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Christina Raso – Experiential Learning Consultant for Sudbury Catholic School Board

Christina Raso, Experiential Lead Learner SCDSB
About Christina Raso

Entrepreneur and Educator, Christina Raso (@Christina_Raso), shares her journey in education from a new teacher to a special education consultant to most recently Experiential Learning Consultant for Sudbury Catholic Schools.

The past academic year was most memorable for Christina as she temporarily returned to the classroom to support the teacher shortage. In her teaching time, she entered her class and St. David Elementary School in the Mindshare Technology School of the Future Contest earning third prize in the national contest. 

Connect with Christina: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The YMCA of Northeastern Ontario

Skills Ontario & Ian Howcroft

Mindshare Technology Contest

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is an entrepreneur and educator and her name is Christina Raso. She shares her journey in education from new teacher to special education consultant to most recently experiential learning consultant for Sudbury Catholic schools. The past academic year was most memorable for Christina. As she temporarily returned to the classroom to support the teacher shortage. During her teaching time, she entered her class at St. David Elementary School in the Mindshare technology school of the future contest, earning third prize in the national competition. Change is something that Christina is familiar with, especially because she also has a roots in entrepreneurship, which she talks about a little bit on this podcast as well. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this interview and I will see you on the other side…


Sam Demma (01:24):
Christina, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are today in education?


Christina Raso (01:35):
Well, first of all, thank you, Sam, for the opportunity to share my story. My name is Christina Raso and I am the experiential learning lead for Sudbury Catholic. And I guess if we talk about my journey it started a long time ago. Believe it or not, I’ve been in education for over 20 years and it was my second career. So I think it’s important to talk about where I started and having parents that were immigrants I think is really important because they value education. Not that other people don’t value education, but they really have a sense of you know, coming to a new country work ethic and the importance of going to school and having higher education. So my dream when I was younger was to own my own business and to be an entrepreneur.


Christina Raso (02:32):
And my parents said, yeah, of course, you can do about all of that, but first you need to get an education and a degree I, I received, but I had to get one. So I did that. So while I was going to university, I knew that I wanted to be a business owner. So I started selling women’s clothes at different you know, summer events and then flea markets and things like that. So it actually paid for my university. And then when I graduated with my degree, I was able to full force and I opened up for a ladies clothing store in Sudbury. And that’s kind of where things began for me in education is that I did that for over 10 years, but in that journey, I learned a lot about life skills, right. You know, working and all the challenges that go with that.


Christina Raso (03:26):
But I met a lot of young individuals and I had a lot of students that were coming for co-ops and then the teachers were giving me a little bit more of the heart to serve students, you know, the ones that were disengaged. And then it ended up that YMCA reached out to me and said, we have, you know, a group of young adults that you know, have, have quit school, but they really need some, some work experience. So I’m wondering if you can take a group and, you know, teach them how to use a cash register sales and, and work with them. So I did that. And and then, you know, I got a lot of praise and saying, you know, you’re really good at this, you know, have you ever thought of becoming a teacher because you’re really able to work with these kids and you know, teach them some things that a lot of them were able to catch on at school and things like that.


Christina Raso (04:22):
So you know, it’s just one person mentioned that, and actually I had never thought of that. And it happened that it was the day before admissions were due registration for a teacher’s college. And I put in an application and I decided that I would only apply to one school, which was, you know, an hour and a half away because I still had my business. So I figured if it was meant to be, I’d apply, I’d get in. I could do both. And lo and behold, I got accepted and I did that. And teacher’s college at that year at that time was one year. So I finished my one year and then I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. So I started to, you know, as my leases expired I closed my business down and I went into teaching full time.


Christina Raso (05:10):
And my first my first teaching assignment was a long-term assignment in a grade five class. And I did that from September to January and then a permanent position came up in the same school, but it was a special education resource teacher. And everyone says, well, you have to apply because it’s permanent. Right. And the position you’re in is not permanent. And then I felt, you know, as teacher, you get attached to your kids and I almost felt like I’m leaving these kids, but I’m still staying in the same school. I almost feel like I’m betraying them. Well, I felt that right. So you know, my colleagues convinced me saying, you know what? You have to, you know, think of yourself and your future, you’ll see the kids, you know, and things like that. So I did apply. And at that time, obviously, I didn’t know very much about special education other than what I learned in school and the little bit on life skills that I had working with some young individuals.


Christina Raso (06:08):
So I remember starting and the first day of that assignment, it would happen right after Christmas holidays. And I didn’t really even have an opportunity to say goodbye to the other students. So anyways, that all happened. And I had a father wait for me at the front of my classroom door and he wanted to meet me. So I came out and talked to me. And obviously you had heard that I was obviously a new teacher and I think he was concerned because I was taking over the class and he asked me if I’ve ever taught a student with down syndrome and I said, well, no, actually a habit. And you know, so he said to me, well, I’m going to give you a little bit of advice and tell you a little bit about my daughter who has down syndrome.


Christina Raso (06:56):
And he says, you know she’s very, very honest and she’s either going to love you or she’s not. And wow. You know, when your dad, when you have a parent that tells you that, and then, you know, you really have to perform. But anyways I stayed in that position for five years and that’s where I learned everything about teaching, because it was like a multi grade class, right. So I was teaching grade one to grade eight and it was basic literacy and numeracy skills. And it was a variety of learners. So it was students who had intellectual disabilities, but there was also some students who had a learning disability or who were a little bit behind. And, you know, the idea was for me to work with them and to get them up to a grade level or as close as possible.


Christina Raso (07:46):
So that in those five years, like I said, it really taught me almost everything. I think that I refer to back today about learning, you know, learning styles and students. And then that prepared me for my next journey, which was, I was a special education consultant for almost 13 years. So I did that for 13 years and I, and I loved it, just, you know, I felt like now, you know, I could do more, right. I had the students, I know how to work with them, but now I was at a different level. And I really, really enjoyed that. And then with all things, you know, you need to change, you know, and I most recently, so this’ll be my third year. I switched into experiential learning and as you know, experiential learning is, you know, learning by doing and reflecting and, you know, really becoming aware of maybe what careers you may want in the future with a push on the skills trades and computer science.


Christina Raso (08:50):
And actually,
I really had a, a turning point in my career, again, this well, this academic year I I’m in well, you know, and I think this happened provincially teacher shortages, right. Especially, you know, with the smaller class sizes and then, you know, with both remote and in class being offered. So when we pivoted back to online there, I think it was close to the end of March. Was it well before Easter? Anyways? we were significant short in our board of teachers. And, you know, when you’re a team player, you know, you need to do what you need to do to, to make your organization move forward. So I I talked to my supervisor and I said, you know, put me in wherever you need. I, I don’t mind going in. And so I went into a grade one, two class. So at first, at first it’s very easy to say, Hey, boss, put me in where you want, but then when you that, then you’re like, oh my gosh, what did I get myself into right now? I haven’t been in a classroom since 2007. Right. So, and I was thinking about this the other day I was using VHS videos. Oh my goodness.


Christina Raso (10:08):
Well, no, but it really puts the stress on how things were different. I left using VHS videos and now I’m now I’m teaching a virtual classroom. Right. And I haven’t been working directly with kids for, you know what, 15, 16 years. So it was a challenge, but you know, as soon as you go in, it’s like, I never left. That’s how I felt it. Right. I felt like, yeah, I have been in education this whole time. I’ve just been doing different things. I’ve been in classrooms. I just haven’t been the person that the child sees every day to talk about. And I, you know, I really missed it. And I did that for three months until they found a new teacher. I actually wanted to stay to finish the year, but I had to go back to my job. But while I was, you know, I felt like I was there three months.


Christina Raso (11:05):
And I felt that I put in you know, the things that I’m taught or what we’re taught as experiential learning leads. I put that into action. And I think that’s really important because I I’m able to do what I said we should be doing. And it works, you know, and it was great to see kids doing that. And I also had the privilege to work in a school where your administration team is very, very supportive and you know, we had also sorts of ideas and they ran with it and we did, you know, all things that would keep our students engaged. And there was also a contest that I saw that was out by Mindshare. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Mindshare technologies. Well, they have a national contest every year and this year’s theme was create a under three minute video on things that teachers do to engage students.


Christina Raso (12:07):
So I entered that with my class, but not only with my class, but with the things that we did as a school in that three months. And actually we placed one of the top three schools in Canada with title of a school of the future. So yeah, so that’s one of my proudest moments. And I also feel like that was also a turning point because I’ve been out of the classroom for so long. And then I went in and we tried all these things that we know that works. And, you know, the days that we did hands-on activities where the days that we had the most enrollment like attendance, right. You know, that when kids aren’t fully engaged, they’re going to learn they’re present. So it was great. So like one day we made bird houses and you know, the students picked up the kids at school.


Christina Raso (13:00):
And then the other thing that it’s really, really important, especially during during this time with COVID is working with your community partners. Partners are invaluable at this time. So we worked with skills Ontario, and they actually taught the students and they actually provided the free bird houses for our kids. And they taught the lesson and these kids produced, you know, put together a birdhouse. And then our school principal held a contest on decorating your bird house, according to your personal identity. And you should see the beautiful artwork from these kids. So, you know it was a great opportunity and I feel humbled and I feel that kind of goes back to full circle. Right. You know, you started in a classroom and you did all this, and then you kind of ended up back in a classroom and then it makes your perspective better. Like, I feel like when I go back to work a couple of weeks I have a new insight and you know, I feel like it’s given me more of a drive and energy to continue the work in the area of experiential.


Sam Demma (14:08):
It reminds you how impactful experiential learning is. If you take those ideas into the classroom and see such a big impact, right. It’s, it’s a great reminder. And it also reminds you that the programs that you’re bringing into the schools are having a difference and an impact when you can see it firsthand with the students. I’m curious to know where, where did your entrepreneurial drive come from at such a young age? And what were your stores called? I’m just, just curious about that real quick.


Christina Raso (14:34):
You’re going to like that. Well first of all my mom, my parents split up several years after they arrived at Canada. And so my mum was a single parent and she raised me, but she became she went to college in Canada and then opened she bought a franchise of photography franchise and I worked with her for all those years. So from, I think it was 1985 to when I graduated first degree in 1993, I worked with my mom and she had four locations as well. So I ended up, you know, pretty much managing one location and she did the other three. And then I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. And a funny thing is I, I still have a business on the side, but we can talk about that later. But my businesses were called Sono Bella, because of what they’re.


Christina Raso (15:29):
So I’m beautiful because of what I wear. So I kept that email address for my personal, so that’s what I do, but yeah, and that’s, you know we worked you know, when you’re, self-employed, you can work any 12 hours of the day you pick, right. I can nine at that time, I was trying to tell my son, right. It’s different work ethic. Right. And, you know, he’s tired after working 16 hours a week and I’m like 16 hours a year age, you know, go to school, then work, it’s still do my homework and I wasn’t tired, but you know,


Sam Demma (16:00):
That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing.


Christina Raso (16:03):
No problem.


Sam Demma (16:05):
And what are some of the programs and things that you’ve brought to your schools over the past three years that you think have made a great impact and a difference, and maybe you can even talk to some of the impact that you’ve seen or heard, you know, based on a program that you’ve brought in.


Christina Raso (16:20):
So I think one of the biggest, biggest things that I was involved with was building a community partnership, especially with skills Ontario. I think if I look back in my three years and, you know, your first year you know, when, when you’re talking about my first year, it was COVID started too. Right. So even a full year, right. I, I think I started I didn’t even start in September. I think I started in November and then COVID hit in March. Right. So that year was kind of wasted and that not wasted, but it wasn’t a normal year for someone to go into a new role and to learn the position because it was completely a different position. But the biggest thing that I got from that is working with your community partners and they have so many programs and contests that engaged kids that you can’t go wrong.


Christina Raso (17:16):
So skills, Ontario, which started contests just after the pandemic kit. And we knew that students were learning remotely. So they started these contests called skills at home, and they were challenges for kids to do. And so what I was doing was I was promoting them and it was really important that I found that educators don’t always relate that some of these activities can be integrated into the curriculum. They’re not extras or add-ons, they’re things that you can do and make it part of learning. So they had all sorts of contests and our board, we had, I think we had five students place in CA in Ontario in their contests. So I was promoting those. So the last year and a half, I was promoting those contests. And then the contests, when I was a teacher in the classroom, I was pushing it.


Christina Raso (18:22):
So I’ll give you one example. So the one contest was on wacky hair. So I had a grade one, two class, and I said you know what, we are going to have some fun. We are going to work on wacky hair. And I made it into a procedural writing assignment. So I told the students that what we’re going to do is we are going to create a wacky hairdo. So we’re going to draw it. And then we’re going to write, how do you actually do that hair style? And during that week, so I did it over a week. So on Monday, you know, I read stories about you know, wacky hair, which Stephanie’s ponytail by Robert munch. And so we really did a lot of reading and writing that related to, you know, wacky hair. And then on the Friday we made it wacky hair day.


Christina Raso (19:12):
And like I said, I was very lucky to work in a school where the administration took that idea and made the entire school have a wacky hair day. Nice. So what ended up happening specifically on that one contest was we actually placed first, second and third in Ontario in one school. So I, my personal students placed first and third and then another student in the school place. Second. So it’s just something where you embrace your partnership. And again, hands-on right. Students are working hands-on and you have to see the hairdos that these students made. So the one student that plays first, she took a root beer pop bottle and put a ponytail through it and then put a cup on a headband. So her ponytail ran into the cup. So it looked awesome.


Christina Raso (20:07):
Hopefully you can cut that part out. No worries. That’s totally fine. I can cut it out. Sorry. so anyways, that’s one thing that we really worked with was the partnership, and then they provided us the bird houses, but I think a lot of things that I’m most proud of is is bringing hands-on activities to the classroom. And a lot of things are inexpensive too, right? So some of the ideas were making a bridge with marshmallows and straws. So a lot of times we feel that, you know, we don’t have the resources to make these things hands-on, or they cost too much, but, you know, when we look around, you know, we can find things that really work and engaged kids.


Sam Demma (20:53):
Yeah. I love that. I actually interviewed Ian Howcroft on the podcast as well, the director of skills, Ontario.


Christina Raso (20:59):
Awesome. Awesome. I was going to say that would be a, another guy to to invite because definitely doing a lot of things, but I feel that contests seem to really engaged our students. Like, you know, whether, whether it’s a big prize or a small prize, but it’s just a matter of you know, saying, Hey, you know, you know, we’re whether it’s a class contest or a school contest, I think that that helps us to engage kids, you know, a little bit of competition friendly, you know, is good.


Sam Demma (21:31):
And why do you think experiential learning is so important? You know, like if teachers are like, ah, yeah, I get it. But you know, we’re really busy and we have to get through the curriculum. Like, what would you say? Like why, why is this type of learning really important for life and also future aspirations?


Christina Raso (21:49):
Yeah, there’s a lot of reasons. And I think I’d start with the first one is that learning in a classroom is learning within the four walls, but not all students do well and not all students are made to go to university or college. Right. And hands-on, hands-on opportunities open the pathways to all those, right. You can be hands-on and still go to university and still go to college and still go into the trades and still go into the world of work. And I think when I think back of my experience working as a special education resource teacher, I think as some of those students that were disengaged, right, because they were having a hard time learning to read and to write. And I think if we gave them the hands-on activities we’re still meeting the curriculum because you still have to read instructions.


Christina Raso (22:42):
You’re still doing math, especially, you know, if, if you’re building something and I think that by giving students these experiential hands-on opportunities, we’re hitting a range of learners. Right. And you know, when, you know, you think of computer science, you know, it is hands-on, it is building, you know, and I think of the students that I had that, you know, a lot of them would be going to college and university, but there was also a large portion of those students that didn’t see themselves going to college or university and, you know, they were going to the world of work, or maybe they didn’t even see themselves going to the world of work. You know, maybe they thought, you know, they’d live on a disability pension, but when we’re looking at hands on activities and, you know, thinking of baking and cooking and, you know, there’s so many opportunities for our students that give them the opportunity to feel valued and needed in our community.


Christina Raso (23:42):
And I think of, you know, you know, chef helper or prep, you know, for these kids that thinking that, you know, they would just, you know, they, some of our students who have intellectual disability, you may stay at school until 21 because there’s really nothing else for them in our community. You know, we have one, you know, we’re at Northern community, so it’s not like we have all these big partnerships with companies and organizations. So we have one community partner that takes some of our students to work, but what about the other ones? So if we invest in them and they see themselves as, yeah, I, you know, I could do this, they could still get a disability pension and they still can work part time and feel valued. You know, every pathway is valued, but you know, if we can help kids see that there’s more for them and that they’re needed, especially in the skilled trades. Right. We know that we are already experiencing a shortage. Can you imagine five, seven years from now? So we really need to convince some of these kids who don’t see themselves going to post-secondary that there’s other pathways and there’s lots that they can do.


Sam Demma (24:52):
Every path is an option. Every student learner is unique, you know? I can agree with that more you yourself out of all the positions you’ve worked what are some of your favorites or not that you could rank them per se, but what are some of the roles that, you know, really stick out in your mind as like, this was such a great experience?


Christina Raso (25:16):
Well, I, I think one of the biggest things that I did and was when I was a special education consultant I ran some summer camps. The ministry of education gives us some funding to run summer camps for students who are behind in literacy and numeracy. And one thing that they really promoted was physical activity. It’s really important for our students to, to, you know exercise daily. And how can we incorporate that with summer camp, but still make, you know, literacy and numeracy the main focus of the program. So at that time my son was taking TaeKwonDo and he was doing it for a few years and he had a really, really awesome teacher as well. And TaeKwonDo, who’s actually a full-time stuck person now. Yeah. So I got him to teach our kids and he was doing just half an hour of physical activity in the morning, but it was TaeKwonDo.


Christina Raso (26:24):
So was kicking, you know kicking punching, but, you know, individual not and teaching the importance of self control at the same time. Right. and mindfulness. And we started every morning probably for a good six years with a half an hour of TaeKwonDo and mindfulness. And we felt that the students were better prepared to learn, you know, and, and, you know, and then the research does show, right? When students do exercise every morning that they’re, they become better learners. Whether they come to school then are not awake and then they become energized because they’re doing activity. So I felt that that was something that I really took away is that exercises important. And, and when I was teaching the grade one, two class most recently, you know, now we’re sitting in front of a computer for a long, long time.


Christina Raso (27:20):
And by the way, I can not teach TaeKwonDo. I did not do that, but, you know, grade one and two we got up a lot and we did a mind break, right? We needed mind breaks. And, you know, we did, you know, two or three minutes, I would say every 45 minutes an hour would be pushing it, but we would get up and we’d have a mind break. And I, I still think that if I was going back into the classroom and it was in a physical classroom, I still would incorporate that ability to get up and move because a lot of us, you know, I mean, I found it difficult to sit in front of the computer and I’m an adult. And you imagine, you know, these are little kids, like, I think of how old they are. And we’re asking them to sit in front of a computer, right.


Christina Raso (28:07):
First, really six hours, you know a day. And we’re asking them to do that. And they, they are doing it right. Like kids have stepped up to the challenge right. Of online learning whether they want to or not. So I think that that would be the other thing is incorporating physical activity, mindfulness and mind breaks into the classroom is really important. And it goes without saying the other thing that you know, I know you’re an advocate is positive reinforcement, right. And really, really motivating our students for them to be able to see themselves something great, right. Whatever they choose, they’re going to be great in life.


Sam Demma (28:50):
It’s so true. It’s so true. It reminds me, I’m working on a, and this is classified information, so don’t share it, but I’m working on a spoken word album. So it’s like 10 spoken word poems that I’m going to turn into videos as well. And one of them is called empty backpack. And the premise is that students and all humans carry around the thoughts and opinions of other people sometimes to a fault. And it weighs them down and a parts in our lives. We have to empty our metaphorical bag of the thoughts and opinions of everyone else and stop carrying it around. And yeah, I’m excited about it. It’s a, I have a six foot bag that I’m going to be bringing to schools with me and people are going to like drop it. Yeah, that’d be cool. Anyways, going on a tangent, this has been great. So if you could go back in time, Christina, and like talk to your younger self when you were in your first year, working with young people, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had and the learning you’ve had, what advice would you give your younger self?


Christina Raso (29:48):
My younger self. So my younger self when I first started teaching, I’m going to go back to to being a special education resource teacher. I think knowing what I know now I would have done more of the hands-on right. So I think that I would have brought in those opportunities being able to bring in those hands-on opportunities. I could see that, you know, I had a couple of boys that were really, really disengaged. And I think, you know, if I would have given them a couple of activities or a couple of assignments to say, Hey, here here’s some blocks, or here’s some things I want you to do work on this. Can you create this or give them a problem and give them, you know, some materials to figure it out, I think, and, and to promote the skilled trades. Because I think at that time, the group of students I had were really at risk of dropping out, right. Not finishing high school, there was a good percentage of them. And I think that if I would have given them more hands-on opportunities and maybe even promoted the skill traits so that they could see themselves in those roles I think that’s what I would have done know.


Sam Demma (31:04):
That’s awesome. And coming from a European family myself, all my uncles work in the trades, my dad is a plumber by trade, such a valid, an awesome career path. I couldn’t agree with that more. Oh, it’s awesome. Thank you so much for taking your time to come on the show, share your experiences or your, your ups and downs, the learnings, the journey. If another educator is listening and they just want to reach out and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Christina Raso (31:30):
They can email me and I think that you started a community. So I guess my email would be there and then they could reach out or they can call me and anyway, whatever they want. And it’s definitely been truly an honor, actually, to meet you and to be on your show.


Sam Demma (31:49):
I appreciate it, Christina, thank you so much. Keep up with us and work and we’ll talk soon. Thank you.

Sam Demma (32:01):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Christina Raso

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.

Shonna Barth – Principal of Crescent Heights High School

Shonna Barth - Principal CHHS
About Shonna Barth

Shonna Barth (@ShonnaBarth), is the Principal at Crescent Heights High School. She is a recipient of the 2020-2021 Distinguished Leadership Award presented by the Council for School Leadership of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. She started at Cresent Heights eight years ago as a counsellor and moved into her role as vice principal after three years and is now the Principal of the school. 

She cares and works with ALL students in the school. She enjoys all aspects of the Grade 7-12 life including student leadership, drama, band productions and athletics. She coaches volleyball and is an avid supporter of other CHHS extra-curricular events. Shonna believes it takes a variety of life experiences and a village to help students grow and develop into their best potential. Student and staff wellness is a passion of hers as she continues to work to find balance and fulfillment in her own life.

Connect with Shonna: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Council for School Leadership

Alberta Teachers’ 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 (00:02):
Shonna, 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 behind your journey that brought you to where you are today?


Shonna Barth (00:13):
Awesome. Well, thanks for having me. I am the principal of Crescent Heights High School and medicine hat Alberta. I have worked in kind of all levels of education. I spent a good chunk of the first part of my career in elementary, mainly grade six, and I really found with grade six. So you had that real opportunity to build student leaders at that age. They’re the oldest kids in the school, and they’re just really keen on giving back to the community and being part of the school as a whole. So I often led the student leadership with, through the schools and just try to really branch out with student experience to not just in the classroom. How can we impact their lives beyond that and how can we help them impact the world beyond that as well? So that’s been a passion of mine, right from probably about the third or fourth year when I started teaching before too long, I moved into the role of part-time counselor.


Shonna Barth (01:02):
So I was half-time teacher part-time school counselor, not a, I don’t have a mental health background per se, but just, I always told the kids, I’m an adult that gets along with kids. Well, and so through that platform, I was able to really get to know what some of the real concerns kids were going through. You have more time to sit and talk with kids and chat about what’s going on in their lives. And then from that, we could work with the student council kids to, okay, we’ve got a lot of kids going through this. What could we do to try to support those students? Although I still put a lot of time into my classroom and my teaching that side of my career started to really feel like a passion for me. So I spent about five or six years as a school counsellor.


Shonna Barth (01:41):
And then I moved into what we call mental health capacity building, project program in Alberta. So we had three for three years. We worked in the schools to try to work in the universal side of supporting our students and families. So we would go into classrooms with programs. We would work in small groups on things that were going on, and that was funded by Alberta health. Recognizing that teachers don’t go to school in order to be able to work with a lot of these things. We don’t get taught a lot of that. So we were building capacity within the teachers to support their students through some of these challenging times, the administrators, the families we’d offer family nights. So I was really immersed then in that whole world of mental health, then resiliency and building grit. So that has been an excellent resource for me moving into high school. I moved into that after that, with working with the grade nine through 12 counseling and teenagers are a whole different breed and, you know, just as exciting if not even more. So I think grade six and then I’ve been in administration the last about five years, I guess, and just moved into being a principal this year.


Sam Demma (02:43):
Awesome. And did you know, like from a young age that you wanted to get into education and teaching, or like what kind of steered you in that specific path?


Shonna Barth (02:51):
Well, my whole family, pretty much your teachers. My father was an administrator, my aunt uncle. So I actually didn’t want to be a teacher cause I was determined to do my own thing and make my own mark on the world, but it was fairly early. Obviously I wanted to work with people and that I am on that side of the spectrum of working with things. So I had at one point really wanted to be a social worker. And my mum was worried about my, my soft heart in that world. Cause that’s a real challenging world at times. And I big props to anybody who is doing that work has that is a, it’s a challenging area, but man, you can really make a difference. But once you got into education, I realized that that side of me could also come out through my teaching as well. Once I did my first round of student teaching, I was hooked when I got to know those kids. And there’s no looking back after that.


Sam Demma (03:39):
That’s awesome. And you mentioned at the beginning of your response that you thought grade six is like the perfect age to start introducing students to student leadership. Like what does that look like in grade six? Is it getting students involved and engaged in planning events? Yeah, like take me back there for a minute and kind of explain what that looked like or why you thought student leadership was so important to introduce at that age.


Shonna Barth (04:01):
Yeah. So in our curriculum, a big part of grade six, social studies is about government. So there’s kind of a natural fit to start forming some sort of student government. I was always reluctant though to do the whole voting thing. Like I know there’s some value in learning of that, but I also know there’s value in rejection and how bad that can feel to be begins a popularity thing. So my philosophy has always anybody who wants to get involved, come on, we just called it leadership. And yeah, it was a lot of planning, looking at the fun events in the school and the extra activities and really started with that part of it. Cause to me, that kind of gave them the hook with the other kids in the school. It also gave me a hook with the other kids in school. I never had to deal with discipline because kids knew I was the lady who planned the fun stuff.


Shonna Barth (04:42):
So they don’t want us to get in trouble with her. And then we kind of branched out as I got to see how these kids had influence in the school and really started to work with them on how can you use that, that for good, rather than for evil, because you don’t want these kids thinking they’re a big deal and bullying the grade fours because they’re in grade six leadership and taking a look at those kids who maybe didn’t have a buddy to sit with or that sort of thing, like really encouraging get some of them aren’t at that maturity to be able to think outside themselves. But there definitely was ones that good. So we kind of balanced it out between planning Western days and school, spirit days with also, okay. We’ve noticed a lot of kids like really kind of on their own, what can we do to help those kids?


Shonna Barth (05:24):
So try to balance that they were lunch hour meetings. We also rounded once I moved to a more of a six to eight school, we ran a leadership class. And so within that class, the students chose to come to that. So we could go in a little bit deeper about what it looks like to be a leader, looked at traditional leaders in our community as well as throughout history and just try to pull out some aspects of things they were doing. So just tried to really branch out on the interests that they already had past planning, school dances and fun days.


Sam Demma (05:54):
I love that. It’s amazing. And when did volleyball come into the picture? I know you also coached now. And did you play when you were younger or where’d that passion?


Shonna Barth (06:02):
I did. And that I told this story a few times, I guess, but I went to a smaller high school where my dad was a principal and I tried it on grade seven and I didn’t make the team, which if your dad’s a principal, you gotta be pretty bad not to make the team in grade eight. They brought me on as a manager, cause I think they felt sorry for me that I still kept coming out and trying. And I would go to camps in the summer and I kept working and I’ve made the team of grade nine. And by grade 12, I was the captain of the team and never have I ever received an MVP trophy. But through my, my years of volleyball and different sports, I played most improved or more sportsmanlike. And I tell it to these young kids that I coach a lot that a lot of the real rock star volleyball players that I played with, they’re not playing anymore.


Shonna Barth (06:47):
As soon as they came up against somebody that maybe was as good as them better, they got frustrated and they were done. I had always been in it because I love the game. I liked being part of a team. I like part of that atmosphere. So once I got out of university, I knew I wanted to provide that opportunity for other students. So the first, probably five or six years, I coached a team of the kids. Who’d been cut from other teams. So we would just form a team, our own little team and so that they still get to play and we’d go into the league and we didn’t win a whole lot, but the kids were just so happy to be there. Mandy of them still played right through, up till about grade 11. And now we’re playing as young adults and I’ve ran into them because I still play in the ladies league, not at tier one or anything anymore, but I still play and I’ll run into those kids and they quite regularly say like, thank you for providing that opportunity. So I, the reason I stay with it now, as much as it’s a little bit overwhelming time commitment wise is that’s where I really get to connect with kids. You don’t get to, you don’t have too many kids coming back to a school going, oh, I remember when you were my principal. Like, it’s more about the coaching and the times that we get to spend with them, then.


Sam Demma (07:55):
That’s amazing. And you know, it’s cool because you are a student who tried really hard and didn’t make the team. And I’m in a situation you’re probably in yourself is, you know, you have to bring on some kids and turn down others. How do you do that effectively? Like how do you know, how did it, how did, how did the other coach do that for you when you were in growing up and maybe your dad helped a lot there? Cause he was the principal. And, and how do you do that now? Just to make sure students still feel motivated like you were to keep trying.


Shonna Barth (08:22):
We we added another team here again this year, once we got to the cat. So we try to find as many adults as possible. There was a few that just, unfortunately there’s just not enough gym time and not enough coaches to enable everybody. We try to be as respectful as possible. We don’t post a list where somebody has to read it at eight in the morning and deal with rejection all day at school, you get a letter at the end of the day and you’d take it home. And we would list all the other things that are going on in the school that we encourage them to try out. So that we’re hopefully that if volleyball, wasn’t their thing, we have a really strong drama program. We have a cross-country program, things that there aren’t as many cuts having to be made. So we try to encourage them, okay, this wasn’t your thing, but that’s all right. Try something different. And on student council here too, we’re always like, Hey, come join us. You can still be part of things. So a lot of times when kids come and they don’t have the skills, you’re not necessarily coming because they love volleyball. They don’t necessarily even know volleyball. They just really want to be part of something and be part of a team.


Sam Demma (09:18):
And you mentioned that students, some of their fondest memories are with extra curricular activities and you know, that’s, that’s how you really get to connect with kids. Like, do you think it has a huge impact on students and like, have you seen the impact be realized like you have students come back and say like, oh, the volleyball team made a big difference. And were there any stories that may have been like very impactful that stick out to you and maybe even to the point where you could change the student’s name, if it’s something really serious?


Shonna Barth (09:44):
Yeah. Well, I am a for more, I guess the teaching has so much more one-on-one impact than you do as a principal in that sense. So I reflect back on that era, maybe a little more. So through that grade six era, like we would go for outdoor ed trips where we’d stay for two or three nights out at camp and be together, we’d go to Calgary and go to the Calgary science center. So you’re sitting on a bus, you’re walking around the science center with kids. You’re walking around the zoo with kids. We did a lot of just, oh, I used to have science sleepovers where the kids would stay overnight in the school. And we do science experiments and they get to have races up and down the hallway. And just like lot of work on my part, like I was tired, but the bucket feeling you get as an adult from that.


Shonna Barth (10:25):
So what I’ve found now that I’m able to go out places where you can have adult beverages and things like that. And you run into students that you have taught at those ages. They come sit down and they had me a beverage and that like, they want to talk about, remember when we were walking on that hike and elk water, and we were talking about blah, blah, blah, like, and they can remember almost word for word in their mind what they felt. I said, I can barely remember the conversation. I can almost always remember the student, but those are the times you really get to have those real conversations with kids and they get to have a glimpse of you as a human. And you get to see them as a human as well. And I can count how many cards I’ve been sent over the years or kids who’ve stopped to have those conversations.


Shonna Barth (11:08):
Just about things that we talked about, the difference I made in their life. I’m like, wow, like you were such an easy kid. I never really felt like I was doing anything super impactful for you. Or on the flip side, sometimes the really challenging kids I’ll see them a year or two later. And they act like they’ve never met me before. And I do think some of that is they don’t want to remember who they were at that point in their life. And you’re kind of a reminder of that. We still kind of hope that some of the conversations you had maybe had some impact, you’re not going to affect every kid for sure. But yeah, I think this one young lady who I, I, I should move down for grade four, five and six on charter all three years. So I had got to know her very well.


Shonna Barth (11:49):
And then I remarried her again in grade 10. At that point, she was kind of going sideways in life, just making some bad choices and we just run into each other somewhere. I did not recognize her because she was pretty changed the makeup and the hair. And didn’t look quite as innocent as she did in grade six. And she just came over and talked and we talked for about an hour and I’ve heard from message from her about three years later about that, that conversation was that I’ve changed time for her. It just reminded her who she used to be, where she wanted to go. And she couldn’t. I asked her if she had any like specific thing that I said and said she couldn’t remember, but just having that conversation and that connection with the person that she was and where she wanted to go. And just that summer, I didn’t just walk away and ignore that. I spent some time with her time for a lot of these kids is, is a huge value. And it’s not always easy if you have 32 kids in your class to be able to have those one-on-one. So if you’re not able to do some of the extracurricular, you miss out on those really cool opportunities. Yeah.


Sam Demma (12:50):
Yeah. It’s so true. I even think back to my own high school experience and I play on the soccer team cause I was a big soccer player. And I remember building not only deeper relationships with the coaches of the team, but also the teammates I find that you don’t, unless you proactively schedule time with the friends in your class to hang out, you don’t really have another opportunity during class to build super deep relationships. Because if you talk, the teacher starts yelling at you and it’s like stop talking, I’m teaching, you know? And the soccer field enabled that as well. So I ended up building relationships with so many other students which is why looking back. I wish I got way more involved in high school. I was just way too focused on soccer that I didn’t really join anything except for the soccer team. And it’s like one of my regrets when I talk to students now and encourage them to get involved. But what are some of the, like, education has changed a lot in the past two years, it’s been a lot of challenges. What do you think some of the challenges are that your school and yourself as a principal are currently faced with? And then how are you trying to overcome those things?


Shonna Barth (13:52):
I think, I guess from a personal part I’ve really pride myself a year and a half, two years ago that even with 1300 kids in the student school, somebody walked down the hall that wasn’t part of our school. I would recognize that. And now with the masks, it’s just, it feels like we’re so much more anonymous. Like kids, I normally smile everybody that walks by, they can’t tell if you’re smiling and like, we’re just losing that personal connection. And I worry about that because for some kids that just those little conversations in the hall might be the only time they talk to an adult during that day, like on a one-on-one sort of thing. Definitely the loss of some of those extracurricular this last year has been really concerning. Like they we’ve had kids not come back. Finding jobs has been really important part of high school because for some of them they’re the sole breadwinner in their home.


Shonna Barth (14:43):
So they’re, excuse me, they’re not going to leave their job and come back and play soccer or volleyball or join the band cause their family needs them. So it’s become kind of a place right now of just come get your education because that’s what you have to do. And then go back to your real life. So we don’t have the pep rallies. We don’t have this th the school assemblies everything’s done over zoom. And I do think that depersonalizes us. It’s also on the positive side, it’s encouraged us to be creative and try to find some new ways to connect with kids. I think some students, when we were online, being able to talk one-on-one with their teacher over screen was a little less intimidating than having to put your hand up in class and potentially say something down with your teacher can only hear you when you can only hear them.


Shonna Barth (15:31):
It’s it allows for some really positive relationships, but I do worry just about the students’ physical health, their emotional health. It’s been a lot of sitting in front of screens these last two years, and that becomes very easy to do. It’s when you’re a teenager, especially there are junior high kids who struggle a bit with anxiety to start with staying at home can feel really comfortable and safe, but then learning how to push through that and learning how to deal with difficult kids is, is unfortunately, this is a skill that we need, like adults, don’t all of a sudden become nice. When you turn 18, 19, you’re still gonna have difficult coworkers or difficult bosses. And so I think we’re missing out on some of those skills as well, that would benefit them in the work world.


Sam Demma (16:15):
And like what I know this has been ongoing for two years. What, what are some programs or things that you did in the past year that were successful despite the challenges or things that the school adjusted or that the teachers might’ve tried that worked out kind of well.


Shonna Barth (16:32):
Oh, we still through our school student council still been trying to organize some sort of spirit day. Sometimes it’s like, even when we were at home, like dress up and we’ll take pictures of you over zoom, like we’ve tried to encourage that sort of thing at home. We really tried to keep up with our any sort of justice projects that we can to make sure that the kids aren’t getting so insulated into their own world, that they’re forgetting what’s going on in the world. So within our English and social programs, they do a lot of work in, in those areas. We still managed to pull off a musical at the hand of last year. Our she was just amazing, like they’d practice over zoom, which of course is delayed and backwards trying to do dance. Like the creativity that they have come up with has been just incredible.


Shonna Barth (17:15):
So the last two days of June parents were able to come in and watch a performance. So those grade twelves who’ve been part of musical theater since grade seven, got to still have their, their audience, which meant a lot to them. We still ran some sports in the fall and the winter when we were in the real lockdown, not so much, but we just kept it to more of an intramural type things. We didn’t go play schools from other places, but we took more kids. So we had a guy coach guy seven last year, we had like 30 grade seven kids that came out. We just broke them into teams and they played against each other where in the past, we would’ve broke back down to only 12 students. So we had 30 students that, you know, maybe the only time in their life, we’re part of a team and got to have the shirt and take home the shirts and that sort of thing.


Shonna Barth (17:59):
So just really trying to keep things as normal as possible. We did manage to pull off a graduation both years. First year was very, I felt very personal and we had a lot of positive feedback from that group of parents took us about three days to get through it. But each parent and students and their parents and family come up on the stage, the parents handed the diploma to the student. We stood in the back and clap for them to pictures. So the parent didn’t have to sit through 200 other kids getting their diploma was very personal. We had a couple of photo booth set up and then this year was more of a traditional one in our, one of our larger convention centers, which I know the parents and kids appreciated my, the kids appreciate it because they got to have their peers with them. But it last year definitely was very, it was kinda heartwarming. Cause we, we got to those kids that really had a tough time getting to that diploma and worked their butt off together. We could really celebrate that student heart and cheer and congratulate them and made it really personal. So those are some good things have come out of this.


Sam Demma (18:57):
Yeah, I agree. I think with every adversity, there’s an equal opportunity somewhere. It’s got to be creative to find it and figure it out. What keeps you hopeful? Like what, what do you think inspires you to continue doing this work with a big smile on your face and show up every day and lead others and coach and try and make an impact in these young people’s lives?


Shonna Barth (19:18):
Definitely from the, I picked the hardship of missing my first seven days as a principal cause I was home with COVID and not being able to see people face-to-face and having to do it all over zoom or just join into assemblies, made me appreciate the energy of the kids, the resiliency of the kids. They continually amazes me. Like we really thought coming back to school this fall with mass mandate being implemented again, we had thought when we left in June, we’re kind of done with all this and we’re going to be more back to normal. And we’re really our numbers are really high mess. Not right now. We thought the kids were we’re going to be fighting with the kids and they’ve been amazing. They’ve just, I just continue to remind you why you’re doing what they’re doing. You’re doing, they’re so positive.


Shonna Barth (20:01):
And they are sometimes they’re teenagers and they’re going to grumble about things. But honestly I find the adults gumball more than the kids do. So I just, I think being able to watch those kids walk across the stage, being in a seven to 12 school where we get to Washington through their junior high axed and struggles. And then by the time they come to grade 12 and I know every one of those kids walking across the stage and like this time, we’re like, oh man, I wish I could give you a hug. Like, you know what so many of them have been through. So I think being able to watch the growth and how they learned to be grateful, even by the end of grade 12, not always grateful and grade eight, but by the time they hit grade 12, like know to just recognize what everybody in the school is doing for them of that.


Sam Demma (20:42):
I love it. And there’s a lot of younger educators listening to this podcast as well, who might be just getting into education. And I think there’s a lot of value in sharing your experiences and also your mistakes. You know, like when I talked to high school, because when I talked to high school students, I say like one of the mistakes I made was not getting involved enough and I can reflect on that and encourage students to get more involved as an educator and like a, you know, a teacher. Do you have any mistakes that you’ve made or actually learning opportunities that you’ve experienced that you think are worth sharing with other educators that are listening?


Shonna Barth (21:14):
Yeah. I think for new educators, a couple of things that I would stress is get involved. Like I’m not going to say this one mistake, cause I definitely I’ve been involved. I’ve been doing things my whole career. It is a balance though, of your personal wellness and the students. I worry sometimes now where we’re putting our personal wellness. So high up on the scale that we’re missing out on opportunities that would make us feel better. I think we don’t necessarily recognize that. Yes, physically. I was tired Saturday night when I walked home at 7, 7 30 at night after coaching all day, but just sit and reflect on how the kids improved throughout the day, playing volleyball and their excitement and their cheering, that bucket feeling kind of stuff really can. It makes you feel really good too. So I guess that’s been a vice like mistake can be thinking that putting time in equates to being tired, you gotta put your time in the right places.


Shonna Barth (22:10):
I know when I first started, I was, I’m not artistic, but I put insane amount of time into my bulletin boards in my classrooms. Like every month I’d completely change the theme of the room where I spend five hours on a Sunday, making a game of some sort for the kids to play that would take them about three minutes to play. They would never appreciate it as much as I felt they should, because I knew how much time I had put in to making that thing. I thought they should be bowing to me and saying like, you’re just the greatest teacher ever. They don’t value that stuff as much as they value the one-on-one the time you spend with them. So a beginning teacher having that Pinterest perfect classroom might make you feel good. Your kids don’t really value that as much. You know, they don’t want to come in and see a bare walls or a total disaster either. But thinking about where you spend your time, like time spent with kids will always pay off. Always time, spent marking all that stuff has to happen. But if you can find ways to make that less in your life and time one-on-one connecting with kids, you’ll have a great career.


Sam Demma (23:15):
I love that. That’s awesome. That’s amazing advice. Well, Shauna, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a great conversation. If another educator is listening and wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce, some ideas around what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.


Shonna Barth (23:31):
Probably email. And I would love that. I really love exchanging ideas. People always tell me I’m a creative person, but I’m an idea stealer. I like to take stuff from people and adapt it from where it’s at and I’m more than willing to share that we’ve done as well. So my email address is Shonna.Barth@sd76.abb.ca. I think what you’re doing is great here, Sam. I really appreciate it. I think we need more people spreading the positive things that are happening in education and sharing ideas. So I really appreciate you taking the time to be doing this.


Sam Demma (24:07):
Pleasure, and it’s been great chatting with you. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Shonna Barth (24:12):
Sounds great.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Shonna Barth

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.

Dulcie Belchior-Demedeiros – Principal of Student Success at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Dulcie Belchior
About Dulcie Belchior-Demedeiros

Dulcie Belchior (@MsDBelchior) has been in education for the past 20 years. She is currently the Principal of Student Success, Learning to 18 and Secondary Program at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board where she is able to share her passion for instructional leadership, teacher development and student success. Wife, mother, educator, and bookworm!

Connect with Dulcie: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

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Resources Mentioned

Specialist High Skills Major Programs

Principal’s Qualification Courses

The Edwin Platform

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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):
Dulcie, 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 behind what brought you to where you are in education today?


Dulcie Belchior (00:14):
Sure. Thank you for having me, Sam. So my name is Dulcie Belchior. I’m currently the principal of student success learning to 18 and secondary program at Dufferin-Peel Catholic district school board. And how I got here. Wow. That’s very complicated. I think sometimes when you talk to teachers in terms of how they, you know, they decide on their vocation, it’s kind of a twisty, twisty, turny path, and there’s so many different things that happened in their life that, you know, make them reflect on the fact that, you know, you know, I can, I can do this type of job. I can work with kids. I can be a teacher and for me, I think it, it did start early. And I think if you ask a lot of teachers and starts early, when you’re a small child, when I was four years old going into JK, I grew up in a family that spoke Portuguese.


Dulcie Belchior (01:16):
So I went to school, basically. I was born in Canada. I was born in Toronto, but I only spoke Portuguese. So I basically entered school as an ELL student. And what happened from there is I did, was able to learn the English language quickly. And so in JK, I became a mentor for the other ELL students by the end of the year, trying to teach them to speaking with, Hey, you say this, do this. This is how you say that. So I think I remember that experience even though I was very young because I think it was very important to how I became a teacher. And so it started very early there, I think in elementary school too. I was that student that kids could go to for help. So if you didn’t want to go, you know, some kids don’t want to ask the teacher, they want to ask a friend or student.


Dulcie Belchior (02:11):
So I was that kind of go-to student, but they knew that if you went to Dulcey, you weren’t going to get the answer. That’s not what you went to Dawson. I was like, I’m not going to give you the answer. I will show you how to do this. For me. That’s very important. I think as a teacher, as a person, you know, that old saying where if you teach a person to fish, you know, they will be able to survive their entire life. You don’t just give them a fish. And so even in elementary school, I, I would show them how to do it. This is how you do the math problem, for example. And I think that was, you know, that helped them more than just giving them an answer and them walking away. So I think that’s another as to, you know, my reflection as, so I can be a teacher.


Dulcie Belchior (03:03):
I, I think that’s a good vocation for me in grade seven and eight, I helped in the JK class, you know, yours do that volunteer work in, in junior kindergarten class. When I was in university, I took a bachelor of science. But throughout university, I, you know, I was able to be lucky enough to teach international language program. So I taught elementary school kids, Portuguese. So I was doing that, not as a teacher, but as a late person, teaching them the language working for Dufferin-Peel at the time. And and I am a student of deaf from as well. I know a lot of teachers go back to the board that they were a student at and that’s the same with me. So I’m a different field graduate and very proud of that. And also in university at that time, they still had emergency supply teachers.


Dulcie Belchior (03:53):
So I was doing that throughout university, even though I was taking my bachelor of science. And after graduating with a bachelor of science, then you decide, okay, well, what can I do with the bachelor of science? What, or where am I going to go? So I had my eyes set on probably maybe pharmacy. I did work at shopper’s drug Mart in the pharmacy as an assistant pharmacy assistant for my whole entire high school career in university career. So again, you know, you’re doing something, you know, you can do it, you fall into that. Maybe I’ll be a pharmacist. So that was a choice that, you know, and in life sometimes you have disappointments and that was a disappointment because I was never able to get into the program. So I did apply then to nursing and I applied to teaching. So I did have a choice then between teaching and nursing.


Dulcie Belchior (04:52):
And that’s, I think, you know, where you get to that point where you really truly have to reflect, this is my future. One of my best stat. And I think both of those careers, their careers, where you can help people in different ways, but you can help people. So I, you know, there was a lot of conversations with family, with my fiance. Who’s now my husband with some teachers. And I did decide that teaching was probably the best vocation for me. And so with all of that that long journey, I went into the bachelor of education program at York university. So that is my complicated story of how I got into teaching.


Sam Demma (05:34):
Oh, that’s not such an awesome story. I’ve never had someone tell me about mentoring other students in JK. So that’s such a cool, like origin for the story. Thank you so much for sharing. No problem. Like what happened after university? So you go into your bachelor’s at York, did you return directly to Dufferin-Peel and what different positions did you work in before getting into student success? Right.


Dulcie Belchior (05:57):
So after I graduated from New York with my bachelor of education, I was lucky enough to get a position as a teacher at Jefferson Peele. So I started my career teaching grade seven and eight at a school which no longer exists in the board. So it was near the airport in Mississauga, and it was actually called our lady of the airways, which I think is such a beautiful name for a school. But that school sends closed down. So I taught grade seven and eight for two years, and I was teaching science as well. So I was doing some rotation science because I was lucky enough to have that background. So that was an opportunity to share my talent and my joy, because I love science with the students there. So I did that for two years and in those two years, I decided to apply for the master’s program at Boise.


Dulcie Belchior (06:53):
So I started doing that part-time within the first two years of me starting teaching. So I got my master’s a couple of years later, curriculum teaching, learning department and specialized in teacher development. So I started that in my first couple of years of teaching. After that, I I applied for a position at St. Francis Xavier secondary school in Mississauga. So I was successful with the interview. So I became a high school teacher teaching science, which I love. So I was able to teach chemistry, biology grade nine and 10 science. And I was also trained to teach in the international baccalaureate program there. So I taught biology with the students there. So I got a lot of different types of experience there as well. I was able to help support the student council there cause I love student council because I was the president of student council at father Michael Gates when I was a high school student.


Dulcie Belchior (07:57):
So I thought, you know, I think that’s something that I can help students with. So I supported them there as well after teaching at St. Francis Xavier for many years, I decided it was time for a change time for another challenge. So I started taking my principal’s qualification courses and I got my PQP part one and part two. And I went into the interviews for a vice principal position at the board and was successful. And my first position as a vice principal was at St. Margaritaville secondary school in Brampton. So I worked there for approximately four years, and then I was a vice principal at father Michael Gates. The school that I actually graduated high school from, which was a little weird sometimes, sometimes going back as a VP within some of the teachers who were still there, but it was a great experience. So I was a VP there for years. Then I became a principal and I was a principal at St. A Dustin secondary school in Brampton for one year. And from there, I became the, my current time in the current position. Now the principal student success learning to 18 and secondary program. So that’s how, again, I found myself where I am to.


Sam Demma (09:18):
That’s awesome. What does the role entail? You know, student success and secondary programs, you know, certain educators are sitting might not be familiar with it, especially if they’re outside of Canada. So what does it, what does it entail? What does it look like and why are you passionate about it? What do you think student success means?


Dulcie Belchior (09:38):
I’m passionate about student success because my model, or, you know, what motivates me is that I want to inspire a love of learning in every student. Students need to see themselves in the learning. They need to see themselves be successful in the learning and our jobs. As teachers, as educators, is to provide the environment where they will be successful, not where they can meet, where they will be successful. And I think having this position at a system level really helps me help the principals, the administrators in the schools, and helps the teachers in the schools as well to provide professional development, to provide resources, to provide critical and culturally responsive resources for schools that will have students be able to number one, see themselves in the learning and number two, be successful at that learning. So again, that student success encompasses a lot of things that are in campuses, programs like, oh, yeah.


Dulcie Belchior (10:45):
Program programs like SHSM and even programs where students who may not have been successful in the past, I may have left school without graduating can come back and we invite them back to finish and to graduate and to get that opportunity to do that at a time in their life where they’re ready to do that. So I think there’s so many layers to this job where it it’s exciting. It’s exciting. And it’s a job where you can show people that teaching is not just filling a bucket full of knowledge. And here you go, that’s your knowledge, okay. It’s igniting a flame in students and in teachers and in all educators where everyone loves to learn, they see themselves as learners, they see themselves being successful and they can move forward and do what they are passionate about. So they have an opportunity to actually see what they’re passionate about, to experience things, different things so that they can make choices for their future, which is the most important thing.


Sam Demma (11:54):
I love that. And where did your passion for student success come from? Was it originally something that you wanted to explore and try, or did you know that it was something you were, you know, extremely passionate about?


Dulcie Belchior (12:07):
It’s something I’ve always been extremely passionate about. And as you know, when I became an administrator was an opportunity to become that instructional leader for teachers. And so when I started having that opportunity to pass on this passion, I guess, for students success for, you know, instructional leadership for assessment, for evaluation, for rich tasks, just doing a lot of great teaching whenever I had the opportunity to share that with others, I took it. And I think now in this position, it’s, it’s just a perfect place where I’d love to share different experiences, different resources, different opportunities, different types of professional development so that our educators can, you know, we’ll be able to ignite that flame in all of our students.


Sam Demma (13:05):
I love that. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And what do you think right now are some of the challenges that we’re faced with in education and on the other coin, also some of the opportunities that these challenges may be bringing to us and, you know, a very difficult scenario.


Dulcie Belchior (13:23):
Well, I think, you know, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is COVID-19. And I think that’s been a huge challenge in education, especially since we’ve had to pivot sometimes on a daily basis and where educators have had to really, really change their mindset on what teaching and learning looks like. And students have had to change their mindset on what learning looks like. And, you know, going into a digital type, only learning has really pushed everyone to a new level. We really have been forced to become 21st century learners. And I think that is an opportunity in itself. So it is a great positive where we’ve learned how we can leverage digital technology as a wonderful tool to help students learn because that’s how they learn. That’s how they interact. That’s how they socialize. So it’s something they’re familiar with, which helps them be successful.


Dulcie Belchior (14:29):
Now, I don’t think that it should become the only thing that’s not what teaching and learning is about, but it is a wonderful tool that we can leverage in our classrooms. And I think so that’s been a challenge in itself, and I think it’s also an opportunity for the future. I think coming back in September, some of the challenges are going to be that, you know, students and staff, even though, and we’ve heard this before, we’ve all been in the same storm of COVID-19. People have been traveling through this storm in different vessels, different boats, sometimes a dinghy, sometimes a piece of driftwood. And now they’re coming back and we’re all going to be interacting with each other and we need to be kind, we need to be compassionate. We need to listen, and we need to understand that everyone is coming from a different place.


Dulcie Belchior (15:26):
So we are, we cannot, we cannot come back into our classrooms and expect everyone to be at the same level of learning at the same level of knowledge, at the same level of mental health and wellbeing, we are going to all be in different places. And I think so we have to come back with that understanding. And I think that’s the most important thing is to go slow, move slowly, listen, talk to students, get to know your learners, who’s in your classroom and what are the needs of every student in your classroom. We’re not going to go forward until we know what the needs of all of these students are because they’re all going to be different. And I think we have to change our mindset. We can’t think about it as a deficit. So, you know, the knowledge that they don’t bring in now because of COVID, that’s a deficit.


Dulcie Belchior (16:18):
No, we have to look at it as what are they coming in with and how can we move them forward? So how will we move them forward from where they’re at? So it’s not a deficit model, it’s a model of where are you at? We’re going to move you forward from there and we’re going to move everyone forward. And we’re going to use the best of our abilities to do that, but we have to do that with kindness and we have to do that with patients. And we have to know that it’s not going to happen in a day and it’s going to take a long time and that’s okay. That’s okay. Because we need to ensure that our students in our classrooms are healthy and that their well-being is taken care of and also our educators. Okay.


Sam Demma (17:06):
That’s amazing. The, you know, the cool thing, I think about student successes, that you have an opportunity to really impact a young person and not to not to say that, you know, every educator doesn’t have that opportunity. They all do, but when you’re focused solely on the success of the students, it’s, it’s a cool opportunity to make a big difference. Have you, you know, over the past couple of years being able to see the impact of some of the programs on the students directly and maybe you can share a story of one in particular that sticks out in your mind, and if it’s a serious individual, you can just change their name or just use Bob or something. Yeah.


Dulcie Belchior (17:45):
And, and in general, you’re right. It’s a great opportunity to see success and to see successes everywhere in the board. So it’s not just, you know, in one school it’s, if you have a, a program that you introduce, it’s how this supports a larger group of students or educators. So some of the things that we have done through program, number one, it has been we introduced the Edwin platform in our board for elementary students. So for grade seven and eight students, and what this platform did was actually provide students with one-on-one technology. So every student gets a laptop, a Chromebook, and the amazing things that I have been able to see, the amazing presentations, the research projects, just everything that’s coming out of the ability to change the mindset of learning and having students able to work together in a different way. And to have that one-to-one technology as a tool, it’s also helped the teachers change their mindset in how they teach in the classroom.


Dulcie Belchior (18:59):
And this was introduced before COVID. And I think that it benefited when we went into COVID with students already being kind of immersed in this type of learning. So it changes the way that they learn. It changes the way that they can present their ideas. You can do so many rich tasks using technology when students have it one on one. So I think that’s been great. And you see it, I see it in a large capacity, right? And students in general, families in general teachers saying how wonderful it is to have these things in their classrooms and how it has opened their minds to so many different ways of teaching and the different things that students can do. Students in JK, for example, coding, using the computers, we introduced a lot of different types of coding resources. And we, for example, the Bee-Bots, so it’s a little B that junior kindergarten students can actually code to move around a carpet or a floor.


Dulcie Belchior (20:15):
And they are learning coding at four years old, five years old. And that’s just, it’s amazing. So when you see videos that teacher’s tweaked videos, that teachers send us of their students working together in groups using these, Bee-Bots knowing that number one, they’re having fun. You can see that they’re having fun. Number two, they love to do it. And they’re learning a new language. This is a completely new language, and they’re learning it at four years old. It’s just amazing to that happening. So that was another thing that we did. I think another important thing in program that we’ve worked on is ensuring that, you know, we’re working on getting co culturally responsive and relevant resources into our secondary classrooms and our elementary libraries as well. But especially into our English classes, getting books where students can feel like they’re being represented, like they’re being reflected in the learning different characters relevant topics.


Dulcie Belchior (21:25):
And, you know, the letters that we have received from different students who were asked, here’s a book, let’s read it as a class. Give us your feedback on the book. What do you think, do you think students in your grade will like this book? Do you think it’s culturally responsive? Do you think it’s relevant to your generation right now? And the letters that I received from students saying, wow, thank you for actually asking that question. Thank you for having students involved in what we’re going to learn. You know, thank you for asking us, is this relevant to me as a student? And so again, I come back to that listening, understanding, knowing where kids are and, and asking the questions, you know, is this good for you? Will this help you learn? Will this help you love learning? Will this help you be successful? And I think that’s one of the biggest things that we’ve worked on that I find has been very rewarding. And we’re still working on that. It’s a large project obviously, and, you know, it takes time, but we’re working on it. So I think that’s been wonderful.


Sam Demma (22:37):
That’s amazing. And if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, like, you know, first year teaching, but what the advice and knowledge you have now, what advice would you give to your younger self?


Dulcie Belchior (22:50):
I think when you’re when you’re a new teacher, and I think back when I was a new teacher, it’s almost like you’re in survival mode and you, you think, oh, I just got to get through all of this information. I just have to teach, you know, I have to ensure that everything in this book is done and the kids get it and they all understand it. And it’s all good and done. So if I’ve covered it, I’m good. I think the advice that I will give is to take it slow, to take that time, to talk to every student, to get to know every student. So get to know what they love, what they’re interested in, how they learn, what they like to learn. What’s their favorite subjects and base your whole year. Everything based on that, because you can teach whatever. It doesn’t matter what you teach, but if you are not connecting with your students, they will not learn.


Dulcie Belchior (23:48):
They will not learn. So I think taking that extra time, cause I know time is always an issue and it is time is always an issue for everyone in every career. But that is so important that time that you take initially with those students will make a difference for the rest of the year and for years to come, they’ll come back. And I think that’s the one thing that students will come back and say is you took the time to know me so that I could be successful. So that’s the advice I give to any new teacher.


Sam Demma (24:21):
Love that. Awesome. They’ll see. Thank you so much for sharing some of your stories, philosophies, perspectives. If another educator is listening right now and wants to reach out to you and bounce some ideas around, talk about cool programs, what would be the best way to get in touch?


Dulcie Belchior (24:36):
Well, they can get in touch with me on Twitter. So it’s at @MsDBelchior, or they can email me at dulcie.belchior@dpcdsb.org.


Sam Demma (24:55):
Keep up the amazing work. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Best of luck with the next school year.


Dulcie Belchior (25:02):
Thanks so much, Sam. Have a great day.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dulcie Belchior-Demedeiros

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.

Peter Prochilo – Superintendent of School Effectiveness, Sudbury Catholic District School Board

Peter Prochilo
About Peter Prochilo

Peter Prochilo (@PeterProchilo) is currently a Superintendent of Education with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board. His portfolio includes the supervision of all Secondary Schools, Secondary Curriculum, Alternative and Adult Education, International Education and the Remote/Virtual School

Peter leads with a passion for equity of access and enhanced student pathways as he supports students, staff and school communities as they collectively strive for improved outcomes for all. 

Connect with Peter: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Time Blocking

Marzano’s Evaluation Method

It’s all in your head

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Peter Prochilo. Peter is currently a superintendent of education with the Sudbury Catholic district school board. His portfolio includes the supervision of all secondary schools, secondary curriculum, alternative and adult education, international education, and the remote slash virtual school. Peter leads with a passion for equity of access and enhance student pathways. As he supports students, staff, and school communities, as they collectively strive for improved outcomes for all. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Peter. It was an engaging one with lots of actionable ideas and insights.


Sam Demma (00:45):
Peter, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Each pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your upbringing and what brought you to where you are today?


Peter Prochilo (01:39):
Okay. Thanks Sam. Good to be here. So my name is Peter Prochilo and i’m the superintendent of education for the Sudbury Catholic district school board with primary responsibilities around secondary programming in schools. So my educational journey began back, I guess when we can go further way back started with my, one of my older sisters being an educator and, and watching what she was doing I’m the youngest of five. And there was a large gap between me and that sister. And so I watched her and the joy education and working with children and young adults brought her. And that was sort of my, my end, if you will. And then through university, it just became more and more clear through my involvement either in coaching various sports and just my involvement in the community that it was, it was going to be my path. And so that brings me to, you know, education. I had 26 years as a, as a teacher and then a special education resource teacher consultant program principal and school principal, and then the arose to apply to my present position here in Sudbury. And it became a big big shift at at my age to to take that leap and take that leap and come and take on this role and the challenges of the role. And it’s been it’s been great.


Sam Demma (03:19):
Wow. That’s amazing. And aside from your own sister, which must’ve been a huge inspiration and motivation for you, do you recall other educators or teachers that you had when you were a student that also played a pivotal role in your, you know, your own development as a student, but maybe even inspired you to consider education as well?


Peter Prochilo (03:39):
For sure. I think a lot of those came during my years in high school where we had a number of teachers that you know, it was sort of that unwritten rule. I didn’t need to be set. They were there for students. And we were able to students were able to connect with them and B became, they became mentors if you will. And then they and, and so they were, there were some go-to people that definitely paved the way, if you will, to see what, what a career in education would be like and, and what that looks like to help others. And so at that stage, it became for me realizing that, you know, educators are really the, the gatekeepers of equity and my friends and I, my, my peer group at that time were from a certain socioeconomic status.


Peter Prochilo (04:36):
And we were able to see how, regardless of your background, regardless of where you come from everyone was treated equally. And, and I was lucky to be in a school that that was espoused, but, you know, certainly for the mentors that I reflect back on as mentors, they were really championing that idea of equity before it became it became an entity, as we know it today, right. Being immersed in curriculum, immersed in policy they were living, they were living that idea of equity. It doesn’t matter. Who’s in front of me who comes through that door, we’re all treated the same and they should all have the same opportunities to succeed.


Sam Demma (05:22):
That’s amazing. And when you think about those educators that also had a big impact on you personally, like, what do you think they did for you? Like if you had to think back, and you’re not that old, so you can definitely think back to high school for a quick second, but if you had to put yourself back into a high school classroom, like, what do you think teachers do or can do to make sure that their students feel seen, heard and appreciated and, you know, make an impact on the students in their classroom? And what did your students do for you or your teachers do for you?


Peter Prochilo (05:54):
Well, I think, you know, reflecting back, I can, I can identify it now, but in the moment it was just accessibility. They were accessible. I think when you, when I reflect back on what it means to me now is that they were really showing their humanity. Right. We saw these people in the community, they were my coaches for soccer. They were like, we’ve seen them in, you know, community events or my church, or, you know what I mean? Like they showed the human face of service really, in a nutshell, they were, they were really exemplary in putting themselves forward. And we knew, you know, even at that age and everyone comes from different backgrounds, everyone has different experiences. Everyone has different challenges. Everyone is carrying things with them that we may not know right. Or that they’re dealing with, but they came into that classroom and that building everyday best foot forward, smile on their face. It’s old time, you know what I mean? I’m really cool with that. But it was like, it was, it was game time for them. Right. And so they knew being in that space, what they, what they could meet to the students that they serve. And that really shine through because you can see the, you can easily see the difference between those that ended up being mentors of mine, to those that were not as approachable.


Sam Demma (07:16):
Yeah. I think that’s really important, you know, making your students aware that you’re there for them and that you have time for them. My, one of the things my teacher did that had a huge impact on me was get to know me on a personal level so much so that he could understand my motivation for being in his class, right. For every student, the reason you might be sitting in biology class is different. One student might want to become a scientist. Maybe I just want to take biology so I could get into kinesiology in university. Like every student had a different reason. And if you know, the reason why a student is sitting in your class, it allows you to, you know, appeal to their motivation and interests. Yeah, accessibility getting to know the student were things that had a huge impact on me as well. So thank you for sharing that. What do you think are some of the challenges we’re faced with an education right now? I mean, obviously because of COVID, there are some huge ones. But what do you think are some of the challenges we’re faced with and what are some of the opportunities within the challenging?


Peter Prochilo (08:15):
I’m glad you said that Sam, because I see COVID as presenting, of course, the challenges that we all have come to understand, but it also provides a lot of opportunities, a lot of opportunities to meet those challenges. And one of the big challenges that we’re dealing with now, and I keep coming back to the idea of equity is, is equity of access. And so it’s really important in my role and for my colleagues and for all of our system leaders and school leaders is to really look at what are what are the, what are the impediments to equity of access in a remote situation when we’ve had to cycle into remote learning and you, it really becomes a parent students that, that need need more support than others. And there’s that you’re, you’re trying to try to bridge that gap, right.


Peter Prochilo (09:06):
In terms of providing and providing access, whether it be access to technology access to, to us. And just making sure that you are always acting as a community, right? Because you, you, you tend to a situation like COVID can quickly make people think in a, more of a siloed situation, right? This is, you know, this is my department, this is what I do. And the trick has been the push has been to make sure that everyone acts continues to act and they do to act as though we’re all, we’re all together because it’s more important to be together. Especially during this time, the opportunity comes in the realization that we’ve been able to very quickly and effectively leverage technology. And so for the last 10 years in education, we’ve been looking for ways to effectively use technology in a classroom setting.


Peter Prochilo (10:07):
Face-To-Face whether you’re a fan of Marzano’s work on, you know, the triad and using technology one, you know, one piece of technology for three students working collaboratively. And now you, you see that a lot of that change has that a lot of that shift has to happen because students are either at home working right. And trying to connect. And so the beauty came out in leveraging technology effectively to maintain that community feeling. And I think that’s one of the successes that, that shines through whether it was students in the elementary panel that had a complete remote school, and may we still partnered them with their homeschool. So they have that, that connectivity, and even for secondary students, right. Because in my, in my specific role, we’re going to go into this year where students have high school students that have a four year career, I’ve had two years jumping in and out of remote situation.


Peter Prochilo (11:04):
Yeah. And so now the opportunity is to really, when they come back face to face is to really, you know, show them what that community is all about because it’s been disjointed. Right. And so the opportunity and the challenge, you know, two-sided coin, the challenge is to you know, of course, all of our colleagues and, and, and my staff are ready to do so is to welcome them back with open arms, make them feel you know, deal with that, that, that little bit of trepidation, that little bit of anxiety will coming back face-to-face and really using that as an opportunity to showcase what a school community can be. All can be all about point.


Sam Demma (11:48):
Yeah. That’s awesome. And what personally, what personally motivates you every day to continue doing this work?


Peter Prochilo (11:57):
You must have a personal driver as well. They wakes you up and keeps you going as well. Yeah. It’s a number of things, but primarily that, that idea of being a guardian of equity, right. That’s the piece for me that, you know, it’s kind of the lens. I see a lot of problems through, you know, where, where is the equity piece in this? How can we make sure that the challenges challenges are met with that, with that lens you know, we have a group of students will always have a group of students that will do very well. We’ll always have a group of students that need extra support, but sometimes I find from my own experience is that we really need to connect with all students and making sure that they all have voice choice and see themselves as learners. Right. And it’s not only, and so you’re thinking not only for these four years that we have them in high school, but we need to help all of them see themselves or the next part, right. You’re preparing them for a few weeks that you, we may not see, but you, you, you want to make sure that we give them all the, all the tools that they need to make those choices. And, and to know that they’re better for having had us in their lives through grandiose.


Sam Demma (13:23):
Makes sense. My grandfather… I think you’re Italian? I come from an Italian background in Greek as well. And my Italian grandfather Salvato was a big gardener. And he would always bring me to his backyard, gardens, tomatoes, everywhere, cucumbers, zucchini, like everything. And the more I started working with students, I realized that educators or anyone that works with youth are kind of like gardeners and you plant the seed and you do what you can to water it. And, you know, sometimes, you know, you show up one day and the tomatoes fully there, you didn’t even see it grow. Sometimes it never grows until, you know, 20 years later and you don’t even realize it. And I think that’s the same with students. You know, you, you do everything you can to set them up for success. And you know, maybe 10 years later, they come up to you and say, Hey, Pete, I remember what you told me. I remember what you told me 12 years ago and, you know, whatever class. And you’re like, I don’t even remember what I told you. How do you remember what I told you? But I’m curious to know, do you have any stories that come to mind of, you know, programs that have impacted young people within the schools you’ve worked in, or students that have come up to you or teachers that, you know, and let them know about the impact of the work has had on them?


Peter Prochilo (14:36):
I’ve been lucky to have a number of really unique experiences. And I’ve been blessed with students that have sought either sought me out or met me by happens happenstance. And you either invited me to their wedding or made a you know, a king to came to my office to show me their first born child, you know, and they wanted me to meet there and see what they become. So at one point in my career I was facilitator, I mean, educator in a classroom that was purposely designed around students who always found themselves in physical altercations. So it was a standalone class where students came to me from different schools and we worked on we worked on an educational and a social plan for six weeks at a time. Okay. And so benchmarks were six weeks and we would, we assess work with the student and the family and have them go back to their home school.


Peter Prochilo (15:45):
Right. And so these students as you can imagine, were either on the verge of being expelled have multiple multiple incidents of physical altercations and the like, and I had I can remember each of their means for the two years that I taught that class. And I can remember even up to about four or five years ago, where one of those, one of those in this case, it was a young young man. Now an adult came to me and wanted to show me his, his welding, his new truck, right. Because he’s now, he’s now an underwater welder. So he took it to you know, and he wanted he came, he sought me out at the school where I was at and made the appointment to come and see me and want to, want me to see where he, he where he, where he’s been, what he’s been doing, that was great, you know, and it was I just stopped everything right there and made time for him.


Peter Prochilo (16:57):
And and we had a good, we had a good talk and I was good, you know, it’s, it was really good to see that some of those things that we, you know, we take each of the students’ interests to heart, of course, and you, you, you deal with each student individually, but it’s, it was good to see that sort of the cumulative effect of things that I stick to and say, you know, it goes back to your garden analogy. Cause my dad was a gardener as well. And so, you know, regardless of what produced that year, I knew that my dad did the same thing to that garden every year. She might tweak a couple of things, but the care that he put into that garden was the same every year, regardless. So the same thing in this case, this young man who came back in that, you know, it may have been at that point in time, I’m teaching this young person in that, in that immediate role when he was in that class, through these steps. Right. But sometimes we don’t think that, you know, we think it’s just a process, but it’s really a a connection that you’re making with the students. Right. And we, even though we might do it repeatedly, like you say, you don’t know that effect. Right. We may wonder what happens, but it was really great that the student came back to show me yeah. He was more proud of the certificate or his truck.


Sam Demma (18:29):
That’s awesome. That’s amazing. Yeah. The phrase that my teacher taught me that had a big impact that aligns with what you just said was you just got to take consistent action and forget about the result, take the actions and forget about the results. And his phrase was small, consistent actions. And I actually wear it on my wrist on this little wristband. I’ve actually, if you give them to the students too, but yeah, it was something my grade 12 older shoes teacher taught me and it’s such a good reminder. Yeah, you’re right. Like the process some years you stick to it, but the produce might not be as great, but you did everything that you needed to do. Same thing with teaching, you know, sometimes people forget that, you know, especially students forget that educators also have families and problems and challenges, and they’re also human beings themselves. You know, when they’re standing at the front of the classrooms, what are some of your own personal hobbies and passions? I know guitar is one of them, but maybe you can share a couple of those things.


Peter Prochilo (19:26):
You know, it’s really been trying to, like you say, try to stay consistent with things. So those are my own hobbies outside of, outside of my work, including my family. It would be certainly the outdoors is a big part of that, whether I’m golfing or I’m just out on a hike even, or for a run or even just a walk, especially around the lake here, it’s always, always trying to do new stuff like that. I’m always branching out that way. And also I know I mentioned golf even though it’s, it’s more of a long walk interrupted by hitting a light balls many times.


Sam Demma (20:06):
And swimming sometimes.


Peter Prochilo (20:10):
Yeah. And then, you know, for me, even one of the sort of escapes, if you will, is, is kind of the, the last few years has been reading nice items. Cause we’re always confronted with reading for for our occupation for work. And it’s there, but you know, making the time to read other items, right. Other other works, it’s always been non-fiction for me. I sort of been musically sort of the, the genre of music and biographies and the like, because music is certainly a big part of, there’s always a song in my head, said my staff one or two that are you humming today, right there. Yeah. So it’s just, it’s, it’s a sort of a combination of things, but certainly even with a busy schedule, just trying to maintain a level of physical activity as we get older, those opportunities for team sports seem to dwindle, but you know other than other than personal fitness getting out into nature is really.


Sam Demma (21:25):
I love that. Well, it’s on the topic of books about music. Here’s the one that I read recently that maybe you can check out. It might be a different genre than you’re used to, but I think you’d like it. So, this book is called it’s all in your head. Get out of your way by Russ Russ, Russell Vitaly is actually a Sicilian rapper from the U S yeah, funny. And I love his book. So he’s an independent artist and basically outlines the story of how he went from nothing to something. And what makes this story very unique is he never ended up joining a record label, turned them all down and kind of did it himself. And it just outlines this whole journey and story and what he overcame and how he got to where he is now and yeah, different genre, but you should check it out.


Sam Demma (22:10):
It might be something that you can listen to. And I think you’re so right about music too. Like when I think back to high school and every kid has different hobbies and they all play different sports and different activities, but I think something that every student has in common is they’ve listened to some form of music Friday. It’s like, it might be a different genre, but they all have a band or an artist or something that they like listening to. An art has such a way of connecting with young people so much so that I’m actually myself trying to work on a spoken word album to appeal to students as well. And yeah, you just really, you just nailed that connection in my own head. And I was like, ah, that makes a lot of sense. I think everyone has a piece of music that they’re always looking forward to. If you could go back Peter and speak to yourself in your first year of teaching, you know, when you’re, but, but with the knowledge and experience you have now looking back, what advice would you give your younger self?


Peter Prochilo (23:05):
Two things. One develop consistent habits right away. Okay. You know, because even the mentors at that time would tell me, you’re going to find your, you know, you’re going to find your way. Right. But you know, it’s really good to compare what you do. I always use the term skeleton, right. It ask my staff or Caitlin let’s deal with the skeleton and we’ll fill in the fill in the parts. You know what I mean? We’ll fill in the rest. But to have that starting point is really important. And I think if I would be able to go back, I would dig deeper in some of the literature and it would be non-educational. I would really go back and look at sort of the, the, the thoughts from the business world, how they manage time and how they, how you schedule your day and all those kinds of things. Because I still do that to this day.


Sam Demma (24:11):
Yeah.


Peter Prochilo (24:13):
I don’t know if you’ve seen time-blocking before.


Sam Demma (24:16):
I’m a huge fan.


Peter Prochilo (24:19):
And so I see this.


Sam Demma (24:22):
This is awesome.


Peter Prochilo (24:23):
I have one of these people make fun of me for it. That’s fine. But it’s my it’s my time blocking from five in the morning, till midnight. And what are my top priorities? What are my secondary priorities? And then a certain light rain.


Sam Demma (24:40):
Where did you grab the idea from originally?


Peter Prochilo (24:43):
There was a couple that floated around one strong Elon Musk that uses something similar. And then there were a few versions online and I just modified what I saw to fit, to fit. What’s going to work for me, but that’s what I mean by a skeleton. Right. So if I had something like that, when I started, that’d be number one, you know, searching for those elements that help you organize yourself and stay consistent. That’s the first, the second thing I would tell myself is don’t take yourself too serious. Yeah. Have a little, and I did have fun. Like, don’t get me wrong. There’s my stories are pretty hilarious from when I started teaching, you know, I had fun, I had fun with colleagues. I had fun working with students got involved. You know, I coached, I did some after-school group. Like we did a, I did a bunch of things, but not to take yourself seriously and just really enjoy where you are in that moment. Don’t think ahead too far.


Sam Demma (25:44):
I love that that’s, those are awesome pieces of advice. And you got me thinking again about the organizational techniques and tactics and ideas. Have you read any books that have been foundational in terms of your self-leadership stuff that you think you should, you know, would be valuable for another educator to check out or read or listen to?


Peter Prochilo (26:02):
Well, my experience has been fairly unique well in Ontario, because it’s always been through Catholic schools. I got in counted organization. And so I’ve always taken the Ignation view. So that’s been sort of my guidepost, spiritually and organizationally. Right. And so I really that kind of did that on my own for awhile. Yeah. Seeing that ignition thought. And then the concept of servant leadership really came forward in a boat 15 years ago, perhaps. Nice to forefront in terms of what, you know, green leaf had a whole series on servant leadership. And that was sort of the solidifying moment where it was, oh, this is a thing it’s not just something that’s rattling around in my head.


Peter Prochilo (27:01):
And and then just, you know, reading as much as I could about that and, and sort of identifying the items that I, the things that I already do, and then looking at what else I can incorporate, you can incorporate everything because you, you know, this is year 30 for me in education, 30, 31. So you know, educators take, you never abandoned the good stuff, right? Like it’s like a snowball, right. You start off with your core beliefs and then this comes along, right? This, this new thought, this new approach and you incorporate it into what you’re already doing, but you never let go of what’s at your core is getting bigger. But that in the center is still the center, still the center. Right. And you, you all, you pick up the great things and you know, some things go by the wayside, but you’re always, you’re always developing. You’re always adding to that core.


Sam Demma (27:58):
Love that. Awesome. Well, this has been a very awesome conversation. I really appreciate you taking some time to come on the show and share some of your philosophies, resources, stories it’s been. Yeah. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. If, if there’s another educator listening right now who feels a little inspired or just wants to, you know, reach out will be the best way for them to get in touch with you.


Peter Prochilo (28:21):
Probably just through, email’s probably the easiest at this point. And I can share that with you, if you want me to, to share.


Sam Demma (28:28):
Sure. You can actually say it now, or I can put it in the show notes of the episode as well.


Peter Prochilo (28:32):
Yeah. So it’s just peter.prochilo@sudburycatholicschools.ca.


Sam Demma (28:45):
Awesome. Peter again, thank you so much. This has been great.


Peter Prochilo (28:47):
It’s been great. Thank you for the opportunity. It’s been great talking to you and I look forward to listening to the rest of your series.


Sam Demma (28:57):
Now and there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter Prochilo

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.

Douglas Gleddie, PhD – President of Physical and Health Education Canada and Professor at the University of Alberta

Douglas Gleddie President PHE Canada
About Douglas Gleddie

Douglas L. Gleddie, PhD, is a husband and father who also happens to be an Associate Professor and Acting Vice-Dean/Associate Dean Academic in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta (UofA). He teaches physical and health education curriculum and pedagogy to undergraduate students and graduate courses in health and physical education, reflective practice, physical/health literacy and research methods. Doug’s research focuses on narratives of physical education, school sport, physical literacy praxis, meaningful physical education, and teacher education.

Doug’s life-long journey of exploration into joyful and meaningful movement has enabled him to work with a wide variety of people and organizations across Canada and around the world. Doug began his career as a K-12 teacher, spent 6 years as the Director of the Ever Active Schools program, served 2 years as the Alberta Board member for PHE Canada and has chaired local, national and (coming soon) international conferences. He co-authored three books including the most recent – Healthy Schools, Healthy Futures. Doug can be found on Twitter (@doug_gleddie), writes a blog at www.hslab.ca and takes care of his own wellness by being active with his family; improving his guitar picking and seeking new adventures.

Connect with Douglas: Email | Twitter | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Meaningful Physical Education: An approach for teaching and learning

Healthy Schools LAB

PHE Canada

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Doug Gleddie. Doug is a husband and father who also happens to be a professor at the university of Alberta in a career filled with change. The only true constants have been physical education activity, working with students and how joys filled the spaces in between this lifelong journey of exploration into joyful and meaningful movement has enabled Doug to work with a wide variety of people and organizations across Canada and around the world.


Sam Demma (01:16):
He has published numerous articles in academic and professional journals, and co-authored four books, including the most recent, meaningful physical education and approach for teaching and learning. Doug is a founding member of the healthy schools lab, and his research interests include narratives of physical education, school sport, physical literacy Praxis, meaningful physical education, and teacher education. Doug does his best thinking on a mountain bike or around a campfire. I’m so excited for you to hear today’s conversation with Doug. I will see you on the other side of this interview. Enjoy!


Sam Demma (01:57):
Doug. Welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are today in education?


Douglas Gleddie (02:08):
Yeah, sure. Thanks Sam. I appreciate you having me on it should be fun. You promised it would be fun anyways, so that’s good. Yeah. So I’ve been in education now for almost 25 years, which seems kind of strange. Cause I don’t feel that old, but I guess I am so yeah, it took me a while to kind of find my way into education a bit because I you know, with my own kids now, I always, I always encourage them to think about no matter what they’re working in or what they’re doing. Just think about what they enjoy about it. Right. And, and what are they good at and what skills are they learning and how does that apply to different things? So for me, a couple of commonalities emerged the first was just a love working with children and youth anywhere from Sunday school to babysitting, to playing with cousins.


Douglas Gleddie (03:05):
I just, I really enjoyed that piece. So that’s kind of stuck. And then, you know, physical activity movement has always been a key part of my life from like I grew up on a farm and I basically had free range of the half the section and could, you know, run around with very few restraints and you know, climbing trees, hopping, fences, getting chased by cows. It’s all, it’s all part of the game. And so that, that physical activity was really good. And just so those two things kind of connected eventually and led me to a career in education and specifically more physical education. So that went through from, you know, I spent almost 14 years as a teacher K to 12, but most of that time, junior high, but I’ve, I’ve taught everything except food studies, I think. And then and phys ed K to K to 12, settled at kind of junior high that seven to eight and then eventually ended up getting a master’s degree and then a PhD in ending up at the university. And sometimes I still feel I don’t belong, but I’m still a teacher first.


Sam Demma (04:13):
That’s awesome. It’s a cool journey. What about physical activity appealed to you or phys ed. And where did that interest come? Did you also play sports growing up like a lot or?


Douglas Gleddie (04:24):
Yeah, I did. I, you know, I played a lot of sports. I still do. It’s I really think it’s the environment. It’s just, it was that opportunity. Like we didn’t have, I mean, I certainly don’t have the distractions that kids have today with, with devices and social media and everything else. Like we were barely allowed to watch TV and there was only really out on the farm. We only got one or two channels consistently anyways, so it wasn’t a big draw. And so it was just, I think that foundation of, of just being encouraged to be outside and we made up our own games, we played and then like I never played organized sports until junior high. I played one season of outdoor hockey before it moved into or, and then it was too expensive. And so we couldn’t do it anymore, but we always played, you know, we played hockey on our pond.


Douglas Gleddie (05:19):
You know, my brothers and I, and my sister, we, we invented games, you know, throwing a tennis ball at the back steps and you had to catch it before, you know, one person will throw it. The other person have to catch it. And if it hits the screen door, y’all ran like hell, cause mom would get mad. So he figured out the rules. But I think it’s also just, just the freedom of being able to choose what you enjoy. So if you feel like what you need is a walk in the woods, then you choose that. If you feel like what you need is a, a super competitive game of tennis with someone who really pushes you to be better than you can choose that.


Sam Demma (05:53):
That’s awesome. I love that. And I’m really fascinated farming for him. We’ll get to that in a second with, with this idea that if you don’t, if you don’t so anything, you don’t reap anything to go at a young age, you get taught, like if you don’t plant the seed, you’ll never get the vegetable. So I feel like whether, you know, it or not, you’re taught that if you want something, you have to work for it. And I’m curious to know for you personally, if that life of growing up on a farm, like taught you a lot of principles that you think you still hold today.


Douglas Gleddie (06:25):
Oh. And you know, you have to, you certainly have to take care of things. There’s responsibilities. Like we, we had mostly livestock. I mean, we did crops and we had a massive vegetable garden. And so you do, you have to put the work in and you can’t just plant the seed. And then, you know, three months later start picking tomatoes, you know, there’s, there’s weeding, there’s pest control, there’s fertilizing, there’s, you know, all that kind of stuff in there and it takes work. Right. And and then with livestock, you learn a lot of both sacrifice because you can’t, you can’t take care of your own needs before your livestock’s needs because that’s your livelihood. And so, you know, there were years, like I remember a year when my dad, my dad hurt his back and I was, I was one of the only, I think I was the only kid at home.


Douglas Gleddie (07:13):
My older brothers were away at college and it was like minus 50. So we had sheep and we had, you know, probably six, 700 ewes to take care of. And so they’re all outside and, and they had shelter, but you need to get on feed them. So you, you bundle up and you put on your ski goggles and you, you do what you need to do, but you have to take care of that before you take care of your own needs, because literally they will die without your care. So I think that work ethic, that, that ethic of care, and, and also like we did things together as a family, like it was a family farm. We work to get stuff done. And when, you know, when it’s time for the, you know, the, the, the phrase making hay while the sun shines and comes from a real place, because you got to get that hand. So, you know, I spent time sitting on a Baylor past midnight you know, picking up hay bales, stacking bales because you have to get it done. And it was, it was hard work, but we did it together. Right. You’re in it together. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:19):
That’s awesome. Like I, my, so my grandfather worked on a farm for most of his life. He came here with nothing and he work at GM at night and then on a farm during the day and barely ever saw my, my dad, my dad would tell me that once a week on Fridays at like 2:00 AM, he would come home and get off early. And he would wake the family up for a pizza and a, they would all eat together and like the mall, cause tomorrow tomorrow’s not school, everyone can sleep in. And you know, it’s funny cause like the things you’re saying are like similar things to my grandfather, I think passed down to me about like hard work and these types of values to transition the conversation slightly. I was just curious about asking you about that. But to, to transition this slightly what, what, what led you into education? So you could have taken like the passions you grew up with in many directions, coaching athletics. Why, why did, why did it end up that you went into teaching?


Douglas Gleddie (09:16):
And a good, good question. Sort of go back to what I said earlier about trying to find what, you know, what kind of makes you tick and what you enjoy, like the outdoors children and youth mood. But, you know, I, I considered being a conservation officer like being an official wildlife cause that’s outside. But so I think for me, I, like I had an experience of, I ended up teaching overseas for, for a year in south America. And I really enjoyed that experience of working with the kids. And I think for me the difference was that being a part of a kid’s learning journey and being a part. And, and when you see, when you, when you have a student in specifically in phys ed, that they kinda, they kinda get it and that, that, you know, that switch kind of turns it or that, that switch flicks and you kind of know, they go, wow, this is really fun.


Douglas Gleddie (10:13):
Like I enjoy this and you see them picking it out. Like I’m a big mountain biker. I love, I love to mountain bike. And I used to run in the junior high. We ran a mountain bike club and we did stuff. And to, to, to see someone and specifically there’s a, there was one girl. I remember she was pretty tentative about stuff, but she came on a trip with a bunch of us and there, she was the only girl on the trip, but she did awesome. And she went off like this two foot jump that she never would have done before. And she was just so excited. Right. So, so to kind of see that and to encourage that and to get people excited about movement and, and taking care of themselves, I think that’s where I ended up, you know, going down that road to teacher education. Cause I didn’t, I did an undergrad degree in, in basically history and physical education, a major concentration. And then I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a while. And I played around with stuff and I, I played sports. I did some coaching, but it was really that, that physical education piece in those early, that early learning and being able to connect with kids that way, I think.

Sam Demma (11:20):
Cool. And whereabouts were you in south America when you taught overseas? Oh,

Douglas Gleddie (11:23):
I was improved. Oh wow.

Sam Demma (11:26):
That’s awesome.

Douglas Gleddie (11:26):
Very small jungle town.


Sam Demma (11:30):
Did you ever hear music like this? [inaudible] That’s awesome.


Douglas Gleddie (11:39):
You just have that handy right there.


Sam Demma (11:41):
Whatever, whenever you tell bad jokes, I’ll crack this one, but that’s awesome. What brought you out to Peru? So like w was there like an opportunity? Tell me more about that.


Douglas Gleddie (11:55):
Yeah, it was it was. after I graduated from my first degree I just, I wanted to, actually, I was looking at traveling the world that wants to just maybe take a year and travel around, but I wanted to kind of give back. So I wanted to either go and, you know, volunteer somewhere or work on a mission or do whatever. And so I was looking at opportunities and I just actually wanted to do that for about a month. And then I just wanted to travel. But one of the guys I talked to he’s like, well, we’ve got an opportunity at this school if you want to come here and teach. But it’s a full year. And I was like, nah, not interested in, he looked at me, he said, I think you’ll be back. And it was at this big, I don’t know mission Fest.


Douglas Gleddie (12:37):
It was called all these different opportunities for different service organizations and that sort of thing. And so, and yeah, I was back and I talked to him a little bit more and, and and you know, they needed someone to teach phys ed and a little bit of history. So it seemed like it was tailor made for kind of the training that I’d had. And so that’s how I ended up there. It was great. It was a fantastic experience just to be immersed in completely different culture, different language. You know, I took some Spanish classes before I went down, but I basically learned on the fly, which was fun. And I was teaching mostly Americans at the school. But just to, just to live in the community and, and I would love to go into town and go play basketball and volleyball with people. And there’s just different, different cultural situations that you have to learn and figure out. So it was yeah, I would say it was a pretty formational experience.


Sam Demma (13:33):
That’s amazing. And did you find it challenging or if so, like what were some of the challenges at first?


Douglas Gleddie (13:40):
Oh, yeah, it was challenging because like, I didn’t know anyone there. Right. And you, at the time, like you have to think this is, so this was in, let me see 1993, it seems like a long time ago now, but very little internet. I did get an email address when I went down there, but I literally only knew one of the personal email address. And that was my brother who was at the university of Saskatchewan at the time. Like even phone lines were one way. So literally if I would phone you, I’d be like, Hey, how’s it going, Sam over, over?


Douglas Gleddie (14:23):
So, you know, a little bit of isolation, but great community. The language was a challenge, but I, you know, I enjoyed that. I’m, I’m pretty open and pretty willing to take risks. So you just kind of jump in and you mess up some words and you, you know, you figure some stuff out. Yeah, I don’t, I just found it to be a really, like, there were lots of challenges, but nothing seemed unsurmountable. You just kind of go through and, you know, you’re 23 and you figure it out. Right. You know what that’s like?


Sam Demma (14:57):
Yeah. I mean, in two more years I will. But people always talk about gap years, fifth years especially now with COVID, it’s being talked about even more. And something that always emphasize is travel. Like, do you think traveling to another country is an experience that everyone should go through living somewhere else? Kind of off topic, but just curious about your thoughts on that.


Douglas Gleddie (15:22):
Yeah. I do. Like with my, with my classes, with pre-service teachers at the U of a, I, I certainly encourage if you have the opportunity to try and like go teach in Cambodia, go teach in Thailand. There’s lots of opportunities. You can still teach, for example, using Alberta curriculum and some of these schools. And so it doesn’t, it doesn’t hold you back for your career in Canada. But and I do think there’s a difference between just traveling and visiting. Like you can go, you know, you could go visit Peru for a couple of weeks and you’ll get a sense of things, but when you live there, you know, I, I kept on my favorite phrase after I’d been there for awhile is a, I’m going to butcher the Spanish, but it’s like, I’m not a tourist. I live here like this. So I go to the market and someone would go, oh, this is, you know, this is five solos. And I’d be like, no, no, no, I’m not a tourist. I live here. Oh, you know, half that.


Douglas Gleddie (16:22):
But so I do think going somewhere and spending a significant amount of time with the people that are there. Like I had an opportunity to spend three weeks in Kenya, a number of years ago, and it was different than spending a year improve. And I still, you know, we were working with the local community and, and we were you know, we, we shared tents with, with locals and we shared meals and we did that the whole time. And so that was really good, but it was still only three weeks. And so you’re still kind of parachuting in and then running away. Whereas when you’re there for a longer time, you can deal with Velop relationships. You can get deeper understandings, I think, but I would definitely recommend if you have opportunity, not everyone has the opportunity and you know, it can be difficult to find the funds and to find the support to do that. But if you have the chance, but yeah. Going to a, you know, a resort and Ken Kuhn doesn’t count as visiting another country.


Sam Demma (17:18):
Yeah. I think that’s very important to state. I actually, I’m a big fan of traveling just for new perspectives and awareness. Like I did Iceland two summers ago before COVID and we drove in a car, slept in the car, like crazy experiences, but to the whole country in like 10 days, and I’m actually going to Calgary and we’re going to do like again, a big road trip, not staying at any hotels, they’re all like hostels and Airbnbs, but yeah. And I think it’s a great experience for anyone to have only teachers, but people in general, I’m curious about people who made an impact on you while you were still in school. If you can remember. I know you’re not that old, but, but think back to, you know, you and high school, even in college university, did you have any teachers that at the snap of a finger you can think of this person had a big impact on me as a student? Maybe even like pushed me in this direction a little bit.


Douglas Gleddie (18:16):
Yeah. I think there’s certainly, I mean, I, I did have I had a physical education teacher in elementary, junior high, who and I didn’t really recognize it until later kind of looking back his impact. And it was interesting like quite a number of years later, I was doing a workshop out our teacher’s convention here. And he signed up to to introduce me, which was kinda neat because it was like, oh, that’s Mr. Goodell. He gets to, he gets introduced, man. So he started out, he’s like, well, this is Doug. I taught him in elementary and junior high. And if this is a great session, I taught him everything. He knows if it’s not a good session, he couldn’t teach that dang kid anything.


Douglas Gleddie (19:02):
But, you know, he, he was very innovative in his own way. He tried some really unique things with participation in schools, Ford and not, and, and those are things that I’m working on now. So I think looking back, like I wouldn’t have recognized it at the time, but looking back, I, I see, yeah, there’s some, there’s some impact there. I had a volleyball coach and just for one year in my last year of high school who came in and, and took a completely different approach to coaching that was much more developmental and fundamental that just let’s play games. Let’s just scrimmage.


Sam Demma (19:33):
What does that look like? Like what did she, or what did that person do that made a big difference?


Douglas Gleddie (19:38):
Yeah. Well, I think first of all, he came in with like, he had some high-level coaching experience in Japan and different places. And so, you know, we would, instead of just all these set drills and we would still ran some drills, but he, he had all these different games, like small side of games that helped you become a better player. And you know, it just, and he had ways to motivate. And I know not, not every player necessarily have the same experience that I did, but I just found the year before, when I played, it was just basically just scrimmage. And if you’re on the starting six you’re on that side and you got a different approach, and if you weren’t in the starting six, whereas this coach, he was just like, no, I want to develop everybody. I want everyone to be better at what they’re doing.


Douglas Gleddie (20:21):
And, and he was setting up plays and he was teaching us new things and there is a sense of fun. And so yeah, I took a lot on of his instruction. And then I had, you know, I had some, some you know, other T like a chemistry teacher and English teacher in high school who had just, again, more looking back, I just recognized, no, I had an English teacher in grade 10, and I don’t know if people still read death on the, the classic Canadian story of, of sealing outside of Newfoundland and stuff, but she was looking for what’s the big theme. What’s the, and I basically wrote a whole paper saying, it’s just a book. Like, it’s just a book. It doesn’t have to teach it. But as I was writing at events, I came around, well, okay, fine. There’s themes. And, and she really challenged me in a good way.


Douglas Gleddie (21:09):
Right? Like she could have just given me a zero on the paper and said, you didn’t do what I asked, but she said she actually engaged with me and went through and that’s good. Right. I had a chemistry teacher who chemistry, biology teacher who kind of made things real. And it’s interesting. I went back and told him, so he he’s actually directly responsible for me being able to, to save a couple of people’s lives, which is kind of crazy. And I was actually when I was in group. So he told us a story and in a grade 12 biology class about carbon monoxide poisoning and how, when they were on a road trip with the school and not in those days, kids could drive their own vehicles and go to school events. And, and there was a couple of kids who they had the exhaust was leaking into the car and they started to fall asleep.


Douglas Gleddie (22:03):
And so he was saying to us, well, you know, someone has carbon monoxide point and you cannot let them fall asleep. You got to get them out in fresh air. You got to get them breathing. You got to get moving. So, you know, probably eight, nine years later, maybe not quite five, six years later when I was on a, a boat trip across lake Titicaca in between Bolivia and Peru. And it’s a big lake, it’s one of the highest navigable lakes in the world and the boat, we are on the diesel fumes. It was a stormy stormy afternoon. And the diesel fumes are coming in the, in the cabin when we pulled into port. And I spent most of the time outside in the rain, cause I didn’t want to breathe the fumes. And we came in and one lady from France was completely passed out and her son was going in and out. And so I knew what to do B because of this teacher. And so I got them outside and literally with the young man, I just, I really just slapped the hell out of him because I had to keep him awake.


Douglas Gleddie (23:07):
And then for the, for the woman, like she she was completely out she had locked up her jobs, so I couldn’t give her multimode. I had to give her mouth, the nose to kind of keep her in oxygen. And then we had to there’s no ambulance is there. So we had to call basically called a cab and took a cab to the hospital. And I was trying to remember all my high school, French. And but anyways, by the time we left, she was, she was sitting up on oxygen. She was healthy and thankful, and I hope she didn’t have any damage. But so yeah, there’s, there’s some, but just the fact that this teacher was trying to be real with us and trying to share, not just, this is what carbon monoxide poisoning is and you know, the carbon oxide of fixes to your red blood cells. So that oxygen can’t. And I mean, he taught that stuff too, but he also talked to rural applications. So that was pretty cool.


Sam Demma (24:02):
Have you already written a book or are you going to what? The Frick dude, like these stories are crazy. Find this 50 degree weather with sheep and saving some lives.


Douglas Gleddie (24:15):
Yeah. I’ve had a good, I’ve had a good life. I’ve had a good life.


Sam Demma (24:19):
It’s cool, man. It’s cool. Well, that’s awesome. I love it. Real world application is always something that inspired me in class. Cause it made me feel like I could use the things I learned right away. Maybe not in that case, but some point in your future, you could use the thing passion to, it sounds like this teacher was someone who was passionate about what he was talking about. And when I think back to the educators that made the biggest impact on me, it was the passion that really spoke through.


Douglas Gleddie (24:46):
And I, and I think they, the teachers that have the most impact, you can tell that they enjoy what they do. Right. And they also enjoy the people they work with, which includes students. Like when I was teaching too, there’s always a few people in the school I’m going, why are you here? Like you clearly don’t like kids, you clearly don’t like the subject that you’re teaching. So why are you here? And even when I had student teachers, I would just tell them, listen, if you’re passionate about teaching or your subject area, just like you said, you’ve got that passion for it. And you enjoy working with kids. There is no better job in the world as far as I’m concerned. However, if you don’t and you’re just here because you think it’s good benefits, it’s a decent salary for the education level. You like the summers off, you know what, honestly get the hell out. Cause we don’t need you here and we’re going to be blunt, but that’s, we’ve got better things to do. And these are, these are young people’s lives that you’re messing with.


Sam Demma (25:44):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t agree more. I think there’s, there’s a lot of other careers where you could be mindless and just show up and do the work and go home and it doesn’t have an impact on others. Yeah. Education is definitely not one of them. And especially when it comes down to the things we say, you know, kids look up to their elders and teachers most of the time and you tell a kid something like it might stick with them for the rest of their life, you know and, and affect them either positively or negatively. So, yeah, I totally agree.


Douglas Gleddie (26:14):
Although on that note, you never know what might stick. Cause I a number of years ago I met with a former student who we had reconnected on Facebook and, and so we went out for coffee and, and it was great. And he’s now a teacher actually in a, I think a very, a very good teacher. But I taught him in grade 7, 8, 9. And so he’s like, oh Mr. Gladney like, it’s so good to connect it to you. And he goes, I’ll always remember that one lesson that you taught us. And I was like, well, less than is that Never order a messy down there on the first date.


Sam Demma (26:54):
What’s the story. Can you share the story real quick?


Douglas Gleddie (26:57):
Yeah. So it’s like, I’m like, well, thanks that I’m glad you got one thing out of tire. Well, so what I, what I did, I was teaching grade nine, social studies and I used to run a virtual stock market. And so I give each of the kids a hundred, a hundred thousand dollars and they had to invest. And it was a, it was this website that was actually pulled numbers from the Toronto stock exchange and it kept track. And so I made a bet with my classes. I said, whoever can earn more money than me in this three months, time span with your a hundred thousand dollars, I’ll buy you lunch. And so it was these three, these three boys they all earned more than I did. And so I took him out for lunch and we went to this local dinner tour. And at first, you know, their typical junior high, you’re like, I’ll get a small something with this. I’m like, guys, I’m buying your lunch, get the jumble don’t air. They’re like all in. And then we’re eating these things and there’s mess everywhere. And that’s when I, I said, well, word of advice, guys, never order, you know, a big message in there on a first date.


Sam Demma (28:03):
Was so funny, man. That’s awesome. That’s funny. That’s, it’s, it’s true sometimes. Depending on what that person needs, maybe that person just needed a humor that day. Right. And like something to lighten the load. Like I sometimes I’ll do a speech and what I think is so important, someone else comes out to me and says, oh, and you said this, it was so important. And I was like, I don’t even like, think that’s an important thing, you know? And I think that’s also really important to remember every everything we say matters. Awesome. And so you’ve worked in a range of different school environments different settings. Explain a little bit about where you are now and what the job entails.


Douglas Gleddie (28:44):
Yeah. So I’ve been at university of Alberta and the faculty of education now for nine years. I think it’s sorry. I’m in my ninth year, I guess it would be more accurate. And I’m currently an associate Dean of graduate studies in the faculty. So I’m doing more admin than teaching which it’s been an interesting journey doing administration. And I do enjoy aspects of more leadership than administration, but I do miss the teaching. So I haven’t taught undergrads for a couple of years. I’ve been teaching grad students and I do love teaching grad students because we have a program. We have a health and phys ed master’s cohort program, which every few years we take in a new group of 24 students. And that is fantastic. It’s so rewarding. But yeah, so you know, we’re going through lots of change right now.


Douglas Gleddie (29:37):
So there’s, there’s budget cuts, there’s program changes there’s institutional. So it’s dealing with that stuff, but, but change management is very interesting. Just to see, you know, who’s, who’s okay with taking a risk moving forward and who wants to just stay comfortable. And the fact is we’ve been forced out of comfortable from because of the budgets and stuff like that. But I do really enjoy working with grad students. For example, I just, I just had one of my PhD students just successfully defended her dissertation on Tuesday morning. So that’s super exciting. And she’s got a wonderful career ahead of her. So that’s give a little shout out to Dr. Harden Krieger as of freshly minted, but yeah, I think, I mean, a university is a unique place and as a, as a teacher there is a lot of education that goes on there.


Douglas Gleddie (30:32):
It’s, there’s a lot of flexibility and there’s a lot of opportunity to try new things. So like this master’s cohort, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It took us about five years to get it up and running. But once we did now, it’s very successful. I’ve got some great colleagues that I work alongside that help out and, and share the load and bring their own expertise, passion, and innovation to the program. And so that’s, you know, good work with good people is, is really, that’s kinda my kryptonite. It’s hard to say no to


Sam Demma (31:05):
Awesome love that. Cool. And what do you think are some opportunities right now in education? Like I know COVID has changed things a lot. It’s given us tons of challenges, but I think along with all challenges or some little opportunities here and there, curious if you have some of that.


Douglas Gleddie (31:21):
I think you know, I kinda, I kind of get annoyed when people are like, well, what was the silver lining of? COVID like, well, there’s no silver lining. A lot of people died. A lot of people got sick and it really sucked for the last 18 months. But at the same time, like you said, we definitely learned something, right. So I think we, we learned that or were reminded maybe I always liked one of my favorite mark Twain quotes, and he’s got a lot of good ones, but never let school stand in the way of a good education. That’s a rough paraphrase, but school is just one way to get educated. You know, there are so many different places to get educated. And I think for post-secondary institutions, we’re learning that we can’t just sit back and say, Hey everyone, this is where it’s at.


Douglas Gleddie (32:09):
You need to come to us. We need to be out there, but we need to be innovative. We need to be reaching people where they are providing what they need. That doesn’t mean we give up on theory. It doesn’t mean we give up on the idea of a university in the idea of a university is to share ideas and discuss and debate. So I think that’s one way you know, even with our health and phys ed cohort, we, we recognize early on that the way to bring people in is to not have them all come to campus all the time. So we do a summer, we do like two consecutive summers where you come for two weeks and it is important that we connect face to face and then the rest is online, but they’ve created those relationships. So, you know, the fact that you can, you can interact and create pretty deep relationships with people without being in the same room. Now I still think ultimately face-to-face is where it’s at. And you have to get there eventually. But, so I think that, I think we’re going to see a lot of post-secondary programs that are pushed to innovate and the ones that don’t, they’re going to fall behind.


Sam Demma (33:16):
Got it. Cool. Awesome. And you know, I can’t remember how many years you said you’ve been teaching 29, 25?


Douglas Gleddie (33:23):
I think 25


Sam Demma (33:24):
Okay. And this is, might be a tough question, but if you took all the experience and knowledge you have now through the past, you know, two decades of teaching and you could give some advice to your first year younger self when you were just getting into the job, like knowing what you know now, what would you tell that first year Doug?


Douglas Gleddie (33:50):
Well, I think the consistent thing all the way through is that like teaching what’s like life, it’s all about relationships. So if you don’t care about relationships, the rest of the rest falls behind. And I think the biggest piece of advice is it’s not about you because as a young teacher, like I remember going on the gym and shooting around and, and you know, I used to play a lot of basketball and, and I’m, I’m pretty tall and I used to be able to jump. And so, you know, I go in there and I’d be like, I’d be like Dunkin on kids and stuff. And I’m like, yeah, I just dumped on a 14 year old look how good I am. That’s part of that’s just because I was young and part of it too, you’re insecure and you’re trying to cement your place into things. But I often tell my, my student teachers right now, as you may tell, I like a lot of quotes and a lot of different things, but there’s a, there’s a Soundgarden line. You know, be yourself, it’s all that you can do or it’s all that you can be. And so that’s really, you have to be yourself. And if you’re your honest, authentic self, and you’re also reflective and you’re relational, I think you’ll go far.


Sam Demma (35:06):
Cool. This has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for sharing some of your experiences and stories. And if someone’s listening is been inspired by anything and just wants to connect, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and get in touch?


Douglas Gleddie (35:20):
Hmm. Well, probably I’m the only social media I’m on at the moment is Twitter. So I think I’m, I don’t even know what my handle is. Yeah. I think it’s d_ bloody pretty original. My email is dgleddie@ualberta.ca. Chances are nowadays, you can just Google stuff and you’ll find people I’m fine with emails to connect up. That works for me. Awesome. I also really appreciate the work you’re doing Sam in terms of this, like, podcasts are so great. Like I’m a huge podcast fan. I listened to a wide variety when I’m working out or just walking or biking to work or whatever. And there’s so many, you know, you asked about the way like institutions change and education changes. Like I write peer reviewed papers and there’s an important piece for that. But if it never gets into the hands of teachers or into the hands of people who can use it, it doesn’t go anywhere. So to do things like this, podcasts, blogs, talking to teachers, book clubs, whatever it is, that’s where it’s at. Yeah.


Sam Demma (36:29):
I appreciate that. I appreciate it. And I hope it continues to reach more educators so they can learn about everything we talked about. And I think I’ve interviewed like 120 people now, selfishly, I’m learning a lot. And I think everyone’s getting to learn from each other. It’s like free peer to peer personal development


Douglas Gleddie (36:48):
Now. So I’ve got a question for you. If that’s allowed?


Sam Demma (36:52):
Sure, we’re still live.


Douglas Gleddie (36:56):
It’s not an embarrassing question. So you’re, you know, you’re interviewing all these folks and you’re looking at education and you’re doing this. What’s your, what’s your plan moving forward. Are you, are you going to go into more formal education? Are you like, I think you’re educating people now. But what’s your, what’s your immediate then maybe longterm plan.


Sam Demma (37:14):
It’s funny. You mentioned never letting school get in the way of education. I’m someone that believes that, that as well, there’s so many ways to get educated, educated and informed. I actually went to university for two months. I’m a student to take a gap year. A fifth year, went to school, realized that it wasn’t what I wanted and then dropped out and coming from a European family, my parents immediately were like, what the heck are you doing? You know, it’s talking about us laughing that kid inside the head when you were in Cambodia on the boat. You know, I got, I got some math, a couple of times metaphorically. And I told my parents, I want to speak to kids. I have stories that I think would inspire them to follow their dreams, to be servant leaders, to give back. And I just started doing that at the age of 19 and I found a youth speaking university and I went and I, I flew to California.


Sam Demma (38:06):
I flew to Vancouver. I bought these programs found a coach, hired a coach kinda like dove in. And so all the work I’m doing is catered towards helping young people and youth realize the importance of their own potential and possibilities. And then also along that line, understanding that life isn’t all about you, but you have to also give back and be a good human being. So like, what’s, what’s the future right now. I’m actually working on a spoken word album and I won’t share it live, but after we hit the stop recording, I’ll, I’ll share it with you. And I’m also working on a book called dear high school. Me, which much of life lessons for students from someone not far removed from school. So I’ll get into formal education. I’m not sure I will continue doing the stuff I’m doing now, but just try and do more.


Douglas Gleddie (38:55):
Yeah. And just know, I don’t ask that question out of a, “you should really do formal education” because I do think we push, we push kids to university too much for some it’s absolutely the right place to be. Right. But like I said, there’s so many different places to learn. There’s so many opportunities to grow and develop. And so I think it’s really cool to see what


Sam Demma (39:17):
I appreciate that. And I, I love the question and I’m, I’m very cautious about giving other young people advice, because again, it’s not like it depends on where you want to go. Right. It’s like if I wanted to be a doctor engineer or a teacher, like you have to take certain paths. So yeah, I appreciate the question. And again, this has been an honor. Thank you so much for coming on the show, keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Douglas Gleddie (39:39):
Yeah. Likewise. Thanks for having me.


Sam Demma (39:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and sign up to join the exclusive network. You have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Douglas Gleddie

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.

Kevin Wendling – Elementary School Principal at Northeastern Catholic District School Board

Kevin Wendling Elementary Principal
About Kevin Wendling

Kevin Wendling has been in education for well over 25 years and his diverse experiences working in different school boards, countries, and roles have given him the perspective needed to approach his work in a faith-based, holistic approach.

Kevin is a passionate and experienced school administrator in the elementary and secondary panels in private schools and publicly funded Catholic education system in Ontario, as well as an International School in South Korea. 

Connect with Kevin: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam demo. Today’s guest is Kevin Wendling. Kevin has been in education for well over 25 years and his diverse experiences of working in different school boards, countries and roles have given him the perspective needed to approach his work in a faith-based holistic approach.


Sam Demma (01:00):
Kevin is passionate about influencing others in a positive way and getting through to students. He’s an experienced school administrator in the elementary and secondary panels and private schools and publicly funded Catholic educational system in Ontario, as well as an international school in South Korea. I hope you enjoy today’s interview and conversation with Kevin and I will see you on the other side, Kevin, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself and showing you a little bit, a little bit behind why you’re passionate about the work you do in education today.


Kevin Wendling (01:37):
Yeah. my name’s Kevin Wendling. I I work up here at Bishop bellow school and with the Northeastern Catholic district school board. I’ve been in education well over twenty-five years. And a majority of that has been as a principal vice principal or administrator. Part of my career has worked for different school boards. So I’ve worked some time in Niagara, ran Haldeman Norfolk, and actually worked overseas in Korea for three years at a national school. So I’ve had some very different and actually worked in the private schools as well, private school system. So in Ontario, so I’ve done a lot of different things. My, my passion is about educating kids and my passion is about being a leader and influencing others and all that really traces back to a faith based summer camp that I worked at when I was in high school and those opportunities, and then coming back and tutoring in high school really kind of set the stage for me to want to go into education. And actually I did some retreat work with Niagara Catholic district school board with grade sevens and eights. And that kind of put me on the path towards leadership or becoming a principal. And I’ve been actually a principal and vice-principal both elementary and secondary. So I’ve got lots of different perspectives and I’ve never, never met up an opportunity that didn’t help me. And I hopefully didn’t help the school that also helped the school community as well. So lots of lots of great things.


Sam Demma (03:06):
Can we go back to Korea for a second? Well, what brought you out there? What work were you doing there and what was the experience like living in a totally different culture?


Kevin Wendling (03:16):
Yeah, well my wife and I, we have, we have five children and basically my wife went to Europe one summer with some family and came back and we had a talk and she said, you know what? I have a degree in history, but I don’t understand the world. I don’t understand. I went to Europe, I went to Italy, I went to England and you know what what it says in the books. Isn’t, isn’t what it is out there. She goes, I really let’s try and do some international travel. Let’s try and maybe even do some international teaching and with a family of five, we were limited to where we could go. And so we ended up in Korea, we ended up a school that was a Christian based school that was just starting up. And so when we arrived, it was up to grade 10 and she taught middle school, you know, grade 6, 7, 8.


Kevin Wendling (04:01):
I taught high school, actually. I had just done been involved with six years of being an elementary principal. And we took a leave of absence from our jobs in Ontario and went there and basically within a year they needed a high school principal and I became the high school principal and saw the first graduation class. It was an IB school. So that was whoa, like the training involved with that, the, the expectations, the high expectations and some of the, you know, the, the best five teachers I worked with, I would say two or three of them were there. It was great. It was a lot of collaboration, a lot of working together, but we really went for our kids too. So our kids could get a different idea of a culture. So my middle daughter played hockey in Korea. If you can imagine that.


Kevin Wendling (04:48):
So my daughters, all five of my daughters actually danced ballet and all of that. So they really got a chance to see the culture. And they actually learned a lot of Korean, which is, I’ve been told one of the most difficult languages to learn you. Also, we also got to travel, do I be training? We had the opportunity to travel and whenever we traveled, we took the kids with us. So we actually, we went to the Philippines, we went to India, we went to China, a number of times to sight Penn for us, like a summer vacation in the Marguerite in the, you know, that part of us at the time. So we got a chance to kind of see everything. And we did that for three years. And after three years we had a choice. We continue to do this for the rest of our careers, or we come back to Canada to Ontario.


Kevin Wendling (05:33):
And we just decided to come back to Ontario. And it was fantastic opportunity as a principal. I probably gained more than anybody and experience just because of the way I was treated as a principal, some of the experiences I’ve had just phenomenal and really a very, very, the big difference I would say is that the committed people, when you go overseas, your committed, you are there, you know, it’s like Balboa, you burnt the ships you’re there. The people are very committed and actually their families are too. So we saw a lot of families and a lot of, you know, younger families with kids like us at the time. And we just had a great time. It was a fantastic experience and we’ve kept some of those friendships going even after we left. So really good.


Sam Demma (06:20):
Awesome. I love the balboa reference where you put logs on your back and do lunges in the backyard.


Kevin Wendling (06:27):
That’s Awesome.


Sam Demma (06:27):
Where did you, so, okay. Let’s go back now to the faith based summer camp. What was that camp and what about that experience encourage you to get into education?


Kevin Wendling (06:41):
It just, it totally blew my mind in terms of what I saw to that point in my life. Like I would, I was, I was in a really good high school, but it was one of my teachers at the high school who introduced it to me. And what he introduced me to was just a different way of leadership, a different way of, of looking after kids. You know, I, I ended up you know, looking after kids around nine, 10 years old. But then later on did trips to Algonquin park, canoeing and hiking with kids like 12, 13, 14 years old, it just was a true community feeling and true your ship in action. Like you had to be a leader, you had to go out and like leadership. Isn’t about stuff in that as, you know, stuff in textbooks it’s about going out and being a leader, that’s the best quote I ever heard is leaders lead.


Kevin Wendling (07:32):
And so you, you had that opportunity to go out and to be that leader for each other. And also the faith aspect was the fact that it was a, it was run by the bazillion fathers out of Toronto. And they really I learned a lot about spirituality from them and from the preset where there, it actually later went on. When I finished university, I actually was the first lay chaplain at the ethical camp for two years and was on the advisory board and did some other things with the camp. It ended up it’s doesn’t exist anymore. It kind of gave way to times and to things and to money and all kinds of stuff. And but that opportunity for me was just phenomenal. It really was part of my formation to become a teacher. And what it taught me is it gave me the confidence saying, you know, I want to be a teacher.


Kevin Wendling (08:21):
And in fact, one person I met there led them to the program. I went at the university of Waterloo math teaching option program. And it was someone who I met there that introduced it to me, but it was just later when I had a teacher who influenced me to go there, I said, is it, you knew exactly the influence is going to have on me. You knew exactly I belonged here. And you said, yes. And that’s why you need to be here. And that it was just that, that tale of teachers having influence and affecting the kids and affecting their students and making it a, a, a great place for them to become the leaders and the people that need to be.


Sam Demma (08:55):
I love that. And like you mentioned or alluded to like, now’s a different time, right? Like COVID is changing things you were telling me before we hit record that uncertainty is a common feeling amongst school staff, probably all around the world. What are some of the challenges that are going through your mind, your staff’s mind, and, you know, how are you all grouping together as a strong team to try and figure things out?


Kevin Wendling (09:18):
The number one is, is as much as we’re a school and we’re about learning, it’s the number one thing has to be about safety has to be about the kids being safe and, and the kids making sure that they’re not getting sick. So we were elementary. So majority of our kids, you know, really great, six down to kindergarten, haven’t been vaccinated. And so they’re very susceptible, especially with the Delta virus right now and how much it can affect kids. We want to make sure they’re safe, you know? So it’s making sure we’re masking making sure we’re sanitizing, our hands, social distancing, all the things you hear. We, we we’re teaching that each and every day to the kids and just reminding them of it. And yet throughout all that, we’re trying to learn and making sure that the learning is there for them and giving them the opportunities for them to learn.


Kevin Wendling (10:05):
And yet underlining all that is the uncertainty of, okay, could we shut down again? We shut down three times last year, we shut down once more than everybody else for an additional three weeks where we distributed the computers and they went out and and actually Lucy went through a time where it was really, we had a number of cases and it was surging. And people were really scared because it was like, oh no, is this really going to affect? And that’s been the case with all the flying communities, flying communities up the coast of James bay actually had over 200 cases in jail. And that’s, and over half of those were, were kids under 18. And so, you know, we we’ve seen it. We, we lived the fear, we’ve seen it. And it’s like, are we going to get through this year? Are we going to have to pivot again?


Kevin Wendling (10:51):
And let’s face it, teachers teach and are trained to teach face to face. It’s, it’s all about, I want to be in front of those kids. I want to work with them. If there’s a problem, I go beside them. You can’t do that on a computer. Technology is fantastic. Technology is great, but for younger kids, it’s, it’s not the way to learn for them. You know, whether it’s the mental health aspect, whether it’s the learning aspect, you gotta remember too. When we, when we dove into this 18 months ago, teachers don’t normally take courses on distance education. Suddenly you had to, you had to be an expert, and that was hard on a lot of people. And, and then you come back and say, well, yeah, you gotta wear the proper PPE and things like that. And you just feel a little bit distanced, you know, naturally you figure in the kindergarten class, there’s a lot of hubs and a lot of, you know, hand on the shoulder and things like that.


Kevin Wendling (11:38):
And people feeling closest together, physically, you can’t do that. Now. You really have to, you know, keep that distance and, and make sure. And again, we, we don’t do that. We actually do that now to show we care in a different way, because we want them to get sick and we don’t want them to. So those are, those are some of the things you know, as a principal, I don’t think people realize that when there is a positive case in your school of probate and suddenly a class that should shut down, you’re working with the health unit. And there’s a lot of things that are going on behind the curtain to make sure things are okay and people are safe and, and yet confidentiality is making. So there’s so much of that stuff that people don’t don’t know. And they don’t need to know because it’s affecting them.


Kevin Wendling (12:19):
And then we get the other side where parents are frustrated. Parents are incredibly frustrated, they just want consistency. You know, just think if you’re a a single mom and you’ve got two kids and you’ve got a job and that stowing, and suddenly you get COVID or someone you work with gets COVID or, or where you work has suddenly shut down. And, you know, and then you get another job or you got two or three, and then you got your kids and suddenly there’s something at school. And now they’re, you know, you got a great to integrate for, and suddenly they have to do, you know, virtual education. How does that work? How do you maintain your job and do all that? And the government’s been great. Government has had programs and things to help, but, but that’s not what they expected. That’s not what’s best for everybody involved.


Kevin Wendling (13:01):
So it’s an, it’s an incredible challenge. I think we’ve learned a lot from it. I think we’ve learned a lot about education Ontario and the value of it and want to teach, but we also, we’re living through a very difficult time. It’s a time where there is a time in the end right now we see a lot of hope and we’re hoping that it’s going to get better and we see signs of it. But then as we go through this with the Delta variant, and then the next wave we, we wonder if this is going to be a big wave or is this going to be a small way? You know, you know, it’s like waiting on the dock, but you don’t know what’s going to hit you. Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:35):
Yeah. So true. And do you think that there are things that will forever be changed? Not in terms of like PPE, but the disruption of COVID-19 may have also caused lots of reflection. Could we be doing things differently? Is there, is there anything to take away from this? Do you think there is anything that came out of it that was like, this is interesting. Might be something that we continue to do or revisit or, or look at as an opportunity?


Kevin Wendling (14:00):
I think every procedure, I think every procedure that, that we have at schools has had to be looked at from a, from a safety, a health and safety and you know, immunology, you know, like the whole science behind it, you know, let’s put in once things like that. And some teachers have found, there are some things that are better, you know, in procedures and how things go. And there’s things, maybe not like, for example, something they push for years is literally literally sludge. So in other words, you know, you come to school, whatever’s in your bag, you put back in and you take home and you throw it out at home. We’ve had to do that because of COVID. And actually, you know what, that’s something that environmentalist I’ve been saying for a while. Cause if you’re throwing out the garbage as a parent, maybe you’re going to pack the lunch in a different way.


Kevin Wendling (14:44):
Maybe you’re going to do things in a different way. So that’s, that’s just like one example of how, you know, things have changed. We also aren’t as supposed to accept lunches, you know, last year in particular through the day, like, because you’re not supposed to have parents come to the school. You know, so basically, you know, parents make sure the lunches packed. What’s sad though, is you’ve seen a lot of these pre-packaged lunches. Well now, because like, for example, like our school at one time allowed microwaves to warm up the meal, we, we can’t allow that right now. We can’t have microwave salon. You know, that may change soon, but, but right now that’s our policy and that, that was direction from last year. So there’s, there’s a lot of little things here and there. I, I, you know, the other is, I think you’re going to see the whole virtual school thing stay.


Kevin Wendling (15:32):
I think some parents like that. And again, what, what would be interesting to know what the reasons were because we’re really not asking the reasons, I think the other thing, the importance of mental health and you know, the whole idea of mental health and that awareness has become paramount. When it first came out, we saw it as important. We now are really seeing important. We’re seeing probably one of the things I really noticed up here when we had the vaccine clinics in June for 12, between the 12 and 18 year olds, you would think, okay, 12, 18 year olds. Some of these kids are just going to come on their own. You know, the parents will just say, just go and whatever, every student who got vaccinated that I saw in the clinic, I was in for the day to kind of help out.


Kevin Wendling (16:16):
And again, we were coming in to help because it helped you and ask, we need some people just to be positive support, but every one of those kids had a parent with them. And like even a 17 year old had a parent with them. And I would say some of these kids had their hoodies up over their head, kind of, kind of being really anxious. They were scared about the shot. They were scared about things because again, a lot of that’s out in the media and you know, there’s some positive stories and there’s not so positive stories. And again, they were worried about that. And again, to the point where I was doing like check-ins with kids every so often, and I knew some kids were just nervous because they didn’t know me cause there’s there’s schools that, that were being served by that clinic at the hockey arena.


Kevin Wendling (16:58):
And I actually knew that. So I would just go over and said, look, you don’t know me, but I got to make sure you’re okay. Just give me a thumbs up if I come by and give you a thumbs up. Just, just so I know you’re okay. Because if, if they got sick, if they had a reaction, I had to make sure of that. So it was interesting that way, there was a lot of things. I think we’re learning along the way with, with other things and other aspects, I think we’re learning about ourselves as a culture. You know, we have some people who don’t necessarily believe in vaccines, but yet we’re all supposed to believe in public health and make sure everyone’s safe. So I think there’s a, a push and a pull there. And I think some of it is very regional.


Kevin Wendling (17:36):
And that being said, you know, we great example, like I mentioned before, we had a community up here. We had access to the vaccine in February, March this year, all the communities did. And yet we still had a community that skyrocketed and 200 cases like that. Like it, it didn’t take long. This virus really can move quickly, especially with the Delta by period. So it’s actually up here in the whole Timmins area. There were a number of cases where if you remember some people don’t that in June, the rest of the province could have opened open up the government. We would have shut down. We would have no. Cause we had, we were searching in cases. It was unbelievable in the, in, in the Timmins and the porcupine health unit area, how bad it was.


Sam Demma (18:20):
Wow. Yeah, it’s a, it’s such a interesting time and just put it like that. And fingers crossed that things also started to clear up in all schools, across the country, across the world when it comes to making connections with students, you know, you talked about walking up to the ones in the clinic and giving them thumbs up, which is awesome during a time of stress putting the hat on, like we’re back in a regular school you sound like you’ve done so many different roles in education. What have you found is the most effective ways to build trust and a relationship with a student in a class or in a school?


Kevin Wendling (18:56):
Starts with a smile and a kind word asking them their name. Because again, you know, and again, I’m, I’m, I pride myself on knowing names for a good part of my career and that when I went overseas, it’s like, okay, I’m struggling with this. It’s, it’s just being very genuine and honest and caring about the person before you can make any relationship. You’ve got to show that, that empathy and compassionate, caring, showing you care about that person and you take the time to talk to them and get to know them that that’s where it starts. And then the relationships build from there. And again, it’s, it sounds simple. It’s not because you have to have a big heart and you have to go out and that’s how that’s again, that’s how the relationship starts. And again, we’re, we’re in a place right now in Lucy where, you know, over 90, approximately 95 or high 90% of people here are indigenous background.


Kevin Wendling (19:49):
And I’m not of indigenous background. I so guess what, I’m maybe someone that I will be trusted right away, especially with everything going on right now with, with the residential schools. And, you know, there wasn’t one in Mussolini, but there’s been a few of, there were a few off the coast that were closed down. And so whenever they kind of happened in the spring with regard to residential schools and that issue came up, that hit us hard too, even though we were, we were virtual at the time. So we had been in front of the school and we actually had parents and grandparents who were survivors of the residential schools actually have a teacher on staff, survival, potential schools. So, so again, when, when you talk about making those connections and making those things, you have to see where that person is as well.


Kevin Wendling (20:32):
And you have to come in. And I think the other thing too, being up here has kind of confirmed that, but even overseas and anywhere, it’s like, are you going to be here tomorrow? Are you going to be here to continue this relationship with me? Or are you going to pack it up and leave suddenly that’s important as well. People need to feel that basis that you’re at, you’re here for the long haul and that you’re here to help them and that you want to help them, you know, and, and that’s, that’s really key. And I, you know, normally you would say maybe that’s just for elementary kids, but I think that’s also secondary now too. I think the secondary kids, especially with this, I’ve been hard hit and the anxiety and things that they face is quite big.


Sam Demma (21:08):
Teaching is such a giving vocation, giving, calling. You’re not only giving students information, but sometimes they’re also like a coach and a mentor. Even if you’re not coaching a sport, you know, you kind of give students a shoulder to lean on. Sometimes if they need to talk to you about something that’s uncomfortable, what’s your experience been like with boundaries, you know, separating work from life and making sure that although you’re consistently able to give you’re also filling up your own cup and making sure you’re not burning out, especially during a time where you might be staring at a screen for seven hours a day and, you know, answering phone calls twenty four seven.


Kevin Wendling (21:43):
Yeah. I, you know, because my very first school I was principal at was in my hometown. You know, it was in port Colborne Ontario and, you know, so I would go out with my kids for activities and sports and I would see other kids around and, and you know what, they, they knew the boundary. They knew that I was Mr. Wellman. They knew that I would say hi to them, but they also respected the fact that from their parents, from their upbringing to kind of have that, that boundary there, however, my life has always intermixed. You know, I’ve, I’ve actually coached my kids and coached a lot of sports. Even the whole morning. I coached Shane love volleyball, and then did a lot of volleyball coaching and at the travel team level and, and various levels all the way up to UAA team.


Kevin Wendling (22:27):
So I had that experience as well, but it’s really about, you just naturally have to make, you know, those boundaries and just let people know that things are. And so when a student kind of crosses that boundary, like even as something as simple as, oh, I remember I was at one school was out for the buses and it’s, it’s a little joke when kindergartens grade ones learn that you have a first name, you know, it’s not Mr. It’s, you know, my first name’s Kevin. So they would come up to me and I remember them whispering and going, we don’t want your real name. And they go, yeah, it’s Mr. And they go, no, no, no, no. We know your real name. And I said, well, what do you think it is? And they go, well, we’re not supposed to say your real name because, you know, and they knew it wasn’t right.


Kevin Wendling (23:10):
I said, don’t just tell me. And they said, we think it’s Kevin. I said, it is, what should you call me that? And they said, no, you’re Mr. Lenley. But they think it’s funny because you’re human, it’s human side to you. And we’re like, when I show them pictures or they come to my office and they see pictures of my family. So it’s not, you know, boundaries are important for respect, but you gotta be careful that that boundary doesn’t dehumanize you as well. You’re, you’re very much you’re very much a human being and they know that. But when they realize that you have a family and you have a white friend that you have kids and they see those kids and they see pictures, or you’re out at a hockey game, you know, that’s the thing you don’t want to create the boundary where a kid comes up to you and says, hi, Mr.


Kevin Wendling (23:51):
Welling, how are you? And you just kind of push them off or shut them off. Some kids though, don’t want to come up to you and they see you. So you wave you wave. And that makes them realize that you’re a human being as well. But boundaries are incredibly important when you, when you talk about from a leadership standpoint that, you know, in terms of like your employees and people you work with and things like that. But in terms of kids, they actually know the boundaries and you may remind them of it, but you do so in a way that’s human and compassionate because that’s, that’s part of being a teacher. That actually to me is an incredible teachable moment because yeah, today, right now, some kids really, you know, some schools, you actually see people call them, you know, they I’d be called substitute Mr.


Kevin Wendling (24:31):
Kevin. And I’m like, oh, well, I don’t like, well, they can’t pronounce your last name. I said, you know what, I’d rather them not pronounce my name, last name properly and learn along the way saying, well, I can’t say your name. Cause it’s, it’s difficult for me to say and just rename you something, you know, your name is part of who you are and part of the respect that you got to give to others. So there’s that one to unpack that one. There’s a lot of stuff that when you talk about boundaries and you know, that, that can be incredibly tough, but in terms of kids and stuff, like, yeah, they need to know the boundaries, but they also need you. You can’t use that as a way of dehumanizing who you are. Yeah.


Sam Demma (25:08):
Also you put up a barrier that’s not necessary right there. It makes it even harder for them to reach out. I think our online that you’ve been teaching for 27 or 28 years now.


Kevin Wendling (25:18):
Yeah, yeah. Teaching and being involved with education. But considering I like tutored kids even back in high school. It’s it’s and I was a leader of a cup pack. You know, even before, like, it was funny, I’m brilliantly pack leader who worked with others that actually had to get a drive to the, to the, to the meetings cause time. So yeah. All the kids and working with kids for a really long time. Yeah. Probably, probably over 30 years, but professionally as a professional it’s I think it makes 27.


Sam Demma (25:49):
Okay, cool. And so it might be a tough question, but if you could take all the experience and wisdom that you have gained over the past 28 years and distill it into a couple of pieces of advice for your younger self, when you were just starting this work, like knowing what you know now, what would you share with your younger self?


Kevin Wendling (26:10):
Be honest, be genuine and just love the kids. And, and as you teach them just help wherever they are just help them. And and everything else will work out. It’s really about loving kids. It’s really about teaching them for myself as a, you know, that’s for me just general that’s, that’s my 24 year old self, just starting to teach, you know, who was nervous about lesson plans and this and that. And it’s like, no, this, this will all work out. We’ll be okay. As a, as an administrator, as a principal. And I learned this very quickly. So I was lucky. It’s really about four things. You know, you want to create a school that, where kids learn, where kids feel safe and where kids wellness is looked after, but I would even say have fun. And from a face standpoint, you do all that, knowing that God is with you in that below of the holy spirit is with you.


Kevin Wendling (27:09):
And that, and that basically from a faith standpoint, that all those things have to come from a faith perspective as well. So those would be two piece of advice I’d give, give my younger self. And, and the other thing I would say is to do this job, it’s not just you, it’s also your spouse, it’s also your family. So, so my kids, you know, let’s face it a family with, with two teachers in it. There’s certain rules you learn and, you know, there’s certain things you learn and certain things you say and don’t say, and, and, but it must’ve worked because my oldest is going to be is a teacher and she’s just going into her second year. And I probably have at least two other teachers, I’ve got two who said, Nope, I’m not teaching, but yet I watch how they work and interact with others.


Kevin Wendling (27:54):
And there you’re just like teachers. They’re just like teacher. I have one daughter who’s probably going to go into the medical field and yet she could tutor and help kids read and do all that and analyze it better than almost any teacher. I know. And her biggest frustration was, I don’t understand why parents don’t help their kids. You know, like I don’t understand that. And she just sits back with that. But, but that’s the thing it’s, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s a whole, almost like a family thing. And again, if I look too, there’s no teachers, my family, but I look at my wife, her whole family is teachers. And one of the best teachers I know other than my wife has actually her mother who was awesome kindergarten teacher. And actually as a young principal, I would go to her for advice and say, look, you’re a veteran teacher.


Kevin Wendling (28:39):
What am I missing something here? What do you think? And she was, she was always awesome with the advice. So I guess that would be the other piece I would give is you’re not alone. You need to collaborate with others. You need to work with others. You need to, to know that you don’t know everything. And I’ve probably early on my career. I was a little stubborn that way. I figured I knew things, but man when I kind of let that down and work with others, it’s phenomenal how much others can build you up and teach you. If you have an open mind to that and going overseas taught you that as well. Oh my gosh. You want to change your life, go overseas for a year. It true. Like that’s an old saying that they say, but it truly makes a huge difference.


Sam Demma (29:21):
I love that. That’s awesome. Kevin, thank you so much for being generous with your time and sharing so many coolest stories and ideas and principles and your journeys traveling overseas, your journeys at summer camp. If there’s an educator listening right now who feels inspired or just wants to chat about something related to the podcast or anything they heard, what would be the way for them to reach out to you?


Kevin Wendling (29:43):
That’s the way we be at my address at the school on that. KWendling@ncdsb.on.ca. That’s, that’s probably the best way to do that. And I would, I would love to hear and if stories to share or people that, you know, along the way, like, Hey, let’s talk! I’d be more than open to those opportunities.


Sam Demma (30:09):
Awesome. Kevin, thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate your time and keep up the great work.


Kevin Wendling (30:15):
Thanks for having me on the show.


Sam Demma (30:17):
And there you have it, another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www dot high-performing educator.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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kevin Wendling

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.

Paulette Lippert – Experiential Learning Leader for Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board

Paulette Lippert Experiential Lead Learner BGCDSB
About Paulette Lippert

Paulette Lippert (@paulettelippert) is passionate about all things education.  She has been devoting her time and energy to her work for the past 27-years.  Growing up in a rural area, she realized that access to opportunities was a challenge and now she bridges these exact gaps for the students in the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board. 

As the Experiential Learning Leader, Paulette spends her time bringing new programs and hands-on opportunities to the schools in her board.  She is also a mom of two amazing kids, disabilities & mental health advocate & avid Arts enthusiast.  

Connect with Paulette: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

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Resources Mentioned

Rural and Ready

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Paulette Lippert. Paulette is passionate about all things education. She has been devoting her time and energy to her work in education for the past 27 years. Growing up in a rural area herself, she realized that access to opportunities was a challenge and now strives to bridge these exact gaps for the students in the Bruce grey Catholic district school board.


Sam Demma (01:07):
As the experiential learning leader, Paulette spends her time bringing new programs and hands-on opportunities to the schools in her board. She’s also a mom of two amazing kids, a disability and mental health advocate and avid art enthusiast. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Paulette. It was amazing, and I will see you on the other side, all that welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Love that you’re tuning in from the woods. You got the forest behind you, although no one can see it. I think it’s awesome. Yeah. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you do the work you do today in education.


Paulette Lippert (01:48):
Oh, sure. Well, first of all, thank you for having me. It was a huge honor to be asked to be a guest on this podcast and I’m, I’m super pumped. I always love talking about education because it’s my passion. So I really appreciated the invitation. So thanks for having me. My name’s Paulette Lippert I live while you, you can see behind me, the, the woods I live in Bruce county, near Kincardine Ontario. And so behind those woods is also like Huron. So I’m very blessed to live in this area because it’s very beautiful. I also grew up here and didn’t really think growing up that I would remain here as an adult, but I’m certainly glad that I did. And yeah, so I’ve been, this is actually, I, I had a bit of a session this week with some of our new teachers who are just joining our board and before I met with them, I had to actually get out the calculator and check my math because I could not believe that this is the beginning of my 27th year in education. I just, I just don’t know where the time has gone. I’m sure lots of people say that, but time flies you’re having fun. Yeah. So how did I get started? Is that the question you asked before I went into that lengthy introduction?


Sam Demma (03:08):
Yeah. And before, before you even jump into that, there’s a bunch of educators. I want to give you a round of applause for the 27 years of service. What got you started and brought you to where you are now?


Paulette Lippert (03:22):
Well what got me started, I’m going to go way, way back. So I’m going to go to the time when I was a really young child and I was just starting school myself at that time with my parents and I, we were living in the city of Cambridge and but we would come back to Bruce county, which is where my parents were from on weekends. And I can remember coming back and, and playing lots with my older cousins. And we used to play school. That was one of the things that we played. So I always wanted to be the teacher and then we would come home after being there on these weekends, playing school with these older cousins. And then I would want to play school with my younger sister and I was the teacher and I would get very upset with her when she could not do the math and the reading that I was assigning to her, which of course she cut into.


Paulette Lippert (04:12):
She was younger. And I remember my mom having to, having to speak to me about this and saying you know, you need to realize your sister is younger than you. She can’t do the work that you’re used to doing at school and you can’t be so hard on her. And so I guess that was my first introduction to learning some good pedagogy as a future teacher. You know, how important it is that you know, your students and understand where they are at before, you can possibly try to teach them what it is that you want them to know. So that was my first lesson. So it’s just kind of a cutesy story to reflect back on, but I also had a couple of teachers in high school who were really key to encouraging me. I had an English teacher.


Paulette Lippert (04:59):
His name was Mr. Forest. Absolutely wonderful man. Really great in the classroom had really wonderful classes that were engaging and he had good relationships with his students and he was also a guidance counselor and he wasn’t the guidance counselor that was assigned to me. But the one day that I made an appointment with the guidance counselor that was assigned to me, that guidance counselor happened to be a way that day. I think he was sick. So Mr. Forest stepped in and did this guidance session with me and I was in such a hurry at that time, I was graduating grade 12 and I wanted to go to college at that point because I wanted to get started in my career. I was just so anxious to get going and get started. And Mr. Forest looked at me and he said, a lot of people would wouldn’t necessarily say this to you, but I’m just going to say it to you.


Paulette Lippert (05:51):
I’ve taught you twice. Now you are not going to be happy doing that. You need to go university. You are a university bound student. If you go this other route, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do this, but I’m telling you that at the end of that two or three or pro three-year program or whatever it is that you choose to do, I guarantee you you’re going to want more because you love to learn and I highly recommend that you not do that and apply for university and then see what happens. And so I remember when he retired, I saw a notice in the newspaper that he was retiring and I had to write him a letter just to thank him for being so upfront and so honest with me, but also for encouraging me to take that path because I think he was right.


Paulette Lippert (06:39):
So that’s kind of how I got into the, to the work. It wasn’t a straight path for me though. I actually started in a different direction in a, in a related career. But I S I was in the end of high school. I was debating between social work and education, my last couple of years of high school. And I couldn’t make up my mind. And of course these fields are very much related. But much of the work I have done as an educator has definitely been very much informed by my studies at the faculty of social work. So I actually pursued a master’s in social work degree at Wilfrid Laurier university. And it was actually during my work placements when I was completing that program, that I realized that I really needed to move to the education system rather than remain in social services.


Paulette Lippert (07:31):
When you begin the program, you are asked to select one of two specialties. So as a social work student, you can either specialize in individuals, families, and groups, or you can go into community development. And so I chose individuals, families, and groups, cause I thought I was going to be family therapist. And that was, that was my goal. And then I started one of my work placements in, and that was in child welfare. And what I found was that I was not seeing enough results for my, for my work. So I would work with a family and things would be going really well. And I would think we were making some really good progress. And then just when you thought you were on the right path to change and to improvement something unpredictable would happen to that family. And then it kind of felt like you were right back at square one.


Paulette Lippert (08:27):
So whether it was a traumatic event or, you know or an illness in the family or a death or something, some big event would have occurred. And they almost like you’re starting over again. And I, and I felt like I was spinning my wheels. And I remember coming home from when I was with children’s aid society. And I would be cooking feverously in the kitchen. And in particular I was baking a lot and I would bake and I would say I was married. I was newly married at the time. And I would say to my husband here, help yourself. Cause I’m, you know, I just made something last night and here I’ve made something again tonight. And, and he looked at me and he finally said to me, who are you? And I said, what do you mean? He said, you hate to bake.


Paulette Lippert (09:17):
This is not what you like to do. Why are you doing this? Like, I hope you’re not doing it for me because I don’t expect this. And I suddenly had an aha moment. I sat back and went, oh my gosh, why am I doing this? I hate baking. You’re right. Why am I doing this? And I realized I could throw a bunch of ingredients in a bowl, mix them up, stick them in the oven and come out with a product. And I was not feeling that at work at all. And so it was like this big aha moment where I went, I need to see results for my work and I need, they can’t be that long-term, I need to see results for my work sooner than later. And that was it. Then I knew I’ve, I’ve got to go to education because one of the things I learned really quickly, I also did a placement as a school social worker. And I got to watch all of these great teachers teaching their classes and I, I could see the kids making connections and I could see them building skills. And I could see that these teachers were seeing growth in their students right away. And teaching does that for you. You get that immediate feedback from students. And then that was it for me, I knew this was the path and I, that I needed to take.


Sam Demma (10:30):
That’s amazing what a story and the analogy between the baking and the end result. That’s such a powerful one, like right. When you were making the connection, I could totally understand that feeling. And I’m sure there’s so many educators that can relate to that. Some of the most meaningful experiences of education is seeing the seed grow that you plant in a student. And as you know, probably sometimes you see that, you know, within 10 days and other times it takes 15 years. And I know there’s a difference for students growing up in this city than there is for students might be growing up in a rural environment. And I’m curious to know, like, what do you think are some of the challenges and also maybe some of the benefits as well, like both sides of the coin being a rural student.


Paulette Lippert (11:13):
Well, the benefits are this is going to sound very stereotypical, but everybody knows everybody in a small town. Sometimes that can be a blessing and a curse. So, you know, you know, we all know what, how gossip spreads in small towns and that kind of thing. So there are challenges with that, but overall having these connections and knowing how everyone is connected is really, really useful for you as an educator. You know, if you know who so-and-so’s aunt or uncle is, that’s sitting in front of you in class and you make reference to them and they light up right away. They know that you know who they are and, and, and they know that, okay, so she knows my aunt or uncle, I better straighten up here. You know, there’s some of that effect as well. It’s just really, really helpful that to know those connections when you’re working in a, in a rural and small community and, and for lots of reasons, it’s really good to know who everyone is connected to.


Paulette Lippert (12:11):
And, I’m not saying that you can’t get that in an urban environment. I think you can, but I think it, it’s more challenging to be able to make those connections. So that’s a real benefit for sure for educators. I mean, I just remember recently teaching a student and and I’ve known his grandparents my whole life. And he was, and he was, he was an easy student where he was, he, he enjoyed if you joked around with him a lot. And, and he asked me a question about something about how soon does this work have to be done. And I said something like, well, you know, the deadline, and I think you have enough time to complete it, but just know I have your grandpa on Twitter. I can tweet your grandpa at any time. And he just looked at me.


Paulette Lippert (12:55):
And so, you know, that’s the beauty of being in a small town is is having those connections and letting your students know that you know, who they are and knowing their name and knowing how to properly pronounce their name and knowing just where they fit in in the community is really, really helpful. So that’s, what’s, that’s the benefit but there are challenges as well. You do have to work really hard to find opportunities for your students that are probably often taken for granted, maybe not often, but sometimes taken for granted and larger, more urban centers. So, you know, we don’t necessarily have the fancy summer camps here that students would have perhaps access to in the city. And traveling is, you know, you put a lot of mileage on I put 50,000 kilometers on my car every year and I’m living in a rural area.


Paulette Lippert (13:59):
And so I I’m living an hour away from my work place. And that’s not uncommon many people do. And so, because we don’t have any public transportation here this can be a huge barrier for students who want to seek opportunities that aren’t necessarily in their own community or are in a more urban environment. We don’t have colleges and universities right in our backyard. You know, we have one campus, we have Georgia and college, which is not their main campus, but it is the campus in Owen sound. So we have one college. We do also have Fanshawe college that has some outreach campuses that our students can take advantage of for some programs. But really all of our students are at least two hours away from, from other institutions, colleges, and universities. So that can be a barrier there’s you know, there’s costs associated with travel.


Paulette Lippert (15:01):
So, and, and even for our students in the south, there’s still an over an hour away from Georgia and college. So even the closest college that would, we would consider is in our community. They’re still an hour away from that. So it makes it really challenging sometimes. And I work closely with our OEM coordinator and he always says to people who don’t really have this understanding of our geography, you know, he says, just remember that Bruce county is bigger than prince Edward island. So, you know, in prince Edward island, you’re just about half an hour away from everything, but it takes us a lot longer to travel from one end of our county to the other. So where our communities are spread out and it’s a vast geographical region. So that, so sometimes our students, because of that geographical factor, sometimes our students can feel more isolated than urban students.


Paulette Lippert (15:56):
And sometimes what I’m hearing more and more from this is something I’m discovering in this rural as the experiential learning lead is that our students are often feeling less prepared when it comes time for them to leave secondary school and venture out into a more urban environment. So that’s something that I’m really paying more attention to is hearing stories from students when they are expressing this. And and it’s also having me work harder to find organizations and mentorship opportunities that could help with that. I’m, I don’t know, Sam, if you’re familiar, there’s a youth led organization that I was recently introduced to and it’s called rural and ready. Oh, cool. And it’s it’s student developed and student led and it’s a nonprofit organization that is all about creating opportunities for rural students to help build their readiness and their independence for post-secondary education and the world of work.


Paulette Lippert (16:59):
So, you know, here’s a little plug for them. They, they started, it was three young women who were in who decided to pursue stem careers and they got off into their prospective university programs and found out really quickly that there were things that other students just knew and took for granted that they didn’t know. So an example they gave is that some of those students have been doing their own research for years in labs. And they just ha in their realm of experience, they just hadn’t had that opportunity. And so, and, and many of the students they were in programs with had also attended private schools where some of these programs were readily available as well. And they had attended a rural high school and just didn’t have the same access. So they began this, this organization called rural and ready and you know, they might make fantastic guests for a future podcast. I’m just going to give them a little plug.


Sam Demma (17:59):
Yeah. I’ll definitely check them out. That sounds amazing.


Paulette Lippert (18:02):
It’s kind of interesting because when I first listened to them, I attended a session that they gave for, for experiential learning leads in in our region. And they, of course, were targeting experiential learning leads who were from rural communities. And at first I kind of got my backup a little bit and I was like, no, that’s not the experience of our students. We are preparing our students. I know we are because we have so many students that go out there and they’re very highly successful at university and they come back and they share their stories and we’re definitely preparing our kids. Then I started listening more closely to what our former students and current students were saying. And I realized, okay, there are some barriers here for rural students that we don’t pay enough attention to. And so I’ve started paying closer attention to what they were, what they had to share. And it’s definitely an issue. Yeah.


Sam Demma (18:55):
Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate it. And along with the struggles, you know, there are also still those stories of transformation and amazing impact that programs have, or teachers have on students. And I’m curious to know if some of those stories kind of stick out in your mind, you know, you mentioned at the beginning of this, and maybe even before we hit the record button that educators throughout their lives, they collect those stories, you know, put it in the little envelope on their desk. And maybe when they’re feeling down, refer to them to pick themselves back up. But do any of those stories stick out in your mind that you feel like?


Paulette Lippert (19:28):
Absolutely. Absolutely. So I’m going to go back several years. And one of my favorite things to teach is the social sciences courses in our high school. And I’m one of those courses that I, I got to teach many, many times that I absolutely loved was the, the parenting courses. So there’s a great 11 open parenting course, and there’s also a college level parenting course, and one is called living and working with children. And then the other one is really focuses on becoming a parent and it really looks at pregnancy and birth really closely. And and so I, I loved both of these courses and was always really excited to teach them. And I remember this group really well. This was the open class, the pregnancy and birth class. And so one of the field trips that we always take is we go to our local birthing center for a tour and we have a wonderful birthing center in market and by the way, a shout out to them because it’s absolutely phenomenal.


Paulette Lippert (20:34):
So, and I had, as an, as a young mom, I had had the experience of having one of my children and in this birthing center and and actually started out having both of them in the birthing center, but had to be transferred to a larger center with one of them. So I knew the great work that they did there. So I was always excited to take students there. So this one particular day I took my class. We, we made it sometimes we had to cancel our trip because they would have too many people in labor and they would have to say, oh, you have to come at a different day. It’s too busy. But this particular day, it worked out and off. We went and we had our tour and we were at the point now where the obstetric nurse was was asking the students, okay, what questions do you have?


Paulette Lippert (21:19):
I want to answer all of your questions. So it does, there’s no silly question to ask. And so a couple of students ask some questions about the equipment that they had seen, and then one student put up her hand. And the first question she asked was at what stage in pregnancy should an expectant mothers start taking maternal vitamins. And I thought, okay, that’s, that’s a good question. And it’s not a question that I, I expected. And it was something that I knew we would cover in the course, but that we hadn’t covered that yet. And then the next question was, if someone has a baby here and they want to give their baby up for adoption, how does that work? Do the adoptive parents come to the birthing center right away and take the baby right away. And that question stopped me in my tracks.


Paulette Lippert (22:11):
And I saw the nurse look at me, and I knew that we were communicating with our eyes. We were both thinking the same thing. And I realized that, oh my gosh, this student is expecting a baby. And I don’t think she’s told anyone yet. So I, we got back to the school and on my prep that day, I called her out of class and we had a conversation and sure enough she was expecting a baby and she hadn’t told anyone. She hadn’t shared it with her parents yet. I was the first person to tell. And I just said to her, well, what was the questions you were asking? I knew right away. So she did have the baby and she did keep that baby. And now fast forward 14 years, and this young woman walks into my classroom, the first week of school starting in September.


Paulette Lippert (23:04):
And she looked at me and she said, my mom told me I had to come find you. And I said, oh, why is that? What can I help you with? And she said, well, you are the first person to ever know that I was coming into the world. And I knew right away. I knew, oh my gosh, this is that baby. This is her daughter. And she said by the way, my mom said she would love to be a guest speaker in your, in your class, if you ever want to reach out to her. And I went, oh yeah, I’m reaching out to her. I want her to come as soon as possible. And the other neat thing was this baby was born on my birthday. So we shared that information too. And, and that was just kind of a weird coincidence at the same time.


Paulette Lippert (23:47):
So the great thing is she came back as a guest speaker, told her entire story to the class, but then she went on to talk about, you know, how hard it was to be a young mom and how hard it was to pursue her education. But she did it. So she talked about all of the challenges that she faced, and she was, she had already achieved her bachelor of arts degree. She got a sociology degree, and then she shared with the class, but I want to go further. I really want to become a researcher. And I want to research pro I want to do research and sociology that really matters to students. So she then explained that the research that she was already embarking on was really looking at sex education programs, whether or not students had adequate information that they needed to make these big life decisions.


Paulette Lippert (24:47):
And she shared with the class that in her family, sex was never really talked about. You know, her parents assume the school was doing that job. And yes, the school did have family life programs in place, but she really felt that she lacked information that she needed. And she was also looking at places where there were really robust sex education programs in place in high schools and found that there was a correlation that students who had all the information they felt they needed were delaying sexual, their sexual relationships. They were waiting longer before they became sexually active. And so she was telling my class, all of this and my class was absolutely riveted. And, and then to hear that she, you know, she had hoped then to go on and do her doctorate and become a professor and just to see the journey that she had taken. Oh my gosh, I can’t tell you how much that meant to hear her speak. I was just enthralled as the students were. And so, you know, sometimes the work that you do, you don’t find out, as you said earlier, you don’t find out how important that work is until many years later. But there, she was in my classroom living proof and and she was really excited to come and share that information with me. So yeah,


Sam Demma (26:13):
Yeah, yeah. And the sharing of birthdays like,


Paulette Lippert (26:21):
Oh, I know it’s crazy.


Sam Demma (26:22):
That’s so cool.


Paulette Lippert (26:24):
It’s crazy. But I was just so incredibly proud of her. And recently I saw a teacher post something on Twitter that said, you know, when I retire, I don’t want flowers and I don’t want a big meal and I don’t want the big retirement party. I just want my adult students to come back to me and share with me what’s going on in their lives. And I’m like, yes. Like, like, like if you could have a multiple like button on Twitter yes. That’s how teachers feel. We, we don’t need all these fancy presence and we don’t need you know, all the, the FA the public thinks we really just want to know how our students are doing and that they’re fairing okay. In this crazy world. And so she did that for me that day.


Sam Demma (27:06):
Thank you so much for sharing that story. That’s a great story. Now, you have a reason to reach out to her again, so feel free to do so. You know, if another educator is listening to this right now, Paula, and is a little bit inspired or reminded of something, and they would love to chat with you what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Paulette Lippert (27:26):
They can definitely find me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is just my name at Paulette Lippert. I’m also on LinkedIn, so anyone could reach out that way as well. I don’t, I don’t check LinkedIn as often as I should, but I’m definitely on Twitter pretty regularly. And that’s what actually, that’s one of the things that we’ve been finding out about our rural students is they needed some support knowing about all, about LinkedIn too, and, and the importance of that networking from an early age. So I got to get better at that along with, as I promote that to my students.


Sam Demma (27:59):
Nice. Oh, awesome. Well, this has been a phenomenal first conversation I say first, because they’ll probably do a part two sometime in the future if you’re open to it.


Paulette Lippert (28:08):
Absolutely. I would love


Sam Demma (28:10):
To, this was great. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Paulette Lippert (28:14):
Okay. Thanks again for having me. And I just want to wish everyone good luck out there who is beginning. Their teaching career are beginning a new school a year. It’s been challenging for educators. And so I just want to wish everyone the best of luck.


Sam Demma (28:28):
I actually, you know, what? You just prompted one last question. Oh, sure. If you could go back in time and speak to Paulette year one of education, knowing what you know now with the experience you have, what advice would you give for those educators who might be just embarking on this journey?


Paulette Lippert (28:44):
That, that one is easy for me. I think I, I began my teaching career and I really, really wanted to be the best possible teacher that I could be. And I really think that I thought I had to be perfect. And, and I didn’t know when I should be reaching out for help or support. So if I could give one piece of advice to my, my younger self and to any new teacher it would be that you will definitely make mistakes. And just as there are no perfect parents out there anywhere, there also are no perfect teachers. So my advice would be to be reflective enough so that you recognize the mistakes when you make them. But then also not to be so hard on yourself tell yourself that it is okay to make mistakes and learn, and and know that when you admit, when you make mistakes to your students, that then they have the permission to make mistakes as well and learn from them.


Paulette Lippert (29:50):
So and don’t be afraid to reach out to the supports that are there when you need them. And that can be, you know, assistance of any kind advice, resources, coaching, whatever it is that you need. There are people there to support you in your own building, but also in the district. And those of us who have been in this field for a while, we all want you to be successful because we know how much we need you right now. And we always need good educators, but we really need them right now. And so we want to be able to support you and nurture you as you begin your journey and and continue on your journey. You know, we’re never done learning. I’m, I’m learning all the time, even after 27 years. And that’s what keeps you fresh, and that’s what keeps you motivated in the profession. So don’t be afraid to reach out for those supports. I can think of some times when I really needed those supports and should have reached out and did not. So that would be my piece of advice.


Sam Demma (30:51):
Love that. What a good way to end. Thank you so much again for coming on. That was amazing. Keep up the great work and we will definitely talk again soon.


Paulette Lippert (31:00):
Thanks again. Take care.


Sam Demma (31:02):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode and.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paulette Lippert

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.

Melissa Wright – New Brunswick Student Leadership Association President

Melissa Wright New Brunswick Student Leadership Association President
About Melissa Wright

Melissa Wright (@WrightMelissa_)is a passionate educator and speaker that is driven to help schools create a place where students belong and everyone feels like they matter. Melissa is also the president of the New Brunswick Student Leadership Association President.

By sharing ideas that work in her school, she helps educators and students see they can improve their culture and climate. She is known for her passion and desire to see students succeed, and find their inner leader.

Connect with Melissa: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kennebascis Valley High School

Jostens Renaissance Program

www.melissawright.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 (00:02):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today we have on a very special guest. Her name is Melissa Wright. She is a passionate educator and speaker that is driven to help schools create a place where students can belong. And everyone feels like they matter by sharing ideas that work in her school. She helps educators and students see they can improve their culture and school climate. She is known for her passion and desire to see students succeed and find their own inner leader. Along with all this, Melissa is also the new Brunswick student leadership association president. And on today’s episode, she has so many unique ideas and inspiring moments to share. I hope you enjoy it. Let’s get in with the interview, Melissa. Thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you here. We were just talking about some salsa and bachata and dancing early morning. Can you share with the audience who you are and why you got into the work that you do with youth today?


Melissa Wright (01:08):
Yeah. Thanks so much, Sam, for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that you’re doing this. I’m so kudos to you. But yeah, a little bit about me. I’m a high school educator at Kennebascis Valley High School. This is year 16. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my whole career here and I mostly teach math, but I also have a local option of dance. So that’s super fun to teach because, you know, we do classical styles like tap and jazz, but then we also have a vice principal in our school that had learned but shadow from a previous relationship. And I had never done that style before. So he taught me and then we taught it to the class. So now he comes in and guest teaches that.


Melissa Wright (01:47):
So that’s a super fun class, but you know, it’s so great every day to be able to come and do something that you love. You know, I got into teaching because of dance. So when I was about 13 or so, I started assisting at my local dance school. And then by the time I was 16, I was teaching classes on my own. So that’s where I fell in love with teaching. And then, you know, I love math as well in school. So I said, well, I’ll become a teacher. And then once I became a teacher saw that, Hey, there’s an opportunity. You can write your own curriculum because in new Brunswick don’t have a dance course it’s written by the province. So I took that opportunity to, to write that and got it approved. So it’s great that we, that we have that here, but also part of what I do in love is, is student leadership as well.


Melissa Wright (02:30):
So when I was in high school, I was fortunate enough to have an educator and she always gets embarrassed every time I say this, but Heather Malco was my student council advisor in high school. And she really, really inspired me to be a teacher and pushed me to be the best version of myself. I could be. She was my, she taught me French in grade 10, but she was my student council advisor in high school. And, you know, it’s just amazing that she got me into that and pushed me to go through that. And we now work together, actually the pneumonic student leadership association. So it’s come completely full circle. And you know, it’s so great to have those people that inspire you to do those things that you know, that you love and that they sometimes can see in you that you can’t see in yourself.


Sam Demma (03:14):
I love that. That’s amazing. I have a similar story with the educator in my school named Michael loud foot. He just retired, although we don’t stay in touch to this day. So I think it’s awesome. And shout out to Heather and make sure you reach out to her after this and tell her that her name’s on another show. I was reading on your website before this interview that you want an award and your whole, your whole messaging in schools and for students is to help them feel like they matter. And I’m curious to know how do we make students feel like they matter during a time like COVID-19?


Melissa Wright (03:50):
Well, you know, it all comes down to relationships. It really, it really, really does. And, you know, I was fortunate enough when we closed in the spring during COVID that, you know, we’d had some time to build those relationships in the classroom so that the students trust you you know, coming into a new school year, that can be a little bit more difficult if you haven’t taught the students before. But I think it’s the fact of, you know, if they know that you’re there and that’s, you’re supporting them, you know if they have things going on outside of school and they come to you and say, you know, can I have an extra day to write before I have this test? You know, give them some grace, right. Then that’s really going to help them feel comfortable. And the thing of it is we are, we’re finding that so many of our kids with this whole cause we’re a hybrid, right?


Melissa Wright (04:35):
We’re there one day in the classroom and then the next day at home. So they’re getting stressed out about, you know, the workload and that sort of thing. But you know, sometimes we just have to take them aside and say, listen, you know, you have this math assignment, but what’s going on outside of school because this math assignment pales in comparison to perhaps the thing that you have going on in your personal life, or, you know, and I always tell the kids, they always ask me, you know, like, where am I ever gonna use this math? And I said, you know sad as it sounds, you might never learn, need to know how to graph a parabola in your everyday life. But I said, the skills that you use to do that, like grit and perseverance, and you know, this is a challenge and working hard, all of those skills, I guarantee you, you can use in any field that you go into. So I think we need to build those relationships with kids and show them that these skills and the resiliency it’s going to take them to get through this situation. And this school year is going to be something that’s going to stick with them for a lifetime.


Sam Demma (05:34):
Awesome. I love it so much that the social emotional learning side of subjects is not talked about enough and you did a great job just now explaining that. So other educators, if you get that objection by your students, definitely quote Melissa, what did Heather do for you when you were a student that pushed you? Did she tap you on the shoulder and tell you to get involved? What was it that she did if he could travel back in time that lit a fire within you that maybe another educator listening might think, wow, let me try and embody that thing, whatever she did to also light a fire under their, their own students.


Melissa Wright (06:10):
Well, when I first had her, she came into our school when I was in grade 10 and I had her for grade 10 fringe and she was just, she was a young teacher, bubbly personality, full of energy. So obviously, you know, her personality for one I gravitated towards right away. But the second thing was, you know, she, I had been involved in student council in grade nine and you know, I was lucky enough to be involved again in grade 10 and she ended up coming to take over. So, but when it came to grade 12, I was like, oh, you know, maybe cause I’d been a rep in grade 9, 10, 11. I was like, well, you know, maybe I’ll run for an executive position, but you know, I’d be okay with just being grateful type thing. And she’s like, no, you know, Melissa, I think you should run for president.


Melissa Wright (06:52):
So she was kind of the one that just said, you know, like the, what if you take those what ifs and turn them into, you know, I can’t, you know what I mean? So she was the one that said, you know, why don’t you run for president? I said, well, I’ll give it a shot. Cause you know, if I didn’t get elected, then the recollections were after that. Right. So I had a, I had a second chance type thing. So because of her just saying, you know, like, why don’t you do this or try this sometimes it’s just planting that little seed and that idea in a person’s head that makes them think a little differently, that things, wow. Maybe I should take this opportunity.


Sam Demma (07:28):
Yeah. That’s a great point. And I think back to my story as well, and my teacher did the same thing, it was a challenge. He challenged us. I think young people love challenges. They always want to show other people up, especially their teachers. So a little tap on the shoulder. A challenge is a great way to do that. Speaking of challenges during COVID, there has been many, I know you’re doing hybrid learning. Has there been a challenge that you have overcome that you think is worth sharing with another educator? Maybe you had a unique idea to solve a certain problem. And then I’ll ask you a follow-up question about, have you had any students who have been impacted during this time in a major way, and you can change their name if you want, but share a story and it doesn’t have to be during COVID.


Sam Demma (08:09):
It could be in your whole journey of education, share a story of a student who has been deeply impacted by something that’s happened in the school. Because another educator might be starting school this year and this might be their first year teaching and they might be thinking, oh my goodness, like what did I just sign up for? And a story like that might just light a fire in their belly to remember, no, the reason we do this is to change lives. And although it’s tough, we develop that grit and resiliency. So long question, first part share some unique ideas about overcoming COVID challenges. Second part student story changed their name for privacy reasons if you’d like,


Melissa Wright (08:43):
Okay. So yeah, ideas for, for COVID. So when I’m actually, I’m involved here at school, we have what’s called a Renaissance. So it’s all about school, culture and climate. So Jocelyn’s, everybody knows Jocelyn’s further rings in yearbooks. They’re kind of the ones that they don’t like determine what your program is, but they help with resources and that sort of thing. So we’re lucky enough to have the Renaissance team here at the school that I, that I run. And the big thing that we did was to make sure that the kids were still connected. So in those first two weeks, when for here in new Brunswick, when they closed in the spring, the first two weeks were kind of treated like snow days. Everybody was just home. There was no schoolwork, but as the advisor, one of the advisors, I have another advisor, we felt it was still important for us to stay connected to our team.


Melissa Wright (09:33):
So we kept continue to meet virtually, even though we didn’t really know what was going to happen in terms of our events and that sort of thing, we said, okay, we still need to meet with you guys because it’s just a, check-in say, Hey, how you doing? Do you need anything? But then the kids were the ones that said we’d brought in a guest speaker and a fellow educator, friend of mine from Wyoming Bradley Skinner. And he sparked them to say, why can’t we still do what we were going to do, but do it virtually. And I’m like, that’s phenomenal. Let’s do it guys. How do you want to do this? So we did all, like, we still did almost all of our events that we would have in the spring virtually. So we did things like in the springtime, we always do something called Kisa grad goodbye.


Melissa Wright (10:15):
So it’s, it’s quite cute. It’s normally it’s a piece of cardstock with a grad cap on it and people can purchase them for 50 cents. They write who it’s to who it’s from. And then they can write a little note on the back and we stick a Hershey’s kiss to it. So, and we usually deliver it to their homeroom class, but we weren’t physically in the building to do that, but we still want it to be able to have that because that’s become a tradition for our grads that, cause it doesn’t matter what grades you have, you know, how long it’s taken you to get to the finish line. Anybody can get a kiss goodbye. And our advisory teachers love it because it’s very affordable because you have the same kids until they graduate. And it’s a nice little, just a little something that they can that they can get.


Melissa Wright (10:59):
And so we said, well, we have to do it digitally. So we set up a Google form and people filled it out and we thought, you know, we shared it on social media. We thought, okay, you know, teachers will fill that out. Probably some students, but it was amazing because not only teachers and students did it, but there were also, you know, grandparents or aunts or uncles or friends that, you know, they might not even have been coming home for graduation, but they were like had normal time, but they were even still able to send those wishes and congratulations virtually. So the, and then we did the opt to look like they did on the paper copy and we emailed them to all their advisory teachers. And then that way they could send them to them through email or teams or however they can get ahold of them.


Melissa Wright (11:40):
So that was something that became very positive. And because of that, I think now this year we’re still, you know, in the building, we will do it like we normally do on paper, but then there’ll be an option for people to also it virtually, it won’t be as fancy. We won’t do it as fancy because it takes a lot of time, but it’ll still be an option. And I think, you know, it’s something important that we give those options because it’s important to celebrate our grads. It’s important to celebrate our students and our staff. So any way that we can continue to do that even during the, especially during these times is, is gonna make a huge impact. Another thing that we normally do in person is called thank a staff number. And we do this in may because everybody knows that may is a grind and educator.


Melissa Wright (12:26):
It really, really is. Everybody is exhausted and you know, they’re looking towards summer vacation. So what we usually do when we’re in the building is in advisory, people get slips of paper and they can write a nice note about any staff member in the building. It could be teacher custodian, cafeteria worker, you know, office staff, anybody that works here at K VHS and kids are allowed to fill up more than one. So, and the kids were like, well, we still have to do this, especially now because the teachers are working like mega overtime more than they normally would. So same thing, we set up a Google form, people filled it out. And then we even had parents that were filling it out, you know, not just students and teachers for other teachers. And it was just so nice to see the appreciation that everybody had and we thought, okay, so we’ll do these up and email them out.


Melissa Wright (13:16):
But we were lucky that teachers came back, just teachers in new Brunswick came back to the building in June. So as the advisors, we were able to hand deliver those, the teachers and some of them were like, what? This still happened. I didn’t even know. Right. And we make sure that every, every single staff member in the building gets at least one, because if, if there isn’t one for them, then members of our Renaissance team take minute, a few minutes and write one for everybody that doesn’t have one. So, you know, I have, I have stacks of them. I found them when we were home at a stacks in the home, I keep them in my desk. Teachers have told us when they’re having a bad day, they pull out and read those notes. And sometimes they’re not signed. Sometimes they’re anonymous and that’s perfectly fine.


Melissa Wright (13:57):
We tell the kids, you don’t have to put your name on it if you don’t want to, but if you want to that’s good. And there’s one other idea I’m going to share with you. And that leads into my student story. So we always do something in the spring called Crusader champion and what that is. It’s a ceremony to recognize students that have made improvement in their attendance, their their behavior or their attendance. So students are nominated by their teachers to come. So we have a population of approximately 1100 students. And the last one that we did in-person we were at about 120 kids. So that’s over 10% of our population got nominated to go to this, which was amazing. So, and they, so they get an invitation in their homeroom class and they don’t know. It just says, you’re invited on this date to the mini gym at this time to be celebrated as a Crusader champion.


Melissa Wright (14:45):
And the kids are like, I thought after 15 years they would start to catch on. They always forget. It’s okay though. So they get the little card and they get to get out a third period class. And they, they love that part, first of all, but they have to have the invitation to show their teacher and to give it to us when they come to the ceremony. So they come to the ceremony and they get free lunch and there’s, you know, door prizes that we draw for, but they also get a bunch of swag. So our parents school support committee sports, we have a little rewards card and they’re the only kids that get that for that month in the school. And there’s six spaces on it. So there’s two that are one more day on a homework assignment, pretty simple. Two of them are best seat in the house.


Melissa Wright (15:24):
So they get to choose where they sit for that class. Most of the time in my class, if they use it, they get, take my teacher comfy chair to their desk. That’s usually what happens, but in the middle of the two in the middle are the favorite. So there’s one, that’s a fi it’s just a five minute break away so they can leave one class five minutes early. But the other one, which is the most coveted square on that card, and I’ve actually had kids try to get their cards early because of it it’s called a KD quick pass because the church at the top of the hill, every Wednesday serves free craft dinner for our whole school population for anybody that wants to come. So after third period, it is a mad rush to get up that hill, get Kraft dinner, like the beat the line.


Melissa Wright (16:07):
So if they have that one space, they get to leave once on a Wednesday, five minutes early to beat the rush. Now, unfortunately this year because of COVID, the church is not doing craft dinner, but we’re hoping that eventually we’ll be able be able to get back to that. And then there’s usually, you know, swag from, we have sponsors like dairy queen gives us gift certificates and that sort of thing that we give them. And then usually there’s some sort of cavies way, whether it’s a t-shirt or a bag or a water bottle or something like that. But they’re kind of when they come into that ceremony, like the deer in the headlights thing, cause one year they walked in and our superintendent was there and a bunch of officials from district office and they were kind of like what’s going on here. So, but when they, when they find out why they’re there and that a teacher has nominated them to be there, it completely changes everything.


Melissa Wright (16:51):
You just see the smiles, you know, on their faces and we, and the wonderful thing about that ceremony, it doesn’t matter what your academics are. Right. You know, teachers just want to nominate you for your improvement. Right. We’ve had all different kinds of students there, you know, from students, you know, special needs students to our we’ve had high academic Florence, but we’ve also had those kids that are the middle of the road, you know, that are working their tail off, making an improvement little by little. But yeah, like I was saying that that leads into my story and I will change the student’s name for privacy. And where’s the student probably, oh gosh, probably three years ago now. And we’ll just call him John. And he, he was having, he was having a rough go. So I had him, I had him first semester in math and his mom came in.


Melissa Wright (17:35):
She said, you know, for me, the teacher, I’m very worried about him. And when I said, you know, don’t worry, we’ll do whatever we can to help them to try to get through. And so the semester came and his attendance wasn’t that great. But when he was in the classroom, like he worked hard, but he wasn’t a behavior problem, but he just missed a lot of time. And so, and you miss so much that, unfortunately he wasn’t going to get the course, but he still came and he wrote the exam and he wrote a note on the exam. You said, you’ll see, I’ll do better next semester. Cause you knew I had the repeater class. So second semester came, he was doing great. He had like 85 working hard. And then one day he came into class and something just seemed off, you know, how you can tell when one of your friends or something that just seems something’s off.


Melissa Wright (18:24):
So I said, you know what, I’m going to call mom and do a positive phone call. So I called her and I said, hello, this is Mrs. Wright calling from KVA. Jess, do you have a moment to talk? Oh yes. Just a second. You can hear like running down a hallway and she’s like, okay, I’m somewhere quiet is everything. Okay. And I said, everything is wonderful. I’m just calling to let you know how proud I am of John and the work he’s doing. And you know, when the improvement and the turnaround that he’s made, and she said, you do not know how much this phone call means to me today. She said, this weekend, John saw his father for the last time. You will not see his dad again. And she said, you know, we’re in the process of selling our house. And this morning, you know, when he went to leave for school, there was a big kerfuffle and he couldn’t find his cell phone.


Melissa Wright (19:11):
She said the things that you guys have done for him, like, cause when they go to that Crusader champion, he had been invited there, they get a certificate. She said, he’s a grade 11 boy. He came home and put that certificate on the fridge. He said he didn’t even do that in elementary school. So we never know what impact, like it was a, it was a piece of paper that we photocopied a slice of pizza at a lunch ceremony. You know what I mean? And our little rewards card, but we don’t, to us, it seems so insignificant. But to that kid, it was everything right. You, you don’t realize the impact sometimes your ha having. And sometimes we don’t hear those types of stories, but when we do, man, those are the little golden nuggets that you, that you have to hold on to. Wow.


Sam Demma (19:59):
A phone call,


Melissa Wright (20:00):
Just a phone call, one simple phone call.


Sam Demma (20:04):
That’s so amazing. And I think even just thinking about most calls home are for negative news. Changing that script and doing, doing a positive phone call can make a huge impact as well. And that’s an amazing story. And for anyone listening, who’s just getting into education. Those stories happen. I spoke to dozens of educators on this show. Melissa is not an anomaly. That’s a great story. But you’re going to change lives. It’s, it’s, it’s a part of this job. You’re not just a teacher, you’re a mentor. You’re sometimes a perinatal figure to some students. I would even believe in a certain to a certain degree and you never know what a student’s going through. So that small action like Mike lab would set a action can make a massive global change. That’s an amazing story. I honestly think we should just end the podcast right here. This is, this is a phenomenal way to close it up. If if another educator is listening, do you have any last words you might want to share with them? Imagine, let me put it this way. Imagine you were starting teaching this year and you wanted to be Heather for yourself and you would give yourself some advice. And this is a crazy first year of teaching. What would you say?


Melissa Wright (21:18):
First of all, just in the teaching world, give yourself some grace. You’re not going to be able to do it all. And that’s okay because those students need you in the classroom. So like you might not have the perfect lesson plan, you know, try something new and if it flops it flops, but you have to take care of yourself so you can take care of your kids. And be there if you have a family as well for your family. You know, and the biggest thing of it is if you see that potential in a student, tap them on the shoulder because you don’t want to regret not doing that. You know, it’s sometimes, you know, sometimes it’s a, it’s a hard thing to approach. Like you’re not sure how to do it. And it might take a couple of times a tapping the kid on the shoulder, but don’t lose sight of that.


Melissa Wright (22:06):
Like seriously do that. And you know what I mean? You have to find when you’re a teacher, especially in your first couple of years, find your thing and find your people. Like you need to find those people that lift you up and inspire you to want to be better every single day in that building because yeah, teaching is tough. Teaching and COVID-19 is even tougher. It’s seriously, seriously is. And those people that support you and are going to be there for you. Those are the ones you always want to have around you. If they inspire you to be better, those are the people you need to be hanging out with. And don’t, and don’t lose, lose sight of who you are. You know, if ever, you know, I’m myself, I’m a very positive person. And in these times it’s so easy to get sucked into the negative.


Melissa Wright (22:53):
Try not to find the joy and every single day that you can, even if it’s one little nugget, like maybe a kid told a funny joke in class, I had a kid last week, somehow he got off topic and was talking about Donald Trump and his dad sent him a text and said, stop talking about Donald Trump in class. So he was short. So that was a funny for me that day that I took home and was laughing about it. You got to find those little moments of joy and seriously, seriously, you will make an impact even though you might not hear about it until years later. So they take it one day at a time and drink lots of water.


Sam Demma (23:33):
That’s awesome. I did a recent podcast with Dr. Greg Wells. It’s like a performance expert and he said the biggest biohack is a drinking water, drink, more water. I, that was a great way to close it. Make students feel like they matter small actions, small acts of kindness. This episode has been amazing. Listen, thank you so much for spending some time on the show with me. If another educator, maybe from another province or country is listening and wants to reach out to you to just bounce some ideas around and borrow some of your joy and enthusiasm. How can they do that?


Melissa Wright (24:07):
Well first they can, you can find me on my website, just www.melissawright.ca, or you can find me on social media. I’m on Twitter and Instagram. It’s @wrightmelissa_ on both Twitter and Instagram, or if I’m on Facebook, I’m under Melissa Sue Right.


Sam Demma (24:24):
Awesome. Thank you so much, Melissa. It’s been a pleasure.


Melissa Wright (24:26):
My pleasure. Thanks


Sam Demma (24:28):
There you have it. Another action packed interview on the high performing educator podcast, Melissa would love to hear for you from you and have a conversation. So definitely reach out if you have the time and also consider leaving a review on the podcast so that more educators like yourself can find these conversations and benefit from the inspiration and ideas. And if you are someone who has either of those things to share on this podcast, either inspiration or ideas, or, you know, somebody who would be a perfect guest, please email us, info@samdemma.com. So we can share those stories and ideas on the show until then I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melissa Wright

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.

Paul Dols – Climate & Culture Coordinator at Monrovia High School in Southern California

Paul Dols Student Leadership
About Paul Dols


Paul Dols (@PaulDWildcat) is the Climate & Culture Coordinator at Monrovia High School in Southern California. His responsibilities include being Activities Director, Renaissance Coordinator, and Link Crew Coordinator. 

A classroom teacher for 26 years, his passion and goal are to create a school that every student and staffulty member calls home and no one wants to leave.  Paul believes that education is the noblest of professions and provides the opportunity to “Sow the Seeds” each and every day.

Connect with Paul: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

Josten’s Renaissance leadership program

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Paul Dols. He is the climate and culture coordinator at Monrovia high school in Southern California. His responsibilities include being activities, director Renaissance coordinator, and link crew coordinator, a classroom teacher for 26 years. His passion and goal is to create a school that every student and Staffold T member calls home. And no one wants to leave. Paul believes that education is the noblest of professions and provides the opportunity to sow the seeds each and every day. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Paul and I will see you on the other side, Paul, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you do the work you do today in education?


Paul Dols (01:34):
Sure, sure. Sam, thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it. I’m flattered. So I I’ve started in education back in the previous century. I had my first classroom in 95, 96 at a middle school in Northridge, California. I did middle school for a couple of years. And then in 1997, I moved to Monrovia high school. For those who don’t know where Monrovia is, we are in the foothills of Los Angeles about 10 miles from Pasadena in the rose bowl, which is kind of our GeoCenter for everybody. Who’s not sure where we are. And I’ve been at Monrovia ever since. It is a home away from home for both my wife and me. She’s an elementary teacher in the district. She’s my reason for being in Monrovia. And we, we have been invested in the kids and the families of this community now for gosh, 23, 24 years.


Paul Dols (02:26):
And it’s a passion, it’s a passion for, for this community. And especially for the kids who grew up in this community. I was social studies teacher by training and, and love government and, and politics and that kind of stuff. So that was what I taught for a long time. In 2008, I got tapped to take over something called the Josten’s Renaissance leadership program from a friend and mentor of mine who moved into administration. And that kind of started my divergent journey a little bit towards student leadership and towards reaching into the more social, emotional side of things which is where I’ve kind of been ever since. I, in 2017, I picked up activities as the activities director created a title for myself. I started calling myself the climate and culture coordinator and, and encompasses the Renaissance side of things and the activity side as to do our link crew program for our freshmen mentor project.


Paul Dols (03:25):
And I’m all about the social emotional side of education now. And it’s something that I didn’t think about when I started, I was all about the curriculum. And now it’s complete 180 and I am preaching for the mountaintops that we’ve got to take care of our kids on the social emotional side first and throwing out the, you know, the Maslow before bloom phrases become very popular lately. We’ve got to take care of what our kids need first before we give them that curriculum. So in a nutshell, that’s me, man. I I love what I do. I’m super spoiled here that I get to focus on that side of things almost exclusively. And that’s it, man. That’s, that’s the, that’s the nutshell version.


Sam Demma (04:09):
It’s it seems like social, emotional learning is finally coming to the table of discussion in all schools, across the, hopefully the world for an educator out there. That’s still unsure why it’s important and what it’s all about. Like how do you explain social emotional learning to someone and why you think it’s so important?


Paul Dols (04:27):
You know, I think the easiest way to do it. And I think one of the most important things to understand with there’s such a wide range of where teachers are and educators are on the spectrum of this is it’s okay, wherever you’re at. For some folks, they get into this, this job and it is it’s the, the subject they teach that they love. And they come to realize that they love the kids even more than they love the subjects that they’re teaching. And, but it can be hard for people. People have had all these different life experiences and maybe being a little bit more open with their own life with students is not something that they’re really comfortable doing. But the way I, the way I try to, to bring people to my side of things is basically just to reminding them that the world that we’re creating for these kids now, the businesses that are looking to hire these kids, when they get out of high school and college, the corporations that are trying to grow, they’re now looking at what used to be called the soft skills and it’s everything that they’re looking for.


Paul Dols (05:27):
It’s no longer about their GPA or their sat scores. And people are finally beginning to realize that those measurements really only measure one very small part of who a person is. And when you’ve got corporations like Google and Microsoft and, and even the banking firms are looking for people, AI that can work well together, that can critically think and analyze a problem and then work with other people to solve them. These are things that we don’t teach that well in America, we don’t really focus on it. It’s more about that rugged individualism still, but I think coming through COVID especially, and I don’t think we’re completely through it obviously, but through what we’ve experienced over the last 18 months, I think we realized that that individual I’m just going to get through this on my own kind of mentality is actually really detrimental to what we’re trying to accomplish.


Paul Dols (06:18):
And once we kind of realized that, and for me, I tried to instill in my kids as the leadership kids on our campus, to demonstrate that through how they act you know, practicing kindness above everything else, putting other people first taking and putting themselves in somebody else’s shoes, that empathy gap that Michelle Barbara talks about in her book, selfie is just incredibly true. And you know, that she cites a statistic that says that the more that we have less, less empathy, we have, the more anxiety we have, and we’re seeing this huge uptick in anxiety in kids. And we’re lucky enough, we came back. This is our second or first day of our second week back to school and we’re back fully in person and God-willing we get to stay there. But the anxiety that I see on kids’ faces and the concern and the unsuredness of what they’re doing is very, very real. And if, if that is the case, then we have to practice that empathy with, for those kids. And that is where I come at with, with staff work question, you know, I don’t know if I want to do this or not. We have to remind them that they’re not going to learn if they don’t feel safe. And like my buddy, Phil Campbell says, if they’re not seeing her in love, they’re not going to learn. How do we make them feel seen, heard, and loved.


Sam Demma (07:40):
That’s awesome. I love that. And the, the principles are so important. And you even have one behind you right now. I know this is only an audio podcast, so most people won’t see it, but it says leadership is an action, not a position. What does that line mean to you? And how do you use that to help students understand that we can all be leaders?


Paul Dols (08:00):
You know, I think it’s, we, we put that up there right before the pandemic. It was, it was ironic, but we so often, especially with, with like the ASB mentality or the Renaissance mentality of kids who come in and I’m lucky enough that I have classes, I have an ASB class, I have a Renaissance class. So it’s about 75 kids who are in our leadership program for a lot of people. Sometimes it’s a title. It’s something that they drop on a college application. It’s I was the senior class president. I was the ASB treasurer. I remind them on a daily basis. It’s not who you are. It’s what you do. It’s, there’s a, there’s a poster, the Maya Angelou quote up above me. You know, they’re not going to remember, you know what you say, they’re not going to remember what you do, but they’re going to remember how you made them feel.


Paul Dols (08:50):
For me, that is, you know, I just hung that up. We came back to school because I needed to see every day to remind myself or my kids leaving the room feeling better than when they came in. And for my student leaders, that same challenge as the case when they go into, when they’re in here and in my classroom, our classroom, it’s easy. It’s easy to, to be that empathetic kind soul. But what are you doing in math class and hour later, what are you doing at lunchtime to make other people in your campus feel important, feel connected, feel seen. And so it is that’s there to remind them and they see it. They can’t help, but see it cause it’s right above the board. And you know, it’s also to remind them that people watch them. I think it’s really important that, you know, there’s, I don’t, I can’t attribute the quote to somebody, but it characters what you do when people aren’t watching. And I think that is important for students to realize, even when you’re out in the community, your actions that you’re taking is going to determine who you are.


Sam Demma (09:53):
And they also impact other people, whether we know it or not driving by and looking over, right. One of the reasons why we would, we would always pick up trash on Saturday morning in large groups in very populated areas is because our hope was that someone would drive by look and instead of throwing their cigarette butt out the window, say, oh, maybe I should actually not. When you see 20 young kids picking up their garbage, you know it’s true. Every action has an influence. And I’m curious to know if something influenced you when you were growing up that directed you towards education. Like, did you know from a young age, on your own career journey that you were going to be a teacher, or did you like fall into this? What was the story behind your own career journey?


Paul Dols (10:33):
You know, I, I just told the story yesterday in class. That’s kind of funny. So I knew from the sixth grade off I was, I was blessed and I use that word very carefully, but I was blessed with incredible teachers from the little tiny private school that my brother that I went to in Baltimore through my middle school journey and then high school out here in California, I was blessed with teachers that just got it. They cared, they, they were invested in me as a person, not as a number on a roll book. And I I’d had a natural love for learning that I think came from my mom and dad that that really kind of drove me. I love to read. I love to learn about stuff. I don’t know. And that’s from a very young age, you know, I remember this is going to date me, but there was a huge deal when my parents bought the world book encyclopedia.


Paul Dols (11:26):
So for all the young people listed here, there used to be these books that took the place of the internet, the internet replaced the encyclopedia. But I just remember every year that we would get an update of everything that was new for the year. And I thrived on that book, I would page through it and just, it was amazing. So that love for learning drove me. In my brain, I always thought I was gonna coach basketball and teach U S history. That was, those are my two loves. The history part kept growing and the love for basketball is still there, but the idea of coaching and, you know, to all of the coaches out there, God bless you for what you do for the small amount of compensation that comes to you financially. And the time you give it’s amazing. But I made a decision when our, when our first child was born, that I can’t give up that kind of time with the family to do that.


Paul Dols (12:19):
But I just knew from the first time I stepped into a classroom as an educator, this was it. This was what I was supposed to do. I don’t have a ton of stuff left over from my time at a middle school, but there’s one picture in my office that it was my very first class and it’s just a class picture. It was super weird eighth graders, like, what are we doing, dude? But still hanging in my office to remind me of that day. And, you know, I think it is just, it’s such a privilege to do this job. When you realized that, you know, anywhere from 120 to 180 kids a year, you, you have somebody’s most precious possession and what you do with that can shape their entire life and you never know. See, and that’s the funny part. You never know when you’re going to influence somebody.


Paul Dols (13:13):
And when you’re going to say something that just sticks, that’s a little scary. Cause it gave me as I have a first period conference I’m blessed to be blessed. You know, I think it’s, it can be really intimidating when you realize that if you’re not in the right Ted space and you say something to a kid, it could send them the other direction. And there are days where that could happen. Cause because as human beings, man, we people forget that the teacher in the front of the room may be having a bad day too. And it may have nothing to do with anybody in the room. It could be something going on at home. It could be something that happened on the freeway. It could be an illness, especially, you know, with everything going on now. And so I think it is if you maintain that idea of being a privilege to serve and you approach it that way, you get so much back in return and these, these kids that I’ve been lucky enough to work with over the years.


Paul Dols (14:13):
I mean, they’ve gotten me through some really hard times. I’ve lost both of my parents in the last five years, six years now. But other than my wife and two children, the people that got me through it were my students, their reaction to when I came back the way they would lift me up and, and just kind of carry me through and just messages of encouragement that periodically see, and they give it to you. And they, you know, there was a kid who left me a note on my desk just the other day. She said, Hey, you look tired. I noticed the first week, but thank you for who you are. I don’t know who sent it. I don’t know who left it on my desk, but I was like, Ugh. So they give as much as we probably more than what we give. And it’s a, it’s a need for us to be able to look at a kid regardless of where we’re at right now and say, okay, that kid has a story. They’re writing their story right now. And we were lucky enough to be a part of it. And because of that, you have to take that role seriously. You have to step into it and embrace it and cherish it really.


Sam Demma (15:16):
I love that. That’s so awesome. That’s so cool. The note on the desk too, and it’s so true that every student is writing their own story chapter by chapter. And the coolest part is that the things that you say, the way that you hold yourself could actually alter the way they write their chapter. Right? That’s the, that’s the coolest privilege. You know, you mentioned you had, you were blessed to have teachers that just got it. What does that look like? Like what did those teachers do? That another educator listening could strive to do something similar in their own classroom to have a, you know, a positive effect on their students. Can you recall any of the things that those teachers did for you that made a huge difference?


Paul Dols (15:55):
You know, I think for, for, to have an impact on a kid, you have to be real with them, be authentic with them. And it’s, it’s, it’s not simple, but it sounds simple. And it’s, it’s being open with them about who you are as a person and making sure that you see them as people, not just as kids, the, the phrase you’d all well, kids these days, and then you fill in the blank. It’s, it’s always irked me a little bit when, when people talk about, oh, how could you teach high school? They’re so hard. They’re, they’re, they’re just disrespectful then. I’m like, no, they’re not, they’re not. You know, I think, you know, Diane dollar was my AP us history teacher and inventor at point of high school. And she had a passion for history and she taught her butt off every single day.


Paul Dols (16:49):
And she held us to a really high standard and it was hard. It was the only AP class I took in high school. I wasn’t one of, I was an okay student. I wasn’t a great student, but, you know, I took it because I wanted to have her as a teacher because I had heard you’re going to learn more than you ever can imagine. So I took that challenge and it was hard. And, but, you know, I still have contact with her and we still periodically, we’ll sit down every couple of years and have a cup of coffee and, and I get messages from her on Facebook and to just be encouraging, I mean, and that’s been good Lord, it’s 30 plus years now that I was in her class and you know, not every teacher is going to be like that. And I don’t think there’s a mold to create what that looks like, except for the fact that if, if you care about your kids as people first and you really delve delve into who they are as people and realize that those stories that they’re writing, that you’re just lucky to be in it.


Paul Dols (17:54):
And in operate from that mentality. I think one of the hardest things is there was always this idea of classroom management that we get taught in teacher school, which you know, is kind of the worst and giant waste of time that we do because you can’t really teach how to teach. You just have to get in there and do it. But you know, it was always, I’m going to respect you as the students, when you respect me first. And that’s actually the reverse of which had happened. And it’s hard for adults, especially the longer you do this. It’s, it’s hard to look at a 13 or 14 year old kid and say, I’m going to respect you for first. And then eventually you’re going to come back and respect me as the older person in the room, because that’s the opposite of what we teach in society, respect your elders, respect your elders, respect your elders, which is true.


Paul Dols (18:46):
And they should. But when you’re coming at an adolescent, who’s dealing with his own stuff at home and has a 50 to 60% chance of coming from a broken home where there’s, you know, one parent or there’s a divorce or whatever they’re dealing with and you add onto it, their mental health and their mental wellbeing. And if you come at a student and you say, look, respect me in their brain, the question should automatically be, why would I respect you? What, why is that required of me? But if you come at them with love and you come at them with compassion and you come at them with empathy, they can’t help, but respect you. I have a couple of kids that I’ve been working with for three years now. And it’s been a three-year battle for me to break down the walls that they’ve put up.


Paul Dols (19:33):
I’m starting to see that happening with them. And it’s just persistence. It’s an unwillingness to give up on, on that relationship. And I think when we throw that word into it, when you throw the relationship word into it, it gives some people back off a little bit because they believe there has to be this barrier between the teacher and the student. But if you build that barrier, you’re putting up an unnatural obstacle to the relationship. And so I think for me, that is, is what I focus on a lot. When I was teaching my content back in the day, I was never the most effective AP government teacher. You know, back, we used to have rate your teacher.com. I think they still have it. I would periodically be brave enough to go out there and read what they said. And, you know, my comments were always positive for the most part, but that was kind of said the same thing.


Paul Dols (20:24):
I may not have learned a lot, but I know he loved me. And I don’t know if as a, as a teacher, maybe that’s not the best compliment in the world for some, but for me, I’m okay with that. If, if kids leave here and they know what it means to be a good person and if know what it means to be kind to others and how to work with each other and to work their way through problems critically, I’m okay with that because I think that’s what the world needs. The world doesn’t need somebody, you know, that, you know, understands how the war of 18, 12 formed had happened and what was the relative salt of it because they live in a world now where that information is at their fingertips. They need to know how to relate to each other because that’s what honestly, that’s, what’s missing right now.


Paul Dols (21:17):
We’ve messed this place up so badly collectively as the adult for young people that we can’t fix it, the young people are going to have to fix it. And the only way it’s gonna get fixed is if they learn how to communicate, how to compromise and realize that it’s okay to have divergent opinions, if you’re willing to listen to each other and not see each other as that person is my enemy, they may have a different belief system. They may have a different faith. They may have a different opinion on masks. They may have a different opinion on a vaccine, but they’re still human. They still are writing their own story. And if we just talk to each other respectfully, we may not agree, but we have to be okay with that. And the adults in the room, whether it’s Congress or your state legislature, or your school board, or whoever, the adults in the room, aren’t modeling that. And because of that, what kids are seeing is society embracing conflict instead of compromise yeah.


Sam Demma (22:22):
Or discussion, right? Yeah. Yeah. It’s so true. It’s so, so true. If something that someone else says triggers you, it’s, it’s a, it’s an opportunity to go internal as well because people can’t make you angry. You know, they can say things, but at the end of the day, you’re, you’re in control of your emotions. And of course, sometimes, you know, we get upset and we say things, and again, that goes back to the idea that we’re all human, but, and then that all ties back to the importance of social, emotional learning and regulating your emotions. This has been such a great broad conversation. Paul, thank you so much for sharing a little bit about your journey into education, some of your own beliefs and principles that have served you and also the other teachers that had an impact on you growing up, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out and just have a conversation, another educator from somewhere in the world, what would be the best email to, to, to send or to get in touch with?


Paul Dols (23:15):
No, I would love that. I love talking about this stuff, man. I think, you know, one of the biggest, it’s a community of learners who do this job. I learn more from colleagues and from people all over the country that I’ve been lucky to meet through some of the stuff that I’ve done that social network and that, that PLC or that personal learning community. So yeah, you can reach out to me pdols@monroviaschools.net. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter at Paul D Wildcat. And I’m not on social media as much anymore because I watched the social dilemma. I am out there a couple of times a week posting some stuff and reposting some of the encouraging stuff that I see. But yeah, I would love to connect to anyone who wants to talk about social, emotional learning, what we do and why we do it and share stories. Cause I think it is incredibly important to pursue that.


Sam Demma (24:22):
Awesome. Paul, this was amazing. Thanks so much. Keep up the great work and I will talk soon. Thanks brother. Appreciate it. And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 Paul Dols

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

Michelle Dittmer – President and Co-Founder at Canadian Gap Year Association

Michelle Dittmer Gap Year Association
About Michelle Dittmer

Michelle is an Ontario Certified Teacher and holds a B.Sc. from McMaster in Biology, a B.Ed. from the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology and an M.A. in Leadership from Royal Roads University.

As a high school teacher, she realized that many of the essential skills to thrive as a young adult were being squeezed out by hard curriculum, leaving students feeling stressed, rushed, without direction and purpose and a sense of being unprepared for life outside of the classroom.

Searching for a way to make an impact, she has worked in youth policy development, leadership development, experiential learning, educational travel and educational partnerships.

All of these experiences have culminated in 10+ years of gap year advocacy and gap year planning support and led to the founding of CanGap.

She believes that gap years are a truly educational experience and should be part of more young people’s educational and career journeys.

Connect with Michelle: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian Gap Year Frosh Week

Gap Year Planning Toolkit

Can Gap Year Podcast

Endy Mattresses

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 Denma. I am excited about today’s conversation! Michelle Dittmer, and I have spoken multiple times. We’ve worked together multiple times and the energy and purpose that she’s bringing to the world is so important. Michelle is the co-founder and president of the Canadian gap year association.


Sam Demma (01:04):
As a high school teacher herself, she realized that many of the essential skills to thrive as a young adult were being squeezed out of the hard curriculum, leaving students, feeling stressed, rushed without direction and purpose, and a sense of being unprepared for life outside of the classroom, searching for a way to make an impact. She has worked with youth in policy development, leadership development, experiential learning, educational travel, and educational partnerships. All of these experiences have culminated in 10 plus years of gap, year advocacy and gap year planning, support and led to the founding of Ken gap. She believes that gap years are an educational experience. That should be part of more young people’s educational and career journeys. As a gap year, student, myself, I have to say the work that Michelle is doing is so important and the chances are you have students in your classrooms who might think their best option is to take a gap year, but have no idea how to pursue it. And if that’s true for you, this episode is a must. Listen to, I will see you on the other side of this conversation with Michelle. Enjoy it. Take notes.


Sam Demma (02:19):
Michelle. Welcome back for a second episode on the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you back. How’s it going?


Michelle Dittmer (02:29):
I’m doing really well. You can’t keep me away. You’re just like a little magnet that I can’t get enough of.


Sam Demma (02:34):
Well, anyone who’s promoting experiential learning opportunities and gap years and fifth years to students are people that I want to surround myself with because, you know, I was someone who took that path and found it extremely rewarding. So I can’t thank you enough for the opportunities and doors you’re opening for thousands of other students who might feel uncomfortable to pursue that path due to societal pressures and everything else. What, what prompted you? And at what point in your journey, did you become such a huge advocate for gap years and what prompted you to start the Canadian gap year association?


Michelle Dittmer (03:07):
Well, I started my career off as a teacher, actually a high school biology chemistry teacher, believe it or not. And so that’s where, that’s where my career went. And what I found when I was in the classroom was that students were missing out on a lot of life lessons that we have taken education. And we have squeezed out a lot of things to make more space for curriculum and for grades and for testing. And we took out a lot of that personal development and that personal awareness of the high school experience. It became less about self discovery and more about checking boxes and achieving grades. And now this was a while ago. So things have evolved a little bit since I left the classroom, but that’s really where it was when I was a teacher and I stepped back and I said, this is not for me.


Michelle Dittmer (04:02):
This is not serving students. And I decided that I needed to figure out another way to make space for that. And so I left and I did everything from outdoor education to international service learning to youth policy. And what I kept coming back to is how are we going to make these students, these young people ready for life after graduation. And I kept coming back to this idea of what what’s happening elsewhere in the world. And gap years kept coming up and I kept asking myself, well, why is this not part of our Canadian culture? What is getting in the way? Why is it popular in the UK or in Europe or in Australia, New Zealand? What is it about the north American culture that says do not stop, do not pass, go do not take a break, keep going, keep pushing. And I realized that there was nobody out there strongly advocating for that intentional pause for that purposeful pause. And that there were no resources for the students who needed that and nobody to say, you know what it’s okay. And that’s where I started to make some space for it and founded the Canadian gap year association so that people in essentially had permission to, to take the steps that, that they needed in their lives. And to make a gap year an okay decision, if not a really, really positive one.


Sam Demma (05:33):
And in your exploration of understanding why it’s not as popular in Canada and north America, as opposed to Europe and other places, have you come to any conclusions or like figured out why it’s not, you know, celebrated here as much.


Michelle Dittmer (05:48):
Yeah, we are victim to the American dream. And there is this notion that you have to go fast and you have to go hard. And the harder you work, the more you will achieve, the more successful you will be, the happier you will be. And that you can see that through the burnout culture that we have. You can see that through the gig economy that’s emerging. You can see that idea of hustling. And if you’re not hustling hard enough, you need a side hustle to make sure your hustle level is at like an a plus. And, and so that’s part of it is, is that that push to go forward. We also have such a beautiful mosaic of cultures here in Canada. And with a lot of immigrant families, they come to Canada specifically for the education. And so new families to Canada’s or say, hell, no, you are not going back where I came from.


Michelle Dittmer (06:46):
I came here so you could have an education. And so that’s another piece where young people growing up with a Canadian identity have a conflict sometimes with their parents’ values and their parents’ vision for them. So those are kind of the two main factors that, that make it a little bit different here. Along with the cost of travel to get out of our country is extremely expensive. Whereas in Europe you can just pay a hundred bucks and hop on a flight and end up in another country. But that’s not the total excuse because Australia New Zealand make it happen all the time and they are equally large and equally far away from other countries.


Sam Demma (07:27):
And the further you plan in advance as my mom always tells me the cheaper the flights are. That’s so awesome. And on the, on the other hand, why is fifth year and gap years so celebrated in the European countries? Like explain to me and the educators listening, why you think that students need and should experience gap years?


Michelle Dittmer (07:51):
Yeah. I think that I had a really interesting conversation with somebody the other day that kind of flipped everything on their head. We always hear life is short. Life is short, do all these things. And she actually said to me, she said, life is long. What is one year? What is one year in the rest of your adult life? And you’re in the grand scheme of your career. And, and it’s not that long. And I think that that is more part of a European culture where we have a laid back view that there is a holistic version of happiness. We’ve got siesta time. We’ve got we’ve got the, the relaxed culture of that, that European vibe is very different than the north American hustle. And so that is incorporated all throughout their life. They’re taught to evolve at a slower pace and that those, those pieces will come.


Michelle Dittmer (08:54):
They just not come as lightning fast as our accelerated advanced yourself as fast as you can, north American culture. So I think that’s, that’s where it comes from over there. But the reality is that we need that time to slow down, especially when we’ve been put on this accelerated track. Because we forget to connect and figure out who we are. We’re too busy, checking boxes. We’re too busy getting those top grades for those top schools that we forget about our hobbies. We forget about the other subjects that interest us, but aren’t a prerequisite for that course. We push all of those things to the side and it’s like, flexing your muscles. Like if you only ever worked your bicep and you never worked your tricep, you’re going to not be able to move because you need both muscles. And that’s like the way that we are, we are pushing the academic side of things and we’re not developing that tricep. We’re not allowing these young people to develop all parts of them. And that’s why it’s so essential to so that they understand and they can feel fulfilled in every part of who they are and to discover things and new pathways that really interests them and light them up, especially after the pandemic where they’ve been drained that time to reinvigorate themselves and to connect with a pathway that actually makes sense with, for them and not necessarily just what they’re taught. Mark was there. There’s just so much value to getting some real world experience.


Sam Demma (10:31):
And I find it funny. I was listening to a poem recently by this, this poet named Shane. I can’t remember his last name. It’s escaping me. It starts with a K and in the poem, he says, I mean, that stuck out to me. He said, when I was young, you know, my, my school always asks me who I want it to be, and I would answer, but then they would tell me what I can’t do. Like, that’s so true. Like w like we can’t tell a student, you know, ah, you know, dream big and, you know, set goals for yourself. And then also, but you know what, you can’t do this and you can’t do that. It’s like, you know give the kid the free expression and know, encourage them to take the new opportunities to get new perspectives right now, though, schools all around the world, I would say, are in a state of uncertainty or unsure of what the future is gonna look like. Their, their, their students are unsure of what the features are going to look like. There are big problems being raised to the surface. There’s lots of questions. And question marks. How do you think educators can like calm down a little bit during this time and be that grounded source for their students?


Michelle Dittmer (11:33):
Yeah. I think one of the things that I know about students on a gap year and it’s paralleled in the educators that are supporting them is an extreme discomfort with uncertainty because we are creatures of, we evolved to avoid danger. We, once we found a cave that was safe with no lion in it, like we stayed in that cave because it was safe. We aren’t going to go out and we, aren’t going to start digging around in other caves because there might be a lion out there. And so that defaults to want to feel comfortable, to want things, to be predictable, to want things to be structured is innate to who we are as humans, because it was a survival technique when it, when, when we needed it to be a survival technique. But some of those things don’t necessarily serve us when we take it to the nth degree.


Michelle Dittmer (12:37):
When we start overprotecting, when we start, over-scheduling, when we start over predicting or over over supporting people and funneling them into whatever we think the next step is for them. So really embracing that discomfort with uncertainty is such an amazing gift, that and skill that we need to practice. So as educators, we need to be okay with uncertainty. We need to be okay with not having the answer we need to be okay with being uncomfortable and just waiting. When I was in teacher’s college, I always remember, you had to, you told you had to wait seven seconds in silence to allow people to process, and then, and then come up with an answer. And that was so uncomfortable. And it’s the same thing when we’re talking about young people’s future, if they don’t have an answer to what do you want to do next?


Michelle Dittmer (13:39):
Our default is to fill that silence with something to say, oh, you’re really good in science. You should be an engineer, or you’re a really compassionate person. You should be a social worker. And, and it’s our default to want to solve that problem instead of waiting that proverbial seven seconds and giving them time to come up with the answer, we’re rushed to try and fill that. And I think that’s what we’re doing with a gap year is giving them that seven seconds, allowing them to connect the dots, allowing them to reflect back, well, what actually lights me up, what subjects did I like? What did I not like? What are some of my hobbies? What are some of my interests? And giving them a little bit of space to connect the dots so that they can then come up with their own answer. And I think it’s important that we need to, to give them that space, even though it makes us uncomfortable, even though we would like to rush and solve all the world’s problems for them, that’s not serving them. And that’s not a good place for us. And that’s not our role as educators.


Sam Demma (14:47):
Most, I would argue that most people from north America, when they hear the words gap year, assume you’re going to get some boots and a bag. And I camping van and do a road trip and traveled to another country. Like it seems like the gap year has gotten placed in this container of traveling experiences. And I, I know from personal experience, that’s totally false and the gap year can be used for hundreds of different activities and exploration in your own personal life. Can you share a couple stories of students of yours that you have mentored through gap year that have what they’ve done and how it became a meaningful experience for them? Just to provide examples that a gap year is not just about travel, but it’s about broadening your experiences, your perspective, and helping you make a better next decision.


Michelle Dittmer (15:36):
Yeah. I’ll talk about a particular young woman that I just talked to this year actually. And she knew that she wanted to get into the beauty industry. That’s the direction that she, she wanted to head and her family was pushing her to go to business school. And you want to be in bed. You want to be in beauty, you got to make a business out of it. So you got to start with the business side of things and the rest will come after. And my hunch was that they actually hope that she would not go into the industry, that interest interested her, that she would get some sort of other enlightening experience. But once we started talking about this and she had convinced her parents that she was going to take a gap year, what we actually worked on with her was that each month she was going to explore a different area of the beauty industry.


Michelle Dittmer (16:31):
And so she would spend the first month focusing on aesthetics. So she’d find a free online course, she’d volunteer in an aesthetics like, like in a salon somewhere. And she would learn all she could for that first month. And then in month two, she was going to get into hair care. And so she would look at, she would take some free online courses. She would attend some tutorials. She would move into a hair salon and see what she could learn there. And we did this for about six months, different areas of the industry that she could explore so that she could get some clarity on which direction she wanted to go. And not only that in each step, along the way, she built a network of people that are going to support her later in the future. So if she decided that she wanted to get into hair care, she could then go back to those people that she had volunteered with, or those people that she had done informational interviews with and, and start to build her business or build her network, or find a job because she had that lived experience.


Michelle Dittmer (17:35):
So in terms of getting clarity on, on next steps, it’s a really great way to test things out. I call it your risk-free trial on life. And I talk about the, the Endy mattresses, like who their right mind would buy a mattress online without testing it like nobody, right? Like you guys sleep on it every night, they’re super expensive, but they come with this money back guarantee. And that’s what the gap year is. So before you’re investing all your money and all of your time and your studies get out there and test it out, and you might realize you are exactly on the right path, or you might realize that it doesn’t work for you all. And then you’ve saved yourself thousands of dollars and years of your life to figure it out. So that’s a particular one that really stands out for me.


Michelle Dittmer (18:24):
And we’ve got I have another person that I’m working with right now, and she has an incredible desire to find her place. She grew up in a small town and she herself is very, very passionate about sustainability, she’s vegan. She has a lot of those values that she doesn’t necessarily see in her community, and that’s really isolating for her. So she’s using that year to find her people, to find her place and to find a way where she can live out her values in a way that feels really healthy to her. And that’s really powerful when you feel misplaced your whole life to actually find that connection. And we’ve got people who want to get out and explore the world. People that are very self-aware and they say, you know what? I’ve lived in this town, the rest of my life. And there’s more out there. I just don’t know what it is. I want to see how other people live. I want to talk to other people, I want to hear other languages and they want to get out there and get some sort of perspective on what their life is like at home so that they can, they can make better decisions for themselves. And they can frame it in a more global context, which is really cool as well.


Sam Demma (19:44):
So awesome. Like I traveled a little bit in my gap year. I volunteered a lot in my gap year. I interviewed a lot of people as well in my gap year. And I feel like if I didn’t have my gap year, I would a hundred percent not be the person I am today. I’m doing the work I am doing and, and happy, you know, because I see a lot of, even my peers and my friends that went to school right away without being certain of what they wanted to do. And, you know, they’re finishing their degrees now. And a lot of them are back where they could have been right after high school is saying, I’m not really sure, like what I want to do or what I’m like excited about and this, because there was no inflection, there was no reflection. There was no break. There was no pause. There’s no seven second pause. So I can’t stress enough how important I think this is for students. And if an educator listening right now is realizing that there are some seniors or students in their classes that they think would love this experience. And they also sense that there might be some uncertainty or nervousness about their own futures. How would you recommend an educator, like approach a student in their class and be like, Hey, like, this is for you. And like, you should try this and here are some resources. Okay.


Michelle Dittmer (20:56):
Yeah. I think it’s to present it as an option. I think when we talk about post-secondary pathways, we’ve created a hierarchy where like university is at the top. And then if you never, if you can’t do university, then it’s college. And if you can do college, then it’s apprenticeship in the workplace and gap year isn’t even part of that. So we really need to shake up that, that mentality because that’s not true. So when you’re presenting options, talk about all the pathways and, and put gap year in there as an option right off the bat. And then in having those conversations, if they are uncertain about what steps they need to take, you can tell them that a gap year is not replacing higher education. It is a step on your life journey. And for some that means after your gap year, you returned to school for other people.


Michelle Dittmer (21:53):
That means that you you, you continue on out into the workforce because you found your passion. And when educators get out of their comfort zone in this conversation, that’s what the Canadian gap year association is here for. We have these conversations with students and their parents on a daily basis, and we have tons of free resources to help them decide if a gap year is the right thing for them. And if it is how you make it purposeful, how do you not sit on the couch for a year? How do you connect with the right organizations and opportunities that are going to help them achieve their own goals? Not the goals you want for them, but what are their own goals and how are they going to achieve it? So that’s what we do. And tons of resources on our website, which has, cangap.ca Instagram, we’ve got all sorts of events that we have. So just a plethora of resources, not only for families, but also for educators as well.


Sam Demma (22:51):
Awesome. This has been such an invigorating conversation about gap years, why they’re important, why they’re frowned upon in north America or looked at from a different angle, as opposed to European countries. So much great information. If someone is listening and is just inspired by it, or wants more, what’s an email address or a website that they can, you know, go to, to get in touch with you. Yeah.


Michelle Dittmer (23:13):
Of course www.cangap.ca, we’ve got all sorts of free resources there. You can send me an email directly. It’s michelle@cangap.ca. More than happy to support you and your students in any way that you might possibly need.


Sam Demma (23:30):
Awesome. Michelle, thank you so much for coming on the show, keep up the great work and I’ll see you soon.


Michelle Dittmer (23:35):
Take care.


Sam Demma (23:36):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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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