if you got bigger classes. And then when the kids come in, they have to put their cell phone in their designated slot. And so I write down the number for each kid, so in case one gets left behind, I know who it belongs to, they have to put it in right away. And then on the screen I have what’s called a do now activity running. So it could be almost anything. It might, so for example, today I had these cards you hand out that were pre-made and they had to ask someone else what’s big question number one?

Brent Dickson (11:21):

So like one, and then I have the kids report after. So one kid asked someone else, who would you invite to dinner if you could invite anyone? Another question was what countries have you traveled to and which was your favorite? So it, you know, simple basic stuff like that. Yeah. So they, so I’m taking away their phone, but I’m giving them something to do right away. And so I have a whole PowerPoint set with a whole bunch of these slides that I go to and I just recycle each semester. And then the other thing I do is the kids are not allowed to have their cell phone until the last 10 minutes of class. Mm. And so unless they come to me and they have a very specific reason they’re posting something or looking for something. And the funny thing that happened when I first started was I’d put up these times on a piece of paper and I said, it’s exactly this time.

Brent Dickson (12:08):

So you don’t get the phone until three twenty four, not 3 23, not 3 22 or whatever it is. Right. And then this one kid says grade 12 student, well Mr. Dixon, how are we gonna know what time it is if we don’t have our phone? And I’m like, that is an excellent point, <laugh>. But then I went to Walmart and I bought a little digital phone and I, it’s right beside the phone caddy. And now all the kids know, and I actually ran into him just a week ago. He, he graduated last spring and he was back at the school and I said, Hey, your your clock is still there. He’s like, no way. And I said, yeah, I, I’ll tell teachers how sometimes you don’t think of everything and you gotta listen to students. And so the clock is there and they know that they can’t touch their phone until it touches that spot.

Brent Dickson (12:58):

Now the real bonus for that is it actually frees them from the phone. It allows them to engage with each other if I, and then I can be the bad guy, right? Like, oh, I wish I had my phone. But most part they really don’t. Yeah. And so we, when they’re working on their projects and stuff, we’ll play music. Like a kid can be DJ for the day with a Bluetooth speaker and whatever, but they’re talking to each other. So even if they’re sitting and making a poster or they’re planning something or whatever, they’re also talking about what happened on the weekend. They’re talking about that science test they hated or whatever it is. But they’re connecting, which we know more than ever is super important as they’re having that face to face conversation. I, I will never go back to cell phones and kids’ hands. I, I, I thought it would work and I was really impressed with how great it really has made a difference in the class.

Sam Demma (13:52):

Speaking about listening to students, what are some of the ideas that have been student generated in the school over the past couple of months? Is there anything that students in your class have suggested you try or as a school that you do? Is there initiatives or ideas or anything that’s going on right now that you think this was, you know, co-created with the help of the students in front of me?

Brent Dickson (14:17):

Well, there’s one little one that it’s not hard to do either that we’d been talking about before is we called them kind of our dinosaur posts on Instagram. And so it kind of had 2, 2, 2 names. It was the dinosaurs of the school or it was the day so you can decide what you, so Centennial opened in 2004 and I came to the school in 2005 and the kids were starting to talk about what was different. I was telling ’em some stories about how the gym wasn’t ready the first time and oh, what the cafeteria looked like. They were fascinated by this stuff. It was like I could have gone an hour of old school centennial story time. So then I said, well, why don’t we, or do you wanna explore this further? So they came up with the idea that we would identify, so they picked five teachers that I kind of told ’em who had been around a long time.

Brent Dickson (15:08):

So they interviewed them all and they asked them, they asked them what was one of their favorite stories from back in the day, and then something about why they, I’m trying to remember now why do they why they’re still at Centennial now and what do they love about Centennial cause cuz a lot of people have taught here for, you know, 18, 20 years. And so they came up with these stories and they took a picture of each of them and to promote it, they put some of these dinosaur posters up around the school and just said, coming soon. And then for five days they just posted them on Instagram and it got a lot of conversation. I think kids were like, no way. That’s what it was. Like that wing was closed. You had to wear hard hats at the beginning or whatever it was that that they thought was great.

Brent Dickson (15:51):

So it was, it wasn’t very hard and it kind of showed a little shout out or respect to those teachers that had been around a while. And it wouldn’t have to be from the beginning of the school, but you know, just in your building who’s been here maybe 10 or 15 years, cuz they’ll have, even if the physical building hasn’t changed Mm. They’ll have stories of stuff that was different. We used to do this, or this time this thing happened, or, or whatever. It’s, you know, so it, it wasn’t very hard and it worked really well.

Sam Demma (16:19):

There are, it sounds like there are a couple of things you do annually, the birthdays, the phones, the coloring, the different activities you mentioned previously. What are some of the other things that you, you do on a non-negotiable basis? Every single year, like this is an absolute hit and every single time we do it, students love it and you’ve continued to do it or intend to continue doing it because you think, gosh this always has such a positive response.

Brent Dickson  (16:54):

I, I’ll go from really small to really big. Okay. I would say that one of our biggest that has the biggest impact is our rock athon.

Sam Demma (17:02):

Ah, nice.

Brent Dickson  (17:03):

To every spring. And so we had done it before Covid for a few years and then of course it got blown up like everything else. And then we brought it back this last spring. And so I’m sure a lot of people listening have had this similar experience where we’ve got these traditions, but there’s no kid in the building that’s done them <laugh> kinda like starting over again, right? Yeah. So rock athon, what we do is we raise money for the Alberta Children’s Hospital, but it really doesn’t matter what you choose. Nice. And kids will form a team of, of six to 10 kids and they have to fundraise as a team, $750 to qualify to come to Rocka. And then they also pay a ticket fee for the, for the event, for the expenses of the event. So right now it’s been $25 though it may have to go up a little bit with inflation here in the future.

Brent Dickson  (17:56):

Nice. The kids have to, so the first thing they do is they register as a team. They pay their, their $25 per person fee, and then we have them in as a group and then they start their fundraising. And it can be from soliciting people to bottle drives, to bake sales. Like there’s all sorts of creative stuff that goes on. And if they raise that amount of money, then on the day of rock athon, we always do it on a Friday one or they have to bring in a rocking chair. So that’s the idea of rock athon. It’s not like rocking and rolling. And so at one, so for 15 hours straight, one kid or another has to be in the rocking chair and rocking. Ok. And so that’s kinda the thing that they’re getting sponsored to do. So during this, and we set them up in little groups in the main cafeteria area, we kind of map it out with tape on the floor.

Brent Dickson  (18:46):

And so that’s kind of their little living room or their camp. And so during class some of them get excused and they’re rocking and they get to miss school while they’re doing it. So that’s not a bad thing. And and then what we do is if they fundraise $1,500, then they get power at their station. so I have like several electric cords stacked away for Walkathon. So the idea there is they can plug in like an Xbox or a, a blender for smoothies or whatever they want. And some kids say, well, I’ll just bring my own. And I’m like, and then I’ll cut it up because my wall <laugh>, but they’re good with, so usually about a third of the groups will fundraise that extra money. And so it’s like Call of Duty all day with them and they’re loving it. Right.

Brent Dickson (19:32):

And so that goes during the day and then we actually bring in a whole bunch of food trucks and the food trucks will give us a percentage of their profits in our parking lot. And all the kids in the building get to participate in that. But if you’re part of Rock Aon, you’re wearing a t-shirt that says rock athon on it and kind like a v i p we walk you to the front of the line and those lines are pretty long, so it’s nice to be able to get your fries or tacos or whatever else it is. Right. I give a taco shout <laugh>. And then after school, once the building’s cleared, we have a full on party. Okay. So we have, we actually bring in some bikes and trikes and skateboards and then go up, down, up, down, or they’re allowed to actually ride the bike in the building.

Brent Dickson (20:14):

Nice. we’ll set up treat tables. We have a photo booth going at one point. We bring in a professional improv company. This year we’re looking at maybe doing a hypnotist. we’ll do like cahoot games and then there’s times we just let ’em sit and visit and chill and we bring in dinner for them as well. And then we go till about 1130 at night. And it’s, it’s an awesome experience because I, the key things you gotta do, if you’re gonna try to fundraise for something that’s significant, you need to have a great cause and then you need need to have a social experience for kids just said, Hey, donate money to Children’s Hospital. We’re not gonna get much if we just said, Hey, why don’t you come hang out with all your friends on a Friday night at Centennial. They’re not coming when you put the two together, that’s the magic where they have those things and then you’re gonna have success.

Brent Dickson (21:06):

And we had, I can’t tell you how many kids I heard after, either anecdotally or personally talking about, oh, I should have signed up for Rock Athon. I didn’t know what it was nice. We’re anticipating we’ll have at least 50% or twice as many teams next year. Now the kids have seen it and they kind of know what it is. It’ll top out at some point, but you just kind of have to see it and experience like, oh, I should have done that. So that it’s, it’s a big huge event. It takes a lot of practice and, and work to get ready for. But the other real payoff too is your kids running the event. Oh man. Like the, how happy they are and how good they’re feeling about what they did and that it was their thing that they ran. So

Sam Demma (21:45):

That’s a massive idea. Give us a medium size idea and then a small idea.

Brent Dickson  (21:53):

Play bingo in the cafeteria at lunch.

Sam Demma (21:56):

Hmm.

Brent Dickson  (21:57):

So I would strongly recommend buy yourself a smaller bingo drum.

Brent Dickson  (22:02):

Is so easy. You just go in at lunch and you can go on the the worldwide web and they have plenty of printable bingo cards.

Sam Demma (22:10):

What’s that?

Brent Dickson (22:10):

Just yeah,

Sam Demma (22:12):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson (22:13):

Just get just get goofy prizes. Like go to the dollar store, get like a two liter bottle of pop, get a thing of chips, get, get a thing of Princess Tiaras or Wagon wheels, it doesn’t really matter. And, and you just play bingo at lunch and Nice. And so we’re about 1500 kids in our school and every time we do bingo, we’ll have two to 300 kids. All their playing bingo. Nice. And when they call it, they come up, they get their prize, they’re super happy, it doesn’t take very much and it’s, it’s a win. Right. And the nice thing about it is, you know, if you’re doing the pie eating contest or something like that, that’s a few kids that participate and launch the watch. We do a lot of that kinda stuff, but this is one where they can come up and they can, whoever wants, can be a part of it and have a chance to win. Right. And then if you’re really ambitious, take their pictures of the winners, post it on Instagram so they’ll have glory forever as they won these, this pair of two sweatpants from the smart shop that who knows <laugh>, how they’ll ever be able to wear it. But, but it’s glory forever. Right.

Sam Demma (23:17):

<laugh>. Okay. Medium size idea. What if someone orders a small leadership idea? What are you telling them?

Brent Dickson  (23:23):

Small leadership idea.

Sam Demma (23:25):

I mean you already shared a few at the beginning of this call, but anything else come to mind?

Brent Dickson (23:30):

Oh I think just, well I’ll give you a couple lollipops in the classroom. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I discovered this one by accident and it works really well. we had some, some kids, we have an opening orientation with our link crew program where we bring candies in for these tours and stuff and there was a bunch left over and so a kid comes up and says, Hey, can I have a lollipop? And I’m like, sure. Then another kid, Hey, can I have a lollipop? And so I realized this was popping. These are the cheapest type that you get when you go to the doctor when you get a shot. Lollipops or not fancy schmanzy lollipops. Yeah. And I started putting them in this bowl and there was a run on lollipops real quick. So then I discovered I can only put out one bag a week or I’m gonna go broke <laugh> issue Now I went to the dollar store and they’re not carrying them right now.

Brent Dickson (24:21):

Okay. I had to turn to Amazon at a slightly larger expense. I need to find a new supplier of my chief load cups. Nice. But it’s just a little thing that’s really easy. And then I think the other thing is, is little things is just recognizing kids in your school. So we do things like we’ll have the coyote the month display and we just picked four random kids that have done not academic or athletic, but just have done cool things. Like a teacher just told me a half hour ago, Hey, I got a kid for carry of the month and it was a kid who has been helping out with a special needs kid, ah, and just kind of helping them at lunch and some things like that, that kind of just stepping out and, and that, I don’t know this kid very well. They may not be an athlete at all. They may not be an academic all star, but that’s pretty amazing what they’re doing. So that’s a, that’s a way to recognize,

Sam Demma (25:07):

I won’t forget the young man who held the door open when I walked through the front doors of your school. And then you told me that he holds the door open every day for everybody. And I think I had three or four students after I was making a big deal about it. Tell me that they walked through the door every day and he’s holding it for them. And most times they have their hands full and they’re so grateful for it. So I think recognizing your population once a month, once a week in your classroom, I think that’s a great idea.

Brent Dickson (25:36):

Here’s another little bonus idea along that lines. We, we do Walmart greeters on Friday mornings. Nice. You have kids go, we have two doors that kids come in, you have to kind of figure out your building. Maybe there’s just one place or maybe there’s a couple. So we split ’em up and I’ve got two Bluetooth speakers. So they go to each door and they play whatever music they want, long as it’s appropriate. And they just say good morning. They kinda wave, say Good morning, welcome to Centennial. Kind of like a Walmart greet. And you, I’ve watched when kids come in, some, some will be stone faced all the way through. but some you see they get a smile on their face or Oh hey, how are you? That kind of thing. Right. And so we made some t-shirts that kind of ripped off the Walmart logo. We changed it to Centennial. But you don’t even need anything like that. You can go to the Dollar Star and get Walmart greeter hats or, I mean, who cares? You call it. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s nothing. But and actually the kids have found the music that works the best is old school like playing Abba or Elvis or something like that. Cause cause no one really has an opinion on it, whether they love it or not.

Sam Demma (26:38):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson  (26:39):

It’s just a little easy thing to do. And oh, and then when my, my kids come back as Walmart greeters they get a two pack of dad’s cookies and a superstore juice box.

Sam Demma (26:49):

Nice.

Brent Dickson  (26:50):

Not a big deal, but like that’s how you earn those is you’re a Walmart greeter. Right. And it’s mostly just thanks for coming in early and, and doing that for other kids. Right.

Sam Demma (26:58):

Yeah. I think the incentives are great ideas, whether it’s a ring pop lollipop, a dad’s cookies, some chocolates. I know you have assorted candies that you hand out for certain things too.

Brent Dickson (27:10):

This seems like the most unhealthy leadership program ever. We we’re really not all about just handing out candies of bribing kids. There’s a lot more going on. But

Sam Demma (27:18):

We talked about candy, crayons, social media ideas, recognizing students. We talked about the rock athon. This was a full on masterclass for student leaders and student leadership ideas. So Brent, thank you so much for coming on the, the podcast today to share all of your wisdom and insights. If someone wants to learn more, you have a blog filled with ideas where should they go to read and and check those out?

Brent Dickson (27:46):

It’s easy to remember; brentdickson.net. So you go on there and I try to faithfully periodically I put down stuff, just different ideas, things have been working out. usually try to start with a story about something that kind of inspired me. Usually something that a kid did. And then here’s an idea for your school. Here’s an idea you can do in your class. And when you go on there, you can either like it and follow it or you can actually click a click a spot where the post comes directly to you in an email so you can check it out and hopefully it helps you out.

Sam Demma (28:15):

Awesome. Brian, thank you so much. I’m gonna title this podcast episode, how to Become the Most Unpopular Teacher in Your School, <laugh>

Brent Dickson (28:25):

Perfect

Sam Demma (28:26):

With the phone case id. I love it. no, seriously, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, keep up the great writing, and I look forward to crossing paths again soon.

Brent Dickson  (28:35):

All right. Thank you brother.

Sam Demma (28:38):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brent Dickson

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

Anita Bondy is the Team Lead of the International Cohort-Based Master Admissions at the University of Windsor

Anita Bondy is the Team Lead of the International Cohort-Based Master Admissions at the University of Windsor
About Anita Bondy

Anita Bondy is the Team Lead of the International Cohort-Based Master Admissions at the University of Windsor. In this role, Anita oversees the admissions of approximately 9,000 applications annually to many of the university’s largest graduate programs. Her team of 6 works with applicants, educational agents, overseas recruiters and faculty to admit only the highest quality applicants to these very competitive programs.

In 2020, Anita received the Ontario Universities Registrars Association (OURA) Award of Excellence for her leadership in transitioning the course-based admissions process from the Centre for Executive and Professional Education (CEPE) to the Office of the Registrars.

Anita also teaches part-time at St. Clair College Zekelman School of Business and Technology. She can use her MBA and CHRP designation to its fullest by educating students in various areas of Human Resource Management. Her HR expertise is also shown in her volunteer VP-HR role for the Latchkey Child Care Board of Directors, which she has served for almost a decade.

In her leisure, Anita volunteers her time as a Committee Member and coach for the Miracle League of Riverside Baseball association, an all-accessible baseball league for individuals with physical or developmental exceptionalities.

Connect with Anita: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

International Cohort-Based Master Admissions – University of Windsor

Ontario Universities Registrars Association (OURA)

OURA Awards

Centre for Executive and Professional Education (CEPE)

St. Clair College Zekelman School of Business and Technology

Latchkey Child Care Board of Directors

Riverside Baseball association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Anita Bondy. Anita is the team lead of the International Cohort based Master Admissions at the University of Windsor. In this role, Anita oversees the admissions of approximately 9,000 applications annually to many of the University’s largest graduate programs. Her team of six works with applicants, educational agents, overseas recruiters, and faculty to admit only the highest quality applicants to those very competitive programs. In 2020, Anita received the Ontario University’s Registrar’s Association Award of Excellence for her leadership in transitioning the course based admissions process from the Center of Executive and Professional Education to the Office of the Registrars. Anita also teaches part-time at St. Clair College, Zekelman School of Business and Technology. She can use her MBA and CHRP designation to its fullest by educating students in various areas of human resource management. Her HR expertise is also shown in her volunteer VP HR role for the Latchkey Childcare Board of Directors, which she has served for almost a decade. In her leisure, Anita volunteers her time as a committee member and coach for the Miracle League of Riverside Baseball Association, an all accessible baseball league for individuals with physical or developmental exceptionalities. I hope you enjoy this insightful and energetic conversation with Anita and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (02:35):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today’s special guest is Anita Bondy. Anita, welcome to the podcast. Please start by introducing yourself.

Anita Bondy (02:45):

Hi Sam. Thanks so much for having me. My name is Anita Bondy. I currently work at the University of Windsor as the team lead for our international cohort based master’s admissions, and I teach part-time at St. Clair College.

Sam Demma (02:59):

Did you know when you were a student navigating your own career pathways that you wanted to work in education?

Anita Bondy (03:05):

No. So and so I started at the university in my Bachelor of Commerce actually thinking that I was gonna go into finance or accounting because that to me was where someone with a business degree went. I don’t know why I thought that front, what leading high school. So I started with that thought. And then after my first two years cuz we don’t choose a specialization until your third and fourth year, I just realized I did way better in what I call the soft skills. So like the marketing, the human resources side versus the number side. So I kind of switched my focus and I did my undergraduate degree in marketing thinking I was gonna go into marketing and sales. And I did for a little bit. I did for a little bit. And then when I did my mba, I wanted to do a different concentration.

Anita Bondy (03:57):

So I went into the HR strain and that really sort of changed where I thought my career was gonna go. But genuinely, I I just kind of fell into this for lack of a better way of putting it. my first job out of university was recruiting for the university. So right away I was doing marketing and sales from an educational perspective. And I did that for a couple of years. And then I ended up getting more of a full-time role with our business school doing their curriculum redevelopment. Nice. So that I, I fell really hard into curriculum and, and higher education at that point. But then I was actually offered an opportunity to go back into sales in the private sector. And I did pharmaceutical sales for Proctor and Gamble for about four years. Wow. And that was really cool. It was a very cool job.

Anita Bondy (04:52):

and that’s, that was very sales focused, of course. And then the role that I was in they actually downsized the entire department. And so I was out looking for something and I, I always say that it was very serendipitous because the day that I was told that they were getting rid of like, that they were downsizing all of the sales reps. I reached out to two of my friends who still worked at the university and said, Hey, I’m looking again. And that same day a marketing role at the university came up. So I I I smile all the time. Cause I was like, that’s, that’s interesting. Yeah. So then I went back into education and I did marketing recruitment for our professional programs, which morphed in, these are more internationally focused graduate programs. So my role with that turned into more doing marketing recruitment for all undergraduate and graduate programs.

Anita Bondy (05:49):

And then that morphed into what I do now, which is overseeing the admissions for those programs. So originally when I started, when I was in high school and university, had no thoughts of working in education. and it just sort of happenstance turned into that. And now I’m quite convinced that this is my career. I don’t intend on on leaving. but probably starting to teach at the college was where I really feel like my, my heart is, I think that I should have gone into teaching maybe because that is where I really feel like I’m being the most impactful, even though it’s only part-time and I’m only affecting 50 or a hundred students at a time, that’s where I really find the most enjoyment out of my roles.

Sam Demma (06:39):

Nice. From selling drugs to education <laugh>. Right.

Anita Bondy  (06:43):

It’s so funny. It’s so funny. I remember my, my sister who is an educator, she’s a kindergarten teacher, used to joke around that I was a drug dealer. And I said, listen, it’s, it’s, it’s legal though. I’m a legal drug dealer. and then yeah, now I’m, I’ve popped into you know, and in fact one of the programs that we admit for one, one of their career paths is going into pharmaceuticals. So it’s like I, I completely changed hats and now I’m helping people do that job <laugh> or get qualified to do that job. Yeah.

Sam Demma (07:12):

What are some of the skills you think you learned in the corporate sector doing sales and marketing that have been very helpful in the work you’re doing now in education that you think any educator, whether you’re working in an office or in a classroom, could benefit from?

Anita Bondy (07:27):

One of the things that Procter and Gamble did wonderfully was the training and development program for their, for their staff. And one of the things that we were sort of taught was really identifying really well with your customer or your client mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So understanding what their needs were, understanding where they were coming from, and then recognizing how I, as a person providing the product can help them with that. that I think is really transferable to what I’m doing right now because as much as I have these applicants who are applying to these roles, everyone is a different story. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> people are, are, maybe they’re doing this because they want a career advancement. Maybe they’re doing this because this is their next step in their educational journey. Maybe they’re doing that, the this because they wanna come to Canada and this is, this is a pathway for them to get educated in order to be able to immigrate and have a worthwhile career in Canada.

Anita Bondy (08:25):

So everyone has a different kind of a, a story same as the faculties that I represent. So each faculty that we recruit for and we admit for, has a different rationale as to what students that they’re looking for or what pathway they’re looking for, how many students they want, what demographic of students that they want. So really understanding my client, who I view as being both our faculty members, but also the applicants who are applying I think is really beneficial from the classroom perspective. Knowing each one of my students as best as I can and identifying where their strengths or their weaknesses are is really important as well. and that follows the same idea. You gotta know who you’re selling to, so you’ve gotta know who you’re teaching to. And if I’m teaching to someone who doesn’t have the background that I think they have, it’s gonna be a loss. But if I’m teaching to someone who maybe already has 10 or 20 years in the subject that I’m teaching, because I do teach continuing education, so I do have professionals who take my classes, then I teach a little bit differently because I know what they’re trying to get out of the course is different from what someone who’s taking it as a first year might take, might get out of it.

Sam Demma (09:43):

Ah, that’s so cool. I think selling is teaching because you’re not necessarily, if you’re doing a good job trying to sell somebody something, you’re trying to teach them something that moves them to a decision. And I think that’s so true in education as well, right?

Anita Bondy (09:58):

You just like nail on the head right there, Sam. So one of like, that is, that’s per, it’s a perfect way of, of putting it, to be honest. It’s a perfect way of putting it. Because as a salesperson, especially in pharmaceuticals, they don’t buy from me. I’m reliant on them writing a prescription, and that’s my sale. So when I’m sitting there, and it’s not like you’re selling a pair of shoes where you’re saying, okay, do you want the black or the white? And then someone makes a choice and leaves with that product. At the same time, with this type of sales, you’re educating the physician as to why that product is superior, or what demographic that that product works better with. And hoping that through that educational process when the physician has a has a patient come in who identifies with those characteristics, they look and they say, okay, this product is the best for them. So like absolutely. It’s a, it’s, it’s, it’s an educational point for first and foremost,

Sam Demma (10:59):

One of the things I love about education is the facilitation of mentorship. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’ve found in my own experience growing up as a student, some of my teachers became some of my biggest mentors. And I still stay in touch with some of them to this day and have coffee on their porches to catch up. Did you have some mentors in your corporate career and also your educational career that played a big role in your own personal development? And if so, like who are some of those people and what did they do for you?

Anita Bondy (11:29):

So my partner when I was in sales was a woman and by the name of Mary Hallett, who had been in the role for years. And she was, she was my partner. I, every piece of my success went to that lady cause she taught me everything that I needed to know. She taught me who, who the doctors were and, and what their personality were. She taught me how to sell to this person versus another person. She taught me a lot about our products and things about our competitors. So I, I owe a lot to her and I am still in, in touch with her. Cool. from a business perspective, when I was working for the Otet School of Business, part of my role was doing recruitment, part of it was doing retention. So I actually created a bit of a mentorship, a tutoring program for our business students.

Anita Bondy (12:20):

Nice. Through that I was able to hire some students, and one of the students that I hired as a third year business student is actually one of my colleagues at the university now. So she was, yeah. So, so I actually have tea with her on a very regular basis, and she was someone who I mentored a long time. So Clementa. Hi. How are you? <laugh>? from a, from a professor’s perspective, in that same role, when I did recruitment, I was partnered with a professor, Dave er, who Dr. Er was in charge of the ODT recruitment. Nice. So he and I would go out and we would go to high schools and ses and colleges to advertise for, for the b o program. He taught me a lot more about the actual curriculum and, and things along those lines that really helped me to be able to sell the program to a prospective student.

Anita Bondy (13:19):

He was very important to me in that he was such a personable professor to me. He knew me, he knew who I was, he knew my sister, he knew my family, he knew everything about me. And I so distinctly remember my first day of my MBA program, I was meeting all these other students and one student was from the University of Toronto and Dr. Bustier walked over and he goes, Hey, Anita, how you doing? I said, oh, I’m good, Dave. How are you? And he said, great, great. He’s like, did Nicole start, you know, Beed yet? And I said, yep, she’s already started. She’s doing, she’s doing I j And he’s like, great. And then we, and then he kind of left and this student who is now also a colleague of mine turned around to me and goes, that’s our marketing professor. And I said, yeah.

Anita Bondy (14:01):

And he goes, he knows your name. And I said, yeah. And I go, he knows my name. He goes my sister’s name, he knows my, you know, she’s studying <laugh>. Yeah. And, and he goes, wow. And I said, yeah. And I was kind of confused because at our school we got to know our professors really, really well. Yeah. And this, and this fellow turned around and goes, I, there’s not one professor who would know me. And I said, really? And he goes, it, he’s like, I, I’m an A student and I can tell you this man has an exceptional career now, but as an undergraduate student, he was just a number at, at the, he came from. And he was so amazed that this random professor who was walking down the hall happened to know me and that I, I saw him the other day. He’s telling me about his grandkids and what they went for on a Halloween.

Anita Bondy (14:47):

And, you know, like, I’m still in touch with him. so I’ve had some really good mentors in, in every aspect of my, of my my career. Both mentoring people or men or, or being that mentee. So I think that’s a really, really important part, especially for young people who are just getting out into their career. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> no one knows what that job is on day one. No one is expected to know what that job is on day one, but you are expected to do it. You’re expected to do that job right away. So if you don’t have someone there to guide you and to lead you and to show you the way you can get really lost. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I love the idea of mentors and, and mentorship programs and, and partners and things like that to, to really help you understand your role a little bit better.

Sam Demma (15:40):

Sometimes mentors are even people you haven’t met before. Right. You have a, people can’t see it, but I see you on Zoom right now with a big bookshelf behind you. I’m curious to know if there’s any other resources that you found that were helpful in your own personal development or professional development, whether that be authors, books, conferences podcasts you listen to, or anything at all that’s been helpful.

Anita Bondy (16:05):

I, I do a lot of sort of some like not self-help books, but our motivational books. So I do listen to like the Brene Browns and, and things like that as well. periodically I’ll, I’ll pop in for a TED Talk and I’ll, and I’ll read through that. through the university we have a few different organizations. So we have Aura, which is the Ontario University Registrars Association. Nice. That meets fairly regularly. And there are some coffee chats that we can participate in if we’d like to. and there’s a similar sort of organization acro as well as just some internal ones that we have at the university. one of the things the university does do is offers quite a bit of professional development opportunities. So I’ll reach out to you know, someone who maybe led one of the, one of the webinars that I went to and asked for more advice that way. there are some good resources as well within our organization. So I’m having coffee this week with our talent manager to go through like possible career options for myself because, you know, and I’ve been in this role for four years, so it’s time to maybe start looking for Yeah. For something different. so I’m sitting down with her to kind of go through some other options or maybe some development opportunities. So nobody that I would pinpoint as being a go-to other than like some little pieces here and there.

Sam Demma (17:34):

Cool. Yeah. That’s awesome. You mentioned one of the things you did with the School of business was develop curriculum for an educator who doesn’t know what goes into doing something like that, can you share the process and like what you actually did in that role? Yeah.

Anita Bondy (17:48):

So the, the re the rationale behind that was within the business school world, there’s something called an AACSB accreditation. And this is a special accreditation that not a lot of business schools have. I wanna say that it’s something like 10% of the business schools around the world have this. So it’s hard to get the reason and in order to get that accreditation is based on your curriculum. It’s based on your curriculum, it’s based on your professorships and, and things along those lines. And so the ODE School of Business said, we wanna do this. We want this accreditation, so we need to revamp our curriculum. So I worked on the undergraduate committee with other well mostly professors and to look at what we were missing. And so what I did for the better part of probably a year is research schools that already had the AAC C S B accreditation looked at what their curriculum was looked at.

Anita Bondy (18:48):

And this is looking at learning objectives or learning outcomes. It’s looking at hours spent on certain topics. It’s looking at is it a tenured professor who’s teaching it versus a sessional teacher? Is it a PhD teaching it versus someone who has a master’s degree? So it’s, it goes into who’s teaching it as well. You have to look at textbooks that are available in that subject and if they encompass what is required in order to meet that accreditation. So over about a year, we researched dozens of schools to see what were the commonalities that curriculums had. And then we looked at our curriculum and found the gaps. What are we missing or what are we teaching that we don’t need to be teaching? Or what’s a duplicate or what are we missing? And through that, they, they revamped the entire undergraduate curriculum. And now, for example, we didn’t have business communications when I was in my B C O.

Anita Bondy (19:46):

Now that’s what you take in your first term, first year. they changed around some of the we didn’t have operations management when I was a student. Now that’s a required course. So there’s a lot of different pieces that were missing that through this process we were able to go through. But it’s a lot of research of other schools. It’s a lot of research of the accreditation bureau to ensure that we’re meeting all the pieces. But then it was also tasked to the faculty because they do look at things like how many people are on staff with a PhD. Mm-hmm. How many people are on staff with maybe a doctorate, how many people are employed with an accreditation versus you know, hands on experience. So that, that actually changed the hiring process for the next few years for that school because they had to emphasize more PhD or doctorate acre like accredited people for their hiring purposes. So it was a long process. And in fact, I ended up leaving for my other job before it was, was finalized. Gotcha. But I, I did present it at a conference with a, with a professor who I worked on it with. And that was, that was rewarding. It was a lot of work. Yeah.

Sam Demma (20:57):

It sounds like it was a lot of work. <laugh>. Yeah.

Anita Bondy (20:59):

Yeah. A long time ago, but it was a lot of work. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (21:03):

How does the organization of data and research look like? Is it just a never ending Google Doc <laugh>

Anita Bondy (21:09):

That it’s, so, it’s, well this was back in the day. So this was Excel spreadsheets Nice. And access databases. Okay. cause this was probably, oh gosh, it’s been a while now. So I probably completed this in like 2007 or eight. Oh wow. Cool. It was a long time ago. Right. so it was, it was before the world of Google Docs took over. So it, it was a lot of spreadsheeting. and in fact, back in that day, we didn’t even have shared drives. Ah. So it was, it was saving on USBs and, and bringing to someone’s office to upload, because our email wouldn’t send files that long <laugh>. So like, I’m very much aging myself here. But yeah, it was, it was a year’s worth of, of Spreadsheeting and documents before we got it into, and then it ended up being like a, a full report, dozens of pages. I couldn’t even tell you how many it was that led to our recommendation to the faculty as to how to change the curriculum.

Sam Demma (22:09):

Hmm. One of the things I love about education is no matter what role you’re in, you know, it has an impact on the end user, the student who’s going through the whole system, whether you’re developing the curriculum they’re gonna participate in from future years, whether you’re in accounting and writing invoices. So students can have new opportunities, you know, whether you are the teacher, the bus driver, the custodian, like every person plays a role. I’m curious from your perspective, the role you’re in now, what do you think is the impact on the end user and have you heard some of the impact <laugh>?

Anita Bondy (22:43):

Yes, I have. So both positively and negatively, I’ll be honest with you. the programs that I oversee the admissions for are very competitive. So we’ll get annually, anywhere between nine and 10,000 applications. Wow. We have about 3000 seats at the most. Somewhere between two and 3000 seats, depending on the term annually. Right. So there is a lot of students who are not admitted. So they, so I do have to deal with the negative aspect of it affecting someone as well. So, and, and so I do, so I’ll start with that. So, you know, I have had to answer emails from students who are not admitted asking why or what are pathways now. And sometimes this is an opportunity to put them on a better pathway. So if they’re not maybe qualified for our program, but I’m looking at their transcripts and I can see that they would be qualified for a different program on our campus or maybe a different program that I just happen to know about at a different school.

Anita Bondy (23:47):

Yeah. And I’m able to give them a different pathway to be able to get in On the positive end. I have students who come into the office every term wanting to see me to say thank you for their, for, for guiding them. Thank you for accommodating them. I, as I’ve told you, Sam I’m, I’m an identical twin. So I had one set of twins actually contact me. One got into a program for fall, the other one got into a program for winter, and they called me and they said, we can’t do this alone. I need my sister there. What can you do? And I ended up being able to push one to, to the previous semester. And they came in, the two most identical people I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t think these two girls have been a part for a day in their lives.

Anita Bondy (24:40):

So they, they were very thankful that I was able to help them out and to, you know, to get them. So every day I get thank yous every day I get, can you help me with this? Or can you give my direction on that? So I know that my day to day work is impactful. I’m not the person making the decision on the file. That’s my team is able to do that. So I’m not the person ultimately deciding, but I am the person that if any concerns come up or any accommodations need to be made, or any special circumstances have to be approved, I’m that person that, that has to make those decisions. So I know that what I’m doing is going to be impactful. The programs that I oversee are graduate level programs. So these are not 17 year olds. These are 25 to 30 year old people likely coming from another country who are coming here to Canada.

Anita Bondy (25:36):

So it’s, it could be them bringing their families, it could be them leaving their country for the first time that they’ve, and they’ve never left. It could be that they’re coming from a non-English speaking country. So there are concerns that way. so I get a, I get a very long list of different concerns or questions or you know, can you guide me in this direction? And in many cases, this admission to this program and how they handle their admission to this program could impact the rest of their lives. Because if they are successful in getting in and they are successful in the program they are eligible to apply, apply for a postgraduate work permit. Ah, yep. And if they’re able to get that job and they have a company who’s willing to support them, they can apply for permanent residency. So this could actually really change their lives significantly once they’re admitted to the program.

Anita Bondy (26:34):

And if they’re successful in, in all of those steps. Not every student wants to stay in Canada. Not every student is successful in staying in Canada. but for those who are this could really impact. We have also had students who, you know, parents pay for them to come over to study with the expectation that they’re gonna come back to their home country and maybe take over their family business. So I know that the education we’re providing here is gonna be impactful not only for that student, but could be for the entire family that they are now in charge of because they’re running their family business or, or something along those lines. So I definitely see the work that I do having an impact For sure.

Sam Demma (27:19):

That’s so cool. Thanks for sharing that. There’s so many different ways that the things you’re doing ripple into the lives of the people going through the programs. this is just a question from pure curiosity. Sure. Have you ever had someone, and I know you don’t make the decision a part of your team, does, have you ever had someone not get admitted and then share something, send something, say something, show up and change the result to an admission?

Anita Bondy (27:48):

Absolutely. So, like for example, if we look at a transcript and we see a bunch of failures, right? That’s usually a red flag to us that they likely will not be successful. Cuz if they were not unsuccessful in their undergraduate degree, they might not be successful. So we do have some rules about that, but periodically I’ll get an email from a student saying, you know what, I had a death in the family that semester and my mental health was not where it needed to be and my grades suffered, or I had a medical issue and I was unavailable to write the final exam. So I didn’t fail it, I just, you know, was unavailable. So I do get quite a few of those. If the applicant is able to properly prove what happened, we might reconsider, of course the decision is up to the faculty at that point. but yeah, we have, we have definitely had students who maybe were initially declined that came to us with maybe a personal story that really changed what the outcome was.

Sam Demma (28:51):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’m a big advocate for solely in a business context or like a, you know, professional context that no, doesn’t have to mean never and stop. It could mean try again in a more creative way or provide the person with value. And even as an educator, keeping that in mind when you’re navigating your own career journey, I think is just something to remember. At the end of the day, it’s humans making the decisions, so. Right. Right. Yeah. that’s so cool. When you think about your, all your experiences in education if you could take that experience, travel back in time, tap Anita on the shoulder in her first year working in education and say, you know, this is some of the advice. I think it would’ve been helpful for you to hear at the start of your journey, right? Not that you would change anything about your path, but what would you have told your younger self that you thought might have been

Anita Bondy  (29:41):

Helpful? I actually probably would change my path. <laugh>

Sam Demma (29:44):

OK. <laugh>.

Anita Bondy (29:47):

 one of the things, so I didn’t start teaching proper teaching until I was in my thirties. Ok. and that’s when I was like, oh my God, this is what I was meant to do. And I, I love it. I love it. So genuinely, if I had to go back in time, I probably would have, I had applied for my Bette at the same time as I applied for my mba. And in my brain I was like, no, I’m a business person. I’m gonna go, I’m gonna do my, my mba. I genuinely wish I would’ve gone the other pathway because I think that, I think that I would have been a great teacher. I think I would’ve been a great grade school or even high school teacher because I connect so much with my, my current students. So that is something that I would’ve actually probably gone back to.

Anita Bondy (30:33):

 teaching at the college came as a fluke as well. I when I was let go from p p and G, they gave us a severance package that included money to go towards schooling. And I said, well, you know what? I need three classes to get my C H R P designation. I’m gonna, I’m gonna go to the college and I’m gonna take three classes. And I got in touch with the professor and he said you know, if you use all your transfer credits, you can actually get a diploma from us with five courses. And I was like, really? And he was like, yeah. So I ended up completing a diploma without intentionally meaning to completing a diploma. And when I was done he turned around to me and goes, Jerry Collins, by the way, is his name. He’s still a professor at St.

Anita Bondy (31:19):

Clair and says, Hey, do you wanna teach for us? And I said, yeah, I do <laugh>. And he, like, as soon as I finished my diploma, he gave me a part-time role. Nice. And I, and I’ve now been teaching at St. Clair for about six or seven years now. So he was, again, all of these things in my life happen as kind of flukes. So I think one of the best pieces of advice that I could give to anyone when you’re starting your career journey is you never know what’s gonna come around the corner. You never know what’s gonna happen. I did not expect to be let go from p and g. I thought that that was gonna be my career, and now I’m in a role that is so much more enjoyable that I’m getting value out of. There are some days when you’re in sales where you finish the day and you’re like, I I didn’t make an impact anywhere.

Anita Bondy (32:13):

Yeah. You know, where did I make that impact? You know, I’m, I, I didn’t connect with anyone. I can genuinely say that in my, in my current role, I think I make an impact to someone multiple times in a week. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, if not daily. So that would be my, my best advice is take every chance that you can to try different things out. Because you never know what’s going to make sense for you. Had, had Jerry not said, Hey, do you wanna teach? I would’ve never thought about applying to teach. And through that, I now have a really good second job that is very rewarding to me. that has really shown me sort of what, what I’m good at. So that would’ve never happened if I hadn’t have taken a different, a different pathway.

Sam Demma (33:02):

Shout out to Jerry

Anita Bondy (33:04):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s way to go. Professor Collins. Yeah.

Sam Demma (33:07):

<laugh>. Awesome. Anita, thanks so much for coming on the show to talk about your different experiences, your career journey, what brought you to where you are today. If someone wants to reach out, ask a question, get in touch, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?

Anita Bondy (33:21):

Yep. So emails probably the most direct, and it’s just my, my first and my last name. So anita.bodny@uwindsor.ca. I’m also on LinkedIn and happy to answer any kind of questions that anyone has if you wanna get me through that, that medium as well.

Sam Demma (33:39):

Awesome. Anita, thanks so much. Keep up the great work.

Anita Bondy (33:42):

Thank you for having me, Sam.

Sam Demma (33:43):

And we’ll talk soon.

Anita Bondy (33:44):

For sure. Take care. Have a great week.

Sam Demma (33:47):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Anita Bondy

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.

Alexis Epp – 3rd Year Student at the University of Regina (Bachelor of Social Work)

About Alexis Epp

Alexis Epp helped develop and launch the Mental Wellness 30L program through the Sunwest School Division. She is finishing her 3rd year of her Bachelor of Social Work degree through the University of Regina and is a certified peer support.

Alexis has used her lived experience to help youth throughout the province and create resources for students and teachers. When she isn’t doing school work or creating mental wellness resources, Alexis loves spending time with family and friends.

Alexis is extremely passionate about youth mental health and helping people. As someone who has experienced the mental health system, she hopes to one day work in policy, changing policies to center around consumers rather than policymakers.

Connect with Alexis: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Mental Wellness 30L program

Sunwest School Division

Bachelor of Social Work – University of Regina

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Alexis Epp. Alexis help develop and launch the Mental Wellness 30 program through the Sunwest School division. She’s currently finishing her third year of her Bachelor of Social Work through the University of Regina, and is a certified peer support. Alexis has used her lived experience to help youth throughout the province, as well as to create resources for students and teachers. When she isn’t doing schoolwork or creating mental wellness resources, Alexis loves spending time with family and friends. Alexis is extremely passionate about youth mental health and helping people. As someone who has experienced the mental health system, she hopes to one day work in policy, changing policies so that they can center around consumers rather than the policy makers themselves. I hope you enjoy this interview with Alexis and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma, and today we are joined by a very special guest, Alexis Epp. Alexis was connected to me through a past guest, Elena, and I’m so excited to have her on the show today. Alexis, welcome.

Alexis Epp (02:02):

Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (02:03):

Please start by introducing yourself.

Alexis Epp (02:05):

Yeah, my name is Alexis Epp. I’m 25. I am currently just finishing up my third year of social work. It’s a four year program, so one more year and I get my degree. I was born and raised in a small town and yeah, I helped Elena make the Mental Wellness 30 program and now we’re here.

Sam Demma (02:24):

What was your experience like growing up in a small town? Whereabouts are you from?

Alexis Epp (02:30):

It’s called Bigger Saskatchewan, if you’ve ever heard of it. The slogan is New York is big, but this is bigger. Nice <laugh>. Yeah, it’s great. It was really difficult for me, honestly small towns, very limited resources, so when you’re struggling with mental health, there’s not much that can be done. I was extremely lucky that the family I came from had the financial resources where they could take me into Saskatoon to get me the help I needed. But I know lots of people aren’t that fortunate, so I was extremely lucky that way.

Sam Demma (03:12):

When you say you struggled with mental health, was it something that started when you were in school or when do you think you started struggling?

Alexis Epp (03:22):

I think I’ve struggled my whole life honestly with anxiety but it’s not really, When I was growing up, it wasn’t really something that was talked about, so I didn’t know I was struggling. I just got it. It was kind of that, Oh, you’re nervous. I competed in pianos. So it was always just, Oh, that’s just the nerves. And I mean, I would cry before I went on stage and it just got chalked up to, Oh, those are just nerves. So I thought that was normal. And then when I was around 14 or 15 I really started to notice it. Then I was having trouble with my motivation. I had trouble getting up for school. I was missing a lot of school at that point. I always had stomach pain physical pain, and I was like, This just doesn’t make sense. And so my mom took me to my family doctor and that’s where I first heard the word depression. And I wasn’t really told much about it. I was just kinda, Oh, I think you have depression. Here’s a pill, take it every day. And sent me on my way. And so as a 14, 15 year old, I kind of took it when I took it if I felt like it. And so it didn’t really help me. <laugh>

Sam Demma (04:45):

<affirmative>. At what point did you start building the habits and the practices to really cope with what you were experiencing and grow into the person you are today? <laugh>?

Alexis Epp (04:58):

Honestly, not until I was around 20. It took me a really long time and a lot of traumatic experiences and just, I hit rock bottom and that’s when I was like, Okay, something needs to change. Cause obviously this is not working. And so in high school I had missed so much school, I had fallen so far behind. So I actually got my adult 12 instead of my full grade 12. So I had gotten that and that really, there’s a lot of stigma behind that. I thought I was a failure because I didn’t get my full 24 credits in high school. So I was very ashamed, felt super guilty. It was really hard for me. And then after I had graduated with my adult 12, there was some really bad accidents in bigger and three of my friends passed away within three days. And I mean, I wasn’t taught how to breathe as an 18 year old.

Alexis Epp (06:03):

I didn’t know what it was like to lose someone at such a young age and three people within three days. It was a lot for me to handle. So I decided I couldn’t be in that town anymore where I was constantly reminded of all of my law. And so I moved to Saskatoon shortly after I graduated and kind of was like, Okay, new city, fresh start, everything’s gonna be perfect. And unfortunately running away from your problems doesn’t work <laugh>. So when I moved to the city I originally was a nanny and for a while things were really good. I had thought things cause I had moved, everything was better <affirmative>, it solved my problems. But then I faced more trauma and I ended up losing my uncle who I was very close to and then my grandpa. And then I had a cousin pass away from an overdose and then my parents got divorced and it was just one thing after another and I started to spiral again cause I didn’t have those coping tools, <affirmative>.

Alexis Epp (07:18):

So I didn’t know what to do. And I had actually made a plan to take my life and my mom had found out about it. And so she took me to the emergency room. And in there it was not a great experience. I was put in a kind of closet. It was technically a room, but it was a storage closet with a bed. And so I was in there for around 10 hours total. And no one really checked on me while I was in there. And so I just started, we spiraling even more and I was texting my mom cause she had to go back to work and I said, I can’t do this. Can’t when I get out I can’t do this anymore. So my mom came back and showed the nurses my text messages and the nurse straight up said to my mom, she wasn’t just looking for pension.

Alexis Epp (08:22):

So yeah, it was a really bad experience. And from there I got admitted to the hospital where I spent around two months there. And while I was there Elena, I reached out to Elena cause I was taking classes again cause I was in a good place at the time. And then it happened really fast. So I called her and kind of told her what was going on and why I wasn’t handing an assignment. And she was like, Can I come visit you? And I was like, It’s not fun here. It’s like a jail, honestly, you have to buzz in and out. But I was like, If you want. So she came to visit me and said, Do you wanna build this mental wellness class with me? Like I said, I thought she was absolutely crazy at the time. I was like, mm-hmm <affirmative>, okay, whatever. But it kind of just really exploded from there and after I had gotten the help I needed from there.

Sam Demma (09:24):

That’s awesome. What was the experience like? First of all, thank you for sharing such vulnerable parts of your journey and your story. And I know there are people that can relate to certain parts of it and I appreciate you for being open and sharing that. What was the experience like building a curriculum with your teacher <laugh>? Like what did that even look like?

Alexis Epp (09:48):

It was honestly wild at the beginning. It was a lot of late nights cuz we were doing this just as volunteers at the beginning late nights over coffee, just kind of hanging out, really getting to know one another. And Elena actually through the journey, became one of my best friends. And it’s really cool the course because it came from a youth perspective. So I mean now that I’m a little bit older, it’s not necessarily the same, but back then I could really relate to what youth were going through cuz I was a youth. And when I went to my parents and I was like, I need help, their reaction was we don’t know how to help you because when we were your age, mental health wasn’t talked about. It was pushed under the rug. So when I went to them, there was, we don’t know what to do. So it was kind of a lot of just learning together and taking the resources that I had gotten from my therapist and doctors and nurses and social workers and everyone and just making these resources accessible to those who need it. Cause it shouldn’t be hard to get help for your mental health. And right now it still is unfortunately.

Sam Demma (11:12):

What are the avenues of help that you found most helpful that you think if another student is struggling they should look into?

Alexis Epp (11:22):

First and foremost, I definitely recommend if you are in crisis or just need someone to talk to you, kids help. Phone is absolutely amazing. I’ve used them a lot and even as a 25 year old, I know you can still use them as an adult. So that’s definitely a good place to start if you’re struggling. I don’t know about other places, but I know in Saskatchewan we have something called mobile crisis. If you are struggling they can help you out as well. And I believe it’s two 11 now in Saskatchewan where you can text them and they can give you resources where you are, which is awesome. So yeah, there’s lots of resources that are coming forward. But I would say my saving grace was honestly my psychiatrist, which is unfortunate in a way because they are quite inaccessible and there’s very long wait lists and not very many. But that really truly made the difference for me.

Sam Demma (12:28):

What did they do for you that you think really helped or Yeah, what was it about that relationship that you think really assisted you?

Alexis Epp (12:43):

It’s hard to explain, but I guess the relationship was, she just validated how I was feeling instead of offering me opinions or telling me to just be happy, she really validated how I was feeling and didn’t try and explain it, but she said, It’s okay, you feel this way. And I think that was one of the biggest things, but she just listened to me and it’s hard to find that lots of people are trying to help but give unsolicited opinions and that can be really hard when you’re struggling,

Sam Demma (13:16):

Especially if you make it seem like you know what they’re going through and you might have no idea. It’s like

Alexis Epp (13:23):

Absolutely, I think it’s very frustrating and I know people come from a good place, but when you’re in that position, especially me with my depression, I know what I need to do. I’m just stuck in that freeze mode where I just can’t bring myself to do it, but I know what I need to do, I just can’t do it. So when other people are constantly telling you and reminding you what you need to do, it gets really overwhelming.

Sam Demma (13:50):

When a student approaches a teacher and is struggling with their mental health, what would you recommend a teacher or an educator do? Who wants to support?

Alexis Epp (14:00):

First of all just listen. Don’t try and diminish it or say, I got this a lot in high school, but that’s just normal teenage problems. And I’m like, no it’s not. So definitely just listen, keep an open ear. And I would say safety is number one. As a future social worker even that’s one of the first things we’re taught. If someone talks about suicide, they need help and that’s a crisis. So you can’t really wait and see if that one’s gonna get better. Take that as an emergency and get the emergency help, whether that’s police or a social worker or the parent that needs help. But yeah, I would definitely just say listen. And in our school division we have something called Teacher resource base and we have so many mental health resources in there for students and teachers. So that’s definitely a really great thing to provide the students with. I would say yeah, just listen and if they ask for, help them, but kinda follow their lead, see what they need, not what you think they need, but find out what they actually need.

Sam Demma (15:28):

That’s great advice. Thanks for sharing that. I appreciate it. I know there’s so many teachers who can relate to that experience and who have had students approach them before and maybe felt a little handicapped as if they weren’t sure what the best route of action was to help that individual even though they really wanted to.

Alexis Epp (15:47):

And that’s the thing, I know so many teachers who want to help but they don’t know how. And just remember that when a student comes to you, that’s a very vulnerable position to be asking for help that that’s a lot of trust. So definitely just make sure you’re taking that seriously with the trust and maintain that trust.

Sam Demma (16:08):

Awesome. So you ended up helping with the building of the curriculum? Yes. Tell me more about that experience. So once it was finished, after all the long nights and the coffee chats and getting to know each other and becoming best friends, what has happened since? Or did you help teach it? Tell me more about it.

Alexis Epp (16:31):

Yeah, so I’ve gotten a lot of cool experiences from it actually. I did get the chance to help out at school in Saskatoon here, one of our pilot programs. And so Elena and I would go there and I actually got trained as a peer support through the program. So I’m a peer support through the program so students can talk to me and I can kinda just listen and be a friend. And then I was given the opportunity to work with Cmha National and be on their youth advisory council. And so I got to do that, which was really cool. Brought a lot of cool opportunities, just giving my opinion as a youth trying to advocate for youth across Canada. And then I was also given the opportunity to be on the Saskatchewan advocate for children and their youth council. Nice. And with that, I was actually asked to, they just released a report I believe back in March called Desperately Waiting and they gave some recommendations to the government about some changes that can be made for youth with mental health and within school systems. And so I actually got to go to the legislative building in Regina and speak to some officials about that report. So that was a really neat opportunity.

Sam Demma (18:01):

And where has your journey taken you now? So you finished the building of the course got back on your feet per se, and where do you see yourself in the next couple of years? What are you pursuing now?

Alexis Epp (18:17):

Yeah, so I am just about done my social work program. So then I will have my bachelor social work nice. And my plan is to work for a few years and then go back and get my masters and then eventually I really wanna go into policy and make a difference because I’ve been in the system, I know how hard it is for both the consumers, the people are using the system as well as people working within the system. It’s super frustrating for everyone involved. And so I feel like policy needs to be created around the people who actually are in need of the policy and in need of the system. So that’s kind of the end goal.

Sam Demma (19:03):

I love that. Something you mentioned earlier that caught my attention was coping tools. You know, mentioned that when you first were starting your own journey, navigating through mental health, you felt like you didn’t really have the tools you needed and I’m sure many young people and even adults can relate. What are some of the things that you continuously go back to try and maintain positive mental health and to I guess help yourself when you’re not feeling the best?

Alexis Epp (19:35):

So I actually have three things that I use consistently. For me, the biggest thing was just starting things. So I use something called the five minute Rule. And when I’m having bad days, which I still do and that’s okay, I did a five minute rule where no matter how badly you don’t wanna do something, just start it and do it for five minutes. And if after five minutes you still are really down, really not wanting to do it, that’s okay, you don’t have to do it. But usually those five minutes you kind of just forget that you didn’t wanna do it in the first place and you get over that hump. So that’s one of my biggest things. My second one is the five senses, if you’ve heard of that

Sam Demma (20:28):

I have

Alexis Epp (20:29):

Is it’s cause I still have anxiety. So what it is, you can do it quietly, you can do it out loud, doesn’t matter. You look around and find five things you can see and then you list those off. And when I’m having really bad anxiety attacks I think about the textures, the colors I go into details. And then, so it’s five things you can see, four things you can touch three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. And when you’re focusing on your senses, you can’t think about two things at once. So it’s very grounding and it takes you away from what you are anxious about and really just grounds you and makes you focus on the presence.

Sam Demma (21:25):

I love that one.

Alexis Epp (21:26):

<laugh>. Yeah. And then my last one is based on scenarios. So when I’m anxious about something or overthinking something, I’ll take a piece of paper and I write the best case scenario, worst case scenario and the most likely case scenario. And then I’ll write each of those out. And then I will also write kind of a game plan. If the worst case scenario happens, what am I gonna do? And so after I’ve written those all out, it kind of just makes you look at it from a different perspective. And sometimes I’m like, that’s so unlikely that that’s not gonna happen. But then even if it does happen, you have a game plan. So it takes away some of those worries.

Sam Demma (22:09):

That’s awesome. I love that. Do you crumple the page and throw it out after <laugh>

Alexis Epp (22:14):

Do actually. Okay. Sometimes I’ll rip it up and yeah, I usually wait until the scenario plays out and then I’m like, okay, I don’t need to, It helped me and now it’s done.

Sam Demma (22:26):

Cool. I’m curious, it sounds like the relationship you had with Elena, with your psychiatrist really helped you turn into your own success story. And I’m curious to know if the mental wellness study program has had students go through it who at first were really struggling and came out the other side feeling like they were in a much better place mentally. And if so, are there any specific examples or stories of students that come to mind when you think about those individuals? And if you could share one and you could change their name if it’s a serious one. I just think it’s important to remind people that influence work with or impact youth of stories like these positive transformations to remind them why the work they’re doing is so important.

Alexis Epp (23:13):

<affirmative> honestly, I think every single student who has gone through the program has had that significant change whether or not they were struggling. Everyone knows someone who is struggling with mental health. So even if you’re not someone who is, Yeah. So I think that’s been a really big impact. And just within the course we have a lot of lived experiences and I’ve heard so much feedback on that and I’ve had students tell me I thought I was the only one who went through that. So just knowing there are other people out there who they can relate to has been a really big thing. And I’ve had students tell me when they started this program, they were just kind of lost and didn’t know where to turn, what to do, and just kind of stuck in that fight or flight or freeze mode and they just didn’t know what to do. And going through the program just gave them the tools to get out of that and be able to think more clearly I guess. So yeah, I, I’ve had students who have struggled really bad with their family lives, with their schools, with bullying and this program gave them the tools to get the help they needed whether it was professional help or not. Cause this is not professional help in the course, but it does direct them to the helps that they need.

Sam Demma (24:50):

Awesome. That’s so cool. And who’s the course available to, if someone wanted to check it out, could someone search it online or how would someone find it?

Alexis Epp (25:00):

Yeah, for sure you can. Right now it counts as a credit but only in Saskatchewan. Cool. It’s available to all the Sun School Vision students, but if people are interested they can, I believe Elena gave her email during the last Yeah. When she was on here. Yeah. So if there’s anyone interested in the program, whether they’re students or teachers, they can reach out to her or just Google the Mental Wellness 30 program through Sun West School division and they can kind of check it out that way. And if they email Elena directly, she is able to give them a bit more access and help them out that way.

Sam Demma (25:46):

Okay. Awesome. And if you could take your experiences throughout school and education and wrap them all up into a form of advice and go back in time and give your younger self some words of wisdom and support. Knowing what you know now, what would you have told your younger self when you were just starting high school?

Alexis Epp (26:08):

Knowing what I know now, I would probably tell myself that you’re not alone. No matter how isolated you feel. There are other people struggling, there are other people who can maybe not exactly relate, but they’re going through something similar and you just kind of gotta find your people. Like you’re not stuck in the same spot forever. Even if it feels like a crisis now you’ll, you’ll have good days and bad days, but things get better and you do find your people

Sam Demma (26:43):

People. Awesome. Alexis, thank you so much for taking half an hour out of your day to come on the podcast and share some of your experiences and insights relating to mental health and just education. If someone wants to reach out to you and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Alexis Epp (27:02):

They can email me and my email is alexis.epp@outlook.com.

Sam Demma (27:09):

Awesome. Alexis, thank you so much. Keep up the great work. Best of luck with the social work and the policy making and the feature, and I look forward to staying in touch.

Alexis Epp (27:18):

Thank you so much.

Sam Demma (27:21):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alexis Epp

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.

Donald Mulligan – Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School and President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

About Donald Mulligan

Donald Mulligan (@donaldmulligan2) is principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously work as Principal at Kinkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the Chair of PEI  Teachers’ Federation Group Insurance Committee.

Donald believes in making K.I.S.H. a safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior women’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators here on P.E.I. He is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society.

Donald realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team can schools become successful.

Connect with Donald: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kensington Intermediate Senior High School

Kinkora Regional High School

Amherst Cove Consolidated School

Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

Canadian Association of Principals

PEI Administrative Leadership Program

Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation Special Associations

Leadership Through the Ages: A Collection of Favorite Quotations by Rudy Giuliani

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Hey, welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Donald Mulligan. Donald is Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously worked as Principal at Kenkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the chair of the PEI Teachers Federation Group Insurance Committee. Donald believes in making KISH safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior woman’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing of the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators on the island of PEI. Donald is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society and he realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team that schools can become successful. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Donald and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. His name is Donald Milligan. Donald, please start by introducing yourself.

Donald Mulligan (02:20):

Well, I’m Donald Mulligan and I’m Principal right now Kensington and Intermediate Senior High here in Prince Edward Island. This is my 10th year here and I’ve previously been at four other schools. Three as Principal over my career. So I still coach, still coach, a girl’s soccer team. I’ve coached many of the sports and enjoy being involved with student life. So yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.

Sam Demma (02:45):

When did you realize growing up as a young person, that one day you wanted to work in education?

Donald Mulligan (02:52):

It took me a while. I grew up on a family firm potato firm and as years went along I realized I was really much better dealing with the staff and the employees than I was actually fixing the equipment and operating the equipment. So probably when I was in university, because I went to agriculture college for a bit and then I came back, took a bachelor of Arts, realized I enjoyed writing and took, got my ba, b e d decided to become a teacher. And in hindsight, I shouldn’t been shocked because my mom was a teacher for 35 years and I have an aunt that was a teacher for 35 years. So that’s in the family genes for sure. My sister’s a teacher but it wasn’t something I planned to do my whole life. And even at that point I was taking courses after university and I was amazed when I would take courses with a couple of guys or friends of mine from the first year teacher. They wanted to become an administrator and that was not something I had planned on either. It just sort of evolved as time went on.

Sam Demma (04:01):

Oh, that’s awesome. Did you realize when you were going through university okay, this is the path I’m pursuing was there a defining moment? Did your parents sit you down and Donald, you should be a teacher <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (04:17):

No. Well, as I mentioned, I went to agriculture college, but I get there for two weeks. I was taking chemistry and biology and calculus and physics and I realized pretty early on that two weeks that I don’t think I’m gonna be overly successful in these courses. So I get out when I could still get my money back. So what happened was though I went home and I firmed that fall. And so it was interesting because I enjoyed working on the firm, but we got to operate the tractors. The harvest is sort of a fun time when you’re harvesting the potatoes cuz you’re in tractors and trucks and it’s good. But after that it was into a warehouse. So I worked at the neighbors from 8:00 AM to five at PM every day. And then many days our own family farm wheat graded in the evenings from six 30 to nine 30.

Donald Mulligan (05:10):

So I went days without seeing the sun. So it was like, I don’t see this being a career for me right now. So that few months when I took a semester off at that point in those few months, it’s like, okay, I think I need to go in a different direction. And then the next semester I took an education 1 0 1 or something along those lines and we had to do a little practicum. So an hour in the classroom a week and when I still remember some of the kids that I was in with that. So that one course was the one that really hooked me. It’s like, okay, I enjoy the kids and I sort of feel I’m good at it.

Sam Demma (05:46):

That’s awesome. You mentioned you still coach. Is coaching a big part of your life? When did you start coaching athletics?

Donald Mulligan (05:55):

When I started my career, well, I couldn’t get a job, ironically, yeah, head of university, I had a job, I worked as an employment counselor with Canadian Mental Health Association. Oh cool. And I really enjoyed that, helping individuals mental illness get back into the workforce. But it was a tough time to get a teaching job in our province. So I had many interviews and the first position that I could get was at the alternative education program. So I worked there for four years and I really enjoyed it. But to answer your question my first year in the regular system when I got the school called Somerset Elementary in my community, I helped coach the soccer team. So I helped coach that for a couple years with a friend who grew up my commu in our community. He was a volunteer, I learned some tricks from him. And then I started coaching on my own. So that was probably 1999. And I’d been coaching guys soccer and then girls soccer. Once my daughter started coming through the system, I switched over and coached the girls. And I, I’m still doing it to this day, but I’m lucky because I’ve always had great people with me that can look after the practices when I can’t get outta the school to go to practice after school during the day. But I’m more of a game coach now. The teachers here to tease me kinda

Sam Demma (07:15):

Shows up when it matters

Donald Mulligan (07:16):

<laugh>. Exactly. But when my kids were growing up, same as many adults. I coached them in soccer, I coached them in baseball. I’ve coached hockey. So just whoever needed to coach, I enjoy doing that and I feel that keeps me young.

Sam Demma (07:33):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that some of your buddies who were also in education at the time wanted and had this ambition and goal to become administrators right away and you know, weren’t dead set on that you just wanted to enjoy the journey and see where it takes you. What did your journey actually look like? What was your first role in education outside of the mental health job that you just mentioned to me in a formal school setting? What was your first role and take me through the journey that brought you to where you are right now.

Donald Mulligan (08:04):

Well, we did alternative education and it was only with junior high students and we were an off campus, an offsite building. And our classroom was in part of an old hanger at the CFB summer side where we were housed. And so doing that, there was 24 kids and two teachers. And so we essentially were our own administrators as well. We had to decide what the discipline was going to be. We had decide the rules or regulations, how to get kids to buy in. So right from my first year, there was a lot of administrivia that we had to do and we also had to learn that you need a backbone if you’re gonna survive doing that particular job. And then when I moved to my first school, I was only there a year when our vice principal left and I applied, ended up getting that job and been in administration ever since. I think I was a VP for five years at that particular school with a colleague who’s still a principal in the system now. She’s still someone that I work with. We’re on committees together still. And our neighboring school down the road, Amherst Cove Consolidated, had an opening as a principal and I decided I’m ready to take the leap. And so that was 18 years ago I think now. So took the leap down the road and it worked out pretty well.

Sam Demma (09:36):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that you’re on some committees. What does your involvement look like when you’re not in the principal’s office? <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (09:47):

Well one of my mom, as I said, was a teacher and her best friend growing up became the, as a teacher as well. And Joyce Mcar, she taught me and she’s a great teacher, great person. She became the president of the P E I Teachers Federation just in my first couple of years. So I had a bit of an at the Teacher’s Federation, so she nominated me for took one, the pension committee, which is a little ironic when you’re in your first year or two of schooling, they’d be on the pension committee. But it was a foot in the door and I really learned the value of meeting people and from different parts of the island on these committees. I also you know, learn a great deal about our pension. And then eventually that led to being involved in other committees negotiating committee with the government doing that, you need to memorize basically the memorandum of agreement that we have and that helps you immensely as an administrator if you know all of the memorandum of agreement, what we can all do and what we should not be doing.

Donald Mulligan (10:56):

So that helped. And presently I’m president of the group Insurance trustees, so we look after our group insurance for all the teachers from Prince Edward Island. So I have that. And so that’s through our union. But then as part of the administrator’s association, I’ve been on the Canadian Association of Principals for the last four years. My term’s just about up here in a couple weeks time. So I’ve been vice president of the Canadian Association Principal. So I look after the CAP Journal. It’s lots of articles mid three times a year in that. And so my term is President’s, p e i, School of Association of School Administrators. And as part of that we’re hosting the Canadian Association of Principals Conference. Nice. So we have a big conference coming down the road here in May of 2023. So I’m with KJ White, so we’re actually looking for some keynote speakers for that right now and some speakers for the conference. So I’ve been pretty involved, but it’s been a great learning experience and it’s a great way to meet people throughout your province.

Sam Demma (12:10):

That’s awesome. It sounds like you’ve been very involved <laugh> in many different ways, which is great. You mentioned your mom’s best friend was a great teacher who also taught you, I’m curious to know, what do you think makes a great teacher? What is it that a great teacher does in the life of a young person that from your perspective growing up, your mom’s friend obviously had an impact on you. What do you think that she did that made you believe she made a big impact?

Donald Mulligan (12:39):

For me, I think the biggest thing is they have to show that they care In education, we have to show the students that we care about them and that we want to help them. We want to teach them, but we want them to be good down good people as well. And as an administrator, I think it’s exactly same with the staff that I’m dealing with. I have to show them that I care and follow through ’em in those steps that I do care and support them. So in my role now, I support teachers, support students, and I feel the way we show them that we care is doing the extra things. Because I personally, I can’t remember too many life changing moments in the classroom. I hate to say that, but I do remember lots of memories of extracurricular activities and sports teams and groups that I’ve been on over the years that have made a change in my life. So I think if we show we care, kids are gonna learn.

Sam Demma (13:37):

How do you show that you care? Is it through listening, getting to know the students on a personal level? Yeah, I’m just curious.

Donald Mulligan (13:47):

Well, for me, throughout my career, I’ve always tried to do outdoor duty in the morning. So I greet kids coming in off of the bus. I’m a pretty laid back guy though, so I’m not high fiving and fist pumping everybody. But I make my point of saying hello, trying to say their name, everybody coming in, ask them how the sport event went the night before. Or try and make some connection with kids every day in the morning before 8 25. Our school starts early, so they get off the bus between 8 25, 8 0 5, and 8 25. So touch base with the kids. And I touch base with teachers too, cuz you see many of them walking in at that during that time. So that’s one way and another way, as any administrator I’m in and of the classes trying to ask them how they’re getting along, what do they need help with?

Donald Mulligan (14:40):

But the student council, I’m meeting with them saying, How can we be better? What can the school do to make things better? What are some of your opinions? And we’ve had students on representatives of our district advisory councils that we’ve had in PEI the last few years. So they’re offering information that hopefully make positive changes in the school as well. But as we already talked about, you really make connections when you either teach them A or B, you’re volunteering and you’re working with them after school. So when you’re giving up your own time, you show them that you really do care. And so I find that’s the key as well. I still teach 25% of the day, so those kids that I teach, I really get to know those kids on a personal level. So by the time they get through grade 10, I’ve pretty much had half of the school pretty much that I’ve taught. So that makes an enormous difference I feel, for me anyway.

Sam Demma (15:36):

So you teach right now? Actually

Donald Mulligan (15:38):

At one 15 here I’m gonna be going, I’m teaching for the first time, math four two K. So this has been a learning curve this semester for me as well. But it’s been great. I mean, I’ve been learning, September was a learning curve for me for sure, but I feel I’m fine in my groove and I think the students that I have are starting to enjoy it as well. I’ve always been an English guy, but the last year I hired a teacher from the Department of Education who is an all star. She’s a superstar. Nice. She created the program that I was teaching, so it was pretty hard for me to continue teaching it when she created it. So she requested, can I take this course style? And I said, certainly you can have it because she’s a rockstar and we’re lucky to have her.

Sam Demma (16:24):

That’s awesome. I haven’t met many administrators that also teach. Is that something that’s common in PEI or is it something that you are trying to do because it’s something that you love?

Donald Mulligan (16:38):

Well, I’ve always been in midsize schools. We have today 357 kids in our school, so it’s not a huge school. So we we’re given an allocation to make our schedule work nice. And I find it certainly for some years it’s only manageable if I’m teaching and some years depending on how it looks like it’s a benefit if I’m teaching. But I’ve always taught, so I’m gonna keep on teaching because it’s usually the best 75 minutes of my day because I get to interact with the kids and the only thing I have to do is teach for that 75 minutes. So it’s awesome.

Sam Demma (17:14):

That’s amazing. I heard one time someone told me the best administrators are the ones that don’t wanna leave the classroom and the best superintendents are those that don’t wanna leave the school building. And it’s really cool that you’ve taught every single year, even though you’re in administration. I think that’s really unique and yeah, it’s really cool. I would’ve loved to have my principal teach me a class <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (17:39):

Well Sam, it’s difficult to go and have a meeting and go over learning strategies or talking. I mean, we had the big three for a few years learning strategy. So if I can’t tell ’em and share what I’m doing in my classroom, it’s hard for them to take me seriously when I’m standing in front of the school or the staff, I feel personally and I’m able to do that because I’m not a huge school so I can do that. So I feel like it gives me a little more street cred that they know I’m in it with them. The same last year, my geography 4 21 class, we had 32 kids. So nobody was claim complaining about having too many kids in their classroom when they knew I had more than they had. So in some ways it makes it easier.

Sam Demma (18:23):

Your boots are on the ground, you’re planting the seeds with them in the farm <laugh>. So when you think about all the different transformations that you’ve seen happen in the lives of students, and one of the reasons educators get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference. And I feel like if you’ve been in the industry or the industry’s wrong word about the, you’ve been in the vocation long enough, you’ve seen certain students come through it, maybe struggling and then had some sort of personal transformation because of a caring adult or because of the way their teacher taught them. I’m curious if there are any stories that come to mind of students that you’ve worked with who were really struggling and had a breakthrough or a transformation.

Donald Mulligan (19:12):

Well, we have lots of students probably over the years that have had that.

Donald Mulligan (19:21):

I think probably there’s one kid in particular that I was thinking about and I taught him in our Bridging English program, which you may call a general English program. We have a bridging program that allows them to go to a academic if they’re, they’re successful student in there who he was with us for the full six years, we’re seven to 12 schools. So again, we’re unique and we’re the only one in the province that’s just seven to 12. He struggled in junior high. We actually referred him to the alternative education program in junior high and he come back and I taught him each year of high school and school really wasn’t for him, but through many of our programs like the English program. But the co-op program especially helped him so much cuz he got to a business in our community and the employer really took him under his wing.

Donald Mulligan (20:17):

And so he offered him, he was successful, the kid was a great worker, great worker, and he was a great kid. He just needed someone to give him a little bit of a chance. And then this employer did, and he hired him for the summer that particular summer. And he came back to school and got his grade 12. But he is more engaged because he could see he had a goal in mind then. And now he graduated from us still working with the same company. And he would be a real success story I think for all of us in the school that were involved while working with him.

Sam Demma (20:51):

That sounds like a phenomenal story. And is he working now? Is he graduating? He’s moved on.

Donald Mulligan (20:58):

He graduated probably three years ago now. And yeah, he’s been working full time with this company now. They put steel roofs on, so after the hurricane he’s working video. He’ll be working time solid for the next couple years

Sam Demma (21:09):

<laugh>. Awesome. Very cool. When you think about your experiences in education, all the different places, yeah, you’ve worked to the different roles. If you could travel back in time, tap Donald on the shoulder in his first year of teaching, not because you would change anything about your path, but if you could go back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice, what would you say to your younger self?

Donald Mulligan (21:37):

Yeah, that’s a difficult question. I guess when I think about that, I think about my first year that I was here at Kensington. So I was pretty well into my career when I came here nine years ago. And I already had eight years experience as a principal. But when I came here, what maybe took me back a little bit is that the first couple schools I went to, I felt the teachers appreciated just my leadership style. They appreciated that I supported them, but at the same time also made people accountable because we all have to teach to the outcomes, we have to follow the pacing guides. And I did that in my class and I expected others to do that. And when I came here this school’s in a little, I dunno if disarray would be the right thing, but the principal here got dismissed, which has never really happened that I can remember.

Donald Mulligan (22:34):

And so there was some controversy before I came and I came in assuming that everyone would appreciate having my form of leadership. And I learned over time that I really had to work. It took me a couple years to really get people to buy in because what I learned is some people, I guess all of us enjoy doing what you wanna do and instead of what you’re supposed to do. And when I started putting pressure on that, we all had to follow the curriculum, follow the outcomes, we all had to row in the same direction and it didn’t take quite as easily as I thought it would. And I think I probably could did a better job relating to the folks that weren’t on board at that particular time. And it was probably just more listening, maybe a little more talk. I felt that time I was doing enough, but you can really never communicate enough. And I think I learned that I needed to listen to their side and I probably needed to do a little more homework on what went on before I stepped in the door here because there was a lot of, well, I don’t know what the best word, but there was still some controversy and some friction among staff at that time. So there’s a lot of healing that had to go on and probably more communication should’ve happened. So that’s probably what I would say

Sam Demma (23:59):

To communicate more, to do a little bit more research before entering a new space. Listen, I think listening’s a big one. Sometimes we listen in an effort to respond right away instead of trying to understand <laugh> what the person’s saying. Right,

Donald Mulligan (24:18):

Exactly. It’s difficult to, because as an administrator, we all have so many things to do each and every day, but we have to remember that the teacher comes through our door. They probably worked up the courage for probably days. For some of them, it’d be days and maybe more that they came to us with a problem and they wanna be heard and usually they have the correct answer. They just need someone to listen to them, encouraging them, encourag them and reinforcing them that they’re doing the right thing.

Sam Demma (24:50):

Yeah. Oh, that’s so great. Well, throughout your whole journey have there been any resources groups committees, books, courses, anything at all that you found really helpful in your own professional development as a teacher? And that again, could also be conferences and things of this nature, but is there anything that you’ve returned to that’s given you a lot of insight into how to teach or just building your own professional practice?

Donald Mulligan (25:20):

Well, I think the same with any administrator. We all have mentors, we all have role models. And I have a couple that a lot of their courses, a lot of their leadership style I tried to take a little bit from, and in our system, we were very lucky. We had the gentleman by the name of Doug McDougal and Doug was just so positive. He was positive with all of us, but he all always made us accountable. So I remember my very first year as principal before I started, after I got hired, he said, We’re gonna talk in September and I wanna know, we’re gonna talk about the leadership books that you’ve read over the summer. And it was like, Oh, okay. Leadership books over the summer. So he gave me my homework assignment in a gentle way. And for that first year we talked about how the school was going, but b, more importantly what I was learning from the readings that I did.

Donald Mulligan (26:17):

And so one of the books that I read was from Rudy Juliana. He was mayor of New York at the time. Nice. And when he became mayor, New York was not a safe city to be in. And so one of the things that sort stuck with me was they started cleaning up graffiti as soon as it happened. And over time, graffiti stopped being a thing. But more importantly, or just as importantly, they started enforcing all of the laws. So jaywalking, which is a pretty minuscule offense I guess. But they really cracked down on that. And what they learned was many of the people at Jaywalk and they started to ticket them, also had many other offenses they were, and they were wanted some of them. So just by following through on all of the little tiny things, they were able to manage the get a hold of quite a few of the people that were causing the city to not be safe and make it a better city and cleaner city and a safe city.

Donald Mulligan (27:25):

And it, New York City’s amazing. We were down five years ago and my wife and I got off the subway and people could tell we weren’t sure we were going and we had four or five people offer to help us and put us in the right direction. We couldn’t have felt any safer or welcome than we were. So he did a good job. And so from that, I took, okay, in school I’m gonna focus on the little things as well. And we did, we started doing a discipline system back and we enforced the rules that we had set each and every day. And by doing that, we really didn’t have too many of the big issues. Very rarely, if ever, would you have a fight in the schools because we enforce the little things. So that stuck with me for sure. And one of the other things like that, Doug McDougal, Doug always was writing a positive note, thank you. Note he was giving a teachers giving it to administrators. So that’s something that not just me, but my whole peer group that grew up together, we all do that because we know it made us feel good. So we wanna make our staff feel appreciated as well. So we write little notes, put our teacher’s mailbox or give them them personally, and it makes you feel good when you win the classroom and see them up on a bulletin board on the wall so they feel appreciated as well.

Sam Demma (28:48):

That’s awesome. It sounds like Doug’s made an impact on you. Do you stay in touch? Is he still someone that you chat with?

Donald Mulligan (28:56):

Well he made an impact on a lot of us. And actually we just said an administrator’s retreat this past Thursday and Friday, and they unveiled a memorial award because unfortunately a couple years ago during Covid Doug had a sudden heart attack and passed away. So yeah, it was a tragedy for all of us, but now we still remembering I am and there’s going to be an award in his memory. But even when he did retire, I’d call him, I’d text him and get some advice from him or give him a hard time and go to Toronto Maple Leafs because he’s a huge Leaf fan.

Sam Demma (29:35):

<laugh>. Hey, me too. <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:38):

Sorry to hear

Sam Demma (29:38):

That. Does that mean we’re not friends? No more <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:41):

We can be good. That’s awesome. I’m a Montreal Canadians fan. I don’t know if you can see, I got some paraphernalia behind me here a little bit, but it’s gonna be a couple painful years for us, so I can’t really say too much right now, but I like the journey we’re on anyway.

Sam Demma (29:56):

It can’t be any worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs, so enjoy <laugh>. That’s awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that story about Doug. I love the analogy with the graffiti. That’s a great way to position the importance of the little things, not only in school but also in life. I think once you let one thing slip, it’s a lot easier for 10 other things to slip. But if you crack down on all the small things, you can manage the big things as well. If someone wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, send you an email about this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Donald Mulligan (30:31):

Well, my email address is damulligan@edu.pe.ca. Or you can just go to our school website and our email contact lists are there as well at Kensington intermediate Senior High.

Sam Demma (30:47):

Awesome. Donald, thank you so much for taking the time to call on the podcast. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and I’ll see you in a few weeks.

Donald Mulligan (30:54):

Thanks, Sam. Can’t wait to see you. Take care. Best of luck.

Sam Demma (30:59):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Donald Mulligan

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.

Vickie Morgado – Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher

Vickie Morgado - Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher
About Vickie Morgado

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

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

Connect with Vickie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Master of Education, Curriculum Studies – Brock University

English BA – York University

Connect Conference

ISTE

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE)

Global Mentor

Nearpod PioNear

Global Goals Ambassadors – United Nations Association

National Geographic Educator Certification

Micro:bit Champion

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Vickie Morgado.

Sam Demma (00:59):

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

Vickie Morgado (02:00):

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

Sam Demma (02:21):

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

Vickie Morgado (02:28):

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

Sam Demma (03:12):

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

Vickie Morgado (03:19):

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

Sam Demma (04:18):

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

Vickie Morgado (04:29):

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

Sam Demma (05:07):

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

Vickie Morgado (05:24):

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

Vickie Morgado (06:22):

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

Sam Demma (06:34):

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

Vickie Morgado (06:47):

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

Vickie Morgado (07:34):

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

Sam Demma (08:16):

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

Vickie Morgado (08:34):

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

Sam Demma (09:37):

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

Vickie Morgado (09:57):

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

Vickie Morgado (10:47):

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

Sam Demma (11:25):

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

Vickie Morgado (11:36):

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

Vickie Morgado (12:26):

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

Sam Demma (13:07):

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

Vickie Morgado (13:34):

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

Sam Demma (14:47):

I didn’t say this. I’m

Vickie Morgado (14:48):

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

Sam Demma (15:14):

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

Vickie Morgado (15:20):

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

Vickie Morgado (16:12):

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

Sam Demma (17:25):

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

Vickie Morgado (17:32):

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

Sam Demma (17:58):

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

Vickie Morgado (18:08):

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

Sam Demma (19:27):

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

Vickie Morgado (19:33):

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

Sam Demma (20:00):

<laugh>. I’m with you. I’m with

Vickie Morgado (20:01):

You. Yeah. Okay. <laugh>

Sam Demma (20:02):

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

Vickie Morgado (20:52):

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

Sam Demma (21:48):

<laugh>.

Vickie Morgado (21:48):

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

Vickie Morgado (22:32):

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

Sam Demma (23:35):

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

Vickie Morgado (24:07):

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

Vickie Morgado (24:20):

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

Vickie Morgado (25:08):

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

Sam Demma (25:54):

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

Vickie Morgado (26:11):

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

Sam Demma (26:31):

I was like, are you the only.

Vickie Morgado (26:33):

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

Sam Demma (26:38):

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

Vickie Morgado (26:47):

Thanks. Thanks so much, Sam.

Sam Demma (26:49):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Vickie Morgado

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

Don Middleton – Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary

Don Middleton - Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary
About Don Middleton

Don Middleton (@DonMiddleton1) is an Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary. Don has been an educator for 30 years. During his career, Don has been an Athletic Director, Learning Leader, and System Learning Specialist in Off-campus and Dual Credit.

Don believes that every student has the ability to succeed and strives to create those conditions for success in his school. Don is active in the community outside of school as a volleyball official and volunteers as a Vice-Chair for Calgary Elements Mental Health Centre.

Connect with Don: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lester B. Pearson High School

Calgary Elements Mental Health Centre

Masters of Education – MEd, Curriculum & Instruction Trauma and Resilience at Concordia University, Nebraska

Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.), Physical Education Teaching and Coaching at the University of Alberta

Mount Royal University

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)

Ironworking at SAIT

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:56):

Hey, it’s Sam. Welcome back to the podcast. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Don Middleton. Don is an Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary. Don has been an educator for 30 years. During his career, Don has been an athletic director, learning leader, and a system learning specialist in off campus and dual credit. He believes that every student has the ability to succeed and strives to create the conditions for success in his school. Don is active in the community outside of school as a volleyball official, and he volunteers as a Vice Chair for Calgary Elements Mental Health Center. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Don, and I will see you on the other side. Don, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Don Middleton (01:44):

Hi, I’m Don Middleton. I’m an Assistant principal at Lester b Pearson High School in Calgary.

Sam Demma (01:50):

Why, tell me a little bit about how you got into education.

Don Middleton (01:54):

Oh, how I got into education. Well the reality is that when I finished high school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do university. And after six months of working night crew at Safeway, my manager said, I’m only coming off of night crew from working midnight till 8:00 AM if I was in school. So I applied for University of Alberta. And there’s only two faculties that were accepting students at that time, and it was education and arts and nothing against arts degrees, I think they can be very valuable. But at that time, my dad said, Friends, don’t let friends take Arts <laugh>. So I, I applied for education, but my brother was in physiotherapy and my plan was to take one semester of education and then transfer into the faculty of kinesiology, get an athletic therapist degree. And we were gonna open up a clinic together, him the physio, and meet the athletic therapist.

Don Middleton (02:49):

 my first month in education, they put me into a a student teaching role. It was supposed to be an observation, and my cooperating teacher handed me some tests and said, I’ll be back in an hour. And I was supposed to go over these tests with the kids and there was a young man that was it was a grade six class, and there was a young man that was quite upset with his test score. I sat down with him, tried to go over it with him, turned out that he got a zero and the reason he got a zero was cuz he didn’t show any work. So I started making up some math questions and he was answering everything out of his head just like that. And I realized that this kid was brilliant and the zero wasn’t indicative of what he really was capable of.

Don Middleton (03:32):

And so when the teacher came back to the classroom, I asked if, you know, we could adjust as mark. And he said, Well what’s your professional judgment? And I said, I’m 18, I don’t have any professional judgment <laugh>. And he said, What’s your gut tell you? And he said, My gut tells me that this kid understands he needs to show process going forward, but penalizing him by giving him a zero isn’t going to have a positive impact on him. And the teacher said, That sounds like a great professional judgment. He said, You tell him he got a hundred percent, but next time if he doesn’t show his work, he gets a zero. And the kid lit up like a Christmas tree when I told him the outcome. And I went home that night and I told my parents, I’m gonna be a teacher.

Sam Demma (04:13):

That’s such a cool story. What a, what a unique intro to education. I’ve asked over 200 educators about what got them into education. This is a very unique first answer, so I appreciate you sharing that backstory. you mentioned you had no interest in post-secondary education as a student yourself when you initially finished high school. I get direct messages all the time from students who, and it’s not a majority, but there’s a portion who reach out and say, Sam, I hate, like, I hate school. I I don’t, I don’t enjoy it. I don’t think it’s right for me, and I’m not sure what I wanna do after high school. When you have students who walk into your office and say things like that or express that being that, you know, you might have had a similar experience growing up as a student, what advice do you share or what do you tell them to help them along that journey?

Don Middleton (05:07):

You know, I think that’s a really great question. And I would say that my answer to that has evolved throughout my career. I used to say early on in my career, if you don’t know what you want to do, go to university. Go to college, take some general studies, find out what your interests are, and then check out what career pathways align with those courses that you enjoy and take it from there. now that’s become cost-prohibitive. It’s not, it’s not economical for a student to go to university if they know, don’t know that that’s what they want to do. And my my advice now is, do you like to work hands on? if you’re a problem solver, if you’re creative, get into a trade, go pick up a trade, go become a mechanic, go become a, a an, a carpenter, a cook, a plumber, pipe fitter iron worker, doesn’t matter.

Don Middleton (05:59):

 but go and get a trade. It takes you four years to get a journey person ticket in Alberta and a four year journey, person ticket in Alberta will earn you more money than a four year bachelor degree as an average income. And you will be paid from day one. And you’re not shelling out money towards courses that you may not ever use or need. And in Alberta, the average age of a first year apprentice is 26. And a lot of those people have university degrees and a, a pile of student debt. So go out, pick up a trade and, and get certified. And it makes you more valuable as a student later on if that’s what you wanna do. Plus students are always looking for summer jobs, and if you’ve got four months off to work in a trade and you’ve got a journey person ticket, you’re going to be paid far more than those people that are working in the service industry or in retail.

Sam Demma (06:53):

Not to mention, I like to go over in my head, best case scenario, worst case scenario when I’m making a decision. Worst case scenario, if you go down this path of becoming an apprenticeship, you get paid from day one. If you decide two years later, you know what, I don’t wanna do this. You’ve built some amazing skills. You might know how to fix your own car now because you went down the mechanic path and you wanna adjust at least the entire time you were being compensated. And you can now, you know, try something else if it’s still not the right fit. my my com I come from a family filled with trades. My dad’s a licensed plumber, my uncle Sal’s hvac, my uncle Peter’s electrician, like my cousin Joseph Mechanic, like the list. I don’t need to go outside of my family to fix anything <laugh>. and they love their jobs. So I think that’s such a great piece of advice. You mentioned, you know, are you hands on, try something in the trades. You also mentioned maybe even a cook and mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it dawns upon me that your cooking program at school at Pearson is phenomenal. Tell me a little bit about it and why it’s so special.

Don Middleton (07:55):

So we’re very fortunate that in our school we have a culinary and a personal foods program. So both of those instructors or teachers in those programs are Red seal chefs. So the students are getting a first class experience being trained by people that have worked in industry and are experts in their, in their field. personal foods is learning how to cook for yourself. and then culinary is cooking for a large group. But in addition to our two Red Seal teachers in those trades, we also have a Red Seal baker and then a Red Seal instructor. So we’ve got people that have a huge wealth of experience in those fields, and it gives students an opportunity to really find out if that’s what they want. And the great thing is, is that not only would do they get the high school credits, but our students, because our, our our teachers are Red Seal chefs already, they can also start getting them the apprentice credits while they’re still in high school. So they’re basically double dipping, getting high school credits, and they can get post-secondary credits if that’s a field that they wanna pursue.

Sam Demma (09:01):

And it keeps staff’s, bellies full

Don Middleton (09:04):

<laugh>. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we have some incredible, incredible meals here. And as I said, our our our FACAs bread that our baker makes is second to none. Her habanero cheddar PCA bread. I’ve got a standing order that every time it makes, I get a nice fresh loaf on my desk.

Sam Demma (09:24):

<laugh>. That’s awesome, man. Let’s go back for a second. You said the day you came back from school in the student teacher position that you told your parents, I’m becoming a teacher, obviously because of the emotional experience you had with that young man who was brilliant and you change his mark to a hundred on the test. what did the journey look like after that decision that brought you to where you are now? Have you worked in different schools? Tell me a little bit about the process.

Don Middleton (09:50):

Sure. I’ve worked in a number of different schools. I’ve been, this is actually my 30th year teaching. I I started in a small rural community in southern Alberta. it was a K to 12 school that had 84 students in it. Wow. So we had a graduating class, I think of oh, was it 12 students that year? And it was the biggest graduating class they had had in a, in a while. yeah, 12 students. That was a big <laugh>. But I realized that that day when I had had that experience in student teaching, that making a difference for kids and seeing them succeed, that’s what, that’s what turned my crank. That was something that I found so rewarding and it was something that I was, I felt I can make a career out of this and make a life out of this.

Don Middleton (10:36):

And and so that’s what I did. and I spent about 20 years teaching PhysEd coaching various sports. I I coached them all predominantly football and volleyball. And then I transitioned into what’s called off campus and Dual Credit world. And so students were getting work experience or registered apprenticeship program. I would supervise them. I had a great deal of success in one of the schools that I was working with. And I was asked to take a position with the with the board downtown overseeing rap and, and work experience for all of the Calgary high schools. I turned it down three times, and then the fourth time they said, Come downtown, meet with us, see what it’s like. And so I interviewed for it, fully intending to turn them down a fourth time. And then the the gentleman who became one of the most influential mentors in my life said to me, You’re going to have an impact on about 2000 students at your school. If you come downtown, you’re going to have an impact on 25,000 students. And that he sold me right then and there because that’s my goal is to have a positive impact on students. And if I can broaden that, then, then that’s a huge part of, you know, why I do what I do. my apologies,

Sam Demma (11:57):

<laugh>. That’s okay.

Don Middleton (11:59):

So in terms of different schools, I, I try to change up about every three to five years. I find that I never want to become stagnant. And so my goal is to change schools, like I said, about every three to five. and I’ve spent time as a phys ed teacher, as a phys ed learning leader, off campus coordinator, off campus, dual credit specialist. And then the past four years as an assistant principal.

Sam Demma (12:25):

I believe one of the most important things to measure when we start a new pursuit is our attendance. You know, are we just showing up and putting our foot forward? And I think once you get over that hurdle and you continuously show up, one of the shortcuts or fast tracks is finding a mentor. And it sounds like you found one in that individual who convinced you on coming to the board wide position to have an impact on more students. Who is that individual and how has he or she or them been instrumental in your own personal development in the education world?

Don Middleton (12:58):

Sure. so I’d actually like to mention two mentors. One was when I was a phed learning leader at Forest Lawn High School in Calgary. And the mentor was a gentleman by the name of Tim Maine. And Tim Maine was my principal at the time. And Tim had been a former phys ed teacher and university varsity volleyball athlete. And Tim and I had a lot of discussions about what’s best for kids. And, and I remember sitting in his office and asking him, Should I do this? Shouldn’t I do this? And he said, Well, what’s your filter? And I said, What do you mean? He said, What’s your filter? And I said, Still don’t know what you mean, <laugh>. And he said, Is it good for kids? And I said, Yes. And he said, Is it illegal, immoral? No, of course not. And he said, If it’s good for kids, it’s not illegal and it’s not immoral.

Don Middleton (13:43):

He said, Then we’ll make it happen. Mm. And I said, What about the funding? He said, We’ll find the funding. And that was, that has shaped the way that I look at anything that I do, You know, is it good for kids? Is it going to help them? And if so, we’ll find a way to make it happen. And quite honestly, that was one of the reasons why we brought Sam Dema in to talk to our kids. It was good for our kids. we needed to find the money to make it happen. And you have had a lasting influence on our kids here, because I still hear them talking about it. And it’s been several weeks after the fact. Thanks. The second mentor I had was Jerry Fiddle, and he was the education director for for me, when I went downtown. And Jerry was the role that I stepped into, I was the first person in that role.

Don Middleton (14:31):

 there had been nobody else that had done that before. So I got to define what that role looked like. And, and that’s quite an intimidating thing when I’d been in education for over 20 years and now all of a sudden I’m the first person doing something. So I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m actually inventing it. And there was nobody else that I could draw upon. And, and so I, I went to Jerry and he said, You’re doubting yourself. And so he encouraged me to take risks, which in education, usually the vanilla plane, you know, stay the course, stay between the lines, That’s the advice that you get. And Jerry was like, No, go outside the lines. Let’s expand this. Let’s grow and let’s do what we can. And we grew a program that saw students earning high school credits and university credits at the same time.

Don Middleton (15:19):

We had students going to UFC and Mount Royal, and we had multiple programs with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology for now state polytechnic it’s called. And to see students be able to start seeing themselves in a post-secondary setting after high school was amazing. And then on top of that, we set up a number of trades training programs where students would go out of school to, to learn a particular trade. And that was, again, we saw students’ lives changed because they were learning in an out of school setting. And not every kid is wired to be sitting in a chair for seven hours a day getting lectured at sometimes learning. And the best learning happens outside of a school setting. And, and Jerry taught me that, and Jar Jerry encouraged me to go down that path.

Sam Demma (16:08):

Thanks for sharing those two names. I appreciate it. And hopefully we can send this to them as a o of appreciation after this is aired and released. You mentioned the importance of students seeing themselves in post-secondary. I think that you and the entire staff and the entire community at LB Pearson does a phenomenal job of enabling that your students feel welcomed and included and at home at your school. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you have over 70 languages. Is it 70 languages spoken at the school?

Don Middleton (16:41):

61 61 is is the last count. Yeah. 61 languages for the students. In, in our school, we have an incredible amount of diversity. 77% of the students in our school, their first language is something other than English. And that’s what makes our school so special is, is that diversity and the way that everybody comes together. we have these these days where, where students get to celebrate their heritage and students will, will dress in traditional wear and they will bring traditional food. And it’s absolutely amazing to see the different things that are going on in the building at that time when those things happen.

Sam Demma (17:18):

One of the things that you shared with me when I came to the school was that sometimes the area in which the school is positioned gets a little bit of a, a bad rep, but I’ll be completely transparent, my experience with the school was, to be completely honest, one of the best schools that I visited in the past while and had the most, some of the most respectful and kind students that I’ve come across. how do you think as a school community, we work towards changing the narrative that’s been placed on us when it’s not one that we any longer deserve? <laugh>,

Don Middleton (17:49):

Thank you for the, those really kind comments, Sam, because that means a lot to me. I grew up in Northeast Calgary, and Northeast Calgary does get a bad rap. And the reality is, is that if you look at the newspapers you know, if there’s been a violent event or something that’s happened, it’s usually happened in northeast Calgary, and we get labeled with that because our school is in that, in that setting. Are we a perfect school? No, but the reality is, is that it doesn’t matter what highest school you go to, if your intent is to do something bad, you’re going to find like-minded people that are going to encourage or participate in those bad things. It doesn’t matter what school you attend or what area it’s, but unfortunately, when once a reputation is earned, whether it’s deserved or not, it sticks with you.

Don Middleton (18:37):

And I like to think of us as being a diamond in the rough. the people that come into the building, the people that experience Lester b Pearson, they know what it has to offer. Those people that prefer to, you know, be arm’s length and just point fingers and say, That’s not a good school. I would encourage them to come in, experience it for themselves, and then then pass judgment. I know that in the past, you know, we’ve had fewer violent incidents in our school than many, but we get the the notoriety. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

Sam Demma (19:10):

The phone ringing is a good thing. It means that things are happening within the school building and it makes it more real <laugh>. So I, I appreciate the humor. you’ve been in education for such a long period of time. You shared some of the mentors that have helped you along the way. If you could travel back in time and speak to Don in his first day of teaching, but maintain the experiences and knowledge you have now due to all of your different unique experiences, what advice would you give your younger self or that to other educators who are just starting this profession?

Don Middleton (19:47):

I think the, for me intuitively I’ve always known that relationship is a key to a student’s success. And building those relationships I’ve always had them happen organically because again, being involved in PhysEd and having multiple coaching seasons, you develop those relationships outside of a classroom setting. I would tell myself or any beginning teacher, be intentional. You know, don’t wait for them to happen organically. Seek out those kids and, and ask them, Hey, what are the things that you like to do? Oh, do you have any siblings? Hey, do you have a dog? I see, you know, whatever. make that connection because I, I finished a master’s of count, or not a masters of counseling, a master’s of education with a focus on trauma-informed learning. And really, it solidified that a relationship between adult and students is an absolute critical part of that student success, especially if they’re coming from a traumatic background and having one positive relationship for that student coming from a traumatic background can change their entire trajectory.

Don Middleton (20:50):

And I got to see that several times throughout my career, but it became more prominent when I would help students connect with trades and seeing kids that were not traditionally successful in a school setting all of a sudden thrive outside of a school setting. And the way that then that would carry over and they would, you know, went from having poor attendance to having over 90% attendance. They went from not being on track to graduating, to graduating in with their classmates in, in a two and a half, three year program. pursue those relationships, make them happen and, and be authentic and be yourself. kids have a great BS meter and I respect that, you know, those kids that call you on it. And if they do, and that’s what I love about Pearson is that if they think you’re, you’re giving them a pile of bs, they’ll tell you and if they do, you gotta look in the mirror and say, Hmm, are they being honest? Or, or, you know, Am I, am I doing the best that I can?

Sam Demma (21:52):

It sounds like genuine curiosity is the key to building relationships. Like is it all about kind of getting to know the student and being genuinely curious about them and their life?

Don Middleton (22:04):

Oh, without a doubt. When you, you have to show interest in who they are as a person. No kid wants to just be, Oh, okay, this is your ID number. And, you know, you sit in that back corner mm-hmm. <affirmative> getting to know that kid’s name and going down the hall and being able to say, Hey, you know, Antoine or Mohammed or whomever, right? When you know their name, then, then you’ve already started down the road to a relationship. And so that’s a critical part, is getting to know who they are, getting to know what their interests are, what is it that makes them tick. And then you try to, to work on those and build on those things to help them to be successful.

Sam Demma (22:43):

 such a good piece of advice. Thanks for sharing that. I think that’s how you also build relationships with anybody, whether it’s a student or a staff member, a colleague, whoever it might be. have you found any resources throughout your journey to be extremely helpful? That could be people, that could be books, that could be courses, that could be your peers, it could also be resources like other humans. I’m just curious if there’s anything that you’ve returned to a few times because you thought it really informed your beliefs around education or some of your ideas

Don Middleton (23:17):

I’ve had. Yeah, there’s several resources. I, I, I believe that learning is an ongoing process and, and the more you learn, the less you know, or the less the you, more you realize, the less you know. Yep. And, and so there’s various things that I’ve done throughout my career. As I said, I’ve, I just recently finished in the last few years, a masters of education. I did a, I never completed it, but I started a master’s of counseling because I thought if I did that I could have a better impact on my students. I, I always am searching out different types of professional reading I’m looking up here cuz I’ve got a list of books in front of me that that I try to work with. And it, it really is also having those mentors and somebody that has been down the road and can offer you that advice and, and going to your peers and saying, what’s worked for you?

Don Middleton (24:12):

 we don’t know it all and we’re better collaboratively and more effective as a group than we ever are individually. And, and schools should never be silos, You know, yes, you’ve got your science department, your math department, phyt, et cetera, but all of those people that are in there are expert teachers and they know how to work with kids. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re having success in phys ed, that success can be duplicated or replicated somewhere else. But if teachers don’t talk and they don’t collaborate and they don’t have the time to do that, then they’re not going to be successful or you’re going to be more challenging to reach the, the success that they want.

Sam Demma (24:50):

You mentioned that you did a master’s in trauma informed learning and started the one in counseling. I would assume that both of those would help you in some degree navigate difficult conversations with kids. and I’m, I’m sure that there’s moments where students, even with their parents sometimes might walk through the doors of your office, sit down, and you have to prepare for what could be a very difficult conversation about something that happened or about certain performance. How do you navigate and approach those really challenging conversations?

Don Middleton (25:23):

Number one is, is being authentic. I, I truly care about every single student that I work with and I wanna see them succeed. So if I approach my conversation from that perspective, then that gives me a sense of legitimacy and integrity in that conversation with a student and with the parent. And so that’s the number one thing. Number two is that I don’t beat around the bush. I’m very straightforward. This is what I want. This is what I would like to see for your child. This is what’s happening and this is what’s the barrier is how do we get from here to here and overcome those barriers. And sometimes there are things that are external, often they’re internal, usually they’re their issues within that student that is keeping them from being successful. I see my job as trying to help students be most successful and remove barriers for their success.

Don Middleton (26:18):

I also see my job as helping teachers jobs be easier. So if I can do those things, then I feel like I’m being effective as an administrator. And again, when it comes back to those conversations, it’s being truthful. And sometimes those conversations are hard and making the students understand that your choices are yours. You know, if I, and and I use this as a, as a common example, if I point out to you that you, that there’s a rake on the ground and you proceed to step on that rake and it hits you in the face, is it my fault? Is it the rake’s fault? No, you stepped on that rake. So the natural consequence is that it’s going to hit you in the face.

Sam Demma (26:56):

I love that analogy. <laugh>,

Don Middleton (26:58):

That’s,

Sam Demma (26:58):

I I might steal that one. Thanks for sharing. Absolutely. One of the reasons I believe most people get into education is they, like you mentioned, wanna have a positive impact on young people. They want to make a difference in the lives of kids. do you have any stories that come to mind when you think about a student who came across your desk and was really struggling and within a certain timeframe really switched around their situation, blossomed, if we use the gardening analogy and had a really big transformation. and the reason I ask is because I think other educators who might be listening will be reminded of their personal why when they hear stories of students making positive life changes.

Don Middleton (27:43):

You know, it’s, it’s funny because there are times when you’re in education and you don’t feel like you’re making a difference and you think, you know, is this it? Is it, is it time to pack it in? have I stopped being effective? And then you, you all of a sudden get an email or a note or you know, somebody reaches out on social media and they say, You know, I haven’t seen you in X number long, you know, number of years coach, but I want you to know that you made a difference in my life. And it, it’s funny, the universe, it seems to happen when you’re feeling at your lowest. having been in education for so long, I’m very fortunate to, to have a number of stories that where students have completely changed and, and have had very, very positive outcomes from maybe some pretty humble beginnings.

Don Middleton (28:34):

And, and if I have the time, I’ll share one with you. a young man came to me and he was in grade 10 and it was just before Christmas and he was 15 years old in, in Alberta. You can legally drop out of school at 16. And this young man hated school, absolutely hated school. And his mom was a young mom and she brought the, the student to see me. And he said, As soon as I turned 16, I’m done. You’re not gonna see me in the school again. And we talked about why and he just said, I cannot stand being in a desk for six hours a day. And so we, we talked about registered apprenticeship program and what that would mean. And I said, We can set up your timetable so that you have academic courses in the morning.

Don Middleton (29:18):

You’d have two academic courses in the morning. You can leave at lunchtime, you can go work all afternoon. the mom had a connection in a particular trade and for second semester the deal was that he was going to do that. And I said, I will support this and we will make this happen as long as you’re attending your classes in the morning. So fast forward kids doing great part way through grade 11, I’m going to visit him at the summer job. So we’re already about a year in and pardon me, it was only a few months in cuz it was grade 10. And he was working constructing a music conservatory on the university campus and he wanted to know who the trades were that put up the big iron girders and stuff. And I said, Well, that’s iron work. And he said, I’m doing this.

Don Middleton (30:04):

And he was kinda doing some, it’s called Interior Systems Mechanic, which is drywall type work and dealing with non combustible carpentry materials, so metal studs, et cetera. And he said, I would like to do iron working. And I said, I tell you what, you finish off this summer next year, I can get you into an iron working program because we had set one up with the with the Iron Workers Union here in Calgary. So the next year we put him into the Iron Working Program, he continued having his half day academic mornings working in the afternoon. He was thriving, he was doing great in his academics, he was attending classes very well. He went out, did the iron working program, got hired between grade 11 and 12 as an iron worker. The kid made $20,000 between grade 11 and 12 because he was p picking up a ton of overtime.

Don Middleton (30:51):

He, he made way more money than I did. And then part way into his grade 12 year, his mom called me and she said that her son was going to finish school at Christmas. And I said, What do you mean? She said, Well, he, he said that he’s, you know, not coming back in January. And she said, Is that okay? And, and so then after some further conversation, I realized that what she meant is that he was going to take one class on his own in the evening online, have his full academic course load first semester so that he can finish high school early and then go back to work full time as an iron worker come February. And so mom wanted to know, is this a good thing? And I said, You realize that two years ago, almost to the day your son was sitting in this chair saying he was dropping out of school and now he’s going to finish his high school diploma a full semester early. I said, That’s a huge win. And the young man is now in his early twenties, he’s a journey person, iron worker, he owns his own house. He’s actually come out to talk to students in school about his experience and why getting into a trade was the best thing that he could have done for himself.

Sam Demma (32:03):

What an amazing story. And I think it’s so important that when we have students in situations like that, that cross our, our desk, we begin with questions, Why is it, why is it that you wanna drop outta school? Because if you didn’t probe and ask questions, you wouldn’t have discovered that he didn’t enjoy sitting in class all day. And it would’ve been a lot more difficult to find a proper solution. Maybe the end result would’ve been totally different, right?

Don Middleton (32:32):

Oh, absolutely. And, and I think that that’s, again, getting to know the kids that are in front of you. if your goals and aspirations are going to university, then I think that’s very different than if your goals and aspirations are to go and work in the family’s restaurant or to take up a trade. and that’s not to say that university is a bad thing. I mean, clearly, you know, it’s done well for me. but the reality is, is that less than 50% of all students ever attend a university and even those that do the attrition rate is extremely high. So we need to do a better job as an education system and as teachers to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the students that are in front of us, find out what it is that makes them tick, find out what they want to do, and not every kid is going to figure that out in high school. But then let’s open up doors and expose ’em to as many different opportunities as we can so that they are developing those skills and they’re not afraid to step outside the, the norm and take risks and do different things.

Sam Demma (33:30):

Don, this has been a super refreshing conversation. The half hour flew by. If an educator is listening, wants to reach out to you, ask a question, have a conversation, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch with you?

Don Middleton (33:44):

My email address is dtmiddleton@cbe.ab.ca. I can’t promise I’ll get back to you right away, but I will respond at some point.

Sam Demma (33:54):

Awesome. Don, thank you so much for your time, your expertise, your ideas. I appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Don Middleton (34:02):

Thank you, Sam. I appreciate it. Take care.

Sam Demma (34:05):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Don Middleton

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.

Dave Levy – Language Arts Teacher at Green Acres School and Passionate Athletic Director

Dave Levy – Language Arts Teacher at Green Acres School and Passionate Athletic Director
About Dave Levy

Dave Levy (@DavidAsherLevy) is a passionate Athletic Director and Educator. Throughout his career Dave has been motivated by student choice and voice. As Lowell School’s first Athletic Director, Dave recognized potential growth opportunities and created a strategic vision to develop a robust athletic program. He recruited coaches as well as athletes, and fostered positive school community relationships which embody the values of diversity, inclusion, sportsmanship, and fair play. Over 80% of the student body participated in after school athletics. Now, the program boasts 18 different teams. Additionally, Dave coaches cross country, basketball, track and field and baseball – and he has coached three state Long Jump Champions!

Dave enjoys working in the classroom as well as a Middle School Language Arts teacher. Currently at Green Acres School, Dave helps students to find their passions and motivates his students to be able to communicate their ideas both orally and in writing. Dave has also served as the founding Student Government advisor, helping the students to make sure that their voice is heard.

He is also a passionate volunteer for the Washington, D.C. chapter of HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership) a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. Dave has been volunteering with HOBY since 2001 as Treasurer, Leadership Seminar Chair and the President of the Corporate Board.

Connect with Dave: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lowell School

Green Acres School

HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership)

HOBY Canada

University of Guelph

University of Western Ontario

What is a Writer’s Workshop?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest crossed paths with me at a conference in Washington, DC and I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity to bring him on the show today. David Levy is a passionate athletic director and educator. Throughout his career, Dave has been motivated by student choice and voice. As Lowell School’s first athletic director, Dave recognized potential growth opportunities and created a strategic vision to develop a robust athletic program. He recruited coaches, as well as athletes, and fostered a positive school community filled with relationships which embody the value of diversity, inclusion, sportsmanship, and fairplay. Over 80% of the student body participated in afterschool athletics. Now the program boasts 18 different teams. Additionally, Dave coaches cross country, basketball, track and field, and baseball, and he has coached three state long jump champions. Dave enjoys working in the classroom as well as a middle school language arts teacher.

Sam Demma (01:59):

Currently at Green Acres School, Dave helps students to find their passions, and motivates the students to be able to communicate their ideas, both orally and in writing. Dave is also served as the founding student government advisor, helping the students to make sure that their voice is heard. He’s also a passionate volunteer for the Washington DC chapter of HOBI, Hugo Bryan Youth Leadership, a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. Dave has been volunteering with HOBI since 2001 as treasurer, leadership seminar chair, and the president of the corporate board. I hope you enjoy this fun-filled conversation with Dave, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. I met him at a conference in Washington DC called The HOBI. He was wearing an orange hat, really caught my attention. <laugh>. David, such a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dave Levi (03:03):

Well, thank you. It is, it’s a real honour. Sam blew us away when, when coming to the conference, we said, qell, we can’t pay you. He said, No problem, I’m gonna come, I’m gonna light it up.

Sam Demma (03:12):

We don’t do that for everyone, just so you all know when you hear it. This is

Dave Levi (03:16):

A youth youth volunteer program. Okay. So it’s a little bit, we don’t pay anybody. It’s a little bit, It’s just getting his brand out there, which as you can see, you know, there’s like a book, there’s like awesome speaking gigs, so it’s going pretty well. but anyway, I’ve been volunteering for this youth leadership organization called Hobi, or he O’Brien, Youth Leadership for a long time. And we run leadership programs for high school sophomores all throughout the United States, but also in 40 other countries around the world. I know we have a, a big Canadian audience and I got to do the program at University of Guelph. Nice. A couple years ago. That was great. with some really epic Western Ontario friends. Nice. And Hopi was kind of my, my intro to education. I feel like. I started volunteering when I was 15.

Dave Levi (04:00):

I’ve not gone away and I had a great opportunity, I think to work with small groups of high school students, but also to realize that, as you say, small, consistent actions matter when you’re do behind the scenes before you get to climb the ladder, you know, and you’re getting, you know, drinks for speakers, you’re setting up chairs, you’re running around making sure everything is, is ready to go. And those things make the program special for the student ambassadors, whether they know it or not. so I think that was a really great intro to education that and sleepaway Camp. I worked at a camp called Independent Lake for many years, which has a circus so you can do flying trap PEs and juggling. and I got to be a counselor there and work with a lot of students and I knew after that that’s, that’s what I wanted to do. And I was very lucky because I have a, my middle school librarian became the head of a school and she saw me when I was in college and said, If you wanna be a middle school teacher, call me in four years. And I did. And then I got to work with her. So, very lucky opportunity

Sam Demma (05:01):

For those educators who know absolutely nothing about Hobi. Do you wanna give them a little rundown what it is, why it’s so special and important to you, and why they should look into it for maybe even their own kids?

Dave Levi (05:12):

Yeah. First of all, you should all look into it. Hobi is a youth leadership program for high school sophomores. And we run programs for students from public charter and private schools. And it is a three day weekend in which we focus on individual group and leadership for society. So we bring in speakers who are experts in a variety of areas like Sam and the kids get to learn from those speakers and sort of ask questions and make connections with both the speakers, but also with their peers about ways that they can make a difference right now. They don’t have to wait until they’re an adult. A society sees them to be a leader. They can, they can sort of get going in their communities right away. We do a lot of community service projects. so this year the group worked to Clean Horse Tack and all kinds of other materials for a nearby barn.

Dave Levi (06:02):

It was quite a hefty project. That stuff gets real muddy. we’ve also gone to soup kitchens. We have gone to retirement homes. We have been very busy and we do service projects throughout the year afterward. and the connections that the kids make through these panel opportunities, through games and simulations, through service projects is very, very powerful. And I think they really walk away a change person. It’s only three days. but they come back as alumni. We do service projects together throughout the year. we have an international program called the World Leadership Congress that has 400 kids from 20 different countries. It’s like a mind blowing, you know, leadership on steroids. It’s just, it’s magical. so I love Hobie and I was very privileged to be a student ambassador as a 10th grader and I just have not gone away cause it’s great.

Sam Demma (06:52):

The experience for me, even not as a high school student, was phenomenal. And the activities, the tunnel of love, which we can talk about in a second to clarify <laugh>. but some of the, some of the things that really, I guess one of the specific things that really made an impact on me was the handwritten notes that you would write for students and that you wrote for myself and pretty much every single delegate and and person that was a part of the event. can you talk a little bit about where your habit of writing handwritten letters came from and why you think it is it matters and makes a difference?

Dave Levi (07:29):

Yeah. well I’ll think, I’ll start with my mom who’s the, the real expert behind handwritten notes, Thank you notes, birthday cards get well cards, everything. She’s got everything organized. And so I developed this habit where I, I have a stack of envelopes with everyone’s birthday, all of my connections for the whole year. And when their day approaches, I wanna make sure that I send them a handwritten birthday card. Cuz I think the message is totally different In our media era receiving mail, it’s very exciting. So I always ask my students what kind of mail they get and they’re like, I don’t get mail. I mean, occasionally there’s a magazine or there’s like a note from grandma but generally speaking they don’t get mail. And so I do a letter of correspondence with each one of them. It’s a true labor of love.

Dave Levi (08:11):

 and I ask them questions about the characters in the books we’re reading, but eventually I also ask them, you know, Hey, you did really well in the soccer game. Can you tell me more about that? Oh, I understand you’re really into robotics. Like what you know, and they can sort of take it whatever direction they want. They ask me questions too. And then I learn a lot of things about them that I would not learn if we were having an allowed conversation. There’s usually a little bit of pushback before the first letter. So they think seriously, like, I have to get out my notebook. I’ve, you’re standing right there, I forgot you. A letter like <inaudible> <laugh>. but usually after I have written them back once and they realize that the letter is very specific to them that is a, a real game changer for them. And you know, they get to talk about their favorite subject, which is them and language arts. Language arts is also their favorite subject, but <laugh>, so, and then at, at the hobi at the youth leadership program, I started leaving the notes outside of the student’s doors. So when there are dorm rooms and you know, you wake up and you’ve got, it’s like Christmas, you wake up, you got a letter, boom, how cool is that? What a way to start your day, right? Yeah.

Sam Demma (09:13):

Yeah. It was memorable and I enjoyed reading it and I keep a journal so I stay footed in there and 10 years from now I’ll look back and be like, Whoa, this guy David wrote me a letter back then. I remember that <laugh>.

Dave Levi (09:24):

Yeah, I mean I think the relationship building is probably the key to having good classroom management, having good successful educational practices. And so that’s one of several ways to do that. But I do think that kids have a real buy in. They’re like, Wow, he spent a lot of time on this. and he must really care otherwise why I do that.

Sam Demma (09:45):

How else do you build relationships with the students in your classroom? like when you think about students and the relationships you’ve built, what do you think you’ve done that’s helped facilitate those relationships?

Dave Levi (09:57):

 well it’s really important to me that I find out what their passions are. In some cases I’m helping them find their passions in other cases they already know and I just ask them a lot of questions and then I sit there and listen. there’s a lot of like, tell me more about that. Oh, that’s interesting. You know. and so I think those things are really important. And then, you know, being in their world as much as possible. They’re in the play, they’re in the basketball game, they’re in the whatever. I’m gonna go and I wanna see them in action and then I wanna be able to ask them very specific questions about what I saw the next day. And I think those things make a huge difference in terms of building relationships. I also try to build some, a lot of routines in our classroom, but also, like I tell them every day that they’re my 32 favorites, you know that I cry one tear for each one of them <laugh> that we’re apart on the sad days where we don’t have language arts. I tell them just how miserable that’s making me. I’ll recover, but it’s rough. and I think that they, they appreciate my like horrible sense of humor. <laugh> on some level. You know,

Sam Demma (10:58):

Something that also made an impact on me at Hobi was the compliments in that exercise, the tunnel of love. I’m hoping you can explain what it is. I’m not sure if it’s illegal, if you’re legally allowed to do it outside of hobie events, but maybe an educator could steal this at like the end of the year and maybe do it with their classroom as a cool little activity.

Dave Levi (11:17):

Yeah. Every educator should steal it. I think it’s really a magical experience. So we set the tone by saying this is gonna be a, a very sort of low-key, almost somber experience. And so every kid, we get them to form a human tunnel. So there are people on both sides and then someone will go through the tunnel and they’re blindfolded. And so you can sort of pull them to the side and whisper something positive that you’ve learned about them or that in a way that they impacted you. And in Hopi it only comes from three days. So it’s like really magical. The things that the people say and the things people say are surprisingly very specific. You know, it really impacted me when you said this to me when you led this activity, you know, I learned this from you and so on. And some of those relationships are, are many years deep with kid people who’ve come back to volunteer on a number of occasions.

Dave Levi (12:06):

And so as a result those connections are really deep. And so you walk through the tunnel, people are pulling you aside to say special things to you about all the things that you’ve, you’ve done. You don’t necessarily know who they are cuz you’re blindfolded and you just met, but you know that you like what they’re saying cuz it’s very nice and thoughtful. And then you get to the end and like, if you’re not crying, I mean, I, I mean impressive, but I could never get through it without crying. And then you get to get back in the tunnel. Like the tunnel just keeps growing and you get to share the same messages with, with other folks who are coming through. And it has never done anything like it. I think it’s really a magical experience. So I do, I recommend it to all educators.

Sam Demma (12:44):

Yeah, it’s a cool activity. I, that definitely stuck in my mind throughout the entire three days along with everything else about the conference. But that exercise was, I thought really cool and something that could be replicated and used in different situations to make a positive impact on youth and the people surrounding them. so tell me more about your journey through education. You’ve done a lot of volunteer work on the side. How did your career start in education And tell me about the different roles you’ve worked in and what, what brought you to where you are today?

Dave Levi (13:13):

 well I had the privilege of of starting with my middle school librarian as my boss and I got to jump right in and teach seventh grade humanities right off the bat. So it was history and English and one big party of fun. Nice. That’s how I advertised it to them. And I learned a lot in that year. I got to run the student government, which was a real experience and teach writer’s workshop, which is where the letter writing correspondence started. Nice. and I was at that school for three years, I think the most memorable student government experience. And working with student government has taught me a lot about the issues that are important to students and how I can support them. Nice. And taking that. And they were concerned about the amount of time that they had for lunch. So they made this very unique a PowerPoint presentation about all of the reasons that lunchtime should be extended.

Dave Levi (13:58):

You know what, if you wanna meet with a teacher during that time, like is it really healthy to be eating that quickly? You know, what if you’re studying for, And they had like a lot of data, it was very impressive. And so the principal was not thrilled about this presentation cuz you know, the schedule was set. And so they went on a hunger strike where they refused to eat lunch for like a week march around school with signs. And lo and behold we added 10 minutes to lunchtime and what a victory it was for those kids <laugh> to have that opportunity. other student government experiences have included with, I recently helped some kids rewrite the dress code Nice. To make sure that the dress code was focused on sort of a gender neutral language before that it was basically just written for girls.

Dave Levi (14:43):

Yeah. And the girls took issue with that as they should. And I said, we’ll rewrite it. And they did. And then they came to a faculty meeting and they presented their, their new, their new language and we went with it and that was the new dress code. And I think it’s been really powerful for those kids to know that they have a voice and they can make those things happen. And then a few years into my teaching career, I was already coaching cross country and basketball and track, which are my, my sport loves. And I had an amazing experience coaching cross country where we started with just a few kids. by the time I left that school after three years we were up to 30 kids. I had coached a state long jump champion who went on to run a university. and so when I got to the new school I thought, gosh, like this has gotta come.

Dave Levi (15:29):

 so at that time there was no sports program to speak of at that school at all. And so I thought, well, cross country is a very accessible sport for everybody. You don’t need any equipment. You just like go out in the woods or the neighborhood, whatever you can go running. And the best part to me is the ability to improve and how easily measurable it is. You know, I can say, well this time you ran this and this time you ran this and so you’re better. Like, you can’t argue with me whether you have like you made a number of passes in a basketball game that’s like a little harder to measure, although it can be. but cross country and track are just so very simple. And so we got up to the point where we had 70 kids, we won many championships.

Dave Levi (16:04):

But I think the best part was that the kids improved dramatically. They made a little tunnel as the runners came through at the end to support their teammates. and I think the culture of cross country is really special in that every runner is competing with themselves, has an opportunity to improve and their teammates really care about the success of each other. Even though it is a somewhat individual event. There’s definitely a team aspect. It’s you’re scored as a team but also people are really supporting you in those regards. And so once I had done cross country and I got together one of the first basketball teams and then I had, you know, six or seven track kids who we took to meets and they got pounded and it was an experience for everybody. you know, then I went to the head of school and said, Hey, I think our school needs an athletics program and I wanna run it and this is what I think it should look like.

Dave Levi (16:54):

And she thought that was a good idea. So it started as something that was very small. and you know, we were sort of the homecoming opponent at the beginning. but we grew to be a very competitive program with lots of participation. about 90% of the kids were participating. Wow. 170 kids were participating in track and field, which was really special. and it’s starting as early as as kindergarten. So I had five year olds out there like long jumping over the sandbox and shot putting with wiffle balls and like really learning the language. And then, you know, they’d get to middle school and I could ask them about their lead leg and trail leg and hurdles and they knew what I was talking about, which was pretty technical stuff for a 11 year old. so that was really a very neat experience to be able to build that.

Dave Levi (17:40):

 we grew to have lots of teams. You know, originally there was only one girl that wanted to play basketball. Now there’s four basketball girls basketball teams. Wow. So and she came back recently to speak to them, which was a really neat experience. So I think having kids get excited about this program and have passion for it and be proud of it was really important. And then all the leadership skills that they learned very valuable. And then their voice too. They kids wanted to start a baseball team and I said, If you can find 15 kids and an adult to, to coach you, I will do everything else. I didn’t actually think that they would, but they did. And so then lo and behold there was a baseball team and the same thing happened with girls lacrosse. And so that’s been really exciting to be able to build a program into something I’m really passionate about to help schools kind of get that off the ground.

Dave Levi (18:29):

And I think it increased the brand dramatically. You know, we’re all over the place competing against schools double our size and to make the kids know that I took and bring it back to the letter writing thing, I wrote an email after every game highlighting the accomplishments of every kid with a line that was specific to each person. Damn. and so the kids, you know, I was like reading about themselves in the New York Times and I think they felt really special and I know parents forwarded onto their grandparents and aunts and uncles and there were like hundreds of them cuz I would do them after every game. So it was really, I thought I enjoyed being able to retell the story. Yeah. And I think the kids then knew that it was really important. Whether they made the buzzer beating jump shot or they, you know, just were in a good defensive stance that day, I was gonna find something to highlight them. and I think that stuff is, that’s been a really special part of my experience is being able to combine athletics and teaching so that kids know I see them in in multiple places and understand them.

Sam Demma (19:31):

What a powerful, another powerful example of just compassion and showing how much you care. and just making people feel seen and heard and how much of a difference that makes. I’m surprised you didn’t say baseball was one of your favorite sports, knowing that your parents own a mini, a little stadium <laugh> and run a team. You better careful think they listen, listen to this

Dave Levi (19:52):

<laugh>. but yeah, no baseball all super fun. and the Orioles had a winning record this year. So we can, we can be excited about that at

Sam Demma (20:01):

The start. It’s all the same. Can’t say the same about the Blue Jays, but yeah, that’s a, it’s for another time. <laugh>.

Dave Levi (20:06):

Yeah. I had a, I had a really powerful moment when I played basketball, which is that we had, there was like 30 seconds left and one of my teammates said, Listen, give me the ball and then after I score, no one’s gonna celebrate. We’re just gonna pretend that we don’t care. That it doesn’t matter. We’re gonna be excellent sports by just shaking hands and walking out here we can celebrate on the bus. And that moment really, really impacted me. So now if we’re ever in a a close game, I will tell the kids, you know, regardless of the outcome we’re just gonna be like, cool. We came, we played, we had fun. Yeah. And we can, we can debrief later, but we’re gonna make sure that people leave having a good experience from the opportunity to play us.

Sam Demma (20:45):

Mm. I love that. I, I’m curious, sometimes people struggle with getting students to buy into any programs they’re running. The fact that you were able to, and you know, you and other staff and the entire school culture, you were able to create this environment where from one student starting four, you know, girls basketball teams, that’s like pretty significant. H how do you start engaging the population of a school to get involved and engaged in programs, sports or other programs?

Dave Levi (21:16):

Well, I think part of it is if you have a passion for a sport or a club or a team that you wanna start the first thing is to just go around and tell people that it’s your passion. Say I’m doing this, you wanna come do it with me. there is not one kid that I have not spoken to about running cross country. Mm.

Sam Demma (21:34):

At the whole school

Dave Levi (21:35):

In the whole school. And a lot of those kids have heard it from me over and over again. And they’re, they could, they could deal with a different conversation topic if I, if I granted that to them. But just try it one time. Just come one time, you’ll have a great time then I won’t bother you anymore. That isn’t true. But <laugh>, no, I think that show showing people that it’s important to you and, and bringing really positive energy no matter what the activity is, people are gonna gravitate towards that. and then no matter how many people you have, like just start, just say, okay, well we’re gonna meet at this time and we’re gonna do this. and create an agenda whether you’re like building a robot or you’re going for a run or you’re creating a constitution for student government, which is how we started with one kid.

Dave Levi (22:19):

 you know, I think those things are, that’s the energy that you need to bring is, you know, this is happening. And then I think the more you talk about it, the more you post flyers and you’re telling everyone about it in the hallway, people will gravitate towards that kind of energy. And, you know, being the first follower is, is a really big deal too. So I think having, having people come out and get excited about it and then over time you can build, build a history. I was told my, my class, you know, once you’re in the, once you’re in the group, you’re always in the group. and I meant it, you know, whether I’m not, I was still working at, at whatever school, you know, they’re, if I see them around the city, you know, they’re all, we’re always in the group. And I think that builds a culture of, you know, these are the records, this is the history, you know, you’re part of something bigger than yourself. but it, it oftentimes just starts with one idea.

Sam Demma (23:08):

What keeps you personally motivated and excited to show up every day and pour your energy and heart into programs and try and make a difference?

Dave Levi (23:17):

Well I think the kids are just the best. That is the, you know, the kids are really, truly never the problem. And it’s interesting because during Covid I had a lot of people tell me that their teaching experience was highly unpleasant. and you know, working on Zoom is, I mean some people work from home all the time and they’re Zoom experts, but I think most teachers were like, What is this? What is this platform? I can’t see any of the time. They don’t have their camera on what’s the deal. but for me it was like, why miss you? So I’m gonna come and show up and I wanna learn more about these kids and try to make the experience as best as possible. And if it’s a good experience for them, it’s usually gonna be a good experience for me too. So in the covid time I studied as much as I could.

Dave Levi (23:58):

I watched as many videos and reached out to as many tech experts. But at the end of the day, I think the most important thing was the kids just knew that I was still me and they were still them. And even though we were behind a screen, we were still gonna have class discussions that were the same. We even, I did cross country where we like virtually over zoom, like warmed up and did our butt kicks and hi knees in the kitchen. And I was like, this is your workout. Like go do it. you know, we had virtual dances and virtual spirit week and virtual talent show and I just think trying to find a way to make things special is important. And for me, knowing that I get to wake up every morning and go hang out with middle school kids, cuz they say to me, Why are you always so happy? And I was like, well you, you know I get to hang out with middle schoolers every day and middle schoolers are great. They’re just becoming people. It’s very exciting. They’re learning those passions that we talked about earlier, but they haven’t fully developed their views on the world, which is awesome. And so they’re willing to engage in really intense debate and they’re also willing to be sophisticated and silly. When I wear a cape and dress up is super similarly <laugh>. Like they’re into it. and they learn all kinds of comparisons. So.

Sam Demma (25:03):

Cool. Well what resources have you found helpful in your own journey as an educator and a teacher? And that could be other people, that could be podcasts, that could be books, that could be things you’ve watched that could be movies, that could be like absolutely anything. Where do you draw your learning from?

Dave Levi (25:21):

Yeah, I mean I think that people is probably the best resource and I had a really awesome opportunity early in my career where I was paired with an expert teacher, Natalie, who is just extraordinary and shout out Natalie was, yeah, shout out Natalie, she’s a rock star. And so I got to observe her in action and then she observed me in action and we compared notes. and that was really powerful in part cuz she wasn’t my boss, she was just a peer who wanted her classroom experience to be better. And I wanted my experience class, classroom experience to be better. We learned a lot from each other and I think that’s true in general, if you go to observe other master teachers doing their craft and talk to them about what makes them tick. My all time favorite teacher, Mr. Chaman from 11th grade US history, he runs a newsletter called Class Wise.

Dave Levi (26:11):

And when I told him that I was gonna be a teacher, he said, Well you know, you gotta subscribe to this. And that has taught me a lot of nice great best practices too. in terms of books, I really enjoyed the power of thinking neutral at something like that. I see. but the idea was that when you’re in a car you can put yourself in drive or you can put yourself in reverse or you can be neutral. And so while I am an enthusiast and I believe in being positive, I also think there’s a point where one needs to be realistic. So if you’re facing struggle you can just say, Okay, well today I’m gonna go to school and I have first period and we’re gonna do this lesson and I don’t know if it’s gonna go well or if it’s gonna go poorly.

Dave Levi (26:53):

I assume it will cuz I’m really good but I don’t know that. but I do know this. And so I think sharing that mentality with kids, you know, is very valuable a lot of times when they have doubt about what they can and cannot do helping them to sort of solve that puzzle is best from a neutral perspective where they’re not thinking about themselves in a, in a negative way. So I think that’s been really positive. And then also I’ve listened to quite a few episodes of the high functioning educator and seriously, I have learned, I have learned a lot, I’ve been very impressed with all of the best practices of many people you’ve interviewed. So thanks to those who came before me.

Sam Demma (27:32):

Yeah. And thanks for sharing those. I love those ideas. If you could take your experiences in education, bundle ’em all up, hop in a time traveling car, go back not to the future, back to the past and you know, walk into the first day you started teaching in a classroom setting and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey David, this is what you’re, you need to hear right now. What advice would you give yourself? Not because you wanna change what unfolded or your pathway, but because you thought it would be helpful to hear it at the start of your teaching journey?

Dave Levi (28:08):

Yeah, I mean I think the first thing is not to take it so seriously. Hmm. I think we have a lot of, well a lot of teachers were star students and so they are sort of perfectionists and so, you know, people spend hours planning their lessons in the same way that they plan them in university, which really has very little application to the actual experience in the classroom. And then if kids are talking out of turn or they don’t seem a hundred percent engaged or they say something to you that you wish you didn’t hear I think those things can really throw you off course and they just don’t really matter that much. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I also think there’s a lot of pressure from administrators whether it’s from observations or turning in your lesson plans or whatever that feels really important in the moment, but actually is just like a blip on the radar.

Dave Levi (29:03):

It’s just one day out of 180. And so I think knowing some of those things is great. I also think that having routines in the classroom is absolutely essential and I did not, I didn’t really know that when I started teaching and I didn’t have great routines and the kids, well it’s sort of their job as, as you know, first year teacher, seventh grader just gonna give you a hard time. That’s like they, and they, they nailed that job. I have discussed that with lots of them since then who are now adults and they’re like, Yeah, you were young and you were new and we were just gonna, we were gonna give it to you. and they did. They, I mean we had fun. We learned a lot. Yeah. but they did not make it easy. And so I think having routines in terms of we’re gonna do this for the warmup, we’re gonna get out our planner and we’re gonna do this. And letting the kids know what what’s coming is really valuable because they really benefit I think from being able to plan ahead and then you can do all kinds of fun activities within that framework once you have sort of a structure planned out.

Sam Demma (30:04):

Gotcha.

Dave Levi (30:05):

I would add, if you say you’re gonna do something, you gotta really do it. so kids remember everything and even if it’s a small thing, if you tell them that you’re gonna do something, then you need to deliver.

Sam Demma (30:17):

I always tell students when you tell someone you’re gonna do something, you put your reputation on the line and if you don’t do it, your reputation in the other person’s mind who you promise something to slightly decreases. Like when I tell my dad every Wednesday, I’m gonna take out the recycling. If I don’t do it <laugh>, I know my dad’s gonna be thinking about me <laugh>. And I think it’s the same for everybody, but probably especially young people because they are looking up to you as that, you know, as their role model. and you don’t wanna let them down. Right?

Dave Levi (30:50):

Absolutely. Absolutely. I want them to, I mean, it is okay for them to see me make mistakes cause I make mistakes all the time. And we work through that together. Actually, it’s funny, I give them, I call them grammar dinosaurs, I give them a sticker when I make a grammatical mistake on like a handout or nice whatever. And so usually they put those on their binder or their water bottle, but this year they have taken to putting them on the wall so they can document all of the mistakes that I’ve made. And we’re got, we got a whole menagerie up there of dinosaurs at the moment, so I got up my game I guess. But I appreciate that they’re taking this with a grain of salt and they’re holding me accountable too, which is important. Yeah. Cause it goes in place.

Sam Demma (31:29):

That’s awesome. Very cool. Well if someone’s listening to this and has been at all inspired or intrigued by some of the things you’ve shared or the stories you’ve talked about, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you and ask a question?

Dave Levi (31:41):

Well they can, they can email me at davidasherlevy@gmail.com. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter with all the same handles, and I would love to hear from other high functioning educators and compare notes ’cause as I said earlier, I think that’s the key to, to success in the classroom and on the court and on the field.

Sam Demma (32:08):

Awesome. David, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Appreciate it big time my friend. Keep up the great work and we will talk very soon.

Dave Levi (32:15):

Looking forward to it, Sam, thanks so much. It’s real honor.

Sam Demma (32:19):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dave Levy

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.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma – Program Leader at the Halton District School Board & Practicum Advisor at Brock University

Dr. Sunaina Sharma - Program Leader at the Halton District School Board and Practicum Advisor at Brock University
About Dr. Sunaina Sharma

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (@DrSunainaSharma) is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over twenty years of experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, ON. She strives to put the learner’s needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning so that students participate in authentic and relevant knowledge construction.

Her doctoral research centred on understanding how to leverage digital technology in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at a Bachelor of Education program, she uses her knowledge, skills and experience to guide future educators.

Connect with Sunaina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board – HDSB

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Dr. Susaina Sharma’s Personal Website

Google Workplace

Ted.com

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over 20 years experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, Ontario. She strives to put the learners needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning, so that students are participating in authentic and relevant knowledge construction. Her doctoral research is centered on understanding how to leverage digital technologies in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at Brock University at a Bachelor of Education program, she is using her knowledge, skills, and experience to guide future educators. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Sunania Sharma and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. And today we are joined with a very special guest, Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma actually uses one of my TED talks in her classroom, <laugh> which prompted her to reach out, and I’m so excited to have her on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:18):

Hi, I’m Sunaina Sharma and I have been an educator for over 20 years, and despite all the challenges, it is still my passion.

Sam Demma (02:30):

What made it your passion over, or I guess 20 years ago, what started this journey for you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:36):

It’s an interesting story because I never intended to become a teacher. My path was set. I was going to go to law school and I was going to be a family lawyer. upon graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree, I walked down the street from where I lived to the local high school and asked if anyone needed a volunteer because I graduated and I wanted to have more experience working with youth. And an English teacher at that school, Mo leaking, said, Oh, I’d love to have you join my class. My grade elevens are writing essays and they could use some help. So I started by going in twice a week. And what Mr. Leaking did with his students in that classroom was magic. His students were excitedly engaged and I wanted to be a magician like him. So I actually rescinded my acceptance to law school and set up on the path to attain my Bachelor of education.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned Mr. Leaking was a magician of sorts. What exactly did you witness in his class that got you so excited about doing something similar with your own group of students?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (03:47):

So what he was doing with his students in his classroom was completely different from what I experienced in high school. My high school experience wasn’t very positive and I just remember copying notes and wrote memorization and weekly quizzes and monthly tests. And what he was doing was there was such an energy and excitement in the classroom. There was so much noise and movement, but it was all very planned and calculated. So if you looked through the window of his classroom, it looked chaotic, but it was all like organized chaos. It was so much fun to be in that room. I went from volunteering twice a week to four or five times a week. I just wanted to be in that room.

Sam Demma (04:31):

Oh, that’s so awesome. And what took you from that room to where you are today? Tell me a little bit about your journey through education.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (04:39):

Okay. So I completed my Bachelor of Education in 2001 and immediately got hired by the Halton District School Board at the school that I volunteered at No Way <laugh>. So that, that opportunity allowed me to build connections, real connections with students, but also other educators in the building. So I ended up working for that school until it closed in 2018. And that school was amalgamated into the school that I am currently at, which is mm, Robinson in Burlington. Nice. And I’ve been at that, I’ve been at that school for four years along the way. I do love learning and figuring out how to be a better teacher. That’s always at the root of all of my learning and experiences that I seek out. So along the way, I ended up attaining my master’s degree, my master’s of education, and then I thought I was done, but then I wasn’t and ended up completing my PhD in 2018. So I have my PhD in education. Nice. So with that opportunity, it’s allowed me, I am a department head or program leader in my school. It’s allowed me to not only inspire and engage the people I work with, but it’s also allowed me to work in a Bachelor of education program in mentoring and guiding our future teachers,

Sam Demma (06:03):

Which is such an important role. I think teachers when performing very well and making genuine connections with their classrooms have a very big impact on the future being the kids that are gonna be running the future and being a part of it. I think back to an educator I had in my life who, like Mr. Leaking for you created an environment that all the students in his class wanted to be in. you know, over the past couple of years things have been quite different and a little bit challenging. I’m curious in your roles, what are some of the challenges you’re faced with right now and, and kind of how are you coming, coming, getting out of or getting over some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (06:43):

Yeah, definitely the current challenges that students are struggling in the classroom after two years of disruptive learning, they do have gaps. And as such, when they encounter difficulty, they get frustrated and the outcome is they’re giving up, they’re struggling to persevere, to overcome the challenges and the obstacles.

Sam Demma (07:03):

Gotcha. H how as as an educator do you kind of support or help a student get over that or get through it? <laugh>

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (07:12):

It’s, it’s offering care and support. We always have to remember that our students are children. Mm. Although they like to present themselves as adults, they are children and we as educators are in a position to teach them we need to reestablish or reteach them. That learning involves failing. Mm. Somehow they’ve learned along the way that failing is bad or wrong and that’s where the unlearning needs to come. And we really need to reinforce that failing is part of learning and they have to fail forward.

Sam Demma (07:46):

I love that. I think back to soccer, growing up as an athlete, our coach would always sit us down after a terrible performance and instead of scolding us, would provide us with the opportunity to chat about it with all of our teammates to try and identify what went wrong and what we could learn from so that, you know, in the future, similar situations wouldn’t unfold again. And it felt like he helped us look at failure as a stepping stone rather than a, you know, an a dead end. So I think that’s a really important lesson to share with young people. what gives you hope? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up to work every single day and put your best foot forward?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (08:25):

Students and my colleagues give me hope. Students since 2020 actually have gone through four different modes of learning and they continue to still come to school every day and try their best and engage My colleagues give me hope because they’re always reflecting and learning. My department does not have the course binder that we keep reusing every semester or every year. We’re constantly revisiting our courses to make them better. Our courses never remain static. And the fact that my colleagues are willing to put in the work every summer to make the courses better for the upcoming year is inspiring.

Sam Demma (09:06):

I love that. you mentioned thinking about failure not as a challenge, but it’s something to learn from. I’m curious, among your own journey, if there are certain mistakes you’ve made or certain situations that have happened in your career that you’ve learned from that you think are worth sharing with other educators who might be listening?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (09:25):

Yeah, that’s a great question cuz it actually is gonna allow me to talk about my PhD research. I used to think technology engages students and over the years I would encounter various professional development opportunities that introduced me to new technology and that would peak my interest. And I would go home and spend the whole evening planning this amazing lesson for the next day. And the next day as the students would walk into class, I would be excited because I thought I had this amazing lesson planned. And on a number of occasions there was detachment, disinterest, and complete disengagement. The students were not compelled with this lesson that I spent hours the night before planning. So that would have to result in me going to my teacher’s toolbox to just come up with something different for the day. But this happened a number of times and it led me to want to explore the relationship between digital technology and student engagement.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (10:28):

I have seen the power of technology to engage students who have previously been disengaged, but I’ve also seen that sometimes they, the technology itself is what causes them to disconnect. So that actually is what inspired my PhD research because I couldn’t figure out why does technology work sometimes and why doesn’t it work other times? And I learned it’s not the technology that actually engages them, it’s what the technology allows them to do. It’s the outcome. Mm. So if the technology allows students to collaborate, connect, and construct their own knowledge, then it will engage them. So if you’re using technology in a different way than you should dump the use of the technology.

Sam Demma (11:16):

Tell me more about some of the tech tools that you have come across in your journey that you often go back to and consistently use because you think they allow students and teachers to have those three types of interactions.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (11:32):

It’s nothing new. Often I think as teachers we’re looking for the new thing, but it’s often going back to the tools that we have and using them in a different way. Hmm. So for example if you attempt to have a class discussion, you’re always gonna have these few students that are participating in the class discussion. Often all your other students in the classroom have a lot to say, but for whatever reason they’re not raising their hands. Sometimes they just need more time to process to articulate their ideas or they feel like they’re being dominated by this other strong voices in the classroom. So one thing that I do is I’ll have a class discussion on a Google doc. We all use Google Docs, but to suddenly use a Google Doc for a class discussion allows students to carefully read each other’s thoughts process and then thoughtfully share their ideas. When I post a Google Doc as a class discussion, I will typically get 100% participation on that Google Doc. So again, it’s not a brand new tech tool, it’s using the tools that we already have at our fingertips in a different way so that students are able to collaborate and connect and construct their own knowledge.

Sam Demma (12:47):

And if working in groups, each of the groups could have a different color font selected so you could very quickly and live see the edits happening on the document, which is really, really awesome. I think that’s a, that’s so cool that you use Google Docs. I had never have used in a classroom Google Docs live with my classmates and my teacher. I think that’s a really cool idea. So thanks for sharing. you know, we talked a little bit about the learning around technology. what are some things that keep you motivated personally outside of technology? Cuz it seems like it’s a big part of your career. <laugh>,

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (13:29):

The people who I surround myself with are always the ones that are motivating me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we all have our days where it’s just, it’s not a good day, but suddenly you’ll enter a building and the people around you inspire you. I think educators are incredible people and we are resilient and never give up and that’s what we want to inspire in our students. I’m always working to try and build that self-efficacy and capacity in other educators around me. And this year I’ve actually received a great opportunity. I’m actually on a leave from my teaching position for one year. So I can take on this opportunity as a instructor and practicum advisor in a Bachelor of education program. That way I’m working with our future educators to motivate and inspire them. And it’s really interesting. I entered the program to motivate and inspire them and it has been so motivating for me to see our future educators. They are lifelong learners, they are dedicated to making school positive and they’re dedicated to making positive change in the schools.

Sam Demma (14:43):

Hmm. That must be a pretty cool experience working with the future educators of tomorrow. Right now. I’m curious maybe this, you’ve been in that role for a short period of time so it won’t be as applicable, but tell me about a story or a situation where a program that you ran or maybe you in a program you were a part of had a big impact on a student, whether that’s an educator as a student or an actual student in a high school or middle school.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (15:11):

Yeah. I’ll tell you about our English program at our high school and then I can kind of share a little nugget of information on how that impacted my Bachelor of education program. Sure. But I don’t have a single story cuz how do you capture an amazing program? In, in one story, while I’ll give you a little snapshot, our entire English program focuses on the overarching umbrella of equity. So in our Grade 10 program, our students choose a graphic novel from a selection of nine. And one of the students chose to read a graphic novel and she said, I’ve never read a book for school that had a Muslim character. She’s wearing a hijab. And for me that was impactful because she saw herself in something that she was reading for school. our English program in grade 11 has students identifying what they see as a problem that is impacting equity or is creating an equity.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:12):

And they work to identify a solution and try to inspire a larger audience through media to tackle that problem. And that allowed, so one of the grade 11 students actually took on a project to advocate for change. It took her to our school principal, it took her to the parent council, it took her, took her to our school board, and the result was change. she advocated for menstrual products in all hdsp bathrooms regardless of the fact that they were male bathrooms or female bathrooms. And now Htsp has implemented that across the board and that came from a grade 11 students English project.

Sam Demma (16:53):

Wow. So

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:55):

The impact of our program is that students are seeing themselves, seeing our community, seeing their global world, and they’re inspired to use their voice for positive change. So I was sharing a little bit of our program with my Bachelor of Education program students and one of my students started to get emotional. So I, I went over and said, Is everything okay? Cuz regardless of the fact that they’re adults, they’re still my students. Yeah. And they’re all humans. And she said, and she began to share a hurtful comment that a teacher had made about her eyes because she’s of Asian descent. And she said, What you are doing in your school with your English program is what I want to do, and now I realize it can be done. Mm. So I think the, when students see themselves in the curriculum, it is so powerful not only for those students, but for us as educators to see that positive impact.

Sam Demma (17:58):

Those nine books, it sounds like, you know, those resources had a big impact on that one student who saw herself in the material shared. I’m wondering for your own personal and professional development, if you have come across any resources throughout your own learning journey that you found really helpful. And this could also be peers but if there’s any books or courses or videos or people you follow that you found helpful what are some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (18:30):

I don’t like to say this is the golden title. Yeah. This is the Golden Book. As I mentioned, we’re constantly changing our program. We’re on a four year cycle, so every four years we kind of revisit and say, Okay, is this outdated? Should we keep this or should we remove it? So I’m reluctant to name a title, but the news, we’re constantly using the news and having students look at the news. It’s so important. They’re aware of what’s happening in our world. We like to live in this little, I call it the Burlington bubble, but we need to be aware of what’s going on around us. The news is a great resource for me. Also, Ted, that’s how I stumbled across your TED Talk. We use your TED Talk. I think Ted Talk is the platform that we’re trying to create in our students. We want our students to know that their voice matters. Sometimes they say, Why does anyone wanna hear about this? And you go to TED Talk and you hear these amazing pitches or speeches or presentations on topics that you would think maybe wouldn’t have a large audience, but they do. So TED Talk and the news for me are great resources and tools, also documentaries. Hmm.

Sam Demma (19:49):

Awesome. I love that. I, I would love for you to send me <laugh> outside of this podcast, a list of awesome documentaries for my own pleasure watching <laugh>. So please do. is there anything that you would share or say to an educator right now who is feeling a little bit burnt out, a little uninspired and needing not a full pep talk, but maybe some words of advice? and if that person walked into your office at Brock and told you that, what would you kind of share with them?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (20:22):

I would tell them to just take a deep breath and you’re not the only one. Lots of fe people are feeling burnt out and tired. with the ch with the changes in our students and their own self-efficacy they are needing our care and support more so than before the pandemic. I would continue to affirm to them that they are amazing and they’re great. Keep doing your best. If you are doing your best, that’s what matters. And if you’re feeling like you need some support, you really need to count on the people around you. Everyone’s a team and we’re all working together. That’s the case in my department, in the school that I work at, but also in the Bachelor of Education program with the other instructors in the cohort. We’re always leaning on each other for care and support. So I would tell that burnt out teacher, you’re doing great. Take a deep breath. Is there anything that people around you can help support you through?

Sam Demma (21:28):

Mm. Love that. That’s awesome. Well keep up the amazing work that you’re doing with educators. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:44):

The best way to find me is on twitter. I think twitter is such a great way to connect with others from around the world to engage in professional dialogue.

Sam Demma (21:53):

Awesome. What would your Twitter handle be?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:56):

@drsunainasharma

Sam Demma (21:58):

Okay. Awesome. Sunaina thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast here today. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk to you soon.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (22:06):

Thank you so much Sam.

Sam Demma (22:08):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Sunaina Sharma

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

John (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario

John (João) Linhares - Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario
About John Linhares

John Linhares (@MrJLinhares), is the Vice Principal at St André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in Education in the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education Program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board as well as in the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the DCDSB’s virtual school which was home to over 3600 students.

John truly believes in an inclusive model for education, and strives to get to know each one of his students’ and their God-given special gifts and talents. He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st Century learning in the classroom to help engage students today and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a life-long learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out-of-the-box perspective.

Connect with John: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St André Bessette Catholic School

York University – Concurrent Education Program

Toronto Catholic District School Board – TCDSB

Durham Catholic District School Board – DCDSB

DCDSB virtual school

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:57):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is someone that I see walking around my block almost every single week. His name is John Linhares. John is the vice principal at John (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in education the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, as well as the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Virtual school, which was home to over 3,600 students. John truly believes in an inclusive model for education and strives to get to know each one of his students and their God-given special gifts and talents.

Sam Demma (01:50):

He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st century learning in the classroom to help engage students today, and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a lifelong learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out of the box perspective. I hope you enjoy this conversation with John, and I will see you on the other side. Today, we have a very special guest. I actually see him a couple times a week while walking around the block. <laugh>. His name is John Linhares. John, please feel free to introduce yourself.

John Linhares (02:33):

Hey Sam. Thanks so much. Yeah, I feel like we should be walking right now, actually. Cause Yeah, we’re always like crossing past, like crossing ships here. I’m John Linhares and I’m super excited to, to be here with you. I’ve seen you in person in your inspirational conversations and your inspirational presentations with our schools. You know, I’ve been following you as well the last couple of years, and I just was very happy to take on this, this little invite to come in on your show for a bit.

Sam Demma (03:00):

So you’re in education, what do you do? How did you get into it?

John Linhares (03:05):

So, yeah, so it’s it’s been a pretty long, like I’m not kind of, I was that kid who grew up basically knowing that I wanted be a teacher okay. And I would wind up my toys and all that. I pretend, and I was an only child, so the creativity had to come out. And yeah, so I know I, so from a young age I wanted to do that and started teaching in 2000. So it’s been essentially 22 years. And I love it. Obviously I do love it. The pandemic kicked in and another passion, the minus technology. So when the pandemic kicked in, we were all went virtual Yeah. Class. When virtual, I just felt this urge to be like, Listen, I need to help out more. At the time I was kind of in a small bubble of classes and could only help out a few people, I guess.

John Linhares (03:49):

And were reaching out to a few people to help them out. So that kind of inspired me to wanna help more people. And so I reached out to some people at the boards, listened, You guys need help with, with, you know, getting people on board with their classes and helping out. Like, what are we gonna do in the situation? you know, let me know. So that’s how I, I got on board with that. And as luck would take it, you know, the next step into my career was becoming a vice principal. And just led me to this path to being a vice principal. And the first school that I was a vice principal at was the German Catholic virtual elementary school. First of its kind created or we were announced of it, ironically, the morning of my interview come vice principal <laugh>.

John Linhares (04:33):

So I’m like listening to this like broadcast by the director and a few principals and superintendents and you know, I’m like waiting. Cause they, they, you know, I had my interview, let’s say at 10 30 and they said, Listen, your might be late. They’ve got this, you know, this big ment they’re making out to the whole board. So I’m like, Gary, no worries, I’ll just listen in. And then once that’s done, then I’ll pop on the zoom. It’s all good. And I remember hearing about this virtual school, I’m like, That’s it. That’s where I, to me, and went into my interview and saying, You know what, at the end of it, I just made a pitch for it. And yeah, I have to say three years later I’m still with the virtual program here with German Catholic. And it’s been quite the journey for sure.

Sam Demma (05:13):

What are some of the things about working with the virtual school that you absolutely love? I think over the past couple of years people have realized how important technology is, but before that may have resented it a little bit and always, or, you know, preferred the in person learning, which has both have pros and cons, but what are some of the things that you love about the virtual school?

John Linhares (05:35):

A hundred percent. Like I think that you’ve nailed it there. That there are, again, I think for me, I’ve always loved technology and I’ve always embraced it and I’ve always helped a lot my colleagues who don’t feel comfortable with it. Right? Like there’s a bit of a fear out there when it comes to it. And so just helping out my colleagues in that sense and new my students to move through those things is really key. Yeah. but with the ver the thing that, that I love the most is that when I get passionate about is when I hear kind of people kind of dismiss it and that it is not a viable option. And I have to disagree with that wholeheartedly, especially after seeing some of our kids. Listen, it’s not for everybody, a hundred percent. It is not for everyone. you know, we know that being in person with people and all that is definitely a great place to be.

John Linhares (06:19):

However, for some of our students, they do struggle in person. Like they have a hard time going to class every day. They have to put on a big front to be there for whatever reason, be on anxiety, be it social anxiety, be it just having a hard time reading people sometimes. Yeah. So just the overall, like too much noise going on or just too much business going on, you know what I mean? So for them, they’re succeeding in virtual and that in that reason alone I feel very passionate about it, that it does work for a lot of a few of our kids. not for everyone. Definitely for those kids that they do well and they succeed in, Yeah, I think we have to provide the best that we can for them. A hundred percent.

Sam Demma (07:02):

Where did your passion or love for technology come from? Did you grow up playing Atari in nta? I did. I

John Linhares (07:10):

<laugh> I saw it all summer actually. That little like little joy signal that Yeah, a hundred percent. No, I, I’m actually not a massive gamer, to be honest with you. Yeah. but I think just the creative side, I am very creative. I, I’m a bit of an artist and I think just dabbling into that creative side of things. sorry, my email will probably continue dinging as we do this. Okay. All good. It’s it’s it’s just something that I always kind of tapped into enjoyed. I just like the creative process of the technology side of it. And then I remember years ago, God, it’s really 2004 I got involved in this program in schools and it was about differentiating. So that is that, you know, we don’t, when we teach, we look at the kid and like what their talents are and what they’re about.

John Linhares (07:51):

And it’s, think of the same assignment to everybody. For an example, you may have a choice of assignments so that, you know, if you are artistic, you can tap into this assignment. If you’re more of a writing type person, you can tap into that. If you’re more of an oral person, you can go and tap into that and create a presentation on this, Right? There’s no need to have everybody doing the exact same thing. So from that project that I did there was some ministry funding for smart boards, which I’m sure you probably noticed Smart board is, but for South <inaudible>. And that is basically something that, gosh, that was like what almost 20 years ago wasn’t very heard of, but something that started coming out because it was helping, again, a few students in the classroom to engage in their classroom, Right? Get to a little more shy kid who may have you know, some issues with their writing.

John Linhares (08:36):

They were actually able to communicate their learning through the smart board in the classroom. So it became a little bit of a project. And I remember the school I was at, nobody had a smart board at the time. We were one of the first primary, or the first elementary classes to try and out. And by the time I left that school, three years later, every single classroom had a smart board. Yeah. So all these kids were engaging and just like, excited about it and just really, again, igniting, reignited about their learning, which was awesome. And then I went from another school and the same process happened. I got there no smart boards. I’m like, that’s not happening. I, I’m by my own or you guys are, find the funding for it. And sure enough, they’re like, Oh, no, we’ll support you. Right. And so, yeah, so I got a smart board and then again, five years later, every classroom had one in that school. So it’s, it, it’s your motto, Basical, that you bring on your mantra, right? Like it’s small things. Yeah. Small. Its in actions, it’s small, consistent even like little projects, little things that carry on. Right. So

Sam Demma (09:34):

Yeah, big time. You peak my interest when you mentioned you’re a little bit of an artist, you can take out the little bit of a part and tell me a little bit about the artist side of John <laugh>.

John Linhares (09:43):

Oh gosh. Yeah. So the artist side of John is like, I know I totally self-taught. I just always loved drawing, you know, doodling, that kind of stuff. Yeah. And, and then just explored it more as I grew, grew older and had my own time to explore different genres and that kind of stuff. I love going to art galleries and, and going to like installations. Like we’ve launched all that Toronto and all that kind of stuff. I see. and then that, that actually led me to working at All Saints Catholic school, which about five years ago now, six years ago opened up our first arts and media program which was very exciting. Cuz again, there are other boards that have art specific schools and our board did not. It was a lot, It was an air that was lacking and I was super excited to get on board with that. And was the grades the grade eight teacher there, one of the grade eight teachers there, but also teaching the visual arts to our grades seven and eight students. So that year, the few years that I was there, definitely a highlight in my career because it was you know, marrying my two passions of, well, three passions of teaching technology and also art. So was great.

Sam Demma (10:49):

It’s, it’s such a unique perspective and story because I think sometimes certain people veer students away from artistic pursuits because they might not be quote, realistic. and I’m curious to know your perspective, like when you see that in a student that they have a passion for an artistic field and you know, one day I wanna work full, you know, full time in, in an artistic industry. How do you kind of guide them or what, what do you share with them when they tell you that?

John Linhares (11:20):

Yeah, for sure. That’s like, I think compared to like several things, I think for myself, like I always wanted to be a teacher. Yeah. But I also thought, okay, I don’t wanna have just one path, right? You don’t wanna down any doors like that. So I always say like, try to keep as, as many doors open as possible and I’m, and I’m listening with kids, right? I’m not gonna be like, Yeah, no, you can be the best artist, you can be the next van goal. Like, listen man famous after they were dead, that’s not gonna help goal <laugh>. So that’s just the truth, right? So like, yeah, I do tell them absolutely keep going at it. And, and for some of these kids might get here some great programs that you should look into, be it the arts that we have, be it, you know, going to OK ad looking at term whatever, right?

John Linhares (11:58):

There’s ways that you can pursue that. But I always say there’s almost like a plan A and plan B, right? The arts are something that you can do that fuel your soul and you know, you can do it on the side or you can do it in conjunction with another job or another passion of yours, right? So just dealing with both of those, I think it’s the same about kind of conversation. We’re talking about an athlete, right? Like you have a kid, fantastic athlete in school and absolutely don wanna crush everybody’s dream, right? Like, yes, you can do this, absolutely, but at the end of the day, don’t close any doors. So what else you have? And you can try and aim for both or keep both going concurrently. Absolutely. Yeah.

Sam Demma (12:33):

Yeah. No, that’s great advice. what keeps you motivated personally to get up out bed every single day and keep doing the work you’re doing?

John Linhares (12:42):

Yeah, I think I honestly today’s rule teachers day, so I’m gonna say again big shout out to all the teachers out there. They I’m back in there. Yeah. You know, it’s, and I know that, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of stuff going on in education as always, but the impact and when any of us look back to our lives and how we raised and and our lives, there’s always the one or two teachers that really impact us. And they’re the ones that guide us along our path and, and help us along. And cuz we we’re parents, like for the most part of the day when we’re with these people more than we are with our families on home, right? So and sometimes you click really well with, with people with a teacher and sometimes it does work, right?

John Linhares (13:26):

But at the end of the day, there’s always that one or two that you’re going to make that connection with. And so that to me is honestly what keeps me going. It’s those connections with the students. and the beauty of it now, like now that I’ve been in it, is now my 22nd, 23rd year in education, you know, this, looking back, some of these kids that I had when I first started teaching we’re still in contact with each other. They’ve now got families, they’re now grown up. They pursued their dreams and, and their goals and I know they’ll come over for dinner, we’ll meet up somewhere for, for coffee. And it’s, it’s just neat to see these adults now, right? Like they’re not kids forever. They grow up and they, they become these amazing human beings who are doing good in our planet. That’s the most rewarding part. Like, that’s the thing. Like who am I gonna go out today and perhaps put a smile on their face that I’m gonna make their day go a little better today? Mm. That’s what motivat Yeah, for sure.

Sam Demma (14:18):

You mentioned because of World Teachers Day, how important the role of educators are and how most people have those one or two educators that make a really big difference on their development as a child, as a young person. When you think back to when you were in school, can you identify any of those teachers that had a big impact on you? and if so, like what did they do for you that you think made such a big impact?

John Linhares (14:46):

I was asked to reflect on this this morning cause I was watching a TV show in the morning, my morning TV show. I got night to get about five o’clock. Five o’clock is my time to get up, have my quiet time with a family at home. You know, it’s just nice to have that time to not be talking to anyone and not be stopping problem. Just sit there with my coffee and leave me alone with nothing <laugh>. Right. And so the TV show was watch this morning though, my morning TV show. They, they were talking about this, reflecting on that as well. And I couldn’t pitch for it. One or two people, to be honest with you. I had a series of tea of teachers that I, I think I can go back and I can name all of them and I can name probably one way that they did impact me, Right?

John Linhares (15:19):

Or they helped me along or somehow saw in me something that they felt they needed to be bring to bring out. So that I can’t say, but I can. So the one conversation that stood out to it was actually a teacher, a young teacher my first or second year. And I was chatting with an older teacher who was near retirement and she nailed it. And she said to me, and she’s like, Listen, the main thing about our profession or anything in life is that you just have to remember this. And I said, Okay, I’m listening all yours. She said, It doesn’t matter what you do for me, it’s how you make me feel. Mm.

John Linhares (15:55):

How you make me feel. I go with that statement and, and my, that statement is in the back of my mind, I have to say every hour of my day. Mm. And it was like a three second conversation that we had outside one day and it was after school. And that just stuck with me. And I’m like, you’re so ranked, it doesn’t matter. Like I can do whatever actions that I want to right. Or whatever. But at the end of the day, it’s that feeling like how when I meet someone, when I’m leaving someone, how am I letting them feel about themselves at that moment, right? Like, how leaving them, are they feeling better about themselves? Are they feeling like that they have a smile on their face? Do they feel better than they were five minutes ago? That’s what I’m going towards to be honest with you. And I mean, sometimes I fail and sometimes I, I do okay. But that statement just stuck in me, Sam. Like that’s just something that I totally hold near and near to my heart and, and as a human being, I feel it’s very important to totally describe to you.

Sam Demma (16:46):

Yeah, the educator who changed my life made me feel like there was hope when I felt like there was none, not, it wasn’t even about his curriculum <laugh>, although his, his teachings were great, but it was how I left his semester feeling about myself and what was possible for me that I really remember and sticks with me to this day. So I think that is so true and you’re absolutely right. Not only in education, but regarding whatever you choose to do. All of our interactions hopefully leave other people feeling better about themselves and feeling hopeful and all that, all that good fuzzy feelings in the chest, <laugh>

John Linhares (17:25):

People, right? Just that, that validating of people, like just with the pandemic there seemed like those walks, right? Like people were walking around street before that it’s rare that somebody would just sit and talk Right. Or even make contact with each other. Now when people walk by each other, they actually make icon and say hey, or a hi or how’s it going? Right? Like it’s something that I feel I think is interesting and it’s changed with the pandemic. I think people have gotten more that human side actually has come out a lot more, whereas before the people were getting a little too cold and just not validating each other. Right. So, and that teacher that you’re taught, speaking of, I’m pretty sure the same one that you referred to in your story. Yeah. married there. I, I unfortunately did not have the privilege of having that teacher struggle. He was around when I was there. but I remember my friends who did have him. Nice. Same thing. So yeah, definitely again, those teachers had that impact, right? Like how you making me feel? Yeah,

Sam Demma (18:17):

Yeah, yeah. So your first job in education, take me back, like give us a little bit of the snapshot of where you started to where you are now.

John Linhares (18:27):

Oh wow. So I started teaching, gosh, it was funny. My buddy and I had decided at that time back in 2019 99, 2000, there was a ton of teaching jobs like time. Okay. Like there wasn’t like the winter period here, there was not a lot of teaching jobs for the longest time. and now we’re back into, there are a few, there’s a lot of jobs out there, but at the time there was lots of jobs. So my buddy and I were like, listen, we’re listening to like, we wanna enjoy life. We wanna take the first couple years, let’s just supply teach cuz supply teaching, we’re gonna get some income but we’re gonna be able to travel. Yeah. So we travel more, right? Because then teach is a great gig going wrong, but if you’re a traveler, you’re kind of stuck cuz you can only go March break when they jack up the prices or summer when they jack up the prices not, but it’s a reality, right?

John Linhares (19:13):

Yeah. So my buddy traveling like know in February or whatever, Oh that’s a great deal. Like great have fun, right? <laugh> so we’re supply change so that we can rack and limit of money. Yeah. Pay the s right. And then we have no warnings like pay the Cardinals and then Jet just go right. And both of us got calls from principles that we respected a lot and just before the long weekend Ashley Ladale on weekend and they were like, yeah, offering us both jobs and unbeknowns to each other. We both accepting and then we were kind like, shoot, how are you supposed to tell me? You know, tell my buddy now I’m totally bail on him. And then like, yeah, I was like, like that man, I had to take this job. I was like, got me too. Like what <laugh> job?

John Linhares(19:55):

And I was great, well here we go. So took on these jobs. My first job was JK in the morning and grade five in the afternoon. Okay. Why accepted it? I still at this day was like, I don’t know who, who would take that. Like it’s just crazy. but it gave me a great perspective in the sense of like just, just kids in general. Like yeah. You know, these three and four year olds coming into the room screaming and crying first in the morning cuz they were new to school. And then I go upstairs and there was these grade fives to, I was told the year before had sent off several teachers <laugh> on leaves cuz they they were not the easiest class to deal with. So I had to go up there and be like, you know, a little more a little different than it was downstairs, the jks.

John Linhares (20:35):

Anyway, so that was a great four years that I did that actually. But I still look back to look back like, man, we should have done the supply teaching. We just should have traveled like crazy cuz we couldn’t have done it, but we didn’t. but I have to say I still have kids from that kindergarten class and that great flag class that I still talk to today. And again, they’re grown up and, and doing some great things in this world. So, so that was pretty cool. And yes, I was in Toronto Catholic and then taught that for a few years and then I moved on to getting closer to home and then I moved to Ger Ger Catholic in 2005. So that was a good job. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:10):

When you think about student impact and stories of students who’ve been transformed or have built new skills as a result of education, maybe there’s a student you can think of who was really struggling and then had a breakthrough and made a very positive turn. Are there any stories that come to mind that you’d be willing to share? And I, I ask it because I think that’s one of the cornerstone reasons why people get into education for the impact you can have on young people. And sometimes when an educator’s feeling burnt out, they forget about those stories. They forget about that side of the job. so I’m hoping you can maybe share one if, if if you have one that comes to mind.

John Linhares (21:54):

Yeah, I got you’re saying this like, I’ve got a few that are running through my mind. Cause like I I’m for the underdog. Like I, I have to say that, you know, as a teacher looking out for that kid, there’s you know, we only sound like in the summer where about to start, it was last week of August. People are kind of in buzzing around getting their rooms ready for September and there’s an energy in the school. Everyone’s excited for the new year and oftentimes the teacher, you know, and and with the greatest of place days will come, Hey, I hear you got so and so, you know, just, you know, last year they were struggling with this and I stopped them and I’m like, listen, I appreciate it. we’re gonna just, this a new chapter, I’m gonna see how things vote and then if I need to like consult with you about maybe some strategies that worked for you last year, I know who to come talk to.

John Linhares (22:38):

But ultimately I don’t, I’m in my head like I don’t want to hear what happened last year. Yeah. Because it’s a new chapter, man, it’s a new year. We don’t know who this kid is right now. so I had several of those like I can think of off the top of my head you know, kids who were probably struggling with let’s say like maybe it’s ADHD and just could not fit into the mold of school, Right. Could not sit still at school because you know, that teacher wants them to be sitting in their desk. And I’m like, that you wanna stand, stand, go ahead <laugh> you. Yeah, I see your moving around a lot and you’re at the front of the class, let’s move here to the back. Yeah. You’re more comfortable back there if you need to get up, buddy, go, go nuts.

John Linhares (23:15):

Right? Yeah. Like your college not bothering other people around you. Just do what you gotta do. Right. And that I think again is that valuing where people are coming from and making them feel validated, right? So that, you know, I think some, for some people just they have a harder time just fitting into the mold of what school system is, right? So like why do we break those molds? And that’s what I try and do. so yeah, a couple of the kids who, those kids who yeah, every year was the same kind of thing where, oh, you know, they’re struggling, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time. And then you see them grow up and now yeah, they’re, they’ve got a great family. They actually owned three properties, they’re in real estate they’ve done quite well for themselves.

John Linhares (23:55):

And all these concerns, all of these, you know, little things that were happening back in grade three, you know, on a kid, you, they can’t sit still, they can’t sit still on that desk. I dunno what they can’t, they’re not gonna learn. We’re fine. You’re doing awesome actually. But again, it’s, it’s because this whole journey of education, I think everyone’s supporting and I mean, again, like in every stage of your life there are certain things that we all look out for and and, and are trying to to help out with. Right. But the beauty of this job too is that you see that it is, it’s making Jake k to like end of college, university, you’re in your twenties, that’s a big journey, right? And if we’re all doing our part to help out this kid, there you go. Right? I, and one kid I’ll never forget was I came in, it was actually when I came to Durham Durham Catholic, I started midyear.

John Linhares (24:42):

 I actually had a rough year the year before. and mother had passed away and instead of being there for my kids, I thought, you know what? I need to go half time so I can, you know, take care of myself in the mornings, basically. Like do what I gotta do, get in the right head space, go in for a couple hours the afternoon for those students, but be the best person. At least I can be. During that time, Yeah, that year I decided to switch boards and I decided, okay, I’m a supply teach for supply teaching. You have less, you know, there are, there’re less concerns that you have, right? You don’t have to work about planning and marketing and all other stuff. So it’s a pretty sweet gig. So I’m go, I’ll do it for a few months just to kinda get in the right head space again.

John Linhares (25:17):

So that’s split in. So it was February this job came along in, in at St. John, the evangelist at Wink. And so I took on this job and I remember taking that job on and the teacher was taking over for Matt. They loved her. She, they, she was their favorite teacher, you know, like she was the best. Like they just loved her and then she got this other job, so she was leaving and then here was this, who’s this coming into our room now, right? Like I had big shoes to fill it. So I tried my best to just continue on. She did things, but I’m me. Like I’m not somebody else. Right? Right. But yeah, they were not happy with me at all. And there’s one little character in particular was not happy with Mr. O at all. So anyway, so every day, let’s call it, he was just acting up a lot.

John Linhares (26:00):

Like he was getting into a lot of trouble going on. Yeah. And end of the year comes and then we get our class list for the following year and buddies in my class again. So I’m like, great. So end of the day, last day of school, he was about to take off and I’m like, Hold on, come back here, let’s have a chat before Eagle. And I remember pulling him aside, he was grade five <laugh>. And I’m like, Listen, just so you know, get back in my class next year. The waitings last few months have gone, you could have the worst year of your life next year or you can make the best of your life. And you started answering, No, no, I don’t want you to answer right now. I need you to go, go into, go the summer, have fun, you know, have a great summer, come back in September and think about what I told you. Cause Basical, this is in your court. So it went, it’s back in September, comes to find me, I’ll smiles will happen. It’s like, Mr, I’m ready for a new change. I’m like, Right. Cool, I’m glad you’re saying that, but let’s see what happens. Let’s

Sam Demma (27:05):

Do it. <laugh>.

John Linhares (27:06):

Exactly right. Yeah, fair enough. That’s exactly what it did. He, he became such a great leader that year at the school, helped out was just wanting to volunteer and help out with like, with other staff and other kids and, and with know afterschool activities and that kind stuff. And he just grew up through such a great leader for the, for the years that left here to the point where the lasting school grade eight graduation officer post all go. He kept coming back. I’m like, Buddy, you guys are done. Go <laugh>, you’re done school. Like, no, no, I’m hang out whenever. So he, yeah. So he is suck around helping me out. I was actually packing my class over the time whenever Nice. Again, continu on in contact ever since. And he was actually perusing the, the arts department here. Ah. So he still looking into it now, so

Sam Demma (27:50):

That’s awesome, man. You know what, I think it’s so important that we have big expectations for who our students can become. And it sounds like you had a vision for what this young man could be that maybe he didn’t have himself. And when you present that in a very kind way in front of a student someone that you care about you know, it forces them to actually think maybe I can be that student leader. Maybe I can change my behavior. Maybe there is a something that they see in me that I don’t see myself. So I think that’s a really cool little story. So thanks for thanks for sharing that one. if, if you could travel back in time and speak to John when he was in his first or second year teaching but with the experience you had now, what would you like tell your younger self when you were just getting into this profession? Maybe there’s a, a very fresh new educator listening to this right now and they’re looking for some words of wisdom as they journey down this education path.

John Linhares (28:51):

I think the main thing was to basically again, get to know your students. Like we get caught up in like these checklists of what have to get done, like wanting to get this, get that does this deadline. There’s that deadline I got report cards are coming soon. there’s just checklists coming out of the yin yang to be honest with you. The things that we have to do. Yeah. But we don’t, we cannot lose sight of why we’re there and that’s the most important thing. And so making those connections with those kids on a daily basis, I didn’t care what was going on. Trying to literally build in time, you know, like we talk about our families now, like, you know, talking about like traveling life, right? But it’s like, make time to meet your family, make make time to meet with your friends, make time to meet up with whatever, like work people, it was the same thing like in, in the classroom, you can easily get caught up in your checklist, make time to get to know those kids and talk to them, not about school stuff, right?

John Linhares (29:41):

Like getting to know them on that social level that human side. And that’s really key, right? And just build your success up for the whole year. Like no matter what, you know, issues are in the classroom or or behavior issues, they’re in the classroom. You put the time into really getting to know and acknowledge those kids and let them see that side of you as well. Like that you are human. You’re not this like, you know, robotic teacher creature that’s Yeah. human being, right, like with interest and whatever. And that, that really wins them over. Like, it makes a big deal. Like when you talk to a kid about just random stuff, other weekend wins, whatever for a minute or two each day. It makes a massive difference.

Sam Demma (30:23):

Small, consistent actions.

John Linhares (30:25):

<laugh> that again, back to that. Yep. If,

Sam Demma (30:28):

If someone wants to reach out to you and ask a question, bounce some ideas around, share some of their own art <laugh>, what would be the best way for another educator to get in touch with you?

John Linhares (30:39):

Yeah, so based on, on Twitter I’m @mrjlinhares, I think you’ve got that on the, on my bio. so that’s one way. And on LinkedIn as well. I’m kind of new to LinkedIn, so I’m not not on there as much as I am on Twitter. Twitter, I find a little bit easier to keep track of stuff and, and joke. But yeah, I am on those two platforms for sure and definitely would be more than happy to have conversations with you. I love conversations. I just love sitting down and chatting like we are now and, and sharing stories and all that.

Sam Demma (31:10):

Yeah man. Well I enjoyed this, a lot big time. So thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast, share a little bit about your experiences and your journey, and I hope you have an amazing rest of your school year, and I’ll see you walking around the block sometime soon.

John Linhares (31:26):

<laugh> Sam, we’re looking forward to your, your book launch as well, so that’s coming up, so that’s amazing. Again, kids like yourself who we know are doing some great things out there, that’s what makes our jobs worthwhile. So thank you for all that you’ve done.

Sam Demma (31:39):

Thanks John, Appreciate it. Let’s talk soon.

John Linhares (31:41):

All right, take care.

Sam Demma (31:43):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with John Linhares

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.