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Student Success

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

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

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

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

Connect with Daniette: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Elk Island Catholic Schools

Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School

The Transcript

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

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Oh, cool.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah. Been around a while.

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

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

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Daniette Terlesky
So that was really cool.

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

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah, absolutely.

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

Sam Demma
Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Daniette Terlesky

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

Geoff Gauthier — Director of Marketing and Communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology Student Association

Geoff Gauthier — Director of Marketing and Communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology Student Association
About Geoff Gauthier

On his second journey with the BCIT Student Association, Geoff Gauthier takes enhancing the quality of student life seriously.

As the Publications Manager running the Link newspaper in the early 2000’s, Geoff had an amazing opportunity to work with closely with students, finding out what they need and what they think, and that experience shaped and defined his need to help them wherever he could.

Fast forward a number of years and a new opportunity to lead the group responsible for delivering student life programming as the Director of Marketing and Communications was too wonderful to pass up.

Geoff is curious and attentive. He’s listening to his students and adapting to their needs and he’s making the necessary changes to provide them with best experience possible.

Connect with Geoff: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

British Columbia Institute of Technology

British Columbia Institute of Technology – Student Association

Link Newspaper

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

BCIT Hack the Break

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Today’s special guest on the High Performing Educator podcast is Geoff Gauthier. On his second journey with the BCIT Student Association, British Columbia Institute of Technology, Geoff Gauthier takes enhancing the quality of student life seriously. As the publications manager running the Link newspaper in the early 2000s, Geoff had an amazing opportunity to work closely with students finding out what they need and what they think, and that experience shaped and defined his need to help them wherever he could. Fast forward a number of years, and a new opportunity to lead the group responsible for delivering student life, programming, as the Director of Marketing and Communications, was too wonderful to pass up. Geoff is curious and attentive. He’s listening to his students and adapting to their needs, and he’s making the necessary changes to provide them with the best experiences possible. I hope you enjoyed this enticing and exciting conversation with my good friend Geoff, 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 speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by my good friend, Geoff Gauthier. Geoff, thank you so much for coming on the show this morning. I appreciate it.

Geoff Gauthier
Hey, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me, Sam. This is wonderful.

Sam Demma
I always like to get started by asking people a big question. What made you the person you are today? Where do you come from?.

Geoff Gauthier
That’s a huge question. What made me what I am today? Yeah, you knwo what, I’m gonna answer your question with a question as I normally do. I’m not even really sure, man I’m freezing up already haha.

Sam Demma
Well where do you come from? Tell me where you come from.

Geoff Gauthier
So I’m from British Columbia, Canada. I’m like mainly from here. I’ve lived here for the vast majority of my life in various places from the lower mainland through the interior, traveled around a bit. Yeah, I think a lot of it is like, what brought me here? I question that constantly. Why do I do what I do and how did I get here? Right? And I was a journalist before all of this, and now I work for a student association in British Columbia. So naturally, I am a service-based person. I like to make sure that people are doing well. And I think that just sort of manifested in how I ended up here.

Sam Demma
Did that come from your parents? Were they of a service mindset or teachers in your life or coaches?

Geoff Gauthier
Or where did that mentality come from? I think probably teachers and coaches. My parents were, I mean, we all have our parental things. I don’t want to speak ill of my parents, but they’re young and challenging. So, my parents were both like 20 when they had me. So, I have relatively young parents. And when you’re 20, I don’t know, you’ve been 20 recently, you know, you don’t really know a lot. And so when you have a child, like, you just do your best to try to like push and encourage that. And like, I know, my dad was a big hockey fan and he pushed me to really hard to like, and my brother to be, you know, to be hockey players. And like, we, we tried our best and you know, you get so far and skill can only take you so far. And then it’s just a matter of other things. Right. So, yeah, I mean, I don’t know if my parents were, my mom is kind of a service person and I think she’s gotten back to those roots, but you know, it was the 80s and 90s and things were different back then. So there were like other avenues and ways of pushing. So I just think I just learned it from watching other people and just like recognizing a need to help others and like ensure success of other people. Right. Like, you know, I can be of service elsewhere, then I do what I can to do that.

Sam Demma
I have a phrase, I say, we can’t lean on ourselves. Sometimes we have to lean on each other. And it’s something that I encourage not only students, but also educators to realize. When there’s a new teacher in a classroom, you don’t have to know all the answers, but you have to be willing to reach out to people in your life to find them, you know? And there are people that want to support you. You talked about watching people in your life and that’s what taught you about service. When I think about the people I’ve watched, one person that comes to mind is my grandfather who came here with nothing and worked on a farm during the day and then did an overnight shift at GM to try and provide for his family, my dad growing up. And he would get boxes of squash from the farm job he did during the day. It was so much produce that he couldn’t eat it or just use it at his house because there was way too much. And instead of just throwing it away, he would put it in boxes, drive around the city, and drop it off on people’s front porches. And he was an individual in my life who taught me the importance of trying to be of service and live that life of service. You mentioned it might’ve been like teachers or coaches. Can you think of any specific person that you think had a really big impact on you?

Geoff Gauthier
It’s funny, man, you mentioned your grandfather and I was thinking about my grandfather. He passed in 2015 or so. Oh, geez. And it was on my mom’s side, and like, but he was, so maybe not necessarily serviced, but he taught me a lot of really valuable life skills. And he was like, kind of had the most impact on me when he passed, it was pretty hard for me. But he, like, it’s the simple things that I remember him teaching me that made me want to teach other people the things that he taught me. So he taught me, he would take me camping and he taught me like how to chop wood and build a fire. And it’s not like, it’s very simplistic, it’s very rustic, but he taught me this basic act of like how to create warmth for people and how to create a comfortable environment out of nothing, right? So it’s like those little pieces. So now I can teach my son how to build a fire and then he’ll be able to teach his friends and family how to build a fire, right? Like there’s all these things that, it’s a very simple act, but it’s like that knowledge, that passing on of knowledge is like a huge thing. So yeah, you mentioned your grandfather. My grandfather was kind of a similar background, came here, was literally born on a, he was born in Canada, but he was born on a latitude and longitude line. There was no hospital, right. He was born on a farm in Saskatchewan.

Geoff Gauthier
Right.

Geoff Gauthier
So, so yeah, he like, he grew up with that, that same ethic of like, you know, you came from somewhere else and you, you, you know, help your community and you, you build that community and you make that happen. So like, he was a big influence on me. I think I had, I had a couple of coaches and I had one teacher along, I had an art teacher in grade 11 and grade 12. She was really influential on like getting me to explore not like what other people were doing, but what I felt like I needed to do. And I think that was a big push. Yeah. Shout out to Mrs. Byfon Schmidt if you’re around. Yeah, she’s rad. So yeah, she like, she just encouraged me to follow an artistic path, which I hadn’t considered before because I was so like into sports and like competition. The artistic side of me was there and she was kind of nurtured that and pushed that out. So those were two kind of really big people in my life that pushed me to learn a bit more about myself and also how to teach others how to do that same thing.

Sam Demma
That’s so awesome. I think the arts get overlooked so much in schools that people disregard them as a potential pathway and also as an opportunity to explore yourself. I think art is such an amazing form of self-expression and I was recently listening to a book by Rick Rubin and it’s like all about arts and you may have actually heard of it. It came out recently. Yeah. And he was talking about the importance of appreciating everything around you and I was on a walk while I was listening to it with headphones in and he was talking about appreciating nature and I just started like looking around and I was like, the world is art, art’s everywhere.

Sam Demma
You know?

Geoff Gauthier
Beautiful, everywhere you look is gorgeous.

Sam Demma
It just forces you to kind of pause. The cool thing that you mentioned about your grandfather is all the activities he did with you, like teaching you how to cut wood and how to go camping, those types of things, they’re all an investment of time. I think investing your time in other people is how you build relationships with them. In the classroom, with students? Like how do educators build relationships with kids or how have you done it in your life so far?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, so it’s awesome that you mentioned that. I mean, the biggest thing with everything that I do in my life right now is as you discover as you get older, everything is about relationships, right? So like if I’m selling a sponsorship to a third party person outside of my organization, I need, it’s not like, hey, give me money and I’ll make you, I’ll put your name everywhere. You gotta like talk to them and you build that relationship with them and you build trust and you build a community and you understand each other’s needs. It’s not like, you know, if I’m gonna ask you for money, I’m gonna need to invest some time in getting to know you, getting to know your company, getting to even know your people. Here at the office, it’s the same thing with my employees, with the people that I work with. You know, I talk to them, I know them. I know everybody’s name in my organization. I know a little tiny tidbit of information about them. And I think this comes from journalism. Because I had to keep a lot of names and notes about people, or I had to keep them straight. I need to know my contacts, who’s who, what do they do, and know a little bit about them so that I can know who they are and like have that relationship with them. So I know everybody’s name, I know a little bit about them. I know if they have a dog or a cat or a kid or what they like to do on weekends kind of thing, like a little bit, a little bit about them. It may not, it might be, some of it might be surface, but I can say hello to everybody, including like the, the staff that do the cleaning. Like Habib empties our garbage cans, but he’s still a person and he’s a human and he has a story. And I ran into him in the community, ran into him at the mall by my house. And I was like, Hey man, how you doing? How are you? It’s, it’s always weird to see somebody outside of their, you know, their role that you see them in every day. And I was just like, dude, you live in my neighborhood. And we got to talking and he lives in the neighborhood with me. And I’m like, this is great. Like, I just, I know people around, right? And I’m going to be, I’m a person who’s in a position of power within my organization. I’m going to be in the community. People are going to talk to me and there’s value in making those connections and knowing those people and being able to keep talking to them. I think that’s like a hugely important part of growth as a person and also like an important part of being a community member.

Sam Demma
And it takes that extra step and effort to really get to know somebody, even if it’s not their whole life story and a thousand details, but a couple of small things. I love that nugget. I think educators should treat that aspect of their work like a journalist and take notes and get to know people in their classrooms. I think that’s a really good piece of wisdom and advice. Yeah, it’s super important, man.

Geoff Gauthier
It’s helped me so much in my career, just being able to know people and being able to talk to people on a one-to-one basis and be like, hey, how’s your son doing? Or remember, like, you know, and time goes by so quickly, you’d be like, hey, how’s your son doing? Oh, he’s married and he’s gone off to Iraq. He lives there now. Whoa, holy crap. He was like 12 when I met him. So, you know, yeah.

Sam Demma
So you mentioned that you grew up in competition. Yeah. You know, hockey was a big part of your childhood. You then had this amazing art teacher who kind of poured belief in you and it challenged you to explore different pathways. Where’s the gap between like end of high school to where you are now? Like what did your educational journey look like that brought you here?

Geoff Gauthier
I just, that’s wonderful. So I took a year off after high school because I was-

Sam Demma
Me too.

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, right? I was like, I was gonna do, so I was playing hockey. Yep. I find that that sort of stopped being a thing, you know, like right around that timeframe, but like 18, 19 kind of thing. Yeah. I’m like, I need to like figure out what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life. It’s not going to be playing hockey at this point, so I’m going to have to figure out what to do. So my dad, I started apprenticing as a plumber for a little bit after high school, which was interesting. I was like, I don’t want to do this. I got my hand stuck in a pipe full of effluent. I’ll use effluent as the word. And I couldn’t get it out, and I had to get somebody to come and cut my hand out of the pipe. And I was just like, oh, I need to do something else. I’m like, I washed my hand a million times and it smelled for like a week. And I was just like, I gotta do something with my life. So I’m like, I’m gonna go to university. I’ve kind of always been interested in journalism. I wanna do that. But I started off, I did a bachelor of arts degree in professional writing, and then went on to fast track a journalism degree. And then I ended up working at BCIT in the early 2000s, and I did a diploma of technology in desktop publishing while I was there. And so like all of my education background comes from basically journalism and print media. And as you know, and everyone else knows, like I used to work at a newspaper and print media just started dying. Newspapers just stopped being a thing that existed. I have all this knowledge in my head about how to like build print processing, and it’s like pretty much useless at this point. So I had to figure out like, how am I going to make this work? And I got a job with a company where I started doing communications, like press releases. I’m like, I’m a writer, I can write. There’s one thing I can do really well, it’s writing. And I wanna be the best at writing, I’m gonna try and work on this and become a really good writer. So I’m gonna like, I’ll write press releases for this company. And then I just got some lucky opportunities in that company where I got to do press releases. I also got to do like machinery installs, which was kind of like a thing that I did on the outside. So like it was a company that does like mining, whole cycle management, whole cycle management. It’s like a tech company, but everybody, it was a small company at the time and everybody did everything. So I was writing press releases. I was creating marketing materials. I was like building computers and like drawing icons for software. It was like, it was a pretty cool, I got to blend my art and my writing and my journalism skills, like all into one thing. And it just sort of blossomed from there. And I just kind of got good at marketing. I got good at like knowing what, build relationships with our customers, know what they want, provide them what they want, really listen to what they’re asking for and giving them those pieces.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And it just sort of, it just blossomed out of that. And I got really good at it. And just, just out of habitual practice. And I’m like, and then that desire and that want to be really, really good at something, you know? So, yeah. And then I, I ran into the executive director, former executive director, weirdly in a liquor store in Coquitlam, I was buying some wine. I don’t really drink anymore, but at the time, I was with my family and I bought some wine and I ran into her at Liquorsworks. She’s like, what are you doing these days? And I was like, oh, I’m working in marketing for this mining company. And she’s like, oh, interesting. And she’s like, we just got to chatting. And it was like, again, I’d made that relationship with her when I worked here the first time, right? And when I worked here the first time, I worked as a journalist. I worked in the publications department. Sorry, I totally glossed over that part. When I worked at the BCIT Student Association the first time, I was in publications. I produced a newspaper. It was the early 2000s, they still existed then, for the students. And I learned about how to be of service to students. And then I was like, I gotta go. I was in my late 20s, early 30s, and I’m like, I gotta go get in the real world and become this, like get some real world experience. And that’s how I managed to get like into that marketing department. And then ran into the ED, talked to her for a little while. And then a couple of months later, she phoned me up. She’s like, hey, why don’t you come back and have lunch with me at the student association? I was like, oh, okay. And like just dumb old Jeff, like not picking up on any cues. I’m just like, oh, okay, sure. I’d love to come for lunch and hang out with you. Cause we’d gone for lunch before in the past. I kept that relationship alive during the decade that I wasn’t here. And, uh, you know, like we went for lunch every once in a while, like it was like every couple of years kind of thing, right. Just to catch up and say hi. And cause she really inspired me to like become who I am as well. So that’s another story I completely glossed over. And anyway, I came back and she’s like, yeah. And she, she had her HR manager with her and they’re like, this is what we’ve been doing with the SA since you’ve been gone. Here’s this new thing that we’ve done. Here’s how we’ve expanded. Here’s all this stuff that we’ve built. I’m like, oh, this is all really amazing. I’m like, I can see the potential of how we can use this to get the students just looking at them. It’s so cool. Then we’re sitting down eating lunch and she’s like, so what would you think about coming back here to work? I was like, what? When I look back on it, it’s so funny because it was so obviously and clearly like a recruitment thing. And I just was like not picking up on it. I was like in my, the prime of my career, in my other job, I was doing really well. I was like, but the problem with that other job is I had traveled a lot. Okay. And this, and so I was like missing out on my son growing up and missing out on seeing my wife. And I’m like, I’m always gone. I’m always at conferences. I’m always in other parts of the world and I’m doing other things, which is kind of cool. But you know, I was, I was gone a lot. So she was like, you want to come here and work in marketing? I was like, yeah, you know what? I was nervous, but I took that step because I trusted her because she’s treated me well in the past. So I came back here and then this is, I came back, I’ve always felt while I was at the other job that instead of like making somebody rich that I’d never met before, I could like come back and help students. I can come back and make a better life for students and make like, I remember how difficult it was for me in university. And I just was like, if I can make a couple of students’ lives better, that’s way more fun than making somebody else get another yacht, who I’ve never met, right? It was one of those things. We ended up, that other company, we ended up getting bought out by a major corporation. And so it ended up being kind of like, I don’t know, this doesn’t really work for me anymore.

Sam Demma
The meaning and significance wasn’t really there.

Geoff Gauthier
It changes, it changes, right? So I needed to come back and I needed to do something with students and then I’ve been here now for four years and I like, three really tough years, but we’re getting back on it now, so.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that that individual who was the director of the school had a really big impact on you and helped you pivot. Like, what did she do for you that made a really big difference?

Geoff Gauthier
So, she asked me a key question and I’ll never forget this because this is like when I was when I was younger, um, I had a manager who was not so great who who was in who worked here and then you know I don’t want to speak really about that but but like The ed app she asked me a very poignant question. She’s like, who do you feel accountable to? Because we were talking about management and like not feeling like I I can trust this person and not feeling like this person is helping me develop my career or meaning to help students in any significant way. And I said to her, I’m like, I’m accountable to the students of this school. I’m accountable to the students of the school. And it wasn’t a thoughtful answer, I blurted it out. And I think that was that moment where she’s like, okay, this guy, this guy actually cares, cares, and actually like believes in this and actually wants to like progress and make things good here. Right. And then, and I shortly after that is when I quit and I left and I went to the other company, but, but yeah. And so I think in the back of her mind, she had that thing where like, we had this relationship where she knew she could trust me. And she knew that if she brought me back here, I would be that person to like help students, to really push the organization to want to do that. And like now I’m in a position where I have that ability and it’s taken some time, but I’m like, I’m getting there now. I’m getting there now. It’s so obvious you’re passionate about the work that you do. I can feel it coming out of you as you’re talking. You’re like, you’re an intense dude. I’m like, I know, I know. Oh, it’s the best way possible.

Sam Demma
You mentioned through university, you kind of had your own challenges. What are some of the things that you’re striving to help to support students now at BCIT that you think would have been valuable if you had when you were going through university?

Geoff Gauthier
So this is the challenge with working in a university setting, it’s like figuring out what most students want.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
So when you work for a student association, we’re a non-profit, right? And we’re here to help all students, but the people that you hear from are the students who are sort of the least, yeah, the most engaged and then the least advantaged. Right? So we’re not hearing from the, the middle students are content and they’re happy. So we hear from the students who have many challenges and we hear from the students who have, who are the most engaged with us. And it’s weird, man, you see it, the most engaged students are the most advantaged students.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And the students who have the most challenges are the most disadvantaged students. How do I make that middle ground work for everybody? What can I provide? What kind of services and programming can I provide that helps these people out? So it’s always a challenge to put those two pieces together. And that’s like the hardest part of this job is to like make that balance happen. It’s easy to cater to the middle students. It’s easy to like give the right programming and the right messaging to the middle students. It’s much more difficult to A, keep the engaged students happy, and B, keep the, oh, A and A1. And like, where can I step in to help make everybody’s lives better, right? And when you make someone’s life better, sometimes you make somebody else’s life worse. Or in perception, it’s worse. So, yeah, that’s a tough question, man. Like, I’m just doing my best to try to like, make sure everybody has a good time at school, and is able to make it through here. Because like we don’t provide any education at the association. We provide student life. We provide value and we provide services for free to help people get an advantage sort of while they’re here and then also get them out, right? So they have an advantage over their competition when they get out. And as someone who comes from a background in competition, every possible advantage I can give you to beat out the competition in the future, I’m going to try to give that to you. That’s awesome.

Sam Demma
What events have you, or has the organization, association run in the past that you think achieved some of that goal of catering to the middle, the most engaged and the less advantaged, and really had an impact?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, this is a weird question. I mean, you know how things have kind of gotten with the world.

Sam Demma
I guess COVID was weird.

Geoff Gauthier
It was, man, and like I’ve been working, so I started working here again in 2019.

Sam Demma
Okay.

Geoff Gauthier
It was June of 2019. Jeez. So I had like six solid months of like doing really cool programming for students and then we’re all of a sudden everybody’s working from their house. So we’ve just kind of been kicking it back in. But one of the, it’s like I think to like one of the events that’s kind of cool that we do that appeals to my nerdy background where I can kind of help it help out and figure it out. We do a hackathon for the the school of computer studies students and so we’re able to kind of leverage some of my mining contacts to have a company come in and provide data sets to these students who create these sort of virtual businesses and virtual business ideas over a weekend. So we put teams from different schools into or we create teams from students in different schools. So like you get some business students, some marketing students, and some design students, and we put them all together on a five or six person team, and then we give them data sets, and they, over the weekend, they work to create a business plan out of these data sets, or like, and like this is a fun thing for me to like put on for students, and it really only appeals to about 100, 150 students, I’ve said, every year, but it’s, it’s one of those events that like I look forward to it every year. It’s a lot of work. It comes in January, like right after the holiday season. And all my staff’s like, oh, you gotta do that. It’s gonna be such a, it’s so much work. And I’m like, it’s so much work, but it’s so much fun. And yes, I get all excited about it. And what ends up happening is I pair some businesses who are looking for talent, and then I provide them with students who are exceptional within that field. And we get data from those people, we get sponsorship from those people that gives us money to be able to provide more services for more students.

Sam Demma
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
That’s awesome. So it kind of combines, it puts everything in perspective, it puts everything into like what I do, into like a kind of a microcosm of like what we’re trying to achieve here. So that’s why I love that event so much. I mean, you know, you come here and you can feel the excitement and the energy on the Friday night when they start. Everybody’s in the great hall, they’re outside, there’s a buzz, they’re like all excited. Some of them are meeting their team members for the first time. They’re people that, you know, at BCIT we have a very short school year, it’s two years, and they’re in and out really quickly. It’s like you don’t meet everybody, and then all of a sudden you’re paired on a team with a marketing person and a designer and some business and computing students, and you’re like, all right, you all never met, now you gotta work together to create something awesome. And out of that, and then there’s several teams, and so they compete. So I get my competition out of it too. I see my students strive and they want to work and they want to be the best and they want to figure it out. And then on the end of the weekend, on the Sunday, they’re judged and they’re awarded prizes and possibly job opportunities coming out of that. So if there’s something I can provide like that for students that like, A, gets them in front of employers, gets them into a mode where they’re competing to be their best, and pushes them to like work hard and work together and work in a team environment with people they’ve never met. I’m building growth, I’m building challenges, I’m building connections and I’m building relationships. Not me, but you know, my team. I said that, it’s very egocentric, I shouldn’t say me. Our team, our school is building, the event is really building that. And it’s not just me that’s doing it, it’s a combined effort from everybody. But it gets me excited when we do stuff like that, right?

Sam Demma
Is that one of those hackathons where everyone’s in the same hotel, they basically sleep in the same room?

Geoff Gauthier
In the great hall at our campus. They’re like out there, yeah, they stay overnight, they just work all weekend. Sometimes they leave, sometimes they come back, and we roll out like a buffet table. We had a taco bar one year that was really popular. We rolled out a taco bar. Everybody was stoked about that. So we try to feed them and keep them interested and keep them here. And they work really hard all weekend. It’s a satisfying thing for the students to do too. They really get to contribute in a way that’s meaningful and create something cool. And so if I can, I need to do more things like that with other schools and try and figure out ways I can make that happen as well.

Sam Demma
Well, that also facilitates new friends, right? Even if they’re from different schools, you might become friends with someone that you’re gonna talk to for the rest of your life.

Sam Demma
Yeah, totally.

Geoff Gauthier
The weirdest thing happened too, like I coach youth soccer. My son plays soccer and he’s wonderful. He’s a great midfielder, plays really well. I got my team the other day, like on TeamSnap is our program we use. I got the team, there’s the roster sitting there, and I got two new players on my team this year, and one of those players, I was like, this kid looks kind of familiar. And I click on him, and I look at his parents, and I’m like, The parent is one of our key sponsors from the institution who sponsors our hackathon. No way. Yeah, it was like this super weird thing. I’ve never met this kid before. I didn’t even know that she had a kid. And now I’m like, okay, cool. So now one of our key sponsors for hackathons child is on my soccer team. So I’m going to have to be on my best behavior at all times. So yeah, it’s just really, man, it’s funny. And this is what I’m talking about, about how the community thing works, right? How these weird things happen, where you’re in a community, your community, when you work at a school or an institution, is pretty tight-knit. I know people, I’ve known people here since 2001. I’ve met people here when I started working here in 2001 that still work here, that I still interact with on a regular basis. That was 22 years ago, Sam. Wow. Yeah. I still know people, right. And like I’ve gone away and I’ve come back and they’re like, Oh, Hey, you’re back. And I’m like, yeah, I’ve been here for four years. I haven’t seen you yet. Yeah. It’s pretty funny. It’s a big place too.

Sam Demma
Right. Well, it sounds like the funny coincidence finding out that, that athletes, parents, or someone that you knew, that starts from being curious and like exploring a little bit, you know? And you seem like someone who leads with like curiosity. Where does that come from? Where your curiosity stem from? That has been forever.

Geoff Gauthier
That was dangerous when I was younger. Serves me well now that I’m older. Man, I think that’s the journalism part too. I can’t stop. I’m not a very chill person. I think we can discuss that. I like, I remember when I met my wife when we were initially dating and I was like, yeah, cool, I’m chill. She’s like, you’re not chill at all. You’re like zero chill guy. And I’m like, oh, I’ve always thought I was really chill and relaxed, and you’re not relaxed at all. You’re like very high strung. And then so, so I’ve accepted that. And with being high strung, it becomes being curious. But what I have to be careful about is going too far down that rabbit hole, right? Like, I love, I love being curious. I love to know things. I love to know a lot as much as I possibly can. Like you, just even meeting you and listening to you speak, and I’m like, well, I want to know Sam more. I want to get Sam to my university. I want to hang out with Sam. I want to know this guy. I want to talk to him a little bit. I just needed to make that connection with you. I’m like, tell me more about you. And we talked in person for a while afterwards. And I was just like, you’re an interesting person. And I think through journalism, I found a lot of interesting people. And everyone has this really cool story to tell. I haven’t met anybody who’s boring, right? Like people will go, I’m so boring. I’m like, okay, well, tell me a little bit about yourself. Like open up a little bit and let me hear about what you do. Cause you’re not boring. Everyone is inherently interesting. Everyone has a story or something in their background that’s fun or funny or exciting or traumatic or whatever. But whatever the story is, you’re going to have something to tell me. And I wanna know about that. I wanna know who you are. I wanna know like why you do what you do. And I know that’s why you asked me to come on here. You’re asking me those questions. And I’m sitting in back of you. It’s fun. For me, it’s fun. And I know for other people, it’s not fun. And so I’ve gotten old enough now to recognize when people are uncomfortable when I’m asking them questions. So I just back off and I’m like, okay, cool. I get it, right? But like, I used to push, like, you know, no, come on, tell me. Every time I’d find the quiet person at a party, I’d push that person to talk. I wanna know more about that quiet person. Because like quiet people always have the most to talk about if you push them hard, right? Loud people, man, you know what I’m about.

Sam Demma
I hear it all.

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, I will tell you my life story in a podcast in 15 minutes, and no one cares. But the quiet people, they have cool stories. They have the best stories to tell because they only speak when it’s important for them to speak. So yeah, anyway, so I used to do that, but I don’t push as hard anymore on people. I let them kind of naturally open up to me. I build that trust with them first, right? If they want to talk to me, they’ll talk to me. I don’t need to be a and push them about it.

Sam Demma
I hear you. Yeah, I think the, I’ll make an addition to the importance of curiosity, like genuine curiosity.

Geoff Gauthier
Genuine curiosity, yeah.

Sam Demma
That’s like the, I think that’s the key because even if the person is shy, they feel like the question is coming from a place of love and like really wanting to know more about them. So they’re even a little more encouraged to talk. And I think you do that really well. Like, you seem very curious when you ask questions. And even I remember when you approached me in the hallway, I was like, ah, I feel really like acknowledged by this guy. And I would like to get to know him a little more. And so you talked about the beginning service and wanting to help students. And not only do you do stuff with, you know, BCIT, but you do a lot with COCA for people listening who don’t know what COCA is, like let’s give them a little quick snippet of what it is and what got you involved.

Geoff Gauthier
Oh man, okay, so COCA is the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities and I’m the West, one of the Western Regional Board Directors. Congratulations. Thank you, yeah, I filled in for a year, for like half a year kind of thing, or like eight months, and then I was re-elected this year to keep working with them. And a COCA is an organization that like, I didn’t know anything about it. One of the former directors phoned me up just doing their kind of annual drive to get more members. And they’re like, Hey, you used to be a members. And I’m like, I don’t know anything about this. What is this? And so he guided me through like what COCA is. And I’m like, this is beneficial to be a part of for us to learn about what we can provide for students. I would never have met you if it wasn’t for Coke, right? And like all the people that I work with on the board are all fantastic and they’re all high performers. And I think that’s what, you know, you talk about the high performance podcast, man, these are all people that work extra hard to make things happen for for other people. So like, I’m working at BCIT, I coach youth soccer, I dedicate my time to the board of directors. Like, I don’t, I don’t do a lot.

Sam Demma
I don’t eat. I don’t have time.

Geoff Gauthier
But yeah, I just, it’s kind of this never-ending cycle and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do those things. Yeah. You know? And like, and it provides me with these wonderful opportunities to meet folks like yourself and to like, see what is out there. And it feeds my curiosity and I get to know more people and I get to make those connections. And now I don’t have just connections in BC, I have connections all across Canada. So within the universities, like in the university service spectrum, I have connections now and it’s beautiful to hear from them the challenges and the triumphs that they have as well. Right, and see how similar they are and I can learn from them. And I can, you know, I talk, Crystal Ben from St. Clair College, they have, she told me this story about how they have like an eSports coliseum, or like, not a coliseum, but like an arena on their campus. And I’m just like, what? You gotta be kidding me. We have an eSports club here, and if I told them that, they’d lose their minds. They would just go, they’d be like, they have a whole arena for this? Like they have a dedicated space for that. And I’m just like, man. So I’m like, how can I bring that to BCIT? How can I bring that here? How can I, like, how do I make that work on my campus? Right, or I hear from, and that’s like on the other side of Canada. I’m like, how do I do that here? Right?

Sam Demma
I love that.

Geoff Gauthier
I want to know.

Geoff Gauthier
Go ahead.

Sam Demma
I love that it’s not, oh, we can’t do that. Like the first question that pops in your head is how? How can we bring that here? How can we do this? And leading with that, I think so often the thing that holds ourselves back is not other people’s opinions of us, it’s actually our perception of ourselves or our perception of what’s possible for us. And I think removing the words can’t from the vocabulary and focusing on the how and approaching things like challenges, not problems, is such an impactful perspective to hold. And yeah, it’s cool that you just like, that’s your default, it seems like.

Geoff Gauthier
I’m gonna tell you a quick story about that. It’s only been my default recently. I have had to work very hard. I’m a Gen X. I came up skeptical. I worked as a journalist. I had to like, do I believe this person? Is this person lying to my face? Are they credible? How do I fact check this? I didn’t trust anybody for the longest time. And I’ve opened my heart to trust and I’m trying to change my mindset to eliminate can’t, won’t, done. And working in this environment is super challenging because there’s no money in, we’re a non-profit and there’s like, we’re, you know, so how do I create enough resources to build? Right? We don’t have this resource. Don’t tell me we don’t have it. Tell me how we can create it. Yeah. Right? I get that we don’t have it. I’ve seen the budget lines. I know what it looks like. I understand there’s challenges. What could we do to change that?

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And I’m just like, and if I instill that in the people that I, it’s so easy to say, I can’t do that. It’s so, I can’t do that. I won’t do that. I’m not going to do it. Right? No, no, we’re not going to do it. No, we don’t have the money. Yeah, that’s so easy to say that. It’s way harder to go, is there a way we can make that work? Is there something that we can do? Is there someone we can partner with? Can we build a relationship with someone who can help us do that?

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Sam Demma
Like- Can we call that athlete on the soccer team’s dad?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, exactly, right?

Geoff Gauthier
Like, hey, I know a guy in the community who might be able to help us. Yeah, that’s another thing too, right?

Sam Demma
I got a person.

Geoff Gauthier
I got a person for that.

Sam Demma
People always say,

Sam Demma
when one door closes, another door opens, added like an extension. When one door closes, another door opens, but there’s always a human being standing behind that new door opening it for you. Exactly. That comes back to your whole point of relationships. And understand that person and know that person and take your time to understand

Geoff Gauthier
Maybe why they opened that door for you. Yeah. Is there a reason for that? And like, can I open a door for them if they did that for me? Would I do that in the same position?

Sam Demma
Well, maybe there’s a person listening to this that would love to open a door for you or would love to get to know you in the hope that you might open a door for them. If someone is listening, an educator, and they just want to send you a message and appreciate you for taking the time to share on the podcast or ask you a question or just connect, what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out?

Geoff Gauthier
Oh man, probably a text message. That’s like the only thing I answer now. Man, I don’t post on social media. Like I have an Instagram handle, it’s @mistergoats. It is pictures of my kid, my cat, and my motorcycle. And my family, and that’s really it. I’m not really active on social media. I’m on Blue Sky, I’m on Blue Sky now. I misspelled my name when I signed up, so it’s @mistetgoats.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Geoff Gauthier
And you can’t change it, because it’s a new platform, so I’m over there if you want to look me up, Blue Sky Social.

Sam Demma
I can include your email and show notes as well, if that’s okay with you.

Geoff Gauthier
Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you can email me anytime. ggauthier@bcitsa.ca. They’ll be in the show notes. Man, I don’t know. That’s how you get ahold of me. That’s the best way to get ahold of me. I don’t, I’ll give you my phone number too. You can, people can text me. That’s the easiest way to get ahold of me. And I’m happy, I’m happy to chat. And if you have like, if you want some ideas or if you want to share ideas or you want to get to know me a little bit, I’m totally open to that. Always good to connect with people wherever I can.

Sam Demma
This has been an awesome conversation, man. Thank you for saying yes, despite not knowing what the heck we were going to do.

Geoff Gauthier
I appreciate you. I trust you, Sam. I trust you. And you’re a wonderful person. I know I’ve only known you for a few hours, but man, you make that connection. Like there’s something about this guy that makes sense. I just, I love that. And I appreciate you having me on. I hit my table and shaking everything, sorry.

Sam Demma
You’re good.

Geoff Gauthier
Thanks again. Everyone, podcast rule, don’t slam it.

Sam Demma
Thank you, Sam, thank you.

Sam Demma
This is awesome. This is awesome. Geoff Gauthier. Right on.

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Keri-Ellen Walcer — Professor and Program Coordinator of Entrepreneurship and Small Business at Durham College

Keri-Ellen Walcer — Professor and Program Coordinator of Entrepreneurship and Small Business at Durham College
About Keri-Ellen Walcer

Keri-Ellen Walcer has been a professor at Durham College (DC) since 2013. She is currently the Program Coordinator for the Entrepreneurship and Small Business program in the Faculty of Business. Keri-Ellen holds a B.A. in Health Promotion from Brock University and an MHSc.in Kinesiology from Ontario Tech University. Prior to joining DC Keri-Ellen established a global children’s fitness brand working with partners in the community, government and entertainment industries.

Keri-Ellen is passionate about helping students develop their unique brands and innovative business models. She is very active in her community service activities and loves to empower young adults to be changemakers.

Connect with Keri-Ellen: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

YMCA Canada

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Musigo Inc

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast, your source of professional development and connections in the education industry. This is your host, keynote speaker, and author, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Keri-Ellen Walcer. Keri-Ellen Walcer has been a professor at Durham College since 2013. She is currently the program coordinator for the Entrepreneurship and Small Business program in the Faculty of Business. Carrie Ellen holds a BA in health promotion from Brock University and a master’s in kinesiology from Ontario Tech University. Prior to joining Durham College, Carrie Ellen established a global children’s fitness brand working with partners in the community, government, and entertainment industries. Carrie Ellen is passionate about helping students develop their unique brands and innovative business models. She is very active in her community service activities and loves to empower young adults to be changemakers. I hope you enjoy this impactful conversation 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 speaker, Sam Demma. Super excited to have Keri-Ellen Walcer on the show here today. Keri-Ellen Walcer, thanks so much for taking the time to be here.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Thanks so much for having me, Sam. I’m super excited about our conversation today.

Sam Demma
So I always like to start by asking, like, what made you the person you are today? Where did you come from?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Wow, that’s a big question. Well, I am the youngest of six kids. I’m from a very active and entrepreneurial family. My mom was from the UK, my dad was from Holland. They met here in Canada and yeah, we’ve always had a full house and lots of activity and lots of fun in our house. So yeah, that’s kind of where I come from.

Sam Demma
Does that inspire the full house you have now?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Yeah, yeah, I think so. I, I, I’ve created my own full house. Um, yeah, I’ve always loved having people around, um, you know, being the youngest, my siblings all had children before I did. And so even though I didn’t have younger siblings, I always had, you know, nephews around a lot of nephews, a couple of nieces, but a lot of nephews. And so family functions are always a lot of fun, a lot of games, a lot of activity, and just lots of ideas.

Sam Demma
Did your parents’ entrepreneurial aspirations influence your own? Like, tell me more about your parents’ aspirations in entrepreneurship.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Oh man.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Yes.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
My dad was very creative. He was all… I think when I was a baby he had an ice cream shop at one point. And my mom says that as a baby, you know, I’d sit on the counter and he’d feed me soft ice cream and whatnot. So, you know, right from the time we were growing up, but he always had different ideas for different businesses. And I remember as a teenager going to him to trade shows, selling some of the stuff that he had invented or different things. There’s always some kind of side hustle going on in our house.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Yeah.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. I think the soft serve ice cream as someone who’s lactose intolerant for me wouldn’t have been the best idea as a baby but that’s a fond memory to think about The did that directly inform your decision to be an entrepreneur yourself like tell me more about your own entrepreneurial journey Yeah

Keri-Ellen Walcer
So so actually I have to say when I was five years old, I had decided I was going to start a jewelry making club. Like I said, my dad worked at a car manufacturer and he would bring home little empty spools of thread and different bits and pieces and I would make jewelry out of these plastic pieces and things that he would bring home from the factory. And so I decided I had like one friend in the neighborhood, there wasn’t really many children in my neighborhood, and I made this little kit. It was like a jewelry making kit and I like dropped it off at her house and said, do you want to be part of my jewelry making club? And you know, so when I really think about it, like I was doing this stuff from the time I was super little. I remember actually even at that time when I was living at that house, so I was again, I think I moved when we were five, like I think I had my fifth birthday at the new house, but so before I’d even moved from the original house I lived in, there was a Dickie D ice cream guy that would drive around on his bike in our neighborhood and, you know, I would be playing out front by myself and I always wanted to get this ice cream. So I decided that I would get Monopoly money and go and order some ice cream from him. Now I knew that the Monopoly money was not real money, but I figured that like $500 in Monopoly dollars must be worth at least 50 cents in like regular dollars. So I went out to the ice cream, I had my pocket full of this Monopoly money. I went out to the ice cream guy and I asked him for the ice cream and he gave me the ice cream and then he asked me for the money and so I pulled the Monopoly money out of my pocket and he goes, oh no, you can’t use that. And I said, listen, no, I know it’s not real money, but I explained to him like it must be worth something, like come on, this is $500 Monopoly, it’s got to be worth at least an ice cream. But no, he wouldn’t take it. But I did make some good sense, I think. Like, I was really trying to wheel and deal, and I felt like I had, you know, a good deal I was willing to make, but that wasn’t successful. So, yeah, those things were happening right back then. Now, fast forward to when I was in my early 20s. I got married young. I married my high school sweetheart, so we had known each other for a long time. But we were, I was 20 years old when I got married and I was just finishing up university. And so when I finished, I was, I just had my first baby. So she was actually at my university graduation. And I had finished a degree in community health and fitness. And I had also been a dancer throughout my life. I love, I love dancing. And so here I was, I just graduated, I have a baby and I was not eager to leave her alone. And so I started developing little, little knee bounces and dances and things like that, that I could do with her with, and my intention from that was twofold. One was for myself to keep active and to develop a program that could help me to keep up my own fitness level while also helping her reach her developmental milestones. So I started reading a lot of books about children and their developmental milestones and things. I started developing this program. At the time, we bought a house, so again, we were very young, and we had bought this house that was a little bit outside of our price range since we had no money at all. Did you use the Monopoly money? Yeah. So we bought… Yeah, they didn’t take Monopoly money for the house either. So we’re stuck a little bit. But we bought this house because it had a second entrance and we were going to rent out part of the house. And that was how we were going to be able to maintain this house. Luckily, we were living in a university town at the time, so we had no problem renting it out. But by the time she was born, I kind of thought, well, it would be nice for us to have the whole house to ourselves. And so I figured if I could start a little business in my house and make the same amount of money that we had been earning in rent, that I could justify just having our own house. So I started a little dance studio in the house, in the apartment. We converted the apartment to a dance studio and put mirrors and everything up and started dance classes there. So my classes, what started as dance, became this fitness movement class that I created, which like I said, was not only to entertain kids, but to also maintain my own fitness and to kind of morph that. So that actually grew quite quickly and I was also doing birthday parties at the same time, but really all of this was just to justify myself being able to stay home and to be able to take over our own home and have our own home. And it worked very well. Eventually I was renting space in other dance studios and offering my programs both in my own home as well as in dance studios. And my husband was working as a teacher at a private school. And then we got the inkling to move. We wanted to be, at the time we were living about two and a half hours away from both of our families, and both of our original families, and we were having more and more kids. So by this point I was pregnant with my third child and we felt like maybe it was time to move back closer to our families of origin. And by that time I had about 200 students. So it had been two years and between my dance classes and what became known as Wee Wigglers, the Wee Wigglers programs that I had developed starting at age six months up to five years old, I realized that I had actually sort of created something worth something. And really actually what it was is that the families that were, right, like I didn’t teach children over the age of five. All of my students were between six months and five years old. And at the time, this was 20 years ago, nobody else was doing anything like that, certainly not in our town. And I don’t really think anywhere else. I don’t think anywhere else anybody was really doing like that. And so the families came to me and said, well, what are we going to do when you leave? Like, look at all of us. We were doing recitals and like, it was a very unique thing. And so that’s when I got the idea to license the program. So there was a colleague, well, another, a fellow business owner that I, that I, her student, actually her daughter was one of my first students and one of the inspirations for me developing these Wigglers programs. So she was teaching mom and baby fitness up to six months and then I was starting them at six months. So we had developed a friendship and we had developed sort of a business camaraderie and I said to her, you know, a lot of her students she was sending to me when they were too old for her programs and so she was really feeding my business. And I said, well listen, you know, a lot of my students are starting with you anyway. Why don’t you license these programs? I’ll set you up and you can keep running them here. And when I move, I still deserve the right to keep running them wherever I go. So she thought that was a great idea. And then there was another studio owner who also thought it was a great idea. So that was my first two licensees. And again, it was not that I specifically set out to do this from the beginning, it was just to fill a gap and to fill a need and to fill some demand that was generated. So that was kind of my first four-way. I ran that, I developed those programs and licensed it across North America. We even had a licensee in the UK. And by the time I sold it, I think I had been running it for about 15 years and growing it and developing it. And I was also growing and developing my own family. So by that point I had four children who were all in various ages and stages and things like that. And it was getting to be a lot. Everything was growing. My business was growing, my family was growing, there’s a lot of responsibility. And I also started developing some curiosity around other types of programs and how these programs could be used in other settings besides just a regular dance setting and so I decided to pursue more education and The rest is history. But yeah, that was my that was my entrepreneurial start

Sam Demma
You mentioned a phrase that stuck in my mind the moment you said it and it was back to the monopoly money at the ice cream truck you said it’s got to be worth something and again, you said, this is I built something that was actually worth something, which is so cool. But it takes so much self belief to take an idea that you have, it’s just in your head, believe in yourself enough and in the idea that it’s got to be worth something to take the actions to bring it to life. Where did your self belief come from?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Oh, wow. You know, I heard a phrase at some point in time, I came across this phrase that says confidence is not feeling sure that you can’t lose, it’s being not afraid to lose. And I look at my siblings, like I said, I’m the youngest of six, and all of us have displayed and manifest entrepreneurial things in various ways. And we kind of laugh about it. We have a really good sense of humor about ourselves. And I think we really aren’t afraid of failure because we have made fools of ourselves a lot of times. Like the whole ice cream. That was kind of foolish, but it did set me back because it was like, that wasn’t a big deal. It’s fine. I didn’t get the ice cream, move on, you know? Yeah. So I don’t think, again, I don’t really feel confident that everything I do is always going to be amazing. In fact, nothing I’ve ever done has ever turned out the way I thought it would. And I think it’s just getting used to the fact that, you know, yeah, you can have a vision in mind, but, you know, I paint as well, I create art. My art never looks the way that I think it’s going to look or the way I want it to look. And at first, I go through this process, and a lot of artists go through this process where it looks awful to you and you’re like, oh, you’re so frustrated and you’re so done with it. And then for me, by the time I’m finished a piece, I’m not finished because I love it. I’m finished because I’m so sick of it. But then I walk away from it and, you know, maybe a month later, maybe two months later, I look at it again and I go, oh, that was actually pretty

Keri-Ellen Walcer
good.

Sam Demma
You know what I mean? That’s a common trend for artists. I just finished reading a book called Steal Like an Artist by a gentleman named Austin Cleon and he shared a story of a young man who grew up drawing and sketching and every day his garbage can at the end of the day would be filled with all the drawings that he didn’t think were good enough and he’d crumple them up and throw them in the trash. But his dad would go into his bedroom when he fell asleep as a little kid and take the garbage can, uncrumple the pages and kept them in a drawer in his bedroom. When his dad passed away, one of the things he left for his son was like an 800-page scrapbook of all the drawings he made that he didn’t think were worthy. And I thought it was such a powerful story. Like just hearing you say that brought me back to that moment and it gives me a little bit of goosebumps. Like art sometimes takes you on a journey of disgust and excitement, but at the end, there’s a cool thing that happens. Like you bring an idea to life, even if it’s different than the one you had in your mind. I think we’re living in a time right now where a lot of young people want to bring ideas to life. They want to create something worth something. And sometimes that desire takes them on a different path. And I know that Durham College and the work that you do at the school is providing cool opportunities for entrepreneurs or people who have that spirit while also earning their educational certificates and diplomas. Tell me about how you started your work at Durham College and some of the projects that you’re unfolding and building now?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Yeah, so I was doing this training program and I decided to approach Durham College to see if they wanted me to do these one-day trainings. And as serendipity would have it, it turned out that they weren’t just looking for the one-day certification program, they were actually launching a whole new program that I was a good fit for. So I started working part-time teaching that program and found, just found a love for working with these young adults, which I had never really worked with before. I mean in my business I was working with, like I said, only up to five years old. Yeah. All my only had up to five-year-old kids. So at first again I was a little bit nervous. It was out of my element, I thought, but it did not take long for me to just find joy in meeting with these young adults and helping them on their path. So that was my start at Durham College, and I did find that as my children grew, as I was saying, with my business, so I was still running my business and working at the college and having babies.

Sam Demma
You had a family.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Five.

Sam Demma
Wow.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
I did get to a point as I got older and a little bit more mature that I needed to maybe pare down the demands on me because I felt like I wanted to have a little bit more control of my time and my scheduling. So I found that the college life really afforded me a little more work-life balance, which is when I decided to sell the business and then pursue teaching full-time. So that puts me here in the entrepreneurship program.

Sam Demma
You went back to school to follow the new curiosity to get into teaching. Some people think at a certain time in their life, it’s too late. They’ve made their path. One of my good friends is a guy named Sean Canugo and he has a phrase, he says, you know, everyone always talks about going from zero to a hundred from the bottom of the mountain to the top of the mountain. And he says, well, innovation happens when you go from a hundred to zero, when you scale down the mountain and start from scratch, start from zero. And, you know, you didn’t start from zero. You started from experience, and everyone does in life, but metaphorically, you went back down a mountain and started climbing a new one. For people listening to this who want to make a big shift in their life or pursue a new path but they’re struggling with the idea of letting go of the mountain they’ve already climbed, what encouragement would you share?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Well, you know, it’s funny because I think that process is exactly the same as the art process. And I think what I would wrap up that art process discussion in this little bow, where, like I said, what I discovered was nothing ever really turns out the way that I had planned. And yet I’ve been able to find the beauty in how it did turn out, that there is beauty in how it turned out. And I think you could say the same for my career, you could say the same for my business, things aren’t the way that I had anticipated. And so you can kind of, you know, get caught up in that and go, oh, you know, what if it doesn’t turn out? Well, guess what? It never does. So find beauty in what it is, and not just in the one preconceived idea that you had about it. And so if somebody is afraid to quote unquote, quote-unquote restart from the bottom or change paths because they’re afraid it’s not going to turn out. Well, it’s not. Learn how to be okay with it not being easy. Learn how to be okay with it being harder than you anticipated. And when you get used to that and when you get used to being able to see the beauty in what it is, then it doesn’t feel as much of a risk and it doesn’t feel like a failure. I remember a student, one of my entrepreneurship students, he’s a funny guy, he was very bold and he is very bold. And he walked into class, this was like one of the first days of class, I’m introducing myself, I’m talking about my business, whatever. And he says, I said, does anybody have any questions? And he goes, yeah, I’ve got a question. Have you ever failed? Like, tell us about one of your business failures. And I was like, huh. And I thought about it. And my first instinct was to say, well, no, I’ve never failed. But then I also was like, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever really succeeded. Well, you know, so I really, it made me think. And I think at the time I said to him, well, I said, I guess it just depends on how you How you define failure and how you define success That’s kind of what I said But it did make me think and actually just recently I had a thought and I and I’m reading a book by Adam Grant called Think again. Hmm, and He talks about thinking like a scientist that and and the way a scientist thinks is we have hypotheses But whatever we learn from that experiment is what we learn. Maybe our hypothesis was wrong, maybe it was right. Either way it’s learning, so it’s not a failure if your hypothesis was wrong. And I think that’s the way I’ve approached my life, that’s the way I’ve approached my business. It’s like a scientist, it’s like let’s try this and see what happens. Oh, that’s what happens when you do that. I’m gonna do more of that, or I’m not going to do that again, right? And so I think I’ve just approached things that way. So it doesn’t feel like a failure. It really always does feel like, oh, I learned something there and let’s do more of that or let’s do less of that.

Sam Demma
I guess approaching it like an experiment gives less pressure on the end result because you’re just testing things as opposed to making it like a test. You know, you fail or you succeed. It’s like, no, this is gonna be, I have my educated guests, this is gonna be an experiment, we’re gonna put some inputs and see what outputs. And if it’s really great, we’ll do more of it. And I think the beautiful thing is that it doesn’t only apply to entrepreneurship, that applies to teachers in the classroom. You know, you try things with the students you’re mentoring and teaching. This applies to relationships with your partner. This applies to raising kids. Like this applies to all the choices you can make in your life, which is really unique and cool. I have a inspiration in the music industry named Russ. He’s an independent rapper and I’ve really looked up to him in many different ways. And he has this phrase, he says, you know, I had to teach myself that it wasn’t broken success when the things I expected didn’t happen. That just was the version of success that unfolded at that point in my life. It’s not broken, it just is what it is. And that’s kind of reminded me when things didn’t fulfill my expectations that the journey and the path is the success and what happens at the end is kind of not up to your choice. It’s like by chance a little bit sometimes. Yeah. So let’s talk about the weekend program. Again, a lot of students are, they’re wanting to take different pathways, me being one of them. And sometimes it’s very difficult because when you make a big shift or you make a choice different from everyone else around you the first thing you get is pushback from all the people in your life that love you and care about you. What I think is so amazing about the program at Durham College is it marries two things together. The ability to pursue that entrepreneurial itch while also still fulfilling and obtaining some of your education.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Absolutely. I honestly, people say this, but I really mean it. I really wish that there was a program like this when I was going through what I was going through in my business. It’s kind of like starting a business with training wheels on. So, the weekend program is unique, it’s innovative because I don’t know of any other program like it. It is a full-time program, so our students are considered full-time students at the college, which means that that they can receive OSAP if needed or whatever, but it also is condensed, the learning or the class time is condensed to Friday evening, Saturdays and Sundays, and we try to have it so that there is still enough time. If people are really motivated, they can get their homework and study done on the weekend as well. So that they can be freed up through the week to pursue whatever their work week responsibilities are. Some of them are already starting their own business, and so they’re working, they’re literally doing their business, running their business through the week, and then coming on the weekends. Some of them are like what I was when I was 20 years old. Maybe they have family commitments at home and whatnot. So, it really is very flexible for our learners to be able to, yeah, hit the ground running. I mean, there is an opportunity cost to going to school. Because you’re not just paying for school, but you, in many cases, if you’re in a regular weekday program, in many cases, you’re giving up full-time employment or you’re giving up the opportunity to have full-time employment. So it’s the cost of losing that wage as well as what you’re paying for your education, which can be difficult for some people and can really limit people in what their options are. So this kind of takes that away. And it also, I love that, like I learned a lot of things the hard way in my business and I think you know there’s always going to be those types of lessons you know you can never just you can never prevent it but what I love about our program is that people can be starting their business and we have professors who are experts in their fields and who are you know you’ll have a professional accountant teaching you accounting you have a professional lawyer teaching you business law. You have entrepreneurs who have run their own businesses, run their own franchises, different things like this that can help you and answer some of those questions for you and guide you through those processes so that it’s your learning experience. I mean, running a business, being an entrepreneur, there are some expensive lessons. You know, you make investments and I think that this is a very safe investment. To be able to start that business and have those professionals, you know, at your disposal for that two years, I think is just incredible. So that’s what we aim to do. We aim to kind of be there, be your sounding boards, give you some guidance on those foundational principles of business, accounting, law, marketing. We have some amazing digital marketer, professional digital marketers that are teaching in the program right now. They’re just some incredible people who are all entrepreneurs in their own right and who are just ready to support our students in their journey.

Sam Demma
I guess you could consider this weekend program your sixth baby.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Oh my goodness.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Is that so obvious to you?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Oh my gosh.

Sam Demma
I just, I can’t feel the passion when you talk about it. I wish this was around when I was making my decision to decide to go to university or college or start building my business. It would have been a option I wish I knew more about, which is why educators listening to this right now, if you have students who you recognize have this entrepreneurial spirit and wanna build things and might not know exactly what they want to do. Guidance counselors listening to this, if that student walks into your office and tells you they want to start a company, instead of trying to redirect them back on a very formal path, consider looking into this and maybe reaching out to Carrie Ellen or someone from the college to learn more about this opportunity because I think it’s so important that more young people know about it. It would have been super helpful for me. Tell me a little bit more about how you connect with the students in your class. A lot of educators listening want to have an impact on the young people in front of them, and that’s why they got into education in the first place, to not only teach, but to pour self-belief in another human being’s backpack so that they can take the choices or make the choices required to bring the versions of themselves to life. How do you connect with students in a classroom and put that belief in their backpacks?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Yeah, well, again, going back to that notion before, it’s that, you know, when you’re an artist or when you take a risk on something and it doesn’t turn out exactly how you envisioned and you’re having a hard time yourself seeing the beauty in it, to be able to have a professor who knows you, who looks at your effort and looks at your work and shows you that there is beauty in it when you have a hard time seeing it yourself, is exactly what we aim to do. It’s to help expand their vision, expand a student’s vision, not just for their business, but for who they are as an individual. I think the important thing, you know, I’ve talked about how really nothing I’ve ever really done has turned out how I had envisioned it. But the vision is so important because the vision drives you. So it’s the difference between running towards something that you want so bad and running away from something you’re afraid of. Either way you’re running, but I prefer to run towards things that I want as opposed to the feelings that I have when I’m running away from something I’m afraid of. And so it’s really important to have vision and it’s really important to think big and to be idealistic about it. And that will really drive you in the struggles or the challenges that you have to overcome. If you keep an eye on that vision that you have, it can motivate you through the tough times. But then when you kind of get to the quote-unquote end goal, and it isn’t what you had envisioned, that can be a bit of a letdown. And when you’ve been so focused for so long, as an individual, you may have a really hard time recognizing the beauty in what you produced. And so having been there, and all of our professors on our We’ve all had those experiences and we are able to guide our students and to sort of be, I guess, a calming influence and to be a reassurance to say, you know what, it’s okay. This doesn’t make you a failure. This isn’t, you know, this is a normal part of progression and we are here with you and we know that you can do this. And you know, that’s something you can take online courses and you can read magazines and you can find all kinds of information all over the place, but to have somebody who’s been there, who knows the path, and who knows you and is able to reassure you on that path, it can’t be replaced.

Sam Demma
I think back to the teachers in my self-belief, in my journey, in taking the next step. Sometimes the self-doubt that I had would freeze me. And it’s like, you know, with the analogy of being frozen in a block of ice, the self-belief from someone else like melts the block and allows you to keep walking forward. So I even think back to my coaches in sport that had a similar impact on me. My parents had a big impact, but sometimes we believe the people that love us are biased, and no matter what, they’re gonna tell us that they love us and believe in us. But when you hear it from another adult or human in your life who’s not connected to you that closely at the beginning, it really makes a difference and an impact. Can you think of an example where a professor had an impact on your life like that or when you had an impact like that on a student?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Yeah, a professor that’s had an impact, oh my goodness. It’s funny because, you know, it’s in the little things and I think sometimes, I know in the professors and the teachers that really had, that I’m thinking of right off the bat, they probably don’t even realize. Yeah. Oh it was maybe just something they said at the right time and the right moment or just the look or just a feeling that you get or that I got. But yeah I had, yeah I’ve had, I don’t know it’s hard for me to. It’s tough to bring yourself back. Yeah, yeah I’ve had some, I had a professor who I just adored. And at that point in time, I had changed schools. I got married. I had been going to school in the US. And then I got married and came back to Canada and transferred my credits here. And so I was just there for one year. And I felt a little like a duck out of water because I was married and I was 20 and most of the people around me were not in that place in their life. And so I kind of felt a little bit like I didn’t belong. But this professor had a real impact on me. She had a warmth, she had a vision. She just, you know, I don’t know, it was just the way she was. And so years later, and so I did a lot with her, she was running some special programs that I ended up helping with and having some really beautiful experiences helping with those programs in recreation. And later on in my schooling, as I said, I went back to school and I was at this conference with all of these different recreation professionals and kinesiologists, because that’s what I was doing. And this woman, there’s hundreds of people there, and this woman walks past me, and I just felt this warmth. And I looked at her as she walked past and I went, I know her. I just felt this love. And it turned out it was her from my undergrad. And I didn’t really remember her name. I didn’t remember anything specific that she had, any specific time that the two of us had had together. But just all those feelings came back. You know, they say that you might forget what somebody says, you forget what they do, but you never forget how they make you feel. And that was that moment for me. So here I had come full circle 20 years later, 18 years later, and this woman, all she had to do was walk by me and all of those feelings came back. for my, for my, my defense, when I defended my thesis. And again, she was just such a light. So yeah, so that was, that was somebody who had a big impact on me and it was kind of beautiful that it came full circle that way. And it’s wild to think that sometimes the educators

Sam Demma
that have the biggest impact have no idea that they’re making that significant impact. I recently did a speech for the YMCA in Burlington and Brantford and Hamilton area, and there was 300 early childhood educators. And I was thinking about, like, what could I share with them to help them realize that they’re making such a big difference? And I told this story of a gentleman I met in Medicine Hat, Alberta, at 6 a.m. in the middle of the winter, who was outside with a leaf blower.

Sam Demma
And I was thinking to myself,

Sam Demma
What is this guy doing with a leaf blower in the middle of the winter? And I was getting up, I was getting up early to go to a conference. And then I realized he was using the leaf blower to blow snow off of every single car in the drive, in the parking lot. And that was a part of his job at the hotel. And I couldn’t help but think that this guy was gonna clear every single person’s car while they all slept and everyone’s going to wake up with a clear dash and have no idea that this man spent a couple hours blowing the snow off of their windshield. And it made me think of people in education who make so many choices to impact other human beings but sometimes have no idea the impact they’re creating. Same way that your professor had no idea the impact she had on you, and you might not have an idea of the impact that you have on the students in your classroom. So thank you for the work that you do in education. And if there’s an educator listening who wants to connect with you and ask questions or collaborate on a cool idea, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Well, they can email me, and usually check my email two times a day. So do you want me to say what my email address is or you just put it in the show notes?

Sam Demma
I’ll put it in the show notes for all the people. (keri-ellen.walcer@durhamcollege.ca). And I highly recommend everyone, please check out the weekend program. It’s super impactful, especially for the students in your school who may be looking to take a slightly different path. Keri-Ellen Walcer, this was such an amazing conversation. I feel refreshed. Thank you for taking the time to chat and I look forward to connecting again sometime soon.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
All right. All right. Thank you so much.

Join the Educator Network and connect with Keri-Ellen Walcer

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.

Jeevan Dhami – High school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia

Jeevan Dhami - High school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Colombia
About Jeevan Dhami

Jeevan Dhami is a high school teacher and current Leadership Department Head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He originally began his career as an Outreach Worker in 2014 at the same secondary school he would return to as a continuing teacher in 2019. With an extensive background in community work through various organizations, Jeevan consistently pursued academics while attending Simon Fraser University to further his education. He completed his Bachelor of Arts with a focus in History and Criminology, then a Bachelors of Education with a focus on Environmental Education and is currently working on completing his Masters in Educational Practices.

Outside of the classroom, Jeevan can be found keeping up with his other passion of sport, by coaching Senior Boys Basketball. As a former student-athlete, he understands the importance of transferable skills through sport, which he hopes to pass on to his players and his community. His philosophy on life and teaching is based on the power of connection as he works to create a sense of belonging for people within his community.

Connect with Jeevan: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Panorama Ridge Secondary School

Simon Fraser University – Criminology Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – History Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – Bachelor of Education

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jeevan Dhami. Jeevan is a high school teacher and current leadership department head at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He originally began his career as an outreach worker in 2014 at the same secondary school he would return to as a continuing teacher in 2019. With an extensive background in community work through various organizations, Jeevan consistently pursued academics while attending Simon Fraser University to further his education. He completed his Bachelor of Arts with a focus in history in criminology, then a Bachelors of Education with a focus on environmental education, and is currently working on completing his master’s in educational practices outside of the classroom. Jivan can be found keeping up with his other passion of sport by coaching senior boys basketball. As a former student athlete, he understands the importance of transferrable skills through sport, which he hopes to pass on to his players and his community. His philosophy on life and teaching is based on the power of connection, as he works to create a sense of belonging for people within his community. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. I surely did, and I took so much away from it. And I look forward to seeing you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:28):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Super excited to have a good friend on the podcast today. We met, we met last year in May, and then again this year, again, last year. No, again, this year in September. Jeevan Dhami is a good friend, a connection through the Canadian Student Leadership Association. My man. Introduce yourself so people know who you are and a little bit about what it is that you do.

Jeevan Dhami (02:00):

Hey everyone. Happy to be here. Like Sam said, met met this young guy at the conference in Cloverdale about a year ago, and I just loved his energy and had to reconnect with him. We’ve been touching base from time to time, and he was able to come talk to our school. Myself, I’m a, a teacher here in Surrey and I’ve been living here for about 15 years now, and had to kind of adjust to calling Surrey my home, but it’s it’s a place that I, I, I think I, I’m finding, finding my own in.

Sam Demma (02:41):

15 years. Where were you before the 15?

Jeevan Dhami (02:45):

So, I was actually born small town up in central bc Cornell, BC is my, my hometown. It’s a small little town, 10,000 people. great place to grow up. Great community. Lot of outdoor things to be doing very close-knit community. So when you when you got in trouble, the whole town knew about it? And

Sam Demma (03:11):

Are you speaking experienced?

Jeevan Dhami (03:13):

I was yeah, I was definitely one of those kids that would be reported on <laugh>. Nothing like criminal, but it was all like the, the gossip growing up and especially in the like Indo-Canadian community here. it was, it was a small, small town, but we had a big population. So coming with from a family that I have four older sisters that were always, you know, I idolized, oh, your sisters are so good. And being the youngest of the siblings that was supposed to live up to that standard, and like, who, who’s you are their sibling. Like, they’re so nice and respectful and you’re just a bratty kid. But <laugh>, I, I think a lot of it was just immaturity at the time. Yeah. and being the, the only boy you’re often afforded a lot of luxuries that your sisters don’t necessarily get, so may have taken advantage of that. Luckily, I, those sisters of mine kept me in check pretty, pretty well and helped, helped me learn from my mistakes and helped me shape the person that I hope <laugh> I am becoming now. Maybe learning from those things.

Sam Demma (04:33):

Were you still in that hometown of yours when you had the realization that you want to work in education or one in your own journey as a student? Can you remember pinpointing, I want to be a teacher or work in schools?

Jeevan Dhami (04:48):

Yeah. My path was, it was a little different. I, I was always good at school. School came easy to me, but for me it was more of the social side of things. I, I loved sports and I loved athletics. just being a part of that community, it was very interesting for me. Cause growing up in that town, there was always, there, there was a lot of segregation for the most part kind of unspoken. So there was a brown school and a white school, and I ended up being the one living in, in the communities where I was at the white school. So I didn’t necessarily fit in with that community, and I didn’t necessarily belong with the brown kids, so I was kind of always in the middle. So I didn’t always feel like I, I belonged to one particular group.

Jeevan Dhami (05:37):

I at first I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I felt like growing up, you’re not realizing that, Hey, I, I don’t fit in. I don’t belong in certain aspects, so where do I fit? You feel like you’re a, a piece of the bigger puzzle, but you don’t know where exactly you, you sit or where you lie. So it took some, for me to realize that that was my biggest strength actually. Like, I was able to kind of maintain those strong relationships. And when you get into high school or it becomes a melting pot, like everyone’s together, you know, the people that you see at Temple on the weekend, you’re seeing on a day to day basis, and the people that you see and your Monday to Friday school session are now your teammates. so it just becomes a, a tight knit community.

Jeevan Dhami (06:21):

And that was, that was part of my process though. I tend to take advantage of that being a troubled student I think at the time, I, I was smarter than for my own, than my own good. And I would finish my work and then I would become disruptive. I wanted to be the class clown and make jokes and make my friends laugh, and things like that would talk about me in trouble. but my path to school, I always, I always loved learning. I always loved school. It became my, my, my safe place. didn’t necessarily have, you know, the best childhood growing up kind of thing. so there, there’s a lot of emotional issues and, and dealing with a lot of that. As a young kid, I didn’t realize that I was leaving more of a negative impact than a positive, but I had those leadership qualities that a lot of my teachers saw in me.

Jeevan Dhami (07:19):

So instead of kinda disciplining me, ridiculing me, they, it, there’s a few one in particular that tried to harness that energy and kind of switch it to the good. so he, he had always been like a positive pillar. He is a very, very great role model to look up to. And just slowly getting to build that relationship as I matured as a student we just had a lot of good conversations. I loved his energy. you, you never saw him with without a smile on his face. And then you did, you knew that, you know, something had happened, like somebody had crossed the line. And that kind where I got to see a, a real positive educator where it was his demeanor on a day-to-day basis. And he never actually even taught me in my senior year of high school, just the day-today passing. Right. So I would see him in the hallways. I would, I would finish my work in class, and I’d sneak out to just go have a conversation with him. And sometimes I would get in trouble for that as well. But

Sam Demma (08:25):

<laugh>,

Jeevan Dhami (08:27):

I, I think he saw just how vital those were for me to develop in those moments. And solely over time, I started to progress and I found that you know, history was one of the few subjects that I actually consistently enjoyed. and it was just something that I always was connected to. So I knew that I wanted to go to school to study history, and I always had three career choices in mind. So I was always drawn to policing, teaching, and law, and policing and law would always change at number one. I just wanted to come back and, and help my community and, and make a bigger impact. But teaching was always consistently number two, and I didn’t catch it at the time. Actually, someone recently pointed out that all three of my choices were about serving the community, but teaching was probably where I’m gonna have the biggest impact.

Jeevan Dhami (09:27):

I just never realized grade 12 student that pointed like, oh, you’re actually quite, quite accurate on that, especially now. I teach in a school of 1600 kids, and yeah, that number kinda continues to grow, so, so hopefully it’s like a ripple effect. But yeah. my plan after, I didn’t wanna leave small town, I loved the rural life, but my family decided that we were moving to the lower mainland and sold my house at the start of my grade 12 year, I’ll never forget it, one of my best friends at the time, he lived next door to me, and we had been living next door to other for about 10 years, and he got home and, and was talking the driveway. And he, you’re not gonna tell me, tell me, tell you what, like, you’re selling your house. I’m like, I’m selling my house.

Jeevan Dhami (10:21):

Like, yeah, I saw it in the paper, like, I didn’t know that you’re moving. I said, neither did I. This is my start of my grade 12 year where I want. Yeah. So I, I was quite annoyed at that, but household. But my mom and I, we, we stayed in the basement suite just so I could finish off my grade 12 year. And it, it was nice to see that little small sacrifice just so that I could have the year that I wanted. but yeah, as, as I wrapped up high school, I wanted to continue my education in the University of Northern British Columbia up there. I had, I had my goals and my plans, and this just kinda threw me, threw me for a loop. So I had to go back and go back to the drawing board. Coming from a small town I didn’t have a lot of insight, I guess, or guidance on how to navigate life in the lower mainland, but I knew that song and Fraser University’s reputable school, so, okay, I’ll, I’ll apply there.

Jeevan Dhami (11:24):

I can still live at home in Surrey and I can commute. And little did, I knew that that commute was gonna be an hour and a half on a bus sky training every single day one way, and then another hour and a half <laugh>. So I found it to be quite miserable. I actually hated living in the lower main line. I was quite miserable. Just didn’t really try to make positive connections or relationships with, with people. I always had kind of one foot out the door. I planned to just do my first year and I’m gonna move back up north. I’m gonna live with some of my old buddies, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna have fun up where I want. And I still have those three top career choices in mind. But slowly I started, I started working in the community. So my first job here was working at the local Y mt a, which is just a few minutes Nice from my house.

Jeevan Dhami (12:22):

And I, I went to interview for a front desk position and I didn’t get that job, but they really liked what they saw and suggested I’d be a part of youth programming. And so I went for a second interview there, and I started working in youth programs where I was just, you know, coaching little kids, soccer basketball, some sports programs, running birthday parties on the weekends and <laugh>. It was interesting. But I made a lot of strong connections there. And I realized, okay, well the lower mainland’s not, not too bad here. I started making some good friendships and, and relationships and started really being involved in my community and accepted that, Hey, I’m, I’m going to be here. This is my new home. And started to see the impact that, you know, I could have or that this community could have on me.

Jeevan Dhami (13:13):

And slowly started to get more involved in there. Actually, I met one of my best friends who’s they him and I met, but he was in a different department in the Y than I was. And he would kind of come into my space without kind of announcing himself. He would get a lot of positive energy and I’m like, well, who’s this guy just kind of coming up in my space? And I would do the same in his counteracting. We slowly did like the spider-man me, where we just pointed at each other like, Hey, the reason why I think we’re butting heads is cause we’re so much alike. And he brought me into a volunteer position running a youth leadership program. And slowly just opportunity after opportunity kept coming for me. I worked for different municipal organizations for the city, for other municipalities, just running different youth programming.

Jeevan Dhami (14:08):

And slowly along those ways, while I’m trying to pursue a career in law, I I was in the process of writing my lsat. I was actually working in an accounting firm at the time as well. And the accounting goes to me is like, oh, you’re going into law. Like, have you sold your yet <laugh>? And I found that very interesting because this was the same person that would have to spend nights away from his family in the office. I was like, okay, so this, yeah, it’s very, very strange to me. So he, he kind of talked about how, you know, that it’s a tough field to be in, and I didn’t know if my personality would match. I was a process of applying for law law schools and things like that. I wanted to be a lawyer. I was chasing affluence. But internally, I think I deep down knew that that wouldn’t be build, it wouldn’t gimme fulfillment or joy. Where I found joy was working with young people where I was making a positive impact. And slowly I kind of contemplated my, well, what am I doing? Like, this is not the career field I wanna be in. And I went back and I reached out to that, that teacher and said, okay, like I’m really, I’m contemplating my career choice. I think I want to go into teaching. And he said, oh, yeah, I, I knew that you were gonna do that when, when I met you in high school, like grade eight. You like <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:34):

Exactly, yeah.

Jeevan Dhami (15:35):

You’re like, ah, shut up, <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:38):

That was interesting too. Like, he, he made that comment. He was like, well, I saw those qualities in you, and I just don’t think you saw em in yourself at the time. And I figured eventually that you would, would find them for yourself. And so it was very interesting having that conversation. And I was still doing a lot of community work. so I ended up working for the Story school district as an outreach worker. Nice. And again, that was just, just kind of lateral moves that started from like my first job at 18 at the Y which just led me to new opportunities new jobs. And eventually I realized after working in some, some of these inner city schools I realized that I could backdoor into teaching, so I could still work at the same time while keeping my, my current job while I finished my teaching degree.

Jeevan Dhami (16:31):

And as an outreach worker, I, I often share, this is, I call it, call it serendipitous, call it state, whatever you will. But my first posting as an outreach worker was at this school that I was first posted at as a teacher in the exact same classroom. So it’s weird how things kind of lined up for you. So that’s, that’s kind of what took me to my path. And I’m, I’m still teaching at that same school. I, I’m slowly getting a little bit more comfortable. I’m, I’m technically five years teaching, but I’ve been in education since I was like 18, really. running those, those programs, a lot of youth education. So although my, my teaching credentials are, are fairly new, I think I have a lot of experience just working with within my community. And my current school is, is a little bit more of an affluent neighborhood, but the majority of my work has come from inner city schools that it is not the most affluent.

Jeevan Dhami (17:37):

And that some of the most rewarding experiences I think I’ve had. It’s, it, it’s definitely tough to build those connections where, you know, the goal of teaching is to, you know, teach content for the most part. But in, in those areas, it’s often tough to even get to the criteria, the, the curriculum because you’re dealing with, you know, getting kids to school mm-hmm. <affirmative>, making sure they’re fed supporting families in need. And there’s so many other things going on where, where teaching can kind of take a back door. So it’s, it’s nice being in this school because there is a high level of academics. So I get to do a lot more with my academics, but I still get to teach a lot of those personal social things that I learned from the inner city school. So it’s something that’s always been ingrained in my process. I think that’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job is you get to tie in different aspects. We’re not just teaching them, you know, content as social teachers. I’m not just teaching ’em about World War One, World War Two, and yeah, teaching them lessons about, you know, how, how you treat one another. How we learn from our past mistakes and grow as individuals, not just, you know, regurgitate this content that I’m teaching you. There’s, there’s more there.

Sam Demma (18:54):

That’s awesome. I love your journey and I appreciate you for sharing it. That was a, a phenomenal overview, <laugh>, and I really appreciate it because it seems like you, all your jobs leading up to education were involving programming in youth. So although you didn’t know for a long time that you wanted to be a teacher, you could kind of looking backward, realize you were doing it all along in different ways, <laugh> which is pretty unique and cool. you mentioned that teacher a few times when you were a high school student who you would finish your work early in class and go and visit and have a conversation with, and then you talk to him afterwards as well. What did he do that had such an impact on you that you wanted to go and spend time with him? Like, why were you drawn to him to chat and have conversation?

Jeevan Dhami (19:47):

Yeah, I think through my whole journey there, there’s three main educators that pop out for me. I think most kids are lucky to have, have one positive adult in their life. But I think along my path, I’ve had three. so my, my first one was one of my, my younger teachers Mr. Law, Mr. Law was my elementary teacher, <laugh> is this an awesome guy? He, he actually taught all of my sisters. So he was that first one to be like, you’re, you’re there. Brother <laugh>

Sam Demma (20:19):

<laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (20:20):

He, he was one of the, my first teachers that taught me more of the fundamentals about basketball too. So I, I love basketball, playing up is my favorite hobby and pastime. and he was the teacher that would often give up his recess, his lunchtime, his after school to give up the opportunity to just shoot around in the gym. and I think that’s the first time that I got a glimpse of, you know, positive teacher that makes so many sacrifices outside of the classroom. so yeah, Mr. Law was like one of the first, he, he kind of paved the way for building those relationships. And then that other teacher is, is Mr. Stall. so Mr. Stall, he, he was another, he was another brown teacher, one of the few that we had in our school. So it was easy for me to kind of look up to him as mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Jeevan Dhami (21:13):

As someone that I could connect with. And someone that’s kind of been in similar situations where you don’t necessarily fit with one group or the other, you’re kind of in between. And he was a volleyball player. Well, volleyball is not the sport to be playing, right? Like, so there’s, there’s a whole bunch of different things there. But it was more of his, his positive demeanor and his optimism. Like I said, he just, he very rarely did not have a smile on his face. And I think that’s something that I, I really wanted to internalize. I don’t think I necessarily had a lot of positive adult male ro role models growing up. And to see someone that was that positive and optimistic about the, the daily world, even when there are so many bleak things going on, it was just a refreshing take on how to navigate life and approach it with that positive and optimism.

Jeevan Dhami (22:06):

And I think that’s what I internally did feel. I just didn’t know how to express that in the best way. And, and slowly, I do consider my, myself an optimist for the most part. I always try to see the best in, in, in people in situations, but I think a lot of that does stem from, from Mr. Saul there too. I still keep in touch with him. I tell him often, okay, you, you gotta come back and, and chat with me. Like, we gotta narrow down where this epiphany happened, like how you saw this. We, we keep in touch from time to time. And then so that was kind of like the early high school years. So so part, part of my journey again is like grade eight. I, I had a huge, like, falling out with a, a lot of my friend group.

Jeevan Dhami (22:55):

And grade 9, 10, I was like, well, you know, I’m just gonna step away from sports. Like, I, I’m not gonna play anymore. Like, I don’t feel like playing junior ball. I’ll play some community soccer here or there, but I away from the thing that I connected to most, and then slowly that, that was more like personal relationship stuff. I just didn’t feel like being involved in drama. Mm-hmm. And some of the negative toxicity that can be involved in sports. So I, I stepped away and that’s probably one of my bigger regrets. I don’t live life with a lot of regrets, but if I could go back and, and talk to my younger self, like, don’t quit, man. Like, just keep playing. Like whatever, it’s, you love the sport, stick with it, and who knows what doors can open up with for you.

Jeevan Dhami (23:41):

But I think, I think I missed some critical development there. not to say I was gonna go play in the league or anything like that, but, you know, maybe, maybe play some post-secondary get some my school paid for. But I think I kinda closed that door when I made that decision. But I was very fortunate that third adult was a coach. Mr. Capper. Nice. He he came back and he, he’s actually from the Maritime. He played basketball at Queens University, just giant man. I, I’m, I’m six four and I think he was like 6, 8, 6 9, snap

Jeevan Dhami (24:21):

Probably like the tallest person that had, so he came back and so he started teaching at our school and somehow we convinced him to coach our senior boys team. And like the guy just had a wealth of knowledge and just spent so much time working and helping me develop as a player. And it was fun. I got to see the, the fun of sport again and play a little bit of a higher level for, for myself, pushing myself. But it was the same thing that I saw, like in Mr. Law. Like, we’d finish our practice and I would play him one on one and he would crush me every single time. But, but slowly, like, I started to get better and then I like, like, I can beat this guy now. Like, he, I don’t think he ever let me win, but I definitely did earn, earn my my victories over him. again, it was just, I think the biggest thing that I take away from all three of those guys, it was not so much what they outta classroom stuff that they did, their personal sacrifice of their time. And obviously I recognize it more as a teacher now, but definitely it, it’s that extra commitment. The, the extra stuff that they did that stands out for me,

Sam Demma (25:39):

Well, we’re on the street, is that you’re the new MR. Law for some high school students at pr <laugh>. You just took a bunch of them after school to one of their games out in Langley. And whether you realize it or not, you’re now making the same sacrifices that they made for you when you were a student and they were a teacher and a coach. So keep doing what you’re doing. It’s making a, a big difference. And you never know one of those kids might come back and be on a podcast 20 years from now, <laugh>, <laugh> and be saying the same things. Right.

Jeevan Dhami (26:12):

Yeah, hopefully, I think that’s the goal. yeah, on that note, I did just have practice and we played some bump and I went three and just, just beating these young guys, so, got it. I was extremely gas, I’ll tell you that bump, it’s a lot of shape right now. But that conditioning piece, that’s been fun. But I, I think that is the goal is just to hopefully give these young people an opportunity to find some, some positive connection or, or open up some doors for them that they might not see themselves in. And like I said, <laugh>, you don’t know it at the time, but a lot of these adults see it in you. And I think that’s the one thing that is tough about teaching is you won’t know the impact that you’re having. Cause sometimes it’s not gonna happen in the moment. one thing that I would say is these, these kids today, they’re, these kids today sounds like such an old man <laugh>. They’re, they’re way more in, in tune with their, their emotions and, and expressing of them. So it’s very nice to see that a lot of the, these students now are expressing like, Hey, I appreciate this teacher. I express my, my gratitude in certain situations. I see the sacrifices that are being made. I see the impact that you’re making. And it’s nice to see it. And hopefully we, we see it a little bit more in, in that meantime. Cause most often

Jeevan Dhami (27:59):

Choosing to do this, and we’re hoping for the best and hopefully they find their success and maybe one day they’ll appreciate it and then thank these teachers that they make a positive impact. But it took me time to go back and thank those individuals for sure.

Sam Demma (28:14):

Nice. it’s so cool. sports was a big part of my high school experience and it definitely helped me become the person that I am today. And I can think back to coaches that I had who had a big impact on my life. when you think about your transformation and your whole journey through education as a student, but also as a teacher what is it that you’ve done as a teacher but also teachers did for you when you were a student that you think enabled you and them to build such tight relationships? Or how do you like build a relationship with a young person as a teacher?

Jeevan Dhami (28:57):

Yeah, that’s, that’s a gray area for me because I think a lot of my teacher training told me that I have to be extremely professional at all times and I can’t blur that line. so this is still something that I’m trying to navigate. I think for myself personally, it’s unfortunate because I do want to, you know, share my, my, my silly my goofy side, my drop my guard a little bit here and there. But I think a lot of my training has told me that I don’t have that luxury where I can see some of my colleagues and my coworkers, they can blur those lines a little bit. whereas for me, I, I don’t feel like I can do that just yet. maybe <laugh> if, if things change down the road, nice, but maybe get a little bit older, wiser. But for now, I, I think for me, my biggest thing is just trying to role model that behavior.

Jeevan Dhami (29:59):

I think providing some of these young people with, with someone that looks like them, that is representative of their community, that is doing something different than the expectations. So right now we are, like I said, we’re a fairly academic school. Yeah. And when you, I, I teach a career course, so most amount the time the kids are like, oh yeah, my, my parents said I gotta be a doctor, lawyer and professional in, in this field. And like, man, you’d be such a good teacher. Like, oh, my, my parents wouldn’t like that. So it, it’s tough to navigate that. So trying to kind of role model that you can be more than just your, your, your parents hopes and dreams. Like yeah, honor them, do what you can to live up to some of their goals and expectations, but at the end of the day, you still have to find what gives you purpose and meaning.

Jeevan Dhami (30:50):

And that’s part of my journey and my story that I’ve, I’ve had to discover is that, you know, I, I wanted to pursue law because I felt like, hey, that was a successful career that would be respected. It would give me a financially stable life and all of those Xs and os that it, it’s, you know, completing. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t giving me that fulfillment, that personal joy, that happiness, I think that I, I find in, in youth work, and that’s kind of one of my main teaching perspectives is you can’t pursue a career or take an opportunity because your coach is telling you, your parents are telling you, or I’m telling you, you have to find your more internal drivers and, and hopefully if you listen to your, your, your gut feeling a little bit more you, you can make that positive decision for yourself.

Jeevan Dhami (31:45):

So showing them that there’s an alternative route while still building positive relationships in a professional manner, I think it just kind of helps for me to role model the behavior that I want to see in some of these students. Nice. It’s, it’s making that difference. Cause I, I, I see it where, where some of like, not, not to say anything negatively about any of, yeah, my, my colleagues, but I see it easier for them to, you know, blur those lines a little bit. They can try to relate to those kids on a more personal level where they’re allowing their personalities, their, their, I don’t wanna say unprofessional, but like I guess more of their, their silly, their, their authentic selves a little bit more. Whereas for me, I, I try to do it with any professional. And I think part of that is more of my, my upbringing through this educational system.

Jeevan Dhami (32:47):

I think a lot, a lot of educators that have come into is like, sometimes young male teachers get a negative reputation in the school, especially when you’re in vulnerable situations, if you build strong connections with kids. And I think that’s happened in the past where I’ve, I’ve had strong, meaningful connections, but, you know, people in the same field or superiors will question your motives or your intention. Mm. Right. So it’s, it’s kind of like a toxic thing, which is unfortunate, but that’s always kept in the back of my head. I would never want anybody to question my, my professionalism or my motives for building strong connections with kids. So if I always remain professional, I’m leading by example with these kids and I can still make strong bonds within those confines. Yeah. But I, I don’t have to, you know, take it down to a personal level.

Jeevan Dhami (33:41):

I don’t have to be their friend to only maintain a relationship. I can still remain their teacher Yeah. But still have that positive connection. I think that’s what all three of those teachers did for me is they role modeled that behavior. They maintained that professional, the professionalism of being the teacher and not just my friend even as much as they, that I consider them to be my friends at the time. Yeah. they kind of drew the line in the sand inadvertently without blurring in. I think that was very important for me to kind of realize that there are structures and parameters in PA place and those need to be honored, but you can still build meaningful connections despite those. Nice. If that makes sense. I dunno. It does, if I answered your

Sam Demma (34:32):

Question. It does. Yeah. Absolutely. you b yeah, it sounds like you build a strong relationship through taking an interest in the young people in front of you, but in a professional manner. <laugh>. and I, yeah, I appreciate you sharing the, the context and some of the insight and how those teachers did it, did it with you. when you think about your journey in education so far, and you’ve been formally teaching now for, did you say you’ve been formally teaching for five years, right?

Jeevan Dhami (35:01):

Yeah. But going on five, no officially,

Sam Demma (35:04):

But been working with youth for much longer. if you could kind of go back to your first role at the Y M C A, but with the experience you have working with young people now knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have given your younger self if you were restarting a journey working with youth? And not because you would change anything about your journey itself, but you thought it would be helpful to hear before you jumped in.

Jeevan Dhami (35:32):

Man, that’s a, it’s like this, this is where Sam comes in to shine and stop me. you know what I, I think that is, it’s tough cause I, like I said, I’m not one that wants to live on a regret or Yeah. Or anything like that. So I don’t think I would really change a whole lot. Yep. But if I could go back, I would just tell myself to, to trust my gut. Mm-hmm. I think internally I knew that a youth work is where I am finding the most passion and joy that I can trust that and, and jump into it a little bit early. I don’t know if that would change where I am at right now. I think it may have just kickstarted it to, to be doing that a little bit earlier. I think what, from my path and my journey, I think there was a few extra years that I took to figure out what exactly I wanted to do.

Jeevan Dhami (36:28):

Nice. So there was that wall between, you know, completing my undergrad and, and finding that outreach work position and then deciding, well, okay, now I’m gonna go into teaching. Whereas a lot of the, but see, and that’s the thing. Cause if, if I were to go back and, and jump into it sooner, I don’t know if I would’ve the same experiences. So we do this, I do this activity with my kids. we’re in grade 12, so within the professional confines, but well, it’s actually called Dear Johnny in activity. I just call it dear. They get to <laugh>, they get to put questions and honestly into a a and I spend some time like asking them, because for weeks on end, I’ll, I’ll often grill these kids like, okay, what are your goals in life? What do you want to achieve? What, what can I help you with?

Jeevan Dhami (37:22):

Kinda thing. So that’s a lot of the one-on-ones from my perspective. So, nice. I try to spend some time doing it. But e every single year is very unique. And I actually shared that I do this activity with some of my colleagues and they’re like, terrified. You just let them ask you any questions. And honestly, <laugh> like, I’m like, yeah, a hundred percent. Like I had the same conversation. I was like, Hey, like, be respectful. I’ll be as open as I possibly can and I’ll be honest. But if you guys are are respectful about your questions, I will answer that. Like, whatever you have, gimme my personal life, my, my career path, my, my teaching perspective, my views on sports, politics, whatever it is. Cause part of my approach is I, I don’t tell them how to think or tell them what I think. I provide them with the evidence and the, the content and I let them make their own decisions.

Jeevan Dhami (38:15):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But they’ll often ask me like, oh, what political party would you vote for? Like, what, what political party do you think I would vote for? So it’s just like probing with questions. So we did this activity and every time is different. And one of the kids asked me what was my most rewarding moment in, in teaching. I was like, whoa. Like that. That’s a good question for grade 12 students to be asking. Yeah. And I, I’ve never really had that question. And I’ve done this like dozens of times. It made me think. And the one moment that popped out was my role. It wasn’t teaching, it was being an outreach worker. So I worked at this one school in elementary school actually. So again now a tough environment to be with cause I can very well with high school students, but elementary is just different level of emotions and was running this afterschool program.

Jeevan Dhami (39:09):

And there was one student that was a like 12 year old girl with an attitude of like, a 17 year old, just don’t talk to me. I don’t wanna be here. I don’t belong here. But she was a part of my afterschool program and she showed up every single day. And this was a tough school working with a lot of students in communities. And this kid just came in every single day. But she would always come in with the attitude of, Ugh, I hate this guy. Like, why are you here? Why do I have to be here? And it was the same attitude I got every single day. So for two years I did that in two years consistently. Like this girl never attacked whatsoever, never gave me a smile, never acknowledged that she appreciated the program. And slowly when I figured out, hey, like I’m gonna be going to teaching, I’m gonna be stepping away.

Jeevan Dhami (40:05):

Like, it was very important for me to have that transition where I wasn’t just to cut off the tie. Yeah. So I worked with my managers and so we had support staff at the time, and one of my friends, he was just coming into the role and I thought, Hey, he’s gonna be a great fit for the school. I think it would be awesome if he could take over for me, but I don’t want it to be like, G’s gone and he’s in. Right. I think it would be far more beneficial for the school if we have a transition where he’s shadowing me. The kids are building relationship as an extension of me. They’re seeing that, hey, this is G’s friend. Like he is similar. So we don’t have to feel as sad if, if, cause I did build some strong relationships minus that one girl <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (40:50):

Ah. So slowly we, we transition, I started to step away and she comes in once I announced, I’m like, okay, like this is ej. Like he’s gonna be taking over for me because I’m gonna finish my teaching program and, and I’m gonna be an official teacher. And most the kids were happy and that that same girl goes good. We like EJ better than you anyways. Like, I’ve been here like two years grinding it out with your attitude day in and day out. And EJ is gonna come in and, and you’re gonna love him. Ejs a great dude. So I was like, I had no problem with it. I’m like, that’s fine. My, my goal worked right For, for her to be that like passing the torch, like that’s fine cause that’s what those kids needed. And same thing. Then the last day, I’ll never forget it she, the student that, that despised me on my last day, she just breaks down in tears, man, just falling and comes in and just wraps my legs.

Jeevan Dhami (41:58):

Just bear hugs me. And this kid would not let go. Like, she was just an emotional mess. And like, I’m not an emotional person. I don’t break down a lot. But that broke my heart, man. Like, even now, like I still, like, I get a little welled up thinking about it, unfortunately. But like, that was, that was the, the moment, like, holy crap. Like, this is what my biggest learning opportunity is as a young person to realize, hey, this kid will tell you to f fall off, tell you they hate you. Say that they don’t want to be here, but they still show up. They still meet you and you are making a bigger impact than you’ll ever know. So that was like one of my most defining moments. And it’s something that I’ve always kept in the back of my head as I keep teaching.

Jeevan Dhami (42:46):

So when these kids are like showing in late to class, I’m like, well, they’re still showing up these kids that are, you know, falling asleep in class or whatever it is. I’m like, well, deep down, did you have breakfast today? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> like, did you have a good night’s sleep? Are you having, you know, emotional issues? Are you having family issues back home? Are you being bullied in harass? So those are the things that kind of go through the back of my mind. It always reminds me of that student. So when you tell me if I could go back and, and change anything, I think if, if I were to risk changing that moment, that has kinda helped define me right now. I, I don’t think I could provide any advice <laugh> if I were to risk that. I think that is probably one of the most defining moments for myself as, not even as a teacher or educator, just as a person, as a human being. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s what stands out most to me. So I, I don’t think I could go back and provide much advice. Maybe just, hey, trust, trust your gut. Trust your gut. You gotta trust your gut. You know what you’re doing. And don’t be afraid to, to take that risk, that jump.

Sam Demma (43:53):

Nice. Man. I got goosebumps when you explained that story too. So <laugh>, it’s super visceral and I hope lots of educators have the opportunity to experience something similar throughout their career. I think that’s a really cool memory and learning. And yeah, I appreciate you for coming on the show. This was a really great conversation about your journey and some things that have gone on through your career path and some of your philosophies around education and relationship building. If someone is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch? Do they write a with Dear Dhami at the top or <laugh>

Jeevan Dhami (44:33):

<laugh>? Send me an e send me an email. Dear dmi <laugh>. yeah, I, i I try to practice professional courtesy again, try to respond to my emails. Email is probably the best way to contact me, it’s just dhami_j@surreyschools.ca. You can, you can try to reach out to Sam, maybe Sam can connect us as well. Appreciate the work that Sam does. I think it’s part of why I wanted, wanted to do this and why we’ve maintained such a strong relationship is I think you and I have a lot of similarities in personality type, and I got a few years on you now, but I see a lot of those things in, in you as a young person. So I, I I think it’s important that anyone listening to this is just the biggest thing I can say is just show up.

Jeevan Dhami (45:28):

Just be present. I think the strongest connection I’ve made with my kids, with, with other educators, with, with people like Sam and people in the community, is when you show up and be present just for, for, you know, 10 to 15 minutes, give them everything you have. You might be sacrificing a little bit of your personal time, but you know, if you’re a teacher, the kids will appreciate you, you know, giving up your free time to come watch them play their sport or participate in their, their band event, their acting debut or whatever it is. Those kids will eat that up and they appreciate it so much more than they will ever tell you, and I hope you all have that moment that I just shared. And even if you don’t, keep showing up because one day, whether you know it or not, you are making that moment for so many people that you may never know about. So I appreciate Sam, keep doing the work that you’re doing. And anyone listening to this show up, be present and you don’t know the ripple effect that you’re creating, but you casting that stone, they’re, they’re definitely out there.

Sam Demma (46:40):

You heard it here first. You gotta strive to be someone’s Taco <laugh>, thanks for coming on this show, my friend. Keep up the great work and we’ll, we’ll connect and stay in touch very soon.

Jeevan Dhami (46:51):

Awesome. Thanks a lot Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeevan Dhami

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.

Martin Tshibwabwa – K-12 Educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages

Martin Tshibwabwa - K-12 educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages
About Martin Tshibwabwa

Martin Tshibwabwa is a K-12 educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages. He relishes the opportunity of guiding students to attain their learning goals and feed their desire to be lifelong learners. Democracy is about engaging everyone. Henceforth, his pedagogy is led by the concept of Democratic education – A concept that promotes the development and celebration of diverse learning experiences.

Connect with Martin: Email

Listen Now

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Resources Mentioned

What is Democratic Education?

What is Special Education?

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 special guest is Martin Tshibwabwa. Martin Tshibwabwa is a K-12 educator with a passion for special education, social sciences, and languages. He relishes the opportunity of guiding students to attain their learning goals and feed their desires to be lifelong learners. Democracy is about engaging everyone. Henceforth, his pedagogie, is led by the concept of democratic education; a concept that promotes the development and celebration of diverse learning experiences. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Martin and I will see you on the other side of this interview. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a returning guest who has recently taken a new step in his educational journey. Super excited to have him on the show. Martin Tshibwabwa, it is a pleasure to be here with you. Please start by introducing yourself and telling the audience what it is that you do in education.

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:11):

Greetings everybody. Sam, thanks for having me once again here. I appreciate it. And yep. As you did mention, it’s my second time back on the podcast and I’m excited to be here again. And myself in a little nutshell, I am a publicly funded teacher in the elementary panel and right now I’m a special education teacher and I also teach french as a second language. And that’s pretty much me as a, in a nutshell on my role in education right now.

Sam Demma (01:42):

Why education Did, did you always wanna be a teacher? Did you always wanna work with kids or did you wanna be a farmer but decided to only do that during the summer months? <laugh>?

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:55):

Well, it’s it’s fun, right? Cause we’re, we’re always constantly learning. And before heading into teaching I went to medical school. It didn’t work out. I had a little burnout. So came back reset and while taking my time off, I decided to jump into something new, which was education. Give it a shot, loved it. And ever since, been in education. And then during the summertime, as you mentioned, I do farming. Cause when I was in medical school, I was in an offshore school and that’s where I got the taste of farming cuz I go get my produces in a farm. And the farmers, I helped them out. They taught me some skills that I learned there. So while I was at home during the summertime, it became a hobby. And the hobby turned into now and every, every summer passion that I do,

Sam Demma (02:49):

Not only did you do middle school, school offshore, but you were on an island, correct?

Martin Tshibwabwa (02:54):

That is correct.

Sam Demma (02:55):

There’s no, that’s correct. There’s no better place to go to get an education than on an island <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:00):

That’s right. I was saying no man is an island himself. Right. We’re always standing on the backs of others.

Sam Demma (03:05):

It’s so true. And you still use some of your medical learnings. I remember one day I was feeling really sick and, and you said, Sam, I have a recipe for you. Just make sure that, you know, you don’t drive after this one <laugh> you gave me, you know, cool mixture of lemon and a couple other ingredients to kind of soothe your, your cold. And I <laugh> it was, it sticks in my mind to this day.

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:30):

Exactly. That’s true. That’s something I learned too. Right now just pass it on to you. Just share it, share what I know I share with you also. Right?

Sam Demma (03:36):

Absolutely. So tell me a little bit about your current role in education and how it differs a little bit from what you’ve done in the past. Cuz you’ve just made a, you just made a transition,

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:48):

Right? I was on the high school panel and I transitioned over to the elementary panel. And when I transferred over to the elementary panel, I got the opportunity to teach France as a second language. And that was very rewarding because it it took me outta my comfort zone. Mm-hmm. Versus coming from a full day French school to an English speaking school. It challenged me because I had to I had to attract English native speakers to learn French. Keep in mind that when the French teacher shows up, it’s pretty much break time for everybody. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you need to get them back on board and to get them back on board, you need to find strategies. Like what do you do within the frame of 40 minutes? It was challenging, but it’s fun because you get to know your students and they get to know you and you end up building relationships.

Martin Tshibwabwa (04:42):

And I realized that in anything actually before you move forward in any content, and you can probably speak on that yourself before you dive into something or you dive into your material, there’s no stance in diving in it right away if you don’t build a relationship with your audience. So I realized that the number one thing is building a relationship with your audience. Mm-hmm. Once you’ve established that relationship, everything else was in place. And after serving that role, I went back to special education and special education. It’s my baby and I’m loving it right now. Mm-hmm. Cause I’m learning things that I didn’t know, especially being the elementary panel, I’m working with younger students and with those students I’m able to learn something that I would’ve not seen in high school. Because in high school they come to us, they’re already molded, they know where they’re headed. Whereas in elementary, we’re working that individual. We’re molding them into which learning styles best suits them and not able to see both sides of the coin. It’s, it’s rewarding.

Sam Demma (05:44):

That’s awesome, man. I, I’m inspired by your enthusiasm despite the changes. I think sometimes as humans we approach change with disappointment or we approach change with fear and anxiety. And it sounds like you’ve really dove in and embraced the changes and have put on the learner’s cap and tried to learn new things. And you mentioned the importance of, you know, building that relationship with your audience as a teacher in a classroom, especially as the French teacher. I’m curious to know like how do you actually do that? If there’s a teacher listening to this that’s thinking Martin, I’m also the French teacher of an elementary school and I struggle every time I walk into my French class. And the kids, they just don’t seem to listen. They always talk over me. what would you tell them? Like what are some things that you do to try and build that relationship that you found has helped in the classroom?

Martin Tshibwabwa (06:47):

I find that sometimes you need to let the individual take control also of the classroom environment. Let them take control. Sometimes I let them take control. Sometimes you may not be able to teach and that’s okay. Sometimes you may be able to teach for the full 40 minutes and sometimes you may just be able to teach for half the 40 minutes. And that is okay because I feel like when you try to go against the grain, that’s when there’s no resolution because there’s always gonna be heads bumping. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Whereas if there’s a balance, it’s true that we have a job to do to deliver curriculum. But I always tell myself, as long as learning is still happening, even if we’re going off topic still try and bring them back on the topic. For example, if I can bring an example at this moment, let’s say we’re talking about verbs.

Martin Tshibwabwa (07:35):

You being from Italian background, I’m pretty sure you have the same thing in Italian where you have verb tenses and everything has a gender or a number. Same thing applies to French, but in English doesn’t happen. So a fun conversation I like to do is students have seen already some verbs in French or we’ve done already some vocabulary words. And I try to tell them to pick up some differences that we find in French that we don’t see in English. So yes, the conversations are happening in English, but really they’re talking about French content. So I know that later on, at a later time when I come back on it, I dropped down my notes as students are speaking and I can make reference back to what they’re speaking about in English. And it’s funny, for example, let’s say if I hear you say something to one of your peers, when I’m delivering my lesson, I might come back to you and say, Hey Sam, by the way, do you remember on X day you did say this?

Martin Tshibwabwa (08:30):

And it’s funny cause you’ll see the kids, I will light up and say, whoa, you’re paying attention <laugh>, but you didn’t say nothing that day during class. Mm-hmm. And you can just see like by doing that too, you’re still building a relationship but they don’t know. And then when they see that, you actually refer ’em back to some points that they mentioned two weeks ago and you’re bringing it back in your lesson. They get more engaged. It’s true, it’s in English, but when you come back to your lesson, you’re showing them the difference. So they can see both sides, English and French. Except that in French there’s more rules to follow. Where in English we don’t have that.

Sam Demma (09:06):

Hmm. Yeah. That idea of active listening and repeating back to students weeks later, things they said previously. It’s such a smart idea that I think any educator can pick up, put in their toolkit and use in their classrooms. Do you take notes in a notebook? Do you have a notebook for each of your classes? Or where do you capture the, the points or ideas so you don’t forget them?

Martin Tshibwabwa (09:29):

Oh, time goes by quick in 40 minutes. So luckily enough we have technology. So I take, I drop down notes on my phone right away. I dropped down notes, make a reference point, dropped down notes. And it’s funny cuz I know we’re not supposed to be using our cell phones, but kids will look at me and they’ll, they know I’m not texting because they always know that I, my, I have my phone loud and I always tell students like, hey, like I have no problem for you using your phone, but you have to be able to self-regulate. I won’t be the one being a police officer or a security guard or a patrolling or a helicopter on top of you to tell you put your phone away. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I put my trust in you. He guys know when and not when to use it. So when you guys see me on my phone, it’s funny cuz sometimes I’ll have my notes when I’m writing on the, because that’s a French teacher, you constantly traveling.

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:16):

So I dropped out my notes on my phone because it’s much more easy to handle or my tablet and students can see, they always know that I’m taking notes. Mm-hmm. Because I used to use a a notebook and when I used to use a notebook and then students would see their name in it, it gave a bad impression. They always thought that I was dotting down something that was not positive about them. But with the phone or a digital device, I find that it’s different for them. Or sometimes I’ll, if I have the chance to have my my laptop with me, I’ll use my laptop. But the convenience of having a handheld device is different than having a laptop. Right.

Sam Demma (10:51):

Hmm. That’s a,

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:52):

So versus being the traditional method of writing down notes on a paper using a digital device, I find it’s more of a calm environment for the students.

Sam Demma (11:01):

That’s a great idea and a unique perspective that I didn’t even think of. Especially from the student’s perspective. Seeing their name being written down. I think when I was a student, if I saw my teacher write my name down in a notebook, I would be like, oh my goodness, what did I do? <laugh>,

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:17):

Something’s happening. A phone call. Or you staying during recess. Right.

Sam Demma (11:21):

Yeah. So I like that. Thanks for sharing. Yes. You, you mentioned that special education is your baby. Tell me more about that passion for special education. Why is it something you love so much?

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:35):

I love it’s so much because it puts it in perspective that every individual, every child can learn. Hmm. Different ways, different strategies, different methods. But at the end of the day, the results are there. Versus being the traditional classroom or being in a life skills course every child can learn. And that’s one thing I love about special education and it’s constantly challenging. And nowaday days are the same, just like in the classroom.

Sam Demma (12:06):

What about teaching and working in special education makes you feel like you’re making a serious impact? Because I would imagine you feel like you’re making an impact whether you’re in, you know, a special education classroom or any other classroom in a school building. But I think there’s a, there’s a large opportunity in special education to feel like you’re making a very significant difference.

Martin Tshibwabwa (12:30):

Absolutely. Well it comes back to first as a team, of course it’s not just me. We have a team and it comes back to first as a team having a purpose. And once you have that purpose, you find creative ways to advance. And by advancing you’re actually persevering and you’re helping the child reach the full learning potential. So I think having those three things is the main, the main foundation for learning versus special education or non-special education students. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And also, it’s funny, funny enough, special education students who are gifted are actually part of special education. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I find the three things to keep in mind is first to have a purpose. Once you have that purpose, you find creative ways to problems. And once you get that creativity and purpose concept together, it is actually the gasoline to continue to persevere.

Sam Demma (13:31):

Hmm. Can you share a story about a student, any student who you’ve seen, develop and reach their full learning potential by participating and by a team of people, like teachers like yourself supporting that individual special education or not? does any student come to mind that makes you internally smile? <laugh>,

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:56):

Myself,

Sam Demma (13:58):

<laugh>?

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:59):

Yeah. Yes. Myself. Like I look at my journey at first I’m a native French speaker and then when I was younger my parents put me in a French day school for about, I can’t remember exactly, but let’s say about three to five years from there I got withdrawn. They put me back in an English school language barrier, kept on pushing, learning, learning, learning. And then once I was done, I was still in elementary school. I wanna say when they put me in English schools, I bought in grade four, grade five, no grade three or grade two. And then fast forward to grade four, five, all the way to grade eight, they put me back in a French school. So my brain was confused cause I was going back and forth. Yeah. So once I was done grade eight we were living in Ontario at the time.

Martin Tshibwabwa (14:50):

Before that we were in Quebec. So when we moved to Ontario, they put me into a French school after grade eight. And then high school came, when high school came, they shipped me back to high school and English. That’s when the challenges began because I came prepared, I was prepared in French content. And when I get to high school, it’s a different ballgame because now you have the two streams I apply in academic. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I went into the academic route. It was tough because brand new language for me, yes I was around English, but having learned all my elementary years in French, a little bit of English, but mostly French. And then the sudden switch, it was tough. It was always an up climb for me, an up climb and up climb. And things didn’t work out as planned, but I still succeeded.

Martin Tshibwabwa (15:40):

I had a combination of applied in academic courses and then from there I went to, as a prep, I didn’t wanna go to university right away. I went to college. College was an English. Fast forward university was English. But I find that college helped me more. And my last two years of high school helped me a lot to ease my transition to college as a WHI year student and then university. And then funny enough, I went to med school, but then when med school did not work out, med school was in English. When med school did not work out, this where the twist happens, teachers college, I completed it all in French

Sam Demma (16:17):

<laugh>. I thought you were gonna say that vet school was in Dutch or something. <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (16:21):

Oh no, no. So that’s the twist. So it’s funny how it went from English to French, French to English, English to French. And then when it came to teachers college, I completed the whole content in French. And here I am now. Which I kind of loved it because it’s an academic context in both languages. So it really put things to perspective for me. And I have a better appreciation now for learning

Sam Demma (16:50):

And language. It’s, it opens so many, it opens so many doors, breaks down so many barriers. If there’s a teacher listening who also teaches French and their students often say, miss, why are we even learning this? Or Sir, why, why are we doing this? We don’t, we don’t care about this language. Like what would your response be if you were talking to a student like that or telling a teacher to help them or coach them through a response to a student?

Martin Tshibwabwa (17:18):

Well it’s funny cuz as you said when students say that I actually agree with them, I do agree. I tell ’em, okay, French, French is not the as is not useful for you. Or as they were saying, I hate French, French sucks. I say, you what? I do agree with you. But tell ’em the reason why I wanna do the why because I can say when we go to gym class, I don’t like playing soccer or I don’t like playing basketball. But why did you try? Mm. Did you try learning? And when I ask them questions like that, you can see their, like the expression that they say dear in front of a headlight, they dunno what to say because it’s almost as if they’re trying to escape a topic that they haven’t invested themselves enough into or for other reasons. And I find that when I ask, when actually agree with them, first of all it catches them off guard because usually when people disagree, you find a reason to bring them back to positivity. Mm-hmm. But me, immediately I say, you know what? I do agree with you French does sucks. What can we do about it though?

Sam Demma (18:22):

Ah, <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (18:24):

Or if they say, I hate French, I agree with you, I hate French too. And then this way they get clever, they’ll tell me, well you do speak French. I’m like, yeah, but I also do speak English. And right now I’m telling you in English that I also do not like French <laugh>. So when they do ask me sometimes why I don’t like French, I’ll tell ’em, well first of all, there’s a lot of rules to remember and I get it when you have those rules to remember, you feel defeated. But it’s well starting with the baby steps first, going back to the beginning, knowing your gender, your number and your verbs, tenses. Once you have those three things done, anything else is possible. And I believe it’s the same thing in Italian, correct me if I’m wrong, but mm-hmm. <affirmative> in French, we have two important verbs to have and to be. Those are the basics. Once you know the verb to have and to be, which is wan, that’s the foundation. And then you of course include your tenses present, past tense, future tense, and your vocabulary words that you inserting there. And just remembering the role of masculine feminine. Once you have that patted down the doors open. And a lot of students, when I started showing them those examples, they started to grasp the concept.

Sam Demma (19:38):

Hmm. That’s awesome. I think one of the reasons people get into teaching and education is because they want to help a student reach their full learning potential. As you said it, you gave the example of yourself and I think it’s a great example. So thanks for sharing. I didn’t know that about your journey that you switched between English and French speaking schools your entire life. <laugh>. When you think about students that you’ve taught, is there also any young people that come to mind who maybe were going through a challenging time or didn’t feel like they were smart enough or good enough and through perseverance and continual effort and showing up, they were able to transform their own personal beliefs about themselves and kind of grow into their own potential?

Martin Tshibwabwa (20:24):

Well, absolutely. And I feel that March, 2020 brought a lot of things to light with the, the shutdown with the Covid 19 pandemic. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> it brought a lot of things to light where students included ourselves. We had time to completely shut down and reset. And during that reset, because there’s no distraction, including ourselves, adults, students had that moment where they were shut down, but they had time to also reflect. Cause when things are going the right way before Covid we’re constantly galloping from activity to activity. We have sporting activity after school, but we have dance lessons, recitals, et cetera. But when the shutdown in Marshall 20 occurred, a lot of students were just like us at home, nothing to do. And a lot of them started to doubt themselves because now they had no distractions away from school. So when they’re at home, I saw a lot of students that when we returned to e-learning and also in-person learning, they had a dislike for school.

Martin Tshibwabwa (21:38):

A lot of behavior that we did not seek come out. Were starting to come out. And it’s during that time where you find you can help students by having them look at their strengths and their needs. And one of the things that I always, I I always like to do is how can we take your needs and turn them into fuel if you hear in the right direction to reach your full learning potential. And of course in the beginning it’s hard but to, interesting to go back to their agenda. Agenda or even journal and write down a goal that they wanna accomplish. You know, the big picture, but write down your goal. It’s funny enough cuz I have a gentleman who I speak to quite often, his name is Justin Oliman, actually. He’s, he was one of the coaches for the Toronto Raptors.

Martin Tshibwabwa (22:32):

And one of the things that he told he, he mentions is the 2019 championship goal that they had. So they had different goals that they wanted to achieve during that year. And with those goals, they ended up actually reaching the championship and they won. Yeah. So that’s one thing I tried to include also with students who are doubting themselves. Have your big picture, have your championship that you wanna reach, but of course you wanna reach it overnight and you put yourself some, some mile some, some small milestones that you want and also celebrate those small victories. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which goes back also to your concept of small consistent actions. So implementing those two concepts together I find actually helps students get back in the right direction and keep them motivated to reach their goal. Right.

Sam Demma (23:27):

So what keeps you motivated? It’s, it sounds like you pour a lot into the students and help them find their needs and turn their needs into fuel. What keeps you, what keeps you going?

Martin Tshibwabwa (23:41):

Honestly, ask questions. Ask questions. Like, for example, yourself. You see that I’ll shoot you a text. Hey, how do you do this? Explain me. How do you do that? And how do you, what, what works and what, what does not work for you? And, and that’s one thing I always do. Even my pros, I’ll send ’em an email, I’ll shoot them an email just to see how to go about something. And of course when you ask a question to somebody, they’re pretty much the master. And I can’t remember which book I was reading, but there’s a philosophical pH philosophical book that I was reading. It does say Learn from the master. You take what the master does, but you replicate it, you replicate it, probably the exact same recipe, but at the end of the day, you also wanna make it yourself. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> put it, put a piece of it of yourself in it because something that you do, I cannot deliver word for word the way you do with your ambience. But learning from you, looking at the way you deliver something, if I can replicate it, but also put a, a a concept of my own in it Hmm. Will just continue making that concept better.

Sam Demma (24:52):

Yeah. It’s kind of like borrowing the recipe but adding a few extra ingredients of your own that you think will compliment it. And

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:00):

Exactly.

Sam Demma (25:01):

The longer you make it, the more you try different new things. And a year from now, that concept from somebody else was the foundation of a totally brand new thing that you’re doing. Right.

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:11):

Exactly. And it’s funny enough cause I have another good friend of mine who’s a chef and he always tells me when I go to one of his classes, sorry, one of his one of his one of his excuse one of his events, he always says, no recipe should be followed to the tea. Mm-hmm. And the reason why it says is because when you read out a recipe in a book, it doesn’t tell you, for example, if it tells you, okay, put three cups of sugar, my cup can be different than the cup that they’re talking about. So instead of falling your recipe to the tea, what you should do is follow the recipe. But as you’re following that recipe, make it your own by tasting it. If it’s to your liking. That’s it.

Sam Demma (25:58):

I love that. I’m starting to get hungry,

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:00):

<laugh>. Exactly.

Sam Demma (26:02):

If, if an educator Martin is listening right now, wants to reach out to you, maybe they’re in a transition in their own educational career, they wanna ask you a question, just connect and have a conversation, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch?

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:17):

Well, email, email’s the best way and we’ll have my email listed at the end of this podcast and they can touch base for email, email’s the best way to reach out right. And then from there we can when whatever’s needed.

Sam Demma (26:30):

Perfect. And one final question before we wrap up the interview. What are you most excited about in 2023?

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:39):

Oh my goodness. Just staying healthy. Staying healthy and contribute to that healthiness, getting to good healthy habits, good diet and working out and a balance and work habits. Right. We remember that because sometimes we get cut up and we don’t take time for ourselves.

Sam Demma (27:01):

Very true. Likewise

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:02):

For you too.

Sam Demma (27:03):

Yeah, I was gonna say the same, to be honest. A friend recently told me, you know, people with good health want a million things and people with bad health only want one. And it was just this stark reminder how important it is that we take care of our physical, mental, spiritual wellbeing. Because without it, nothing else really matters. So I wish you the best of health this year, continued success, amazing habits. Let’s definitely stay in touch and keep up the great work.

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:34):

Absolutely my brother.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Martin Tshibwabwa

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.

Connie Shepherd – Ontario Educator of over 20 years

Connie Shepherd - Ontario Educator of over 20 years
About Connie Shepherd

Connie Shepherd (@Connie2Educ8) is an Ontario educator who has worked in the education system for over 20 years. She began her journey as an educational assistant working with students with diverse needs, which played an important role in her belief that all children can be successful and providing opportunities for all students to shine is essential to a strong education system.

Connie is a graduate of York University and completed her Bachelor of Education at Brock. She is a lifelong learner who has continued her learning through many additional qualification courses, including leadership. Connie is currently an Elementary Guidance and Experiential Learning Teacher which provides her with the opportunity to support students to explore the many possible pathways available to them through experiential learning.

Connie is passionate about fostering a learning environment that supports the development of transferable skills and empowers every student to see themselves as important and successful.

Connect with Connie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

York University

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies

Working as an Educational Assistant – Ontario College Application Service

myBlueprint

Tinkercad

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

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 special guest is Connie Shepherd. Connie Shepherd is an Ontario educator who has worked in the education system for over 20 years. She began her journey as an educational assistant working with students with diverse needs, which played an important role in her belief that all children can be successful, and providing opportunities for all students to shine is essential to a strong education system. Connie is a graduate of York University and completed her Bachelor of Education at Brock. She’s a lifelong learner who has continued her learning through many additional qualifications courses, including leadership. Connie is currently an elementary guidance and experiential learning teacher, which provides her with the opportunity to support students to explore the many possible pathways available to them through experiential learning. Connie is passionate about fostering a learning environment that supports the development of transferable skills and empowers every student to see themselves as important and successful. I hope you enjoy this conversation on the podcast with Connie, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest, a high energy guest, an impactful educator. Her name is Connie Shepherd. Connie, please introduce yourself so everyone tuning in knows a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Connie Shepherd (01:30):

Amazing. Well, good morning, Sam. My name is Connie Shepherd and I’m an elementary guidance and experiential learning teacher. So I serve for the most part grade sevens and eight, so middle school ages. We do have some grade sixes and yeah, we do a lot of experiential learning. We do a lot of exploration of career pathways and opportunities so that students really have an understanding that, you know, there’s not one pathway. So the focus is really not what do I wanna become, but more of a who do I wanna become, and then looking for what fits with that.

Sam Demma (02:11):

Where did your passion develop in terms of helping students realize there isn’t just one pathway that exists for them?

Connie Shepherd (02:20):

 I think a little bit. I think a lot of it has to do with my journey. you know, I didn’t I didn’t graduate high school and go directly to university. I went to college and I worked as I worked for the Children’s Aid Society for a little while, and then I worked as an educational assistant for several years. And then as I just kind of experienced more opportunities, I said, you know what, I’m gonna go back to school and I’m gonna do my bachelor’s, and then I’m gonna do my Bachelor’s of education and become a teacher.

Sam Demma (02:54):

Yes. That’s so cool. Was there, I mean, the stigma around different pathways in d streaming Yes. Is something that’s really big today. What was that like when you were going through the system?

Connie Shepherd (03:08):

 so we had advanced general and basic Okay. As opposed to applied an academic. I think d streaming is amazing. I don’t know that, I think that at 13 years old, you should be making decisions that could have a long-term impact. I taught grade eight for about 10 years, and you would see students who at 13 are, they’re just not there yet. Mm-hmm. And then they’d come back and visit in grade, in grade 11 and they’d be like, miss, guess what I’m doing? And you could see their growth and they kind of found their pathway and they found their passion. And I mean, I see to students all the time think about the subjects that you really excel in. It’s because you love them. Hmm. Right. And so sometimes students just need a little more time to map that out.

Sam Demma (03:57):

Hmm. And you, you’ve obviously had a different pathway to education when you were a student 13 years old and someone asked you, Hey Connie, what do you wanna view when you grow up? What’d you tell them? A teacher? Or like, <laugh>, how did you land on it?

Connie Shepherd (04:10):

So I I, I was very interested in law.

Sam Demma (04:13):

Nice.

Connie Shepherd (04:14):

The con, the concept of borrowing that much money to go to school. cuz I had to pay for my education and borrow, borrow, borrow for my education. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. And at that time in the education system, no one really said to you, the best investment you can make is in yourself. Right. And I think students really need to understand that. And that’s where, you know, embedding financial literacy into what we do helps them see that bigger picture. Right. yeah. Investing in yourself. I think that’s huge. At the end of the day, I think I landed where I was meant to land. I go to work every day and just love what I do. I wake up energized every morning. And that’s what we want for our, our students in the future. Right. Happiness is not necessarily how much you make. Right? I mean, you could be making a ton of money and wake up every morning dreading going to your, to your job. That’s, that’s not happiness.

Sam Demma (05:13):

Hmm. It’s obvious that you’re passionate about what you do. The first time I talk to you so much energy is overflowing, <laugh>. where does your, where does your energy come from? Are there any things that you do to make sure that you can show up and be a hundred percent of yourself when you’re not at school?

Connie Shepherd (05:32):

Yeah. I, I just, I believe in being an authentic person. I, I am who I am. Right. yeah. I’m a mom to three kids and every day I walk into the classroom and I just, I wanna be the kind of teacher that I am hoping my children, my children have. Right. And I want to provide students with the opportunities that I hope my children have. I’m a huge advocate of public education. I think we have an incredible education system and I think if we really want this education system to shine, we need to be all in and in everything I do inside, outside school, I’m always all in

Sam Demma (06:10):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. <laugh>. it’s funny when you’re saying that I think back to a role model of mine. His name was Nipsey Hussle and he is a rapper and one of his phrases was All money in. And his whole philosophy was, everything we make, we’re putting back into this. We’re putting back, we’re gonna put it back into the community. And that’s different, different way, different life, but definitely a similar philosophy. for someone who’s listening, maybe a person who’s contemplating getting into education and doesn’t really know much about what your day-to-day job looks like, they might know what, you know, one teacher in a classroom’s job looks like. What exactly are you doing? and yeah. What does a day in the life look like or a week in the life look like?

Connie Shepherd (06:55):

So I serve a lot of schools. Some of my schools are very small, so sometimes I’m between two schools during the day. Like during the day of school in the morning, a school in the afternoon. just recently we’ve been doing some activities with coding. Nice. and so for some schools and I really try to see where teachers are at and see how can I best support them. Right. So coding is new in both the math and science curriculums. So I’m in the Catholic School Board, so we are preparing for Christmas. And so working with students on coding animated gifs.

Sam Demma (07:32):

Nice. <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (07:33):

Right. You like that. and then teaching them how to send it as an email to a family member, a loved one, and teaching them how to schedule their send. So it goes out Christmas morning. so that kind of ties into our Catholic graduate expectation of being a ca a caring family member. Right. and just adding that creativity. And I think some of the highlights of, you know, just in the last week is, oh miss I got it. I figured it out. Which was amazing. But also watching the teachers learning and, and coding their own Christmas gifts and them celebrating that, oh, I got it. Right. But then I’ll have other schools that really wanna focus maybe a little bit more on equity or indigenous education. So with a school in the afternoon this week, we really kind of explored the land acknowledgement mm-hmm. And what the land acknowledgement really means and why it’s so important that we say it every day and we acknowledge it every day. so that was that. That’s, that’s the last week

Sam Demma (08:39):

<laugh>. Yeah. It it sounds like every week is very different from the previous one. Absolutely. what are some of the projects or initiatives you have worked on in school communities throughout the span of your career and experiential learning that when you think back on it brings you so much joy because one, you had so much fun working on it, and two, the students just got so much out of it.

Connie Shepherd (09:07):

So my partner and I, cuz I do have a partner and she’s amazing. And so my partner and I put together a Power Me Up conference, which empowers students to lead. so we work with our intermediate students and train them to lead sessions and they could be wellbeing, they could be STEM related. And so it’s, it’s a lot of work to put it together and work out all the logistics like transportation and getting all the different students to the location. But when the event takes place and you see students shine Right. And you see students who, who see themselves as leaders, that is incredible. Yeah. We have a large guest behind me. I’m so sorry. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (09:54):

We love large guests. <laugh>. This is awesome. one more family member entering the podcast, <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (10:01):

That’s it.

Sam Demma (10:02):

That’s so cool. So the power, what, when did the concept for the Power Me Up conference come to life?

Connie Shepherd (10:08):

So the concept for the conference was my partner Vicky’s concept. Right. Her and her team. And at that point we were not partners as elementary guidance teachers cuz our role didn’t exist mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and so the first year we, we did it together, which was amazing. Right? So I had so much learning that I experienced, which was amazing. The second year, well that was 2020 and we were really excited to make it bigger and better. And then, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there was like this pandemic thing. What’s that? And so, yeah, exactly. so that didn’t happen the next year. We were still in that situation where we couldn’t really travel or bring people together. So Vicki and I decided to go virtual things happen for a reason. and it was pretty incredible because we did the Power Me Up conference on a virtual level.

Connie Shepherd (11:06):

And rather than impacting let’s say 250 students, we were able to have over 1800 students participate. Right. Wow. Pro pros and cons. So no, it wasn’t in person. and we just took the different materials to different schools and teachers were in their classrooms. They were led through the stem or art activities. and they just did it in their classrooms and, you know, blew it up on Twitter with sharing all their pictures. Right. We had, we had a science activity where students were kind of exploring mold with Brett. And so we would drive by schools and all you could see in the schools in the windows was all this bread hanging <laugh>. And it was just, it was kind of awesome to drive by one school. Oh, there’s their bread. Oh, there’s another window full of bread <laugh>. It was, it was fantastic. So Right. We learned from experience, right. Which is what we, we do as experiential learning teachers. And so what we learned through that experience was we were able to have such a larger impact. So this year we are doing both virtual and in person Nice. so that we can again just share the joy, share the opportunities.

Sam Demma (12:23):

Is it a two day event? Three day event, one afternoon? What does it look like?

Connie Shepherd (12:27):

So the in-person event is one day this year we are going to do it four times. Cause our schools feed into four different high schools. Mm. So each high school is go going to be hosting a one day event for their feeder schools. which is great because we’re gonna get the kids into the high schools and they can, they can see themselves in that environment, see what that environment looks like. And then last year our virtual conference was over two weeks. This year it’s going to be over one week. So we’ll have four one day in persons and one one week virtual.

Sam Demma (12:59):

When you think about your entire journey through education, were there mentors that you had that, it sounds like collaboration has been a big part of your own learning, especially with Vicky and other people that you’ve worked with. Have there been any educators or teachers who, that you’ve learned a lot from or that you think kind of took you under their wing and mentored you when you were just getting started?

Connie Shepherd (13:22):

Abs Absolutely right. I mean, I think I, I was really blessed to work in a school where, and I, I was there for my entire career until I took on this role. Hmm. and it was just a sense of community in that school amongst all the staff. Everyone was there for each other. Everyone would, you know, if I would be like, I have an idea. okay, let’s sit and talk about it. Sometimes when I say I have an idea, people get a little nervous <laugh>. Right.

Sam Demma (13:48):

That’s good.

Connie Shepherd (13:49):

Or, or, or I’ll have, or I’ll have an administrator go, okay, how much is that gonna cost me? Right. But I’m like, no, no, no, but hear me out. Right. so at my school for a few years there, we did a whole school musical production.

Sam Demma (14:02):

Nice.

Connie Shepherd (14:03):

Which was amazing. So every educator came together. So we had educators working with students on the backdrop, educators working with students on sewing costumes. Every class had a song to participate in. Right. Students throughout the school were actors to bring something like that together, whole school level and to have the performance happen and have families there watching their children. Right. These are the things students remember. Right. If, if, if you said to one of my students who taught you py, in theory <laugh>, they’re gonna be like, I dunno. Right. but what do you remember about, you know, your year in grade seven or eight? Well I remember we had this huge school production, or I remember we went and did this. These are the things that students remember. Right. This is what makes their educational experience beautiful.

Sam Demma (15:05):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. I think back to when I was in grade seven, in grade eight, and some of my biggest memories are field trips or some of the dances <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (15:16):

Absolutely.

Sam Demma (15:17):

And all, all the extracurricular activities and the learning in the classroom, you know, teaches you how to learn, I believe. But some of the stuff we don’t actually even remember years later and might not even be a big part of our life. But yeah. The memories last a lifetime. So that’s

Connie Shepherd (15:33):

A Right. And, and the learning how to learn.

Sam Demma (15:35):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (15:36):

Right. Like, so I, I really I really focus, I try to focus a lot on our transferrable skills. Right. So the idea of collaboration, right. So you’re gonna collaborate in your entire life. Yeah. Right. In different formats. Right. The idea of being innovative and creative in your thinking and problem solving in any environment you’re in, we need to be using these skills all the time. So ensuring that we’re providing students with opportunities to work on and develop and strengthen those, that skillset, it doesn’t matter where they land, those skills will be like key for their success.

Sam Demma (16:14):

I know with experiential learning, there’s really no boundaries. Like, you come up with some cool ideas and if people are on board, you give it a try and learn from the experience. have there been any unique tools or resources technologies or anything at all that you’ve found really helpful or really unique that you think even educators in a classroom could benefit from looking into or exploring?

Connie Shepherd (16:39):

Absolutely. So I use my blueprint a great deal. I don’t know if my blueprint was around when you were in school. It wasn’t around when I was in school. I think it’s an incredible tool. So I do an activity with students, I do it twice, right? So first is planning forward. So where they, they pop in, okay, well you know what, what, what do I have to take in grade nine? Right? Because you only have so many electives in grade nine. Yeah. Right. and then what do I have to take in grade 10? But then I’m like, well what are my options in grade 10? Right? Like, what is hospitality? And I’ll say, well, it means you get to eat your homework, which is awesome, <laugh>. Right. And, and if you like eating well, learning how to cook is kind of important. Right. and then we look at, you know, they’re like, why don’t I have to take science after grade 10?

Connie Shepherd (17:26):

Great question. Let’s talk about that. Right. Well, because now you get to kind of explore the sciences you’re super passionate about, oh my goodness, miss I can take law. Yeah. You could totally take law. That’s so having them just open those doors and see what those options are. But even having our teachers see, see them, we, we need to see ourselves as kindergarten to grade 12 educators. Right. So seeing like after they leave, after they move on, what are the, what are their opportunities? What’s available to them? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then we do another time in the spring where we do planning backward, where I choose a career. I’m kind of curious about, I explore that career and then I look at what’s the post-secondary pathway to get me there. Okay. So let’s say I have to take a college, a college course. So maybe I wanna do like computer animation of some sort, right?

Sam Demma (18:18):

Yes. so let’s say that’s what I wanna study in college cuz that’s my passion. Great. What are the requirements in grade 12? And then we work our way backwards all the way to grade nine so that they can see there’s a bit of a map to it. and if I don’t come back and do planning backward with students, they actually get upset with me. <laugh>, they’re like, miss remember you said we were gonna do this, but when that happens, what does that tell me as an educator? That this is important to them. Yeah. That they enjoy it. Right. Tinkercad is what I was using for coding the gifts. Kids were coding for two hours and then I say to them, you realize we’ve been doing math for two hours. Right. They’re like, no we haven’t. I go, absolutely. We have <laugh>. Right. We’ve been doing, like, we’ve been playing with Radius and and and size and we’ve been translating and rotating. Oh my gosh. We’ve been doing math for two hours. Yeah. You’re you’re learning. It’s insane. Right. <laugh> like, wow. Yeah. we use we videos. So we’re also doing a film festival in our area of schools. so allowing students to be creators. Right. So that’s a great opportunity for them.

Sam Demma (19:25):

The film festival is something you’ve done a few times now, right? Is

Connie Shepherd (19:29):

This is our, this is our second year

Sam Demma (19:31):

And last year I remember you were telling me some of the videos students created were just mind blowing. The

Connie Shepherd (19:36):

Mind blowing. Right. some students were doing animation, some students hand drew everything Hmm. but student voice came out. Hmm. Right. What they were passionate about. And again, just like when you, when you learn what you, what you en enjoy learning about and you, you take that pathway when you can share your voice and when you can share your story, students are all in mm-hmm. Right. Especially our adolescent learners because, you know, life is really all about me right now.

Sam Demma (20:10):

I think back to, there was a Steve Jobs commencement speech and he says the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And I think it’s so important to love the work that you’re doing. And if you haven’t found the thing yet, then keep looking in such an exploratory period of time when you’re in grade seven, grade eight and elementary school, even in high school. Trying to figure out, I was lucky enough that I had the access to my blueprint when I was a high school student and really enjoyed using it as well. And I would imagine that even back when I used it to what’s capable on the app now or the pathway opportunities that exist are very different. <laugh>. absolutely. Because there are so many unique opportunities now that didn’t even exist when I was in high school.

Connie Shepherd (20:53):

Well and we share that with students, right? Like 50% of these students are gonna be working career pathways that don’t exist. Hmm. Right. And when I try to explain that, cuz they look at me Right. With confusion on their face. Yeah. And I’ll be like, let’s just talk about Facebook. I know Facebook is for the old people, right. <laugh>. And of course they laugh, right? Because they’re like, my mom has Facebook mis, I’m like, of course they do. Right. I go, but it’s only 25 years old.

Sam Demma (21:15):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (21:15):

Like, it, it’s really, it’s it’s quite young. And now we think about the fact that there are people whose literal career is to manage a social media account for a company. I don’t even think that existed. Yeah. 15 years ago. Yeah. Right. So the idea of what’s to come, right? So this is why it’s the, it’s the who do I wanna become? Because we don’t know what the, what is <laugh>.

Sam Demma (21:42):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (21:42):

Right. We don’t know what’s coming.

Sam Demma (21:44):

Yeah. I I saw a post on LinkedIn the other day of a friend of mine who every year sets goals. And this year she said, I’m setting learning learnings, like things that I wanna learn as opposed to goals that I want to achieve. And I thought that was a really cool mindset shift a little bit away from the what do I wanna do to who do I wanna become? Right. Like what do I wanna learn? and then the the what kind of figures itself out based on your skillsets.

Connie Shepherd (22:10):

Exactly.

Sam Demma (22:12):

So yeah, I thought that was kind of cool connection. When you think about your journey through education you’ve obviously been in the industry now or in the space for a while, if you can Oh,

Connie Shepherd (22:24):

While we’ll go with a while. I like, thank

Sam Demma (22:26):

You <laugh>. You have lots of wisdom is what I’m trying to say. <laugh>. if you could, if you could like take all your experience, all the wisdom, travel back in time tap Connie on the shoulder in her first year of working in education, but with the experiences you’ve had now, not that you would change your path or anything, but what would you tell yourself cuz you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just jumping in and getting started?

Connie Shepherd (22:54):

Hmm. That’s a really good question. I, I think I think when I went to the faculty of education, right, like you walk out and you walk in and you wanna, you have all these great big ideas Hmm. Which you should always have. Don’t let go of those great big ideas cuz that’s, it’s incredible. Right. I think I’d tell myself to be kinder to myself. Right. I, I guess I didn’t have enough time and I wasn’t doing everything that I thought I was, was gonna be able to accomplish my first year teaching. Right. So, and, and I, when I talk to new educators now, I I I just, did you do your very best today of yeah, of course I did. Okay. Would you look at a student and say, you need to do better than your best? Well, no, I would never say that. But then why are we saying it to ourselves?

Sam Demma (23:53):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (23:54):

Right. Did I give my best today? Did I give a hundred percent today? Right. I’m gonna make mistakes along the way. That’s part of learning. Right. That’s part of that learning journey. So I, I would’ve probably told myself to be a little kinder to myself and not so hard on myself.

Sam Demma (24:09):

Hmm. Wh where do you think the, I think we’re all our biggest critics, but

Connie Shepherd (24:13):

A hundred percent

Sam Demma (24:14):

Did you play sports growing up? Where did that competition with yourself come from?

Connie Shepherd (24:18):

<laugh>? Yeah, so I did, I played, I played soccer for a really long time. where did I, I just, I’ve always been competitive with myself. I, I said, Hmm. One of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses. I set very, very high expectations of myself.

Sam Demma (24:36):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (24:36):

Yeah.

Sam Demma (24:38):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (24:38):

I don’t, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t think that’s a terrible thing, but I think that I need to just be like, okay, so I didn’t achieve that yet. Right. The that power of yet. Right. I’ll, I’ll get there.

Sam Demma (24:52):

Yeah. And that’s funny. Like sometimes I have an idea of how something’s gonna play out in my mind and in, in, in real time. It doesn’t play out the same way it does in my mind and I have to remind myself it’s okay. Like it’s it’s okay if it doesn’t play out exactly as I envisioned it too. We just gotta continue moving forward and learning and iterating and rolling with the punches and

Connie Shepherd (25:15):

Yeah. And taking a detour and that’s okay. Yeah.

Sam Demma (25:18):

<laugh>. Yep. Taking a different road. I was saying exactly. I interviewed educator one time and she was telling me that a lot of her students feel this pressure, like you mentioned earlier, to figure out what they need to do or want to do at such an early age. And she would share this analogy about getting to a party and she, she framed this question. She said, Sam, if I told you your friend was having a house party, what are all the various ways you could get there? And I started listening out all the options. You know, I could ride my scooter, I could ride a bike, I could call an Uber, I could ask my mom, I could pay the pizza guy to pick me up. I could walk there, I could get a helicopter, <laugh> you know, like all these outrageous options. And she’s like, the reality is every one of those options will get you to the party at a different time.

Sam Demma (26:06):

Some will take you 10 times as long, but you will arrive at a party. And the reality is, it might not be the same party is that all your friends are everybody else, but the method of transportation that you choose is what makes your life interesting and, and a fun and unique adventure and journey. And I just thought, wow, what a powerful, what a powerful analogy. I gotta throw a house party now and get all my friends to walk, ride their bikes and <laugh>, scooter <laugh>. but yeah, that’s kind of what I think about when I think of encouraging young people to realize your path will look different and unique. And that’s not a, a bad thing. It just means you’re being true to yourself.

Connie Shepherd (26:45):

 and I think it’s awesome that the paths look different.

Sam Demma (26:48):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (26:48):

Right. I mean, the fact that we are individuals, we need to celebrate that. Why, why does my path need to look like someone else’s path? Yeah. It doesn’t.

Sam Demma (26:56):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (26:57):

That’s so true. Right. My path is me.

Sam Demma (26:59):

Amen. <laugh>. Yeah. I love it. <laugh>. Connie, thanks so much for coming on the show. This was a really fun conversation. If anyone wants to reach out, ask you a question, or share some ideas or collaborate on a big idea that might get them in trouble <laugh> <laugh>, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Connie Shepherd (27:18):

Yeah, people can email me or they can get hold of me on Twitter. Right? I am @Connie2Educ8. Yeah. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (27:34):

Thanks. Okay. Awesome. Connie, thanks for coming out the show. Keep up the great work and I look forward to chatting with you again soon.

Connie Shepherd (27:41):

Me too, Sam. Have a great weekend.

Sam Demma (27:44):

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 Connie Shepherd

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.

Mitchell Duram – Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod and Student Leadership Advisor

Mitchell Duram - Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod and Student Leadership Advisor
About Mitchell Duram

Mitchell Duram is the Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod. He is currently teaching English Language Arts; he’s also taught Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Health and Life Skills, and Career and Life Management (CALM). In his first year of teaching, he was awarded the Lieutenant Governor Social Studies Education Student Award and was nominated for the Edwin Parr Teacher Award.

With the support of his amazing colleagues, Mitchell leads Student Leadership (a school-based team) and Livingstone Leaders (a division-wide team). Both of these groups have dedicated student leaders who strive to make a difference in both their schools and in their communities.

Mitchell is passionate about supporting students in setting and achieving personal, academic, and career goals. He firmly believes in Livingstone Range School Division’s vision of “Every student, every day!”

Connect with Mitchell: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

F.P. Walshe School

Awards – Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA)

YMCA Canada

Goose Chase App

University of Lethbridge – Faculty of Education

Alberta Student Leadership Summit

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

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 special guest is Mitchell Durram is the learning support lead at FP Walsh School in Fort McLoud. He’s currently teaching English language arts. He’s also taught science, mathematics, social studies, health and life skills, and career and life management. In his first year of teaching, he was awarded the Lieutenant, the Lieutenant Governor Social Studies Education Student Award, and was nominated for the Edwin Par Teacher Award. With the support of his amazing colleagues, Mitchell leads student leadership, a school-based team and living stone leaders, a divisional wide team. Both of these groups have dedicated student leaders who strive to make a difference in both their schools and in their communities. Mitchell is passionate about supporting students in setting and achieving personal, academic and career goals. He firmly believes in living stone range school divisions, vision of every student every day. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mitchell and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today we have a very special guest. I was introduced to this individual Mitchell Durram after being in Claresholm, Alberta and getting stuck in a ditch during a snowstorm. <laugh> Mitchell, please take a moment to introduce yourself so everyone knows who you are and what it is that you do.

Mitchell Durram (01:32):

My name is Mitchell Durram. I am a teacher at FP Walsh School in Fort McLoud, Alberta and I wear many hats in my role as well too. So I’m involved with learning support and I’m also involved with our student leadership group, which is how Sam and I got connected. Our regional student leadership group, our school division, our school leadership group. I am lucky to work with amazing people to run those groups, and I am just very excited to be here this morning as well, too.

Sam Demma (02:09):

Awesome. Thanks so much for making the time and taking the time to join me on the show. What, when you think about your journey through education, if you go back all the way to the beginning of your career search as a student yourself, did you know when a teacher asked you, what do you wanna be when you grow up, that you wanted to be a teacher or working specifically in schools?

Mitchell Durram (02:31):

I did, when I was in elementary school, it was teacher right away, and then as I got a little bit older, my interests grew and I started trying out potential different careers in my mind. So at one point I wanted to be a lawyer. At one point I wanted to be a psychologist, but I would say it was probably around grade 11. I was working at the y, I was teaching swimming lessons. I was lifeguarding where I kind of came back to wanting to be a teacher because I saw the impact that I was having, even in swimming lessons. Like it’s a very, it’s a very practical impact, but it’s a powerful one. Yeah. Seeing, seeing kids go from being terrified of being in the water to swimming and having the best time and playing games. So that’s, I think where I really came back to being a teacher and, and wanting to pursue that in post-secondary.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned working at the Y was that something you stumbled into on your own accord? Did someone tell you, Mitchell, you should work at the y it would be a great role for you? I would love to hear a little more about that aspect of your journey.

Mitchell Durram (03:48):

Well, I had a big, big motivator in my mom who was like, Mitchell, like this, this is a really good opportunity to be a lifeguard, to be a swimming instructor, to have a really awesome summer job, to be able to meet new people. And so I was a little bit resistant at first to the lifeguarding part of it because I knew that I really liked working with kids, but I was a little bit nervous, I think, about being the lifeguard <laugh>. So it took some time to warm up to that. But I, I really, once I got into it, I could see the benefits of being in that role, and my confidence grew and it was, it was really good. But I, I had my mom be someone to say, this would be really, it’s a great opportunity and you should do it. So I’m very grateful for that.

Sam Demma (04:54):

Curious, now, did you have to ever save a life?

Mitchell Durram (04:59):

I have dealt with multiple seizures, which were all like, they all ended up being okay. So that was really good and Okay, good. <laugh>, you know, I’ve jumped into the pool maybe twice for some other stuff, but those were more minor in comparison, so Okay. Yeah. Made it through pretty, pretty good, I would say. Yeah.

Sam Demma (05:26):

Very cool. You did the job

Mitchell Durram (05:28):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s right.

Sam Demma (05:30):

You mentioned one of the cool aspects of it was seeing a student or a young person who couldn’t swim and then months later seeing them swim and the transformation that occurred in their skills and abilities. And I would imagine it’s very similar in school, and I think that’s why so many people get into education. They want to make a difference. They want to speak into young people’s lives and see them transform. When you think of students that have been a part of your programs and in your class, or even just in the school at large, is there any stories of students you can think of where they started the school year, started the semester, were very shy and timid, and maybe they were going through a challenge that no one else really knew about, and by the end of the year blossomed like a butterfly, <laugh>, you know, like, is there any stories like that that come to mind? And if it’s a serious story, you can also change their name or use a different name to keep it private.

Mitchell Durram (06:29):

Yeah, I, I’m lucky that I work in a, a grade six to 12 school. Hmm. And so I see students starting in grade six, and I am lucky enough to see them grow up over the years and the confidence, the sense of belonging that happens over those years. I can think of so many students who we look at in grade six and we see all of their strengths and we see all of their stretches, all of their areas for growth. And by the time they hit grade 10, 11, and 12, just the strides, the gains that they’ve made in both their strengths and their stretches, they’ve become more strong in what they already were, were strong in. And they’ve used a lot of that strength to improve in the areas that they want to improve in. And we have an amazing team of staff at our school. We have an amazing admin team. We are very lucky to have a lot of supportive people. And so I think of some of the school traditions that we have that help students to get from point A to point B, I think of the classroom activities that we do to get students from point A to point B. There’s just so many students that come to mind when you ask that question that it’s hard to, it’s hard to narrow it down. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:08):

You got me curious now, when you said school traditions and classroom activities, are there any traditions exclusive to the school you’re at now that you think are really awesome that helps students? I would, I would love to hear about them. <laugh>.

Mitchell Durram (08:21):

Yeah. There’s one that comes to mind that when I first started at, at the school that I’m at at Walsh, I was just in awe of the amount of participation and the sense of belonging that it brought. So it’s it’s called Shark Week and it is coming up, actually, it’s in, it’s always in our last week of school before the break. And it stands for something. Can anyone tell you what it stands for? Probably not. <laugh>. I think it’s, I think Shark is super happy. Awesome. Really cool with a K and then week I think starts with Walsh, but then I, I lose the acronym from there. Nice.

Mitchell Durram (09:08):

<laugh>. and it’s essentially just a week long set of activities during our lunch hour where we have students in teams and they do friendly competitions. So our first day is usually we change it up from time to time, but our first day is usually window decorating contest. And at our peak before C O V I D, we had, I think it was something like 22 teams. And these are teams of five to seven. Okay. And we have a school of just around 400. So like that’s a huge number of students participating in this event. And then there’s people who aren’t participating that are watching and cheering and, and partaking still as, as spectators, which is really cool. So yeah, our first day is window decorating. Our second day we usually have some sort of like human decorating contests, so like <laugh> and we have paper and like different decorations and ornaments. the third day we usually do some sort of gingerbread building competition. Nice. The fourth day we do a scavenger hunt. We, in the past have used this really cool app called Goose Chase, and it has little different activities that you can do and it gets points, it gives you points for those different activities. And then our last day usually is culminating in a lip sync battle.

Sam Demma (10:49):

Nice.

Mitchell Durram (10:50):

<laugh>, which is very fun. Very, very fun.

Sam Demma (10:52):

That’s so cool. And it’s different. yeah. This Goose Chase app sounds kind of unique too. Is it something where you can create the games you wanna use on it and make it your own? Or is it just an app filled with games?

Mitchell Durram (11:08):

No, you, it’s essentially a way to create a scavenger hunt with points. So you put in the activities that you want and then you determine how many points. And it’s a variety of activities. So you can take pictures, you can do voice recordings, you can do little like quiz questions. And then there’s someone who is kind of running it back in a classroom and awarding points and you can award bonus points. So if they do something with some extra pizzazz, they can get some bonus points. Nice. So it’s a really, really cool app. And it’s free, which is also nice.

Sam Demma (11:48):

Get it on the app store today,

Mitchell Durram (11:49):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s right. We’ll plug for Goose Chase. That’s

Sam Demma (11:53):

So cool. Okay, let’s go back to high school or elementary school. You knew you wanted to be a teacher then you explored into different careers. Tell me about the first role you did in education and what brought you to where you are today?

Mitchell Durram (12:08):

Well, I went to the University of Lethbridge, which is quite well known for its education program. Hmm. And that’s kind of what drew me to Lethbridge. I grew up in Calgary and so Lethbridge, it was really nice because it was close, but it was also, it was also a good program just for teaching and education in general. Nice. And so through that program I’ve done, I did three Practica. The first one I did in Calgary, the second one I did in Cardston. And the third one I actually did at the school I’m teaching at right now. So I was very lucky and grateful because I did my last practicum and they liked me enough to keep me around and then keep me around a little bit more. And here I am about four years later and I am very, like I said, very grateful to still be at the school where I did my first practic, my last practicum. yeah, it kind of feels like home a little bit.

Sam Demma (13:20):

Yeah. That’s awesome. Did you jump in both feet forward and start helping with extracurricular activities, student council, those sorts of things from day one? Or did you transition into those?

Mitchell Durram (13:34):

I was pretty much in it from day one. I started with student leadership, kind of through my mentor teacher. So in your last practicum at the U of L, they pair you with a teacher who is your support person and who observes you and gives you lots of feedback and, and is an amazing resource. And so she actually is the person that I’m still running student leadership with at our nice school level. And she, she signed up for it and just because she was running it and I was in there, I helped out where I could and was just inspired to be a part of that group as well because the students are amazing and the, the things that we’re talking about, like school belonging and and school spirit are things that are important to me too, very important to me. So it just made a lot of sense to join in and, and, and be an advisor for that group.

Mitchell Durram (14:42):

And then for the regional district level group, I kind of jumped in both feet for that too. Nice. And it was just, it was a field trip. We had word from our central office that Yep. We are meeting as a Livingston leaders at that point it was the Regional Council of Student Leaders. Okay. we’re meeting as a group and we’d love to have some students from Walsh and I was the person who could bring them over to central office. So I had the opportunity to do that. And then it was actually at that meeting that we were talking about going to the Alberta Student Leadership Conference. Nice. And I was very on board with that and it just kind of grew from there. And then I think it was the first full covid year that I was asked to be kind of one of the main advisors for that group. Nice. Along with another colleague who is just so wonderful. And so I got to take on a little bit more responsibility there too, which was amazing.

Sam Demma (15:52):

How do you think building relationships with students during these extracurricular activities differs from building relationships with students in the classroom? I think they’re both both very possible and it happens in both situations, but do you think there’s like a special bond that gets formed in those, in those extracurricular activities? And if so, like how and why? <laugh>?

Mitchell Durram (16:18):

I think they both help each other, if that makes sense. So me having relationships with students in a different light in an extracurricular setting, strengthen my relationships with students in the classroom that I was teaching. I think it also though helps when I have a really strong relationship with a student in class and I see them being a leader. Mm. And I can say to them, I see this here. And I think it would make a huge difference in our school life and potentially in yours too, if you maybe joined in here as well mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I think both have so much opportunity attached to them that it’s hard to say one is stronger or more special than the other, but it is certainly really beneficial to see students, to see people in just a different light in a different situation. And I, I love spectating at sports events. I have a very busy life on top of work and just outside of school as well too. Yeah. And so I would love to coach, but I just, I don’t have that opportunity because of my time constraints mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so even there, I, I get to see students in a different light by going to watch a game and the relationship that a coach might have with a student is going to be different than what I might have. But it’s, there’s just so much opportunity in all of those different areas. I think.

Sam Demma (18:00):

I love that. What a great perspective on the difference, but also the strength of having those both as a part of your practice. I, when I was in elementary school and even couple first years of high school, whenever I would see one of my teachers at the grocery store, I would be like, oh my God, you know, miss Sons, what are you doing here? And it was funny because at the younger ages, you think as a student, like, this teacher lives at school, like they don’t have a life <laugh>, you know, like they come, they teach and this is what they do. And it’s like, no, they’re also human beings that go home and have a life outside of work. And I think when you fill your cup by doing other activities away from the school, it helps you show up as a hundred percent of yourself and pour more into your work. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you mentioned, you know, that you have a very busy life outside of the school building which I think is true for every, every human being outside of their work situations. And I’m curious to know, what are the some of the things that you do outside of school that help you fill your cup and enjoy the journey that is life <laugh>?

Mitchell Durram (19:13):

Yeah. Well, I am lucky to have a group of friends where every week we, we play Dungeons and Dragons.

Sam Demma (19:22):

Nice.

Mitchell Durram (19:22):

Very fun. And we are doing that virtually just because we have people kind of in different locations that are joining in, which is really nice as well. Cool. we, we have that weekly and then I love movies, so I try and watch a movie as as often as I can. Nice. And I love being with friends. I often drive up to Calgary where I have a lot of friends still and, and visit with them and, and get the chance to just relax and be around people. I find that gives me a lot of energy and then making time just for myself as well too, to reflect and think about the day and my, my drive, cuz I don’t actually live in Fort McLeod, so my drive is about a half an hour. Mm. And I am really grateful for that time. I often have people say, oh, those, those highways must, you must dread them. and sometimes I do <laugh>. Absolutely. Yeah. But I am appreciative of the half an hour there and back to kind of wind up for my day and, and think, and you know, if I need to blast Taylor Swift and just nice live that life or if I need to just kind of sit in silence and, and think about the, the day and transition into home that’s been really helpful and, and really positive for me as well too.

Sam Demma (20:56):

Mm. Spotify or Apple music?

Mitchell Durram (20:59):

Apple music.

Sam Demma (21:01):

Me too. Actually. <laugh> Nice.

Mitchell Durram (21:03):

Okay. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:04):

But I feel the fomo around this time of year when all my friends are posting their Spotify wrapped stacks on social.

Mitchell Durram (21:11):

There’s, there’s an Apple replay now though, which has a similar thing. So don’t have to feel completely left out. That’s how I felt anyways. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (21:20):

If you said Spotify, I was gonna ask you how many minutes on Taylor Swift <laugh>.

Mitchell Durram (21:24):

Oh, a lot. She was, when I did my apple replay, it didn’t say, I can’t remember if it said how many minutes. Yeah. But she was my number one artist. Listen to artist and album and song, I think

Sam Demma (21:37):

<laugh>. Yeah. And triple 11. Yeah. That’s so cool. yeah, these are all awesome things. I think for me, especially around this time of year when the sun’s not out as much, it’s starting to get cold. my lips are cracking. I also try and make time to see friends cuz I feel a little bit of a mental change and a shift. I love that you have a weekly appointment with your friends to play virtual board games. That’s freaking awesome. And I think it’s so important that as educators we maintain these habits that bring us happiness and fulfillment and connection and community because things get difficult, you know? And it’s important to have those pillars in our lives. so thank you for sharing some of yours. When you think of mentors, people that have played a role in your professional and personal growth, who comes to mind and what did they do for you? Or what do they do for you that makes a big difference?

Mitchell Durram (22:34):

Well, I think of, and I mentioned this before, my mom is a big mentor for me mm-hmm. <affirmative> and an important person in my life. And the encouragement I think, and financial support and, and, and, and <laugh> how often has been really instrumental in me getting to where I want to get to. Mm. I think of teachers when I was younger who supported me. I think of my grade nine teacher. She was really helpful in me losing a little bit of my perfectionism. Didn’t go away completely <laugh>, but helped me to see that it’s good to look at the bigger picture and not always focused so hard on the finer details of,

Mitchell Durram (23:32):

Especially when it was giving me a lot of anxiety and making me really frustrated with myself at times. And she helped me to grow with that I think quite a bit. and I think of my grade 11 teacher who also continued on with that work of helping me to be less of a perfectionist, but also helping me to think more deeply about issues Nice. And understand different complexities that I was maybe missing before. and then I think of a lot of the teachers at the school at Walsh where I’m working right now, who have supported me along the way and have been resources for me to go to and say, I really don’t know what to do here. Can you help me? Help me figure this out? And have always been there to help me to do that. I think of all of the the different things that I have struggled with and grown because of in my role. And I wouldn’t have been able to grow without that support of knowing that, you know, failure is going to happen and that’s okay. Yeah. We support you and we’re in your corner. That sort of, that sort of sentiment. So I really appreciate those people as well too. And I am still a relatively new teacher. Like I, I have only been at teaching for four years and so there’s still so much left to learn and there always will be. Yeah. And I am lucky to have so many great mentors at my current school to help me to, to grow and to, to be a better, more effective educator.

Sam Demma (25:27):

It sounds like there are so many connections you’ve made at this school and so many kindhearted people willing to help and support and I’m sure they learn just as much from you as you do from them because whether it’s a year in two years, 20 years, everyone brings a different flavor and a different perspective and different past experiences, which lead to unique perspectives. people are one of the main resources in education. Are there any other resources that you found really helpful? whether that’s apps like Goose Hunt, <laugh>, or associations that you found helpful just in general, like is there any other things you found helpful that another educator could benefit from looking into?

Mitchell Durram (26:15):

Definitely. I am very lucky in my current role to be working with lots of different external agencies and the, the supports that they can provide and the resources that they can provide. I was teaching Health last year and then career in life management the year before. And so being able to use resources from Alberta Health Services and being able to use resources from money mentors and being able to use resources from, there’s so many organizations out there that are wanting and excited to help. the student leadership side of things like the Canadian Student Leadership Association is just so fantastic and we’re grateful for the conference that they’ve put on and the, the other events that they host. but there’s so many great ideas shared in their blog and in their newsletter that it is very worthwhile to to be involved with that organization. And I also really, really like having just so many resources available. Sometimes I think it can be really overwhelming just

Sam Demma (27:42):

Because so many options.

Mitchell Durram (27:43):

Yeah, that’s right. And it’s, it’s really challenging to kind of narrow down what you need in that moment. Yeah. And so I think I have tried to take the approach and sometimes it’s really challenging to do this, but of looking at one or two resources per semester maybe and seeing what I can use and what supports are available through those resources or those organizations. And then implementing that incrementally. So it’s not so overwhelming. I remember too, I think I, I’ve got this advice through my university education because so many times I had professors say, don’t, don’t look for YouTube videos during your class and show them <laugh>. Cause there are so many. Yeah. And you need to watch them beforehand and you need to make sure that it’s gonna work for you. And so I I almost think about these resources and organizations like YouTube because there’s so many and they’re all so wonderful for different reasons. It’s just finding what’s gonna work for you and taking the time to look at that. And it’s gonna be overwhelming because we all know when you search in YouTube, there’s gonna be hundreds of results and it just takes some time. So, so yeah. I I would say if, if anyone is struggling with that, like I did it, it is good to narrow it down.

Sam Demma (29:20):

Hmm. Ah, that’s awesome. Thanks so much for sharing that. If you could travel back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder four years ago and say, Mitchell, this is a piece of advice that you don’t know you need to hear yet, but you need to hear it. And not because you would change anything about your path, but you thought it would be great advice for someone who is just starting to teach.

Mitchell Durram (29:45):

I think it’s really challenging to have work-life balance in this profession. And I still am working on that. That’s something that’s still a professional goal of mine. And I think the advice I would give myself would be it doesn’t need to be 100% perfect, amazing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> every single time all the time in every single moment. And we recently did professional development in a needs-based approach for students and meeting meeting students where they are. Nice. And something that really stood out was this idea that we don’t need to get it right all the time. And there’s a lot of power in forgiving and apologizing and that is for yourself and that is for students as well. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I think knowing what I know now and knowing the challenges of work-life balance, it is worthwhile to put your heart and soul into this. And I can’t think of any educator that I know that doesn’t do that, but it is also worthwhile to know that it doesn’t have to be amazing.

Mitchell Durram (31:26):

Perfect. Wonderful. Every single second of the day. And knowing that will give you a little bit more time for yourself I think, too. yeah. And I also think of Brene Brown, who I love her Ted Talks and really wanna read her, her books as well too. Books. Book I think books now. Books. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Anyways I think of her Ted Talk, the power of vulnerability and being vulnerable is again a powerful thing. Mm-hmm. And I think being vulnerable with students is powerful too. So I think my other small piece of advice would be saying to myself, it’s okay to have vulnerable moments with students. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it’s a good thing to have vulnerable moments with students.

Sam Demma (32:27):

I love that. Sometimes students are sitting in front of you, look really looking up to you and putting you, you know, you on a pedestal. Like you’re almost a superhero to them and sharing the vulnerable moments helps humanize yourself in the classroom and helps them relate to you because they are struggling and going through things as well. And yeah, I think that’s really, that’s really great solid advice still. So thank you for, for sharing. If an educator is listening to this and wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, join your virtual board game <laugh>. I’m totally joking. but if someone wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources, what would be the best email address or way for them to get in touch with you?

Mitchell Durram (33:09):

Probably through email would be the best and it would be duramm@lrsd.ab.ca.

Sam Demma (33:22):

Awesome. Mitchell, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I appreciate it. Keep doing great work and I look forward to keeping in touch and seeing you soon.

Mitchell Durram (33:32):

Absolutely. Thanks so much.

Sam Demma (33:36):

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 Mitchell Duram

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.

Jairek Robbins – Performance Coach, Best-Selling Author, International Speaker

Jairek Robbins – Performance Coach, Best-Selling Author, International Speaker
About Jairek Robbins

Jairek Robbins (@jairekrobbins) is one of the worlds leading business and life strategists. He is a Best-Selling author. FastCompany calls him inspiring and says he’ll make your life less ordinary. Forbes says Jairek will teach you how to succeed. Deepak Chopra will advise you to go to Jairek to help create meaning and fulfillment in your life.

Brian Tracy applauds Jairek’s ability to teach people how to develop meaning and purpose in life and then to make a difference in the lives of others. Looking for ways to level up in life and business? Jairek is your guy. You can connect with Jairek here: https://www.instagram.com/jairekrobbins/

Connect with Jairek: Email | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

jairekrobbins.com

Ideal Day Exercise – Jairek Robbins

Live It!: Achieve Success by Living with Purpose by Jairek Robbins

The Complete Guide to Activating High Performance by Jairek Robbins

Learn It Live It Give It with Jairek Robbins Podcast

FastCompany

Forbes

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. A few years ago, I had a podcast called The High Performing Student. I did about 250 episodes on the show, and every episode was geared towards helping students become the best versions of themselves. There were a few episodes and interviews in particular that I found so valuable, that I thought I would share them on this podcast as well. And you heard the first two earlier this week, one with Dr. Ivan Joseph, another one was Sarah Wells. And I’m just as excited for today’s interview with Jairek Robbins. Jairek Robbins is one of the world’s leading business and life strategists. He is a bestselling author. Fast company calls him inspiring and says he’ll make your life less ordinary. Forbes says Jairek will teach you how to succeed. Deepak Chopra will advise you to go to Jairek for help for creating meaning and fulfillment in your life.

Sam Demma (01:02):

Brian Tracy applauds Jairek’s ability to teach people how to develop meaning and purpose in life, and then to make a difference in the lives of others. Jairek Robbins is Anthony Robbins, Tony Robbin’s son, and is doing such amazing work in the world with businesses, individuals and philanthropically. So I hope you enjoy this very meaningful conversation with Jairek, and I will see you on the other side. Jairek, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I actually want you to start by reciting to the audience what your ideal day would look like and you don’t have to get it word for word, but let the audience know what your ideal day would look like and give us a peek into who you are and, and what you appreciate and love in life.

Jairek Robbins (01:49):

Sure. So are they familiar with the Ideal Day concept?

Sam Demma (01:54):

That’s a great question. They should be if they’ve been listening to this show for a long time, but you can give ’em a little refresher as well.

Jairek Robbins (02:00):

Okay. So I, I remember I was living in Africa. I was teaching organic farming. I was in a village just outside of Jinja. It’s this little farming village. It was a pineapple village is where I was. And I got malaria twice. At one point, the doctor sat me down and told me I had six days left to live. And I remember thinking at 20, what, 22 years old, 21 years old. Like, that was not the plan. And, and there were so many other things I wanted to do and, and I, I wanted to get married. I wanted to travel. I wanted to finish school. I wanted to have a business. I wanted to have a child. I wanted to, to help more. I wanted so many things just flash before my eyes. And I remember sitting down and thinking, wow, number one, I hope he’s not correct.

Jairek Robbins (02:49):

I hope I have more than just six days, but if I only did have six days, how would I need to live my life so that on day six, I could high five myself on the way out and be thrilled to do so? And I remember thinking about that, and j j just wondering like, what would I, how would I wanna live? How would I want to treat people? How would I wanna be remembered? How would I want to remember the people around me? And, and I started to think about this day, and it was more about creating little memories each day, soaking in the magnificence of life, just being able to see the wind blow through the leaves and talk to someone and, and say something that might put a smile on their face. And as all of this started to come together, I realized that my ideal day was just being able to reach people, you know, and, and bring a little light into their world.

Jairek Robbins (03:59):

And I was like, that. If I could just do that, that would be amazing. Now, I also realized that without a vision, people perish. And so I thought about that and I was like, well, maybe I should have a vision beyond the sixth day, otherwise I’m kind of in trouble <laugh>. So, so I thought about it and it’s like, well, all those things I just flashed before my eyes that I said I wanted to do. I better write ’em down and, and not just hope they happened, but actually have a plan that they were gonna happen. So I I, I literally had a little journal with me and I started writing down like the specific things I would do and, and finishing school and finding someone to get married with, that we love each other, and, and falling head over heels in love and, and having a family and traveling the world more and making a difference, and building a school and building a hospital.

Jairek Robbins (04:48):

And, and like all these things started to come out. And then it seemed a little overwhelming. I was like, how in the heck am I gonna do all of that <laugh>? And so I was bouncing between like, just observing the wind in the leave, in the leaves to like, oh my God, there’s so much I want to do. How in the heck am I gonna do it all? And what I figured out was if I could just summarize in the future what just one day would look like, maybe, maybe I could just make that one day happen. Hmm. And then my thought is like, well, wait a second. If I could make the one day happen, I could probably make the whole vision happen. Yeah. But let me just figure out the one day. And so for me, that’s where that one day, the ideal day process came from.

Jairek Robbins (05:40):

 and at the time, I don’t remember the exact one I created back then, but I remember when I got home and I got a little bit healthy, and I, I finished school and I was going into business. I remember I was working really hard one year, and I sat down and I said, you know, if I could have, and this is a great phrase to start with, if I could have it all my way, mm, if I could have it all my way, I probably won’t get it all my way. But if I could have it all my way, here’s what I’d put in my ideal day. And, and so I just wrote it all down as if I could have it all my way. And so I just thought about it. If I could have it on my way, here’s what life would look like.

Jairek Robbins (06:17):

And I’d wake up in the morning, I would work out, I, I would be with someone that I’m head over heels in love with. we, we would, you know, meditate and journal and mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually prepare for our day. We’d go get a vigorous workout in. We, we would do something together around, you know, connecting and deepening our relationship, filling each other’s buckets and cups so we feel full and overwhelmed, deepening our connection to each other. fast forward, you know, have some great breakfast, and then get into the day. And, and in the day, I’d be part of creating things that help people. That’s something that’s really important to me. I, I, I seem to like humans a a lot and, and I like to help ’em, you know, how can I help these people live a better life, be a little bit more happy, be a little bit more healthy, be a little bit more fulfilled in all that they’re doing?

Jairek Robbins (07:09):

And so, over the years, we’ve learned how to specialize in three spaces, which is how to help people discover and create lasting love. How to help people have, you know, increased personal performance mentally, emotionally, physically, and how to help people you know, to grow their businesses and, and create a, a profit center that can fund the life they wanna live. And, and so as we’ve done these things, that was part of my vision back then is creating elements, creating content, creating experiences, creating tools that would help people make this kind of stuff happen. Fast forward throughout the day be able to take time for lunch and, and go spend time laughing and communicating with someone I really love. Fast forward even more. when it came time to the sunset, one of my favorite things my wife and my son and I go do every single day as we go out to the beach here and we watch the sunset for 15, 20 minutes, and, and being able to just soak in the magnificence of life every day and observe just the miracles of nature happening before your eyes fast forward into the evening I’d probably be either laughing, so watching something or doing something that, that brings laughter and joy or learning, doing something that, that we could learn and, and, and deepen our knowledge or experience around something.

Jairek Robbins (08:26):

And so my wife and I right now we’re taking accounting at, at Harvard online. So we do our accounting course every night. And, and we’re just learning more about you know, the books of accounts and how to use ’em and, and how to track ’em and all that jazz. So, so we’re, we’re doing all these things, but that was kind of the vision. And then before bed, just reflecting and reviewing, if this was my last day, what are the things I’m truly, truly grateful for? Before wrapping it all up, I love that

Sam Demma (08:54):

There’s so much to unpack. And you hit on so many major buckets, things that you would call the majors versus the minors. You talk about it in chapter two. You hit on health when it comes to working out. you hit on professional, you know, when it came to working and creating products that help others. Jim Ron always used to say, we have to stop majoring in minor things. And I think you’re someone who believes in that as well. What are the major categories of life and why is it important that we focus on those big buckets before we address all the other sometimes trivial stuff?

Jairek Robbins (09:30):

Sure. Great question. If you look at majors, how, and I believe they’re different for different people, there’s some that are gonna be the same across the board, but, but people have their priorities in life and, and they’re gonna figure out what’s most important to them. That the key with a major, if you look at it, you gotta ask yourself, by investing a significant period of effort, thought, energy, resources into this part of my life. Hmm. Number one, is it good for me? Now, people like to try to argue this and, and, and debate. There’s certain things that are good for you, and there’s certain things that are not. Period. And, and you, you, you know, if you go to the doctor, there’s certain things that are good for you. There’s certain things that are not, some things will put you into the hospital. Some things will get you out of the hospital.

Jairek Robbins (10:22):

And, and just think of it that way. So, so when you think of kind of where you’re gonna focus, are these things good for you? Number two, life isn’t just about you. That’s why when I was saying, Hey, as much as if I could have it all my way, that’d be great. Well, the truth is, life isn’t just about me. Life is about all of us. So the second part is not only is it good for you, but is it good for other people? Hmm. Is it good for other people? Number three, does it feel good? You know, you can find something that’s good for you, good for others, but my gut, it, it feels like crap. It’s horrible. Yeah. But, but number three is, is it, does it feel good? And then number four, is it good for the greater good of humanity? The whole, not just people alive now, but people alive. You know, when we’re dead in the future, is it something that’ll serve much longer than us? And so if you think about that and you just kind of analyze all the major categories of your life, if you analyze all the things you spend the most time doing, just ask, is it good for you? Is it good for others? Does it serve? And do I enjoy doing it? And, and if there’s a sweet spot where it hits all four, my goodness, it’s probably pretty smart thing to keep doing.

Jairek Robbins (11:39):

But if it doesn’t feel good, it’s not good for you, it’s not good for others, and it doesn’t serve, it’s probably a distraction. It’s probably something that you’re using to numb or avoid the things you really need to be focused on. And so I use that kind of framework to think about this and then look at the categories and say, you know, is being healthy as a human, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually healthy? I don’t know. Do you think that’s a good idea or bad idea? I’ve yet to meet a person who goes, yeah, it’s a bunch of crap. You don’t need help. <laugh>. That’s a major, that’s a big one. What about, you know, there’s a big uprising right now over the, the horrors and, and how horrible capitalism ish. Okay? But at this point in history, you’re going to either need a trade, which a tradesman or a tradeswoman was someone who knew how to make horseshoes or knew how to you know, sew things into garments or knew how to go and source food.

Jairek Robbins (12:53):

so you’re either gonna need a trade, some value you can add to society, that society would trade you a place to live supplies and things you need to survive and live a life, or you’re gonna need a job, you’re gonna need something you can do as a job or a business that’ll provide you income. And, and you can use the money to then trade for the supplies and stuff you need. So either you’re gonna need to have some value within you that you can trade for it, or you’re gonna need to have some type of income or job or business to get there. So that’s kind of a major, you know, I was teasing my little cousin. I was like, I don’t know if the pizza guy is gonna give you a pizza if you just give ’em four high fives <laugh>. Like, it doesn’t generally work that way nowadays.

Jairek Robbins (13:40):

You, you’re gonna need something to offer, you’re gonna need some value to bring the life. And the most predominant value in the world right now is some sort of currency. And a currency is nothing more than agreed upon element of life that people have agreed, ah, this is valuable. I always thought about this. If you, if you take a dollar and look at the physical form of it, and you’re like, what is the tactical value of a dollar? Hmm, not much. Like if, I mean, you can’t do much with the actual thing. Like you could kind of eat it, but that’s not gonna work out well long term. You might be able to light it on fire, but that’ll last like 42 seconds. <laugh>, what do you, what can you do with it? Nothing. Yeah. But we carry this stuff around, or the digital version because society as a whole, this community or group or, or or tribe of people has come up with the concept and agreed that this is worth a certain amount of value.

Jairek Robbins (14:42):

Hmm. If people stopped agreeing that it was worth that, there’s no use for it. I remember I was flying to go see a client in London and I landed, ran to the train station, got to the, you know, central London, ran, hopped in a taxi, took off, got to the meeting a few minutes late, and I went to go pay the guy and I said, Hey, can I just pay with a credit card or Venmo or pay? Like, what do you got? And he goes, no, I only take cash. And I was like, can I pay you with US dollars? He went, no, how much is it? He goes, 66. You know, it was like 66 or 67 pounds, which is British currency. I was like, how about I’ll give you a hundred dollars, it’s worth more. Or I I 150. Like, I offered him significantly more than just a different currency. And he went, no, I don’t want that. What am I gonna do with it? <laugh>, I like to take it to the bank. They’ll give you pounds. You’ll have more pounds from this than I than if I just gave you pounds. She was like, no.

Jairek Robbins (15:40):

I was like, okay, gimme a minute. So I went inside, I went to the bar, I’m like, maybe this person’s smart. I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you give me 50 pounds or 60 pounds, whatever it was, like, you will make money on the transaction. Bartender looked at me and said, what am I supposed to do with that? I was like, you gotta be kidding me, <laugh>. So I went to my client at the table and I said, here, I’m in a weird predicament. Can I give you a hundred dollars or $200 in return for 66 pounds? And he is like, dude, here’s the money. Don’t even worry about it. And I started laughing. I’m like, no, no, I’ll pay for dinner. He’s like, no, no, you’re good. And I’m like, come on. And, and so I finally went and paid the guy pounds. And I just realized in the moment, they didn’t agree to the value of the bill.

Jairek Robbins (16:26):

That’s it. And when someone stops agreeing to the value of the bill, it’s not worth anything. Now, it’s interesting is that’s not true with your life. Someone else doesn’t have to see value for you to be valuable, but you have to be able to look in the mirror and see value for you to be valuable. So if you don’t see value in you, there’s no value there, no matter how much the rest of the world sees it. And so that there, there’s factors in here that are important of perception. Now we all agree that certain things are valuable. And so that’s kind of a major, you know, we have to agree on some type of value exchange in order to gather the resources in, in life you wanna live. So that, that would consider that a major, being able to add value of some way or some sort to be able to exchange for the things that you’re looking for.

Jairek Robbins (17:21):

 relationships, I’ve, I’ve met a lot of people and no matter how much value you add, and no matter how much you’re loved by society, and no matter how big of of a car you can get, or house you can buy or trips you can take, when you add all this stuff up, if you don’t find someone to share it all with, it doesn’t feel like it’s worth much. And so that’s kind of a major one. Can you find someone to share life with? Like, first, can you figure it out? But then second, once you kind of figured it out, can you find someone to share it with? Otherwise it gets pretty lonely. other categories that exist in there how are you gonna manage your resources every day? How are you gonna manage your time? How are you gonna manage your focus? You know, no matter how great your life is, if you sat there and focused on the one thing that was wrong with it all day long, you’re not gonna have a pretty great life.

Jairek Robbins (18:13):

You’re gonna have a horrible life cuz you’re focused on the one thing that’s wrong with your whole life versus no matter how challenging your life is, if you focused on the two things that are good about it, you’re gonna feel pretty good regardless of the circumstance. So I think focus is probably a, a pretty big major where you focus your time, effort, and resources. So there’s lots of these, but you can sort through ’em and just make pe you know, if, if you make yourself think, you’ll start to realize there’s a pattern in the pattern is if it’s not good for you, it’s not good for others and it doesn’t serve the greater good, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. But if it’s good for you, good for others and serves the greater good. Sounds like a pretty good idea.

Sam Demma (18:52):

<laugh>. I love it. I love the qualifying criteria. You mentioned earlier that maybe a last point could even be if it, if you enjoy it, if it feels good. And I know there’s young people that argue that playing Fortnite feels great <laugh> and playing video games. But, but you talk about the difference between, you talk about the difference between fulfillment and just taking actions or the difference between Yeah. Like what is the difference between fulfillment and just taking everyday actions?

Jairek Robbins (19:22):

Sure. So I, I would say the difference between pleasure and fulfillment. Pleasure is something that feels good in the moment, but quickly goes away. something that’s joy-filled is, or, or something that is, I’m trying to think of the right word. So fulfilling would be the other word is it’s something that not only feels good now, but if you look back 10 years from the future, it still feels good to think about. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, give you an example. pleasurable might be someone going to a party and deciding to just make it a rager. They drink alcohol, they eat a whole bunch of junk food. They, they stay up way too late. They, they just trash their body. Now in the moment they might, it might feel good. They’re like, yeah, that was great. The next day it feels horrible, but a week later they’re like, Hey, I’m the fun one.

Jairek Robbins (20:18):

And then they, it feels good. It’s exciting. People laugh, but 12 years later when they look back they go, I don’t know if that was so smart. And the reason it doesn’t feel so smart is because they’re in their hospital and the kidney stopped working. Hmm. And they go, yeah, I don’t know if that was such a great idea. I mean, I was screaming Yolo at the time, but now that I’m in dialysis, spending four hours a day plugged into a machine to filter my kidney just to stay alive, I don’t know if that was the smartest thing in the world. Now the hard part is you only realize that when you’re in the situation. Cuz most people say, well, I’ll never land up like that. And you don’t think it will until you’re there. And then you go, wow, I should have maybe taken a little bit better care of myself.

Jairek Robbins (21:10):

And so some of these things we’re talking about, you just have to learn how to decipher between pleasure and fulfillment. And again, that’s saying, Hey, will this feel good right now? Yeah. Do I think this will be a great idea 25 years from now? probably not, but who cares? No, no, no, no. Probably not. You said, okay, good. So if it’s, if it’s okay now, but horrible, then why don’t we just find something else to do that’s great now and great then that’s not that hard. You’re creative, you’re smart, you’re, I mean, use your imagination. Come up with something that qualifies for it feels good now and it’s gonna feel great then.

Sam Demma (21:53):

I love that. That’s such a great, that’s such a great difference or a differentiation and something great to think about because I think a lot of young people, and I’m not just, and I’m also young <laugh>, but we fall into this trap and you know, one of the reasons is because the five people you spend the most time with might pressure you into doing certain things. Now at the end of the day, it’s always your choice, but people are always gonna push their opinions, thoughts, and beliefs onto you. and I’m curious to know how you personally have defended yourself in those situations. And one, one against the opinions of others, even when it was family. you know, in your book you talk about how you wanted to travel and, and volunteer right out of your schooling and even your family were against it. I, I’m in a similar situation. I took a fifth year and a gap year, and both times my parents were like, Sam, what the heck are you doing with your life? And I’m like, no. Like, I know what I’m doing. so my question is, how do you go against other people’s opinions when it’s people you love the most or your best buddies and friends?

Jairek Robbins (22:58):

Sure. so in the book we have a little acronym we use on how to, how to navigate this and what to do to fortify your mind and emotions. but, but let me give you some bonus on top of that just to think about where I would start is, ah, I just saw this quote the other, let me see if I can find it real

Sam Demma (23:20):

Quick. Yeah, go for it.

Jairek Robbins (23:21):

It was a beautiful quote and it had, it was spot on with this. It might have deleted.

Sam Demma (23:29):

Ah, that’s okay.

Jairek Robbins (23:36):

oh, it’s gone. it was a great quote. It was talking about, I’m trying to remember what it was. It was something along the lines of the magic of life is how quickly you can align with what your soul’s calling you to do. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I remember reading that and just thinking, wow, that’s so true. Can you, can you quiet the chatter? Can you quiet the noise? Can you quiet the opinions? And can you deeply listen to what you’re genuinely called to do? I think it was Jim Carey who said, depression is nothing more than your avatar, getting tired of wearing the mask. And I was like, oh, this guy says some cool stuff from time to time, <laugh>. And I was like, you know, when you see people who feel depressed, when you see people who have anxiety, when you see people who are are, are caught most of the time it’s because they’re spending so much effort and energy trying to be something they’re not.

Jairek Robbins (24:33):

And it’s just, they’re trying, they’re trying so hard to, to fit into something when that’s not their way of life. That’s not how they were made to be. Hmm. And so when I look at that, I always ask the question of the foundation of any human, which is kind of three buckets. And each bucket has a label and the label of bucket one would say, I am enough. And I always ask the question, like, for you, what does it mean to be enough? Have you ever sat down with a pen and paper and said, top of the paper, I am enough, dot, dot, dot. And then filled in the paper, what makes you enough in your own mind? Not what society says, but what, what do you think makes you enough? What has to happen for you to feel like you are enough? Just you just breathing.

Jairek Robbins (25:20):

Not a human doing, but a human being, just being you. What has to happen for you to feel like you’re enough Second bucket? I have enough. It is an interesting one for people. I’ve lived in places with no running water, no electricity, no toilets. It’s rural farmland. You take a bucket. I mean, you walk a quarter mile down the road, you fill a little jerry can of water, you drag this thing home like a strong man competition. You boil it for 30 minutes just to get a glass of drinking water when it finally cools. As long as a bug doesn’t land in it, cuz if it does, it could possibly kill you. So, and if a bug lands in it, you gotta boil it again and then you gotta wait another 30 minutes for it to cool. So I’ve lived in these places and I’ve lived like that for a significant period of time.

Jairek Robbins (26:07):

And I can tell you it doesn’t take a lot of stuff for people to have a beautiful life. But that’s not what we’re told. That’s not what we’re shown. That’s not how, what we’re fed over and over and over again. We’re, we’re shown that if we don’t get in line and wait for 17 hours to just get the new merch drop that, my goodness, we’re certainly not gonna have a good life. And it’s like, really? I mean, I met kids there who have literally one outfit, like this is their school outfit, their play outfit, their church outfit. This was the one outfit they own. And they were just glowing with joy and they enjoyed every heck moment of their life. And they were out talking with their friends and hanging out and doing cool stuff. And I was like, man, they don’t have anything telling them that the one outfit they wear every day is good or bad.

Jairek Robbins (27:06):

Therefore they literally don’t care <laugh> because they haven’t been taught to care about that. Now they watched me, I had a book with me and I was highlighting a few lines in the book that I thought were interesting and they went, oh, you can’t write in the book. I was like, it’s my book, why can’t I write in it? And they’re like, no. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that’s not allowed. And I was like, why? And I, I talked to some of the other kids and I asked them and they said, oh, because oftentimes we only have one of those books for the entire village. We have to share. Hmm. You, you can’t write in it because it ruins it for everybody else. I went, what a difference. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, what a difference that is. They value certain things that they’ve been taught to value, they value knowledge there. Where I’m sitting and watching people line up for 12 hours outside of a certain store in New York City to get a merch drop cuz they value a brick that says Supreme.

Jairek Robbins (28:07):

Think about that. Yeah. One group of kids is thrilled to get a new book. Another group of kids can’t wait to spend all their resources to get a brick that has a logo on it. <laugh>, now the brick is actually worth 30 cents or maybe 60 cents at Home Depot, but because they smack their logo on it, they’re gonna try to sell it to you for $300. And then some kid sits outside and feels like he finally has enough in life, or she finally has enough in life. I haven’t seen a lot of girls buy the brick. So I’m gonna say like he, he for some reason feels so fulfilled in life because he finally has enough, because he’s bought a brick with someone’s logo on it. Now I’m not mad at him. If that’s what finally feels like enough in life, that’s awesome. But for you, what does it take to have enough for these kids that I met when I was living in a village in Uganda?

Jairek Robbins (29:00):

It was just waking up with a breath in your body was more than enough. As a matter of fact, I met a young lady. I was, I don’t know if you’ve ever done this. You, you ever flipped through Instagram and like you, you see a girl that just catches your eye and you’re like, whoa, whoa. So I had that experience. I was flipping through and this young woman caught my eye and I was like, wow, holy Moses. And I’ll never, lemme see if I can find the picture real quick. I literally kept it cause it was so good. And I remember seeing this young lady and just being blown away at what was going on. And I was like, I have to know more about this human. So I did some research and I, I, I figured out who she was. I read her story, unbelievable story.

Jairek Robbins (29:51):

Hmm. And the more I learned about her, the more impressed I was. I was like, this is an unbelievable human. I need to talk to her. And so I reach out and I interviewed her, and then I also interviewed her husband. And I was like, I have to know more about this. And as I was interviewing her and her husband, they shared one of the most unbelievable stories I had ever heard. And I’ll, I’ll, I’ll tell you just a little snippet of it here the whole thing’s over on our podcast. But as I’m scrolling for this photo, I’ll, I’ll just share a little bit about what she shared. She was born with cystic fibrosis, which means after so long her lungs have a chance of literally just stopping, just stopping. Like one day she’s okay and can breathe. And the next day her lungs just stop.

Jairek Robbins (30:50):

Hmm. And that happened to her. She was rushed to the hospital and, and put on machines to be kept alive and, you know, waited and waited and waited. And at some point they found a match, or they call it a donor match. And they brought it in and they hooked, hooked her up to a machine. And, and literally they cut her open straight down the middle of her body, opened her up, cracked her ribs open, pulled out the lungs that were in there, put in a new set of lungs, sewed them in, put her back together and sewed her shut straight down the middle of her chest. Wow. And I paused right there and went, holy Moses, that is incredible. And that wasn’t it. Like she got done. And they said, okay, you know, hopefully these work, and if they do, you’re gonna live a great life.

Jairek Robbins (31:47):

 you know, you’re on your way. She left, met a, went out, lived a great life, met a guy, fell in love, got married. Fast forward. She, she told him, she’s like, Hey, just so you know, <laugh>, we fall in love. There’s a chance I might just cease to exist one day. Like my lungs just stop and I’m out. And he, he’s like, I love you. It doesn’t matter. We’ll do this together. So they got married and then one day she just had a seizure outta nowhere. And so she had a seizure. They rushed to the hospital, see what it was, and her lungs stopped working again second time. And they sat there, analyzed everything, reviewed everything, checked everything. And they came, the doctors came back and said, listen, here’s the deal. The likelihood that a second double lung transplant is gonna work is so low that it does not make sense for us to do this. It makes more sense for you to just go on hospice and slowly live out the rest of your days until you can live no longer and you die. Hmm.

Jairek Robbins (32:54):

PS our team can’t help you. And we’ve also notified the other hospitals nearby of what the situation is. And they said they can’t help either. And she went home crying and she told her husband, I didn’t fight this long to stay alive, just to give up now. So they wrote a hundred letters to a hundred hospitals asking for help. Can you help me? Four wrote back and said, we might be able to try. One of them accepted her in and said, come here, we’ll hook you up and help you. We’ll figure this out. Hmm. Good work, ucla. They brought her in, they took care of her, kept her alive on machines. One night, two in the morning, she gets a call. We found a match, meaning a donor. They bring her in, cut her straight, open down the middle again, the ribs, open her up, pull out the old lungs, put in the new lungs, sew everything together, close her back up, sew her shut, put her on machines to stay alive and see if it works.

Jairek Robbins (33:53):

The next morning, her husband said, I interviewed him. And he said, the next morning when my wife woke up, I saw the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on her face in our entire life. He said, I wish I could tell you that our wedding day, she had a bigger smile, but I would be lying if I said that I saw the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on my wife’s face. And he said she had this tube down her throat to, to breathe. So she couldn’t say anything, but she, she asked for a board and they were asking her questions, who are you? What day is it? What time is it? What year is it? And she scribbled something and had the biggest smile on her face. And as she turned the board around, it just said, I can breathe. And she said, the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my entire life is the ability to take a breath on my own free will and fill my own lungs without needing assistance or machines to do so.

Jairek Robbins (34:50):

Greatest feeling in her entire life. I went, wow. Wow. And I, I, I can’t seem to find the picture, but the picture was the day after that surgery, she was sitting in a, in a wheelchair. She had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on a person’s face. She had two thumbs up and she had her glasses on. Oh, here it’s, let me, let me throw this up on the screen so you could see it. It’s a little graphic if someone’s watching, but let me throw this up so you could see it. This was the picture that caught my attention. Wow. And I just saw her and thought, wow, what a great human. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And not only did she add stitches straight down the middle of her chest, but there was a tube coming straight outta the middle of her body. That tube was because after they did the double lung transplant, there was some type of hiccup and her heart started to fill with fluid. And so they had to do an open heart surgery to drain the fluid back out of her heart directly after the double lung transplant. And so her name is Kayla Haber. She’s a wonderful, wonderful, inspirational human. I highly recommend following her on Instagram and online. She has so much good news to share. Hmm. And the thing that stood out to me was circling back to the bucket that says, I have enough.

Jairek Robbins (36:32):

Realizing that if you can breathe on your own free will, you have more than enough to have a great life. And someone like Kayla’s fighting for the ability to breathe every single day. And she fights for something that so often we take for granted. And it’s just thinking about that. And it’s not saying, oh, my life is okay and I get it if I compare it to someone else. It’s not about comparison. It’s just the realization that if you can breathe on your own, you have everything it takes to have an unbelievably beautiful life.

Jairek Robbins (37:08):

Final part is, I’m loved enough so I am enough. I have enough. Final one is, I’m loved enough. This is an inside game. There’s not a person on this world that can make you love yourself and not love yourself in egotistical way, but truly appreciate who you are. You know, I always ask people, when’s the last time you turned your phone into selfie mode? And they always go, oh. And I’m like, no, no. Listen to the rest of it. <laugh>, when’s the last time you turned it in? Selfie mode. And the important part, look yourself straight in the eye. I’ve heard that the eyes or the windows of the soul. When’s the last time you looked yourself deep in the eyes, all the way deep into your own soul and told yourself three things you actually appreciated about yourself? When’s the last time you looked deep into your own soul through the window of your eyes and, and identified two things that you’re really proud of, of how you’ve shown up today? When’s the last time you’ve looked deep into your own soul through the window of your eyes and identified one thing that you really think you’re excited to go experience in life in the future?

Jairek Robbins (38:20):

For most people, the answer is, I’ve never done that. And how do you think you can pour love the people around you if you’ve never poured love into yourself? You can’t pour from an empty cup. You gotta fill your own cup every day. And I say, screw, screw a cup. Go for a bucket. Let’s go big

Sam Demma (38:41):

<laugh>. I love that

Jairek Robbins (38:43):

<laugh> fill, fill the bucket. Fill that bucket. And I think if you had a routine every day that talked about filling the three buckets, I am enough. I have enough. I’m loved enough. And if you were overflowing from first thing in the morning, my goodness. As you move throughout the day, imagine how you could pour into all the people around you. And what I’ve noticed is if you see peculiar behavior outta people, stuff that doesn’t seem healthy, doesn’t seem happy, doesn’t seem good. It’s usually because one of these three buckets has a hole in it and it it, there’s a deficit. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they’re feeling like they’re not enough. They’re feeling like they’re not loved enough, or they’re feeling like they don’t have enough and therefore they’re behaving in a way to try to compensate for it. Because when someone feels like they are enough, they have enough, and they loved enough, all they want to do is help others and share it.

Sam Demma (39:31):

I love that. And

Jairek Robbins (39:34):

Wow,

Sam Demma (39:34):

So much. There’s just so much great nuggets, <laugh>, and not a whole story. and I hope that if you’re listening right now, you’re taking notes and writing this stuff down so you can ask yourself these same questions, whether it’s tonight in the mirror, tomorrow morning, when you wake up, depending on when you’re listening to this. Yeah. How do you, how do you find purpose? Something that a lot of young people always ask me is, Sam, I don’t know what my purpose in life is. And I don’t know that you find it. I think you create it. I think you explore. Sure. And I think you have a, a phenomenal story in Uganda with a man you came across who, who created his purpose. And it was one of the most beautiful things. And I’m, I’m hoping you can share the story about the leaves. Sure.

Jairek Robbins (40:14):

So when I was living in that village there, you know, my thought is, how often am I gonna be able to wake up in a village in the middle of Uganda? Like, I don’t know, at least the months I was there. But besides that, I’m not sure how many times I’d get the chance to do it. So I was like, Ooh, I’m gonna squeeze the juice out of this. And so one of the things I promised myself I would do is wake up every morning and watch the sunrise. I was like, that’d be so cool. And so I woke, I set my alarm, figured out the time. Every morning I wake up to watch the sunrise. And I started noticing there was this little old man that every morning would come out of the, the kind of village clinic or hospital that was nearby. And he would just do the same thing every freaking day.

Jairek Robbins (41:02):

And he would do it every day at sunrise on the dot. Never missed. I was like, this dude is wildly consistent. Like he must have a really good alarm clock or something like he doesn’t miss. And, and like every day he come out and get this long fetched broom and he’d kind of stretch his back a little, and then he’d step down the couple steps and he’d work his way from the steps of the clinic all the way down the path to the, to the main road. And he’d just, you know, step, step, sweep, sweep, step, step, sweep, sweep. He’d sweep this whole road. And then he’d get to the, get to the main road, turn around, step, step, sweep, sweep all the way back and clear the leaves off this path. And I remember the first day just being like, oh, cool. It’s a dude sweeping leaves. <laugh>,

Jairek Robbins (41:48):

You know, 10th day, like, man, he’s pretty consistent. 30th, 40th day. Like, this dude has not missed the whole time I’ve been here. This is crazy. But by like month three, I was like, I gotta talk to this guy. Like what in the world? How did he learn such discipline? Like this guy doesn’t miss. I’m like, this is amazing. It’s like Steph Curry with three points. Like this dude just drains him every day. How does he do that? And so we, we, I went and interviewed him. I, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak lu ganden, which was his language. So I found an interpreter, a friend of mine who was like, Hey, can you translate? She’s like, sure. So he went over and I asked him, you know, why do you do what you do? And he was, he looked at me and he kind of shrugged and she said something and he kind like tilted his head.

Jairek Robbins (42:34):

And he is like, cuz I’m supposed to is what she said. And I was like, no man. Like, why do you do what you do? Like why? What’s the purpose? What’s the reason? What’s, and she’s like, she looked at me, she’s like, I speak English stupid. Give me a second. Like, I know what you’re saying. Let me ask him in a different way. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever done that. You’re traveling in a place that, that isn’t English isn’t the main language and, and you just, you know, say it over and over again. Think you’re just finally gonna land. It’s like they have no clue what you’re saying. <laugh> try a different word. So I was like, no, why? And she’s like, shut up stupid, gimme a second. So she turned around when and talked to him again and said something different. And then she was talking to him.

Jairek Robbins (43:14):

All of a sudden this guy turned around and got like the biggest smile on his face that I’ve ever seen. And I, I was looking at this guy, I’m like, yeah, yeah, ta ta. She’s like, okay, hold on. And I was like, what did he say? And she said, wow, that was cool. Like that was beautiful. And I was like, no, no. What did he say? And she says, you know, he said, the reason I sweeped the leaves is I, because I believe every human being, whether it a small baby about to enter this world or a sicker elderly person about to leave this world, I believe they deserve a clear path to do so. And I remember thinking, wow, wow man, this guy found so much purpose in sweeping a dirt path every day. Hmm. Just clearing leaves off the path. And like you said, there’s millions of young people all over the world who can’t figure out what their purpose is, who can’t figure out why they’re here, who can’t figure out what they’re supposed to be doing.

Jairek Robbins (44:21):

What if it’s as simple as finding deep joy and purpose in just living your life every day. Now we live in a society that says, that’s it, that’s all my purpose is. But this guy found immense joy, unbelievable fulfillment in living life every day. And I watch people who own a brick with a label on it. <laugh> not happy. Yeah. And not fulfilled. That guy didn’t own anything like that. He lived in a broom closet. The most proud thing he owned was the fact that in his broom closet there was an electricity panel hooked to a hooked up to the one wire in the whole town that had electricity so he could charge a cell phone. He, he was so proud of that. The only other thing he had was a hat collection, which included three hats. So I gifted him my hat before I left and he thought it was cool. He had four hats by the time I left. That’s it. That was his whole life collection right there. And he was so proud of it.

Jairek Robbins (45:31):

And people like to say like, oh, finding joy in the little things. I was like, I don’t think that’s little. Finding your purpose in life is a big deal. And if this gentleman was able to find so much joy and so much purpose in something so simple, I think that’s unbelievably beautiful. And I think to challenge more of us to say, Hey, can you find your purpose in something so simple yet profound of your daily life? Can you find purpose in loving on the people you care about? Can you find purpose in doing simple chores throughout the day? Can you find purpose in meaning in supporting your family and community? Can you find purpose in meaning in, in doing something that brings you joy in sharing that joy with others? Hmm. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but we live in a society that’s been built to generate revenue from us.

Jairek Robbins (46:31):

I remember I was in Ecuador and I, I was on a tour and I looked up and I saw a billboard and I went, huh, that’s interesting. And I asked the lady who’s guiding the tourist, I said, Hey, is the lady on the billboard? Is she from here? And he, she was like, I don’t know n n not like from this city, but like, is she Ecuadorian? Like is she from Ecuador? And she looked there and she’s like, no, no, she’s not from here. And I was like, where is she from? And she’s like, maybe Mexico. Maybe Brazil. But like, she’s not from Ecuador, we don’t look like that. I went, that’s interesting. I wonder why they’d use a person not from there to advertise what beauty looks like. And then I started walking around in the US cities and looking at billboards and watching TV commercials and realizing that in the United States we use models, quote unquote is what they call ’em from Europe, central and South America. We use models from other parts of the world to show young people what beauty looks like.

Jairek Robbins (47:38):

And then I went to Europe and realized they used models from America to show people what beauty look like. Then I went to Asia and when you’re in one part of Asia, they use models from other parts of Asia. And I’m like, why would they keep doing this? And I realized, cuz when I asked the lady from Ecuador, why would they use a model that’s not from here to represent beauty? And then it clicked. I said, how do you know she’s not from here? And he says, she said, cuz our bone structure doesn’t look like that. Our cheeks don’t look like that. Our jaw line doesn’t look like that. The shape of our face doesn’t look like that. And I said, then why would they use that as the epitome of beauty, the aspiration of beauty, the thing you have to try to become. And it clicked. And I realized, because no matter how many times you buy their product and put it on, you’ll never get there, but you’ll feel a little bit closer. And I was like, no wonder people don’t feel like they’re enough. Hmm. An industry makes billions of dollars telling you you’re not enough. And if you just buy a little more of their crap, eventually you might be a little closer than you were. Wow.

Sam Demma (48:51):

It’s wow. <laugh>, I’m speechless. Like, there’s, there’s so many examples I could think of when you talked about that even in, you know, friend groups that I have and, and people that are my age and my life.

Jairek Robbins (49:06):

What

Sam Demma (49:06):

Our crazy realization, thank you for sharing that story and, and all the stories you shared were, we’re almost outta time here, <laugh> and I, I that I had a ton of questions that we didn’t even get a chance to touch upon but this is a beautiful conversation and I’m, I’m curious to know where can people reach out to you? Where can people learn more about you? Where can they buy your book? I just read it, live it. It’s a phenomenal book. And it’s not only a book you read, it’s, it’s a, it’s an exercise, it’s a workshop. If you follow along with the steps and, and you actually do them as you read, it’s a phenomenal exercise. Where can they find your book? Where can they connect with you? Where can they learn more about you and maybe even work with you if they wanted to?

Jairek Robbins (49:45):

Sure. Our books on Amazon, easiest place to find it. It’s worldwide. If you want to check out one of our programs, if you want to go through a program to help be happy, healthy, strong, fulfilled, stuff like that, you can go to Udemy I think the code is highperformancekw.com and it’ll, it’s like $129 program. I’ll give it to you for like 10 bucks or 12 bucks on Udemy. We have students, 5000 plus students in 119 countries around the world actively in that program right now. So it’s a great program. People love it. They’re people all over the world are, are just raving about it and really enjoying it. And then if you want to just connect and, and stay in touch, I mean find me on Instagram. I’m weary to use social media as a connection point just ’cause I know there, there the, again, the algorithm is built to keep you on there, not necessarily to make you healthy. So yeah, you can find me on there, and, and we just try to push out good thoughts every single day to support people in, in being happy, healthy, strong, and fulfilled.

Sam Demma (50:50):

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 Jairek Robbins

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.

Alison Fantin – Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School

Alison Fantin - Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School
About Alison Fantin

Alison Fantin (@alisonjfantin) is the proud principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School in the District School Board Ontario North East. She is passionate about equity, student voice and helping young people reach their full potential. 

Connect with Alison: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kirkland Lake District Composite School

District School Board Ontario North East

Undergraduate Programs – Lakehead University

Faculty of Education – Lakehead University

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (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 Alison Fanton. Allson is the very proud Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School that is in the District School Board of Ontario Northeast. As we come up to the holidays, I am super excited to take a quick pause on episodes with Alison’s being the last one before our little break. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Alison, and I will see you on the other side. Alison, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Alison Fantin (00:46):

Well, thanks for having me. My name is Alison Fantin and I am the principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School, which is a grade 7-12 school in Kirkland Lake Ontario.

Sam Demma (00:56):

When did you realize as a student yourself that education was the career you wanted to pursue?

Alison Fantin (01:03):

So, I actually had an epiphany in grade 11. Mm-hmm. I I had a, a classmate that I didn’t know very well who missed a, a few days of work. My geography teacher told me, cuz I was ahead on this one particular unit, could you please work with her out in the hallway just to kind of try and catch her up. He was kind of using that peer tutoring model and I did that and I realized that I understood the work myself a million times better by teaching it that she was really happy cuz she understood it and it was really fun. And I went home and I said to my mom, I think I wanna be a teacher. And my mom was a teacher is, was a, worked for 35 years in education, was a grade one teacher. And she said, oh, are you sure <laugh>? Yeah. And I said, I’m sure. And she said, oh, but you’ve seen me at nights and weekends working. And I said, yeah, but you know what, mom, I really think I do want to be. And, and I’ve never regretted it.

Sam Demma (02:03):

That’s amazing. That student that you first taught officially <laugh> back in grade 11 is that someone you’ve stayed in touch with? Is that like

Alison Fantin (02:12):

A I have, I have, yeah. Yep. She’s very successful. she’s become a lawyer and you know, we’ve both, yeah, we’ve both done good things with our lives, so, yeah.

Sam Demma (02:23):

So take me to the grade 11 moment and then project the future forward. So you had the epiphany in grade 11. What did that look like as it unfolded over the next couple of years before you got into education?

Alison Fantin (02:34):

Yeah, so I continued to, you know, kind of take the classes that I wanted to take. I, I was always sort of more of an art student than a science or math student. and continued to take courses that, that interested me. Always kind of seized any opportunity I had though to be a peer tutor or to be someone who could you know, help others learn as much as possible. Always try to organize study groups and, and that actually served me really well post-secondary. So and then, yeah, it, it took my my honors Bachelor of Arts at Lakehead University and my teaching degree there as well. And then went to work and haven’t looked back.

Sam Demma (03:14):

That’s amazing. what was your first role, and take us through the various roles you’ve worked and just give us the snapshot of the journey.

Alison Fantin (03:24):

Okay. This is buckle in.

Sam Demma (03:27):

Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready. <laugh>.

Alison Fantin (03:29):

So I started teaching in 1987. This is year 35 for me. I started working in terrace transcriber at Lake Superior High School. I was an English and geography teacher. Okay. got married, moved back to my hometown of managed wad where I was a high school and elementary supply teacher, and then a high school teacher. we moved again to a little tiny town called Go Gamma, where I had my kids and I was able to do some adult night school. then we moved to gain my husband’s a forester and we kind of went all over Northeastern Ontario. we’ve been in Engelhart since 1996 and I’ve worked at so many schools in the board here in all sorts of roles. most recently high school principal, but I have been an elementary principal, elementary vice principal, secondary vice principal. And a role that was really near and dear to my heart. I was a special education resource teacher for a number of years.

Sam Demma (04:27):

Hmm. Each role provides its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. Yeah. and pros and cons. And tell us a little bit about the role you’re in right now and what you think some of the opportunities are and challenges in the role but also why you enjoy it.

Alison Fantin (04:43):

So the role I’m in right now is principal of a high school. I work really closely with my vice principal. the two of us manage a seven to 12 school. the opportunities in this school are just phenomenal because we have so many outstanding staff who, who really are leaders in their own areas. and we’re big believers in letting people shine and do what they wanna do and giving them the freedom to fail and, and not worry about that and try to kind of regroup if they do. and that extends its well to students. and, you know, giving students a chance to take on leadership roles if they can and, and really try new things. And, and because of that our school has had, you know, tremendous success in all kinds of areas. We’re really proud of our work with our makerspace.

Alison Fantin (05:37):

We’re proud of our work with indigenous studies. we’re proud of our work supporting LGBTQ plus students. but more than anything else, I would say we’re proud of the relationships that we build with our students. it’s a very, very rare time when a student ends up in my office that I say to them, well, who’s your person here? Mm-hmm. And they can’t tell me who that is. So that’s that, you know, those opportunities have been a little bit squelched because of the situation the last couple years. But it so that, and that comes to the challenge part of your question and, and, and how do we kind of connect, you know, when sometimes we’re virtual, how do we continue those growth opportunities when sometimes we literally can’t be in the same space? That’s been challenging, but it feels like there might be light at the end of the tunnel. So I’m, I’m, I’m holding onto that right now.

Sam Demma (06:29):

Ah, I love it. I love it. W what has this year been like? it sounds like the covid has still been a challenge, but we’re getting to the point where it, it hopefully is gonna be in our rear view mirror sooner than later. What has this year been like so far?

Alison Fantin (06:45):

It, it’s, it’s been challenging. You know, I think people are very covid weary. it’s, you know, it’s hard for students to stay engaged when you know, a lot of the things that, that, that many kids love most about high school just isn’t available to them. Extracurriculars and that sort of thing. So, you know, the fact that we’re able to do that again, we have our first tournament here in the gym today. We’re super excited about that. Ah-huh. Yeah. And I, I’ve just really kind of tried to shepherd everybody through this you know, tried to be available to support them. people are tired and people are stressed and people are anxious and worried about their vulnerable family members. And but, you know, the weather gets nicer. We get to get outside. Life gets better immediately. So

Sam Demma (07:35):

What does the shepherding look like? Tell me a little bit about that. When, when you’re in a role where you’re trying your best to provide hope to everyone how do you do that? Like when your perspective, like, what does that look like day to day?

Alison Fantin (07:48):

Well, and, and you know, sometimes it’s not that it, it, it often is, but sometimes it’s not providing hope because I try not to ever tell anybody something that’s not true. Yep. and so I’m, I’m, and then sometimes things do, they’re just awful. And, and, you know, and people are overwhelmed and tired and exhausted and they have family issues. And sometimes it’s, it’s just allowing people to kind of get it all out and just share what they have. That’s, that’s an, that’s making them feel anxious or worried or tired or, and, and kind of give them support. Sometimes it’s trying to take things off people’s plates. often we will as a, as an admin team, ensure that there aren’t additional demands put on our staff if we possibly can avoid it. Hmm. Really try to let teachers just focus on their classrooms and their students in these weird times because that’s where your energy’s best spent. Right. you know, other initiatives are great and we wanna do them, but maybe just not right this minute. So it’s being very protective of staff and of students and of parents. you know, we have a lot of parent phone calls, a lot of parent concerns worried and legitimately so, but we can reassure them most times, so.

Sam Demma (08:59):

Got it. Ah, makes sense. Makes sense. what do you think some of the opportunities are in education? there’s definitely challenges, but when you look at education as a whole, what do you think some of the areas where there are opportunities?

Alison Fantin (09:11):

I, I’m a, like such an optimist and, and the reason I am an optimist is because I see the kids that we have mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I just, I, I am amazed every year at what they can do and what they do do and what they are hoping to do. You know, the fact that they’ll take on these leadership roles and come with these wild ideas and, you know, share the, the compassion that they have for each other, the cheerleading that they have for each other, the support that they have for each other. It gives me such a, you know, lots of people are worried about the future. I’m not worried about the future. Cause when I look at the, the people that we’re leaving it in the hands of, I just think they’re gonna be just fine. These kids are smart. They, they know so much more about the world than we did when we were young be, and I, I think that’s just the connected internet world that we live in.

Alison Fantin (09:58):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> you know, you, in the old days, you used to be one person sitting in a room and you didn’t know anybody like you now, even if you are that one person in your whole town, there’s 50 people in the next town over or in the next country, over whatever. So I, I think the opportunities through technology especially have just opened the doors for kids. But I also think because of that, kids are, are willing to dream bigger and, you know, we try to really encourage that as much as possible. And, and because we are a school in a small town, that’s an active part of what we do. You know, don’t think, you know, there’s nothing wrong with staying here and working here, and if you choose to come back, that’s great, but you should know what your options are because, you know, there are tremendous opportunities here in town for our students, but there are also tremendous opportunities in other places. We just want them to be aware of everything. And I think that the one thing that, that always ties kids back again, and I’m gonna sound a little bit like a broken record, but is the relationships that they establish. And they tend to establish relationships with teachers who share their interests or share their passions. And so they’re able to explore those more as well. So those are opportunities as well for kids.

Sam Demma (11:06):

Hmm. I love that. When you think about your journey throughout education, I’m sure you’ve had many people that have helped you along the way. when you think about resources, whether that’s people, books, courses or, or like anything at all that you think has informed the way you show up today what are the things that come to mind that you think are worth mentioning or sharing?

Alison Fantin (11:28):

Our board has done like a ton of work around many kind of ways that we can support students who have different needs. But the one thing that’s been particularly helpful for me in the, in the role that I’m in is the work we’ve done around trauma informed instruction. Nice. and Gene Clinton is a leader in that and, and we’ve had the opportunity to receive some professional development development from her. Hmm. she’s the one who’s most like directly changed my practice. Cool. it makes me think about when I have a student in crisis, is this, is this actually them acting out or are they reacting to something that’s happened to them in the past? how can I connect with the students so that they feel like they can approach me? One thing she talks about is the power of, of greeting students in the morning.

Alison Fantin (12:20):

And Bec ever since she talked about that, I’ve done it literally every day. We’re at the front door, we’re greeting every kid that comes in gets a good morning. If we know their name, we say their name. Little easier now, you know, we we’re recognizing them. Even with a mask on you, you get about two inches of, of eye, but you start to recognize the eyes. but you know, it’s, it that is powerful and, and the number of problems that get solved in those 10, 15, 20 minutes in the morning as kids are coming in is phenomenal. So she talks a lot about recognizing that that adverse childhood events can really impact a student’s journey through life. And we really are trying to honour that and recognize that and work with that and not judge kids when they react in a way that seems disproportional because that’s probably not disproportional for them. It’s probably completely logical. So we really are trying to work with our mental health ne team and all of our staff to kind of support students.

Sam Demma (13:13):

I love it. Very cool. when you think about your journey through education, I think you mentioned 35 years. Yeah. Thank you for your service. <laugh> <laugh>. you’re doing an amazing job. when you think about all the different roles and experiences, if you could bundle it all up into some advice that you would give your younger self when you were just starting to teach, like knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self or to anyone else who’s just getting into this vocation?

Alison Fantin (13:43):

So, so this is the advice that I give to our new teachers and, and, and I tell them the temptation is to feel like you need to know it all. The temptation is to feel that you need to do it all. The temptation is to try to pile in as much curriculum as you possibly can into every lesson. None of those things are realistic and none of those things will make you happy or your students happy. So, you know, be don’t be afraid to say, I don’t know, don’t be afraid to to feel like you have to be the, the guru of everything. And don’t worry if a lesson goes awry and takes you in a whole new different direction because there’s rich learning that can be had there as well. And I’ll tell you, if I’d had that advice and actually listened to it in my first year, it would’ve been really helpful for me because, you know, when you’re a new teacher, you, you almost can’t help yourself. You, you work and work and everything’s perfect and it’s aligned and you try to stay within the walls and make sure that you’re meeting ticking off all those boxes and the hours you work are stupid. But I really, really try to talk about and model work-life balance if I possibly can because it’s such an important piece of making a teacher first of all successful. And secondly, for them to stay in the profession because we don’t want them burning out and leaving cuz they’re exhausted.

Sam Demma (15:01):

Yeah, that’s so, so true. If someone is listening to this conversation, has enjoyed something you shared or something that was mentioned, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Alison Fantin (15:12):

I’m on social media sort of sporadically, so I’m gonna suggest they email me. That would probably be the most effective way. I don’t know if you’ve put that in your show notes or not, but I it’s Alison.Fantin@dsb1.ca. It’s probably the, the most direct. And I, I welcome anybody who has a question or a concern or wants to tell me that you’re wrong about this, I’d love to chat about that too, so.

Sam Demma (15:35):

Awesome. All right, Allison. Well thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. I really, really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and yeah, we’ll talk soon.

Alison Fantin (15:44):

Thanks Sam. I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you.

Sam Demma (15:48):

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 Alison Fantin

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.

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor
About Suzanne Imhoff

Suzanne Imhoff, is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School in St. Croix Falls Wisconsin. She is a Nationally Board Certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after 4 years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Council, CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club), basketball and softball coach.

Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journey. She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people.

She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweets Creative Confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically, inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be.

Connect with Suzanne: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Croix Falls High School

Siren Schools

Wisconsin Association of School Councils

It’s All in Your Head: Get Out of Your Way by Russ

CADA State Convention

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 Suzanne Imhoff. She is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School, and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. She’s a nationally board certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools and then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after four years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Councul, the CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club) basketball and softball coach. Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journeys.

Sam Demma (00:57):

She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people. She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces, which you’ll hear about on the show today, breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweet’s creative confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be. I hope you enjoy this energizing conversation with Suzanne and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are a joined by a very special guest that I met when I was in Turtle Lake, not in Canada, but in the US of A <laugh>, and her name is Suzanne Moff. She was a part of a, a conference that I was a part of and she came up to me after the presentation and showed me a picture of a beautiful cake she designed <laugh> along with letting me know that she was involved with state leadership and her school’s leadership. And it got me really excited to, to invite her on the show and she’s here with us today. So, Suzanne, please introduce yourself and let everyone know a little bit about what it is that you do.

Suzanne Imhoff (02:16):

Hi. Yeah. I met Sam first virtually a couple years ago when the pandemic happened, and then in person. I’ve been teaching for 27 years now and been with student leadership for that long. Started out in Siren, Wisconsin, but stayed there for four years and I’ve been with my current district for the next 24. I, well, truth be told, was never going into education and was never going to deal with students, with kids ’cause that’s what my parents told me I was gonna do <laugh> and so I was gonna do something completely different. Yes. And then I found myself and everything I was doing for fun outside of what I had to do and going to school was teaching, and so finally I got on my own way and went into education and I, I’d love it.

Suzanne Imhoff (03:11):

There’s just nothing else I’d rather do. I, I think about it and with everything that’s gone on in Wisconsin with education and I guess the United States for that matter I like, oh, I could open, like key said, open my own bakery, and then I’m like, oh yeah. And then I could have a side room where I could have people come in and I could teach ’em how to do things. Oh, so you’re back to teaching. So why get out of teaching to go back into teaching <laugh>? so it’s just in my blood. It’s just what I love to do. I, I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I, I love coaching, I love teaching art. I love the student leadership portion of it, which I’ve been doing since 1995. Probably Sammy weren’t even born, but you know, there’s that

Sam Demma (03:54):

<laugh> you mentioned you’ve been teaching for 27 years and in, you know, in student leadership for that long as well. Does that mean year one you started with student council and helping out with extra cooker activities where you could

Suzanne Imhoff (04:09):

Actually I was involved with the state student council organization that I belonged to Scott Association of School Councils even before I got my first job. Oh, wow. I graduated in May and got a call and said, Hey, we need some help at this leadership camp. I’m like okay. Don’t know what that is. They’re like, okay, we’ll be in Stevens point at one o’clock on a Friday. And I’m like, okay. And I did, and I was hooked saw what it did for kids in one week. the difference that that camp made, I thought, oh, this is something I need to be involved with. And so when I got my first teaching job, I coached basketball. I had been coaching basketball all through high school and through in college, played basketball in college. And then I, I just knew that the classroom isn’t where everything is learned.

Suzanne Imhoff (04:59):

And to me, you can learn just as much on the sports field or in a club if not more of what you need to take out of, you can teach the X’s and o’s you know, addition, subtraction and all that kind of stuff. But truly a student, a kid learns, develops, becomes who they are in these other things. And that’s why I feel it’s so important that they are happening and that I’m able to guide students with that, I guess. Hmm. I, I feel like I do more of my teaching outside of my actual classroom than I do within my classroom.

Sam Demma (05:34):

Hmm. You mentioned that that first, you know, student leadership camp that you went to, it just really opened your eyes to how important those types of activities were because it has the potential to change a young person’s life. You’ve been involved in teaching for 27 years and student leadership, and I’m sure you’ve seen so many like student transformations. can you think of a student who at the start of a new year was really timid and shy or was struggling and by the end of a leadership experience or just, you know, a full year of school really butterflied and just really grew per personally as a, as a, as a human being? And if so, what was that story like? Share it with us. And the reason I ask is because I think educators, that’s why they got into teaching in the first place cuz they wanted to make a difference, you know?

Suzanne Imhoff (06:26):

Yeah. it’s, it’s funny the two stories come to mind. well the first one was a girl who Shai wouldn’t say anything. She was actually she would in small groups would be fine, but was never, she’s like, I’m gonna lead behind the scenes. I’m gonna do this. We had an assembly. I knew she could be that person and I knew she could go out but would never put herself out there. had an assembly. All the kids are in a homecoming assembly needs to start. And I handed the microphone. She’s like, what am I supposed to do with us, Michael? We gotta get this party started. And she’s like, yeah, but, but I go, they’re all way to go. She’s like, what? What? And she stuttered and she, but she went out and she did it. And to this day she will still come back and say, I will never forget that day.

Suzanne Imhoff (07:12):

I didn’t think I could do it, but I knew that you would never tell, put me in a situation cuz it’s something I’ve always told my students, but that you would never put me in a situation that you didn’t think I could do. Mm-hmm. I would never, I, and I, I tell ’em, I’m not gonna ask you to, you may not think you could do it, but I’m gonna put you out there cuz I think you could do it. And she’s like, I, I knew I could do that. Wasn’t comfortable with it, didn’t wanna continue to do it, but I did it and I lived and was able to take that experience and into her adult life. And now she’s married and has her own children and she still comes back and tells that story. The other one I have it was a of a, a boy who as a freshman you couldn’t get two words out of him. Mm-hmm. His end result was becoming the state student council president and then going on to Yale University and graduating from there.

Sam Demma (08:09):

Damn.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:11):

I never thought anything of it other than I was doing my job. I’m like, I saw something in him. And again, I, like I said, I’ve always told the kids, I’m not gonna put you in a situation that I don’t think you can do. And I had him doing things. I’m like, oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you do this here, go do this. I need you to do this. And each year I just pushed him a little farther. He was my student council president and had him run for the regional officer and then as the regional president, he ran for the state president and became that. And I, and it never really dawned on me, I guess and thought about it until his graduation party and his parents came up to me and they’re like, thank you.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:53):

I’m like, for what? And they’re like Matt’s going to Yale because of you. And I’m like, no, he’s not. Matt’s going to Yale because Matt’s smart. Matt’s got a lot going for him. He’s done a lot of great things. They’re like, no, you put him in situations where he could be successful and make himself better and that we thank you for that. And I never looked at it like that. I just looked at it like, oh, I need to help this kid get to his full potential. I need to get him into positions. Putting him, taking him places, taking him to those, you know, leadership things that where we met. and that’s why I do what I do. And that to me is that’s the pinnacle. That’s, that’s my driving force behind things is, oh, that made, you know, those are like what I call my career makers <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (09:42):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> sometimes I’m just like, why am I doing this job? And then I’ll get a text or I’ll get an email or I’ll get, you know thank you from a parent. And I was like, oh, okay. Well that’s why, that’s why cuz I touched that person’s life and I was able to help them move forward in a positive direction. So Yep. Okay. Worth it. Check. And then I can con that fills my bucket and I can continue to move on. And if it’s only one student a year, that’s one more student than I would’ve done had I not been in that position or not kids in those positions. So, Hmm. That’s why I do it. But those are two of the stories that really come to mind when I think about did it work? Do am I doing the right thing? And so, yeah.

Sam Demma (10:21):

Did did you have an educator in your life when you were growing up, tap you on the shoulder and help you try and reach your full potential? Like it was, is there a full circle story

Suzanne Imhoff (10:31):

<laugh>? There is. Well, it’s kind of funny because I just didn’t realize it until after the fact, but my dad was an educator. Mm. well he was a teacher and then became a business manager and then became a superintendent. I hated every minute of that <laugh> thought, oh God, never would I ever do that to my children. I will never be an educator, they’ll never go to school with in the same school. They’re like, I’ll never do that. Both my children will graduate from the same high school I teaching. So never say and ever. but I did have a a teacher who I’m still in contact with that is the person that I could go to for whatever. And she taught health class of all things. and, but she was just somebody I could talk to. And I look back at having that one person made a huge difference in my life.

Suzanne Imhoff (11:23):

And if I’m that one person, whether I have ’em as a student or not, meaning if they’re come to my art class and wanna take art class, they’re all my students. They’re all my kids. I really call ’em my kids. but having that means that I’m there for that person and didn’t realize how much the mental health part of it was a big deal back then that I needed, that isn’t, you know, it wasn’t put out there as mental health like it is today, thank goodness. but yeah, so I’m still, still in contact with that person. Still have a great relationship with them and see him all the time when I can when I go back to the hometown. And so yeah, I guess I did. But my dad was also that person that, you know, he saw it, he knew it, he told me wish he wouldn’t have, would’ve saved me a lot of time in college, but I had to figure it out for myself. I might have that little stubborn streak in me. I like to call it determined streak. I like it. <laugh>, <laugh>. But I did, I had to get outta my own way and see it for myself before I could actually achieve it. So I loved that my students to see that as well.

Sam Demma (12:33):

The, there’s a book I really love called it’s All in Your Head and the subtitle, the book is Get Out of your Way and the Every Time You Say It, that Book’s Confidence in my Mind. <laugh> one of the things I admire about you is that you’ve continuously pursued your other passions along with your teaching and your education work. And sometimes people that get involved in education get so consumed by it that the things that they also love doing. Take a backseat. One of the things I know you love doing is designing cakes and <laugh>, not only maybe baking in general, but not only do you like designing cakes, but you’re pretty damn good at it. <laugh>, <laugh>. The cakes are freaking awesome. thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about how you manage the time? Like, of balancing both losing yourself in education and service of, of young people, but also making sure that you, you spend some time on things that bring you joy personally as well?

Suzanne Imhoff (13:34):

Well, yeah, it’s, there’s times where I’m like, oh, why did I say yes to make this cake? Cause you have a full-time job, do that. And then I start making it and it’s creativity and that it, as much as it, I’m like, oh, I don’t really have time, but it de-stresses me. So I actually doing that forces me to do something that makes me happy. I working with fondant or modeling clay or gum paste, it’s just edible clay, it’s what I do. It’s, you know, people like, oh, did you, you know, go to a class? I’m like, no. Well, maybe I guess college when I worked with clay, but that’s all it was. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s edible clay. People are like, oh, it’s too pretty to eat. I’m like, well eat it because it’s cake. And if you don’t eat cake, that’s just dumb <laugh> cake.

Suzanne Imhoff (14:20):

I mean, so yeah, it’s, you know, I, I like the sculpting aspect of it. I, and it’s my release and I work late at night. I’m a night owl. Yeah, I’d like to be able to sleep. I’m not a morning person. I get up when I do it and I, for myself that extra cup of coffee the next day sometimes. And and obviously more you practice the, the better you get. I am by no means a perfect cake decorator or sculptor, but it’s gotten easier. I’m able to do things faster, so that helps. and it’s funny cuz I do involve my family cause they’re my daughter, she’s an artist, but my husband and my son, no, not at all. <laugh>. I love them dearly, but it’s just not their thing. Yeah. But I ask them, what do you think of this? And they’ll be like, you know, if they’re like, here’s something or if there’s like something they have something’s off on it then I know that the person, cuz I’ve been staring at it for so long that, you know, can’t see.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:19):

If they see it, then there is something that needs to be, or if I’m just being over critical of myself. but it really is a stress really for me. I can actually physically feel myself less stressed after making something, creating something, be it out of cake or decorating cookies or whatever it is. so it might be more time. I might get a little less sleep, but in the end it’s worth the de-stressing that it does for me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the family doesn’t mind cake scraps that I cut off to level the cake or sculpting <laugh>. That’s never an issue. Always having frosting in the fridge, never an issue

Sam Demma (15:58):

<laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:59):

So it, it benefits them as well sometimes.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Just to give context to the listener, this is not a box of cake you buy from the grocery store mix with eggs and 30 minutes later, voila. this is a cake that you would buy at a charity event for $2,800 <laugh>. These are cakes that look identical to a dinosaur. Cakes that have Rapunzel with her hair coming down the cake and going all the way around the base. how long does it take to bake one of these and design one of these cakes?

Suzanne Imhoff (16:39):

Roughly takes, well it depends upon how, you know, if I’m sculpting or whatever on average I would say the least amount of time I’d spend on a cake would be seven hours. And I have spent probably 24 to 30 hours on cakes. It depends upon what the amount of sculpting that I’m doing. and if like for a wedding cake you know, if I’m making cupcakes then I’m at it. I’m making the toppers that go along with all of those those kinds of things. So it all depends upon the amount of sculpting that I’m doing with it. I absolutely love making sugar roses. Those are very time consuming, but they’re so therapeutic. I absolutely love, love, love making them and that my goal is always to make them look as realistic as possible. People are like, oh my gosh, that was made outta sugar. So yeah. But you can eat it

Sam Demma (17:28):

<laugh>. What, what was your introduction to baking? Was it something that you were introduced to in school or how did you get into it?

Suzanne Imhoff (17:37):

Really, I had seen stuff on TV and my son was having a jungle birthday party. cuz I’m that mom who goes overboard on birthday parties. <laugh> always have it’s hard baby. And so I decided, oh well you know what? Let’s just try this. And that was my first cake and he was eight, he’s now 18, so 10 years ago I guess. and I’m like, oh well that wasn’t too bad. And then my daughter had her birthday, well his was in November and hers was in February. So then I’m like, oh, let’s try her. So she had a pink poodle. So I just started sculpting out of the spawn stuff and just kind of blossomed from there. I didn’t, I didn’t really have a, I dunno, I’ve always lud to bake, so that was never an issue. but the whole cake part of it was, oh well I used to watch Cake Boss a lot and then Ace of Cakes. I absolutely love the fact that he would be like, wow the wack and do different things and try different things and stuff. So I haven’t convinced my husband that I need a wood shop in my son’s spare bedroom when he leaves and goes to college next year. So I’m working on that. But

Sam Demma (18:44):

<laugh> That’s awesome. baking teaching, you mentioned that coaching has also been a part of your educational journey in your life. Tell me a little bit about that.

Suzanne Imhoff (18:55):

Yeah, I coaching is just to me is an extension of the classroom. it’s just another place to teach students how to be them, be their best selves and it takes it one step farther because they have to do that and also be a teammate and help others be their best selves. so I find that as a challenge in a different level of it’s a different level of commitment. it’s not necessarily, yes, you have your exes and nos and you’ve got your plays and you’ve gotta do all that stuff, but I’ve always taught, taught my student, my student athletes that you guys have to work as one. Cuz I coach basketball and softball. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, those are the two sports that I have coached. and you have to work as one and you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Suzanne Imhoff (19:48):

Not Michael, but it’s something that I, I think is true because you can have all parts going and one part doesn’t go it, the play’s not gonna work. And then what are you gonna do? I mean, there’s a lot to be said with that. So either you’re gonna just fall apart or you’re gonna adapt and figure out how to make that part work. Or you’re gonna figure out, okay, if this isn’t gonna work with that part of that’s not, that teammate’s not gonna do what we’re gonna ask him to do, then how are we gonna work around that? How are we gonna adapt to the situation? How are we gonna, you know, basketball, you adapt to the defense and all of a sudden one time down on the floor, they’re playing zone. The next time they’re playing, man, you gotta change your def your offense.

Suzanne Imhoff (20:26):

And can you react to that? How do you react to that? Do you just give up? Do you just panic? Do you, you know, so there’s just so many life lessons that can happen on the court and getting to know kids on a different level. it’s a win-win because then it comes back to my classroom and they see me in a different light and I see them in a different light. you know, sometimes they come in and they’re like, you can just tell that they need some space. It’s like, okay, you’re gonna take this, we gotta come back to it. But, you know, take this time, take the same thing on the court. You know, they can come into practice and I coach girls and there’s drama, always drama hate. It drives me crazy. What are my girls? You have to be the best teammates when you are on this court.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:12):

I don’t care if if your teammate just kissed your boyfriend right before you walked into practice. It’s doesn’t matter on this court. Yeah. Because on this court, you guys are the best friends, you’re the best teammates. Now when you go outta here, you have to sell that whatever way. But when you’re on this court, you are together as one and outside of here has to go away. So you have to kind of separate that and how it’s just like going to a job. You know, there’s people you, you have to deal with at your job that you don’t have to deal with outside. And you have to figure out how you’re gonna manage that within that timeframe and make things successful for you and your teammates. And how are you gonna build them up even if it’s somebody you don’t like that happens. That’s life.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:53):

So, and that’s the one thing about it. I just love that you’re able to, to teach them the life skills that they can have going forward and translate that into every other part of their lives. and getting to know them. Just some of my, the students that I come back in I see all the time are the ones that not necessarily were in my classroom, they were on my court or they were in my student council, or they were in our clowns mentoring group. I mean, those are the ones that you kinda get to know at a different level versus here’s my subject matter, learn that and then we’ll, I’ll give you a grade and then we’ll move forward. So it’s learning and meeting kids where they are and meeting ’em on a different level. and being a human to ’em, you know, it’s like, it’s kinda like being their friend but not, but it’s a respect, like, I’m still your teacher, I’m still your coach.

Suzanne Imhoff (22:43):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I’m here for you. But we aren’t gonna cross, you know, there’s that line of respect of I’m gonna respect you, you have to respect me, there’s boundaries. but I’ve, I’ve got you, you know, I’m here for you. I will do what I can to help you get through whatever it is you need to get through or meet the needs, your needs at that at that moment. And coaching allows me to do that, which I really, really enjoy. It’s tough this year cause I’m not coaching cause my son’s a senior. so I’m missing that. And I’ve had some of the middle school kids who I coached last year. They’re like, what do you mean you’re not coaching? I’m like, I can’t give you everything that I need to give you because I want to be able to be there for my son and I don’t think it’s fair. Let’s just leave practice early. I’m like, well that doesn’t put you as a priority and as a coach, if I’m coaching you, you are a priority to me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And if I can’t give you that full priority, then it’s then I’m not going to be that person there for you. So I just love the relationships. I, I, I kind of thrive on those relationships. I guess they mean a lot to me.

Sam Demma (23:49):

What is the clowns mentoring program? The name caught my attention, but I’m sure it’s amazing. <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (23:56):

Well, I have 35 high school students who choose to dress up as different clowns. scary. And what they do is, I know four times, it’s four times a year. We go here at the high school. We will plan they get, they have the, they have their their rings is what we call them. We have a ring leader and then there’s three or four column to work together. They plan a half hour lesson that they’re going to teach elementary students in grades 4K through fourth grade. Nice. they had to come up with their icebreakers, the activities, the, how are they gonna wrap it up. they give ’em a treat, but they plan the lesson, they execute the lesson. They just happen to dress up as clowns. a different persona for them to, it helps the high school student kind of release like, oh, I have this call makeup of and I look like this.

Suzanne Imhoff (24:50):

So, and then they’re going in front of these elementary kids who just absolutely adore them. And anything that they say comes out of them, you know, is, is golden. but I do see the high school students learn just as much as these elementary kids. They the lessons are all based on, we have a program called Saints Cares for St. Falls Saints. so each month has a different target. one is manners or gratitude or empathy. And so the students will base their lessons that they’re gonna teach the kids on whatever month it is that we are going to, to make the visit. each group visits two to three different classes through that day. We get, we hit every classroom in those grade 4K through fourth grade. and we have four classrooms per grade level. So it’s, it’s, it’s something that, it’s funny cause I don’t really have to work hard to get kids to wanna do it.

Suzanne Imhoff (25:42):

Cause these kids had the clowns come and visit them. And every time I ask ’em, why do you guys wanna be a com? They’re like, oh, it was so, it was awesome when they came, they taught us so much. And I wanna give that back to, I wanna give that experience to these kids right there as a, as a mom, as a teacher, as an advisor. That’s why we do what we do. If we can teach our children to want to give back for what they got out of something, that to me is makes it all worth it.

Sam Demma (26:13):

That’s so, cause

Suzanne Imhoff (26:14):

It was a program that was, yeah, it was a program that was gonna die. And I’m like, no, this can’t die. I have had my children go through it and I see what it does for these kids. So I took it on because I had nothing else to do, which is not true. But

Sam Demma (26:27):

<laugh> you know, earlier, a couple minutes ago you said that you turned down coaching because you knew that you wouldn’t be able to give it the time it deserves. You wouldn’t be able to prioritize the students, the athletes. And then you’re just telling me now that you said yes to doing the clown thing and, and you were busy like you already had other things going on. I think it’s so rare to have an educator that like truly wants to say yes and finds it very hard to say no. Because I think there’s also the reverse that want to say no and try and avoid saying yes to things. And yeah, I just think it’s really cool to hear your perspectives and, and to have you on the show. the clown program. My follow up question was gonna be, have you had a student who was impacted by the clowns and then became one? but you answered that, that that’s so cool that it’s, it’s been around for that long and the impact is now transforming into the teachers of the program. You said it was about to die. How did, how did you resuscitate it? <laugh> the, the program.

Suzanne Imhoff (27:30):

Nobody wanted to do it. And so I’m just like, Nope, I’m gonna do it and we’re gonna kind of restructure it and we’re gonna make it. It kind of was starting to get be the, the previous advisor wasn’t really having the kids stay focused. They were kind of just the high school kids, not Mm. it and wasn’t really putting the effort was kind of just there to, to do it and was like, yeah, I’m done and nobody was gonna step up. I’m like, they’re like, well if nobody’s gonna do it, then we’re not gonna have the program anymore. And I’m like, this just means too much for both the elementary kids and the high school kids. Like I said, I see these high school kids, they’re putting themselves out there. Yeah. I got kids who don’t say boo to high schoolers, don’t say anything and they’re willing to go and stand in, in front of a room of 20 little kids, elementary kids and teach them about good morals and values.

Suzanne Imhoff (28:27):

I mean, if we don’t want that as a program, I don’t know what we want <laugh>. I mean, if we would and to have high school students want to teach that and model that. I mean, it’s a mentoring group. We call it that because they have to follow the behavior that they’re teaching. And I have to turn kids away cuz I can only take so many. and they know that there’s, there’s high expectations and if they don’t follow, I’ve had to head kids, you know, I’m like, guys, your grades matter. You have to be a student first. you have to carry a c or above. It’s, you have, these are expectations. These kids they may not know of, but they know how you are behaving and acting. And you have to be that role model with or without the kind of, the story behind it is they’re like, so for some of the kids are like, we know who you are.

Suzanne Imhoff (29:20):

You’re a high school student. They’re like, no, every clown has a doppel, ganger human <laugh>. So they have a twin in the human world. <laugh>. So anytime a human is born, a clown is born as well. And the clowns are like 472 years old and they’re their age is their, their lunch number actually <laugh>. and so that’s how they get it. And they’re like, well why aren’t you? Why is it just your face that’s white? So they paint their face white and, and a symbol on there because the older they get the more the whiteness spreads as a clown. And they’re pretty young so they’re not, they’re not old enough to have their whole body coming in. White makeup <laugh>, there’s a whole story behind it. You know, it goes with that whole Santa Claus Easter bunny, that kinda thing. And

Sam Demma (30:09):

Is this totally created, like the whole story is created by you and and the group of people. That’s so cool. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (30:16):

Yeah. And they, like I say, the kids, the, all of my clowns, I have all but two cuz two have moved in and our clowns have gone through it. They saw them, they and they’re like, we totally thought that was, they were, that was a real, real thing. <laugh>. and, and like I said, but they’re like, it was so cool that would, they would come and that they would spend time with us cuz they go out to recess with them. So they teach ’em these lessons. They eat lunch with them, they go out to recess, they play games with them. and there are, you know, they just remember that again, it goes back to that time outside the classroom that makes a difference in a kid’s life that I, I have had a student tell me, they’re like, you know, the clowns cup came and that was the only day I felt special.

Suzanne Imhoff (31:05):

Mm-hmm. Because they would sit with me and they would talk with me and they would play with me. And I really truly felt special on the days that clown came to visit. So that’s why I wanna do this. I want, if I can help one person, so what I do and the reason I do it is the same reasons they do it. And so that to me is why I’m like, oh yeah, can’t, and we don’t, we’re self-funded. The kids have a a fee. They buy their own makeup, they come up with their own costumes. They’re all themed costumes. It’s not like your traditional clowns. like my, my daughter is currently one and she’s strawberry shark cake. She doesn’t like you call, she just like calling strawberry. So she wears course,

Sam Demma (31:46):

Of course. The

Suzanne Imhoff (31:46):

Strawberry sweater. Yeah. No, I’m like, ah, strawberry shortcake.

Sam Demma (31:49):

Of course there’s a cake in there. Strawberry

Suzanne Imhoff (31:51):

Leggings, strawberry earrings. She puts the white makeup and then puts strawberries on her face. Strawberry headband. So they’re kind of, each one has a theme. Mitz he’s a baseball clone. and then we have qb, he’s the football clown. Yes. So yeah, they’re all different kind of themes and the kids love getting dressed up. I mean, who doesn’t? Cause I do

Sam Demma (32:14):

<laugh>. This is, this, this program sounds amazing. <laugh>. it’s funny, I was talking to an educator the other day from, it would’ve been British Columbia, one of the provinces like far far west in Canada. And he was like, every year I go to California to this conference called Kata. And it’s like the, it’s a big leadership conference in California. And have you been before by any chance?

Suzanne Imhoff (32:37):

I’ve heard of it. I’ve wanted to go. Go. I’ve heard of it.

Sam Demma (32:39):

Yeah. So, so ba basically what he told me was like, leadership in Canada is like a cookie leadership in the US is like, Suzanne m h’s $2,800 cake <laugh>. He’s like, he’s like, it’s a, it’s just a different, it’s just a different experience. Like it’s so, it’s such a big part of the culture and such a big part of the education system. And for someone who’s not familiar with like a statewide conference, like what does that look like? What does a statewide leadership conference look like?

Suzanne Imhoff (33:12):

It’s funny you asked because I’m hosting the one our school is hosting, the one we’re having this year. so you’ll have kids from all over the state come in. We have a keynote speaker. It’s a two day conference, usually a Sunday, Monday. they come in and we have a keynote speaker and then we have regional business meetings where we elect officers, state officers. Nice. talk about things that hit on the regional levels. The state of Wisconsin’s divided into six regions. and then opposite that they have what we call super sectionals cuz they’re a little bit longer. So they’re our sectionals where we have presenters who will present on anything from mental health to how to lead after high school, how to lead in high school, how to any aspect, servant leadership fundraising, I mean, you name it, we, any topic that the kids would want to potentially hear about.

Suzanne Imhoff (34:15):

So we have those. we have banquet, we award like regional administrators of the year, state administrators of the year. Oh wow. also advisors give different leadership roles. And then we have some entertainment of course dances and fun things like that. And then on Monday we have another keynote speaker, but then we have other sectional breakouts as well. The ones on Sunday are typically led by adults, but the ones on Monday are led by students. Oh, wow. So different groups will put together some, like maybe presenting on a service project that they do or different organizations that they work with or different ways that they lead in their school or how they can get students involved. how do they run their homecomings? How do they run different community service opportunities different things. So whatever they want to, how to run a meeting, how to I know this year we’re gonna be bringing in some kids who have graduated.

Suzanne Imhoff (35:21):

Matt, the student I talked to you about earlier, he’s gonna come back and, and sit on the panel and say, okay, how did you take your leadership from high school level to the college level? Mm. And then from college, how do you take it beyond there? So there’s gonna be sectionals based for like freshman and sophomores and then once for juniors and seniors. Like, how can I continue this? I’m here, I’m in this small and a fishbowl of my school. How do I take it to the next level of college if I’m going to, you know, say UW Madison or a big school or even if I’m going to a private school, how do I stay involved and how do I use what I’ve learned going forward? So those will be there’ll be four, three different opportunities, but there’ll be probably 15 to 1220 different sessions.

Suzanne Imhoff (36:04):

Wow. And then we have a closing thing and they, then they go home. So that’s our, the state cover. So it’s a, we have big speakers come in, but then we also, I like the breakout sessions where students can go and, and learn different things that maybe interest them. So, nice. But that’s, yeah, on Sunday it’s usually adults. It doesn’t have to be. but then student led breakouts, which again, it’s putting kids in leadership situations, they have to lead the group, they have to lead these, you know, presentations. So they’re learning skills just as much as the person attending the students that are attending. So

Sam Demma (36:40):

That’s awesome. Yeah, I was gonna say, when you mentioned awards for administrators of the year and stuff like that, that’s, that’s really cool because it’s part, it’s partly for the educators and the adults as well, not just the, not just the students. So, oh yeah. That’s cool. I’m, I’m assuming there’s a big community around it, like each, each year is it held at a different school and all of you come together and it’s like, oh my gosh, Jane, I haven’t seen you since last year. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:06):

<laugh>. Yep. Oh yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s kinda like old home week whenever we get together and be able to, you feel like you just pick up where you left off the last time. You know, it’s a nice network. it that you can build as an advisor. I’ve, you know, I’ve relied on these people, some of these other advisors that I’ve met through this, you know, and through the state conference and through other activities that we’ve done that I’m like, oh, guy sitting on the email, okay, this is my situation. Have you guys ever experienced this? Some have, some haven’t. Hey, gimme some tips. Check. I mean, you, you can’t, can’t live in a bubble and think you’re going to, you know, get it all solved yourself. Learn from others’ experiences, steal ideas, you know, share what you’ve done with, you know, oh yeah, you’re gonna run this at homecoming.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:52):

Oh, we did that. Just know that, you know, this is the issues that we ran into or this is what was so successful. You know, why reinvent the wheel? Let’s take it and make it better. And sharing, I, I think you have to know, you have to work together. You have to give ownership to, you know, or give away the ownership. It’s not mine, it’s ours. Let’s make it all better and let me learn from you and you learn from me. And again, the end result is making students better and whether up here in northern Wisconsin or they’re in the southern part of the state. So that’s the important part.

Sam Demma (38:25):

Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. I was recently at a professional development conference to learn in Calgary, which is about a four hour flight from where I am now. and while I was sitting in the crowd, there was a slide that came up on one of the presenter’s presentations and the slide said something along the lines of, when a group of people get lost together in developing and building a worthy cause and none of them care about who gets the credit for it, that’s when real change gets made. And it sounds like this statewide type of a conference is, is similar. It’s like everyone’s coming together with the goal of hoping to make students’ lives better and help them reach their full potential. And to also help, you know, appreciate some of the staff that played a role in their lives. I just think it’s a really beautiful thing.

Sam Demma (39:11):

It, switching gears for a second, if you could travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder the first year you started teaching, but maintain all of the experiences you had now, kind of like getting in the back to the future car, but not going to the future. But going back if you could like walk into that first classroom you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Suzanne, this is the advice I think you need to hear. not because you would change anything about your path, but knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had, what would you have told your younger self?

Suzanne Imhoff (39:44):

I guess the one thing I would say would be it’s okay to the, to let my students fail. Hmm. I know that, and we’ve always said it, but to truly let them fail in what is happening. and not worry if it is a reflection on whether I failed or not. Hmm. and that’s, that was, that’s probably been the hardest lesson for me to learn. Cuz I’m like, okay, so alright, you’ve gotta do this. Oh, they’re not doing it, I’ll just do it. Hmm. No, I need to like let them not do it. if they were supposed to have a poster out and advertise it and then we don’t get as many people, well guys, we didn’t get as many people why what the reflection and evaluation of anything that I’ve done. That would be the one thing is looking at, you know, the failure as okay.

Suzanne Imhoff (40:40):

And it’s kind of cliche, but it’s a learning experience and I didn’t truly embrace that until I was into, well into my teaching and advising. And that would be the one thing that would be like, okay, no, you need to truly realize that it doesn’t make you a bad person because the event wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped. Mm. Or the lesson didn’t quite go as you had planned. That’s okay. What are you gonna do next time? What are we gonna, where, how are we gonna move forward from it? and know that it’s okay, that’s gonna happen. And if it doesn’t happen, that’s when you aren’t moving anybody forward because you don’t really truly learn or get better. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> if you don’t go outta your comfort zone. Hmm. And I, that was, I knew it. I’ve had had people tell me that, but I didn’t truly embrace it. And that would be the one thing I would go back and cuz there’s like times where I’m like, you know, if you had to let that kind of not go and not have done all the things for the kids, we would’ve gotten to the better place that we are now sooner. Hmm.

Suzanne Imhoff (41:52):

If that makes sense. It does. This took a little longer, kind of like when my parents, if I were to <laugh> listen to them going out, out of the box, I would’ve gotten into education a little sooner. But

Sam Demma (42:03):

Yeah. Hindsight’s 2020, right. <laugh> right

Suzanne Imhoff (42:06):

Own way. That’s what I I i that you just need to get outta your own and realize that you can do this and you will make mistakes, but you’ll get there and you’ll get there sooner if you stop telling yourself that you can’t do it.

Sam Demma (42:22):

Hmm. I love that. I think it applies for educators as well. You know, you’ll become the educator you always want to be when you stop telling yourself that you can’t or that that you don’t have the skills required or whatever the story might be. But yeah, I appreciate you for sharing a lot of your wisdom and insights today on the show. If someone’s, it’s already been almost like 45 minutes. If, if someone I know we, it’s a great episode. If someone wants to reach out, ask you questions, buy cake <laugh> <laugh>, well, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Suzanne Imhoff (42:55):

Oh yeah, sure. Emailing me is probably the, the, the best way that I check that constantly, but that’s imhofsu@scfschools.com

Sam Demma (43:14):

Awesome. Suzanne, thank you again for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, and keep baking those cakes and we’ll talk soon.

Suzanne Imhoff (43:20):

Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. It was great. It was fun.

Sam Demma (43:24):

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.