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Valerie Dumoulin – Proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School

Valerie Dumoulin - Proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School
About Valerie Dumoulin

Valerie (@Val_Dumoulin) is a proud member of Taykwa Tagamou First Nation and a wife and mother to two amazing children. She is approaching her 30-year mark in education having taught in Attawapiskat, Moosonee and Cochrane.

She is currently the proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School and has been in this role for 4 years. Previous to that, she was the Vice-Principal at Cochrane Public School for 3 years. Valerie enjoys walking at 5 a.m., spending time with my family and doing Indigenous beadwork in her spare time. She is a Board member at the Ininew Friendship Centre and is passionate about the importance of relationships, mental health and resiliency.

Connect with Valerie: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ecole Secondaire Cochran high school

Taykwa Tagamou First Nation

Dr. Robin Hanley Dafoe (Resiliency Expert)

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):
Valerie welcome to the high-performing educator show. Huge pleasure to have you this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Valerie Dumoulin (00:09):
Well, I’m Valerie Dumoulin and I am the principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochran high school in Cochran, Ontario. I’m a proud member of the Taykwa Tagamou First Nation. I have been a high school principal now for four years previous to that, I was a vice-principal at our sister elementary school, and I’ve been a teacher I’m actually approaching my, 30-year mark. I’ve taught it in a variety of grade levels all the way from kindergarten to adults. And, I really am fortunate to be in the role that I am right now. And I really enjoy working with, teenagers and the staff that I have.


Sam Demma (01:09):
Did, you know, growing up that education was the career and vocation for you?


Valerie Dumoulin (01:18):
Probably in some sort of sense. I actually wanted to be a social worker nice when I would younger. So I always kind of knew that I wanted to be in a field that was in service of others somehow. I always was very empathetic almost to a fault and I wanted and I knew I wanted to help people. And I grew up in Moosonee Ontario, which is a pretty remote place. Only accessible by train. It’s a, mostly an indigenous community. And you know, there was a lot of inequities that were there and a lot of systemic barriers and I always felt like I wanted to, you know, help people. So when I was in grade 11, we moved to Cochran is where I live now. Nice and finished high school here and then went off to university and you know, somewhere along that, that, that line, I, I changed my mind and decided to apply to teachers college instead. So here I am.


Sam Demma (02:22):
And did you have teachers that really inspired you back when you were a student that you can recall or remember anyone that stood out or maybe even the opposite and that’s why you wanted to change and, and get involved?


Valerie Dumoulin (02:37):
Absolutely. I think when I think about where I grew up and, you know, just a lot of, like I said, the inequities of the area, I mean, my parents had, had their family quite young and they certainly didn’t go off to post secondary school. And a lot of my classmates that I, that I grew up, a lot of my good friends that I grew up, you know, as a child in, in, they also like have kind of beaten the odds and their teachers and lawyers and doctors and nurses and, and it, and I always wonder, like how did we, you know, kind of break through that cycle. And I, and I do think it was probably a common, the nation of things, I think like when I think about our parents, even though they were young they had high hopes for us and they always instilled in to us that we, you know, that they wanted better for us and that we could invoke change.


Valerie Dumoulin (03:31):
And I think it was, it was teachers too, because the school did play a lot of a big, big role in making us believe that we can do better and do anything that we put our minds to. So I think that and certainly lots of different teachers who stood out, you know I think about you know I had a, my grade three teacher was named Carol Bernie. She became our, she was the principal of, of the public school that I went to. She had a, she had a huge impact on me because she was female, she was indigenous. And she, she kind of made me feel like I could do something like this.


Sam Demma (04:34):
Inequities in education definitely have started really bubbling to the surface over the past. I would say, you know, two years in total, roughly what are the inequities that still exist? And maybe you can even think back to when you were a student, cuz you talked about those inequities, which are the ones that are still around and, and, and are you passionate about changing and working on?


Valerie Dumoulin (05:01):
Yeah yeah, there, there, there are still lots of barriers that we’re, we’re continuing to work on. It’s hard to believe it’s still 20, 21. And, and a lot of the, the things that I faced as, as a student in growing up in or still exist for, for some families, you know, I think about our indigenous population, for example, and at, Eole Secondaire Cochran high school, we do have about 40% of our student body that is indigenous. And there still is a lot of mistrust of the education system and we’re, we’re breaking it down slowly, but it’s, it’s slow. Yeah. You know, just because of all of the history with residential schools and all of the experiences that perhaps their families have or perception of teachers and schools and buildings you know, we’re slowly chipping away at that. So I, I, I feel like that still exists on some level.


Valerie Dumoulin (06:03):
And it’s gonna be a constant process. You know, I, I, I often think it’s gonna take, you know, more years to actually break that generational kind of cycle, but you know, it it’s, it really is inspiring to know, know that we have a lot of supports in place for, for students like that. And it’s not just the indigenous students, it’s also educating the non-indigenous students because they also didn’t get the true history because their parents just weren’t simply taught it. So it’s not their fault either. You know? So we really are, you know, together in this, in this path to reconciliation.


Sam Demma (06:42):
I agree. Absolutely. And along with equity being something that bubbled to the surface, COVID brought so many other challenges. What are some of the things that have been challenging over the past year to years? And how’s the school community, have you strive to sort of overcome these things?


Valerie Dumoulin (07:03):
So I I’m finding lately the biggest challenge is keeping our spirits up. Yeah. Cause it’s been 22 months now that we’ve been dealing with COVID. And so it’s almost been two years. And as we speak today, it’s January 30 we’re approaching it’s January 14th today. And, and we’re going back to, you know, there’s so many changes that are happening. So it’s, it’s dealing with this constant change and this stress of living in the pandemic and, and we’re basically COVID weary. So I feel like it’s my job to help staff feel calm, supported, and as happy to, as I can so that they can in turn, make their students feel safe and happy and calm. Yeah. So how I deal with this challenge is I, I, I listen, I, I try to make, think of ways to make things better for people. And, and I’m here to remind them constantly that they can do hard things and they can do more than they thought that they were capable of.


Valerie Dumoulin (08:03):
And they can also do that them well, you know, so yeah, when I think about it, COVID has really changed the face of education. There have been really a lot of positive things that have come out of having to deal with COVID. So something like, like paper, for example. Yeah. You know, you wouldn’t believe like the amount of school budget that we spent on photocopy paper before the pandemic, and now we’ve become paperless pretty much, you know, we still use a bit of paper, but using asynchronous platforms and using the cloud and ditching hand outs more, I think that’s been a positive change. Nice. also I think teachers have really shifted into the 21st century rather quickly and they’ve done, done so really well. You know, they they’re using digital platforms, they’re managing break rooms, they’re using collaborative apps. I would’ve said probably before the pandemic that students probably had the edge on, on teaching staff and, and teachers on, you know, being digital. But now I, I, I could, I bet that a lot of our teachers could probably show the kids a few things. Yeah. You know, and that change has happened super, super fast. So it’s been pretty amazing.


Sam Demma (09:26):
Oh, go ahead. Keep going.


Valerie Dumoulin (09:27):
Was just gonna say the, the last thing that I, that I kind of have been really impressed with is, is the focus on mental health. Mm. And I think that’s been a positive of impact of COVID too, because you know, now people are prioritizing, what’s important, you know, self care and as taking like a front role and people are, are starting to take care of their minds and bodies more and, and, and organizations and systems are feel like that is that’s something that they wanna, they wanna promote as well.


Sam Demma (10:01):
And prioritize sometimes in front of the curriculum or the KPIs or the outcomes of the organizations, which are, which is super awesome. What does exactly, what does self-care look like for youth, for how do you fill up your cup? So you can ensure that you’re pouring into your staff, like you said, and, you know, listening to them and making them feel happy.


Valerie Dumoulin (10:26):
Yeah. I, I definitely have started taking, you know, time off, like trying to ditch the email a little bit more, you know for myself, I I’m a Walker, so I have, I’ve always had dogs and I have two Huskies that depend on me to get up every morning and walk them for, for an hour. Nice. So I find that’s a really good time for me. It’s, it’s my thinking time. It’s very peaceful. I, I walk at 5:00 AM.


Sam Demma (10:52):
Nice.


Valerie Dumoulin (10:52):
Streets are quiet. You know, I get to think about like, reflect on things. Think about the day prioritize things that I wanna get done. It, it’s just a good time and I it’s me time. I also beat, I, I do some I make earrings and oh, cool. Do some indigenous type beat work. So I think that’s, that’s really helped me in the evenings kind of just you know, keep busy you, but also like focus on something else other than school, because I would say too, like, it’s, it’s been a learning curve for me to kind of let things go. I’m usually on like 24 hours, somebody would email me at nine o’clock. I’d probably email the back within five minutes, but I’ve been kind of stopping myself and saying, okay, no, that can wait till tomorrow and feeling okay to do that, which is pretty amazing. So I think that’s helped tremendously.


Sam Demma (11:42):
Boundaries. I struggle with them too. Sometimes I don’t ever turn off and people talk about burnout and you always think to yourself, oh no, I’m, I can work like this. And one day it just hits you and you go, holy crap. Like this is a real thing. And I need to set up some proper boundaries for myself. And I think a lot of people hit that threshold at some point in the last two years. So I couldn’t agree more and that’s awesome that you’re up so early walking, very that’s a cool practice. What, what do you think are some of the opportunities? I know there’s a lot of challenges right now, but what do you think some of the opportunities in education are?


Valerie Dumoulin (12:24):
Well, the, some of the opportunities that I think well, the students, like, I, I, I feel like another benefit of COVID is that families have been kind of forced to spend more time with each other. And I see that as, as, as being hopeful for, for, you know, the future because you know, I, I do, I did see kind of an alarming trend of, you know, families being really disconnected from each other. And they, you know, being tied to their phones, for example, and, and not listening or talking with their kids. And I think that’s really negatively affected kids. And as a result, we’re seeing like anxieties and behavior issues and things like that. So I’m hoping that COVID has kind of forced families kind of do things together. I have been seeing positive things. I’ve mentioned Taykwa Tagamou for example that first nation I’ve I’ve, you know, I belong to like their Facebook page and I, and I see things where programs that they have in the community are putting out really neat challenges, for example like a immune kit, like something simple like that, they’re saying, you know, we’re distributing pizza kits and we challenge families to make pizza together and then post it on the page and, you know, and, and people get to see these fam families doing things together.


Valerie Dumoulin (13:48):
So that makes me hopeful that families are, are connecting and, and talking and doing more with each other because kids have been craving that I think, and it, it will, it will help the future. So that, that gives me kind of hope for, you know, the future and, and what’s in store. And certainly with my own family too, you know, like we, you’re kind of isolated. I’ve been like, oh, let’s play a board game. We haven’t played a board game many years, you know, those kinds of things. So it has brought families closer together. I think. So I think that’s been a positive.


Sam Demma (14:23):
Me and my entire family got COVID actually over the holidays. And whenever someone asked me that question, oh, how is your holidays? I feel so bad giving them the response because they’re gonna be like, oh my God, I’m so sorry. And we, we ended up being okay. The symptoms were, were mild, thankfully, but the positive of it was like you said, we spent an unusually large amount of time together, dinner, breakfast, lunch walks, board games, movie marathons. And it was awesome. It was really cool. So I think with every challenge, there is an opportunity. Sometimes it’s just hard to find them or, or see them, especially when you’re going through a storm. And yeah, I, I agree. I think connection is a big one. That’s come out of this and a desire for more connection. We realize how important face to face communication, not over the phone, but actually in person really was. And I think that will, that will hopefully remind us after this all passes, that we need to continue doing those things and continue prioritizing mental health and continue prioritizing relationships. Over your, the course of your career, what resources have you found helpful? Whether it’s mentorship, whether it’s actually things that you’ve read watched, or been a part of that informed, you know, the way that you lead?


Valerie Dumoulin (15:56):
Through this board, like I’ve been fortunate that our board has really prioritized mental health for, for all of our staff. So they’ve brought in some great speakers. Nice. You know, so Dr. Robin Hanley defo on resiliency, like she I’m listening to her audiobook. Again, having listened to some of her, her her talks that she’s had nice Jesse Wente he’s a, an author participated in his online kind of talk that he had for, for staff and students of DSB one. So lots of different influences, but definitely restorative practices that has been really that that’s something that’s really influenced me as, as an administrator. You know, I, I view mistakes as learning opportunities, so it’s really, it’s, it’s really good to talk to kids and I know kids are gonna mess up, you know, and, and do silly, stupid things and things that they regret.


Valerie Dumoulin (17:01):
But I mean, if, if you bring the people that they’ve harmed together and have a restorative conversation, it changes into a learning opportunity. So sometimes being firm is the way to go, but I’m finding more and more that having those restorative conversations and giving chances to kids is paying off. Kids are learning how to you know, restore mistakes and talk to people that they’ve harmed make future decisions based on learning from, from their actions. And the biggest thing is taking responsibility for what they do, you know, and, and owning up to it. And, and admitting that, you know, they’ve done something wrong and that they are committing to, to rectifying kind of their mistakes.


Sam Demma (17:54):
That’s awesome. Restorative practices are so important. I even think back to when I was in elementary school I did some silly things and got a suspension. It’s just something I don’t really talk about often to be honest. And my principal was at the time his name’s Mike was big into restorative practice and he brought me the other students into his office. We cried, we were so upset with ourselves and what we did, but at the end of it, it was a serious learning opportunity. And, you know, seeing it from the student’s perspective, I found it really helpful. And I think it’s a really important thing to continue doing.


Valerie Dumoulin (18:31):
Exactly.


Sam Demma (18:33):
If you could take your experience in education, bundle it up into a ball, walk into the first classroom you taught in and tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Valerie, this is what you needed to hear. Like, what would you have told or what advice would you have given your younger self?


Valerie Dumoulin (18:55):
That’s a good question.


Sam Demma (18:56):
Yeah,


Valerie Dumoulin (18:58):
I think back actually, my very first year teaching, I was I was teaching aa a grade two teacher. So what would I have told myself? I probably would’ve said, you know, take it easy on yourself. Like you don’t have to do, you don’t have to know everything. Cuz I remember feeling, you know, as a first year teacher really confused, like, can I do this like really doubting myself and you know, maybe trying to do too much. And I remember being so exhausted just like even after a day’s work, I’d go home and have a two hour nap and then I get up and plan for the next day, you know, but you, you have to really like just take it easy on yourself, rely on your colleagues and really get to know the community that you’re in for myself.


Valerie Dumoulin (19:47):
It was a first nation community. I, I was used to living in small Northern communities, but it was still quite a different at world just because when I was up there, there, you know, a lot of the, the, the nurses and the teachers had running water, nobody else had running water. Wow. So they used to have to go to like a community area to, you know, fill their jugs, to take home, to do washing and cooking and cleaning and all sorts of things. So it was, it was quite a different world. And so I had to really, you know, understand where my students were coming from. And and, and maybe that’s how I, you know, became really interested in and understanding like how important relationship is and understanding and being empathetic towards other people’s situations. So I think that probably kind of helped me as I move forward in my career.


Sam Demma (20:41):
Love that. Awesome. Valerie, thank you so much for taking some time to come onto the podcast, share your experiences, your philosophies around education. If someone listens and wants to reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you?


Valerie Dumoulin (20:58):
Well, on social media, of course, I am on Twitter (@Val_Dumoulin) and I am on Facebook and Instagram. Email works as well: Valerie.Dumoulin@dsb1.ca. Anyway, you know, I, I’m more than willing to, to talk with people and invite people to, to connect with me for sure.


Sam Demma (21:15):
Awesome. All right. Thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Valerie Dumoulin (21:21):
Okay. Thanks, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Valerie Dumoulin

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.

Annibale Iarossi – Principal at St. Marcellinus Secondary School

Annibale Larossi - Principal at St. Marcellinus Secondary School
About Annibale Iarossi

Annibale Iarossi (@Princ_Iarossi), is the Principal at St. Marcellinus Secondary School in Mississauga.  Annibale’s passion has always been working with diverse learners and seeking opportunities for them to experience success.  He began his career in 2002 at St. Augustine Secondary School in Brampton as a Special Education Resource Teacher. 

In this role, Annibale sought to provide his students with the necessary tools they needed to achieve their best results.  In 2005, Annibale accepted a job as Student Success Teacher at the newly built St. Joan of Arc Secondary School.  In this role, he was able to work collaboratively with students, teachers, admin and support staff in planning for the success of all students. 

This role also motivated Annibale in moving forward with his personal goal of being a Secondary School Administrator.  In 2013, entered into administration as a Vice Principal until 2019 when we was appointed Principal of St. Marcellinus Secondary School.

Some of Annibale’s favourite moments as both an educator and a student have been outside the traditional classroom.  As a teacher, he has enjoyed coaching football, soccer, basketball,  and cross country. 

He continues to firmly believe that significant learning occurs outside the classroom when collaborating with other individuals in a team environment.  In his spare time, Annibale enjoys watching his children play basketball and working out at the gym.

Connect with Annibale: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Marcellinus Secondary School (DPCDSB)

Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario

Peel Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Annibale, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Annibale Iarossi (00:10):
I’m my name Annibale Larossi. I am the principal at St. Marcina secondary school in Mississauga with the din peel Catholic district school board.


Sam Demma (00:21):
When did you realize in your own career journey that education is what you wanted to pursue?


Annibale Iarossi (00:28):
I think that was rather early. When I was a student, I, think what motivated me to get into teaching was having great teachers and great teachers allowed me to fall line myself and allowed to me to realize the leader that I was, and so that translated into me getting involved in, in things in high school. And then that moving, moving into volunteering while I was in university and working with learners of all types. And I realized, yeah, this is, this is for me. I want to, I wanna be a leader in my classroom, my school, and now ultimately you know, I’m leading the school as a principal.


Sam Demma (01:12):
Take me back to yourself as a student, you mentioned that you had some great teachers. Do you remember two things, one who they were, and secondly, what you do for you that had a big impact?


Annibale Iarossi (01:26):
For sure. And, and when, when I looked at you know, who these teachers I was talking about they influenced me in different ways. Some of them influenced me by actually teaching me in class. So I had to teacher I, I recall Mrs. Roberts and who who taught, who was a history teacher and, and that’s, that’s my teachable area. That was the area I went into, got my degree. And, and she really motivated me through her lessons. And you know, you never knew what was gonna happen in the class. She was very enthusiastic, very creative and which allowed me to then in, in turn grow in my creativity. Other teachers that I had that were fantastic for me were some of my coaches in, in high school whether that be my football coaches or soccer coaches you know Mr. Barco, miss Dayton, Mr. Dayton Mr. Hollowell, Mr. Desna, all these, all these guys that motivated me to be a leader on the field then, and and all played a part in building who I am as a person.


Sam Demma (02:45):
Were athletics, a big part of your upbringing as well?


Annibale Iarossi (02:50):
Yeah. You know what I was, I was always involved in, in sport. I guess not to the same degree as, as kids are nowadays, when you stay involved in sport. And I look at my kids were involved in both are involved in basketball and I was never involved that, that much into sport, but it, it kept me engaged in school and it kept me to be affiliated with something that had purpose. So it in school, especially, I love being involved in sports and that’s why when I moved to become a teacher, I, I coached and I, I coached cross country. I CRO coached soccer. I coached football all of these sports. And it, it, it allowed me to give back to what those educators did for me.


Annibale Iarossi (03:54):
Yeah. So, so when I started when I started teaching, so I started teaching back in 2002, 2003, I was at St. Augustine secondary school. And I was I was in the special education, the academic resource department. So I was working with some of our diverse learners and, and that’s where my passion started in terms of with diverse learners and helping them achieve success. I was mentored by my department head Joce, Neves, who has now passed away. And he cared so much for students. He cared so much for not only them getting their credit, but their wellbeing, where they were going to be after high school, what they were doing outside of school, were they okay. And that resonated with me and it wanted me to work to the same standard as he did.


Sam Demma (03:39):
Absolutely. And when you think about your journey through education, where did it start and what brought you to where you are now? And I don’t mean you as a student, but you as an educator.


Annibale Iarossi (04:56):
So as a special education teacher, I was, I was at San Augustine for three years and really loved that, but I felt, I felt I needed a challenge and then a new school was opening up and St Joan a and the principal at the time CLA pit Tosha. Another one of my mentors brought me on staff as a student success teacher and student success at that point was a new a new role. And I remember going into it not even knowing what I had to do. And ironically we started out in this building at St. Mar Salinas. We were housed in this building. And basically I was, I was ensuring students experience success, worked to the best, to their ability and ensure that they graduated and got to their post-secondary destination where wherever that would be.


Sam Demma (05:50):
And is that student success position, does it serve the same purpose today, or for someone who has never worked in student success, what does it look like and, and what are you doing day to day?


Annibale Iarossi (06:01):
Yeah, so student success it, it, it really, and the student success teacher, it really is defined by the, the, the person who is in the role. Cool. because everybody does interpret it in a different way, but the essence of it is how can I get my students to graduate experience success, go to the post-secondary destination that they need to get to, whether that be university college work apprenticeship what tools can I provide my students what support can I provide my students to get them where they need to go? So I think that’s how I always approached it. And, and it’s, it’s been those were, those were some of the best years of my life in term in education because the students I worked worked with in those eight or nine years, I still, I still keep in contact with them today. Whether I run into them in the neighborhood or they’re coaching my kids or, or whatever. They’re, they’re there. And, and it’s, every time I see it, I, I feel like, you know, I it’s, I, I, I live my purpose. I live my purpose through being able to support them.


Sam Demma (07:19):
Right now student success is very important. Student wellbeing is very important. Staff wellbeing is very important. Staff success is very important. All those things are kind of at the forefront because of what’s happening in the world. What are some of the challenges that are facing your school community and potentially other school communities right now that you and the staff and students are striving to overcome?


Annibale Iarossi (07:48):
Absolutely. I think you hit it right there with you know, being in a pandemic. It is highlighted a lot of challenges. Some of the challenges though have turned into opportunities and those opportunities to, for instance, a challenge at the beginning of the pandemic was technology and, and being able to navigate technology and, and staff and students being able to navigate technology well, that, that that’s turned into an opportunity to, to, as, as professional teachers, they’ve turned that into an opportunity to be better teachers and to offer their students more. And and as students you know, digesting that, that new, this new technology and these new apps and, and all kinds of things, it’s given them a different skillset. Now, if we, you look back to the wellness piece, I, think that’s high.


Annibale Larossi (08:46):
I think that’s something that remains a challenge. I think moving in and out of school buildings has provided students with some, some mental health cha challenges, some wellness challenges, and as staff, what we’ve tried to do is keep the lines of communication open through our guidance department, our student services support services such as child and youth worker, social workers but, but the people who are on the ground first, our, our teachers are the ones that, that bring it to our attention so we can deal with it. And, you know, I have a wonderful administrative team who, who you know, shout out to all three of my VPs, Maria Laurie and Sheena, who who do a fair, fantastic job every day promoting student success and wellbeing for all our students.


Sam Demma (09:41):
And how do you personally fill your own cup? I know it’s sometimes a challenge. I, I struggle setting boundaries between work and life. And sometimes when things get overwhelming, you might be spending every minute of every day thinking about work, how do you, you know, set up the boundary for yourself and also fill up your own cup?


Annibale Iarossi (10:05):
Yeah, I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve transitioned from vice principal to principal. I know starting as a vice principal, I thought, I, you know, I was a single vice principal, so I had, it was me and the principal. And I thought I had to be everything to everyone. And I thought I had to be on call all the time. And you know, you let you let yourself slip you, you, you get into a rut. And and then you question whether you’re, what you’re doing is the right thing for, for everyone. And but as, as I’ve moved on with experience in this role and in having mentors in this role I’ve realized that the balance is important. So I, you know, I, do things like take care of myself, take care of my diet, take care of myself at the gym workouts get involved with, with of within the community as well.


Annibale Iarossi (10:58):
So it, it’s very important that that we do strive the balance. And, and I, I, I do now you know, I have more time to spend with my, my kids more time to spend with my wife being able to coach my son in basketball has been has been another great thing. So you know what, busyness, isn’t always bad. It’s just where you allocate the, the busy time that if you allocate it all one spot, it’s not always healthy, but if you break it up, busyness is pretty good.


Sam Demma (11:29):
It keeps you moving forward.


Annibale Iarossi (11:30):
Yeah. Yeah. Keeps you young.


Sam Demma (11:32):
Yeah. A hundred percent. And throughout your educational journey, what resource is experiences, programs, or things that you have been a part of, which of which of those things have been helpful to your personal and professional development? Did any, did anything come to mind?


Annibale Iarossi (11:51):
Yeah, I think I think first and foremost, I am a big proponent of mentorship. I, I think I’ve, I’ve served as a mentor through our administrative team through our principal vice principal association and through our board. And I’ve been a mentee I’ve, I’ve, I’ve had the opportunity to work some with some great principal within our board to be able to rely on for for assistance when I need it, because I don’t have all the answers. And you know, I, I think I’d be fooling people if I, if I had the answer to every question. I think relying on some PD through our association Catholic principals, council, Ontario and our board is, is, is, has been very beneficial to, to myself. And I, I would say most most administrators and, and that I’ve worked with.


Sam Demma (12:46):
Love that. And what did that mentorship look like? I’m also a huge fan of mentorship and there might be some new teachers wondering how do I find myself a mentor and might be a little overwhelmed with the idea of it?


Annibale Iarossi (12:59):
Yeah. Like I think so first I being, I remember being appointed a mentor and I was like, I’ve only been in this role for like three years. How am I mentor? Like, I, you know, I, I barely know anything. But then, you know, it, I think the cornerstone of a cornerstone of mentorship is listening and, and, and listening to what your mentees need listening to what they’re asking and listening to what they’re not asking. I think it, it’s, it’s, it’s very important. I’ve had some really great mentors as as principal, too as a principal as well. You know some former principles of mine Dan Kaun, Michael Grady guys, I’ve relied on to ask questions where I didn’t have the answer. And you know, what it allowed me to then pay it forward with other principles or vice principals that call me, or email me and say, Hey, do you have the answer to this? Or do you know, can you lead me in a certain way? And it it’s, I think it’s a great cycle to be a part of.


Sam Demma (14:07):
You mentioned earlier that in those moments of potential burnout or over pursuing work and not by balancing it with, with life and other important activities, sometimes you question not you specifically, but in general, as an educator, you question is this the right thing for me and everyone else. I’ve asked educators that similar questions a few times, and they’ve told me that during those days they have this little folder on their desk and it’s filled with all the notes that students would’ve sent over the years. And they’ll peek into this little this little notebook and remind themselves that the work makes a massive change. Yeah. Is that a true, is that a true thing that educators, do?


Annibale Iarossi (14:48):
You, you know what, so for a lot of people who really know me, they, they, they know that I am probably one of the least sentimental guys who are gushy or, or you know, that kind of guy, but I I’ll be honest. I, I do keep, I, I do keep, like, thank you cards. Like I’m looking right across from my desk right now to the table in front of me. I have about, you know, 12 thank you cards that are, that are there. And you know, I, I do keep those then in my desk just to, if I do need to rely on it you know, letters that I’ve gotten from students. Absolutely. I think those are the ones that really resonate and, and, and keep you are going on, on on days where you’re like, am I still making a difference emails from parents? You know, you always remember that you are make, you might not be making a difference for everyone, but you’re, you are making a difference for someone.


Sam Demma (15:46):
Mm it’s so true. If you could take the and knowledge you gained from your entire teaching career, kind of bundle it up into some advice and then travel back in time, walk into your own classroom of the first year you started teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, an evil, you know, this is what I wish you heard when you just started. What would you have said to yourself?


Annibale Iarossi (16:15):
Yeah, I, I think maybe one of the first things, that’s a good question. One of the first things I, I would probably say is don’t take yourself too seriously. Mm. I know when I started when I started teaching, I, I was, I, at the time I, I, I, I was overwhelmed. I had a number of students in my, in my classes with a number of needs that I didn’t think I could I could help them with. And I, I even reached the point that I was like, is this teaching for me? And I, I, I think gaining perspective is important. Listening is always important in, in this profession. You need to be able to listen, you need to be able to process the information and then you need to be able to act. So I would say a first year teacher don’t take yourself seriously. Don’t stress out, get self balanced, and you’ll be okay.


Sam Demma (17:17):
Awesome. That’s a great advice. Thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show, share a little bit about your experiences, some ideas that have been helpful for you. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get a hold of you.


Annibale Iarossi (17:33):
Sure. Email is always good. I don’t know if you want me to, I can give you my email address. It’s annibale.iarossi@dpcdsb.org, or you know I’m on Twitter. So you can look me up on Twitter and or LinkedIn, and feel free to contact me.


Sam Demma (17:59):
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show and keep up with the great work.


Annibale Iarossi (18:03):
Thanks, Sam. All right. Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Annibale Iarossi

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

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

Martin Tshibwabwa – Resource teacher from grade 9 to 12 at Notre Dame
About Martin Tshibwabwa

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

Connect with Martin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

École secondaire Notre Dame

Specialist High Skills Major

Specialist High Skills Major in Health and Wellness

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 on the podcast is Martin Tshibwabwa . Martin is the, he’s a grade 9-12 resource teacher for École Secondaire Notre Dame, a secondary school named Notre Dame in Woodstock, Ontario. He speaks French as well. I met Martin after he reached out to do a SHSM (specialist high skills major) presentation for a group of students at his high school.


Sam Demma (01:09):
And since then we’ve worked together twice, but we’ve had many of conversations about his farm, about his his upbringing in a different country, about him studying medicine and walking away from medicine. And you’ll hear a lot about a bunch of those things in today’s podcast interview; but all in all, Martin is a very heart centered educator. He’s someone who really cares about his work and the students he’s working with. And I know you’ll feel that in today’s conversation. Enjoy it, and I will see you on the other side. Martin, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. First of all, huge pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do with young people today.


Martin Tshibwabwa (01:54):
Perfect. Thank you for having me here on the show, Sam Demma. I appreciate the time and the opportunity to be on the platform. So a little bit about myself, a little history about my journey to education is first of all, I just have under seven years in the education field. And for me, learning and teaching is about inspiring the next generation. Passing on what I’ve learned, and passing it on to the next generation for them to take my craft and knowledge and build something out of it. Doesn’t replicate the exact same way, but they can inspire themselves from me, or surrounding staff members around me, and take that as a measuring stick to help them guide them through the education path. And prior to coming to education, actually my first role path to a profession was medical school.


Martin Tshibwabwa (02:47):
So I did two years of medical school down in the Caribbean, in the Antigo. So I did two years there and my second year out of burnout and I decided to a time out, come back home and reset the batteries. And during that time, when I was at home, it was a four month break, but that four month felt long, cuz I wasn’t doing nothing. I really told myself, you want mind, you go home. You shut down. Don’t think about nothing. So while I was at home, I became bored and I started looking at what are other options that I out there because while in undergrad, my mind was so settle med school. I had attention to other areas. So while at home, during those four months, I looked at different areas and education came about and I looked into it. I said, you know what?


Martin Tshibwabwa (03:33):
It was in December of 20 12th. I said, I’m gonna apply. I had missed. But I said, I’m going to apply. As I shot in the dark and I applied for September, 2014, I told myself, I get in, I’m returning. I’m gonna go to education and I’m not gonna go back to med school. I’m gonna take a break from med school. And then if I have education down, I’ll probably be considered med school. So I went to education. I got in for September surprising. So I put in my time in the education program, I did the practicums and I loved it. Cuz when I went to Medco, I actually wanted to become a pediatrician. Hmm. So when I finished my first term of teachers college, I told ’em you can place me anywhere for a practicum from kindergarten old, grade 12. I don’t mind. Surprisingly, the first posting that comes up to me is kindergarten.


Martin Tshibwabwa (04:28):
It works out well, cause I always wanted to be a pre yeah. So I went in there, took it. It was, it was a big challenge. Like I, I really respect teachers that teach kindergarten because we, we tend to overlook it. We think that it’s more play. They’re not learning. But one thing I’ve noticed is actually even us, we learn by play career plays different. For example, we have group work, which is still a kind of play, but there’s a theory behind it. And when you compare to kindergarten, yeah, there’s a different, there’s different type of learning centers, but yeah, the kids are learning through play. For example, the learning, how to share without knowing that they’re actually learning something life skill. And that’s pretty much my journey. So once I was in after completing my degree in education, I look back at the scale.


Martin Tshibwabwa (05:16):
Is it worth going back to, to med school or did I continue education? I evaluated the two and I told myself, you know what, going back, it’s true. My passion was med school, but this new passion has become my new career plan. So I told myself, you know what, plan B actually better the plan a and I stuck it out and up to now, I’m still in contact with guys and girls that I was in med school with. And I spoke with them the upon graduation. So let’s say two years after I left the island of vent, a few of my folks that I spoke to, they actually told me all money. You actually did a good decision to lead med school and go to teachers college because we’re still a here grinding in your career. Mm, same time I was happy for them because they toughed it out for the ups and downs in med school. And they’re still going. And every time that we sit back and we look back and we talk to each other, we’re both, we’re all always happy for each other. Although I was able to start my career world ahead of them, they started late. Although they still trenches. Yeah. Now playing the encouraging role when I’m telling you guys keep going, keep going. So it’s pretty good.


Sam Demma (06:22):
That’s awesome. I, I re resonate with you on such a deep level because what I’m living right now is my plan B. I thought amazing. Sam’s gonna be a professional soccer player. And that was the thing until the injuries came. And I kind of like, you went on this discovery of a journey, try and figure out, you know, what the heck is Sam gonna give a value to the world? And yes, now I think I’m living that out through the work I do with, with students and young people. I’m curious, where was home for you? Was the, was Antigua home or did you just decide to do your, your work there?


Martin Tshibwabwa (06:55):
So my parents are from the Dr. Democratic Republic of Congo, nice


Martin Tshibwabwa (07:00):
Myself. I was born in Zambia and as Zambia, my parents moved to Canada or went to Europe and Canada. And ever since we moved to Canada, home has been Hamilton comes in home for me. And now I recently relocated back. I live in Branford. So Branford is my new home and way Howt came about was in my third of undergrad, I applied for med school in Canada. I applied at mass university where I did my undergrad nothing on Ontario, school of medicine and then bury and also U of T. And I told myself, switch out in the dark. If I don’t get in, I’m gonna go to on the islands. Nice. I didn’t get into Canada. Then I looked on the map at different schools. I evaluated the pros and cons. And the reason why I picked Antigo was because it was a direct flight versus flight. So that was the reason why I ended up in Antigua. And honestly, I spent two years there in I only have good things to say about the islands, honestly, of course there’s ups and downs, but everywhere you go as a foreigner, you gotta face those obstacles, which is part of the journey


Martin Tshibwabwa (08:07):
That you embrace it.


Sam Demma (08:08):
Yeah, that’s awesome. And right before we started recording today, you, you told me that you spend your summers farming, where did your love and passion for farming come from and how does this play into the picture?


Martin Tshibwabwa (08:20):
Once again? So being in Antigua, everything’s important from Miami, from the United States or to the island. So produce fruits are expensive. If you want to live, like we live here in Canada or in the United States, you gotta go on the height and for marketplace, like if you wanna live as a local, you go to the market, you get your goods. Then what I noticed was one of the stands where I used to go all the time was actually a couple. So the wife worked at the market and the husband worked on the field. He’d bring the goods all the time and I’m regular there. So she told me if you ever want a deal on produce, come help us on the farms. And I said, Hey, sure. On my days off I can come. I usually took Sundays off from studying. So studying over there is usually a beach day. It was early Sunday morning. I go would help out of the farm. And then while being there, it became therapeutic because I did enjoy gardening, but I didn’t take it as seriously as like I wouldn’t put the entire day’s worth of gardening. Got


Sam Demma (09:27):
Got it.


Martin Tshibwabwa (09:28):
Being over there on the island and working on the garden, seeing what goes into the labor. And that goes into the dedication and the discipline. I had a big admiration for it. So what happened is in returned instead of buying produce, my labor was giving me free produce. I didn’t have to buy no more produce. I see.


Sam Demma (09:51):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (09:52):
Then when I shut down on the island, when I came back home, I have access to a garden community garden. So I got involved into it. And what I was doing is I was growing these vegetables that we don’t find in Canada. For example, the scotch buned hot pepper. It’s pretty much a delicacy in every Caribbean dish, especially vegans like it’s the too hot pepper. It has a strong aura, which if you put it in a stew, your whole house will smell like it.


Sam Demma (10:24):
Nice.


Martin Tshibwabwa (10:25):
I was lucky enough that when I was in anti brought back, some of those seeds seeds are authentic. They’re not something that’ll tell you SCO button, but then when you grow, you realize that the, so I was growing it when I first got, when I first finished teacher’s college, my first year of the teacher’s college, I had a summer off. So that’s what I started doing. And a few of my friends came over and then they realized that the scent in my food was different. Told them no, I grow my own peppers. And Hey, mark, we buy some off from there. They’re the ones that actually encouraged me to get into bigger, large a larger plot. So I spoke to a farmer here in town, in flame, bro. And they allowed me to get some space. So I’m leasing space right now. That’s what I do during the summer. Just growing D crops that I brought back the seed from the Caribbean.


Sam Demma (11:16):
That’s awesome. That’s such a cool, yeah. It’s such a cool passion project to have.


Martin Tshibwabwa (11:20):
Yeah. So it’s amazing how things worked out. Like I was an anti for one thing, but then I picked up something else into farming. Then when I came back home, got into teaching, had the summers off. But during my summers off, I had this new passion that I do active, which is farming.


Sam Demma (11:35):
That’s awesome. Love it. And yes, I think what’s so cool about that is that you went to Antigua for one reason, which was education. And you came back with this hobby, which is now a part of your life every summer, and exactly, you know, sometimes we’re close minded and we don’t see these other opportunities or hobbies. But when we’re open-minded in every experience, we find these things that we, we might love and enjoy that we didn’t even expect would happen or, or we would develop. And now what’s your role today? So explain a little bit about what you do right now with your school. So tell, tell me a little bit about the journey about it went from kindergarten class to working in the role you’re in right now.


Martin Tshibwabwa (12:17):
Yeah, so kind as I said, now, I’m in I’m a high school teacher. I teach life skills nutrition, human development. And I’m also in, in charge of the specialist high skills major here. And we specialize in excuse me, I’m figuring French. We specialize in health and wellness. Nice. And as I did mention earlier, I am in a French high school. So when I first started was in kindergarten, I enjoyed it. And then my second intern, my second practicum was on the high school side. And once I got into high school, I loved it because I could be bolder with the students versus kindergarten. You can’t be bold, but you can’t be too bold on the kids either. So I found that I was having a challenge fighting in the middle between when you become bold and too bold for the kids.


Martin Tshibwabwa (13:09):
But when I high school, the switch was quick to be done. And one thing that I, I do find on the high school side is I’m able to create opportunities and experience for a life skills for the kids, by providing them life skills, help them character build through and Chisholm. It’s, I’m able to invite people like yourself, sorry, speakers like yourself. Like early, when we did in January, the students were able to speak to student that they could relate to. And speaking with you, you’re able to show students that, yes, you’re a public speaker, but there’s work that goes into it. Mm you’re. Able to show them the truth behind the grind. And that’s why I do admire a lot about the Chisholm program. Yes. As a teacher in front of the classroom, I can explain to them how it takes time to accomplish great things.


Martin Tshibwabwa (14:03):
Mention yourself a small, progressive step that bring you toward success. Yeah. When students can see that coming from somebody else outside from the education world, they see the truth beyond the grind is very appreciate. So being on the high school side, especially in grade 11 and grade 12, they had a crossroads where they don’t know where they want to go. And then that brings me back to my, where I was so centered on med school and focused on something else. And then being able to withdraw and shut down and gave opportunity to look at now with the program, bringing guests like yourself, it’s opening the eyes to students of what else is out there. Whereas they can also explore in order to be successful or whatever craft they want to take. And the other thing that I also do notices attitude. Attitude is important. Yes. You can have hard work. You can be dedicated, but if your attitude and approach is not right, you can achieve anything.


Sam Demma (15:04):
Yeah. I love that. And why are you personally so passionate about life skills? Like you could, you could be teaching farming, you know, like you could be teaching courses, anything. Why, why life skills?


Martin Tshibwabwa (15:17):
Well, life skills first would, it helps to build confidence. Mm. Have life skills. In my opinion, you cannot accomplish much. Cause life skills goes from just starting with body language, your body language, where you are, but on people, the way you have a conversation with people, if you do not express yourself properly. Yeah. For example, like there’s some kids especially when I start my first lesson, like to tell students to find five artifacts that represent themselves so I can get to know them and five things that mean something to the so five things or five artifacts. So I get to know who they are, where they come from. And the reason why I do that is just to create a sense of community. Just, just like yourself. I want to get to know you, you know, just a student in my classroom. I want, I want you to be a buddy of mine. But at the same time we still have that student teacher relationship.


Sam Demma (16:09):
Accountability. Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (16:10):
I wanna show them that I’m a co-owner with you. Yes. I’m your teacher, but I’m a co-owner with you. And it goes back and gets my point of attitude because I, I see a lot of students when you talk to them, they don’t have respect for authority. And that’s why I show them that life skill comes in. For example, I also remind, although my colleagues, especially teachers that enter and tell ’em one thing to realize, first, when you do talk to students is you don’t know what the kid went through the morning when they woke up. Mm. You might see some students that don’t respect authority, but you don’t know maybe the way you, you elevated your tone or might of them suddenly happened back home. So one thing I try to explain to other professors, I mean, other teachers and remind myself also when it comes to life skills is to approach students from a calm tone. Yes, we want authority, but we have to remind them, I understand that something might be going on. But one thing that I wanna do is to IM empower you. And by IM empowering you, I want to teach your life skills and also put character build in you.


Sam Demma (17:21):
I love it. And something that goes hand in hand with teaching a subject like life skills and sharing these things with young people is growth and transformation. And right now there might be an listening. You might be listening right now you know, addressing the listener. They might be listening right now thinking, I don’t know if I’m gonna teach next year. Like this, this new virtual reality is, is difficult and it’s different and I’m not sure about it. Can you share a story of student transformation that you have seen? That’s been really impactful and it could be a student that was in your class or a student that you know of. And if it’s a very serious story with tons of adversity you can change the student’s name. So it remains, it remains totally private.


Martin Tshibwabwa (18:06):
Sure. Well, it’s, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when we had to T into e-learning yep. A challenge for everybody. I bet within yourself as a speaker virtual was it brought it on ups and downs, but that’s where you you really go back to the drawing board. You review the board drawing board and you see what adjustments can be done. You execute new task and new challenges. So to my other fellow teachers that are listening, what I would do is what I did personally was I told the students right away, Hey guys, you know what? This is new territory for me. I have no clue what’s going on. If some of you have skills, when it comes to manipulating computer software, let me know. So them that, Hey, I am human. I don’t know either. And you’ll see. It’s like, so they’re shocked. Another thing that I enjoy doing too, is when I tell ’em, I don’t know, I show them, teach me, show me how to show me how it’s done, what I’m showing them that, Hey, I’m becoming with you something as well. And another success story that I have with my students, what I did in the course in the human development was


Sam Demma (19:19):
I have to interrupt you for one second. No worries. Hold that thought. When you said, teach me. I think it’s the most, I think those are the two most powerful words you can ever use because when you, someone, and you say, teach me, you’re humbling yourself. Right? And, and you’re showing them like, you have some information that may be superior to what I have, and I would love to learn from you. And, and that gives a young person, empowers them to, to want to learn deeper, to share those things with you. And I just wanted to highlight that because I think, you know that sometimes the teacher learns just as much or even more than the student. And exactly. I just, I wanted to share that, but continue what’s that second example.


Martin Tshibwabwa (20:00):
Exactly. And so the other example I was gonna bring up to you is when we started e-learning, a lot of them were not turning on their cameras, and I never told them once to turn on their cameras. But then when I started to show them, I was getting more comfortable with the platform and I was showing them that, Hey, I understand that your priorities right now, being able to be virtual gives you priorities to go to work. I don’t mind, but as long as you logged on, have no problems. So I had some students who would start taking their during works hours. Mm. I never questioned them. But one thing that I always did with my students was I asked them at the end of every lesson, what can I do better? Mm. And when I asked them that they all say, no, you’re a great teacher. I’m like, okay, I’m a great teacher, but what can I improve better in my lesson? How can I address the topics better? And I find that asking them that feedback, it catches them off guard and they, they get more involved in the topic.


Sam Demma (21:00):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (21:01):
Teach, asking them to teach me something and asking them for feedback versus giving them feedback all the time or after a test. What I can, after reviewing a test of answers with them, I ask them were the questions fair? Did you find any trick questions? If those tricks, tell me, what do I have to change? Or just, and you can just see, like the light bulb just lights up, like, whoa, what’s going on here? Like this doesn’t usually happen. You


Sam Demma (21:27):
Mm. That’s such a, that’s such an important that’s such an important question to ask. I remember being in high school and sometimes getting some tests and getting questions and thinking we never, like, we never even talked about this. We didn’t learn about it. Like, how am I supposed to answer this? And, you know, most of the times we bring it up to our teacher, but it’s, it’s past the, to test now and he’d say, oh, well, you know, we covered that. And you know, that goes to show that, you know, the, the teacher and, and some of those experiences, you know, didn’t prioritize the learning of the student. They just prioritized the questions on the test. And so I think that practice of, of asking you know, for feedback, but also were there any trick questions? It allows you as an educator to ask yourself, how can I improve the teaching aspects of this, this specific topic. So it lands next time and they’re, they feel more capable to answer those questions. Exactly. That’s such a good philosophy. I love that. And did you develop these kind of concepts yourself, or you inspired by other educators? Where did your philosophies on doing these things come from?


Martin Tshibwabwa (22:29):
Honestly, I was inspired just from as you said, being a student in the classroom and just, it seems like it’s just a one way conversation where the teacher is in the magistrate position. Yeah. Bring information to you and you almost feel like you’re just a an empty vessel, just waiting to be filled.


Sam Demma (22:48):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (22:48):
Information. And then that information get tested on the paper. And there’s no feedback from your part. You know what I mean? So it’s like, if that’s the case, just gimme something to memorize at the begin the semester and tell me I’m gonna quiz you on it. Versus when you get your, your, your your classroom or even your panel, even yourself, when you do a presentation, you like to get your crowd involved in the presentation. It’s not, you’re filling them with information. And then at the end, that’s it, that’s all questions answers, that’s it? That’s all. But no, when you get them involved, implicated, you’re building confidence in them and instilling them the fundamentals and also reinforcing confidence for them to just be more vocal versus being expecting.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Yeah, I agree. I totally agree. On the topic of, you know, educational education philosophies that you have and principles that you, you know, you live by, if you could give your younger self advice, meaning you could talk to year one, you know, the year, the first year that you started teaching, knowing what you know now, you know, and being a student for the past seven or eight years that you’ve been teaching, what advice would you give your younger self?


Martin Tshibwabwa (23:59):
Wow. I’d tell myself the younger self ask a lot of questions. Hmm. Just say, you don’t know. Don’t don’t improvise right away. Just say, Hey, you know what? I don’t know. I need help.


Sam Demma (24:15):
Mm.


Martin Tshibwabwa (24:16):
And just to ask a question to be a sponge and to take in all information that you can, and when you know something share. Cause that’s one thing I did realize in educat. I always tell myself, I write a thesis today. My thesis type would be teachers who bully other teachers.


Sam Demma (24:32):
I don’t,


Martin Tshibwabwa (24:34):
Yes. We do point the student to point. We do point out fingers to the students a lot because we are around them a lot. But we tend to forget ourselves teachers as do feel. We bully ourselves a lot. For example, my first year for education, I could ask somebody for a resource asking a resource. You almost feel afraid because you don’t know what answers you’ll get. Some teachers will tell you. Yeah. You know what? I’ll email it to you later on you go check your email, but it’s still nothing. You check your email and hour later, still nothing. I’m just asking for help. For me. Anybody asks me for something I’m giving you. And I even tell that, Hey, if you can make it better, please do. And if you find to teach, please let me know. So that’s one thing I would tell my younger self. Don’t be afraid to say, you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to get your work criticized because critical thinking is important. If someone can be critical about your work, it shows that, Hey, you do have room to proving. You’re not just at a dead end, cuz if you just at a dead end, then why education’s about learning every day, constant marathon, it doesn’t stop. So that’s one thing I’ll talk myself. Don’t be afraid to ask, share, and be a sponge.


Sam Demma (25:45):
I just want to take a second to applaud and appreciate you for your open-minded philosophies. Like I think that these apply not only to education, but in any profession someone might be in and they’re beautiful things to impart in the minds of young people. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. And it, it’s also interesting that like ancient philosophers, like Socrates and stuff, they used to say things like I know that I know nothing. And you know, people who assume that they know everything, you know, eliminate themselves from new learning. And so I, I love these philosophies and thank you so much for sharing. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out to you and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Martin Tshibwabwa (26:32):
Email, I’m always on email. Email is the quickest way to get to me.


Sam Demma (26:36):
Perfect. Can you just spell it out for anyone who’s listening?


Martin Tshibwabwa (26:41):
So my email; I shall give my personal email. My personal email is tshimart@cscprovidence.ca. So I repeat it again; that’s tshimart@cscprovidence.ca.


Sam Demma (26:59):
Awesome. Martin, thank you so much for calling on the podcast here today. Really appreciate it and look forward to the next time we get to see each other on a zoom call.


Martin Tshibwabwa (27:07):
Definitely, I’m looking forward to it.


Sam Demma (27:10):
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 Martin Tshibwabwa

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

Jamie Stewart – Teacher and Founder of Elite Basketball Training Academy

Jamie Stewart – Teacher and Founder of Elite Basketball Training Academy
About Jamie Stewart

Elite Basketball Training Academy’s CEO Jamie Stewart has been operating EBTA for 20yrs. EBTA boasts a 100% Scholarship Graduation Rate for players who attend daily! EBTA players on average Train for over 2000 hours Annually, play in over 300 games Annually, which fulfills the longtime belief of the 10,000 required hours needed to receive a Basketball Scholarship by the end of your High School Career. 

Jamie Stewart is considered a World Level Basketball Skills Instructor & many of the drills he has personally invented are being utilized in the NBA! Additionally; Jamie Stewart’s players are always considered the Best Shooters in the Country by their senior years! 

 

Connect with Jamie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Elite Basketball Training Academy Website

ETBA Youtube Channel

Summer Break Academy

Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board

EBTA Blog

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 actually met and learned about today’s guest by doing a four day seminar to his class in the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board. His name is Jamie Stewart, and he has been operating the Elite Basketball Training Academy for 20 years. EBTA, the Elite Basketball Training Academy boasts a 100% scholarship graduation rate for players who attend and show up daily. EBTA players on average train for over 2000 hours per year playing over 300 games annually, which fulfills the long time belief that 10,000 hours is required needed to receive a basketball scholarship by the end of a high school career.


Sam Demma (01:20):
Jamie Stewart is considered a world level basketball skills instructor, and many of the drills he has personally invented are now being utilized in the NBA. Additionally, Jamie Stewart’s players are always considered the best shooters in the country by their senior years. Jamie; I brought him on because it’s interesting to me that he is both a teacher, an educator, and a high level world class basketball skills instructor. He brings a lot of what he teaches on the court into the classroom, and that’s why I thought he’d be an amazing guest for today’s episode. So I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Jamie, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your background and who you are?


Jamie Stewart (02:12):
Okay. My name is Jamie Stewart. I was born and raised in Amherstburg, Ontario. I went to St. Thomas Villanova high school. Through, I’m considered an overachiever, through a lot of hard work, and diligence and sacrifice of many things, I was able to overcome a lot of obstacles and, and become, you know, like a three year scoring champ in the area. A full scholarship winner, I went on to the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut where I was a three year captain. I think it was second or fourth in assist a couple years in a row. My senior year when I was supposed to really, really break out, I was at about 25 points a game, and my career ended with a series of knee injuries. I just wanted to, I always wanted to help kids get better.


Jamie Stewart (03:03):
But I, I kind of didn’t know how so when I was in teachers college I, I met this I met this guy he’s actually from London, Ontario. I went to Western Ontario, Western university in, in London, Ontario. And he, he, he explained it to me how he’s put, put himself through school. And he ran a music business where he had a house and he had different people come in and teach instruments per room, you know, piano, one, one room violin. And I thought, wow, that’s, that’s wonderful. And he’s a music teacher now. And I said, wow, that’s wonderful. So you use your passion for instrument to not only, you know, help others service the community, but, and you’re able to get paid for it. I thought that was more, I should do that for basketball. I should, I should teach kids basketball skills, teaching better basketball.


Jamie Stewart (03:58):
And we actually had, we were in this class and we had to produce a website and I said, you know what, I’m gonna kill two birds in one stone. I’m gonna, I’m gonna do the website for my basketball business that I’m going to open. And, and, you know, and it’s gonna fulfill my requirements in class, actually create a website. And that’s kind of how, how it started. And then I, you know, drip, some business cards and brochures. And I was my, my first ever client, Dan chap, Japane bell river, Ontario. He was actually the last player on the grade nine Riverside Falcons as an OBA team. And he was my first ever client. So make a long story short. So he went from the last on grade nine, OBA to number five in Canada, his senior year high school, first team, all Canadian.


Jamie Stewart (04:53):
He played on national television, TSN all Canadian game. Some people had him rank number two in Canada. He full scholarship Columbia university of New York work where he graduated. He appeared on I think he was good morning America. He won, he won a, I think he won some money to start his business. Hmm. He has a lucrative clothing clothing line now. And he’s he’s a millionaire in Los in list. He’s doing really, really well. So I was my first ever client in over 19 years going on 20, all of my, all of my clients, all of my kids that I’ve trained have similar, you know, crazy improvement stories that, you know, it’s hard to believe unless you’re there and you, and you witness it. So that’s that’s kind of how I, how I got started and my passion for the, the game.


Jamie Stewart (05:46):
I, I can remember in university, I mentioned before, you know, I, I was always addicted to the game when I was in when I was in college university, they, they would call me Hurley. My idol was Bobby Hurley and my dorm room, I have two TVs. One was a big screen and one was a small screen. And the big screen usually had NBA games on and the, and the small TV had college games. And when I was, when I was home, no matter when I was in my dorm room, no matter what I was doing, those were on. And I was watching even while doing home and work, even, you know, even if I people in my room, I, so I, I was addicted to the game, addicted to player development, improving, and, and skills. And still to this day, I, I fall asleep with my laptop in front of me studying, studying basketball or studying my, my kids at my basketball academy and trying to find a way to make ’em better.


Sam Demma (06:39):
So where did your own passion for the game stem from? Take me back to when you were a young kid, why basketball? Where did that passion come from?


Jamie Stewart (06:49):
I remember I, I always loved dribbling the basketball and running out and playing with, with the older guys. I remember begging my, it was grade four and you had to be in grade six to play on the basketball team. But I, when I remember my teacher telling me, just go knock on the door and they’re having their basketball tryout and ask the teacher, if you can try out for the team. So grade four, that’s what I did. So I knocked on the door. I said, you know, can I please try out with the team? And the coach let me in. And I was on the team from grade four to grade eight. I don’t remember actually getting any playing time except for the junior team until maybe grade seven. I, I didn’t get in, but I just remember not being very good, but loving, absolutely loving playing at that time.


Jamie Stewart (07:38):
And eventually that, that love for playing, you know, created a work ethic where I was always playing. And then it kind of like from going in grade 10 to going to create grade 11, when I first started lifting weights, I actually started to get good. So, you know, I grew a little bit and the time that I spent on the core of those, the, the countless hours of, of playing, even though I wasn’t very good, I started to pay off. And I started to see fruits of my labor when I went from grade 10 aver and maybe eight points, a game to grade 11 aver and 25 and leading. And that was from junior boys to senior boys. Right. So that was a big jump. I probably grew four inches that summer as well. So I went from averaging like eight points game in junior boys, basketball as a 10th grader to, you know, leading the conference and scoring at 25 points a game at 15 years old.


Jamie Stewart (08:33):
So, but I’ve always loved it. Even when I wasn’t a good player, I’ve loved it when I was a decent player. I’ve loved it. You know, you know, I’m, I was a gym rat. You couldn’t get me out of the gym. You had to chase me out of the gym. You know, I’d break into the gym, I’d leave the back, I’d leave the gym door open in my high school and come back at 11 o’clock at night when the janitors left, you know, and I’d stay here until three, four in the morning, getting up shots and getting better. And you know, that that’s really how, you know, I, I made myself I made myself a, a decent, respectable scholarship, eventually an NCAA captain by, you know, just outworking and outsmarting the opposition. And, and that’s kind of the same, you know, the same philosophy that I had taken into my academy. We will outwork and we will outsmart everyone, you know, we come in contact with, or, or we compete against.


Sam Demma (09:27):
Hmm. And where personally, for you to teaching and education, like when did that come into the picture as well? Like, I’m sure at a young age, you know, when you had those knee injuries, you were devastated. What drew you to education?


Jamie Stewart (09:42):
It was definitely the the high school that I went to St. Thomas Villanova at the time was the name was brought Ontario. Now it’s in lasal Ontario competes their conference. There, there was a few teachers there in particular. Tony low was a former CFO football coach. And I, and, and and, and Linda Macelli was also there. And I just remember most of the staff just being, especially the, the athletic department being super positive nonjudgmental, and they, they wanted what was best for you. That’s not always the case, believe it or not, but I really think that I made it out of there because I made it out there with a scholarship, because I, I remember in grade 11, when I, when I kind of busted out as a really good player, when my coach coach de logio pull me aside, he said, you’ve come a long way.


Jamie Stewart (10:36):
And I leaving you, you can get a scholarship, just keep working. And it, and that, that, that positive effect that they had on me, I wanted to, to give back that’s what I wanted to do to others. That’s what I wanted to do to kids. Tell them, even though, even though you’re probably not, you’re not very good right now. If, if you are told, Hey, I believe in you, I believe in your work ethic, I believe in your perseverance, I believe in your character and I will help you get to the next level. That’s what I wanted to do for, for kids. I want to be positive inspiration, and I wanted to help them do things that they never would’ve dreamed that they’d ever be able to do. I, I remember in grade nine, I’m grade nine and grade 10 I’m, I’m probably 5, 2, 5, 4 playing.


Jamie Stewart (11:26):
And I, I seen somebody running, jump, running, jumping dunk, and I see somebody shoot a 30 foot jump shot. Wow, wow. I wish one day, maybe I could do that to like go into my junior year where I’m averaging four, you know, four dunks per game is like, right. It, when people inspire you to do things that you don’t think you can do, you know, that’s that, that it’s a trip trickle effect into your life. You know, having building confidence in sport, you know, through their positive interactions with me, you know, benefited me going forward in many, many other areas of my life, but definitely get back to your question more. So it was, it was St. Thomas Villanova led by coach Delo, just believing in me and inspiring me to do good and then better. And then, you know, be one of the best in Canada. You know, that’s why I wanted to, to become a teacher and an educator and, and eventually a basketball coach.


Sam Demma (12:28):
And I think what’s really unique about you as a teacher now is you teach, you know, civics and careers, which is a course that’s difficult to teach, but it has, it has very fruitful outcomes. You can include life lessons, you can include leadership skills. You can include so many awesome things in the curriculum. Being a careers in civics teacher, like how do you implement your philosophies from the game of basketball into of the, into the classroom per se?


Jamie Stewart (12:58):
The very first day that I met them was actually online cause we were on lockdown. So we were learning online. The very first lesson I taught them was the secret. If you read the book, the secret and then encouraged I, everyone to read the book and then eventually read the book once a year, and then you watch it on film. And in the first 20 minutes, I think really, really applies to like grade nine or 10 religion, careers in civics. You know, even phys ed is just to have a positive, you know, like a ridiculously positive attitude.


Sam Demma (13:37):
Mm


Jamie Stewart (13:37):
Right. So no matter how, you know, life sometimes is humiliating, you’re gonna fall so many times you’re gonna fail so many times. But if you have that true unconditional positive attitude, you’re gonna get back up every single time. You’re gonna keep trying, you’re gonna try to, you’re gonna try to strive for things that, you know, how many times was I told when I was in grade 9, 10, 11, even 12, you’re not getting a basketball scholarship. You’re not good enough. Right. And that’s another thing that, that we talk about all the time. Don’t listen to people believe in yourself. Hmm. Believe in yourself. And, and I would tell the kids all the time, you know, who’s your favorite athlete entertainer, or, you know, if you eventually wanna be a teacher, a doctor, who’s your favorite, Google them right now and ask the question. How many times was Wayne Gretsky told, or, or somebody was told they can’t do something.


Jamie Stewart (14:36):
Mm. And they will say hundreds, thousands. That’s just the world. Yeah. You gotta, you gotta laugh that that’s just the world and it’s never gonna change. Right. Cause sometimes people are offended by your goals and your dreams. But not to listen to them to get back up when you fall. And if you’re really truly determined to achieve something is ridiculous. As it sounds like you really can do it. Right. So having that ridiculous positivity in your life can really, really benefit you, help you get up when you fall all, you know, brush it off and move forward, bigger, stronger, faster, better.


Sam Demma (15:17):
I love that. That’s amazing. And this belief I’m assuming came from your teacher, I’m sure you’ve had other inspirations that, that led you to develop that belief and to try and share that with others. Where do you think that belief came from? Like, did you have someone in your life who poured belief into you or was it mostly your coach in high school? What led you to the secret and other materials to continue building that really positive mindset?


Jamie Stewart (15:44):
I always, you know, as a kid, you always wanna be successful. Hmm. And actually that’s another assignment that we do in our class. You know, what do you fear the most? And, and I always tell them if, if I was sitting in your desk right now and the teacher asked me that it was always the fear, the fear of failure. Mm. So anything that I tried to do, I tried to give it 100%. You know, I was told I, and I was, I was too skinny. I was too scrawny. So what did I do? I wanted to change that. I lived in the weight room. Right. I couldn’t shoot, what did I do? I shot 500 jump shots a day. You can’t dribble. Good enough. You have no left hand. What did I do spent hour or two every single day working on my ball hand.


Jamie Stewart (16:33):
So yeah, you know, my coach Delo had a, had a wonderful effect on me. Obviously there was something deep and down inside. Mm. And I also teach grade nine, 10 religion. And, and I, and I incorporate it into this class as well. You know, what, what motivates you, you have to find what motivates you? What, what triggers you? What trigger that triggers that inner animal in you? Right. For me, it’s being told you can’t do something. Mm. I remember I remember high school. I would score 30 and a half 25 and a quarter 40 in a game that really didn’t. Yeah, that’s good. You know, let’s keep going with it. But what really lit my fire was somebody telling me, like, and, and to this day, somebody tell me I can’t do something or I’m not good enough. Then it’s on you. Go on my run, mental Rolodex.


Jamie Stewart (17:36):
I write your name down on my phone. And I will look at it for the rest of my life. And it’ll drive me to absolute exhaustion at the end of the day. And this is just a competitor to me, has nothing against that person. They help me at the end of the day, I’m gonna make sure that everything I do is better than you I’m coming at you. Right. And, and it’s psychological. And, and I tell the kids find something that motivates you. Mm. Yes. You have your, you have your passion, you have your goals and your, and, and your daily routine. It should resemble the result being your goal. But what sparks a fire in you to push it to that next level? Yes. In my basketball academy, my kids wake up at five in the morning, every morning, they’re in the weight room by six, till seven 30, then they go to school and then they see me after school from four to eight inside of that, four to eight, they shoot a thousand jump shots. They make a thousand passes. They make 200 5500 defensive slides and 2000 to 5,000 dribbles. Okay. So everything, everything is systematic in, in what we do. So, sorry. I lost track. Sometimes I go off on tangents. Can you re bring me back to the initial question? Cause I just lost track of my


Sam Demma (18:54):
Yeah, no, no, no worries. I was just asking where your belief came from and you gave me a ton of great ideas from, from your coach. And then you said internally, right? Like you have to figure out what drives you. Personally. And I think it’s important to understand that every person is driven from something different. I relate to you. I, I love when people tell me I can’t do something and that drives me a ton. And yeah, I, I, I agree. I, I’m curious to know what are some of the things you think that drive your students? So when you give those assignments in religion class and, and in careers and civics, like what kind of ideas or answers come up?


Jamie Stewart (19:35):
A lot of ’em talk about, you know, cuz I always, I always go back to basketball with them, with me and the work that I have and my kids have, but I always say replace that with your goals and dreams and they, and they always do. They always do. And a lot of the kids in this class now say that they wake up and they exercise before school or they wake up and they’re working on their dream, whatever it may be. And a lot of ’em, they don’t know what they wanna do yet, but they wake up and they get an hour of schoolwork in before school that they weren’t doing. Mm. Right. So they’ve a lot of ’em have changed their schedule into putting more time into who they want to be in the future and obviously a lot less time on, on social media.


Sam Demma (20:27):
Hmm. I love that. That’s awesome. And I know we met because of the four day program that we, you did with your school, which I’m super grateful for. Which is awesome. Wh what would your advice be for another educator who’s listening, who maybe they’re in their first couple years of teaching. And I think teaching and coaching are very similar, which is why we can make these, these similar analogies. But if you could give advice to someone who’s in the first couple years of teaching what would you say? Like what kind of advice could you give them?


Jamie Stewart (20:58):
I always say, if you have passion for the kids, if you have passion for their development and you have the betterment their betterment truly on your mind. Mm. Obviously you’re gonna have to put a one an hour to three hours a day in understanding the curriculum and really not only understanding, but learning how to bring modern day contemporary issues that can drag the kids in to that. They, they enjoy what you’re doing. You’re gonna be successful. Hmm. I think with teaching you can’t fake it. The kids will know if you care or not. They will know if you’re on their side or not. So for all the advice I’ve ever given, new teachers is love the kids, put them first, put your ego to the side. It’s servant leadership. It’s sometimes gonna be humiliating, but that’s okay. That’s what, that’s what we’re here to do. If it betters the kids and you’re humiliated, good, you’ve done your job nice. Right. And I, and sometimes even, even in coaching, right. Sometimes you’re gonna be humiliated, but it, if it makes the kids better and they’re gonna learn from it and grow from it, right. And then you can build upon that, put your ego to the side for the betterment of the, the student to, for the betterment of, of the player.


Sam Demma (22:32):
Mm. I love that. It’s an awesome principle. And I think our egos get in the way sometimes.


Jamie Stewart (22:38):
So all the time, any, any, any, if you really look back as, as a coach or a teacher, whenever you get into trouble, whenever you get into conflicts, what is it really? It’s your ego. Mm. Right. They, Greg Popovich has a wonderful thing that I learned from you is get over yourself, right. Get over yourself in order, you know, to make the squad better, which in essence is gonna make you better as a person. And no matter how good, no matter how good you think you are. Right. You can still always get better.


Sam Demma (23:08):
Yeah.


Jamie Stewart (23:10):
I was having a, a conversation with Cedric BA Cedric Ben. He’s a boxing coach here in Windsor. He has a lot of national champions. And I told him, you know, back in 2011, when, you know, I had NBA Scouts calling me about one of the players that I had transformed from a really, really struggling player in Windsor to duke and Michigan and Northwestern calling and, and on offering scholarships. I thought that I was, I was one of the best in the world. I really, I really thought that. And I probably was, but from then, until now I am a thousand times better. And it’s because of my passion. And, and it’s because, you know, I study the game, you know, so thoroughly, so no matter how good you are, get over yourself, because you can always get better. You can always improve which, which is gonna help you benefit a benefit. Everybody that you come in contact with more.


Sam Demma (24:08):
I agree. I, I couldn’t agree more. And your progress has been super inspiring and you’ve helped so many young students inside the classroom and also on the basketball court. And if anyone is listening to this and is inspired by this conversation so far, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and have a conversation, be it at basketball or teaching?


Jamie Stewart (24:28):
Yeah. So I’m online @ebta.ca. I’m, I’m on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. My email address and my contact information, you know, is there along with other, other information. I’m always, I’m always getting calls emails from parents from, you know, they have a soccer, they have a soccer kid or, or another baseball kid. And then they’re always asking, you know, for my advice. And I always try to give the best advice as possible and it, and it’s usually about the work ethic of, of my kids and my academy that you, that you really, that you, that you really should have. So I’m open, I’m open to you know, to help anybody if, if they’re in need.


Sam Demma (25:21):
Awesome. Jamie, I appreciate you taking the time to, to have this conversation and I’m wish you all the best. Keep up the awesome work and we’ll talk soon.


Jamie Stewart (25:31):
Okay. Thanks buddy.


Sam Demma (25:33):
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 Jamie Stewart

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.

Tomy Valookaran – Chaplain at St. Mary C.S.S

Tomy Valookaran – Chaplain at St. Mary C.S.S
About Tomy Valookaran

Tomy (@tvalookaran) is the founder of bridges for solidarity. This is a business enterprise operating on social enterprise principles to bring together the poor in developing countries and the youth in Ontario high schools to work together to help create a global community of caring and mutual help. 

Tomy is also the Chaplain at St. Mary C.S.S, the high school from which I graduated.  Over the course of his career, Tomy has worked alongside other educators to coordinate one of the largest student clubs in the province called “Retreat Leaders.”  

Connect with Tomy: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St Mary Catholic Secondary School Website

Retreat Leaders Leadership Program

St Mary Catholic Secondary School: Alliance for Compassion

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 on the show is a Chaplain; he’s a Chaplain that was at my high school. He was the Chaplain at the high school that I grew up at, that I graduated from; St. Mary Catholic secondary school in my hometown Pickering. He is someone who lives out this idea of serving others every single day, whether it’s with students, with his fellow colleagues and teachers, or for disadvantaged peoples and poor people around the world.


Sam Demma (01:11):
He’s the founder of something known as the bridges for solidarity. It’s a business enterprise operating on social enterprise principles to bring together the poor and developing countries and the youth in Ontario high schools to work together, to help create a global community of caring and mutual help. He worked closely with dozens of teachers from the high school I grew up at, to over this man of 20 years, donate over a million pounds of food to local food shelters. He runs and organizes one of the largest school clubs catered around service and mentorship for other young people. He calls it the retreat leader program. It’s a phenomenal program, phenomenal opportunity. My head was so deeply sunken in soccer when I was in high school that I didn’t get involved as much as I wish I could have, but he shares how he runs this on today’s episode and if you’re looking for ideas Tommy is definitely someone you should chat with. He will, he will give you a ton of ideas and he’s always looking for ways to help. So enjoy today’s interview, and I will see you on the other side. Tommy, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of the journey that got you into working with young people today?


Tomy Valookaran (02:32):
Well my name is Tommy Valookaran, and this is my 35th year of chaplaincy in general. I spent three years in a hospital chaplaincy before I came to high school working with young people. So my journey is is like, it takes like couple of books to write, but to put it just shortly, I was born and brought up in India. I was born to a family of seven brothers and two sisters and we just had a one bedroom house where we lived and we were pretty poor; so I can remember being hungry many times. And when I looked around as a, as a young person growing up like 10, 11, 12, I was always very angry at the society. You know, I could see all the injustices which are happening. Then I looked to our, our church and I became an altar boy.


Tomy Valookaran (03:36):
And the church was very involved in people’s lives there. So I, I felt, you know, this is something I could do with the together, with the help of others to improve things for everybody. And I was at a, in grade 10. I clearly remember there was a, I couldn’t go to a Christian school because we had no money. So we went to a, a Hindu school, which was free run by the government. And they, they had a guest speaker, a, a priest Salian priest who came in, he did sort of like a small assembly and he talked about how he’s making a difference in so many people’s lives. So he was asking for volunteers and I jumped in and they took us to a, a three day retreat. And one thing I remember is they fed that so well.


Tomy Valookaran (04:27):
And, and I, I bought right into it. Anybody who gave me food I’m good. Yeah. So that, that memory always stayed with me. And, and that made me passionate about social justice. So I went through priesthood through that. I spent 12 years in different seminaries and I was a few months away from ordination and we did, I did a retreat where, you know, it got, it became very clear to me that God is calling me to be a lay person doing the same work over must. Most priests do. And that’s how I got into chaplaincy and sisters of St. Joseph hired me from in Hamilton. I was a chaplain at the St Joseph’s hospital. And one of the wise nuns who was mentoring me she sort of suggested that I have a lot of gifts which will be useful for young people.


Tomy Valookaran (05:23):
And I’m a second Vatican council person, and I’m very passionate about all the changes, which has happened in the church. And so she sort of nudged me to apply and I applied to Durham and, and different people, and Durham called me for an interview. And we were like 25 people being, I, it for two, two positions and I got hired and I was very shocked with that hiring. So that’s how so the, it sort of organic how it came to young people. Then I started listening and you know, my passion has always been the passion of Jesus. Mm. And, and I spent a lot of time trying to understand the doctrinal teachings versus the real Jesus who was born in Palestine and some of the struggles he went through. And I realized, you know the God, he tried to reveal through his work was a, a God who is passionate for justice, a God who Christ when his people or anybody suffers because God created, everybody doesn’t matter what religion or no religion.


Tomy Valookaran (06:35):
So when they suffer, God suffers. And and Jesus really felt that passion. And he passed that on to a few people and those few people became a movement. Yeah. And I used that. So my experiences made me, first of all, very inclusive in my chaplaincy that everybody’s welcome no matter what, especially those who are struggling, especially those are marginalized. And well, my ministry is iCal because I grew up with Hindus and Muslims equally. So especially in a high school, there are Hindus and Muslims and buds. And I know they feel very much at home in my ministry. And I’ve always made it a point to let everybody who works with me know we preach God always, but we use words only when absolutely necessary through our actions. And, and that’s what St. Francis of ASIS preached. Yeah. Yeah.


Tomy Valookaran (07:44):
So, so the, the ministry I do is modeled after the ministry of Jesus, especially in the early church. And we build communities, small communities and not within the large school. So right now we have we eight color groups, we call them color families. And they are all led by two or three core leaders whom we have selected and trained, and they meet every week with their family and make it a safe space for everybody. And out of which comes all the other initiatives we do. So, so our retreat of the community, I was, I was explaining to a couple of kids who asked me what retreat leader was all about during the interview. So, so I tell them, listen, this is not another student group you are joining, or you wanna join. Yeah. This is a movement you a movement, which has changed the lives of so many people, a movement where so many before you have given so much to build it up the way it is.


Tomy Valookaran (08:49):
So right now it’s your turn to take it to the next level. And, and so we always try to go below the radar. We don’t like to show off too much attract too much attention. So people, everyone feels safe. Right. Nice. And so, well, Esterday like T I met with four great 11 students who are already retreat leaders, and they wanted to study a women’s group. And that’s our next initiative here. That’ll be our ninth initiative, nice coming out of our retreat leadership. So they want to focus on intersection of feminism, nice and amplify the voices of especially black and indigenous and people of color voices in feminism.


Sam Demma (09:44):
I like that.


Tomy Valookaran (09:44):
No, I believe, I believe when God, when, when we adults give their platform a safe platform where young people can express themselves and are given support. So they shine. They really shine.


Sam Demma (10:01):
I agree. I, I,


Tomy Valookaran (10:04):
Yeah, go ahead.


Sam Demma (10:05):
No, I was gonna say, I totally agree. And I have a follow up question, but continue. I don’t want you to lose your thought.


Tomy Valookaran (10:13):
Oh, okay. Well, Mr. Mora who is one of who worked with me as a team member asked me if I could suggest a speaker for their LGBTQ group. So I suggested one of our outstanding alumni. And so I was talking to her about it. And then, and then what she said was just incredible. She said, sir, your group saved my life.


Sam Demma (10:43):
Mm.


Tomy Valookaran (10:45):
So we, we have that Alliance for compassion, LGBTQ safe group, which we run out of our chapel every Friday and just incredible how kids feel so safe and come every Friday at four 30 to five 30. And then


Sam Demma (11:03):
That’s awesome.


Tomy Valookaran (11:04):
So this is about you know, life. Yeah. You know, creating safe spaces where people feel safe, and that is the heart of Christianity. You know, it’s not about everything else that you, there is a famous saying. The Budha said the hand, that points to the moon is not the moon. So the, the, the sacraments going to church, they’re all the hands that point to God. They are not God. So a lot of people get stuck in the, in the, and, and I missed, missed the whole point. So


Sam Demma (11:43):
That’s a great perspective shift. I, I, I have to ask two questions. The first is, you said you were mentored by a nun, a very wise nun and do nuns sleep. And I’m asking because I was at a summer camp one time and, and the, you know, the nuns seem like they’re up at like three in the morning. And just, just outta curiosity, what do you think?


Tomy Valookaran (12:08):
Yeah, there are there are different types of nuns religious group. Yeah. Some are very active. They call it active condemn. So they, they are action oriented and some nuns just stay indoors and pray for everybody do counseling. So my sister is a nun of saying, you know, Francis commissioners of Mary and I have two aunts who are nuns. So yeah. NA had a big influence on my life.


Sam Demma (12:37):
Yeah. That’s awesome. So cool. And you know, the educator that’s listening to this right now is, is probably wondering how are you able to get so many students from the school involved, you know, the program, their treat leading program has, I think you, you said roughly over 120 students right now, and that’s a massive accomplishment where, you know, most student clubs and it’s not a club, it’s a movement, but, but where most, you know, typical student clubs would have 30 kids. Maybe if they’re lucky, you know, that many students involved your retreat leading and core program is, is, is, is blown up. And I’m curious to know what is it that makes so many students want to participate and get involved and, and help


Tomy Valookaran (13:22):
Because well, we, we do have a big history, like going back 10, 15 years, we have been building slowly, right? Yep. So their brothers, their sisters, older sisters recommend many parents know the work we do. So parents recommend kids to, to join because they see the change in their own children. Mm. Once they become part of a movement as opposed to ING your ego, like, so the, the way we train is we, we really give them opportunity to we, we call it graced history. So, so we give them the tools to go through their life five year cycles, zero to five, five to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 17, whatever. And they have to write down the significant events or people they have had who had either a positive or a negative influence on them.


Tomy Valookaran (14:28):
Mm. And then we created safe space where they share that with each other. Mm. And, and once, once people see that, you know, everybody has burdens, they’re carrying and they really mold and become a real community. It’s almost like a family. And then, and that is what attracts people to join, to become part of that. You know, all of us are seeking, you know, to belong to something more than bigger than us. Yeah. And, and know that’s, that’s the God part in us wanting to connect with the God part in everybody else and thereby create what Jesus called the kingdom of God, where everyone, everyone is valued and appreciated and affirmed, especially those who are marginalized.


Sam Demma (15:23):
I love that. That’s awesome. And I would, I would only, as I would only assume that this year it’s been a little more challenging or a little bit difficult, but it sounds like from our previous conversation that it’s still moving forward and proceeding, and you still had an overwhelming amount of students interested. What, what looks different this year than previous years, and how have you been able to kind of adjust


Tomy Valookaran (15:47):
Well, well, this year it takes much more effort.


Sam Demma (15:53):
Yeah.


Tomy Valookaran (15:54):
From, from the team’s part. Cause you know, it, it’s not just about me. It’s about you know, there are many teachers who are very passionate about what we do. And, and so when you build a team, then, you know, when, when we come to a crisis, so one of the first things I, I got all my leaders together and what I said, including teachers, and what I said was, you know, the word for crisis in Chinese is means two things. It’s danger opportunity. So when it, when a crisis comes media, everybody looks at the danger like coronavirus and everybody looked at the danger, but there were so many hidden opportunities in there. Mm. And so we started focusing on the opportunities and then we had the George Floyd thing happened. And, and so we got all our black students together on zoom every, every week.


Tomy Valookaran (17:02):
And like we would be doing like two, three hour zoom meetings in the evening because there was so much hurt. We had to process. And then we brought in guest speakers and, and help them to heal. And once they felt they were comfortable, then they start going out into the community and, and, and start connecting with others who are hurt. So, you know, that’s typically how God works. You know, if you look at the history of God, you know, it’s when crisis has come, those are opportu for God, really to show up. Right. And so we do a, we have, we have done a lot of creative things like kids, we put together a black history assembly, like no, before no one has before done that. And, and kids loved it because it’s our own kids who shared their experiences. Oh, wow. Of being black and, and experiencing racism and how they managed to survive still. And then many kids were crying during the was ritual assembly. We Preap it and we asked every teacher to it. And so that would’ve never happened if it wasn’t on zoom and recorded. And, and


Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s awesome. And I was gonna ask you, you know, you just shed lay on one of them, but what are some of those opportunities that you think it came out of the challenges and changes that came along with COVID 19? I, I would assume that presentation doing the, the zoom was one way, because everyone had a chance to speak and share, and, and it was prerecorded. So you could re-watch it as opposed to a live thing. But yeah, you would know better than I, what were some of the opportunities that came along with?


Tomy Valookaran (18:51):
Well we learned so much new technologies.


Sam Demma (18:57):
Yep.


Tomy Valookaran (18:58):
Well, I personally was forced to learn much more than kids, but because we had so much youth involvement in our leadership, they took over that side and they, they started teaching us how to do some of this stuff. So and care youth are very good at technology, you know looking from far to like a faith perspective, you know, what I see happening when you look at the digital technology, digital revolution, which happened like 20, 30 years ago, that was in preparation, God was preparing the earth to deal with crises like coronavirus. Now, can you imagine if we didn’t have the digital platform, holy, how we will deal with


Sam Demma (19:46):
It? I don’t know.


Tomy Valookaran (19:48):
Yeah. A lot of people don’t think that way. Right. But you know, really that God has been preparing with or pushing out all these new technologies, you know, from the east east end philosophy that they have a theory that you know, deep inside the earth lies all the, all what we need. And when the time is right, certain things, resources get pushed out and, and that’s how the earth survives. Right. Hmm. And when you look at oil, when you look at, you know, going back, you can clearly see certain technologies and certain resources being intentionally pushed out so that we, as a humanity can, can serve. Right.


Sam Demma (20:34):
And even when you look at activism, like, you know, everyday people expressing their concerns and having their voices heard wouldn’t be as possible if we didn’t have social media or, or the internet, you know.


Tomy Valookaran (20:49):
No, no, no. The climate movement, the black lives matter movement. These are powerful tools if used well to build the kingdom of God.


Sam Demma (21:01):
Yeah. Totally agree. I think that’s a great distinction to make in terms of your program this year and not just yours, but all the teachers who are involved, what are some of the initiatives that have gone on so far? I know you talked about the, the black history month, this Emily, I’m curious, like, what are other, some of the other things that have gone on? And yeah,


Tomy Valookaran (21:20):
We, we have a domestic outreach group. Nice. And this, usually we do Christmas outreach. So, you know, you remember when you were at St. Mary, it’s a big but this year we couldn’t collect things, right? Yeah. So, but we still had the families we sponsored. So kids went creative and they went with gift cards only. And and, and cash donations online. Nice. And I was just astounded like we initially kids only said, you know, let’s just put $10. People who want donate. I said, no, let’s put 10, 25 and 50, so people can choose. And we got so many people donating.


Sam Demma (22:06):
Yeah.


Tomy Valookaran (22:07):
And one of our alumni gave us $5,000.


Sam Demma (22:10):
Wow.


Tomy Valookaran (22:11):
Because he has a business which has been successful during the coronavirus. Wow. And so we raised more money than normally we would. So we were able to give, I think about a hundred dollars gift cards per person, per family.


Sam Demma (22:31):
Wow.


Tomy Valookaran (22:33):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:33):
That’s awesome. And the food drive has historically also been something that you and a lot of teachers worked on for years this year, I guess it’s not possible or how’s


Tomy Valookaran (22:44):
No, no, no. We are doing again gift cards, cards, cash. Oh. So we, so they’re preparing for our Easter food drive already. Got it. And we also, that group is connected with the bleed, the north, the organization, which which supports menstrual products, menstrual education. Oh, cool. So we also collected a lot of menstrual products to be given to that organization and, and they send it to some of the original communities or indigenous communities. And, and so we did that, then we have the international outreach group. They focus on international issues and they’re right now planning, excuse me, a, a hour fast from social media.


Sam Demma (23:34):
Nice


Tomy Valookaran (23:35):
Coming up in may. And they’re also planning a multicultural night, virtual in may. Nice. And, and the other group we have is best buddies. They focus on make out, making sure our our special education students are looked after. And so they have a group. They plan things that support them. Another group we have is indigenous F and M I group. They focus on highlight, educating our community on indigenous issues.


Sam Demma (24:09):
Nice.


Tomy Valookaran (24:11):
Then we have a large group called safe and caring. So they focus on mental wellness and they are right now working. We just had a two week mental wellness week at, at our school where they highlighted how to get help if you need. And they have even created a website. So all these groups have Instagrams to, to follow. Okay. Then the other big group what am I missing among the nine. Okay.


Sam Demma (24:40):
That’s okay. Yeah. So there there’s does it’s. Yeah. It sounds like there’s, all of these groups are umbrella under the retreat leading program. Yes. Okay. So they come for weekly touch points altogether, monthly touch points, or how does it look like from the retreat?


Tomy Valookaran (24:57):
Well, the initiative groups is open to the whole school.


Sam Demma (25:02):
Got it.


Tomy Valookaran (25:03):
So, but it is run by retreat leaders.


Sam Demma (25:05):
Okay. Understand.


Tomy Valookaran (25:07):
And, and so what happened? They meet once a week.


Sam Demma (25:10):
Okay.


Tomy Valookaran (25:11):
So each day we have at least one or two groups meeting for planning their activities. And these meetings are not just for planning either because one of the other big needs during this quarantine is isolation.


Sam Demma (25:27):
Yeah.


Tomy Valookaran (25:27):
And people feeling lonely. Right? Yeah. So, so as soon as we come together, we do what we call processs and thoughts, you know, what’s going on. What’s good. Nice. know what’s hurting you. And, and then, you know, people connect the, you know, I look at all these initiatives that tools to build intimate communities. Yeah. And out of those communities come miracles.


Sam Demma (25:56):
And


Tomy Valookaran (25:57):
So we, yeah. We have an Alliance for compassion. I spoke about the LGBTQ group. Yeah. And we have eco


Sam Demma (26:04):
Okay.


Tomy Valookaran (26:04):
Eco is pretty they, they were involved and you know, Fridays for future, we even took a bus lot of kids, city, Queens park against, against all the bus school board. Well, they want, they don’t want you to do stuff like that. Yeah. But kids loved it. And, and, and because they felt they were, they had a voice. Right? Yeah. Yeah. Those are most of the groups I think I covered.


Sam Demma (26:38):
Yeah, no, no, no worries. And if we miss any, I can link them in the show notes of the episode as well. Just to make sure they have some recognition. How do you, how do you think as an educator, we make students feel valued, seen, heard, and appreciated without being like face to face physically, is it, is it just by giving them the chance to speak? Like, you’ve obviously you, you and a bunch of other teachers that run these programs have created those intimate communities. Is it the kids themselves interacting that makes them feel safer? Or what is it exactly that gives them that feeling of safety and community?


Tomy Valookaran (27:15):
First of all you know my advice to teachers who help run these things that you don’t run it it’s, it’s kids who run it. Yep. And then it’s kids who set the agenda and it’s kids who lead discussions. And we only get involved only if, for, we feel something is hurting somebody and, and otherwise, you know, they’re all student run. And so there’ll be a, a teacher present one or two teachers with with them, but that’s just to support. And, and I feel, you know, once you provide a safe environment where kids feel that they can speak and not be judge, mm. Then they tend to open up.


Sam Demma (28:08):
And how do you create that safe space? Is it by ensuring that when something happens, you address it, is it by setting rules or,


Tomy Valookaran (28:17):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, initially we, we talk about what are some of the, you know, we come as a group and then create certain rules for ourselves so that each of us feels safe.


Sam Demma (28:29):
Got it.


Tomy Valookaran (28:30):
Okay. So they come up with suggestions and we keep the, as our as our safe space. So everybody needs to follow those. Cool. So, so one of the one the, we expect people to contribute. Yep. So, but you have the ability to Surpas, but the expectation is you’re going be actively participating.


Sam Demma (28:54):
Nice. Oh, very cool. That makes a lot of sense. Amazing. And I want to ask you a personal question. So in your own educational journey, when you were up and going through school, did you have teachers in your life that had a huge impact on you that, that inspired you to work with youth? Or why do you think that your ministry took you towards working with young people in education?


Tomy Valookaran (29:24):
I, I really have no answer for that because it sort of evolved.


Sam Demma (29:30):
Okay.


Tomy Valookaran (29:31):
In fact if I have had any positive most of my experiences with educators have been pretty negative. And, and so I always want to go go the other way. Like, I’ve been expelled from a couple of institutions. Got it. Because of my activism. And, and, and so it, that the anger, which I grew up with against injustice is, you know, was healed and transformed by my connection with the, with the real Jesus Christ. Mm. Like, you know, a lot of people think Christ Jesus, Jesus, last name. No, that Jesus last name was something different. Mm. And so, so when you understand what Jesus Christ me means, then you start getting a feeling that, you know, if Jesus was the son of God, so are we, that’s the message of Jesus was like, we are all children of the same God. And, and, and once we get that, then we get empowered just like, Jesus, God.


Tomy Valookaran (30:41):
And, and that’s why we call, you know, the resurrected Jesus becomes us. Yeah. When we are passionate about the kingdom of God. So the work Sam you are doing is very similar. So you might think it’s your, well, it’s your two. But my experience tells me, no, we don’t choose. You know, it’s like, we are provided like, you know, we are lead. Yeah. You know, it’s like the Eastern philosophers. They say, you know, many times we think we are the dancers and, and artist, the person leading us. Mm. But they say, that’s not true. It’s. We are the dance itself, the God dancing through. Mm. And, and that’s the doctrine incarnation, right? Yeah. A lot of people don’t get it. Jesus never wanted to be worshiped. Jesus wanted to be followed. Mm. You know, just clearly said, you know, follow me, follow my teachings. That’s how you worship me. So, so I’m not I’m not very like a churchy churchy person. Yeah. But you know, I support churches when, what they do inspires people to create a caring, compassionate world. Yeah. And if they are inspiring them to be judgemental, you know, to divide people as versus them, then that’s not true. Authentic religion. Yeah. That’s brainwashed.


Sam Demma (32:25):
Yeah. Yeah. I think I love how you open this conversation, talking about, you know, the church is one of the hands that points to God, right? Yeah. And if it, if that’s something that helps you personally get closer to that, then, you know, go there and that’s great. And I love that philosophy. I want to bring this to a close I wanna respect your time. I know we’re a little overtime here, so I apologize. If you could go back and speak to younger Tommy, when you, when you did your first year of teaching at St. Mary and chaplaincy, you know, knowing what you know now and realizing that you know, you’ve learned things throughout the past. I don’t know how 20, how many years have you been at St. Mary now?


Tomy Valookaran (33:11):
I’ll St. Mary since 90, 99, 21


Sam Demma (33:15):
Years. So, you know, in the 21 or 22 years give, take if you could go back and speak to yourself when you just started, what advice would you give that might help you along the way?


Tomy Valookaran (33:29):
My advice would be Tommy relax. No, there is, there are other unseen grace is working with you because you are working for a cost greater than yourself. It’s not about you. And so, yeah, I wish he would, he, would’ve relaxed a little more. Got it. Because I’m much more relaxed now. And then, then big things happen, right? Yeah. People are attracted to you and you carry some, they, they, they connect with your passion because they have the same passion, otherwise they wouldn’t connect. Right. So, and, and we know from our experience that we all have a passion to make our world better than we, we know. So that’s God working through us to no, that’s what we call the journey to, to heaven. Right. And Jesus mission was to bring heaven to earth. Mm. And no, that’s the journey we are in.


Sam Demma (34:34):
Yeah. I love that. Awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation. I feel inspired. Oh. If another educator is listening to this and is inspired, or just wants to have a conversation with you, like what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you? And if it’s, if it’s by email, go ahead and spell it out, just so they just, so they.


Tomy Valookaran (34:54):
Okay, email would be the, the best way, because I check my email. I have to cause a lot of kids communicate with me. So it’s Tomy.Valookaran@dcdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (35:16):
Perfect. Tommy, thank you so much for sharing some of your thoughts and advice and wisdom today on the podcast. I, I really appreciate it.


Tomy Valookaran (35:25):
Well I’m so proud of seeing you Sam, as an alumni of St. Mary we are always speaking highly of you and, and we hope to have you back again once the opportunity arises. Maybe we will see if we can come and talk to our, our leadership once I put it together for the next year’s leadership.


Sam Demma (35:48):
Yeah, for sure. No, I appreciate that.


Tomy Valookaran (35:51):
Sounds good. Okay, Sam.


Sam Demma (35:52):
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 Tomy Valookaran

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.

Coral Klein – Principal of Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute (LDSB)

Coral Klein - Principal of Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute (LDSB)
About Coral Klein

With 28 years of experience in secondary education, Coral Klein is the current principal of Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Born and raised in northern Ontario, Coral attended Lakehead University’s concurrent education program and started her career with the Lakehead District School Board in 1994.

In the years since, Coral expanded her professional qualifications to include two Specialist degrees, a Master’s degree and her principal’s papers. In 2008, she transitioned from a special education management role into an administrative one. Coral believes very strongly in the power of education and the important role educators play in equipping students with the competencies, knowledge and attitudes necessary for lifelong success.

At present, her key areas of professional focus are “indigenous education” and the creation and maintenance of “safe, equitable and inclusive school cultures.”  

Connect with Coral: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Westgate CVI – Lakehead District School Board

Kevin Lamoureux TEDx Talk on Reconsiliation

Dr. Christopher Mushquash, Ph.D., C.Psych

Niigaan Sinclair – Winnipeg Free Press

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):
Coral, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Coral Klein (00:09):
Well, thanks for having me! My name is Coral Klein. I am a principal at Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I’m super thrilled to spend a few minutes with you today.


Sam Demma (00:20):
Yeah, me too. And thank you so much for, you know, saying yes to this opportunity. How did you end up deciding that education was the career or vocation that you wanted to pursue?


Coral Klein (00:35):
Hmm, I mean, that’s a pretty loaded question. I, I’m not sure that there was a light bulb moment ever in my life where I, I kind of woke up and, and recall thinking that education was for me. I grew up in a small town in, in Northern Ontario and it was, it was a unique town in that it had one school and it had kindergarten, a grade 12 all under one roof. Oh, wow. So it was pretty unique. And I can recall from a very, very young age having a lot of admiration and respect for teachers and, and probably if I’m being honest probably even could use the word revered them. I, I remember being very excited as a child. Anytime I saw a teacher out in public doing regular person and regular person clothes. And I also have a lot of vivid memories of, of taking my younger brother and, and forcing him to be one of my students.


Coral Klein (01:32):
So I, I think the path to education probably was a foreseeable one, but I, I just don’t remember the exact moment where it kind of clicked that that was going to, to be my pathway, but it was, and that small town led me to a move to a city that was not too far from where I grew up, which is where I am now. Thunder bay. I moved to thunder bay in 1990 to attend, excuse me, to attend lake university in the con current education program majoring in English. Nice. And at that point in time, I was, I, I guess I was a little unsure at that point, whether I wanted to land in elementary or whether I wanted to land in secondary. So I selected a junior intermediate level of specialization because that was almost like a middle ground compromise between the two.


Coral Klein (02:25):
And I was just trying to figure it out through teaching placements and other experiences. Didn’t take me very long to, to figure out that the older kids were the ones that I wanted to work with in the secondary setting was the, was the path that I wanted to take. So shortly after I had graduated, the very first additional qualification I took was my senior lab. And then, you know, from there, I, I think I was very, very fortunate, actually. I don’t think I, I know I was very fortunate because I graduated in 1994 and I was one of the very lucky people that ended up getting a full-time job in education at a time that jobs were very, very scarce. Mm. So I, I was hired by Lakehead public here in hunter bay. I worked for them obviously, ever since my first job was within the realm of adult education. And I was working with a group of, of adults who had recently lost their jobs and were in the process of being retrained and needed to acquire high school diploma. So that was an amazing experience for a young teacher. And yeah. So, so from there, I guess it was a couple years of doing that. And in 96 I made the transition into the high schools and I’ve been working in the high schools pretty much ever since, so, yeah.


Sam Demma (03:49):
That’s awesome. Well, that’s a cool journey. And along like, along the path, what have you found helpful in terms of resources, people did you have mentors that have tapped you on the shoulder and helped you? And if so, who are those people and what did they teach you?


Coral Klein (04:08):
Yeah, I mean, I guess it depends on, on what step in the journey you’re looking at, right? Yeah. Like as a youngster I mean, I grew up playing hockey, so my hockey coaches were always very important to me as were, as were some of the teachers I had in elementary school, my grade six teacher was also my gymnastics coach. So there was a connection there. I mean, early on in my career, I always, I sort of looked up to colleagues that had the level of experience that I now possess, you know, 25 years, 30 years into their career. And, and they guided me along with their expertise and they shared their resources when I moved into administration. It was, it, it was a huge change as you can expect. And there is, there is a person, her name is Jenny lamb.


Coral Klein (05:01):
She, she is a retired principal in Lakehead public schools. And I would say she probably was one of my biggest mentors. I, my first job in administration was a vice principal at a, at a high school in thunder bay called Hamal. And Jenny at that time was my vice principal partner in my first year. And she laid theater, became the principal of that school. And I worked with her another five years as her vice while she was principal. And, and a, if it wasn’t for her, I probably might not have stayed in administration. It is so overwhelming and so challenging. But it’s also because of her that, that I think I, I did a, you know, a lot of really good habits and, and, and picked up the right skill sets to do the job and do the job effectively. So I give, I give her a lot of credit. She’s an incredible person.


Sam Demma (05:55):
You mentioned the different skill sets required for the role. I’m curious to know what are some of the challenges you’re faced with as a principal? How does it differ from teaching in a classroom and how, what are also the similarities, because I’m sure there’s both differences and also some similarities.


Coral Klein (06:14):
Okay. So, well, that’s a multi-part question. So the challenges, I mean, I guess right now, it’s, it’s kind of like stating the obvious to say that COVID is clearly the most immediate challenge that that’s facing all educators at the current time. I mean, it, it it’s adversely impact our schools. It it’s, it’s impacted the type and the quality of the education that we deliver. It impacted the physical and the mental health of our staff and our students. So it, it’s crazy. It’s crazy to be an educator, regardless of what employee group you’re a part of and, and be in the midst of this, this battle that we’ve never fought before and, and trying to do it on shifting sands, which, which has been very, very frustrating. So, but then of course, like if we’re talking about challenges, I mean, the reality is that all the challenges that we dealt with pre COVID rising, mental health issues, substance abuse race relations, poverty, all those sorts of challenges, they all still exist schools, and now they’ve been amplified.


Coral Klein (07:22):
Yeah. So it, it, it makes being an educator very, very, very tough right now. And I, I hate to say this because it does sound very negative, but I, I really do strongly believe that it’s gonna take years for us to recover from the damage that, that the pandemic has done. And, and that can be a little bit of an overwhelming thought if, if you allow it to be right. So, I mean, in terms of kind of coping, it’s tough. I don’t think there’s a, there’s a magic answer that you can sort of narrow in on, but there’s definitely things that we’ve done that have helped us to manage and are definitely things that we’re gonna have to continue to do into the future. So like right outta the gates, I can say that technology has been a savior. It’s been a savior to everybody through the pandemic.


Coral Klein (08:23):
It it’s enabled us to continue to connect with students who are trying to learn virtually from home. It’s enabled us beyond the teaching part of it to provide mental health support and things like that to kids who are, who are struggling right now, it, if you consider the things like social work services being delivered, virtually tutoring supports being delivered, virtually conflict resolution programs being delivered virtually. So, so that’s been, that’s been really, really, really, really critical in terms of like, like through the lens of a principle, I think with respect to what I think is important and what that skillset is particularly now in the midst of a crisis. I think there’s, there’s probably a few things that I could narrow in on that, that I would, I guess, not recommend, but I guess just share that, that have kind of worked for me.


Coral Klein (09:27):
Yeah. Number one would be probably maintaining really strong in open lines of communication with your staff and your students and your parents and your stakeholders. So I’m not sure we’ve ever lived through an era of more uncertainty. And I think that can be very upsetting and it can be very unsettling. So I try every single day to make sure that my school community has the most updated and the most detailed information possible, and that all, all the expectations and all the instructions are always very clear and very concise. I’m also very conscious, I think about trying to make sure that when I’m communicating with my school community, I’m doing so in a constructive way, in a positive way, and with an optimistic tone and I’m trying to be supportive. I think that’s very important because I, I believe that that principals do set the tone of a school. And I, and I think that if the leader falls apart, the team falls apart. Yeah. So I think that’s always kind of in the back of my mind.


Coral Klein (10:35):
The other thing that is, is critically important while we kind of navigate through the pandemic is, is the fact that we all need to be prioritizing wellness above everything else. And that includes the curriculum. So there really is nothing that’s more important right than the health and safety of, of your students and your staff. And, and as educators that think we have to be more in tune with wellness needs than we’ve ever had to be before. I mean, from the outset of this pandemic emotional wellness has had to be at the forefront of everything that, that people have done because kids are struggling right now are kids are confused and they’re, and they’re frightened. And they’re trying to make sense of this crazy world that’s going on around them. A lot of kids are coming to us from homes that are barely holding on whether that’s financially or emotionally, and they’re really kind of looking at schools to be that place of comfort and stability for them. So I think that I’m not sure if I can say for the first time ever, but certainly for the first time in my career to tell an entire staff of teachers that you have the permission to sort of ease off curriculum expectations, modify assessment and evaluation in any way that you need to, and just put health and wellness before all else. That’s been, that’s been really critical in, in, in terms of keeping the, the ship afloat during these crazy, these crazy times.


Sam Demma (12:13):
Yeah, those are all phenomenal reflections and I’m sure other principal listening right now can benefit. And from, from just hearing your experiences and maybe even implementing similar things in their schools, if, if they haven’t already what does wellness look like for you personally? How do you yourself afloat? You mentioned that if the leader kind of falls apart, you think the team does how do you attend to your own wellness? What does self-care look like for you?


Coral Klein (12:43):
I’m glad you asked that question, Sam, because it’s, it’s really something that I used to be terrible at. Yeah, I think earlier in my career you’re very driven kind of the pursuit of your goals and, and, and that type a need to be successful type personality. Yeah. That comes out in a lot of educators. It’s, it’s always there. So, I mean, I think as, as you age, I think you’re, you’re kind of driven by or motivated by less by sort of possessions and more by passions. And I think that in my case, anything that makes me smile and anything that helps me walk away feeling proud of something is something that motivates me and is something that keeps me going. So I love spending time with family spending time with friends. I have all kinds of hobbies.


Coral Klein (13:40):
I’ve walked away from passions like hockey in recent years, just because, you know, I’m getting older and, and that sometimes tends to be a young person’s sport, but certainly all those things are, are very important. I think one of the things we’ve all learned during the pandemic is the healing power of nature. So I think that getting out into the environment, into the fresh air, into the NA natural surroundings is, is a very healing thing. It’s very good for the soul and, and unfortunate because I live in thunder bay and thunder bay is amazing city with respect to access to natural surroundings and, and the beauty of nature. So it’s very easy, easy to do stuff like that.


Sam Demma (14:27):
That’s awesome. And balancing that with the professional development of, you know, your, your career sometimes challenges challenging because especially when a crisis happens and it seems like every moment of your life is spent during and focused on work. But when things are a little bit more in balance and have been for the previous years of your career, what are some of the resources, whether it be books, courses videos you watched, or other people that have inspired you, what are some of the resources that have been helpful in your own professional development? Working in the school.


Coral Klein (15:06):
Okay. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna back up a little bit on the question so that I, so you understand why these resources are important to me. So in thunder bay, we have a rising population with respect to indigenous students. So just to give you an example, I started as principal at the school about eight years ago, and our indigenous population, we, we currently have about 1100 kids or 1000 in fifth, our indigenous population was around 12, 13%. And it’s, it’s more than doubled now. Wow. And, and same within our community. So we have a rising population of indigenous learners. The challenge for us with respect to indigenous learners has been bridging the gap between them and no on indigenous peers. So what I mean by that is for whatever reason our indigenous students, their credit accumulation rates, their achievement levels to graduation rates, they lag behind their non-indigenous peers.


Coral Klein (16:05):
So it’s been a very big focus of mine personally, in my school, as well as our board in thunder bay to try and do a better, a job of meeting the needs of indigenous learners and trying to figure out where we’ve kind of dropped the ball or where we’re dropping the ball and what we can do better in order to meet their needs. And like I said, sort of lessen that gap that currently exists. Yeah. So with that in mind, I would say that with respect to a lot of the, the training that I’ve had recently, or the focus that we have in our school, a lot of it, it stems from there. So there have been a few people that I would strongly recommend that really made an impact on me. When I listen to them, speak, one is a, a guy named Kevin Lamaoreux, he’s amazing.


Coral Klein (16:54):
And, and he speaks a lot about the history of indigenous peoples in Canada and, and what educators frankly need to do and can do to help in the process of reconciliation. So he was amazing. Dr. Chris Mushquash is a child psychology who works here in thunder bay. He’s he’s of indigenous dissent himself. And he does a lot of work around kids with traumatic backgrounds, and he works with educators to help them understand trauma and, and what we can do to help kids that are coming from backgrounds of trauma to be successful. And I just thought he was, he was amazing. And then there was a third, there’s a third speaker that I heard. He too is also indigenous, but like the previous two you, you hear them speak and you just walk away feeling very inspired and you walk away with a lot of like really practical strategies to really help you get started and, and kickstart whatever action research or whatever may be going on in your school.


Coral Klein (18:06):
And, and his name is Niigaan Sinclair, and he’s, he’s just amazing. And, and I’m sure you’ve heard these names before. They’re all quite famous, but like, if I’m speaking to other educators out there in the world that want my opinion of, of a speaker that could come in and, and really be a game changer for you or your staff those are definitely, definitely three of them. There’s also a book that I read and I thought it was fantastic. And it’s a book called in insulting, hang on, I’ve got it. I don’t wanna mess it up, insulting our in insulting our schools. And again, it’s the same thing. It’s, it’s it a book about reconciliation and wellbeing and diversity and how, how you can promote and celebrate diversity in your school. And I, I think that resource is absolutely fantastic.


Sam Demma (19:04):
Amazing. And if you using your own experience as a resource as well, if you could bundle up all the years, you’ve worked in education and walk back into the first class you ever taught or worked in and like tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, coral, this is what you need to hear right now. What would you tell your younger self, or what are some pieces of advice that you would you’d give to your younger self or potentially an another new educator who’s just getting into this work?


Coral Klein (19:41):
There’s probably a couple things I think people need to know who are going into education. I mean, right over the gates. I think it’s really important for principals and, and your principals and future teachers to know that to be effective in your roles, you, you don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. Your, your cognitive intelligence is, is not gonna be the thing that makes the difference between a highly effective teacher or highly effective principal. And, and not, I think I’ve learned over the years, the importance of emotional intelligence, emotional IQ to this job. I mean, let, let’s be honest, Sam, we are in the business of people and in my mind the number one characteristic or skillset that someone needs to possess, if you’re working in education is strong interpersonal skills, you have to be able to build relationships with people.


Coral Klein (20:35):
You have to be able to make those connections and, and people have to feel safe with you. If you cannot connect with a student, if you cannot establish a relationship with a student, you’re never gonna be able to teach them. And through the lens of a principal, it’s the same with your staff. If you cannot connect with your staff and form positive relationships, you’re never gonna be able to effectively lead them. So, I mean, I think the power and the importance of interpersonal skills and emotional and IQ, I can’t overstate that enough with respect to being a leader and, and being a principal. I, I think that there’s probably a couple other little things that I, I think are, are pretty important. Emotional regulation being one of ’em. You certainly can’t be a person who can’t remain calm in the midst of a storm for lack of a better analogy. I mean, you, you have to consciously control your emotions. I heard a, a strange quote, something along the lines of the fish rots from the head…


Coral Klein (21:49):
And, you know, like I said earlier, if the leader falls apart, the team falls apart. Well, if the leader isn’t managing very well in emotionally charged situations or crisis situations, then, then the team is gonna emulate that as well. So I think that’s also important. And I think that’s important to be said to people who are going into classrooms as well. I mean, the, the teachers need to be role modeling how to handle those sorts of situations and managing their emotions in a positive way. And then the kids will, the kids will emulate that. And then, I mean, I, I think I hinted at it a little bit earlier when I was talking about the importance of opening or, or maintaining strong lines of communication. I think you have to be a very strong communicator if you’re going to be effective in education. There’s, there’s really no getting around that.


Coral Klein (22:39):
Right. So as a leader or principal you, you establish the vision vision, you set the goals, you kind of set the parameters for what people are gonna do and the expectation and, and, and you create the conditions, I guess, that are necessary for other people to be successful and to thrive. So communication is a huge part of that. And I, like I said, I already kind of talked about that a little bit earlier, so yeah. So I guess my younger self thought, oh, well, if I have high IQ and I know my stuff, I’m good to go. And I, I, I think it’s a lot more than that.


Sam Demma (23:20):
That’s amazing. I interviewed another principal named Mike Anderson and he described running a school like organizing and being the CEO of a text art up. And he was like, yeah, he was like, you know, there’s a lot of different roles you have to fill. And it’s a very family-like environment, close knit. You have to build relationships and there’s always problems to overcome and situational challenges. Absolutely. So, yeah, your, your definition or description reminding me of that, but this has been a phenomenal conversation, coral, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show and share your experiences amidst a storm right now. If someone was listening and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Coral Klein (24:08):
Probably over email. So it’s: coral_klein@lakeheadschools.ca. I also am a Facebook person, so I’m on Facebook. So there’s always the option of private message as well through via that means, but yeah. Email or, or Facebook is great.


Sam Demma (24:32):
Sounds good. All right. Well, thank you so much again for coming on the show and keep up the great work.


Coral Klein (24:37):
Thanks so much, Sam, take care, have a good day and stay safe. You as well.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Coral

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Rob Gilmour – Principal of Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education

Rob Gilmour - Principal of Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education
About Rob Gilmour

Rob has been an educator for over 30 years with the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board and involved in computer-managed and online course delivery for most of his career. Rob started his career at Loyola teaching through the Pathfinder Learning Systems computer-managed program before initiating the online course program for the Board.

He co-founded the Ontario eLearning Consortium where he served as Executive Director before being seconded to the Ontario Ministry of Education as Education Officer for eLearning. Rob returned to the ALCDSB where he was elementary vice-principal and principal before returning to Loyola as Principal and taking on the additional role of eLearning Principal and Principal of International Education.

Connect with Rob: Email | Linkedin | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario eLearning Consortium

Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board

Michigan Virtual | Demand more from online learning

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 (00:02):
Rob welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Rob Gilmour (00:10):
Sure. so my name’s Rob Gilmour and I’ve been an educator for over 30 years with the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, kind of in the Kingston Pickton area of the province. So like I said, I started my career at Loyola, a school of adult and continuing education. I said 30 years ago, I looked after it was called Pathfinder learning systems. So it was computer-managed learning. So what would happen is the student would do a, kind it, of a pretest, a diagnostic test based on that score, they would be referred to a, a physical library of books. And so I’d say, go to this book and do this question, go to that book, do that question. Then they’d come back and they’d do a post test and based on those results, that would kind of guide them in terms of what to do next through the course.


Rob Gilmour (01:06):
So like I said, I went from that into kind of computer programming you know, Cisco networking courses. I then moved to the school board as a special assignment teacher to look after creating a an e-learning program for the board. Excuse me. From there, I, I met some other people from other boards in the province and kind of co-founded the Ontario e-learning consortium. Cool. and I was kind of the first executive director of that group. So helped lead that group for the first couple of years to I then was succonded to the Ontario ministry of education where I was an education officer for e-learning Ontario.


Sam Demma (01:53):
Nice.


Rob Gilmour (01:55):
So did that for a couple years. And then I got to a point where I, you know, I kind of had to make the decision, am I going to continue with the ministry or do I want to go back to the board? And I kind of missed working with students. Yeah. That’s the one thing with the ministry job. You’re kind of a long ways away from direct contact with students. And I missed that. That’s kind of why I went into teaching. So I returned to the board as elementary vice principal, the elementary principal, and eventually made my way back kind of full circle. So I’m back at Loyola, but as the prince, as the principal of Loyola. So yeah, as I’m principal here at Loyola, I also had duties as the e-learning e-learning principle for the board. I’m currently a, also the international education principal. So that’s for students coming overseas to Canada to study. So I kind of managed like after that program as well.


Sam Demma (02:57):
That’s awesome. Very diverse experiences. Take me back to your initial decision to get involved in education in your own career journey. Did you always know that you wanted to work with students in a school setting, or how did that decision come together for you as a professional?


Rob Gilmour (03:14):
Yeah, no, I didn’t. So I, I like and was involved with coaching early on in elementary school and high school coaching, younger students. So I knew I loved coaching, loved working with younger people, but I didn’t know if teaching was what, you know, the career path I wanted to go, Dale. My, my father was you know, involved with coaching. So I saw him he was a, not a teacher, but, you know, I had other friends that were so actually when I graduated from university, I became an educational assistant. Mm. So I was worked as an EA at local high school here in town and being in the classroom, being in the school you know, working with some students with special needs. I really, you know, after that experience, I knew that, okay, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life is, is working with kids and, and working in the school. So at that point I applied and went to teachers college and kind of the rest is history, as they say. Yeah.


Sam Demma (04:18):
You also mentioned the interest in engagement, starting the organization in e-learning. Where did, where did that passion for e-learning come from and tell, tell me a little more about that venture.


Rob Gilmour (04:32):
Yeah, so, like I said, it’s, it’s one of those things where, you know, as I started with the in Pathfinder learning system, so it was kind of computer managed learning, so it kind of very, so this is back in the early nineties. Yep. Very early nineties, so very kind of tiptoeing into kind of computer managed, computer online, learning in a sense. And so I kind of really started there. I mean, I didn’t have a background in computers. You know, I came outta teachers kind with, you know, geography, social sciences, and, you know, there was a job opening, so I took it and it was this computer managed learning. And from there they thought I knew something about computers which I really didn’t. And so, you know, but learned as I went along, so, you know, got into, I said, did got my Cisco certification and you know, to other courses in terms of software courses.


Rob Gilmour (05:27):
So there, I got kind of my love, I guess, for technology and working with computers. And and then, you know, e-learning was just kind of starting up right, as, as kind of the late nineties you know, they’re looking hot, you know, universities and postsecondary are starting into kind of the online learning. And so I think because I got into it very early on and it was new and, and I guess that’s something I’ve always liked in my career. I mean, I’ve always liked new challenges, new things, you know, maybe cutting edge or what have you, you know, so that’s always been attracted to me. And, and so, yeah, yeah, I kind of got involved with it, you know, met some great people along the way. You know, other educators had great support from my school board. So had great principals had great, you know, superintendents and director of education who really supported me along the way and kind of allowed me to go off and kind of develop and try to grow a program.


Sam Demma (06:37):
Very awesome. When you think back to your journey, what resources courses or other people, like what resources, whether it’s books, courses, or people did you did, did came across your path and you found really helpful that you might wanna shed some light on?


Rob Gilmour (07:00):
Yeah, I mean, at that time, the, the United States, the us were a little bit further ahead in can than Canadians in terms of online learning. So there was the Florida virtual school. There was also the Mitch Michigan virtual school. And so I, you know, the, luckily I was allowed to go to some conferences down in the United States where I, I got to hear speakers you know, people kind of leading these programs. And, and so, you know, kind of hearing what they’re doing, kind of the innovative things that they were doing and how they’re approaching not just kind of the delivery of the courses, but you know, how courses were created kind of the whole student engagement part, you know, trying to create, you know, those relationships online you know, all the challenges that, you know, typically online courses have, and, and talking kind of brainstorming with these other leaders kind of in, in the, in the area about how to overcome those challenges really kind of, you know, helped support me.


Rob Gilmour (08:07):
So, I mean, I don’t know if there was necessarily one person there was a, there was a book on a digital game-based learning, and certainly that had a real kind of interest. There was actually a gentleman at university in Kingston at that time who was doing a master’s program and, and looking at creating kind of a, a grade nine math curriculum. That would be basically almost like a digital game. Oh, wow. So, so, you know, you’d kind of go into it and, you know, based on question and should answer and guide you kind of through, you know, different doors and different options. So it is fairly basic, but just the whole concept and idea, because, you know, as you know, I mean, teenagers and you get them online and playing these video games, what, whatever game it might be, you know, Minecraft or whoever it might be. They’re certainly engaged. And so we are kind of thinking if we could create online courses similar to that you, you know, you and have to worry about telling students to go to school, they’d be engaged in it all the time. So that that’s kind of certainly the vision and the hope you know, that, that we get there at some point.


Sam Demma (09:26):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Would you buy any chance, remember to the name of the book or the, the professor?


Rob Gilmour (09:34):
I sort, I don’t, I mean, I think, I think the book was digital. Game-Based learning. Cool. I think is the name of the book. Okay. I can’t remember the gentleman, but


Sam Demma (09:44):
No, that’s okay. No worries. You mentioned that you, your career is come full circle and now you’re back at Layola, which is awesome. What does what does your role look like to day in this school?


Rob Gilmour (09:57):
So just to get background about what Loyola is, so Loyola’s kind of adult and continuing education. So we serve students 18 and over nice that are either coming back to get their high school diploma, or they’re looking to upgrade to go to college, or they need it for work. Also we offer English as a second language courses. So for newcomers to Canada. Yep. We have a personal support worker program. We have literacy and basic skills. So my, my role here is kind of supporting the teachers and the department heads but very fortunate to have kind of great department heads, great teachers. You know, a lot of times they say my role is to get outta the way of them because they do such a fantastic job and, and it’s kind of support them, look at, you know, I guess my role is to look at funding you know, kind of the financial side of things you know, making sure that programs are viable making sure that we have the right staff and the right positions.


Rob Gilmour (11:09):
And you know, I, I try as much as I can to, to talk with students because I mean, again, that’s, that’s kind of the, the love and the passion, right? Why you kind of go into education to begin with is you know, to, to make a difference in students lives to kind of help them in terms of where they wanna go in terms of their goals and their next steps. And we just try to help support students best we can to so that they can reach those goals and achieve whatever dreams that it is that they have education.


Sam Demma (11:40):
I’ve said this many times is like a gardener, or is like gardening, you, you plant seeds and the hope that they grow. And sometimes you see them grow right in front of your eyes. And other times, 20 years later, they flourish. And, you know, you’re lucky if the student comes back and finds you and says, Hey, Rob, you know what you said, had a massive impact. I’m curious to know when you think of stories like that, of transformations that you have seen, whether it’s a student or someone in the school that you heard about do any of those stories kind of jump to mind that that you’d like to share? And the reason I ask is because I, I think hearing those sort of transformations reminds teachers why this an educator is why this work is so important.


Rob Gilmour (12:28):
Yeah. I mean, certainly, I mean, you do hear some of those stories. Yeah. You do have some students that will come back to you and they’ll write you an email or they’ll send you a note or, or they’ll come up to you, especially during graduations. Yep. That, that they’ll come up and they’ll say, you know, thank you, you know, this program changed my life. You know, this teacher really helped me and, you know, helped me stay on track. You know, when I was ready to give up their, you know, they had the encouraging words or, you know, gave me a second chance. That’s, you know, you know, our sure. We’ve got it in the classroom here. You know, the big thing here is we, we talked about instilling hope. Mm. So kind of our role here is type to instill hope in our students, that they achieve success, that they can be successful.


Rob Gilmour (13:18):
And so, you know, yeah, you hear those stories, like I say, at graduations, now you will hear other things from other people. I, I, you know, a few years ago, I, I had a student when I was vice principal in elementary school. You know, I had a student who’s had ’em for a couple year. He is a little more challenging perhaps than kind of the other, other students. And we spent a lot of time together. And I think I was only with him for grade one and two, but in grade eight, he had to you know, write, write a paragraph on who had the greatest impact in his elementary career. Mm. And I heard that he, he put me down, which I was, you know? Yeah. I mean, kind of chokes you up a little bit. Yeah. The, you know, to know that you had that impact and, you know, like I say, I think most teachers will say, we don’t realize we have that impact.


Rob Gilmour (14:12):
Right. And that’s actually something that, you know, oftentimes you tell, you know, new teachers or young teachers to be aware of that you may not realize that impact, you know, the words that you say to students, you may not realize kind of the, the impact that you’re having on them. And, and, you know, you can quite literally change people’s lives and change people’s perspectives and, you know, mental health and everything else. So, so taking that responsibility seriously and, and making sure that, you know, you’re, you’re always being positive and you know, putting students first is, is always really critical.


Sam Demma (14:50):
That’s awesome. And so you explained you did a really great job explaining what Loyola stand Loyola stands for and the purpose of the school. What drew you to this school as opposed. And I know you’ve worked in elementary schools and others, but this is definitely unique a school. And I think it’s a really important, a really important school. What, what drew you to it?


Rob Gilmour (15:14):
Yeah. So I mean, the reason why I wanted to come back to, to Layola is you know, you’re dealing, you’re dealing with people here that you know, they’re not forced to come to school. There there’s no requirement that they must come to school. They’re coming back here because they, they want to come back. Yeah. and, and not that, that makes it any easier. But you know, you’re coming back with people that, you know, have a dream that they down deep inside, they really want to come back. They really want to try to improve their lives for themselves and for their families. And, but they have a lot of obstacles, whether or not it’s substance abuse, whether or not it’s you know, poverty, whether or not it’s mental health you know, there’s a lot of obstacles and, and so that makes them not in a necessarily the easiest students all the time to deal with.


Rob Gilmour (16:16):
But, you know, and oftentimes that makes it, you know, it can’t make it the most rewarding students to deal with. Yeah. Because, you know, when you do, you know, help somebody, you really are helping them. And, and, and they are very appreciative of it. Certainly, and yeah, so, so it’s, you know, it’s just a different student that you may find in, in a, in an elementary school or a regular high school, kind of that adult learner is you know, they’re, they’re motivated, they’re, they’re dedicated, but, you know, oftentimes they’d have families, they have work, they have all these other commitments right. On top of them. And, and so anything you can do to kind of help them and support them is is tremendously rewarding. And so that’s kind of, you know, in terms of ending my career, that’s certainly kind of the, the place I wanted to be to, to, to, to go out For, for sure. Yeah.


Sam Demma (17:19):
And if you could, if you could take all of the knowledge and experience you’ve gained in education over the past, I think you said 30 years you’ve been working in education. Yep. Yeah. If you could bundle it all up, walk into the first that you ever taught in and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Rob, here’s what I wish you knew. What advice would you have given yourself?


Rob Gilmour (17:48):
Well, I mean, you’re always told, right. You know, going through teachers college anywhere else, or any PD that, you know, professional learning just about the whole relationships piece. Right. Yeah. You know, it’s a, you know, as a young teacher, perhaps you’re so focused on curriculum. Okay. So, you know, my lessons that, you know, know sometimes you, you forget about the relationship piece. And so I would think that, you know, that’s the kind of the most important thing to, you know, and think that needs to really guide you is, is having those relationships with students, having those relationships with staff, with parents you know, you’ll cut, you’ll get the, for the curriculum, you know, that, you know, don’t, don’t worry and panic about, well, I, I need to cover, you know, fractions next week because if I don’t cover fractions next week, I’m gonna be behind.


Rob Gilmour (18:40):
And, you know, and, and there’s that, you know, that little bit of panic sets in, you know, as, as a young teacher, because you wanna do a good job and you wanna make sure you’re preparing your students for, you know, the next grade and the next step that they need to do. And you know, so you’re trying to make sure they have all the knowledge and things, all those pieces, but, you know, like I said, that relationship piece and, and, you know, the building, the whole child, they talk about, you know, making sure that, you know, that, you know, the, the they’re respectful that they get along well with their peers and that, you know, you’re helping them with those pieces too. Because they’re, you know, as equally important in terms of, you know, their future and where they help to go having those pieces. So yeah, I guess that would be my, my main message that would tell myself.


Sam Demma (19:30):
That’s awesome. And if someone is listening to this conversation wants to reach out to you and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Rob Gilmour (19:41):
Yeah. So they could you know, through Loyola. So certainly they could talk, contact me at Loyola either by phone. They’re welcome to email me (email). I have a LinkedIn you can, you know, search me through, through LinkedIn account. You know, so there’s few different ways and I, I’m more than open to, to talking to, to people. I mean, that’s, you know, that’s the one great thing in terms of education is you know, I kind of learned through my, my career is there’s a lot of great people that know way more than me, or others do. And oftentimes they’re very keen and eager to share that knowledge and experience with you.


Rob Gilmour (20:37):
You know, you just need to ask sometimes people a little bit shy cuz they feel that they don’t have much to offer, but once you kind of ask the question, you find it they’re full of great information and knowledge and can really help you out. And you know, be, and because of the, kind of the work that I’ve done, you know, kind of doing things that are somewhat new, like I said, with e-learning in, in the province you know, you’re always discovering something new and a new way of doing things, a new approach. You know, the biggest challenge the last little while that, you know, everyone’s had in education is, you know, with the pandemic. Yeah. you know, you’ve been forced to find new ways of doing things. And, and it’s, you know, it’s not all bad either.


Rob Gilmour (21:28):
And some of those new ways new approaches to, you know, deliver programming, you know, you know, bringing in a part, you know, hybrid type of delivery of courses is, you know, I’ve, I’ve always been a big advocate of it. We did action research project a couple years ago that that proved in terms of adult education anyway, a that kind of the hybrid approach. Some in class, some online provides the flexibility for students, but also provides that, you know, relationship piece, that accountability piece, you know, look in the person eye to eye you know, really helps to lead to, to success. So yeah, but like I said, by all means people are more than welcome to, to reach out to me. I’m happy to, to talk and to share anything that I can offer. Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:18):
Awesome. Well, again, this has been an amazing conversation, Rob, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences and come on the show. I keep up the great work. Can I look forward to connecting again soon?


Rob Gilmour (22:31):
Great. Thanks very much, Sam. I appreciate the opportunity.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rob

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.

Al Mclean – Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School

Al Mclean - Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School
About Al Mclean

Al Mclean has been an educator for 25 years and is currently the Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School (TH & VS). Al taught in a small community high school for 6 years, in K-6 school for two years and a Grade 7/8 school for four years. Before becoming Principal, Al was the Vice Principal at two high schools in Timmins for 11 years. Outside of the classroom Al enjoys hiking, backpacking, squash, hockey and hunting.

Al has been married for 17 years with two children. His favourite quote is: “The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts.” – Murray Sinclair (former Senator and chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

Connect with Al: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

District School Board Ontario North East

Timmins High & Vocational School

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – Canada.ca

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):
Al welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do?


Al Mclean (00:11):
Okay. So first off I’m Al I work with district school board Ontario Northeast. I am currently located in Tim’s Ontario. We’re about eight hours north of Toronto. So I’ve been working with the school board for 25 years now six as a teacher, 19 as an administrator principal at all levels, of the system from K to 12. I’ve also been VP at this school, particularly for seven years. And this is my third go-round at this school. And I’m back for my first time as principal for the last two. But I think what kind of gets me very excited is that it’s, it’s always changing and you get to see the best in kids. You get them as they come in in grade nine and you get to see them leave in grade 12. And the changes that they exhibit in four years is amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the elementary levels as well just to see the changes there, but it’s just so exciting to be with the kids and the energy that they often provide is fantastic for guys like me as I get a little older in my career.


Sam Demma (01:26):
That’s awesome. Would your school be located close to O Gorman? I know it’s different boards, but is that in the same area in Tim’s are very far away.


Al Mclean (01:35):
Yeah, we’re, we’re actually fairly close. So we’re in like a little educational hub. So not only do we have at other high school from Urman from our, our English Catholic, but right. We’re actually right beside a French Catholic high school as well. Nice. And across the road from us is our grade seven, eight feeder school. And around the corner is the French Catholic school, seven, eight feeder school. So it’s always a busy place. And my colleagues at all those buildings, I know very well and you’re fantastic people and but that’s basically where we are.


Sam Demma (02:08):
That’s awesome. And what, what got you into education when you think back to your own career journey and search, did you know you wanted to be in education and how did you land here?


Al Mclean (02:20):
Well, mine actually, I was that typical when I was in school at, we had the OAC year, the grade 13 year. Yep. So I was wandering around and basically my guidance counselor said, look, you have two days to decide what you’re doing and where you’re applying to. And, and so I was fortunate. I had two teachers and and I’ll start with probably the second greatest influence in my teaching career is a guy named Bob. And he was came to me. I came to my stool in my grade 12 year and was a PHY ed teacher. And and so I remember two particular incidents with him, but one that really stood out and why I wanted to be a teacher is that he, he came to watch a basketball game. So he had taught me in PHY ed.


Al Mclean (03:06):
He knew we were playing basketball and he came to watch a switch was surprising, cuz we weren’t a good team at all. I grew up in, in bury Ontario and there were much better high schools at basketball than us. And so Bob was in the stands. We lost by I think, 48 points. And I remember going in a class the next day and Bob pulled me aside and we said, you know, good game last night. And I kind of chuckled and said, well, Hey, we lost. Right. And he said, but, but your effort didn’t change. Right? Your effort from start to finish down by two, down by 48, never changed. And he said, that’s gonna serve you well in your future life. And at this time he didn’t know kind of what I was thinking of doing. So I really appreciated that.


Al Mclean (03:51):
And then I went the next day to another gentleman by the name of Brian and Brian was my English teacher for a couple years. And Brian was ahead of the curve. So back in 1992, when I graduated, you know, there’s no computers there’s no internet. There’s nothing like that. Right? Yeah. So Brian just had this creative way of teaching us and letting us do stuff. So for example, he said I want you to Chronicle you every year from zero to 18 and you decide how you want to present it to me. So you can imagine kids are doing all sorts of different things. So I, I met with him and I said, look, I’m going into teaching. And you’re a big reason why, like the last two years with you seeing what you do with kids. And, and he really helped me come outta my shell in terms of taking risks, taking chances.


Al Mclean (04:44):
Right. And, and he gave me that confidence. So I said, I’m going in because of you primarily. And I, something he always said to me and I can’t credit him for, for actually coming up with this. Cause I don’t know. But he said to me, he said, look, when you get into a teaching career, he says, I, I’m very thankful you’re going in. I think you’re gonna do a great job, but always remember this, just try and seek to change the life of one kid per semester or change the course of a life. And he said over 30 year career, two semesters that 60 kids, what other profession, other than medical or emergency services can say that if, if you use that as your guide, you’ll do very well in life. And I’ve always taken that to heart. And, and I’ve tried to tell other teachers that along my way because it’s been very true for me.


Al Mclean (05:34):
Right? And, and one of the good things sadly Brian passed away years a few years after his retirement, but I’ve did get the chance to tell him his impact and everything. And so a couple years ago, about six, seven years ago, I get this random email from a secretary that says this, this girl’s trying to reach out to our school. She remembers this teacher and I’m not sure, but you were here at the time. You might remember. So I said, well, it’s me give her my email. And I remember the student, I had taught her and she she had a, a serious incident mentally and needed some guidance. And I was just there, you know, just listening. Yeah. And, and she wrote this email to me, that basically said, because you listened because you did this you know, I now had the confidence to seek out mental health.


Al Mclean (06:29):
And I am now working for Canadian mental health. I’m an advocate. And I use you as an example all the time. Wow. And you know, those are, are some of the things that it obviously brings a huge smile to my face and that’s why we do, and I do what I do. But it’s just nice to hear that. And you don’t always hear it, you know, a year later or two years later. So it’s, it’s gratifying. It it’s, it obviously makes us feel very good when we do get those things. But even just little things when you see a kid change in four years, and whether you had a little hand in that as an administrator or teacher, it just feels good. And, and I think that’s why we all do what we do in this profession.


Sam Demma (07:11):
I loved what you mentioned about the goal or the intention of changing the course of one student’s life per semester of, of our 30 year career Tupac Shakur, who is a poet he’s passed away now, but he would always say, I might not inspire the kid or change the life of the kid, change the life of a kid, but I will spark the mind of somebody who will, and I think in education, it, it creates such a ripple effect. You have a positive impact on, or change the course of the life of one student. They might change the course of the life of another 10. And it just can, it continually ripples, which is really awesome. And like you mentioned, sometimes you don’t hear the stories. Sometimes you plant the seed and it gets watered 20 years later. I but it doesn’t lessen the impact in any way, shape or form. No. So your journey, so, so tell me a little bit more about that journey itself. So you made the decision, you were gonna get into it because of these two teachers. And then what did that journey look like?


Al Mclean (08:14):
So it after university I applied to a job in a small north remote community, about 45 minutes north of here called Erica falls. And I had a, like I said, I grew up in Sudbury. I went to school in thunder bay, Ontario at Lakehead university. Nice. So the north was always something that attracted me and, and I love the lifestyle of it. So I got this job in this small remote community. And then it was about 5,000 people that lived there. So as a new teacher, when I walked in there, it was, everybody knew you like, you were the new kid, you were the new person in town. I stuck out like a sore thumb, right? Like you’d walk into a place and people would be like, you didn’t grow up here, you know, type of thing. So it, it really taught me teaching in there.


Al Mclean (09:02):
It, it was great. I met some wonderful students that have now actually are teachers in my school. Cool. And, and just some other wonderful kids that have become friends along the way through a variety of different means. But it was really interesting because when you teach in a small community and you know, our small, Northern remote communities, even up the coast that would, would do this too. It’s. Everybody has like, feels like it’s, it’s a piece of you, right? Like they just feel like they see you at school. They see you in the community know, they might see me at the gym and, and it’s this expectation that you’re available to them. And, and I really appreciated that because when I grew up in Subbury sometimes in some classes you feel my high school was 1200 kids. You feel like a number going through.


Al Mclean (09:50):
Right. But the kid that sees me at the gym in Erica falls that comes back and says, Hey, you know, I saw you at the gym. What were you working on? Arms legs, back chest. Like, what were you doing? You know, it’s, it took on a different idea for them. And it just this idea that they could relate to you, but at the same time, you know, keep that professional student distance. But I just found, it was a way in and a way for me to get to know them. So when I teach them, it doesn’t become like some of the teachers I had where you’re in there for an hour and 20 minutes. And you leave. Yeah. You know, some kids really appreciated that, you know, we knew them, I knew their parents. Let’s say I got to know some of their parents. So it’s just that small community feel.


Al Mclean (10:33):
And it, it really impacted me in terms of ING every day to, to really reach out to kids. Right. So in the role I play as an administrator whether it’s vice principal or principal here, you know, there’s 620 kids here right now. And, you know, the pandemic is one thing because of mass. But when I was here as a VP, I really tried to reach out to the kids that I see in the office. So that a kid walking through this building could say, you know, what, the principal or the vice principal talked to me today, you know? And, and, and to me, that’s what the small community brought that, that was part of my biggest learning of the journey. Was that always remember that, you know, whether Al McClain was doing well in school or not, he needed somebody to say, Hey, how’s your day today? Mm. You know, how was that basketball game last night? And, and there’s always those kids that may not get that. And we forget that sometimes that, you know, that there are kids that we think go along okay. In schools, but always reach out to them because they need that.


Sam Demma (11:37):
A hundred percent. And back to the good game comment that one of your mentors, men, you know, said to you staying motivated and showing up, despite the fact that you’re down 48 points yeah. Is a quality that’s important for all human beings. I would argue that that situation is replicated in education right now with all educators. Absolutely. It feels like we’re down 48 points.


Al Mclean (12:05):
Absolutely.


Sam Demma (12:07):
How do you, or how do we still do our best to show up positive? We, during times like this?


Al Mclean (12:14):
Well, I think for me and the staff I work with and I’ve worked with some of these staff members on and off for 15 years now. Wow. And, and I would think, and, and the one thing that keeps me motivated, and I like to think keeps them motivated is they’re invested in these kids. Mm. Like this is whether they’re family, friends, or kids of family, friends, whether they, they know the parents, the grandparents just the fact that teachers are invested in kids and, and know that they can make the difference. Like when I look back you know, one of the comments I made to my staff about Brian and Bob was, you know, 30 years ago, 25, you know, 30 years ago, they didn’t call, ’em a caring adult, but we do now. Right. They didn’t talk about teaching resiliency to kids, but that’s what they were doing.


Al Mclean (13:05):
You know? So these practices have always been there. And I’d like to think that our staff is well aware and staff across the board are well aware of these ideals and, and what motivates us and, and me, and a lot of the ones I work with and have worked with is that idea that they do have that impact regardless of what’s going on. So, you know, whether we’re in a pandemic and over a computer screen, they’re trying to reach out to make sure your experience is the same as in a classroom. When you walk through the door, they’re trying to make sure that, Hey, Sam, you know, how was your night you know, did you have hockey last night? Did you play, you know, did you have your music lesson? How’d that go? So they’re invested. And I think that’s what motivates us all is that we know on some level we make a difference and what we do day to day, whether it all, whether it’s a large impact, but we recognize that we wanna make sure we replicate that day after day. And like you said, with Tupac provide that spark.


Sam Demma (14:04):
Absolutely. And as an educator, curiosity is something that you have to have. I, I think back to the teachers that made the biggest impact on me and his, my teacher that changed my life was named Mike loud foot world issues, teacher. And he’s retired now. And he started the semester by walking into the middle of the class and saying, I don’t want you to believe anything. I’m gonna tell you. But if it makes you curious, I want you to go home and explore more yourself. And it instantly hooked me. And he, he spent the whole semester with this thick binder like this Al and it was all his own personal notes on history, on different aspects of history and different aspects of world issues. And he was so curious about learning himself, that his curiosity just naturally rubbed off on all of us. I’m, I’m curious throughout your journey throughout education, have there been any resources or books or programs that you’d went through as a teacher and an administrator that you thought was meaningful and helpful for my own in like personal development and curiosity. And if there is anything that comes to mind, maybe not an actual physical resource, but even a mindset shift please feel free to share.


Al Mclean (15:20):
Well, I, would think one of the things that O over my, my career and, and when I started my career, like I said computers, weren’t a big thing in the inner Annette, wasn’t a big thing. So, you know, you talk about that binder. When I, I was remember in E falls, I was teaching a law class and I would have a subscription of McLeans and I would photocopy articles that I could bring into my classes. Mm. And, and talk about in my psychology classes. And it, it’s interesting in, when you talk about a program, I would say the tire equity, inclusivity change. That’s been happening in education. Yeah. It’s been coming for a while. It’s been term that now. But I would think, I look back to when I was in high school and in no way did the students, I went to school with resemble the students I see in high school now.


Al Mclean (16:09):
Yeah. So when I think, you know, whether it’s, you know, I, I made the, I’ll make this comment later probably, but black lives matter. Every child matters our LGBTQ two plus community. When I really look back at it. And I say, those people have come to the forefront of education and their needs have been put forth more than Al McClain’s needs. And I think that’s a good thing because the Al Blains of the world might just, by the way I look get through, but not everybody. And I, I really have to say that you know, I know you interviewed our director as well. And and she has the indigenous portfolio. I’m very fortunate to work with some amazing indigenous you know, student advisors and an indigenous vice principal. And one of the things, and, and they’re able to provide to me is a perspective that I can’t get through a history book.


Al Mclean (17:05):
Yep. Right. And, and so I really appreciate that. And I say, that’s the biggest change on, on me and my journey. And my learning is that now these textbooks that didn’t tell us everything, I now work with professionals that have that knowledge and are willing to share it. And it’s, it’s fantastic, you know, and, and I, I’d be remiss to say that, you know, I’ll talk about a student later, but the students too, they’re the student voice. And, and I that’s been the offshoot of everything is that we have allowed the student to have a greater voice, and they’re taking advantage of it to be able to tell us a lot of different things.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Tell me more about that student voice aspect. What have you seen slowly start to come to life by giving students more of an opportunity to speak up and share?


Al Mclean (17:55):
So I’ll, I’ll refer to one of the things that happened to us on September 30th. I apologize if there’s a, a sound in the, in the background.


Sam Demma (18:03):
No worries. You’re a busy guy.


Al Mclean (18:06):
But one, one things that happened on September 30th and the national day of truth and reconciliation is we, we had wonderful community partners that came and they set up a TP the night before. And we had a couple of students who spent hours here helping them set it up. The next day, when we came to school, we had two who students practice traditional teachings out of the TP. And we invited teachers to bring their classes down and to sit in and afterwards I was talking with one of the students and I said, you know, how was today? And, and he said to me, he goes, you know, it was excellent. He goes, I can’t believe I’ve had an opportunity to teach what has been taught to me through my elders in a school setting. Wow. And as a, as a I’m English history qualified.


Al Mclean (18:57):
So as a history teacher, it, it really hit me to say, you know, here I am in my 25th year, we’re 2021. You only now are students feeling comfortable to, to do this. Yeah. Right. You know, and, and so that really hit me and, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed the teachings that they had. And I think it’s one of the things that we wanna hold close is that, you know, we want students to be able to feel comfortable because when I started here in 2007, I made this comment to the staff in my first year and a half here, when I started here in 2007 you know, we have an indigenous population. That’s almost a quarter to a one fifth of our school. And I remember talking with some students who were fearful to walk through the building, whether you were indigenous or non-indigenous, you just didn’t feel like part of the building, you know? And when students say that they don’t feel like part of your building part of your workplace, that, I mean, that hits home. Right. So now to see the change in the last 15 years, it’s been and I’m not claiming responsibility for some wonderful administrative teams before me that have done a lot of groundwork. But it’s just great to see. And I think that’s, that’s the thing I noticed most about student voice is that that transition from this is a building I walk into versus this is a building I haven’t impacted.


Sam Demma (20:23):
Mm that’s amazing. And as you go through education, work in different roles and positions, I’m sure you’ve learned a lot personally. If, if you could wrap up your experience and you could walk into the first classroom that you ever taught and like, watch your younger self teach and kinda like tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Al, here’s one piece of advice for you. Yeah. What would you say to your younger self and also to other educators who are just getting into this vocation?


Al Mclean (20:57):
I, would think, and, and I thought I thought about this question and, and I always go back to nine 11 you know, what happened in 2001 and nine 11 in the us. And I remember I was in class and it’s my fourth, fourth year of teaching. And I remember a guidance counselor coming in and, and saying, you know, the world, like there’s planes hitting, you know, towers. And all of a sudden all the internet went down and people were crashing the internet trying to get information. And I remember afterwards what came out of that was, you know, these are the people that did it. And, and again, no fault of the people I worked with, but it almost came, if you look like this, you’re not a good person. Mm. Right. And, and when you watched a lot of the media, and I think I’d go back and I’d, I’d really talk to my, my younger self about, about, explain more about media to, to students and, and the interpretation.


Al Mclean (21:54):
Right. And, and we see it now, we’re lucky that kids are socially aware and the internet provides a lot of things. But I think back then, you know, I didn’t realize it until a couple years later when I got into an administrative role that, you know, you look at the kid, you know, you don’t look at oftentimes, you know, where they’re coming from, or, or who, they’re a part of. Sometimes you look at the kid, you look at their situation because I think for a good year afterwards, it was like, you know, if you’re from this country, you’re bad. Mm you’re. You are the country that terrors. And I don’t think it, it still happens today. Yeah. Right. We still have that. But I think, you know one of the things I’d say is try and do a much better job when you’re younger of changing that narrative.


Al Mclean (22:42):
And I think that’s my, that’s my, my one thing to young teachers coming in right now is regardless of what’s happening in the world starts to change the narrative. If there is a, a report on, on the news, or, you know, we always like to joke here with one of our, our history teachers. We’re big, obviously big history guys, you know, the change in politics, let’s say in the us, from Barack Obama, to Donald Trump, to Joe Biden, you, you look at those things and you don’t want that narrative coming out without some context. So yeah. Don’t let things just go by right. Talk about it you know, engage students in it because they will engage in these conversations and they want to, so that would be my biggest advice is, is just to engage in the conversation and, you know, frame the narrative, let students talk about the narrative frame it, because the other thing I find is, and this was you know, going back to my, my very first year I had a student come back or sorry, my second year I had a student come back from university saying like, sir, I came from a town of 5,000.


Al Mclean (23:48):
I went to Ottawa, which was, you know, 850,000 people. And sir, like, there’s things going on that you’d never realize, like things that happen at night. And, you know, and I, I sat there and I said, well, that’s, that’s life, that’s life in a big city. And she’s like, I was never exposed to it. We never talked about this. Right. So I think that’s the thing is, is engaging people. And it’s hard to do. I think we’ve seen with certainly the events of all the, the mass graves that we’ve that, you know, Canada has exposed over the last year. Those come conversations can’t be avoided and, and they’re good conversations to have framed correctly. That would be my, my biggest thing to get to young teachers is don’t shy away from that because there’s opportunities in there if done correctly.


Sam Demma (24:40):
So important. I interviewed a lady named Pella who runs a media literacy company, and she is hyper focused on media. And, you know, she explains that media is anything that communicates a message, like absolutely everything that communicates a message is a form of media. And yeah, there are so many things to worry about or, or not to worry about, but to think about and reflect on when consuming media first being who’s the publish. Sure. And what is the publisher’s point of view and understanding those two things first kind of changes the way that you interact with it and engage with it. And I think having those discussions in classes about media is so important. So that’s a phenomenal piece of advice. If, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you Al and just shoot you a message, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Al Mclean (25:30):
I would say there’s a couple of different ways. So Timmis, vocational school does have a website. You could easily search it off our dsb1.ca. You’ll get to it. We do have th HBS Instagram accounts, but if somebody wants to reach out, my email is Al.Mclean@dsb1.ca. I’ll welcome any conversation.


Sam Demma (25:59):
I’ll keep up the great work and thank you so much for coming on the show.


Al Mclean (26:02):
All right, Sam, thank you very much for inviting me. I, certainly appreciate the work you do too. And, and your messaging around last year as well. I, I watched your messaging and the work that you’re doing is, is awesome. And it’s great to see. And again, a, another example of a teacher lighting, a spark, as you said, and, and, and look what’s happening, right. And I think you’re doing awesome things, and I’m just, I was glad to be a part of this.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Al

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.

Christopher Antilope – Secondary School Teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board

Christopher Antilope - Secondary school teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board
About Christopher Antilope

Christopher Antilope is a secondary school English & Religion Teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board. In his vocation of teaching, he infuses his devotion to faith, passion for education, and affinity for pop-culture into the realm of “edutainment”, that of education and entertainment, making his classes both memorable and meaningful for all that enter his classroom. 

Antilope is a two-time graduate of the University of Toronto, having earned his Master of Teaching from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and his Honours Bachelor of Arts with High Distinction, where he studied English and Religion. 

Connect with Christopher: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

How to do a Social Media Detox

Halton Catholic District School Board

Centre for Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies at the University of Toronto

Masters of Teaching at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare

Macbeth by Shakespeare

Hamlet by Shakespeare

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 Dema (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 on this show is Christopher Antilope or Antilope. I’m mispronouncing one of those too, but we’re close. We’re close. Chris is a secondary school teacher and religion teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board. In his vocation of teaching, he infuses his devotion to faith, passion for education and affinity for pop culture into the realm of edutainment; that is of education and entertainment, making his classes both memorable and meaningful for all that enter his classroom.


Sam Dema (01:16):
Antilope is a two time graduate at the university of Toronto; having earned his masters of teaching from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and his honors bachelors of arts with high distinction where he studied english and religion. You’re gonna enjoy this interview because I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Chris. Let me know what you think. Shoot me an email sam@samdemma.com. After you listen today, I will see you on the other side of this conversation. Enjoy! Christopher, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Start by introducing yourself and then share why you decided to depart from social media.


Christopher Antilope (01:55):
Well, Sam, thank you once again for having me on the show. Please feel free to call me Chris. Christopher is typically when I’m in trouble or if I’m or for only like professional moments, will I introduce myself. But once you start to get to know me, it’s Chris. In terms of social media, I mean, it’s, it’s interesting because I’ll always remember back to my time at OISE at U of T, my teacher’s college, my, one of my instructors names was Janet Marcus ,and she kept on repeating this thing that we, as humans are social animals that, which we are and I’m a real social guy. I like to consider myself an ambivert. And so I like being, I liked being on social media a lot, but something recently has been brewing where I needed time off. I wasn’t being the best version of myself, that which I was seeing on social media, where I was trying to connect with other people; lot of toxicity, online, lot of negativity.


Christopher Antilope (02:55):
And in this day and age where, you know, we’re in a time of chaos, we’re in a time of pandemic where things are pretty negative, I don’t need any more of that. So in the time that I have been off things have been good, been paying attention to myself, mental health, doing some exercises, we’re in lent right now. So that’s important that I pay attention to that, which is most important to me. And obviously that, which is most important to me, can’t be found you know, by using 140 or 200 characters on Twitter so it’s been good. I mean, it, it’s a bit, you know, different at first because you like to see what’s going on in the world. I love pop culture and that, you know, social media is a great form to connect with that, but it’s not what’s most important. So the time off has been quite nice. It’s more of a vacation, I’m never gonna, I’m not gonna close the door on a return. It’s not like I’m some, you know what’s it called celebrity online so it’s not like anyone’s really going to notice, but I do feel like it was time to take a break, stop and smell the roses for a little bit.


Sam Dema (04:05):
I love that. I, I made a similar decision on my 21st birthday and I set out to take a whole year off. And I have followed through with the commitment on Facebook, on inst on Instagram and on LinkedIn, the only platform I, I, I returned to very briefly and intentionally is on Twitter because a lot of teachers live there and I’m, I’m trying to reach more educators. So I saw you post that and on Twitter and it peaked my interest because I made a similar choice. There was some different reasons, but also some similar other ones. The first reason I did it was because I audited my, my usage and found that I was spending an average of three hours per day on social media. Mm. And I can tell you that from what I’ve seen online, that is very conservative to what most young people spend on social media.


Sam Dema (04:56):
Usually sometimes seven hours a day, eight hours a day. It’s, it’s pretty crazy. But three hours per day compounded over the span of a year, ends up being 1,100 something hours. And like yourself, I reflected and asked, you know, what could you use that time for? Like, what could that time be used on that might, you know teach you something, learn something new, develop new skills, build better relationships you know, whatever it is you wanna to use that time for. So that scared me. I also thought it’d be a cool experiment. And for me too, it was to try and dismantle my ego and then, and stop feeling the need to feel validated by others. Yeah. So I really resonated with that tweet and I just wanted to bring it up because you know, education is, is in a state of stress. You mentioned before this podcast that we’re all in the same boat and that boat is the Titanic.


Sam Dema (05:46):
I haven’t heard it. I haven’t heard it stated like that before. So I love that. And it’s true. It’s been a challenging time. And I find that social media may add to that challenge because we’re always seeing negative things. And even if you don’t intend to follow negative pages, it, it does pop up. So thank you for, for sharing that. I, I wanted to get it right out of the way at the beginning of the conversation. Cause I thought it was a very interesting topic. But tell us more about you. So like what led you into educate? Did you know you were gonna be a teacher growing up, share a little bit of your own personal journey.


Christopher Antilope (06:21):
So when it comes to being a teacher, I I’ll never forget what my grade 11 international business teacher Nelson Damaso. He said, he said this to the class, which, and it’s funny that I, I remember these small things cuz I wasn’t and I still not a business student. My dad’s a banker. He wanted me to Excel in in business, but he said, this one thing kind of off the, off the caller one day he said teaching is without a doubt, the greatest job in the world. And then he re he retracted. He said, it’s not even a job. He went along the lines of, you know, when you do it, you love, you never work a day in your life. So that’s something that has always resonated with me. And when I was in high school, I was big into theater and drama.


Christopher Antilope (07:08):
And I mean, I still am. And as I mentioned earlier, I love pop culture, film, television, comic books, as an English teacher. I love books of all of all genre and all types. And so I was really interested in studying theater and drama. I auditioned for the for the theater and drama studies program at the university of Toronto, it’s highly competitive. 24 people are admitted to the program over a thousand people auditioned. So I recall having to do two monologues. One of which was Shakespearean. I did one from Hamlet, not the, to be or not to be because that’s just overdone. I I had to sing a song. I don’t know what drove me to try and sing Bohemian rap city by queen. But I did, did I am, I am not a singer any in any way, shape or form.


Christopher Antilope (08:02):
And I had to do an interview somehow by the grace of God, I was enrolled into the program. I was accepted you know, as the 24th member into this highly competitive program. And so this was fantastic. I was gonna be able to live a, out my dream, entertaining people, doing impressions, you know, this, that, and otherwise being on stage. I love that. And I lived for that as the program started, we received notice kind of from our instructors that we wouldn’t be doing a lot of that acting. We wouldn’t be doing a lot of the performing rather we’d be having to do the, you know, the behind the scenes stuff. So I remember them saying, you’d need to learn how to sew. You’d need to learn how to use you know electric losing my train of thought here, basically knowing how to use a, saw to build the sets electricity, doing the lighting creating costumes, script writing.


Christopher Antilope (09:01):
And so I was taken aback because, you know, I sang Bohemian rap city. I, I did these monologues and yet I wouldn’t be able to put what I consider my God-given talents to you. I remember I was sitting at this very desk where I’m at now and I was reading through my anthropology textbook, cuz I still had to take the the required courses. That was a social science course. And you know, when you’re reading something, but you’re not actually reading it, your eyes are going over the words, but you’re not taking anything in. So that was me a September night back in 2013 and my mom came into my room and she said, you’re not liking this. You’re not loving it. And that’s one thing about me that stays true to this day. If I know that I don’t like something I’ll know it pretty much right from the start, which can be risky.


Christopher Antilope (09:56):
And so at that moment I had to make the decision of, okay, what can I do where I still have an audience? What can I do where I’m still able to be on stage? What can I do where I can, you know, kind of put on a, a, a certain map and perform low and behold. I mean, if, if I have students in front of me in rows and if I have, you know, a place in front of a classroom and if I’m able to put on a certain mask, well, I mean, I’m still doing what I love. It’s just in a different medium. And so that’s where, you know, I came to be a, a teacher and I’ve always loved educating, but it wasn’t until that, you know, news flash where it’s like, Hey, wait a second. I can actually, I can do this.


Christopher Antilope (10:49):
And to this day, I can still consider myself an entertainer, someone that educates and entertains simultaneously. I know in my class right now I’m teaching grade nine, academic English, we’re studying Romeo and Juliet, which for grade nine is actually the language is a lot more difficult than I would say is what’s studied in grade 10, which is typically McBeth. And so I try my best to bring everything to life in a very animated way. And in seeing that the kids laugh and seeing that the students get 500 year old words, because I’m able to do that, say no more. It’s, it’s, it’s fantastic being able to, to do all of that and bring my loves of entertaining and educating together.


Sam Dema (11:39):
I love it. I absolutely love it. I think that when you put passion into the things you teach, it becomes unforgettable to the students. And you’re someone who obviously tries to do that and strives to do that on a daily basis. I’m curious to know how do you engage and entertain your class and your students? What does that look like in a virtual environment?


Christopher Antilope (12:01):
So, oh, in a virtual, well, I still, regardless of whether or not I’m on a screen or 3d in front of, you know, the, the students that are in front of me, I’ll try and be as alive and as animated as possible, not animated, you know, in using a negative connotation. But I just, I try to show the students like what you said, that passion. Mm. What if I’m in front of them and I’m talking about how Shakespeare was from the 15 hundreds and he wrote many plays, they’re gonna stop being engaged. Yeah. But when I’m able to make it relative and relatable to the students. Okay. Yes. It’s important that we understand the history, but how can we get the kids engaged and it’s by, I try be as relatable as possible. So I’ll, I’ll ask them, you ever seen the film?


Christopher Antilope (13:01):
She’s the man with Amanda binds. Have you ever heard of the film 10 things I hate about you, have you ever heard of Westside story noo and Juliet? You know, bringing things that they’re aware of? It’s like, okay, well guess what? That was inspired by something from half a thousand years ago. Mm. So it’s through my animation and through me really trying to do the work in, all right, how can I make this relatable to the students? And I like to really decorate my, my PowerPoint, press presentations with images, words on a screen, they start to all look the same after a while. So I really try and I make it’s it’s art. I find it as a form of art. And I know that when I’m making, you know, my slides or my presentations, I can’t have a slide with just words. There needs to be sort of image whether it’s for decorative purposes or for critical thinking purposes, where the kids go. Hmm. Okay. Now he’s got those words there and he’s got that image there. How do they relate?


Sam Dema (14:07):
Hmm.


Christopher Antilope (14:08):
So it’s being relatable and trying to get the kids to figure out what relates as well.


Sam Dema (14:14):
Got it. Where does this, this philosophy come from? You obviously somewhere along the line of your early teaching journey, which is technically still right now, but when did you decide the lessons need to be engaging and relatable? And I need to make sure that I poor passion into my work. Was it because you had educators who had these attributes and had a huge impact on you? Was it because you had attributes that lacked these, these these character traits and you really wish they had them cuz it would’ve made their classes better. Like where does this personal philosophy come from?


Christopher Antilope (14:49):
That’s a great question, Sam. Part of it is kind of going against what I was taught in teachers college whereby it’s, you know, don’t teach in the way you were taught.


Sam Dema (15:05):
Hmm.


Christopher Antilope (15:05):
So I was taught in this similar way and it, I mean, it worked for me. I mean, I’m an educator now. So seeing, you know, my teachers did, did a good job, but also it’s that plus, you know, kind of a golden rule teach in the way that you wish to be taught.


Sam Dema (15:23):
Mm.


Christopher Antilope (15:24):
And so I know that when I was in high school or even university, if there were just slides on slides on slides, full of paragraphs, I would zone out. Whereas if I had images and you know, some of us are, you know, image based learners, if we’re able to have images on screen and also things that we’re able to relate to, excuse me then. Yeah. So it, it stems from there, but it, it also stems from that idea of edutaining. Yes. So the images that I’ll have on screen they’ll be related relatable, but they’ll also, I’ll try and be comedic with them as well. Nice. So when I’m, when I’m giving feedback to students about essays or any sort of assignment, I’ll do a general because you know, there are things that are similar with students across the board. I’ll throw memes in there, kids from these days. Like I still love memes. I remember when memes, you know, there were certain, you know, I feel like everything these days can become a meme.


Sam Dema (16:30):
Yep.


Christopher Antilope (16:31):
But also that works to my advantage. And that kind of talks to the social media a bit early on where, you know, I’m kind of shooting myself in the foot by taking this vacation because that might mean I’m not on the same lines as the students. So while I might not be posting things, I might still be there lurking in the shadows, see what’s going on. So it, I try and make things as relatable as possible because I know that that is how I would like to be taught


Sam Dema (17:08):
In a sense. I love that. Yeah. I love it. And there’s a, I think there’s a book and I can’t remember the author’s name, but the book is called the platinum rule and it builds on the golden rule and it says, treat others how you would like to be treated a hundred percent what’s next is treat others the way they would like to be treated. And I would argue that students, if you ask them, how would you like to be taught? They would tell you using memes, you using engaging animation and passion within your lectures. That was something that drew me to my teacher who changed my life, his name, Mike loud foot. Like the dude would go stand in front of us, whether it be virtual or in person, I don’t think it’d make a difference. The guy would yell like you would, he was so excited about what he was teaching. And I think that’s super important question for you. How do you motivate yourself? Like what keeps you driven and motivated to show up every day and teach these kids and be animated on the days where you don’t feel like it?


Christopher Antilope (18:07):
Well, I mean, that’s the thing, I mean, to go back to what my, my business teacher, Mr. Damaso said, you know, do what you love. You never work a day in your life. I love performing. Yep. And in being a performer or an actor, sometimes you have to be willing. I don’t wanna say to make a fool of yourself, but you need to, I don’t know. It’s, it’s almost innate. So when I’m teaching Macbeth and you know, there’s a scene in the play where Macbeth sees, you know, the ghost of his friend. Yeah. I’m trying to relate to the students that it’s not some sort of, you know, okay, woo. There’s a ghost. That’s on stage. No, I scream. I yell. I try and replicate what it would have been like, and that that’ll either wake them up. It’ll make them laugh. I’m not ashamed. Yeah. I’m not. If, if, if I know that, okay, I’ve gotten the student’s attention, they’re enjoying this. They’re getting it. Oh please. I don’t, I don’t need to worry about whether they think I’m a goof or not. I know I’m a goof. That’s fine. That’s fine. So how do I stay motivated? I, I wake up, I do what I love. Hmm. And so I don’t, I don’t need any extra motivator. I mean, other than caffeine that really helps.


Christopher Antilope (19:29):
Caffeine helps. And, but, but really there’s nothing extra. I need to say, oh, you know, I, I gotta go. I never say to anyone. Okay. Yeah, I got work. Or I just got home from work or I’m going to work. I say, I’m going to school.


Sam Dema (19:45):
Yeah.


Christopher Antilope (19:46):
Not only because that’s where I’m going, but also I’m going to as a teacher, but I’m also going to school as a student. Cause these kids are teaching me as well.


Sam Dema (19:58):
Say no more.


Christopher Antilope (20:00):
Yeah. I’m always, I am always open to learning and I do. These kids teach me so much and they know more than I could ever know.


Sam Dema (20:09):
I love it. No, that’s awesome. And wow, man, you struck a core. You said I do what I love and I’m, I’m not gonna work. I’m going to school. If there’s, you know, you mentioned earlier that you’re someone who knows very quickly, like at the start of something, whether you love it or not, if there’s an educator listening who is having those feelings of, ah, I’m not sure if this is what I should be doing or I feel like this is work and I, I’m not really enjoying it right now. Like what words of advice could you share with, with an educator? Like what would you, what could you offer say?


Christopher Antilope (20:46):
Well, I mean, that question is heavier, has never been so heavy yeah. Than in this time. Right now when I was in teachers college, I remember kind of getting the, you know, the talking to, as you know, this isn’t the best time to become a teacher because of the shortages, because of, you know, the, the powers that be will say in government. And now, okay, we’ve got COVID and there are people that I know that are currently teachers with permanent jobs that are feeling this way, because these are trying times we are being tested. So the words that I will say to those that, you know, might be feeling these ways is, you know, I don’t, I don’t mean to sound cliche. Don’t give up.


Sam Dema (21:37):
Yeah.


Christopher Antilope (21:38):
Don’t give up because truthfully, when people, when I get the, the question every now and then, oh, what would you do if you couldn’t be a teacher? I, I don’t think I could give an answer immediately. I, this is what I love. This is who I am. Yep. I’m a teacher. So, and it, it’s funny because when other people who aren’t teachers have asked me, how’s this year going, it’s a lot different talking to them versus talking to other teachers. Yeah. Cause it’s really one of those. You don’t know what it’s like until, or unless you’re actually in it. So to those of you that want to do this, do it.


Sam Dema (22:25):
Hmm.


Christopher Antilope (22:25):
Just, just like Nike do it. I it’s, and you won’t regret it. You will not regret it. It is the best thing in the world.


Sam Dema (22:38):
Love it. I love that. That’s great advice. Just do it. I think it’s important to understand, like, like you said, it’s different when you talk to someone outside the vocation of teaching verse is when you talk to someone inside, it’s the whole idea of, you know, the pilot of an airplane, wouldn’t ask a passenger, Hey, can you come fly the plane? You know, like, so I think the feedback that, that an educator can take away is, you know, don’t, don’t talk to your, your family outside of education for support go find, and your colleagues, you know, talk to them, they’ll be able to give you, you know, good advice and hopefully be able to lift up your spirits during this time.


Christopher Antilope (23:18):
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, I don’t wanna entirely discount what other people, non teachers have to say, because you know what everyone has tidbits of wisdom. There’s a university professor wrote a book, 12 rules for life. And one of his rules is assume that the person you are listening to might know something, you don’t love it. And that’s how I try to live where it’s like, you know what, no, this person, regardless of who they are, I’m gonna listen to them because they might have that little nugget of wisdom that can set me on the right path. So it’s a matter of keeping, keeping your ears in your eyes open and doing what you love.


Sam Dema (24:07):
Love it. I love that. And I think what’s also interesting is, you know, you mentioned that if someone asked you, if you weren’t a teacher, what would you do? I think me knowing how you feel about teaching, I would’ve responded saying I will teach. It might just be in a different way. Like if you’re obsessed with teaching you could, you’ll find a way to teach if you’re obsessed, you know, if you’re obsessed with nursing, you’ll find a way to be a service to people, right? Like even if it doesn’t happen the way you envision it to. So I think that’s also an interesting, you know, an interesting thing to, to, to chat about real quick. When did you decide, right? Like after you kind of realized the, the acting path wasn’t gonna work out. When was the moment you decided I’m gonna become a teacher? Like, I know that I understand you went to school and you got in and it was going well. Like, what was the exact moment? You said, no, I’m going, I’m gonna shift and, and change this just a little bit.


Christopher Antilope (25:02):
Well, in a way, I feel like it was there all along. And it’s funny. It’s funny you ask that because I remember, and it’s funny how little bits of memory will come back to you. In, in the weirdest of times, I was in grade nine English and my grade nine English teacher was Mrs. O’neil and oh, I loved her. She was fantastic. And, and we reconnected a couple years ago. She actually helped me with my master of teaching research paper. I interviewed her for that and I don’t know what drove me, but one day she had to just step out of class. And I took her spot at the front of the class. She used to sit on the front of the, a desk, cross her legs and kind of, you know, wave them back and forth. And I did that. And I remember, you know, in quotation marks teaching the lesson. So I feel like it was there all along, but at that same time, that person there is, you know, that was the origin story of who I am today. Here was some class clown grade nine, academic English, student performing, but at the same time teaching.


Sam Dema (26:19):
Yep.


Christopher Antilope (26:20):
So, I mean, to answer your question, it, the decision came very quickly, you know, it was, I think it was literally the third day of my undergraduate studies at university of Toronto where I said, I can’t do this acting route because what they’re asking of me is not going to make me happy. It was going to be incredibly demanding. And to those that graduated, God bless all of them. I wished them nothing but the best. And I remember having to depart from them. We had already shared some memories and they were great people, but my path was not L yeah, it wasn’t there. And I am, as you could tell a lot happier for it.


Sam Dema (27:02):
I love the, that you, you mentioned something interesting that when you were in high school, you were quote unquote, the class clown, right. Or, or striving to be like that. And I have a colleague, his name’s Josh ship. He’s also a speaker and he always mentions a young person’s most promising characteristics. Most often first appear a as an annoyance. And he had a similar situation where in high school, he always tried to annoy the students or not annoyed, but make them laugh. And, you know, his teacher pulled him aside and said, when you get your students laughing, they listen. And when you get them listening, you have an opportunity to influence. And it stuck with me. Do you believe that your origins as class clown has led to your, your teaching philosophy of entertaining and educating at the same time?


Christopher Antilope (27:55):
Yeah. I mean, I would say so. And I mean, by no means was I that, that type totally get it. Class clown, that was annoying. I, I’ll defend my integrity.


Sam Dema (28:05):
There.


Christopher Antilope (28:06):
I, I found my humor as a, as a high school student a little bit smarter than your, you know, stereotypical class clown, but You might have to ask that question again.


Sam Dema (28:20):
Yeah. I was gonna say, do you think that the character trait of being funny, I or of making other students laugh, led you towards this philosophy of edutainment? Cause you can be passionate and lack humor. But I think if you have both, it leads for like a very engaging presentation in class.


Christopher Antilope (28:41):
Yeah. I just, I feel myself nice when I’m in front of the students in, in a very appropriate professional way. Yeah. So, and I completely agree that there are times obviously when we’re teaching certain elements that might not be as entertaining. Cuz look, when, and by no means, am I saying that when students enter my classroom, it’s the same as entering a comedy club. Hmm. Right. And, and I, talking to that I have with my students is, you know, don’t don’t mistake my nature as being an easy marker or as being someone that doesn’t care care because I, I strongly care. I strongly care because these kids not to sound cliche, they are the future. And when I teach, I want them to be better when they leave my class or when they leave high school than when they entered my class or the high school itself.


Christopher Antilope (29:51):
So in using the entertaining factor. Yeah. Part of it is so that I can exercise my, my funny bone, but it’s also as a way that, Hey, this God given gift of humor, I can actually put to use and I can, I can make the students pay attention more. Like, like I said, we’ve been doing Romeo and Juliet and I’ve been really stressing the fact that ladies and gentlemen, this is a story fictitious of course, about a 16 year old guy and a 13 year old girl who agreed to get married within 12 hours of meeting each other and look, you’re laughing. Yeah. But that’s it, when I tell to the students who are in that age range, they take a step back and go, oh my gosh, that’s weird. And it’s that weirdness that I will try and, you know, captivate where it’s like, yeah, that’s weird, laugh about it. Let’s pay attention. Mm. And then they do, it’s like, okay, well, let’s forget kind of about the, the weird language. Let’s pay attention to the story. Let’s pay attention to this 500 year old text that we’re still studying today because we must be studying it for a reason if it’s, if we’ve been doing it for 500 years.


Sam Dema (31:16):
Cool. Love that. That’s a great answer. There’s a benefit to all character traits. And I think humor is a great one, especially I think what’s most important is that you said you feel, you feel yourself when you use it. And I think authenticity is the most important thing. And you know, you don’t have to be a funny teacher if you’re not a funny teacher, if you’re listening to this exactly. If that’s who you are, then be who you are because the students will always gravitate towards that authentic teaching style. Even in speaking, right. Any type of presenting. I remember when I started speaking, I used to look at other speakers and aspire to sound like them or appear like them. And I think I became more influential when I actually returned back to myself and did the things that would make me feel like myself and stop trying to do those other things. Curious though, if you could give your younger educator self advice knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self? Huh. And you’re still pretty young. So,


Christopher Antilope (32:19):
And I mean, I was gonna bring that up. I, cause I’m only in my third year of teaching. Yep. If I could tell, so what year are we talking? Are we talking my, my first year?


Sam Dema (32:32):
Yeah. First year in teaching. And what’s interesting is that some people have been in teaching 20 years. Right. And they look back it. I think we can reflect at any stage, whether it’s one year in teaching or three years, it just gives a different perspective. So I’m curious to know you’re three years in now, if you could go back to your first day of teaching you finished the day. What advice would you give your younger, your younger self?


Christopher Antilope (32:57):
Take it one day at a time.


Sam Dema (33:00):
Nice.


Christopher Antilope (33:01):
And like, I’ll, I’ll be honest with you, Sam. My first, I’ll say month of teaching, I was so I was blessed to get a long term, occasional position straight out of teacher’s college. So I gradual waited in 2018, June of 2018. And that September I was blessed with a full year long-term occasional position. And I kind of, you know, in my mindset there was, well, if not now, then when, mm, the best experience is experience. And I knew that I wanted a classroom and I wanted students and I wanted to do what I love. Well, let me tell you, I had never experienced anxiety attacks until that first day, week. I’ve never wept like that in my life. And I didn’t know where it was coming from that it was so weird because, and this isn’t to say that teachers college didn’t prepare me because teachers college prepared me for the theory and my teaching placements. They prepared me for what life in a classroom looks like if I hadn’t been in one before.


Sam Dema (34:25):
Yeah. But


Christopher Antilope (34:27):
If you catch my drift here, and if I was having anxiety attacks for a month, that might go on to say, Hmm, I wasn’t prepared for some elements. Right. So I was received advice, oh man. I, I remember talking to friends and family of mine that were teachers and I was craving advice. I needed something because it’s not that I was having doubts, but in my, like, I was literally weeping on my couch. And once again, my mom came down and she says, you know, do you think it was too soon? Do you still wanna do do this? And I said, oh, absolutely. I want to do this. I’m not giving up here. And so I received the advice from my future. Sister-In-Law, you know, take it one day at a time. And if there’s anything that I could tell my younger teaching self, same thing, make sure you know, what you’re teaching for tomorrow. Mm. And like so much can happen. And so much does happen, especially in this day and age of pandemic, where it is literally all in flight planning.


Sam Dema (35:36):
Yep.


Christopher Antilope (35:37):
I, I mean, you know, three years into it, man, I’m I’m so I don’t wanna say I’m comfortable cuz I don’t want that to make it sound like I’m lazy or anything, but I don’t have to worry about all that stuff because it’s, I’ve experienced it now. I’ve gotten that first hand experience. I know what we’re dealing with. I pandemic COVID okay, fine. Let’s throw that into the mix. I know how to deal with everything else. Were I a first year teacher going into this? I pray for those.


Sam Dema (36:07):
Yep.


Christopher Antilope (36:08):
That is obviously incredibly tough. And I wouldn’t, you know, but it’s interesting. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, but that’s something that my fiance is undergoing right now for year permanent teaching full year teaching job teaching virtually in the middle of the pandemic,


Sam Dema (36:24):
But you know, what’s yeah. You know, what’s interesting. I was gonna say she hasn’t had experience otherwise. So yes, if this is her first year, she has nothing to compare it to except for the expectations of others. So I, I think what’s interesting is about first year teachers is that they’re gonna teach virtually for the first time ever for their first year ever. It might be challenging. And then they’re gonna get this amazing reward of going into the classroom, you know, once this all passes, hopefully that, that it does. And they’re gonna say, wow, I’m so grateful to be in the classroom. And hopefully that influences the rest of their teaching career whenever they have the opportunity to be in person with students. But that’s beautiful advice. That’s great advice. Did you have a last thought there? Sorry. I think I cut you off slightly.


Christopher Antilope (37:12):
No, no. All I was gonna do was put in a plugin for my fiance, because I know please has, it has been challenging. They, this year has been incredibly challenging, but I know, and I have seen the work that she, Sarah if she’s ever going to be listening to this, she has poured her heart and her soul literally into this. And from the, the feedback that I have heard and from seeing what she’s been able to do that like makes me go, huh? I gotta, I gotta step this up a little bit. Nice because she’s, you know, she’s putting me to shame in some respects, but no, Sarah, she’s doing a fantastic job. Her students are lucky to have her. And I’m not just saying that because she’s my fiance.


Sam Dema (37:58):
I love that. Chris, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for taking some time to chat on the podcast. If someone wants to reach out to you, talk about how to be a, an edutainer or, you know, incorporate anything we talked about into their lessons, or just wants to have a conversation about teaching with you. What would be the best way for someone to reach out?


Christopher Antilope (38:17):
Well, like I said earlier, even though I’m taking this little sabbatical or vacation from Twitter, I might still be lurking in, in those shadows so you can find me on Twitter. I’ll still get the notification you can find me at all right. You ready for this folks? The cantalope is my is my name. Yes. My parents had the hindsight of blessing me with a first name that starts with a C and having my last name being Loppe, which is the Italian translation to antelope, So let’s capitalize on the antelope.


Sam Dema (38:49):
I love it. I love it. There’s the, the edutator coming out, even in your stage name.


Christopher Antilope (38:54):
That’s it, That’s it honest to God, but Sam, thank you so much for having me. I, I would love to talk with you again. I don’t know if you have sequel guests, but by all means I’d love to talk some more. Especially in a time maybe out of COVID to see how things are going ’cause it’s, it’s another ballgame right here.


Sam Dema (39:14):
We will a hundred percent do a part two a hundred percent. Maybe we can share some cantaloupe while we, while we record.


Christopher Antilope (39:22):
Hey, you know what? I, I do love some cantaloupe with some antipasto, have a little bit of Peru. That’s beautiful, Sam, thank you so much for having me once again.


Sam Dema (39:31):
Chris, talk soon.


Christopher Antilope (39:33):
God bless.


Sam Dema (39:34):
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 Christopher Antilope

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.

Chad Ostrowski, Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart – The Teach Better Team

Chad Ostrowski, Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart – The Teach Better Team
About the Teach Better Team

The TEACH BETTER team (@teachbetterteam) imagines a world where every educator is connected, supported, and inspired to be BETTER every day; so that all learners can discover and develop their passions to positively impact our communities. BUT – how do we get there?

Not every educator is in the right mental space to learn. While we continue to juggle new elements of the profession, daily tasks, managing student needs & navigating a work-life balance, being a lifelong learner can find itself on the backburner.

The Teach Better Team has been built on best practice instructional pillars, but without a growth mindset, Professional Development is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

It is our belief that the first step toward being better, every day, begins with carrying a mindset focused on being open-minded to small steps. 

Connect with the Teach Better Team: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Teach Better Website

Teach Better Conference

Administrator Mastermind

Teach Better Store

Outliers 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 (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. I’m beyond excited to bring you today’s interview. It’s a conversation that happened about a month and a half ago, and the topics we discussed still are fresh in my mind, due to the power at which they were explained by today’s three guests. This is one of the first times I’ve had three people on with me, having a four person conversation on the podcast, and it’s an amazing, amazing conversation.


Sam Demma (01:08):
Today we’re talking with the Teach Better team. You can find out more about them on teach, better.com. All of their work aligns very deeply with my philosophy of small consistent actions; that small incremental changes make huge differences and improvements. Yeah, right. he whole idea is not to be perfect, but to be better. And that’s really the DNA throughout their entire company who, which was founded the CEO by Chad. Chad and Jeff; those are the two gentlemen that co-founded the initiative. And we also are joined by Ray, their CMO, and they all have very diverse experiences, and share a ton of phenomenal information that I know will help you as an educator. So buckle up and enjoy this interview. I will see you on the other side. Chad Ray, Jeff, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I know we are in different places, geographically in the world. It’s so cool that zoom can connect us and I know all three of you are huge champions for technology and education. I wanna give each of you though, a opportunity to introduce yourself, however you’d wanna be introduced, and share a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education and Chad you can kick it off, followed by Ray, and then Jeff.


The Teach Better Team (02:24):
Absolutely. I’m Chad Ostrowski, I’m the CEO and the co-founder of the teach better team. And I have the pleasure of working with schools, districts, and teachers across the country to not only spread mastery learning and student-centered best practices, but working with these two amazing colleagues to just grow the awareness of what best practices in, education can do. I think what gets me the most exciting is seeing the impact of our work. Whether that’s a teacher overcoming a stressful year or situation, or having the best success they’ve ever had, or a student who’s never been successful in a classroom, finding that success and being able to thrive when they’ve never done so before. And I think that’s at the core of a lot of what we do; its just finding that spark and inspiring, not only the learners in the classrooms, but the teachers and the administrators in the schools, in the districts we get to work with here on the Teach Better team.


Sam Demma (03:23):
Love that.


The Teach Better Team (03:24):
Yeah. Gosh, how do you follow that? This is bad. You win. No, Hey everyone. My name’s Ray. I am the CMO of the teach better team, and I’m also full-time sixth grade math teacher. So I love having kind of the role of working with students by day and teachers by night and on the weekends and all, some are long cuz that’s what we do here in the teach, better family. I, I, I think this answer like changes depending on the day and the week, because the teach better team continues to be such a safe space for educators that has this family mentality, but also allows educators to kinda walk in and gain value however they need at that point in time. So I think my favorite element that’s really fueling my excitement, not only to work with students and to work with educators and leaders really stems from the desire of building a community and a family, which I’m gonna get into today. So I, I love that you had us all on, we don’t normally get to do podcasts altogether, so this is gonna be a fun conversation. Awesome.


The Teach Better Team (04:28):
Yeah. This is kind of fun. You know, we, we don’t always get to do podcasts together, but Ray doesn’t even mention, like we do podcasts together literally all the time, but she doesn’t even list that into things that she does. So I’ll, I’ll list it for us. Right. I’m so I’m Jeff Garas, I’m the COO and co-founder of the teach better team. And I’m Ray’s co-host on is how she prefers me to say that on the teach, better talk podcast as well. I get to do that.


The Teach Better Team (04:51):
Glad I’m glad, you know, your place, Beth, my post,


The Teach Better Team (04:55):
I am your co-host. And I, I think I’m just the guy who tricked these two in a whole bunch of other amazing and educators somehow let me continue to work with them. So I, I second everything they say, I think for me, it’s the word family has become such a big thing, big piece of what we do. And that’s probably my favorite part. You know, Chad mentioned about our impact in classrooms and in school districts, but for me too, it’s this impact of the people we get to work with that work with our team that are okay at the door team and all, everything like that. It’s just, it’s awesome.


Sam Demma (05:25):
I love that. It’s amazing. And I’m so happy to have all of you here on the show right now. When I think about mastery, my mind immediately jumps to Malcolm Gladwell and the book he wrote outliers that talks about the 10,000 hour rule, you know, you know, put 10,000 hours in. And I see that all three of you are super passionate about this idea of, as you said, Chad, at the, at the beginning of this podcast, mastery based learning, like what is that like, take, take me, take us through what that is. And maybe all three of you can chime in. And why are you so passionate about making sure that schools adopt this concept in their teaching strategies and styles?


The Teach Better Team (06:01):
I’m gonna, I’m just gonna put the quarter in Chad real quick, as we say, let him know for a


The Teach Better Team (06:05):
Minute, feel free to take the quarter out if needed too. So just for, as this goes forward,


The Teach Better Team (06:11):
Contr pop with believe there is no like emergency stop button. It’s just


The Teach Better Team (06:15):
So in its simplest form, I like to equate the term mastery with student readiness to move forward. Got it. I think one of the biggest crimes in education is a teacher-centered idea of what instruction needs to be, where the teacher is driving the pace, the content, the choice in how everything is occurring in the classroom and just sort of dragging students along. And I think this is what traditional education basically was for a really long time. And in some cases still is I think mastery learning is a Keystone and a core component in moving classrooms to being more student-centric. So at its core mastery learning focuses on students moving at their own pace when they are ready to move on from one topic or one a activity to the next, as opposed to, you know, if I’m in a classroom and student a didn’t understand the lesson from Monday yet, I, I asked them to understand the, a lesson on Tuesday when they have no prior knowledge or understanding yet I am now putting that student in an inequitable disadvantage in that classroom.


The Teach Better Team (07:28):
So I think mastery learning creates a level playing field for every single student in the classroom to not only grow and learn at their own pace, whether that’s quicker than their peers, but also get the, the help that they need and deserve in their learning environment. Mm and I also think mastery learning at its core fully supports these other best practices that we know work in education, things like differentiation, backwards, design, universal design for learning, even embedding things like PB and inquiry based learning and community connections in the classroom can be supported via mastery learning. So I don’t like to say that mastery learning’s the only thing we do because I think it’s the start of the conversation that we have to have in education that then branches into in completely kind of including all of those student centered best practices that focus on what the student needs, where they’re at and how do we move them to the next step.


The Teach Better Team (08:28):
I do have to add, I, when I originally connected with Chad, I mean, Chad, your passion for mastery learning has like been there from the beginning. And when we originally connected and you told me about this concept over a Google meet, I believe I was like, yeah, that sounds good. But I hadn’t seen it actually done in a classroom. And at the time I was working in, you know, a classroom that we were 94% low income, and I had all these other hurdles I was working with. And to be honest, Sam, my passion was so much more focused on student engagement. How am I gonna get students in the building? How am I going to use neon colors and fun activities to ensure that they’re enjoying learning? And what I found right or wrong is that master learning from me was this missing piece that I needed as an educator to actually then do all the other things I wanted to do better.


The Teach Better Team (09:23):
And so it’s so comical now looking at mastery learning and, and actually getting the luxury of working with educators, right with the teach better team, because as you articulated wonderfully, Chad, it really is kind of that fundamental concrete base that then we can build everything off of educators right now are struggling to keep students engaged. We feel like we’re trying to outshine YouTube and you know, do everything better. And, and I think the reality is is that we can do all these elements better in education. If we start with that core value of truly meeting this where they’re at. So honestly the concept of master learning changed my life for the better and definitely my trajectory of, you know, success as an educator.


Sam Demma (10:05):
That’s awesome. Love that. Jeff, anything to chime in here?


The Teach Better Team (10:11):
No, I mean, they summed it up really, really well. I think for, for me, you know, I’m, I’m not pretty much the only, I think the only one there’s maybe like one or two of us on the team that aren’t classroom teachers got it. So it’s been, you know, different journey for me, but one of the biggest things that’s hit me when early on when Chad and I were traveling all over visiting schools and stuff like that. And I was just learning so much about what was going on and why I was having impact. Just thinking back to like when I was in school, when I did pretty well in school, like I, you know, in, from a good home, I’m in a good area. Like I was, I was gonna be all right, like kind of a thing. But I look back at that if had I been challenged properly because they were actually assessing where I was actually at and where I was actually, what I was actually learning or not learning and gaining or not gaining what I, what my experience would’ve been like and had I would, I been able to, I don’t, I don’t saying like, oh, I could go back and hopefully I would’ve achieved more or anything like that, but would I been ha in a better spot, better position to, to learn and grow as a person than versus what it actually did was took me a long time to kind of like figure out my life afterwards.


The Teach Better Team (11:11):
And a lot of that, I just look back at how that is and think through all the kids that have gone through that system that didn’t have the extra setup that I had in a sense of coming from a good family and a good, a good home and a good, you know, I had a, I had a good starting point better than most. And I, if, if, if I would’ve had that, if other kids don’t have that they’re even further behind. And so that’s where my passion behind is going. Like, what could that have done for me? And even more than that, the kids that didn’t even have the things that I had, how can we change that for future kids? But


Sam Demma (11:41):
You gave me a perfect segue into the question I was writing down while all three of you were speaking, which is what does this mean for assessment in the classroom? Is there, is there a way that mastery learning approaches assessments differently? Because I can tell you personally that growing up, I, I wholeheartedly attached my entire self worth as a human being, to my ability to have an a plus or a 95% average on my tests and report cards and coming from a European family, I’ll be honest. It felt like it, it felt like if I didn’t bring that home, there was issues and problems. When in reality, I could have a 95% average not understand the concepts, just be memorizing things and not really engaged with the learning. Right. And Jeff, as you point yourself, there, it’s a common thing that happens with all of us. Yep. And I know all three of you have your mics, your mics on muted, ready to jump in. So please tell me how mastery learning and the grid method approaches assessment differently.


The Teach Better Team (12:37):
I just wanna jump in and see if Chad’s having dejavu, cuz him and I had like an hour and a half long conversation about assessment yesterday. So Chad, I’m gonna let you take this one, but I have to remind you like this is not actually dejavu. This is a new conversation we can just,


The Teach Better Team (12:54):
Yeah. So I actually, I love this question because assessment is such a core aspect of where a student is at so we can grow them. But I think in a traditional sense, we usually look at assessments and we say, it’s a quiz, it’s a test. And, and it’s just like this autopsy, right? This is what you know, and we’re gonna move on regardless of how well you did. I think mastery learning changes the assessment culture. And we start to look at assessment as snapshots of where a student is on their larger aspect and their growth as a learner. One of my favorite ways to think about assessment is that that’s where the student is today. It’s not where they have to stay forever. And I think mastery learning really articulates that well, and it embodies things like retakes standards, aligned assessment, formative assessment practices.


The Teach Better Team (13:51):
So it makes assessment a natural part of, of learning as opposed to these high stakes really stressful environments. So instead of assessment becoming this super stressful high stakes, oh my gosh, I hope I do really well situation it’s Hey, Sam prove what you know right now. So I know how to help you further. And I think that’s a huge cultural or shift that mastery learning helps occur in classrooms. I think it also helps align instruction and assessment. With a lot of the schools in classrooms, we work with a district will come and say, we need to do we need to reestablish our assessments. And I go, well, have we talked about instruction at, because if those two things don’t talk to one another, that’s a really big problem. So a lot of mastery learning comes in the planning process in the backwards design process, which ensures that the learning that’s occurring, the growth that’s supposed to happen.


The Teach Better Team (14:51):
And the measurement tool that you’re using to establish that growth are all connected and all work together. And then the most important thing is the idea that the assessment is not the last step. It’s the first step in identifying where the students at with grid method classrooms. We have a saying F a I L fail stands for first attempt in learning failure should be the first step in the learning process where you’re identifying gaps in needs so that you, as the educator can take next steps to fill those gaps and move the student forward.


The Teach Better Team (15:26):
Wow. I know rays gonna jump in. I just wanna touch on like, Chad, you already kind of wrapped this up, but you said the word like autopsy, right? So your assessment, it’s not, it shouldn’t be the looking back at what happened before. It’s utilizing that to see what do, what happens next? What do we do next? What do we take them from there? And Ray’s gonna say it a whole lot better than I did.


The Teach Better Team (15:45):
No. You know, I actually, I don’t wanna take us down like a rabbit hole here, but it’s interesting Sam, when you ask your question and Chad, as you in, into your explanation, I’m separating the concept of mastery learning is a phenomenal instructional practice we should have in our classrooms. Me personally, though, when I was trying to figure out how to achieve it, it came into the, I mean, Chad, you brought it up like the grid method, which is that mastery framework that we get to do. We’re fortunate enough to do a lot of work in, and for me, that’s what I needed because when I think of formative summative assessment or any sort of evaluation of student understanding, it comes down to the fact that never in my career never have. I seen educators having more conversations with students than I do right now. And how valuable is it that when I was in school, back in the day assessment was this high stakes test.


The Teach Better Team (16:34):
And that was the only time that you were really, even if it was a one way communication, you were communicating what you know, whereas now not only in my own classroom, but in classrooms that we get to work with, educators are having one-on-one or small group conversations with their students every single day. And to me, that that is so much more of an example of authentic assessment. Because if I have an administrator walk in on a random Tuesday, I can tell them exactly where their student is at, you know, and, and they might all be in 24 different spots for 24 different students. But because we’re giving teachers the gift of time able to actually have those authentic conversations. So that assessment becomes a valuable use of their classroom time. Does that make sense?


Sam Demma (17:21):
Yeah. A hundred percent Chad go for


The Teach Better Team (17:23):
It. I also think Ray’s hitting on a really core benefit of mastery learning that it expands the definition of what assessment can be. Yeah, right. So instead of it having to be blanks on a worksheet or bubbles on a, on a, on an, an a Scantron test or something like that, it can now be any form of demonstration of mastery. And so I think that’s a, a, a core component that mastery learning helps support is the, the broadening of the idea that we can assess mastery authentically and in more ways than we traditionally thought were possible. And that a student can demonstrate that mastery, however, is comfortable and close enough to their ability, their current ability level. And it means the same, whether it’s a Scantron test or a, a five second conversation like Ray Ray’s talking about. And I think that’s a really powerful thing for a teacher to embody in the classroom.


Sam Demma (18:19):
My mind immediately jumps to that picture of a bunch of different animals, an elephant a monkey. And there’s a goldfish and, oh, judge the goldfish by its ability to, you know, to climb a tree, it will limit its whole life believing it to failure. And I think, you know, what you’re getting at here is the idea that yeah, assessment isn’t binary and using this mastery learning approach, you know, allows the different animals to be tested in their unique capacities, to see if within their skillsets, are they learning as much as they can and maximizing their ability?


The Teach Better Team (18:53):
Well, and for the teacher to be able to evaluate the type of animal they’re, they’re working with, like how many times have we all sat stood in front of a classroom of 34 and said, Ooh, I can’t wait to figure out the inner workings of every single student that are all gonna be different. Oh yeah. And then in an hour, they’re all gonna rotate and I get a whole other group of group of kids. So that time is really valuable.


Sam Demma (19:16):
Love that. Awesome. It it’s, and it’s not about being perfect. Right. it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being better, right? It’s about 1% improvement. It’s about being a little bit better today. A little bit better tomorrow. It’s about complaining better, right there. There’s so many things that you guys talk about in your books in past podcasts. And I love this idea that we don’t have to arrive tomorrow because that’s unrealistic and mastery does take time. But if we do improve, you know, small, consistent actions as I would say my teacher would inspired me when I was in grade 12, it leads to a massive change. So at the heart of what you, you, why do you believe, you know, being 1% better than you are right now is really what we’re going for and working towards with all the work that each of you are doing.


The Teach Better Team (20:03):
That’s a good, that’s a good, solid que I think, I think you really just said it cuz to be perfect or where we want to be, or hit a goal tomorrow as a unrealistic, unless we set really, really low goals. Right? Mm. But to be 1% better, tomorrow is something we can accomplish. And if we’re trying to be 1%, that doesn’t mean we can’t be 10% doesn’t mean we won’t be 20%. Right. But, but to understand that it, it doesn’t need to be, and it’s the scale like across all the animals, right? It’s going to be a whole bunch of different percentages based on that individual animal, that student, that person, whatever they need at the time and what they’re working on and the level of the, the number of, of, of hours, it’s going to take them specifically to hit that master or whatever it is. So to understand that, like, it doesn’t have to be this, it can be more, but it doesn’t have to be it just as long as we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward and we’re getting towards what a mastery is for each individual person and student. Nice. That’s how I view it.


The Teach Better Team (21:01):
I also think sort of like that teach better mindset that we talk about better today and better tomorrow. And that constant search for that 1% better, that constant search for better also broadens the scope of what is possible on an, on a given day, because you can be better at something on the worst day you you’re having in a week. You can be, you can be better at something on the worst year you’re having as a teacher. So by not going, you need to be a perfect educator tomorrow. Cause you’re probably, that’s never going to happen. There’s no such thing as a perfect educator. Yeah. I’m not a perfect educator. I’ve never worked with a perfect educator cuz it’s not something that can actually exist. She’s


The Teach Better Team (21:43):
Right there, Chad.


The Teach Better Team (21:44):
But if we, except for Ray possibly but definitely


The Teach Better Team (21:49):
Not perfect friends. I hate to tell you, but


The Teach Better Team (21:51):
I, I, I think the better mindset gives access to improvement and it gives the freedom of an individual regardless of how their day, year, month or career is going to be better to what can I do better? And it might not be better at instruction. It might be better at forming relationships. It might be smiling at a student instead of giving them a mean look, and that might be how you’re better. Cause in, you know, at the Genesis of the teach better team, I was at the lowest point in my entire career. And it was those little moments of finding something I could be better at that eventually built up to massive instructional changes, massive personal changes, massive relational changes. And it’s not about that. It’s about the 1% every day because we can all at least commit to that. But it’s about the, the culminating event change in progress that occurs when it’s 1% every day, cuz you’re also gonna have 5% days when you’re, you’re also gonna have 20% days and 3% days. But as long as you can have 1% every day, you’re always gonna be moving forward. And the culmination of that is something that’s truly been amazing to watch educators and schools and districts we work with go through and that, and that’s such a driving force behind the family and the work that we do every single day.


The Teach Better Team (23:21):
I think theres a piece of this like that, you know, so you can have, we can have 5% days, you can also have negative 5% days. Right. But I think if you’re focused on being better versus trying to be perfect or trying be exactly here all the time, you can have a bad day and come back the next day and go, wow, it’s a lot easier to be better today because yesterday I wasn’t so great, but I’m still moving forward. Right? I’m still growing versus now I’m further and further and further away from this probably unrealistic goal that I set for myself in the first place.


Sam Demma (23:48):
Love that. And Ray alluded to this earlier for you, the listener, if you, if you didn’t catch it, she was talk. She said, you know, we have to strive to be better than YouTube. That’s actually the title of her latest TEDx talk. So make sure you check it out on YouTube. It’s awesome. Ray, what does that mean? What does it mean to be better in YouTube? And, and why did you title your talk that,


The Teach Better Team (24:07):
You know, it’s so funny guys. We, you know, if you guys go to teach bear.com, you’re gonna see oodles and oodles and oodles of content and there’s more and more and more being published every single day. And when you apply to a part of a Ted experience, it has to be original content. And there’s so many things that I believe and that I would love to continue to share with the world. But one of the things that really hit home during COVID, as, as every educator, as I said in my, in my Ted talk was kind of thrown to the wolves and we had to figure it out on the fly and we saw incredible problem solving and, and, and incredible characteristics, you know, shine in the people that we were working with. I really struggled working with educators that were trying to compete with resources that were already good and in existence for us already.


The Teach Better Team (24:58):
Hmm. So when I was trying to craft up my message and I definitely wanted mastery learning to be a focus. I wanted my own personal learning journey to be, to be shared. One of the key takeaways I wanted educators to recognize is that, you know, teachers are masters at inspiring their students. They’re incredible facilitators of discussion and they’re more than simply being a content delivery system, right. They can do so much more in the classroom. So this title of better than YouTube was really this, this blunt statement of teachers have to acknowledge and celebrate that they are better than a stagnant video. Mm. And so rather than compete and make 1500 YouTube clips this year or compete and say, how am I going to add enough to my mini, to my mini lesson? You know, as a YouTube edited clip might do instead let’s partner with these incredible tools that we have access to and give ourselves the time to do what we do best, which is interact with students and foster discussions. So it was a really, really incredible project to work on. I’m so thrilled. It’s out


Sam Demma (26:07):
Love that. It’s awesome. And it’s, it’s so plainly obvious that all three of you have this burning passion for the work that you do. And I’m really curious to know how the heck do you balance teaching Chad and Ray and you know, Jeff, you can touch on this too. I know you’re not a classroom teacher, but I’m sure you’re balancing a ton of different things right now. How do you balance that with the work you’re doing and not get burnt out because I’m sure we can all agree that reaching out to teachers and educators right now and saying, Hey, we’d love to chat with you or, Hey, we have some ideas. The response you’re getting is that their hair is on fire. You know, like you just, you can’t can’t talk right now. How do you personally balance your own time to make it all work?


The Teach Better Team (26:46):
Yeah. Sam, I have to tell you that, you know, we have an incredible amount of educators that, that work with us to share the teach better mindset, right? Yes. I mean, if you look at the teach better team, there’s not only 22 plus people that are on the team, but then we have a huge collection of educators on our speakers network. We have guest bloggers, we have podcasters. We have people who help us design courses in the teach better academy. I mean, we really have built a network that we label our family and almost all of them, 99% of them are classroom teachers. And the reason that is, is because we, that classroom teachers are, are incredible, you know, or they’re working in schools as administrative leaders. But we’re better when we surround ourselves with good people. And so it’s not about, you know, that it’s not hard working two jobs, right?


The Teach Better Team (27:38):
Like, you know, right. For example, right now I’m physically in the classroom as a classroom teacher and also in with the teach better team. But it really is about trying to support educators holistically. And one of the elements that we all need is to be around positive solutions, seeking people who challenge us to be our best selves. And so whether it’s the, the struggle of keeping a calendar so that we can be hustling or all the time as effectively as possible or anything in between, you know I, I’m gonna let Jeff touch on this next, but one of the best things that Jeff Garas said to me very early on as I probably was feeling like my hair was on fire, you know, working multiple jobs is this phrase that he doesn’t like of when you get a job you love, you never work a day in your life. And he was like, it’s not true, Ray. It’s not true. When you get a job, you love, you work harder than you’ve ever worked before, but you love it. And I cannot emphasize that enough. We are constantly working probably in an unhealthy manner. We may not be the best people to go to for self care, but, but God, I love it. Jeff, don’t you love it.


The Teach Better Team (28:49):
I, I do. I agree with everything she just said. And, and I just, I just want to add, like, you know, you talked about the Sam, you mentioned teachers with, well, Ray kind of mentioned too with, you know, my hair’s on fire. I’m crazy. Right. Especially this year, it’s always like that, but even more so this past year, and Ray mentioned all the content, everything we’re creating, all the support pieces and all the resources we create. I think for us, a big piece is one, this kind of two pieces is one. We want teachers just to know that like, that we’re creating these things and we’re building these things even when your hair’s on fire. So when you’re ready for it, it’s here, right. It’s here for you to come. And it’s for us. Consistency has always been really, really important so that they know that we’re here.


The Teach Better Team (29:26):
Like, you know that your family’s there. The other piece is when a teacher says my hair is on fire. We like to say, okay, great. What’s causing the fire and what can we do to help you put it out? And then maybe try to put some pieces in place to make sure that it doesn’t catch fire again. Right? So we like, we wanna help teachers understand that we, you know, really mentioned the good people that we’re part of that we like to be part of that and be that family of, okay, if your hair’s on fire, we can help you put it out. We can help you prevent that. But, or if not, we can just be here when you’re ready. Right. When you’re ready to come up from, from, for air, from being underwater all year, we, we’re still creating these resources. We’re still building these things for you. We’re still creating this community for you. We’re still here for you. And I think that is, is a key piece to what we do and what we believe.


Sam Demma (30:10):
I’m gonna jump in just for one second and then pass it back over to rate, because I just thought of this. And it was kind of funny. I was gonna say, you know, if someone’s hair’s on fire and they don’t want help now you can tell them that they can come back in five months when they’re bald and you can give ’em a wig, right?


The Teach Better Team (30:24):
Exactly. If that’s what they need, then that’s that’s. And that’s what it is, right. That we we’ve. I say it all the time that like we’ve built everything with our, our, our company, by listening to the, our company, telling us what it needs to grow and our community about what they need us to do within our capacity of being able to do stuff for them. And that’s why, what we create and how we build and what we build is based around that.


Sam Demma (30:48):
Awesome. Love it.


The Teach Better Team (30:50):
No, I think Jeff said it wonderfully. I, the only thing I was gonna add in, you know, it’s so funny in terms of being around whenever someone needs something we launched in 2020 and administrative master remind, which is truly just a zoom call that happens twice on Tuesdays, every single week to create a safe space for administrative leaders, right. Educational leaders to talk shop, and kind of share their grievances and problem solve and hopefully take away resources. And it’s so funny because every single time someone joins, they’re like, Ugh, I of that. If I’m busy, I don’t have to be in this meeting, but the moment I need something, I know the meeting exists for me to like connect with my people. And I find that while that might be a good example of that, I, I really enjoy seeing that kind of holistically across multiple different capacities of things that the team tries to do to be accessible.


Sam Demma (31:43):
Brilliant.


The Teach Better Team (31:44):
And I, and I think they’re both hitting on something that we’ve built this company on, which is authentically and holistically help first. Mm. Right. Like if, if we’re helping educators, we win and they win and everyone can feel good about that. Yeah. and there are other aspects of our business of course, but one of the things I think has helped us over the last hair on fire craziness of 2020 has been, we made a purposeful shift to try to provide as much help as humanly possible when all of this started, you know, I think it was March of 2020 when everything shut it down. And we said, you have two options here, right? Like you can help, or you can do other things that aren’t necessarily helping. And, and we made the purposeful to authentically reach out to every single teacher. We knew every single school we work with in our entire network and family and in, in audience and just offer authentic help.


The Teach Better Team (32:48):
Mm. But that has been something as both of them have articulated very well. Jeff and Ray that I think has driven a lot of the work that we do on a daily basis and teach better team, whether it’s helping a school or a, a partner district we wanna help them before we do anything else and make sure that whatever we’re providing them is making, helping them meet their goals in their mission. And I think that’s like the, the lifeblood of everything we do. And I think that drives a lot of the work and decisions we make on a day to day basis.


Sam Demma (33:23):
I love that. I believe that as humans, we’re also shaped by significant emotional experiences and one that I know rings true to you, Chad is get the hell outta my classroom. And I’m really curious to know what does that mean to you? Can you share, you know, that story as if we’re on an elevator and, and you have 30 seconds to pitch it.


The Teach Better Team (33:46):
Yeah. I think every teacher can relate to that moment. I, I visually remember that moment where, how much, how long was the time? Just, I


The Teach Better Team (33:56):
Was just, I, Ray and I were connecting there cause I was laughing at the eye. Any of that, Sam thought you were gonna do this in 30 seconds.


The Teach Better Team (34:02):
No, listen. That was a, that was a visceral moment for me as a teacher where my students had become the enemy of myself as an educator. And I had become every single aspect of the teacher. I never wanted to be got it. I don’t think any, any teacher ever enters the class and their first year or their fifth year or their 20th year seeing students as the enemy. But that was a moment where it was me versus them. And I was in hundred percent survival mode. Yeah. And that was the moment I realized something had to change and I couldn’t change everything overnight, but I could do something better the next day. And I could do a lot of these changes and start thinking about my instruction differently. So that moment you know, and I do articulate that moment quite a bit when I’m talking about some of the changes that, that, that we embody, I’m gonna teach better team for classrooms, but that was a catalyst that allowed all of the other changes that eventually become the creation of the grid method, which we now get to share with schools and districts, the creation of the teach better team, which now has an expansive availability of resources that are helping students and educators across the country and beyond.


The Teach Better Team (35:17):
So that’s that moment, I think, resonates with every teacher in a, a room when I’m speaking and sharing that story. Every teacher has that moment where they feel like they’ve lost that spark. They’ve lost that passion and they never wanted to be here. So you have two choices, you just lay down and give up or you get better the next day. Mm I’m glad that I was able to get better the next day, which has now brought myself and, and to teach better team into fruition and in the ability to help others and increase our impact on a daily basis. That was way longer than 15 seconds. So


Sam Demma (35:56):
That’s totally okay. On the idea of challenges, because sometimes dealing with students can feel like a challenge. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that exist in education right now? And what do you think the opportunities are on the other side of those challenges? Because solving them leads to some sort of opportunity. And I’m curious to know anyone can jump in here first.


The Teach Better Team (36:20):
I, I, I think the last year has demonstrated the amount of inequity that already existed in the educational world. I think the inequities that showed up due to lack of internet service due to home life of S students due to living situations due to you know, demographic stability or financial instability of, of families and students and, and everything that goes along with all of that. I think we’ve known for a really long time that those are problems in education, but because that we were, because we were bringing students into our classrooms and we could say sometimes falsely that because we were providing a space that we knew was safe and, and, and, and supportive that it was okay. It didn’t matter about these outside things because we could create this safe space, this sheltered space it was known that those things were problems and that in all the research, if you ever look at it fully supports that there’s a distinct difference between socioeconomic status and success for of a student and, and other aspects that are cultural in nature and things like that.


The Teach Better Team (37:34):
So I think what this did is it put all of that under a microscope. Mm. And it allow, and it forced us as educators, regardless of your role teacher, classroom aid, principal, superintendent. It forced us to address those needs and confront those needs in a way that was somewhat uncomfortable, probably, but that, it just really forced us to just realize that this is real. This is something our students are dealing with, and this is something that we cannot wait to address it needs to be addressed now. So I think from an instructional standpoint, I know we’ve helped a lot of schools address some of these things, utilizing mastery learning and giving them tools and ways to make the instructional prep is in the classroom, more equitable from a pedagogical standpoint and an instructional standpoint. But I also think it, it was a really great conversation starter of just because the kids are back in the classroom doesn’t mean all these other things are now gone. Cause we know they exist now. Like the elephant is in the room and we can see it. Now, the sheet has been lifted and it’s right there in the corner and we have to address it. And I think the biggest crime and the biggest worry I have is that we want to go back to what was, as opposed to going back to back, going back to an improved instructional setting so that every student can thrive and succeed in their classrooms.


Sam Demma (39:02):
Awesome. Yeah. That was a phenomenal answer. Anything to add Ray or Jeff?


The Teach Better Team (39:09):
You know, I think Chad like hit the nail on the head in terms of a huge fear that we all have, that we are all driving to be on the solution seeking side of, right. I mean, this is a, a necessary conversation. I think a, a smaller element, but one that is really in my face as we continue to host live videos, you know, taking questions from educators and, you know, like doing professional development opportunities. And, you know, I hear this in my own school that I working with my colleagues is this concept of the fact that educators have been filling their toolbox with, with, with resources over the past year and a half because of COVID right. We’ve all learned 15 new tech tools. We’ve all tried a hundred new strategies. And I think an, an additional layer here that I’d love to continue to challenge educators to seek support on is now becoming educated and better understanding when we go into a more familiar school system, when, you know, we’re all back in the classroom and masks may or may not be worn.


The Teach Better Team (40:08):
And we, you know, we all kind of transition, how are you gonna strategically best understand what’s in your toolbox and when, and how to implement them as effectively as possible goal. So, you know, obviously there’s a thousand problems with education. We’re all just doing our best to find the solution. But as you, as an educator are listening to this, I’d love to challenge each and every one of you, whether you are most passionate about a huge, huge problem in education that you wanna find a solution towards, or you just have something really small that you wanna take on to find solution for. There’s plenty of problems. So pick one and let’s all work together to try and find the right answer right away.


Sam Demma (40:43):
Love it. Awesome.


The Teach Better Team (40:46):
Jeff, I don’t know. I, I, I’m gonna, I’ll add just a little bit, it’s a separate problem and it might open up another can of worms. I’m not sure, but for, for me, one of the ones, and this has been a thing that we’ve noticed. I know Chad and Ray new being in this system, but that I learned very quickly after we got started in this is that I think a huge challenge that educators face and have to work within and are trying to change. And we’re seeing a lot of it is that we are trying to educate kids within a system that moves a half inch every 50 years and prepare them for a world that moves six miles every 30 seconds. And I don’t know if that actually adds up to what it is, but this very slow moving machine of the world of education and holding on to how it was and what it was and what worked for us.


The Teach Better Team (41:33):
And we’re trying to prepare kids for a future that is moving so fast right now. If you think about like technology growth over the last, just three years, and then you look at 10 years and you think about the fact that like, when I, you know, I’m not that old, but like when I was in elementary school, like the internet, wasn’t a thing yet. And now it’s literally the real world. Like it’s just this. And, and I think that’s a huge, that’s a much bigger problem, more of a systemic problem and everything like that, that we, that we have to address. But I think that’s a huge challenge that we continue to face. And I think that goes into, you know, we, we learned all these new tools and resources that we had to because we had to live in like this new world for the last year. And if we forget about that new world that we lived in, that is the world that our kids are growing up and whether we like it or not, that’s gonna cause us to just continue to be in this slow moving machine, trying to prepare kids for a machine that they can’t even catch. That’s one of my biggest worries.


The Teach Better Team (42:29):
Can we clarify Sam for all the educators listening, who can’t see us as we’re, you know, on, on having this conversation, Jeff is ancient in case any of you are wondering So old. So


The Teach Better Team (42:41):
I won’t, I won’t lie to you today. I, I went to the eye doctor and he said this like three times, he said, well, you know, yeah, with this, that blah, blah, blah. And you, you know, you’re getting really close to that, that age. And I’m like, what age doc? Whoa, that age. I’m like, what age? He’s talking about 40. I’m almost, I’m not, I’m close. That’s funny. That’s still not that old compared to Ray it’s old, Chad, it’s not as


The Teach Better Team (43:04):
Old. It’s like really far away from me. Thank God.


The Teach Better Team (43:08):
There was something earlier you were talking about like bubble sheets or whatever Scantrons. And I’m looking at Sam going, I don’t know Sam ever had to do Scantron


The Teach Better Team (43:15):
Sam. We know Scantrons.


Sam Demma (43:16):
I know Scantrons. I know Scantrons. When, when you, when you accidentally think question one is question two, when you write the whole


Speaker 5 (43:23):
Thing, every


Sam Demma (43:24):
Single question comes back wrong. And your teacher’s like, you got a F and I’m like, what?


The Teach Better Team (43:29):
Oh, wait, teach. If you just shift those up one. It’s actually all right. Yeah. Yeah. It’s,


Sam Demma (43:33):
That’s funny. No, that’s awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation and you know, Jeff, your, your last question there about the system could take us on another whole hour long journey. I want to wrap this up on a final note and then we’ll give you an opportunity to share where everyone can connect with you. I want you to imagine you could go back in time and Jeff, you’re gonna have to travel the farthest because you’re the most ancient. But if you could, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self having the knowledge that you have about education today, understanding that there’s still more to learn, of course. And you’re trying to learn more every single day, but if you could go back, you know, 20 years or to the first day you started teaching, if that applies to you, what would you tell your younger self? What advice would you give your younger self before getting into this work?


The Teach Better Team (44:29):
I think that’s a really, really challenging question. I do to say the first thing that came to mind for me, if I was to go back to my first year of teaching and give a piece of advice, it would really come down to something along the lines of you’re gonna grow faster than you thought. So just keep on tracking like every educator, whether they’re learning to be an educator at a university level, they’re in the classroom right now in the trenches, or they’re 30 years in is constantly finding hurdles and, and things that are stopping them. And we’re constantly brainstorming the next solution to the next problem. And I find that that can be extremely defeating. It can rock your confide. And so many times, I, I mean, I still have these moments so many times I sit back at the end of the day and I’m like, did I, did I do good work today?


The Teach Better Team (45:19):
Did, did I accomplish anything that I actually was trying to do? And I think the reality is is that when you surround yourself with people who are striving to be better, right, striving to grow, then you are, are able to look back. Whether it be look back at the day, look back at the week, look back at the year or an entire career and say, holy cow, we we’ve accomplished a ton and it’s not because I figured it out myself, but it’s because I surrounded myself with people who helped me figure it out. And so I think that would’ve been the biggest piece of advice I needed, cuz I was so nervous every day that I was gonna mess up a kid. And I think the reality is is that if you’re constantly carrying that mindset of growth, you’re always gonna be doing good work regardless of, you know, to what extent that actually is for that day.


Speaker 6 (46:09):
Love it.


The Teach Better Team (46:11):
I think I could piggyback on what race said actually. Cause I’m glad she went first actually for this question. I, I, I think something I used to see, I used to see instruction as a very transactional thing. I used to say a lesson or an experience either went perfect or I messed it up and it was very just like, I, I had to be perfect. Everything had to go perfect or it didn’t go good. It didn’t go well. And then I messed it up. Hmm. And I think as I evolved as an educator, when I look back on that, as I stopped shifting towards my performance in my sort of delivery of like a lesson and more the experience in the learning that was happening in my classroom, moving from more teacher-centered thoughts to more student-centered thoughts. I think that is something I wish I would’ve known earlier and focused on earlier.


The Teach Better Team (47:09):
And I also think, you know, as we kind of approach going back to this normal, I think a lot of teachers need to, to be reminded that it’s not about a kid being broken or behind it’s about focusing on growth, not gaps, right? So it’s about meeting kids where they are. And as long as we are growing them, we’re doing our job and we’re winning because if we look at education, as we made it, we, we failed or we passed based on some arbitrary thing that the system created or the grade level the kids supposed to be at. We’re gonna fail a lot more than we succeed. If we look at ourselves and at the educational system and go, listen, if we meet every kid where they’re at and grow them from there, we’re gonna be okay, regardless of if they’re five grade levels behind or one grade level behind, because a grade level’s an arbitrary understanding of where a kid’s supposed to be anywhere. If in education at its foundation, we just meet kids where they’re at and grow them in an engaging environment that’s safe and supportive and lets them thrive as themselves, as individuals, we will win. And that’s, I think the long term game in realiz, it I’ve had now that I wish I had when I was younger.


Sam Demma (48:33):
That is so powerful. And, and you mentioned the idea of focusing on the growth instead of the gaps and that hits home with me from an athletic background. There’s a awesome book. Titled I, I believe it’s catch them while they’re good. And it’s this idea that instead of giving feedback on someone’s you know, negative result, look for someone who did a great job and highlight what made that example. Great. So you let the other students save face or the other athletes save face and they still can say, oh, that’s what I’m aspiring towards. You know? Jeff ancient, Jeff, what, what, what advice would you give yourself


The Teach Better Team (49:11):
The time I had to go further back? No, I think I, I, this kind of touch, I kind of connects with both of those. I think the thing that I would tell my younger self is that you’re probably going to lose more than you win, but you’re gonna learn either way. Mm. And I had put similar to how Chad had put so much on, did the, his lesson go well or not? I put so much on what I was trying to be in that moment. And when that thing or that person that I thought I was supposed to be, or that was the only thing I was supposed to do, didn’t work. It just, it crushed me and destroyed me. And when it was after why I figured out that, that wasn’t what was important. It was the reasons behind why you were trying to do things and what you were trying to build and what you were trying to accomplish and trying to chase happiness that became more important. And we do it all the time where we learn from all my failures in the right when Chad and I started as a whole lot was let’s look back and see all the businesses that Jeff messed up and see if we can avoid those things. And so I think it’s, it’s similar. Like what Ray said is like, you’re gonna, you’re gonna learn and grow so much from all these times that you think it might have been a failure, but it’s really just an opportunity to learn.


The Teach Better Team (50:17):
Yep. I do just wanna put on record. We do pick on Jeff a lot, but I’m really proud since usually we pick on Chad and


The Teach Better Team (50:24):
I think it’s, I was gonna say, like, I


The Teach Better Team (50:26):
Think it’s crazy. Speak on Jeff today.


The Teach Better Team (50:28):
Can I pick on Chad one last time? No, I was gonna say that I thought what he was telling his younger self was brilliant, but I’m pretty sure his younger self would’ve walked away about halfway through. Cause it took so long. Like there’s this old guy talking about I’m out of here. That’s I know if I’m talking younger me, I gotta be like a couple words and done because I would’ve just been so


Sam Demma (50:46):
Awesome, amazing. This has been such a phenomenal conversation. Thank you. All three of you for, for taking the time to chat about this. I think what’s so inspiring for me as an interviewer and someone who’s listening and I’m sure is as inspiring for you, the person listening as well, is that everything we talked about, it’s like, it all comes back to that idea. That it’s about being student centric, which, and this is how we started this podcast, right? Everything we talked about is about being student centric. You know, filling more tools in your toolbox is so you can help your students, right? Figuring out what tools you need to use so you can help your students; making more equitable school systems is about helping the students. Like I love that through our entire conversation, the values of your, your work and your company came through in every answer you gave. And it just shows to go. It goes to show how much focus you have for the work you’re doing, how much passion and love you have for it. So keep doing amazing work. Where maybe one of you can share very quickly, where can the person listening, find you, where can they check out your program, buy your books, watch your videos, get in touch, or even make fun of Jeff.


The Teach Better Team (51:53):
Yeah, absolutely. Guys. There’s a lot of places that you can go and make fun of Jeff Gargas. So here, let me give you them all. No, to be honest, like we all are on social media. We’re all active. You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, boxer, Facebook, everywhere between, but it’s not about connecting with us. Right. We love when we connect with new people. I mean, geez, last night we were all on Twitter, connecting with new friends for an hour during a, you know, a Twitter chat, but it’s really about connecting with everyone else, all these other educators doing incredible work around the globe. So definitely go check out @teachbetterteam that is over on Twitter, Instagram, like I said everywhere. And you can also see all those details at teachbetter.com. But you know, we hope you connect with us and everyone that is a part of the teach better team, but there are so many incredible educators connected to us in small and large ways, doing really, really good work that we hope


The Teach Better Team (52:47):
it’s just the beginning of all the dots that you, you are collecting to continue to foster the type of life you wanna live. You know, as Sam, I think you said it perfectly, that we really believe in having that student centered mindset, but we also believe that it should exist without the expense of a teacher. We want you as a teacher to be supported and then hopefully have incredible experiences with students, but it really does begin with making sure that you are your best self as well. So let us help if we can. And if not, then we hope to connect with you in the future as we celebrate all the stuff that you guys are doing.


Sam Demma (53:22):
Amazing. Awesome. Chad, Jeff, thank you so much. Chad, Jeff and Ray, and the whole team who is not on the call. Thank you again for the work you’re doing. Thank you for showing up today and, and sharing some of your wisdom and some of the work that you’re doing in education that’s changing lives. I look forward to staying in touch and, and watching all the great work you guys do.


The Teach Better Team (53:42):
Thank you, Sam. Thanks for the work that you are doing. We appreciate you, man. Yeah. Appreciate it.


Sam Demma (53:46):
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.

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