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Darlene O’Neill — Director of employment and student entrepreneurial services at Fanshawe College

Darlene O’Neill — Director of employment and student entrepreneurial services at Fanshawe College
About Darlene O’Neill

Darlene (@Darlene68615693) started her career in the Department of National Defence where for 21 years she worked in a variety of roles – the final 7 years were as the senior human resources business manager, for the civilian workforce supporting the east coast navy.

Prior to joining Fanshawe College, Darlene worked for Nova Scotia Community College as a career practitioner and a project manager in essential skills.

Darlene joined Fanshawe College in 2011 as the assistant manager, career services, community employment services and cooperative education. In 2012, she became the manager of the department, and in 2015 became the senior manager. In 2017, Darlene was appointed director, employment and student entrepreneurial Services. Darlene is the lead administrator for the military-connected college initiative at Fanshawe and is currently the administrative co-lead in the college’s united way corporate campaign. Darlene is also a part-time professor in the career development practitioner post graduate program.

Darlene holds a Bachelor Degree in Psychology, a Master of Education Degree (Adult Education) and a Career Development Practitioner postgraduate certificate.

She is the recipient of the Michelle C Comeau Leadership in Human Resources Award (Federal), The National Federal Government Managers Network Leadership Award (Managing Change), the National Defence Human Resource Leadership Award, co-recipient of Employment Ontario (MTCU) Leadership Award (Collaboration), The Fanshawe College Presidents Award (Administrator) and the CCVPS Art King Award ( Student Service).

Darlene is committed to creating inclusive environments where student centric mindsets are prevalent. Strategy, empathy and empowering effective change are of utmost importance to her in her leadership and work.

Connect with Darlene: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Department of National Defence

Royal Canadian Navy

Fanshawe College

Nova Scotia Community College

Military-Connected Student in Trades Pilot Project (MCSTPP)

Career Development Practitioner Post Graduate 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
Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator. Today’s special guest is a new friend of mine. I met this individual in person in November. She is a powerhouse. Her name is Darlene O’Neill. Darlene, welcome to the podcast. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Darlene O’Neill
Hi, Sam. Thank you very much. Yeah, my name is Darlene and I’m the Director of Employment and Student Entrepreneurial Services at Sandshop College here in London, Ontario.

Sam Demma
You are someone who has so much energy. I remember just watching you absorb the first keynote presentation of the Ignite Conference and you’re fully engaged. It was so cool to see you sticking around for the entire day and supporting the event. Tell me a little bit more about your role and why you’re so passionate about the work that you do on campus. 

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, so I’m really, really fortunate. I have the responsibility for helping all students at our campus, as well as all our alumni and community members find employment, which is really, really important because we all know that the main reason students go to college is to get a job. So I have a wonderful, wonderful team made up of a lot of co-op consultants, career consultants, entrepreneurial consultants, and community employment consultants. And I think it’s really important that we demonstrate passion ourselves as leaders if we want our team to demonstrate passion.

Sam Demma
And recently, you also started doing a little bit of support for our students taking on a military pathway. Is that correct?

Darlene O’Neill
That’s right. Yes. I’m the lead administrator here at Fanshawe College for the Military Connected Campus Initiative, which provides a holistic support for our military connected students. So, not necessarily serving members and or veterans, but also their families. And we just want to make sure that they’re supported academically and socially through their journey here at Fanshawe. So, I’m really blessed to be leading that initiative.

Sam Demma
Sometimes I ask people that work in education, when they realize they wanted to do so, I get typically a few different answers. The first category is people that tell me they used to create little doll houses or little school classrooms in their basements when they were little kids. A second subset tell me that they had parents who were in education and they decided to follow in their footsteps. And the third group tells me they had no idea and they stumbled into it. Which group do you fit in and what did your journey look like that brought you to education?

Darlene O’Neill
Oh wow Sam, that’s a big question. I think a little bit of all of it. When I was a little girl I used to be the person in the middle of the circle in kindergarten reading stories to the other students while the teacher went about their business and doing things that they needed to do. So I’ve always loved education, but I was working for National Defence for 21 years. And I hit a glass ceiling in National Defence where I didn’t speak French, unfortunately, and I had just finished a master’s degree in education. And I thought, oh well, well just leave Defence and I’ll go and try my hat in education and here I am now almost 20 years later and loving what I do. I did choose, I chose college education as the pathway for me because my education is in adult education and I’m really passionate about watching young people and people of all ages that come to college specifically for that aspirational better life.

Sam Demma
I love that. Can we talk about your experience working in defence for just a moment? Like what were you doing with National Defence and what are some of the skills you developed there that you think have bridged into the work you’re doing today at Fanshawe?

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, so my career in national defense started with the submarine inventory control point. And I was buying parts for submarines. But that, you know, it progressed. I went on to do my undergraduate degree and I ended up in the Self-Directed Learning Center. I actually opened a self-directed learning center at Defence in Halifax and that was really fun. And then I went on to become a senior human resources business manager, working directly for the admirals on the East Coast. And my role was strategic HR for about 7,000 civilians that support the Navy on the East Coast. It was so enlightening for me. I was a young leader. I was there when 9-11 happened. And that taught me some great lessons in determination, in commitment, in ethics, in just supporting people and being very, very proud of the work that the military does to give us a better home.

Sam Demma
Young leadership is something that may relate to some of the educators tuning in who are getting into the profession at a very young age, that feel a little bit like an imposter at times, are very intimidated by everybody else in their school or in the spaces they’re operating. How did you navigate as a young leader? What did you do to be sure of yourself and know that you were a valued member of the team so you could show up and use your gifts to the fullest of their potential? 

Darlene O’Neill
Great question. I think I’ve been very fortunate throughout my entire career, especially as a young leader, to have amazing mentors. I will never forget the first meeting I attended with an admiral in the room. And you know, an admiral is a pretty big guy in the Navy. And, you know, the admiral told me afterwards, Darlene, you’re going to have to learn to wear a poker face. And I was like, oh my goodness, okay, so that was lesson number one, wear a poker face. But try to come with a solution. So if you’re going to ask a question, have a possible solution to present when you’re asking the question. Always treat people with respect and dignity and expect that for yourself as well. Even though you’re young, doesn’t mean that you don’t have good ideas, doesn’t mean that you’re not committed and dedicated, it doesn’t mean that people won’t respect you. A lot of, you know, young people build our world. They’re our future, so we need to invest in them. And as a young leader, I think, you know, the biggest lesson I learned was find a mentor, too. And spend time with them and learn from them. Watch them. Watch people that you respect. Don’t speak before you think is another good one because sometimes the most important things you say are unsaid.

Sam Demma
I’m just absorbing all this information right now as I’m sure that the guests tuned in are doing the same. Speaking about developing young people and the fact that they’re our future, that’s literally what you’re doing at Fanshawe. When you think about the impact the program is having on students, do you have any stories that come to mind of students who have joined the college and when they first came, they were a little uncertain and unclear. And a few years later, they were graduating and getting placed and doing amazing work in the community or in a job. And, you know, you may not have a specific story if you do great, but if you don’t have a specific one, maybe you can talk a little bit about some of the pathways that students take when they come to Fanshawe?

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, I have lots of stories of students that have entered into the doors of our office and have gone on to do amazing things. There’s been a few that stick out. We have a number of young entrepreneurs that took advantage of our summer incubator, and they’re now quite successful in their own right. We have Kelvin, the fritter guy. If you’ve tried Kelvin’s fritters, they’re amazing. And we have a fashion designer that’s lived quite a great life as a result of taking advantage of opportunities. Also, there are a number of international students that touch my heart quite often. I have one who’s actually now on my team, but I watched this young man from his very first days at Fanshawe navigate COVID, navigate online learning. He went on to become the student union president. So he’s had a wonderful career path. And when I look at all of the things that he’s done to find his way, they’re all reaching out, finding mentors, asking for help, not being afraid to say, I don’t know, but I want to learn and building relationships. Another young woman, she’s now quite successful in Tech Alliance, which is a part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem here in London. It does all of their media, all of their marketing and social stuff for them. There’s so many of them. There’s accountants and there’s law clerks and there’s a young man that was paralyzed as a result of an accident and he’s gone on to become quite a young accountant. He’s an athlete, plays sledge hockey, he just lives his best life. And I think these students are the ones that come through the doors, they study hard, but they build relationships, they get involved in student life, they get involved in their mentorship programs, they attend workshops, extracurricular activities, Ignite at one point or another. So, yeah, so I think that those are some of the students that really stand out for me. And then from a community perspective, we also have a community employment agency. And our community employment agency has seen so many people that are facing some pretty tough times, walk through the doors, swallow that pride, ask for help, and now they’re contributing members of society, which is a wonderful thing when you work in the employment field and career field and education field. It’s amazing watching people grow.

Sam Demma
It’s like the caterpillar to butterfly story.

Darlene O’Neill
Absolutely, it sure is. You know, the biggest part is asking for help, right? And once you walk through that door, the world of possibilities opens for you.

Sam Demma
You reiterated the importance of relationships. Many educators know how important it is to build relationships with their students, to build relationships with their colleagues. How do you think you build relationships with young people, with students that are going through your school buildings and programs?

Darlene O’Neill
So I think the secret sauce is simply a smile. A smile and some eye contact can make the world of difference. You know many people when they come to post-secondary they’re scared, they might have been, you know, traveling from another world by themselves, from another country, they might have come from rural Ontario and have never been in the city, and they might be someone that’s just been laid off of a job or a career changer. And it’s a lonely, lonely place if you don’t build relationships. So I intentionally walk the halls of the college and I try to make eye contact and smile with students. And they remember who I am because when they catch your eye and smile back, that’s an instant I see you. I see you. I believe in you. I recognize you. And I’m here to support you. And I think that’s really important in the life of students is to know that somebody cares about them.

Sam Demma
And not only do you build relationships with the students, but you also want to build strong relationships with colleagues. A lot of educators that tune in, especially the ones that are just getting started in education, they’re worried because they don’t know too many of the people that they’re working with. How do you go about building relationships with colleagues and collaborating and just, yeah, building a stronger relationship amongst members of your team?

Darlene O’Neill
That’s a great question. So I think, you know, oh Darlene’s extroverted so she can talk to anybody. That’s true, but it’s also true that introverts can make impactful relationships and build impactful relationships. I think, you know, as I said earlier, the first thing to do is to model the behavior share with others. So, ask for help. Like, if you feel that your team can’t do this on their own, build a relationship with somebody else. The Student Union, the International Office, the Student Services Office, the Counseling Office, the academic teachers, and the deans, we’re all on the same agenda. We all want our students to be successful in post-secondary. And so I think, you know, following through on what you say you’ll do is really important. Be a doer, practice reciprocity. So if somebody does something for your team to make your team shine, then you return the favor somehow. Or at least at minimum recognize what they’ve done to support your team’s success. Recognize as a leader what your individual team members have done. Always say thank you. And it doesn’t need to be a big hoopla, but thanking your team members in public is really important. It empowers them, it emboldens the work that they do, and it verifies the work they do. It makes them feel valued. So if you can make another human being feel valued, then they’re going to feel commitment, and they’re going to want to help you. And I think that that’s a secret sauce as well, is always, you know, make sure that you know or make sure that you recognize the good work that other people do.

Sam Demma
I love that. You’re supporting student success in many ways, your team’s success. I know there are some exciting developments that are coming together at Fanshawe, maybe even a new wing being built or a facility. Are we not allowed to talk about it?

Darlene O’Neill
No, we can. Absolutely. We’re super excited. I can, absolutely.

Sam Demma
Okay, tell me some of the new developments

Darlene O’Neill
that are coming together that you’re really excited about. Yeah, so 10 years ago we started Leaf Junction and Leaf Junction is our entrepreneurial arm. Creativity and innovation is a game changer at Fanshawe College. And so we are super excited that on January 26th, we’re going to be opening Innovation Village in partnership with our student union, our Center for Research and Innovation, Leap Junction, and our Library Learning Commons. So a lot of partners living together in one building, but we have created the most exceptional space for students ever. And I look at you, Sam, in your green room, you know, with your mic and your earphones. And we have all these rooms for these students now where they can go in and do broadcasts. And we have a virtual reality room. There’s makerspaces. It’s so exciting. We had a sneak peek last week. And it’s a look into the future for Fanshawe College and lots of opportunities to partner with us and to help our students grow, but also to solve challenging situations for employers. So, as I said earlier, young people are going to be the future, and so we’re going to give them an opportunity through Innovation Village to solve problems in our community and with our employers and to help them make this place a better place to be in.

Sam Demma
This village sounds amazing. What does it physically look like? When I hear village, I think collaborative and lots of different shops. Like, what does it look like physically?

Darlene O’Neill
There’s lots of spaces, there’s lots of alcoves, there’s lots of wide open spaces. It’s bright. It’s really honouring our Indigenous culture as well. It has external gardens. It has a fire, a sacred fireplace outside. It’s like, there are three So it’s huge and airy and bright and lots of glass, lots of windows, lots of greenery, funky colors. It’s really, really cool. When you come back to Fanshawe, Sam, I’ll take you on a tour.

Sam Demma
Please.

Darlene O’Neill
It sounds like the perfect place to brainstorm creative ideas, talking about innovation.

Sam Demma
It certainly is, yes. And outside of this massive project, are there anything else that you’d like to spotlight that’s coming together at the college or programs or anything that other people might not be aware of that’s really awesome that’s happening behind the scenes?

Darlene O’Neill
Well everything Fanshawe is awesome, I’ll just say that. I love Fanshawe College, I love the opportunities and that it creates for people. I love the people I work with, I’m very happy. My boss always tells me that I remind her of the little girl in the Maxwell House commercial. I’m not sure if you’ve seen that, but you know, she’s always like, I love my job and I love my family and I love my friends. So, awesome things happening at Fanshawe. Well, Sam, we met at Ignite, which is our student conference, a career conference for students. And it’s pretty exceptional that about 400 students spend a Saturday with us. This year, 2024, will be Ignite’s 10th anniversary. So we’re always looking for employers to support our students with opportunities for growth and employment and to make a difference in their workplace. So yeah, Fanshawe just continues to be an amazing place to be.

Sam Demma
Ah, I love it. If you could travel back in time, speak to yourself when you were just starting your work in education but with the knowledge you have now and the experience what would you tell your younger self that you think you need to hear when you were just starting the journey? 

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah that’s a great question Sam. I think I would tell my younger self earlier you talked about imposter syndrome and young people having imposter syndrome I would tell my younger self that you know what it’s going to be okay do what you do be authentic be true to yourself and good things will happen and always always give back make sure that you say thank you younger self just be authentic and don’t give up don’t ever give up I once one of my mentors once told me, you know sometimes young people that are successful are seen as the golden child or the golden employee. And I was that person at one time and it hurts the core sometimes when people would say things like that. And my boss would say to me, my mentor, she would say, you just rise above that. Rise above it. There’s better days ahead, and you will be successful. Don’t be angry, don’t be sad. Learn from what these people are saying, and the biggest lesson that you can learn from a leader or a colleague is what you don’t wanna be. And so always remember what you don’t wanna be.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Darlene, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast, talk about some of your beliefs around education, a little bit about your career journey and your own personal trajectory, some exciting developments happening at Fanshawe College. If there is someone who’s listening to this feeling very inspired by you and would love to just ask a question, what would be the most effective way for them to get in touch and reach out?

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, so anybody can email me at any time at doneill@fanshawec.ca.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Thank you again, Darlene. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work. Enjoy your upcoming travels, and I will see you at some time in 2024. Awesome. Thank you again, Darlene. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work. Enjoy your upcoming travels, and I will see you at some time in 2024.

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Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services

Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services
About Lynne Jenkinson

Lynne has a diploma in Communication Arts; Broadcast Journalism and has had a varied career in private broadcasting and working many Government contracts for different levels of Provincial and Federal Governments. Lynne is currently the Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and has been in this position since 2011.

Lynne is also an active FIRST Board member, FIRST is Flagstaff’s Informed Response Sharing Team. She is also an active member of the Flagstaff Food Bank Board and currently serves as Secretary and main fundraiser and grant writer. Lynne takes great pride in knowing what services are available not only in Flagstaff, but in outlying areas as well as what is available Provincially and Federally. Lynne writes many different grant proposals annually to introduce or sustain programs in Flagstaff and manages those many different Government grants through FFCS and FIRST.

Lynne is very community oriented and likes to be involved with projects that assist citizens live a successful life: mentally, physically and holistically.

On the personal side Lynne and her spouse Austin Hanson operate a year-round 10 site campsite in Camrose County that serves visiting workers and tourists. That operation continues to attract new people to Camrose County each year.

Connect with Lynne: Email | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Flagstaff Website

YESS (Youth Employment & Skills Strategy) 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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is my good friend from Daislin, Alberta, Lynne Jenkinson. Lynne has a diploma in communication arts, broadcast journalism, and has had a varied career in private broadcasting and working with many government contracts for different levels of provincial and federal governments. Lynne is currently the Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and has been in the position since 2011. Lynne is also an active FIRST board member. FIRST is a Flagstaff’s informed response sharing team. She’s also an active member of the Flagstaff food bank board and currently serves as secretary and main fundraiser and grant writer. Lynne takes great pride in knowing what services are available not only in Flagstaff, but in outlying areas as well, as what is available provincially and federally. Lynne writes many different grant proposals annually to introduce or sustain programs in Flagstaff and manages those many different government grants through FFCS and FIRST. Lynne is very community-oriented and likes to be involved with projects that assist citizens in living a successful life mentally, physically, and holistically. On the personal side, Lynne and her spouse, Austin Hansen, operate a year-round tent site campsite in Camrose Country that serves visiting workers and tourists. That operation continues to attract new people to Camrose County each year, including myself and the backpack team in the spring of 2023. I hope you enjoyed this insightful conversation with my good friend Lynne, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest, a guest that we met on the road as a part of the Empty Your Backpack Speaking Tour, Lynne Jenkinson from FIRST. Lynne, thank you so much for coming here and being on the show.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, it’s always a thrill when people invite me to be on a podcast because to an old chick like me, this is kind of new stuff, but it’s also old stuff because we used to do documentaries all the time years ago when I was in radio. So yeah, podcasts are really becoming such a large and big thing. So it’s quite exciting for me. I’m excited

Sam Demma
I’m excited to have you on. Thanks for saying yes. Tell the audience a little bit more about yourself and what broughy outo where you are today.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, I started way back in radio, Sam, way back in 1984, a long time before a lot of people were even thought of. And then I retired at the young age of 30 because I was kind of burnt out before burnout was even a term. And then I started just doing government contracts and now I’m the executive director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and also the executive director of FIRST, which is a charity we run, which is Flagstaff’s Informed Response Sharing Team Society. And our mission in life is to promote healthy relationships. So we’re always looking for ideas and speakers to bring into our local schools through FIRST and the government grants that I get or grants from donors, grants from corporations. So we can leave, I guess, a footprint for the young people in the Flagstaff area. So I always say if I can bring a speaker in and they touch one person, we have done our job because from testimonials we see that people say, wow, like I learned that from that speaker and that is going to be maybe what I follow in life or I’m going to make sure I instill that in my life.

Sam Demma
When you finished in radio, how did you find this opportunity at first? Tell me more about the transition.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, it took a long time because I was 30 years old and I thought, okay, I want to do more in life. So over about the next 14 years, I just looked for different jobs. Hey, I even worked in a liquor store, even worked as a cobbler. I shouldn’t choose for a while. I just went and learned new things and did things. I’m even a meat cutter by trade because I went to school for five months to learn how to be a journeyman meat cutter. I didn’t like meat cutting because you’re kind of a linsicle all day because it’s kind of a cool job you’re doing with the whole meat. But then I started getting just government contracts. I was working for this and that. And then I just kind of fell into a job at FFCS because they needed a teacher for a year for a federal government program to teach youth age 15 to 30 how to work and how to keep jobs. And then after that, it just seemed a good fit. And I got hired at Flagstaff Family and Community Services, which also partners with FIRST. So we sort of partner and run the charity as well. And then in 2009, I got a full-time job. And in 2011, I became the executive director. So that’s what happens in rural Alberta. When you decide to stay in a rural area, it’ll happen in rural Ontario too. You find the job that fits you, and you kind of figure out how it works into your life.

Sam Demma
Let’s talk a little more about that one year you spent teaching. What was that experience like for you?

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, that was a federal government-funded program. Right now it’s called the YESS program, Youth Employment Skills Strategy. Years ago it used to be called Skills Link. And the federal government will fund agencies to run programs, they call them interventions. And we had 15 students, and for six months, they were with me in a classroom, and we taught them how to do resumes. We even had one student teach others how to play chess, because that was once again, using your brain, right? So they learned how to do resumes, they learned how to find jobs, they learned how to keep jobs. And we said way back when, the old executive director, her name was Gail Watt. We said way back when what we’re teaching them to do is how to have coffee How to do coffee how to sit around and chat with people?

Sam Demma
And did you feel the work in the classroom was just as meaningful as the work you do now as an executive director Or what aspects of it did you really enjoy and found and on the reverse found challenging?

Lynne Jenkinson
Oh, very challenging is when you’re dealing with different people. Even think of a classroom with 15 people and they were aged 15 to 30 years old. Some were school dropouts. They didn’t call them school dropouts. They called those alternative schools and I think they still use that word now. And we had a lady who was 30. So you had people from age 15 to 30. So what was the most important thing is, wow, they’re all individuals. And I can’t imagine how teachers do it today, either grade 1, grade 8, grade 12, when you have 30 to 60 students in a classroom, because each of those people have a different personality, and they have different needs and wants. And how do you serve everyone? Very hard to serve everyone, but we talk about inclusive societies. societies, you have to figure out a way to connect with each of the people in that classroom. And me, that was 2003 and 20 years later, I still know where some of those youth are. 

Sam Demma
That’s incredible. What do you think helped you connect with the students in your classroom? How did you get to know them and tailor some of the content to their needs during the time in the room?

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, I’ll tell you this, Sam, I would never be able to be a teacher because I’m not politically correct. I connect with people by being honest and truthful and sometimes by swearing.

Sam Demma
And they receive it. They’re used to that. That’s their world, a lot of students.

Lynne Jenkinson
The one thing about youth is they can smell a fake as soon as they walk into a room and and the other thing we did I’ll tell you it’s If people well people are gonna hear this because I’m gonna say it there was Students in that classroom because they’re figuring out how to work for a living and stuff Yeah, if they weren’t there by 830, I knew where they lived. There was one couple. I literally Threw the sheets off their bed and dragged them out of bed in the house They lived in and said, you know, come on, I’m not playing this game and let’s go. You got to get up and go to work. You can’t do that for school, right? Teachers can’t do that, but you have to go that extra step. And that’s why 20 years later, some of these youth are still working. They have, gosh, one guy has grandchildren.

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Lynne Jenkinson
He had twins when he was 16 years old. And now 20 years later, one of those twins has had their own children. So that’s a huge thing when you… And they’ve been successful. They’ve stayed working. They’ve had families. These are federal government funded programs that no one really knows about because they run under the radar. And these are the changes that these federal government grants are making in people’s lives through educating and assisting them through the hard times in life.

Sam Demma
Without your guidance and the government funded program, that young man who now has grandkids, maybe you would have went on a totally different path in life. Thinking and hearing about his success story now, how does it make you feel?

Lynne Jenkinson
It makes me feel that we all work together as community, came together because in our program, we never had a problem finding employers who would take the youth that came through our program. Sometimes the youth in those six months that they worked and they were paid like the employers were paid a subsidy to take them on and that would still happen today if we had a current contract. Our last one ran out last year. But what happened was it really showed how community gets together to make sure that youth are successful. You can’t do it alone, Sam, and you know that, right? You know that from your speaker’s tour and building up all these relationships is that we cannot do it ourselves, and everyone has a story. And that’s the other thing that is so, so important. Listen to the story and see what you can pick out of that story as an educator to make a difference in that youth’s life.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that that one time you went to the individual’s house and pulled the sheets off and said, hey, let’s go. You know, today teachers wouldn’t be able to do that. It’s a different time. But the principle behind that action is you seriously believing and investing in these human beings’ success to the point where you’re willing to hold their hand and walk them to school, basically, or the facility, where does that principle or that level of belief in others come from for you?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think it comes from, I grew up on a Air Force base, CFB Cold Lake, and I think it comes from learning through life, watching my parents work. It comes through knowing that once we have discipline in our lives, and it’s not because I’m military, but it is. Like there’s a discipline and there’s rules that we must follow, and even if we don’t fit in, there’s still a way that everyone can fit in. Like right now I see a lot of youth struggling, and this is a post-pandemic, oops that bad word, but it is, struggling with anxiety. Well how can we give them the tools to live with that anxiety? How can we give them the tools to make sure they get out of bed every day feeling good? About themselves not just about everyone else. It’s about themselves It all starts with the way we feel in self, but I look at that the way I grew up It was it was discipline. It was accountability. It was responsibility to ourselves, but also to others.

Sam Demma
Did you have roles and responsibilities that were a part of your everyday life growing up, that was a part of your accountability to others, i.e. your parents?

Lynne Jenkinson
And I’m gonna say yes, but I’m the youngest of five and my oldest sisters would say, parents went way easier on me than they did on the first children in the family, right? And my dad-

Sam Demma
That’s what they always say.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I’m sorry.

Lynne Jenkinson
And my dad used to say to me when I was a teenager, he says, you can go do anything and it’s not gonna shock me because your brothers and sisters pretty much did everything except murder somebody. And I wasn’t going to shock them by doing that.

Sam Demma
No. Hopefully not.

Lynne Jenkinson
But it is, like when we have expectations, years ago somebody said to me, as like when you have, when you’re dealing with youth, are youth going to love the parent who has no expectations or are they going to love the parent who has expectations. And you’ll find that youth will really gear toward the parent with no expectations because that makes life easier. When you have to deal with the parent with expectations, it does make life harder. But once we have those expectations instilled in us, we keep growing to get out of that mediocre, adequate life. And we kind of want to have expectations for ourselves where we are a little bit better than we ever thought we could be.

Sam Demma
Would you say that mentality also applies in a classroom with teachers and their students? Should teachers have some sort of expectations or hold their students to some form of standards?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think they should, but for teachers, when you’re dealing with everything we’re dealing with today, is I think it’s hard to have expectations for everyone. And I think some teachers just say, you know, to have a good sleep at night, it’s like, oh, you know, I just got to wash that out of my brain because that would just add to so much stress. And teachers do have a lot of stress today. But you can see teachers that come in every day and flight staff and say, you know, my expectation is that today will be a better day than the last day. And, you know, I hang out with a grade one teacher, retired grade one teacher, and we just see a difference now in our schools. And, but boy, those teachers just shine who do have those expectations that each student will do what they can do or do better each day.

Sam Demma
And I think pouring self-belief into students is so important. One of the educators that changed my life had high standards for me. After I lost the ability to play soccer, he believed that I was going to do something else great in the world. And it was his expectation and the standards that he held me to that helped me find that belief in myself. And I can’t thank him enough. In fact, I invite him to speeches every once in a while and him and his wife come and hear about the impact he had on me and it makes them emotional. And I think every educator has that opportunity to hold their students to high standards in a non pressuring way, but in a very positive way. And you know, I’ve had many interactions with you, you seem to always be very optimistic and try and see things from a positive perspective. And I’m curious to know where that where that mindset comes from?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think it just comes, some people say, well, she’s the most negative person you ever met because she’s always talking politics and what’s happening in government and what’s affecting us. But it’s not that, you wouldn’t get through life if you didn’t have that thinking that everything can be better and will be better. And I’m always looking, always look to learn. And I did learn something and you will love this. I really think I went to an open house for the Battle River Community Foundation and an educator was speaking. His name was Patrick Whittleton. He lives in Daisland and works in Camrose and he said what’s happening right now because he’s um they’re doing like summer school to teach people to read or get better at reading. He says what’s happening right now is an acronym TLTR and it’s going to make people like me angry. It means too long to read. That is coming from our social media, right? And reading, and that’s how we learn. We continue to read, we continue to talk, we continue to converse. And that’s made a difference in my life that I took communications in college. Communication has changed over the years, but we still have to converse, we still have to be relational. You know yourself, when you’re out there speaking to the students, how they just glom onto you later. Remember, we ordered 200 books and we said, let’s just leave the books at the end rather than handing the books out to all the students. And the lineup at the end of your speech, we had 200 books. We left that day with only six books and then parents phoned us and we ran out of books because we gave away six books within the next week. Yeah. But that’s why, like the expectations are, that’s I guess the way I stay positive is I never have assumptions. People continually disappoint me but people always continually surprise me and the youth of today continually surprise me because a lot of people are negative about them saying this and this and this. It’s like, yeah, but they’re living in a way different world than I did 50 years ago with technology, everything else, but have the expectations that they will surprise you every day, they won’t disappoint you.

Sam Demma
You talked about the importance briefly there of being relational and building relationships. And it’s definitely something that I try and do when I’m working with students or delivering a keynote in front of an audience. How do you think you build a relationship with young people?

Lynne Jenkinson
I try so hard by getting the government grants that I can bring speakers in because that’s how the young people know me in this area. They know me as that lady from First or that lady from FCS, and parents begin to know. And then I think I build a relationship with the youth because we are here at FFCS, they begin to know that we’re here at FFCS and at first, and they know that they could pick up a phone. I’m not into texting. I will never give out my cell phone number because I like to sleep at night and other people don’t. And it’s the phone number and they just know that, hey, I can phone that office where that lady Lynn is and maybe I can ask her a question. I get people to phone about scholarships, those sorts of things. It’s not my job to know this and to help, but it’s my job to build my community. So I would never turn somebody away. It might take me two days to answer your phone call, and I want to talk to you. I want to hear your voice. I want to hear emotion. I want to meet you if I can. I want to see your face. I want to know your story.

Sam Demma
I love that you said it’s not my job to know, but it’s my job to build the community. And I think so often, not only in education, but in workplaces in general, people will say, well, that’s not a part of my job, so I’m not doing it. And I think if each of us were in positions that we were passionate about, and we always led with curiosity and the intent to build community and help the people around us. We would just have much more happy, optimistic places to work and employees to work with.

Lynne Jenkinson
And we would build better teams. We would build better teams. We would build better communities. But a lot of people are just scared sometimes to say what they really want to say so that’s that that’s that inclusive society We may disagree and I always say to the youth when we do our federal government programs You don’t have to like the people you work with but you have to work with them Yeah, like and hate is an emotion that really just sucks the wind right out of you So just figure out how to like people like the way their eyebrow goes, like their blue eyes, just like something about them and then you’ll get through the day and we will then continue to build our teams and build a community that is going to be successful.

Sam Demma
Great advice for a teacher who has one student that gets on their nerves. Find something to appreciate about them, find something to enjoy about them. There is always something even when it seems like there isn’t because we’re so similar as human beings, more ways than we are different. What is your wisdom for an educator who is just getting into the work, teaching young people who might be a little overwhelmed and intimidated by the current state of the profession and they came to you and said, Lynn, I’m really struggling, I just started doing this, I need some advice. What would you tell them?

Lynne Jenkinson
And I would say, I know it’s really hard because you all belong to a teacher’s association, but find somebody in your community, whether they’re a teacher or not, who can mentor you and that you can talk to and be honest with, that you can tell your story to without judgment. Judgment is so big these days, but let’s do no judgment and just find somebody you can talk to because we have to worry about FOIP and those sorts of things, but you can still tell a story without identifying anyone, no matter whether you’re in a small place or a big place, but find somebody to talk to because if you carry it within yourselves, which I see a lot of teachers do because they just feel they can’t share because it might identify that student or that issue, it won’t. If you tell your story, there’s no use of names, there’s no use of addresses, there’s no use of phone numbers. Just tell a story to somebody, but find that trusted individual that you can talk to.

Sam Demma
How have those types of conversations played a role in your own story?

Lynne Jenkinson
I’m very good at sharing, as you may have noticed already. But it is, as I said, I retired at 30 from radio because I was burnt out, but I didn’t stop. I took six months off. I could afford it at the time. I took six months off. I figured out what I wanted to do in my life. And counselling is a great thing too. I recommend counselling for everybody. But the other thing is you got to be able to pivot, and you got to be able to pivot in a positive way. But when you find a trusted individual, for me, I have a very good partner, right? So I can drop everything on Austin and he will be non-judgmental. He may not even have anything to say, but I dropped it on him and it’s just like a counselor. But that’s the most important thing, to be able to know that you can share and there’s always somebody else out there who is going to care.

Sam Demma
It’s so important that you mentioned he might have nothing to say but you can still share it all with him. I was listening to a podcast recently with a author named Simon Sinek and he was talking about the value of just sitting in the mud with people, not sitting beside them when they need you to give them advice or tell them what to do, but just to sit in the mud with them and be a shoulder. And sometimes that’s all we need. And sometimes that’s all students really need in their teacher or a mentor. And sometimes that’s all human beings need. And oftentimes when people tell me they’re going through a challenge or they’re struggling, my first gut reaction is to give them advice. And I stop myself and I remind myself, this is not what they need from me right now. They just need me to be here for them. If they need advice, they’ll ask for it. And they’ll make that request, or if they want my perspective. And if not, I’m just going to sit in the mud with them. And I think that’s one of the best ways to support young people. Have you had an experience where a young person was struggling and you kind of sat in the mud, the other thing that is so hard to do, Sam, is sit in silence.

Lynne Jenkinson
Sit in silence. There’s no judgment. There’s no nothing. And that eye contact, really important. You’re there with them in the room. And yes, I have numerous examples over the years, and it’s very hard for me to sit in silence. And people who know me and youth know that. And it’s like, so when you dump something on me and I just sit there with no look on my face not even you know and I just sit there and look at them and possibly you know just you sit in that silence you sit in that mud as you say and and that I guess numerous times and they know right then and there that that person has connected with them and they’re where I’m not even thinking anything anymore. I’m just sitting there with them and yeah, numerous times. And that is one of the best things you can do. And boy, does that build trust as well. No judgment, just silence. And then it’s, and as you say, no advice. Everyone has to figure out their own story.

Sam Demma
Such a good reminder.

Sam Demma
Because I mean, speaking about myself, I always feel the urge to jump in and connect the dots behind how what they’re explaining and experiencing connects to my own life. And the reality is, most of the time, people don’t wanna hear it. They just want you to be there. And I think being there is one of the characteristics or traits of a high-performing educator. Being willing to spend time with the student, having, as we said, high expectations for them, or just some standards that you believe this young human can grow into and the version of themselves that you think they can become, even if it’s a little higher than they have for themselves. That’s another high trait of a or another great trait of a high performing educator. What else do you think makes a high performing educator? What traits make a effective teacher or someone who influences you?

Lynne Jenkinson
One thing that I really find and it is so hard because of the stress on the educators, is just that ability to be present. The ability for those youth to know that you’re present, as I said earlier, they will call out a fake within seconds. But that ability to be present, whether it be speaking to them, just understanding where they’re at. at and in a classroom atmosphere it is that each youth knows you’re there. That you are not clicking on your phone and looking at your phone, you’re not looking at your watch as your watch is talking to you. It’s that ability to be present and more and more people are losing that ability because there’s just so much other stuff coming at them. So it is that ability just to know this is where I’m at right now and I’m here for you as an educator. And I’m here for you at break too, if you need me. But during that classroom too, to be present for every one of those youth, very, very difficult.

Sam Demma
There may be an educator listening, thinking, gosh, I wish we had FIRST in our community to support some of our schools, to bring in speakers and to help bring these programs in front of their youth. Are there similar organizations in different provinces that you’re aware of? If there’s an educator in Ontario listening to this or there’s an educator in BC or is it just in the Flagstaff area? 

Lynne Jenkinson
For what we do, I’ve just seen it in Flagstaff, but there are other groups. There’s charitable groups within any community, whether it be a Lions group or a Knights of Columbus, groups like that could help people bring in speakers. It’s always looking for partnerships, once again, relationships, once again, building community, and somebody with the passion. For me, I have the passion. I think bringing in speakers will change lives because it gives the students in our area, remember, we’re 8,440 people over 4,065 square kilometers. So bringing in a speaker, you from Ontario, a young man who has a message, that just knowing and if I can build that passion in somebody else to say, wow, if I go raise some money, maybe that school will work with me and we can bring in a speaker. Schools to me are very open to bringing in new ideas and new people. They will give you a couple hours of their day, and it may change the life of that one student in an audience of, around here it’s 200-600 students. In a large center, it could be 1,200 students listening to you, maybe more, Sam, right? You don’t know till later, that’s one thing about technology today. They can e-mail you later and ask questions, and teachers can get in contact with you. We have to share our knowledge and our passion and then we will build up the youth continually.

Sam Demma
I was so grateful for the opportunity to come to Daislin. It was such an amazing experience and I talk about it with Cross and Alion and Nina, the team, that it was so awesome because because although a small community, sometimes in the rural communities that we visited, including Daislin, there was so much gratitude, or at least that’s what it felt like from our perspective. And I just really enjoyed it, the hospitality, the experience, the location. So thank you for making it possible for us. And I hope to come back sometime soon. If there is one piece of advice you could give yourself when you were just starting your career, like you could travel back in time with the knowledge and the wisdom you have now and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, hey, I know you don’t think you need to hear this right now, but here’s what you need to hear. What would you tell your younger self?

Lynne Jenkinson
I would tell my younger self, and it’s interesting because I still see the same issue today, and I am a woman and I was entering a career that was very male dominated broadcasting at the time, I would say to myself still say it every day, you are worth it. Just keep going. No matter your gender, no matter, like you are worth it. Somebody else may not recognize that, but when you recognize it in yourself, you just keep moving forward. You are worth it.

Sam Demma
I love that. Lynne, thank you so much for coming on the show today. If there is an educator who wants to reach out to you, ask a question or share their thoughts about this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Lynne Jenkinson
My best way to get in touch with me is via email. So it’s director@flagstafffcs.ca. I usually get back to people within a day on email. I do have a real life, but I will get back to you within a day because I do have my email hooked up to my phone and I believe that’s the best way and a lot of people have gotten a hold of me that way. And it’s a great way to build relationships and then when I email you back, you get my phone number.

Sam Demma
And if you’re ever camping in the Daisland area, she happens to have a beautiful campsite. So feel free to email her about that as well.

Lynne Jenkinson
Thank you, Sam. I really appreciate that. And I do hope that like with speakers, especially the youth, I hope to have you back in three to four years because then we get another group of students.

Sam Demma
I look forward to the day. Thank you for coming on the show again, Lynne. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Sam Demma
Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lynne Jenkinson

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.

Shane Chisholm — Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, Alberta

Shane Chisholm — Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, Alberta
About Shane Chisholm

Shane Chisholm (@ShaneChisholm1) is the Principal of Father Henri Voisin School in Red Deer, AB. He began his teaching career in 1997 after graduating from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. For ten years, he taught Grades 7-12 Physical Education and Social Studies. In 2007, he completed his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Calgary. In 2007, he became vice principal and he was in that position for 4 years. Then he transitioned to principal where he led 4 schools over the past 12 years. 

Through those years he has witnessed the joy, compassion and empathy that each of his colleagues bring to their classroom each and every day. Finding a balance between personal and professional life has been a work in progress for Shane. He holds out hope that someday his Calgary Flames will hold up the Stanley Cup!

Connect with Shane: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bachelor of Science in Human Kinetics – St. Francis Xavier University

Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership – University of Calgary

Denzel Washington Commencement Speech at Dillard University

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a special guest, Shane Chisholm, who is the Principal of Father Henry Vosin School in Red Deer, Alberta. He began his teaching career in 1997 after graduating from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. For 10 years, he taught grade 7 through 12 physical education and social studies. In 2007, he completed his Master’s of Education degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Calgary and became Vice Principal and remained in that position for four years. He then transitioned to Principal where he led four schools over the past 12 years. Throughout those years, he has witnessed the joy, compassion, and empathy that each of his colleagues bring to their classroom each and every day. Finding a balance between personal and professional life has been a work in progress for Shane. He holds out hope that someday his Calgary Flames will hold up the Stanley Cup. Keep on dreaming Shane. I’ll see you on the other side of this episode and I hope you enjoy this conversation. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today, joined by Shane Chisholm. Shane, so excited to have you on the show today. Thanks for being here.

Shane Chisholm
Thanks so much, Sam, really appreciate it.

Sam Demma
I see a Detroit Red Wing in the background over there. I guess we’ll just not talk about it.

Shane Chisholm
Yeah, we’ll leave that be, that’s okay. Yeah, I’m not a Flamie’s fan, but Detroit’s a different story, yeah.

Sam Demma
So, one of the questions I always love to ask, starting these conversations is, did you know you always wanted to be in education? And if yes, tell me why, and if no, explain the journey that brought you to where you are today.

Shane Chisholm
Whoa, Sam, that’s kind of a really loaded question because it actually reminds me of your story. I wasn’t as gifted as an athlete as you and when I heard your story, it actually hit me hard knowing about your story about soccer and your knee injuries. And I graduated from high school. I wasn’t really leaning towards education at the time in the 90s. I wanted to be an RCMP officer. I played hockey, I played softball at a very high level. So, and I was, my education was quite decent. So I was felt and was getting coached towards that in high school that that was a possible stream for me. So I went into a Bachelor of Science Phys Ed degree at my university, which is one of the areas where the RCMP came to recruit from. Because we did some of the fitness testing that the RCMP does. So in our first and second year university, we do fitness testing. So I think it’s a part you test that they used to do. And we would do that. Unfortunately, every Friday morning at 8:15 class, so it was a it was not the best time for some of my colleagues in school to test. Yeah, but my second year university, unfortunately, hockey got in the way. And what happened was I had a check from behind. And I can tell you, it was three days before Christmas I can remember it and it was eight seconds into the game after O Canada just popped on my chin strap and puck went towards our bench and I went towards it and I don’t know if I caught a rut or I didn’t turn properly but the guy in behind me caught me square from behind and all I heard was a crunch and I knew that wasn’t the door opening and that was my shoulder. And so I just skated I didn’t even wait for the whistle I just skated right to the end boards to get taken in the dressing room and at that time we had hockey sticks not what Stories from aging myself, but my trainer knew what was up and he Took a piece of the end of the hockey stick of his cut and he stuck it right in my mouth right away to chew on Wow, and I got in the dress room and from there I had a significant separated shoulder and that took me away from, I had to get reconstructive surgery on my shoulder, rebuilt again and I mean it’s brand new, it works great now, but that time period for that year or two, I lost that opportunity to go into RCMP because physically I was unable to do the fitness testing and because of the rehab I had to go through and realized I had to shift gears. And it wasn’t such a bad one. I was still in the phys ed program and getting my degree and realized that I had still a potential to do something else in education. Fifth as well, really impactful teachers in my middle school and high school years that I really thought highly of and I thought, okay, this can be a plan B and 26 years later, here’s plan B.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. And I’m wondering, you mentioned you had middle school and some high school teachers that had a really big impact. What did those teachers do for you that stuck out in your mind?

Shane Chisholm
Boy, my English teacher in grade nine just took an interest in me. Actually, just took a genuine interest in me. I had a math teacher in grade eight and math was my worst subject ever. I could not do math. And in Nova Scotia, they streamed math even in middle school. So, we kind of got separated into high and low classes. And I was in the high class and unfortunately, got streamed into the lower class. And very thankful because my parents moved me into that class, seeing my struggles, but this teacher in that lower level took an interest in my… sat down with me and helped me re-engage with math. So they actually just sat down, find out who I was, and said of me, you’re that student that is not doing well in my class. And so I kind of felt brushed aside, and I was a quiet student at that time. Yeah, no, I just found that two teachers really just took an interest and took the time to get to know me as well. And so I find that important here in my job is to find out who the kid is

Sam Demma
before even what they do in school. It sounds like sitting down with the student and making time for them is like one of the things to figure out who the kid is. Like what other things do you think a teacher can do to show genuine interest in the student in their classroom?

Shane Chisholm
I think that’s that is probably the biggest thing I know. I’ve gone to student events and and that means a lot to kiddos to go to go to those events. However, I also recognize the balance of being with my own family too. So that you know the teachers do a lot and I’ve seen in the past I’ve done a lot too where in school and so it’s just finding those opportunities not even just in class even at lunchtime. Like and I see it here in my building like my vice principal and my counselor are modeling beautifully they set up lunch dates every day voluntarily with students and students now come down the office and book lunch dates with my VP and counselor And the kids just love it and it’s not about school It’s just what happened on the weekend and they’re the kids just find it so nice to see that and I guess it’s just good for kids to see us in a different light that we that we do sit to eat lunch and we just like the chat like they do in their classroom and I don’t think they see enough of us as a person. They see us as a teacher and we are people too that do neat things, right?

Sam Demma
Yeah, they see you in the grocery store in the town and they go, oh my goodness, you’re here? You’re outside the school buildings?

Shane Chisholm
Yeah.

Shane Chisholm
The principal let you out, yeah, exactly. And I think that’s it. Like the kids love to hear about our holiday or what we did or how terrible a golfer I am. They want to talk about the hockey on the weekend. So I think that’s just, they just want to talk to us because they look, they certainly look up to us as models, but they also, you know, that positive relationship and discussing with kids, just anything with them, I think helps break down barriers as well in the class as far as teaching them.

Sam Demma
You mentioned, you know, education was at first your plan B. And for me, I didn’t even have, I felt like I didn’t even have a plan B. It was like sports and sports ended and this venture, speaking and podcasting and writing, became plan B for me. But the more I leaned into plan B, I realized I actually think I like plan B more than I would have maybe liked plan A had it worked out, do you feel similarly about the way that things have played out for you? And like, yeah, tell me a little bit more about the 26 year journey in education so far.

Shane Chisholm
So, Plan A kind of came up out of really the big plan like you say. I thought I was going to be going somewhere in hockey until about Bantam and at that time I learned, I realized that I wasn’t being watched and and my parents were beautiful about it. They were very humble about it and I think it was just switching gears and I was still good at school at that time but I was just realizing, okay I am not going to the show. But there’s always different opportunities so I shifted gears and started focusing still on my school to get to university and then like I said I had the injury and then I shifted to plan B. And plan B really took me out of Nova Scotia all the way up to a little town in northern Alberta. So plan B took me on my first plane ride. Plan B took me my first, because I lived at home when I was in university. So plan B took me totally out of my comfort zone, being away from home on a plane, no vehicle, in a little northern Alberta town. And plan B didn’t look so good the first day because I got my keys and my box of chalk. So that would really date how old I am. What’s chalk? Yeah, sidewalk chalk. I got my box of color, my box of white and my brush.

Shane Chisholm
And I was like, what is this? And I was a phys ed teacher.

Shane Chisholm
And so I was teaching social studies and phys ed up north for three years. And I was up there and I guess one of the beautiful things about being in a rural area was I learned so much about myself and I learned a lot about education because you have to. You don’t have the resources that a city has but it was a very tight-knit community up there and it was weird because plan B I thought, okay, I’ll be up north forever and the principal pulled me aside after my three years up there and he said, you need to move. And I said, why? And he said, well, either you move or you’re going to be up north for the rest of your life. So either you want to stay up here or now is the time. And the north is beautiful. It’s like, it was incredible up north. A lot of learning, beautiful people. But he said, if you want to move down to southern regions or into more of the city area, it’s time for you to move. And it was this sage advice I received in that third year in February. And so then I came down to Southern Alberta and I was about year two or three here in Rocky Mountain House. At that time, I kind of got tapped by one of the principals there and he said, hey, have you thought of administration? And I was like, no, okay, let’s give that a try. And I guess I ought to look back at it and I kind of just kind of like that continuous learning. And so I signed up for my master’s degree and while still teaching and learned the hard way though. I thought, oh, I’m getting my master’s degree and the principals tapped me, maybe I’ll have a chance at administration. And in our division here at the time, we had what we call the admin pool. So you have to apply to get into this administrative pool, and you have to interview and go through questions, and then you have to get interviewed, and then you have to go in front of a panel of five to nine people to get in. I never made it past a phone call in two years in a row. I actually failed the initial interview twice in a row. And then the third year, I actually wrote a letter to the superintendent saying, I’m not ready for this interview to get to the next level. I’m going to focus on my master’s and becoming a better teacher and a better person. Because at that time, Sam, I was cocky. I was strutting around. I thought I knew what I, because the principal tapped me and because I was doing my master’s. And I wasn’t very reflective at that time. I had a little bit of a ego kind of about me about year 8 to 10 in education there and I always look back and go why was I like that but I was and I think humbling was just learning more about what teachers do and watching the teachers those excellent teachers and how they relate to kids and how they speak to kids with relationships and how they deal with staff as well. That took a lot of, I did a lot of watching and reflecting. So it actually took me four years to get into the admin pool even though I had my master’s completed within that time. So I always tell principals and vice principals, I failed three times basically to get in. The third time was me saying to the superintendent, I’m not doing it this year. So it was almost a fourth time to get into the pool to say, hey, I can do this and want to do this, but I’m a different person. And so I tell, now that I’m older, I hopefully, wiser, I tell young principals, there are times you’re going to fall. And I said, I fell before I even became one. And, you know, I picked myself back up again and that was okay. I fell three times and I learned from that.

Sam Demma
There’s a commencement speech with Denzel Washington and he always talks about fail fast, fail forward, fail often. And I just thought of that when you were explaining your story and it made me reflect on all the times where I have fallen or lacked reflection in my actions and thought I knew everything and I’ve had moments like that, you know? And it takes a lot of self-awareness to zoom out from that current experience you’re going through and look at yourself objectively and change behavior and change the path you’re taking. And so I think that’s really cool to share because there might be a teacher listening to this who’s wanted to be an administrator for a long time and faced similar challenges and hurdles. You said that after those first two years, you kind of refocused on becoming a better teacher and learning more and even like shadowing those excellent teachers and looking at them. And like, what are some of the things that you saw in those excellent teachers? 

Shane Chisholm
Well, one of the things I saw is what I saw first in myself and was I was doing the same thing over and over again and I was not doing a good job of my teaching. So the definition of insanity, right? So, you know, I kind of compare it to my story Calgary playing fans But my Calgary flames have done the same thing over and over again for the same years and they’re getting worse Yeah, so that’s the definition of insanity So and I seen that that kind of a quote like that you continue to do the same thing over and over again you’re not going to get better and I realized I was Traditional in my teachings. I was teaching high school and I was very lecture bound, Charlie Brown type teaching and I wasn’t engaging my students. And so those were some of the things I was looking for elsewhere. And I had a very wise math teacher and he pulled me aside and he just said, Shane, you’re working too hard. You must be exhausted every day standing all day talking. And I said, What do you mean? He said, you’re not allowing the kids to co-create their own learning. He said, you’re not allowing the kids to develop or make mistakes. You’re just lecturing 80 minutes and then another class. And he said, yeah. I said, yeah, I’m exhausted. And he had taught for a number of years and he said, I teach for 10 to 15 minutes and then I allow the kids to… I teach with them and then they teach together themselves and it can be done. Like, you’re allowing, allow that trust to the kids. The kids know how to regulate themselves. If there’s good learning and good framework in the classroom. And he was so right. And in that, because I would safely say I was getting, I was marking like crazy, I was teaching like crazy, and I was like, oh boy, this is all burnout, this is crazy. And then I found a rejuvenation in that, watching the kids create learning out of my teaching instead of just listening to me. That was the biggest.

Sam Demma
And what about some learnings on managing people? Like as an administrator, you know, I’m assuming that that’s also one of the big challenges for new principals, you do a lot of learning on how to manage others. And when you’re a teacher yourself, you manage your classroom and you manage yourself, but you’re not responsible for managing all the other teachers in the school and trying to support everybody so everyone can succeed. What have you learned in managing people?

Shane Chisholm
The tricky part about principal is the actual management piece. There’s so much management, the building and they’re almost like little things on the side that kind of nitpick at you. So it takes away from the real working with students and the staff and the teachers. And so it’s finding the balance of those managerial pieces and setting them aside so that you can be with your teachers and your students. Because those managerial things on the side can really actually impact your day and take you away from what you really want to do. And so the struggle even for me day to day is making sure that I’m not getting caught in the managerial of the building and working with students and staff and getting out in the building to do say walk-throughs or even just a visibility and having conversations with the kids even at lunch break or going out and just volunteering, going out for supervision. Like, I love doing that. It’s just that the minutiae, the managerial stuff of the day can get in the way. Because we’re still a teacher, right? I mean, I’m a teacher, I’m just a teacher. I look at it as, I’m a teacher with a different title.

Sam Demma
Mmmm.

Sam Demma
I love that.

Sam Demma
And there’s also lots of schools where the principal even teaches classes, right? Like depending on who’s available in the school or if there’s a shortage that day or there’s a gap that needs to be filled, you know, it seems like principals wear lots of different hats.

Shane Chisholm
And sometimes I think you’re absolutely, I love those hats and that piece covering classes. I mean, I’m a more middle school, high school trained, so doing kindergarten is quite an adventure for me and I guess you know what it’s kind of a different boost right you get the little ones in kindergarten grade one and two they’re just absolutely love your presence and enjoy your time it’s the it’s the balance of those hats they’re there for the right reason and wearing the proper hat to be there for teachers and students and being a teacher yourself in the school.

Sam Demma
You mentioned a little earlier, making sure that you balance the amount of time you spend getting to know the students in school as you do spending time with your family at home. Because I assume in education, and I see it, it’s like you could be on 24-7. There’s always another assignment to mark and thing to do, but you are also a human being that goes grocery shopping in the community after the school hours and has a family. How do you make sure that your cup stays full and you balance your time? What do you do to make sure that Shane’s taken care of? Well, to be honest, there have been times I’ve not.

Shane Chisholm
There’s just times that it’s unfortunate that I’ve not made, like the cup has overflowed and into another cup. You know, it just seems like a quite overwhelming. I think the bigger thing is, as I gotten older in the past couple years is, you know, I get I’m several years away from retirement. You know, and I want to be happy and healthy going into retirement. Loving the jobs I’m currently in. And part of that is looking after my personal health. So you know I haven’t been in the gym in years and so I got back in the gym. I still play a little bit of golf but nothing nothing is taken seriously. It’s for fun, it’s for enjoyment, it’s for what we call maintenance and I think that’s a big piece. You know it Friday nights and Saturdays the phones put away. I know the school will still be here and I still even though I’ve been doing this for a couple of years, there are times that I wonder what’s happening. But you know what, most often, 99% of the time, there’s nothing happening on Friday and Saturday night that I have to check out. So that’s taken a long while for me to figure out Sam was that balance piece, right? And giving myself time, grace in the weekends where other people have. And you’re kind of like, I have it too. It’s just that maybe I felt guilty and wanted to get things done. And I guess looking at my practice as a principal or as a teacher, what are some good efficient ways to get my job done through week two? So I was looking at where I was getting caught in managerial things, Sam, and I wasn’t getting my principal, teacher, or principal with student work done. And I was starting to prioritize that. The managerial work will take care of itself. And it was also learning how to balance the work within the office suites here as well. So a good flow of communication between my office admin team, my vice principal, has taken, has balanced the work out, and as well ensuring their opinion on it as well. And how can we balance this all out because the whole office actually feels the weight of what’s going on in the principal’s office. The counselor and even the office admin team, the administrative team, they get the whole weight because they’re all moving pieces within the the way I look at it. It’s like the big heart it’s like if one half of the heart is aching the whole hearts experiencing it you know.

Sam Demma
Yeah, absolutely. Maybe that’s what the admin office is the heart of the school. Yeah. So I’m curious, I see a bookshelf behind you and I’m not going to put you on the spot, but like over the years, have you found any resources that have been really helpful in your own personal development? Obviously your master’s degree is a massive educational journey that is invaluable and learning it provides to you and everyone who goes through it. But have you found any other resources that have been really instrumental in your beliefs and philosophies around education or any individuals who have really deeply contributed?

Shane Chisholm
Well, some of the books on the back of my bookshelf there, I’ll be honest, those are about NHL players.

Sam Demma
Nice, that’s fair.

Shane Chisholm
I’m intrigued about their biographies. So Theo Fleury, Sheldon Kennedy, Mark Messier, Bob Iorre. So those are kind of some guys I’ve read about. Just kind of from a Mark Messier, obviously his leadership. Theo Fleury, his life and some of Sheldon Kennedy and Bob Iorre again, kind of the type of player he was. So I can’t, and as well Bob Kroeberg. So I just, and then I guess some of that was just looking at that scene you made it to the pinnacle of the top and Even they struggled Mmm, all of them. Oh, you’ve heard messy like even his struggles in New York with the New York Rangers It just it was in Bobby or I mean obviously when he got traded Chicago after he played the book with the Bruins with his knees, right we have most beautiful skater in NHL and so I think it was just listening and reading their books and seeing that even the people at the top also struggle. And they admitted their struggles and they still wanted to be the best too. And they were still learners. Those are just unique stories. And so to be honest, Sam, I read more of those books to get away from education. Because you can get really caught into it. And again, that’s why I appreciate your book as well, because it’s not necessarily about education, it’s about just growth, and mindset. And I think that’s what I appreciate reading stories about sports and athletes and similar to yours, because it talks about growth and mindset and just how to continue that. And that and that applies in education.

Sam Demma
And it applies to life, right? Whether you’re a teacher or any profession. I read a autobiography of Muhammad Ali over the summer months. And for a while I was so burnt out of reading books. And then I picked up this one and I couldn’t put it down. And it just like reignited in me a passion for reading books again. And I’ve loved reading since I was about 16 years old and I started choosing the books I wanted to read. And that one was a game changer for me. And I remember one specific part of the book that sticks out in my mind is when Muhammad Ali was gifted a bike and he didn’t grow up in the most financially stable household. So getting a bike as a kid was a big deal. And he got a bicycle and he’s driving it or riding it up and down the streets. And one day he stops to grab something at a store and comes outside and the bike’s gone. And he’s losing his mind, his brother’s losing his mind because how’s his bike? And so they start walking around the neighborhood and he stumbles into a boxing gym, or right outside a boxing gym. And at the time he was a young kid, but built like a big dude, like six feet tall, 13 years old, and this boxing coach says, hey man, do you box? And Muhammad’s like, no, I don’t. And he’s like, come on inside. And he taught him the basic foundations of a jab and some of the punches. And Muhammad ended up going back multiple times to this gym over the summer months and started developing what would be his initial start of his career. And the author of the book said, you know, destiny is a function of both chance and choice. Like, the chance was that he would stumble into the boxing gym, but the choice was that he would return back multiple times. And, you know, maybe in your career, what happened by chance was you’d get injured in hockey and be introduced to education, but your choice was to keep showing up and keep learning. Even when you got into principalship and administration, you know, you had some challenges the first two years, first four years, but you kept, you decided, you made a choice to keep showing up. And if there’s an educator listening to this right now who’s struggling or who’s burnt out and they’re feeling defeated and you could kind of share some encouragement with them, what would you say? One, I guess it took a lot for me to ask for help.

Shane Chisholm
One of the things I sense, and I hope it’s not the case for others, but I sense in education it’s very isolated in a sense, because you are given that degree, you’re a teacher, and they say you’re a teacher, and then you get your license from the province, and they say you’re certified, and then you feel the need to be that teacher, and you don’t want to, or I didn’t want to tell someone I need your help asking a colleague for that and and it’s very much the other way around I think we need to lean on each other right away as soon as we come out of university for our brand new teachers and even I see it still our young teachers come out and they don’t want to ask for help because it’s a fear that they don’t know what they’re doing. And I’m still 26 years in, I’m still learning. I’m still learning new ways to do what I’m doing. And so I still ask for help from teachers, senior administration, you know, reading your book, kind of those little tidbits, right? Those, those things always help. So I think that’s the biggest pieces to not necessarily avoid burnout, but just to recognize that there’s always someone there that’s more than willing to give a lending hand or listen to you on the rough days or to help you with resources. And we all, I guess, it’s strange, but education is very neat at paying it forward. And I think a lot of our teachers and principals and vice principals, counselors, and even educational assistants, we all pay it forward. We want to help someone be successful. And I think, and very similar to our students. And I think we miss that piece is as adults, we do the same thing with our own adults helping each other as much as we do with the kids. So lean in on those people that are there and don’t look at it as a sign of weakness, look at it as a sign of strength and joining the team.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Shane, this has been a awesome conversation. 30 minutes flew by. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on the podcast. Keep up the great work, and I hope we cross paths again very soon.

Shane Chisholm
Will do. Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your time. This was awesome.

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Ted Temertzoglou — Highly sought-out speaker and lead author on health,  physical literacy and well-being

Ted Temertzoglou — Highly sought-out speaker and lead author on health, physical literacy and well-being
About Ted Temertzoglou

Ted (@LifeIsAtheltic) believes in a world where the skills learned through Health & Physical Education enable all to lead authentic, happy and fulfilling lives. He creates this world by working with Governments, School Boards to implement UNESCO’s Quality Physical Education Guidelines. Ted is an advocate and thought leader for quality Health and Physical Education. He is a highly sought-out speaker and lead author on health & physical literacy and well-being.

With a Master’s Degree in teacher-student relationships and 33 years of educational experience, Ted shares his expertise to help more teachers and students flourish and thrive. He is the recipient of the R. Tait McKenzie Award, Physical & Health Education Canada’s most distinguished award. He is also a certified Personal Trainer with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.

Connect with Ted: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

R. Tait McKenzie Award

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP)

Outlive by Peter Attia

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) – Teacher Education

Brock University – Master’s Degree in teacher-student relationships

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Ted Temertzoglou. Ted believes in a world where the skills learned through health and physical education enable all to lead authentic, happy, and fulfilling lives. He creates this world by working with governments, and school boards to implement the UNESCO’s Quality Physical Education Guidelines. Ted is an advocate and thought leader for quality health and physical education. He’s a highly sought out speaker and lead author on health and physical literacy and well-being. With a master’s degree in teaching student relationships and 33 years of educational experience, Ted shares his expertise to help more teachers and students flourish and thrive. He is the recipient of the R. Kate McKenzie Award, Physical and Health Education’s Most Distinguished Award, and also a certified personal trainer with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ted. It left me very energized, and I’m sure it’ll do the same for you. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma and I’m very excited to be joined by our guest today, Ted Tamurtsuglu. He is a friend of mine who is connected through a friend of mine named Joyce, and I’m honored to have him on the show here today. Ted, how are you?

Ted Temertzoglou
Good, Sam. I am super excited to be here with you, and thank you so much for asking me to be a part of your show. I gotta ask because the listeners can’t see what I can see. Behind you is a beautiful home gym. When did you get it, and when did fitness become a big part of your life? Oh, okay, so I’ll start backwards. So fitness has always been a part of my life. I’m an aspiring athlete through school, trying to acquire as much athleticism as I possibly can. And then this is our garage. We converted this, ah, about six years ago. We started building it. And because work got so busy, we weren’t able to get to the gym and stuff, so my kids work out of here, my wife works out of here, I work out of here every day, and now this is what we call Life is Athletic World Headquarters. This is where my work is. Did you have an experience in your own life that tested your health, that inspired you to take it more seriously, or did you just continue from your athletic journey as a student? Yeah, I know I really did, Sam. I knew, you know, I went to six elementary, I went to five elementary schools in six years. So like from kindergarten to grade six. And so that kind of put a pretty big strain on my numeracy and literacy skills as it did our entire family. My parents immigrated from Greece to here. But, you know, the people, the teachers that really kind of saw something in me were my health and physical education teachers. And it was because of them I went on this journey to figure out, you know, I want to do this for a living. It makes me feel good and I want to continue doing it. So that’s kind of really started, started at a really, really young age. I wasn’t an athlete by any means, but I acquired it because of the teachers that I had and the, you know, the areas that I happen to be in. So, yeah, that’s basically how I came to it. And at some point, you decided, not only do I want to feel healthy, but I want to help other people feel healthy too, especially people in the education industry. You know, you’re someone that I look up to for your physical fitness. And if there’s a teacher listening or a superintendent or a principal right now, and you haven’t talked to Ted about how to get your teachers and yourself healthy and feeling good, this is your sign to do so. When did supporting educators and other human beings in their physical health and mental health journey become a part of your story? Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do, Sam, similar to what you’ve done. So when I was younger and I was playing sports and then played on the university level, I always knew, at grade 11, I knew I wanted to be a physical health education teacher and a professional athlete Those were the two things that meant the world to me because I thought I could really affect change If you were kind of like on the world stage right or on a national stage and playing and playing professional football So I got to that level after University and I signed my contract with the Argos and then got hurt at that camp But had at least my education degree to fall back on. So as I got teaching, what I noticed in health and physical education is we didn’t have what was called evidence-based resources. So I kept on teaching the way I was taught. And that’s good for kids who like football and like soccer and like those sports, but the vast majority of kids, they’re not on school teams and they don’t like that stuff. So I thought, oh my goodness, I have to expand my pool here. So what I started to do is inquire about how do we get evidence-based resources into our school. And that’s what really exploded into teacher training. Tell me more about what you mean by evidence-based. Is it tested with large groups of people? I want to know more about the resources that you’ve created that might be of value to the listeners. What we did was in 2,000, 99, 98, 99, 2000, my wife and I were lucky enough to be chosen to write some curriculum for the Ministry of Education, for specifically health and phys ed. So they’re making a new curriculum. And, you know, when you’re in a math class, you have these beautiful textbooks or these visuals that are done by professors and with teachers. And it’s all based on evidence. And there’s so much evidence in the health and wellness field that applies to the health and phys ed curriculum. I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could get a publisher, get the best researchers, get their research, break that knowledge down where teachers can understand it to deliver it to our kids? Well, now we’re speaking from a place of evidence rather than a place of opinion. Like I may think I know what’s really good for kids as far as exercise progression, but do I really? Like, what does the science say? So that’s what I mean by evidence-based resources. And then we were lucky enough to create textbooks, workbooks, fitness charts that are used in many, many, many schools across Canada and some internationally. So that’s how we got it from there. 

Sam Demma
You started creating this curriculum, you built out these resources. Take me to today. How are you supporting students, schools, administrators, superintendents with their health and with their students and staff’s health today?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, great question. So, largely across Canada, the exception being Manitoba, we don’t have what are called specialists in health and physical education at the younger years. So, what we call the foundation years or the physical literacy years, the years where kids minds are truly like clay and sponges and they absorb a whole bunch of stuff about movement. Whereas other countries like Germany, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, et cetera, they do. And I’m not saying that, you know, it has to be a specialist, but we need people who are really passionate about helping kids wellbeing and health and physical education. So the way I support them is we create now I create these online learning modules where teachers take boards, subscribe to them and buy them, and then they disseminate the teachers. I do a lot of live, like in-person face to face workshops, either showing them how to use my resources or showing them how to use the resources they currently have in the classroom. Like literally, I meet the teacher where they’re at, we push in a chair, and then we’re doing movement, and then we’re linking that to numeracy and literacy. So I think the biggest gain we’ve had is that’s where we are. But Sam, I think the real pinnacle happened in 2015 when the United Nations, UNESCO, launched a massive massive literature review on, hey, what would happen if we ran quality, and I’ll define that in a second, physical and health education programs? What would that look like for health care? What would that look like for mental health? What would look, what would that look like in society at large? So they released that. And I just said, okay, I’m UNESCO, I’m going to help you put that into schools. And then helping schools understand the power of health and physical education and how that can make people, you know, well, not only healthy, but feeling really great about themselves. So that’s where we are now. And I wish I could tell you, Sam, that it’s amazing and it’s working really well, but it’s a grind, man, you know, cutbacks in public education, teacher shortages, etc, etc. So but, you know, there’s always a bright side, we got to keep moving forward.

Sam Demma
I was reading a book recently by Dr. Peter Atiyah called Outlive and he talks about, there let’s go, for all the listeners, he just put it in front of the camera and he talks about this concept that for so long people were obsessed with lifespan, which is how long you live and he says it’s not only about how long you live, it’s the quality of life you have while you live a long life, which is your health span. And he talks about the four horsemen, which are these diseases that take us out most often in life and how to avoid some of those things. And he makes this argument that the best possible treatment to avoiding those four things is exercise. Above all else, he talks about sleep and nutrition and all these other things, but exercise. And I’m wondering what your perspective is on exercise and when people ask you, hey Ted, how do I get healthy? You know, how do I feel good? What is your thoughts? What do you share with them? First of all, I got like a major research crush on that guy. So Dr. Peter Atiyah actually went to Mowat High School in Toronto.

Ted Temertzoglou
So he’s TDSB. Yeah, absolutely love it. Sam, I truly believe, and I know this through evidence, that the health and physical education curriculum stands to be the greatest healthcare intervention we have ever seen, if we teach it, especially at the younger grades. And so everything Peter talks about in his book, that’s all in our health and physical and health education curriculum, right? The top 10 diseases that end our lives largely before they should, like that lifespan that you said, and then our health span within it, are all largely preventable if we just moved a little bit more and ate a little better. And not only that, Sam, we’re talking about billions, tens of billions of dollars saved in direct costs to healthcare. So giving kids these tools at a very young age is critically important, more so today than it’s ever been. So I’m not sure if that was your question Sam, sorry I got a little carried away on that. But yeah, that’s where we’re at. 

Sam Demma
How do you prescribe a program for a teacher or a student? Do you have to assess their current abilities or is there a basic foundational level where everyone should start? Like if there’s someone listening to this who let themselves slip through the past couple years and they haven’t exercised much at all and they’re thinking gosh I want to start showing up for myself again. Just as much as I’m showing up for everyone around me. What would be like the first steps?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, the very first step would be truly What thing do you enjoy doing like what really makes your heart sing and then I would build movement around that So if someone was to say, you know, I really really love just being out in the garden. Okay, great, right? So being in the garden is a great physical activity. You know, I like going outside and going for a walk. Fantastic, you know, getting up from a chair and walking is a phenomenal exercise. And then we would vary that. We’d slowly progress the overload, meaning that, okay, yes, you’re walking now and you’ve walked this distance. So now, you know, between this lamppost and that lamppost, every time you go every other lamppost, walk a little quicker and then slow it right back down again. So the gentleman that does a lot of research in this area is a guy named Martin Gabala, another Canadian, who’s been on all kinds of podcasts, including Tim Ferriss. And he wrote a book called The One Minute Workout, because largely the number one reason people do not work out is because of time constraints. But he has shown in all his research, like the minimal amount of exercise that’s actually needed to get people from not healthy or not very healthy to adequately healthy where they’re going to avoid what Atiya calls the four horsemen or those 10 non-communicable diseases is very little, Sam. And we know that prescription. For adults, that’s 150 minutes a week, 22 minutes a day, and two times a week where you’re pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting, lunging things. Those are the easiest things. But the first place I start with either my clients or the students or the teachers is what do you love to do? And there’s so many areas of movement. We gotta find something. I don’t even care if it’s a TikTok dance. That’s amazing for cardio, right? Like I’m trying to bust some of those moves in here, Sam. I’m telling you, I’m cutting rug in here. I mean, those things get your heart rate up fast. So any which way that you can find where movement’s a part of it, and they’ll get hooked because the body craves it, like we really do need. A great book for you too, Sam, after you finish Dr. Atiyah’s, is Dr. Kelly McGonigal from Stanford called The Joy of Movement. She doesn’t talk about exercise, she just talks about when muscles move, here’s what happens to the brain. And a lot of my work right now is that, is connecting muscles to brain, because we know today muscles are like an endocrine system. They’re not just these things that move things. They actually release proteins and they activate certain hormones. And that’s why it’s important to move, because it feels good. 

Sam Demma
It does feel good. It feels great. I was telling a friend of mine, I’m very competitive with myself. I like pushing myself and reaching new heights. And, you know, as much as I push myself in business or professionally with the work that I’m doing that’s usually tied to spending more time in front of my computer and even when I push myself in those arenas and reach new goals and heights and reach more people I Don’t feel the same way I feel when I lace up my shoes and do a 5k run around the block like that physical activity gives me an emotional emotional response and physical response in my body that pushing myself professionally just can’t give me and I recently inspired a friend to start running as a result and after he finished He’s like I haven’t felt this good in years like yes. I’m out of breath. Yes I’m feeling kind of nauseous and tired right now, but I feel so happy and I’m curious like You sound like someone who’s done lots of research. Is there like a link between feeling great and happy and moving the body? Like what is that connection?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, Sam, we’ve got our own pharmacy and it’s right in our head. And the way you access that dealer, I’ll call my drug dealer for now, is the way you access that drug dealer is you move. So there’s this new discovery about 10 or so years ago called endocannabinoids. You probably have heard that ending of that word somewhere, right Sam? Cannabinoids, like cannabis, it produces the exact same effects. So, you know, when it releases serotonin and dopamine and all these epinephrines, we call this the dose response. So D is dopamine, O is the oxytocin, you know, that’s that social hormone that, they call it the hug hormone, where when you’re around friends, you just feel lifted, and we call that energy. Well, that energy is a direct product of oxytocin, right? And then you got your dopamine, and then you got your endorphins and those endocannabinoids. Yeah, we have a drugstore that’s frigging free, and it’s really worth getting addicted to those drugs, you know, because there’s no side effects.

Sam Demma
Yeah, that’s awesome.

Ted Temertzoglou
The side effects are what you just described, smiles, feeling good, wanna take on the world, you know, the sun’s always brighter You know Even the darkest days are a little bit brighter because that’s where your body wants to be we want to avoid pain We seek pleasure and movement is the key to that. 

Sam Demma
It’s crazy You brought up the end of that word and how it relates to Cannabis because this friend of mine that I inspired to run has recently kicked the habit of smoking a vape, which I’m sure many of the educators listening to this right now are very familiar with. And funny enough, every time he gets an urge, the way he stops himself from reaching for it is running or doing pushups. And he says he runs or does pushups and the desire to grab it immediately vanishes. So there is something special happening in the brain when we push our bodies physically and move. And after I was reading that book by Peter Atiyah, I started thinking about my own life and how much time I was spending sitting versus standing versus moving. And I didn’t think the body was made to sit all day. And I want to be someone who’s 80 or 90 years old and able to walk and able to pick up my grandkids, able to enjoy the daily activities of life. And so I think making sure we follow a routine similar to the ones you create for people is really important. I’m curious, out of all the work that you do, what work brings you the most joy and fulfillment?

Ted Temertzoglou
It’s when I’m working with the students, because often when I do the workshops, it’s with teachers and I invite the teachers to bring their kids. And it’s turning on those kids who didn’t think or didn’t see themselves as athletes, right? And you know, my tagline, Sam has always been it’s my like my Twitter handle to life is athletic. We push, we pull, we squat, we lunge, and we do all of these things in normal day-to-day life. So when those kids get hooked on movement, man, I just feel like, you know, I made it a little bit better today. I learned from them because I always ask them, like, what are your limitations? Like, what’s stopping you from doing these things? Because we all want to feel good. I think most people want to feel good. Or at least when we when we feel bad, we want to know what the strategies and tactics are, where we can hit the reset button really quick, right? So we get kids to realize, look, mistakes aren’t a period, it’s a comma. And then you first create your habits and then your habits create you. So finding these things in a positive light for kids, that’s what really lights me up. That’s what makes my heart sing. That’s why I still do this. And that’s why I’m gonna continue to do it. But I think the biggest learning I can have is when people actually tell me why it won’t work. Like, give me roadblocks or perceived barriers, and we got to find a way around these things because, you know, Sam, life expectancy for our kids, like, there was a big paper written, this was way before the pandemic, announced that prevention, a pound of trouble. And basically what it outlined was, this is probably the first generation of kids that will not love their parents. That was before, you know, before smartphones. And I’m not vilifying smartphones, it’s amazing. We have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, for goodness sakes. It’s a really good thing, it’s not a bad thing. However, too much of it is a bad thing. And when we hook kids, and you know, their attention is drawn to other things and away from movement, man, we’re gonna be in a world of hurt. Not only in our healthcare system, but for them. So, you know, I’m getting on here in my age, and I’m thinking my kids are roughly your age. And I’m thinking, hey, when they start having kids, and I have grandkids, like, I want them to have, you know, very exciting and fruitful lives, but I need them to be feeling really good about themselves. And that’s health and physical education to me. That’s why it’s so critically important. But yet it’s below the maths, it’s below the sciences, but really it’s the most important subject we teach. What can be more important than our health, right? 

Sam Demma
I couldn’t agree more. I heard a quote once that said, people with their health want a million things and people without it only want one. And if I don’t have my health, personally, I’m not gonna be able to focus in math class. If I don’t have my health, I’m not focused in any other subject in school. The only thing I’m thinking about is helping myself feel better. And in Outlive by Peter Etieh, he cites a little study of students that exercise versus students that didn’t and how it improved their cognitive performance in school. So, I mean, prioritizing health not only helps the physical body, but it helps you perform better as a student. So how can it not be the most important thing? And the fact that it’s accessible to everyone on this planet, even if you don’t have a gym in your garage, you know, like you said, walking outside, running outside, just moving the body, makes this such an important topic to teach everybody about, because it could save so many years in someone’s life, not only in terms of their lifespan, but so they can enjoy it longer.

Sam Demma
I did mention it.

Ted Temertzoglou
Oh, sorry, Sam. Go ahead. Go ahead.

Ted Temertzoglou
Sorry.

Sam Demma
No, you go. I have a thought afterwards.

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, and then when you think about as well, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Association did this great commercial, Sam, I’m not sure if you saw them, and it’s like, you know, for the most Canadians, the last 10 years of their life, so what Atiyah calls the marginal decades, they’re living in and out of hospitals, or they’re living in and out of chronic care units. They’re not vital. It’s not a vitality part of their life at that point. Like, think about that. You know, seven different drugs. You’re going in and out of hospitals. You’re not feeling really good. And all of those were things that, you know, Hemingway has always said, you know, it happens really, really slowly, and then it hits you like a ton of bricks. So these are really important things for us to get across to our kids. So those last 10 years, we don’t know when we’re gonna get them, but you wanna be going out like you said, like picking things up that you wanna pick up and hiking in the mountains that you wanna hike. You wanna have those things, what Atiyah calls the centenarian decathlon. I wanna be able to do those top 10 things into my 90s or 100s or whatever, you know, God graces this on this planet with whatever. That’s what I want to do. And that’s what I want for people too. 

Sam Demma
You mentioned earlier in the podcast and I caught it and I wanted to circle back to it. You said, me and my wife wrote curriculum. So does she work in the same space that you do? Like, tell me more about this power couple dynamic?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah.

Ted Temertzoglou
Oh, you’re too kind. Yeah, that’s so cool. Yeah, Carolyn and I, Carolyn works, so she was a teacher as well. We actually met at the faculty of education at the University of Toronto. Cool. I was a pub manager, so I got to meet a lot of really cool people. I was very lucky. And Carolyn now teaches at the University of Toronto. She’s in teacher education. So she teaches phys ed teachers how to teach physical education, K to grade 12. It’s funny because I used to call them gym teachers. Yeah, and when we do our work together internationally.

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah.

Ted Temertzoglou
And I remember a teacher was like, no, the gym is the physical space. I am a physical education teacher. I’m like, damn, I’m sorry. But there is a distinction. Yeah, I’ve got a quick side story for you. So when we were in Newfoundland doing some work, the health and phys ed teachers there, they have t-shirts that they wear. And they say on the back, I teach physical and health education, Jim lives down the street.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. I love that, man. Thank you for sharing some of your passion for movement today on the podcast. I know you’re headed to Vienna to spend a week with some schools and administrators internationally and I’m sure they’re gonna change and build some new habits that are gonna help them as a result of the programming you’re doing with them. If someone wants to learn more about you, check out some of your resources or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to reach out?

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah, I don’t have a website up and running just yet, but yeah, if they Googled my name or if they want to get a hold of me through email, they can do that too. We can put that, I guess, if you like, in the show notes or what have you. And Twitter, I’m @LifeisAthletic.

Sam Demma
You mentioned, we’ll wrap up on this, you mentioned sometimes the thing that brings you the most joy is helping people overcome those barriers within themselves to reach their fitness goals or to even just get started. It sounds like you’re helping people empty their backpacks and that’s something that we love doing in all of our work. If there was one piece of advice or one thing you would share and encourage anybody listening right now related to their physical and mental wellbeing that you wish the whole world could hear, you know, if everyone was listening, what would you tell people?

Ted Temertzoglou
I would say, just start. Just move one foot in front of the other, baby steps, and then once you get past all those, the rest will just start to come for you, right? The world will open up for you. So from the movement standpoint, that’s what I would say. From a mental standpoint, I would say, look, it’s kind of, I think Seneca said this, we suffer more in imagination than we do in reality. Stop listening to the negative self-talk that we take ourselves through and start focusing on all the great things that you get to do on this limited time that we have on the planet.

Sam Demma
I love it. Ted, it’s been an absolute honor having you on the show. We’re going to have to do this again. Thank you so much for making the time. Keep up the great work, enjoy your travels, and I’ll talk to you soon.

Ted Temertzoglou
Thank you so much, Sam.

Ted Temertzoglou
It’s been an honor and really love being on your show. So good luck with all your great stuff that you’re doing as well. Cheers, my man.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ted Temertzoglou

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.

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

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

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

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

Connect with Daniette: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Elk Island Catholic Schools

Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School

The Transcript

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

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Oh, cool.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah. Been around a while.

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

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

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Daniette Terlesky
So that was really cool.

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

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah, absolutely.

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

Sam Demma
Absolutely. Thank you so much.

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

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

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

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

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

YMCA Canada

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Musigo Inc

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Oh man.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Yes.

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

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Keri-Ellen Walcer
good.

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

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

Sam Demma
You had a family.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Five.

Sam Demma
Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Oh my goodness.

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Is that so obvious to you?

Keri-Ellen Walcer
Oh my gosh.

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
And I was thinking to myself,

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

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

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

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

Join the Educator Network and connect with Keri-Ellen Walcer

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

Rick Gilson – Executive Director of Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium

Rick Gilson - Executive Director of Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium
About Rick Gilson

Dr. Rick Gilson (@rgilson1258) started his teaching career in the fall of 1985. In addition to teaching, Rick has worked in school administration at the high school level for 15 years, the last eight as principal at Grande Prairie Composite High School before moving into Central Office. After one year as District Principal in Grande Prairie, Rick accepted the Assistant Superintendent position, focusing on Inclusive Education with Westwind School Division in 2013. In 2018, Rick joined SAPDC as the Executive Director. At work, he loves coaching young teachers, and new leaders and generally just helping folks grow. An avid reader, Rick shares passages and books frequently in Blog, Twitter posts and, most recently, the new ARPDC Podcast series Change Maker Conversations in Education.

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Grande Prairie Composite High School

Grande Prairie Public School Division

Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium (APDC)

Football Alberta

Alberta Schools Athletic Association

rickgilson.ca

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg

Ryan Holiday’s Books

John Wooden’s Books

Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Program by Urban Meyer

Andy Reid’s Books

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Rick Gilson. Dr. Rick Gilson (@rgilson1258) started his teaching career in the fall of 1985. In addition to teaching, Rick has worked in school administration at the high school level for 15 years, the last eight as principal at Grande Prairie Composite High School before moving into Central Office. After one year as District Principal in Grande Prairie, Rick accepted the Assistant Superintendent position, focusing on Inclusive Education with Westwind School Division in 2013. In 2018, Rick joined SAPDC as the Executive Director. At work, he loves coaching young teachers, and new leaders and generally just helping folks grow. An avid reader, Rick shares passages and books frequently in Blog, Twitter posts and, most recently, the new ARPDC Podcast series Change Maker Conversations in Education.I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:24):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today, joined by a very special guest. His name is Rick Gilson. Rick, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please take a moment to introduce yourself and share with everyone listening a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do.

Rick Gilson (01:44):

Well, thanks for having me on, Sam. Appreciate it. I apologize to the listeners in advance. I, I am in the final few days of that three week cold cough, flu thing that’s been going around the nation, so that was wonderful. And we’re recording just after Christmas holidays, so guess what? Those couple of weeks were like. <laugh>. Anyways, lifetime educator, coach. I’ve coached somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 teams, all total, the vast majority football. Taught for about 30 years up in the Grand Prairie area. Came down to Southern Alberta for about five years as a Assistant Superintendent in the West Wind School Division down the very southwest corner of Alberta. And currently I serve as Executive Director of the Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium, which serves the 12 school divisions in the South in supporting the professional learning of the teachers down here. And I’ve been past President, well, President, past President of the Alberta Schools Athletic Association, and involved in that pretty heavily for a number of years as well. So, that’s it in a nutshell.

Sam Demma (02:59):

<laugh>, it’s a big nut. <laugh>.

Rick Gilson (03:02):

I am a big nut

Sam Demma (03:04):

<laugh>,

Rick Gilson (03:04):

Correctly stated. Sam <laugh>,

Sam Demma (03:07):

You, you have a wall of books behind you. The listeners won’t be able to see that. When did you start reading so many books and <laugh>? When did self-education become a very important part of your life, and and why did you prioritize that?

Rick Gilson (03:25):

Well certainly if any of my high school teachers are still around, they would say it definitely did not become an important part of my life until after high school. I, I would say that I, I was I’ve been an avid reader for quite some time and now with the advent of Kindle software, Amazon, and all of that, a little bit of an addiction. So I have many books in print, and then I use the Kindle app on my iPad, my phone, and my laptop. And I have probably, I guess around 1300 books or so on there. I haven’t read them all covered to cover. I don’t know that it’s always necessary to read a book cover to cover. but I have read portions of the vast majority and all of many, and just I, on my Twitter account, I live by the adage. The more I know, the more I know I need to know more. Hmm,

Sam Demma (04:27):

That’s amazing. Out of, out of the books you’ve read which philosophies have impacted your career as a teacher the most? <laugh>

Rick Gilson (04:36):

Well, that’s a, that’s certainly a big piece. I think e everything that I read that speaks of the value of the individual to try to draw the best out of people that you’re working with. I, I have a, a personal belief that we’re all sons and daughters of God, and so if we’re sons and daughters of God, we have the, a lot of potential <laugh> to say the least. And so look for those good things and, and so everything that can help with that. I, I’m kind of drawn to and, and that goes all the way back to the works of the stoics Ryan Holiday’s books have been a favorite in those recently. But also you go back into the coaching period of time, and I have an entire section of seven or so books of John Wooden’s and, and, and on and on and on with that.

Rick Gilson (05:37):

And there’s some books where, you know, sometimes you read the book and the book is awesome, and the teachings are awesome, and the author goes on to make some extremely poor choices long after they’ve written the book. And you’re kind of like, how come you couldn’t even follow your own book? <laugh> urban Meyer would be an excellent example of that. His book is, is Great above the Line, it says the title of that book. And I, I really enjoyed the teachings. We as a, a school board and and central office team used it as a book study one year, and then last year I thought, holy cow, urban, follow your own book for crying out loud <laugh>. Oh man. So, you know, sometimes we learn and sometimes we have to learn over, and but I think that’s kind of the piece of it there.

Sam Demma (06:27):

You mentioned your high school teachers would definitely know that your love for reading didn’t start in high school. would they have known that you would be an educator and a coach <laugh>? And, and where did that come from?

Rick Gilson (06:41):

You know, there’s a, it’s a little bit of a longer story, but my father coached my father was a high school graduate. My mom graduated from high school in her forties. and I grew up in Calgary through grade 11. And my father was coaching the senior volleyball team at Churchill in Calgary, so Winston Churchill. And as I came into high school, I tried out and made the junior varsity volleyball team, and certainly anticipated playing for my dad in grade 11. And as I came into grade 11 to try out for the senior varsity team, my dad quit coaching. Other things in his career impacted that. And the next thing I knew in grade 12, we moved to Edmonton and I’d switched sports and I tried out for football at a small high school in Edmonton called Harry Ainley.

Rick Gilson (07:33):

And I’m being facetious when I say small, so about 20, 2600 kids there today. But it was a little less than that at the time. And I played for a man by the name of Brian Anderson on the Har Titans football team, and was actually blessed. And I was kind of, I was his favorite. He kept me, he kept me very close to him on the sideline during the game. so I, I was blessed to learn a lot watching him and watching my teammates play and playing a little. And a few years later in August, I was working at a place called Prudent Building Supplies, making cement. And Brian came in to get a load of cement for his backyard, and he asked me what I was up to, and I told him, I’m going into education, start next week. And he said, you should come coach.

Rick Gilson (08:22):

And I was like, but I hardly even played. And he said, look, you backed up four or five different positions on defense. You were this on the scout offense, you did all these other things you should coach. And so I started coaching and long and short of it is when Brian was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Edmonton, not in the Sport Hall of Fame, but the Edmonton City Hall of Fame. I was blessed to be invited to be there with him. And when park was named him, I was blessed to be invited to join at the dedication of that sport park. And Brian, kind of, when my teams came down from Grand Prairie to play in Edmonton, he was there. So I owe a great deal to a coach that I didn’t really realize at the time in grade 12.

Rick Gilson (09:15):

And, and at that time, second year, grade 12, <laugh>, I got to play two years even really knew who I was. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So that was great. And I remember as we coached, as I coached the junior varsity at AIN Lee for the four years as at university, that as that came to a close my last year, we had a team that didn’t give up a single point all year. And I was coaching the defense and coordinating the defense. And we got into our last regular season game, and Brian was on the sideline, just had walked over from the senior practice and the other, we were winning handily and we had all the subs in, and the other team started to drive towards the end zone, and everybody wanted to finish the season without getting scored on. And so there was a lot of, hey, you know, put us back in coach from the starters.

Rick Gilson (10:09):

And I started to do that, and Brian said, I would’ve thought you might’ve learned a different lesson from your time on my sideline when I made this mistake. And so we, and I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact words. Yeah. But I called the starters back and I said, guys, we just gotta cheer these guys on. It’s a team record. We gotta cheer these guys on. And sure enough, the backups were able to force a turnover. And we didn’t get scored on. We gave up one point in the playoffs when on a punt return, our punt returner slipped just, just barely in the end zone. So that was it for the year. So that’s kind of how it goes.

Sam Demma (10:50):

It sounds like Brian enabled the potential in you or in some ways helped you see the potential in yourself when, as you described in high school, you barely even knew who you were especially in your grade 12 year. And you hold that belief that you know, we are all sons and daughters of God, and if that’s true, then we all have massive potential. How do you think Brian helped you see the potential in yourself and as educators, how can we help our students or the people in the, in front of us see their potential?

Rick Gilson (11:23):

You know, it was a combination of Brian and my dad <laugh>. I do remember my dad walking across the field when Amy had won a game quite handily and meeting Brian at midfield as the team was walking off, and I was walking off and kind of like, oh, oh, what’s that up to, up to you now? And dad had coached, remember he had coached a long time and he kind of pointedly asked, you know, when you’re winning 49, nothing, do you really need to keep the starters on the field? And so there was these conversations that took place between two adults in my life. And, and I had my ears open and, and kind of understood that principle from a, a long ways back. And I, I think the, the piece of it is you know, I graduated and moved to Grand Prairie, that’s a four, four and a half hour drive away from Edmonton and, and Ainley and, and just at different times, you, you touch base and run into each other.

Rick Gilson (12:22):

And as I said, when I brought my teams down, he would see, he would come watch the games and and even came up a couple times for exhibition games. I, I think it’s just the piece of being willing to mentor and support. And, and the same thing applies in an English or social studies class. That’s what what I taught is just try to see the best, see the potential. Don’t overreact to some of the behaviors that initially ob be there, or, or definitely don’t overreact to the, I can’t, you know, I don’t get, I, I’m not, I don’t think I can do, you know, if we, if we overreact to those and we don’t invite people to see the potential or invite people to see the possibility of themselves being able to do then we miss a chance. We miss, we miss, or they miss a chance, but we miss a chance to positively impact the trajectory.

Rick Gilson (13:27):

Like we, we never don’t impact the trajectory of, of those we interact with. I don’t, I don’t believe very much in neutral. Mm. you know, we, we might tip, tip the nose of the plane down a little bit or tip the nose of the plane up a little bit. But the idea that we can kind of pass through each other’s life and not do anything, I, I’m not so sure that I accept that notion. So if I’m gonna impact, I’d much prefer to impact your trajectory up, even if it’s something as simple, I say to the, the youth and the team, the students that I’ve taught or coached, certainly the youth I work with now, you know, if somebody’s got a name tag, talk to them and use their name, you know, and that’s at the gas station. The hotel doesn’t matter. wherever you are, if someone’s got a name tag and you can see the name tag, then use their name that’s gonna positively impact the trajectory. And it’s also gonna make you a little more responsible for how you interact with that person. Cuz they’re not just a, they’re not just a nobody that’s Steve, or that’s jazz meat or whatever the case may be. And it’s okay if you don’t pronounce it perfectly. They, they’ll tell you, if you ask honestly, sincerely how to pronounce it, they’ll tell you and they’ll appreciate it. Mm-hmm.

Sam Demma (14:51):

<affirmative>, I’ve read about the importance of using people’s names in the book, how To Win Friends and Influence People when I was 16 years old and it, I, I bought the book from Value Village. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which is a local thrift store near my house. And Value Village had, and they still do, they have this book purchasing system where if the book is listed for 7 99 or under, their price is 99 cents. And if the book is between 7 99 and 1499 sticker price, then their price is a dollar 99 in the store. And if it’s over 1499, then their price is 3 99 or something like this. And if you buy four, you get the fifth one free. And I remember I picked up that book from Value Village and I read the chapter that was all about the importance of using people’s names. And I went back the next time to buy some new books.

Sam Demma (15:45):

And after I picked out four or five books, they were all non-fiction. And some of them were biographies. Most of the sticker prices were 1499 and above, which meant in their system it would cost a few dollars per book. And when I got to the cash register, it was the first time I had become conscious of this idea of trying to address everybody, not just the people I knew, but total strangers to me by their names. And she had a name tag, I can’t recall her name now because it’s been many years, but I did use it. And she went down from typing or punching in buttons on the calculator to looking at me. And she paused for a couple seconds and said, do I know you

Rick Gilson (16:23):

<laugh> <laugh>?

Sam Demma (16:25):

And,

Rick Gilson (16:25):

And I said, you do now

Sam Demma (16:27):

<laugh>. I said, I said, no, but I, I would love to meet you. You were talking now. And we started talking and one question led to the next, and I found out that her daughter went to a neighboring high school, was in the same year as me. And before I knew it, we had a great conversation and she scanned all the books through as 99 cents and they were all supposed to be four or $5 each. And I didn’t use her name with the intention of walking out of there with less expensive books, but it was interesting to me because I was like, wow, I had a better experience, she had a more pleasant experience and I got some great books and a good deal <laugh>. and I think that was the first time I was introduced to that idea. What, what other tiny habits do you think are impactful in our everyday life? whether as an educator or just as a human being.

Rick Gilson (17:17):

Now, did you pick Tiny Habits? Cuz it’s the book right Over my shoulder here behind me is that I did

Sam Demma (17:22):

<laugh>.

Rick Gilson (17:22):

Were you, were you picking the low hanging fruit here?

Sam Demma (17:24):

<laugh>

Rick Gilson (17:26):

First, let me say that. I don’t always get free books <laugh>, but by using names, I don’t always get a reduction on my meal or anything like onto that. but I do get a smile mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, you know I could tell you just at an, an Italian grocery in Calgary, I, the lady didn’t have a name, so I asked her her name name tag. She had a name of course, <laugh>, but she didn’t have a name tag. So I asked her what her name was, she told me. And I said, well, that’s awesome. Nice to meet you. what’s been the best thing of your day today? And she paused for a minute and she said, well, you asking me my name? Hmm. And, and she’s got a smile. And actually that caught me off guard. That ac that kind of hit like a little bit of a sledgehammer, you know, and you’re like, whoa.

Rick Gilson (18:17):

But that, that was like a pleasant sledgehammer, I should say. Yeah. <laugh>, you know, so it just bounces back and you’re, you’re off having a great day. And I guess that segues a little bit. Tiny Habits is a, is a fantastic book. I don’t know that you meant for me to talk about the book, but the author is BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford University, and one of the tiny habits there that, that I have been practicing now come up here in February, it’ll been two straight years where it’s called the Maui Habit. And basically every day on Maui is a great day, right? And so we all get outta bed pretty much the same way. When I speak with larger groups, I’ll, I’ll actually ask them this, say, you know, is there anybody here who gets outta bed hands first? And they kind of look at me like, no, I mean, obviously we all swing our feet out of the bed and you, and you stand up.

Rick Gilson (19:12):

And so the Maui habit is that as you put your feet down, you think a little bit about your day. And as you stand up out of the bed, you say out loud, today is going to be a great day. And then you celebrate. And, and that’s the principle behind Tiny Habit. You know, what’s the trigger? The trigger is your feet hitting the floor? What’s the action? And then what’s the celebration? And the closer your celebration is to the action, the more likely the habit will last. Hmm. And so, and, and I mean, I get up usually quite a bit earlier than my wife, and so I whisper it <laugh> and you know, the celebration can be a little shoulder shimmy or whatever it is you wanna do. It’s your choice. You decide your celebration. but I do believe in, you know, that it just states where you’re starting your day, even a day that’s filled with meetings you don’t necessarily want to go to or meetings you, you’re not really looking forward to.

Rick Gilson (20:19):

It still states that, and plants in your mind that seed that today is going to be a great day. Not necessarily all of it, but on the whole, it’s a great day. And of course, any day that we’re above the ground as opposed to six feet under the ground, you know, it’s a good way to take a look at things. But so, so that’s, that’s one that carries me through and, and trying to be somewhat optimistic. I, I think folks might suggest sometimes I’m overly optimistic, but trying to be optimistic is a good way to go. About your day beats the heck out of being a woe is me.

Sam Demma (20:59):

Hmm. There’s a, the spiritual teachers named Sat guru, and I often listen to some of his YouTube lectures, and I find his, his preaching, but also his concepts very applicable. And one of the things he often says is, you know, you came here with nothing and you will leave with nothing, which means that most of what happens while you’re here on Earth puts you on the profit side, doesn’t it? And not on a financial standpoint, but from a life experience standpoint and, and what you experience while you’re here. and it’s, it’s often a reminder for me to try and find the gratitude in everything that occurs and unfolds mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I think it really resonates with that idea of starting the day with the intention of today is gonna be a great day. And the Maui habit is that because of like the actual state of Hawaii? It’s

Rick Gilson (21:53):

<laugh> Yeah, it, it, well, no, yeah, it, it’s the island in Hawaii, Maui. Okay. And, and it’s literally BJ fa like I’ve been to Maui many times some, several times with all-star football teams from Alberta. Oh, nice. And yeah, there’s a, that’s a good way to spend 10 days in early August is with a bunch of high school football players practicing in the morning and scrimmaging against Maui area teams. It’s great. but yeah, he just, he, he lives in Maui and he just says, Hey, you know, it’s a great, it’s, it’s hard to get up in the morning in Maui and say, oh man, this is terrible. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So just, that is, that’s the name that he applied to the habit, and it’s called the Maui Habit. And, and I don’t mind sharing that habit with anybody that that asks, you know, so that’s the story behind that. But, you know, we, we take with us into the next life, everything we learn and everything we experience in this life. And yeah, I think it was, I don’t know, it might have been Denzel Washington, it said you know, your hear isn’t followed by your Brinks car with all the rest of your stuff and everything else, you know, we don’t have that. So

Sam Demma (23:08):

Yeah, there’s a powerful Denzel Washington speech at Dillard University mm-hmm. <affirmative> that I find very refreshing and invigorating to watch. And one of the, one of the lines he says is, I hope you kick your, I hope you kick your slippers under the bed. So you have to bend down to grab him when you’re down there, stay on your knees and say a quick prayer of gratitude, <laugh>. And it’s a great, it’s a great speech. who are some of your biggest influences, or it sounds like your coach and your dad were two of them as you were going through school, and even when you started your career as an educator. Is there anyone else that you think had a big impact on your philosophy?

Rick Gilson (23:51):

Well, I, I, I would be remiss if I didn’t, it’s not, yeah. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that. I’ve been richly blessed by my opportunities to study the gospel of Jesus Christ, you know, and to try to live the principles that are taught there. I do believe in the principle of eternal life and things of that nature. And so those are pieces I’ve had significant leaders in church and in, and in athletics throughout, throughout my life. I think I’m, I’m inspired by just, just like me, fellow everyday ordinary folks who are, are working through the challenges of raising a family trying to trying to work when, you know, we all want our children to be born perfectly healthy and stay healthy. I have colleagues who have, you know, had a young son diagnosed with childhood leukemia, and they, and they lose that young son far, far, far too early in that life.

Rick Gilson (25:05):

And watch how they’ve handled that. And, you know, you just keep your eyes open for people of character. And I, I don’t know that names are important. Yeah. you know, you’re, I’m inspired by some of the athletes that I’ve had the good fortune of coaching. I was a young man by the name of Jeff Halverson that played football for me up in Grand Prairie and went on to play football for the Okanagan son. And the thing about Jeff is in my high school memory, I think he scored somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 touchdowns. And, and I never saw him do anything except toss the ball to the referee and then go celebrate with his teammates. Hmm. You know, no matter how big the game. And he went on to play for the Okanagan Sun and was having a record shattering, not just record breaking, but a record shattering season rushing and scoring and, and all the rest of it.

Rick Gilson (26:04):

And 2004. and, you know, I’d phone him and, you know, how, how did the game go? And that, and he would talk about these teammates. He even would talk about former high school teammates who were playing for Victoria at the time, and Uhhuh <affirmative>, he talked about how they did, and he talked about how his teammates did and, and all that sort of stuff. But you couldn’t get him to, okay, but how many carries did you have? Or how many yards did you get? Or, you know, and, and he, he didn’t bother to ask, cuz if he didn’t wanna tell you that that was fine, you know, you could read about it the next day in the paper or whatever the case may be. Unfortunately, he away suddenly at practice that in that record breaking year he still led the nation in Russian, even though he passed away in the first week of September. Wow. And but he just was in all my experiences with him just a ton of fun to coach and, and work with. But he wasn’t perfect, you know, he didn’t do well in Calm ever <laugh> the career and life management course that you had to have to graduate. Yeah. and it drive me crazy in that regard, <laugh>, but you know, they’re there, they’re, there are people to learn from all around you. I mean, Sam, you, you are how old?

Sam Demma (27:27):

 23 now.

Rick Gilson (27:28):

Yeah. So you’re 23 going on 50 with your reading and like you’re an old soul kind of bit. You know, you’re, your thirst for learning is inspiring. You know, you’ve watched these, you’ve watched those, you’ve, you’ve read some of Wooden’s work. You, you’re keeping your eyes open and you’re learning and you’re receptive to learning. Well, that’s a great example. And anytime you see that with anybody around you, people who are curious and thirsty and desire to learn a little bit more, I, I like wor learning and working with those kindred spirits.

Sam Demma (28:05):

Where does the curiosity come from? Because I think I’ve noticed it in other people too. And it’s inspiring for me as, as it is for you, even when I’m speaking with you, I, I am energized by the conversation and excited to hear your ideas and where they’ve come from. But where does the curiosity come from for you?

Rick Gilson (28:27):

Let me ask you to finish this sentence. Just snap snap, right? You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him

Sam Demma (28:33):

Drink

Rick Gilson (28:34):

<laugh>. Okay. Everybody says drink. And, and I get that, and I always say thirsty. Hmm. You see, if you can help a horse be thirsty, they’ll drink. And, and so the same, it’s the same piece with, with our work with each other, you know, curious and thirsty. Think of those things together. If you’re curious about something, if you have a, an appetite to learn, then, then you just need some folks who will bump you a little bit with, Hey, have you heard of this? Or, take a look at this. Or, or, here’s that. Like you talked about Denzel Washington’s commencement speech at that particular university. He’s done three or four. And you know, if we just, if you and I just right now said to folks, Hey, around commencement time, it’s a pretty good time to go on YouTube and do a search. You won’t find all of the commencement speeches that are on there, great <laugh>, but you will find some. Yeah. And you’re going to learn something from those. And, and, you know, you can take a look at that. it, it’s the same around sharing, sharing books when someone says, oh, you know, I really wonder about, or I’m struggling with. And you’re like, well, you don’t have to read the whole book, but take a look at this, you know, and, and be willing to share. those, those are kinds of pieces that can help you get there. But it’s,

Rick Gilson (30:10):

It’s the idea of inviting people to think about the possibilities or letting yourself think about the possibilities. And you can do this, you can learn this DIY is, you know, that whole do-it-yourself world. well, accepting responsibility from my learning no matter what that might be, and then being open to the notion that other people are putting things out there for us to learn. And by reading about them, talking about them, thinking about them, and sharing them, we’re spreading a good word whenever we can.

Sam Demma (30:56):

Hmm. I think it’s really fascinating that you’ve taught a lot, but you’ve also coached a lot. I’ve interviewed a lot of educators as well, who speak very highly about the connections between athletics and education and just teaching and mentoring in general. I’m curious from your perspective what are the connections between coaching and teaching?

Rick Gilson (31:24):

I don’t think you can be a good coach without being a good teacher. Hmm. It, it’s interesting to me that I don’t know, I think it’s this book here. I’m, I could be wrong.

Rick Gilson (31:44):

It’s called Mastery Teaching by Madeline Hunter. And it might not be the right, right book, but there was a time when Andy Reid, the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, had a teaching book like unto this, and it might be this one that he gave all of his assistant coaches when they came on. And, and his whole premise was, if we can’t be good teachers, we can’t be good coaches mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because that, that’s, those two things are 100% interwoven. Now, what are you coaching for? That’s a key piece in and of itself, right? Like, I always prefer to win, but in, in everything, like, I, I like winning, I like winning a lot, but it was incredibly important to me that we won the right way when I was head coach up in Grand Prix. And so the notion that, that we can and must be good sports in how we win.

Rick Gilson (32:48):

So we won a lot of championships, but we also were blessed to win a lot of league most sportsmen, like team awards voted on by the other teams. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, which is, which is kind of gratifying. It’s the same pieces as I would say to my, my players. I would love for you to go on and play junior and university football and go to the pros and fortunate enough to have a few who got that far from Grand Prix all the way to the CFL and, and coached some other kids on Team Alberta teams and national championship teams and things of that nature that some even played in the nfl. but if you’re not a good father, a good husband, a good employer, a good employee, then I didn’t succeed as a coach or, or a teacher, you know? And so with the teacher side, it’d also be, you know, I was mostly coaching guys, but when I, I did coach a couple of girls basketball teams, it’s the same piece.

Rick Gilson (33:53):

Just change the gender roles and all the rest of it. But again, you can be the best athlete you can be, but if you’re not a good person, so I, I take a look and we never know everything about somebody, right? But you, you take a look and you watch someone like a Steph Curry and how he carries himself and how he carries himself with his family. Right Now, I’m, I’m quite taken by coach Robert Seller of the New York Jets. I watch a lot of his press conferences. I am very intrigued by his thought process. And he made a comment early last year in his first year of coaching at the as head coach of the New York Jets that in the end, I, I could look it up, but I’m just gonna paraphrase on it. Yeah. At the end of every day, there is a game film of that day, and you, you and I, there’s a game film of our days too.

Rick Gilson (34:52):

And the truth is told in watching that game film, you can’t hide from the game film. And again, I’m paraphrasing, paraphrasing this statement here, but the, our game film of our life and game film in football is incredibly important <laugh>, right? But so our, our game film of our day and our interactions with all the people that we interacted with and our efforts to do things and learn things that game film does not lie. And, and that’s us, that’s just on us. It does, you know a coach looks at a game film and says, how come I can see you speed up right here on this play? Why weren’t you already going as fast as you could go? Hmm. Well, and when we look at the game films of our days, you know, what did we do with those days? Now that doesn’t mean there’s not leisure time and everything else. You’re not meant to be frantically going about day to day 20 24 7. And remember that Sam <laugh>,

Sam Demma (36:00):

I I was gonna say right before the break, I was imparted with some great wisdom over email by a gentleman named Rick Gilson <laugh>

Rick Gilson (36:07):

On the

Sam Demma (36:08):

Same, on the same topic of moving, moving quickly, but not being in a hurry. <laugh> ghost.

Rick Gilson (36:16):

Yes.

Sam Demma (36:16):

Oh, sorry.

Rick Gilson (36:17):

Be quick, but don’t hurry.

Sam Demma (36:19):

Don’t hurry. Yes.

Rick Gilson (36:20):

And go slow to go fast. Yep.

Sam Demma (36:23):

That’s so true.

Rick Gilson (36:24):

Both John Wooden’s statements.

Sam Demma (36:26):

I was listening to a interview with Mike Tyson, and he was reflecting on his journey as a fighter and controversial individual. but he was telling the interviewer that one of the reasons he loved boxing was because it showed him the truth. And I think what he meant by that was when you stood in the ring whether you did the, you did the required re required training it showed when you, when you started the fight, because if you didn’t, you weren’t prepared. And you couldn’t run from that truth once you stepped into the ring. And I think it’s the same for all sports. There’s no shortcut. You either took the ball to a field and kicked it a thousand times or you didn’t. And once you step on the field and the whistle blows, that effort shows. so I think it’s a, a cool analogy for life, because for me, when I was growing up as an athlete, it always reminded me that there were no shortcuts.

Sam Demma (37:27):

And if I wanted to improve, I could, but I had to put in the, the effort and the, and have good coaches, and was blessed to have some amazing coaches. many of which, I mean, I’m not playing professional soccer today, but many of which really impacted just my personal philosophy. I had one coach who, it was a principle that all of our shirts were tucked in, and it was so much of a principle that if during the practice someone’s shirt fell out, he would blow a whistle and start looking around the room, or looking around the field silently until we all checked our shirts to see if ours was the one that fell out <laugh>. And he would wait for us to tuck the shirt back in before practice continued. And there was a cobblestone pathway down to the field. And if you had walked on the grass and he saw you walking down the grass, he’d wait until you got right up to him to shake his hand before telling you to young man, please walk back up the Cabo Sloan pathway and walk back down.

Sam Demma (38:22):

He had the principle of shaking every coach’s hand before leaving the field, even if you didn’t know the coach’s name, or they were the coach of a different team. and it’s funny, it’s been years, but all those things still stick so freshly in my mind, and I think have really helped shape my own discipline and philosophies in life. So I, I think you’re, you’re absolutely right. You can’t be a good coach if you’re not a good teacher, but if you are a good teacher and a good coach, you not only help students or young people with their athletics, but you shape the people they become. And I think it’s a really big responsibility.

Rick Gilson (38:57):

Yeah, it is a big responsibility. I, I’d say you, you, you can’t be a good coach without being a good teacher. You also probably can’t be a good coach or a good teacher without being a good learner. Hmm. you know, so all of those things are combined, and you also gotta remember every time you coach, you’re, you’re coaching your team, but your team doesn’t play against itself. I mean, it does to an extent, right. There is a, there is an element where you need to be your best. You Yep. Let the other team take care of themselves, but the other team is, is populated with the same age. They, the other team is populated by a group of young men or young women who have parents and loved ones. Like they’re not an alien. You’re not, you’re not playing against an alien. Yep. Right?

Rick Gilson (39:58):

And so any notion that they’re somehow not worthy, Hmm. That’s when, you know, I’m, I’m more than happy to have that debate discussion with anybody. You know, you, the pre-game talk where the coaches like you know, they’re this and they’re that, and they’re this. I can, no, I cannot abide by that. It’s like, why? They’re, they’re not demons. They’re other people with their dreams and aspirations and everything else. And play the game. Play as hard as you can. Like, I’d say hit ’em as hard as you can. Pick ’em up, test them off, tell ’em, good job. Go next game, next play. Hit ’em hard as you can. You know, you gotta play your best. You gotta do your best. But they’re young men or young women just like you with dreams and aspirations, just like you, they have parents, they have families. They might have had a crappy breakfast this morning, just like you did what, whatever the case may be. Yeah. Right. But we’re somehow, we’ve got to get back to where we see that we are the human race, but we’re not in a race against each other. And this, we can do better than we’re doing. we’re not sliding over into a politics conversation right now, but as a society, we can do better. Mm.

Sam Demma (41:25):

I love that. If you could, if you could travel back in time with the, you’ve had coaching and teaching and walk back into the first classroom you taught and tap yourself on the shoulder and impart some wisdom on yourself, not because you, you know, needed to hear it, but you think it would’ve been helpful to hear this when you were just starting in this industry. and in with this vocation, what would you have told your younger self?

Rick Gilson (41:55):

 first off, I would apologize to the students that I had in the, in the first 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 years of my career, <laugh>. because each year I hope there’s a better me, and definitely most definitely when it comes to assessment talking from an educator point of view in terms of grading and marking and evaluating and all of that I didn’t do it differently from other people, but I think collectively in the eighties compared to 20 22, 20 23, what, you know, what I, what I know now, I would do all of that very differently, which spills over into coaching and spills over into leadership. you know, the, the, the simple fact of the matter is life is, and I’ll use the education assessment term formative, and there isn’t half as much about education that is summative as in, here’s your grade, and now we’re over that.

Rick Gilson (43:08):

That’s nowhere near as important to me now as it was made to seem important then mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and, and I think that’s probably the biggest piece. I think standardized exams and all the rest of those things, man, I’d put ’em all the way over there and just say, go away. you know, so, and like I said, I’ve done administration all the way through principal central office, the whole bit. It’s, it’s just not the piece. I didn’t get a 79 yesterday, you know, on whatever it was that I was assessed on. I don’t think I’m going to get a 79 today either. But that doesn’t stop me from reflecting on how I worked and how I did and how I interacted and how well I listened when my super amazing all-star best in the world wife was speaking. you know, I, I think that, that, those are big, big pieces that I’d do entirely different on the restart.

Sam Demma (44:19):

Thank you so much, Rick, for taking the time to chat. This has been a really insightful conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with you and hope that we can maybe turn this into a series and do a couple more parts. <laugh>

Rick Gilson (44:31):

<laugh>

Sam Demma (44:32):

I, I really appreciate you making the time to have this conversation. And if an educator is listening to this or a coach and they wanna reach out and ask you a question, share an idea, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?

Rick Gilson (44:46):

Well I’m on Twitter at @Gilson1258. My email is the one that’s gonna last for the longest. It’s probably rick.gilson@sapdc.ca. And rickgilson.ca is my blog and, and things. I’m not a, as a daily, a blogger or as frequent a blogger as I’d like to be. but perhaps that’s next in life. We’ll see. But so there’s all those ways to get ahold of me and we’ll go from there.

Sam Demma (45:23):

Awesome. Rick, thank you. Thanks

Rick Gilson (45:24):

Very much. Thank you very much, Sam. look forward to meeting you in person when you get out west here in your Canada-wide journey that you’ve got on Tap <laugh>, and look forward to working with you more in the student leadership piece moving forward. So keep it going. Like I say, you’re, you’re young, but boy oh boy, you are thirsty and that’s really fun to see. So keep it going, <laugh>.

Sam Demma (45:47):

Thanks Rick, I appreciate it. And we’ll definitely stay in touch.

Rick Gilson (45:50):

Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rick Gilson

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Jeevan: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Panorama Ridge Secondary School

Simon Fraser University – Criminology Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – History Major (Bachelor of Arts)

Simon Fraser University – Bachelor of Education

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (01:28):

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

Jeevan Dhami (02:00):

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

Sam Demma (02:41):

15 years. Where were you before the 15?

Jeevan Dhami (02:45):

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

Sam Demma (03:11):

Are you speaking experienced?

Jeevan Dhami (03:13):

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

Sam Demma (04:33):

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

Jeevan Dhami (04:48):

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

Jeevan Dhami (05:37):

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

Jeevan Dhami (06:21):

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

Jeevan Dhami (07:19):

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

Sam Demma (08:25):

<laugh>,

Jeevan Dhami (08:27):

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

Jeevan Dhami (09:27):

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

Jeevan Dhami (10:21):

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

Jeevan Dhami (11:24):

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

Jeevan Dhami (12:22):

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

Jeevan Dhami (13:13):

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

Jeevan Dhami (14:08):

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

Jeevan Dhami (15:34):

Exactly, yeah.

Jeevan Dhami (15:35):

You’re like, ah, shut up, <laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (15:38):

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

Jeevan Dhami (16:31):

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

Jeevan Dhami (17:37):

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

Sam Demma (18:54):

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

Jeevan Dhami (19:47):

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

Sam Demma (20:19):

<laugh>.

Jeevan Dhami (20:20):

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

Jeevan Dhami (21:13):

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

Jeevan Dhami (22:06):

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

Jeevan Dhami (22:55):

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

Jeevan Dhami (23:41):

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

Jeevan Dhami (24:21):

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

Sam Demma (25:39):

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

Jeevan Dhami (26:12):

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

Jeevan Dhami (27:59):

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

Sam Demma (28:14):

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

Jeevan Dhami (28:57):

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

Jeevan Dhami (29:59):

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

Jeevan Dhami (30:50):

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

Jeevan Dhami (31:45):

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

Jeevan Dhami (32:47):

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

Jeevan Dhami (33:41):

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

Sam Demma (34:32):

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

Jeevan Dhami (35:01):

Yeah. But going on five, no officially,

Sam Demma (35:04):

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

Jeevan Dhami (35:32):

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

Jeevan Dhami (36:28):

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

Jeevan Dhami (37:22):

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

Jeevan Dhami (38:15):

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

Jeevan Dhami (39:09):

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

Jeevan Dhami (40:05):

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

Jeevan Dhami (40:50):

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

Jeevan Dhami (41:58):

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

Jeevan Dhami (42:46):

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

Sam Demma (43:53):

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

Jeevan Dhami (44:33):

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

Jeevan Dhami (45:28):

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

Sam Demma (46:40):

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

Jeevan Dhami (46:51):

Awesome. Thanks a lot Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeevan Dhami

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

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

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

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

Connect with Martin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

What is Democratic Education?

What is Special Education?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:11):

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

Sam Demma (01:42):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (01:55):

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

Sam Demma (02:49):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (02:54):

That is correct.

Sam Demma (02:55):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:00):

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

Sam Demma (03:05):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:30):

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

Sam Demma (03:36):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (03:48):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (04:42):

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

Sam Demma (05:44):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (06:47):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (07:35):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (08:30):

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

Sam Demma (09:06):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (09:29):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:16):

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

Sam Demma (10:51):

Hmm. That’s a,

Martin Tshibwabwa (10:52):

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

Sam Demma (11:01):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:17):

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

Sam Demma (11:21):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (11:35):

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

Sam Demma (12:06):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (12:30):

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

Sam Demma (13:31):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:56):

Myself,

Sam Demma (13:58):

<laugh>?

Martin Tshibwabwa (13:59):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (14:50):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (15:40):

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

Sam Demma (16:17):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (16:21):

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

Sam Demma (16:50):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (17:18):

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

Sam Demma (18:22):

Ah, <laugh>.

Martin Tshibwabwa (18:24):

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

Sam Demma (19:38):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (20:24):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (21:38):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (22:32):

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

Sam Demma (23:27):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (23:41):

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

Sam Demma (24:52):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:00):

Exactly.

Sam Demma (25:01):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (25:11):

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

Sam Demma (25:58):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:00):

<laugh>. Exactly.

Sam Demma (26:02):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:17):

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

Sam Demma (26:30):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (26:39):

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

Sam Demma (27:01):

Very true. Likewise

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:02):

For you too.

Sam Demma (27:03):

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

Martin Tshibwabwa (27:34):

Absolutely my brother.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Martin Tshibwabwa

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

Connie Shepherd – Ontario Educator of over 20 years

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

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

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

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

Connect with Connie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

York University

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies

Working as an Educational Assistant – Ontario College Application Service

myBlueprint

Tinkercad

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Connie Shepherd (01:30):

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

Sam Demma (02:11):

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

Connie Shepherd (02:20):

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

Sam Demma (02:54):

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

Connie Shepherd (03:08):

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

Sam Demma (03:57):

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

Connie Shepherd (04:10):

So I I, I was very interested in law.

Sam Demma (04:13):

Nice.

Connie Shepherd (04:14):

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

Sam Demma (05:13):

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

Connie Shepherd (05:32):

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

Sam Demma (06:10):

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

Connie Shepherd (06:55):

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

Sam Demma (07:32):

Nice. <laugh>.

Connie Shepherd (07:33):

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

Sam Demma (08:39):

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

Connie Shepherd (09:07):

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

Sam Demma (09:54):

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

Connie Shepherd (10:01):

That’s it.

Sam Demma (10:02):

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

Connie Shepherd (10:08):

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

Connie Shepherd (11:06):

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

Sam Demma (12:23):

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

Connie Shepherd (12:27):

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

Sam Demma (12:59):

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

Connie Shepherd (13:22):

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

Sam Demma (13:48):

That’s good.

Connie Shepherd (13:49):

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

Sam Demma (14:02):

Nice.

Connie Shepherd (14:03):

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

Sam Demma (15:05):

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

Connie Shepherd (15:16):

Absolutely.

Sam Demma (15:17):

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

Connie Shepherd (15:33):

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

Sam Demma (15:35):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (15:36):

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

Sam Demma (16:14):

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

Connie Shepherd (16:39):

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

Connie Shepherd (17:26):

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

Sam Demma (18:18):

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

Sam Demma (19:25):

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

Connie Shepherd (19:29):

This is our, this is our second year

Sam Demma (19:31):

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

Connie Shepherd (19:36):

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

Sam Demma (20:10):

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

Connie Shepherd (20:53):

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

Sam Demma (21:15):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (21:15):

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

Sam Demma (21:42):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (21:42):

Right. We don’t know what’s coming.

Sam Demma (21:44):

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

Connie Shepherd (22:10):

Exactly.

Sam Demma (22:12):

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

Connie Shepherd (22:24):

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

Sam Demma (22:26):

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

Connie Shepherd (22:54):

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

Sam Demma (23:53):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (23:54):

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

Sam Demma (24:09):

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

Connie Shepherd (24:13):

A hundred percent

Sam Demma (24:14):

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

Connie Shepherd (24:18):

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

Sam Demma (24:36):

Hmm.

Connie Shepherd (24:36):

Yeah.

Sam Demma (24:38):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (24:38):

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

Sam Demma (24:52):

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

Connie Shepherd (25:15):

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

Sam Demma (25:18):

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

Sam Demma (26:06):

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

Connie Shepherd (26:45):

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

Sam Demma (26:48):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (26:48):

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

Sam Demma (26:56):

Yeah.

Connie Shepherd (26:57):

That’s so true. Right. My path is me.

Sam Demma (26:59):

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

Connie Shepherd (27:18):

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

Sam Demma (27:34):

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

Connie Shepherd (27:41):

Me too, Sam. Have a great weekend.

Sam Demma (27:44):

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

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