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Student Success

Brent McDonald – Superintendent of Education and Information Technology UGDSB

Brent McDonald – Superintendent of Education and Information Technology UGDSB
About Brent McDonald

Brent McDonald (@Brent4ED) is currently a Superintendent of Education with the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB). For the past 10 years his portfolios in this role have included; Safe, Equitable and Inclusive Schools, Information and Technology, Parent Engagement, Leadership Development and Succession Planning and working with his Family of Schools within the district.  He’s also the President of Educating Computer Network of Ontario (ECNO).

Brent is passionate about student success and ensuring that all students have the resources and supports needed to be their best. He is also passionate about learning in the classroom, educational technology, and school leadership.

Connect with Brent: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Upper Grand District School Board

Educating Computer Network of Ontario

Ray Dalio, “Principles”

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 guest has now become a good friend of mine. His name is Brent McDonald. He’s the superintendent of education and it at the UGDSB the Upper Grand District School Board. He’s also the President of ECNO. They have a strong role in providing leadership and direction to school boards in regards to it, he’s also been a classroom teacher, a vice principal, a principal he’s done every single job you could imagine in a school maybe next to being a custodian. And he has so many valuable insights and ideas to share on the podcast today. I’m super excited because you’re going to learn so much from this interview. There are so many nuggets and so many insights. I’ll see you on the other side. Talk soon. Brent, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you take maybe, you know, one to two minutes to share with the audience who you are and why you initially got into the work you do with young people today.


Brent McDonald (01:03):
Yeah. Great, Sam, thanks so much for having me today to start with it’s a real pleasure and really appreciate the opportunity to do some reflection too, for for the podcast today and, and really pleased that you’ve got this series going, but I’ll, I’ll share a little bit about myself. First and foremost I’m a father to two youth as well. One is in second year, a university, and one just about to head into a post secondary experiences at a grade 12. So very interested in the work that you’re doing and I know we’ve we’ve spoken a past too about connecting with the youth in our school board and hope we get to continue that when we get on the other side of things here too. For me currently, I’m an educator by trade I guess.


Brent McDonald (01:48):
And I, my role right now is as a Superintendent of Education with the Upper Grand District School Board. So for those that aren’t sure where that is. That’s a Guelf and Orangeville area. And then kinda out to the four one, and then north up into some beautiful country around Mount forest and Harrison, just about an hour and a half hour west of Toronto. I’m so close to the city, but also some, some beautiful landscape that’s there. And what’s awesome is we’ve got a school board that is an incredible mix of diverse of students and families and a geography. So some very rural country areas, which are just beautiful and then some really vibrant more cities type centers, wealth in Orangeville, for example. So lots of, a lot of the challenges that we see around the province are replicated within the walls of our board and right now as a Superintendent of Education I get to get out into our schools and, and follow up with students and staff and our principals and vice principals that run our buildings.


Brent McDonald (02:49):
And that’s fantastic for me. I love that opportunity to get out and get into our schools. Previously I was for about 10 years of principal, myself to at about four different schools in our area. And just loved that opportunity to to lead and be part of incredible staff and student bodies that that were just full of motivation and energy to, to do things. And and I think part and parcel what I look back on the work that I’ve done. Those experiences as, as a teacher previous to that, it was a core French teacher and a science teacher, or an a grade one teacher. All of those experiences when I look back at what I like about my work, the most it’s the, the motivation and the, and the power and influence that we get from, from students and the communities who are charged up about doing incredible things.


Brent McDonald (03:40):
And I know we started just before the interview, talking about your project that you were working on around picking up garbage and, and making your communities better. And when you can harness sort of that spirit and that energy that people want to, to do better and to improve and be a part of that, it’s energizing. So for me I think back when I was more your age and kind of looking at where I wanted to go in life, I had, I had multiple jobs. I had all sorts of jobs and that was, I loved working and had a lot of different experiences to try and see where I wanted to land and what I wanted to be in. And I think when I started, started to reflect on where I wanted to land in terms of a career. I look back at the work that I had done and all the opportunities that I’d ever had to work with youth and students and to be inspired and humbled by their creativity and their hope and their optimism that they had.


Brent McDonald (04:38):

That’s what did it for me? And I said, no, I, I need to be involved in this. This is a very fulfilling for me personally and professionally but also what an opportunity to lead and to guide. And I think that was the second reason that I landed into the work that I did as a student, as a teacher and then a administrator. And now into the role that I’m in is that I had the great fortune to have some incredible role models as teachers, myself and not just around the content of the curriculum that we were being taught. And when I look back at what they taught me, yes, the curriculum was, was very important, but it was more those life lessons and the work that they taught me about the attitudes that are important to have going into life and the opportunities and the belief that they had. And I thought, you know, if I can turn around and rec replicate even a part of that for students in the work that I would do, what a great what a great opportunity to have and one that shouldn’t be squandered. So, so that’s probably where I got the idea and where I got the energy and sort of the push is, or, or influences or motivators that guided me down to the work that I get to do today.


Sam Demma (05:48):

I love that. And you mentioned the work you do today. A lot of it surrounds staying in touch with staff members, touring schools every 10 days or so to check in and see how everyone’s doing. What are you hearing from those teachers in those students, in those schools? What challenges are they currently being pressed with and faced with?


Brent McDonald (06:08):

Well, very similar to to the challenges that most industries are facing right now and, and your you’re right. Sam. So the work that we do it is I don’t work in a school. I worked out of an office right now. But I do have responsibilities for, for a group of schools, but I also lead our information technology department as well. And I’ve got a fantastic group of, of managers and staff and teams that help support that work. And so for me, it’s, it’s twofold. It’s I get to, I get to see what’s happening in our classrooms, and I get to have a hand and work with incredible people to help support students in schools and our staff that are trying to teach remotely and, and work remotely and, and get involved. So that’s pretty exciting work that we get to do.


Brent McDonald (06:57):
The other work I get to do is around leadership development and succession planning for the board. So working with with new teachers, young teachers, to encourage them into leadership pathways in whatever way they want to get involved in. And we talk a lot about reaching down to students and doing the same thing for them too. So we do try and get into our schools as, as often as I can. We, we dedicate usually one day a week to getting into our school buildings. We’ve pulled back on that a lot to this September and October, just out of respect for not getting too many people into our schools. But we reach out virtually. So it’s noon today, and I’ve probably talked to about five different schools already this morning about what’s happening and there’s ways that we can do that too.


Brent McDonald (07:40):

But the challenges I’d say that they are facing are very, very similar to to what other other industries and other sectors are. And for us, and, and Sam, you look back at your school career, I’d say the one thing about our profession and our sector is that it’s typically as predictable as anything it’s by clockwork. We’ve got school year calendars or regular year calendars that we fall on. And we have the school year calendar where sometimes looks the exact same year over year, over year for decades after decades. So, you know, the first week of school programs and initiatives that happen the, the fall activities that happen that Terry Fox runs that happen every September, the sports teams that always start in the same schedule, the graduation, the proms it’s as predictable as clockwork forever, and ever, and ever. And and kids, I think students look, look forward to that.


Brent McDonald (08:36):

I remember a student, myself being in grade five, thinking I get to have that grade six teacher next year, that everybody’s been talking about it’s finally my turn or it’s graduation. Next year, we get to go on the grade eight trip, or we get to do these milestones that that people look forward to. And all of a sudden that’s turned upside down and gone. And the predictability and the consistency that’s been involved in people’s lives forever. All of a sudden gets, it gets to be a very uncertain environment. And and that causes a lot of challenges for staff and students who built careers and, and expectations around what’s coming next and plans. Particularly for students who thrive on routines or who need routines and structure to be successful and to show their best their best efforts every single day for them not knowing is, is, is an incredible part of our incredible challenge them to overcome.


Brent McDonald (09:34):

So that I would say from a student’s point of view and staff, to some extent the, the uncertainty and the constant change throwing at a system that’s typically very traditional has been very, very difficult for folks. I’d say from a, from a system perspective too, and the work that I get to do, we’re typically a very, very collaborative organization. So before we launch an, a, an idea or an implementation, or, or think about how we’re going to implement a new idea or, or, or, or any type of new project there’s a lot of time that goes into the planning, the bringing different voices around the table to get input running it by students and staff and all of our different stakeholders that we have. And I’d say we have not had that luxury in the last four to five months to be able to do that.


Brent McDonald (10:31):

So for us, our, the way that we work has been changed an awful lot, and we’ve had to become, you know, I’ll use those words like nimble and agile that, that everybody talks about. And the, the dreaded pivot word that we’ve had to do so much more than than we ever have before. And for for our sector and our educators and students too. But at a system level, that’s probably been the most difficult pieces that are traditional consultative processes that we put in place in our collaborative efforts that we rely on have had to be speeded up in such greater fashion than we’re typically used to. And we’re doing a good job of it, but it is a change, right? It’s, it’s been a big change. So those would be some of the big the two big changes that I’d see from a student perspective. And then from a systemic perspective.


Sam Demma (11:22):

That’s awesome. Yeah, someone mentioned to me the other day, the state of education could be compared to throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. And I’m curious to know if there’s anything that has stuck so far for you, if you have any unique ideas that are working, or if teachers have reported back to you or any principals saying, you know, Brent, this has really worked or on the other side, you know, this was a total flop and we learned something from it. Either of those things are extremely valuable. And if you have any to share, that’d be awesome.


Brent McDonald (11:53):

Yeah, Sam, I’d say for us, the one thing that we have learned the most, or that’s been most apparent, and I’d say up until, you know, September or even October, we haven’t had a lot of time to be able to pause and reflect on what’s happened because it’s been so busy, we’ve been busy throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what happens. So we, we haven’t had a ton of time to reflect, but the reflections that we’ve done and when, and we’re starting to do them more and more now, which I’m pleased about. But what we, what I’d say we’ve learned a lot that we have seen is for the first time ever in, in my career in the spring everybody stopped doing everything and focused on one thing, and that was getting getting us to work remotely and to have teachers and students learn remotely when we in the spring, when everything was shut down.


Brent McDonald (12:47):

So all of a sudden 5,000 staff members and 34,000 students in our board had one goal that we had to do really quickly and had to make sure it happened. And we don’t do that very often. Usually we are juggling, you know, curriculum expectations, we’re judging or juggling technology expectations were juggling. A lot of the work that we’re doing around social justice and whether it’s our anti-oppression work that we’re doing, or anti-black racism, all of a sudden everything funneled into one, one project as an entire group. And and we had to be conscious of all those other things that we did, but really it was one, one goal. And we did it. And if someone had asked me back in January, you know, do you think everybody in this board could, could just walk out of the buildings and work remotely and live remotely in the next two months?


Brent McDonald (13:37):

I’d say, no, that’ll take us years to years to really pull off in any cohesive way, given what everything else is is on everyone’s plates. But all of a sudden we didn’t have anything else on our plates. We had one thing and watching everyone come together and work together and have that spirit of cooperation and collaboration was, was fantastic. So when I say what stuck and what, what worked back to your question? I’d say we learned a lot about what we can do if we really focus and have clear, consistent goals and and keep it simple and small we can move fast and as a big system. So that was exciting for me to see I think mistake wise, the, you asked that as well mistake wise. Yes, absolutely. It’s not perfect. What we’re working on and that’s okay.


Brent McDonald (14:29):

We talk a lot about failure in our system and that failure is, is is a really good thing because you learn from it and if you’re failing and learning, that’s okay. That’s how you get better at it. And we have to be able to do that. And there, there’s a whole show that you could probably do on, on failure or a whole talk we can do on, on how you manage that. But I think we’ve created a culture of of safety for, for staff and students as best we can and by safety, I mean not necessarily physically safe, but really being able to say, Hey, you know what, we can try some things and if they don’t work, it’s okay, nobody’s going to get too upset. We’re going to fix it and move forward and learn from it.


Brent McDonald (15:10):

And I think that’s what we’ve done the last little bit. So from all of the granular mistakes that we make every day, and, you know, it’s seven months later and people are still not unmuting their mics on zoom calls, right. Those really small things that come to the, to the much bigger mistakes that we’re making. And for us, some of those have been trying to solve problems that really don’t exist. And and under estimating people in some respects too. So the example I use is we spent, we spent weeks worried about students three and four year olds having to wear masks all day and that, how can that possibly happen? Well, it did. We asked them and we provided resources and, and teaching to them. And I can go into a school at the end of the day on a Friday.


Brent McDonald (16:00):

And there’s a three-year-old has been there all week, all day, still wearing their mask and completely fine with that. So something that was a big worry for us in our planning turned out to not be a problem at all, and for most people but certainly not to the extent that we thought it was going to be as an example some of the other underestimations that we’ve made. And it’s just because it’s our first time through a lot of it, I’d say we planned. And we, we underestimated the amount of people that would take up remote learning, for example, through COVID. So, you know, our schools are open and we have options around remote, and we might’ve fought somewhere under 10%, five to 10% might pick that up and so we planned appropriately for that. And our board, we’re sitting more around 17% now, but there’s many boards that are sitting around 40 to 50% of their population that have opted for remote.


Brent McDonald (16:50):

Those numbers are staggeringly more than what we thought they would have been to start with. And we didn’t know. And again, didn’t have that time through the consultation to really find out. So it was best guesses. And so I’ve seen some areas where we have underestimated either whether it’s at the student level or systemically some of those pieces. And we’ll learn from that. And now, you know, the next time that we venture down this road we’ll know what’s a problem. What’s a real problem. And what’s not a real problem. So that’s been, that’s been interesting to watch, and I’d say we’ve learned from that.


Sam Demma (17:23):

There’s a gentleman named Ray Dalio wrote a book titled “Principles,” and we’re the most successful hedge fund managers in the world. And he has a concept known as the error log. And it’s a document shared by his entire company where every time a mistake is made instead of a manager, figuring it out, you personally log the mistake yourself, explain what happened and what you learned from it. And he says like every week, his old team reviews, this error discusses it publicly so that every single person in the company learns from one person’s mistake. And I thought it was a brilliant, brilliant concept. And you had so many other pieces of wisdom in this book. And you also mentioned, you know, the importance of resilience, which comes from overcoming challenges or going through failures and seeing the resilience of a three-year-old or a four-year-old must be a motivating site for you, especially for anybody. I’m curious to know, you know, those sites motivates you. What else keeps you motivated? What drives you to keep doing this work, even when times are really difficult and tough?


Brent McDonald (18:28):

Well, you, you, you nailed it right. There really is the youth that we have and their voices, and and seeing the hope that they have. So I’d say also the lessons that we learned from them and started the questions today, you know, why did I get into this work? And, and the other reason which lends into this motivator is, is that desire to keep learning. And we learn as much today from our youth, as I do from, from any professional development series or, or workshop. And, you know, when we look at the great work that’s happening around our environmental work that we’re doing, or around our anti-oppression anti black racism, anti-oppression work that we’re doing, our students are often the ones leading the charge and teaching us about about how things need to be. And, and sometimes we needed to take a step back and really look at at, at what they’re doing and what they’re asking and what they’re saying.


Brent McDonald (19:27):

And so those lessons that we learned from our, our youth and the questions that they put on the table holding us as the adults and the, the, the leaders and systems accountable for what we’re doing. That’s, that’s incredible. That’s a, that’s, that’s motivating for me and helps move us forward and think, yeah, these are the, these are the leaders of our future. So it’s up to us to get barriers out of the way so they can do the work that they want to see as they go forward. And, you know, I don’t know if it’s always been that way, but I’d say the student voice is, is, is alive and, and more present now than, than I’ve seen in years past. And there’s venues for it. And, you know, your, your show’s very much like that too. It’s bringing student voices and ideas for students forward. But we’re also seeing it in so many other places. So I think having that energy behind you, when you know that you’re in a school system that has 34,000 voices and opportunities ahead of them, that’s, that’s motivating you. Can’t not be motivated by that, that gets you out of bed in the morning.


Sam Demma (20:32):

I love that. That’s awesome. And for the educators who might be listening, hopefully they’re not struggling with motivation issues, but in the, in the case that they might be, and they’re struggling to get out of bed. Maybe in fact, it’s their first year in education. If I could take you back to your first year in education, and, you know, you, you started, you were a little bit uncertain, maybe really passionate to get going, but confused and overwhelmed with all the different systems and terminology. And there’s the, just, just the change of starting something new. What pieces of advice would you share with your past self and with other educators who are just starting to get into this role, especially during a year like like 2020 with the global pandemic.


Brent McDonald (21:16):

That’s a great question, Sam, in one night, we got to remind ourselves all the time and I alluded to it earlier, but I think if I went back to my first-year teaching self probably a lot of fear around failure and not doing things right. And I’d say I probably spent way too much energy worrying about that. Then just trying some things and seeing how it goes and being okay if it didn’t and moving forward. So I learned those lessons along the way, but I, I probably wish I learned those more quickly probably would have had a lot less sleepless nights as a, as a brand new teacher. I’d also say reaching out to, to colleagues and you know, when I first started, I think I remember my first email that I ever wrote as a teacher it’s we email was just coming on.


Brent McDonald (22:04):

And when that happened, which is a very sad thing to say, but I remember the first time that we got to do that as a teacher, and now the ability for teachers to connect and collaborate be outside the walls of their classroom is phenomenal. The, the PD that’s available on on social media, on Twitter feeds on, on that you can access at the, you know, whether it’s through podcasts, whatever it might be, you can get ideas and collaborate and make connections with people more than we ever could when I first started. So my advice would be not to encourage youth youth and new teachers to the profession, especially when you’re feeling up against the wall on something or worried about something, reach out and put the question out there. And I see it every day when I’m looking through feeds in the comments, the, the support that’s out there in the broader educational community for, for staff is fantastic and feels really supportive when you read it. And and there’s a, a great venue there for, for people, as opposed to just walking down the hall. There’s nothing wrong with walking down the hall and texting with your teaching partner down the way, but you have access to so much more than you ever did before. So use it would be my advice.


Sam Demma (23:16):

That’s awesome. And if someone wanted to get in touch with you, I know you’re busy and I have so much going on, but maybe there’s a fellow educator somewhere in the world who has ideas to share or wants to just bounce ideas around what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Brent McDonald (23:32):

Probably probably on Twitter. It would be the best way if if they’re looking for that. So my Twitter handles is @Brent4ED. So absolutely would be one of the best ways to reach out. You could do that or go into the Upper Grand District School Board website, and they can find me on there and make a connection. I just told people they should do it, just connect them and share ideas. And I think that’s what we have to keep on doing in this profession, especially as we’re all facing new challenges and new problems that we’ve never had before. We don’t need to solve it by ourselves. So it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and and see where we can go.


Sam Demma (24:14):

Right? That’s a great way to end this episode. Thank you so much for coming on here. I hope people reach out. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, and I look forward to seeing you again in person when all of this passes or starts to change and adjust.


Brent McDonald (24:26):

We’ll definitely make that happen. Sam, I was talking to folks today who we’re hoping that we can continue down that thread too. So we’ll look forward to having you back and a huge thanks again for allowing me to be on your show today.


Sam Demma (24:38):

Thanks a lot. You bet. And there you have it. Another amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you enjoyed this episode and liked it, consider reaching out to Brent, he would love to hear from you. And if you have your own ideas and insights that you’d like to share, please shoot us an email at info@samdemma.com. So we can also get you on the podcast. And as always, if you’re benefiting from this content and you’re enjoying it, consider leaving a rating and review. So more people just like yourself can find it and also consume it and learn new things for their own students in schools. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brent McDonald

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.

Adrian Del Monte – English Department Head and Leadership Coordinator

Adrian Del Monte – English Department Head & Leadership Coordinator
About Adrian Del Monte

Adrian (@adrian_delmonte) has been teaching for 13 years in the Toronto Catholic District School Board as an English Teacher, Department Head and Leadership Coordinator. Five years ago, he began a leadership development program at his school which emphasizes the importance of servant leadership for hundreds of students each year.

Adrian and his wife also founded Hopes Rise, a charity that works to help unprivileged children achieve fitness, literacy, and leadership goals.  He recently began a podcast called Wholehearted Teaching, which inspires teachers to bring their whole selves to the classroom. Adrian believes that there is no greater cause you can give your life to than serving others.

Connect with Adrian: Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Wholehearted Teaching

Tim Elmore, GIGO Principle – Garbage In Garbage Out

Harper Collins, “Good to Great” – Show Horse vs. Plow Horse

Jamboard

Kahoot

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 guest. Adrian actually reached out to me over email after hearing an episode on the podcast, just to let me know that he thought it was excellent content, and he’s really enjoying the interviews. And after read a little bit about himself and doing research on him, I realized that he should be someone who’s also interviewed on the show. And so we brought him on here today. Adrian has been teaching for 13 years in the Toronto Catholic District School Board as an English teacher, department head and leadership coordinator. Five years ago, he began a leadership development program at his which emphasizes the importance of servant leadership for hundreds of students each year. And you’ll see why servant leadership is so important to Adrian. In this episode, Adrian and his wife also founded Hopes Rise, a charity that works to help underprivileged children achieve fitness, literacy and leadership goals.


Sam Demma (01:01):

Adrian also recently began a podcast and is the host of Wholehearted Teaching, which inspires teachers to bring their whole selves to the classroom. A believes that there is no greater cause you can give in your life than serving others. Make sure you connect with him on Twitter at @adrian_delmonte at Hopes Rise. Hope you enjoy this episode. See you on the other side. Adrian, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself with the listener and sharing how you got that, the work that you do in education with young people today?


Adrian Del Monte (01:40):

Great. Well, thanks for having me, Sam I got into teaching maybe a little more unconventionally than, than others. I I didn’t have a great, great experience in high school that that’s totally on me. I I was pretty self-absorbed in high school. I had a lot of insecurities and and so I kind of buried my head in high school in my athletics. I was a competitive runner and was kind of angling for a scholarship. And when I look back on it now, there were so many teachers who were there with kind of their arms out and I didn’t really take advantage. I totally like got self-absorbed a bit focused on my, my sports so much. And, and I think I missed a lot of the high school experience. So I started studying at university and I figured I’d be a lawyer.


Adrian Del Monte (02:34):

My Nono said he would pay for . He would, he would pay for law school if one of us went. So it was like, all right. And then I realized, you know, in my third year of studying criminal justice, very few lawyers actually demand, you know, the truth like Tom, like Tom Cruise and a few good men. I want the truth. Lawyers don’t do that. Lawyers do a lot of paperwork. And so in my fourth year of university, I sort of started realizing, you know, what I feel like I want to give back. I want to give back, I want to create high school experiences for students that maybe, you know, maybe that I wasn’t aware of or, or that I, that I missed. And so I totally, in my fourth year I got into, I started, I had an in, I had enough teachables in, in English. But then I had to angle for a second one in my fourth year. And that’s really when I decided to go into teaching, but it took me a while to get there. I just, I don’t know why I think my sports while it added so much, it also kept me hidden a bit from the real world.


Sam Demma (03:32):

I feel the same way. I think we can. We’re very similar in many ways. My high school experience was so similar. In fact, I, I didn’t get involved in any activity throughout high school, aside from extracurricular soccer and rushing a soccer practice when the school bell went and I too missed out on all those abilities to serve and give back and learn more about myself with like-minded students and individuals. So I think the reason you got into teaching is, is amazing and it’s wholeheartedly centered that’s right? Yeah. Little pun there on your podcast title. Why don’t you share a little bit about your own show for educators and why you started it?


Adrian Del Monte (04:10):

Yeah, that’s that, that’s a good question. Thanks. the name of my podcast, Sam is, is Wholehearted Teaching just started maybe have half dozen episodes and you know, the biggest challenge in COVID I have found has been to keep your head in a good space. Mm. There is so many rabbit holes you can go down right now, right? Like I I’m driving into work this morning. I had the radio on from like 7:30 to 7:32. And in those two minutes, right. Car accidents on the 401, the, our, our premier is deceiving us. It’s global war. Like within seconds, your mind can just go the wrong way. You, you start letting your mind as a teacher, like, are the kids even listening on the other end of these Google meets? Are they, are they learning in this virtual school? And, and I’ve actually found the biggest challenge has been filling my mind with good stuff, like consciously going outta my way to fill it with good stuff.


Adrian Del Monte (05:09):

And so the podcast was a way that I could fill my mind with, you know, things above better things. Just, just filling my brain with one of our core principles with our leadership students is we took this from Tim Elmore, but the GIGO principle garbage in garbage out mm-hmm . And, and I think if you, whatever you put into your brain, that’s the kind of person you become. You are what you eat. Right. These puns make a lot of sense. Right. And so the podcast for me was just a way that we could sort of set up some, the content. Yeah. You know, you know, what was inspiring a little bit was I don’t know if you saw during COVID. One of my favorite shows is the office. Yeah. And John Kansky, the character who plays Jim started this some good news. I don’t know if you saw those episode, some good news. And his idea was to combat bad with good, because I think it’s so easy for us to like slip into these rabbit holes of despair. Right. And like, you start scrolling through Twitter. You’re like, oh my gosh, like the icebergs are melted. The world is over. Like everything’s. And so trying to find good to combat is really the reason for my podcast. It’s, it’s, it’s really what I’m trying to do with my, my mind, my mind right now.


Sam Demma (06:23):

And you mentioned that when you were in high school, you had teachers who extended an arm and a hand to you to try and help you, that you didn’t take. And I’m really curious to know, what do you think are the qualities, or maybe just one or two qualities of a wholehearted teacher of someone who is not only striving to teach curriculum, but really see, hear, and value and appreciate their students. How can educators listening, make sure that they are being those sorts of people, the people that reached out to help you when you were a kid?


Adrian Del Monte (06:54):

Yeah. You know what, I, I think we use this, it’s a little cliche, but, but the word is real mm-hmm or authentic or vulnerable. The subtitle of my podcast is bringing your whole self to the classroom. I think, I think, I think an, an attribute of, of, of the best kind of teacher is teaching. Isn’t a job, it’s it? It’s, it’s not something they come in, they check in, they check out it’s, it’s who they are. Yeah. This idea of their, their, they wanna learn not just in the classroom, but they wanna learn all the time. They wanna, they wanna have a growth mindset all the time, again, another cliche phrase. But I think a teacher is someone who recognizes that at my core, I’m a teacher. So I think that’s one thing, this authenticity, this integrity of, I learned recently that integrity is a math word.


Adrian Del Monte (07:51):

That just means whole it’s a whole number. And so integrity is a whole person, right. They don’t, they’re not a teacher. And then, so else later on they’re, that’s who they are. It’s just a, it’s, it’s a kind of a, a coming together of all parts of their being. And, and so that’s, that’s an attribute. I think another part of, of a great teacher is gratitude. I think that’s such a big one for teachers. I know there’s problems and, and I’m definitely not, I’m not sorry. I’m, I’m very aware of the problems mm-hmm and I think I’m also consciously aware of how grateful I am that I get to do this work. Yeah. That I get students in front of me who listen to me, who are interested in the things that I might see as important, and that I, I, I’m grateful that I get to work with the wonderful school community, wonderful colleagues. So, so I think those things, I try to keep gratitude high on my list, authenticity high on my list. I think those are some of the attributes of a, of a wholehearted teacher.


Sam Demma (08:55):

Totally agree. And when I think about Mike loud foot, who is the, not the one teacher, cuz there were so many, but one of many teachers who heavily impacted my career in life, his authenticity of being who he truly was. Yeah. Came out as some quirky mannerisms and extreme passion when teaching his curriculum to the point where it was hard not to listen to him and focus because he was just so into it. Yeah. And I think during tough times, some of that passion dwindles not that the, not that the candle ever gets unlit, but it might just, it might just reduce slightly I’m. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I’m curious to know if you have any stories of transformation and it doesn’t have to be a kid in your class. It could just be a story about how someone, you know, or someone you’ve taught or someone, you know, who’s taught, has transformed. A student has transformed due to, to teaching. And the reason I’m asking to share it is because it might relight or make that little handle, like it might make it brighter right now. And you can change the student’s name for privacy reasons if it’s a serious story.


Adrian Del Monte (10:04):

Hmm. Yeah. So, you know, Sam, I, I actually have never been brought to tears with my students over my curriculum. My curriculum, my, I know inside and out. I, I, I all day I can teach the books, but the stories that matter, I think that that inspire teachers are the ones that have outside the curriculum. Mm. I’ve cried with my students many times. Yeah, here’s a great example. A few years ago I had this particular class, it was a a grade 10 English class. And they were so openly curious about everything. And we went off book a ton of times. We, we went off book and we, this was maybe four or five years ago, but Google docs was just kind of getting a little bit big. And, and one of the things I started offering the students was editing, editing, help with them but because there were so many of them, I couldn’t meet with them each out after class.


Adrian Del Monte (11:01):

And, and so I started saying, I’ll edit with you, we’ll meet on your Google doc. That’s the beauty of a Google doc. You can collaborate in. So, so many ways. And, and they, they started taking me up on it. So we would edit at, in the evenings and we did parent consent forms and all those sorts of things cuz it was outside of class hours. But I started editing with the kids, giving them time outside of our class hours and, and on the last day of class and, and sorry, this is something, I think that even though it happened before COVID, this is, it is such a powerful tool. So showed out to Google docs, editing tools. So back on, back on this story, last eight class I walk in and they’ve got a cake and I get emotional thinking about it.


Adrian Del Monte (11:47):

And, and one of the things that year I really pushed was reading and Harry Potter became a huge reference. And at the very end of the very last Harry Potter, Harry Potter says to his mother as a ghost, will you stay with me? And she says, till the very end and the students on the cake had written, will you edit with me? till the very end. Right? That’s what they had written to me. Right. And it was like, what am my colleague poked her head in? And, and she saw me and she’s like, are you crying? Like, and I was like, I’m freaking crying. Like I’m crying right now because it just over it overcame me that this thing editing, editing their essays, their five paragraph essays mattered to them that I made time for them. And I can still see their faces. I, I can still see their faces is like holding the cake, them being emotional and over this simple thing of editing till the very end and, and yeah, man, those, those are the kind of things when you kind of go outside the curriculum and I think now is a time if there’s ever a time to leave your curriculum for your students, it’s 2020.


Adrian Del Monte (12:53):

And , and, and that, that story every time I think of it, I, I to use your language, ignites the fire a little bit. Mm. Ignites the fire. Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:02):

And you, you mentioned that you left and that’s a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. And if anyone’s listening, I mean, I know you’re listening. If you are listening, actively please consider reaching out to Adrian. Maybe you can share a little bit about Google docs if you haven’t used it before. Mm-Hmm I know it’s really cool. Cuz you can change the colors of everyone who’s typing and you can have like 10, 15 people on the same doc typing things at the same time. Really cool tool to use. You mentioned your Nu though, made a promise to you that he pay for your education. If you went and became a lawyer. Yeah. I too Italian so I can wait for the pressures in the family. but you said that you actually wanted to give back and something that I know because of previous conversations we’ve had is that you deeply believe in the power of serving others and servant leadership. Where has that, where has that aspect of your life come into play in teaching and outside of the classroom that you think is worth sharing with others?.


Adrian Del Monte (14:04):

You know, a funny story about my no, no, I, I didn’t pursue law school, but when I was in, when I was doing my masters, I actually, I applied for, for my, for my doctorate. Yeah. And was accepted my doctorate and, and my no know said goes, that’s not a real doctor. That’s what he said. Cause he wasn’t a medical doctor. So, so anyways, you know, I gotta thank him cuz that actually pushed me a little further towards teachers college, but about servant leadership. You know, I think students have an image of a leader that is a little bit unrealistic. I think the image of, of, of leadership for most students is like someone up on a stage, right? With a mic commanding, the troops, MLK, you know Nelson men, someone, someone Barack Obama, someone up there with like power and influence.


Adrian Del Monte (14:57):

And I think that’s intimidating for a lot of students. And so when I got into leadership at the school, I realized that a more accurate representation of a leader was not someone with a Mike, but someone with a empty garbage bag. And I know this, I know this is something you, you and I connect on. Le leadership to me is, and I’m taking this from a great leadership book called Good to Great. And the author talks about the difference between a show horse and a plow horse. Right? And I think many leaders are show horses. They, they look good, right? They got the image, they got the confidence, they’re good on a mic. They can speak with a good deal of articulation. Right. And, and I think those leaders are good, but not great. Great leaders are the ones who are plow horses.


Adrian Del Monte (15:48):

Mm-Hmm right. The image in my mind of a show horse is like the one jumping over the barriers with like the fury tail. I don’t think, you know, like the eque all that, right. But the plow horse is the guy out in the field, pulling the, the, the S around his neck or pulling the yolk around his neck as he’s like grinding through the dirt. And that was a better image to me of leadership. And so one of the images that we always have highlight for our students is pick up a garbage bag, you know, pick, pick up a garbage before you get the mic. You’re gonna hold the garbage bag. And, you know, a couple years ago this, we, we played this amazing game at Muskoka woods on one of our leadership retreats. The game ended with students building these cardboard boats, sailed them through the lake.


Adrian Del Monte (16:33):

Hmm. So fun at the end of it, everyone’s got their spirit gear on, you got smoke, grenades going, you got all the it’s, a who music that wasn’t the highlight. The highlight was the six kids who stayed after and pulled that soggy cardboard out of the lake. Mm. To me, those were the kids that got it. The other kids are wonderful kids and they might have just missed the moment. But the images we posted on social media after were the garbage pickers. Mm. Not the kids with the smoke grenades. And I, and I think students need those images. Mm-Hmm, otherwise leader leadership too. It’s big of a concept for them to grasp. It’s like, well, I can’t do that. I’m I don’t wanna be on the stage. And many students don’t wanna be on in high school. I didn’t wanna be on the stage. And, and so I hid, or I found something that was a little more safe and I, and, and I think images like garbage picking are powerful, powerful metaphors for students. And so those are the kind of things that I, I try to give my students opportunities to pick up garbage. I love it. I love it. Yeah. And there’s no shortage of trash, so that’s right, right?


Sam Demma (17:49):

That’s right. It’s a great opportunity. And I love the story, man. I got goosebumps as you were explaining it because recently I’ve had a similar revelation. I mean, all throughout high school like yourself, I was very self-absorbed in, in soccer and not getting involved. And then my 21st birthday, which was September this year, I decided to take a year off social media and I haven’t logged on, it’s been over two months now. Wow. I’m I have a buddy who checks my messages for me and a high school intern who manages Twitter. And I, before I left the, the platform, I took down almost all of the pictures that I had. I had like over a hundred posts. And most of them were me standing on a stage saying basically, unconscious justly, look how great I am, you know, doing all these speeches. And, and I started to ask myself, is the message I’m spreading congruent with these posts, because I’m actually not doing young people, a service by sharing all these, highlighted all these highlights and, and huge moments because they’re gonna look at it and think, wow, I’m not doing that. I’m good enough. I could never be there. And so I took most of them down. Mm. And I started asking myself, why am I putting content out in the first place? Is it to help others or to validate my own insecurities? Mm. And yeah. So I deeply relate to you on that level. And when I come back to social media, if I do there’ll be a lot more garbage bags.


Adrian Del Monte (19:11):

Yeah. Right. You know what I think, I think it’s so important for kids to understand that leadership is not something you do yeah. For three days. Yeah. Right. And I think that’s typically the image, you sign up for a leadership experience and those things are powerful. Those are fire starters. I’m not, I’m not, you know, a trip to camp Olympia or Musk woods that those ignite the fire. But I think the kids have to really buy into a way of living. Yeah. And, and, and, and then it’s not so much about what I did for those three days. It’s about how I live the other 362 days. And, and that becomes, you know, then it’s about, I woke up this morning, the dishwasher was full. I’m an empty that even my mom doesn’t let me know that that’s or, you know, my friend my, my friend needs me. I’m gonna call her on the phone. Right. And, and I think then servant leadership is not about an event. It’s about a a way of life. And I really do think values.


Sam Demma (20:08):

Yeah. Right. Your values drive all your actions. And if you’re always asking yourself, how can I help others? Or how can I serve others? You don’t have to have talent skills, abilities, or God forbid sake, even education all the time to just be a great person to the people around you, as much as you can. Mm-Hmm and it’s funny, cuz you talk to what your Nuno. I, I think of mine when I think about this, because God bless his soul. He’s passed away now. I have the same name as him. Usually. I name you after your, your other father. Do you have the same name as your grandfather or middle?


Adrian Del Monte (20:40):

Middle name.


Sam Demma (20:41):

Middle. Yeah, of course. and and Sam, my Nuno though he would wake up 4:00 AM shovel, 10 to 12 streets driveways in the middle of the winter of people that he knew couldn’t shovel at themselves before going to work at a farm for pretty or sorry, not in the winter, but before going to work for a whole day in a factory when my dad was just growing up you know, one time I remember a story where he could called my dad because my dad knew he needed some help to cut a little spot in the grass to, to plant a garden. And they said they were gonna start the project at 7:00 AM. And my dad woke up to my grandfather, digging. The job was done when he…


Adrian Del Monte (21:20):

Got at seven..


Sam Demma (21:22):

He started at four, it came over like five. And was done by seven.


Adrian Del Monte (21:25):

Plow horse, man. That’s a plow. That’s that, that see the, those are the stories of servant leadership that servant leadership, servant leadership is not a mic. It’s not like spirit. It’s not, I think school spirit is great, but it’s not servant leadership. There, there, there there’s overlap, but they’re not the same thing. And your grandfather that’s that’s leadership. He led his family like, like how, how could, how could our, how, what better examples of that? Can we give to our students than that? Like that, that is just so powerful. That’s a great, great example. Sure. It was for you and your siblings. Like I’m sure that was a great example.


Sam Demma (22:01):

Well, I still remember it to this day, right? Mm-Hmm , it’s the stories that are memorable and stick in our mind. You know, we’ve talked a lot about servant leadership, a little, a little bit about what it means to be a wholehearted or high performing educator. Mm. You know, right now it’s, it’s challenging with COVID and I’m curious to know, not so much, I don’t wanna focus too much on the challenges, but I wanna focus on what you’ve tried that is working or is in progress and you think another educator might benefit from here?


Adrian Del Monte (22:26):

Yeah. That’s a great question. You, a, a lot of people are saying, you know, once we get this vaccine, we can get back to normal. And, and the reality is normal. Wasn’t that great? Like there was a lot of problems with normal. We had, we had, you know, again, I don’t wanna focus on the problems, but yeah, you had disengaged students, you had mental illness, you had systemic racism. There was a lot of thing. And that, that needed to be addressed. And I think COVID, I’m looking at it in a way of what opportunities does this now present us. Mm. So, so, so here, here’s an example, I think over the last several years, but particularly in a virtual learning space, teachers no longer need to hold information because the students have Google, right. Teachers used to be, if you wanted to know about what happens in the play Macbeth, you had to come to Mr. Delmonte’s class and I’ll tell you, they don’t need you for that anymore.


Adrian Del Monte (23:18):

They, they don’t need teachers to be the sage on stage. Right. They don’t need me up there with all my knowledge presented because they can Google it. So the first I’ve heard, this is the generation of kids that knows more than the adults. Now they don’t know what to do with it necessarily, but they, they have tons of information. And I think what COVID is giving us an opportunity to do is ask ourself, how can we really create opportunities for student voice student voice? And, and so when I’m designing a lesson, now I ask myself, is this experience about what I know or what the students can create? Mm, right. So, so let me give an example, cuz teachers are practical academic. So that, that sounds fine. But how do you design a lesson?


Adrian Del Monte (24:08):

So the way I would design the lesson, I’m gonna teach, right? When this interview’s over is, is I’ll start with a I’ll start with a Kahoot, right? A Kahoot is like a, a virtual game, a trivia game, but all the kids turn off their mics on their mics. So you can hear them as they play the game. Then they come into the conversation and we’ll read a story about actually, we’re, we’re reading a great piece today about it’s called dear white people. Great piece. Nice. And that’s gonna lead us into a journal entry where they’re creating a boat, asking the question of themselves. Am I not a racist or am I anti racist? And they’re, they’re different. And so they get to write a personal journal. They come back and they go into a breakout room where they’re in a conversation with a few of their a few of their classmates, an online small group.


Adrian Del Monte (24:57):

Then after that, they come back for a class discussion and then it ends with all of us contributing to like a interactive whiteboard called the Jamboard. And so when I look at, I would’ve never taught that way. Right. But what COVID is making me do is realize the kids have to stay engaged all the time. Cause there’s too many distractions in their bedrooms. Right. They’ve got Snapchat and yeah. And, and, and, and, and their bed, like things on the wall, right. They get distracted. Right. And so COVID is asking me to reconsider, how do I take the emphasis off knowledge and focus on what the students can create? And actually the homework tonight after this conversation is I’m gonna have them create like a, a poem, an original poem. And I, I think Google, while it’s a powerful source is crippling our kids a little bit. So teachers have a wonderful opportunity to innovate and, and try new things that are gonna shift the focus from what we know to what they can do. Yeah. I hope that answers your question.


Sam Demma (25:58):

A hundred percent. And if anyone’s curious about Jamboard or Kahoots or any of the resources you mentioned, including Google docs, how can someone reach out to you if they’re inspired by this and just wanna bounce some ideas around and have a conversation with yourself?


Adrian Del Monte (26:14):

Twitter’s probably the best way my handle on Twitter is @adrian_delmonte like the like the fruit cup, no relation. Yeah. Okay. Awesome.


Sam Demma (26:27):

Yeah. Cool. Yeah. Adrian, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It was such an insightful conversation. You’re doing amazing work and I hope to stay in touch and keep watching all the cool things that happen with your class and in your school.


Adrian Del Monte (26:38):

Sam, I have got to get you on Wholehearted Teaching.


Sam Demma (26:40):

Let’s do it. That’ll be great.


Adrian Del Monte (26:41):

Thanks Sam. All right. Talk soon.


Sam Demma (26:44):

This interview could be something that you actually share with your class. I think the stories that Adrian shared and the perspectives on reframing leadership is something that is so relevant, especially right now, when all of your students are spending an average of eight to nine hours per day, a on social media, believing that leadership might be being a professional YouTuber being, becoming famous on TikTok. But when in reality, it’s, it’s all wrong. Leadership is about service leadership. Leadership is about being a value to others. And Adrian did an amazing job highlighting that today. And I think it’s worth sharing maybe with even other colleagues, especially with your students. If you enjoyed this interview with Adrian, consider reaching out to him, also consider leaving a rating and review. So more teachers like yourself can find these episodes and benefit from the content. And if you have something that you’d want to share, shoot me an email at info@samdemma.com and will get you scheduled to come on the podcast as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the other side. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Adrian Del Monte

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

Dr. Bridget Weiss – TIME featured Educator and Superintendent of the Juneau School District

Bridget Weiss - TIME featured Educator and Superintendent of the Juneau School District
About Dr. Bridget Weiss

Dr. Bridget Weiss is the Superintendent of the Juneau School District. After graduating high school in Juneau, Bridget graduated from Whitworth University in 1984, with a Bachelors’s in Mathematics, a Minor in Physical Education and a secondary teaching certificate. Following graduation, she spent the next 26 years in Spokane as a high school math teacher, coach, high school assistant principal, elementary principal, Executive Director of Instructional Programs and Superintendent. 

Once back in Alaska, Bridget spent four years as principal of North Pole High School and four years as Director of Student Services at the Juneau School District.  She started this year as the Interim Superintendent and was hired for the position permanently in January.  Bridget attained her Masters in Mathematics from Eastern Washington University and her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Washington State University.  Her work has been in districts as small as 1,800 and as large as 29,000 students.

Bridget is completing her 38th year in education at the start of 2022 was named Alaska’s Superintedent of the Year!

Connect with Bridget: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources And Related Media

From Teachers to Custodians, Meet the Educators Who Saved A Pandemic School Year

Juneau’s Bridget Weiss named Alaska’s Superintendent of the Year

Juneau School District

Superintendent of the Year

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 guest is Dr. Bridget Weiss. She is the superintendent of the Juneau school district. After graduating high school in Juneau, Bridget graduated from Whitworth university in 1984 with a bachelor’s in mathematics, a minor in physical education and a secondary teaching. Following graduation, she spent the next 26 years in Spokane as a high school math teacher coach high school assistant principal elementary principal, executive director of instructional programs and superintendent. Once back in Alaska, Bridget spent four years as principal of north pole high school and four years as director of student services at the Juneau school district. She started this year as the interim superintendent and was hired for the position permanently in January. Bridget attained her masters in mathematics from Eastern Washington university and her doctorate in educational leadership from Washington state university. Her work has been in districts as small as 1800 and as large as 29,000 students. And Bridget is currently completing her 38th year in education. This conversation was phenomenal. You are gonna take away some amazing ideas. I hope you enjoy it. And I will see you on the other side, Bridget, welcome to thehigh performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Bridget Weiss (02:35):
Thank you, Sam. I am Bridget Weiss. I am the superintendent in Juneau school district in Juneau, Alaska.


Sam Demma (02:43):
That is amazing. Tell me more about your journey into education. What got you started and then, brought you to where you are today?


Bridget Weiss (02:53):
Yeah, well, I’m super lucky. I actually am born and raised in Juneau, so I’m a third Juneau white and I went left Juneau to go to school college in Spokane and I Wentworth university. And just really knew from a pretty young age that education was what I wanted to do and spend my life committed to. I had a couple of really cool experiences with teachers that really inspired me. And so I started out as a teacher. I spent 16 years as a teacher teaching junior high and high school math and coaching and all of that. And I’ve spent the balance of 38 years being in a administrator since then.


Sam Demma (03:41):
I’m just gonna give you a round of applause for your service. you mentioned you’re welcome. You mentioned having some really cool experiences with educators and teachers. Can you expand on that and tell me a little bit more how those experiences shape a decision to get into education?


Bridget Weiss (04:02):
You know, I was in junior high and seventh grade and I met a teacher who the best way I can really explain it is he saw me, like, I just, he knew me, got to know me. He was a math teacher my basketball all coach. And he was always checking in to see how I was doing. He had a great, has a great sense of humor and he was one that just really inspired me to be my best self, you know, which was what we would say now as a seventh grader, I would never, ever have been able to articulate that. But he really did. And he used his sense of humor and his ability to build relationships, really genuine relationships with kids. And so it inspired me and it certainly also impacted the type of educator that I wanted to be. And so I, I just feel really fortunate to have had some of those experiences that steered me in this direction,


Sam Demma (05:09):
Being seen and heard is such an important thing for every educator to do with their own students in their classrooms. How do you think in terms of tangible actions, he did that for you when you were in grade seven, was it by asking questions by being interested in your hobbies? Like what did that look like as a student?


Bridget Weiss (05:33):
I think for me through the eyes of a seventh grader again, it’s one thing looking back it’s another, but he, he did get to know me, you know, personally he knew who I was. I still remember. I, I can, I can look out my office window right now and see the building, my elementary school and the building that I went to junior high end. And I can still go to the corner of the hallway where his classroom was, and I can picture myself walking by not even going to his class, but he was always standing outside interacting his hallway or his classroom interacting with kids saying, hello, you know, making sure that we were on our way to class on time. And and, and he, his humor again, was really a key player for him. And and it was always very supportive humor and it was humor that was specific to who we were, if that makes sense. It, it, it really made you feel again, heard and seen. And, and I think it’s really hard to do that sometimes in education, the more kids that a teacher is serving the, you know, the larger, the class sizes. And I have really tried to emulate that sense that a student could get in whether they were in trouble or doing something fantastic that I saw them, that, that I knew them and that I was there to help them either through something that was negative or encouraged them because they were doing amazing things.


Sam Demma (07:07):
That’s an amazing teaching philosophy. And it’s so cool that you not even realizing it learnt it when you were a student in grade seven. so awesome. And speaking of difficulty in doing that even to this day, I’m sure with COVID, it took that challenge to a whole new level. And you’re someone who was very crafty and resourceful during COVID to try and keep things functional and not only functional, but for the students in your school board. You’re one of the only educators. In fact, the only educator who has been featured in time magazine for your effectiveness during COVID, that’s been on this podcast I’d love for you to share a little bit about what happened during COVID and how you and your team at the board transitioned and adapted.


Bridget Weiss (07:59):
Yeah. You know, we, I, one blessing that I’ve had is, I don’t know if it’s my mathematical background or just how my brain works, but I am definitely a problem solver, a solution finder and that’s how I’ve always focused. Here’s a challenge. What is the best next step? How do I get this only the resources they need? What does this kid need if this isn’t working? What options do we have for this kid? You know, so I, that’s just, my frame of thought always is finding solution and being prepared for situations that we might not know about yet. So here comes along the pandemic. And really one of the things that happened to us is that we ended up with a potential COVID case in one of our elementary schools really early in March. And we had to act quickly to know to, because we, again, in March, 2020, we knew so little about COVID.


Bridget Weiss (08:57):
We didn’t even, we couldn’t even spell the word mask yet. Right. We, we, we were just, it was, we just did not know anything. What I had done about three weeks before that we were hearing the talk about this virus and, you know, what, what it might mean in other countries. And wow. I was sitting up and paying attention. So I pulled all our department leaders together. This was in early February and said, Hmm, let’s start thinking about this. What might we need to do? This is something we just couldn’t even have imagined a even February, 2020. And so each department, it, food services teaching and learning health services counselors. I had, ’em all the leads there. And we trouble shot through each department, what this could look like and what we, what should we be doing now to think about that?


Bridget Weiss (09:56):
And so when we were shut down on a Friday, March 13th, on Monday morning, we were delivering food to kids. We had, we had meals available. We had Chromebooks ready to be delivered to kids or picked up to try to build distant and delivery learning on the spot. It was quite something so literally from a Friday shutdown to a Monday we were able to deliver services to kids. And, and that was really meaningful to our families. Many of whom rely on the free, hot breakfast that we serve every morning to our elementary kids and so forth. So it, it was very quick turnaround operation.


Sam Demma (10:39):
That’s amazing. If you were to take the experience and make it a blueprint for another superintendent or educator, who’s interested in the creativity that went into solving this problem, what would the through line be? Would it be that you have to in advance or, you know, the moment something changes, give it attention in time? Like, how would you distill this down to a principal that another board or educator could use?


Bridget Weiss (11:07):
I think a couple of things, one is definitely being as prepared as possible for the unknown, which we had an emergency response plan and it had at four levels and we busted through those four levels. In the first day we were responding and normally those four levels are extended over a period of time a month, you know, months we blew through those four levels in one day. And so then you have to rely on your instincts your courage your team. So I’m a huge team advocate. So I partnered with my chief of staff who we, we do crisis response together and have for a number of years. And we sat at this desk in my office for hours and started designing what we thought next steps were making lists of who needed, what information how were we gonna support our custodial team?


Bridget Weiss (12:03):
So when I pulled those leaders together, again, because it was such an inclusive group, everybody had a heads up, everybody understood at least that we didn’t know everything and that we were going to be working really hard. And we didn’t know for sure the, so what of all that yet? But everybody was on point. Everybody was thinking through our custodial lead was thinking about what supplies we did have on hand. So we knew right away where to start looking for, for the next round of supplies. And, and, and again, food service, they were already contacting for the state for what waivers we might need. You know, so again, having the right people, you can’t do it alone. So making sure that you’re really including your full team is, and that just takes some intention and building that team in advance so that everybody feels confident in themselves, equipped and UN and knows that you do believe in them in doing some hard creative work, when the time comes,


Sam Demma (13:06):
It’s such a Testament to the power of a team and unified messaging. If everyone was to get different messaging, it would’ve caused a mass amount of chaos. amongst everyone, because everyone would’ve been unclear on what their roles and responsibilities were. And I see that there’s a whiteboard for everyone who’s listening. They can’t see it, but there’s a whiteboard behind you. I’m, I’m sure you erase that a couple hundred times. Would that be true?


Bridget Weiss (13:30):
but that is so true. I had lists on, I have two whiteboards, a in my office, I had lists of so many different action steps. I had lists of groups of people. So I had the board of education. What did they need? Teachers, staff, what did they need? Parents, families, what did they need to know? Because some of it was different. Some of it was the same information, but some of it was different. So we would do that. And then we would commute out. Then we’d erase it and we’d start over. As soon as something happened that we thought we need to alert them, we would write it on the list. And then we would use that to craft our, our messages. So, and, and all of a sudden, all of our normal tools that we use didn’t work anymore, right. We, we couldn’t call staff meetings together.


Bridget Weiss (14:14):
Our, our app wasn’t allowed to come into the building for a while. You know it just, so we had to rely on video. I had never made a video as a, as an administrator. I don’t have a, a communication department but, but we did that. We started just right away because I knew people needed to hear my voice and see my face versus email that was void of emotion, void, you know, void of the voice inflection that you can give gratitude with and so forth. So we immediately started in this office right here, my one person, chief of staff videoed on her phone a message that I could give staff right before they went away for their their week. So you know, just relying on, on your, on your skills and your team, and we just, nobody can do it alone. And, and really that’s true in a pandemic, extraordinarily true in a pandemic, but it’s really true on a day to day basis as well. We’re only as good as the people around us and, and those that we commit to lifting up and supporting along the journey with us.


Sam Demma (15:25):
You mentioned the importance of filming a video, so the educators could feel your grad to, and hear your voice inflections. Can we talk about that for a second? What is the purpose or what went through your mind to come to that conclusion that you needed to send a video?


Bridget Weiss (15:43):
To me community has always been really important. So whatever role I’ve had, I, as when I was a teacher, I was a coach. I, my classrooms were communities. My teams were communities as an administrator. My building became my community and really nurturing and developing that community ended up in good results for kids. And so what I found was all of a sudden, I felt so responsible for 700 people that I couldn’t talk with. I couldn’t run to a, a building and go to a staff meeting and share, which is what we normally do in crisis, because crises usually are very point based. They’re they’re involved in geographical school. Yeah. One school or another school. I go to the staff meeting. I tell them it’s gonna be okay. This is what we’re doing well, now it was everywhere. . And, and so I thought, I just need to do this, and it needs to be really lighthearted.


Bridget Weiss (16:37):
So I put, I’m a big diet Coke and peanut M and M fans and every fan, and everybody knows it. So I made sure somebody had delivered some to me. I had that in the backdrop and I they were going away for spring break. This was like one week after we closed down. And I also had a video that two elementary teachers had done that one in one week. They had gotten words from their kindergarten classroom about a song. They, they worked together to build lyrics and these two teachers sang this song. It’s gonna be okay, was the main lyric. So I tacked that on to the end of the video and had my message and then that video, and it really was. I needed to tell them it’s gonna be okay. I, I don’t know the future. I’m not sure what we’re gonna do next week when you get back from break, but we’re gonna be ready for you. And, you know, we can do this because we can do it together. And so that, that was in my mind what I just needed to express to them. And I knew that the written word wouldn’t quite get at it.


Sam Demma (17:42):
I love that. And filming that video sounds like it was an action on one of your personal to-do lists. You mentioned having all these lists of teachers needs and student needs and parent needs and communicating to them accordingly. What are some tools that you use to organize yourself? Whether that’s to do lists or software or anything that might be helpful for organizing your day and your tasks?


Bridget Weiss (18:08):
Yeah, I, I am, I’m a list maker. I, as you would imagine, I have a very logical sequential brain. And so I do a lot of lists. And really my calendar is a huge organizer for me. And it sounds funny, but that really is a tool. I use it in planning. I use it in tracking what this week is gonna look like, what I need to have done, what I need to prepare for. There are some other programs out there. I have just found that I, with the pace at which I work, the fewer layers of programs that I have on top of me, the more effective I am. So the, the scheduling nature of a account calendar really becomes almost a project board. You know, when I’m looking out a couple weeks ahead and, and so forth. So, so I really am driven by lists by calendar and you know, and again, having a strong cabinet team that, that reminds us all, when something’s coming up, that we need to be, we’re working on


Sam Demma (19:11):
Amazing. And on the topic of resources to do lists sound really important to you. what are resources that have helped you as an administrator and an educator, whether it be trainings you’ve been a part of or books you’ve read, or programs you’ve taken, or even simple advice that you think might be helpful for other


Bridget Weiss (19:32):
Well, I know that I am similar to so many and maybe all educators we have all this drive to improve, you know, there’s never a moment rest of wanting to do more or wanting to do differ. And, and sometimes it’s, it is exhausting because it, it is just literally a constant layer. You never quite get there. There’s always something more that you want to do, or a problem you haven’t figured out a gap, you haven’t figured out how to resolve. And so I think that’s a good thing, you know, I, I, I absolutely think it is what makes us better as we go. And so I think the skill of dissatisfaction that the, the characteristic of dissatisfaction is really critical to an effective leader. You, you must really be hungry and there’s so much work to do. There was work to do before the pandemic.


Bridget Weiss (20:35):
So right now, what I feel is a huge sense of urgency. And I’m, I’m in my 38th year in education. And so I’m getting anxious because I know I don’t have a lot of time left and there’s so much work to do. Our country has demonstrated that in the last year through the pandemic and the losses related to that, but our social justice issues, you know, are the, the needs of, so many of our kids have grown in the social and emotional area. And so I just, I feel like we, the drive is really important because what the drive does is it helps you continue to ask questions. Why aren’t we getting the results we want? What is it that we’re not doing that should be doing? You know, what is it that we’re doing that is not effective that we need to, or harmful in some cases, right?


Bridget Weiss (21:34):
Where, where are those places in our institution that are simply not working for some of our kids and some of our families, what do we need to stop doing? And, and right now, everyone is a also operating with such fatigue. Our teachers, our staff, our I just met this morning with our bus drivers. And it’s just everywhere. You know, our principles, everyone is, is so exhausted. So how we go about our business is really important, trying to focused on our priorities what, what do we stand for and how do we manage growth in those areas with limited resources, limited time, and a greater set of needs. And I think inspiring people to stay the fight, you know, to stay the course is really an important skill that a leader needs to have right now. And nobody needs to hear that we’re exhausted. Nobody needs to hear that we don’t have enough time. It, it, it simply, it is a way of life as a leader. And it certainly is before the pandemic. It is more now, it’s not that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves, but as a leader we really need to project optimism and hope for us to get through this next year, two, three years that we’ve got coming ahead of us in recovery,


Sam Demma (23:05):
How do you fill up your own cup? What are the things that you do outside of the walls of your boardroom or office to make sure you can show up optimistically and hopefully for not only your staff, but also all the students and families in the board?


Bridget Weiss (23:20):
Well, a lot of diet Coke and a lot of peanut M and MSS, the first step. After that I live in the most gorgeous area of the country in Southeast Alaska. And so I thrive in the out of doors. And so for me, personally, fresh air running, being on trails that fills my bucket. It’s really important for me. And I know when I haven’t gotten enough of it. So I think it is super important for everyone to find what fills their bucket. And we have an obligation to do that because we cannot fill others buckets if we don’t fill our own. And it is really a conscious decision and finding ways to fit it in. So I run early in the morning because if I don’t, it won’t happen. So it’s pitch dark this morning, probably 29 degrees . And but I was out there and and it was a great way to start the day. So everybody really has to fill their own bucket in, in whatever way does that for them. Awesome.


Sam Demma (24:24):
And, and if you want to share one or two final parting words or resources you think might be helpful for an educator listening, now’s a perfect time to do so.


Bridget Weiss (24:38):
I, I would say that one I’m, I’m not a big program person because I find that the heart of the work is so often in strategies and a mindset that and skill sets. However, I will say that one, as we move through this pandemic, and we have students with such increasing needs, our work around equity and social, emotional learning we use restorative practices here and it has made a huge difference in our, in our children and our families as we approach this work through the restorative practice lens. And and that is a, I think ill changer for many, many school institutions. But we have to keep looking at our, through our equity lens that there is no question that school is not still, it’s so frustrating to me, but it is still not the same experience for all kids.


Bridget Weiss (25:44):
And we have to keep fighting to change. When I hear that a child feels unseen, it breaks my heart. It is it is completely a travesty that we would have children show up and feel unseen. And so the work that we’re doing around equity and really partnering with our tribal agencies and, and other groups here to design systems that are very welcoming and socially just is, is really just important work. So I just encourage everybody to, to keep their priorities. You know, there’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of tractors and a, a lot of anxiety in our country right now is and pointed towards schools. And we need to, as educators hold tight, stay the course with our priorities that we know our students and our families need and stand up for that and continue to, to take charge of what we do best for kids.


Sam Demma (26:53):
Bridget, thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to come on the high performing educator podcast. It’s been a phenomenal conversation. If an educator listening wants to reach out to you or mail you some diet Coke and M and Ms and peanuts, what would be the best email address or point of contact that they could send you a note or a question or a comment?


Bridget Weiss (27:17):
Sure. Email would probably be best. Send it to: bridget.weiss@juneauschools.org


Sam Demma (27:33):
Bridget, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Bridget Weiss (27:38):
Sounds great. Thank you, Sam.


Sam Demma (27:41):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that in amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Bridget

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.

Melanie Headley – Teacher and student council advisor at Bluefield High School

Melanie Headley - Teacher and student council advisor at Bluefield High School
About Melanie Headley

Melanie (@MelanieHeadley) is a teacher, student council advisor, lifelong learner and the #1 Springsteen fan :).  She has an infectiously positive aura and is constantly striving to provide her students with the support they need to reach their full potential.  

Connect with Melanie: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bluefield High School

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

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 high performing educator guest on the show is Melanie Headley. Melanie is a educator. She is a teacher and the student council advisor at Bluefield High School. She is an islander by choice, a mom, a wife, a friend, a bobcat, a teacher, a server, a lifelong learner, a runner, and the number one Springsteen fan Melanie has so much energy and so much wisdom and so much insight to provide that she, that she gives in this episode.


Sam Demma (01:14):
And she’s one of the most, I would say, energetic and highly engaged and caring educators that I’ve had the chance to speak to. So I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed the conversation I had with Melanie. And I will see you on the other side. Melanie, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge honor and pleasure to have you. I know we just talked about the fact that we know so many similar people. You know, maybe you can even start by sharing this story that you just told me and the hope that Mark might hear it and be a little inspired that people are talking about him.


Melanie Headley (01:49):
Hi, Sam. So nice to meet you. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Before actually that I shared that specific story with you, I also want to include that when Maddie Campbell from CSLA, when she emailed me saying that she had shared my name with you I actually had to go back and read the email a couple times to make sure that it was actually me. But anyway, so I’m very honored to be a part of this. So last Thursday night I had tuned in a little late to the meet the maestros session that CSLA was putting on. And at the end, when, just before we had all signed off and I think it was Dave Conlan who had said, is there any, you know, any final comments, anything else that, you know, we need to share with each other before we sign off.


Melanie Headley (02:45):
And I hope I remember correctly, but I’m pretty sure. It was Lenora that had said, if you haven’t tuned into the High Performance Educator podcast with Sam Demma, put it on your to-do list. She also said Mark England’s was uploaded today. So that was, that was really, really neat and the second that I logged off, stayed up a little later than I probably should have that night, but it was cause I was, I was listening to the lovely and kind gentle soul of Mark England. So that was really sweet because you know, not having had the opportunity to attend CSLC this year, it’s just so, so important that we we have these opportunities and whether it’s through your podcast or through a virtual meet the maestros you know, that we can still connect in those ways.


Sam Demma (03:44):
And now you’re a guest on the show. So why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about who you are and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Melanie Headley (03:53):
Sure. so again, my name is Melanie Headley and I teach at Bluefield high school Bluefield high, a school is located in the community of Hampshire. But it is about 10 minutes west of Charlottetown. So if you’re familiar with the capital of PEI Bluefield is a school just outside of Charlottetown. And I actually grew up in am Nova Scotia. So I’m not, I’m a CSA, I’m a come from away as it’s called. But the island is my home now. But I grew up in am Nova Scotia and I did my first degree at Mount Allison university. And when I went to Mount a, I was going because my end goal at that time was to be a lawyer. So my path was to go to law school and I took clinical science history and English. And in my third year I started the process of applying to law school.


Melanie Headley (04:57):
Hmm. And that included reference. So I needed two professors to write references and both agreed nice. And however, there’s a little bit of a twist. The day after I had actually crossed paths with one of the two professors that had agreed to, to support me. And when we crossed paths, he said, I need to speak to you for a second. And of course I was like, no, what, what does he wanna tell me? He doesn’t wanna write this, this reference letter. And he says to me, and, and I could honestly, I can still hear his voice in my head. And he says, Melanie, while I think that you would make a good lawyer, I think that you would make a great teacher. Hmm.


Melanie Headley (05:47):
So after I graduated from Mount a, I did not go to law school. I moved to Halifax where I worked for the year. But even more so than working, I volunteered at a junior high school. And it was through that volunteer work that I made the decision to apply to the education program at U P I. So the following September I started the program and later that my, we found out where our teaching practicums would be. And when I was told Bluefield high school, I had no idea where it was located, how I was gonna get there. So lo and behold, I did my practicum at Bluefield with two fabulous list educators who to this day have become great friends of mine. So Jennifer Gill and Brett wood both took me under their wing. And I completed my first teaching practicum with the two of them. I went on to do two more practicums, cuz at that time, U P E I, the education program was two years. And then in my second year, right before, about a week before convocation I would, I was now certified and so I was very, very keen to start substituting. So I came out to Bluefield to let them know that I would be available and the vice principal here at the time she says to me, can you start tomorrow?


Melanie Headley (07:27):
And that was in may of 2002. Mm. And I have been here ever since. Wow. And my current teaching assignment includes grade 10 English and grade 11 law.


Sam Demma (07:41):
Nice.


Melanie Headley (07:44):
Best of both worlds is right. It’s pretty great. So that’s a little bit of my my back story in terms of how we came to be an is or live on PEI anyway. And and teaching at Bluefield high school.


Sam Demma (07:58):
And at what point did you get involved in student leadership? You know, you attended the Mero session with Dave Conlan, you’re involved with the CSLA, where did all that passion and desire and decision come from?


Melanie Headley (08:11):
So even before becoming a teacher when I was in high school I was involved with student and council. Nice. And when I started teaching you know, initially my priority was the classroom. It really, really was to ensure that I delivered the curriculum well and that it was meaningful and that I, I knew my subject area. And as, as soon as I really had a grasp on that then I started to venture outside the classroom and to see where I could where I could commit outside the classroom. Right. So my, my first real commitment was actually with our, our prom, our graduation dance. Oh, cool. So myself and a few other teachers we were the teacher advisors for the grad dance for a number of years. And actually in 2015 our students, parents took over the grad dance, but that was my first, that was really my first commitment outside the classroom.


Melanie Headley (09:21):
In addition to that and this I hope to connect this to student leadership mm-hmm but prior to my involvement with our student council is myself and a few other teacher, Jennifer Gill, who I had mentioned earlier as being one of my my practicum teachers. We started what was called the rap team. Hmm. And rap stands for respect accept and protect, and the crew of us along with a group of students, we develop a program and a presentations or assembly, so to speak mm-hmm that addressed anti-bullying and character development. I love it. I love it. So we did that for a number of years. We did it within our own school, but then when other island schools started to find out what we, they wanted us to come to their schools and to present. I see.


Melanie Headley (10:21):
So kind of that character development you know, servant, servant leadership was definitely a big part of that initiative. And then about 10 years ago, the student council advisors at that time who are absolutely fantastic people and have been incredible mentors to me one of whom was presented with this year CS, a leader of distinction award for PEI. Oh, wow. Wow. His name’s Paul MCCA and yes, students call students, call him P Mac. So he had run our student council for a number of years. But then when he stepped down, he still, he, you know, I took it over. He still helped me and continues to help me to this, this day. And he’s an incredible mentor. You know, any ideas that we have, he’s always available, you know, to listen and, and run things by. And he’s been great, but 10 years ago he was ready for a break.


Melanie Headley (11:27):
So I took that on, but then I was really, really, really quick to realize I can’t do this on my own, you know, student council. It’s, it’s even like, not just even a September to June commitment, it’s really, it can be full it’s full time. Yeah. Year round. But I love it. Yeah. So Lynn cl she came on board to support me and the two of us do it together. And without her we wouldn’t be able to do, to do the things that we do. Hmm. I dunno. Did that answer the question?


Sam Demma (12:04):
Yeah. I asked how you got involved and told me that you started off by putting basketballs in between young women and men, so they don’t get too close us while they dance right. That’s awesome. I love that story and I’m sure the work that you’re doing in the school right now, it’s a little different than it was years ago, or even one year ago. Can you shed some light on what, you know, challenges you currently face with, and maybe some challenges your school or certain classrooms have been able to over, and maybe there’s some unique ideas you can share.


Melanie Headley (12:36):
So, first of all, to answer that question is living on PEI. We are very, very, very fortunate. So we’ve, we’ve only had, I shouldn’t say only, but we’ve had 66 cases of COVID 19. Oh, wow. So prince Edward island is probably not only the best place to live in our country, but probably probably in the world worldly . Yeah. So we are in school full time. Okay. And after March break last year, so March 13th, Friday, the we were, it was pretty soon to find out that we wouldn’t be returning. Yeah. And then I guess it was around may early may that we found out that we wouldn’t be returning for the rest of the year. But then in August we found out that we would be coming back to school full time. So we are in, in classes full time.


Melanie Headley (13:37):
But with, with, with that said, there’s still guidelines in place, right. So there’s no large gatherings at lunchtime. So anything that student council did in the past where, you know, large groups of students could come together was in our cafeteria or outside or in the gymnasium, those things are not, are not happening. But we’re making it work. Hmm. Yep. We’re definitely making it work. Our student council has been absolutely fantastic in the way that they embrace the op opportunity to do things differently. They’ve been really creative and the, the feedback, the feedback has been terrific as well.


Sam Demma (14:24):
That’s awesome. And you know, what are those things specifically that are working? How have some of the things shifted you, does any examples or ideas come to mind that wow. You and make you say, wow, great job. That’s really cool.


Melanie Headley (14:38):
So right outta the gate our frost week, so we have an annual week where Monday to Friday, it’s usually the first full week that we’re back at school. Every single day at lunch, there would be activities in the past, there’d be activities to welcome our grade 10 students. So what we’ve done this year to abide by the guidelines is that other than having the activities at lunchtime, our homeroom teachers have graciously allowed student council to command to their classes about 15 minutes before classes over. Mm. And they’re, they’re running those activities during home room. And so when I see the feedback has been really great, what teachers are coming to me and saying is that the, the bonds that are being formed in their home room are like never before, because in the past, when they would leave their morning class to go, you know, participate in the, the lunchtime activity, maybe they wouldn’t even go to participate.


Melanie Headley (15:57):
Right. And if they did, they were going with the people that they already know, right. They’re going with their friends this way in the homeroom. Everybody’s participating for the most part and the homeroom teach and the student council a person that’s assigned to that specific room. They’re just forming these bonds that they wouldn’t form otherwise. Yeah, that’s awesome. So what we did is on the Monday of frost week, we had what was called movie Monday. Nice. So every grade 10 in homeroom when the student council representative would come into the homeroom, and again, it was like the last 10 or 15 minutes of class and our student council has a Google classroom. So all of the events are that students just have to access it through Google classroom. Cool. And there was 10 different movie images. Hmm. So the student council member would lead the activity, but then the class as a collective would just have to decide on the title of that movie.


Melanie Headley (17:05):
Cool. And then, so we have 12 different grade 10 home rooms, and so student council would get together at lunchtime at add up, you know, their scores. And then we go over the announcements to say, for example, miss MC Nevins, homeroom had 10 outta 10, or, you know, Mr. Craig’s homeroom had nine outta 10. And that sort of thing then on the Tuesday was trivia. So trivia Tuesday, we like our alliteration. Nice. So movie Mon movie, Monday trivia Tuesday, Wednesday was Wes wisdom Wednesday. Mm. Where a quote or a song lyric or a saying would be posted. And again, the students would have to decide who said that piece of wisdom? Thursday, we didn’t name that tune. Nice. And then on Friday what we were able to do is in the Friday, we wanted to do something really fun and memorable to kind of wrap up the week, but we would call two homeroom outside at a time. And we had pylons in the shape of a 23. Cause our grade tens will be the class of 20, 23. Yeah. So we, so we had the students they would stand beside a pylon and then another teacher who’s also a photographer. He had agreed to take class photos with his drone. Nice.

Melanie Headley (18:34):
So we might have 240 grade tens, but we weren’t able to bring those 240 together to do that. Yeah. But what we were able to do the alternative was to bring out two class at a time. So one class would be the two, the other class would be the three and then we’ll get their picture taken.


Sam Demma (18:52):
I think the important things that you made them feel appreciated and welcomed, and Maya angel always says it, you know, they don’t remember what you did, but they remember how you made them feel. And I’m sure you made them feel really special. And I’m curious to know, as a teacher during this time, how do we ensure your students feel appreciate and, and feel heard and cared for during this time? Should we be taking extra care of touching them on the shoulder and saying, not physically, but of saying, Hey, is everything okay? Or, you know, what’s working right now for you in your class? Well,


Melanie Headley (19:24):
Just in the example that I gave with fr week. Yeah. I think that, you know, some of our, our new as Bobcats were the Bobcats Bluefield Bobcats. Nice. So when they came into grade 10, you know, they had, perhaps they had siblings who had gone through Bluefield or, or still here for that matter, but they had experienced fresh week, you know, like it had under how it unfolded in the past and you, some of them didn’t know what it was gonna look like for them, or even if it was gonna happen at all. Mm. So I think that they were very grateful for the fact that we were able to make it happen. Yeah. So and then continuing to do these things and, you know, just setting up opportunities to, you know, say rather than saying we can’t do that finding alternative ways. So for example we just finished at the end of October, our annual October Fest.


Melanie Headley (20:28):
Mm. So we have a courtyard, a beautiful courtyard that of in the center of our school and each year during Octoberfest we decorate kind of this photo opportunity. Nice. And we had kind of toyed with perhaps not doing that because would it encourage large groups? Our students still wanna get it well, they wanna get their picture taken with a mask on mm-hmm well, they still wanna get their picture taken if they have to be six feet apart from their, from their friend. So we still did it, but instead of doing it for the five days of October Fest, we did it for two. Nice. So I think that they were still grateful that, that we did it rather than not at all. And then another thing that we had to do differently, but again, we were happy. And the results were good was normally during October Fest, we serve hot chocolate, nice in our courtyards.


Melanie Headley (21:26):
And we call it B by L one, bring your own mug. the students need to, they bring their own mug in as long as they do their served hot chocolate. Nice. So this year due to the guidelines we weren’t allowed to do that. So instead we discussed as a council what we could do as an, and knowing that the alternative had to be a prepackaged item of some sort, that’s where our focus went and actually a current member of a council. And he’s in grade 10. His family part of their business includes these very, very well known on PEI anyway, these cinnamon bun. Ah, and anyway, they’re delicious and they’re amazing. And so I said to him, do you think we could do those anyway? So we, we sold a hun, but 110 pre, then they were all prepackaged nice have these amazing cinnamon bonds. And they sold out in about 10 minutes. right. So it wasn’t a hot chocolate, but this was still, still fantastic and memorable.


Sam Demma (22:41):
Yeah. It’s that, it’s that mentality of, we’re not gonna cancel it this year. We’re gonna figure it out. Right. It might be something different, but let’s, let’s still an effort and not just say, okay, it’s canceled and we’ll just wait till next year. It’s like, no, right. We can’t do this, but what can we do? And I think you did a great job and the school has done a great job of, of taking that question and asking themselves and yourself that very often and coming up with new solutions. You know, if, if someone’s listening and is loving these ideas and maybe wants to connect with you and dive a little deeper and ask some questions and connect what would be the best way for them to do so?


Melanie Headley (23:18):
My email is meheadley@edu.pe.ca. So that is my email. Perfect. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram. Nice. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (23:38):
Okay, awesome. And if you could travel back in time to wrap up this episode and give your younger self advice in education, what pieces of advice, knowing what, you know now, would you give your younger self?


Melanie Headley (23:50):
Hands down? Not to take myself so seriously. Yeah, honestly that is really, really, but at the same time when I say that looking back like and I, I hope that I teach this to young people as well. And I currently have a student teacher from U P E I nice. But that’s part of growing up. Right. You kind of have to grow through that. And, but I am, I would definitely try not to take, take myself so seriously and yeah, that’s awesome.


Sam Demma (24:20):
Awesome, Melanie, thank you so much for coming on the show. So many actionable ideas. I really, really appreciate it. I appreciate the energy and the, the openness to share, and I hope someone listening does reach out to you and start a conversation.


Melanie Headley (24:34):
Thank you. And thank you for the great work that you’re doing


Sam Demma (24:37):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melanie Headley

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.

Joanna Severino – CEO and Founder of PrepSkills and the US College Expo

Joanna Severino - CEO and Founder of PrepSkills and the US College Expo
About Joanna Severino

Joanna Severino (@joanna_severino) is the Founder & President of PREPSKILLS and the US College Expo. Joanna has been an educator for over 25 years, helping students to excel in achieving important milestones in education. For many Canadian families, applying to private schools and US colleges can be daunting.

PREPSKILLS helps navigate this process by giving families the tools, resources and connections to maximize opportunities. Joanna created the US College Expo in Canada and PrepConnect events to help families explore their educational pathways. Education is really about resourcefulness.

As a certified teacher and passionate mom-preneur, Joanna is always looking for ways to ensure that students connect with these opportunities and get the valuable information they need to make informed decisions about education.

Connect with Joanna: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

PREPSKILLS

US College Expo

Prep Connect – Private School Admissions Networking Event

PREPSKILLS Franchise

OSCA Conference Speaker

School & Athletic Seminars

Wings of Hope

PMH Mentorship

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 guest is my good friend, Joanna. Joanna Severino is the founder and CEO of prep skills and the US college expo. She helps students prepare for their SATs SSATs, any of their standardized tests that they might need to get into a school in the US or a specific program here in Canada.


Sam Demma (01:00):
She also, I mentioned runs the US college expo, which helps to connect US admissions reps with students who are interested in going to their schools in the states. She’s been in education for over 20 years. She’s a powerhouse. She is a mother of her sons and she just, she never runs out of energy. As someone described it, she is a trailblazer and I hope you enjoy this interview and get something valuable from it. I’ll see you on the other side. Joanna, thank you so much for coming on to the High Performing Educators podcast. It seems like forever ago, I was sitting in your workshop with my dad, prepping for my SAT to hopefully get a scholarship back when I was just a young man and you’ve continued that work ever since then. And recently we’ve reconnected. I’m curious to know, and I’m sure everyone listening is as well. Who are you? I’d love you to share a little bit about yourself and what got you into the work that you do with youth today.


Joanna Severino (01:56):
Thanks Sam. Thanks for having me and I, and I remember, I think I, I tossed a stress toy at you. It was a soccer ball, wasn’t it?


Sam Demma (02:06):
Still have it!


Joanna Severino (02:08):
Love it. Hope you’re using it. My name’s Joanna Severino and I’m the founder and president of prep skills and the US college expo. So I’ve been an educator for over 25 years and a mother of three incredible boys; ages 14, 11, and eight. And really what we’re here to do is help students through their transformative years essentially, and support them as they embark on their journey through the middle and high school years.


Sam Demma (02:43):
That’s awesome. What prompted you to do the work that you do? Was there an experience you had, if you could go back to 25 years, I’m asking you to go back a long time. what prompted you to get involved in this sort of work with youth?


Joanna Severino (02:58):
Well, really, I, I, I was an educator and, and loved it. And from a very young age, I had this entrepreneurial spirit. My, my father passed when I was 11 and my mother was left to raise four children on her own, through social assistance. And, and we really built resilience and confidence through that process. But what I did know is that education was really key to recreating essentially my narrative and that’s really what I wanted to do. And so as an educator, when I graduated and then became a teacher, was super passionate about that. However, I felt like I could do more, more globally as an educator and found myself thinking about that a lot and then life threw me a curve ball. So really it was my experience with cancer and having gone through chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant, that that was really the launchpad to creating prep skills today.


Sam Demma (03:34):
Wow. That’s, that’s crazy. I didn’t know that about you, so I appreciate you sharing. And I’m certain, there’s so many educators listening who have gone through tough challenges, just like the ones you all outline, and I’m hoping they’re, they’re hearing what comes up after you get through it, especially if someone’s going through the same sort of challenge right now, and speaking of challenges and getting through them right now. So many educators, so many schools, so many companies are faced with the instrumental challenge, which is COVID having to very quick pivot and shift and do things virtually. I know you’ve done a great job with the virtual prep skills connect event, where I showed the little stress ball live and you’re doing the expo virtually, you’re doing school tours virtually. How have you overcome the challenges of COVID and what was that experience like for you in education?


Joanna Severino (05:02):
Well, I think we’re still overcoming challenges on a, on a daily basis minute by minute. And really, I think what’s important is, is taking action. Action is super important and not worrying so much about perfection. I’ve I’ve been known as the trailblazer in the space. And so I tend to pave the way for, for a lot of people in a, in a lot of innovative things that occur in education, it was a pleasure actually to hear from a few of the educators that reached out to us before the prep connect. And they said, can we join and just watch and learn from what you due? And, and sort of referenced me as being the best in, in the space, which was a wonderful compliment, but really, I, I think rooted from my childhood and my resilience and, you know, having lost my father at a young age surviving cancer I’m, I’m pretty resilient and, and love to turn no to yeses. So I think that’s really what drives me. It’s, it’s sort of like, what’s the worst that could happen. Let’s go. And I think that’s an important mindset to have during COVID, especially.


Sam Demma (06:20):
No, that’s amazing. And you did a great job with the virtual event. I was there, I CEED. And I’m curious to know what do you think? Awesome. Thank you. what do you think are some unique, unique ways to engage people during COVID? You know, if you, if you could put the mindset on of an educator, maybe more classical that works in a school, and they’re struggling a little bit right now, you know, what can we do to help these young people during this time?


Joanna Severino (06:47):
Well, you know, I think we underestimate these, these students and they are resourceful and resilient. And, and I think this online world is, is more familiar to them than it is to us. Mm. So getting them involved in really activities, such as the ones that we’re hosting, there are lots of opportunities to volunteer virtually. Your program is fantastic. Sam, you know, top performing students to really engage and connect online. And they’re, they’re very familiar with this world. So I, I don’t know, you know, outside of there being challenges, especially through the early stages with mental health and, and really being and lockdown at home, I think that this is actually progressing in a positive way where students are now back at school, back with the structure, back with their peers and teachers. And, and I see that with my own boys. So I, I think, I think we’re moving in a good direction.


Sam Demma (07:58):
And you’re somewhat who radiates joy. You radiate hope, even through tough times, you have this positive mindset and mentality, and it’s so evident even if people are listening to this right now, what gives you hope to keep going to trail blaze away, as you said, even when everyone else might be stopping or hesitating?


Joanna Severino (08:18):
Well, I think life experience and a mindset. And you know, I, I, I really attach myself to the symbolism of a butterfly mm-hmm and a butterfly in a cocoon that then transforms into this lovely butterfly the, the caterpillar to the butterfly scenario is something that I revisit a lot of days of my life . And so looking at the, that transformation and seeing it as every ending has a new beginning, and there’s a reason why this is happening. And how do you overcome obstacles? How do you strengthen your core? These are all important things that I think we need to do and reflect on. And what can you personally control? Because there’s so many UN outside of yourself and you really shouldn’t be worried about those things. Mm. You know, what is it about you that you can really tap into your core strengths and be able to, to support your growth, your mindset, and then through that process, you can help others. So it really begin with you.


Sam Demma (09:36):
I love that. And the focus on the core strength is so important. And I know from working with you and, and watching you do your amazing work, one of your core strengths is helping young people prepare for post-secondary education for getting into the schools, their dream schools. We talked about Kevin who went to UCLA and, and I believe it was Sam who went to Haga and had a great experience at boarding school. You know, can you share an experience of a young person who’s been directly impacted by your work, maybe when they came to you, they were uncertain. They were unclear. They didn’t know where they were going. Didn’t know how to do what they needed to do to get to where they wanted to go. And through your work, you had a tremendous impact hacked on them, not only with their schooling, but maybe even their mentality or their mental health. And if you wanna share a, a touching story, you can also change the name for the sake of privacy totally up to you.


Joanna Severino (10:27):
Well, there, there’s so many stories and, and that’s really what I love about what I do. And because I’m a trailblazer and I keep moving, how I, I know that I’m leaving a footprint and I know that there are people that are being supported and helped. I, I have to admit I don’t always stop and, you know, analyze the, the situation. Yeah. Until later when someone tells me that. So, and so has been impacted by whether it was a, a war, a statement I made or has successfully been admitted to, you know, their, their school of choice. Just this week. I discovered that one of our students from many years ago must be probably at least 10 years. And he’s currently studying at brown university. And I remember him, I thought, oh, wow, that’s amazing. I’m getting older. but there’s no stories because what happens is you don’t know what you don’t know.


Joanna Severino (11:26):
And, and really success is a group project. So I found myself dealing with students and parents who are maybe limiting themselves mm-hmm . And I remember a situation where a parent came in and she wanted her son to apply to a particular school. And I asked her why. And at that point, the sticker price in terms of tuition was a little lower than some of the other school choices. And I said, so you’re not considering these other schools. And she said, no, I couldn’t afford it. That’s, that’s just completely out of our realm. And I said, well, did you know about this and this and this, these financial opportunities that you could take advantage of? And she said, no, I, I didn’t know about that. So we embarked on this journey together. He obviously ended his reach in terms of school options.


Joanna Severino (12:15):
And then he was admitted to all the schools and offered financial support at all of them. And guess what? He ended up at a school that was different from the initial choice that he had when he and his mother came to me. And I think that’s so awesome. And he’s since graduated and loved the experience, and that was the right fit for him. So I I’m really here to crush obstacles for parents and, and families, if they, if they’re concerned. I, I wanna be able to help there are so many incredible stories. A family that, that came into the city recently was during COVID and was looking for a school. And and really, it seemed like an impossibility, like how can you possibly get into a school for September and it’s June? And I love those challenges. . So there, I went and I, I went door knocking for, for the family and lo and behold it happened. And so we were able to get them into a school. So that that’s really, what I love to do is I, I really love to, to create things that don’t exist and to create opportunities that don’t exist and support families in that way.


Sam Demma (13:33):
I wanna highlight the fact that you said you hadn’t seen this young person for 10 years, and the first story you just shared, or maybe 10 years had gone by, and you vividly remember who the person was. And now they’re at their dream school at Browns college. That’s so cool, because I think so often in education or in any service based business, sometimes you don’t realize the impact of your contribution until a decade down the road. When they write you a handwritten note, or you see them standing on some podium, delivering a talk, and it’s such a, oh my gosh moment where you realize your impact has been, has been realized through that person’s life and their activity, these, and any educator who’s listening. I want you to take Joanna’s story as a, a reminder to yourself that maybe you’re not seeing the impact of your teaching or your perseverance right now, but maybe 10 years down the road, like she did, you’ll have a crazy experience where someone reaches back out to you and tells you how much it meant to you that you, you kept pushing through and, and you kept going Joanna you’re someone who has worked with so many schools has worked with so many organizers and events and planned a dozen different opportunities, hundreds by now for young people, you’ve hired dozens of speakers.


Sam Demma (14:52):
I’m curious to know how do you choose who to bring onto your stages and, and who to work with because you brought on Mike Weaver, former NHL player, Jillian apps, Olympian, you know, what, what makes a good presenter and how do you choose someone to put in front of young minds?


Joanna Severino (15:08):
Well, first, you know, as I said, I really love a great challenge. And so, you know, oftentimes we look to these, these individuals, and we think that it’s almost impossible to connect with them, right? Mm-Hmm oh, former NHL player Olympian. We had Dr Chopra from Harvard medical school, like all of these great, great inspirational speakers. And it becomes a little bit like, you know, how, how do we engage? How do we interact with them? And I, as I said, love to create opportunities that don’t exist. And so, you know, I, I find ways to connect and make sure that it’s of value to these speaker, the individual, and a value to the families that we serve. And so, you know, the, the speakers that we selected for, for example, the us college expo primarily graduated from a us college, their Canadians. And so we wanted them to reflect that story, that journey and that inspiration. That’s really how we, we go about selecting our our speakers and you of course have transformed so many students in lives. And, and with your positive, inspirational enthusiasm, we thought Sam Demma is our guy for CE this event. So thank you for doing that.


Sam Demma (16:37):
No, I appreciate it. And I was gonna say, it sounds like it’s a needs basis. You know, if there’s a need in your school, if there’s a need for the event, you find the person who can fill it, which is, sounds like a very logical way to approach the, the conversation, which is awesome. This has been an amazing conversation. I have a couple more questions for you. I’m curious to know what keeps you motivated. So we talked a little bit about what gets you hopeful, and I know you’re very obstacle oriented and you love crushing obstacles and you love creating opportunities. What motivates you to keep going? Is there someone in your life that motivates you? Do you, who do you look up? Who do you get inspiration from?


Joanna Severino (17:16):
Well, it, you know, my father passed when I was 11. I, I didn’t really get a chance to, to know him, but I do know that he, he was an entrepreneur and mm-hmm, he did you know, start a business that that was not successful actually over the course of a 10 year period, apparently in Australia. . So I, you know, I, I don’t know much about that, but I do know that there is this, this entrepreneurial spirit inside of me where I feel like what I do can impact the world globally. And, and that’s what motivates and drives me. So this, this, this spirit that I have and connection with my father, definitely. And then the miraculous transformation through the restoration of my health through cancer and then having these three wonderful boys. So, you know, I have a, a 14, 11 and eight year old, and they drive me every single day, along with my, my great husband, but the, the boys really tell the story. I can see it and live it every single as to what they’re going through, what their needs are, how the world is changing. And and, and, and it’s, it’s really motivating for me to support them. And in turn support all these families that we serve on a daily basis,


Sam Demma (18:44):
If you went on ancestry.com, I’m sure you’re a whole lineage was people that were all entrepreneurs. doing amazing know.


Sam Demma (18:56):
Educators are listening, principals, teachers, parents who wanna apply the same mindset to school. I know a while back, not too long, maybe 20 years, my age , you were once a teacher, how can a teacher or an educator that works in a more formal scenario apply that entrepreneurial mindset? Is it just, you know, doing things that are outrageous and crazy you know, what would you tell an educator in a more classic scenario how they can use an entrepreneurial spirit maybe in their classrooms or schools?


Joanna Severino (19:26):
Well, I was a, a business and computer studies teacher, and so I always bought, brought the world outside, inside mm-hmm . And so it wasn’t traditional textbook type teacher. So with, with the teachers that we serve, I think they’re doing a tremendous job because they actually do reach out to me to prep skills for the support that they need to be able to better serve the student. I mean, the American university admissions process, for example, there are over 4,000 options in the us. It’s, it’s impossible for any one person to really understand that entire system. And so they, through professional development, reach out to us they engage in the counselor day and event. And I think what they’re doing is, is fantastic. And and we see that with, with the students that we serve that foundationally and primarily come from these schools and the teachers are, are supporting them. So they’re the, the real heroes. And I just come in to, you know, to, to sort of, of finesse that and, and support them as they move on to their next stage.


Sam Demma (20:37):
That’s awesome. I love that. And you mentioned educators reach out a lot to wrap this up. I would love for you to share where they can reach you if they wanna bounce ideas around chat with you, connect, use prep skills for some preparation for students, or just to connect with you and chat about some things that you’ve done in your life. Where can they do that?


Joanna Severino (20:56):
They can, they can do that by connecting through prepskills.com or uscollegeexpo.com. And I’d be happy to, to, to meet with them or connect with them and support their process for sure.


Sam Demma (21:12):
Awesome. Joanna, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. It’s been a pleasure and I wish you all the best in the future, and I’ll be watching you behind your car as you trail blaze through this industry. I can’t wait to see what comes up next.


Joanna Severino (21:27):
Thank you, Sam pleasure.


Sam Demma (21:30):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of this show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities and I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Joanna Severino

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.

Michelle Lemaire – System Principal at the Halton District School Board Welcome Centre

Michelle Lemaire - System Principal at the Halton District School Board Welcome Centre
About Michelle Lemaire

Michelle Lemaire (@MsLemaire) is an educator for over 20 years, starting her teaching career as a math teacher in Seoul, Korea. Born in Singapore, Michelle spent her formative years there and continued her high school education in Ontario, followed by earning bachelor’s degrees from Queen’s University and a Master of Education from the University of Toronto. Today, she is the system Principal at the Halton District School Board Welcome Centre.  In this role, she is responsible for newcomer students and their families.

She is a proud mum of two children, a partner to her best friend of 25 years, and sister to four crazy siblings – all of whom keep her grounded in her journey through life.  Michelle is a self-proclaimed foodie, news junkie and world traveller who seeks every opportunity to learn and be the best version of herself every day.

Connect with Michelle: Email | Linkedin | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources And Related Media

HDSB Welcome Centre

Ontario Principal Council Feature

Halton District School Board

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 I have the privilege of interviewing Michelle Lemaire. Michelle and I had the opportunity over a year ago now to work together at her old school. Ushe has now moved on to a new position. She is a systems principal at the Halton district school board. Michelle is a school administrator, who has worked in various roles in different countries with a demonstrated history in building community, through positive relationships, collaboration, and innovation. She is skilled in curriculum leadership, capacity building and data informed decision making. She has her Masters of Education focused in measurement and evaluation from the university of Toronto. She brings a genuine passion, curiosity and authenticity to her work in education, which I think is so, so important. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Michelle and I will see you on the other side. Michelle, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what you do in education?


Michelle Lemaire (02:15):
Well, thank you very much, Sam, for this opportunity. My name is Michelle Lemaire and I’m currently the system principal of the Halton district school board at the welcome center, which serves newcomer families. So new to Halton as well as international students who come to visit our schools and live with us for as long as four years or as short as one year or even six months. So this is where I am now. And I’ve only been in this role for couple of months formally. And it’s been a great ride so far and I’m pretty excited to, to stay on this journey.


Sam Demma (02:53):
Well, let’s speaking of journeys, let’s, let’s break down your own journey to where you are today. Okay. You know, how did you get into education growing up? Did you know that you wanted to be a teacher or how did you stumble across this vocation?


Michelle Lemaire (03:06):
Well, that’s a great question. Inevitably somebody would always ask me that question along the way, and my response has always been the same because it’s true. I, I’m the oldest of in my family. So the, the duty and responsibility to care for my siblings has always fallen on me and that’s okay. Because I really enjoy it and it fulfills me. I mean, there are times where I wanna pull my hair out right. And get super frustrated. I mean, they are your siblings after all, but at the end of the day, it really fills me up. When I see young people being successful at what they’re doing, or at least taking steps towards achieving their goals or achieving what I see as their potential. So that’s what really fills me up and drives me in my job and in my role. So that’s how I kind of fell into cheat teaching.


Sam Demma (04:03):
That’s amazing. That’s so cool. I, I mean, you could have got into coaching, you could have got into, it sounds like anything related to caring for, and working with youth along the way. Did you have teachers or educators kind of tap you on the shoulder and say, it’s so obvious that you love caring for young people, you should get into teaching. Was there any mentors in your life or did you just know? Yeah.


Michelle Lemaire (04:23):
You know what, that’s a great question. There weren’t any explicit taps, but I did have teachers and principals who looked out for me and I’ve always been so grateful for that. I saw like they had direct impact on how I did at school. And that really kind of made me think about, gosh, you know, if they can do this for me, how awesome would it be if I could do this too, for, for others, for young people. So, you know, as I went through high school, I remember my grade 10 grade nine music teacher, and he was my music teacher all through high school. Right. And he was the best like Mr. AFAO. I can just tell you now, like he is cool and quirky and funny, but strict. And I always knew that he’s got my back and he’s always looked out for me and one of what’s best for me.


Michelle Lemaire (05:16):
And he would check in on me, which I really deeply appreciated. I had a principal, a high school principal who was always curious about what I thought and would always talk to me about stuff. And I’m like, me, you wanna talk to me about this and I thought, gosh, you know, how, how awesome it was to feel that my voice matters. And so to me that was so empowering and that really fueled me and really got me towards the journey of, of educating. So it was kind of like one step led to another, right. You’ve got my home life where I’m, I’m helping my siblings and I’ve got, I’m being at school and I’ve got these teachers who mentored me and cared for me and asked me for my thoughts. And so those two kinda came together in a, in a very what’s the word in a beautiful way, harmonic way, that kind of led me to, to my path in education.


Sam Demma (06:17):
So inspiring teachers. I think it’s, it’s so funny. We can all think back to a teacher we had in high school who really poured into us. I hope. Yeah. Everyone had that experience. And every educator I ask on the show has a similar answer. They can pinpoint who those people were and why they had an impact fast, fast, you know, moving forward, you, you finished high school, I’m assuming you went to teachers college. What was that first role that you got into an education? And how was that experience as a new educator for you?


Michelle Lemaire (06:46):
Oh my gosh. , you know what, my first teaching job, I actually taught overseas. Oh, wow. Yeah. And I, and I would not change it. One, it was really hard. It was super hard. I taught in Korea. Wow. So I taught in an international school there in English. I taught math there and it was really, really hard because as a new teacher and I reflect upon that now I was so caught up with the curriculum, the math, you know, like, I’m like you guys, you guys need to know this. And, and the focus as I think about that now, and, and with my experience, it’s always about the relationships, right? It’s always about the connections that you make with other human beings. And that’s what gets through to each other to it, to all of us. I mean, you mentioned earlier, you know, you talk to people and every teacher you talk to have always said, I had this one teacher who really looked out for me, but I bet if you to everybody else, who’s not an education.


Michelle Lemaire (07:50):
They would have a, they would have a, of people who would say I had this really awesome teacher, or I had this really horrible teacher. And to me, that’s, that’s what I would like to change. I want, I want more of that. I had this awesome teacher and less of the, I had a really crappy teacher. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. So I think so you’re, I, back to the original question, like what, what was my first couple of years as a new teacher? It was really hard as I got caught up with curriculum and I mean, I built relationships along the way. And by the end of my first year, I realized that, you know what, like, I really need to focus on the relationships as well as the curriculum, if not more with the relationships so that kids can trust me.


Michelle Lemaire (08:41):
I, it boils down to trust, right? Like the kids can trust, like the teacher’s got my back. And I need to do what they ask me because I trust that when they tell me to do these things, it’s for my own good. And it will come back to help me out. So in subsequent years I took that to heart and I really worked at making sure that I built those good relationships with kids. And with my colleagues too, because it takes a village. Right. We get to lean on each other. And I certainly don’t have all of the answers and I’m not perfect. And I’m not highly skilled in every single area. Yeah. I need my colleagues to help me out in my blind spots.


Sam Demma (09:25):
That’s amazing. So you said something that was interesting, you said it was really hard and then you said, but I wouldn’t change a thing. And typically those two sentences don’t go hand in hand, you know? Yeah. So tell me more about the aspect of that experience that made it so desirable that you wouldn’t change a thing, because I think other educators might benefit from teaching overseas as well, or maybe it’s something that they should all look into or consider. Yeah.


Michelle Lemaire (09:52):
The really hard part was a couple of things. So one was one is the fact that you’re living in a foreign country and you’re not familiar with the culture with the way things work. In, in Korea, I did, I don’t speak Korean, so I, I, I’m not fluent in the dominant language and culture. So I was an outsider from the very get go. And to me that really reminded me of what it’s like to be vulnerable, right. And to not have all those things, those privileges with you all the time. And cause of that, I think I’m a better teacher. I’m a better human being because it taught me the value of kindness and the value of empathy and patience. Right. the other hard part was I think just cuz you would start any new job, a new something is always hard.


Michelle Lemaire (10:55):
And I needed to work through that. I needed to go through that process and allow that to happen and go on the other side and said, you know what I put on all that hard work and you know, what it was worth it. Yeah. And I learned so much about it. I mean, you, I’m sure you can relate to that Sam as, as an athlete, a professional athlete and going through your own personal journey. I’m sure you relate to that too. So that’s why I feel that it’s, it was so hard, but I wouldn’t change it because it made, made me who I am today.


Sam Demma (11:27):
That’s amazing. I love that. I I’ve had so many experiences from traveling too. I, I haven’t taught overseas. That’s a totally different ballgame, but just the experience of being immersed different culture can be so eyeopening and world view broadening, you know, you could change your perspectives very quickly. So you came back from teaching and then what did you start doing here?


Michelle Lemaire (11:51):
I, I, everything was so serendipitous. I came back. I was so fortunate to be able to find a full-time job upon returning back to Canada. And I just started teaching right away in high school again at high school where I didn’t even expect to land. Like I didn’t even think I could, would get the job, but I did. I was so lucky. And I, so teaching math again at that high school, the first year again, was another new journey because I’m suddenly flipped back to an English speaking country and you know, I’m teaching math. And then the following year I was swapped and taught. I taught in a different program where I was working with a lot of in risk youth. And that itself taught me a lot too. About the privileges that I enjoyed growing up and realizing that not everybody comes to the table with the same social and cultural capital.


Michelle Lemaire (12:50):
So again, that really built my character. And, and my values would solidified what it was that I got into this profession for right. There were days of course, pulling my hair up, just like I’m helping my siblings, I’m ready to like scream. But then at the end of the day, when you go back and you, and you, you talk to the kids at the end of the year and you would say, you know what, guys, that was a really hard year. And they’re like, yeah, miss, that was hard. But they would say, but it’s okay, miss, we got your back. And I’m like, and this is why I’m here. Right. so yeah, that was my, my journey back here in the health.


Sam Demma (13:35):
That’s awesome. And at some point you made the decision to not leave the classroom, but take on a different role in the school of principal. Yeah. What every educator I’ve talked to always says, principal is great, but I miss being in the classroom. and I know that leaving the classroom is a very difficult decision. What was the impetus or the inspiration for you to, you know, reach for that different role in the school? And how did you enjoy both of the roles?


Michelle Lemaire (14:04):
Well, it, it’s funny, you should ask because I never thought of myself being a principal, right? Like it was not something that I actively thought of to say, and by this time I’m gonna be that what provided the impetus was I was working with a principal and I had this idea. I was like, so what do you think if we did this, we can really engage kids this way and really move them forward in their learning. What do you think about that? And my principal said, huh, yeah, let’s try it. And I’m like, oh my gosh, did you actually just say yes. And the fact that he was able to empower me with this idea and make a difference with kids in the learning, I thought, gosh, how awesome would it be if I could be in that chair and, and empower other staff to say, yes, you can do this. That’s a great idea for kids. It’s a great idea to help kids cuz it’s good for them. And that really was what pushed me over to, to really go after this, this position of being an administrator.


Sam Demma (15:16):
It’s funny when you were saying or explaining the idea yeah. Of him giving you permission or telling you to go for it. Yeah. The word that came to mind was like enabler. It sounds like a principal as someone who enables potential, you know, a hundred percent.


Michelle Lemaire (15:30):
and that exactly it just like a classroom teacher would enable or empower their classroom, their students. Yeah. The principal’s job is to empower students and their staff to make the, to give them that permission, to try things in the spirit of helping students be the best that they can be. Right. And unleashing that, that potential.


Sam Demma (15:56):
Love that. What do you think are some of the programs that you’ve run in the past in your schools that, that you think were a success or that some of the, or maybe even some of the teachers approached you and said, Hey, Michelle I have enough idea yeah. And you kind of enabled and some good things happened.


Michelle Lemaire (16:18):
That’s a great question. I don’t know if I can nail down to one or two programs that were good for kids, but there were, I can give you a few examples from last year, even though last year was a really different year for us in schools. Right. and despite the challenging year, last year, we had lots of great things happening in our school, not my school now, but lots of great things that happened. So for example, we had one teacher come to me and said, you know, what, how cool would it be if this is my, I wanna get kids to redraw the red dress, the red dress pro project on a murdered, missing in indigenous women. But we draw them using lines that we can define using math, linear equations on Desmos, create these dresses and then hang them up for display to commemorate the murdered and missing indigenous women.


Michelle Lemaire (17:23):
And I said, yes, how awesome would that be? Let’s do it. And let’s bring in our indigenous instructional program. The, to help us through with this, let’s bring in our shift team to think about how we’ve been creatively display this while still honoring this project, the, the initiative behind the re the redress project. So that’s one idea. And, and in this entire journey, our kids benefited and that was the main thing, right. They benefited in so many different ways, you know, of course they learned math, but what’s more important was they truly understood and really dug into the issue of the miss and indigenous women in a math class, which seems so out of context by why not, like, why can’t we have these interdisciplinary learning, right. Yeah. So that was that’s an example of a project I’m really proud of. I’m proud of my staff for doing it. I’m proud of our students for participating in it. And for the other periphery staff that came together to allow it and, and help it along its way.


Sam Demma (18:35):
That’s the new phrase educators will take away from this episode that they can bring back to their principles or, you know, admin saying, wouldn’t it be cool if , yeah. That’s such a, yeah. Such a great way to put it because is I think every, every movement, every, you know, event starts with one of those sentences, right? How do you, how do we build like a community and a culture where principals or sorry, where teachers in their schools feel connected enough and a part of the community to come to you with the idea and actually share. Do you think it’s about letting them know that every, every idea is a good idea or yeah. How do you build a community where staff are willing to come and, and ask those questions?


Michelle Lemaire (19:23):
I, I think first I think you need to model it as a leader that, that you are willing to take risks yourself. And I don’t mean like risks that are, you know, uncalculated. Yeah. And, you know, like, because there is always a threshold of risk that we have to manage. It’s a real, the real part of our job. Right. so there are always some kind of what I call non-negotiables. Yeah. Right. You can never put a student at risk. You must always maintain the privacy of our children. You must always keep learning at the forefront. Those are the, the non-negotiables you need to always honor the individuality of each student and honor their voice, et cetera. So once those foundational pieces are set in, in, in place, then as a leader, you model and you ask questions. Right. And what I have learned in my journey, and I continue to learn because I, I don’t think I’ll ever get it right.


Michelle Lemaire (20:28):
Is to always ask questions, but it’s not about just asking any question, you need to ask the right questions. Mm. And you spend the time trying to find what are the right questions, because once you have the right questions, then you can better define a problem. Right. So my hope is, and, and my you know, my mantra as a leader has always been all, given the non-negotiables, here are my things that here are the things that I wanna go after, which is engaging students, making sure that they are reaching their full potential, that they all always feel included. They’re never left out. The table’s always set for them. Come what may given all of that? What can we do? And how can we, how can we do it in, in a way that would engage kids? And what I have learned is that you ask the kids, the kids would tell you. And that to me is a form of sharing power, a form of including voice. And at the end of the day, our jobs as educators is to facilitate that, how do we share it while maintaining all of those?


Sam Demma (21:47):
Non-Negotiables. That’s an amazing philosophy. yeah. Thanks. And, and a way to look at it. Yeah. Thanks. Usually I think about non-negotiables as like taking out the trash and doing the dishes in my house for my parents, you know..


Michelle Lemaire (22:00):
That’s the same in my house. It’s true.


Sam Demma (22:03):
That’s awesome. I love it. Yeah. And so, if you could know, there might be some new educators who are just getting into teaching, listening to this interview. If you could like, basically take the experience and knowledge you have now and give advice to first year teacher Michelle, knowing what, you know, what would you tell your younger self?


Michelle Lemaire (22:26):
That’s a great question. I would tell my younger self and, or new teachers that it’s O it’s okay to not know everything. Mm. Cause when you start, you feel like you need to know everything. And I, and I maybe that’s a function of youth, right. I will, would, I would say it’s okay to not know everything and you will continue to not know everything. And the key thing is to always be curious and to approach situations with both curiosity, curiosity, and humility. Right. And then the next step is to look for common ground, always look for common ground, cuz differences will always be there. Yeah. It’s the common ground that gets you through stuff and you can walk through things. So once you look for common ground, you build that relationship, then you can move forward. Right. Mm-Hmm so I think that would be the advice kind of be kind to yourself. It’s okay. To not know. And it’s actually better that you don’t know everything because that keeps you humble. But please continue to be curious and be kind and look for common ground.


Sam Demma (23:45):
Now we have common ground because you and my mom make us do dishes and yes, the clothes , it’s funny. That’s awesome on your right behind you. No one can see this cuz it’s audio, but there’s a little quote that says, be yourself, everyone else has already taken. What about that phrase? Kind of stuck out to you so much so that you put it on the shelf.


Michelle Lemaire (24:04):
I love that you picked that up because from, from the time I’ve been a teenager and my dad always kind of said that to me and I, you know how parents say up to you and you’re like, okay, whatever. Yeah. You’re my dad. Like as if you would know anything, you’re my mom. Like as if, and they would always just tell me like, who cares, what I other people say or what other other people think. And I would just kind of dismiss it. And as I got older, I mean, I wasn’t a shop one day and I saw that and I got, I said, you know, that’s it. I need to be me. And I need to be okay with being me. And I get to define me because nobody else gets to define me. Everybody else is already taken. And not me because why I define me. That’s why that, that statement really resonated with me.


Sam Demma (24:58):
Love that. I think encouraging authenticity and just defining your own self worth is so important because when you realize that you’re one of one it’s like when you can trust in your intuition and your own creative ideas, you can bring things to the table that no one else could because no one has your unique experiences and no one’s taught, you know, no one’s taught in the same school at the same time in Korea, teaching English, you know, like all those things build up the person you are. Yeah. So such, such an important reminder also for kids, you know, but hundred percent, Michelle, this has been an amazing conversation. Thanks so much for coming on the, the show here today. If, if there’s an educator listening that wants to reach out or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Michelle Lemaire (25:44):
Different ways through email (lemairem@hdsb.ca) and through Twitter (@MsLemaire), I have an Instagram account (@mslemaire) that I created for kids. They can reach out to me through Instagram if they want, if that’s their thing, but you know, any of those three different ways would work.


Sam Demma (26:00):
Okay, perfect. And I’ll put your, if you’re okay with it, an email totally on the Twitter, in the show, note to the episode. Yeah.


Michelle Lemaire (26:06):
Sounds good.


Sam Demma (26:08):
All right. Thank you so much again for coming on the show! Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Michelle Lemaire (26:12):
Yeah, you bet.


Sam Demma (26:14):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michelle

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.

Mike Anderson – Principal of the Grand River Otters Elementary Remote School (4200 students)

Mike Anderson - Principal of the Grand River Otters Elementary Remote School (4200 students)
About Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson (@manderson27) is a high energy educator and the Principal of the Elementary Remote School of the Upper Grand District School Board. 

Formed in August 2020, the Elementary Remote School is a K-8 “virtual” school with approximately 4200 students, 220 teachers, 30 RECEs, 4 administrators, and 2 office coordinators. Their students and staff come from all across the Upper Grand District School Board.

Mike describes it as running a tech start-up. 

Connect with Mike: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

UGDSB Elementary Remote School Website

How company culture determines success (Culture eats Strategy)

Bachelor of Education at University of Windsor

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 guest is a good friend of mine. His name is Mike Anderson. He is the principal of the Upper Grand District School Board Elementary Remote School. The abbreviation for that is ERS, there school is known as the grand river otters, otters being their mascot.


Sam Demma (00:59):
And there’s tons of jokes about that. Mike was a teacher who hired me to speak back in, I believe it was December. It might even have been late November and he has one of the largest remote schools, virtual schools in all of Ontario. They have approximately 4,200 students! Over 200 teachers 4 administrators, 2 office coordinators and their administration staff, and their students come from all across the upper grand district school board! Mike, on this podcast alludes to it being almost like a tech startup. You know, you’re figuring things out as you go. And I can tell you, Mike is someone who has immense amounts of passion and purpose. You know, it’s very apparent that he has time for every kid in his school. He makes time, he’s answering hundreds of emails per day. He is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve and you can feel it during today’s interview. So without further ado, let’s jump into the conversation with Mike Anderson from the Elementary Remote School of the Upper Grand District School Board. I’ll see you on the other side. Mike, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We just literally worked together, like a week or two ago. Tell the listener why you got into the work you do with young people today and the unique situation you’re in right now running a remote school.


Mike Anderson (02:26):
Sure. Sam, thanks for having me on. It’s an absolute pleasure. So I’m an elementary school principal normally in a brick and mortar school. And I, I got into education. I think it all started when I was a kid going to camp at summer camp and, and I grew up watching counselors that had this great positive energy and were enthusiastic and playful, and they liked learning and there was a performing element to it and I found it really inspiring. To be honest, I don’t know if I found my teachers that inspiring growing up. And I always kind of thought like, I wish, I wish school could be more like camp where there was that like sense of fun and energy. And so I think, my career as an educator, I’ve tried to bring some of that camp feeling into a school environment. You know, building a community, connecting with kids being, yeah, having a playfulness around how we’re learning and how we’re doing things.


Mike Anderson (03:34):
So, so now as a principal at a remote school with, or so we’re 4,200 students, 265 staff I mean the challenges this year are yeah, in some ways, like it’s been absolutely ridiculous. This past fall has been the hardest I’ve ever worked as like in my life on anything. But it, it has this vibe of a, like a, a fast paced tech startup is the, is the way I kind of explain it. It sounds funny, but yeah, like we just, there was a while where we were, we started the year and we were short staffed, and our school together without enough teachers and we made a go for it. And we tried our best to to provide a quality program for our students. And there was a ton of challenges that we faced. And, it, it always felt like we didn’t have enough time to, to get everything done, but we’ve also yeah, we’ve had some, some good success. It, it feels good to look back and be like, you know what?


Sam Demma (04:57):
That’s awesome. Yeah, it cut out there. Just it cut out a tiny bit just near the end there. I don’t know. It was, I don’t think it was you. It was me and don’t worry. I’m gonna cut this little part out. Okay. But you said when you said it feels like, and then it, it just dropped


Mike Anderson (05:13):
And you


Sam Demma (05:14):
About sorry, go ahead, startup. Yeah, I got, I got the whole tech startup piece and then towards the end it just cut out.


Mike Anderson (05:23):
It feels like over the last few, we are starting to have some recognition of our progress and some success that we’re having. So our hard work has been paying off. And when I say art, like it’s an entire team of people that, that is working incredibly hard to make this school function.


Sam Demma (05:42):
And it’s different this year, obviously than it has been for you in the past. What is, what is keeping you motivated and hopeful during this challenging time? I don’t wanna say it’s a bad time or a negative time. It’s just different. It presents new challenges and hurdles.


Mike Anderson (05:58):
Yeah. So I, I mean the things that give me hope and that keep me going, I think it working with some incredibly inspiring colleagues teachers and office staff and administrators who been yeah, just thinking outside the box and being creative. One of the things we’ve, we’ve sort of created an infrastructure in our school that allows like we have for a while we had a frequently asked questions running on a, on our staff website and we said, we need this to be crowdsourced. So we, we need everyone. Like, if you have a question thrown on there and if you don’t wanna her throat on there, we’re gonna, we’re gonna build this together. And the analogy we kept using with our stack was we are, we are gonna build an airplane together, but we have to do this while we’re already flying in the sky.


Mike Anderson (06:49):
We’re gonna build an airplane in the sky. And, and it is, it is not gonna feel ready to fly yet. There’s gonna be problems. And we need to just keep doing our best and work together. So the, the school, the elementary remote school, and we call ourselves the, the, the otters. We have we’ve, I’ve, it is incredibly inspiring to see the collaboration and the just, just the, the helping each other people. We have a, a, a Google chat we, which is an ongoing chat room with 260 plus staff members. And people, every day, someone asks a question and five different people give different suggestions and responses. So it, it, it kind of is like being in a school and you walk into a staff room, you’re like, Hey, anyone know how to fix this, or you pass someone in the hall, but we don’t have halls.


Mike Anderson (07:37):
We don’t have a staff room. So we wanna, it has turned into a place where people are helping each other and it is super exciting to see. And also you can imagine like in, in it’s also a way to decentralize sort of the, all the information so that I can share it out. And sometimes I’m jumping in the chat and answering and clarifying and other times like, it’s yeah. It’s, it’s staff working with staff. It’s, it’s really cool to see. I think another thing that gives me hope is I mean, we are working with kids, right? Kids are like, I find they are constant source of hope. You see either their creativity and their what, like, I don’t know about you, but when I see kids doing things that are thoughtful and kind for someone else, it fills me with a joy like that. It, I mean, it, it drives me to say, well, I’m, I’m in the right business here. I, I feel so much pride in, in seeing our students when they, when they step up and, and do things that yeah, they’re just amazing. So yeah, those are sort of the, my big drivers, I think. Yeah.


Sam Demma (08:52):
I’m with you on the, the second one and the first, although I’m not in a school seeing a chat box with 260 teachers, I, you got me really curious when you started talking about that. I’m, I’m sure there’s dozens upon dozens of amazing unique ideas that have been shared in that chat. And I’m curious to know what has been working or what have some of your teachers that you’ve heard and you thought, wow, that’s a brilliant idea. And maybe they report it back, that it went well. And maybe you can also share a challenger too. That might show someone that, Hey, you’re not going through this alone. It’s, it’s a universal challenge.


Mike Anderson (09:28):
Right? So I, I think that one of the, I mean, in terms of a, an overall success that we’ve had at our school to, to, to address the remote element of our remote school, I mean, all of our staff are a few of them are schools. But most people are by themselves or in a, in a room that they set up to be a, a teaching space. And we knew early on that we needed to build a culture a connected culture where we’re all part of something. It’s not just like I’m teaching at home this year. Mm-Hmm, , it’s, I’m part of something I’m part of something bigger. So we worked really hard and it sounds funny, but the very beginning myself and the, the first two VPs that we had Jen Apgar and Alan go we met in my garage on lawn chairs, like socially, just, this is back in August.


Mike Anderson (10:25):
And we are like it that maybe one of the reasons, it felt like a tech start, starting in a garage. I think one of us tweeted out like in the beginning and, and it is like, it had this sense of excitement and we had to answer all these questions, like, how are we going to decide who’s teaching? What, who are our staff gonna be? What’s our schedule gonna be like for the day, what, well, and, and we talked about, you know, what, what kind of strategies are we gonna use? And, and the one thing, the quote that started, and I, I, I feel bad cause I don’t remember who said this quote, but it’s it says the quote is culture eats strategy for breakfast. Mm. And, and we started with, we need a culture in our school, so we need a logo, a mascot, we need a brand.


Mike Anderson (11:12):
And we came up with the otters nice. And and, and we build off of that. And we, we knew we needed to be part of, we needed people to say, I’m not just like, oh, I, I sit at home and teach, no, I’m an Otter. I’m part of something bigger. So we, now we have spirit wear, we have our website. We have at one point I actually bought a giant Otter suit and store for an dorky little I mean, it was like a, a prize if kids raised enough money for our, our first Terry Fox video or Terry Fox campaign, which is like a, a fundraising campaign. We ran that at the very end of September. And I would say that was sort of a, a pivotal moment for our school because one of our teachers, I’m gonna get a shout out to Melissa Rose who came up with this idea and she took this initiative on, and we did a crowdsourced video where teachers all, all remotely submitted little video clips.


Mike Anderson (12:04):
We, she edited together. We posted it out there and we challenged people like we’re gonna try to raise. And I think our initial goal, like, you know, we wanna raise 500 or a thousand or 1500. And one of the, if they met one of the if the students raised that kind of money there were different sort of incentives. Mine was I’d wear a, an embarrassing auto costume around to work. And I did and it was funny so, but the neat thing is like, we raised way over our goal. I think we ended up braising over $7,000. And we, we think part of the reason that we raise so much money on awesome video and staff engagement and students getting excited about it, but also I think it was we interpreted this as, as the community saying, you, we wanna support you.


Mike Anderson (12:51):
You’re doing, we really happy. And we started to about then from parents, like, thank you. You’ve created a place for my child to go to school every day and learn, and they’re happy. Mm. So some parents and, and fair enough, after last spring with the emergency distance learning the online learning this fall, I think people had some different expectations and a bunch of parents I heard from said, this is going so well. We just wanted to make sure our kids were safe at home and not getting COVID. We didn’t expect them to actually make connections and like, be excited about learning and sharing things. So I, I think about the staff we we’ve had where been like a Google meet. So like similar to a zoom and students are still like, they’re getting school work done, but we’re, we’re always trying to think about what else can we do in our school to create a positive experience for our students, in fact not, not to suit your horn there, but Sam, like when you came in last week for your assembly, for our, for our school it was awesome.


Mike Anderson (13:57):
And the, the kids, like they loved it, the staff loved it. Your, your, your message of I mean, talk about like giving kids hope and and, and a like profound optimism for how they can make a difference, even during a global pandemic.


Sam Demma (14:13):
No, I appreciate that. And it’s so into inspiring to see kids taking action. I share that feeling that you have, that when a kid, you know, believes in themselves and takes an action that maybe they’re uncomfortable with at first, but they know they wanna do it. It just lights you up. And you just finished telling me before we started the interview that you have a student who approached you and said, I wanna make a website really curious to know how as educators, can we help our students have those moments where they start believing in themselves more. And then how do we not hold their hand through the journey, but give them the permission to go try and fail, and maybe just share that story of, of that kid and what actually happened there.


Mike Anderson (14:58):
Yeah. I mean, one of our students reached out to me today and said, I have an idea for our student council. And I said, okay, what, what is it? And this is just like back and forth messaging. And I said, tell me, tell me, I like, I like great ideas. What are you thinking? They’re like, what if we had a, what website for our student council? And I said, I love it. That sounds fantastic. You do you know how to do this? They were like, kind of, and I’m like, great. I think you’re the webmaster , this is the kind of, I mean, we have this really unique opportunity and we’ve tried to our student council and we, we have a parent like a school council as well. And we’re trying to do things like we do in brick and mortar.


Mike Anderson (15:37):
We’re trying to provide those opportunities for our kids online. And student council is something that we’d I, I, I, I, I’m gonna give a shout out to a student named Gemma who back in September, she, she created a Google slideshow and she’s like dear principal Anderson. I would like to propose that we have a student council love it. And she made this whole Google slideshow. And honestly I opened it and I had that feeling of like just amazement, just like, this is exciting. This is a student who is yeah. Just has a bunch of great ideas. And you’ve actually met Gemma cuz she introduced you on our on our assembly last week. I know. So she’s like, yeah, one of the active members of our student council now. And I think she and two of her classmates are now working on a school newspaper.


Mike Anderson (16:28):
And they want to give a space for our students to have a voice to write our articles about events that are going on in our school. And I’m thinking I’m gonna connect them with our new webmaster and start getting this all published it yeah, I think giving students a voice, giving them an opportunity in their school to say, this is what I’m passionate about, and this is what I want to do. The more that we can do that for kids it has this incredible ripple effect. One, I find it quite energizing and, and exciting for to, to see that and, and to develop those young leaders it gives them a venue and it also makes them feel, Hey, I, I, I can have an impact here. I can, I can have, you know, I can do something here in my school and I can have a voice in, in what my school, the community and the culture of the school is. Like, I love


Sam Demma (17:20):
That. Yeah. Yeah. And I can’t wait to see the, the website if, you know, if they need any help. I, I built my own site on WordPress and would be happy to share some, some wisdom as a fellow web master.


Mike Anderson (17:32):
I love that. I love that. So, and this is where yeah, I mean, connecting with community partners yeah. Is is always, it makes it for the students it’s so much more authentic, right? Yeah. so I know that we have one of our grade five classes Mrs. Kat’s class they’ve been connecting they’re, they’re very passionate about environmental issues and they’ve reached out and brought in some special guests to talk about what they can do and some, some projects that they can take on and take ownership for. So I, I sat in, on one of their conferences with a a local environmental champion. Nice that, yeah, it was super impressive. That’s awesome. I, I like bringing in community connections for kids to make the learning. It just, it makes, it brings it alive. Right. You’re not reading about something in a book you’re like asking questions to an expert. Yeah. And of all the times to do that, the remote school is perfect. The kids are all on a video screen. They know how to do this. Yeah.


Sam Demma (18:40):
Yeah, that’s an interesting perspective because I’ve also heard the other side of that, where a lot of educators are saying, oh, this is the year where, you know, we can’t do so we’re just not gonna do them. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is on that and how you would address that. And what yeah. What your thoughts are.


Mike Anderson (18:59):
Right. So my colleagues in the brick and mortar schools are obviously it’s the most important is keeping everyone safe and it is different. They can’t have, have assemblies like normal. So your assembly I mean at the remote school, there’s things that we can do that just cause of, yeah. Like we, we can kind of be more, we can think outside the box quite easily. And I mean, you can imagine at a school, they said, we can have we can have clubs, but we need to do it with physical distancing and maybe it’s gonna need to be remote. So I know I heard about one school, that’s trying to run a club and kids are in different classrooms, on a video meet in the same building. Yeah. Well, like we’ve got an awesome chess club right now, nicely. One of our teacher, like, yes, figure this all out.


Mike Anderson (19:52):
And we’ve got like moving towards like a ladder ranking system and kids challenging each other. And like, this is, I mean, yeah, it’s fun. We’re, we’re starting Tom Barker is taking the lead one of our teachers and we’re gonna start a coding competition in our school. And that like, yeah, now, you know, we, what we don’t have is we don’t have recess time. Mm. Right. But our, our students, like our they’re getting Ette every day or, or, I mean, depending on the age, but I know yeah, some kids are the other day when the first big major snowfall my daughter is one of the oters, so she was in grade seven. Nice. And her challenge, she’s like your physical activity. You need to go outside, you need to build a snowman as apology can, and then come back inside, you have 15 minutes go.


Mike Anderson (20:38):
And she like comes running down the stairs. I was like, where are you going? She’s like, hi, it’s ed. I gotta go. I was like, that’s awesome. Like she, and it’s cool. I mean, I don’t, yeah. It awesome. Those kind of things. We, we’re trying to leverage the opportunities we have being remote. We part a big way we do that is by partnering with parents and, and, and working, it is a partnership, especially this year mm-hmm to, to help our students kind of navigate it. And I, I should say, I mean, there, there are some people that are finding remote. I mean, it’s, it’s challenging and it’s different and we try to be creative and we try to think outside the box and still provide a quality education for our students. But it, there, it, it’s not perfect. There are, there are some stumbling blocks and there’s hurdles and there’s challenges that we we spent a lot of time trying to navigate through and, and learn from. But it does feel like we’re making progress, which is a positive thing.


Sam Demma (21:34):
No, that’s awesome. And for me, it seems like your successes with this remote school will almost become a rubric. If we have to do another year of virtual learning, what you’re going through is what Joseph Campbell would call the hero’s journey. You’re you went into the unordinary world, which is like the, the remote world, cuz no one’s ever done this before. And you overcame objections and figured things out and got challenged and figured out the problems. And now you’re coming back around the other side. And if this is to happen again, everyone, one’s gonna turn to you and your 250 staff and say, how the heck did you do that? Because you might have to do it again. And I mean, we could just call your experience right now, innovation, like this is what’s happening with your school. And I think it’s just a cool success story to highlight.


Sam Demma (22:26):
And I know there’s challenges that come all along with it, for sure. But what you’ve been able to do with all of your colleagues and everyone in the school is, and the parents and the students and everyone is, is phenomenal. And to have the kid engaged to the point where they run outside to build a snowman is pretty awesome. Which is, which is cool. But if you could go back in time to when you were just starting to teach and have wise, Mike right now speak to young foolish Mike, when you just started teaching. And of course you weren’t foolish, but you know, less wisdom, less experience. What advice would you give yourself? And then what advice would that, that this advice is probably the same as what you tell other educators, but what advice would you also give to your colleague right now and the education calling?


Mike Anderson (23:16):
I think I, I came into the teaching profession understanding that it’s important that you build relationships Hmm. With students and with parents and with colleagues. And I, I love the quote and I, again, I, I, I like quote, I don’t always remember where they’re from, but no one cares what, you know, until they know that you care. Hmm. And, and at, at the core, I think back the, some of the the, the best experiences and the best connections that I’ve made with, with students and with colleagues are through those like quality, like sincere human relationships. Mm. Caring about people is, I mean, it, it, it, this is a relationship, it’s a people driven enterprise. So I know even I, yeah, just thinking back, like connect first, build, build those relationships first cuz once you have that established then it’s so much easier to get kids excited about learning to get them passionate and enthusiastic.


Mike Anderson (24:20):
I, I should yeah. I, I just think back in my, are about the, the, the best experiences that I’ve had in this profession have come have been built on those relationships and building relationships that are sincere and honest and, and when there’s trust developed students can yeah, they thrive when, when, when a, when a, when a student knows that an educate or cares about them and is on their team and is encouraging them and supporting them it’s really exciting to, to watch what they can do and, and how far they can go.


Sam Demma (25:00):
I love that. And I C I couldn’t agree more when I think about the, the teachers in my life, who’ve made a huge to impact. It was people that were passionate about their content, like extremely passionate about what they were teaching, but then made an effort to get to know every kid in the class, to the point where they take their generic content and then add three or four words to apply it to specific students. You know, you know, I remember my teacher, Mike loud foot, who I talk about in my speech. He used to teach essence and then towards the middle and the end, he’d say, Hey, for, for you, this means this and Sam for you, this means this and Mike for you, this means this. And having those people who took the time to get to know you and build a relationship with you. And it just, it just heightened the experience so much. And I, and I couldn’t agree more. So thanks for sharing and anyone listening, you know, focus on the relationships, prioritize the relationships. Mike, thank you so much for sharing some of your wisdom. It’s already been 25 minutes time flies when you’re having a good conversation. Is there any way people like, what’s the best way for people to reach out if they like this and they just want to chat with you or have a conversation?


Mike Anderson (26:08):
Yeah, so, like, I think on Twitter, my my Twitter handle is @manderson27. And 27 is also the number I wear on my hockey Jersey shouted out to Darrell Sittler. Nice on. But yeah, so @manderson27 is probably the best way to connect with me. I’ll give you my email address as well. If people wanna send an email, Mike.Anderson@ugdsb.on.ca. Just heads up, I get between 200 and 300 emails a day right now in this current job. So it is super hard. I’m doing my very best. Yeah. To to get back to people in a timely fashion, but yeah, I’d be happy if anyone had any follow up questions or thoughts especially with the the winter break coming up. I’ll hopefully get a chance to get caught up on my email.


Sam Demma (27:00):
No, it sounds good. I’m, I’m dumbfounded that you even opened mind. So I appreciate it.


Mike Anderson (27:06):
Cool. Sam, thanks so much. This was awesome.


Sam Demma (27:08):
You too Mike. Appreciate it. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mike Anderson

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.

Ryan Keliher BA, BEd, MBA, – Teacher, Author, Coach and Teenage Motivator

Ryan Keliher BA, BEd, MBA, - Teacher, Author, Coach and Teenage Motivator
About Ryan Keliher

Ryan Keliher (@superstarcurric) BA, BEd, MBA, is a high school educator who has spent the past eleven years teaching, coaching and motivating teenagers. He is a former valedictorian, university basketball captain, and Academic All-Canadian who is passionate about student leadership and personal development.

Keliher resides in Prince Edward Island, Canada with his wife Siobhan and their baby boy, Rafael.

Connect with Ryan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Charlottetown Rural High School

Ryan’s Personal Website

The Superstar Curriculum

The Hate you Give

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 guest was actually someone who was introduced to me by a former guest, Melanie Hedley, a teacher from Bluefield High School introduced me over email to this gentleman named Ryan. And I’m so glad she did because the conversation we had was phenomenal and I can’t wait to share it with you.


Sam Demma (00:59):
Ryan Keliher has his BA his BEd , his MBA, and is a high school educator who has spent the past 11 years teaching coaching and motivating teenagers. He is a former valedictorian university basketball captain and an academic, all Canadian, who is passionate about student leadership and personal development. Ryan resides in Prince Edward Island, Canada with his wife Siobhan and their baby Raphael. He is also an author, an author of a book called the superstar curriculum. It’s a phenomenal book. He’s sold over 2000 copies and today we talk about so many different topics, things that come directly out of his book, but also his own philosophies on student leadership and how to navigate these difficult times. I hope you enjoy this conversation. I will see you on the other side. Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Can you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and why you got into the work that you do in education today?


Ryan Keliher (02:01):
Sure. First of all, I just wanna thanks. Thank you a lot for having me on today. I’m really looking forward to being on the pod and just a little bit about me. So my name is Ryan Keliher and I am a high school teacher and I’m 14 years into my career and I teach out of Charlton Rural High School in tiny Prince Edward Island. Nice. Why I kind of got into education? I was really fortunate to have had some awesome teachers when I was going through school and they made me really like being in school and they had a really positive impact on me. And as I grew up, I kind of just felt like I’d like to that kind of do what they do. I really, I really admired them. I really thought what they did was meaningful and from a fairly early age, like in high school, kind of, it was my, it was my goal to become a high school teacher. So I really didn’t even pursue a ton of other options after I kind of got hooked in by these engaging teachers. I kind of said, yeah, you know what? I think I wanna do that too.


Sam Demma (03:07):
Ah, that’s awesome. What did they do? Like what did those teachers do for you that left such an impression on you and pushed you to pursue this path?


Ryan Keliher (03:17):
I think what, when I think of kind of the two or three teachers that stand out the most you know, they, they were really knowledgeable in their subjects, but more almost Mo I would say more importantly, they really made me and my fellow classmates feel valued and welcome in class. And when you added that combination in where students felt like they were valued in the classroom, plus they were gonna get material that, you know, from teachers who were knowledgeable in, in their content areas, it really drew me into the classroom. And, and it was a place that I liked to be at a place I liked. I liked to come every day to learn.


Sam Demma (04:00):
Wow. That makes sense. And, and I think right now that’s a challenge that all educators are, are faced with. It’s tough to do it virtually. Now, maybe in PEI, you guys might be still working in the classrooms, but what are some of the current two things, challenges and opportunities during this time, because I think both are present and I would love to some insight on, on both sides of the coin.


Ryan Keliher (04:22):
Yeah. Well, PEI has, we’ve been very fortunate to kind of, of to keep COVID 19 the spread of it at bay here on the island. So we’ve been quite fortunate. But that, that being said the last two weeks actually my high school has moved to online learning leading up to leading up to the career break. So, you know, it has presented its challenges, but like you said, with, with those challenges come opportunities. I think with education, the biggest challenge, whether it’s virtual learning or in person learning is developing that connection and maintaining that connection with students. And then kind of like what I alluded to the, you know, the teachers that I admired most growing up, they made that connection first and then that made learning a lot easier. It made engagement a lot easier. It made buy a lot easier.


Ryan Keliher (05:10):
So I think that gets more difficult when you, when you move to the remote learning model. So it’s about keeping that at the front of mind as an educator, but how can I still maintain these connections with my students when I’m not seeing them day to day? So for me, it was, you know, little checking emails here and there creating some engaging videos to kind of start class you know, whether they were funny or fun or, or just a little different. And then, and then, you know, using that as kind of the springboard to the content of each lesson, but showing that you care and showing that, that, that you value their time you know, whether it’s in person or online, I think is the most challenging, but it, it kind of, I important opportunity in education and when it comes to opportunity, I’m a big believer that, you know, I think it’s Napoleon hill who says, you know, your biggest opportunity is where you are right now.


Ryan Keliher (06:07):
So, you know, as, as educators or as students, right, it’s important that we think about what we can do in the moment to kind of have actions that create positive reactions for our students. So whether, like I said, it’s a welcome video that puts a smile on somebody’s face, or whether it’s a really well laid out plan that is going to be challenging for students, but you’ve thought about what supports you can put in place. And at the end of it, they’re looking back and saying, you know, that was really tough, but I felt I was able to do it with, with supports in place. I feel like I’ve grown from it, you know, it’s, it’s how, how can those actions create those positive reactions?


Sam Demma (06:49):
And right now, maybe not yet in PI, but sports have been canceled as well postponed, or, you know, they practiced virtually through zoom all in their basements. You, I know you growing up were a big athlete. I played soccer, you played basketball, saw the Steve Nash picture on your page. I loved it. You dedicated the first part of your book to building character, and I would assume that sports helped you build your charact to a huge degree. Mm-Hmm how did sports have an impact on you and how are we, how can we continue to build young people’s character through this time?


Ryan Keliher (07:27):
Okay. Yeah. So with, with sports, I mean, sports played a huge part in my life. And as far as character development, like it, it played a really important role. And with, with my book, you’re right, the first quarter of the book is dedicated towards character development and then it progresses into have in my development and some opportunities for leadership. But as far as character development goes, I, I often share kind of my leadership story with, with my students. So I was a kid I grew up and I was playing hockey and, you know, I was pretty good hockey player, but I definitely wasn’t the best player on the ice. And, but it seemed every year I would get the opportunity to be the captain or the assistant captain on my hockey team. And I, and it just kind of became the norm. And I never really understood why I just kind of was that per, who would become the captain or the assistant captain.


Ryan Keliher (08:21):
And then I went to junior high and I started to play basketball and the same thing would happen. I’d be thrown in the captain role of the team. And then I went to high school and the same thing would continue. And then in high school, I was named the valedictorian of my high school class. And again, I would always kind of wonder in the back of my mind, I’m like, why am I always thrown in this role? Because, you know, I don’t feel like I do anything exceptionally special as a, as a leader, but people always seem to put me in this role for some reason. And it, and it never really, even, it never really clicked until I went to university and I played university basketball. And so I was 17 leaving high school, going to my first year university. And by Christmas time I was named the captain of my university basketball team.


Ryan Keliher (09:14):
And we had players who were 25, 24, 23 years old on it. And I’m thinking, how, how come I am the captain of my team? And it finally, that’s kind of when the light bulb went off and all it was was that my personal bar, as far as character went over time, whether it was through instilling values fr from my parents was high. And I, I cared a lot about being a good teammate. I’m a big believer that, you know, the only thing better you can have than good teammates is being a good teammate. Hmm. Think better. You can have than good friends is being a good friend. I think that really helped me pursue a opportunities in life. It opened up a ton of doors and it allowed me to lead by example a lot. And like I said, there was nothing ever special about it, but I was always willing to do my best. I was always willing to set the bar high and is always willing to cheer and help others along and over time. I guess people notice. So, you know, when you’re thrown into these opportunities through sports, it there’s the skill development, but there’s the character development that occurs that is equally important. And as you grow older and you may divert away from sports that character develop, it becomes even more important than maybe the skill development, you know, ever, ever was.


Sam Demma (10:41):
And without sports present at certain times, especially right now, how can we ensure that we’re still helping young people build their character? Is it by giving them unique opportunities or pushing their boundaries? Yeah. I’m curious. What, what do you think?


Ryan Keliher (10:56):
Yeah, I, I think it’s about giving them opportunities for growth. Like for me, school, you know, is always about growth, more than grades. And sometimes students don’t see it that way. And, and, and sometimes educators don’t see it that way. Cuz we do have that responsibility to kind of assess curricular content. But when I think of my 14 years and the most important conversations I’ve ever had with students, very few of them were curricular content related. And the most important ones that stick out were always character related or, or opportunity related or, you know, goal related and the more teachers, you know, and, and, and educators think of their students in front of them. As, as people who are gonna go and do great things in a variety of fields I think you, you can be a little bit more per perceptive about developing that character education in the classroom while still, you know, making sure the content of your course is, is, is covered and, and covered to a high degree. You know, I’m not trying to discount the importance of curricular content, but it’s, it’s everyday success principles, you know, are not explicitly taught in class, but the opportunities develop to develop the, those principles are abundance. So teachers have to be aware of that and you know, are able to kind of pull those threads when the opportunities present themselves for students.


Sam Demma (12:20):
I love that. And I’m curious now, too, as well, you mentioned Napoleon hill, you have your own book, the superstar curriculum. What prompted you to write that? Was there a moment in education where you thought this is needed for, for young people? It was in a personal challenge. You set for yourself, where did that come from?


Ryan Keliher (12:38):
It, it happened when I was finishing my masters of business. My so when I finished my MBA, I was kind of in writing mode cause I just finished my thesis and I was doing a lot of journaling at the time. And I noticed a lot of my journaling had to do with these important convers that I’ve had with students over the pro the over the last decade. And a theme kind of started to emerge on how a lot of these conversations had to do with character. And they had to do with leaders, personal leadership, and they had to do with seizing opportunities and they had to do with developing strong habits of mind and thought, you know what? I’m a big non-fiction reader. And in my opinion, there, there weren’t a ton of non-fiction self-awareness books out there for, for young adults.


Ryan Keliher (13:27):
So I thought, well, maybe I’ll go and create one. And so I, so I did create the superstar curriculum and the idea behind superstar is that what, what I’ve come to learn over the years is that, you know, the biggest superstars in our lives, although, you know, we often think of the major celebrities or sports stars or movie stars. But when we think about the biggest superstars in our own lives, they’re the people who are much closer are to us, they’re our parents or our coaches or our teachers or our friends. And the, the reality is, is, is if, if that’s the case, then if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you might be the superstar in somebody else’s life. Hmm. So it’s just about the profound power we have to, I packed others on a daily basis and it happens at, at the ground level. And it does expand out to, to, you know, the stars that we’re talking about from Hollywood to sports. They’re tremendous inspirations, but the reality is the, the day to day inspirations that we have are all around us, including all right, ourselves.


Sam Demma (14:36):
Oh, love that. And where can people find that resource if they want to check it out? I think you offer an online version for free and then like a paperback version and a discount right now, where can they find all that information?


Ryan Keliher (14:47):
Yeah. If they wanna check out ryankeliher.com it has kind of all the information there, the book’s available on Amazon, but if, you know, if a school or, or an educator was looking to a bulk order, I would recommend contacting me cuz I can probably get you a better rate than what, what Amazon could provide. So yeah, so ryankeliher.com and you could check me out there or on Instagram @superstarcurriculum.


Sam Demma (15:13):
Cool. And if you could go back in time and speak to younger Ryan, when he just started teaching, what pieces of advice, knowing what you know now would you have given yourself?


Ryan Keliher (15:26):
I think for me, I, what I always try and keep in mind is, so my grandma, there was a teacher and I remember vividly that a conversation we had. So she was 87 at the time. And she said, you know, Ryan, now that you’re a teacher and your job is to teach. It’s really important that you also remember that your prime married job is to learn. Hmm. And that always stuck with me. And I think moving forward for, for anybody who’s going into education is to keep that kind of front of mind because COVID changed everything, new practices are going to change everything technology’s going to change everything. So the, the way kids interact is constantly changing. So educators have to be willing to learn and adapt year over year, whether they’re, you know, you’re just adding little tweaks to your practice or there’s something fundamental that has to, you know, involve you making a major shift in your practice, the importance of teachers having that willingness to learn is paramount.


Sam Demma (16:37):
I love that. And one bonus question, just for fun. What, what books are you reading right now? Is there anything that’s been interesting you or you’ve been cracking open?


Ryan Keliher (16:48):
Yeah, actually I just I’m into the hate you give right now. And I I’ve, I’ve just kind of started it, but it’s been tremendous thus far and I’m looking forward to reading it. I don’t read a ton of fiction. So it’s, it’s a good opportunity over the holidays to kind of break into that. And I’m, I’m more of a non-fiction reader for sure.


Sam Demma (17:08):
Awesome. Ryan, thank you so much for taking some time to come out on the show. I really appreciate it and, and have an amazing holiday season with family and friends. And I look forward to keep continuing to follow your journey.


Ryan Keliher (17:20):
Great. It was great talking to you. It was nice to meet you and I’ll be following your journey as well. Happy holidays.


Sam Demma (17:26):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Keliher

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

Jason Eduful – Teacher, Basketball Coach, Youth Minister and Mental Health Advocate

Jason Eduful - Teacher, Basketball Coach, Youth Minister and Mental Health Advocate
About Jason Eduful

Jason (@__MrE) is an educator, basketball coach, youth minister and advocate for mental health.  His goal is to bridge the gap between marginalized youth and extraordinary education. 

He is also the youngest guest that we’ve had on this podcast! 

Connect with Jason: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School Website

Equity Studies at York University

Coach Carter Movie

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 guest, his name is Jason Eduful. He goes by Mr. Eduful for his students. He is an educator, a basketball coach, a minister, and an advocate for mental health and his goal is to bridge the gap between marginalized youth and extraordinary education. Jason is one of the youngest educators.


Sam Demma (01:06):
I’ve had the chance to bring on the show and you can tell by our very energetic conversation. He’s super excited about the work that he’s doing. Although there are challenges, he’s seeing them as opportunities because he knows like Malcolm X said without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed it. See you on the other side. Jason, thank you so much for coming onto the High Performing Educators podcast. You play the perfect role visually. I know no one can really see you right now, but you got those beautiful glasses on and can you please tell the audience who you are, why you got into teaching and the work that you do with young people today?


Jason Eduful (01:46):
Yeah, no problem. First of all, thank you so much for having me, Sam. I’ve heard so many great things about you, had an opportunity to listen to some of your work and it truly is inspiring. So keep doing what you’re doing. My name is Jason Eduful. I’ve been teaching for about, this will be year number eight. I currently teach at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School in the Peel region. You know, I really started with studying equity and racial studies at York University. That was like my passion and then I took that and kind of switched gears a little bit and started studying philosophy and theology. And so that’s really what I’m teaching now. I’m teaching theology at the grade 12 level, for the most part, they kind of throw me everywhere other than math and science, ’cause we don’t get along, but usually anywhere else , I’m usually free to go. Married for a year and a half now a year and a bit.


Jason Eduful (02:43):
So yeah. She’s also a teacher normally grade five, but due to the whole pandemic situation, she’s online kind of teaching kindergarten. Nice. but yeah, I’m usually I’m a coach, I’m a mentor. I guess I’m a best friend at some point but , but normally that’s what I do. I usually love working with kids just mainly because you know, I, I just remember being a high school student. And I remember really that lead up into high school. I hated school so much. And I hated it mainly because I felt like nobody number one could relate to me. I grew up kind of Weston and Lawrence ish back in the day. It wasn’t the nicest neighborhood I’ll leave it at that. But we had a lot of outreach in the community specifically Weston park, Baptist church and front lines with a special woman, who’s kind of like my mentor still Bonnie Parsons.


Jason Eduful (03:41):
Mm. She kind of took us under her wing and made sure that we were, you know, not only getting that educational side of things, learning how to become men in a really rough neighborhood, but also kind of connecting that spirituality to it. Hmm. And so I still partner with front lines when I can, but for the most part you, yeah, that’s really where I started things. And then grade 10, I believe, I wanna say I started or something piqued my interest in school, you know? My grade 10 teacher, Diana Espanza, who also is ironically my vice principal right now. , she I don’t remember what the assignment was. I’m not gonna lie to you sound, but I remember the response, like the response was huge. I, I handed in an assignment and she tore it apart.


Jason Eduful (04:31):
Like just, if I could say like red ink on a paper, there was no white spots. Like just ripped it up and gave it back to me and said, this is not acceptable. Like, this is not who you are. It’s not a reflection of what you’re capable of. And it was the first time that somebody ever really said that to me. So in my mind, you know, you’re in grade tenure. You’re like, okay, lady, whatever. Like , I’m with the next, let’s gone with this. But she, she just kept pushing me. She kept pushing me. She kept pushing me. She kept pushing me. I, I, and it was the first time I resubmitted an assignment. Like I wasn’t like an, a put less student, but I was a pretty solid kid. Like you don’t talk to me, I’ll do the work. We’re good. And so when she ripped that apart and she gave me the opportunity to redo it, and then we connected again.


Jason Eduful (05:11):
And from that time I remember ironically, I had her every other year till I graduated. And so I was kind of stuck with it. There was no getting around it, but she really, she really inspired people and challenged them to really think about, not only like you could have your own opinion, but she was gonna challenge that opinion. And you had to make sure that you were able to back it up, you know? It’s funny, cuz my cousin Reggie sent me a video yesterday two days ago and it was about either, it was a youth you video just about something saying who’s your worst or your best teacher. And it was, it was hilarious because most of it was all like negative things, but like the passion that these people had for the teachers that they hated like full names, like Jason Eduful, grade six.


Jason Eduful (06:00):
And I’m thinking, I think that we forget as teachers, how powerful of an impact that we can have on kids either positively or negatively. Mm you know what I mean? So that’s kinda a little bit above my background where I jumped into it. And then from there obviously she inspired me to really become a leader in the community because it was more like one learning can be fun. Mm. Right. and number two, if you really put enough time into any student and in all like now times like people are like, well, how much time can we really put in versus press for time? But if you just take that time to build those connections, you can literally inspire anybody. And so that’s what really got me jumping into why I wanted to become a teacher and why I’m still doing it now.


Sam Demma (06:47):
So you’re telling me, your teacher gave you nightmares about red pens. So you touched, you touched on something really cool. You mentioned the fact that she gave you a second chance to resubmit the assignment. How do we give students that feeling? Like, what did you feel like when she gave you a second chance? If you could go back to grade 10, Jason or grade six, Jason, I can’t remember which one it was. What was going through your, on your mind when she gave you that second chance and how can we give kids today that similar, similar feeling?


Jason Eduful (07:25):
Grade 10, Jason would probably immediately be like, what is wrong with this woman? Like, you’re not my mom, like, get outta here. We don’t need any, this, I was very confrontational. And now in the, that I’m in now after obviously years of mentoring people and doing things like that and coaching, you can tell when somebody standoffish, there’s a reason, you know? And so I think from the teacher perspective, giving kids an opportunity to resubmit, isn’t gonna kill you. You know what I mean? I know we’re crunched for time, but if our goal is to make these students and these pupils into better human beings, right. Especially I’m in a Catholic school. So we kind of have our own little virtues that we’re kind of going off of. So we want them to be it’s called Catholic graduate expectations. So what do we want them to look like when they graduate?


Jason Eduful (08:14):
If we can focus on those and just put the curriculum to the side for a second, if we can focus on the making kids better people, we’re doing way better of a job than just, Hey, you deserve a 90 on this paper. Hey, you deserve a 50 on this paper. But from the student perspective, I remember thinking, number one, why won’t you leave me alone? Like I don’t get a number two. Wow. Like once, once it kicked in and it didn’t kick until grade 11, I won’t even lie to you. Mm. But grade 11, when I had her again, I was like, oh my God, here we go again. This lady is gonna rip everything up. And then just gimme a, like, she would write paragraphs of like, you should improve in this. Why don’t you think about this? Why don’t you? And I’m like that now, unfortunately, but for my students that have me my bad, you know, where it comes from now.


Jason Eduful (08:59):
But as the student, I think it wasn’t until grade 11, like I said, but in grade 11, I really thought, man, she actually wants us to succeed. Like, it’s not about like, here’s the mark that you got. Thanks for doing the assignment. It was really, yeah. You did this assignment, but dig deeper. Like why, why did you, why do you think I made you do this? You know what I mean? Why do you think I made you redo this so many times because you’re just hitting the crust, like jump in there. And so yeah, like I think we should all give second chance again. Second chances. Isn’t gonna kill anybody, man. I know we make it a big thing, but it’s we can do it every day.


Sam Demma (09:37):
Yeah. It’s so true. I’m curious to know, you mentioned that now that’s your teaching style which is, which is awesome. Is there, is there a story that comes to mind and you can change the student’s name for the sake of privacy, but I want a story where you believed in a kid where they didn’t believe even themselves and you know, you push them past the threshold and maybe they even broke down and told you how big of an impact it had on them. I feel like a story like that told right now from a place of vulnerability, but also to remind another educator that the work we do is so important, cuz it can transform a student’s life and their whole future can really re spark and reignite a passion in another educator. Do you have any of those stories that come to mind when I ask you that question?


Jason Eduful (10:22):
Yeah, I got a couple I’ll just use my cousin’s name that way. It’s not keep privacy there. So Reggie graduated. Oh man. How many years ago now? Maybe three and a half. Three and a bit years ago. Mm. And at that time I was teaching at a different school in Brampton. Reggie was how would I describe Reggie? Reggie was a ball of energy that couldn’t sit still only cared about girls. Like that was, that was Reggie’s by like the only thing that mattered to him was girls. Didn’t really care about school was on the basketball team, not the best point guard out there but you know, you tried, you tried. And so I, I started this kind of mentor, mentor mentor relationship with the student. And Reggie really started to open up and really talk about, you know, his upbringing, his life.


Jason Eduful (11:25):
And I remember one of the assignments that I got Reggie to do at the time. I don’t know if you’re a DC Marvel kind of guy, but at the time arrow was like number one on every list. And so he had to do a CPT and I, I, I, he handed it his CPT and it was, it was, it was done. do that. It was done but just didn’t meet any of the expectations, you know? And so as opposed to me just ripping it apart I, I said to him, I’m like, listen, and, and again, we talk about like building those relationships with students, getting to know the learner. Right. All that’s very important because every day he would come in, we’d have a conversation, honestly, about the episode of the, like that week, that Wednesday we would talk about it.


Jason Eduful (12:15):
And I had said to him, why don’t you just rewrite the ending? He said, he didn’t like this season finale rewrite the ending. The curriculum is so huge, right? When we’re thinking about curriculum documents and what we have to accomplish in the semester and blah, blah, blah, you can tweak it to be whatever you want it to be. Essentially, as a teacher, a teacher knows that. So why not get him to do something that he’s interested in? Right. get him to reevaluate what he’s doing, still hit the major learning goals, overall specific, whatever. And then go from there. And so I got him to do it. He killed that script. It was amazing. And then the second half of that was with all the personal, what that was going on, he needed like a big brother. And I didn’t realize that I was doing that for him at the time.


Jason Eduful (13:00):
Cuz you know, guys, guys come in, you talk whatever. When, when you know, everybody’s out of the doors is a different type of conversation. Right. And so coaching him, teaching him really got us, I guess, a lot closer than I even thought. And so he was sharing things with me and we were building and we were teaching like, what is the correct as a man? You know what I mean? What’s the proper response that you should be having in certain situations. And so I told you that he was a a point guard. I didn’t tell you he was good, but he was a point guard and I remember we were up in a very important semifinal gay and I called him and I was like, yo, Reggie, you’re going in? And he’s like, what? like, the game is close.


Jason Eduful (13:44):
What do you mean? And so, you know, he did shoot like, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t, there wasn’t that much faith, but I was like drop on the blade, kick it to the corner, our shooters shoot, you know? And I remember him doing exactly what I said, do it to the corner, hit a shot rimed in and out. And then he got the rebound and I was not expecting that at all. Hit the got the basket, got an N one missed the free throw. So we lost, but he came me at this a coach, you have no idea how much that meant to me, blah, blah, blah. And I was just like, we lost is the only thing that through mind, I like, yeah, we lost, what are you talking about? But anyways, fast forward, three years later he came to visit me at the school that I’m at now.


Jason Eduful (14:34):
And we just had great conversation about life, man. And I didn’t realize in the moment I was just being me, you know? And I didn’t realize how much I impacted him. So now he’s in university, he’s studying to become a teacher. I don’t think he’s gonna be as a crazy mark as I am, but he is definitely loving his experience and he credits me for most of it. And I just say like, honestly, all the glory to God, cause like I didn’t even in that moment, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just being me. You know what I mean? So that’s one story. I’ve had tons, but I won’t kill you with them. But that was one, one story of Reggie,


Sam Demma (15:11):
Reggie, the point card, Reggie,


Jason Eduful (15:14):
The point card that cost to speak.


Sam Demma (15:17):
That’s amazing. You mentioned, you know, you transitioned from teaching to mentoring, you know, you have a different conversation when it’s one student in the classroom, teachers that are listening, educators that are listening. Could you give them any advice on what the difference is? Like if you had to explain what the difference is between teaching and mentoring, a young person, you do a lot of, you know, sports, coaching, mentoring, young people and teaching, mentoring and teaching are a little different. What’s the difference? And how can a teacher also be a mentor to some of their students who need it most?


Jason Eduful (15:48):
Yeah. I think the biggest one is, is confidential and, and privacy. I think that’s one of the biggest ones. Obviously as a teacher, you have certain obligations that you have to fulfill, right? So if you hear something or you’re alerted to something, then you have out that obligation to report if you’re mentoring somebody, you still have that same obligation, but your scope needs to be widen a little bit. Right. And so when you’re thinking about, because mentoring can vary, right. It doesn’t have to always be something negative. Right. and so when we’re thinking about mentoring, especially mentorship, every coach, if you’re coaching properly, you’re a mentor mm-hmm right. And I think people forget that. So like I, even on the basic level, like I mentor, I, I always call them my sons. Like I have 15 sons a year, not this year, cuz we don’t have any season, but I have literally 15 sons every year.


Jason Eduful (16:38):
And what mentoring looks like to me and how I do it is 6:00 AM. We’re in the gym, right. We’re teaching them not only time management, but how to be productive. Right. We’re teach them how to do everything else. Are you in uniform? We go to a I’m at a uniform school. So like upholding yourself etiquette. Right? Respect. You can’t respect yourself. If you’re not dressing properly, you can’t respect administration if you’re not following rules. Right. So again, making sure that each of them are in uniform moving on to like they’re not allowed to cuz they know all it’s not gonna fly, but you’re not allowed to skip class. Mm-Hmm you’re not allowed to get caught cheating on a test. Not that anybody cheats on tests or anything like that. and again, then we have study hall like before we actually have practice, we have a study hall and that’s usually because the gyms used and we’re waiting, but still we have a study hall and myself being an educator, I should be able to, I’m not saying if you’re an educator, you should know every single subject for the most part.


Jason Eduful (17:39):
I know most of them, so there should be no kid. And if I don’t know anything, I know colleagues that do you know? And that’s when you start calling in favors, mm-hmm, my mentorship. Doesn’t just stop at, you know, the 30 people, unfortunately that are in my class. You know what I mean? That goes beyond that. So anytime there’s a situation, whether they’re in trouble with administration, whether they’re in trouble with their teacher, I try to make it a point that their teacher should contact me. Right. Mm-hmm I wanna know what’s going on with my boys. And I want make sure that they’re in the best position to not get I at of whatever situation, but the best outcome could that could possibly be obviously displayed is the one that we’re gonna choose. So yeah, there is a difference between teaching and mentoring, but I feel like every coach and every teacher should know that at very most they’re a role model. And if you’re a role model, whether you like it or not, unfortunately we sign up for this gig and that’s what it is. You are quote unquote, a mentor, right? In any way, shape or form. So, but again, coaching any, any coach out there will tell you the same thing. Like you, you can’t coach and not be a mentor like it doesn’t that’s just


Sam Demma (18:42):
Go and just go watch coach Carter and you get it. Exactly.


Sam Demma (18:50):
Coach Eduful I love it. That’s awesome. And you know, right now is a time that’s very difficult, very different. If you signed up for teaching and this was your first year, you would be thinking, wow, what is going on? This is so different. While some educators that are listening are in that boat. And so you being someone who’s been in the assistant teaching for, you know, over seven years, eight years now, you said, what advice could you give that person who’s just starting and maybe has a weird perspective on what this job looks like?


Jason Eduful (19:22):
The first thing I would say is it, it, it gets better. this is not the norm. This is not the norm. I know everybody’s calling this the new norm, but this is about the norm. It’s really hard for me right now, just because of my personality and the way that I teach. Right. So when I really started teaching my philosophy, everybody has to make like a philosophy of as a philosophy of education. And that philosophy as of education, for me, was bridging at between marginalized youth and extraordinary education. And so for how I did that was being a relational based teacher. Right. And so what that looks like on paper is, you know, starting to getting to know your kids, right? Whether it is their needs specific, right. And every kid has needs, man, whether it’s an IEP, whatever, like everybody has, you needs what are their skills?


Jason Eduful (20:13):
What are their interests? What are their likes? What are their dislikes? And then I would say once you have that, understand that, man, I know we preach this all the time of this thing called like backwards design, right? Where it’s like find what’s the most important or start from your end goal and work backwards. We really need to jump back to that. But in that we really need to talk about rationale. And I think that for me is the most important, especially if you’re a new teacher coming in, or even if you’re a teacher that’s been in here, why do they need to know this? I’m so sick of kids graduating and be like, sir, I learned nothing. Like I went to university and like, this was like, why am I starting from scratch? You know what I mean? And I get that, that’s true, but we should be teaching.


Jason Eduful (20:55):
‘Em Critical thinking. We should be teaching them things that they can use in the future. You know, like kids shouldn’t be coming back now they’re buying ready to buy a home and they have no idea what a mortgage is. Hmm. You know what I mean? And so certain and things like that in terms of life skills, life lessons, we should be teaching them straight from the jump. You know? Another thing that I really, really love doing and anybody that knows me will tell you, this is I’m, I’m an advocate for experiential learning. Mm. And so that’s literally just like a, a process of learning that really involves you kind of getting in like getting in their, your hands on. And it always has to come with a rationale. And so again, why are we learning this? So in, in ethics or philosophy or great 12 religion, we learn about ethics and morality.


Jason Eduful (21:39):
Okay. Why do I need to know about ethics and morality? Because we live in a society, right? Yeah. You might have your own principles, your own moral compass, but what does society deem to correct. Based on the job that you’re in. Right. And we have those type of conversations. It’s difficult, especially in COVID obviously, cause I’m the type of teacher. I don’t know. Maybe you have a teacher like this, that would you remember? I would just, I usually sit at my desk, like on my desk. I have like the concepts on the board. And then we have conversations. We have just have a, like a big discussion. Yeah. And as kids are talking and as I’m facilitating that dis discussion, I might bring up, okay, well, that’s a key word that we need to learn and that’s on the board, let’s copy this down.


Jason Eduful (22:16):
And then we fill and we learn like that. And so obviously on a computer I might be a little bit difficult. Right. I I’m just thinking of like Dr. Christopher Edmond, who I, who I’m a big fan of. And he talks about, he’s really like a stem advocate who speaks on issues of race and culture, but mainly known, he’s known for his like hiphop education where he takes hiphop and rap and he makes it, and he interviews it with, you know, science, technology, engineering, and math. I really love the backbone of that. Like get back to the roots of things that kids wanted to you, if you know what your kid wants to do and you know how your kid can thrive, you can have four or five different assignments in your classroom. Yeah. We’re so stuck and rigid on this. Well, this is my rubric, so how am I supposed to, well, yeah, your rubric is made to be changed.


Jason Eduful (23:02):
You typed it at one point. So we type it , you know what I mean? But yeah, like I, I would honestly tell that first year, if it, if it is a first year teacher, I’d be like, man, it, it gets better. It definitely gets better. This is different. It is challenging. But again, we just have to find ways to get around these barriers. And we’re like, we, every teacher’s had that day where they’ve gone up to the front of the class, had no lesson plan and just swing it. Like you guys, you know, we, we know how to do this. So it’s just about adapting, you know? Yeah.


Sam Demma (23:31):
Jason, you’ve had a smile on your face, this whole interview. and I wanna know what gives you hope personally and what motivates you personally to show up to work despite the challenges optimistic, enthusiastic, and ready to serve.


Jason Eduful (23:44):
Right. I gotta say faith. Faith is number one. My faith keeps me grounded. My faith keeps me going. I know that I’m doing some sort of vocation, at least I believe so. And, and I’m hoping that that transfers are manifests to the kids and they know that I’m not here just to get a paycheck, but I I’m here to see each and every one of them succeed. I think that’s number one, student success is a huge motivator. Hopefully one day a championship for a school would be a great motivator, but yeah, no, just seeing the kids just be themselves and grow. And, you know, I’ve had kids from grade nine and I’ve had the pleasure of being at this school long enough to be, and see them in grade 12. And it’s like, when they see me, like we, they still remember the handshake that we had in grade nine. You know what I mean? They still remember the nickname that I gave them. You know, I like, I don’t even remember these things and just to keep them grow and just become men and women and mature. That’s one thing that gives me hope because I know that something’s working so things changing, you know what I mean? But again, that all jumps back to faith. The thing that keeps me grounded and motivated. So I think that’s one of the biggest factors that gives me hope.


Sam Demma (24:20):
That’s awesome. I love that so much. And, you know, especially during a time, like COVID when we have so many challenges, faith is a huge thing that keeps you grounded. I, some, some of the challenges you already mentioned with COVID were teaching online. Were there any other challenges you’ve currently been faced with and have you had any unique ideas to overcome any of them that you think might be helpful to other educators?


Jason Eduful (25:20):
I think again, the biggest one for me, challenges would like not being able to just interact with the kids on a, on a more personal level. Yeah. Like some kids don’t want it to run the cameras and that’s totally cool. And I don’t push anybody to do anything like that, but just in general, like that face to face interaction, like we crave that we miss that for a lot of people that what builds them up. That’s what keeps them going. Some of the things that I’ve tried to do, especially since we shut down in March and then kind of reopened now I’ve really tried to start doing assignments and tasks that have everything to do with allowing students to really dig deep and critically think in terms of how to overcome whatever it is. Right. So I’ve literally, I’m done with tests for now.


Jason Eduful (26:08):
I don’t do any tests, all assignments like, Hey, there’s no exam anymore. So your CPT is another assignment I’ve changed and revamped all my stuff. So that it’s really not only engaging for them but relevant. And I think that’s the most important thing. If it can’t be relevant, if it’s, I usually ask myself, if I wouldn’t do the, is I’m not gonna make them do it. Hmm. Right. It might be better because I’m a little bit inclusive to age. I kind know what they like, you know what I mean? Like that might be a factor, but if I’m not feeling this, if I’m not vibing with it, then I’m not going to give it out to my students. Right. and so I think, especially on a time where, you know, they, half of them don’t want to be on the screen.


Jason Eduful (26:48):
Half of them don’t want to be, they rather be playing video games. They’d rather be with their friends. They can’t do that. Mental health is a really big factor right now that I think a lot of us are forgetting to acknowledge. So why give them stuff that you wouldn’t even want to do? Mm. You know what I mean? So I, I, I would go back to rationale, why are we giving this to them? Right. I think people forget that we’re honestly living through history right now. like and we can accomplish so much more if we just take the time to slow down and give out relevant assignments, relevant topics, relevant lessons. And I think that will help people in terms of what we’re struggling with, you know, and gotten some of the mistakes that we’re seeing.


Sam Demma (27:32):
Yeah. I love that. That’s awesome. Jason, I could talk to you for an hour, man. This has been an amazing conversation and will definitely do a part two part three. If any educator right now is listening into this, maybe from another province or country and thinks this guy has some cool ideas. This guy’s unique, this guy’s out the box. I wanna talk to him and just bounce some ideas around, how can another educator reach out and have that conversation?


Jason Eduful (27:56):
Yeah, for sure. I would say thank you please, please do reach out. they can find me on Twitter @__MrE. Also, if you wanna shoot me an email Jason.Eduful@dpcdsb.org. Cool. Those are my two main platforms.


Sam Demma (28:16):
Yeah. Awesome. Jason, I’ll be staying in touch and this has been phenomenal. So thank you so much for taking the time to chat.


Jason Eduful (28:23):
Thank you so much Sam. Have a good one.


Sam Demma (28:26):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Eduful

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.

Becky Stewart – Music Director at Yuba Gardens Intermediate School

Becky Stewart - Music Director at Yuba Gardens Intermediate School
About Becky Stewart

Becky Stewart (@ygtreble) is starting her sixth year as director of music at Yuba Gardens Intermediate School in Olivehurst, California. She graduated with honours from California State University, Sacramento with bachelor’s degrees in Flute Performance, studying with Laurel Zucker, and Music Education.

Becky is a recipient of the 2015 CTA Outstanding First Year Teacher Award, the 2019 Outstanding New Educator award for her district and the 2020 winner of the California Music Educator Association’s Middle School Music Specialist Award. Becky has presented at both California Activity Directors Association and CASMEC state conferences as well as regional student and adult CADA conferences on how to create a positive culture for music at schools.

In 2021, Becky has also had the privilege of being selected to be on the K-8 Music Curriculum Review Team for the Department of Education for the State of California and is on the music faculty for Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp and Cazadero Performing Arts Camp.

This year, Becky will also be taking on an advocacy role on the Capitol Section Board of the California Music Educator’s Association. Becky is also starting her third year as a mentor through the Tri-County Induction Program for beginning music teachers. In her spare time, Becky enjoys Spartan Racing and cruising around in her 1965 Mustang.

Connect with Dave: Email | TikTok | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Caring Teacher Award (CTA)

California Music Educator Association (CMEA)

Cazadero Performing Arts Camp

Spartan Racing

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 guest is Becky Stewart. Becky is starting her sixth year as the director of music at Yuba garden’s intermediate school in California. She graduated with honors from California state university Sacramento with a bachelor’s degree in flute performance, studying with Laurel Zucker and music education.


Sam Demma (01:04):
Becky is a recipient of the 2015 CTA outstanding first year teacher award and 2019 outstanding new educator award for her district and the 2020 winner of the California music educator. Association’s middle school music specialist award. She has performed and spoken at dozens of state conferences and associations. And in her spare time, Becky enjoys Spartan racing and cruising around in her 1965 Mustang. I hope you enjoy this amazing high energy conversation with Becky Stewart, and I will see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:44):
Becky, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you virtually all the way from the states, on the podcast here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about, you know, what you do with the educator audience?


Becky Stewart (02:00):
Awesome. So hi, I’m Becky’s Stewart. I am honored to be the music director at Yuba gardens intermediate school in Northern California. And I teach seventh and eighth graders music all the way from beginning band to wind ensemble and choir too.


Sam Demma (02:17):
That’s amazing. And what got you into the arts and music?


Becky Stewart (02:23):
I, my, my story with getting involved involved in band is kind of lame, but I always, my parents, you know, would put on different different shows and, you know, there’s like the public access television, you see different concerts being put on and I saw a flute on stage and it was really shiny and I knew I wanted to play because it was shiny. So, so that’s, and I got, I, my parents were nice enough to buy me a used flute for my next birthday. That’s awesome. So I got, hrivate lessons, hor my 10th birthday, ho get ready for band in middle school. So starting in sixth grade and, h got to be in band in sixth grade, which was a total blast and I went to a private Catholic school growing up and, heah, and that year the band director retired.


Becky Stewart (03:14):
So I only got one year with him. And then after that went through a couple different of, of band directors, but I, I loved band. I loved playing my flute. And then when I got to high school, I ended up switching to a different high school, my, my sophomore year because my middle school ended up closing due to low enrollment. My high school ended up closing due to low enrollment. So I ended up going to a public school in beginning of my junior year. So it closed sophomore year. And then I was able to experience marching band and show choir and jazz band and all these super fun things, got to have the opportunity to play saxophone and some ensembles, and really just had a great time and then decided to major in it in college.


Sam Demma (03:53):
That is so cool. And then when you were growing up, did you think you were gonna play in like an orchestra? Did you end up playing in any groups or did you know while you were going through it that one day you would use that to springboard you back into education?


Becky Stewart (04:08):
Oh yeah, not at all. I knew I enjoyed it a lot. I actually wanted to like switch to electric base my eighth grade year. I don’t no idea why. I think like some other girl was playing it and I was like, that is so cool. And my mom’s like, I bought you this thing, like no way. So I was glad you did that. But I, I just had such a blast with all of my friends in high school. I, my goal when I, cause I originally wanted to be a Marine biologist and that really interested me oceanography really interested me until I got to honors chemistry and my junior year of high school. And I went, oh no, this, this math and science is super, super, super hard. And I was like, I was not having a good time. Yeah. And the one class that I kept coming back to that I kept wanting to the subject that I was excelling at and really found myself wanting to work hard in that class wa was band was instrument. So I like broke the news to my parents saying, Hey, I wanna, you know, major in music in college and mixed reviews. Lots of concerns happen there.


Sam Demma (05:11):
Tell me more about that for a second because I don’t think only students, but also educators sometimes make difficult decisions and following your passion is one of the


Becky Stewart (05:22):
Oh definitely. Definitely. I it was definitely tough because you know, the whole family is like, oh, maybe you should have a plan B you know, and cause nobody else in my, and my family plays music. So it was kind of hard to hard to forge that path. But I knew that I wanted to do it. I knew that it was right thing for me. So I, I kept on going and,uit’s kind of hard, like when your parents don’t fully support you at the beginning, but you know, later on they’re like, oh, I’m glad you did that. You’re like, yeah, I know


Sam Demma (05:52):
And you all along


Becky Stewart (05:54):
So it was, it was definitely tough. And I came from a household where neither of my parents had graduated college. So they, I think they were just happy that I was going to college at, you know, they came to that realization. But yeah, it was definitely, definitely not easy. But when you know that like you were made to do something that this is your passion, then you have to follow it. But at the beginning I was a performance major for the first years of college. Like the, the dream goal for me was to play in a studio orchestra and a studio band to be hired, to play for movies and to do soundtracks. And,uthe farther I got in my college career, I, I was playing in all kinds of ensembles, all kinds of bands and having the best time, our major in the marching band and,uhad some conducting experience.


Becky Stewart (06:40):
And I ended up with a couple of injuries , which I think is go, is just like your story. I think, from what I saw and I, cause being a performance major requires so much practice time. And,uwhile like my mind was willing and able my body really wasn’t and I didn’t want to, you know, facing like, you know, perspective surgeries in the future and all these. And I was like, Ugh, I don’t think I wanna deal with that. Like so early in life. Yeah. Uso I was, you know, approached by some of my mentors, my junior year of college. And I mean, not, not because the injuries or whatever, but, you know,uI was like, I, I was going for, I was like, I’ll still do it. I’ll still do it. And then they were like, you know, we really think you should look into education. And I was like, oh, okay. You know, I, that, as a, as a second major, there aren’t very many, like many more units to take on top of music performance to get into music education. So I was like, okay, you know, graduate with two degrees. That sounds great. But it ended up being a really, really great move for me. And I wanna have changed it for the world.


Sam Demma (07:40):
That’s so amazing. Music fascinates me because it’s like all in your head, it’s like, you, you, you envision something and then you bring it to life. And it’s, it’s something to start as just an idea. Now it’s a thing that people can relate to and enjoy hearing and listening to. And I’m just really fascinated by aspir artists. I don’t care if you paint or write or sing or make music. It’s like, it’s such an inspiring field to watch someone pursue. And I’m sure you get so inspired by seeing kids passionate about it as well. Like what is, what is, tell me more about the experience of being in the classroom teaching band to grade sevens and eights and why you wouldn’t trade it for the world.


Becky Stewart (08:20):
It’s and it’s so cool. Cuz we just had our first concert last night after two years away so it was crazy. Cause our last concert was December of 2019. So last night we, we had our first show, which was the such a cool experience. Uso the kids that performed, they all learned their instrument over distance learning, which wow. Had its own challenges. You know, I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t, I, I think the hardest part about teaching online was like, here’s your, here’s how we’re putting our mouthpiece together. Here’s how we’re putting our read on. And it’s like, cuz usually I would be able to make small adjustments for them cuz it’s so hard even when you’re still developing those fine motor skills and you cuz it has to go a very certain way for it to be successful. And I wasn’t able to do that at all.


Becky Stewart (09:06):
Yeah. And you know, and then the cameras were all off and I’m like, I don’t, I don’t know what your arm looks like, but it sounds okay. Like I can kind of like hear what you’re doing and know what adjustments you need to make. So it was like a really big test in my ear, but it was amazing last night seeing the kids cuz before that you know, you get kids like, oh I don’t, I’m not sure if band was for me and I don’t know. And I’m like, okay, you, you haven’t even had a concert yet. Like you scratched the surface of what band is like we’ve gone through these first sounds together, which is my favorite thing. I love seeing their faces light up when they’re successful at something, the whole class is clapping for them. I’m screaming their name.


Becky Stewart (09:40):
Like we’re having a good time and yeah. Then just cheering each other on and, and bonding together as an ensemble. And as a class is just the coolest thing to see. They’re truly a family unit like a month into school, like they’re, they’re already bonded. And last night we, like I said, we finally got our concert and the band kids got to really see what being in band is all about. Like they were all so nervous before the show and and then they, they thought they were gonna die. And they’re like, what if I faint? What if I fall over? You’ll be, it’ll be okay. And then they, you know, they, that common experience of like being so nervous, but really, really preparing for that moment and then performing and then everybody clapping for you at the end is so cute. The kids are high fiving each other and looking at like, we did it. So those, those moments like that are really what really, what makes it so special.


Sam Demma (10:30):
I love that. I think the journey of seeing a kid progress from a nervous and uncomfortable situation into a space of confidence and self belief is what fuels every teacher, whether you’re teaching music, whether you’re teaching math, it doesn’t matter what the subject is. It’s like that journey from not knowing to knowing is just so cool to watch. That’s so amazing to hear. And did you always, when, when you started teaching, did you always teach band to great sevens and eighth? Or did you start at a different grade or has this always been where you’ve been so far?


Becky Stewart (11:01):
It’s so funny because when I like, cuz I, I, like I said, I didn’t, I, the education field was not like in the cards for me, I thought at the beginning. And then when I got my student teaching assignment, I was like, all right, you know, everybody’s in college coming off this hot high school program, like I’m gonna go to high school, we’re gonna have three jazz bands and we’re gonna have the best marching band ever and blah, blah. And so when you get your student teaching assignment, everybody’s like crossing their fingers and toes for like the big high schools that are around and like, all right, I’m ready for it. And I got a middle school placement and I was like, are you kidding me? I was, I was like, I was mad. I was like, I was like, I want middle school.


Becky Stewart (11:39):
What the heck? This is dumb. Cause I, I did not have a good, like a great middle school experience. Like my, our band was like I said, private school, super bare bones. Like non-competitive like, yeah, one period of band a day, like it was super small. And so I was like, like, this is dumb. So, and then come to find out where, you know, it’s just, I got place, this amazing middle school program totally fell in love with the age group. I fell in love with teaching them right from the beginning. Mm. I thought that was so cool where you can teach them exactly the way that you want them to be taught. Whereas in high school, you know, you have kids coming from all over of different ability levels. And I feel like that that level of that achievement gap just grows as soon as you get to high school. But it’s great having them for those two years saying, okay, I know I started you I know why you’re having these issues and how to fix it. And then we can, you know, along our two year journey, but,uyeah, it’s always been seventh and eighth grade. I got,umy current position I interviewed for it. Ubefore I graduated from the credential program. So the credential program, I did middle school and as my student teaching and then I went right into the middle school position right after that. And it’s been awesome.


Sam Demma (12:50):
Nice. That’s awesome. And let’s go back to the time in your life where you felt as a student going out on stage and performing your first time. Not actually in the musical sense, like metaphorically, that feeling of not knowing how something’s gonna go. I think every teacher went through that experience when COVID initially hit. And it sounds like you did too with being a music teacher virtually which,


Becky Stewart (13:14):
Oh yeah. Everybody kept asking me, how are you gonna do it? I’m like, I dunno, but we’re figuring it out as we go.


Sam Demma (13:20):
So how did that experience go? And like, how did you overcome that difficult situation and continue teaching and figure it out along the way?


Becky Stewart (13:28):
Oh yeah, it was crazy because I was used to seeing, seeing, actually seeing my, of kids in front of me every, every day. Cuz that that’s how our schedule is. I get to see them for, for 43, 48 minutes every day. And uthey’re like, okay, it’s gonna be distance. Like, okay, that’s, that’s hard, but you know, we’ll, we can do it, you know, we’ll, we’ll do our best. And I’m like, okay. And then,uMondays, we are only gonna meet with one class for 30 minutes and then it’s all meetings all. Okay. So now I see them four days a week, right? Nope. Now I got two days where you see them for an hour each day and I’m like, oh my gosh. I’m like, that’s, that’s like two days regularly. That’s crazy. So if a kid missed like one day of class, I don’t see them.


Becky Stewart (14:08):
So if they miss like a Wednesday, I don’t see them until the next Monday. Mm. It was crazy. So I did a lot of like being really purposeful about what exactly we were going over that day. So we really slowed everything down. And I tried to have as many cameras on as possible where it really wasn’t very many, but we worked a lot with Flipgrid like where kids recorded their own video and then posted on a page where everybody could see each other video. And I was like, oh, that’ll be fun. And they’re like, Nope, hate this. I don’t want everybody to see it. And I was like, okay, I will make it. So it’s only me. That’s use it. That’s fine. And then, you know, that went well for a little while and giving them feedback because I didn’t wanna make them play in the zoom.


Becky Stewart (14:51):
And then I realized the parents didn’t want, didn’t sign up to have an instrument in their home. Playing like at 8:00 AM twice a week. Like like, I’ve got a meeting with this trumped blaring behind me trying to learn how to play. And I was like, I know, like I know like it’s fine. Uho dealing with that too, cause not everybody could play their instrument at 8:00 AM. Okay. Just get your mouth piece out. And uhust buzz while you’re doing the valve combinations. Umo a lot of videos with that feedback, I, hodified like my band karate system to, so the kids could have a, an end goal at the end that they could see and have like different levels to achieve. And, me incorporated a lot of fee cuz I wasn’t sure when we were coming back, like there were some spots like maybe we’ll come back in November.


Becky Stewart (15:36):
Nope. Maybe we’ll come back in December. Nope. So we really got purposeful about what exactly the kids were doing. I incorporate a lot of different softwares, like smart music to assess the kids so they could record at home, use Flipgrid a lot. We got, like I said, we got to incorporate a lot of theory that we wouldn’t normally do in the classroom. We got to incorporate a lot of music history, which I really loved. And we got to collaborate with the history department with what they were doing. Like they were working on like seventh grade history does world history. So they’re working on the medieval times and the prehistoric era while we’re learning about the music from the Renaissance and the medieval times and the prehistoric and it was, it was just really cool being able to do those cross-curricular things.


Becky Stewart (16:15):
But I’ve made our program so performance heavy, like we just got our shirts and I do tour dates on the back and the whole back of the shirt is all the concerts for the year. So it is it’s amazing full. So it was really odd coming to terms with like that’s the whole identity of our program is being so performance based and like I can have zero performances this year. So it was, it was interesting take completely taking away the performance expectation and making sure that every kid was able to like do exercise number one. Okay. You’re good. Do exercise number five without like, okay, in a month we have a concert and you gotta go. But even so my, my students become performers and it’s, it was kind of weird not having that last year, but but I think they, they all got better as the year went on. They all stuck. Most of them stuck with their instrument, which was really what we were going for. And as long as they had fun last year, it was, that was, that was the main goal. Like as long as I still like band at the end, then we’re good.


Sam Demma (17:13):
That’s awesome. And I’m sure that, you know, there are some kids that realize band’s not for me. And there’s some kids that realize this is fun. I’m gonna try it again. And there’s a certain select few that are probably like, this is my life. Like they fall in love with it. Right. Yeah. Like, and you’re one of those kids when you were in school. But tell me a story of a student who maybe in grade seven to be beginning of the year, you know, was nervous, shy. And by the time they left to school in grade eight, we’re just like totally different human being. And like, you know, sometimes educators forget their purpose of their work and it’s to, you know, put belief in kids. And then sometimes you don’t hear about the impact your work has until like 10 years down the road when the kid is like in their mid thirties and has a family or something. Oh, for sure. But uyeah. Tell me like about a student like that who..


Becky Stewart (18:01):
Oh Yeah. One of my, one of my favorite kids is in the high school band right now, I saw him perform last night. He was like in this, in this group that kind of moved along together. And my school in particular has a lot of really rough families. They have great, great, great families. But there are some, like, it’s a very high socioeconomic scale. Like it’s 95% free, reduced lunch, 95, like lots of family below the property rate. I’ve had students where at least one parent isn’t prison it’s, you know, very bleak outlook on the future. So when they come to me, music and band sometimes does not seem like a priority at all. So this one student in particular, every single day and he, he sat front, playing clarinet, sat in front every single day. He’d look me dead in the eyes and be like, I hate band I’m quitting.


Becky Stewart (18:56):
And I was like, Nope, like I believe in you please say you’re doing so well. Cause I could tell he was, he was a great player. Like, no you’re doing great. And you know, when I would compliment him, he would just kind of look and be like, yeah, whatever. And every single day I hate band I’m changing electives. I hate band I’m changing electives. And I was like, oh my God. You know, at the end you’re just like, fine. Like if this isn’t for you, like whatever. But he had his first concert and I knew this is always like the biggest moment of buyin for them is because, like I said, they have this, this joint experience together where, where they’re all nervous and they all perform and they realize everybody’s doing great. And sometimes this is the first time their parents are, have come to watch them or tell them good job or say that I’m proud of you, which is really, really cool.


Becky Stewart (19:35):
And so after this performance, we always do our little reflection and he, he was like a completely different person afterwards. And he, you know, always brought his in home cause I made him. But after that was, you know, totally by choice. And uthe end of his seventh grade year, he’s just P playing and playing and working through the book and doing so well and excelling above everybody just because he is, he’s working so hard. And then the next,uhis eighth grade year,uhe ended up getting into honor band, which was amazing. So we went to the section honor band and he did fantastic on clarinet and he’s playing this music. That’s like high school music for, for junior high. And he’s,uright now auditioning for,uthe Western international band conference honor band as a sophomore in high school. And he’s yeah, he’s just absolutely killing it. He got the director’s award from me with the rest of his clarinet section as an eighth grader. Yeah. He was in two honor bands that year as an eighth grader, actually he was in the district honor band and yeah, so that was, that was very, very cool to see. He’s, he’s one of my, my favorite stories cuz he started off as definitely like, you know, the thorns on the rose and then, and then completely bloomed afterwards.


Sam Demma (20:41):
Sometimes those things that seem like an annoyance, like end up being a kid’s greatest strength, you know, maybe, maybe his stubbornness is what made him. So, you know, committed to playing the clarinet afterwards, you know, it’s true. True. Oh, that’s such a cool story. And if you could like transport back in time and speak to younger Becky, when you in your first year of teaching, like knowing what you know now what advice would you give younger self?


Becky Stewart (21:06):
Oh, oh gosh. I would say it’s going to be great because you are involved in it. Mm. Like to like know like no self doubt cuz like I, like, I feel like I pretty high self-confidence but like just, just not, not doubting. You’ll be like, what you’re doing is great. Keep going. What you’re doing is great. Keep going. Like it will be great because, because it’s you mm


Sam Demma (21:36):
That’s a really good piece of advice for everyone. So thanks for sharing but uhhank you so much again for coming on the show today and just sharing some of your stories. Umf someone’s listening and it’s been inspired by it or maybe teaches me music in their school and are, hnterested in hearing more about how you did it virtually, if they’re still teaching virtually or just curious to hear more about your program, what would be the best way for them to reach out or just get in touch?


Becky Stewart (22:01):
My email for sure. I’m also on Instagram. Our school has our Yuba gardens music, Instagram @Yubagardensmusic. And then I have my personal Instagram as well. I don’t know if it’s okay to say it or if it’ll be linked on the podcast. My email is rstewart@mjusd.com. So it’s my real name is Rebecca, but nobody calls me Rebecca.


Sam Demma (22:30):
Nice. Love it. Becky, thank you so much for coming on the show here today.


Becky Stewart (22:35):
Thank you for having me!


Sam Demma (22:36):
Yeah, this is awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon. Awesome.


Becky Stewart (22:40):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (22:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please is consider leaving a rating in review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Becky

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.