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.
**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):
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):
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