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Superintendent

James Trodden – Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public School

James Trodden - Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public School
About James Trodden

James is the Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public Schools. Having spent over 27 years as an educator, James has a variety of experiences as both a teacher, school leader, and central office leader. He appreciates his years spent in rural education in Alberta, as the rural context is familiar and allows for the development of close connections and responsive schools.

Connect with James: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Buffalo Trail Public Schools

The Principals’ Center – Harvard Graduate School of Education

Improving Schools From Within by Roland Barth

Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle

Mbaraká Pu – The Alchemist

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

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 (00:54):

Welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is James Trodden. James is the Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public Schools. Having spent over 27 years as an educator, James has a variety of experiences as both a teacher, school leader, and central office leader. He appreciates his years spent in rural education in Alberta, as the rural context is familiar and allows for the development of close connections and responsive schools. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with James and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a special guest from the Buffalo Trail Public Schools. His name is James Trodden. James, please start by introducing yourself.

James Trodden (01:44):

Hello Sam. Thank you for having me on this. I am working in Wainright, Alberta and I’m the assistant superintendent of learning with the amazing team that we have here.

Sam Demma (01:56):

When did you realize in your own life as a student, or maybe even it didn’t happen as a student, but as you grew up, that one day in your future you wanted to work in education?

James Trodden (02:07):

Oh, I like that question, Sam. You know what, I look back on my years in school and some of the greatest mentors and some of the most passionate people and the people that kinda reached into my life and changed the course of my history, they were all teachers. And so I went off to do a couple of different things in the world and I kept coming back to why am I not teaching? And that led me to that path.

Sam Demma (02:36):

Two questions, part one, what did your teachers do for you that you think made it a very significant impact on your development as a young person?

James Trodden (02:49):

I think they recognized where I was at and I think in seeing me, the child, the person in front of them they recognize that bit of time that they spent talking to me would make all the difference in the world. So I think back to a couple of the great teachers and they took the time to help me learn how to and me learn how to and that all thence for.

Sam Demma (03:18):

Ah, that’s awesome. And what were the things that you did in the world where you would question why you weren’t spending that same amount of time or that exact moment teaching in a classroom, <laugh>.

James Trodden (03:32):

Oh, what other things did I do,

Sam Demma (03:34):

Sam? Yeah, you mentioned you went off and did some things.

James Trodden (03:39):

I went off to university and I was taking a degree in science and I joined a program with the Canadian forces. Nice. And I joined a training program with them that paid for my university, but I also had to spend time as the in the army. So I did that and then I finished up as a teacher and I kinda had that choice to continue in the army or become a teacher and no doubt becoming a teacher, best choice.

Sam Demma (04:10):

Oh, that’s amazing. Did you have other people in your family or around you pave the weight for that decision? Were there other teachers in your household or your entire family?

James Trodden (04:22):

No, you know, often have that story, right. Teacher breed teachers, I come from come a very low educated family. My parents didn’t get out. Elementary school we’re very low social economic class. And so the idea that I would graduate or even go to university was beyond anything that they experienced or expected or would’ve considered.

Sam Demma (04:47):

Wow. Someone told me recently there’s no story without a struggle. And I think that’s true. I think a lot of the people that I look to as role models have been through their own journeys and their own challenges. And it sounds like you’ve had yours as well. Tell me a little bit more about the journey that brought you to the position you’re in right now. What are the different roles that you’ve been a part of in education and where did you first start? Tell me more about the journey.

James Trodden (05:21):

And it’s almost like a continuation of that journey from childhood <affirmative> where those mentors, those people that looked at my life, they’re all teachers and as a kid they were reaching out and giving me that second, third and sometimes 10th chats <laugh>. And then as a young teacher, I ran into just some amazing mentors. And my first vice principal he had this idea that you had to teach something new outside of your training or repertoire. And so each year I’m teaching a course that I don’t have a clue on, but it forced you to dig deeper into your practice. And then I had another amazing leader whose sole purpose was to build other leaders. So he would take us and expose us to thought leaders experiences. He’d help us out. He would get us reading, get us connected, get us connected to authors. And so along the way I had all these amazing opportunities when I became a young vice principal.

James Trodden (06:22):

My first principal was just a veteran and at different times he would step back from opportunities that presented itself so that I would have the opportunity. So that same theme and motif. And so it’s how teachers, no matter where we are or what we do, I always say you can tell teachers in the shopping market, right, <affirmative>. Cause there’s two kids and if a kid falls down and hurts themselves and there’s 10 people around, two teachers out, the 10 will be the ones moving to help a kid <laugh>. And to down a host ofs, there’s a teacher moving there, even if it’s there. And you know what, there’s just that sense of think applies in when of, And so brought me to hear the superintendent of the schools here is a mentor of mine. I knew her in the awe when we both worked in the Alberta government. And when she had the opportunity here, I jumped at it and it’s been a gift in my life. The same sort of thing. Teachers help out. And so she’s, she’s pushed me and it’s been a great working with her.

Sam Demma (07:39):

You mentioned that principal who exposed you to authors and thought leaders and experiences out of the diverse amount of experiences that he exposed you to. Is there anything maybe a resource, a book, an author, a conference, or anything that you remember vividly because it really left an impact on you or it changed the way that you think or provided you with some new perspectives and tools to bring back to your practice?

James Trodden (08:10):

There’s so many beautiful experiences, but he had me go to dinner one night, me show up to a conference and British Columbia had me go for dinner and there’s a group of us and there’s this incredible elderly man next to me and he was like, the man was asking me, What are you doing here? And I said, Well, I’m a teacher but my principal said I should come to this leadership conference. He goes, Oh, so you wanna be a principal? I said, No, not really, but you know what, I got the chance to go to the conference and it looks great and I’m always great to learn. And he says, Why wouldn’t you wanna be a principal? I said, I love teaching. I love just that beautiful moment where you work with kids and you get to see just them learn and grow and I don’t think there’s a greater experience.

James Trodden (08:57):

And so we spent the whole night convincing me principals do this and principals do that. So he’s another person that’s a principal. And I’m like, That’s great. Go to this conference. There’s like people, Wow. And introduced the keynote. The keynote is the head of the principal, the Harvard Principal Center for Leadership. And on the stage rock walks the old man I had dinner with, his name was Roland Barth, right? And so he wrote this incredible foundational book, actually it’s out of print now. So I helped use copies that I give to new administrators and it’s called Improving Schools From Within. And he talks about the strength and the secret to improving schools is the strength of people right next to you within the building and when you can tap into the power of people. And that fundamentally changed how I still see leadership. And I think when the old guys in the restaurant next to you and then he is walking on stage and he actually is the top instructional leader for Harvard, you should probably wake up and pay what he said.

Sam Demma (10:02):

That’s really cool, man. That’s a really unique, one of the odds out of the 4,000 people that you would be seated beside him at the table, right?

James Trodden (10:12):

Oh, make no mistake. My mentor did that on purpose.

Sam Demma (10:15):

Wow.

James Trodden (10:16):

<laugh>. So he would come in, he’d do amazing things. He’d be like, James, I think you need to learn about this. Here’s a couple tickets to Nashville. There’s this and this going on. I want you to go to this conference. And you’d go down and you’d work with somebody and it would just be these amazing experiences. But that was his passion is that leadership comes through experiences and he can create experiences. So I mean he’d send us in a bunch of to see different people if we liked the book or something, he would figure out how to call. Just an incredible way of,

Sam Demma (10:55):

With the role you’re working in now, I’m sure there’s lots of opportunities to make student impact. Is there also opportunities for you to be like that principal and try and put teachers in similar positions or what does the majority of your time and days focus on now?

James Trodden (11:16):

I think that lesson from Roland Barum left me that improving schools from within. And so what is the value that we can provide to the people? I mean, people have strengths, people have weaknesses. So let’s pick on you for a bit, Sam. What was your biggest strength on the soccer field?

Sam Demma (11:35):

My biggest strength on the soccer field was probably my endurance. I wasn’t gonna be outrun by anybody.

James Trodden (11:41):

<laugh>. Okay, so you got endurance. What was one of your biggest challenges on the soccer field?

Sam Demma (11:46):

Using my left foot

James Trodden (11:48):

<laugh>. Okay, so I’m not gonna put you on the, you probably played right side, correct? Yeah. <laugh>, I’m not gonna put you on the left side because I’m gonna get you to do better with your left foot. Yeah. What I’m gonna do is I can put Sam in there for endless periods of time cause no one can beat his endurance and I’ll put him on the right side. Cause I know he is gonna struggle with his foot if that in soccer, but let’s pretend it does.

Sam Demma (12:13):

Yeah,

James Trodden (12:13):

<laugh>. So when you look at that, I think that’s what role and taught is that I don’t have to make you a better player if I’m your coach, Sam, I just have to recognize that you’re great and create the conditions for you to be great. So it’s what we try and do what nobody has it all I had, I could list to you the number of left feet I have <laugh>, the number of challenges I have, but you know what? I got a couple things down good. And I play towards those strengths. And so I try and do that when we work with principals, we have a learning team here of innovation coaches and they’re all different people and every one of them has a strength. And they probably all have challenges <affirmative>, but I’m not gonna get them played left side. I’m play to their strength. And so I think that’s what roll wanted is that the people are there, that you need ’em, how give ’em, create the conditions for them to play to their greatness.

Sam Demma (13:09):

There’s a phenomenal analogy. First and foremost, thanks for sharing that. I think I wish I had you as my coach growing up <laugh>. There’s a book called The Power of Now, which is all about mindfulness and living life in the present and

James Trodden (13:26):

That Coley.

Sam Demma (13:27):

Yeah. And the book opens with a little parable or analogy of a fictional character walking up to a man on the street asking for money, sitting on a box. And the person he asks for money from as you would know says, Well why don’t you open your box? And he goes, No, there’s nothing in the box. And he convinces the man asking for money to open the box and he opens it and lo and behold, there’s the pile of gold. And the analogy was that sometimes the gold is inside you. My question to you is how do we help teachers and how do we help students actually recognize their strengths if they don’t even realize that they have them or maybe even a student? How do we create the conditions where those things shine and we’re able to appreciate them and celebrate them and encourage them to keep using that skill or so that we can identify what their strengths are and then put them in the right positions.

James Trodden (14:30):

And so I mean you hit the point is how do we meet people? How do we intersect with them? And how do we intersect not with people or the class, but how do I know Sam <affirmative>? How do I take those moments as a teacher, as a human being in life? How do those to know Sam? And there’s something beautiful that one of my great teachers taught me and she had said, What? Meet that and you see here and understand them. I’ll say that again Sam. If see them, if hear them and you take the to understand them. I see you, you’ve shared your personal journey, I’ve listened to it. Do I understand it? Maybe on the surface, but I’ve never got the chance to sit down with you and ask the why and why now and why tomorrow. So I’m beginning to understand who you are because as we talk we have more intersections.

James Trodden (15:31):

So when I see that child come in late where I see that child struggling with reading or I see that child that’s having a great time on the playground or he owns up here, we play soccer and so owns snow soccer, can’t even say it. What do I take the time to go there and the ball with him? Do I take the time to understand why can’t read? Do I take the time? Cause when I see him and I hear him, I generally ask kids, how often do little kids get asked, What do you feel about this? What could I do better? <affirmative>, do you wanna see a kids go crazy, ask them a couple things that they wanna do better about the playground and their ideas are, but do you understand, take the time to understand of right. So I think that’s when you at how do get to do of ’em? And do you understand

Sam Demma (16:33):

What was the gap between dinner in BC to James first role as a principal?

James Trodden (16:43):

My first admin role as a vice principal, What was the gap? It was a couple years in there. There’s nothing more beautiful than being a classroom teacher.

James Trodden (16:55):

And so how do you make that choice to leave that what you love most? And so it was a couple years of training. I started my master’s degree, took a bunch of courses, and then it was just the idea that maybe we could multiply where we do, teacher has a beautiful impact in the classroom, but can we multiply what we do and have an impact in the school? <affirmative>, can we multiply what we do and have impact in multiple schools? And can you use that philosophy of meeting people where they’re at and hearing and understanding ’em? Can you change your little corner of the world with that?

Sam Demma (17:38):

Sometimes educators have a mentor who walks into their life and almost randomly out of their control and is the most helpful and guiding person they could have asked for. I think on other occasions, sometimes educators don’t know who to turn to or where to go. I wonder what your advice is on potentially finding a mentor. And I think that most people in education are so excited to help especially if you just ask. But from the educators listening who aspires to learn more and improve themselves and they think a mentor would help, how would they go about finding one?

James Trodden (18:25):

Sam, you hit both the key point and the paradox of the key point teachers help. It’s sure there’s a extra chromosome somewhere and some genetic code that <laugh>, but what’s really unique about a profession, especially at the beginning is we’re the profession that kinda works and lives for the most part in isolation. So you take a new teacher, a new teacher, they took all their courses with their professors and their classmates and they go off and do a practicum and they teach with a supervising teacher and the university mentor comes in and evaluates and maybe the principal comes in and they do that the four weeks and then maybe the 10, 12 weeks depending on the program. And they do a practicum and then they get their own classroom, they walk in and the door shuts

Sam Demma (19:21):

<affirmative>.

James Trodden (19:22):

And those great leaders and great systems find ways to open up that door. But you hit the ground running so fast, you’re young, you’re new to the profession and it can become very isolating. So what we talk about when we had the new teachers here is we introduce all the people that will help. It starts with the person sitting next to them and it starts with our superintendent is there to help out, they superintendents there to help ’em. We start by pointing out all the people that will help and we say, You know what? The difference between your success and not your success isn’t your ability and skills. It’s not what And don know the fundamental difference between the success that you have will be based upon on do you ask for help at the right time and the wrong time?

James Trodden (20:16):

<affirmative>. And we start to break down of the closed classroom. So as a profession, s a lot different. Remember my first here’s list, there’s classroom shut and make principal doesn’t know your name. Welcome to B <laugh>. So why systems have done so much better breaking that down and seeing them and doing that. So yeah, I think we ought to continue to push that. So what advice would I have is that you need to go and ask when things are good and you need to go and ask when things are bad. And you need to take the time to see other professionals at practice and you need to not worry about what you know or don’t know. Because a year veteran will know more who hasn’t taught that long, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have value to them and they have value to you.

Sam Demma (21:11):

When you say see another teacher at practice, do you mean physically sitting in the back of their classroom with a notepad and watching them teach? What could that look like in a hypothetical situation?

James Trodden (21:26):

It could be that simple. It could be asking ’em to come into your classroom. It could be you going into their classroom. It could be saying, Hey, you know what, we’re both teaching social studies. What’s the chance that we can both it and see how it <affirmative> taking those time and your prep time? And teachers are so they work so hard, <laugh>, so, and they have that time, they’re often pressured to things. But can you take the time to and sit Sam’s 15, he kind of heard that he’s really at talking kids and watch you in your practice.

Sam Demma (22:10):

You asked me before the podcast started, Hey Sam, you doing okay? Your eyes look low, your tone of voice because it’s getting close to my early bedtime here, <laugh>, while we record this, but you took a very intentional moment to actually ask me how I’m doing. And I think it’s so important that we don’t brush over that when we’re speaking to anybody especially educators who are always filling up the cups of others. I’m curious to know how does James fill his cup to make sure that he can show up every day excited to try and pour into others and do good work?

James Trodden (22:50):

I live at absolutely gifted life, Sam. I get to spend time with people I respect and <affirmative>. I get to work at a job that Ive spent decades doing the best I can to what I can. But you’re right, balance. How do you find balance in 12, 13, 14 hour days? What you find it by making sure that you’re taking care of yourself? Are you eating when you can? I think a lot of young teachers, they get caught up. So squirrel snacks here, hours. But I think at i’s that physical health I meditate twice a day at I do long retreats on the weekend and hours meditating. So that’s kind of my personal piece.

Sam Demma (23:46):

Now, do you meditate in silence? Do you use an app? If there’s an educator who has heard about meditation so many times but has no idea where to start and thinks it’s about crossing your legs and saying what would your advice be? <laugh>?

James Trodden (24:03):

I think there’s so many different entry points into meditation nowadays. There are apps in that, but I do something at times with a or I teach where if you were to stop for one and just close your eyes and to every sound around you and just say, I hear the beep of my phone, I hear the wind on the window, I hear the creaking of my as I back and forth, the of my shirt as if you sit for one, just focus on the, that’s just an meditation and that one, all the stuff that was in your head just stays to the side for a bit. So there are many ways and into meditation, so I won’t won’t it here to you’re in town.

Sam Demma (24:56):

Cool. If you could travel back in time with the experience and all the opportunities that you’ve been exposed to throughout your entire career and tap James on the shoulder in his first year of teaching, knowing what now, what advice would you impart on your younger self? Not because you wanna change anything about your journey, but because you think it may have been helpful to hear that when you were just starting.

James Trodden (25:29):

Yeah, yeah. Such a good question. To admire them, I think what every young teacher, I think what needed to hear and remember. And if at time during my career I struggled, it’s this key thing. And that is what we do matters. What we do. I talk about this and I want you to think about with all the superhero movies and all that, there’s always a question, what superpower do you want? Do you wanna run or have amazing endurance or you know, fly? I think that teachers don’t recognize that what they do matters. And what they do is they take that child in front of’em and they span out the timeline of their entire life, that child’s life, and they change the course of their history. So when you look at that little kid who’s struggling to read, you can do stuff in that moment that matters. And when they’re a 30 year old reading a book,

James Trodden (26:35):

That’s

James Trodden (26:35):

A pretty darn good superpower to affect history into the future. So it matters. What would I tell myself? Keep going. What you’re doing matters.

Sam Demma (26:47):

That sounds like a really good snapshot of a future movie that Marvel should be working on creating <laugh> like a superhero teacher that can see 25 years in the future and watch live the impact of their actions in their classroom. And every day they have a new experience with a new kid and see how it plays out in 25 years. <laugh>

James Trodden (27:13):

I mean, there’s a bit of faith involved in that, but that’s what a teacher does. It’s sharing half their lunch because a kid’s hungry and at the dark point of that kid’s life, they remember, Oh my goodness, my teacher Sam fed me and someone actually cared about me. The tough part is we don’t always see the years into the future, but there is no doubt that that is a superpower beyond comparison.

Sam Demma (27:39):

Oh, I love the analogy. If an educator is listening to this, feels inspired, curious about something that you mentioned or wants to bounce some ideas around or ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

James Trodden (27:55):

You know what? Email’s always the best ’cause we’re moving, right? So I think my email is my work email, james.trodden@btps.ca. That’s for Buffalo Trail Public Schools. So james.trodden@btps.ca

Sam Demma (28:19):

Thank you so much for making the time.

James Trodden (28:21):

A hold of pick on him. He’ll give it to you.

Sam Demma (28:23):

Yeah, yeah. Reach out to me whenever and I will spam James’s inbox with all of your requests. There you go. And James, again, thank you so much for taking the time to

James Trodden (28:34):

Well, I’ll slow down. Slow down a second, Sam. I know it’s close to your bedtime and

Sam Demma (28:38):

<laugh>,

James Trodden (28:39):

But you know what? You don’t get out this a couple of things. You’re talking to teachers, so there’s gonna be some homework step two. So we’ll start with a question for you. You’re doing this podcast about educators, high performance educators. Yeah. Why would you choose in your life at your age, why are you choosing to put your energies towards this?

Sam Demma (29:04):

Yeah, great question. When I was in my senior year, I had a very clear picture built in my mind of what my life was gonna look like. <laugh>. My jersey was number 10 and it read demo and everyone in my school knew me as soccer Sam. That was also the start of my Hotmail email address that I carried with me through life until the end of high school. And I was very serious about it, not only from the athletic perspective, but also the academic aspect of my life as well. And when things came crashing down after two major knee injuries and two surgeries that I wasn’t prepared for, I lost a full ride. Soccer scholarship mentally felt like I lost my identity. And it was interactions that I had with Mr. Loud Foot. My grade 12 world issues teacher who is now retired, who initially just saw me as the quote Jock <laugh>, who was passing through his class to move on to his next athletic pursuit with kindness.

Sam Demma (30:13):

Of course his words really changed my trajectory and more importantly, my perspective of my own potential. I always thought subconsciously that without soccer, Sam was worthless as a person and didn’t have much else to provide because for 17 years, that’s all I did, 24/7 and every decision I made hinged around that identity. He was one of the first people outside of my parents and my family who I always would expect them to share these things with me. But hearing it from someone outside the household really made it made an impact. And he taught me that soccer was just one game in life, but life is filled with thousands of games. And the same emotions that I got from sport, I could get from so many other pursuits. And for him it was pursuits that had a positive impact on others. So why did I start the podcast?

Sam Demma (31:08):

This is a full circle moment when Covid hit, some of the educators that I knew about in my life were extremely burnt out. I would read their posts on Twitter, I would talk to them. I stayed in touch with a lot of the teachers that made an impact on me. I still actually every once in a while sit on Mr. L’s porch in front of his farm and we have a one two hour conversation. And I thought educators are really struggling right now just as much as students and students are being placed at the forefront of the support. But we’re all human beings and we all need support. Maybe I can somehow build a network where all these educators can get introduced to people that normally they might not have access to. And if they’re intrigued by something they say or share, it gives them a unique excuse to reach out and make a new relationship, share a resource, build a connection. And so it started with the educators in my life who I personally knew and very quickly just grew to people that I wouldn’t have a chance to talk to otherwise. And the hope that it would help build a stronger network and just share resources all with the hope that again a teacher might remember their purpose, why they started in the first place, and hopefully make another difference on a kid just like me in their grade 12 world issues class who is going through a difficult time.

James Trodden (32:30):

Yeah. Well thank you for sharing that. Think when you look at all the things and what should new teachers know, it’s that story and that story’s told a thousand times. Like Mr. Loud sees into the future, <laugh> your future and is able to impact it. And so think just about pieces. I think that’s what teachers have remember, is that story Homework time. You’re ready? Yeah. So you mentioned the Power Now by Eckley. Yeah. And you mentioned the opening story there. Have you read The Alchemist by Pu?

Sam Demma (33:05):

I don’t carry rocks in my pocket, but I love the story <laugh>.

James Trodden (33:11):

So it’s the same story that Eck tells. Right. And then the next one, have you read The New Earth by

Sam Demma (33:18):

The New Earth? I have not.

James Trodden (33:21):

So the power now is good. The new Earth totally is <affirmative>. There’s homework. I’ll be check, I’ll be checking.

Sam Demma (33:30):

I’ll it soon. Stay tuned.

James Trodden (33:34):

Anyway, I appreciate your time. Know it’s late in the night for you’re tired, but that’s good. You’re alive. That’s

Sam Demma (33:41):

Good. No, I appreciate your time, James. Thanks so much for making this possible and keep up the great work that you’re doing and we’ll talk soon.

James Trodden (33:50):

Thanks Sam. You will.

Sam Demma (33:53):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with James Trodden

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.

Terry Jordens, Brooklyn Lund and Jasmine Lund – Three Passionate Educators in the Holy Family Catholic School Division

Terry Jordens, Brooklyn Lund and Jasmine Lund - Three Passionate Educators in the Holy Family Catholic School Division
About Terry Jordens, Brooklyn Lund and Jasmine Lund

Terry Jordens (@Holyfamilyrcssd) is the Superintendent of Student Services & Assessment for Holy Family RCSSD #140. Terry Jordens grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and became a teacher, following in a long line of family footsteps in the field. Helping children is her passion. She took that passion on a trek and has taught in Canada, the United States and South Korea. Once she completed her Masters in Educational Administration, Terry took on the role where she currently operates as Superintendent for Holy Family RCSSD.

From her experience working abroad and locally, Terry knows that every mother considers their child their most precious commodity and that sometimes things get messy when you are working with people. Terry works hard to support families and children to get what they need by working through or around barriers and getting access to the right supports. Terry’s main goal is to create effective collaboration between the school and family by building trust and relationship – because the way she sees it, both sides are cheering for the same team.

Outside of the office Terry runs a mom-taxi service for her own personal children that takes regular routes to the hockey rink, soccer pitch, volleyball court and CrossFit gym. Terry and her family love to travel and hop on a plane whenever they can.

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

—–

Brooklyn Lund is a School Social Worker for Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division. Brooklyn obtained her Bachelor of Social Work degree in April 2020, and had a couple temporary jobs before gaining employment as a School Counsellor. Brooklyn has been working for Holy Family since September 2021 and has enjoyed every minute of it. The thing she loves most about her job is supporting student’s and seeing them improve! it makes her smile when children are able to confide and trust in her. She couldn’t imagine a more perfect job!

Connect with Brooklyn: Email | Instagram | Facebook

—–

Jasmine Lund is a School Counsellor with the Holy Family School Division. Jasmine obtained her Social Work Degree with the University of Regina – Saskatoon Campus in April 2020. In January, 2022 Jasmine became apart of the Holy Family School Division and has truly found her passion working with kids. Jasmine is apart of 4 elementary schools this year and although it is busy, she enjoys every minute! She loves supporting the students and staff in the best way she can!

Connect with Jasmine: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Holy Family RCSSD #140

Masters of Education (M.Ed), Educational Administration – University of Saskatchewan

Faculty of Social Work – University of Regina

CrossFit Gym

SOS Signs of Suicide Prevention Programs

Not Myself Today – Canadian Mental Health Association

Allan Kehler – Mental Health Advocate

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today is a very special interview, because we don’t often do group settings. We have three guests joining us on the show today, all from the Holy Family School Board. Terry Jordens is the Superintendent of Student Services and Assessment at Holy Family. Terry grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and became a teacher following in a long line of family footsteps in the field. Outside of the office, Terry runs a mom taxi service for her own personal children that take regular routes to the hockey rink, soccer pitch, volleyball court, and CrossFit gym. She loves to travel and hop on a plane whenever she can. Guest number two from the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate school division is Brooklyn Lund. Brooklyn obtained her Bachelor of Social Work degree in April, 2020, and today is a school counselor. She has been with Holy Family since 2021 and has enjoyed every minute of it.

Sam Demma (01:58):

She could not imagine a more perfect job. Our third guest from the Holy Family School division is Jasmine. Jasmine obtained her social work degree with the University of Regina Saskatoon campus in April, 2020. In 2022, she became a part of the Holy Family School division and has truly found her passion for working with kids. This year, she is a part of four elementary schools, and although it is busy, she enjoys it so, so much. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Terry, Brooklyn, and Jasmine, and I look forward to seeing you on the other side. Today we are joined by three guests, three guests at once. This is like a world record for the High Performing Educator podcast for number of guests altogether on the show at the same time. Instead of introducing them, I’m gonna allow them to each introduce themselves very quickly so over to you. Terry, maybe you can go first, <laugh>.

Terry Jordens (02:51):

Sure. So, hello, my name is Terry Jordans. I am the Superintendent of Student Services and Assessment here at Holy Family School Division. Holy Family, just for reference, is in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan, or a rural school division that runs schools in four different communities here.

Brooklyn Lund (03:12):

Hello, my name is Brooklyn Lund and I’m a school counselor for the Holy Family School Division. Hello, my name is Jasmine Lund, and I’m also a school counselor for the Holy Family School division.

Sam Demma (03:23):

And you’re twins?

Brooklyn Lund (03:25):

We are.

Sam Demma (03:26):

<laugh>. You can’t see them right now because you’re listening to this, but they look pretty similar. It’s pretty crazy. <laugh>, this is a very personal question. Everyone has a slightly different journey, but what got you into education? Like when did you realize growing up that education was the industry you wanted to work in, the vocation you wanted to pursue? Tell me a little bit about your journey and Brooklyn, maybe you could jump in and start.

Brooklyn Lund (03:54):

Sure. So what got me into the school is that I’ve always wanted to work with kids. I’ve always wanted to help people. Our helping profession is something that I knew from a young age that I would want to be involved with. So once a school counselor position had came up after I had convocated some social work, I had thought that yes, I should try and apply for that. So that’s kind of where it started, and then it just kind of blossomed from there. Fun fact, I always said I would never be a school counselor, and here I am. So I love it. So that’s that’s great.

Sam Demma (04:29):

That’s awesome. I love that. I think sometimes the things we least expect bring us the most joy, excitement, you know?

Brooklyn Lund (04:37):

Yeah, for sure.

Sam Demma (04:38):

Jasmine, what about, what about yourself? Did you follow in your sister’s footsteps or <laugh>?

Brooklyn Lund (04:42):

Yeah, sort of actually a position before I did. But then when another temporary position came up, I decided that I mean, Brooklyn loved it and we’re pretty similar in the fact that we both loved working with kids. so I decided that I’d apply as well. and yeah, I love the job and I think I found my passion.

Sam Demma (05:06):

Awesome. Thanks for sharing. Terry, what about you? What, what was your journey into education?

Terry Jordens (05:10):

Sure. Got you bet. So I, I’m a teacher by trade, so have my degree in teaching and educating and started off in working in early years education, moved into middle years. Thought that was completely terrifying until you get there and just realize they’re just little kids still. But for me, it’s all about it being hope filled. Like working with adults is messy. Sometimes they’re grumpy, they’re <laugh>, you know, there’s a lot going on with adults, but kids, like, there’s always that hope, there’s so excited about learning still they like their teachers, you know, it’s just that energy and there’s never a dull moment and it’s super cliche to say, but you know, kids are our future. So I’m really excited about working in this area and helping develop that.

Sam Demma (05:58):

I think the work you do is so important. All three of you. one of the past guests explained to me that he believed people that work with youth educators, people that work in schools they’re almost like superheroes who can look at a child and see 15, 20 years in that child’s future. Teach them skills now that are gonna like, impact them down the road. And I think back to the teachers I had in my life, they made such a significant impact on me. And whether you’re working directly in the classroom or just making decisions at a higher level that are gonna impact the classrooms, it’s so important. The work is so, so important. So thank you all three of you for doing what you’re doing. being that you work in the same division, I’m, I’m sure some of the challenges you face are similar, but I’m curious to know, like what are some of the challenges each of you face on a day to day basis or that are currently, you know, challenging you right now?

Brooklyn Lund (06:58):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I think I can speak for that. one challenge that we kind of are struggling with are just behaviors. in general. lots of the kids that we do help about our experiencing those high, maybe aggressive or violent behaviors. so that’s always something that we’re striving to work on. another one that kind of goes in town with behaviors is like attendance. so we’re kind of faced with like a lot of kids that show up to school, not as often as we would like I should say. and then another one that we kind of thought of was struggles within families, not just kids. So I know that we do work primarily, primarily with kids, but that often like stems back to parents and families and things that they’ve been going through as well.

Sam Demma (07:57):

Hmm. Terry, Brooklyn, anything to add or does that do a great job of something you’d of <laugh>?

Brooklyn Lund (08:02):

I would say that’s like the top three kinda mm-hmm. <affirmative> struggles that we face or face with every day at the school. Definitely attendance, behavior kind of go hand in hand sometimes, but yeah, just some of those struggles that we have throughout the school. Mm-hmm.

Terry Jordens (08:17):

<affirmative>. And I think getting, you know, we’re always in schools, we’re always so worried, Oh, is the student doing their homework? Oh, did they get, you know, 90% on their math test? Like, we’re so focused on that as an education division of delivering that curriculum. But then you gotta think on the flip side, what are they experiencing at home? Did they just come from a traumatic night at their house? Did they eat breakfast this morning? Like, figuring out and working with those family dynamics I think is yeah, for sure. A lot of pressure and really tricky sometimes to support students in the right way when you’re not dealing with family units that are well either. Mm-hmm.

Brooklyn Lund (08:55):

<affirmative>. Yeah. And I think that’s why it’s super cool to have our positions in the things that we do because yeah, it’s an education division, but we get to come from a different perspective and kind get to learn about the kids in a different light than sometimes maybe the teachers mm-hmm. <affirmative> or other professionals would be. So that’s kind of why I like coming in from a different lens. So

Sam Demma (09:16):

Being that you work in different positions how do each of you in your own respective roles try and tackle some of these challenges?

Brooklyn Lund (09:24):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I can speak on that. So I guess with the tenants and behavior we do try to build relationships with the kids quite often, especially if they are having some of those challenging dynamics at home. there’s like things like attendance plans, behavior plans, support plans, safety plans. I’m implementing a couple of reward programs right now for kids that trying to get some incentive to come to school or to behave appropriately at school. and we would be doing some lots of communication with parents or supportive adults that they have in their home, trying to kind of keep that communication going through all different avenues to kind of have that big supportive team for that student instead of just one adult.

Sam Demma (10:10):

Nice. Love that. Terry, what about yourself?

Terry Jordens (10:13):

Yeah, so from the division level one of the important things we do is connections to community. So that school team, super important, but then also, you know, they’re only in school for six hours a day from September to June, right there, there’s a lot of life outside of that <laugh>. So making it more of a community support plan. Right. So at my level, we, we go to like interagency meetings with our local mental health and our psychologists in the area to make sure that we have a network and we know how to support in that way and have the right connections in that way, you know. And we also have things like an Envision counseling, which is like a private sort of counseling service in our community. So we make connections with them too. So making sure that it’s not just a school thing, that we’re supporting the kids and the families and with whatever means we can in our communities, which is sometimes challenging cause we’re rural, right? So a lot of times those things are in the big city. So we, we do our best to make those relationships.

Sam Demma (11:15):

Awesome. speaking about relationships, how do you think you build a solid relationship? Like a trusting relationship with a young person? Like in your experiences, how, like how does that happen? What does that look like?

Brooklyn Lund (11:31):

I would say consistency is big. word that I like to use someone or for kid to have a trusting adult, but who’s there for them all the time consistently. yeah, they can have some trusted adults that come in and outta their lives, but someone who’s consistent and reliable would definitely be a huge factor in building that trusted relationship with them.

Sam Demma (11:55):

Hmm. Consistency being like showing up every day, even when, you know, you don’t feel like it, they’re counting on you to be there kind of thing.

Brooklyn Lund (12:03):

Correct, Yeah. And even the minor things, getting to know their birthday, wishing them a happy birthday, getting to know what they’re doing on the weekend, asking how their week went, like all those little consistency things that you can do to build that relationship to get to know them even better so they can start to have that relationship and trust in you mm-hmm.

Terry Jordens (12:22):

<affirmative> and stopping and taking that time, right? Like for so busy throughout the day and you’ve got an 8 million things to do, but like stopping when the kid’s like, Hey, look at this’s cool thing that I did last night. You know? Yeah. Like stopping, pausing, taking the time to do that. Mm-hmm.

Brooklyn Lund (12:36):

<affirmative>. Yeah, I think that often shows too that, that you actually do genuinely care about the child and they’re not just a part of your caseload or just another student on the team or on the school board. but yeah, just like them getting to know that you actually do wanna know and show that effort is there

Terry Jordens (12:59):

Yeah. Cause they can tell like if you

Brooklyn Lund (13:01):

Really, like, they

Terry Jordens (13:02):

Know

Brooklyn Lund (13:04):

For sure. Yeah. And I think sometimes people like try, it’s almost like over the top to like be almost not as genuine as as what, just kind of having, treating them as a regular kid and showing up for them when they need you.

Sam Demma (13:18):

Yeah. I I, I, I think when I think back to what I was always looking for as a student as well, it was like I just wanted the teacher’s time. I was like, you know, when I have a, when I have a question or I come to your desk, I just wanna feel like you’re present with me and you’re, you know, you’re, you’re hearing me and you’re seeing me. And I think so often, like, you know, you hit it all in the nail. It’s like you need to be consistent, you need to be curious about the person, you know, behind the student. Some of the teachers who had the biggest impact on me would teach a lesson and then look at me and say, Sam, because you wanna be a pro soccer player, for you this lesson means X and kaon because you wanna be a fashion designer for you this means X and Olivia, because you’re passionate about movies, for you, this means x and Brooklyn because you have no interest in becoming a school counselor.

Sam Demma (14:08):

For you this means x <laugh>. It’s like, once you get to know the person you’re curious about them, you can really make the learning applicable to them. And that is just so much easier for them to buy in and actually want to be there. those are the types of teachers that give me hope. You know, the teachers that really care about what they’re doing, the educators that care and that are curious and, and that are consistent. I’m curious personally what gives each of you hope and inspires you to keep moving forward when things are a little bit difficult, when the caseload feels overwhelming and, and it seems like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders.

Brooklyn Lund (14:48):

I would say first maybe the first thing I think about is a student that I had supported in my first couple of months of being a school counselor. he was, come, came from a, a troubled home and he didn’t have the best supports in place, but he showed up to school every day. And when I, it was a transition between two different months. I had, was there the last couple days of the month and then I hadn’t had a chance to put my new calendar on for the next month yet. And he had come to school that day and realized it had been a new month and I had not my calendar up there. And he was not happy that, that my cal my calendar wasn’t updated cuz he didn’t know that week of when I was gonna be at his school. So I think I often think about that kid. he had a huge impact on me. He made sure, even though I wasn’t gonna see him some days, he’d still come in and check in and say hi. and we still have had some communication since when I see him out in the community and things like that, just that special bond that we’ve had and he continues to grow and it’s, it’s super awesome. So I think that’s kind of my motivator that I was blessed with very early on.

Sam Demma (16:07):

Mm. Those, those stories of impacting a young person, I think are consistent among every person who works in education. Like that’s why you do what you do, you wanna make a difference, right? So what a good story to remind you to stay hopeful. Terry, Jasmine, what about you guys?

Terry Jordens (16:28):

Do you wanna go? Sure.

Brooklyn Lund (16:29):

Okay. I think one thing that gives me hope is just knowing that we have such an awesome team among all of us. that includes like Brooklyn, Becky, Terry and then even with like our principals and other professionals that are in the building I think we work really well together with our close little knit counseling team. and yeah, it just gives us hope to keep going since we do all get along so well. And being the newest one part of the team I think they’ve also taught me a lot and it makes my journey something that I even look forward to more in the future. So yeah,

Sam Demma (17:10):

Be because you got a twin too, when you’re not feeling up for it, you just, you know, you just send 10 your sister and tell her to change her hair just a little bit.

Brooklyn Lund (17:18):

<laugh>

Sam Demma (17:21):

Terry, what keeps you, what keeps you

Terry Jordens (17:23):

Hopeful? for me, hope really is the attitude that I’m seeing in our students at school around the areas of like diversity and inclusion. Like it really is different now. You know, like kids are accepting, they, you know, have open minds. Like when I hear my own, I have a teenage daughter when I hear her and I’m not gonna say what grandpa said at the table, but I’m saying, Grandpa, you can’t say that anymore. Like, this is how we talk now. Like, that’s the part I love. Like that is hopeful and that keeps me going knowing that we’re doing the right things and we’re teaching our kids in the right way to be more inclusive, to be positive, to be accepting of everybody. So that’s really positive.

Sam Demma (18:07):

Brooklyn started answering this question by sharing a story about how a student was impacted by the work in a school. can you maybe share a story that comes to mind for you Jasmine and Terry about how you saw the work in education impact a young mind who maybe was really struggling and then had a transformation or had a realization or really grew because of the support of staff and teachers and the school environment?

Brooklyn Lund (18:39):

Yeah, I can speak on that. so one program that we did last year throughout the schools was sos So it’s like signs of suicide. we went into every school and presented a presentation on the signs of suicide. And it was about a couple days after we were done presenting at one of the schools and a girl who was in grade eight came into my office and really explained why she thought her friend was suicidal. And I was just, after that conversation I realized that, that that program really did have an impact in her class because she was really scared for her friend’s life. And I think just realizing that even though it may take us a long time to prepare or things like that, that it was really worth it to do it in those classrooms because even if it was with one, only one kid that did mention her friend’s life, then it was a win in our books because that is also something that we yeah, we’re happy with that we were able to help that student. So

Sam Demma (19:49):

Program could literally save a life, you know, that’s

Brooklyn Lund (19:53):

Exactly more awareness I think. And students had age too. I mean some of them are more aware than others, but I think just bringing that program to all the classes was a really good idea for us. So.

Sam Demma (20:10):

Awesome. Terry, what about yourself?

Terry Jordens (20:12):

Yeah so another program that we did implement last year was not myself today, so it’s the through the Canadian Mental Health Association. Nice. So that’s like a workplace wellbeing for staff. So we sort of implemented that all the way from like our board level all the way down through the schools. All our teachers, ea, janitors, bus drivers, we all kind of took part in it. And the really cool thing that I liked when I did it with like our senior administration here and our board was actually stopping and taking the time to talk about mental health and wellbeing with the adults here. Like we’re always so busy, you know, the kids programs and putting budget in for the kids, for us to stop and like check our own wellbeing and, and spend, It was honestly like maybe half an hour every month, but whatever time we could carve out and just sit together and actually make it like, not cliche to talk about it and bring up topics that were hard and some of the stresses and stuff that we were experiencing here. Cause it was, it’s been it’s been years, you know, a couple years of tough work in education and all over the world with the pandemic, but just dealing with all the change and things that we had to go through, it was hard. So it was a really nice program to allow that opportunity for us. So we sell lots of benefits with that.

Sam Demma (21:31):

Can you share the, the name one more time?

Terry Jordens (21:33):

Sure. It’s called Not Myself Today.

Sam Demma (21:35):

Not Myself Today. Cool.

Terry Jordens (21:37):

Yeah. Yeah.

Brooklyn Lund (21:38):

I would say too, the one other thing that I think about is Alan Keller, but we had him a mental health advocate and speaker very engaging, a very cool approach to how he presents to his students in his audiences. we had him present to our students and our parents and the teachers got part of it too. So that was super cool. I think he had a very positive impact on our students. days later we were seeing him or students wear his bracelet that he sent out to students. We’ve heard students talk about it quite often after that presentation was done. So that was a cool impact that he had on our students too. I think too, the parents were mm-hmm <affirmative> really supportive of that. The ones that did come to his video call were shocked by him. Like they, they really loved him. So I think that was a, a lot of good feedback for

Sam Demma (22:31):

Us. I love my born resilient t-shirt, <laugh> <laugh>, Shout out to Alan. Allen’s phenomenal at what he does and he has some great resources and books. you know, one of the mistakes that I make as a working professional, it doesn’t matter if you’re an education or whatever career path you choose something that I do when I see often is burn myself out. Like I work so hard and I put other people at the center of my focus instead of my wellbeing and next thing you know, I’m getting blisters in my mouth cause I’m not sleeping and I forgot to drink water for eight hours and I didn’t eat enough food. And, and it just becomes this cycle and you’re all smiling cuz you’re like, damn, this sounds like me sometimes <laugh>. I’m curious through your journey in education, it could be related to your own wellbeing, it could also be related to your work. what are some mistakes you made that you think are worth sharing? And the reason I ask is because I think if we spend time analyzing some of the mistakes we made, they’re actually learnings not only for ourselves but also for anyone else.

Terry Jordens (23:36):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Well, one of the things that I learned probably the hard way in taking this kind of leadership role is top down decision making does not work. <laugh>, you know, you think it’s a great idea and you, you know, you try to put it out there and some things just, they just don’t fly that way if people don’t buy into it, but it doesn’t mean anything to them. If they’ve got no skin in the game, it falls flat. So really having relationship based leadership, making collaborative decisions is all something that we really focus on here. I mean, we’re a small, like we’re a small school division mm-hmm. <affirmative>, so as many brains as we can get into the decisions and directions is always a more positive approach. So definitely mistakes in that kind of thinking.

Sam Demma (24:25):

Yeah. Collaboration’s key. I love it. Yeah, Good learning. Good learning.

Terry Jordens (24:29):

Yeah.

Brooklyn Lund (24:30):

What I would say is probably sometimes I get too invested into the families or to how to support them. sometimes I’m feel, or looking back now I realize that I’m putting almost too much effort into, into a family that I wanna help so much. And sometimes I have to realize that we are there to support in a certain way and, and that’s as far as we can go. some things are out of our control, so just trying to minimize that as much as possible to kind of save that burnout too.

Sam Demma (25:01):

Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Brooklyn Lund (25:03):

I think just being a new school counselor, I thought coming into this job I would have everything scheduled, organized things like that. But you realize real fast that each day is different and just because one thing worked one day doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for you the next day. So I think just realizing that the best practice would just be like a flexible thinker and yeah, roll with the punches, roll the punches. Especially with

Terry Jordens (25:33):

This <laugh>,

Sam Demma (25:34):

My, one of my mentors would always quote Mike Tyson and Mike used to say everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. <laugh>. It’s like, that’s

Brooklyn Lund (25:46):

Very true.

Sam Demma (25:46):

It’s so true. Like, I’m gonna go in there, I would do xyz and then you hop in the ring and it’s like B and you’re like, now what? You know, <laugh> like plan goes out the window and you definitely gotta roll with the punches. yeah, that’s great advice. On the topic of advice if you could take your experience working in education and as a new counselor, I know this is like, you know, it might be a shorter period of time for two of you and Terry might have more of a breath of experience. <laugh>, I’m not saying she’s old, I’m saying she’s alive. I’m saying she’s a veteran in the game. if you could travel back in time but retain the experiences and knowledge you’ve gained what would you tell yourself on the first day on the job as advice? Not because you wanna change your path, but because you thought it would be helpful to have heard this advice the day you started this work.

Terry Jordens (26:41):

Wow, okay. Well first of all, all sign me up for that person. I wanna go back to

Sam Demma (26:46):

<laugh>.

Brooklyn Lund (26:47):

I know now.

Terry Jordens (26:49):

I would definitely tell myself one day at a time. That’s it. That’s all you need to think about right now is what you’re going through today, what you need to work on today, and do not spend time worrying about tomorrow, next week. Other things you have to do. Yeah, definitely compartmentalize and just focus on the now.

Sam Demma (27:10):

I love that. Cool.

Brooklyn Lund (27:12):

I would probably say it’s okay to say no <laugh>, I’ve learned that the hard way right now, but we are trying to be super eager and supportive and for the staff and students, but sometimes we have lots of things going on, so it is okay to say no or even I’ll get it to it in a couple days. It doesn’t need to be done right now.

Sam Demma (27:32):

Yeah, not right now.

Brooklyn Lund (27:34):

There we go.

Sam Demma (27:35):

Set boundaries. Love it.

Brooklyn Lund (27:37):

I think too, just telling myself that we will get through it because just like this week we’ve had a hard week one of us being out right now too, so, but I feel like with our small supportive team, we always do get through it, so and there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, so Yeah.

Sam Demma (27:56):

Becky, we miss you, Becky.

Sam Demma (28:02):

That’s awesome. okay. Thank you all so much for taking the time to hop on the podcast. 30 minutes has already flown by. I feel like we’ve had a great conversation and I really appreciate each of your time and energy. But more importantly, your enthusiasm for the work that you’re doing to try and make a difference in the lives of kids. if someone wants to reach out to you what would be the best way for them to get in touch and maybe instead of all sharing individual emails, we could just share one and then like disperse the information if someone does reach out, <laugh>.

Terry Jordens (28:32):

Sure, you bet. So our probably email is the best. We do have a, a small amount of social media goes on, probably email, but our school division is a Holy family, Roman Catholic School division. Honestly, if you google that, my email address is on the website. Cool. And they’re all on there, so that’s the best way. Yeah.

Sam Demma (28:50):

Awesome. Perfect. Any final words for the educators who are listening to this right now before we hop off? these are obviously people that, well, maybe you’ve met some of them but most of them are total strangers right now. Might be a difficult time. Maybe they’re ending a difficult week. and you just want to give them like a couple words of wisdom or advice, <laugh>

Brooklyn Lund (29:12):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I guess I would say roll the punches and then hey, light at the end of the tunnel. So those would be my advice and each week is a new week, so I think that even though you have a difficult week this week, that next week’s completely different. So I’m sure it’ll be positive next week too. So yeah.

Terry Jordens (29:30):

Nice. And we got this. Everything is solvable. Everything we can move on from, we got this, we’re in this together, is really how we see things here.

Brooklyn Lund (29:39):

For sure.

Sam Demma (29:40):

Awesome. Terry, Jasmine, Brooklyn and Becky and Spirit, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I appreciate all of you so much and I hope you continue to do amazing work and enjoy every moment of it.

Speaker 5 (29:52):

Perfect. Thanks Sam.

Sam Demma (29:56):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Terry Jordens, Brooklyn Lund and Jasmine Lund

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.

Eric Keunne – Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board

Eric Keunne - Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board
About Eric Keunne

Eric Keunne (@EricKeunne) is an Educator and Instructional Program Leader for Youth Settlement (K-12). He is also a Research Assistant for the Camerise Project (FSL hub) and a Ph.D. student in Francophone Studies at York University.

Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon.

Connect with Eric: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Camerise Project (FSL hub)

Francophone Studies at York University

Newcastle University

University of Yaoundé1

Ontario College of Teachers

Choq-FM 105.1

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. We have a very special guest with us today. His name is Eric Keunne. Eric is an educator and instructional program leader for youth settlement, K to 12. He is also a research assistant for the Camerise Project, also known as the FSL Hub and a PhD student in Francophone studies at York University. Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French Department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Eric, and I will see you on the other side. Eric, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Eric Keunne (01:55):

Well, thank you so very much Sam. It’s really a pleasure to be on your show today. My name is Eric Keunne. I speak many languages. I speak Aghem the from the west region of Cameroon but my official language is French because Cameroon, where I come from is a bilingual language country, just like Canada. And my, the language I grew up speaking and studying in is French so you will realize that very often in this interview that I will use on French expressions. And you can also derive from there that as I’m a French language teacher, right. So I’m very happy to be here. I’m going to certainly have the opportunity to talk about my journey as an educator all the way from Cameroon and here in Canada, in Ontario now today. So, aside from that, I’m also a dad married to a wonderful wife. So, and my lovely two kids Michelle ve <inaudible>. So yeah. And pretty much also working towards bringing the Cameroon community together. As always, I’ve been very invested in, into that vain. And but what is very important is certainly to sheathe the path for the future of our kids. Rightm and the next generation. as an educator.

Sam Demma (03:10):

When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education? Was it something you always knew or something you stumbled into?

Eric Keunne (03:18):

That’s a wonderful question, Sam. I, well, it really gives me the opportunity to visit back against some sweet memories. Like I said, I was born and raised in Cameroon and Cameroon’s, a very beautiful country’s actually located in Central Africa. For those who you who are so wondering, Cameroon is the home to Toronto Rap NBA champion, Pascals, of course, yes. <Laugh> and also Ronald Soccer players like Samuel Ato and Roja mil. Yeah. So just like I indicated, Camon it’s a very, I’d say Sweden, blessed country in a sense that the dynamics of the population living in Cameroon is such a unique one, and I would love everyone to experience that. However as you know, Cameroon is also today, Cameroon as we know it today, is not only a result of colonization, but it’s also had to go through so many iterations as a country itself.

Eric Keunne (04:17):

So many changes actually happen in there. And that has also influenced my path. I grew up in a very, very modest family. My dad and Ream was a business man, and he was very, very invested into bringing up his children in such a way that they were not experience the same challenges just like he grew up experiencing. He, he was not fortunate enough to pursue his education on after elementary school. So one of the things that always prompted him to motivate his kids to go beyond his level where he dropped, was to ensure that, you know, they’ll be able to embrace the future. And for me, particularly he absolutely wanted me to hold a key position in the family, being that person who always trying to not only help others to navigate around the challenges that they were facing, because apparently, I, I had that gift, that talent of being able to, to communicate eloquently in French and also, but in a very respectful way.

Eric Keunne (05:27):

And for him, that was a sign that I would be an amazing educator in the future. So somehow he, he pushed me in this, into this profession. He pushed me to embrace and to love this profession. So I grew up with that in mind knowing that I had a huge responsibility, not only towards my family towards my community, but people that I, I meet with every single day. Mm. And I, you know, I grew up with that love and passion for, for education, for, for helping others people to grow and try. Right. And I ended up at a teacher’s college in, in Cameroon, and here I am today.

Sam Demma (06:03):

You mentioned Samuel Etto. Is, is football a big part of your childhood,

Eric Keunne (06:07):

<Laugh>? Absolutely, absolutely. I grew up playing football, we call it in Canada soccer, but I grew up playing football and enjoying it, just like every, every young man of my generation in Cameroon. And even now. And you know, when I actually started teaching, one of the things that I also dedicated my time doing, Sam, was to to coach, right? So I used to be a soccer coach when, in high school, when I was working in a high school.

Sam Demma (06:32):

So you mentioned the passion, where it came from. What did the journey look like from the different roles you worked in education and then the transition from Cameroon to Canada?

Eric Keunne (06:45):

Well, it wasn’t an easy transition all the time. So I, like I said, I I, I did my teacher’s education in Cameroon at Eco Hill, the Bomb, and next to bomb Bili. So ENS bomb, that’s in northwest region of Cameroon. And my training was in bilingual letters, bilingual education. So I was trained as a FSL teacher, but also as an English language as a English as a second language teacher. Nice. And when I finished my, my teacher’s education in Cameroon, I was actually assigned to my first high school in Cameroon government high school, je, where I spent almost two years. Ah, and I, I, I, I ended up being a department head for French in, in that high school. Then at some point my dad, who was very, very very motivated in seeing me exploring and exploiting all my full potential, he encouraged me to go beyond the level of being a teacher at the high school level.

Eric Keunne (07:48):

So he really encouraged me to pursue my, my post-secondary education. So I started looking for opportunities to doing a master’s degree. And I, so I started that in Cameroon, and I eventually got the chance to go study abroad in the uk. But before the uk I made a stop in Belgium in Brick. So where I studied for one year. Then I eventually ended up at the University of Newcastle where I did study in a Master’s of education program in international developmental education. So in the uk what was very fascinating about my, my journey there was the fact that I was able to not only match part of my experience with, you know, the reality of teaching and learning in the uk, but I was also able to share this experiences with so many learners around me. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I was a unique opportunity in that specific program.

Eric Keunne (08:38):

And I, you know, I want to take this opportunity to give a, you shout out to Professor Pauline Dixon, who will be probably listening from the uk. She was my professor in that program. And she, she really invested in, in a platform where all the scholars in this program would be able to come and share experiences, because of course, we were talking about international development, and it was also a unique platform to talk about some best practices and things challenges that we were actually able to identify in specific countries, especially in developing countries. Right. And how we could actually work towards fixing that mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And back then we were talking about the, the, the development goals for the future. So it was very interesting. Right. And and back then, I also had a chance to do some supply job teaching in the uk some of the schools.

Eric Keunne (09:31):

So it gave me a unique perspective, right, to compare my experience from Cameroon and of course, in the uk. Then of course, eventually after that I moved to Canada here in Canada when I actually arrived in 2009, I didn’t write away get an opportunity to teach because the process was quite tedious and challenging. So I did apply to the College of Teachers. It took me about two to three years to get my OCC license, as you would imagine, Very, very stressful. But in the meantime, I was very lucky to to be invited to teach at a private school in Maka, Ontario. That’s why started my first teaching experience in Canada. Truly was at Town Center private high school. That’s why I started teaching in 2000 and, and 12. Nice. And it, it was good because I was working in a small school and it was really the firsthand experience for me working in Canada for the first time as a teacher, Right.

Eric Keunne (10:25):

Mm. And getting ready as my p my papers were being processed. And so it was really at that moment, and I, I really always thank the principal back then, Patrick McCarthy, who hired me and all the staff at thousand High School for all the support that they provided me with. And today I’m very, very pleased with where I am, because after Town Central High School I eventually had a chance to also teach at Seneca College in the nice living program where I was teaching French language as well. And after that I think in 2014 there was a, a position at Qua High School here in Halton, Hal, Industry School Board, for which I applied. And and I got a job in 2014. I’ve been really enjoying my journey so far since 2014 with Halton Industry School Board.

Sam Demma (11:14):

I love that your journey pursuing education has quite literally brought you around the globe, <laugh>, like

Eric Keunne (11:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sam Demma (11:22):

It’s so exciting to hear about the diverse perspectives you have and have picked up from teaching in such different places. What are some of the stark differences or, and similarities that you’ve noticed teaching in Cameroon versus teaching in UK and then versus both teaching in Canada, like <laugh>? I’m curious what kind of comes to mind when you think about those experiences and the similarities and differences?

Eric Keunne (11:48):

Well, the first thing that comes into my mind what I, in terms of, you know, comparing my teaching experience in these three countries is, is the fact that, you know, it’s actually provided me with a unique, unique facet of, you know, understanding the needs of the student and, and of course the families, right? Cause in Cameroon, one thing that is very interesting for you to know is that we do have very large class sizes, okay. And, and there’s that desire for every single students to to be knowledgeable. So they’re really, really looking into embracing every single word that comes out of the mouth of the teacher. So, to that is, to that regard, I think the position that you hold as a teach in Cameroon is quite different from how you position position here in Canada or somewhere else.

Eric Keunne (12:45):

Got it. Because you do have that you know, unique position as a, in Cameroon to secondly bring all the students towards a direction, the direction that you think it’s good for them, because they look up to you as not only teacher, but as a leader. I’m not saying it’s not the case here, is it still the case here? However, the dynamics in terms of the relationship is quite different. Right. And here, and, and that’s why I say I’m very grateful because I’ve had a chance to teach in Africa, in Europe, and now here in North America. So I, I, you know, I’m very blessed in that sense because throughout my journey, specifically here in Canada, I have come to the realization that, you know, beyond the fact that as a teacher, you are a leader, you are also there to facilitate the knowledge, not necessarily to give the knowledge to students, not only to provide them with everything that they need to swallow and digest now.

Eric Keunne (13:44):

Yeah. Right. You broaden the perspective, You open their avenue to students so that they can actually grow up with some critical thinking, Right. And be able to co-plan with you. Right. And that’s really what is amazing. You know, when I think about the experience here but again, you, you have to also understand that, you know, the, the, the way education is shipped around the world, it’s specifically tied to all the, the economic of that country as well. Because resources is very important when you think of planning in education. So for countries who have limited resources, financial resources I’m talking about here, and of course technological resources, it will be very, very difficult to apply the same system that we have here in Canada, everywhere. And, and to that, I think when you have the opportunity to move around a little bit, you get to appreciate every single country with what they actually bring forward in this uniqueness.

Eric Keunne (14:46):

So every country has a unique approach, which I like. So everywhere I’ve been to and here in Canada particularly I, I think one of the things that really makes me always enjoy my, my role as a teacher is really the passion that I see in every class that I go into, especially when it comes to the learning of French as a second language. Mm. As a French language teacher, I’m always, always very fascinated, but by the desire of students to wanting to learn an additional language. And that makes me feel happy because it really indicates the fact that beyond the, the, the, the noble desire to utilize that language, they want to learn the culture of a different country. And as you know as a francophone, I always try to promote all French countries, not just France and Quebec as we know, but try to open the horizons to my students in such a way that they can learn from all the French countries and including your history, right? Because yeah, no, the fact that this country speak French is a result of colonization, right? So it’s important that we bring that in perspective so that, you know, the kids that we actually teaching here can grow up learning, right? And visiting history, and be able to position themselves as citizens of the world. That the way I see,

Sam Demma (16:13):

I’m getting so much energy just speaking to you, <laugh>, I, I feel like educators listening will hopefully absorb some of this energy and remember why they got into education in the first place. What, what about teaching keeps you coming back every single day? Excited, Of course there’s challenges and difficult times, but what about the opportunity gets you excited to get outta bed every single day and teach and help in education?

Eric Keunne (16:41):

But I, I think what really gets me motivated every single day is the transformational aspect of our job as teachers, as educators. Not only do we provide in classroom space and time and platform for kids to be be able to express themselves, but we also help them to break down some barriers that they actually facing in their day to day life. I’ll tell you a little bit about my experience as an international student in the uk and you suddenly understand why I’m so motivated every single day going out and doing my job as a teacher. You know, when I actually landed in the uk back in two and eight and I think that was one of the most challenging moments of my life. Just now, one thing that I fail to, I forgot to mention, is that right now I’m, I’m actually working at my board’s welcome center.

Eric Keunne (17:41):

I’m in charge of the Youth Settlement Program, so helping and facilitating the transition of newcomer students and families in our, and in our schools, right? And that it’s really, it’s closely tied to my experience as an international students back in the uk. Cause like I said, it was one of the challenging moments of my life cuz I wish you know, I had something called the welcome center back then. Yeah. That was solely designed for newcomers and international students like myself, Right? I’m talking about the structure that is actually working towards supporting students every single. And I’m so happy to be working with this amazing team at the welcome Center Hall, District School of Welcome Center because as you know, newcomer students, and when they arrive in a place a new place like Canada or, or in Ontario or in Halton, they do have so many challenges that they’re going through.

Eric Keunne (18:34):

That was me back, back then. Yeah. I, I was struggling with language because like I said, I, I grew up speaking French, studying in French, so I had zero mastery of English language per se. Right. And in addition to that, I was trying to get used to my new environment, and I was far away from home, right? Yeah. So I had no place that I could go to or nobody that I could call a family member. Right? And, and with my, my being a francophone with little knowledge and master of English language I was required to to attend classes, graduate courses, for that matter. I was actually required to complete assignments in English. And, and, you know, it was very difficult. And I see that every single day for our newcomer students and, and families that come here, Right. The struggle with the language, but yet they actually exposed to the learning in English every single day.

Eric Keunne (19:29):

So, for me, particularly, I developed back then what I called my personal technical dictionary, and I still have it here in my shelves, I promise you that. <Laugh> <laugh>. So what, what was that is actually some a notebook that I, I, I actually designed for myself in which I would write down all the comments, expressions that I would hear people use every single day around the classroom in, in the articles that I was reading. Right? And I would, when I go home, I would translate those into French Mm. So that I could comprehend and understand these expressions. And then now in return, try to use them in sentences. This is simply to tell you how much time it takes for a newcomer students in a country like this, Right. To be able to understand the concept that are taught in a classroom and be able to utilize them.

Eric Keunne (20:20):

You see what I mean? Yeah. So it takes at least two, three or four double the amount of time for them to be able to develop the communication skills, the writing skills. And so language was a huge barrier, and language is a huge barrier for many newcomer students and families when they actually arrive here. Right. And for me, it’s very important when I wake up every single morning, is to think about every single student in the classrooms, Do they have all the tools? What am I doing as an educator to ensure that in our system, in our board, in our pro, every single student is equipped right. With the support that they need in order to try and succeed, Right? Mm. So, and beyond the language barrier, one thing that was very interesting to for me as well, and I really want to point this out I was a computer illiterate. Mm.

Eric Keunne (21:11):

As a matter of fact, I have learned how to use a computer for the first time in 2008, believe me or not. Right? Mm. And, and it would take me so many hours to type a single paragraph, this is the challenges that newcomer students and family’s experience because maybe they’ve not been exposed to technology from where they come from, Right? So, and I had to rely, rely on the support of my classmates and my professor, right? To get my work submitted online. So in thinking of that experience, I was trying to ask myself, what are we doing differently today in 2022, in such a way that students will not be experiencing the same challenges, right? So I’m not talking about financial challenges because that’s also something that every family and newcomer families actually go through. So, and it’s important for me when I wake up in the morning, to always ask myself this question, What am I going to do differently today?

Eric Keunne (22:09):

What am I going to add to what I did yesterday to put a smile on the face of every single student I encounter? And also, how do I actually foster collaboration with my team, with my staff, with the teachers that I work with to make the difference in the life of our students? Because every single student in our classroom, every single student is a success story waiting to be told. And we have a role to play into that. We have to be able to not only of God put forward our motivation, but also look for the resources that would help us as educators, as teachers, to transform the life of these individuals. Because this is the future of Canada. We’re talking about because 10, 10 years, 20 years down the road, the same student that we do have in our classroom today are the one who are going to help us navigate around our society. Are ha are those who are going to help shape the future of our country. So we need to continue to invest in education. We need to continue to embrace our job with all the energy and enthusiasm that is possible. But at the same time, I think a while ago I was talking about resources. I think the government needs also to continue to provide enough support Yeah. And financial resources for educators to be able to do the job efficiently. Mm.

Sam Demma (23:35):

You, you mentioned a few minutes ago when you were talking about your experiences overseas, that one of the things that was a little bit different was the way student and teacher relationships are built. I think what’s calming, calming common amongst here, Cameroon, Europe and the uk, is that one of the main goals of the educator, despite how the relationship is built, despite how the classroom is set up, is to help young people become their own success stories. As you just mentioned, that every student is a success story waiting to happen, and that educators play a part in it. I believe that that idea is one of the main reasons why people actually get into education. Because they wanna help people. They wanna serve young minds. They wanna make a difference. Sometimes we forget, sometimes educators forget why they started. And I think sharing an example of one of those success stories can help rekindle that fire. And I’m curious to know, in all year years teaching, if there are any success stories of students that come to mind that you might be willing to share. And it could be a very serious story of transformation, and if it is, you can change their name for privacy reasons. But I’m hoping you’ll, you’ll, you’ll be willing to maybe share one or two that that come to mind.

Eric Keunne (24:57):

Well, you know what? There’s so many success stories that I, you know, I could actually share with you. And I, I’m not just sure where to start, but I, I would love to, if you are okay, to probably read this letter that I received from one of my students. And she actually graduated I believe a few years ago no. Last year from Iru High School. Yes. And I, I, when she was about to graduate she actually sent me a very, very lovely letter, which to me kind of sum up the, the role and and, and I think the, the, not only the, the influence that we have on our students every single day, and, and for me it was at the same time also an appeal, right? Mm. And an invitation to even do better every single day. Because to me, when you have a student writing, you emailing you to share with you all these details and be able to tell you how transformative you’ve been in their lives, I think it’s just amazing as a staff, right? So for me, this is something that I want to share. Okay. Please, are

Sam Demma (26:15):

You ready for it, please? Yeah, I am. I’m patiently waiting. Ready? Excited. <Laugh>.

Eric Keunne (26:19):

Okay, so I, I’m, I’m really exactly what is, I’m not changing anything. Comment on this. Okay. Okay. And this student would, when, if she listens to me, shell recognize herself. S so the title of the email is La De So the End of Secondary School, High School S let me translate that because this is my bilingual mindset, Okay? It’s been long since the last emailed you, but now, you know, in the good of I, this is already end of, end of the school year, and she goes now in English. Okay? I would normally insist on sending you a French email, but since these words are so hard to say, I thought English might be better, they always say, High school goes by so quickly. And I didn’t believe it until now. Nothing could have prepared me for the memories I would make at ioi.

Eric Keunne (27:22):

But memories are only as good as the people who contain them. Mr. Kearney, you have taught me for more than three years. Oh, you have taught me in three years. Sorry, let me repeat that. That’s okay. You have taught me more in three years that I would’ve learned from anyone else. You brought a smile on my face on my worst days. Mm. And made me laugh at times. I didn’t expect. Without a doubt, you have been one of the most important role models in my life, and that is something I will never forget. Learning French for 12 years was a trial, but learning French with you was a joy. Selfishly, I wish you would have stayed at ioi, but even though you are not here physically, your memory leave in the praise of my peers. And I now, I have reached the end of high school, and I’m sad to live behind all the wonderful people who built me up these last four years.

Eric Keunne (28:27):

Mr. Kaney, without you, I don’t think I would be more, I will be where I am In another circumstance, I would’ve been pleased to see you watch me graduate. Although that isn’t an option. I will carry you in my heart today as I received my diploma. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, All the lesson you have taught me, and all the lifelong memories I will carry onto university. Being your student was a privilege and owner, and I will be grateful for the rest of my life. Please send my best to your family. Don’t your friend forever. And I’m not reading this just because I want to sing my own praises. Okay? I’m, I’m sharing this because when I read this email, some, you know, I shared some tears. Mm. Because this is a student I taught for two years, and I left to take another role, but yet we kept in contact.

Eric Keunne (29:22):

So many of them, actually, this is just one of them, okay? And, and up to now, she’s at, in, she’s going to her second years at the university. And she recently emailed me just to ask for advice and to share with me where she’s up to many. This is really what I call the reward for teachers. This is how impactful we are. It’s shaping the lives of main students in this country, and of course, in the world. So to me, when I actually reach something like this, it gives me the motivation to go out there every single day. And of course, and to double my efforts to ensure that, you know, 2, 3, 4 years from now, we have people who be doing the same thing no matter what direction they decide to pick in life, whether they’re in finance, whether they actually become lawyers, whether they become anything. The most important is to plant the seed for all these students. You understand that all together, we’re walking towards the better tomorrow, right? This is the essence of this message. Mm.

Sam Demma (30:24):

What a beautiful letter. It’s so cool to see the seed planted, harvest, and see the impact, but I’m sure there’s also been situations where you’ve given your best foot forward, your best effort, and maybe you haven’t heard from a student until 10 years later or 15 years later. And maybe you wonder for a while, did I make a difference in that young person’s life? And even if they don’t, you know, send you a letter like that I think the impact is felt, you know, it’s a blessing to receive it, but sometimes they’re a little shy and they don’t share. Right?

Eric Keunne (30:57):

I agree with you. And that’s totally okay. Right. Because every single person is different, right?

Eric Keunne (31:02):

Yeah. So for me, the most supporting as an educator is to ensure that I do my job, you know, with all my passion and energy, and ensuring that the students in my classroom are safe, That the student in my classroom are able to recognize themselves in the curriculum that I’m using, that the student in my classroom are able to actually identify themself in the material that I’m using. It’s so important that way we are actually helping our students to feel included, but also to feel valued Yes. As individuals. So for me, it’s important to to point that out. Absolutely. Because as you know we’ve had so many instances in our schools where, you know, kids go through so many challenges. And I think our role as educators is also to be able to identify those students who are lacking behind, who are experiencing difficulties, who are actually feeling rejected for one reason or the other. Yeah. And being able to bridge the gap. Right. And I think the Covid 19 pandemic has created also more gaps, right? For, for these students. And it’s important that as educators we’re able to recognize that and identify the resources that are going to help them, that are going to really help to protect and uphold the right and dignity of all the students and families that we actually work with every single day.

Sam Demma (32:34):

I was gonna ask you what you believe some of the challenges are, but you just had some light on them, them. What do you believe are also some of the opportunities? I think as a result of covid 19, we’re spending more time focused on some of these things, whereas in the past, maybe we brush them by without giving them the time, attention, and energy they deserved.

Eric Keunne (32:54):

And I think one thing that I absolutely want to share is that, you know, as educators and, and teachers, it’s, it’s our responsibility. Yeah. Truly. and it, I think it’s really an imperative that, you know, we acknowledge and we embrace our responsibility to, to build, to buildable and inclusive classrooms and school communities. That is so crucial, right? So to me, I, one of the things that I always try to bring forward in, in my mind, and that’s one of my belief, is that, you know, as educators, we, we need to build a community in which every single learner, all the children can succeed. All the children can achieve success. And, and for me, I begin that through my, my enion lens, right? Which really seeks to engage and challenge my colleagues to recognize and disrupt the inequities that have actually impacted historical marginalized students in our, in our society and our schools. And we, we, we, that’s the reason I was talking about the curriculum a while ago. We must think about the curriculum as an instrument tool of learn a learning material through which we can actually infuse some inclusive perspective, Right? This way we can always make sure that the student voices are put forward, right. Especially for those who have been historically marginalized. So it’s important that as educators, we build that solid community in which every single learner can drive and succeed.

Sam Demma (34:29):

Mm. I love it. If you were to somehow snap your fingers and travel back in time to the first year you taught in the classroom, but with the experience and the knowledge that you carry now, what would you have told you younger self in the form of advice when you were just starting? And not that you would share something in the hope that you would change, the path you take, you took, but something that you thought maybe would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation of teaching?

Eric Keunne (35:02):

I, I would certainly tell myself one single thing. Use the classroom opportunity to help the student understand their past and help them to shape the future. Because when I grew up, Sam, as a, as a student in Cameroon, I didn’t learn about the, the history of my own country in classroom. Oh, wow. It’s when I grew up that I learn about the history of colonization in Cameroon that is not taught in classrooms. So for me as a French language teacher, Cameroon, I would’ve loved to start talking about that within the, the classroom context and bringing that into perspective when I’m church, selecting my material. So it’s the same thing that, you know, I try to do today. Helping the students to understand the history of our country, Canada, the impact that, you know, there, residential schools I’ve actually had on you know, our population, our indigenous population, and how together we can actually work, right?

Eric Keunne (36:05):

To ensure that nothing like that ever happens again. Mm. Because if we fail to talk about what happens in the past, our kids will never understand, and it will be so difficult. And 20 years down the road, we will still be here experiencing the same challenges. I’m not saying that we should always dwell in the past and talk about everything in the that, but again, talking the perspective of bringing change, making some significant change for, for the current generation and for the future generation. So for me as a teacher, when I started back in 2005 in Camero, it would’ve been very interesting for me to bring that perspectives in the context of teaching a language like French, because I was so focused on grammar, like grammar and LA zone, because that was the curriculum. Of course. Yeah. But now having that critical lens, I think it’s important that every single language teacher, every single teacher is able to bring forward in all the current reality that we’re experiencing. Actually looking into what happens a few years ago and shipping the path for a better tomorrow for every single student.

Sam Demma (37:15):

I feel so energized. I have so much energy just hearing and, and listening to you speak. I know for a fact that the educators listening feel the same way. If one of them wants to reach out to you, share an idea, ask a question, collaborate on something, what would be the best way for an educator tuning in to reach out and connect?

Eric Keunne (37:36):

I think, the best way to reach, I will be through my Twitter @erickeunne Eric, as you already know, but also they, they can actually email me. My, my school board email is keunne@hdsb.ca, so that you can share with whoever wants to collaborate, because it’s, I believe in the power of collaboration. As educators, we can always come together to do some critical thinking on how, around how we can make things better for every single studen in our classes. And also, I believe in sharing, sharing experiences is what really help us to move forward as a community of learners. Sharing and sharing best practices, sharing some of the resources is what helps us to really bring the world into our classrooms because I usually tell my students one thing, which very crucial in, in a classroom, in the language classrooms particularly, it’s important that we bring the world to our kids.

Eric Keunne (38:37):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> because if our students don’t have the opportunity to travel, just like I did back in, in a few years ago, as a language teachers, through the resources that we are using, we can actually help the students to travel, to travel without taking a flight. Yeah. To camon. We can bring in novels from Kaon, we can bring in novels from every single country around the world and be able to discuss that in a unique way. And that will help the student have a broader perspective around the world. And of course, provide them with the tools to be able to navigate after high school and traveling around the world to become that global citizen ambassador that we want our students to become.

Sam Demma (39:21):

You. I was about to end and then you sparked my interest in another area. So I’m gonna ask you one final question before we wrap up. You mentioned the importance of bringing the world into the classroom in the form of resources. And I’m curious to know, are there anything, are there any resources that you personally have brought into the classroom or your classroom spaces that you felt have helped bring the world into your classroom or help students see themselves in the curriculum? Are there any things that come to mind or things that you’ve used in the past that you think other educators might benefit from looking into?

Eric Keunne (39:55):

Absolutely. in terms of language teaching, you can always bring so many resources in your classroom. So what I’ve done in the past when I started teaching in Ontario is really to broaden the horizon by actually selecting and identify different resources from different countries around Lahan, Kaho around French countries in the world, right? And helping the kids to understand how language and culture are so intertwined, are so related, right? And helping them to understand, of course, the vq the experience vq of this, of people population in these different countries. One of the things that I’ve also done, I’m so connected to, I, I love communication by the way, and, and I always try to bring into my classes the opportunity for students to learn through news report from different countries over the world. So I, I bring the news reports so that we can listen to the news and talk about and be able to learn about experiences that are happening around, and of course in French, because we have so many varieties of French, so beautiful varieties of French that needs to be put forward when it comes to teaching and learning French, a language like French.

Eric Keunne (41:07):

Also, I had a few years ago the opportunity to take the students from my French club, a French club that I started at the college high school. So one of the French community radios in Toronto, Shock fm, where we had a debate. And it was a unique opportunity for my students to be able to do the learning outside of the classroom in a different setting, in a different context in the media, right? And I think that’s something that we failed to always think about. It’s learning is not just within the classroom context. The resources could be outside the classroom. And one, most importantly it’s also thinking about some resource people that you can always invite into your classrooms to talk about things that are crucial key to the students development. So thinking about who you can bring in your classroom or where you can take your students to so that they can learn from. It’s so important. So beyond the textbook, beyond the material that if you be using, it’s important that you brought in the horizon for the students so that they can actually, at the end of the day, have a rich experience. And I promise you, if you do that, every single student will be so pleased to come to school every single day and be able to be in your classroom and be so engaged. And that’s the essence of our job, right?

Sam Demma (42:23):

It’s so clear you’re doing work that you are meant to be doing every, Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. It means the world to me, and I know everyone tuning in is gonna feel energized and motivated after listening to our conversation. I can’t wait to continue to witness the things that you do and the impact you have. Keep doing the amazing work. And I, I look forward to staying in touch

Eric Keunne (42:50):

That I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you in French. Cuz like I said it’s my first language, official first language. Don wish you all the best as well, and I’m looking forward to to listening to more podcasts from you.

Sam Demma (43:07):

Awesome. Thank you so much. Talk soon.

Eric Keunne (43:10):

My pleasure.

Sam Demma (43:11):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find a 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 Jesse Macdonald

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. Quintin Shepherd – Superintendent of the Victoria Independent School District and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria

Dr. Quintin Shepherd - Superintendent of the Victoria Independent School District and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria
About Dr. Quintin Shepherd

Dr. Shepherd (@QShepherd) is in his fourth year as Superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District. When he came to Victoria, his first priority was to listen to the voice of the community, parents, staff, and students.

From that, he invited those stakeholders to be a part of shaping the future of the District. Members of those groups have been, and continue to, work collaboratively with District leadership to make recommendations as we build that future to meet the current and future needs of Victoria students and the community.

Dr. Shepherd also serves as Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria. Recently, Dr. Shepherd published the popular “The Secret to Transformational Leadership.”

Connect with Quintin: Email | LinkedIn | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Victoria Independent School District

University of Houston

The Secret to Transformational Leadership Book

P-Tech Schools

Advanced Placement

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 the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. The High Performing Educator was created to provide you with opportunities for personal development directly from your colleagues and peers. Each episode is like sitting face to face with a colleague in education at an amazing conference and chatting about their best practices, their learnings, their philosophies, and the mindset shifts that allow them to be successful in education today. If you enjoy these episodes that air Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each week, please consider leaving a rating on the show on iTunes, so more educators can find it. And if you would like to receive emails that include inspiring videos for your students and actionable ideas for yourself and your staff, please visit www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up, join the network, and I will see you on the other side of this conversation. Welcome back to the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Quintin Shepherd.. Dr. Shepherd is in his fourth year as superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District. When he came to Victoria, his first priority was to listen to the voice of the community, parents, staff, and students. From that, he invited those stakeholders to be part of shaping the future of the district, which you’ll hear all about in today’s interview. Members of those groups have been and continue to work collaboratively with district leadership to make recommendations as we begin building that future to meet the current and future needs of Victoria students and the community. Dr. Shepherd also serves as adjunct faculty at University of Houston, Victoria. And recently, Dr. Shepherd published the popular book, the secret to transformational leadership, which we will talk a lot about today. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Shepherd and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Dr. Quintin Shepherd from San Antonio, Texas,. Quintin, please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (02:12):

<Laugh> my name is Quintin Shepherd. I’m currently in San Antonio by I, I, I reside in Victoria, which is a few hours east of here, southeast of here. I’ve been a superintendent for 18 years in three different states. Prior to that, I was a high school principal. Before that I was an elementary principal and, and what seems like almost a lifetime ago, I got to teach pre-K through 12th grade music every day, and it was awesome. Seeing the three year olds all the way up through the 18 year olds. I guess the other thing that’s that’s relevant is in my spare time, I, I teach at the University and I get to teach ed leadership for folks who are aspiring to be principals or, or superintendents and I also get to teach school law.

Sam Demma (02:53):

When did you realize growing up as a youngster, that education was gonna be the pathway you would take in the future?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (03:01):

One of my, one of my favorite sayings of all time is that little boys grow up to do what their mothers want them to do, but they do it in a way that their fathers would’ve done it <laugh>, which I think is like appropriate for a lot of men that I know. My mom was a school teacher. My grandfather actually her, her, her dad, he had an eighth grade education and lived on a farm, a working farm, and he was a school custodian. So he would get up at four o’clock in the morning and do chores, and then he’d go off and be a school custodian all day and then come home in the evening and do chores. And so I guess education is sort of in my blood. And like I said, my mom was a teacher taught kindergarten for a number of years, almost her entire career.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (03:42):

And I sort of resisted the call into education, but I think it was a foregone conclusion that I was gonna get into education. And shortly after I started as a teacher, I came to realize that there’s really only two groups of people who work in schools. There are those who teach, and there are those who support teachers. And I was a pretty good teacher. I think I was a pretty good teacher, but I wasn’t my mom, like my mom was an amazing teacher. She was one of these walk on water teachers. And I recognized that my calling and education was to be the number one chief supporter of teachers, and to try to make their job as easy as possible, try to keep the, you know, the, the politics away from the classroom and the, and, you know, do what I could to support, support what needs to happen in the classroom. And that’s where I found my calling.

Sam Demma (04:29):

You realize education is gonna be your pathway. What did the journey look like from that moment forward?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (04:37):

It was when you’re first outta college, it’s you know, you, you’re, you’re trying to sort out what direction is, is, is your life gonna take? And at the time applied for just about every job you could, you could imagine. And I landed in a small country school in rural Illinois, and it was, it was from there it’s, it’s a matter of one foot in front of the other, every step along the way. It’s, it’s recognizing that, you know, you, you have this dream and you have this vision and you want things to go a certain way, but sometimes life doesn’t see it that way. And sometimes life throws the opportunities that you didn’t see coming curve balls, for instance. And so you, you take a swing at every one of those and you miss some, you miss a lot of them, but then some of them you hit and it’s, it’s things like that.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (05:19):

That’s, that’s how I ended up at Victoria, Texas. Quite frankly, I was a superintendent in Illinois for a number of years. And then I moved to Iowa and, you know, things were going along splendidly and, and this opportunity came up to come down and meet the school board in Victoria, Texas. And you swing it, you swing at the pictures that are thrown at you. And it, it was the best move I could have possibly made. I’m doing some of the best work of my life and, and, and really feeling great about, you know, the work that’s happening.

Sam Demma (05:47):

Tell, tell us a little bit about why you’re in San Antonio, Texas right now. I know we talked about it before the podcast started, but what’s going on?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (05:55):

Yeah, so summer for for school administrators, a and for school board members, we try to focus on some pretty deep learning. So right now what’s going on in San Antonio is a statewide Texas conference for school board members. It’s designed for school board members, TAs V, Texas association of school boards. And it’s called the summer summer leadership Institute. And so school board members from all over the state of Texas come together for this conference and do some pretty intense learning for, for three days, which seems kind of unremarkable because educators do it all the time. Right. But you have to remember, these are volunteers. Yeah. These are people who have real jobs that pay real money, that they need to support their families. And they choose to come here for three days during the summer to keep up their learning. And that’s just a Testament to, you know, how, how committed they are to making sure that we have great public schools. And I just, so, so for a superintendent to be here and support their board, it’s just, it’s, it’s an awesome experience.

Sam Demma (06:49):

You mentioned that you realized shortly into your journey in education, that leadership was going to be your calling, or should I say supporting teachers and being the chief supporting officer <laugh>. I love that phrase. Yeah. When you realized that, what transition did you make and what started your deep interest and passion for leadership itself?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (07:13):

So my passion for leadership was, was really just this recognition that pretty, pretty soon after I started as a principal. I mean, when you’re doing the job as a principal, essentially, there’s a couple of things I’m gonna say. The first part is it’s a performance, just like when you first started as a teacher, like the first day in the classroom in front of kids, <laugh>, you’re performing a role in your mind, you know, what a teacher should be doing and what they should look like and how they should dress and so on and so forth. And you’re performing and you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just doing the best you can. And and I recognize that the same is true for principles that when you start as a principal, there’s no, you’re, you’re playing by the rules as they’re handed to you.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (07:54):

Right. And so you do what your principal did or what the principal before you did. And that’s how a lot of leadership training takes place is by mimicry. Frankly. And then I, I became a superintendent and same thing, same exact thing. And after a year or two of figuring out how to play the game by the rules, as they’re handed to you, then you come to realize this, the same thing as a teacher, it’s true for a superintendent that maybe these rules aren’t right for me. Mm. Like they’re not the way that I’m supposed to be doing it. And the best way to describe it is, is it was like a suit that didn’t fit. Mm. And so start to change rules a little bit and say, look, we can do this thing differently. And when I started to do that, I, I came up on this, this recognition that I think a lot of how we’re doing public school leadership were just doing it wrong, quite frankly, mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (08:46):

And I couldn’t articulate it any better than that at the time. But I just felt like when I was reaching out to my community or when I was reaching out to my teachers, it just wasn’t working. I didn’t feel like I was connected to them because we’re gonna adopt a new curriculum here. We went out and did all this research. Here’s a curriculum, and we need you to do the summer professional development or training or whatever. And it’s like, it falls flat on its face. And you start to hear that the, you know, district office is disconnected from what’s happening in the classroom. And like all these things that, you know, it’s, it’s happens everywhere in education, and this is fairly, fairly commonplace. And so I started to flip the paradigm on its head as far as how I do leadership. And when I, when I came to recognize that is as a superintendent, there’s only two types of decisions that ever come to my desk. They’re either complicated or they’re complex. Now, if they’re complicated, there’s just one right. Answer. There’s one way to do it. So like a math problem, they’re complicated, right? Disassembling an aircraft engine and putting it back together. That’s complicated. Like, I’m not gonna ask you do that. Right. I’m guessing you, you’re not an aerospace engineer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (09:53):

Complex is inherently unknowable complex. Doesn’t have one right answer. Mm. So what’s the best way to educate kids during a pandemic? Well, that’s a complex question. So what I committed to in my leadership is that anytime I’m faced with a complex issue, I will go to the people who are gonna be most impacted by that decision and give them the greatest voice. Mm. So for instance, with the pandemic, for a pandemic response plan, we went to the teachers first and we said, what would you do? How would you address this problem? And so we had about 700 teachers help us write our pandemic response plan had about 500 kids had over a thousand community members. So imagine this over 2000 people, co-authored this document. And we literally took their language and put it into the document. And then when we represented it to the community, the community’s response isn’t to judge the superintendent on his ability to write a pandemic response plan. Cause I didn’t write it. Yeah. The community says, we wrote this and this is pretty freaking awesome. Let’s get the work. And so really the, the leadership journey for me has been around. That’s how you support teachers, you support teachers by giving ’em a bigger voice in the complex issues that are facing education.

Sam Demma (11:03):

What an awesome way to craft a response plan. I would assume other districts heard about the success and maybe ask, how the heck did you facilitate this? Like, can you give me an, an idea of how long it took to craft that or how quick the turnaround was? And were there any challenges through the process?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (11:23):

It was couple, two or three weeks, at least from start to finish, which seems remarkably fast, but essentially, and we were doing it during the pandemic, which remember that meant that we were having these mega zoom meetings of 5, 6, 700 people at a time. Wow. And when we went to the students, that was crazy. I mean, imagine putting 500 middle school students in one zoom <laugh> and we did crazy, right. I mean, but we, we did it. And part of what we, part of what we did was not just let somebody come off mute that wouldn’t make any sense at all. What we wanted to do was crowdsource good ideas. So we’re, we worked with a company called thought exchange and we pitched the question to our kids and to our teachers. And, and there were lots of different questions, but as an example, what things should we focus on?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (12:06):

So that students have access to technology or what are biggest barriers to technology. And then every single teacher of the 700 who logged on, had a chance to respond. And then they had a chance to read the other 699 teachers. Wow. And what they said, and they could give them stars. So they were like, oh, that’s really, really smart. I didn’t think about that. Or no, that’s kind of dumb. We don’t need you to think about that. And it doesn’t matter because the whole thing’s anonymous. But by doing that then of 700 people who shared over a thousand thoughts, the, the smartest in the room go to the top, the stuff we should most focus on because they got the most stars. So that’s literally crowdsourcing great ideas. And so that was the language say top 15, 20%. That was the language that we then put in the pandemic response plan.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (12:51):

And then when we went to their students, we started with that and said, okay, students, this is what the teachers have said, what are your thoughts and questions about that? And then we crowdsourced that, right. And made the document that much more robust. So it took on like almost this three dimensional that shape. And then when we had done that, since we knew the kids were gonna be probably second most impacted by its decisions, parents would be third, most impacted. So then we went to the parents’ third and said, okay, now we’ve had teachers and students, what are your thoughts and questions? Mm, well then it turned into a whole other conversation about what needs to happen at home to support learning. So Sam, it was just this really interesting, fast and iterative process where we were constantly adapting and evolving in a, in a really rapid cycle. And we do that for any, anything that’s complex, which could be bonds or redistricting or closing schools. I mean, we’ve tackled some things that typically get lots of people fired and communities in an uproar and in our community largely says, Hey, thanks for giving me a voice in the process. This has been awesome.

Sam Demma (13:52):

I’m thinking it would’ve been really nice if I interviewed you two years ago. <Laugh> <laugh> because this, I mean, the cool thing is that this process is something that could be repeated with tons of complex issues. But I know being in Canada, there were so many school districts and superintendents struggling to find a way to create a really great response to the COVID pandemic. And in Canada, it was really bad. Like we, you know, everything shut down and stayed, shut down for a very long time. Students fell behind on learning. You know,

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (14:27):

Well, but even, even now though, I mean, we’re, as we’re coming out of the pandemic, this is still like, we’re doing the exact same thing now. But the new question is what things should we do to post the learning gap for those students who are behind more importantly, like there’s, there’s so many iterations on this. We’re also talking about what sorts of things should we focus on when it comes to student wellbeing and mental health and we were, we’re going directly to the kids. Nice. And so, so I’m, we’re actually kicking off. I’ve been told that we’re kicking off the largest participatory budgeting experiment in the history of the United States. Wow. We set aside 5 million of our Sr funding and we’re, we’re literally gonna go to each of our high schools and say here’s $500,000. And we want it to focus on student mental wellness and mental health.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (15:12):

And 250,000 is carved out for the kids themselves. So we’re basically gonna take this pile of cash to our high school students and say, how would you spend this money in a way that helps us solve the mental health crisis? So like the timing couldn’t even be better to share ideas like this, because I think this idea about mental health or closing achievement gaps or learning gaps, or what students are worried about as they transition into college or on and on and on the number of questions out there is endless. And what, what better time to just tackle them

Sam Demma (15:42):

Tackling tough questions over the past two years sounds like something you’ve done a lot of, and I’m sure it consumes a ton of your time. You also found the time to write a book <laugh> like, tell me, tell me about it, what inspired it? And what’s it all about?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (15:57):

I think the, the book had been on my mind for about a decade, as I said previously, I I’ve just, you know, been doing D leadership differently and, and seeing others, I’m not the only one doing it this way. Yeah. But seeing others do leadership differently, but that we lack maybe a common language around what it is that we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And so I’d been kicking around this idea of, of writing a book for several years, the pandemic just presented itself as a great opportunity to sit down and actually get my thoughts down on paper and or digitally, I guess <laugh> dating myself a bit. But, but essentially I wanted to make it very approachable. Like I tried to make this because if, if you’re steeped in leadership theory, then you can, you can, you know, see transactional versus transformational leadership in this book.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (16:42):

Or you can see technical versus adaptive, the work of Hz and Linsky, or you can see elements of power. I talk about power and Ross’s notion of power and so on, so forth, but that’s all the theory. That’s all the stuff that leaders learn, you know, as they go through university, I wanted to just make this approachable by saying, well, what’s common language. That’s that differentiates complicated versus complex. And it’s interesting because they’re almost two completely different. They’re two completely different languages. And the one that I like to use to explain it is so applicable at the classroom level, but it’s also about the leadership level. Is that a complicated way to look at your classroom is to tell the students, this is what I want from you because it assumes there’s one right answer, right? Mm. Or there’s a way to do this, and this is what I want from you.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (17:27):

And so we tell them, and when you’re in complicated, it’s all about judgment. So this is what I want from you. And if you don’t deliver it for me, I’m gonna judge you and you’re gonna be strong, or you’re gonna be weak, but either way, you’re fragile because it’s always complicated. And that’s how this works. And that’s what I, if a stands up in front of group of students and resists the urge to say, this is what I want want from you. And then they can focus on this is what I want for you. Mm

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (17:54):

Oh. Now that’s a conversation. What I want for you is to have a sense of autonomy. I want for you to have a sense that you’ve mastered the content I want for you, the opportunity to have worked in the best team that you’ve ever worked on to create this project. Well, that’s complex. There’s not one right answer. There’s not one way to do it. And the nice part about that is it resists judgment. I want these things for you. How can we make that happen? And so what I’m asking you to do is to suffer. I’m asking you to share your suffering. Like, I don’t know how to approach this project. I don’t know if I can work with this team. Awesome. So now what we’re doing is we’re in compassionate versus competent, right? And the, and that’s the juxtaposition because compassion, if you break that word down, passion is to suffer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (18:37):

Compassion is to suffer with mm it’s. Empathy plus action. And so I, I try to create the language that says, look, you get whatever you’re asking for. Based on the language you use and too many leaders stand up and they use complicated language when they’re actually trying to do transformative and complex work. And as a result of that, the community has been trained to recognize complicated language to mean, oh, you want us to judge you <laugh> oh, so you wrote your pandemic response plan. Well, I think it sucks. I went to Google and this is like some other school district that did something. And so I’m like, well, use the right language, use the right language.

Sam Demma (19:10):

How long did it take to crystallize the ideas and get the book on paper? What was the start to finish process like?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (19:18):

It was just about a year start to finish. It was, I had taken a couple of false starts before, and then I met Sarah who helped me with the book, pulling it together and doing some of the vignettes. And what have you, Sarah Williamson. And she just helped me put together a structure. What I really needed is as I, as I shared sort of my background as a superintendent and I’m teaching university and so on and so forth, I, I, I stay sort of busy, I think is the word for it. And she, she helped me set up a timeline to say, no, you’re gonna sit down. You’re gonna, you’re gonna write, and you’re gonna turn these in. And these you deadlines and so and so forth. And so having an accountability partner really helped me. And I think the other thing that helped me, and this was a, this was a light bulb moment for me, I’ve, you know, over 40 years old and have had a pretty successful life, but just had this amazing light, light bulb moment that will transform every decision in every goal that I make for the rest of my life, which is the recognition that all of us have been taught to set goals.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (20:12):

Right. And so we try to create these goal habits, but the truth is that most of us truthfully fail at most of our goals. Like I would say the failure rate is probably close to 90, 95%. And it makes sense because we’ve designed our entire lives around the life that we’re living right now this very second. And if you set a goal that’s outside of that life, that you’re living a hundred percent of your life is working against that goal. Right? And so you’re, you’re destined to fail when you have goal based habits. And if on my goal based habit was to write, I was probably gonna fail. And then if you flip that goal based habit with something that’s completely different. So I’m gonna take a quick aside to prove a point here. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, I’m guessing that every day when you wake up, you brush your teeth.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (20:59):

I do. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the road. It doesn’t matter if you go visit your parents’ house, it doesn’t matter if you’re visiting a friend. It doesn’t matter if you’re home, you brush your teeth every day, right? You take a shower every day. Mm. And this is not a goal based habit. This is an identity based habit. Like, I don’t wanna have the identity of someone who has a bad breath or who stinks, right? Yeah. So I have an identity based habit. And the aha for me was, oh, no, no, no. I want to set my identity as someone who is a writer. So what does a writer do? Oh, well, a writer would get up every morning and they would write because they’re a writer and they would set aside a place in their house where they’re gonna do their writing and they’re gonna do this.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (21:38):

And all of a sudden these identity based habits. And then I never had to create a goal. I never had to carve out space. I never had to make the effort because I was living the identity of being a writer. And it, it kind of just took care of itself. And so like now I’m like, why have we not talked about this for fitness or health or nutrition or yeah. Getting a doctorate or just about anything goal or even teaching. If we try to have students have goal based behaviors to study versus identity based behaviors of, I am a scholar and a learner,

Sam Demma (22:07):

It sounds like you identify as a reader as well. I first learned about identity based goal setting in James Clear’s book, atomic habits. Yeah. It really resonated with me and changed the way that I think about things. I actually use a similar analogy. When I talk about brushing your teeth as a way to prove that we are never too busy when someone gives me the objection that I’m sorry, I can’t take this or do this. It’s because I’m too busy. What I actually start to understand is that even if I have the most busy day of my life, I still brush my teeth before I go to bed one, because it’s a part of my identity, but two, because it’s something that I prioritize right. It’s a priority. So if someone tells me they’re too busy, it just means that the thing that I’m asking them for is not of the similar priority as a task they’re already doing, or even more priority that they would switch their schedule for it.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (22:58):

That’s, that’s a very polite way of saying it. I think a little bit more harshly, they would say it is when somebody says I don’t have time valuable is I don’t care <laugh>

Sam Demma (23:09):

Yeah. Just of no value to me. <Laugh> that’s right.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:12):

That’s

Sam Demma (23:12):

Right. So am I correct in assuming that you like reading and like constant learning?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:20):

Yeah. I’m a, I’m a fairly voracious reader. I work with an executive coach and I, I didn’t realize this, but she had been in our conversations over the course of this past year. Just every time I referenced the book, kinda kicking it off or so, and I I’ve come to the I’ve come to the assumption that I read between 40 and 60 books a year on average. So yeah, pretty, pretty avid reader.

Sam Demma (23:39):

What are some of the resources that, of course your own book is gonna be a, an amazing one and teachers should consider picking it up, which books have you consumed or resources in general that have helped you develop yourself, turn into the leader you are today that you think other educators would benefit from consuming.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:57):

So for me on my leadership journey, lots of leadership biography, I take, I take great inspiration from leadership biography. So I read a lot of leadership biography. I also read a great deal of innovation work on innovation, anybody who’s writing about adaptive innovation and creativity, but specifically I stay away from education. Believe it or not, because I think that we, I think we understand creativity or entrepreneurship or innovation, but we have a, a somewhat slanted view of it. I think there’s a much better view view of innovation and creativity that comes from the business world. So I’m always kind of scouring for what’s out there in the business world, in that area. And I’ve learned a ton and I brought to, to education specifically in our space as we, when I got to Victoria, we didn’t have a department of innovation. We now have a department of innovation with the whole we’ve written, you know, approximately 15 million in grant funding every year. Wow. Just from the department of innovation alone. And it’s transformed the way we, you know, work with some of our schools, but virtually everything I learned about innovation, I learned outside of education and just applied to education.

Sam Demma (25:02):

Very cool. Speaking of innovation, creativity moving forward, what are some of the things you are working on right now with your school board school districts, superintendents that you’re excited about in the coming years or next next fall?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (25:20):

So, so I think that some of the stuff that I’m working on is obviously getting the message of this book out. Like, and that’s actually, I’m focused on that and getting this message out there because I think I have something that people can understand and I love to do it in medium size groups or even large group formats. Where, where we create, I create this space called house of genius. And I just, it rather than tell people about it, we actually do it like whatever group I happen to be in front of. We just solve a massively complex issue for that group right there in the room, and then we solve it and we go through it and it only takes, you know, 40, 45 minutes, depending on what we’re talking about. And then I back away from that and I talk through, well, this is how we did it.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (25:58):

This was the language. And this was the framework, and this is all the stuff from the book, but you just experienced it. You just lived it and you can live it, you know, any way you want to. So that’s, that’s kind of fun. And I’m excited about doing that in, in our district. We’ve launched a number of pathways. So for instance, our kids essentially we’re transforming the, the simple way of talking about it is that we’re trying to walk away from this notion of elementary, middle, and high school. Now let’s still have elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Everybody’s gonna have elementary, middle, and high school. That’s not gonna change because that’s the way education works. But let’s just talk about what elementary school really should be right now. Elementary school. If you think about it is all about exposure. Mm.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (26:38):

Exposing kids to different learning pathways, different learning styles, different interests, trying to find their genius all about exposing, exposing, exposing, and then middle school. Once kids start to figure out what they’re good at and what they like and how they like to learn you move from exposure to experience that’s middle school. So how do you experience things like internships or job shadows, or how do you experience a, a profession or a unique way of learning? We, we just launched one of our stem middle schools just this last year. So we have a stem based middle school. That’s open enrollment for any kid that wants to go there. We have a project based learning school as well, but it’s all about exposure experience and then rethinking high school as pursuit. So pursuit means like I know I’m college or university bound, so this is the courses I need to take and so on and so forth.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (27:23):

So for our district, but that means more kids taking AP than ever in the history of the district. And the scores are higher, more kids taking dual credit than ever in the history of the district than their scores are higher. But we also have more kids doing CTE coursework, cuz they want to go right into the world of work. Nice. And so we’re trying to create pursuit opportunities and we’ve launched several Ptech high schools so that kids can their associates degree as, as they, as they move forward on their launch, which is pretty cool. And we’re all about this one simple, simple, simple concept, and that’s the concept of the, and the Amper sign, right? And so when you think about the Amper sand and it’s become a sign for our district, we even have it on shirts and stuff, all kinds of stuff. But essentially our goal is that every student finds their and which is a way of saying, we want you to find your genius, right? And we also want to guarantee that every single student who walks across the graduation stage has a high school diploma and university acceptance letter, military recruitment letter, or industry certification. So that on Monday morning they have work, they have work waiting for him. And we’re just over 92% right now of our high school, graduating seniors who graduate with their aunt. I’m not gonna quit until a hundred percent. I’m not gonna quit until I can guarantee parents a hundred percent successful launch rate.

Sam Demma (28:36):

Wow. That’s awesome. How many students are there in the district or the, I guess the area in total?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (28:41):

Just under 14,000.

Sam Demma (28:43):

Wow. That’s a, that’s a success story in itself. Yeah, on a large scale, it seems like the programs, ideas that are being implemented are having massive success. I want to talk about for just a moment a story of how something someone did in a school, maybe yourself or someone, you know, had a serious impact on one individual. And the reason I know sometimes it’s hard to remember these stories, but there’s probably hundreds on them. Oh, I’ve got one. Yeah. the reason I ask you to share it is because when teachers are feeling burnt out, sometimes it’s because they’ve forgotten why they even started this work in the first place. And I think stories of genuine impact relight that fire and helped them remember why they got into this profession anyway. So please feel free to share. You can change your name if it’s a serious story. Just for privacy.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (29:31):

I love, I love the story. It gives me cause sometimes when I tell it I get goosebumps and sometimes when I tell I can’t help, but cry. So in the, in the, at the start of this last school year, one of our middle schools was invested with mold and we didn’t have an extra facility. So we had to pull every one of our middle schools out of this kids out of this campus. And we needed to put ’em somewhere. And the only facility that we had available was all our alternative high school, which is a smaller, much smaller campus, but we just had to have a place to put the kids, but that displaced the alternative high school. So alternative high school, these are kids who are in credit recovery. These are kids who are disciplined placement. So they’re, they’re essentially on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (30:10):

Mm. These are students who failed out of traditional high school. They have very little credits or no credits and they’re in a dropout track and we’re just trying to get ’em to the graduation stage. And so we, we went to our, some of our community partners and we said, look, what if we could give these kids the golden ticket of a lifetime and a fresh start? Hmm. And if we can help these kids in a way that we’ve never helped them before, by giving them unprecedented levels of support, giving every one of them, an academic and life success coach. And could we put 120 of these students on the community college campus? Can we rent rooms from you? And so the community college president said, sure, this is interesting. I’m, I’m, I’m up for this so that they’re going to community college. Now these are kids on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (30:56):

These are, these are kids who failed out of traditional high school with zero credits. And so then our next wonder question, cuz I love wonder questions is I wonder what would happen if we help these kids apply for college? And I wonder what would happen if we gave ’em a success coach and you know what, I wonder what would happen if we we went ahead and enrolled them in a class just to see what happens. And so we we were very slow and deliberate and thoughtful and all the great things to happen. But outta the hundred 20 students who were on that dropout track 120 of them, a hundred percent successfully enrolled in college and passed their first collegiate course. Wow. And they’re all gonna graduate high school and they’re all college bound, 100% of kids who were on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (31:40):

And so we got to take them to a school board thing in February, which for the entire state of Texas. And so we took seven of the kids from that group to give a presentation. And there was one gal who stood up in front of that group. And she said, when I was a sophomore, I had a baby out of wedlock. So I was a single mother and I had approximately zero credits in high school. And she said, and I am now a college student. Wow. That’s amazing. Our success rate with our kids is so great. This is a, a great statistic. I’ll leave you with a statistic and it’s connected to dropouts, but it’s with homeless students. So we have hundreds of homeless students in Victoria Texas. And if you happen to be a homeless student and unhoused student in Victoria and you go to our schools, your chances of graduating high school are actually better than if you went to any school, anywhere else in the entire state of Texas, our homeless, our homeless student graduation rate is higher than the average for the state of Texas.

Sam Demma (32:42):

Wow. I I’m wondering, you mentioned success. Coaches who are the people that would be paired up with a student in that program to help them apply for college and you know, pass.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (32:54):

So we actually went to the community college counselor structure. So they, they already have academic coaches and support and so on and so forth. You know how community college works. Like there’s all this support structure in place. Yeah. Yeah. We’re like, let’s fold that over to the high school and pull kids up rather than push them.

Sam Demma (33:10):

Cool.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:12):

It worked like, who knew, we didn’t know it was gonna work, but that’s what innovation’s all about. Like try crazy stuff. And so we tried it and it worked,

Sam Demma (33:20):

It sounds like innovations in your experience. Start with the, I wonder questions. Is that something you explore a lot?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:27):

Yeah. We talk about it all the time. It’s either I wonder. Or what if those are the two best sentence starters.

Sam Demma (33:32):

Lovely, cool, cool. Well, we’re getting close to the end of the podcast here. This has been a phenomenal conversation because we’re close to game seven and the NBA finals. I wanted to play some throwback music. <Laugh> what we’re about to do is do a quick five rapid questions. Are you ready?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:56):

I’m ready?

Sam Demma (33:58):

Question number one. <Laugh> question number one is what is the best advice you’ve ever personally received?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:07):

Oh, wow. Best advice. Yeah. It’s it’s so cliche never give up,

Sam Demma (34:12):

Love it. What is the I’m putting you on the spot here? What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:20):

Worst. <Laugh> the worst advice I forgot was go to medical school. <Laugh>

Sam Demma (34:25):

<Laugh> Hey, you have to, you have to know your path, right?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:28):

That’s right.

Sam Demma (34:29):

<Laugh> I like that. If you could have everyone on the planet have to follow this one rule the way they live their life, what would the one rule be that everyone would have to follow? Non-Negotiable

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:45):

Start with vulnerability.

Sam Demma (34:47):

Mm, love it. If you could travel back in time and speak to Quentin, when he was just starting in education, what would you have told your younger self that you thought would’ve been helpful?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:01):

Don’t don’t lose hope.

Sam Demma (35:04):

Final question. If someone wants to buy your book, reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:11):

So they can buy the book through amazon. Easily found, it’s the secret for secret to transformational leadership, or they can go to our website; compassionate leadership. And I’m sure you can put that in the, in the talking notes for sure. Yep. That’s and that’s the best way to reach out to us.

Sam Demma (35:27):

Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast today. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you and meet you. I don’t think this will be our last conversation. Keep doing amazing work and have an amazing summer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:40):

Thank you, sir. Great to talk with you. Thanks Sam.

Sam Demma (35:43):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Quintin Shepherd

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

Reg Lavergne – Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation and Adolescent Learning and Student Success at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Reg Lavergne - Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation and Adolescent Learning and Student Success at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
About Reg Lavergne

Reg Lavergne (@RegLavergne) is the Superintendent of Instruction for Southeast schools and for the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS). Reg supports innovative and alternative approaches to Student Success and Adolescent Learning within this role.

For 23 years, Reg has served students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in rural, urban, large, small, adaptive, and community schools as a teacher, department head, Vice-Principal and Principal. He has also served as the System Principal of Student Success and Innovation and Adolescent Learning.

Currently, Reg is working on an Educational Doctorate degree focused on increasing student voice and identity in student learning experiences. He is also designing and implementing the Authentic Student Learning Experience framework to embed student voice and is working with SSTs to build a model for Student Success for students in grades 7 and 8, and grades 9-12.

At the OCDSB, Reg has greatly enjoyed working with teachers to build and implement learning models and approaches that help students see their own genius.

Connect with Reg: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS)

OCDSB

Hero on a Mission by Donald Miller

Russ Interview by Jay Shetty

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.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Reg Lavergne. Reg Lavergne is the Superintendent of Instruction for Southeast schools and for the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS). Reg supports innovative and alternative approaches to Student Success and Adolescent Learning within this role. For 23 years, Reg has served students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in rural, urban, large, small, adaptive, and community schools as a teacher, department head, Vice-Principal and Principal. He has also served as the System Principal of Student Success and Innovation and Adolescent Learning. Currently, Reg is working on an Educational Doctorate degree focused on increasing student voice and identity in student learning experiences. He is also designing and implementing the Authentic Student Learning Experience framework to embed student voice and is working with SSTs to build a model for Student Success for students in grades 7 and 8, and grades 9-12. At the OCDSB, Reg has greatly enjoyed working with teachers to build and implement learning models and approaches that help students see their own genius. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Reg, and I will see you on the other side. Reg, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Reg Lavergne (02:21):
It’s fantastic to be here and I really appreciate you reaching out to me. So my name is Reg Lavergne. I’m a superintendent of instruction with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board which is a public school board in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I support a number of schools, but I also support the innovation and adolescent learning department and the student success programming across our district.


Sam Demma (02:44):
At what point in your own career journey did you determine that education was the field you wanted to pursue and work in?


Reg Lavergne (02:53):
Okay, so this might sound sad. I always wanted to be a teacher. My mother tell you if she was here right now, that when I was a very small boy and people said, what do you wanna do when you grow up? I said, I was gonna be a teacher. And I always did say that that I was gonna be a teacher. I, so that, that truly has been, was always, and still is my main goal. I like working in education. I like working with, with kids. I like helping and working with adults who are working with kids. And I have always naturally gravitated towards kids for whom the system didn’t necessarily work as well as we might like it to. So I’ve always gravitated towards, it’s not working. Why is that? What can we do differently?


Sam Demma (03:42):
That’s awesome. Tell me about the journey from five year old reg that always told his parents and everyone in his life that he wanted to be a teacher to reg today. Like what were the different positions and roles you worked in? Where did you start and what brought you to where you are today?


Reg Lavergne (04:01):
So I, I, I, I think I’d have to say that my, my journey hasn’t been exactly linear. Although I I’ve always been connected to education, so I was in school and then I’ve worked in, in schools and, and in education, my entire career. I actually when I was in school I was very fortunate. School worked for me. I really enjoyed school. I got a lot out of it. I actually went to university and I, my first degree was in music. So I was a music teacher first and I loved that. I got to work with kids in a very different environment to help them celebrate strengths that they didn’t know they had in a way that many people weren’t looking for and, and to help them see how they can contribute in ways that to be perfectly Frank society doesn’t always put on the forefront.


Reg Lavergne (05:00):
So when I was watching kids, we would often work with I, I was a high school teacher for the most part. I actually started working in a private elementary school. And then I got hired with public board, the secondary level, and I was working as a music teacher and we would go to the local elementary schools and I would watch kids who didn’t always have the easiest paths and had lots of different things. They were working through flourish when they were working with younger children and helping them, helping them grow and helping them overcome challenges that they were working with. And I really, really loved that. And from there I became a vice principal. I, I I worked actually, I should take a step back when I was in taking my my degree, my education degree. I sought where, where I, where I could sort of put my voice in what type of placement I, I was asking for.


Reg Lavergne (05:57):
I worked with children who were suspended or expelled from their schools or districts and, and helped their, their learning. I also volunteered in a program that was designed for kids who’d been suspended so that they didn’t stay at home all day. They came, we helped them with their schooling, but we also helped them with why they were suspended and how can we not get there again? I became a music teacher after that. When I became a vice principal, my first school was working with the student was in an adaptive school. So was working for students who had lots of different types of challenges social as well as cognitive, as well as physical and I, and I worked with with them. And then when I became a principal, I worked in an inner city and a rural school.


Reg Lavergne (06:43):
But I brought a, a very strong student success link to that, to those discussions, to those schools, those situations when a student was struggling, stopping and saying, why are they struggling? What can we do differently for them asking them to do the same thing multiple times when they’ve struggled on it on the first time, probably isn’t going to make them feel better about themselves. They may learn the skill, but they’re not going to feel better about themselves as they go through that. So how do we also take into account their thinking their their feelings about themselves? Do they think that they’re a capable learner? Do they think they’re smart? How can we make sure they do see that way? And how can we make sure that they do see that there are lots of options available to them and how can we help them get there?


Sam Demma (07:25):
Mm. I love that. And they’ve gone continue,


Reg Lavergne (07:31):
Sorry. No, I, I may have gone a little off topic there, but, but that was where sort of my thinking went. And actually one part I, I actually then started I moved out of working in a school and I was working centrally. I was assistant principal for four years of student success and adolescent learning. And I supported, I think it was 96 schools in our district on school student success programming and, and looking at, at options and opportunities for students outside of the, the, the norm outside of the traditional box that we might work in.


Sam Demma (08:04):
You mentioned that you had the opportunity to see students flourish in a different environment to uncover strengths, that they didn’t even know that sometimes they had. Can you share an example of what you mean by uncovering strengths? They didn’t even know they had, because I think that’s a beautiful thing to help a young person or a student realize,


Reg Lavergne (08:26):
Mm-Hmm, , there are so many I have a couple from my past, that’ll be more general. And then I can speak to one specifically that I’m thinking about from last year. Mm. So Stu students who that I was working with, who may not have had clarity on their strengths. I spoke very vaguely to say that they may not have thought they were very good at very much. And I remember, again, I was in a high school going to local elementary schools and intentionally partnering students up with, with younger children who needed help in different things. If it was music, they may have needed help playing their instrument or setting their instrument up or trying a new instrument or working through something that they were working on, but they were struggling and giving. I, I I’m, I’m seeing several in my mind right now, and I’m years giving, providing the opportunity for them to step up, to be a leader, to show their strengths to help someone else.


Reg Lavergne (09:36):
And I think that brought in the idea of contribution, right? As soon as you can bring in the idea where a person feels like they’re contributing in some way, they feel valued, they feel valuable, they feel important. They know that they have strengths that they can bring. And I would watch these teenagers working with these younger students and suddenly see them light up as the younger student achieved, what they were working on. And I could see that the, the older student realized, wait a second. I helped them do that. Right. I was able to, to share with them some of what I know, some of the skills I have, I was able to motivate them and make them feel that they can do this. They knew it was possible. And suddenly they did that. And I would watch the kids light up. And to me, I don’t think I have the words to describe how I felt on the inside, nor how the kids felt as they were going through that.


Reg Lavergne (10:32):
Because then all of a sudden, as we’re heading back to, to the main high school, I’m watching the excitement in this young person’s eyes, I’m hearing them talk about what they did and, and how they helped the other student. I’m hearing them talk about the other student’s achievement. Like it really wasn’t all about one person. It was about the different pieces. And I remember watching kids suddenly be willing to try more and to do more back in the classroom after that, because they sudden they saw that they had a strength that they, they could contribute. They could help someone else. And we’ve seen that in a program that we actually started last year in our district, it’s, it’s a, a ministry supported provincial program. So we did not design the entire program. We did design what it looks like for our district.


Reg Lavergne (11:25):
And we started a program with one teacher. And she started reaching out to students who had dropped out of high school without graduating and talked to them about a different approach and a different type of program. And it it’s called a SW program. So that school within a college, like I said, it’s a, it’s a provincial program in Ontario. It is situated to support students who are at risk of not graduating high school and connect them to pathway options. We took a, a slightly different approach to it. In terms of, of, again, reaching out to kids who were at risk of not graduating and finding out what are you doing right now? How can we connect that to your formal learning? So basically we were, we, we did. And when I say we, I mean, the lead teacher who is the most brilliant educator you have ever met she connected with kids who, who were not at school and started talking with them just to find out more about them.


Reg Lavergne (12:21):
What are your interests? What do you like to do? What do you do outside of school? You know, when you do that, that’s actually this part of the English curriculum. And it’s this part of that math curriculum. And at this part of the history curriculum, and she was able to, to show the students who, the structure that we developed together, that they were smart. They had talent, they had strengths. It may not manifest itself in a way that we would normally capture it in a school, but they were demonstrating learning in, in in, within their life. And she was, she was able to engage with them to, they came back to work with us. Now, this was in remote last year. So they actually did not return to a traditional school, but they did engage in some traditional school structures and different things.


Reg Lavergne (13:10):
They were engaged in outside the school. The teacher captured because they captured this demonstration of their learning. They had learned, they had developed a ton of skills, maybe not sitting in the classroom at 9:00 AM on Monday, but maybe at different times. And they were able to demonstrate that learning. And she worked with, with students capturing evidence of their learning. So she did not create lessons for them every day, the students from their interests and then where they wanted to go. So meeting their pathway goals developed learning experiences. And as they were doing that and demonstrating different learnings, the teacher was, was connecting that to different curricular expectations. And the students were accelerating the, the credits that they were earning. And at the end of June last year, 22 students graduated from high school. And I believe 18 of them are in college right now. These students had dropped outta previous.


Sam Demma (14:05):
Wow. That’s such a cool story.


Reg Lavergne (14:08):
Oh, get goosebumps. When I think of that story all the time, that teacher and that program approach changed those kids,


Sam Demma (14:20):
It’s a case study of how to deal with students of whom school is not working. Right. Like you mentioned earlier, sometimes school doesn’t work for everybody. Well, I think the question that came in my mind was like, how do we help those students who school is not working for? And it sounds like this program like fills that void. Is it continuing this year in person? Or like, tell, like, tell me a little bit more about it.


Reg Lavergne (14:45):
Yeah. We expanded it three teachers this year. And the program is full again. They’ve reached out to different groups of students and they’ve intentionally reached out to students that might not reach out to us to make sure that they are aware of those pieces and that, that, that there is an opportunity. And sometimes they situated from why not give a shot, try it out. If it doesn’t work, you don’t have to stay, right. We’re not, we’re not holding you here, but if it does work, this could be changing for you. And, and something, you said it, it made me, it made me think of something else that the, the teacher engaged with as well. In that program, we’re not saying that traditional learning structures are not engaged, right. They’re not out the door, they’re still there. Yeah. But they’re engaged differently as the student needs it.


Reg Lavergne (15:34):
And I remember talking with the teacher again, brilliant educator. And she was telling me this story about a student who had struggled in school for many, many years, obviously had dropped out of high school, was back into this program. And they needed a very solid, theoretical understanding of mathematics for the program they wanted to go into at the college the next year. And so the teacher engaged in some more traditional learning so that they could understand the theoretical underpinnings of the mathematical concept they needed to go in. The difference was the student knew why they needed it.


Sam Demma (16:11):
Mm.


Reg Lavergne (16:12):
And it was connected to their goal. It was connected to their pathway. It was connected to their passion. So they were, they were there, they were into it. They were working on it. I don’t believe six months earlier, the student would’ve engaged to the same degree, but because of the approach that that program provided and that educator provided for the student, they saw meaning and purpose for their learning as they had never seen it before. So that theoretical piece that possibly, and I, I, I can’t guarantee these pieces, but possibly before they may have thought, I don’t want that. I don’t care about that. Like, I’m not doing that. They knew it was important. It was important to them. It was part of their pathway goal. So they were totally engaged and worked very diligently with the teacher to learn in that way. So it is a balance of sort of a authentic in school and outta school experiences with some very traditional, theoretical learning opportunities as well.


Sam Demma (17:07):
There’s a really phenomenal new book called hero on a mission by an author named Donald Miller. And in the book, he talks about the importance of setting goals in the context of stories. Like he believes that the reason why most people don’t bring their goals to life is because the goal isn’t actually baked into a story about how their life could change or what it is they’re working on. And when you mentioned that student who didn’t understand why they needed this, all of a sudden realizing that it’s a key component of bringing their future goal to realization it just, it like compels you to, to do it and take action because no longer is it just a math class, it’s a stepping stone in your goal or your future, you know, story. Which I think is a really cool realization. And that’s what came to mind when you were explaining that, what do you do you, what’s the teacher’s name that runs this program? Does she also does she also teach like a grade or is she solely dedicated to running and organizing this, this program?


Reg Lavergne (18:10):
So she teaches she taught all the students last year. She teaches a third of the students this year, but she’s, she works with the other two teachers and they they’re very collaborative in their approach. Cool. In terms of bouncing off each other’s strengths so that the students can maximize they’re learning off of the, the strengths from the three teachers that are, that are involved. We have a fourth teacher that helps liaise with the college, the local college we have as well. Nice. because part of that program is the students. I call it tow dipping, but they, they engage in some college courses as well. And while they’re engaging in the college courses, they’re earning a college credit and a high school credit at the same time. Nice. to try to explore different options, they may not have considered the lead teacher in the program.


Reg Lavergne (18:57):
She is extremely humble and will not be happy that I have said her name. But her name is Donna. And and she was an exceptional educator. And she you know, she was the one working directly with the students last year. Helping them see their genius, which is a saying that I captured from another one of our, our educators to see their genius and to see the possibilities before them. And you know, she has, has dramatically changed and the colleagues she works with have dramatically changed the lives of children.


Sam Demma (19:31):
I’m getting goosebumps. It’s such a good feel. Good story. And it’s so cool to hear that the program is growing. I’m sure other boards might be reaching out to you after listening to this podcast, to ask some questions and connect with Donna too. about this, because I know it’s not an isolated problem or challenge. There are so many challenges in education, especially with the pandemic, but with challenges, come opportunities being on the cutting edge of innovation and student success, what do you foresee? Some of the opportunities being in education, things that are unfolding and the school board is working on that you think are really great opportunities for the future.


Reg Lavergne (20:11):
I will never say that COVID has been a great thing. It’s been a horrifying thing. It has caused so much harm. I will say that it created the opportunity to look at things outside the box. Mm that’s my very gentle way of saying sometimes we have to knock the lid off and push the wall over. Mm. And look outside the box. Traditional approaches to learning work for some and need to be available for some, they don’t work for everybody and we need to be more attentive to, and more responsive to and proactive to different ways of learning that engage people in different in, in different ways. I, I am very focused on who is the student? What are they doing? What do they want to do? What are their strengths? How is the learning environment set up to help them see meaning and purpose in their learning?


Reg Lavergne (21:18):
When we first went into shut down because of C learning, didn’t go into shut. Buildings did congregating together, did, but learning didn’t stop. And I was so privileged at the time. I was the principal of student success and innovation and adolescent learning at the time. And at first I remember thinking, what are we going to do? The way we’ve done everything. Our entire system can’t function right now, the way we’ve done it, what are we going to do? And I have to tell you how blown away I was with students, families, and educators, as everybody morphed into doing things in a very, very different way. I had the privilege of working with all of the student success teachers in our district. Every school that has grade seven and eight or grade nine to 12, has a student success teacher assigned a, a specific position for it.


Reg Lavergne (22:15):
And I was so privileged to get to work with all of them, incredible educators, incredible credible people. And we started doing a lot of brainstorming because those are the teachers that also support the students that are at greatest risk of leaving us, having not completed their courses and completed their diploma. And so we spent a lot of time talking back and forth. Well, what does this look like when you’re talking about students who don’t necessarily want to engage in learning every day, because they haven’t had success in it, or they haven’t felt good in it. Then when they’re sitting at home, it’s even more at risk that they’re not going to engage. So what are we going to do? And we built an approach, a philosophy, excuse me, and a framework to really take a look at all right, what are you doing right now at home?


Reg Lavergne (23:08):
You are learning. You are learning in very different ways, but you are learning. It just doesn’t look like it did the previous week when we were in a school building. So what are you doing? Talk to me about that. We had one student I’ve, I, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. A teacher shared I’ll speak generally because yeah, I don’t, I have share name, but had contacted a student who had had a variety of different experiences in schools and not all of them. Good. And, and they were now at home as, as everybody was. And the, the teacher, the, the student success teacher asked the student what they were doing and the student was tearing apart a trailer and rebuilding it with his dad at home was just something they wanted to do at home by talking with the student and finding a little bit more about what they were doing.


Reg Lavergne (23:57):
And, and he engaged in regular conversations with the students. So to, to hear what they were learning, talked to me a little bit, suddenly we realized the student was actually doing two tech education courses with his dad at home by tearing it apart. And the teacher was able to capture evidence of learning through the conversation and the student would take pictures of what he was doing and share it with the, with the teacher to say, this is what we saw today. So we had to do this for X reason. That is not my area of strength. So I can’t give you the exact specifics on what they were say. But what I do know was that the student was engaged in activity. They really loved, they were working with their dad and they were able to explain why they were making the steps they were making.


Reg Lavergne (24:41):
And the teacher actually asked the student at point would write down the steps of what you were, why you were doing it. The student was like, sure, why? Well, there’s a grade 12 technical English course that would meet the criteria of, so by building a manual on how to tear apart and rebuild a trailer, the student was also working on a technical English course. This wasn’t a student who necessarily loved writing or loved literature, right? At that point in his life, he may at one point, but at that point he didn’t necessarily enjoy that, that approach, but he was totally on board with writing down what he was doing and why he was doing, we were capturing his thinking. It was important to him. It mattered to him. He was creating a technical manual. That for him was really, really important. And that connected some credits. So during the, the initial closures, and that’s what sort of inspired and led to the development of our approach with our program as well it was very much looking at well, what are they interested in? What are they good at? What do they wanna be working? That’s where we start. And that’s how they get that spark to continue pushing themselves even further.


Sam Demma (25:57):
It sounds like flexibility is such an important part of this process. Like the, the student being flexible, but also the, the teacher and maybe in the past flexibility has not been the most utilized idea when it comes to projects or completing assignments or the way that you complete the assignment. How did, like, how do you build a culture of flexibility where, where, like an educator is proactively looking for those ways to connect real world experience to specific students learning or is this like situation you’re explaining more used for the students who school is not working for?


Reg Lavergne (26:42):
That’s a great question. I think the flexibility piece is, is key. Yeah. How do we build the environment for it?


Sam Demma (26:51):
I’m putting you on the spot. not that you have to have the perfect answer.


Reg Lavergne (26:57):
No, it’s a great question. I think, I think it’s a, it’s a brilliant question. I I’m going share some of my initial thinking. And then this is the question I’m gonna walk away from thinking even more on, I’ll be honest with you. I think, I think part of it comes down to what’s the goal and who decides the goal and who’s decided how that goal is achieved. And we have we have a society, our, our, our society, and some may argue that it has to be this way for a society. As, as, as large as our planet is to function together that there are certain goals and there are certain ways that we’ve decided over a series of years or decades that work mm. I have to talk about that, that work to achieve those goals. And I think what we’re seeing, and I think COVID has helped illuminate this it’s, it’s put a spotlight on it.


Reg Lavergne (27:55):
That practices that work, we have to stop saying that we have to start saying they work for some and other practices work for others, and we needed to be more open to a diversity of practices that are going through. I think that certainly the approach we took in the district, I was working with student success teachers who I was very fortunate. We’re very engaged, very flexible, wanted to try different things to support student achievement in different ways and move that forward. What we’re seeing is that that thinking philosophy and the use of this framework is, is expanding in the district. As people are seeing that it’s working. Because I think something that just jumped into my head after what you said was the idea of permission.


Reg Lavergne (28:41):
Do we give educators permission to go outside the box to try things that are safe, appropriate, but that engage students in ways that engage them. So rather than it being an approach that I’m confident in, because I’ve seen it work a number of times, if I see it not working for a student, do I feel that I have the permission to try something different with them, especially depending on where they’re going with it. We all, depending on geographically where you lived, the people who were in the same area with you took the exact same courses through high school, had the exact same learning, delivering models in place. I’m guessing they didn’t all do exact, the exact same thing. So they took those learnings that they had and have tweaked them to has, and it tweaks them, adjusts them and applies them to where they went with it, what they wanted to do with their learning, what they wanted to do with their life.


Reg Lavergne (29:43):
So I think a part of it is giving that permission to, to, to dip into different ways of doing things, to saying for this student, that approach is appropriate and it supports where they want to go. It supports what they wanna do. So we don’t have to follow necessarily in, in sort of a, a, a very structured manner, traditional approaches, traditional approaches work in many cases. And so this isn’t a case of throw all of that out and try this instead, this is a case of, for this person who they are, their identity, their experiences, their goals, what about this? And I would even put on the table, imagine if we started saying to the student, well, what are you interested in? Well, what would you like to work on right now within the parameters of, of the, the the, the courses that we’re working on to say, how would you like to engage in that learning?


Reg Lavergne (30:42):
There are lots of different ways of engaging in learning that is embedded within English curriculum or science curriculum or math curriculum. I think we can give permission. And I’m, I’m in a, I, I’m very fortunate. I’m in a position where I can work with a number of schools and principals and vice principals and teachers, and, and I can establish the environment that provides for that position. I don’t mean for that to sound power trippy in any way. But when I, when I say it, I’m having a conversation with someone and, and I say, why not? That gives that permission to say, it’s, it’s okay to go outside of what you may have normally done, because you’re engaging with that student in a way that is going to be more effective for them and is ultimately going to enhance their wellbeing and their achievement. And I remember that when I was a teacher asking, you know, talking with my principal and when my principal said, why wouldn’t you try that? If you think that’s gonna work, knowing that my principal was supporting my thinking was very powerful for me. So that’s something that I try to do. And I’ve always tried to do in my roles as I’ve gone through. My career is, is to make sure that we’re engaging in those conversations and that we’re providing that permission because the permission is needed for us to change the way it was to the way it could be.


Sam Demma (32:06):
There is an American hip hop artist named Russ, and he was being interviewed by this guy named Jay Sheti one time. And Jay Sheti said, what is the best advice you’ve ever received? And he said, it was a question, what if it could turn out better than you ever expected? And when you approach situations with that mentality, what, like, what if it could turn out better than you ever expected or ever imagined, instead of what, if this goes wrong and terrible, you build some courage to try new things, to take new things on. And I think the, why not question becomes even more powerful. When you look at it from that perspective and back to your toe dipping analogy, you know, if you do try it and you dip your toe and the water’s really warm, and it’s working out, you dive in and, and, you know, you scale the program, get three teachers involved. And then, you know, five years from now, maybe the program is going throughout the whole board, and there’s like dozens of teachers organizing it and running it all because of a test, a pilot project which is really cool and exciting. This has been a really awesome conversation. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. If someone is listening to this Reg, wants to reach out, ask you a question, talk about this program or your experiences in education, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?


Reg Lavergne (33:27):
The easiest way would be to go to my board’s website ’cause you can find my email. I’ll spell my email over in a second, but you can find it there. My board’s website is ocdsb.ca and then you can do a search on me and you will find I’ll pop up. My my email is reg.lavergne@ocdsb.ca, and I’m more than happy for people to reach out and have conversations because as we look to what could be and what the possibilities are, that’s what I find is really, really exciting and and can truly change kids’, change kids’ lives.


Sam Demma (34:07):
Awesome. I agree. Thank you so much, Reg, for taking the time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Reg Lavergne (34:15):
Thank you. Take care.


Sam Demma (34:18):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Reg Levergne

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.

Jacqueline Newton – Superintendent of Education Innovation & Ingenuity School Operations, VSS & Gary Allan Learning Centres

Jacqueline Newton - Superintendent of Education Innovation & Ingenuity School Operations, VSS & Gary Allan Learning Centres
About Jacqueline Newton

Jacqueline (@Super_Halton) is entering her 35th year as a learner and is on a quest for more! Having taught in three Ontario boards as well as at the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto, she has also co-authored several textbooks and articles for educational journals.

In Halton, Jacqueline has been a school administrator at Lord Elgin High School (now known as Robert Bateman HS), TA Blakelock, Iroquois Ridge, Nelson and was the founding principal at Dr Frank J. Hayden SS. As Superintendent of Education for the schools in Milton, Continuing Education, and the portfolio of Innovation and Ingenuity, Jacqueline provides the fuel to The Shift team. She believes that no one should have to “play the game of school” and wants to create the conditions that allow students and staff to be more excited for Monday mornings than they are for Friday afternoons.

She provides TOTAL support mixed with the spirit of saying “Yes, and…” to help push the edges of the school sandbox to awesome places. As we are in the depths of solving the wicked challenges of COVID, it is exciting times as we are never going “BACK” to the 150 year old model of schooling … we are moving FORWARD and imagining what school could be….


Are you ready to TRY, FAIL, LEARN & SHIFT?

Connect with Jacqueline: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – University of Toronto

Robert Bateman HS

TA Blakelock

Iroquois Ridge

Nelson

Dr Frank J. Hayden SS

The Shift Team

The Shift Blog

Gary Allan Learning Centres

High Tech High

Books by Tony Wagner

What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

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.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Jacqueline Newton. Jacqueline is entering her 35th year as a learner and is on a quest for more! Having taught in three Ontario boards as well as at the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto, she has also co-authored several textbooks and articles for educational journals. In Halton, Jacqueline has been a school administrator at Lord Elgin High School (now known as Robert Bateman HS), TA Blakelock, Iroquois Ridge, Nelson and was the founding principal at Dr Frank J. Hayden SS. As Superintendent of Education for the schools in Milton, Continuing Education, and the portfolio of Innovation and Ingenuity, Jacqueline provides the fuel to The Shift team. She believes that no one should have to “play the game of school” and wants to create the conditions that allow students and staff to be more excited for Monday mornings than they are for Friday afternoons.


Sam Demma (01:54):
She provides TOTAL support mixed with the spirit of saying “Yes, and…” to help push the edges of the school sandbox to awesome places. As we are in the depths of solving the wicked challenges of COVID, it is exciting times as we are never going “BACK” to the 150 year old model of schooling … we are moving FORWARD and imagining what school could be. She has a question for you. Are you ready to try fail, learn, and shift? If you are, keep listening to this podcast, you’re gonna enjoy this conversation with Jacqueline and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Jacqueline Newton. Jacqueline, please take a moment to introduce yourself.


Jacqueline Newton (02:43):
Hi Sam. I’m Jacqueline Newton, and I currently am a superintendent for the Halton District School Board.


Sam Demma (02:48):
When throughout your own career journey, did you realize you wanted to work in education?


Jacqueline Newton (02:56):
I would say two, two moments for sure. One moment was I was in grade six and the English teacher that was teaching us an English study. He was not very engaging and he didn’t really wanna be there either. And so I was not being very respectful for sure. And so at one point he turned to me and said, do you wanna teach a lesson? And I said, move over and give me the chalk, which was not a good move . So I was removed from the class right away. And my poor parents, I certainly was consequenced at home as well. But I thought, you know what, like I can make, I can make learning fun, like we can do this. But then I went off, you know, and studied other things and, but it was always in the back of my mind.


Jacqueline Newton (03:41):
And the other turning point was I worked in probation as a probation officer assistant before going into teaching. And I remember the clients, there were 77 clients. Mm. Two of two of whom were females. So that was interesting. And when I got to know a lot of the kids cuz you had to visit them every couple weeks, they often would often it was because they weren’t they didn’t enjoy school. Mm. And, and, and they weren’t proficient at playing the game of school either. And so for me, one, you know, a couple of them said like, you should really get into teaching. Like you, you do know how to talk to kids. Like you get, you get us teenagers. And so I guess those were the two points that I did. And then the third point is my mom is my hero and she was a elementary school teacher and phenomenal. So I always had a homeroom teacher. So I always got to go in at the last week of school and help sharpen the pencils for the kids for the desk and do the bulletin boards. And however, I never went into elementary. She said, no, you’re not suited for elementary. You need to, you need to go to secondary. You can’t last on yard duty one minute.


Sam Demma (04:54):
so, oh man,


Jacqueline Newton (04:56):
There. So that’s true. I, I I love playing with teenagers. They were amazing.


Sam Demma (05:03):
What did the journey look like once you figured out yes, this is something I’m really excited about, passionate about, and I wanna do take us along the whole journey.


Jacqueline Newton (05:13):
Right? So in university I studied economics, history and criminology, so that’s been helpful. Nice and and applied to the faculty of ed and I, a number of faculties and I did not get in. So that was devastating for me. I’ve never been rejected before. That was really hard, was a hard, it was a good hard lesson. Later in the summer I was offered U F T offered me acceptance, which was awesome. And and I really enjoyed working working out there. And then of course at the end of the, the class of that year there were no jobs that was 1988, no jobs. And so back in the day, when you applied for a job, you did a nice, you got nice, bought nice two tanks, resume, pretty, you know, all kinds of portfolio things.


Jacqueline Newton (06:04):
And I mailed them to 70, 75 school boards. Oh. And and schools. Right. And all across Ontario. So I was prepared to move anywhere for a job. And a lot of people weren’t like I founded the faculty, they wanted to stay in Toronto. If they’re from Toronto, they want, but anyway, Guelph phoned me up and offered me a job and never been to Guelph before. Okay, we’ll go to Guelph. So so that was, that was exciting then when he landed there it did all kinds of coaching, love, love sports, and loved the program. But at the end of the day, I taught elective areas such as the histories and economics. And so it depends on course enrollment and was, and being a young teacher was declared surplus. So then I moved to the peel board.


Jacqueline Newton (06:52):
They offered me a job there growing board, right in offered job there. And so anyway, I spent 10 years in appeal and in that time I was also offered a job to teach back at U Ft who had rejected me the first time. So I thought full circle to teach at the faculty and loved it. So teach teachers how to teach. And at the same time teaching regular day school teaching, which was great, gives you a real authentic experience. And then thought I’d like to try administration. So in doing that, I decided to change boards again. So this is the third board and moved to I lived in Oakville at the time I was pregnant with my second child and thought I don’t want this commute into Toronto, love Toronto love peel, but I don’t really want that daily commute. And so looked at moving to Halton and came in 1998 three months after my son was born as an administrator and had loved it. So it’s been fantastic.


Sam Demma (07:54):
That’s amazing. It sounds like you’ve done so many different roles in education. Each are so special and unique. They all provide different opportunities to impact students, parents, the community. Tell me a little bit about your role today, what it entails and why you’re passionate about it.


Jacqueline Newton (08:13):
Right. So I, I would say before, before before becoming a superintendent, I was I was a administrator for 10 years a little more in 10 years. And but some of the it’s been interesting going to different schools. So every school I went into, I was only there for three to five years, which I love that restlessness. Right. Mm. And change. And it was always interesting to go into an older school and pick up what the traditions are and then how to honor those traditions and yet move it forward. And but the highlight was opening a new school in Halton, a new high school that we’ve never done this model before, where you partner with the city and you partner with the library and then you partner with your board. And so it’s really a campus.


Jacqueline Newton (08:58):
And so it’s Dr. Frank J. Hayden in Burlington’s phenomenal. And the bonus of it was, it was named after an incredible man who won’t tell you his age, because then you’ll treat him like a nine, three year old . But he comes out to every games. He he’s unbelievable, but he started the special Olympics. So he was a doc doctor studying down syndrome. Children said, these kids can do sports. And so he, he was the founder of the special Olympics for the United States. And and he lives locally right now. And that’s phenomenal. So moving from there, I moved into superintendent was fortunate to apply for super, which gives me basically overseeing schools in Milton from K to 12. Mm. Which is a real wide span. And I thank my lucky stars after six years in this game that my elementary cohorts teach me all about elementary.


Jacqueline Newton (09:54):
Cuz I don’t know. I still say I don’t, I don’t get this nutrition break stuff. Yeah. they’re phenomenal. And then I have high schools as well. And I also have the virtual school, which was interesting two years ago to start up a virtual school as a pandemic response rather than what a virtual school could really be. Cuz that would be amazing. But right now it’s contained. And then I’m also look after our continuing education program for adults. So that’s and very alternative ed for kids that don’t like learning in the box, which is my kind of learner. I love those kids and adults. So really helping them along. And probably the most energizing piece is six years ago the director said I’m gonna create this portfolio. I don’t know. I think I’ll call it innovation and ingenuity and I just want you to do so like pardon.


Jacqueline Newton (10:46):
So basically it was, there’s the title, blanks, slate table, ASO, do whatever you want. And since then it’s grown to be what we now call and Halton the shift. Mm. And it’s a team of three coaches and they go into schools and they lead workshops all over podcasts. They have their own website. But it really is about doing things differently within the box of bumpers. For sure. Like you can’t just really nearly do whatever. Yeah. but they have been they’re they call ’em a shift and we do things like, you know, play on words, share your shift where shift disturbers. And that whole piece has been a great network across Ontario in the United States. So and those cats, they know how to roll it’s they fill my soul. They’re pretty amazing. So it’s been a, it’s been a great ride.


Sam Demma (11:35):
Were you at all overwhelmed when your your director told you, do whatever you want, are you


Jacqueline Newton (11:41):
Like, I’m like, bring it on and by the way, you have no money. Oh, okay. That’s fun. And you’re doing it by yourself, which is not great. And but anyway, it was exciting instead of in, you know, school’s always about you know, here’s the box that we always play in. This is your box this, but so to be given a new sandbox that didn’t have parameters, it was pretty, pretty exciting. And it still is though. I have to say it’s challenging cuz a lot of people don’t understand that. So one of my best friends is a superintendent and she is amazing, but she’s given a portfolio that’s very much in the box, like has to report to the ministry, has money, financial like extreme, extreme responsibility. So she always looks at me and she says, do you get to the fun stuff? When I get to do the fun sucker stuff? I said, I know, I know. And I like it that way.


Sam Demma (12:35):
that’s so cool. So how many years have you been in this role?


Jacqueline Newton (12:42):
Yeah, this is, this is going on seven, which is hard to believe. I’ve never been in a role for more than five. So, but they, but again, it’s different pieces and meeting different people and different portfolio shuffles and our senior team is changing too, which is always good. It’s sad too. Cuz lots of good people who are superintendents but you learn new dynamics and you’re given new opportunities and C’s been awesome. I know a lot of people don’t wanna hear that, but for the first time teaching no longer is a private act. Mm. Like people actually can see your classroom. Even if you’re not in virtual school, we’ve come to that now. So much more inclusive that way. Plus people were forced to change how they teach. Yeah. If it, like you had no choice in the past week, can Jo you, Hey, try this thing, see how it flies.


Jacqueline Newton (13:32):
And now it’s like, ah, new you will learn how to use a computer and I know a camera and a microphone and by the way, we need you to make it engaging and fun and learn. Right. So it was it’s been for sure, it’s been like a plane in the sky, you know, you’re building it as you fly. But the other part of it is, and I dislike the word so much now cuz we’ve used it so much, but we’ve had to pivot and pivot and pivot and pivot and it’s it’s so, you know, I’m a baseball player too. You know, I was a pitch it’s like, okay, now today we’re throwing another curve ball. So like, and we want you to hit it outta the park. So let’s go. So it’s, it’s been great. I have to say though, the ride has been exhausting. There’s no doubt about it. People crave not to go back, but to take the lessons we’ve learned and move forward mm-hmm but pieces that people really value kids really value that, you know, eating together as a fellowship and playing sports and having proms and per in person grads. Like those are all things we did the best we could virtually, but it’s not quite the same dancing by yourself and prom on a camera. Not quite.


Sam Demma (14:37):
I asked my question, dance in person when I was in middle school and she walked into the woman’s change room and never came out. So I didn’t have a dance and I, it wasn’t because of virtual


Jacqueline Newton (14:50):
Totally get it. Yes. Those are the other sides of, in person that as administrators and I have to say my favorite kids, honestly like obviously you, you have to learn to play the game of school a little bit, right? Yeah. Like, and I was a kid that would just say to teachers politely, I learned to be polite respectfully just say, look, you know what? Like I’ll read the textbook, thank goodness. We don’t do that anymore. Write textbook reading and multiple choice exams. Geez. But you know, I’ll show up for the exams, but why don’t we just have that? Cause I liked being around school, but I didn’t like bell to bell kind of thing. And I had some amazing teachers. So it wasn’t that at all. It was just, that just wasn’t my style. So yeah, I probably would’ve really thrived in alternative bed or, or something to that effect.


Jacqueline Newton (15:35):
So I really love those kids that really, they just can’t sit. They just, and, and so they’re out at the Creek or they’re out doing other stuff and you know, we kind of have to learn from doing those mistakes too. And that’s okay. Our, our saying is like, we try try something and if you fail that’s okay. Learn and shift again. So that’s where we’re kind of we’re at that with kids, but we also need to give permission for adults to do that too. So for principals to try some, you know, as a superintendent, that’s what I get to say. I get to say, try it. Like I got your back. I’m giving you permission. Try it. And if it doesn’t go down the way, well we’re used to that now in COVID not, everything goes down the way we think it’s gonna go down. And so I’m hoping that I’m hoping as we come out of this, we see more leaders and more learners that are not the way our grandparents learned in school.


Sam Demma (16:27):
Mm it’s so important. We move with the shift


Jacqueline Newton (16:31):
Yes. We need to shift.


Sam Demma (16:33):
Yes. . Who has mentored you along your journey, maybe people that actually come to mind, but also courses or books or programs or things you’ve been a part of that you think have informed the way that you show up. So yeah. Human resources and maybe even some additional things that have been helpful for you.


Jacqueline Newton (16:53):
I have to say one of the most influential was a public health nurse married to back. So I started at my first principal is at qua Ridge and I was scared like scared. Like I’m all of a sudden like, oh my God, like you’re responsible. Right? Yeah. And and she walked in and she said didn’t know her. She was assigned to the school, not to give needles and stuff, but just to kind of be there as a counselor support. And she said, I think you’ve got the skills to blow this place out of the water. I’m like, what I was just coming into just like, let’s, let’s see how we do school here. Yeah. And she said, let’s start a let’s you and I start a program called Tuesday at 10, and that’s where we invite parents in.


Jacqueline Newton (17:35):
We can talk about whatever they want for an hour and then they can go off and build community themselves. And so that was pretty influential. She always, and she still is. She is a personal life coach. And does her own work now and she’s worked with our kids network, but she always is about building relationships with kids, with parents and community. So she was huge in saying you can think differently. And I remember one time there was a, that was the first thing. There was a grant that was being offered at Washington under a S C D. It’s a, it’s a, an affiliate of their thinking out, down there in Washington. And she said, Hey, I found this on the website. Let’s fly. And I’m like, what? And it was like I said, okay. So I gathered six amazing people together around a table.


Jacqueline Newton (18:22):
I said, we got one hour. We’re gonna write this grant and see if we get it. And they gave it to us. We were shocked $20,000. And it was about building relationships wow. With, with your community, we were blown away. And from that, they just kept throwing money at us coming up and visiting. They flew us to Texas. They flew us to Vancouver. We got to bring the kids with us. So the kids who were instrumental, the youth that were instrument in making this happen and know nowadays we talk about student voice and it’s kind of a joke. It’s like, invite them when you wanna find out what color to paint the wall. Right. But this was no, this is how you own your school. They own the school. So that was pretty, pretty wild. I’d never thought I would be that out there. And yet other people say, oh yeah, you’re so out there, like, you know, you do those personality continuum.


Jacqueline Newton (19:07):
yeah. Like I’m on the far side. Right. and I need to be pulled back, which is good to have a partner. I think the other moving piece for me was was an opportunity. I got to fly out to see high tech high and it was Ted dither Smith and Tony Wagner. And again, another consultant for the board said, you need to read this book and you, you will, you will change how you look at school. Cindy Constantino. Fabulous. And Tony writes about, it’s not about marks. It’s about how you learn. And it’s about finding your passion for kids. So, you know, give every Wednesday, give it up and say, calculus can stand on its own today. Let’s do something you’re passionate about and getting teachers to be passionate. So the one school I was at Wednesdays were a, I, I don’t think people wanna hear that, but it was a throwaway day.


Jacqueline Newton (19:55):
It was, here’s a group of teachers that do things really cool in their private life. And they’re willing to share that experience with you. So if you wanna learn to ballroom dance or you wanna learn to skateboard, I had teachers out in the skateboard park, like with the dudes who know how to do that, the kids teaching the teachers, like it was talk about community, right. So I think high tech, high Tony Wagner’s book on what school could be. And then the follow up to that was Ted dither Smith’s partner. And seeing what schools should look like. And we’ve built one that looks like high tech, high SIE MCIL we just opened it phenomenal. It’s all about pod learning in class and movement. And mark Dooley up there is the principal’s amazing. But Ted di Smith, interesting. He wrote a book called what schools could be.


Jacqueline Newton (20:44):
So again, I’m promoting his book too. But what he did is he took a year and he toured every state in the United States to find a good school. And he ranked them pretty scary. Some of the rankings . And in the end of the day, he, he, he decided to do a side trip when he was in Seattle and he went up to Vancouver and he went, oh my God, this is what a school should be. So of course I follow ’em on Twitter cause I’m on Twitter or not. So I follow ’em. I say, Hey, you wanna really see how things rock in Canada. You come to Ontario and I’ll show you what we’ve gotten. we’ve got amazing, amazing things happen. We don’t have these. We’re not regimented like the states with these exams every year. Yes. I know we have E Q a O, but they’re so regimented in the hours they spend, I said, you need to come to Ontario, happy to tour you around all kinds of boards cuz that’s, what’s nice about this job as a superintendent, you meet so many good people that are doing really good stuff all over.


Jacqueline Newton (21:39):
So so those were the, those I would say are the professional ones. And then I, I would say, I really have been turned on by Daniel Pink’s writing and really like writing. That’s not about education. Yeah. Welcome Gladwell. I’m always a fan of his, but I also love Brene brown. I love that dare to lead, dare to fail finding what people like and, and, and one of my shift coaches, Matt Coleman, who’s amazing reminded me yesterday when I was talking to him. He said, remember that book, we, we wanna do a coffee talk on and with BNE and it’s the, the story was a vignette about an army Sergeant who the whole army, they were coming back from a tour and that they were, they were upset and tired and just, just fatigued. And the morale was so low.


Jacqueline Newton (22:29):
And when bene dug into the story with her, the reason why morale was so low and people were exhausted and just fed up, which is kind of where we are right now in education. Right. Just trying to hang on to June it’s cuz they’re lonely. Mm they’re lonely. And they also feel that they’re not good enough. And so I think of that quite often with Brene brown that I think we as people, whether we’re an education or not, whether you’re a spouse or a sister or an educator or that we, we just don’t feel we’re good enough, no matter what we do. And I think that’s a real thing that we need to get over. But right now I also think getting over being lonely and super tendency can be very lonely. Like you don’t have us big honk in 2000 school kids running.


Jacqueline Newton (23:14):
It can be very lonely and I’ve, I’ve had to really work at not being lonely by being in schools. But you get saturated with reports and things like that. But yeah, I think that’s what we have to work on in education that kids. So we talk a lot about mental health right now. But it’s always been an issue and the issue is not about mental health so much as people not feeling good enough and feeling very lonely and how to tap them in. And then when they are, when we have serious mental health issues, absolutely knowing how to recommend people and support people through that.


Sam Demma (23:51):
I love bene brown, Malcolm Gladwell, his book, the tipping point was something I read when I just got outta high school and was starting to build this, picking up garbage initiative called pick waste with me and my good high school friend, Dylan. Yes. I really loved his ideas of social proof, Daniel pink on his books about sales and how to sell as human, like such, such good


Jacqueline Newton (24:13):
Stuff. I know that’s what it is, right. It’s not about, okay, you gotta have a diploma and graduate, do stuff and grow up right away. It’s like, no, man, you’re selling, you are selling. And I’m thinking it’s so true. You’re selling somebody’s passion. You’re being human about it. And I love the story of apple. They really aren’t selling a product. They’re selling a whole image and feel good about buying lifestyle, this product lifestyle. True. It’s so true. That’s stuck with me too. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:39):
So if you could travel back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder when you were just starting your first job in education, what advice would you have given your younger self? Not because you would’ve changed anything about your path, but what do you think would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just beginning in the case that an educator listening right now is just getting into this vocation.


Jacqueline Newton (25:03):
Yeah. I needed more. I needed somebody to tap me to say, just fly mm-hmm. like, I was scared. I, I have to save. So fair enough. I started teaching when I was 24, 25 and and there were 19 year old boys in the class. Right. So I made an effort to really like dress like a prude. look old, like get looking old. Because I didn’t like, I was so afraid about like, here’s my role as a teacher and here’s your role as a student? So the really clear defined rules. Yeah. As opposed to we’re teaching together and we’re collaborative and we’re learning and we’re those pieces. So I think the confidence, like I was scared to really articulate and be edgy. I’ve been told, I have edgy language. I have to tone it down sometimes. so I’m learning to control my edginess and people are like, no, that’s who you are.


Jacqueline Newton (25:54):
But I wa I wasn’t edgy. I, I mean, I was in my head inside as a younger person, but to have the courage to go out there, I really lacked the confidence. And it’s really funny cuz I played tons of sports. And I had all kinds of confidence out there on the court or on the baseball field. But when it came to like finding my voice and really questioning how things are done or how to add value. I yeah, I would’ve said just having more confidence. So telling people I really do believe I, you need to, you need to not. And I was in a hurry to grow up, like hurry and get a career, get set in a career get married buy a house, have kids. And I’m like, oh my goodness, please don’t do any of that till you’re 35 maybe.


Jacqueline Newton (26:43):
But try different things. You don’t have to be loyal to a company. You don’t have to like really find your authentic self. And and in education that’s allowed me to do that, but I think in a lot of other professions it’s not. And, and many of my friends for years have said, and they’re very successful people in the business world and they have turned to me and they said, you know, Jake, cuz they call me Jake, you know, Jacqueline Jake, my son’s name’s Jacob. And he plays baseball in Florida. You know what you need to, you know what, you’re the only one that’s truly happy with what they’re doing and that though you could have gone into business, hands down and sell like nobody’s business and made tons of money. We look at you and we say, you talk passionately about what you do sometimes that nausea what you do.


Jacqueline Newton (27:33):
and, and you have the best stories about what happens in, in in schools. But so they, you know, it’s that it’s finding something, you really find joy and I’m really, I was intrigued by you Sam and looked up of course I’ve lurked you and looked you up after you were reached out. And I, I thought, yeah, like you’re doing what you wanna do. You’re putting you, you know, and you can do whatever, like try it out, see how it flies and who knows the networking and what happens. Right. So now at this age of my life, as I’m, now I’m trying to stay, say, don’t look so old and PR she’s trying to stay looking young for crying out loud and and trying to be confident trying to say, okay, what else is out there right now?


Jacqueline Newton (28:17):
Right? Yeah. So yes, superintendent today, but Hey, like what’s kind of cool and out there and doing something different again. So and I would say my, my daughter Sid’s taught me an awful lot. She’s gone through, gone through her battle and with cancer, she’s a warrior. She would not give up. She just went in that ring 11 rounds and pounded it. And but with grace and poise, and then I watched her speak at a relay for life event with thousand people and grabbed that mic and it was like, wow. So if I could be like her, I would be so I’m so proud of kids my own children too, as well, but so proud of so many kids who find the courage to just be themselves and, but add value to their life by also adding value to our lives. And I think I know lots of book on relationships and stuff like that, but to really give people permission to do that, I think that’s pretty cool.


Sam Demma (29:17):
This has been such a nice conversation. Thank you so much, Jack. for taking Jake.


Jacqueline Newton (29:24):
My dad’s actually, the story was the story was my I was, I was supposed to be a boy, supposedly my dad told my mom always gonna be a boy. It’s gonna be a boy when I, and he bought to bulls or toy bulls are before I was born. And then I came outta girl. He’s like, what? So? And I love my dad and mom, my aunt. So Jacqueline was the name after Jack. My son’s name is Jacob. Right. and we’re Dutch. So we spell it with a gay and but what was very cool. My dad, my dad was the one who made us play like a boy. So this thing, you know, a girl play like a boy. So he was the one he pitched balls with my sister and I like nobody’s business. We played and played and played baseball like nobody’s done. And he was at every game. Like, just so it’s the love of yeah, it’s the love. And I think that’s part of it too. I’ve been always been taught to think in both brains, right. Not to, to do that, but Sam, I thank you very much. It’s been so fun to reflect with you and I really admire your work. And and thank you for this opportunity.


Sam Demma (30:28):
If someone wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce, some ideas around, open a door, make a connection, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch?


Jacqueline Newton (30:38):
Yeah, probably on Twitter, to be honest. I’m a Twitter nut, love to showcase schools and what they’re doing. So my handle is @Super_Halton or my email, which is newtonj@hdsb.ca. Or probably google, you know, you lurk all over the place. yes, I’m on LinkedIn too. And yes, I know I got old stuff on there. I gotta clean up, but yes, lots of, lots of social media pieces.


Sam Demma (31:09):
Awesome. Jacqueline, thank you so much for taking the time. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work you’re doing and we will talk soon.


Jacqueline Newton (31:16):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (31:18):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Jacqueline Newton

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.

Jeannie Armstrong – Superintendent of Learning: Special Education Services, Faith/Equity & Indigenous Education at the Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board

Jeannie Armstrong – Superintendent of Learning: Special Education Services, Faith/Equity & Indigenous Education at the Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board
About Jeannie Armstrong

Written directly from Jeannie (@JeannieArmstr20):

Originally thought about Communications. Had the opportunity to be on local radio as a teenager and I really liked the experience. One of my best friends was killed in a car accident a week before graduating high school and this experience changed my life.

Following the devastation of this experience, I knew that I wanted to help other people but truly did not know how….. Changed my direction to a degree in psychology and thought about pursuing a Ph.D. to help young people process grief and loss.

I had classes at Ottawa U from Monday to Thursday and would often travel home from Friday to Sunday to spend time with my family. On one of my trips home, I ran into my grade 6 teacher, Mrs. Yolkowskie. She encouraged me to come volunteer with her on days when I did not have class.

I said I would call her and did. I began volunteering at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School every Friday in Mrs. Yolkowskie’s special education class. I loved the experience. It was in this classroom that my dream of becoming an educator was born.

I finished my BA in Psychology and applied to Faculties of Education at Ottawa University and Queen’s. Between finishing my BA and starting my BEd, I married my husband (now 29 years). I chose Ottawa U because of its close proximity to home. I travelled back and forth that year to finish my BEd.

When I finished my BEd. there were few jobs. This was a time when few positions existed in the province so I supplied for a year until I received a contract with the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board. I worked in a rural school community and in a larger school until I became a principal at the age of 31.

I worked in Renfrew Catholic for 22 years before making a family decision to transfer to Ottawa Catholic where I worked as a principal for four and a half years. Working in a rural board and large urban board was a wonderful experience.

Throughout my career I have been inspired by so many educators,family and friends. Perhaps my biggest influence is my Aunt Jean.

Was hired as a Superintendent with PVNCCDSB in December of 2020. Had the portfolio of Faith, Equity, Indigenous Education and Secondary Program from January 2021-February 2022. Have since moved into the portfolio of Special Education Services, Faith/Equity and still supporting Indigenous Education until the end of the year.

For me, advocating for, supporting & empowering students is what I try to do each and every day along with continuing to learn and grow. When we stop learning, we stop living.

Two quotes that resonate with me are:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” Steve Jobs

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” Eckhart Tolle

Connect with Jeannie: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Ottawa – Psychology Programs

University of Ottawa – Faculty of Education

Renfrew County Catholic District School Board

Ottawa Catholic District School Board

Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board

Calm within the Storm: A Pathway to Everyday Resilliency – Dr. Robin Hanley Dafoe

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (00:59):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jeannie Armstrong. She originally thought about communications as her career, had the opportunity to be a local radio on local radio as a teenager and enjoyed the experience. But it was after a very tragic event that occurred in her life that totally shifted her path. It changed her direction, led her to do a degree in psychology. She reflected and considered about pursuing a PhD to help young people. And it was an educator she met along her journey that helped her realize that the true passion she had lied in a career in education. She finished her BA in psychology, applied to the faculty of education at Ottawa University and Queens. She finished her BA and started her BED, married a husband, now 29 years, and she chose Ottawa U because it was close to home and traveled back and forth that year to finish her BED.


Sam Demma (01:58):
She then worked in the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board in a rural school community and in a larger school until she became a principal at the age of 31 years old. She worked in the Renfrew Catholic board for 22 years before transferring to the Ottawa Catholic board. And throughout her career, she has been inspired by so many different educators, family members and friends, but perhaps her biggest influence was her aunt Jean. Jeannie was hired as superintendent with PVNCCDSB in December of 2020. She had the portfolio of faith equity, indigenous education and secondary programs until February of 2020, and has since moved to the portfolio of special education services, faith and equity, and still supporting indigenous education. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Jeannie. It’s a very insightful one. I will see you on the other side. Jeanie, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Start by introducing yourself.


Jeannie Armstrong (02:57):
Hi, my name is Jeannie Armstrong. I’m the superintendent of faith equity, indigenous education and special education services for the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board.


Sam Demma (03:09):
You gotta do a course just to get the name of the school board, right?


Jeannie Armstrong (03:13):
Exactly. Yeah.


Sam Demma (03:14):
When did you realize growing up that education was the career or field that you would pursue?


Jeannie Armstrong (03:21):
It actually came in my mid twenties. So originally in high school, I thought of communications. And I was thinking of going into broadcasting. I had done some stints on local radio and was certain that that was my path. And so I headed off to university or I planned two in the area of communications a couple days before graduation, Sam, my best friend was killed in a car accident. And at that point in time going through that process, that grieving process at such a young age, I really felt as though I had a calling to help youth who were going through similar trials. And so I really thought seriously about changing my program. And eventually I did move into psychology and I was certain that that was going to be my path. And I would end up doing a PhD in psychology and be able to support youth who were going through the grieving process.


Jeannie Armstrong (04:24):
And then I ran into one of my favorite teachers from elementary school. She taught me both in grade one and grade six, and I had classes four days of the week and came home on the weekends sometimes. And I met her on a Friday afternoon and she asked me if I would volunteer in her class, she was a special education teacher. And you know, when one of the most impactful people in your life ask you for a favor to volunteer in the classroom. I certainly wanted to support her in that. And so I said, yes, I would, I would go in and start volunteering. So I filled out the appropriate paperwork and began my volunteer experience and working with those students each and every day, it changed my life. It changed my path. It was so impactful and the relationships that I developed it was such a wonderful experience to see the growth and development, particularly with little ones who maybe three or four weeks before weren’t able to read. And then all of a sudden they got it and the light bulb went off and it was just such a rewarding experience that I went home. And I said to my family, I, I found my calling. I wanna be a teacher. And so I finished my psychology degree and applied for my ed at Ottawa U and away I went. And that was the beginning of the path that I continued on for the rest of my life.


Sam Demma (05:51):
Did you teach in elementary school first? And what, like, what are the different roles you have played since in education?


Jeannie Armstrong (06:00):
Oh, I’ve taught a range of grades and including being a special education teacher, both as a teacher and as a teaching principal for many years. And so I think for about seven years in my career, I supported special education students. I mean, we support all students as in any role, whether it’s a classroom as a classroom teacher or a principal, but specifically as a special education resource teacher, I spent about seven years in that role. And I loved it. So yes, a range of grades. I had a lot of system experience, wonderful people that supported me in my growth and development and taking on system pieces, working with the ministry of education and different projects being a guest lecture at O U faculty of education with some mentors who I worked with there, completing my master’s in education. And so just a range of experiences.


Jeannie Armstrong (06:52):
And I was quite young when I became a principal. It was not something I had really thought about doing. It just sort of happened naturally. And I had a few really wonderful mentors as well who encouraged me. And I think saw something in me that I did not see in myself. And one of them was the director of education at the time, Lauren Keon who was just an amazing man. He had was wonderful at building relationships. He could meet somebody once and remember their name and a little bit about their family. And so he was able to make that connection with people. And it was from those mentors that in particular, Mr. Keon, that I recognized the importance of relationships and making people making that connection with people. Cuz he had a way of making people feel as though you were the only person in the room, even though he was very busy he made a point of always connecting with everyone.


Jeannie Armstrong (07:49):
So he was an important influence in my life. And then there was another principal that I had. There was so many, but Carol sulfur was another mentor who was just an amazing curriculum, expert, phenomenal leader. And she really encouraged me to become a principal. And so I became a principal at the age of 32. I was very, very young. Wow. And was a principal for 17 years. Worked with Renford county Catholic district school board for many years. And then my husband and I decided to look at relocating to the Ottawa area and I worked with Ottawa Catholic school board again for another four and a half years before my current role.


Sam Demma (08:33):
Do you stay in touch with your teacher from grade one and grade six?


Jeannie Armstrong (08:37):
So she passed away. She passed away about five or six years ago, but I did get to connect with her and she did see my pathway into leadership at least. Yeah. So it was wonderful. I, I did go to visit her at her home at one point in time and you know, it was nice because she did get to say that she was very proud of me. So I did have that opportunity for her to see the pathway that I was pursuing. So that was wonderful. But she, she has since passed away


Sam Demma (09:08):
One of the most meaningful aspects in it of education and you’ve probably experienced it firsthand now is when you teach somebody and then they go on their path and come back and say, thank you so much. And it’s like, that person used to be five years old. That person used to be 15. And now they’re an adult with the family doing their thing. And I was able to play a part in their development. I think it’s such a full circle moment. In fact, one of the teachers who changed my life, I’m going to volunteer on his farm on June 11th. just to catch up with him and see how he’s doing. So I think those connections are so, so important. What is, what does the role you’re working in today? Look like, explain a little bit more about what’s you’re responsible for now and, and, and what you’re doing


Jeannie Armstrong (09:54):
Well. So I came to PB C in 2020 and you know, it it’s a different role at the system level. I did a lot of system work as a principal and being able to make those connections and working at the ministry level. And as you know, as a teacher, you have a tremendous impact on students in your classroom. And when you coach sports, then you get to, again, impact other students. As a principal, you have an impact on students schoolwide and you get to really be able to create a culture at this school that supports student growth and wellbeing and engagement. And so that was wonderful. And at the system level you have an opportunity to impact system change. So that as well as excite is exciting yesterday I had the opportunity to visit a school when I try to get into schools as much as I possibly can to still have that connectedness to the kids.


Jeannie Armstrong (10:52):
Yeah. And so it’s wonderful that I still get to go back and visit. So I, in my role right now, I’m the superintendent of faith equity, indigenous education and special education services. So those are large portfolios but I love everything that I’m doing. And the work that we’re doing is so important. When you think of those portfolios and the impact on the lives of students you know, I don’t take for granted each and every day, the work that I get to do, and I recognize with great humility and respect the impact that the work that I do can potentially have, and the work of my team, it’s really the team that I have that I’m supporting that I’m serving each and every day that I making the difference for students system wide.


Sam Demma (11:44):
Hmm. You’ve done so many different positions in education, so many different roles. Someone once told me the person that makes a good principal is the person that loves teaching in the classroom. The person that makes a great superintendent is the principal that loves being a principal. And doesn’t wanna leave that role. Did you ever struggle moving along the roles or and, and how did you get over that, that emotional barrier.


Jeannie Armstrong (12:17):
Yeah, no, that’s a very good point. And, and yes, I would say that each transition is difficult because it’s the relationships and the people that you meet along the way it’s difficult to leave. So as a teacher, it was challenging for me to make that leap as a principal, particularly being so young. Yeah, and, but what really helped me was the fact that coming from a small board, we were, were able to be a principal in a rural area first and then work our way up to a larger school. So I was a teaching principal for seven years, so I slowly got to transition the role and it, it was wonderful that opportunity always tried to stay connected to classrooms and to kids. No matter what role I’ve had you wanna be able to put a face to the name and to you know, really connect with both the staff and the students in school. And so even now as a superintendent as I said, I try to get into schools all the time and make sure that I’m still keeping that connection to the people that I serve, but it is difficult. Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:23):
Yeah. I, I, I mean, it’s like leaving a family. , it’s like you’re leaving a family to go to a different family and it can be challenging. I’ve heard some stories that people are really struggling with the transitions.


Jeannie Armstrong (13:38):
One of the things Sam that I think has really helped is I’ve stayed connected to, I have friends that in Renford Catholic, I have friends in Ottawa Catholic that I’m still connected to regularly. And of course my new family at PV and C. So I’ve tried to stay connected with all of those peoples on a regular basis so that I still have kept up those relationships, which helps.


Sam Demma (14:02):
Would, would the name Deb Lawler ring a bell?


Jeannie Armstrong (14:06):
Yes.


Sam Demma (14:07):
Deb was a good friend. I had lunch there last week in Ottawa. That’s awesome. That’s so great. When you say stay connected, what does that look like for you? Is it checking in every once in a while via text email, or like how, what does that look like?


Jeannie Armstrong (14:22):
Yeah, checking in all the time with phone calls, texts and also visiting face to face. So making plan to, you know, I’ll go back to Ottawa for a visit and you know, I’m planning to meet up with staff members from my former school in the next couple of months. And so just trying to, to stay connected as best you can and making time to keep those relationships up by meeting face to face and going for dinner and all of those pieces. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:54):
You talk about systems, level roles, giving you the opportunity to make a big impact on schools within a district or a school board. And the work is it’s really important and, and it can impact thousands of young people. I would assume you also have the opportunity to, to meet other superintendents, people from other boards and kind of collaborate. And overall it gives you this cool perspective of education. I’m curious to know what you think are some of the challenges that education is for currently faced with right now. And secondly, part two of this question, some of the opportunities that you believe exist.


Jeannie Armstrong (15:29):
Yes. So I, I don’t like just to use the word challenges cause I do see everything that we’ve been through with the pandemic as an opportunity for growth and change. And I think everything that is presented to us in life is an opportunity for growth. So I try to use a positive mindset with rather than thinking about challenges. I, I see them as opportunities for change for growth, and the pandemic has been very difficult for many of our families for our staff. We do recognize that, but in many ways there’s been tremendous opportunities for students to develop skills that they may not otherwise have developed. You know, when you think of the technological skills that students have when you think of the ways that teachers have been able to adapt their practices to online learning that’s not going to go away.


Jeannie Armstrong (16:21):
And so I really do see that what we have been through as a system, as a country globally has had a positive impact in some ways. And I think coming out of this, what we need to recognize is the value of connection and relationships, because that is what truly has been missed. And so we really do need to reinvest some time on self care on student mental health and wellbeing on student voice and engagement. And just being able to, to recognize the importance of that connectedness, that teachers need to have those re positive relationships with students as superintendents, we need to be connected to the schools that we serve. So just really it’s about relationships and connection, and that will be our path forward.


Sam Demma (17:12):
People use the term teacher burnout in the education sector field, but I think during COVID, there was a global human burnout people as a whole, no matter what industry you worked in were experiencing this overwhelming anxiety and frustration and confusion, what, while you were going through that challenge yourself, how did you ensure to fill your own cup? Or what does self care look like for gen Armstrong


Jeannie Armstrong (17:41):
Well if you ask my family, they’d probably say I don’t do that enough.

Jeannie Armstrong (17:47):
But you know, it really is. It’s about my family and you know, my faith as well. And it’s the little things each and every day, you know, sometimes our days as system leaders are long and sometimes we have meetings till late at night, and it’s hard to find that time for yourself, but I try to celebrate in little ways, whether it’s a favorite cup of coffee, whether it’s listening to my favorite playlist, if I’m commuting in the car whether it’s taking time to just read a book, I love to read. So for me, that’s always something that I valued and it’s, it’s what I do to really unwind to try and get in some physical activity. And, and I would have to admit I’m not great at that, but I’m trying to, to work on that and get better at that. Nice, but take time to go for a walk at night and to just spend time with my husband and my family.


Sam Demma (18:37):
That’s awesome. I love that. I, I think self-care looks different for every person, right? As long as you find the things that fill your cup and work for you, I think it’s really important that we spend time on those things. You mentioned reading, being a big part of your life, what resources in the form of books or podcasts or people have you found helpful throughout your entire educational journey and career thus far?


Jeannie Armstrong (19:01):
Oh, Sam there’s so many one that our team is reading right now as a part of a book club is calm within the storm, which is Dr. Robin Hanley depo. And she is a professor at Trenton university here in Peterborough, and it’s a book really about resiliency. And so as a team, we’re, we’re reading that right now and, or just finishing that book. And it’s very, very powerful. And I’ll just share with you one quote that really resonated with me as we’re coming outta a global pandemic, not every storm that comes into your life is meant to take you down. Perhaps that storm is coming to clear a path that you could never have found otherwise. And so if we think about, you know, the, the different things that have even happened in my own life that have maybe shifted my path slightly, they were meant to be all of these pieces are meant to be, they’re meant to steer you in a certain path.


Jeannie Armstrong (20:03):
I really believe that. And you know, I’m very grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had and for even, you know, dare I use that word, the challenges that I faced because they’ve brought me to where I am today and I wouldn’t change any of those experiences. Because I believe it’s made me who I am today. And it’s brought me to this exact point in my life. I think if, you know, I had any advice for people who are starting out in their career, I would say to have faith in yourself and to trust your instincts and stay connected to the people that support you because they often help guide your path in ways that may not be clear at the time. And that, you know, if one door closes another door opens and just follow the path where it takes you and don’t be afraid of change, many people are, you know, are fearful of change. It’s a challenge for sure, but embrace change because sometimes if you have the courage to embrace change, wonderful things can happen.


Sam Demma (21:10):
I got shivers when you shared that quote like goosebumps, like through my body, that’s such a powerful way to reframe a challenge or a storm. And as you were saying it, my mind instantly started going back to challenges, quote unquote, that I faced storms that I weathered and like connected the dots to ways that some of those storms actually opened up new doorways and avenues that I wasn’t even looking at or focused on or new learnings or new character traits that I had to develop. What a phenomenal way to look at. Yeah. Look at challenges in life. Thank you for sharing that. I, I’m gonna leave this interview thinking about this for the whole day when you think of your time in the classroom or in the school, and you still spend lots of time visiting schools. So maybe you also hear about the stories, but I’m curious to know if there’s any stories that remain in your mind about how education has changed the life of young people and maybe there’s specific student in mind or somebody who was having a difficult time that was maybe in one of your classes or one of your schools that you heard of and had like a serious transformation.


Sam Demma (22:24):
And if it’s a, you know, a very serious story, you could change their name just to keep it private. And if there isn’t a specific story that comes to mind, you can also just talk about how you think education impacts the lives of young minds.


Jeannie Armstrong (22:39):
Wow. That’s I’m just trying to think, Sam there’s, there’s been so many, I mean, over 26 years in education, there’s been so many students that I could speak of. But I think what I reflect on most is, you know, the times when I could be in the grocery store and all of a sudden I hear a voice behind me and, you know 15 years later, or 20 years later, if somebody that I taught many, many years before and a few have stopped me to tell me about, you know, perhaps a change in pathway challenges that they face, that they were able, able to overcome. And the fact that they remember my name and wanted to take the time to tell me about, you know, how they’ve put their life in order or how they’ve made the changes necessary.


Jeannie Armstrong (23:39):
And whenever I have someone take the time to do that, I make sure to tell them that I’m proud. Mm. I always try to do that as a teacher. And, and I, and I mean, it, you know so there’s been those opportunities, but I also think of the many opportunities for students, perhaps that the transformation may not have been as great, but even for example, students were shy and afraid to share their voice. And, you know, I could see leadership potential in them and encourage them as a principal to apply to the minister student advisory council where they’d have an opportunity to share their voice with the minister of education. And in my time in Renfrew Catholic, I believe I had six or seven students that made the minister student advisory council. I think it’s something of a record. But it’s simply just encouraging them to apply and share their voice at a large level and, and to believe in themselves.


Jeannie Armstrong (24:36):
And many of those students then have, you know, commented to me about how that impacted them and how they were able to develop confidence in themselves. And again, like I talk about the people that had faith in me, it’s just about paying it forward. And when you have faith and you believe in students and you give them the opportunity to share their voice, not just with you, but at a system level, at a provincial level, at a national level great things happen. And I think as adults, what we can learn from that is that it’s really important to listen. It’s important to just take the time to listen to what kids have to say. Our students are amazing, and I think of you, Sam you know, doing these podcasts and international speaking events, and it’s really remarkable. And I know that at your age, I would not have been confident enough to do even what you’re doing. And so, you know, hats off to all of these young people who are making a difference each and every day and creating that national or global impact students like, like you said, that that are making that, that change. And it’s those voices that will really propel our nation forward. And that’s exactly what we need to do as adults is take a step back and let students be leaders and listen.


Sam Demma (26:09):
And it was my teacher in grade 12, Mr. Loudfoot, who helped me redirect my focus when I was going through my biggest storm after three major knee surgeries or knee injuries and two surgeries and lost the full ride scholarship and felt like my life was falling apart. And he was the one who believed in me when I stopped believing in myself and helped me realize that soccer was just one game in life, but life is filled with thousands of games, and at any time you can start playing a new one and that the skills you learn in one aspect of life can be transferred to another. And the list goes on and on. He like foundationally changed my life, and I’m so grateful I crossed path with him and that’s the person I’m visiting on the farm, you know, next week. And this has been such a refreshing conversation about education, about opportunities, about the future of education. If someone wants to ask you a question, get in touch, reach out, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Jeannie Armstrong (27:08):
They can contact me by email or through my Twitter account, Sam. So that’s, that’s great. I’m always open to learning from other people and connecting. So absolutely!


Sam Demma (27:19):
Awesome. Jean, thank you so much for coming on the show. You were awesome. Have an amazing day and we’ll talk soon.


Jeannie Armstrong (27:25):
Thanks so much, Sam, take care.


Sam Demma (27:28):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Jeannie Armstrong

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.

Julie Hunt Gibbons – Superintendent of Secondary Program & Student Success at Halton District School Board

Julie Hunt Gibbons – Superintendent of Secondary Program & Student Success at Halton District School Board
About Julie Hunt Gibbons

Julie (@SOthinkingabout) is a dynamic school and system leader with a broad range of educational leadership experiences spanning three decades in two different school boards. Demonstrated success in collaborative leadership, strategic, operational, and program planning, faculty development, educational technology, and innovation.

Connect with Julie: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Peel District School Board

University of Western Ontario, B.A. in Political Science

University of Windsor, M.A. in Sociology

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. I’m super excited for today’s conversation with Julie Hunt Gibbons. Julie is the superintendent of secondary programs and student success at the Halton District School Board, or I should say was the superintendent. She is retiring as of the summer of 2021. I believe right before we recorded she let me know that she would be retiring in the next few days.


Sam Demma (01:06):
So we got her on the show right after her long career in education came to a close. Now she’s a dynamic school leader and system leader with a broad range of educational leadership experiences spanning three decades in two different school boards. And she has a demonstrated track record and success in collaborative leadership, strategic operational, and program planning, faculty development, educational technology, and innovation. You could tell that Julia is super passionate about her work, but the way she got there was a little unique. In fact, she thought she was gonna work in law as you’ll hear about in today’s conversation. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this. I will see you on the other side, take some notes, get a pen, get a sheet of paper and I’ll see you soon. Julie, thank you for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, just I think 10 days into your retirement. Oh, five days into your retirement. I love it. It’s a pleasure to have you here. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and take us back to the story about what actually got you into education in the first place?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (02:12):
Well, I’m Julie Hunt Gibbons, and I have just retired as a superintendent of education, specifically a program and student success superintendent at the Halton District School Board. So it’s been 30 years, so when you say, take me back, Sam, that’s a long time. So I started teaching in 1991 and I started in the Peel District School Board at a high school that doesn’t exist anymore called Morningstar High School and then I moved to heart lake. So I was up in Maltin in Brampton for the first part of my teaching career and why I became an educator; that’s an interesting one because I didn’t really have that, I want to be a teacher all my life piece. In fact, my undergrad is in political science and sociology, my master’s degree is in criminology with a focus on socio-legal studies, and I was doing that because I thought I wanted to go to law school.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (03:16):
And when I was doing my master’s degree, I was a TA. And then I taught a night school course in first year criminology. And most of the people I taught were adults who were taking it to get a bump in their pay as police officers or correctional officers. And I loved teaching. I really, really loved inspir people and sharing knowledge. And it just sort of went from there. And I I applied for both a PhD and a and to the faculty of education. And I got into both and I sort of explored both for one week panicked and then ended up at the, a city of Toronto doing my bachelor of education and becoming a teacher. And I taught all things in a history department that weren’t history. I taught politics and law and sociology. And so all those grade back then it was grade 13. So all those sort of 11, 12 and 13 core that students can take later in their, their high school career. So,


Sam Demma (04:26):
So I would be correct in saying you had no idea you’d get into teaching.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (04:31):
Absolutely not. My master’s degree was actually completed working in a maximum security women’s facility in SEL, AE, Michigan focused on women who were completing life sentences and in Michigan life is indeterminant life. It’s, it’s not a set time it’s until the day you die. And so I was going back and forth from Windsor to Michigan and doing interviews with women who were incarcerated. My very first job was actually working for lifeline, which is a program in Canada that was four lifers and BI lifers. And I was the executive assistant for this program while I was completing my ma. So no teaching wasn’t ever any part of it. It was all focused in that criminology field. And I, I thought I was going into law or at least a PhD in that area.


Sam Demma (05:24):
Well, you’ve peaked my curiosity now, as someone who interviews educators, you, you said you, you were interviewing women who are facing life sentences. What were those interviews about or, or what did they look like? You just, I’m kind of curious.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (05:36):
Well everyone was already tried and sentenced and incarcerated and serving a life term in the hero on valley maximum security women’s Institute in IIL and Michigan. And our, the interviews were really about what, how they got there. And, and a lot of it was from a feminist perspective and the role of patriarchy in their situations and in their criminal circumstances and then sort of where they were in their own journeys once incarcerated, because of course many had kicked drug habits. Others had found an education. They never were privy to when they were living on the streets, et cetera. And so it was all very qualitative in nature. And it, it was absolutely fascinating because, you know, someone could have been serving a sentence from when they were hooked on heroin and had killed a client in a sex trade piece.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (06:39):
And then now they have three university degrees and were straight and had found God and all the rest, and it didn’t have an impact in any way they were locked up until the end of their days. So it was a very interesting piece. And then when I working on the male side with the lifeline piece through Kingston again I, I loved the educational piece. I realized that that work might not sit well for a, a, a young woman looking to have a family and, and all the rest it was. So I made the decision that I wanted to help people, and I wanted to help people who got to go home at the end of the day.


Sam Demma (07:26):
That’s awesome. What a story. And when you reflect back, can you think of educators that you had in your life that had a huge impact on you that led you towards education? Like you mentioned that you loved teaching. Did you have any teachers who also loved teaching that had an impact on you?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (07:44):
For sure. I did. When I when, when I was a small child and, and, and in high school. And, and I also remember the ones who had the very opposite impact, you know, the, I think the mediocre, the ones that you forget, but the incredible, wonderful, and incredibly not wonderful are the ones that you remember. And I would say I took a, a lot of lessons from those that inspired me and I had the fortunate chance to go back. I went to high school in the us, so I moved, I grew up in Oakville and then we moved to new England and we moved back and I actually graduated from Thomas a Blakelock high school in Oakville. And I was able to do one of my practice teaching students there. And there were, there were some men in the history department who I had had in my grade 13 year when I was there. And it was the ability to be that powerful storyteller. And I think the reason I loved history so much was because of the oratory and the storytelling. That’s how I remembered and did well. I, I got into the story of all of it. And to this day, like I love historical fiction. That is my choice of reading at all times. You’re, you’re learning something, but history has come alive as well.


Sam Demma (09:07):
That’s amazing. And I think what’s so interesting about that is that the teacher that had the biggest impact on me was my history teacher. It was world issues class, but he was just sharing us history. And at the same points relate to, to my passion about storytelling and, and the way he delivered his lessons, which is so cool. You mentioned that, you know, some teachers that are great stuck out to you and some that were not so great, also stuck out to you. And it brought my mind to this quote that every, you know, person or situation were in is either an example or is a, like a caution or like a worry, you know, one example. Yeah. Non-example, I’m trying to think of what the opposite word was. So what are some of the things the best teachers did in your experience that you can remember? And also on the other side of the coin, some of the things you think that those not so great teachers did that had a negative impact on you.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (10:03):
I have always believed that kids don’t care what, you know, until they know what you care. They know that you care, and that’s the most important thing by far. Students need to know that you are the caring adult and that their, their life beyond whatever it, it is that you’re teaching is important. There has to be that human connection. Like we’re not widgets, we’re, we’re not robots, we’re human. And the human connection has to be there. And I always say to starting out teachers, you know, how do you answer the question when someone asks you, what do you teach? You know, and people might say, well, I teach math, I teach science, I teach history, teach students. I teach children. I teach human beings because that’s the most important piece, because when you reflect on your favorite teacher and I reflect on my favorite teacher, I can’t name the lesson. I can’t say what was so great about how they taught. I can only reflect on a feeling that they left me with and that feeling, that how much I enjoy being in their presence and being in that room, because it was engaging and enjoying. And it’s the feeling that you reflect back on that made them your favorite teacher.


Sam Demma (11:13):
I love that. And it’s so true. And what do you think are some of the ways they made you feel great? Like, was it by tapping on the shoulder by personalizing what they were saying to you by giving you a chance to share? Like, what do you think if I know you mentioned this is a long time ago, so it might be hard to pinpoint some specific things,


Julie Hunt Gibbons (11:33):
You know, having worked in the program department for the last number of years and, and seeing a lot of different people teach it’s, it’s the personalization of it. It’s the little things that start it with greeting students at the door, knowing their names, knowing something about them beyond just their name knowing and properly pronouncing someone’s name be having opportunities to form and build trust in relationships. So whether that’s you know, building in opportunities, regardless of what you’re teaching, you know, I could be doing teaching math or teaching geography. I can still use communi or circles and you sharing and, and opportunities where I get to know students beyond just the subject matter of desks and rows, and, you know, Sage on the stage where I’m just really regurgitate, you’re regurgitating what I’ve said. Like that’s, that’s not active teaching in this world today with Google Wikipedia, all those other things.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (12:35):
Students don’t need teachers for facts. Students need teachers to provide the engagement and that joy of education that becomes the self motivating piece to want to learn and to be inspired, to learn. And I think it’s those inspiring pieces that includes the various pedagogy. They’re not doing the same thing all the time being responsive. So one year I might be teaching a grade 10 history class. And I know that most of maybe I have 75% of very active boys in my class, and I better be doing kinesthetic learning and not having them sit there and read and regurgitate and history may be the worst subject for that because history doesn’t change, but we have to be responsive in, in how we teach. And that means knowing them and meeting them where they are. I taught math for the first five years of my career.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (13:33):
Cause there wasn’t enough history there. I don’t have math qualifications in nine and 10 that you could teach the subject. If you had a willingness back when I was doing this. And I, I said, sure, I’ll teach math. And I think the reason I excelled at it is because I told the students right up front in my math that, you know, this wasn’t, I, you know, I didn’t go and graduate from Waterloo and mathematics. I explained things in a way that made them understand it. And I took real world examples and, and I used you know, we were talking about integer and negatives and I, I, I got out that thermometer. We talked about how things look so people could com conceptualize. It made it O okay to ask any questions. There was no such thing as a, as a dumb question. And I, I think that was sort of made it a trusting environment. And when people trust people are more vulnerable and then they’re willing to go further, take greater risks and ultimately learn more.


Sam Demma (14:34):
I was gonna say, it feels like, it sounds like trust is the main ingredient and all the examples you just shared, you know, trusting that the person standing in front of the classroom does care about you trusting that you can ask questions, make a mistake and learn from it in a safe environment. Like it all seems like it stems back to care and trust and compassion. And these sorts of characteristics, those are the ones.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (14:57):
Definitely


Sam Demma (14:59):
Those are the positive experiences. And we don’t have to, you know, spend too much time on the negative. But it’s funny. I find that a thousand people could compliment us in one person, says something negative and it sticks out in your head like a sore thumb. And it’s just, I think it’s a negativity bias that all humans have. And I’m curious to know if you could think back to some of those experiences that were negative as a caution, you know, what are things that you think other educators should never do or not do? You know, based on your experiences.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (15:31):
You’re very right. There, there is a, there’s actually been research done on, on how many positives someone has to hear in order to help balance that one negative piece. And I think back to when I was a small child in elementary school and a music teacher telling me that maybe I shouldn’t sing so loudly and you know, that sort of, that you know, that, that just joy to me, that kids have. And, and then maybe, wow, that was the first time I’ve reflected that maybe I wasn’t the best singer in the world.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (16:09):
But I, I do think that some times as educated, we really have to worry about what we say, because we’re in such a position of trust and people take it to heart. And so comments about levels like D streaming is a big thing in the province right now, right? And so commentary mid by educators about what levels you, you should be taking your courses at. And, and ultimately it should be a student’s choice because only they know how hard they’re working, how hard they’d like to work, what their post-secondary dreams are in any way. And, and you know, who are we to in any way cap those because, you know, people may have to work differing degrees, achieve their dreams, but their dreams are their own. And we have to be very careful that in what we say, that we are not in any way, a stepping on someone’s dreams.


Sam Demma (17:08):
I love that. And it’s so, so true. And I think at a young age, we look up to our teachers and they have, you know, not only are they in a position trust, but you’re technically in a position of influence, you know, what you say is, is listened to, and it might not be accepted, but it’s definitely reflected upon by the students. Most of the time, I would say, and you, you, you’re totally right. You know, if you tell a student you can or cannot do something it could affect them for, for, for years or, or change their perspective, Devon what’s possible for them. Aside from the situation of the singing, can you recall any other situations where something like that happened for you personally?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (17:47):
No. I just remember the overall the feelings, you know? Yeah. Like if you say someone’s name and it’s an association of a feeling of, of either it’s a good feeling, a bad feeling or, or a lack of feeling. Got it. And I think that, that everyone, regardless of what position you’re in, if you’re you know, an EA, a teacher, a vice principal, a principal, a superintendent, the, the goal should be to leave people with a good feeling. Hmm. Because that’s the empowering piece that became, I think most clear to me when I became a vice principal, because often the association for students is the vice principal is where you go, if you’re in trouble. And you know, even now I, I see people and they’re like, oh, you were my vice principal. And I know them and people say, oh, were you, were you a bad kid?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (18:39):
You knew your vice principal. And the answer, the answer is no, there’s no such thing as a bad kid, there are bad choices. And everybody makes bad choices at some point in their life. But just because you knew the vice principal didn’t mean that you, you were a bad kid. And I, I really tried hard as the vice principal. I coached. I was involved in student government. It was just trying really hard to make it, that it wasn’t a place where you went only if you got sent there, because it was a de disciplinary matter.


Sam Demma (19:12):
I love that. And it’s, you know, I’m not far removed from high school. I’m 21. And I, it’s funny because that’s such a very, that’s a true stereotype about the vice principal situation, and I’m glad you broke it. That’s awesome. I love that in terms of positions, you’ve played the whole field in terms of when it comes to education of teaching principal, vice principal superintendent, which of the positions have you found the most fulfilling personally, and what are some of the challenges you faced in it? And how did you overcome those?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (19:46):
I have thoroughly enjoyed every position I was in. So that one, that one is hard. I, I think it was the making the difference piece is what propelled me. So when I was a teacher, then they had, they had this thing called assistant department heads back then they haven’t had that role for a long time. And people pointed out I should apply for role. And I, I did. And then now you’re helping people within the department in a leadership role. And then the next progression was to department head. And then in peel, we had this title, it was super head because it was multiple departments. And it was just sort of what was the next piece. A lot of it was intrinsic as well as extrinsic and people saying to me, oh, you should apply for this. But a lot of it was the feeling that I could make a difference.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (20:46):
So moving from the classroom into administration, a, a lot of it was that I wanted to make a difference for more students. And I thought I could in that role because now I didn’t just have the students in my classroom who I saw every day. I had the students in the school and I was a secondary vice principal at Erindale secondary school in peel for five years. And back in the day Erindale was a very large school. And I know that I got to help a lot more students in that role than I did just when I was in the class. And, and then the next logical piece was then principal. And I was the principal at Warren park in south Missisauga. And again, the, the leadership and the tone of the school comes from the front office.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (21:44):
And I’ve always believed that, and I’ve always lived that and seen and knew that that was something that I was gonna ensure that the tone that came from any office that I was running was a very positive one and one that was student focused and students first. And it was, and when I left Lauren Park, I went to Halton and I was the principal at Nelson high high school. And then I was the principal at Oak culture, Fager high school before coming, becoming a superintendent. And even the move to superintendent was sort of, I had been a principal in three, in three different schools and two different school boards. And it, it was sort of, so what do I do next for my own per personal learning and growth, because I, I do see myself as a lifelong learner. And what is that next step? And so then as a superintendent, you are now that critical friend to a whole group of principles who you’re overseeing and supporting. And then as well, taking on the portfolio of program and student success, which is all focused on pedagogy and assessment and evaluation. Now I’m having that impact on the classrooms again as well. And so I would say I enjoyed all of those rules at the time, and each one sort of fit the stage of life that I was in.


Sam Demma (23:06):
There’s definitely at least a dozen educators listening, who are asking themselves similar questions. How can I make a bigger difference? How can I make a greater impact on more students on the entire school, on the educational system as a whole, in my entire school board. And they might be wondering, you know, Julie, how did you, how did you make the ascent? And if you could go back and speak to your younger self and give younger Julie advice you know, before moving up all these different positions, what advice would you give yourself?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (23:42):
Balance for sure. I think anyone who’s reflecting on this has to make sure that they’re reflecting on the bigger picture of work life balance that is very, very important and necessary for your success. EV everyone’s family situations are different. Everyone’s home responsibilities are different, and what you’re doing has to fit within where you are in your own life journey. At the time, this was brought home to me back in 2012, I was diagnosed with cancer and I was off work. I had to undergo surgery and chemo and everything else, and I am an ovarian cancer survivor, and I’ve been clear now for seven years. So that was the biggest wake up call to me about the work life balance at full confession. I do have that workaholic tendency work has always brought me a great deal of pleasure and therefore doing more of it.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (24:43):
I just, I’ve always been that way. Having and cancer really gave me pause to stop and think and think about it. And it’s one of the reasons I retired at my first eligibility. So in teaching your age and your year service has to equal a minimum of 85 in order to get your full pension. So I, I turned 55 this year and I’ve completed 30 years of teaching, which makes me 85, which means that I am my first eligibility to retire. And I took that, and I know I shocked a lot of people cuz they were like, you’re too young to retire. But as much as I love my job, I also love my family and I love life and I want to experience more of life on my terms. And you know, it’s not a job that you can do.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (25:36):
Part-Time right. It’s a big job, a superintendent, it’s a big job with long hours. And I wanted to be more the captain of my own ship and of more of that flexibility. And, and so that’s why I did take the opportunity and I’m looking forward to doing all sorts of things on my terms. So I still am that lifelong learner. I spend an awful lot of time listening to books, reading books. I, I get a great deal of pleasure out of learning new things. And I think I will continue to do that.


Sam Demma (26:10):
I love that. That’s such an awesome way to wrap up this conversation today. You’re five days into this new journey of living life on your terms, which is amazing. Congratulations, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing, you know, the story of overcoming cancer. That’s amazing and I’m sure your overcoming of that, that challenge has probably inspired so many other people who’ve gone through similar things, especially in the field of education so thank you for sharing that. If an educator’s listening and wants to reach out and just maybe chat with you, if you’re still open to those calls, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (26:47):
I’ve always opened to those calls. In fact, I’m keeping my board email. It is my hope that I will be doing some project work with Halton or any other board, as I say, I’m not leaving, because I don’t wanna work. I just don’t wanna work 50-60 hours a week anymore. And so I’m maintaining my board email so I can be reached there through huntgibbonsj@hdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (27:15):
Awesome. Julie, thank you so much. It’s been a huge pleasure. I really appreciate you coming on the show, keep up with the awesome work and we’ll talk soon.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (27:23):
Thanks Sam. You keep up the awesome work too.


Sam Demma (27:28):
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; f you want 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 Julie Hunt Gibbons

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 O’Neil – Superintendent of Education at the Durham Catholic District School Board

Mike O'Neil - Superintendent of Education at the Durham Catholic District School Board
About Mike O’Neil

Mike O’Neill has over 25 years of experience as an educator, consultant and school administrator with DCDSB. In addition, he has played many significant leadership roles within the system as Restorative Practice Lead and Facilitator, Development of the Bullying Awareness and Prevention Curriculum, and Executive Member of the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario (CPCO) Durham Chapter.

His committee work includes involvement with Mentoring for New Administrators, New Teacher Induction Program, and the School Effectiveness Framework Committee. In 2013, he was recognized nationally by The Learning Partnership with the Outstanding Principal Award for achieving increased academic success of students, building a positive school climate, and strengthening partnerships with parents and community.

Mr. O’Neill is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario where he earned his Bachelor of Arts; and University of Ottawa where he earned his Bachelor of Education. He earned his Master’s of International Education at Charles Sturt University. Mr. O’Neill is a member of the Knights of Columbus and belongs to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Whitby.

Connect with Mike: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Durham Catholic District School Board

Pickering Catholic Principal Outstanding

The Learning Partnership: Innovation for Educators

What are Restorative Practices?

Sunshine calls

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 interview is a special one. And I know I say that often because almost all of the guests I bring on are incredibly special and doing amazing work, but today’s special guest is Michael O’Neil, who was actually the principal of the elementary school that I attended as a young person. Mike has over 25 years of experience as an educator consultant and school administrator within the DCDSB – Durham Catholic district school board. He has played many significant leadership roles within the systems of restorative practice, lead facilitator development of the bullying awareness program and prevention curriculum, and executive member of the Catholic principal’s council of Ontario Durham chapter. His committee work includes involvement with mentoring for new administrators, new teacher induction program, and the school effectiveness framework committee. In 2013, Mike was also recognized nationally by the learning partnership with the outstanding principle award for achieving increased academic success of students building a positive school climate and strengthening partnerships with parents and community. He is also extremely involved in his own local community, being a member of the Knights of Columbus and belonging to St. John, the evangelist Catholic church in Whitby. I hope you enjoy today’s jam-packed, informative interview and conversation with Michael. And I will see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (02:40):
Mike, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. This is a, a very full circle moment for me because you were my principal at elementary school and , and now we’re together on this podcast. So welcome. Thank you for coming on the show today.


Mike O’Neil (02:56):
Aw, thanks very much, Sam. This is definitely the joy of, of being in this vocation, being able to see success amongst your students who you, you know, I, I recall you running around with the soccer ball on the field there. You know, and several times I think some of those soccer balls may have come towards my head, but I I’m thinking that that was unintentional Sam. So I, I won’t hold you to it. So congratulations on your success as well. I’m very happy to be here.


Sam Demma (03:26):
I really appreciate it. Well, why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are today in education?


Mike O’Neil (03:33):
Yeah, sure. Sam so currently Sam I’ve, I’ve been in education for 25 plus years. And currently I’m residing in the role of superintendent of education for human resources here at the Durham Catholic district school board in the human resources department we’re responsible for over 3,500 employees and serving and supporting them in terms of you know, services ranging from recruitment payroll you know, support with leaves maternity leaves, et cetera. And any other issues that arise with employees collective bargaining. So it is being for me, I, I am now sitting kind of serving at a system level, trying to serve our students and ensure that our students have a qualified teacher in front of their classroom that they’re supervised that we have enough staff, which there’s definitely a teacher shortage at the, at the moment.


Mike O’Neil (04:37):
But you know, I, I’m working on a assist them level with our senior administrative team as well in enacting some of the strategic priorities around equity, excellence and engagement here at the Durham Catholic district school board. But I have, I began my career back in 1993 with or sorry, 1994, I’m aging myself even more . And I began as a kindergarten teacher, so it’s like, I’ve worked my way up from kindergarten to the system level here at superintendent. I, I was teaching a teacher of multiple grades grade six for a long time. I served as a consultant for the teaching and learning department here for the area of literacy. And then I spent 13 plus years as an administrator, a vice principal and a principal primarily in Pickering. And then I have as I mentioned before, come to full circle to be at the system level now and supporting our employees and students that way.


Sam Demma (05:46):
Did you know when you were a student that you wanted to work in education or how did that profession in vocation call out to you and become a part of your journey?


Mike O’Neil (05:55):
I could say I was probably most inspired by my parents. Both of them are educators, my mother, a kindergarten teacher and my father was a principal as well for over 25 plus years. So if I always had education in our household and there was always the education talk and but I, I didn’t really I’ll be honest. I wanted to, you know, if you were to ask me in grade, you know, 12, what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a firefighter. And then I got up a couple ladders and realized that was my fear of Heights would not allow me to do that. And then I, you know, in primarily in you know postsecondary education and I was primarily focused on being a lawyer to be honest.


Mike O’Neil (06:45):
But there was always a I always had, you know, being involved in extracurricular activities or on the stage and in theater and in drama, I always had an interest in you know, acting and then I think it was you know, when I, I went into a volunteer in a couple of schools just to get some community service and I realized, listen, I can be an actor here and I can be a kid, a little kid all the time. and so,youknow, I know that may sound,uunprofessional, but it allowed me to just have not necessarily be a kid, but feel the spirit of being a kid mm-hmm . And I think that,uis what inspired me is that I want to keep that spirit alive in myself. And so,uthen I pursued,uthe pathway,uto education.


Sam Demma (07:39):
And you live that mentality, like, I think back to growing up in St. Monica’s, you know, elementary school and you were one of the most energetic, and I don’t wanna say fun principals I ever had, cuz the rest of them were great too, but yeah, you really connected with the students and I’m curious to, do you believe that you should keep your, you know, your kid-like spirit alive, even in your adult work? Has that been important to you?


Mike O’Neil (08:09):
Oh, I, I, I think it’s education is challenging if you don’t keep that kid’s spirit alive and if you don’t feed off, I, I mean, I, I fed off the spirit, the innocence, the, the pure joy of, of children the curiosity of children. So you have to be able to feed off that. I, I, I wanted to enjoy work every single day. I wanted to, to be a part of the difference. It allowed me to just smile with the kids every single day. I mean Sam, you can remember, I think one of my most favorite moments there at, at St Monica’s was doing, I did the gang man style dance with everyone you know, just spirit days, pep, you know, pep rallies. It was like, I was a, I was a school president in for my student council in high school.


Mike O’Neil (09:09):
And I just felt like I could be school president without having to campaign for it all the time. So you know, again, that spirit alive, but that, to me, I mean, you mentioned their Sam connection and I, I think that’s that has been transformational for me in terms of where I you know, I think all educators need to, to realize that they, the they’re not responsible, you know, not that they’re not responsible, but they’re, they’re not, the importance is not whether or not someone gets into an Ivy league school. The importance is that someone feels connected and connection at that school. I mean, we, they spend just as much time with us in, during the day and with their peers and with their teachers, as they do at night with their family before they go to bed you know, for 190 plus days a year.


Mike O’Neil (10:08):
And if they, you know what do we want to do and what is, what you know, is important in family connection. So it needs to be in important in those schools. The kids need to know that they’re cared for that. They are loved that they’re allowed to make mistakes. I, I, you know, I always had a, a, a post or a in my classroom when I was a teacher that said, this is a mistake making class, you’re allowed to make mistakes. And you have to be feel comfortable. And the only way you can feel comfortable is by feeling a sense of belonging to that school mm-hmm to that classroom. So, you know my, the most important aspect for me was building up the social architecture in, in a classroom. And then as a principal in a school I was, you know, charged with, I wanted to make the school, the best school in the universe for those kids. And I always instilled that and said it every single day. You heard me on the announcements, Sam saying that every single day, and I, I drew believed it. We needed to, everyone needed to feel connected to one another, regardless whether they were in kindergarten or grade eight we are in it together. And once they felt comfortable and connected, guess what, they’re going to find success. It’s not going to matter who the teacher is or what they’re teaching. If they feel a sense of belonging and action, they’re going to succeed.


Sam Demma (11:40):
And where did those beliefs and philosophies come from? Did you have some mentors in education were they built off of your own personal experiences? Yeah. Maybe explain where those beliefs and ideas kind of originated for you.


Mike O’Neil (11:56):
Again, I think I, I, I bring it back to my my father and his his that was his approach as an administrator. It was all about making you know, a positive school, culture and climate for this staff because the staff needs to feel a sense of belonging together. And you know, he did have some great staff parties at you know, at the house that I remember. I mean, I won’t get into them now, but , it was just a sense of, you know, you had to have a, you know, share you share around the table. And that was instilled in me by that. And then I also had a a principal pat McKinnon that served as my first mentor and Mr. Mckinnon, who was the principal. He, that was his whole philosophy.


Mike O’Neil (12:50):
It wasn’t about, you know, what the kids were learning or what you were teaching is how are you treating these kids? Are you treating them fair? Are you treating them with a sense of humility? Are you you know approaching them at their level and you know Mr. Mckinnon let’s serve just as a role model for that, for me, just the way he operated being visible. And I think that was the one thing that I had previously seen principals who were just in the office and you never saw, but when I saw, you know pat McKinnon being the visible leader, that’s what inspired me to say, Hey, listen, I think I can enjoy it. Cause I don’t want an office job just sitting in an office, but I think that I could enjoy making a difference by being visible in the school and, and leading the school as an administrator.


Sam Demma (13:48):
That’s awesome. Shout out to pat McKinnon.


Sam Demma (13:55):
So connection, I also agree is so important as you mentioned, and over the past two years, that’s been a difficult one, you know, with COVID with the pivot in education and a lot of students being forced to tune in virtually how as a school board, or even as individual of schools, do you think teachers and educators can still make sure their students feel, you know, connected at least to their teacher or to their subject? Is there anything you’ve seen happen in the Durham Catholic district school board that’s worked out well? Yeah. Anything can speak on,


Mike O’Neil (14:32):
Yeah, I, you know, I think it’s, you’re right, Sam, that it has been probably one of the most challenging periods. You know, I didn’t realize that when I signed up for this job that, you know, we’d be facing unprecedented plague. Yeah. That would, you know ground the world to a halt for two years. But what it is, I, I think the key to building those connections is not necessarily lying in a tool that you know, there’s been many programs that have come and gone, you know, and, and you know companies saying use this tool with these activities to create the connection. At the end of the day, it really comes down to the personnel and who the person is that’s in front of our kids. They, you know, it’s human nature to want connections and to build on those connections.


Mike O’Neil (15:30):
So I think if you have, and what I think has been demonstrated in Durham Catholic district school board is that our teachers are the right caring adults at the right time during this period of challenge for our students. They are giving it them all, they’re all. And they are you know, I, I think the same way that we had to come closer together and we reached out and dug deep into our, our, our souls to find more connections with our family and friends went during this time. That’s the same thing that we had to do as teachers, you know because most of the kids would be, you know, when they were connecting virtually they’re on their, you know, bed in their pajamas with their cameras off, you know and they, you know, probably are sleeping but we had to engage them and find new tools and, and the ability to pivot, and it still make those connections and a different mode of learning.


Mike O’Neil (16:37):
But at the end of the day, it’s what the person says, what the teacher does how they demonstrate that they care and the respect that they show and the culture that they a built that is centered around understanding empathy. You know, curriculum came secondary during COVID you know, some of the things were where I saw the most successful classes where when they just, you know, teachers, even at the end of their ropes would say, Hey guys, it’s not a good day for me. It’s not a good day for us all, we keep getting bad news. So let’s just talk. And I, I think just the ability to connect and talk to our students during COVID, I believe teachers are the unsung heroes of the, the frontline workers during this time because parents were stressed to levels you know, unprecedented levels and, and, you know, they wanted someone to, they wanted some relief and somebody to teach their kids, and they wanted that journey of their children to continue.


Mike O’Neil (17:59):
And our teachers stepped up. So it’s not a tool, it’s a mindset. It’s a, an approach . And I, I think that our leaders, our principals did a fantastic, amazing job of, of helping support their principals to emphasize that message. You know, it’s not about, who’s getting an a, now it’s about who’s learning, who’s connecting who’s getting the supports that they need during this time and to health supports, et cetera. So you know, I, I truly believe that. And, and it, it comes down to my philosophy. I, I, I have a restorative mindset, a restorative practice mindset where you know, it’s built on connections, built on accountability to one another, but built on understanding one another. And so I think that restorative mindset that our teachers have here in Durham Catholic has made a tremendous difference for our students.


Sam Demma (19:03):
And curiosity in asking questions is so important. At some something that every teacher I’ve had or administrator that I’ve had, who’s been curious themselves, it ends up making it a better experience for the school and the students, because you realize that they’re not only there to teach you, but they’re also learning along the journey. And for any educator who’s tuning into this right now, who might be in their initial years of teaching, you know, back back when you were just starting someone like that. Uwhat resources have you found used or read,uon your own personal development as an educator or someone who works in education that you found helpful. And also if you could speak to your younger self, what advice would you, would you give?


Mike O’Neil (19:51):
What advice wow.


Sam Demma (19:53):
Don’t cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That would be your first one.


Mike O’Neil (19:55):
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I would say, you know, to my younger self is be confident, be resilient, because you need that in this job. I would also say to myself, don’t lose the joy because the times when I’ve struggled in, in this, and again, don’t lose that kid spirit. Yeah. You know, being inspired by that kid spirit, I, I would say to my recommendation for,youknow, new teachers coming in,and, and we hear, and I’m responsible for, or the new teacher induction program here. And we, we train them,uin a course,ucalled restorative practice. And again, it’s about,umaking connections. You know, it’s a, it’s, it’s an approach that is not adversarial, but collaborative with your kids,uin front, in your classroom. And so I would definitely recommend,youknow, looking into restorative practice and the tools that can be used to make those connections, restorative circles.


Mike O’Neil (21:02):
They were transformational for me in in intentionally and deliberately getting to know my students. Mm. And then getting to know me, my fears. The second thing I, I would say is as an educator, I mean, I would say I listen to a lot of brand, a Brown’s podcast about vulnerability, and you have to be vulnerable as a teacher, it’s okay for you to make mistakes as a teacher like Sam. I know I think, you know, if I, if I see some of my former students you know, especially the ones early in my career here that I taught in grade six, or even in kindergarten, I, I always, if I see them in a pub or whatever, I’ll buy them a, a drink and say, I apologize, because I wasn’t at my best at my first couple years.


Mike O’Neil (21:59):
Right. Yeah. But you know, it’s, it’s like always, you’re always need to strive to get better. Don’t rest on the lesson plans from, you know, your first year go in and always be a reflective person. And it’s okay if that lesson plan falls flat. And it, you know, my, my advice to my younger self or to new teachers would be it’s okay to go in and say, Hey, that lesson yesterday just did not go well, and we’re gonna have a, a redo. And that’s the best thing you’re in charge. You can have a redo, you can do things differently and you can reach them. So be vulnerable be you know ignite continually connect to that kid spirit that is shown and intentionally focus on the social architecture of your classrooms. What are the things that you can do that are so small that can make a difference whether it is, you know, joke Thursday, you know, I used to do those and having the kids come down and say a joke on, on the line, whether it be intentionally greeting kids at the door you know smiling acknowledging the kids acknowledging every single one of them.


Mike O’Neil (23:37):
And you know, I used to do what I used to call sunshine calls, and those sunshine calls were sometimes our parents, the parents, and this is the thing we always think that I think as teachers, we’re always afraid to call parents you know, what are they gonna say? Are they gonna question what I’m doing in the classroom? And, and everything well be vulnerable, but reach out to them, connect with, get those channels of communication going. I used to do sunshine calls, so I’d make it a, a purpose to make sure I called 10 kids a month 10 parents a month of children. And I’ve got through, you know, the whole class and repeat it to just not call, to say, Hey, listen, you know, Sam kicked another soccer ball towards my head. . But rather say, you know as Sam I just noticed this with Sam you know, he, I just observed him, you know, inviting someone into the soccer game that was you know, excluded from that. And I would just tell the parent that, so I would take notes about sunshine moments for my kids, and I think the parents needed to hear that you know, and that you know, helped you build even the kids’ confidence. I’m sure around the dinner table, when those calls were discussing,


Sam Demma (24:59):
Those are some phenomenal resources and mindset shifts that I hope yeah. You listening can implement in your own practice in your own school. Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast here. If someone wants to reach out to you to ask a question, it’s typically another educator from somewhere around the world, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Mike O’Neil (25:21):
Oh, definitely. Absolutely. And like I said, I love making connections with colleagues because that, that’s another thing, Sam advice for everyone just before I leave on this is rely on your colleagues. Mm. And you know, build relationships with them, work together because the best ideas come from one another, they don’t come from above from your principal, or, you know, the, the board, they come from one another. So I always encourage people to reach out. They can reach out to me at: Mike.ONeill@dcdsb.ca. So the Durham Catholic district school board and shoot me an email and you know, I’ll be more than be to connect with resources or things like that. And we’re always looking for qualified staff members. So you know, if you’re looking for a position, please reach out you know, like I said, all, what we want are caring adults in front of our classrooms. Those that are committed to making a difference in child’s lives, not just academically, but socially, emotionally in all aspects of their development so that we can have success stories just like you, Sam.


Sam Demma (26:40):
Mike, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. And again, a very full circle moment. Keep up the awesome work, keep cheering for the Leafs. And I will talk to you soon!


Mike O’Neil (26:51):
Go Canucks! Hahah. Thanks Sam. Cheers.


Sam Demma (26:57):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high performing educator, their 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 forwards the 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 Mike O’Neil

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

Brent 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.