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Student Leadership

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert
About Dr. Ivan Joseph

Dr. Ivan Joseph (@DrIvanJoseph) is a six-time Coach of the Year recipient and Director of Athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought-after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has a BA in Physical Education and Health, an MS in Higher Education Administration and a Ph.D. in Sports Psychology. His popular Tedx talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. For more information on Dr. Joseph, please visit, www.drivanjoseph.com

Connect with Ivan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.drivanjoseph.com

Ryerson University

BA in Physical Education and Health – Graceland University

Graduate Programs – Drake University

PhD in Psychology – Capella University

You Got This: Mastering the Skill of Self-Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

Positive Affirmations

Expert Secrets by Russel Brunson

Workshops by Dr. Ivan Joseph

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is someone I have really wanted to interview on my podcast for a very long time. His name is Dr.Ivan Joseph. Dr.Ivan Joseph is a sixth time Coach of the year recipient and Director of athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has his BA in Physical Education and Health, and Masters in Higher Education Administration, and a PhD in Sports Psychology. His popular TEDex talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. Dr. Ivan Joseph is also an actor, a father, and a very amazing human being. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ivan, and I will see you on the other side. Ivan, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (01:02):

Huge pleasure to have you on the show after reading your book, watching your, your TEDx talk that has over 21 million views, I want to start this off in a different fashion. I’ve, I’ve listened to a lot of your interviews. I want to get vulnerable right from the start so you can have the chance to introduce yourself, but I want to ask you personally, what is an aspect of your life where you lacked personal confidence and you followed your own tactics and tools, systems and strategies, to change that situation and, and, and let us know how that happened?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (01:35):

Well, well, thank you for having me first of all, Sam, and, and I’ll say this, your question I can answer it at 10, 12, 15 different ways. You know, the, the situation with confidence is, is that you, you acquire it, but then once you achieve success, you move on or you get promoted that struggle comes back because you’ll feel imposter syndrome seep in, and then you’ll manage it, you’ll master it, because we’re hard workers. Then you’ll get to the next level, and again, you’ll feel like you don’t belong. You’ll feel like, oh my goodness, they’re gonna, they’re gonna catch me. And, and so there’s not one situation, I’ll give you one situation, but recognize that this is one of many. So I’ll give you the first example. When I became the Director of Athletics at Ryerson University, recognize that I came from a town of 1200 students from a school that only had 1200 people in it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (02:29):

So to combine the school and the town, you had 2,500 people, no Walmart, no McDonald’s, no stop signs, no stop lights. And they plumped me into this director of athletics job where I went from managing one person and a budget of 30,000 to bud, to managing a budget that ended in millions, and having to wor work an administrative assistant, lead people, manage people. I didn’t know how to do any of that. And so here I was in this big city of Toronto, millions of people in charge of a budget rebuilding a hundred million maple leaf gardens, and I felt like I was an imposter. And so I did what I know and what I know worked well as a soccer coach, really, which was, I was first there, I was last to leave. Mm. I read everything I could. I found myself a mentor when I didn’t know. I didn’t pretend. I didn’t know, which is that instead of fake it till you make it, I said, I don’t know. Let me get back to you. I asked for help. And most importantly, and this is the criti critical piece, is when I, when I wanted to run away and push the easy button and quit, I just talked to myself out of it. Hmm. And that allowed me to grow into the job.

Sam Demma (03:47):

What did that self-talk look like? When, when we’re in situations where there’s a negative voice, one, how do you create that space to realize, like snap out of the initial moment and realize I’m having negative thoughts right now? And then what course of action do you take to reverse that?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:05):

Well, I’ll tell you, I remember it as Claire as day, right? Seeing myself walking down young street off the go train, and here I am, like in my briefcase, in my suit, a guy who never ever wore a suit. I was a tra, I was a soccer coach. I wore, I wore track pants and shorts, and I’m like, who is that guy? That’s not me seeing the reflection off the building. And I was like, stop it. Right? Stop it. I remember sitting in meetings and people are like, oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing. Stop it. Stop it. And so, I d I use what athletes use what I teach my students, which is sports psychology techniques, physical actions, right? These are called thought stopping or centering actions. You use those actions to say, stop.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:50):

Right, stop the negative thought and then replace it with the positive affirmation. And you’ll hear me talk about that later on. But with, you can’t stop that negative thinking. What had happens is it influences your beliefs. And soon when you start to believe something about yourself, then it influences your actions. And soon as your actions start acting out, then people, your peers, your bosses, your friends, they will start seeing you and treating you differently based on those actions. And when they see and treat you differently, Sam, it starts that cycle over again. Well, they don’t think I’m good enough. Well, I mustn’t be good enough. Oh, man, I made a mistake. Why is that guy making so many mistakes? I’m not gonna put him in that position. And this vicious self-defeating cycle starts over and over again that it’s hard to break out of.

Sam Demma (05:40):

And when you realize you’re having a negative belief, I understand the physical action, the changing of the rubber band onto your other wrist was something that you read about, you wrote about in your book for your athletes on the soccer pitch or any pitch. Once you realize it and you stop it, how do you replace it? do you use affirmations? Like what’s the next step to build the new confidence that should take that negative beliefs place?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (06:04):

Yeah. And you have to replace it with something, right? You, you can’t just say, stop. And that’s when these automatic affirmations need to come like that. Mm. And so the time isn’t when you’re having a negative thought to think about your affirmation. You prepare your affirmation, so it’s ready to go, and it comes just like that. And so my three are, nobody outworks me. I can learn anything. And I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. I use that one. I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. When I feel overwhelmed, when I’m like, I’m not in control. I use, nobody outworks me. When things don’t come easy, I’m like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna show up first. I’m gonna, it doesn’t matter how long it takes and when it’s, things are hard when I’m not getting it, oh my gosh, this is complicated. I can learn anything. These are reminders for me that just say, okay, get me in the right spot again. Recognize that my affirmation isn’t I’m gonna make a million dollars. Maybe some people wanna do that, but I subscribe to genuine, authentic affirmations that are about behavior.

Sam Demma (07:11):

I love that. I’ve been walking every morning after my buddy Nick comes over and works out in our backyard, you know, trying to stay covid friendly. So we do it outside on a little bar gym that I built, and I walk after he leaves every morning, and I listen to a three minute YouTube video. And I know you’re a big fan of Muhammad Ali. Oh, yes. And there’s a whole section in the video, and every time I hear it, I just get goosebumps. and it puts me in this mindset that just, it just forces me to take a hold of my day. And when he’s saying, you know, I am the greatest in this YouTube video, and he’s talking about how all these people are gonna doubt him you know, I’m trying to think of the exact words that he uses in the video. He goes, all you chumps are gonna bow when I whoop him, all of you, I know you got him. I know you got him picked. I’m gonna show you how great I am. And every time I hear it, I just imagine myself in that moment. And so I’m curious to know, in your own personal development of self-confidence in studying, does visualization play a huge part in this process as well? Affirmations are awesome and amazing. Do you also visualize

Dr. Ivan Joseph (08:17):

A hundred percent? I’m a, as a sports psychologist, I’m a big believer in visualization. Hmm. Let me teach you, let me talk to you a little bit about a study that what I teach my students. They, they went in and they tested downhill skiers. They put these electrodes onto their busts so that they could see when they were going through the gates and down a mountain, how would the muscles fire? And they were in their lab, and they could see, okay, the, this one fires at this amplitude. Oh, when he’s turning this quad fires, this arm goes, here’s where they relax when they go on the straightaway. And it was amazing, right? This was like, wow. Then they said, okay. Then they took those same skiers, and they said, now, just watch yourself going down. Right? And as they were watching themselves going down, they hooked up their muscles, and they found that their muscles still fired.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (09:01):

Not at the same level, of course mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they were still firing significantly less, but in the same pattern, in the same racial as they were watching themselves go down that mountain. Then they said, close your eyes and imagine yourself going down the mountain as they close their eyes and imagine themselves going down the mountain again, their muscles still fired in that same pattern, that same frequency, not the same level of amplitude as when they were watching it, but in the same place. So what that was saying is that we are rehearsing that our mind could transfer that energy and that pattern of learning to our muscles, even just by imagining it. The power of visualization is a strong piece. I like to visualize, visualize everything that I’m doing, every little scenario, what I’m coaching, when I’m teaching, when I’m leading, I want to know what I’m going to do. I want to imagine what success looks like. I also wanna imagine what an adversity or a roadblock would look like, so that I have my plan in place so that I’m ready. And I’m not, I’m not panicked. I’m not frozen. Right? I don’t imagine just the great things. I do try to spend some time not imagining when things go wrong, but imagining what my plan of action will be in case things go wrong, so that I can see my way still to victory.

Sam Demma (10:17):

So powerful. When I think back to my own soccer days and the athletes that I had four of my teammates now play in the mls mm-hmm. <affirmative>, the ones who succeeded all had a, a super drive. Like they just all wanted to, you know, play soccer every single day. But I found really interesting was they all watched hours upon hours of soccer. They were obsessed with following every different league that exists in Europe and in Canada and the us. Does watching somebody else kick a ball also fire the same pathways in your brain that you would fire if you were kicking a ball? Like, does visualization also work when you watch somebody else do it?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (10:58):

I will say this the psychology behind is what you’re asking is the social learning theory by a gentleman by the name of Bandura. Right? And so what they will say is that you can learn through observation. This is what, like, you think about this whole YouTube world. Everybody watches YouTube and they learn how to do things before, back in the day. You have to go and watch somebody apprentice with them, learn all those things. So for sure, I, I can’t speak to whether the muscles are firing the same way, but I can say that you can learn through observation, especially if somebody is telling you what to look for. Look at the angle of the leg, look at the, look at the way the angle is locked. Look at how they land on their plant foot. And so you’re saying now you’re watching the things to look for, and now you can go back and mimic those same behaviors and model them in a way that will ensure success.

Sam Demma (11:48):

Hmm. No, I like that. And you just even alluded to some points in your TED talk, by the way, when you talked about planting the foot and leaning forward knee over the ankle, you talk about the importance of catching people while they’re good. This can be used from a management perspective. It can be used from a coaching perspective. You know, the importance of encouraging someone’s positive actions instead of coaching their negative ones. Yeah. That idea. Do you also use it for yourself? So in moments where you maybe didn’t have the performance that you expected, instead of focusing on all the things that went wrong, you focus on the one or two things that went right. Is that something you could also use personally?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (12:25):

Absolutely. I, I think it’s really important. What I use even more than that though, is about focusing on the positives, which is nice. I also say, what am I here to learn? Hmm. When things go south, when they don’t go where I want them to do, I wanna focus on what did it teach me? What are the teachable moments? Because as well as focusing on what went wrong, right? Or what went right, that’s great. Okay, what went right? I also need to think about the gap. Hmm. And, and that gap is, okay, what am I here to learn? And I’m not focusing on the negatives. I’m focusing on the teachable moments when I’m looking at myself. And if I can think of everything as a learning opportunity that prepares me for the next one, and that prepares me for the next one, then I don’t get caught up on the negativity. I get caught up on the teachable moments of that failure. And that’s, for me, key to moving forward.

Sam Demma (13:14):

And you have to stay open-minded, right? Yeah. That op, being someone who’s open-minded will give you opportunity to look at yourself objectively and take that feedback and use it to, to grow. Sometimes we get feedback and it, it, it hurts our ego because, you know, everyone has an ego. They care what people think. is there a difference between ego and confidence? Can you explain the difference? and especially for like young people that use a ton of social media and feel the need to validate themselves. Like, I just wanna know if there’s a bit a difference between ego and, and real confidence.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (13:52):

For sure. And let me go back, because the piece that will feed this is that feedback part when you said, sometimes we get negative feedback and it impacts our, our ego. So recognize that there’s two types of feedback. One is negative and one is critical. Hmm. Negative feedback. What’s wrong? Why it didn’t work? This idea is not good. You didn’t do this, you didn’t do this. You need to come back. Negative critical feedback. Here’s why I don’t think it’s gonna work. have you tried this? This is not good. Have you tried this, this, and this? Hey, I think you missed it. Here’s what I was looking for. Hmm. And so the difference is what’s wrong, but opportunities or avenues for you to go in a different direction. They’re giving you advice. And so that’s really, that’s really key for you to recognize that if somebody’s giving you critical feedback, they’re invested in you.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (14:41):

As I used to tell all my people when I’m coaching you and I’m giving you critical feedback, the willingness of me to expend energy on you means that I believe that, that you can deliver more, and that you’re capable and you have the potential to excel. When I’m not giving you any feedback, you should be worried because I don’t think you’ve got any more to give, and you’ve reached your ceiling. So that’s the first part. The second part is how does it not affect your ego? And when, what’s the difference between ego and confidence? Ego? Is this me telling everybody else how great I am? Mm-hmm. Look at me, look at me, folks. I’m a champion. I’m good. Think about it. When you’re in grade school, Sam, and you’re in the playground, or, or it was that track and field day, and you gotta do the three-legged race or the ball toss or high jump, or the hundred meter sprint.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (15:28):

And you win your first, your second, your third, whatever your ribbons are they used to give you. And do you put them on? And do you walk around the schools like, look at me. Look, I won the first place in the ball toss. I’m a three-legged race champion. Yeah. Ooh, no. The confident person doesn’t need anybody to know how good they are. All right. You put those ribbons in your bag and you go home at night, you put ’em on and in front of the mirror, you say, yes, I’m awesome. That is okay. Cuz you still should tell yourself you’re awesome. You should still remind yourself of how great you are, just egotistically. You don’t need to shout it to everybody else.

Sam Demma (16:06):

Sometimes you’ll have a belief in yourself that other people don’t see. And I know you’ve had firsthand experience with this, with a player on your team when you were coaching, who at first it seemed like this player was not gonna fit in and not going to excel, but that person’s self-belief propelled them forward. And if I’m not mistaken, became the captain of your team and went to a national championship with you guys. Yes. Yes. how do you cultivate that amount of belief in yourself when other people might not agree with you?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (16:40):

That’s a really good piece. So part of it is you’ve gotta make sure when other people don’t believe in you. And so you’re getting it from the left on all, you know, you gotta make sure you’re having other places where you’re getting the opposite, right? Because if you’re bombarded with your mom telling you you’re no good, and your brother and sister telling you’re no good, and at work they’re telling you no good and your boyfriend or girlfriend are telling you good, no good and all the media’s telling, then it’s gonna beat you up. And so you’ve gotta make sure that, let’s say it’s the coach, then you’re surrounding yourself with other people who are able to counter that voice, that you’re also making sure that you’ve written your letter to yourself, where you’re reading your confident thoughts, that you’re also using your affirmations, but most importantly, that you’re also working towards the goal diligently with great effort to close the gap.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (17:31):

Cuz it’s no magic button. You can’t just show up. A coach says I’m no good, and then the next day I just show up and expect a different result. He also gotta put in the work. And if you’ve put in the work and the repetition and the effort, good things will happen. They always do. But at the same time, Sam, you never know, just like you just didn’t make it as a professional athlete because of injury or whatever. Hopefully you’ve got the right people around you that will tell you when it’s the opportunity is right for you to pivot and go in a different direction.

Sam Demma (18:02):

No, I love that. And I think it’s so important. Who we surround ourselves with matters greatly. I think it was Jim Rowan who said, you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Yes.

Sam Demma (18:12):

Why is that important? You know, I remember when I was a soccer player, my coach always used to tell me before I asked for the ball, Sam, make sure you check your shoulders <laugh>. And I remember in the middle of the game, and you probably preach this to your players all the time, I played in the midfield. And so I’m looking behind me to check my shoulders and I don’t check. And as I turn around, someone comes and sly tackles me and my left leg. And that’s when I tore my meniscus in my left knee the second time. And I remember after, you know, years went by, I realized what a great analogy check your shoulders is for life. You know, how often do we turn around and say, who am I surrounding myself with? and if you don’t do it, you know, in life, just like in sports, if you don’t check and you turn around randomly one day, there’s, there might be some people there that shouldn’t be there and it might be causing you problems. So why do you think it’s so important to be aware of who we surround ourselves with?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:01):

Well, we know that in sport and in psychology, that emotion is contagious. Hmm. And so think about that. When you’re in a, when you’re in a dressing room, I could walk into a dressing room and I know when a team is on, you could feel it in the air. Hmm. You can feel it, you can cut it with a knife. Also, I can tell when one person gets angry, how that can just run through the entire room or panic or whatever that might be, or excitement or energy. We don’t know. Whatever that’s pheros, whether that’s hormones, what that is. But this science is, is irrefutable that, that we can catch the mood of other people. Hmm. And so when I think about that, I think about the group that I’m speaking with or hanging out with. Do they push me? Are they good for me?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:46):

Are they good to me? Are they drivers? Are they, are they ones? Like, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what? You’re right. When somebody comes and gives you hard news, yeah, I can’t believe that coach doesn’t believe in me. I can’t that believe that boss didn’t gimme the opportunity. And they’ll say, yeah, you’re right Sam, you deserve it. I can’t believe it. You were robbed. Or do they say, Sam, you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. You know what? You should have delivered it like this. You need to go back. Do they push you up or do they tear you down? Hmm. Do they allow you to live in that self-belief of I’m a victim? Or do they say, no, we could do better? And you think about those kinds of people and how do you separate the weak from the chaff?

Sam Demma (20:28):

I think, I think catching other people’s emotions could be even more dangerous than catching the flu

Dr. Ivan Joseph (20:35):

<laugh>. Oh, a hundred percent. They will, it will limit you

Sam Demma (20:39):

And it holds you back because like you explained, you know, your beliefs lead to your emotions, emotions to actions, actions to results. And if those, if those beliefs change because of the people you’re hanging out with, it changes literally everything else. It’s like a domino effect. Yes. I spend a lot of time hanging around people who don’t take no for an answer. <laugh>. And I know you’re one of those people and I remember you watching your TED talk as well, and you know, you asked out your, your wife for the first time you know, and she said no. And then her friend came back and told you, you know, there’s a small chance that if the world was falling apart and <laugh> and you know, we need to recreate to save humanity, then, then, you know, maybe we could, you know, maybe it would work. And, and you said, well, there’s a chance <laugh> and you kept going. Right. now maybe you could, you could share a little bit about where that beliefs was built for you. Cause I believe all of our beliefs come from past experiences, like where that belief came from that you didn’t take no for an answer. and maybe even how I reached out to you and what you thought

Dr. Ivan Joseph (21:44):

<laugh>. Oh my gosh. You know, it’s interesting. You know, first off, I’m an immigrant, right? I was born in, in Guyana, south America. My parents came to Canada when they’re 27 years old. Hmm. And so, you know, and immigrants have a very common theme that run through them, meaning work twice as hard, be twice as good. Yeah. Right. You know, like that, that your parents have drilled that into you, your grandparents have drilled that into you. And so you know that the opportunities that you have that will come your way, you gotta fight for. And I saw it in my mother and I saw it in my father. And so those were two, two role models for me that really helped put that behavior of twice as hard, twice as good, twice as like always mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, you know, after a while people are gonna say no.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (22:28):

And so you gotta just decide what are you gonna do. You can either feel sorry for yourself or you can try again. You can try. And then when you get a little bit of success, then it creates this pattern of belief in yourself that allows you to keep going. Right. And again, I wasn’t stalking my wife, so I don’t want anybody out there to think, oh my gosh, this guy’s a creepy old man. Right? Yeah. It’s like, oh, let me try again. Right. She, you know, if she let me see. Right. And there’s nothing wrong with thinking that there’s another opportunity to try something different perhaps, whatever that might look like. You know, I, you know, you are a perfect example, Sam. I was not, you know, there’s a certain level of podcast that my partner sends me on Sonny’s like, okay, how many followers do they have?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (23:05):

Will it elevate the brand? All these things? Is this the message they want to go on? Right. And here you are a young whipper snipper, and you were persistent, right? You were, you didn’t take no financial, you came back and you didn’t come back the same way, which is an important piece. You came back with some, you did your homework, you were creative, you sent this message, this video that you were compelling. How could we not say yes to somebody who cared and was so intentional and put so much effort and time into preparing his pitch? We had no intention of saying yes, but you compelled us so that we could not say, no,

Sam Demma (23:45):

I’m writing a chapter in a book right now, it’s gonna be called Dear High School Me. And it’s like, it’s like lessons from my younger self from someone not far removed from high school. And your reach out is gonna be one of the chapters <laugh>. And you know, the whole lesson is that when we’re all little kids, I think it was before the age of four, we hear the word no a couple thousand times and it gets ingrained in our body. You know, we, we fall off the counter and you know, or hopefully you don’t fall off the counter, but <laugh>, you know, something happens and your parents say, oh no, don’t do that. And we associate no with never again. Yeah. No means never. And I’m trying to help people understand that. No, doesn’t mean never when you hear the word no. Although, like you said, there are some situations where no means no and don’t cross that boundary. Yes.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (24:31):

Thank you. Thank

Sam Demma (24:32):

You. Outside of those situations, <laugh> no, doesn’t mean never. It actually means how can you show this person that you care, build trust, and be more creative in your reach out? Yes. And every time that I’ve changed my approach whether it’s with you or other situations I’ve gotten, you know, great responses and, and great results. do you have any examples in your life aside from, from the relationship that you discuss in your TEDx talk where someone initially told you no and things thereafter maybe slightly changed?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:05):

Yeah, I think, and I think your point is really strong and make sure your audience knows we’re not talking about consent. Yeah. So let’s put that over there. Yeah. We’re talking in the business world that there’s always an opportunity to get your foot in the door. And so when I was, when I wanted to be a coach, I didn’t get the job. They said no a bunch of times. So you know what I did? I volunteered, I worked for free. And a month before or two weeks before the season started, the coach left and they were stuck. They didn’t have anybody else. They paid me less than the scholarship of my athletes. So as the head coach, I was the lowest paid person on that team, but I didn’t care. Yeah. All I wanted was an opportunity. And when I got the opportunity, I took the most of it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:51):

I worked like a dog. We won the conference championship that year. We were 13 and one first ever championship they ever won. I was the conference coach of the year. Right. So recognized that, you know, no meant not yet. But what did I do while they said no? I went and got the coaching courses, I went and got the coaching license. I read this book about coaching. I spent an and learned this about coaching. I watched games on TV to learn and do everything I could. So when the opportunity gave me a small crack, I was ready to take advantage of it.

Sam Demma (26:25):

I love that. So powerful. And you talk about this in your summit, the speech you did, I think it was for jack.org back in May 5th, 2020. A young lady asked you the question, you know, how do you, how do you find what you love doing? There’s so many different, you know, opportunities available and there’s so many different options and you gave some awesome advice about, you know, maybe you volunteer and you know, that’s how it started. For you, what is your advice around helping, you know, maybe students or young people find what they’re good at or what they love doing?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (26:56):

I say we all know what we love because it’s the thing that we do. And all of a sudden time flies. Mm. In sports psychology, we call it flow. When have you ever done something, it’s like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe that. Like, where did the hour go? Yeah. Whether that’s reading a book, whether that’s playing your hockey, playing your game, like, my gosh, what are those activities that put you in the state of flow that you look forward to doing and you can’t wait? You know what they are? Put a make a list of them. When I, when that was asked for me, what do I volunteer to do? And I couldn’t believe it was soccer. You can’t make a living as a soccer coach. This is 25 years ago. I tell you that, that soccer coach led to me being and making a ton of money, which I never wanted to do. That wasn’t the reason I was driven towards it. But what happens is, when you do what you love, excellence happens. And when you become the best at what you do, people are willing to pay for the, for that service. And so, I I just remind you that even though you think, well, I can’t make a living doing what you love, there’s always a way.

Sam Demma (28:03):

I think it’s Russell Brunson, this guy who does a lot of internet marketing, he started a company called ClickFunnels. He, he started a business teaching people how to make potato launchers <laugh>. And this is the first thing he did. And, and I remember just reading it in one of his books, expert Secrets, him talking about there’s almost some market or an opportunity in every single field. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> what matters is how much you’re willing to give of your time, your effort, your energy towards becoming a master in that thing. Because there’s no, there’s no, there’s no job position just waiting for you. Sure there’s jobs out there, but I think you create it through your actions that you take every single day, day in and day out. Yes. and you’ve created a wonderful career for yourself. And I want to take this interview down a professional route for a second.

Sam Demma (28:53):

Yeah. Over the, over the past four years, I’ve been obsessed with helping students become real world ready, trying to figure out what makes a high performing young person. And based on my own personal success and conversations that I’m having with, you know, phenomenal humans like yourself, I’m taking this assumption and I’m putting it to the test. and so I wanna test this assumption here with you today. There’s six characteristics. All I wanna know is, do you think this thing was foundational to your success? And how did you develop it over the past couple of years? so here’s the first one, and you’re already someone who does this day in and day out for your job, but it’s professional and persuasive communication. So I believe that a high performing student, performer, athlete, whoever it is, has to have the ability to effectively share ideas with others that not only inform them, but inspire them to move into action. And you speak all around the world. So is professional communication something that has been foundational to your success? And how did you develop it as a skill?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (29:52):

A hundred percent. Right. Persuasive communication. And I will say it this way, I would put the other side of that as well. And maybe you have it in one of your six. It’s not just persuasive communication, it’s also empathetic communication. Hmm. Persuasive and empathetic because empathetic in insinuates that I’m listening and I’m hearing and I’m able to speak to the things that matter and resonate with the people. Hmm. And that is really key. Right. Because you can’t be persuasive if you don’t know what matters to the other person. I love that. Okay. So how did I put, how did I get when I was a teacher, when I was a professor, I probably did four or five different one hour lectures a day for 10 years.

Sam Demma (30:34):

Yep.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:35):

So I got to be really good repetition, repetition, repetition, <affirmative> repetition.

Sam Demma (30:40):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and variation. I’m sure you’re giving different lectures all the time, which helps you

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:45):

All the time. All the time. And I never wrote ’em down. I’ve studied them, but I wanted them to be authentic and novel. And so, and I evaluated that didn’t work. That was no good. Okay. This was really good. Let me, let me do this part again.

Sam Demma (30:59):

Love that. Okay. That’s phenomenal. And thank you for the the additional feedback. If anything that I mentioned sparks a new idea or an extended version of the principle, please share. the second assumption is that these people have the trait of taking care of their mental and physical health, meaning they exercise their mind and their body. Yeah. Has that been something that’s been foundational to your success? And how did you develop the habit of exercising, meditating, and all these amazing actions that we should all take?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (31:29):

Yeah, and I like that you said meditating because that’s that mental, that’s the physical, it’s the spiritual. And so work-life balance is really important. I think that we recognize that, you know, we must work hard, we must work hard. That’s the only way to get ahead. But if you don’t shut it down, if you don’t restore, you don’t get the great ideas. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so that’s a really important piece. And so I haven’t gone out to say, I love to exercise. I don’t work out for the sake of working out. I play, I get my workout through play. Love it. Whether that’s playing on a soccer league, whether that’s whitewater canoeing, that’s, whether that’s playing squash, that’s my jam. But that’s my space for flow. Recognize that your workout might be something completely different. Don’t think that if you’re not doing physical exercise, you’re not good. Your workout might be mental. Just you’re the puzzle person. You’re the crossword person. What it is, is a thing that allows you to get to that stage where you restore and regenerate your soul and your spirit. So I really believe that’s a key principle.

Sam Demma (32:26):

I love that. I love that analogy too, that everyone gets it a little bit differently from different sources. One of the criticisms I had of a lot of self-help books were that they tell you that you have to wake up at a specific hour in the morning and do these three specific exercises in this row, and you’ll have a successful life. And I think it’s so false, right? We all have a goal in a morning routine to feel a specific type of emotion Yeah. Or to cultivate a specific type of belief. And there’s so many different activities that you could do to help you attain that goal. and I think it also applies like you’re saying to mental and physical wellbeing. So I love that. The third the third assumption is emotional intelligence. So these are, these are performers. These are people who are aware of how they feel and can give themselves a little bit of space to recognize the emotion and take action to support that emotion or despite the emotion. So you know how to say no properly, how to say yes. how to understand how other people are feeling in relation to a situation. I think there’s a ton of different definitions of emotional intelligence, but we’ll just define it as being self-aware. has that been foundational? And how did you develop that awareness?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (33:38):

Well, that’s a, you know, I don’t know how I developed it, but I, I think what I call is emotional awareness or intelligence. I call it insights. Mm. right. The ability to read the room, the ability to pick up when you’re being too much or too little, or when to walk away, when to push, when to just let this person have their moment because it’ll avoid a conflict. And that’s time for another conversation. You know, I think one of the things is in order to have insight, you have to be reflective. You have to really evaluate, well, that went wrong, or, I did really well there, what happened? Because I don’t know if you can read a book and say, this is who I am. But I think if you’re really insightful, you start to reflect on where you screwed up, where you hit it out of the park, ah, I didn’t get what I needed. Let me try it this way next time. And that’s how you acquire that level of emotional intelligence.

Sam Demma (34:30):

Hmm. I love that you talk about it in your book, or was it the interview with Louis? Hows the, the gut feelings, right? Yes. and you mentioned that when you shy away from those or act despite those little, you know, those little voices in your head or those gut feelings, that things typically go wrong

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:48):

Every time,

Sam Demma (34:49):

Still holds true.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:50):

Every, every single time. It usually ends up costing me more money. Makes me unhappier gives me great frustration. Yeah.

Sam Demma (34:58):

Cool. Very cool. <laugh> love that. fourth assumption is that these, these students are grounded in the present moment, meaning they take lots of action daily mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they do have goals and a vision that they’re working towards. So they have a future focus. I’m, I’m assuming from day one you wrote things down on paper and, you know, had goals and visions for yourself before anyone else even believed in you. but is that something that you think has been foundational to your progress and success And, and what, what made you from day one, grab a pen and paper and start writing things down that you wanted to happen in the future, if you can remember?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (35:33):

Well, yeah, I’ll say it wasn’t from day one. It was after I flunked out and was embarrassed and was ashamed and he was humiliated and I needed to start over. And when I needed to start over, I said, well, what am I gonna change? What am I gonna move and how am I gonna respond and react to this? So hitting rock bottom and reacting to failure, put me in this path. And then I started writing one year goals, three to five year goals and 10 year goals. I always do my, my goals in those three buckets, right. Because I want to have a long-term plan so I know where I’m going. You know, if I want to be a college university president, I better sit on a university panel that searches what they look like now. So in 10 years I can see what they’re looking for. I have time to start prepping myself. Mm. When I wanted to be a L’Oreal vice president, you know what I needed to get certain skills, I better start getting those skills now. So three years from now, I’m ready for when the opportunity comes. And so I’m a big believer in writing down your goals and not just your long-term ones and, but your short-term ones, but here’s the key, Sam, not too many. Mm-hmm. Because then you won’t become an expert in anything.

Sam Demma (36:41):

Yeah. It’s like the whole idea of don’t go a mile wide. Go a mile deep. Yes. and ah, it’s so true. And I hear it so much over and over again, and I love it. It’s such an important thing to remind yourself of. perfect. The fifth characteristic is building strong habits. Right? Excellence comes not from what we do once, but what we do day in and day out, even when we don’t feel like it. Do you think that habits have played a huge part in your life? Or do you act more sporadically? and has that been foundational to your success?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (37:15):

Well, I’ll say it this way, I wouldn’t say it’s habits. Okay. Right. I would say it’s values. Hmm. The values drive my consistent response and behavior to things. Cool. And so, because you know how they, I’ve tried 30 days to find a habit, 30 days to be, I like I, I tried to work out or be a vegetarian for 30 days. They’re they 31, thank God that’s over. Yeah. Right. I work out, I work out, I work out. I did 30 days of pushup, 40 days of pushup. Soon as I missed three days in a row, that habit’s gone. Yeah. Right. And so that is the one I’ll say that I struggle with. And it doesn’t mean it’s right, but I will say that habits are typically something that are about behavior. Mm. And what drives behavior for me isn’t habits, it’s values. Mm. And that is the key. And what I mean by values is you’re the core beliefs about who I am, what I’m about.

Sam Demma (38:06):

I love that. So key, so important. And I think, I think back to a situation that didn’t align with my values, that forced me to make a decision out of a couple things. I think of a relationship that I had that I, that I recently ended. I think about a speaker agent who, a speaker agency who at first I had written down, you know, I’m gonna be represented by these people and I’m super excited. And then they approached me with the contract and the terms totally did not, not align with my values or the vision I created for myself. And there was this internal conflict that just stirred up in me. And right away I was questioning everything <laugh>. And I had everyone in my life telling me, you have to do this and you have to do that, and you should do this. And then I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that it, I was about to go against that gut voice that I had. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. so I think knowing what your values are and taking actions based on those and in alignment with those is what’s really important. Is what you’re saying. Yeah.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:04):

For

Sam Demma (39:05):

Me. Okay. Yeah. No, I totally agree. I love that the, the fifth, the fifth, the sixth, the sixth characteristic that I believe is super important is being a perpetual learner. So someone who is one, always open to feedback, cuz you’re gonna learn from feedback, but two, reading consuming information, whether it’s podcasts, books, speeches you know, even something like this kind of sparked the idea at the, at the end of your book, you have a list of your favorite reads, and I think there’s six or seven books listed there. I think perpetual learners are people who read one book and then have six more that get added to their list, <laugh> Yes. That they wanna read in the future. do you think that that’s been foundational in your success? And how did you cultivate that desire to want to learn? It’s a lot easier to grab a b a bag of Lay’s chips and watch Netflix all day. <laugh>

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:54):

No, you’re still, I, I’m glad this one is last because this is the one that needs to stick. Hmm. Right. you, I say often when I coach soccer, sometimes I win. Most times I learn. Hmm. Right. And, and this is the key, right? Learning helps sets you up for success if you’re willing to approach it really in a student-centric perspective. Meaning I’m here to learn not just from reading a book, not just from watching a podcast, but in every single aspect and interaction that you have. I remember watching a Disney movie, oh, I love the way he said this about Simba and leadership. How can I employ that to my soccer game? I remember watching and reading Graham Henry’s book on legacy from the New Zealand, all Blacks. How am I gonna use this about how I build culture? We can’t learn enough and learning should never stop. I think about all my great mentors, some of them are 70, 80 years old and all the work they’re doing, and you know, in the old days it used to be just reading books. But in today’s world, it’s YouTube, it’s podcast, it’s Instagram, wherever it is. But make it an f make it a a thing for you to do and make it a part of your routine.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Hmm. I love that. And was that desire cultivated in you because you came to a realization that you wanted to know more, you wanted to learn more. Was it, was it a teacher that prompted you to it or was it because you failed? Like, because like, I tell students this all the time, but sometimes the switch doesn’t go off. And I’m curious to know what the trigger is to help someone understand like, learning is, is, is necessary <laugh>, you know, it’s needed.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (41:32):

Well, I’ve got intrinsic motivation, meaning I always want to be the best. Cool. And in order to be the best, I I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Yeah. Who else has done this and what can I learn in order to expedite my learning, my advancement, my progress? Because I could still do it, but what might take 10 years of me trial and error. I could shorten the one year by somebody’s teachable moments. And I think that’s really important. And if you’re not a book reader, then find a mentor and apprentice because that learning can happen the same way, maybe even better.

Sam Demma (42:06):

I often say mentorship is probably the, the lost form of teaching. Maybe watch it in movies, whether it’s Star Wars with OB one Kenobi or the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi. Right. so that’s awesome that you’re, you’re enthusiastic about that. Yeah. Those are the six As, those are my six principles, six assumptions. I’m curious to know, and I’m not gonna put you on the spot if one doesn’t come to mind, but is there anything that you would instantly add to that list?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (42:32):

Yeah, I think the, for me it’s that whole thing about you are steeped in grit and resilience. Hmm. Meaning how you respond to f failure setbacks, you know, that’s my jam. Whether you call it confidence, whether you call it mental toughness, resiliency, grit, hardiness. But that is a key piece that should be part of your mantra because whether you like it or not, you could be as, as insightful and as persuasive as you want. You will experience failure as you progress through life. And your response to that, your coping mechanism will really determine whether you continue on your path or you jump off and you give up.

Sam Demma (43:11):

I love it. No, that’s awesome. And you have a course coming out for students? I think, I believe it’s coming out in the spring or sometime in the future. Yeah. what, what is it all about? Tell us more. if you’re listening, tell the listener where they could find it as well.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (43:26):

Sure. the Skill of Self-Confidence masterclass, if you go on my website, dr ivan joseph.com, you can go ahead and there’ll be a time where you’ll sign up for that. And I think it’s coming out this spring, I should know that sort of stuff. <laugh> or you, if you were just saying, you know what, I’d just rather learn about this confidence. I don’t wanna join and pay money for a class go to dr ivan joseph.com front slash confidence and you could download a a workbook, 15 steps to self-confidence free workbook for you.

Sam Demma (43:54):

And if you’re wondering, I’ve downloaded it as well for the, for the listener, and it’s phenomenal. So definitely check it out. Ton of great gold in there. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s good stuff. And if someone just wants to connect with you or maybe even ask a question what would be the best way for them to do so?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:09):

You know, you can find me in all the socials. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Instagram. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Twitter, so I’m out there LinkedIn, anyone. And I’m happy to respond and, and give any feedback that you folks might want.

Sam Demma (44:24):

You talk about an Apple video that was featured, I believe it was 1966 and 97 97. That’s my, that’s my dad’s birthday. I shouldn’t forget that one. <laugh>. <laugh>, you know, here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the troublemakers. I just wanna say I hold you to that regard and yeah. This was phenomenal. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, and I look forward to continue reading your books as you publish them and taking some of your courses in the future.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:52):

Thanks, Sam, appreciate it. You did a great job. Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (44:55):

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 Dr. Ivan Joseph

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.

Sarah Wells – Olympic Athlete, Speaker and Founder of the Believe Initiative

Sarah Wells - Olympic Athlete, Speaker and Founder of the Believe Initiative
About Sarah Wells

Obstacles don’t scare Sarah Wells (@SarahWells400mh). As a 400m hurdler, this Olympian’s reputation was forged through overcoming challenges and achieving the incredible. Take her debut at the London Olympics in 2012, which came despite an injury that had her sidelined her for months just the year before.

Outside of competitive sports, this athlete is coaching people to pursue excellence through the Believe Initiative, an organization founded on—fittingly—a message of resilience. Most recently you would have seen Sarah pushing her limits on the latest season of The Amazing Race Canada.

Evidently someone who understands the importance of building resilience and self-belief, along with the power of purpose, you’ll want to listen-up when this Olympic semi-finalist and Pan Am Games silver medallist takes the stage.

Connect with Sarah: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

sarahwells.ca

London Olympics

The Believe Initiative

Become a Chapter Head – Believe Initiative

The Amazing Race Canada

Pan Am Games

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 is a very special interview with a very special educator. She is not one that works directly in the classroom every day as a teacher or a principal or support staff, but she works with thousands of young people every single year with an amazing program called The Believe Initiative. I’m so honored to call this individual a very close friend of mine. Her name is Sarah Wells; might ring a bell. Obstacles don’t scare Sarah Wells. As a 400 meter hurdler, this Olympian’s reputation was forged through overcoming challenges and achieving the incredible. She debuted at the London Olympics in 2012, which happened despite an injury that had her sidelined for months, just the year before. Outside of competitive sports, she’s coaching people to pursue excellence through the Believe initiative, which you’ll hear about today. An organization founded on a message of resilience. Most recently, you would’ve seen Sarah pushing her limits on the latest season of the Amazing Race Canada. She is a phenomenal speaker to youth and organizations and has so many amazing stories to share. I hope you enjoy this conversation with my good friend Sarah, and I will see you on the other side. Sarah, why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what it is that you do.

Sarah Wells (01:32):

So, my name is Sarah Wells. I am an Olympic 400 meter hurdler. I am a adoring fan of Mr. Sam Demma <laugh>. No, I’m honored to be here really. Excited to share a bit of my story, who, where I got started, honestly, in track and field. I wasn’t good at any sports and I had a high school teacher see me in gym class and he was like, you need to do track and field. And at that point, it was early into my high school experience, like it was like near the end of grade nine. And I had already been cut from every single high school team, like basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, cut from every team. So when the teacher is like, you should, you should come to the track team, I was like, no dude, I already got cut from every team at this school. <laugh>

Sarah Wells (02:16):

Like, you don’t want me on your team. And he was like, no, no, no. I just saw you run to the ball, do nothing with it, <laugh>, but then run away like really fast again so you can accelerate. I I wanna teach you how to hurdle. Hmm. And so I was like, okay, sure. So I go out and I end up finding hurdles and falling in love with the sport and end up setting my sights eventually on the Olympic games. And that high school teacher and I, we stayed coach athlete for the next nine years until we made the Olympics together, which is pretty unheard of and not, you know, your classic story. But yeah, it was a wild ride. I was convinced I wasn’t athletic and then suddenly I was <laugh>.

Sam Demma (02:56):

And at what point did you turn back and decide it’s time for, for me to share these experiences and stories with other people? You speak for clients like r BBC and huge schools and you start your own initiatives that we’ll talk about later as well. At what point did you turn back around and say it’s time to share and give back in speaking?

Sarah Wells (03:12):

So I was kind of head down into sport once I realized that I had some potential. But once I made the Olympics, I had a story to tell of what had gone on. And you know, the <laugh> short form of that is really, I had an injury. I sat out for what was supposed to be three months and turned into nine months. Wow. And I had never touched Olympic standard before. And so everyone was telling me like, you’ve just sat out for nearly a whole year, like you’re not gonna make it. And on my first day back to training, I got the word believe tattooed on my wrist. And I said, when I make the Olympic Games, I’m gonna put the Olympic rings underneath here. And six months later, <laugh> you know, shockingly even to myself, I make the Olympic games. And I finished that tattoo and I put the Olympic rings underneath exactly where I said I would.

Sarah Wells (03:59):

And so I’m like, holy mo, believing in yourself works. And my parents, they were really proud and so they were te telling their friends what I had done. And my parents’ friends were like, come talk to my kids’ school. And so I was like, okay. And so I walk into a gymnasium, I’m like, this is what happened. And like, I got a tattoo. Don’t get a tattoo though. Don’t tell your parents. I told you that <laugh> and like, just believe in yourself because if you believe in yourself, you achieve your goals. Look, I did it and I started sharing that story. And for four years while I was still training cuz I wanted to make a second Olympic games I was getting to speak and share that and inspire others and realize, you know, how powerful this what had happened to me could be used for good to help inspire other people. And so it was so exciting and it helped me fund my training and training camps and, and competitions and helped me continue to develop and get faster and stronger. And, you know, right before my next Olympics at it was the 2015 PanAm games, I ended up winning a silver medal and only losing to the number one ranker in the world. And so it really set me up to be like, okay, the next Olympics, 2016 Rio Olympics, I plan to go win a medal and call it a career and speak all I can <laugh>.

Sam Demma (05:12):

That’s so cool. I gotta be honest with you, when I think about any running athlete, like the first thing that comes to mind is like, fors, Gump, <laugh>. I’m just like running for hours. And I’m curious to know because as a soccer player myself, like training is fundamental to the game. Like, if you don’t train, if you don’t go to a track and you don’t run, you don’t become a faster sprinter. You know, you have to go to the track and you have to run. But I have to imagine that there’s, there’s certain days where like the running just became so melodic and you just, you know, it was like, it was like you didn’t wanna do it. Like I have to imagine there was times where you just didn’t wanna do it. And how did you get yourself through those moments and continue to push yourself past your limits every training session to get to where you were when you competed in the games?

Sarah Wells (05:55):

Oh yeah. There was a thousand moments I could probably think of, of days. I was just like, dang, why do I do this? Like this sucks. Like I laugh at the shirt that one like Nike made that shirt for runners that said, running sucks. <laugh>, <laugh>. Cause it does, it sucks. It’s so hard. Like, and it’s like a bunch of other teachers that say like, my sport is your sports punishment. Like that is what track and field is. Yeah. And even though I just joked about how I wasn’t good at sports and then I just said like, eventually I found track and field, it’s like I wasn’t good at sports, I was good at exercising <laugh>, I was good at just running, you know, and being able to put in work. And it wasn’t always fun. Like you said, there was many days I wanted to give up and just say like, ugh.

Sarah Wells (06:36):

So it’d be so much better if I could just like stretch for the whole practice, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, I don’t wanna push my body hard. But the ways I was able to rise above that in moments you just really didn’t want to was I think kind of twofold. Like one, there’s a little bit a around the like remembering your goal and like picturing yourself, like vividly picturing yourself what it’s gonna feel like and look like when you do get that goal. Mm-hmm. And there was moments in workouts where like I would show up kind of like a soggy cracker, like, ugh, am my coach, I wanna cracker <laugh>. Yeah. That’s saving a lot. and I would just be like, I don’t wanna be here today. Like I’d be cranky for whatever reason, maybe I had a bad work at the previous day or I didn’t get a good sleep and my coach would be like, you know what?

Sarah Wells (07:28):

Like get to it. Like I don’t care. Like this is what it’s gonna take. And what he would do sometimes is mid interval, like we’re approaching the end, this is where I’m, I’m wearing thin on grit and motivation and energy and I remember specifically this one workout we were doing hills and you are basically walking by the time you get to the top of this hill, like it is so challenging. We had done a bunch of figure eights, like you run diagonally all the way across and all the way up and then you jog down and you run diagonally all the way across and all the way up to draw figure eight. And we had to do like six sets of this and it was terrible. And I had already thrown up, I think at this point once <laugh>. And so I had to keep going.

Sarah Wells (08:06):

And my coach, I remember this like second last interval, which is one of the hardest intervals because you’re not done, you still have one more, but you’re so beat by that point. And so it’s like one of, it’s the second last interval, I’m running up this hill and as I like am getting to the top, I wanna give up, he can see I’m slowing down and he just yells to me 55 seconds, which is the time I needed to run in order to make the Olympic games. And it’s just like, just hearing him yell that in the moment, I was like, I’m tired, I’m exhausted, I don’t wanna keep going. But the second he yelled 55 seconds, it just anchored it all back to like, why am I doing this? What is this gonna help me? What brick does this help lay? And finished that workout and was like so pleased with myself of like, because he said that I didn’t give up because he said that I crushed the last workout or the last run.

Sarah Wells (08:56):

And like, I think a big part of how you push forward on any day, you don’t feel like doing your homework. You don’t feel like going to school, you don’t feel like doing the job that you signed up to do, you know, is by remembering like vividly what is the thing that this lays a brick for, whether it’s in a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, whatever that is. so that’s one thing. The, the second thing is a bit more anchored, less big picture and long term and more tangible on like a daily, weekly practice is I would keep a workout journal that would have, what was my workout? What times did I run, how was I feeling during the workout? And what I could do is every training season is cyclical. Like you have a base season where you do a long, like a bunch of hard long intervals.

Sarah Wells (09:44):

Then you have specific season where you’re doing, it’s kind of long and it’s really fast. And then you have kind of race season where you’re doing less volume but really high intensity and you follow these cycles every year. And so the workouts might be mildly different, but they’re a little bit the same at each time of year. And so I would keep a log and I could look back years and years worth of my, of my log and say, look, at this time of year last year I was only at this point and I don’t feel like running today, but look how much further ahead I am. Where else can I go? What other new heights can I reach? Or it holds you accountable of like, ugh, I was faster at this point last year. I need to keep going as much as I don’t wanna work out today.

Sarah Wells (10:25):

If I have this big goal then I, I need to push today. Like regardless of whether I wanna be here or not. And it just is a little bit of an accountability partner being held to that log. And you know, it might not be a daily practice for you if you’re doing this like with school or anything like that, but I would encourage you to keep a log of like things you were working on, what went well, what were the practices you were doing like character building practices, not like athletic sport practices that were enabling you to become the best version of yourself that were enabling you to take a step forward in your goals. And when you can see that and look back of like, oh, last fall in September I was so organized and I was committed to blocking time to work on school and I was committed to networking and reaching out to organizations I could volunteer at so that I was building my brand and my volunteer opportunities, then you can suddenly motivate yourself to be like, shoot, I better be doing that again. And you can push on the days you don’t want to because you’re held accountable to what you know works cuz you have tangible qualitative science to show that it does. So that’s really the kind of the two ways I would push beyond motivation is one remembering and anchoring to that big goal vividly. And the second thing would be keeping a log so you can hold yourself accountable to things that work and things that don’t.

Sam Demma (11:43):

Sorry. Do you have a second tattoo that says 55 seconds somewhere <laugh>?

Sarah Wells (11:49):

No, not yet. Not

Sam Demma (11:50):

Yet. That’s awesome. So cool. I love that.

Sarah Wells (11:52):

Love my believe tattoo. I’ll share this like quick story by I got the tattoo and I had been injured and my parents knew I wanted to make the Olympic games, but they really didn’t believe it was possible. They really didn’t like, not that they don’t love me, but I don’t really don’t think that they believed that it was possible. And I, I got the tattoo secretly. I finished my very first after the doctor cleared me to run, I finished my first workout and I was like, you know what I’m doing? I took my friend and I was like, let’s go. And I walked right from the practice to the tattoo parlor. I didn’t have an appointment. I literally walked in and I’m like, I need a tattoo blue, I believe on my wrist. So I get it. I didn’t tell anyone. And then I was at school so my parents didn’t see me. And I went home at Thanksgiving and I showed my dad and I got this believed tattoo and my dad said, you ruined Thanksgiving. <laugh> <laugh>. It was amazing. It was like kind of hilarious because yeah, he did not believe that was necessary. No pun fan. He’s a fan of the tattoo. Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah. He’s a big fan now though. He’s like, that’s awesome. Great job. Love that. You made the Olympics good work.

Sam Demma (12:56):

Yeah. Now, now it all makes sense, right? It’s funny, I, when I was 18 after my first knee surgery, I got this tattoo and it’s a, it’s a Latin phrase. Yeah. and it says Vinke keur, which means he who endures, conquers, you know, if you can endure pain, suffering, hardship training, now you can conquer and <laugh>. Well, did I know that I was gonna stop playing soccer after two more injuries, but <laugh> But I applied to all areas in life. Like I think it’s a, it’s a mindset Yeah. More than anything. Totally. But I’m curious, like from your perspective, what do you think makes up the mindset of an Olympic athlete? Like if I was to take some surgical equipment and like poke your brain and like figure out like what makes up Sarah’s mindset what do you think, what do you think the things are that would be included?

Sarah Wells (13:42):

So I think there’s, there’s people really put Olympic athletes on a pedestal Yeah. And think that they’re these like special humans that they must ha like you just ask me, can you get into my brain and look around and say our brains are gonna look very similar. Yeah. Like anyone, like while Olympic athletes, yes, it is a, is a unique thing that we are one of the best in the world at one specific thing. But so many of us, we had opportunities presented to us that we were able to, to take advantage of. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And there’s a professor, a Canadian professor that studies resilience that talks about how we admire the rugged individual, but we should be admiring the resourced individual. And really it’s about resilience and grit and all of that. Like there there’s some nature aspect of it of like, yes, someone might be willing to to harness or take advantage of an opportunity that’s presented them.

Sarah Wells (14:45):

They might be more inclined to do so. But it’s more about are those resources presented to the person? Like that’s how you can be resilient is when you have more opportunity, when you have resources in front of you. Now someone might say then, okay, so am I screwed? I’m in an underprivileged neighborhood and my school system doesn’t have a lot of things in front of me. Like, am I screwed? Then it’s like, well no, because there are, there are resources that like now it’s just like unfortunate that you have to take more of a role in choosing to go find those resources. Mm. But don’t blame yourself of like, I’m not resilient because like clearly I don’t know how to push past challenges clearly I don’t know what to do. Like, instead it’s like, okay, get, just acknowledge that it’s not, it’s not you, you’re not the person who’s not resilient.

Sarah Wells (15:35):

You’re not the person that’s not rugged, you’re not the person that’s not gritty. There’s not enough resources. And so ask for help in that moment. Like, I had a year where after having a very successful high school career, when I went to university, I got hurt right away. Like within the first few months I got injured and it was one of my first like really big injuries and I didn’t perform provincial on that provincial level. I like barely performed well on the national level. And I was so convinced, like, okay, it was the end of the road. I was a good high school athlete, this is it for me. And I had coaching staff and in a support system around me that never stopped believing in me. Mm-hmm. And they kept pouring resources into me. They kept providing the opportunities, they kept putting me on the track because one of my coaches said, talent doesn’t go away.

Sarah Wells (16:27):

And he said that to me. Did I believe it in that moment? No way. If you looked in my brain then, oh, let’s look for the grit in here. It wasn’t there. <laugh>. Yeah. It wasn’t there. What I had was, I had this amazing coach around me that said, talent doesn’t go away, Sarah, go get back on the track, try again, do it again. Do it again. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> until suddenly I realized myself like, oh shoot, he’s right. <laugh>, here it is. I found it. It took a while though. And so I think asking for help, like I I, when my coach said, look, what do you need? When I said I I just don’t know if I can make it. And he was like, Sarah, tell lets go away. What do you need? I said, I just need reminders. I just need you to keep telling me that this is possible then.

Sarah Wells (17:07):

And by doing that, I was able to open a door to find, to have him understand what I needed and then I got the resources I needed to then be resilient and be gritty and become an Olympic athlete. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so as we are all struggling with how do we be gritty? How do we become more resilient? How do we become more resourced? It’s like ask for help. And it, you know, ask for help has become quite trend right now on, on the like mental health space. And, and I think it’s so important there, but it doesn’t have to be like asking for help. Cuz I’m like, I’m so struggling that I’m like in the deep end over here, but asking for help for like literally simple things like, oh, you know what? I ha you, I could come into practice one day and be like, I’m having a rough day today.

Sarah Wells (17:49):

So in the last interval, remind me my big goal mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because you know what? I’m gonna start to let go of it then I’m just gonna, it’s gonna start slipping. And so I could at the beginning of practice, just tell my coach, Hey, I’m gonna need you to remind me why we’re here today. And because having him there, because he would remind me of that, like those external resources is like really what helped me get to the place I’m in. And even what I’m doing now, and I know we’re gonna get to that in a bit. Like, I’ve now built a youth organization and we help others build resilience and self-belief. Even what I’m doing now and how I’ve been able to build this organization and impact 120,000 youth and get on stages and do all these incredible things, it’s not because of me, it’s because of amazing people.

Sarah Wells (18:32):

I’ve like said, Hey, this is the mission I’m on. This is what I’d like to do. I don’t know how I’m gonna get there. But just so you know, <laugh>, that’s what I’m planning on doing <laugh>. And because I say that out loud because I’m brave enough to believe in myself and just put it out there, even though it might not come true, well suddenly that person who hears it is like, oh, I know someone you should talk to that might be able to help you with X. Oh, actually you wanna do that? I specialize in that. No way. Crazy. Yeah. And then I’m like, leapfrogging forward has nothing to do. Like, I won’t say nothing. My mom would be so mad at me, Sarah, you should be more. She would be like, want to. Yeah, exactly. You gotta believe in yourself isn’t your whole thing. Yeah, exactly. and I do like, I do believe in myself. I, I constantly say like, I believe I, if anyone can do this, I believe it’s me, but I believe I can do it because I’m willing to put the goal out there to ask for help and find the resources necessary. And I think, you know, if you looked inside of the, the mindset of an Olympic athlete, I think you would find an incredible incredible ability to ask and receive help.

Sam Demma (19:41):

Hmm. That’s such an interesting play on the idea. And I, I love that you went that way with it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it, it even got me thinking about this idea that like, you could be so prepared, right? Like the fastest runner in the world may have never mm-hmm. <affirmative> ran on a track and we just don’t know it yet. Like there could be someone who’s faster than Ussein Bolt who is better at swimming than Michael Phelps and Yeah. And, and we just don’t know it. Why? Because maybe they’ve never been presented with the opportunity to swim or run or mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they didn’t even know it was a thing and they haven’t asked for help. Right. You know what I mean? Like, I think it’s oh hundred percent. That’s such an interesting perspective. So asking for help and the mindset piece aside, what does your schedule look like back when you’re like full out training for the Olympics? Like, what does the work look like? Because I’m, I wanna make sure everyone listening knows, like despite the fact that you asked for help when you had opportunities, you still had to show up and like give your heart out to the training process every day.

Sarah Wells (20:40):

Yeah, absolutely. It was a ton of work and, and you have to be putting in, you have to be willing to put in that work. and I certainly was, my coach would probably tell you that there was workouts. I would come cause I would be so like if I had a bad workout the previous day or I had a bad race, then to me, like the only way to get better is like, you just push your body like crazy. Like I just wanna give it everything tomorrow, <laugh>. And so like there was days I showed up to the track and I would be like, I wanna run today till I throw up. I was just so committed to the thing. He’s like, okay, you crazy person. and of course we had a program and the way that program was lined out is we trained like five or six days of, of the week depending on time of year.

Sarah Wells (21:20):

So if it was base training season, we might, we trained six days a week with one day off. If it was closer to race time, we would, we would take two days off because you wanna have even more recovery to be ready for your race. So in, in the fall, I’ll paint, I’ll paint you kind of that picture, but so Mondays would be like speed. We would be doing like fast, like 60 meter sprints, 40 meter sprints, like block starts, like super, super speed. and that’s really about pushing the glass ceiling of your ability to go fast. You’re recruiting more muscles. you’re learning how to connect your nervous system to develop power and be like quick outta the blocks, kind of that stuff. So that day is speed and it includes weights and stuff. Tuesday would be lactic threshold. So if you’ve ever tried to run as hard as you can and your muscles start feeling like goopy full of like a burning sensation that’s lactic acid <laugh>.

Sarah Wells (22:15):

It’s like a milky kind of substance that goes all over your muscles that prevents oxygen from being able to like get inside of the muscles. And so as you run your hardest and fastest, your body develops, lactic it, it produces lactic acid, it starts making your muscles kind of milky and you have to train the system to then say, as it gets milky, take that milk and then turn it into energy. <laugh> learning that system is a it, you have to train your body to learn how to do that. So Tuesdays are brutal because all I’m trying to do is teach my body how to deal with that misery and pain and uncomfort and like discomfort. And like, my goodness, it’s a rough day tho those days I would hang out in your garbage cans over top of ’em a lot. So Tuesdays was terrible. Wednesdays would be like weights, like it would be pretty light, really focused on strength.

Sarah Wells (23:01):

Thursdays would be speed based, but this time it would be long speed. And so it wouldn’t be about 60 meters. It wouldn’t be about 40 meters, it would be about 220 meters. So it would be half my race, but all out. And so, you know, it would be a a rough, you’d, like, you’d still be put in a lot of work. You’d, your nervous system would be exhausted by the end. Friday, again a very like kind of light day because we wanna prepare for Saturday, which is another day, like Tuesday, which is the muscle milky, get to a garbage can and throw up at the end like, and not <laugh>. Now I’m making a picture like as if like two times a week I’m constantly running, but like certain times of the season that was the case. but yeah, you followed this, this and then Sunday off recover.

Sarah Wells (23:48):

You know, and for me, anyone who knows me knows I’m a treats fanatic and so I’d be like eating chocolate chip pancakes or breakfast on Sunday and <laugh>, you know, eating dessert at dinner and like ice cream galore and you know, it wasn’t the best fuel ever, but I, I couldn’t eat garbage on the day I had to do a workout because I would feel worse and, or I would throw it up <laugh> and so it would be Sunday I was like a yeah sleep, do schoolwork and try to like eat the food that I wanted. so that’s what a, a overarching week would look like. Now in a four hour practice, five hour practice, it would be my warmup alone takes like an hour where you’re doing jogging and drills and ankle mobility stuff and just getting ready, primed to go. And then once you’ve done that hour long warmup, well now you do a few biometrics to work on recruiting muscles and, and fast off the ground kind of stuff.

Sarah Wells (24:46):

Then you would do sprint drills so that you start training your body because when you’re running really fast, it’s hard to rewire the way you move your body. So we’d do sprint drills before we’d even sprint to try to like anchor in the way you should be sprinting. And then I would do hurdle technique drills because I’m a hurdler, so there’s a whole technique side around that. And so then I would have to do those drills. Then I might start doing reaction time stuff out of the blocks. I’ve just done my plyometrics. I’ve just rewired my brain of like, this is how you should be sprinting so that I do my out of the block stuff. Now I might actually start my runs. And so I would do things that we call strides, which would be at a certain pace. Cause whatever workout we’re about to do, we wanna start priming our body to prepare to run at a certain pace.

Sarah Wells (25:29):

So we do strides at a certain, like, okay, if I wanna be running 13 second one hundreds or cuz I’m about to run a 300 that I, I wanna be able to run 42, 41 seconds with like, and I need to be doing that. So I would do strides. Then we’d take like five to eight minutes recovery to like, almost just reset that your heart rate kind of come back to normal. And then after that five to eight minutes, now you start the actual interval training. And now the interval training is the like, you know, run milky body, you wanna die curl up in a corner. So like, depending on what the workout is like that can take, it could take an hour, take an hour and a half, like who knows how long that ends up taking depending on what the workout is. and you’re not running for the whole hour, an hour and a half, but the faster you run, the more recovery time you need.

Sarah Wells (26:17):

But that recovery time isn’t spent like just chilling on the sidelines because if you ran really fast, you’re, you’re in cheetah mode, right? So you run super hard, you throw up, you curl up in a corner, you feel like you’re gonna die, you’re waiting for your heart rate to come down before you have to walk to the start line and do it again. And I’m painting a very like dr. Dramatic picture and it’s not like that all the time, but I wanted to like give you the, the a day that we would go through more than one time a week.

Sam Demma (26:41):

I love that. It’s awesome.

Sarah Wells (26:43):

<laugh>. Then we’d finish the intervals and now we would do our like cool down jogs. We’d do med ball circuits. You’re throwing around that really heavy medicine ball. And then you go down to the weight room, finish your weights, then you get into a cold tub where you go above your belly button, full tub of like ice, icy covered water. Stay in there for 10 minutes and then you try to warm up, like get back, get your muscles back to like normal temperature and go fuel protein, carbohydrates. Like get ready for your next session.

Sam Demma (27:14):

<laugh>.

Sarah Wells (27:14):

That’s crazy.

Sam Demma (27:16):

<laugh>. You can write a whole book on it <laugh>. That’s so cool. what would you tell someone listening right now who has been told that what they wanna do with their life isn’t possible? Like I’m sure that, you know, when you don’t believe in yourself, you have little chance but mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, when you don’t believe in yourself and other people are telling you it’s not possible, but you know, there’s a student listening who still wants to do something. Like what, what would you tell them? What pieces of advice could you share?

Sarah Wells (27:44):

I would say find someone to show you what’s possible. Hmm. And what I say, what I mean by that is I had this perception in my brain. I wasn’t good at sports, right? I wasn’t good at sports. So how am I ever gonna be an Olympian? Like Olympians, they’re superheroes, they’re people that have perfect seasons and they never get injured and they’re, they win every race and they’re the best in the world. You know, they, they can’t have a bad day. They’re the best in the world. If you’re the best in the world, you don’t lose to Sally on your team because Sally on your team isn’t making the Olympics. And if you lose to Sally, you’re not going to the Olympics. And guess what, Sarah, you’ve been sitting out for a year so there’s no way you’re going to the Olympics and all of that.

Sarah Wells (28:24):

I believed all of that had to be perfect, had to be flawless Olympians pedestal. And then in 2008, four years before I made the Olympics, I had a teammate who I trained with day in, day out. I saw him get injured, I saw him miss training. Sometimes I saw him lose races. Guess what happened? He made the Beijing Olympics on a not flawless season on a you know, moments of defeat, moments of whatever. And he still made it. And he showed me what’s possible. Hmm. He helped me realize that you don’t have to be perfect and it’s, you have to work hard. You have to like want it, you have to do the thing, the things that you can do, but doesn’t have to be perfect. And as impossible as it may seem, cuz halfway through the season, I don’t think people thought he was gonna make it either.

Sarah Wells (29:13):

And then he did. And so it was like he showed me what’s possible. And so the next four years it was like, head down, let’s do this. And then when I got rocked <laugh> the year before, it was like absolutely. People told me it was impossible. I thought it was impossible at times. But I also just like tried to keep reminding myself of this thing of like, what he had shown me, how much like you did not have to be flawless. And of course like that, that sense of self-belief, like, okay, and mom, I don’t need you to believe in me. I believe in myself right now, you know, <laugh>. Yeah. And so while it’s hard to see and people are telling you it’s impossible and you yourself might feel it’s impossible, I would encourage you to just like, you know, we, we have such privilege and opportunity to have access to so many resources online through social media like YouTube, like podcasts that show you what’s possible. And so if you feel right now your goal is impossible, like go research someone who’s done what you wanna do, because I bet you there’s someone out there that maybe hasn’t done the exact thing you wanna do, but has done something in that ballpark, has done something in that arena or has reached the same height in a different industry or capacity in some way. And it’s just like by, by fostering a bit of that, that spark, you remind yourself what’s possible.

Sam Demma (30:30):

Hmm. I think what’s so unique is that you’ve now created an entire organization that gives that feeling to thousands of young people like <laugh>, like if they don’t believe in themselves, like you come in and you like, you like shove the belief in them <laugh> if that’s the right way to put it. But like, tell me about the Belief Initiative and what it looked like when it started, what it looks like, what it looks like right now mm-hmm. <affirmative> and why you’re super passionate about it.

Sarah Wells (30:59):

Cool. So I mean, yeah, the Believe Initiative came about for, for a few reasons. Like one I, that high school teacher that saw me in gym Classon told me to do track and field. That teacher believed in me before I ever believed in myself. And so the Believe Initiative can really play a role in being that coach for as many people as possible because of what we talked about. Resources are important, having access to opportunities are important and not everyone’s gonna have that coach or teacher in their high school. So how can I come into as many high schools as possible and be that teacher for them and say, Hey, try out for that thing. Go do that thing, pursue that passion. Show yourself what’s possible kind of thing. So it, it really, it has like an spark in an essence way back from the first time I ever even explored the support of check meal.

Sarah Wells (31:44):

It also comes from, I told you the story here and now about how I made the Olympics. but there’s another story of how I, four years later don’t make the Olympics. Hmm. And it was shocking to me because I was in the best shape of my life and as I had mentioned previously, I had just come off winning a PanAm game silver medal. And so I was supposed to, and I’m using air quotes right now for the audio listeners, I was supposed to win a medal. And so when I didn’t even make the Olympics <laugh>, it was, it was I don’t know, like I felt completely defeated and I felt I had failed and I thought I had lied to people because previously I had been telling people, if you believe in yourself, you achieve your goals. Hmm. And now I believed in myself and I did not achieve my goal.

Sarah Wells (32:27):

And so when this happened, I actually took a whole year off sport. I quit sport for a year. And in that year off I did a ton of reflection and thinking and I realized you don’t build self-belief through achievements. You build self-belief through action. Mm. Because I actually believed myself more strongly after not making the Olympics even more so than when I did <laugh>. And I think that’s cuz you build it through, you build self-belief through action. And I was willing to go to the Olympic trials a like in the 2016 year when I ended up not qualifying. I was willing to not let my circumstances define my outcome to go for it anyways. And so I was like, oh, okay, like you build self-belief through action. How can I help other people build self-belief through action? And that’s when the Belief Initiative was founded and I was like, I wanna help students connect a passion they have and a problem they wanna solve and they can use that passion to solve that problem and build self-belief through action.

Sarah Wells (33:23):

Hmm. And so we started this out by just going into schools and doing like one-off assemblies. Like, okay, this is how I believed in myself, this is how you can believe in yourself here. Let’s talk about ideas that you have that how you can build self-belief through action. And it started like that and then it grew and it grew and we signed a corporate partner that allowed us to do cross country tours. And we’ve been in like most provinces in Canada and a handful of states. And we went way up in Northwest Territories in like, you know, 40 degrees north of the Arctic Circle. We did authentic Dogsledding. It was so cool <laugh>. but you know, it’s been so, I’ve been so fortunate to travel all over and get to inspire young people everywhere. And when Covid hit, we couldn’t go into schools and we couldn’t do what I had been doing, which was more of these like tour based summit experiences.

Sarah Wells (34:13):

And teachers were also completely overwhelmed and did not want to, nothing did not have time or energy or resources to be able to deliver this program with their students. And so I totally get that <laugh>, I completely understand. It’s like been a wonky year. And so what we’ve decided to do is actually say, okay, if teachers are overwhelmed, well there’s some pretty awesome students out there that they can, they can lead this. Like why do we need the teachers? We don’t need them. And so, you know, if you’re listening to this and you are a student and you are a student leader looking for a leadership opportunity, like we want you, because the way that this works now is we have students apply to become a Believe chapter head. And you lead that chapter and we give you the training and resources and everything you possibly need to run a successful chapter.

Sarah Wells (35:03):

You have other peers, you get access to chapter heads from all across the country, actually all across North America. Cause we have some US chapters as well. Nice. And you can run this belief chapter at your school, you get a leadership opportunity. We actually provide you different training and access to mentors and things like that. And then you get to empower your chapter members to build these believe passion projects, which helps them connect that passion. They have problem they wanna solve and they use the passion to solve the problem. So the chapter heads, they really become the champions because while we enable them and equip them, they really are the the ones that help gather these members and then empower them to do really great things in the community. And it’s a great story for them to tell as a leader to say, Hey, university applicant application.

Sarah Wells (35:48):

Like, here’s what I’ve done and here’s how many students I’ve inspired as a young person. And it’s been so cool to see on my end because I used to be limited by how many planes I could get on and days I could be in a school and how many, you know, days I could spend overnight in an airport. But now it’s like with being able to empower these other, these amazing student leaders and I’ve no doubt, whoever you are listening on the other end of this you student leader. Yes. You, I would like you to apply <laugh> to become a chapter head because it’s this incredible group and it’s been so cool to watch the chapter Heads from All Over, connect and support each other and share best practices. And so you know, personal plug here, you can go to believe in aship.com and if you hit the Believe leadership tab, you’ll find where you can apply and become a belief chapter at your school or in your community.

Sam Demma (36:40):

I love that. And I just wanna plug you times too <laugh> you know, not only will you be able to have awesome stuff on your resume and you know, build an awesome initiative in your school, but like your peers will look at you like a freaking hero for <laugh> for bringing something together during a time where everyone is so far apart, you know Right. Physically and emotionally. yeah. So I feel like this is needed now more than ever. And so if you’re listening to this, like take it as a sign, take it as a signal to go to Believe initiative.com, sign up become a chapter ahead, spearhead an initiative at your school and also meet Sarah Wells, the freaking Olympian <laugh>, you know, it’d be pretty cool. so I love that. That’s amazing. And you’ve impacted 120,000 students so far, is that, is that right?

Sarah Wells (37:32):

Yeah, 120,000 students. we’ve had like approaching 10,000 students who have initiated projects. Yes. we haven’t been able to track impact of projects on everything, but we just started tracking it in the fall. And so just, you know, 2020 fall we had projects that impacted 19,000 people. And so that’s, that’s only tracking the projects we had in the fall <laugh>. And so I know it’s gonna go far and wide from there and we’re gonna start tracking and reporting that more so bigger numbers to come

Sam Demma (38:03):

<laugh>. All right, cool. Sounds good. Believe initiative.com Leadership tab?

Sarah Wells (38:07):

Yep. The Believe leadership tab.

Sam Demma (38:09):

Okay, cool. Sounds good. And if anyone wants to reach out to you, send you a, a note or a comment or a message, what would be the best way for them to do so as well?

Sarah Wells (38:18):

So I’m on Instagram and Twitter @SarahWells400mh, which is like Sarah Well’s 400 meter hurdles, which is a really big regret and I really should just change my social media handle, but I don’t think is that bad, like <laugh>, will you change your social media handles? Does everyone just be like you’re gone? But yeah, @SarahWells400mh on Instagram and Twitter and then you, you can contact me through the website as well, so.

Sam Demma (38:42):

All right. Awesome. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to come on here and share a little bit behind the scenes about yourself, your story, your initiative. I really appreciate it and I wish you all the best in the future.

Sarah Wells (38:53):

Thanks, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sarah Wells

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.

Chapter One: Empty Your Backpack (Read Along)

Sam Demma: Global Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author
About Empty Your Backpack

In Empty Your Backpack, Sam Demma demonstrates that your dreams are within reach, and it’s the beliefs you carry and the actions you take that determine whether you will achieve them.

Demma guides how to move closer to your dreams faster than you ever imagined. He shows that by cultivating empowering beliefs while committing to consistent actions that fuel your creativity and growth, you can make things happen in your life the way you envision.

Are you weighed down by people dismissing your dreams as unrealistic? You have big dreams. There are things you want to accomplish, but maybe they feel out of reach-especially when people tell you they’re impossible. That heavy feeling of doubt is your backpack. It’s full of limiting beliefs and dreams crushed by the opinions of others. It’s time to empty your backpack and release that weight from your shoulders.

Demma’s guide offers actionable ideas to help young people keep faith in their dreams even when those around them lose theirs. He reveals pathways that can help bring dreams to life and empower you to be the best version of yourself.

Empty Your Backpack is an easy-to-follow guide filled with tried-and-tested principles and inspiring stories from Demma’s remarkable life that will help you optimize your beliefs and actions to get you where you want to be.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empty Your Backpack on Amazon

Empty Your Backpack (Signed by Sam Demma)

Empty Your Backpack Animation

Empty Your Backpack Project

The Story that Inspired the Project

The Backpack of Beliefs

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 special one. It is not a normal interview. It is a read along from my most recently debut published book; “Empty Your Backpack.” It was released on November 18th with an in-person book launch in Pickering, Ontario. There was just under 300 people in attendance and the book has started to make its way into classrooms. We had our first class set ordered from a school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and have sold just over 400 copies. If you enjoy reading along with me in this chapter, number one, Empty Your Backpack, please reach out and we’ll make sure to get you some books as well. Without further ado, I’m gonna go ahead and read to you chapter one, Empty Your Backpack, Belief: You Define You.

Sam Demma (00:59):

It was an ordinary evening and I wasn’t prepared for what was about to unfold. After eating supper with my family, I returned to my office in the basement to prepare for an Instagram live. That night I was being interviewed by a young leader and we’d be talking about leadership, the importance of service, and helpful ideas for young dreamers. In the first 40 minutes of the interview, there was great conversation and lots of laughs. Then we invited viewers to ask questions or share a little bit about themselves. One viewer jumped on and explained that they had two goals in life to become an actor and to get 50,000 followers on social media. I politely challenged the person to explain what gaining followers would help them accomplish. What they shared blew me away. If I became an actor and had thousands of followers on social media, people at school would stop bullying me and calling me a loser.

Sam Demma (01:55):

This person explained that their life was filled with bullies, that they spent most of their time crying and that they had considered ending their life on many occasions. They then turned off their camera and went silent. The hairs on my arms stood tall. I could feel their pain through my screen and my eyes welled with tears. I found myself at a loss for words. This bright young individual had considered ending their life because of other people’s hurtful words. Those words repeated over and over became personal beliefs, beliefs that they carried with them. The interviewer and I reassured this individual that everyone watching loved them and wanted to see them do well, and then we shared some resources that would allow them to find the help they needed that was beyond what we could provide. After the call ended, I couldn’t get this situation outta my mind.

Sam Demma (02:47):

I felt compelled to reflect on my experiences dealing with words that other people used to define me. What I wish I could have helped that viewer believe in that moment is that other people’s words don’t define your worth. Words are meaningless jumbles of letters until you the person hearing them give them power. Often the negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little or nothing to do with you. How would your life change if you truly believe that and allowed others words to slip off your back like books in an open upside down backpack, your invisible backpack? Each of us walk around with an invisible backpack strapped to our shoulders. In this bag, we carry our experiences which inform our beliefs. We also carry the beliefs, expectations, and opinions that other people give to us, some good and some bad.

Sam Demma (03:45):

These also inform our own beliefs. Other people’s words can hold real weight. If you let them, they can become bricks that you carry on your back and they can occupy space in your mind. They can stop you from acting or they can propel you forward. Words can unify a divided nation or cause mass destruction. Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to give more energy and attention to the negative things people say about us rather than the positive things. This is the negativity bias. It explains why you can forget hundreds of compliments but not the one terrible thing someone said about you. Like most humans, you probably spend a disproportionate amount of time focused on the one negative comment wondering what’s wrong with you, rather than feeling grateful for all the positive ones. After I speak at conferences in schools, attendees often fill out feedback forms to rate my performance.

Sam Demma (04:40):

I’ll never forget the feedback from one event I did in Alberta. It was all extremely positive except for one comment, typical motivational speaker. The last thing I aim to be is typical, so I took this comment to heart. It made me feel sad and frustrated. It wasn’t extremely negative and the event organizer still hired me to speak the following year, but I spent over an hour thinking about that comment and allowing it to bother me before I shifted my focus. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you got a fantastic grade on a test but couldn’t get over that one stupid mistake you made. Maybe you’ve allowed the negativity in your life to overshadow all the spectacular things that make you you. Maybe you’ve been carrying around hurtful words in your invisible backpack and they’re weighing you down. Can you recall something negative someone said to you that had a lasting impact on your confidence and self-belief?

Sam Demma (05:38):

If you’re like me, you not only remember what the person said, but you can rebuild the entire situation in your mind. You remember the name of the person where and when it happened, and most importantly, how it made you feel. Left unaddressed. Thoughtless comments from careless people can take root your mind and over time become your limiting beliefs. Imagine that a belief that was never yours to begin with ends up being the thing holding you back and weighing you down. Even a comment someone made to you when you were a child can inform the decisions you make for the rest of your life. You might believe you’re not good at music because your parents told you that at the dinner table. You might believe you can’t play basketball because your high school coach said you are too short. You might believe you can’t build a new skill after the university because someone told you it’s too late and you should stick to what you know.

Sam Demma (06:34):

Over time, your backpack fills up and if you don’t stop to remove the beliefs that aren’t yours, you may end up living a life that’s not yours and fall short of your true potential. Shortly after my second knee surgery, my soccer coach jokingly yelled at me from the sideline in front of the entire team. Hey bud, are you going to get up off the bench and play or are you going to retire soon? At that point in my athletic career, I was routinely breaking down in tears in front of my family and friends. I’d limp around school on crutches with a bag of frozen peas strapped to my swollen knee at home, I’d perform every exercise possible to speed up my recovery so I could get back on the field to play the game. I loved the mental and physical stress of rehab. Doing an internship at a gym and driving an hour and a half to attend practice only to sit on the bench and spectate was overwhelming to say the least while on earth with the coach, the person I’m supposed to look up to and learn from, say something so needlessly hurtful.

Sam Demma (07:40):

It was comments like this along with my own mental battles that created my resentment toward the sport. My backpack became so heavy that after I decided to stop playing soccer, I unfollowed all of my former teammates on social media and block the coach. Seeing or hearing anything about that part of my life stirred up deep sadness and anger. I hope that some of my teammates read this book and realize it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with my insecurities and internal battles. It took me over two years to find my peace and rebuild myself. My grandma was the one who taught me that if you have nothing nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. Now I understand what she meant. Words cut like knives when they’re aimed at insecurities and you never know what someone is going through. Just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying it.

Sam Demma (08:33):

It’s obvious that my coach didn’t understand the impact of his words, but the negative thoughts they created stuck with me for a long time. There are still nights when I wake up in a panic from a dream about playing professional soccer. My coach’s comment isn’t the only one I’ve needed to remove from my backpack. Teachers who never taught me approached me at school reunions to offer unsolicited lectures on why I should be in school because they want what’s best for me. Relatives at picnics have tried to convince my father to encourage me back into formal education suggesting that I’m wasting my time in life. Luckily, I regularly take the time to empty my backpack and my parents continue to witness the 10 to 12 hour days that I work in my basement studio and support me without hesitation. Find peace knowing that people rarely see the full picture of your life. Let everyone share their thoughts and nod vaguely If you don’t feel like arguing, but don’t internalize or hold onto the things that stop you from following your path. It’s important to respect others, but you don’t need to consume their beliefs and opinions. You are your own best advisor. No person on this planet has gone through.

Sam Demma (09:59):

No person on this planet has gone through and experienced exactly what you have. Your experience matters. Don’t buy into the limiting belief. That experience comes from age. That’s probably a message someone put in your backpack a long time ago. Sure, time gives you an advantage because it gives you the chance to try different things, but time can also be wasted. I know 20 year olds who have had more experiences than some adults in their forties or fifties experience comes from experience, so be confident in your decisions and stop discounting the power of your beliefs and choices. Whose beliefs are you carrying? Your backpack accumulates beliefs from many sources including family, friends, school, media, religion, and most importantly, past experiences. The latter includes others’. Past experiences, often close family and friends will project their beliefs onto you, so be careful which beliefs you place in your backpack.

Sam Demma (11:00):

Let’s say your dream is to open a restaurant and you have a cousin who failed attempting something similar. Ask them if you should open a a restaurant and they’ll tell you absolutely not simply because their past experience involved failure. Find someone who runs a successful restaurant and they’ll likely tell you it’s the best business in the world. In both cases, the other people are projecting their past experiences on you in the form of their positive or limiting beliefs. Be aware that you may also come across successful people who will tell you not to pursue the thing they’re doing carefully consider their opinions as they may help you avoid a future disaster, but ultimately make your own choice. Even if they seem successful, they may not find the life they’re living meaningful. Remember, your definition of success is personal and someone else’s dissatisfaction with their work has nothing to do with you.

Sam Demma (11:54):

In this example, however, you should give the successful restaurant owner’s perspective and advice more attention than your cousins because the restaurant owner is currently doing what you wanna do. Fill in your backpack with the thoughts of people who’ve never done what you wanna do is pointless. A pilot would never ask a passenger how to fly the plane. When someone gives you unsolicited advice or tells you why you can’t do something, ask yourself, what past experience did this person have that resulted in this belief? And remember, people who are hurting often hurt others. Someone you know might be trying to tell you how to live your life because they’re dissatisfied with their own. Sometimes when a person can’t do something themself, their ego wants to believe that you can’t do it either. Don’t listen to their words or place them in your backpack. Instead, find someone successful who is doing exactly what you wanna do and ask for their advice.

Sam Demma (12:50):

The rapper La Russel said it best during our interview. Impossible is the opinion of the incapable. Start repacking. After taking other people’s negative beliefs, comments, and opinions out of your backpack, it’s time to fill it with things that will support you along your journey. The first things to repack are people who push you to grow personally and professionally. As a soccer player, I was a midfielder. My main responsibility was to receive the ball from the defense and successfully pass it forward to the offensive player so we could score goals. My coach would always yell at me, Sam, check your shoulders. He wanted to ensure I was aware of who was around me so I wouldn’t receive the ball and then turn toward an opposing player. Similarly, it’s important to constantly evaluate who’s surrounding you in your life. The people you invest time in will rub off on you whether you like it or not.

Sam Demma (13:47):

You’ll assume some of their beliefs and habits. This doesn’t mean you need to cut off all of your friends and become a lone wolf. Just take note of how your friends’ actions influence you. You want friends who will keep it real with you while also being your biggest supporters. My best friend Lucas is one of those people for me. When I decided to drop outta university, he consistently reminded me to bet on myself. He believed in my abilities more than I believed in myself, and we would make time to meet up and talk about our dreams. I’m so grateful for our friendship. You don’t need a large circle, but you need at least one person who will hold you accountable and believe in you. Next, fill your backpack with the beliefs and opinions of people who’ve achieved greatness. Their beliefs are the blueprint for success.

Sam Demma (14:36):

These can be individuals who inspire you even if you’ve never met them. Weeks after I got my driver’s license, I started driving to and from soccer practice on my own. The drive was 45 minutes each way, so every day I spent an extra hour and a half in the car. That quiet time alone inspired me to begin listening to podcasts. One of my favorites was the Sports Motivation Podcast, hosted by a former professional football player, Niho Bo. In each episode, he’d break down the mindset and habits you need to dominate your sport and reach high level performance. I made a habit of arriving at practice 15 to 30 minutes early so I could jot down notes from the podcast in a Dollar store notebook. I still have those notes and eventually Nee became a personal mentor. He’s responsible for a large part of my belief system in early business success.

Sam Demma (15:26):

On average, I consumed two to three hours of music and interviews daily, and I encourage you to listen to and watch content that reinforces powerful thoughts and helps you dream bigger, find role models you relate to, and listen to their content on repeat. Emptying and refilling your backpack starts with awareness over the next few days, weeks and months, try to catch yourself. When a negative belief enters your mind, write it down and spend some time figuring out where it came from. Once you see that it’s not yours, let it go. Remove it from your backpack. Set aside time to do this again and again until you reach your goals and find peace of mind, life becomes more meaningful when you stop carrying around and acting on other people’s thoughts and opinions. The fact is, no one cares about your life as much as you do, and along your journey people will say negative things.

Sam Demma (16:20):

People might tell you that your dreams are stupid. They might call you ugly or a loser. What you do with their words is up to you. Be selective about which ones go into your backpack. Their words do not and never will. Define your worth. From this day forward, whenever you feel your backpack getting heavy, flip it upside down, allowing the unsupportive words and beliefs to quickly slide out and onto the pavement behind you. Emptying your backpack is a lifelong process. Chapter one, takeaways other people’s words, don’t define your worth. The negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little to do with you. You have an invisible backpack strapped to your shoulders. Check it often to see what beliefs you’re carrying along your journey. Take out the ones that are weighing you down. Other people’s beliefs are often a projection of their own past experiences. Not all opinions are equal. Repack your backpack with supportive friends, inspiring media, and the beliefs and opinions of people who are currently living your definition of success. In the next chapter, we’ll explore a belief that will help you navigate another reality that can be very uncomfortable. Your journey will look different from everyone else’s

Sam Demma (17:46):

<laugh>. I did not just clap for myself on my own podcast <laugh>. I hope you enjoyed listening to me read chapter one of Empty Your Backpack. Feel free to share this episode with your class to listen to it all together to have a meaningful discussion about what it means to empty your backpack and what it actually means to have a backpack at all strapped to your shoulders in the first place. If you’re looking for some follow up activities that can go along with this audio recording, please send me a message, and if you’re at all interested in buying some copies of the book, you can do so on Amazon and by searching Empty Your Backpack, or if you’d like a class set or signed versions, you can go to shop.samdemma.com. Again, that’s shop.samdemma.com and buy them directly from me or send me an email at sam@samdemma.com. Have an amazing rest of your day. I hope it’s a very productive one, and wherever your journey in life takes you next, make sure that your backpack remains empty. I will see you next week on another episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.

Jason Kupery – Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division

Jason Kupery - Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division
About Jason Kupery

Jason Kupery (@jkupery) is a Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division which serves students and families in both Southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, vice principal, principal and director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching, both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions.

Jason believes strongly that a strengths based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their “deep joy and the world’s deep need meet.”

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Palliser School Division (PSD)

University of Victoria – Teacher Education Programs

University of Calgary

Mentorship for New Teachers – PSD

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 (00:03):

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 Jason Kupery. Jason is the Director of learning for the Palliser School Division, which serves students and families in both southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, Vice Principal, Principal and Director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching; both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions. Jason believes strongly that a strength based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their deep joy and the world’s deep need meet and intersect. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Jason and I will see you on the other side. Today we are joined by a very special guest virtually, who was recommended by another past guest; Joyce Sonata. Today’s special guest is Jason Kupery. Jason, thank you so much for coming on the show. Please start by introducing yourself and telling everyone a little bit about who you are.

Jason Kupery (01:22):

Hey Sam. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Happy to be here. Yeah, so as Sam said, my name is Jason Kupery and I’m a director of learning with the Palliser school division in southern Alberta. We have some schools in Calgary, and we have lots of schools in southern Alberta as well. And yeah, I just, I’ve been an educator for 23 years now. All of my time has been spent in high school. In high schools I was a teacher. I’ve been a Vice Principal, Principal, and now a director. And a large part of my responsibility is looking after high school programming, and another big rock in my portfolio would be health and wellness as well. I shared that responsibility with another colleague in my school division. And so it’s inspiring young people and seeing them grow and seeing them do that in a healthy way is definitely a passion of mine.

Sam Demma (02:20):

What got you interested in education? Did you know when you were a student, when your teachers would ask you, what do you wanna be when you grew up that you wanted to work in education?

Jason Kupery (02:32):

Yeah, that’s a good question. I always knew that I wanted to be I’m one of those weird people that is <laugh>, identifies as introverted. Okay. do like the, do like the idea of being around people and being of influence. And so when I went to school I was big into sports like yourself. and I went to, I, I grew up in Ontario and so I went to university to play football. Nice. and essentially that’s the only reason I went to university. other than, you know, there wasn’t a real academic pursuit at that time in my life. and I heard somebody else the other day say you know, I wasn’t always the greatest student and I did get myself into a bit of trouble. and, you know, those, those skills I honed around that sort of shenanigans in my life certainly made me a better educator cuz, you know, down the line you’d have kids trying to use things on you. I’m like,

Sam Demma (03:23):

I know this <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (03:24):

I don’t think, I’m not sure that’s original. I know you’re, and here’s how I know. Cause I used that once. Yeah. and so, yeah, I think it did prepare me to be a better educator. So I went, played football didn’t get a whole didn’t get a far away with that. cuz I wasn’t going for the right reasons. and so I sort of hunkered down and went to transferred schools. I stopped playing football and I got a little more serious about my my studies. I actually became a financial advisor for a while given an opportunity I had at the time of my life. But again, still knowing that I wanted to do something different. And I eventually moved to Victoria and the University of Victoria had an awesome teaching program, and I knew at that point that I needed to apply, and I was lucky enough to get into the program and had a wonderful experience there. And the rest, as I say, is history the last 23 years, I guess, have been going, going well ups and downs. And but I do love the idea, or sorry. I love being an educator and the idea of speaking to kids lives.

Sam Demma (04:38):

Victoria’s a beautiful place. I, I was there in August and behind one of the residents buildings at Vancouver Island University. There’s a bunch of wild black berries that grow. I don’t know if it was the same at Victoria University, like near or around campus, but I was just losing my mind. You can go to school and then fill a bucket of blackberries for free <laugh>, it’s,

Jason Kupery (05:02):

Yeah. No, they’re everywhere on the island for sure. Yeah. It’s a, it’s a beautiful place. I, I met my wife there and she grew up there her entire life, and she wanted to get off the island. So that was I’m, I’m now in southern Alberta in the beautiful rock. So no complaints.

Sam Demma (05:18):

So from your transition from Victoria to here, tell me about the different roles you’ve worked in education at different stages of your careers.

Jason Kupery (05:28):

Yeah, so I started out as a, as a junior teacher of course. And my first job in teaching, I had you know, you have eight blocks in a four by four traditional schedule. Nice. I had seven different preps, so I taught everything from English 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 to and so it was it was a good year. it was a busy year but it helped refine me because you have to you have to learn how to multitask no question when you’re in the classroom, of course. and it keeps you on your toes when you’re preparing for so many different subjects and things like that. So it was a wonderful time in terms of the education that I received and, and the lifelong learning that it instilled in me. but it was a lot. And of course, I also coached volleyball, basketball they had a, they had a, a floor hockey team I coached there you know, led some trips and, and those kinds of things.

Jason Kupery (06:23):

And it was wonderful because again, it’s one of those things you mentioned earlier about, you know, your vocation and your passion and that coming together. And I, that certainly solidified that. And I know for a lot of teachers it has a high turnover rate in the first few years because again, that’s a lot of work. And if you’re not totally committed it it may knock you right out of the, out of teaching altogether. Right. Mm. and I found, for me, that was refining that for me, that was, yes, this is where I need to be. this is a great deal of fun and it’s amazing interacting with young people who are learning and they’re awkward and they’re silly, and they do some really dumb things, to be honest. And you get to be Yeah, I, I can help you with that because I did those exact same things. So it’s kind a neat thing for sure.

Sam Demma (07:11):

What is, sorry, continue.

Jason Kupery (07:14):

Oh, I was just gonna say, and then after that, I, I, we moved here to I, I’m in Calgary. we moved here and just progressing through the you know, continuing to do that. You, you find a new space, you’ve grown more, you’ve teach different subjects. And I just always had it in my heart that I wanted to lead. Yeah. and I had I, that, those giftings were identified in me. I was very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors and people in my life who identified those gifts and said, Hey, you need to think about this. and so I went into to administration and then eventually to a principal role. I completed my masters at the University of Calgary, I think in 2012. I was finished. and then was, was administrator in high school. And then of course, now I’m director of learning for last seven years. So that is my progression.

Sam Demma (08:03):

When you think about the mentors in your life, I’m sure there’s so many, but are there any that had a really significant impact on you that you still stay in touch with and are in communication with? And if so, what did some of those mentors in your life do for you that had a big difference?

Jason Kupery (08:21):

Yeah. So for me that, that goes quite quite a ways back. And so I was raised in a single parent home with my mother and we didn’t have a whole lot and I didn’t have a lot of positive male influence my life at the time. And so somebody my mother worked with one of her friends at work was, she was just mentioning that to her at work, and she said, oh, my husband can come by and, and take him out and, you know, hang out with him for a bit. That’d be, and, and so that was arranged, and I think that was back in, I’m dating myself here, but that was probably back in 1986, 87, oh, sooner three maybe. anyways. And so he, that mentor is still in my life. He is grandpa to my kids.

Jason Kupery (09:04):

 he helped he helped me along the way. and so that was a very significant obviously mentor in my life and now like a father. so that was the real blessing. And along the way he’s helped me on a number of occasions. so that’s the major one. But in terms of my, my career there have been so many people that have just been, you know, when you, when you see people that have something you don’t whether that be wow. Wisdom when you’re young, right? yeah, yeah. Or just the way of dealing with people or like a, like a sober second thought, like, hang on a second, have you thought about this? Because my personality is one that, hey, we gotta get this done and I’m just gonna, you know, put my head down and charge through the plate glass window kind of deal.

Jason Kupery (09:50):

Right? And we’re gonna get it done. and there’s been so many wise people in my life that have said, hang on a sec, what if, what if we did this way? Or, or, why don’t you try and just slow this thing down a little bit so that you can help other people catch up? Right? Mm. or, you know, you proceeded too quickly and now look at what happened. You created a massive mess, and now we’ve gotta go clean it up. So what did you learn from that? Right. Which is the big thing. And so the most, the most positive people in my life have, have been the ones that, cuz I’ve made plenty of mistakes haven’t, you know, pointed a finger and screamed and, or shouted or abandoned me or whatever. They’ve said, Hey, look, that didn’t go well. So what did you learn from that? And if there’s anything that I can try and help other people with in that regard, it’s that same thing. It’s like let’s get out of the guilt and shame kind of cycles here and say, yeah, everybody screws up and it’s an important lesson for you to learn, whether you’re one of my students or whether you’re a colleague or whether you’re a friend yeah. That, that didn’t go well. So what can we learn from it and how can we how can we move on in a positive way? So,

Sam Demma (10:49):

Hmm. That’s such a good reminder. I feel like sometimes when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves up for it for way too long. I, as you were explaining, that situation reflected back on one of the biggest mistakes I made in my career, speaking <laugh>. And it was when I was just starting, I was 17, and at the time, I wasn’t using a calendar to keep track of what I had committed to. And you might be able to guess her, this is going, but I basically booked a presentation with about 300 people. Some of them were in the school board that I grew up in, and it, it was at a local, a local arena. And they called me the day of the event, Sam, we’re so excited. We know that you’re starting in about 10 minutes. we just wanted to make sure that you’re nearby.

Sam Demma (11:39):

And I had totally forgot six months ago that I had booked this engagement. I didn’t put it on my calendar. And I was like, an hour and a half drive away. I instantly started bawling my eyes out, and for about two months I would walk down from my bedroom in the morning and look at my parents and go, I can’t believe I did that. And it got to the point where my parents were like, Sam, shut up. Like, you know, we’ve heard about this 60 times now, you’re not gonna make the mistake again. And it took me so long to get out of the guilt and shame period, and into the, let me learn from this, reflect on it, and build new systems so it doesn’t happen again. And I don’t think, there was like a defining moment for me where I was like, I’m gonna stop thinking about this. And I’m curious to know, like when you’ve made a mistake or when someone that you know, in the education world’s made a mistake, how do you quickly, or maybe not quickly, but how do you transition from the beating myself up to the, let’s now learn from this and move on?

Jason Kupery (12:39):

Yeah, that’s a good question. And I’ll tell you, I wish I could tell you no, none of the, I, you know, when I make a mistake, I just let it go and I, it’s gone.

Sam Demma (12:46):

Yeah. <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (12:47):

I dwell, I’m a dweller for sure. And and everybody close to me knows that you don’t have to worry about beating up on me because I’m gonna do a better job than anybody else can, right? Yeah. and so what I do, my strategy for it is to talk to people that I trust and love, right? So that’s, that’s the biggest thing. I I, yeah, it, it’s, it’s important to have people in your life that you can, that you can chat with that you can speak openly to and transparently with. and you know, it’s super important because they understand you. And, and, and none of those people say, well, here’s what you need to do, right? Mm. that’s the biggest thing. it’s not about advice. It just, it, it’s that they understand me, they know who I am.

Jason Kupery (13:28):

So, yeah. Oh, yeah, Cooper’s gonna beat himself to death on this one, so we’re just gonna stand, we’re gonna walk beside him, we’re gonna chat with ’em, we’re gonna let ’em talk. Right? And a lot of times that’s cathartic enough to be able to just to talk to somebody, talk it through, and then real, eventually when you talk it through either with the same person or with enough people, you eventually draw your own conclusions, right? Yeah. You know what, I am being kind of silly. This is, this is not as big a deal as I think it’s right. and, you know, even when it’s a big deal, you have people that you know you can love and trust that will stand beside you and, and help you through it and just, and just be there. I mean, you can use the example, your parents. I have an incredibly supportive spouse. I have some awesome kids. I have some really, really, really close friends. and I’m, so, I’m very blessed that I have that network of people in my life that I can you know, talk to when I screw up. So

Sam Demma (14:18):

I love that. And in the school building, I’m assuming that would be other people in the office as well. If you’re a teacher in, in a school, it’d be other teachers kinda leaning on your supports.

Jason Kupery (14:32):

Yeah, a hundred percent. a lot of times that’s what really makes a really tight knit school community. Like I’ve had the privilege of working on some wonderful steps where it’s just people get along they can trust each other, they can, they got each other’s backs. you know, principals got teachers backs, and we’ll help you even when you make mistakes. I’m not gonna totally, you know, I can’t defend some of those things, but I can certainly walk beside you and help you out with those kinds of things, right? you know, and, and for people who, who go into administration, those gaps tend to widen a little bit and it becomes a little bit lonelier. So finding those external sources that you can talk to and you can trust, right, is very important. And yes, of course, in the role I’m in now, you know, you have to have the right colleagues and, and they’re not all in the same school division, right? You have some great colleagues in other school divisions that can relate and empathize with some of the things that happen and, and just great people to be able to share with, and chat with and, and may have advice because they’ve been through it themselves, right? So those are important things

Sam Demma (15:28):

You, you can tell, just listening to you speak and share your ideas that you really care about this and you care about education. what about education makes you excited? Like, what gets you outta bed every single day to show up to work and put your best foot forward and try to do meaningful things?

Jason Kupery (15:47):

Yes, Tim, I’ll tell you, there’s not many careers, and I know there’s, there’s a lot of great careers and there’s a lot of great people doing a lot of wonderful things, but there are not many careers that you can actually speak directly into the lives of a lot of young people, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as, as challenging and as tiring as it can be, it can also be super inspiring and super wonderful. And it’s not that you know, the times that I’ve had in my career that I’ve found the most inspiration hasn’t been drummed up by me, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s been drummed up by amazing young people that have incredible ideas and that are thinking about the future as opposed to what was, what’s happened in the past and those types of things, right? and to see people grow and to see people learn is just an incredible gift.

Jason Kupery (16:38):

 and so what excites me now in this current role, because there are some degrees of separation for me is providing the structures for students to succeed, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So my job now is to develop programming and develop programs and systems and things like that, that will either help students find their passion and ignite that spark through different kinds of programs or leadership kinds of opportunities we offer. or it’s ways of finding that sort of self-actualization ways for them to you know find the rhythm be mentally well understand what it is to be healthy. These are difficult times, right? I mean, I know I’m getting old now, so it’s been a long time. But I have had, I do have teenage children, and I do, I can understand and empathize with, with what it means to grow up in those worlds, those, those vicious middle school years and the tough high school years, and you’re trying to figure out your life.

Jason Kupery (17:38):

You’re trying to figure out where you fit, who you fit in with what your future may hold. Those are extremely formative but stressful times for students. And to be able to do everything from helping somebody read and learn how to arithmetic and to make sense of the world at a young age, to guide them all the way up through adolescence and into their, you know, adulthood you know, that transition into post-secondary life. it’s such a massive undertaking and what a privilege to be able to be a part of that. so that’s what gets me up in the morning.

Sam Demma (18:14):

You mention, you mentioned at such a cool perspective. Thanks for sharing. You mentioned that some of the coolest experiences, things that got you the most excited were not drummed up by yourself, but by students. And I’m curious, can you give us some insight into what some of those things might be? On our last call, we talked a little bit about an event that you would host and that was created and co-created with kids, and I would love to hear about that, or any other ideas that come to mind.

Jason Kupery (18:44):

Yeah, there, there’s just so much inspiration out there, but we’ve, we’ve had, you know the one we were speaking about, Sam was we had a young a student in our school community that sadly passed away the year after she graduated this from some complications with the medication. and one of her big things when she was in high school, and one of the things she advocated for was organ donation. and she donated all our organs, which was an incredible gift to a bunch of different families. And, you know, we you know, sat as a staff and as administration afterwards, brokenhearted trying to figure out how to make sense of this. and you know, the one thing that I, I mentioned my affinity for sports, and some other people had some affinity for sports too. So we decided let’s do a, like a charity hockey game, and we’re gonna raise some money and give it away to the to the organ foundation around here.

Jason Kupery (19:39):

 and also raise awareness. I mean, I think that’s a big deal. And we mobilized the troops. We were really inspired by this young lady and by honoring her. and so, you know, we had some professional landing McDonald came out and played with us, and, and, you know, it was just great. We had the whole school come. We had, we raised all kinds of money. It was a wonderful event. and over the years and, and we raised a lot of awareness around organ donation and those kinds of things. And over the years we started getting letters from people. And one we had I think the next year we had somebody that had this young lady’s kidneys. Oh. And he was alive and he was thriving because he had her kidneys. So he played with us in the hockey game, which was

Sam Demma (20:23):

Super cool, crazy.

Jason Kupery (20:24):

And then the year after that, a young man from Newfoundland received her heart. Wow. And he, he reached out to us. He reached out through through the David Foster Foundation and he reached out to us and said, Hey, I’d like to come. I’m a golia. I’d like to come play. and in the mean, in, in the meanwhile, he also got to meet this young lady’s family. And I mean, it was a very emotional, you can imagine what a gift. And, and so what a gift both ways. Obviously this young lady’s heart is literally in somebody else. And is, is helping somebody live to a point where he can come out and play a game of hockey with us. and of course, the gift that he brought to the family by saying, I’m alive and well because of your daughter’s sacrifice.

Jason Kupery (21:10):

What, like, incredible. So that was, you know, those moments are are something that helped you as an adult. It puts you in awe of what young people are capable of. and again, as a teacher and as an administrator, and as a director, my, my modus operandi was always put kids in those positions to succeed. They’re not always gonna do it. They’re not always gonna take it up. Some are just gonna go through and that’s fine, and they’ll live their lives. But some really just need that extra little push or that extra little program or that extra little spark to ignite something in a passion in them. And when those types of things happen it’s just incredible what students are capable of.

Sam Demma (21:54):

You told me the same story last time, which is why I was teasing it out of you. It gave me goosebumps, and it’s given me goosebumps again. What a remarkable story of impact and what a great reminder to check the box on the paper we get in the mail when we pass away, if that’s a decision we wanna make, knowing that it could save so many people’s lives.

Jason Kupery (22:14):

And I’m sure that decision she made has. and I just wanna, I, I just wanna share one more with you. yeah, please. We can talk about for sure. But we had a young man whose whose father passed away from cancer. unfortunately, and these guys for some reason were super into unicycles, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, who, like how many people are <laugh>? There was like four of them. And they all just, they rode around, they ate their sandwiches at lunch in the parking lot, and they would try little jumps and things like that. and so this young man was, was sharing a story about his father passed away from cancer, and these guys come up with this brilliant idea, and I say brilliant sort of sarcastically, but it was brilliant to unicycle from B to Calgary, which is about 130, maybe 125 on a unicycle, <laugh> and to raise money.

Jason Kupery (23:01):

So they raised money for cancer research and those kinds of things. I think they raised something like 15 or $18,000. Like it was a lot. But these poor guy, they did it two days cuz it was way too much during a day. But these poor guys, and I, I drove the van behind them with the blinkers on <laugh> Road, and they rode their unicycles from BMP all the way to Calgary. and it was kind of cool in Calgary for anybody’s around here. Edward Worthy Park is just down the road. so they rode in Deady Park and their parents and their families that all had this huge celebration in the park, and they had a check presentation. you know, stuff like that. It just, like, that stuff happens more routinely than you think because young people have such inspiration and such drive, and they don’t understand quite yet what no means.

Jason Kupery (23:44):

You know what I mean? Because we, we, we get a little beaten down over the years about, oh, that can’t happen and that can’t happen. And young people just, they have great ideas. And so again, I’ve tried to be very cognizant of the fact that it’s not about saying, well, here’s what’s gonna go wrong, or here’s what could happen, or here’s this or that, or it’s, Hey, there might be some barriers. How can I help you remove those? and how can we help them? It might, it might happen differently because of certain things that we can’t do, but I’m sure we can, if we just think creatively and, and my job as a, as an trusted adult in their life would be, okay, let’s get rid of those things so you can succeed.

Sam Demma (24:16):

That’s awesome. I’m sure when you were in the schools, you dealt with a lot of those on a face to face basis because they would walk up to you and say, Hey, hey sir, I have an idea. Can I tell you about it? and now from a systems perspective, you probably hear about a lot of those things. One of the things that I think is really special about education, and you alluded to it earlier, you said, there are so many careers, but there aren’t many where you can speak directly into the lives of young people. I think one of the coolest things about education that lures most educators is the idea that they can make a positive difference in the life of a young person. What’s funny is that everything you’ve shared with me makes me believe that the young people have all made a massive difference in your life.

Sam Demma (25:03):

And I don’t think that aspect of it is, is talked about enough. and, and you just shared two inspiring stories and how it had a big impact on you. But I am curious to know in all your years working in a school, working in a classroom, has there been students who, when they first walked through your door or into the school, were really struggling and by the end of the couple years, or by the end of this semester had a real big breakthrough or transformation and yeah. Are there any stories like that that come to mind?

Jason Kupery (25:39):

Yeah, well, there’s, there, there’s plenty for sure. I think that helping students <affirmative> you know, I’m not a big fan of the idea of streaming, like saying, you know, you’re not, you’re not smart enough to do this, so don’t, don’t try. Yeah. and I’ve seen a, I’ve seen a lot and, and sometimes, you know, it is, some things are, are a deep enough level. You don’t wanna set kids up for failure, but you certainly don’t wanna say, well, don’t bother trying, because then, you know, you’re just gonna, you’re gonna end up failing, right? Yeah. So it’s a, it’s a distinction, if you will. and I’ve seen so many kids over the years flourish because you know, well, I can’t do that. I’m no good at math. That’s, that’s the easiest thing to say in, in education is I suck at math, right?

Jason Kupery (26:21):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then, okay, well, okay, I guess that’s it for you then, then we’ll, we’ll put you into something else. and I’ve always tried, I’ve used this match with my own kids too, but it’s just, no, you don’t suck at it. You just haven’t done it enough. You just have to, you need more practice, right? and, you know, trying to sort of present that mindset to students to say, try it. If it doesn’t work out, what’s the biggest, you know, fail forward, what’s the biggest thing that can happen? Right? and, you know, you gotta convince students of that, but you also have to convince their parents of course, too, right? Like, we’re gonna do this. It may not go super well, but that’s okay, right? We’ve got other room, we’ve got other spaces, we can, we, there’s other pathways. and so I’ve seen a lot of students succeed because they under, either they’ve, they’ve gone way beyond what they thought they could which is a wonderful thing.

Jason Kupery (27:08):

And we’ve also seen kids succeed because they’ve made a wise choice, I need to go on a different direction. And there’s another path, right? And one of the things I’ve seen you know, that even, even the most driven of students and the straight A students don’t realize is there are so many different paths in life, and there are so many different ways you can take. but I think that young people and families and, you know, people in general just think that there’s a linear straight, like, I have to get here, I have to get that 95, or I’m not getting into this program. And so part of, part of what I’ve tried to do is in helping people through that journey is to say, look, there’s, there’s a ton of paths, and just because you can’t take this math or take this biology or take this whatever there are other ways to do it, and we can get you there.

Jason Kupery (27:51):

And, you know, in, in a, in a world of instant gratification, it’s hard to understand, Hey, maybe you should take another year of high school, or maybe you need to take another course. Well, and I need this to happen now. It, it doesn’t need to happen now. But I know that’s a hard message for some people to hear. But in order to succeed, you may need to try a little bit, you know, a different way or, or it may take a little bit longer, but that there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no shame in that, right? to be able to take a different path in life to succeed. and the other piece is helping students identify you know, the traditional classroom or the book learning or the, those kinds of things aren’t what I love to do. That doesn’t mean you’re not smart, it means you’re brilliant in other ways.

Jason Kupery (28:30):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so trying to provide students an opportunity to, whether it’s work with their hands or build something or problem solve in a different way you know, helping students understand their own aptitudes and their own, you know, brilliance is, it’s one thing to tell them, it’s another for them to discover for themselves, right? And so, again, as educators we try to create the conditions for students to do that. You know, if you, if you allow for different modalities of teaching in your classroom, and the student says, ah, I, now I can see because I, because I made it up with my hands, now I can see why it’s important, or now I can make the connection with the learning. quite often education is learn this regurgitate it, and now you know it without that real life connection and without that, without that sort of cementing or anchoring the learning it’s very difficult.

Jason Kupery (29:21):

It’s why most times when you, I mean, you’ve done it, I’ve done it a thousand times, where you, you, you study you and then you, you drill everything into your head for eight hours before the test or whatever, and then you forget 60% of it by the time you walk out the door, right? Because it’s like, I got what I needed to do, I accomplished, I got the mark. and so I’ve accomplished that. but have I really learned, so anyways, sorry, I’m rambling. I’m just saying that allowing students different ways to learn helps ’em flourish. And I’ve seen that so many times where students have had that aha moment, like, ah, now I know this is what I’m good at. and I mentioned to you earlier as well, the idea of post-secondary is frightening to a lot of people. It was frightening for you.

Jason Kupery (29:58):

It was frightening for me. Yeah. it’s a huge transition. And so I just had this conversation earlier today with some, some educators around students feel too much pressure. We have to stop asking them what they’re going to do. And I a hundred percent agree what I, what we need to ask. And the question I’m trying to change within our school division here is what do you love to do? Yeah. Because if we, if you can tell me what you love to do or what really gets what gets you up in the morning, you asked me that question earlier, what gets you up in the morning? And then we could connect it to a different career. but if you think that you can only be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or whatever, then those opportunities don’t blossom for you because, oh, I’m not good at that, so I’m never gonna be an engineer, and I just, I can’t do this kind of math, so I won’t go on to do sciences. Well, there’s a thousand other things you could do out there that would bring you joy and would meet the world’s needs. So we just have to figure out what that is for you.

Sam Demma (30:47):

I got goosebumps like five times while you were just, just sharing those ideas because one, I was the student who took the fifth year and the gap year and thought I was falling behind. And I was, I was interviewing another educator Sarah daddario from a school in California, and I try and talk to diverse, you know, amount of educators, and she was sharing something similar that her students were going through, putting so much expectations on pressure on themselves to start the next step right when they finished high school, even though they weren’t sure what they were doing. And she shared this beautiful analogy about going to parties, and she said, this is the analogy that I give my students. She and she, she asked me a question, if you were going to one of your friend’s parties, what are all the different ways you could get there?

Sam Demma (31:36):

And I started listing off all these random ideas, ride my bike, ask my mom for a drive, hit your ride with the, with the taxi guy, called a pizza delivery person and ask him to pick me up. I could walk there, I could roller blade, I could scooter, I could get a helicopter and fly. Like I started giving some funny answers. And she’s like, well, all of those are valid options and they’ll all get you to the final destination, but every single one of them takes a different amount of time and a different set of steps. And that’s how I try and encourage, she, she was explaining that’s how she encourages their students to think about their pathways. That you will all end up at a party. It might not be the same party based on your different interests, but you’ll all end up somewhere.

Sam Demma (32:16):

Your choice of transportation is what will make your life unique and interesting. And I just keep thinking about that whenever I think about pathways and adding so much pressure on ourselves. and then the other thing you mentioned in your second point was this idea that students have five options, an engineer, doctor, lawyer, you know, what we think we, we wanna do. and what we really should try and do is figure out what they love. And I, I thought about an artist who I really look up to, his name’s Russ, and he makes music, and he grew up thinking that he lacked discipline and wasn’t a hard worker, but later in life realized that it was actually the work that made him not very disciplined and not work hard because he just didn’t enjoy it. But when he found the thing that he loved, he was in the studio every day making music, and now he’s one of the largest independent artists on, on the planet.

Sam Demma (33:12):

And I think it’s really important that we don’t judge students based off of the things they don’t like doing. And I’m sure there’s a lot of things that we have to do, even if we don’t like it, and that’s a part of the journey as well. But I really like that you’re trying to help students figure out what they love and then craft the pathway from there. do you have any examples of and I’m putting it on the spot here, but of like a student who came to you and said this is what we’re, we’re, we’re passionate about and you helped kind of create a different pathway or brainstormed ideas around it?

Jason Kupery (33:49):

Yeah. well, I think that the most, when I, when I, I don’t about a specific example per se of one that’s jumping in my head and right at this moment, I’m, I’m, I’m sure I’ll think about 20 when I get, when I, that’s

Sam Demma (34:01):

OK <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (34:05):

 but I think that it’s, it’s more around helping students understand there’s a stigma that exists with certain careers, right? Mm-hmm. and, and so, you know, the trades are things that people that, that aren’t good at school do, which is ah which is seriously flawed. Obviously. I don’t want somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing, building my house or <laugh>

Sam Demma (34:28):

Putting,

Jason Kupery (34:29):

Renovating my kitchen or whatever, right? and you know, there’s that, that sort of, these are lesser than skills, which is so not true. you know you know, the saying is, I’m educated, but I’m all that smart. And and that’s the same, goes like, I have a master’s degree, but you put a hammer in my hand, I’m gonna end up hurting somebody, right? <laugh>, most <inaudible>, I’m sure before anybody else <laugh>. and, and so I really wish, that was one thing that I developed more as a skill, right? Yeah. so just, just helping students understand that, that their gifts are extremely valuable no matter what they are, and they can be used for something. Again, it’s that the biggest thing was is that, that the world’s deep need and, and your deep joy intersecting, right? That’s where it’s at. Like Russ, you know, Hey, I found a medium that I am passionate about and that I want to pursue.

Jason Kupery (35:24):

So I’ve seen more of, of that I should say, in in, you know, where kids are so driven to, to get onto this, and they’ve fallen out of that, and really, and then they’ve come to me later and said, Hey, I’m doing this now I’m, I’m working my hands, or I’m, you know, a paramedic or I’m this or that. And, you know, it changed my life just thinking about, you know, how to you know, striving so much for something that was almost unattainable and, and, you know, at the expense of my mental health and other things in my life. and then when I realized that this was actually my gifting I was able to succeed. So

Sam Demma (36:00):

I love it.

Jason Kupery (36:01):

As we talk, I’ll think of a, of an example. I just didn’t expect to come up with that, but I should have that off the top of my head for

Sam Demma (36:08):

Sure. No, I’m putting you on the spot here. And it’s funny, it makes me think about situations where I have a conversation with someone and then five minutes after the conversation ends, I’m like, God damn, that’s, that’s what I wanted to say. You know? But you, you did a perfect job answering that, and I appreciate it. It’s really apparent that at the core of a lot of your thinking and decisions is the end user, which is the student. and I’m sure there’s ways that the the staff are a part of your, your planning as well because you’re at the, I guess, overarching level now. I’m curious, like for all the educators that are listening to this who are starting their first year of teaching, if you could bundle up your wisdom and experiences and go back in time and tap Jason on the shoulder when he was just starting and say, Jason, this is what you need to hear. What would you have told your younger self? Not because you would’ve changed your path, but because you thought it’s helpful advice to hear at the start of a career in education?

Jason Kupery (37:09):

Yeah, great question. I would say, you know, first and foremost and, and to, to, to sort of connect it to the last question you know, when it’s not so much that people have re retooled and done something and now ta-da, I’m happy. Yeah. it’s more about the kids that had a really, really, really hard time with a, because of circumstances in their life growing up unstable families drugs, alcohol, poor decisions and those are the ones that are, that are throwing things at you or telling F off or, and I just, young teachers and, and people in education, I mean, the one thing I would say is, please look past that. I mean, there is trauma in those kids’ lives, and that trauma-informed practice is really, really important because while it is that person standing in front of you, that young person standing in front of you screaming or throwing a fit or punching a snot at somebody else or whatever it’s not to see that that student or I is a terrible person or deserves some kind of punitive justice or those types of things that, that that young person needs some love in their life and needs somebody to look past that.

Jason Kupery (38:23):

And so when I’ve had people come back to me and say, Hey, thanks for, you know, because you, you because you intervened and because you had enough patience and because you didn’t kick me out and because you didn’t make my life harder, I look at I’m now a success and I wanna come back and say thank you. Those things mean a lot to me, obviously. I mean, they mean a lot to a lot of educators, right? But we tend to, and I’m no different, we tend to look at that and say, oh, that kid’s driving me crazy. I just want ’em outta here. Right? Just get out. and it takes far more patience and understanding to sort of try and look through that and try to reason and try to understand where that young person’s coming from to be able to speak into their lives.

Jason Kupery (39:08):

And it’s not like you have to, okay, now I’m gonna tell you everything you need to know, and I’m the best just, Hey, I’m here to listen and I’m, I’m going to be a safe place for you to come and, and be yourself. that changes lives. There’s no question. and so my encouragement would be, a lot of these people have a lot of people that, that give you a hard time or will give you a hard time in your career, are carrying a lot of, they’re carrying a pretty heavy backpack, if I can use your

Sam Demma (39:34):

Analogy. <laugh>

Jason Kupery (39:35):

<laugh>. and, and that’s, and that’s something that’s so extremely important to understand and to try to speak to them in a way that they can hear and know that they’re safe and cared for, because they’ll still make dumb decisions, but they’ll, they’ll always thank you because you stay, you stay beside steadfast. so I guess please don’t give up too easily on, on people that give you a hard time because they got a lot going on. The other thing I would say to young educators, and I do, and I do say that now because we do have what’s called the teacher induction program here. So it’s called Tip for

Sam Demma (40:11):

Sure. Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:12):

 is don’t let the, the jaded, angry nature of the profession seep into your brain. And I’m not suggesting that’s pervasive, but it, it can happen. All you need is one teacher that, you know, is jaded or disaffected or, you know, kids are lazy or yeah. Whatever. And that sort of can flavor the water and it can get inside your head because that was my experience, right? You know, I had some, some teacher sponsors or whatever that the people that helped evaluate me and helped me through in my early years you know, weren’t always the most possible profession, <laugh> and, you know the, the 40 kids or the 35 kids and, you know, the half of them are criminals and those kinds of things. Right? those are the kinds of things you’re here as a young teacher and you just don’t start believing that.

Sam Demma (40:57):

Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:58):

Cause it really does impact your ability to speak into people’s lives when you start to see them differently as opposed to who they really are beneath that tough exterior.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Mm. I love it. It’s like the advice don’t judge a book by its cover. And I think it applies so deeply in education, especially with young people, and you’re speaking from experience because you started it at the beginning of this podcast saying that you did some silly stuff as a student <laugh>. So I and we all did, you know, I think back to when I was grade seven and got suspended and we don’t have to get into the details of the silly incident, but I remember coming home and uncontrolled be crying and my dad not, you know, scolding me, but saying, let’s go talk to your principal. And bringing me back to school and sitting in the office and my principal at the time instead of seriously punishing me, he asked me a lot of questions and kind of forced me to reflect on the choice I made and why maybe it wasn’t a good choice and what I learned from the experience.

Sam Demma (42:02):

And I ended up having a two day suspension but it was a it was a very kind gesture, and I learned so much from it. So I’ve had personal experiences and I think a lot of students do. So I appreciate you sharing that, and I appreciate you coming on the podcast and talking about your experiences and beliefs around education. And if there’s an educator who listens to this and wants to ask you a question or send you a message, what would be the most effective way for them to reach out and get in touch? Not that we’re gonna fill your inbox, <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (42:33):

Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, I’m, I’m always willing to, to share and collaborate with others. I think it’s awesome. Yeah, email’s the best way and I can certainly share that with you if you wanna attach it somehow or whatever.

Sam Demma (42:43):

Sure. Awesome. Sounds good. Jason, thanks again for, for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate your time and energy. Keep up the great work, and I’ll see you soon.

Jason Kupery (42:52):

Okay. Thanks, Sam. Appreciate it.

Sam Demma (42:55):

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 Jason Kupery

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.

Paolo Morrone – Principal at St Andrew Catholic School

Paolo Morrone - Principal at St Andrew Catholic School
About Paolo Morrone

Paolo Morrone (@StAndrewStormP) is currently the Principal at St Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a Physical Education and Social Science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the TCDSB and has had the pleasure and honour to have served eight schools as both a vice principal and principal. During his career, he has been also been able to serve as both a teacher and administrator in both elementary panels.

He cares deeply for and works with ALL students in the school. Paolo enjoys all aspects of school life but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well-rounded students and individuals but responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school intermediate boys’ basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extra-curricular events at his school. Paolo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports and always seeks to be a servant leader. He is always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect.

Connect with Paolo: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St Andrew Catholic School

St. Jude Catholic School

Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB)

Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA)

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.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Today’s special guest is Paulo Morrone. Paolo is currently the Principal at St. Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a physical education and social science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and has had the pleasure and honor to have served eight schools as both a Vice Principal and Principal. During his career, he has also been able to serve as both a teacher and an administrator in both elementary panels. He cares deeply for and works with all students in the school.

Sam Demma (01:51):

Paulo enjoys all aspects of school life, but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well rounded students and individuals, but more importantly, responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school Intermediate Boys basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extracurricular events at his school. Paulo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views, and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports, which you’ll hear about in our podcast, and always seeks to be that servant leader. He’s also always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Paulo and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Today’s special guest is Paulo Paulo. I’m gonna allow you to introduce yourself and please share a little bit about your journey through education.

Paolo Morrone (03:08):

Hey, Sam, first of all, thanks for having me. well, as you said, my name’s Paulo Morone. I’m currently the principal at St. Andrew Catholic School in Rexdale Ontario, or proud at Togo North at Togo, as we say. my journey, my journey is an interesting one, but I started actually in the secondary panel and in high school actually I lied. Excuse me. I came out, this is what’s what’s interesting when it comes to me with education was I started in elementary. I got a little call right outta teacher’s college. Nice. saying, Hey, do you are you interested in a grade six position as a teacher? right outta teacher’s college, just as well, <laugh>. Yeah. I don’t really have the, the experience to teach grades. I don’t even have the qualifications. I didn’t have my junior, it doesn’t matter.

Paolo Morrone (04:02):

We need, they, they were in a, in a, in a bind and they needed somebody quick. And it was quite the experience that I never thought I would end up back in elementary. Nice. it was you know, you look at experiences good and bad, but that was one at the time that probably scarred me from the elementary panel in general. And then I, I, you kind of, when I got, when I got into education or the way I feel is that you’re either one or the other elementary or high school. And I was always geared more towards the high school secondary. I just loved to coach and I just found that I always related better with, with the older kids. Nice. so I spent the first what, 10 years roughly of my my educational career in secondary.

Paolo Morrone (04:50):

And then I made a jump to elementary again, which was quite shocking for me. it was a lot of personal reflection and, and discernment in terms of making that move. and I made the move. And at first it was quite the challenge for me mentally and not physically of course, but mentally it was a, it was, it was quite a change. And now six years later three schools in three schools of under my belt in elementary between a vice principal and principal role. And here we we’re. And I’m enjoy enjoying it much more than I thought I would you know, almost 20 years ago when I stepped in fresh faced and, you know, green under the ears into into that little elementary school.

Sam Demma (05:33):

That’s awesome. Did you know growing up as a student yourself that you really wanted to work in education? Or how did you find this pathway in the first place?

Paolo Morrone (05:43):

 I always tell people this. It was I can date my, my, my realm or my, sorry, my my wish to be an education back to grade eight. Wow. I can, yeah. I had a, I can tie actually being a principal back to being great. I always said I wanted to be a teacher and coach. I kind of started, I volunteered from grade nine in my, at my old elementary school. Okay. Nice. As much as I could, of course. and I kind of did that all throughout high school to get as much experience as I could, knowing that I was gonna get into teaching or that’s where I wanted to land, wanted to go. Yeah. And thankfully it worked out for me.

Sam Demma (06:22):

And tell me more about the coaching aspect of your role. Are you still coaching now? And what are you, what are you

Paolo Morrone (06:28):

Coaching? No, I, I, you know what, I don’t, but I I’m gonna be helping out with the basketball team this year a bit just cause the coach is one of my younger teachers and he found out that I coached back in the day, so he kind of approached me and said, Hey, would you be willing to help? And I said, absolutely. Like it’s actually a big passion of mine. I loved it when I did it. Nice. coaching, coaching was, they say kids kids sports gets kids to school in many cases. And coaching got me to school, not that I didn’t wanna work, but coaching was a, was a big part of the early, early part of my career. I really, really loved connecting with kids inside and outside the classroom. The outside piece, people don’t give it enough credit.

Paolo Morrone (07:09):

People don’t understand that building relationships in that capacity, like outside of the traditional classroom walls it can, it, it does amazing things for you as an educator in a school. Students you just build that trust. You can’t, I can’t put a, I can’t really articulate it, but when you build that relationship and trust with them outside of, you know, the book, the books and the pens and the papers and the iPads, it, it’s another layer. it’s another layer that if you haven’t been in education or you don’t do it while you’re an educator, you don’t really understand it. Sometimes people didn’t, even, colleagues didn’t understand like, why are you doing so much coaching? So first off, I was in, partially in PhysEd as a phed teacher, and I always felt that that was part of what we should do realistically, why else are you in a physical education program?

Paolo Morrone (08:00):

Right? Yeah. and the other part was just, I love working with kids in that capacity period, and I love sports. So you put all that together and I had the dream job. That’s awesome. and here I am sitting as a principal and I always say like, how did I give that up? Yeah. So did I, did I like the coaching? What was the, it was the huge part of my, the early part of my career, and I do miss it. I’m gonna be helping out with the ball team this year. Nice. And last year I ran a little bit of intramurals for the kids when things opened up after a lot of the, the restrictions were laid or taken off. we got some awesome intramurals for the kids at lunch, which kept them engaged. We were having a lot of issues at lunch as well. So that really helped turn things around.

Sam Demma (08:45):

It sounds like relationship building has been a key part of your belief around education, and you’ve done it a lot through extracurricular activities like coaching and sports. Can you think of a a student who maybe was struggling with school that you were able to build a relationship with through sport that had a positive impact on their, I guess, their school experience? Or maybe even maybe it’s not a, a student that you specifically coach, but a story you’ve heard before? I’m just curious.

Paolo Morrone (09:14):

Yeah. I mean I, I can honestly say that I’ve, I, I think I’ve had quite a bit of an impact, or I had quite a bit of an impact in my early, the earlier part of my career with that. I would coach about six teams a year. Wow. Either in a, either, not just in a head coaching, like I would either help as an assistant Yeah. Or I was the head coach, but basketball sort of was my thing. which it wasn’t. I didn’t, didn’t even, basketball was one of the only sports I did to play. I didn’t play as a kid growing up in terms of any type of, you know, you play a little, a little bit on the street or at the park or whatever, but not in a league in any way. So I kind of got thrown into it and fell in love with it. And along the way there was a lot of, there’s a lot of kids. I mean basketball, it can be a challenging sport to coach in many ways. just the game itself is, is fantastic and, and it comes with some challenges in that sense. But the school that I was at at the time where I was really into the, the basketball coaching, there were a lot of kids. They needed a little bit of direction and guidance and one particular kid stood out. obviously I’ll, I’ll name,

Sam Demma (10:27):

You don’t have to say his name. Yeah.

Paolo Morrone (10:28):

But it he was almost your storybook kind of story. It was his, he came from a single pa single family, sorry, single parent family. there was a lot of social issues that he was dealing with and family issues. and that translated onto what basketball was his outlet, first of all, however, this is a kid that would light up the scoreboard. You’re talking 30 points, 35 points without blinking. And I, he was a, he, I still believe to this day, this boy should have been in the NCAA at minimum. Wow. But Canada as you may know, firsthand you know, you don’t get the same type of exposure here. And at that time for basketball, it wasn’t as big as now. Now it’s exploded. Had that exposure been around back then I, I still feel he would’ve, he would’ve had a better opportunity to get a, a free education in the us.

Paolo Morrone (11:25):

 but anyway, the boy, the boy had some issues with anger at times. And with that translated onto the court, off the court there was a lot of friction off them with colleagues that would say, you know, why is this kid playing? And they didn’t understand that if you didn’t have that kid playing, it wasn’t, you know, I needed the superstar on the court is I needed, I did. Yeah. Obviously you wanted the, the, the kid to play basketball. Yeah. But that was his outlet. You take that away from the, the kid. Yeah. Yeah. Did I take him off? Did I suspend him a game or two if the behavior wasn’t appropriate? Absolutely. If it was necessary academically that he wasn’t meeting his, you know, his goals, we would sit down and talk about it. It wasn’t just, you know, arbitrarily, you know, you were coming off the team because you just can’t do that and

Sam Demma (12:11):

Solve anything.

Paolo Morrone (12:12):

Yeah. No you can do that and you have a responsibility as a coach and an educator, but and there’s more to it. You gotta be able to talk to these kids and, and peel the layers off. And this is a guy that mom would call me when he had a little bit of a, an anger episode and would she would take off like she didn’t know. He didn’t know where he was. So mom would call me and say, Hey, can you, I would be drive over to the, the local mall and kind of take a loop around looking for him to find out what was going on. Cause I knew at that point he had a he had an episode, he was angry and something had upset him. And, you know, kind of talk him, talk him back into a proper mindset.

Paolo Morrone (12:56):

 he, I’ve lost touch with him more recently, but last I had heard he was doing really well. He ended up at the University of Windsor. Wow. He did continue to play university ball, but at a Canadian level at CS or U Sport now, whatever they call it. and at the college and at the OCAA, the Ontario College ranks Nice. and he was doing accounting last I heard. But this is a kid that honestly a lot of people had written off. And I had a great relationship with him and a good belief in him, not just as a ball player, but as a student and as a person. He just needed that guidance. He needed a little bit more that, that fatherly character as well because he had some tragedy with his father passing at a young age.

Paolo Morrone (13:40):

Ah, and, and the stepfather actually. So it was you know, that’s a lot of trauma for a young kid at 16, 17 years old to have dealt with prior to even that, you know, as he was a little guy. so yeah, I, I take great pride in that cuz you know, I, I, I wish I, I’m sure I will connect with him again soon, but that was that was one, that one that really stands out for me. But there’s, there’s quite a few stories in my, in my own head that I, I like to think I made quite a bit of a difference at that time. Nice. and it all came down to the relationships truthfully. That’s the truth between, you know, how you, how you treat the kids and they see you here as human. Yeah. Right. Yeah. You don’t wanna be, it’s funny, in an elementary school, the kids think you go home when you plug yourself into a closet. So when they see you out in like the real world, they’re like, totally get out. You’re alive. You’re alive. You know, like, you don’t go home. You don’t just stay in the school all night.

Sam Demma (14:35):

Yeah. They have your top, their purse on the shoulder and they’re like, it’s Mr. Moroni, he’s over there. You see him like <laugh>, he’s in the grocery store buying vegetables,

Paolo Morrone (14:44):

<laugh>, why is he buying food? <laugh>? Yeah. It’s that kind of it’s, it’s funny. It’s a great it’s a great line of work, I tell you. It’s a great revocation.

Sam Demma (14:55):

That’s awesome. So what do you think allows you to build the relationships with young people? Is it like time spent? Is it being curious about their lives? Like what do you think it is about the interaction that allows you to build the relationship and build the trust?

Paolo Morrone (15:12):

 honestly, it’s always hard to talk about yourself. Cause I’m finding it like difficult to say things. Oh yeah. Maybe I wanna come across like from

Sam Demma (15:20):

The, from the perspective of like teachers and students in general. How do you think

Paolo Morrone (15:24):

You gotta have heart man? You gotta have heart and you gotta care about who’s in front of you. And it’s not just, you know it’s not about the summers. It’s not, you sure not you sure as how ain’t getting rich in this, in this job. And it’s not about the money. And you hear that a thousand times, and obviously in the current climate you hear that even more so in the news more recently. you gotta come in with the right mindset and heart. And if you are going to do this, you gotta put the kids first. But you gotta find a healthy balance between building that relationship, the academic side of what as well. And, and the people side, people, young teachers have a difficulty, difficulty like that sometimes lines get blurred. they’re nervous, they don’t know how to interact. They’re, they’re focused more just simply on curriculum. I’m of the belief that curriculum of course is important, but it’s not about just curriculum. It’s about the whole person and educating the whole person, meeting the character of the person. you know, the math lessons will come not for me, but they will come. and you got, you gotta educate the whole, the whole mind, body and soul. That’s, that’s my feeling on it.

Sam Demma (16:36):

That’s awesome. I think back to my experiences as a student in school and I had some amazing experiences with extracurricular activities. Soccer was a big part of my life. Spent almost every minute outside of a classroom on a soccer field or in a gym, working and training and getting, getting better. I was, yeah. Were were you a soccer player as well?

Paolo Morrone (16:56):

 not soccer. Well, I did play, I was a goalie. but I was kinda one of those kids that played a little bit of everything. I played soccer, I played hockey, I played football in high school softball, baseball. But I wouldn’t say I was a a rock star in any one, any one particular sport. I just loved sports. Yeah. And that’s really what drew me. Probably what drew you, you know, in the realm of education as well, is I had that one connection, not one connection I have. I still go out with some of the teachers that, going back to the relationship piece. Oh

Sam Demma (17:25):

No way. That

Paolo Morrone (17:26):

Impact on you. Right. I still talk to you know, one of my good, one of my, one of my good friends lives down the street from here. He was my teacher in high school. No way. I ended up becoming his vice principal down the road and my first placement. So it, it is about that. and connecting, right. yeah, prime example. And sports. So he was my coach and my teacher. So it’s, you know, pay it forward kind of thing. And you see things come full circle and you have that good, those good people in front of you. Like I’m sure you had some good coaches and some mentors along the way in high school and maybe in elementary or high school. I don’t know that set you a foot in the right direction or if you had a setback you know, they kind of picked you up. That’s what I always strive to be when I was teaching. That’s the biggest part of, I miss that con that connection piece in the classroom. But I try to do that as much as I can as a principal by being visible and being active with the kids at recess or whatever I can, wherever I can. Just, you know, even if that means a high five in the hallway.

Sam Demma (18:28):

Yeah. Let’s talk about that for a second. Visibility in your role as a principal now how do you try and make sure that, that you still have that type of contribution? Of course, it’s a different role with different responsibilities, but what are, what are some of the things that you practice or try and do to, to not just be visible but be impactful?

Paolo Morrone (18:47):

It’s a fine balance between the paper, paper aspect and being visible. you can very easily get wrapped up being, I can get trapped in my office all day and there are days that I am. Yep. Those are the days I feel guilty. but my, my general rule of thumb for me is I try to get out at least two recesses a day, whether it’s lunch or at the end of the day. Cuz the kids need to see you out there. not just from a, you know, you know, here’s the big bad principal disciplinarian. No. Like, they, you know, you walk out and you’re, it’s a, it’s awesome. you’re getting tackled. You got, I got one on each, one kid on each limb. they’re, they’re elementary is a, it’s an awesome experience. The kids they really, they need to see you.

Paolo Morrone (19:31):

They need to see you out there. I’m a big sort of burly guy, so they they come running up and <laugh> literally like, you know, two or three of them. They’re tackling Yeah, they’re tackling you out there. But I think the important thing as a, as an administrator is in any school, elementary, secondary, whatever the case may be, you gotta be visible. You gotta be visible, you gotta be accessible. my office happens to be literally in the middle of the hallway, so I am accessible. I get kids knocking on my door all day every day. a little difficult when you’re trying to get something done or you’re in a room meeting or a, a podcast or whatever it is that you’re doing. But you you gotta be there. That’s the bottom line. You gotta be out there and be visible.

Paolo Morrone (20:16):

And again, if that means just, you know, a little dab in the hallway, say, Hey, hey buddy, how you doing today? that’s how I try to be impactful. And then the other piece is when there are activities, when there are things happening in, in the school, again, it’s don’t just be there, be part of it. you know, we did the Terry Fox run a couple weeks ago within the school. You know, the, if we hit our goal, we had a jello weeding contest. I, I, for the first time, I, I kind of felt what a rockstar was like. It was, it was crazy being on top of that, on top of the stage. And just the kids were the, the energy and the vibe coming off just being not having that stuff for the last couple years. It was awesome to see the kids just enjoying it. And again, it goes back to, you know, you’re not plugging yourself in a closet. Yep. And they see you as real. I was on the stage with four other teachers full of whipped cream and jello all over my face. And they, they loved every of it. Right. And I make the the the kids love my I call it bad jokes, but my hair jokes or my lack there of,

Paolo Morrone (21:25):

I think it, I think it just comes down to honestly just being, just being real with them. And they, they know that, they know that you’re, you know, you’re the principal. You’re you’re the disciplinarian in the school. You run the school in that sense, but at the same time, they wanna know that you’re real and you’ve got a big heart and you’re there for them. That’s what I think

Sam Demma (21:46):

I try to do that. It sounds like it. And I think that’s really, it’s really awesome. I think there are also like everything, there’s people who work in different industries that their heart’s not in it. And you can tell right away the, the difference, you know? and I think the students can tell right away too. Like they can sense it sometimes.

Paolo Morrone (22:08):

Not sometimes all the time. they, they, they can pick off a fraud from a mile away. They really can. it’s the energy and the vibe that you give off. Honestly, sometimes it’s not even anything that you say or do, it’s just how you, how you carry yourself in the school. again, I I honestly everything, I relate everything back to building relationships with people, relational leadership, relational educat. Like just being that educator that can connect with people. Right?

Sam Demma (22:37):

Yeah. So how if you don’t have energy and if you don’t have your own your hell health, you know, it’s hard to, you know, try and be the best you can be. Especially at work. One of my one of my cousins she just started teaching and they don’t have kids. And she says to me one time at dinner, I spend, I spend eight hours with kids at school. There’s no way I’m coming home and raising kids of my own <laugh>. I don’t know how people do this. <laugh> and you know, parenting, having a family, beautiful thing. you have kids of your own little ones mm-hmm. <affirmative> among balancing, raising your kids, helping other, you know, people’s kids all day. How do you fill up your own cup so that you can show up and give a hundred percent of your efforts?

Paolo Morrone (23:31):

 I always, I, I, I laugh cuz you say this. I always say I split my day in two. my energy, I try to give the same energy to both. Nice. but it’s a, I psych myself up on the way home in the car because, you know, I do have two little ones. I kind of did things a little different or backwards as I say in my career path where I kind of got into being an administrator very young into my career. you know, I’m, we’re, I’m in year 13 here. Nice. As an administrator. Nice As an administrator. So I, when I started as a vice principal, I didn’t have kids. so it was a totally different <laugh>, totally different experience, totally different energy level. And now I’ve got two little ones under five, five and under.

Paolo Morrone (24:21):

so when I come home, I gotta be on my a game. Nice. I gotta be on ma game in the morning and I gotta be on ma game in the afternoon. How do I do it? I don’t know how I do it, but I do it. you just kind of you know, you’ve gotta be there. And the other piece is health. From a health perspective, that’s hard balance. Finding a good balance and I’m one that I’ve always thought, you know, working out and, and sports in general is important. so, you know, we, I don’t do the gym anymore, but I’ve set up a gym at home. So that, that was the trade off, you know, losing up. I don’t have that extra hour to go back and forth from the gym, but you know, what if I cut off that hour and I got half an hour, I can do that at home. And that’s how I keep my own sort of mental sanity between both both rolls and hats that I, I have on all every day between my personal and family life. It’s, it’s a, it’s a tough balance sometimes, especially as a, a principal these days, there’s a lot of different you know, this, these disconnect policies don’t often work as well for us <laugh> when we come home and you gotta answer, you’re get, you know, you’re

Sam Demma (25:28):

Looking your life right center

Paolo Morrone (25:30):

<laugh>. Yeah. Do I answer this email or do I wait till the morning and then, you know, no, I’m gonna cut. I’m gonna cut it off, but then still gonna be there in the morning. So its it’s tough. It is a fine balance between between home life and, and work life. and a lot of people, it’s, it’s not hard to get totally overwhelmed with work where you, you start letting the other stuff slip a bit. So you gotta bring yourself back to reality and get a reality check and say no. Like, my priority is my family. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I love my job and my vocation, but my number one priority is my family. but I’ve gotta also be able to be there for, for the school, for the kids. They know when you’re not, when you’re not. And I don’t mean just physic, they actually do know. Cause I’m not on the, if I’m not on the pa, they know I’m not there <laugh>. but they know, they know if you’re off, they sense it, they can feel it.

Sam Demma (26:19):

Ah, cool. that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing some of the behind the scenes. When, when you think of your different roles, if you could take the experience you have now, travel back in time and speak to Apollo in his first year of teaching, knowing what you know now with the experiences you’ve had, like what would you have told your younger self? Not because you wanted to change your pathway, but you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation?

Paolo Morrone (26:46):

 truthfully, I probably would have gone into administration a little bit later on in my career. I don’t regret it. I joke around with people and say like, you know, I gave up the dream job as a, as a PhysEd teacher. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> which is something, again, going back to I can trace back to grade eight in terms of me. That’s what I wanted to do. but as I told you, I also said that I wanted to be a principal. I just, I got in a little early and you know out of potentially a 30 year career, 20, 20 plus years of it will be an administration that’s a long time to be a principal and vice principal. I look, I take the positive in it and say, you know what? That that’ll by the time I’m, I’m done and ready to move on to the next stage of my life, I’m hoping that I’ve made quite a bit of an impact in all the schools I’ve, I’ve been at in some way, shape or form.

Paolo Morrone (27:38):

 in terms of my career trajectory, that would be the only thing. I’m not saying I regretted in any way, but I probably would’ve done it a little bit later. so when you get, when you get the tap on the shoulder, you get the tap. And as my mentor at the time said you know, if you got the, if you get the tap on the shoulder now there’s a reason for it and, and you don’t know if it’s gonna come afterwards. So you’re, you’re lined up. There’s a reason for it and, you know, take, take the leap and go kind of thing.

Sam Demma (28:05):

Oh, awesome. I appreciate that advice because I’m sure there’s some people on the edge with that decision who might be listening right now. So, yeah. Thanks for sharing and Paulo, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate your time and energy. I hope you have an amazing rest of the school year. If, if another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Paolo Morrone (28:28):

They can reach out to me either through LinkedIn, email through my board email’s fine. LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn quite a bit or even Twitter. I’m not as active as I was on Twitter, but I do I do check it.

Sam Demma (28:41):

Perfect. Awesome. Thank you so much for again coming on the show. Enjoy the rest of your.I’m glad you enjoyed it And keep up with the great work.

Paolo Morrone (28:50):

<laugh>. Thanks man.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paolo Morrone

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.

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.

Sweet Caroline on a Gondola – an unexpected Leadership lesson (From Brent Dickson)

I am on a Gondola full of people ready to descend.  It is dark and we can see so many beautiful lights in the valley below.  Unexpectedly, Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond starts to play, and everyone sings along… 

You never know when a Leadership lesson presents itself. My family was visiting Palm Springs and decided to take a Gondola ride.  It was 30C in the valley.  The top of the mountain is 8500 feet and only 12C.  A sudden change in temperature for us vulnerable Canadians.  On the way up the gondola driver pointed out interesting sights and fun facts about the area. Up top we had a beautiful hike with many amazing views. I recommend the trip if you are in Palm Springs.  It was getting dark and colder so we boarded the gondola to head down.  I expected that the driver would share more fun facts on the way down.  I noticed him logging into his phone that was connected to a console.  I thought that was a really weird way to signal the tower below it was time to go.  Then he pressed play. 

What an unexpected surprise. Sweet Caroline!!! Everyone started singing along.  People were laughing and talking excitedly when the song finished.  Then came ABC by the Jackson 5.  Everyone was still singing and dancing (safely of course in a gondola). I had just had a great experience at the top of the mountain, was now seeing the beautiful lights in the valley, and had the fun of sharing the music with many others.  I had a bounce in my step coming off the gondola and good vibes for the rest of the night. 

I just finished the excellent book The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. My Gondola experience illustrated their idea of Breaking The Script.  Something unexpected happens that creates a wonderful memory.  I had no expectation of music on the ride down.  It is a great memory that will stick with me for a long time. 

I highly recommend The Power of Moments.  It speaks to so many things we do and aspire to in Student Leadership.  It confirmed me beliefs I hold, gave me ideas to think about, and a plan for how to create memorable moments.  I encourage you to give it a read. 

Activity Idea – The Golden Ticket 

The best part of this activity is it was completely created and run by students.  It was also simple and effective.  The goal was to give a boost to students who could use one.  My class created a google form which was sent to staff asking them to recommend someone who deserved a Golden Ticket.  They were also asked to say why they were recommending that student.  My class was added to the list students they also felt could use a boost.  Students were given a Golden Ticket, which told them to report to the Leadership room.  There they got a treat bag with a card attached that told them why they were recommended.  It was fun to hand a student their bag and say, “Read why someone thinks you are awesome.” 

Looking for a speaker? 

As things hopefully keep opening up, please consider having me come to your school or conference to work with students and/or teachers.  Click here https://brentdickson.net/speaker-presentations/ to see what presentations I offer.  Or if you are looking for something different or more specific, let me know.  I’m flexible like Gumby.  

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.

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