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

Paulette Lippert Experiential Lead Learner BGCDSB
About Paulette Lippert

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

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

Connect with Paulette: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Rural and Ready

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Paulette Lippert. Paulette is passionate about all things education. She has been devoting her time and energy to her work in education for the past 27 years. Growing up in a rural area herself, she realized that access to opportunities was a challenge and now strives to bridge these exact gaps for the students in the Bruce grey Catholic district school board.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma (26:22):
That’s so cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paulette Lippert

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Melissa Wright – New Brunswick Student Leadership Association President

Melissa Wright New Brunswick Student Leadership Association President
About Melissa Wright

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

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

Connect with Melissa: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kennebascis Valley High School

Jostens Renaissance Program


The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melissa Wright

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

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

Paul Dols Student Leadership
About Paul Dols

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

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

Connect with Paul: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

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

Josten’s Renaissance leadership program

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Paul Dols. He is the climate and culture coordinator at Monrovia high school in Southern California. His responsibilities include being activities, director Renaissance coordinator, and link crew coordinator, a classroom teacher for 26 years. His passion and goal is to create a school that every student and Staffold T member calls home. And no one wants to leave. Paul believes that education is the noblest of professions and provides the opportunity to sow the seeds each and every day. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Paul and I will see you on the other side, Paul, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you do the work you do today in education?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma (24:22):
Awesome. Paul, this was amazing. Thanks so much. Keep up the great work and I will talk soon. Thanks brother. Appreciate it. And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paul Dols

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

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

Michelle Dittmer Gap Year Association
About Michelle Dittmer

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Michelle: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian Gap Year Frosh Week

Gap Year Planning Toolkit

Can Gap Year Podcast

Endy Mattresses

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Denma. I am excited about today’s conversation! Michelle Dittmer, and I have spoken multiple times. We’ve worked together multiple times and the energy and purpose that she’s bringing to the world is so important. Michelle is the co-founder and president of the Canadian gap year association.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Dittmer (23:35):
Take care.

Sam Demma (23:36):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michelle Dittmer

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.

Andy Speers – Intermediate teacher at Elora Public School and Co-Creator of Empowerment Day

Andy Speers Teacher Elora Public School
About Andy Speers

Andy Speers is an intermediate teacher at Elora Public School.  He has been teaching for 17 years and is passionate about experiential learning and giving students valuable lessons surrounding leadership and inclusion. 

He currently runs a sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball program along with heading Empowerment Day for the Upper Grand District School Board. 

Connect with Andy: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empowerment Day (UGDSB)

Wheelchair Basketball Program (Patrick Anderson)

Tessa Virtue (speaker)

Spencer West (speaker)

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):
This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. I am very excited to bring you today’s conversation with my good friend, Andy Speers. Andy originally called me a few years ago when I was out in Vancouver speaking to some schools about a ginormous event he was running called empowerment day. And from that moment, him and myself have become good friends.

Sam Demma (01:07):
And I’m so happy that I had a chance to talk with him and share this conversation with you through this podcast. Andy Speers is an intermediate teacher at Elora public school. He has been teaching for 17 years and is passionate about experiential learning and giving students valuable lessons surrounding leadership and inclusion. He currently runs a sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball program along with heading empowerment day, a massive conference board wide event for the upper grand district school board. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side, Andy, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are today in education?

Andy Speers (01:56):
Oh, that’s a loaded question right off the bat, Sam. I know. Thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure and honor to be here. My name’s Andy Speers I’ve been a grade seven eight teacher in the upper grand district school board for 17 years now. Currently at Elora public school just transferred there after six, 16 years at Drayton Heights public school. And yeah in all honesty got, got into education and got into education really because of my grade five teacher. To be honest with you. I, I knew I wanted to be a teacher after I had her as a grade five teacher and really everything that I’ve been doing leading to now is really because of, of that year.

Sam Demma (02:52):
That’s awesome. And did you know from a young age that education was the thing for you? Or what, what led you? What led you down the path?

Andy Speers (03:02):
Yeah, like I said, I’m a grade five teacher. Her name was Mrs. Revard. I’ll never forget her. And she just was an amazing teacher really kind of, really kind of showed me how important it was to have a quest for learning and you know, and ever since her, like, I was not overly a great student. Right. I did what I needed to do to get by. But when it mattered most, I kind of remember the lessons in which she gave me through the, that, that grade five grade five year. And yeah, so right from, honestly from grade five, when I first got into it, I just thought, you know, teachers got it great, you know, like, you know, summers off and all that stuff. But then as I kind of moved closer to the, the career I realized why I really wanted to do it. Got it.

Sam Demma (04:02):
Yeah. That’s awesome. And you mentioned this grade five teacher. Do you remember some of the things that went? I know it was a long time ago, not that you’re an old guy, but you know, grade five was a while back. Do you remember any of the things that she did that had a big impact on you or generally if you had to think back, like what do you think?

Andy Speers (04:18):
And I think in all honesty, just making connection making a connection with, with her students. And, and it, it’s interesting too because I, I, you know, my classmates, I don’t know if she had the same impact on them. She just did on me. She just made such a great connection with me. And I, really kind of, obviously there’s lots of people, my parents and my wife and all that stuff have attributed to me wanting to take this path is not all Mrs Revard, but just kind of specifically showing kind of the importance of a connection and and the impact that one person can have on another in, in kind of pushing you in a positive direction. And that’s, that’s really why I wanted, when I got into teaching and I, I kind of looked at the age group that I might want to teach, and I really kind of picked that intermediate area because I really see that as being kind of the most influential years of of a kid’s life. Right. they, they’re going to pick a direction in which in which they’re going to go. And I kind of thought, you know, what if, if I have the ability to, to point them in the right direction then that’s a win for me. And I think a win for them too. So yeah, so that really, I, think the biggest thing that she taught me is the power of a connection.

Sam Demma (05:51):
And in terms of making the connection, was it through her talking, you pulling you aside asking questions, getting to know you on a personal level. Like if an educator is listening right now and they’re like, this sounds phenomenal. I want to make more connections with my students. When you think that, what do you think that looks like in the classroom or in today’s learning environment?

Andy Speers (06:09):
Well, what I’ve learned from her is, you know it’s, it’s important to, to make a personal connection with your students. And, and that can be done in so many different ways and it’s going to work differently for different students, right. Some students are, you know, we’ll, we’ll kind of be a bit more standoffish, especially at the age group in which I am, and they don’t want to you know, a lot of times these days as well, too, don’t want to make it seem like they’re you know, have that close relationship with their teacher, but just even, you know, ask them, you know, asking them about their weekend. You know, if they’re into hockey or music or whatever, just kind of keep tabs on them as to where and what they’re what, they’re, what they’re up to outside of school as well, too making, you know, making connections with parents and families as well.

Andy Speers (07:01):
I just think is so important having that open line of communication you know, moving forward, not, not overdoing it because my wife and I have been on the other end where, you know, that that teacher is just like constantly in communication with, and, but, but at the same time, just, you know just touching base with them every once in a while, making sure that come report card time, and many teachers have heard this come report card time. It shouldn’t be a surprise kind of where their, their kid is. Right. but I even find with parents as well too, there’s some parents that are kind of willing to open up and really want to chat with you about kind of you know personal life. And then there’s some that just, you know, what, where’s my kid academically and, and, and that’s, that’s good. So you kind of get that sense from just talking to them for the first time.

Sam Demma (07:52):
And at what point in your educational journey career did you decide you wanted to get involved in as many extra curricular activities as you could, and start clubs and start conferences, maybe tell me about the beginning of empowerment day as well?

Andy Speers (08:08):
So this is, this is an easy start, Sam. My son, who’s now nine years old going into grade four, he’s coming to a Elora with me next year, which is really exciting. He was born with down syndrome and so my wife and I, when he, when he was born we started looking at where we can kind of make impact to, to help him and other, other kids with special needs in the community flourish and be involved. And I have my background is I have a phys ed degree. And my wife is a special education consultant in the board. At the time when Ash was born, she was a resource teacher so a special education teacher in the board. And so we kind of combined our, our forces and we looked at the parks within our community and we were able to in it, it was, it was so amazing with, within I think 15, 15 to 20 months or so fundraise enough money to put two fully accessible playgrounds within our community.

Andy Speers (09:21):
So one in Ferguson, one in Laura and yeah, they’re, they’re just so well used and, and all that. And so, you know, after we accomplished that, we kind of started thinking, okay, well, what’s next? And I started to talk to my student leadership group about different ways in which we could have impact. And this was right when this was the year in which we day was it used to always be there used to be a weekday Waterloo which we would be able to take a, you know, 20 to 25 kids to, and what ended up happening was they canceled the day Waterloo and just moved it to Toronto to at that point, their Canada center. And they called it weekday, Ontario. And you were only able to take eight kids while as you know, how many kids, especially within this age group, want to be leaders, want to experience that want to go to like big, powerful days like that.

Andy Speers (10:21):
And so what my student leadership group kind of said, well, there was two girls in particular Ms. Tate Driscoll and Alexis Cooper, I’ll never forget them that actually said, why don’t we do our own kind of weday? And I was like, oh, okay, well, that’s great. And well, who would we have, you know, who we have at this thing? Like, we don’t have any money, we don’t have anything. So what are, how are we going to do this? And so we ended up being able to raise $6,000 for our first what’s called empowerment day. Now we held it at the Drayton arena. We had 1300 students and we were able to raise enough money to get Spencer west who is a very, probably the most prestigious weekday speaker. He’s just phenomenal you know, climb Mount Kilimanjaro on his hands to raise millions of dollars for drinking water millions of dollars for clean drinking water in Africa.

Andy Speers (11:20):
So just truly inspirational. Wonderful. And I, one of my, or one of my cousins is a really great musician as well, too. So we had her as well, too. So, you know, we kind of pieced it all together. We had a bunch of students there. Well, the feedback from that day was so incredible that we’re like, you know what, there’s such a need for this, let’s make this grow. So we went from a, about a $6,000 budget to the following year. We got students out and you know, doing presentations and to different groups, different businesses, all that kind of stuff. You know, to, to fundraise a little bit more. And, and to this day, we, you know, we’ve never had a sponsor kind of canceled it. Like a sponsor has always came back the next year. They come to the event and they’re like, yes, this is amazing.

Andy Speers (12:07):
This is what we want to be supporting. So you know, but we go out each year and we make new presentations and, you know, the bigger that we kind of get the bigger stars, like Sam demo we’re able to afford. And but yeah, so we we’ve been going, this’ll be its seventh year. We’re now, currently at the Sleeman center in Gwelf which houses about 5,600 students. Schools are one thing that we made clear, right from the beginning, schools are allowed to bring as many students as they want. So if they want to bring every student from grade five to grade eight, then go for it. If they want to bring, you know, just a grade six class, then they can do that as well too. This is obviously only in the upper grand district school board. So we, we don’t offer because it’s so popular.

Andy Speers (12:55):
It really honestly sells out in about twenty-five minutes. So we put it out online and let everyone know what’s coming out online and, and the seats are gone, you know, but I, I believe other than maybe one or two schools, every single school has the opportunity to be there. And some schools choose not to come like each year. So a lot of times they’ll come one year and then they won’t come the next year and then they’ll come one year. It really depends on how they want to pay for it and all that kind of stuff to be there. But, you know over the years we’ve had the likes of Chris Hadfield, Serena rider, Hayley Wickenheiser this year coming up we have Tessa virtue, you know, so we, we we’re, we’re really we’re, we’re really kind of growing and you know, these last couple of years in which it’s been canceled my hope is that it’s not something that is, is going to lose any steam or anything.

Andy Speers (13:56):
I think everyone is going to be excited to do it again. So this year we’re, we’re going to have a virtual event in October, which we recorded last year with our my student leadership group. And and just did everything virtually with our speakers. And then this year coming up or, sorry, the following year in 2022 we’ll go back to our original may at the Sleeman center. The hope is anyways, right. It just depends on where we all are. And then, yeah, like from, from there as well too, my, my wife and I really looked at where we want to go as far as accessibility is concerned as well. And we were, I was able to kind of secure some funding to start a sledge hockey program in the upper grand district school board. And so it tours around to the 14 schools a year.

Andy Speers (14:44):
And I I’ve trained numerous coaches and they’re so they kind of take it from there and the board is so good about getting equipment to, and from arenas and all that kind of stuff. Cause it’s a, it’s a big job. And then also also we started just started just before COVID the year before COVID we started the Patrick Anderson wheelchair basketball program and pat is a former empowerment day speaker and one of my best friends. And he’s seen as the world’s best wheelchair basketball player of all time, kind of like the Michael Jordan or LeBron James of wheelchair basketball. He’s got five gold medals, Paralympic gold medals. He’s from Fergus right here. I went to high school with them and we’ve been best buddies ever since. And so him and I kind of teamed up and we started that program with the help of Bob Cameron and his wife, Linda as well, that own heritage river here.

Andy Speers (15:35):
And they, they stepped up and were able to pay for 16 sport wheelchairs and that tours around you know, the, the hope is, is once COVID is over roughly around 30 to 35 schools a year. Wow. So with, with, with instruction, right, from the best player in the world. So as I say to schools, you know, when you’re getting this you’re, if this was a hockey program, you’d be getting instruction from Wayne Gretzky, you know, so it’s really, really cool. He doesn’t go personally, but he we’ve videoed everything. And so teachers can follow along. He talks right to the students. And so the teachers can basically press play and and pat, pat runs them through everything in which they’re going to do. So it’s, it’s really cool. So yeah, my, my main focus has always been kind of, you know, accessibility inclusion and, and one thing that’s about empowerment day as well too, is that there’s always going to be a speaker and empowerment data. That’s going to focus specifically on that.

Sam Demma (16:41):
Awesome. And does your buddy also play for team Canada right now? Is he in, is he in Tokyo for the Olympics?

Andy Speers (16:47):
So this is so he, his first Olympics was in the year 2000 in Sydney, Australia. And so he did gold in 2000 silver in 2004 and then golden Beijing, golden golden London. And then he retired because he’s a music and as well too, and kind of met his wife and started kind of having kids and they live in New York city. And he so he decided to, you know, what, I’m going to retire from basketball. I I’m, I’m crouching on 40 here. And I’m going to really focus with my, my wife on our, our band and, and making a go of music. And he’s a phenomenal musician. He actually played at my wedding and you know, our, I think it was my wife and I’s wedding song. So he, he played that for us, for our first dance. But yeah, he he is but he team Canada, I think basically kinda kind of said, please, could you come back because he’s just that good, that elite. And so he got himself as best back into shape as he can. He’s, he’s insanely in shape, but back into shape basketball shape anyways. And he’s back over at Tokyo at the pair games right now. So his next his first game is tomorrow actually. So I’ll be streaming it and watching it from here.

Sam Demma (18:15):
So V2 actually. So I know one of the other athletes, the name’s Lee, my Almac and yeah, so this is a small world. I was connected through another guy. So when you mentioned Paralympic basketball, I was like, I know someone out there that’s so cool. Well, that’s amazing. And you know, the highlight on accessibility I think is so important. I there’s a group of students in Waterloo, I believe they’re just graduated high school going to university and they started a non-profit while they were still in grade 11 called Acceso. And the goal of the organization was sorry. Oh yeah, sorry. So the goal of the organization, the goal of the organization was to walk through malls and walk through stores and rank their accessibility and post it publicly online and like state where things could be changed and improved to make the spaces more accessible.

Sam Demma (19:08):
And they walked through, they walked through over like a thousand independent stores over the span of two years. Many of which they got kicked out of because they had iPads and were making notes and people thought they were going to like steal something or just kind of funny. But yeah, when you talk about accessibility that came to mind and it’s so cool that you’re integrating that into the empowerment, they stuff, those two, those two students that came up to you and said, Hey, Andy, you know, we really want to do this. Do you still stay in touch with them?

Andy Speers (19:41):
Well, now that I moved to a LoRa no, but, and, and not as much, I always invite them obviously to empowerment to kind of see, let them see what they’ve started, but you know, they’re, they’re well off into university and maybe even past university now. Right. So yeah, so I, I don’t stay as much in touch. I, I, the, the years following them leaving a little bit more I did you know, a bit of reference stuff for them and things like that. I know that they moved on both of them and within their own community, we’re on the youth council to try to make change for for, for youth in the community afterwards. And that’s, that’s a completely voluntary you know, position and you just basically volunteer yourself to do it. So it just shows the, you know that, that those two just really want it to make positive change. Whether or not it was in a school setting or whether or not it was in, when they went on to high school. I know that they both had big roles kind of in leadership as well, too.

Sam Demma (20:55):
Yeah. And there could be other educators listening right now thinking, holy crap, that’s amazing. You guys put on this conference for your school board every year, and it’s this a rewarding experience and someone else might be listening from a totally different school board thinking if my students came up to me and said, Hey, let’s, let’s host an event with 5,000 people in a, in an arena. It might be a little overwhelming at first. Like, how did you go from this sounds like a great idea to let’s actually do this thing.

Andy Speers (21:24):
Well, I think, you know, a lot of things have to fall into place. Right. And, and my advice to anyone that would like to start, this is one don’t, don’t hesitate to start small because it has to start somewhere. Right. The other thing is, is to reach out to people like whether it’s me or someone else that has done it before and, and kind of get your bearings as to what it might take to kind of put this together, because it certainly is a lot of work. You definitely need kind of a champion to kind of take it, take it on. But I can assure you that, you know, after the first couple of years and you have the opportunity to kind of get the kinks out of it, it becomes a lot easier, right. So I think everyone looks at it as it’s an overwhelming amount of work to start something like that and go out and find sponsorship and all that kind of stuff.

Andy Speers (22:24):
And yeah, you’re going to have to take some time on your own. It’s going to be outside of school time. You’re going to have to sometimes meet students at you know, different organizations or businesses that, you know, maybe seven o’clock at night when the businesses like when they’re available and that kind of stuff. But at the same time, once those connections are made and once kind of all your ducks are in a row the day becomes a lot easier. It’s a lot easier to put together. And throughout that time too, you’re going to put together a team of other educators as well, too. So like around empowerment day, now we have, you know, a team of educators that are that puts again together lesson plans based on the, what they’re going to be learning about each, like from each speaker, right?

Andy Speers (23:11):
So each speaker will have a certain message and we find different messages, so four or five different messages from each of those speakers. And then there’s lessons around those lessons that they’re going to be learning. And they’re going to learn about those speakers so that when they get there, they feel almost like they know the speaker and that they’re, it becomes kind of like a life-changing event rather than just another field trip. And that’s and then you’ve got teams that are at the facility that are directing everyone. You’ve got teams that are, you know you know, helping you with seating teams that are, you know helping with contracts team. So it, you know, the first by starting small, you kind of see what it’s going to kind of take if you want to grow. And if you don’t, it’s fine, right? Like there’s, there’s lots of incredible, like smaller events.

Andy Speers (24:01):
You don’t need to have the elite of the elite com I always find too that the best speakers on empowerment day are never the ones that, and sorry to, you know, Tessa virtue, whoever’s listening to the podcast, but the biggest celebrity that is, is going to be there. That might be your draw to get people to, to come in the best speakers are never the ones that are the biggest draw, right? The biggest you know, we’ve had Mariatu kumara com. That is Marriott’s Tamara. She is bite of a mango is the book that she or memoir that she wrote. And she’s a former prisoner of war that at the age of 12, at these kids’ age that are watching this event at the age of 12, had her hands cut off while she was a prisoner of war and she takes them through an extremely emotional time in her life.

Andy Speers (24:56):
And you can hear a pin drop of 5,600 students from grade five to grade eight. Like it’s so impactful. We had Michelle Chika Y nine, that is was a former child. Soldier was forced at the age of five to be this child soldier at the age of five. He was forced to shoot his best friend. And he hates takes them through this experience. And again, just, it’s so powerful, the, the sound of silence, right. So they don’t need, and, and, and these individuals aren’t necessarily the most expensive people to, to get. Right. and so you, you might need to look at, okay, well, how, how do I get a budget of $6,000 and, and just get one, one speaker for that $6,000. And can I get a venue donated, you know, for this great event, because there’s a lot of places out there that want to help youth in this community.

Andy Speers (26:01):
So, you know, is there an arena or something that, that would be like, yeah, you know what, this place is sitting empty through the day anyways. Yeah. Bring, bring your people in. Right. And then the board, the whatever board you might work for, you know, they should be willing to help you, what you want to put on an event that’s going to empower 6,000 or empower a thousand of our students. Yeah. Awesome. How can we help? Right. What do we have to do? And so a lot of times there’ll be there to supply you with chairs or tables or a stage or something, right. Lights or audio, or maybe they have, like, we have the brilliant Ron birdie. That’s kind of our ADA coordinator within board that has been, I’d be nowhere without them. Right. that does kind of the AB stuff.

Andy Speers (26:49):
So you know, like there it’s, it seems overwhelming when you start kind of putting everything down on paper, but I can assure you that things like I would encourage people to look into it look up empowerment day and look me up, send me an email. Right. Like, I, I would be glad to, if, if I could see kind of this day kind of growth that would be the best thing that I’m at the point kind of at at with empowerment day that I can’t grow really anymore. Right. We’re in the biggest venue in our entire board. Right. it can’t get bigger than where we are. And so to see it grow into other communities, into other boards, it doesn’t even need to be called empowerment day. Just a version of it. That that would be amazing. And I’m, I would be always willing to help out with that.

Sam Demma (27:42):
I love it. And if someone is listening right now and is interested in getting in touch with you, can you verbally just share an email or some way that they could reach out and get in touch to have a conversation?

Andy Speers (27:52):
Yeah, absolutely. It’s Andy.Speers@ugdsb.on.ca

Sam Demma (28:08):
To wrap up this conversation, if you could go back and I need to, the first year you got into education and teaching both at the same advice and experience you have now, what did, what words of wisdom would you give your younger self?

Andy Speers (28:20):
Oh that’s a, that’s a good question. You know what, it’s, it’s interesting. Cause I taught a grade two class my very first year. And then I moved to intermediate the very following year. So I, I’m gonna, I’m gonna look at if it was my second year, is that okay? Yeah. Coming into intermediate. My, I think my biggest piece of advice is especially for the age group in which I teach is don’t go into a year wanting to be the student’s friends, always remember that you are their educator first. And, and students will learn to respect that a lot more than you trying to be their friend and kind of, you know and because by you being in their friends, then, you know, the, the routine and the discipline and the the class management, although that stuff kind of falls apart.

Andy Speers (29:22):
And that was the, I remember my first year of teaching intermediate, I went in and I’m trying to be buddy buddy with these, with them and stuff like that. And they walked all over me all over me. So go in and, and, you know, have your, have your rules, put your thumb down. And, and students will really learn. And by doing that and starting with that, that’s, you know, that’s going to allow you later on within the year, like even within a few months to kind of turn the corner a little bit, because they know what your expectations are. They know exactly, you know, what, what is expected of them and, and that, that can allow you to then start to really dig into making those connections with them. Right. and so, you know, when they know their expectations, they’re going to, you know, when, when they get different assignments and things like that, you know, that allows you to then sit down with them afterwards and kind of say you know what, we can take this and we can do even that much more. Right. And, and allows you to push their boundaries a little bit more, take them outside their comfort zone and stuff. So, yeah, don’t be buddy-buddy especially not right off the bat, not a good idea.

Andy Speers (30:40):
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So always remember that you are there as their teacher and I, and I say that to them. I always say, you know what, guys, I’m a fun, loving guy. It takes a lot to really get me angry, but at the same time I am your teacher. I’m not your friend. Okay. So my name is Mr. Spheres. Okay. It’s not spear easy. It’s not, you know, all that stuff because yeah, I, I, I ended up teaching this year I taught seven boys all off the same hockey team where in my class, and you have to, we really worked right at the beginning of the year of reminding those students, that the classroom is a classroom and not a hockey dressing room. And, and my name is Mr. Speers. It’s not spear Z. And they got it really, really quick, right. So it’s just kind of setting those boundaries and, and, you know, allowing yourself to, to laugh and have a good time with those kids. But at the same time, you know, making sure that those rules are followed and, and make sure that you’re their teacher, not their friend.

Sam Demma (31:45):
I love that. Love that. Awesome. Andy, this has been a jam packed interview about event planning about student impact about you know, your best advice, your journey and education?

Andy Speers (32:00):
If I could give one more thing as well too, is that, especially with the leadership stuff and event planning to let give students the opportunity, don’t feel that you need to do everything yourself. Students will always step up student if you give them that opportunity. And you’d give them clear guidelines as far as what is a an and I, I know as far as academic wise and stuff, that’s not always the case. Okay. But when it comes to leadership wise and, and they know that kind of everything’s on the line, I always say to our guys that go, you guys are planning an event for the entire board. We there’s a lot on the line here. If you can’t handle that pressure, then you’re might not be in the right spot. Right. Or we can give you less of a, less of a job that, you know, maybe you’re coming and doing set up with me.

Andy Speers (32:47):
Yeah. Right. Rather than, you know, getting up, you don’t have the opportunity to get up and introduce a speaker. And a second before, you’re about to go on, go, I can’t do this. That’s not, it’s not in the cards you, so you need to know. And, and I always say to, I would not ask you to do this. If I didn’t believe you couldn’t do it. And, and they really will respond to that. They will, they, they will step up. I’ve never had a student in seven years back out of a speaking agent there. These students are there. They’re so nervous before going up right there. They’re getting up. And they’ve got 5,600 students in front of them all around them. And they know they’re going to be judged and they know, you know, and they get up there and they just, that’s, that’s my favorite part of the entire day, just seeing some of these kids go so far outside their comfort zone, but then moving forward, getting up in front of a class and doing a presentation, getting up in front of a hundred people, it’s nothing to them. Right. So, yeah. Yeah. So I would just also give that as well to give students opportunity. They’ll step up of love.

Sam Demma (33:53):
That I can, I will right

Andy Speers (33:56):
Now. It’s it’s I can, I will watch me. Nice.

Sam Demma (34:00):
Cool. Cool, Andy again, huge pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Can’t wait to see you again in may and you have the great work and we’ll, we’ll talk soon.

Andy Speers (34:09):
Awesome. Sam, thanks so much. Thanks for the opportunity and good luck to all those teachers out there, not coming here

Sam Demma (34:15):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and sign up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Andy Speers

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.

Lisa Galay – Experiential Learning Leader at the Halton District School Board

Lisa Galay Experiential Lead Learner
About Lisa Galay

Lisa is the Experiential Learning Leader at the Halton District School Board. She proactively seeks out opportunities for her students to gain real-world knowledge through hands-on experiences. This occurs through career fairs, pathway exploration events and programs that she works to implement in her school board.

Her intention is to help students see connections between what they are studying in their high school courses and jobs that use the skills and knowledge acquired in those courses in the ‘real world.’

Before growing into this role as the Experiential Lead Learning, Lisa worked as a science teacher, a guidance counsellor and taught co-op and careers. In this episode, Lisa shares dozens of ideas that you can use immediately. P.S. Her favourite ice-cream flavour is chocolate.

Connect with Lisa: Email

Listen Now

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

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. This week we have on the show, another very special guest, someone who reached out to me during COVID to do a session for them during take your kids to work day. Now, unfortunately, the session got canceled due to COVID-19 and school board regulations, but Lisa and I still had a wonderful conversation and I thought it would be very valuable to bring her back on the show so she can share some of her amazing ideas with you. Lisa is the experiential lead learner at the Halton district school board, and she proactively seeks out opportunities for her students to gain real world knowledge through hands on experiences. In this episode, she shared dozens of ideas that you can use immediately after you leave this recording. PS, her favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate.

Sam Demma (00:54):
Just know in case you want to ship her a gift. That’s what she loves. Anyways, let’s jump into the episode. I’ll see you on the other side, Lisa, thank you so much for coming on the show here today. It’s a pleasure to have you. We talked a little bit earlier on the phone about different events. You were planning in the school board about chocolate ice cream home. Ken here, can you share with the audience who you are, why you got into the work you do with young people and what keeps you going at it every single day?

Lisa Galay (01:22):
Sure. Hi everyone. My name is Lisa Galay and I’m the leader of experiential learning for grades seven to 12 with the Halston district school board. And the work that I do today is definitely not where I thought I would have landed. You may have heard that before Sam but it it’s such important work. And my role right now is really to work with educators in our board to create engaging initiatives for students that give them hands-on experiences that allow them to reflect on those experiences and then to apply what they’ve learned from their reflection and, and from the experience itself. So that’s really that experiential learning cycle. And you know, in my role before I was, I was in this role, I was a science teacher for many years. I was a guidance counselor. I taught co-op and careers.

Lisa Galay (02:18):
And you know, all of those roles certainly allowed me to work with, with youth, which I knew I always loved. It was something that I did long before I was a teacher. And I think it always gave me this real sense of satisfaction that I was really making a difference. I always knew that I wanted a job where I could clearly see the difference, even if I might not see it for months or years or, you know, who knows how long. But I always found that working with youth was, was a way to, to know that I was making a difference and I felt like I had a lot to give in that area. I felt like I, you know, I inherently enjoyed it. I was good at teaching people, things I was excited about learning myself. And I felt like that could have a contagious effect with students.

Lisa Galay (03:04):
And I think, you know, over my years in the various roles that I’ve had, I saw the impact that caring could, could do, whether it was caring about the quality of the lessons and, and opportunities I was creating for students, whether it was caring for student as their guidance counselor, when they came to you with a serious mental health issue, or now whether it’s supporting a teacher to allow them to do an amazing experience or support their students in a, in a really engaging way. I can see the impact of the work that I do. And I think that’s what keeps me going, because I know that it’s making a difference. And and it’s something that I love doing. And it doesn’t feel like I’m working.

Sam Demma (03:47):
Speaking about creating, engaging experiences during a time. Like COVID, have you worked with any teachers this far to maybe implement some ideas that you thought knocked it out of the park or that the other teacher gave you some great feedback on that you think might be valuable for another educator to hear?

Lisa Galay (04:06):
Yeah, absolutely. So like many educators when COVID struck in March and the school shut down and we were all working from home, it was definitely something none of us were prepared for. And, you know, at that point in the year, in my role as leader of experiential learning, I had tons of initiatives planned for March, April, may, and June that were bringing hundreds of students together, bringing community partners into schools and, and all kinds of initiatives and they all got canceled. And you know, initially it felt pretty devastating thinking about all the work and time and, and the excitement that had been built up around those opportunities. And, you know, I had to scratch my head for a little bit and say, as someone who was directing and supporting these engaging experiential learning opportunities, what does that look like when students are not actually doing any of these things in person anymore?

Lisa Galay (04:58):
So it was a lot of re-imagining to be honest of what experiential learning could look like in a virtual environment. And even now, you know, my school board right now has some students that are totally virtual, some that are partially virtual and partially in class, it’s still a lot of re-imagining. And I think, you know, all of the things that, that I created and did during that time really came back to, you know, we, we can’t just say because it’s, COVID because we’re at home because this is difficult and requires some out of the box thinking, I guess we’re just not doing anything anymore. That’s, that’s interesting or hands-on. So we found ways for students to do things while they were at home in a safe way. So just as an example, one of the initiatives that I helped to support was purchasing these little model home kits for construction students that were using materials and tools that could safely be used without parental supervision in the home, so that when they couldn’t be with their construction teacher, they could still be building something and getting the support of their teacher virtually.

Lisa Galay (06:07):
That’s one example, when I thought about, you know, the massive event for, you know, thousands of grade sevens that, that wasn’t going to happen in, in may, as I had planned, you know, instead we looked at how we could bring the, the virtual or, sorry, I should say how we could have brought community partners to students in a virtual way. So I created a series of what is now almost 40 different community partner videos, where I interviewed partners kind of like what you’re doing now and ask them a number of questions about their educational journey, their career pathway, the impact of COVID on their career and, you know, picked those partners so that they represented a wide range of various career sectors, and also touched a wide range of, of subject areas. So students can see, oh, I’m in math right now. And those are careers that use math on a daily basis. And you know, those, those things, did they take time and, you know, was it something I’d ever done? Absolutely not. But it was, it was a resource that became highly valued as teachers thought, how am I going to help students make these real world connections? So those are just two examples, but I think it really just required an attitude of, you know, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. This is just a challenge. And I need to be creative and flexible and look for the opportunities that I may not have even considered before.

Sam Demma (07:29):
I love that it goes back to changing the story we tell ourselves, right? If we tell ourselves that something’s terrible and not possible, then that result is going to manifest in our life in a short period of time physically. And when we think outside of the box and overcome a challenge, we can impact the student’s life forever. They may never forget it. And I’m, I’m certain in your years of teaching, you’ve had students write you letters and reach out and tell you how much of an impact you’ve had on them. How do we continue to, like you said earlier care for our students during this time, even when they’re not in the classroom like w what do we have to do to show them that we appreciate them during these times?

Lisa Galay (08:15):
Yeah. That’s a great question. So a big part of my role coming into the start of this school year and even last year, when we so quickly switched to distance learning was all about community building, right? Which, which would have been important in normal times as well, but in a virtual environment or in a situation where teachers, aren’t seeing their students every day, because of these different adaptive models that that schools have taken on building relationships is still key. So even though there might be screens between us and we might not be seeing someone face to face, if we want to have a successful classroom where people feel open to communicate to work together, they want to log on. They want to be, you know, engaged in what’s happening in the classroom. And also even in, when we’re in person, we’ve got to invest the time and energy up front.

Lisa Galay (09:05):
And I know in the times that we’re in right now, a lot of teachers feel really pressed for time. They feel like with the new models that we’re working under, you know, gosh, it’s already going to be so tough to fit in all this curriculum, and I’m not even seeing them that often. I don’t have time to, you know, as one teacher said to me, hold hands and sing kumbaya at the start of every, every session with new students. But again, I think it’s that investment of time getting to know our students getting to tell them a little bit about who we are you know, expanding their mind about the possibilities of what the course can offer, giving them opportunities to get to know each other and, and build trust and feel safe in that classroom environment that we’re going to see the biggest return.

Lisa Galay (09:48):
And that’s where students again, feel appreciated. So again, Sam, when I think back to being a guidance counselor, and when students would come down and talk about challenges that they might’ve had with teachers, it was always about relationships. And it was still often, you know, that they felt like someone wasn’t seeing them or someone didn’t care or someone hadn’t put the time in. And it’s those teachers that just remember that, oh yeah, you play soccer. I’m going to ask how your game was this weekend, or that’s right. You said you were getting a new dog. Well, how’s the new family member. It’s all those little pieces, those little attempts to, to make an outreach and get to know your students that I think makes a difference. And it’s a huge difference now because we’re not even seeing each other face-to-face as much as we normally would.

Sam Demma (10:35):
It’s those small, consistent actions as Mike Loudfoot would say.

Sam Demma (10:43):
That’s awesome. Thinking back to your guidance counselor days, can you think of a story where maybe a student wasn’t feeling heard and maybe even had problems outside of the classroom at home or in the community? I’m sure you had students break down in your office. I broke down in my guidance counselor’s office a couple of times, and I was in high school. Can you think of a story though, where the narrative was flipped and that student got appreciated by a staff member, and there was a huge transformation in that student’s life, and you can change the student’s name for privacy reasons, but I want you to share the real authentic story. So another educator listening might think to themselves, wow. I do hold the power to shape a young person’s life. Yeah.

Lisa Galay (11:25):
Yeah. I’ve actually got a great story for this. And, and this happened a couple of years ago when I was still in my guidance counselor role, and that was a student I had worked with her for many years. She was in grade 11 at the time. You know, there had been challenges with her family situation for many years and she had, you know, she would come and see me and then I wouldn’t see her for awhile and she’d come back again. And at that point in the year, you know, I I’d seen her casually, but hadn’t really come in for a big discussion in my office. And that was okay. But another teacher, someone who taught her just notice that she seemed off one day and it had sort of been a bit of a pattern, but the teacher noticed that it was getting progressively more inconsistent with her normal demeanor.

Lisa Galay (12:12):
And so it was literally that teacher just taking a moment at the end of class to pull her aside and say something something’s going on. I feel like something’s up with you. What can I do to help? And it just melted the ice walls that were around her. She ended up coming down to see me and shared some major life altering events that she was ready to share that had really been behind a lot of the pain and difficulty that she’d been facing for years. And also revealed a really serious mental health situation that needed support. So all of the supports and next steps and things that came out of that you know, in the moment I just thought I need to do what I need to do to make sure that she’s safe and protected, but ultimately the student came back and said that those actions from that teacher, and then the follow-up support I was able to offer literally saved her life.

Lisa Galay (13:14):
Because she was starting to think about doing things that, that could have really altered her path. And so again, it’s sometimes just those little connections, those little things we notice, and rather than just letting that student leave and not saying anything, you know, sometimes we’re bogged down with our own challenges and we think, oh, am I really ready to take on another, another possible, you know situation that’s gonna, you know, maybe take up more of my time today and you’re thinking about everything else you have to fit in. And I would always encourage teachers that you just never know what’s really going on for someone. And so that little moment of outreach can make all the difference.

Sam Demma (13:53):
Asking a student, how can I help is a simple question, not do this or do that, but how can I help you? I think it’s a, I think it’s a game-changer and I appreciate you sharing that. Are you seeing, you’re almost like a bird’s eye view of the school board when it comes to who you work with and the scope of students that are under your wings, if you were an Eagle are you seeing any mistakes in education right now, or things that we could improve upon or things that we might want to consider doing differently for the second quad master of education?

Lisa Galay (14:29):
Right. You know what, that’s a great question. And I, I guess I, I never want to think of it like a mistake. I always think of it as us trying things and, you know, learning and when we know better, we’ll do better. So I think I honestly, I’ve been blown away by the things that the teachers have tried to do. And I think if anything, they’ve tried to come right out of the gate being as incredible as they’ve always been and sometimes compromising their own mental and physical health in order to feel like they’re doing everything they can for their students. And, you know, it’s such a tough balancing act. You know, whether you’re a parent or you’re being a good friend to someone, or you’re an educator, you want to give everything, you have to know that you’ve really done the best you can for those people you care about, but you also need to balance that with your own needs.

Lisa Galay (15:19):
And if you can’t, you know, if you can’t take care of yourself, then what good will you ultimately be to those that you’re trying to take care of? So I think if anything, the only, you know, the only challenge that I would say, I hope we all get better at moving forward in these unusual times is that we just give ourselves a little bit of grace and give ourselves a bit of a break that this is new and unfounded territory. We’re all navigating this for the first time. And this is going to be a year of making mistakes and thinking, oh, I should have done it like that. Or looking back and thinking, gosh, like, that seems so obvious now, why didn’t I do it this way? But it’s not so obvious right now because we’re, we’re in the thick of it. So I think we just need to give ourselves a break, do the very best work we can and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves in the process.

Sam Demma (16:11):
You mentioned, we’re all going through this together for the first time. And I think it’s so true. It’s a new experience for everybody. What I want you to think about for a second is the educator who is navigating this for the first time and as also an educator for the first time, maybe this is their first year teaching. And if you could go speak to that person with your years of wisdom, who’s listening, what would you share with them? Because right now they’re getting a picture of education painted totally different than what it used to be a few years ago, or a few months ago, this person might think what the heck that I sign up for a year. I’m so confused, but what would you want to share with that person?

Lisa Galay (16:56):
Yeah. Well, one thing I, I wish I could do and I can’t do is to reassure them that it’s going to go back to normal and that, you know, what they might’ve been used to as a student themselves or what they saw the role of a teacher being, or what schools look like that it, that it will return to that. But no one really knows the answer to that. I think we’re all hopeful that it will, but it’s so hard to say. So I think my biggest advice would be to just remember why you wanted to be in education in the first place and that no matter what circumstances you’re in, you can still accomplish those goals. So if you love your subject area and you’re so excited to impart that knowledge and understanding to other students, you can still do that. If you love connecting with youth, if you enjoy you know, helping them cultivate their gifts, supporting them through challenging times, connecting them to community partners, helping to expand their world, to see the possibilities that are there.

Lisa Galay (17:56):
You can do all of these things, even in these strange times, again, with a little bit of creativity and, and relying on those that have been here before, in the sense that you know, this, this well, again, new for all of us, you know, those who have a little bit more experienced in education will know that there have been different shifts and changes over time. It might’ve been different curriculum. It might’ve been different philosophies around education or, you know, assessment and evaluation. There’s so many different changes that happen. And this is a big change, no doubt. But again, I think if, if teachers stay centered in why they’re doing this there’s always a way to do it. And again, I don’t think it’s going to be quite like the way it is now forever. And so if we can just ride out the challenging times, we’re going to all come through it stronger and with some awesome ideas that we never would have had if this hadn’t happened, right. It’s one of the silver linings of this pandemic experience.

Sam Demma (18:55):
Yeah. Tony Robbins always says, it’s not about having resources. It’s about being resourceful with what you have, and you do a great example, exemplifying that with coming up with ideas, staying positive, looking at the good side of things and not the negative. And I think it’ll rub off on everyone listening. So I want to say, we said, thank you so much for coming on the show. If another educator is listening and wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around or Uber eats, or your favorite chocolate ice cream, how can they reach out to you to do so?

Lisa Galay (19:27):
They can absolutely reach out to me at my email address, galayl@hdsb.ca. That stands for the Halton district school board. I’d be happy to, to share ideas, share some ice cream, virtually whatever it might take. I I think anyone who’s been in education for, you know, 20 plus years, like I have, we remember the colleagues that made a difference when we were starting out and the ones that made a difference along the way, even when we hadn’t been starting out for awhile. And we always want to give back. So if I can help in any way, I’m, I’m definitely glad to do that.

Sam Demma (20:06):
Awesome. Thanks so much, Lisa.

Lisa Galay (20:08):
Thank you, Sam

Sam Demma (20:10):
And another interview in the books with yet again, a high performing educator, Lisa had so many ideas to share that blew my mind on our first phone call and on this podcast, if you enjoyed this and got something of value from it, please consider taking two seconds to leave a rating and review on the podcast. So more educators like you who want to hear these things can find this podcast and benefit from the conversations. And of course, if you are someone who has ideas or know somebody who has ideas, please reach out by emailing info@samdemma.com. So we can bring you or your friends and colleagues on the show to share those ideas and expand this network. I’ll talk to you soon. See you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lisa Galay

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.

Jana Fisher – Teacher and Student Council Advisor of the year in 2020

Jana Fisher Student Leadership
About Jana Fisher

Jana Fisher (@Fisher_Jana) is a teacher, mother, and student leadership advisor at Wynard Composite Secondary School. As a member of the Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors, she is always striving to provide her students with unforgettable experiences. In 2020, Jana was recognized as the student representative council (SRC) advisor of the year and was named by the Canadian Student Leadership Association, as the Leader of Distinction.

During the pandemic, Jana decided that student leadership was more important than ever. To take that belief and bring it to life, she partnered with Sam Demma to facilitate a virtual program for her leadership students.

Connect with Jana: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Jana reached out to me back in May after I shared a graduation video with her. And since then we have worked together. We did a seven-week virtual program together for her student leadership council. And she’s just an all round amazing mom, parent and educator. Jana is a teacher, a student leadership advisor at winery composite secondary school. As a member of the Saskatchewan association of school council advisors. She is always striving to provide her students with unforgettable experiences and during the pandemic, she decided that student leadership was more important now than ever. And to make that a reality, she partnered with myself to run a seven week virtual program for our leadership students. She has so much to offer and so much to share. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I’ll see you on the other side, Jana, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. I love the backdrop with the chemistry. Can you please share with the audience who you are, what work you do and why you do the work you do with youth today?

Jana Fisher (01:11):
Definitely. Thanks, Sam. I am from Wynyard, Saskatchewan. We’re a very small school of about 200 students. Grades seven to 12 and community is about 2000 people and I’m teach mostly senior science, but I also am the SRC advisor and I’ve been an SRC advisor. This is the third school that I’ve worked with with student leaders and why I do what I do the youth they’re our future. And if we don’t have somebody giving these students some guidance we’ve got fantastic students, but they do need some guidance from some adults about how to be effective leaders and how to be positive role models. And so I think that’s, that’s probably why I do what I do.

Sam Demma (02:00):
When did you know, in your journey towards education that you were going to be a teacher?

Jana Fisher (02:06):
I was bossy from about the time I was six years old. And so I think I just always knew I’ve got some teachers in my family, but I think that I would consider myself lucky because it’s really hard at for, for students to, to try and figure out what they are going to be when they grow up. Right. And so I was, I think I’m lucky, but I think I’m in the minority and I, I, I always consider myself lucky that I’ve known that I wanted to be a teacher. And then along the way I taught swimming lessons and that’s what told me that I wanted to teach older students and rather than be in the elementary school. Cause they’re cute. But I have more patience for older, older kids than I do for, for little kids.

Sam Demma (02:46):
You should also know Jana’s a mother. So that’s why our patients is running a little low these days. How, how are things going for you? I know every teacher and educator I speak to has a totally different experience right now with COVID. It’s like we’re all in the same lake, but in a different boat is through always says, do you know what is your experience? And do you have any hopeful stories to share with other educators about overcoming challenges or continuing to do things despite the current reality? I know you put on a killer grad last year. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit or any other story where you’ve overcoming COVID related obstacles?

Jana Fisher (03:27):
Right? Sure. So I think March 16th was one of the most frustrating days of our lives and not just frustrating, but unknown. And I think if we could go back to March 16th and live that day again, we would’ve all hugged each other and, you know, made some, had some closure with our classes, right. Because we were kind of left with, well, maybe we’ll be back in a couple of weeks or maybe this’ll be a short term and little did we know that, that we weren’t going to return back to school? So yeah, so being that there were definite challenges and, you know, as far as, as mental health goes, I would say my mental health is pretty strong, but some of those times through April, as we’re trying to, you know, encourage students to get online and, and to try and learn some chemistry it’s got to be a little bit frustrating, but talking about successes, I think first year, right, our grad was, it was a huge success.

Jana Fisher (04:22):
We had to figure out we had 34 graduates and we had to figure out how to celebrate those 34 graduate, say they needed some closure, they needed a way to, to end this chapter of their life. So one of the things that we did as a staff was we got together and we traveled in separate vehicles from one house to another. We showed up honking horns and, and playing loud music. And, and of course we’re all trying to social distance as we’re meeting with each of the graduating families at their house. And with those, with with the graduate will also with their families. And, you know, we had so many comments about that saying that that was far more personal than, you know, a student wash walking across the stage and that type of thing. So I think we had a, I was exhausted by the end of that day, just because every house we went to there were tears, but they were tears of joy and tears of gratitude.

Jana Fisher (05:17):
And thanks for, for making that a fantastic day, that could’ve just been, you know, it was June the 12th and could have just come and gone. And I know that certainly was a success we did then go ahead and plan a big ceremony as well, a more formal ceremony that we did in August. And that was just a little bit different of a celebration, but I would not June 12th day for us, that was a huge highlight in this sort of dooms time of COVID. Because by that time we’d had quite a few students check out of our, of our you know, our programs and that type of thing. So I think that was really important that, that we did that day. And, and we could put stars beside that day, cause we’ll always remember 2020, but we’ll always talk very positively about June 12th, 2020 in the, in the COVID times.

Sam Demma (06:05):
That’s awesome. And speaking about the fall as well, the grad was a huge success. I know the fall brought its own. I don’t want to say problems. It just brought some challenges that we had to creatively leap over and figure things out as anyone in the school, including yourself, done something a little different this year that you think is a sharing with another school. Maybe there’s some cool ideas that have been executed. And maybe you can say Sam, it’s a little too early to talk about that, but I’m curious to know.

Jana Fisher (06:36):
We’ve we basically were told that our SRC or our leadership team were not, we weren’t, we’re not allowed to go ahead. And so we thought, well, we’re not okay with that. So not that we’re going against what, you know, what the people above us are saying, but we decided how could we do this and still fit in with right ideas. So we, I mean, we’ve been having bi-weekly meetings, but then we did, we partnered in with a young motivational speaker, which is you. And, and it just, it’s funny how the times work out that, you know, you had reached out to us with sharing a graduation video and that’s kind of how we got connected. And then, you know, we really, we were appreciative of your, I think that’s probably where I came from was I was appreciative of your response saying, no problem.

Jana Fisher (07:20):
You saw, however you see fit and then looking more into you and your high-performance program and that type of thing. That has been a fantastic opportunity for our students keeping us together. We have a really strong leadership team, but it’s hard to continue being a strong leadership team when people are saying we can’t meet and we can’t plan activities and we can’t, and we can’t, and we can’t. So we just said, well, yes, we can. We just have to do it in a different way. So, you know, we’ve partnered up with you. We also are looking ahead to seeing the, what can we do? So Halloween’s coming up. We usually have a fantastic, you know, couple of hours or hour to two hours of things throughout the day. So we’ve decided we’ve got a committee. Our students are going to come together and make a Cahoot, which if you’re not familiar with that, it’s kind of a quiz, something they’re thinking about, you know, dressing up all the teachers in which costumes taking years have contests and saying, you know, which, which is which, and so students can guess, you know, who’s Mrs.

Jana Fisher (08:22):
Fisher, who’s Mr. Oates? That type of thing. So we are doing some virtual games and that type of thing, our administration’s really supportive and they, they know the importance of molding these students and teaching them leadership skills through these activities. We’re also in charge of remembrance day. So we’re thinking about having some of the veterans in town, getting some videos of them and then virtually showing that as part of our remembrance day ceremony. So we are going to have to put that together. We’ll do videos of students. We, we have some musical students. So in the past we’ve have had steps. We have had students sing songs of remembrance, recite poetry of remembrance, do those kinds of things. So we’re not going to stop doing those things. We have to, we have to recognize the importance of leadership recognize our veterans, recognize that we do still need to do all of this just in a different way,

Sam Demma (09:18):
Just connecting students right now and giving them a community makes such a big difference. And I know in your years of teaching, you’ve seen that difference firsthand. You’ve definitely had students reach out, write Mrs. Fisher letters and let you know how much of an impact you’ve had on them. I’m curious to know if you can think of a story that sticks out in your mind of a young person whose life has been touched by education, who had been touched by leadership. Maybe they were struggling with something outside of school and maybe just caring for them or doing small thing for them made a huge impact. And the reason I’m asking you to share this is because there might be an educator listening. Who’s thinking what is going on this year? They’re feeling burnt out. They’re, they’re lacking hope and your story could reignite that fire within them. And by all means change the name of the student for the sake of privacy for the story. But the more vulnerable, it isn’t honest, the more of an impact it will have on others.

Jana Fisher (10:18):
I know that that student leadership, we always there saying, okay, we, we want volunteers, right? We’re asking at the beginning of the year, who wants to be on SRC, put up your hand. If we have a certain number of students while we need to kind of have representatives from their particular classrooms. And so we get these room wraps and quite often, you know, it’s not us that are running, it sits, it’s different teachers that don’t necessarily totally understand leadership, right? So it might be a vote. Lots of times that’s a popularity thing. So what, we’ve, what we’ve decided that we need to do as students that we see that are sitting somewhere that are, you know, not involved. We think it’s important that we go to those students and we say, Hey, you know what? We have this really cool thing we meet once a week or twice a week, would you like to join us?

Jana Fisher (11:06):
And of course their answer, all, always this, you know, they’re struggling or, or it’s not for me. And, you know, if we can just get those students to come to one meeting, we quite often, we quite often will, you know, we’ll, we’ll save those, not save those students, but give them kind of a, a purpose and a, and a thing. Right? So in my opinion, every student needs a thing, right? We’ve got some kids have basketball, that’s their thing. Some kids have sports. That’s their thing. Some kids, you know, they have dance, that sort of thing. But if we have a student who doesn’t have a thing, I think as educators that said, this is a really good opportunity to just have them be involved with something within our school. So, you know, we do, I can think of a couple of students that, that are like that, but one in particular.

Jana Fisher (11:53):
And I think I won’t use the name, but one in particular, in grades, I partnered in with the grades sixes because they coming over from the other school. So we quite often have these kinds of conversations, you know, do we have a student who really doesn’t have a thing? So, so we kind of shoulder tap this, this one girl shy, you know, if you asked her to speak out in class, she would just wouldn’t do that. And so, you know, they said this girl, I think she needs a thing. They didn’t use that, that actual terminology. But that was my understanding. I talked to this girl and she just, she wasn’t going to do it. But I said, I said a few things about, you know, being a bound partner, it has to be part of a team, not necessarily a sports team. I’m a big sports person that my kids play lots of sports.

Jana Fisher (12:38):
I played lots, but being part of a bigger idea, I talked lots and this girl showed up in grade seven and she handed me this, this page. And here, it was a list of things that, that list of goals that she had and these goals that she had quite a few of them were things that I had said aloud to her. And I thought, wow, like if I had not talked to these grade six teachers and had this fading and said, you know, what could we, what could we do to make this work? What kind of students do you have with who should we do? You know, if we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t have gone ahead and had that kind of conversation she would have existed through she’s now in grade 11 she would have just existed through and gone out of high school, kind of as one of those students that you just don’t really know this, an unknown student that just try to blend, she tries to blend in. And I think that was a, that was a real success story. So that would be one example that comes to my mind.

Sam Demma (13:34):
That’s awesome. And how do we make students feel appreciated and heard and valued even when school is a little different, maybe things are virtual. Do you have any ideas?

Jana Fisher (13:47):
We have, we have some different ways that we communicate. We do have some chat groups on that kind of thing, and that’s extremely important to us right now because we can’t get together in a room. And when you can’t get together in a room, well, what happens is the grade 12 students take over right here. We let them, they’re going to be the bosses. They’re going to say remembrance day is going to be like this. And the Halloween is going to be like this, but so we’ve got these chat groups that we we meet with and it might be, you know, I might be at five o’clock at night. We started, we have, you know, we’re not doing this at midnight, please don’t send me a message at midnight. But, but I mean, we kind of have office hours and, and we say, Hey, let’s, let’s have these conversations today.

Jana Fisher (14:34):
We’re going to have these conversations, you know, sometime around five, or I’ll send a message at work to talk about this right now. I think that’s, that’s really important. There is a fine line there, right? Because we’re, we’re dealing with some communications through this, through social media. There’s few challenges. As far as parents go grade seven students, grade eight students, for example, maybe aren’t allowed to use that particular type of social media then that involves educating parents and talking about, you know, the idea that phones and technology like that is not going to go away. So we, our responsibility is to educate those students how to properly use those, right? Because parents come and say, well, we’ve heard these horror stories about how so-and-so took this picture and ends up cyber bullying and that type of thing. And we have to teach kids how to use this technology. And I, and that’s what works for us is we do, we do have an, and this is, we used to do that before, but now it’s, you know, it’s, it’s times a times a hundred of what we did, you know, say a year ago just because it’s the only way that we can actually have discussion.

Sam Demma (15:43):
That’s awesome. And I don’t know if you remember your first year in education, but there are, there are a bunch of teachers who are tuning in educators who maybe it’s their first year in school. If you could give advice to your younger self, not that much younger, you’re still very young, but if you could give advice to your younger self, when you started in your first year of education, imagine this was your first year. Like most teachers starting this year, I thinking, what the heck is this? I did not sign up for this job. What advice would you have to, to share with them?

Jana Fisher (16:21):
I, first of all would say, congratulations on being part of this awesome profession. It, it really is, you know, there’s lots of negativity that goes on, but I think the first thing that we need to know is that it really doesn’t get much worse than this. They’re there on top of all of the things that they ask us to teach, we now are also trying to, you know, sanitize and make sure kids are wearing them and make sure they’re staying six feet apart. And add-ons right. So, so one, the best advice that somebody ever said to me was, as long as you are continually saying, how could I have done that better? That means that you actually are caring and you’re thinking about, and you’re, and you’re going to grow. If it, if you say that’s as good as I can do, this is the best I can do.

Jana Fisher (17:08):
That it isn’t true. You, everything that you do, you can do better at, but you can’t beat yourself up over something that you would consider a failure. You’re going to have classes. I’ve been, this is my 24th year of teaching. I sometimes have classes at the end. I go, whoa. And what was, what was going on there? Do we, you know, do we need to reteach that? I, I’m not sure what happened there, but as long as in my head at 24, you know, my 24th year, I’m still saying, what can I do differently? What do I need to do now? We can’t beat ourselves up. We can’t back up. We don’t have a DeLorean to go back to the future. We just need to be okay with what we did, but what can we change and, and moving forward, but it won’t get any more challenging than this year.

Jana Fisher (17:51):
You’re if it’s if you’re in your first year, it’s challenge, it’s the most challenging year you can possibly have to start with. And now we’ve, we’ve multiplied that by 10. So survived through this year B be an hour or two ahead of the kids, right? Don’t run out of material. So if you’re teaching something, make sure you’ve got an hour more than you actually think that you need. And then you live from one day to the next. And in soon enough, it’ll be, you’ll be 23 years into this. And you’ll say, how the heck did that happen?

Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s awesome, Jana, this has been a really fun interview. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out and share some cool ideas and talk to you, what’s the best way for them to do so.

Jana Fisher (18:32):
The best way to start off would be just to email me that’s how that’s, where we can start out. And then we can decide if we want to, you know, do a zoom call or something like that. But my email is jana.fisher@horizonsd.ca

Sam Demma (18:53):
Awesome. Perfect. Thank you so much for taking some time to record this interview with me. It’s been a pleasure and I can’t wait to stay in touch, continue the sessions we’re doing and see what other unique things you come up with during the year. Right.

Jana Fisher (19:05):
Great. Okay. Thank you so much.

Sam Demma (19:07):
And just like that, another interview on the high-performing educator podcast is complete. If you took something of value away from this conversation with Jana and myself, please leave a rating and review so that other educators just like you can find this podcast benefit from the ideas and feel motivated by the inspiring stories. And if you are somebody who has something to share, or, you know, somebody who has some inspiration and ideas to share, please email is info@samdemma.com. Should we can get your story and get you on the podcast and how hopefully connected with other educators around the world. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jana Fisher

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.

Agi Mete – Coach, Program Chair of Social Sciences, and Teacher at Notre Dame College School

Agi Mete - Teacher Niagara Catholic District School Board
About Agi Mete

Agi Mete is the Program Chair of Social Sciences and Teacher at Notre Dame College School in Welland, with the Niagara Catholic District School Board. A teacher of over 30 years, Agi has been teaching both the grade 11 & grade 12 law curriculum since he began his teaching career.

His classes over the years have participated in the OBA Mock Trial tournament as well as the OJEN Charter Challenge which his students have won several times. His co-curricular involvement at his school includes being the Teacher Advisor for the Students’ Council as well as the Head Coach for multiple athletic teams.

Connect with Agi: Email

Listen Now

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

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Agi and I met back in May after I sent him the dear class of 2020 graduation video for all the students who were missing their graduation celebration. He really enjoyed the video and shared it with his graduating class. And we have become great friends ever since. And then in August, I think on August 15th, he was one of the first teachers who reached out to me about doing a welcome keynote speech for all the grade nines. I was supposed to travel to Niagara and do five talks, but due to COVID things got cancelled. Instead, we settled on a three-minute video, which was shared with all of his students, but aside from our personal relationship, after hearing the wisdom he had to share, I thought it would be very valuable for me to bring him on the show and share a piece of it with you here today. Agi is somebody who has been teaching for over 30 years.

Sam Demma (01:03):
He was the program chair of social sciences at Notre Dame college school in Welland with the Niagara Catholic district school board. And he has been teaching both grade 11 and grade 12 law curriculum since he began his teaching career. His classes over the years have participated at the OBA mock trial tournament, as well as the old J E N charter challenge where his students have won several times. And his co-curricular involvement at his school includes being the teacher advisor for student council and student leadership, as well as the head coach for multiple athletic teams. He has won the advisor of the year from the Canadian student leadership association. He’s a father has a beautiful family and a lot to offer. So with that being said, let’s jump into that episode. Auggie, thank you so much for coming onto the high performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. I know we connected way back at the start of the school year when things were a little bit in flux, things are starting to settle down. Now, do you mind sharing with the audience who you are and why you do the work you’ve done with young people over the past few decades?

Agi Mete (02:11):
Okay. Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for having me, Sam. Thanks for doing this. And I appreciate being on with you today. So yeah, my name is Agi mate. I teach presently I’m at Notre Dame college school high school, about 1200 students in Welland, Ontario. We’re a part of the Niagara Catholic district school board. Pretty exciting school to be at. I graduated from here 1985. It’s now 2020. So that was a long time ago. This is year 32 for me in my teaching career. And half of it was spent here in Notre Dame and half at another school lecture, Catholic high school, which is not far from here. So I’ve had a pretty fantastic career all in a school board and a community that I know really well. And you know, my involvement with students has been co-curricular. I mean, I teach, I teach social sciences, I’m the program chair of social sciences here at the school, which is I teach law and economics and civics. And, but predominantly my involvement has been with co-curricular coaching, basketball, coaching lacrosse, predominantly and students council and student leadership, right from day one. When I started my career.

Sam Demma (03:25):
W what got you into teaching? Was there a moment you knew one day when I’m a little older I’m going to teach, was there a person who pushed you into it? How did you get into teaching?

Agi Mete (03:37):
Yeah, I mean, I love that question because it really speaks to, you know, what, you know, teachers like myself, there’s so many of us try to do with when we’re in the classroom is that we try to connect with the kids. And the reality is that, you know my high school experience was fantastic. And there were teachers who connected with me. I was in students council here at the school. So, you know, my student moderator who I know very well and is still not teaching of course, but retired teacher was a great motivator, my basketball coach, great motivator. These are all just people who, you know, what was clear to me is that the classroom experience was one thing, but the other classroom experience was something else. And I, I wouldn’t, I would not be the person I am. I don’t think a lot of teachers would be the kinds of people they are, if it wasn’t for the impact, someone who went above and beyond the classroom had on them. And so I, I always felt that that was something I could see myself doing. And by the end of my university career, I thought this is teaching is where I wanted to be. And you know, it would be fantastic to be able to give back, given that I had gained, gained so much during my experience.

Sam Demma (04:56):
What, what did those teachers in your life, when you were a student do for you that really impacted your own life? Is it that they cared? Did they tap you on the shoulder? If we were to try and boil this down to some actions and principles that they had so that other teachers can do the exact same thing, what would you, what would you share might be the most impactful?

Agi Mete (05:18):
You know what I, I think it’s under underestimated is that you know, like what makes a minute a winning? Like if we pick a sport, what makes a winning team? And some people say, well, you’ve got the best athletes. And I don’t agree with that. I think what, what you, you know, you can certainly win with great athletes, but what you, what you get the most out of athletes or student leaders, or the band that you work with is when they realize that you are just as committed as them and goal, whatever that is. So, you know, there are people who do co-curriculars and they do them, and that’s great. They’re giving up their time, but kids pick up pretty quickly. If the person is a hundred percent committed or not. And I think to me, it was my experiences. Weren’t just co-curricular, they were being around someone who was working just as hard and want it to be just as successful, whether we won or lost.

Agi Mete (06:13):
It didn’t matter. They never gave up on us. And they gave us a hundred percent every single time. So to me, it was the, they took it serious. And that had a lasting effect because it, wasn’t just putting your name on a list and saying, I’ll volunteer for this. It was, I’m going to volunteer for volunteer for this, and you’re you, you’re going to have me 100%. And I felt that they were they were empathetic. I thought they were committed and I thought they were in it for the right reasons. And I think that’s the impact. So I think kids are very perceptive of that in a classroom setting on a, on a football field. They know that you’re in it a hundred percent. If you show up late or you’re, you know, you’re not prepared or you’re just kind of doing it for the sake of doing it, it’s pretty obvious to me, pretty obvious to me. Yeah.

Sam Demma (07:02):
You are one of the only educators back in September that was trying to do in person socially distanced speeches for your school. It’s evident that you’re someone who was very serious about showing kids the best experience they could have starting high school. I’m curious to know how do we be serious about those activities, co-curriculars sports during a pandemic? You know, how can we still express that appreciation and try and give students opportunities despite the challenges?

Agi Mete (07:30):
Yeah, that’s, that’s a difficult one. So, you know, I reached out to you in August and said, you know, we still want to run a grade nine day. We want to bring kids in. I had invited you to come be our keynote speaker and we were going to make it work. And then, you know, logistics and protocol got in the way. And we had to come up with plan B and I think it was a really good plan B for me. And I’m trying to get my head around right now, how I want to continue to do that. And that was, I asked you, you know, could you put together a, like a nugget of information or a, a great message that we can then put in video form and then share with students through social media and through our email and through our web portals, that we’re all using to connect with kids.

Agi Mete (08:14):
And we got great feedback from the, you know, the message you sent for us. So I’m just right now trying to get my head around. I just, I’m, we’re finishing our first, we’re in a different we’re, we’re going one course at a time here at Notre Dame, which means I just had grade 12 for you law for, you know, 22 straight days. So tomorrow’s our last day. So I, haven’t had a lot of time to kinda to kind of get my head around this, but what I want to do is tap into a lot of speakers that I can and say again, can you come up with a, you know, a, a message that we can then grab, and then somehow filter it down to the kids in our, in our classroom setting and sort of a homeroom setting and say, here’s the message.

Agi Mete (08:56):
Here’s some questions to think about. Can you sort of use that as a tool? So I think we’re still gonna try to do it. The sports is is challenging. I’ve reached out to people in my building saying, can I still run practices and workouts after school? And we’ve sort of been told everything’s on hold and it’s hard. And it’s, and that’s frustrating because in the community setting, there are organizations running stuff, and the school protocol is putting a little bit of a, a stoppage on that. And the reason is probably because we can’t, we’re not in the same position to clean and maintain the facility is probably we should. And I get it. So I’m hoping that now that we’re into like a month or so of this, that now we’re, we’re getting better at it from a school board perspective that we can maybe start to open up some of our facilities because we have great facilities if we can open them up.

Agi Mete (09:50):
So I’m not giving up on any of that. I’m just sort of trying to sort of, I think there’s a maneuvering that has to happen and I’m trying to do the best I can to do that. So I’m confident we’re going to at least get the motivational piece out to kids and, you know, I’ll be tapping people like yourself and some other great speakers on the shoulder and saying, can you come up with some thing for me? And and I know anytime I ask people to do that, they’re always on board to say yes. So that’s the plan right now. Anyway.

Sam Demma (10:21):
Cool. And extracurriculars, just giving kids opportunities to get involved makes a huge impact as I’m sure it did for you. When you were a student over the past 32 years, you’ve been teaching 12 years longer than I’ve been alive. You’re a veteran. You you’ve been doing this for a long time, so much wisdom to share. I’m sure you’ve had dozens of students write you letters, reach out, you know, tell you how much of an impact you had on their life or their journey. Maybe some of them even teach now besides you, you know, coming full circle. Can you think of any story that you think would inspire an educator to remember why this work is so important about the impact we can have? And you can, you can change the name of the student for privacy reasons if you’d like, if it’s a very serious story. And yeah, anything that does anything come to mind?

Agi Mete (11:09):
You know I, I, I, I’m not sure there’s going to be like this. There’s a lot of all stories that are on the same level and those, those levels are that. I mean, to me I take great pride in knowing where, you know, how, what we did here in this building has had impact on students. But I like relationships afterwards. I mean, I judge, I really kind of think of, you know, what’s my relationship with some of these students. I, I kind of look at the number five years in 10 years down the road, and they’re hundreds of kids that I still stay in contact with. And to me that means a lot because they have to say go to the way to say anything special. I think the idea that I’m still part of their life is probably where I say the impact has been long lasting.

Agi Mete (12:05):
And, you know, there’s all a lot of short term impacts kids asking for references kids asking for jobs or for schools, students who say, Hey you know, I pursued this career because of a conversation we had, or I remember when we did this and that sort of been very beneficial, but to me, it’s it’s that somehow we’re still connecting five and 10 years and 20 years down the road. There’s a lot of students now that I tell them the tables have turned. Now I tap them on the shoulder. I got students who I say, you’re, you know, you, you’re, you’re going to come into my class and guest speak, or we need a donation for this. And you work at this company now, or we need some money because we’re needing to fundraise for this. So I’m not afraid to turn the tables very quickly and say, Hey, we were good to you.

Agi Mete (12:54):
You know, we know each other and I know you loved the, the experience you had. Can you help us out? And I think those, you know, when the answer is, yes, that makes me feel great. Cause I think kids are those, those kinds of students say, yeah, I’m ready to give back. All you had to do was ask. And so that’s how kind of, I mean, get invited to a number of weddings, which are pretty exciting and that’s a lot of fun. People invite you out socially. There’s a lot of good people that still, you know, we get together with these are students and these are former teachers. And I think those are, those are, those are priceless. Those are moments that I say, you know, this is why we’re in it for it’s a, the, the, the, the total experience package of having connected with kids short-term and long-term.

Sam Demma (13:45):
And if you could travel back in time to year one in teaching, like the first year you taught and give your younger self advice about education, about teaching, about life, what would you say to yourself? Because some, some educators, this is their first year in education and they’re scrambling. They’re not sure what to do. There’s a lack of hope. What advice could you share with them?

Agi Mete (14:11):
Yeah, I well, the first advice I would say is don’t say no when an opportunity that’s new and maybe a little bit that you’re not, you know, you don’t feel comfortable with is presented to you because there’s this feeling that, you know well, I’m, I’m teaching, but I don’t want to take on too much. I got to get myself comfortable, find my way. And I, I, I don’t, that didn’t work for me. This didn’t work for a lot of people who you know, who came through me and a lot of the educators, I know that I’m friends with who are really involved. I think they, you know, there’s this tendency to say, I’ll involved. I’ll do more. I’ll do connect with kids in a different way next year, right now, I just want to get comfortable. But what happens is that comfortable, that comfortableness creates a complacency.

Agi Mete (15:03):
And I find that, you know, my piece of advice is someone said to me, Hey, you’re gonna, you know, this, this is a true story. My principal, who my first parents for me passed away this summer. And it was a funeral that was very sad, but it was a celebration of some great people who were, who were there, who all had the same story. I’m glad he tapped me on the shoulder and told me to do something that I was sort of uncomfortable with because I had to persevere. I had to be resilient. I had to sort of manage a busy work of teaching and co-curricular all at once. And that made me stronger and that sort of laid a foundation and a path that I carried my rest of my career. So the advice for young people would be take on some responsibilities in your building that are outside your classroom, that might force you it to be uncomfortable, but yet you can kind of figure a way to get through.

Agi Mete (16:01):
I don’t know if I would change anything in my, in my, my career, Sam, I don’t mean that in a, in a way that’s, you know, just trying to be, you know, too cocky about what happened to me. I, I think I was, I was young. I was you know, a little naive. I was, but I was energetic and I had the right people point me in the right direction. And I felt safe. I felt there was always going to be someone to sort of give me some support. I had great administrators. I had great colleagues. The senior teachers were always looking out for young people, young teachers. And it was an incredible, you know, first few years of my career, I wouldn’t change that. But I would say that I’m, I’m glad people put me, asked me to do things that were new and foreign to me because that sort of laid the foundation for where I am today. No question,

Sam Demma (16:56):
Don’t say no, and get your hands dirty. That’s the main theme there, you know, go out there.

Agi Mete (17:03):
And I use that with kids. I tell kids, I said, do something that’s uncomfortable. Right. You know as long as it’s safe, it’s not high risk do it. Right. And I think kids surprise you still when we asked students those things. I’m, I think they, they, they ended up surprising us in a positive way.

Sam Demma (17:20):
I love that. That’s awesome. I like it Agi. Thank you so much for taking some time to chat on the podcast with me today. Lots of nuggets to share and words of wisdom for other educators. If, if anyone wants to reach out to you to have a conversation or bounce some ideas around, what’s the best way for them to do so.

Agi Mete (17:38):
Yeah. So my email would be the best way. And the school board email is agi.mete@ncdsb.com which stands for Niagara Catholic district school board. So that’s my work email and I monitor it all the time. And that would be the, probably the easiest way. Feel free to call the school if that easier they can connect me 905-788-3060, which is the number or Notre Dame college school. And I’d be happy to chat. I share any input or I’ve, you know, I’ve never been afraid to ask for help. And and I’d be excited to help anyone who needs it as well.

Sam Demma (18:20):
Awesome. Thank you so much. And I look forward to hopefully seeing you sometime in the near future in person.

Agi Mete (18:26):
Yeah. Thanks again for having me Sam. Really appreciate it. We’ll talk soon.

Sam Demma (18:30):
Perfect. There you have it. A full interview with Agi Mete. He is someone who has so much to offer so much to give, and I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you found it valuable, make sure you tell your colleagues in education to tune in. And if you want to come on the show, please shoot me an email info@samdemma.com and we’ll share your ideas and your inspiration with an audience full of educators. So you can have better conversations, meet like-minded people and share some of your amazing work. I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Agi Mete

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.

Michael Consul – TCDSB Student Leadership Coordinator & 7 Habits Trainer

Michael Consul student leadership
About Michael Consul

Micheal (@MikeCLeadership) is a DJ, Fisherman, Father, TCDSB Teacher, Student Leadership Facilitator, 7 Habits Trainer, and was the OECTA Teacher of the Year back in 2016. His energy is infectious, and his passion to help students become the best version of themselves is obvious.

In this episode, we talk about the 7 habits of highly effective teens, and how they relate to creating students that have a positive impact on society. When Michael isn’t in the classroom, you can find him on the TV show, CFN Fish-Off.

Connect with Michael: Email | Twitter | Linkedin | Instagram | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Workshop)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (Book)

Catholic Student Leadership (Website)

I-Lite Student Leadership Conference

Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw

CFN Fish-Off (Tv Show)

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. Michael Consul. Our guest today is not only a veteran teacher and educator, but also a professional fisherman. He’s a DJ, a father, a Toronto Catholic district school board teacher, a student leadership facilitator, a seven habits trainer, and was the OECTA teacher of the year, Back in 2016. His energy is infectious and his passion to help students become the best version of themselves is evident and obvious. In this episode, we talk about the seven habits of highly effective teens and how they relate to creating students that can have a positive impact on society. And as I mentioned, when Mike isn’t in the classroom, you can find him on his own TV show and fundraiser called the CFN fish off. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did having it talk soon. Michael, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Can you tell the audience who you are, why you do the work you do with youth and what initially got you involved in it? Wow.

Michael Consul (01:09):
That is three big questions right there. Thanks for having me, Sam.

Sam Demma (01:15):
It’s going to be a great conversation.

Michael Consul (01:17):
So my name is Michael Consul. I work at the Toronto Catholic district school board, and I have the awesome job of facilitating, organizing, and putting together anything to do with Catholic student leadership. We will say, what does that mean? Well, basically, no I’m of the frame of mind that everyone has the potential to be a leader and you’re not born a leader like you grow into leadership. And so whether it’s conferences, overnight camps service trips, abroad PD for teachers workshops for kids, how can we develop something so that our students can reach their fullest leadership potential, find that leader within them? What skills do they have already? And how can we develop those skills and give them more skills so that they can reach their leadership potential? Hmm.

Sam Demma (02:11):
I love that. And what got you into this work? It’s a very specific calling. I would say you could have been just the teacher. Not that that’s any less of a job. There’s so many roles in a school. What directed you specifically to leadership?

Michael Consul (02:29):
Wow. When I look back, I have no idea how I got here, but I love that I’m here. They have the best job in the world. And I do because I, I get to work with amazing students and amazing teachers to try to find that leadership potential in every single one of our students and, and in their teachers. I started out at my old high school and that’s same mother Teresa in Scarborough. And that’s where I started to teaching. I left McGill university with two teachables religion and phys ed. And so those were the subjects that I taught. But while I was in high school, I was also a part of student council in my last year. When we back in the days when we had always see brief your team. So, you know, when I went back to mother Teresa, I said, Hey, who’s the student council moderator.

Michael Consul (03:22):
I would love to be that person because I know my student council monitor moderator, Mr. O’hara. He had such a positive impact in my life, and I want it to be that positive impact on the current student council. And they said, you know what, perfect timing. No one’s running student council. If you want to take it, it’s all yours. And I love that opportunity. And I love that challenge. And through student council, you know, that’s all about putting students in positions of leadership. And from there we developed a leadership course within, within the curriculum and within the day. So now not only did I have my student council like meeting at lunch and meeting after school, but I had a group of 30 leaders meeting me every day, second period. And we, we talked about leadership. We tried to find roles for them within the school.

Michael Consul (04:13):
We learned about the seven habits of highly effective people. And we did outreach to elementary schools. And so throughout this process, people started to say, wow, that that program you did is amazing, or that outreach you did to the grade seven sevens and eights. That’s awesome. I got a phone call from the school board saying, you know, all that we could stop that you’re doing in Scarborough in terms of student leadership, how would you like to come to the board level and not just serve those that pocket in Scarborough, which is the Malvern community, but what if you do leadership throughout the T CDSB and, you know, expand the awesome work that you’re doing in Scarborough. So that’s how I got to the position I’m in now where my whole job is treading, trying to create opportunities for kids to find that leadership potential within them.

Sam Demma (05:10):
Awesome. And you mentioned the seven habits. I know you’re also a facilitator of them. I’m curious to know what, which of the seven habits do you think is the most important during a time like COVID and why?

Michael Consul (05:23):
Oh, wow. I know for myself, sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and I’ll be like, I really need to practice that habit right now. But then there’s other times in my life where I’m really good at that habit. And I need to focus on a different habit. So if we’re talking about these unique pandemic times, what habit, no really stands out that we should really focus on. That is interesting. That is interesting. You know, habit number one is, is be proactive and that’s basically one, don’t be reactive and to take initiative rather than waiting for things to happen. So is that what we need to do during this pandemic and, you know, be less reactive and take initiative. I don’t know, having number two is begin with the end in mind and basically that’s the habit of goal setting. So that’s definitely a habit that, you know, where do we want to be as, as society or as, you know, as a city or as a country come, come may.

Michael Consul (06:28):
So have a number two is important. Having number three is put first things first, which is the habit of time management. So what are the most important things we need to be doing right now versus instead of wasting time on other things. So those three habits are so important and they called those three habits to private victory because you can practice those habits all by yourself. If you’re on a loan on a stranded island, you can practice those three habits. And that brings us to habit number four, which is think when women. Yeah. And that might be the most important in this pandemic because we need to think when we need to think win-win, how are we going to serve our students in school? How are we going to make sure our economy is running? How are we going to, how are you going to serve those who are greatly affected by the pandemic?

Michael Consul (07:20):
Like the elderly or those with existing problems. So thinking win-win is definitely a philosophy that we need to, we need to look at when we’re trying to solve this pandemic crisis. Habit. Number five is seek first to understand then to be understood is the habit of listening. So getting all the information first, before forming your own opinion and then creating a solution based upon all those pieces of information would definitely be important during this time have a number six is synergize, and that’s basically the habit of cooperation. So I can do a lot by myself. But if I have a team around me and we’re synergizing and using each other’s gifts and talents, then that’s what synergy is all about. And I know the only way we’re going to beat this pandemic is if we synergize, you know, whether it’s the government plus the school board, plus the public plus all the other players.

Michael Consul (08:21):
If we work together, then we will definitely come out of this faster than if we work in silos. And then a number seven is sharpen the saw. So taking care of your heart, mind, body, and soul so that you can better practice the other six habits. And I know having number seven is the one I struggled with because I’ll burn both ends of the candle and realize like today here I haven’t ate nothing. And I have this in my bag, it’s a cookie. So I have to be not just a good teacher, but I have to be good to myself in terms of whether it’s praying, eating well, exercising. So having number seven to sharpen the saw, which people often often forget, because unless you take care of yourself, then you won’t be good at the other six habits. So I’m not sure if that answers your question.

Michael Consul (09:12):
I kind of gave you a preview of all seven habits. But yeah, they’re definitely all important. And I know when I took the course and became a facilitator, made me a better parent, made me a better son, made me a better partner, made me a better person. So for those listening that have not read or heard of the seven habits, it’s definitely definitely a book that you should read or maybe listen to the audio book. There’s two versions. There’s the teen version w and that’s the textbook that I use when I teach my leadership class seven habits of highly effective teams. And then the original version, which is seven habits of highly effective people, exact same habits, exact same titles for each habit is just the stories. And the way the authors write it is, is a little bit different ones geared to older people. One’s geared to teenagers. But both amazing. Stephen Covey develop the habits, the late Stephen Covey and his son, Sean Covey said, dad, you know, those habits that you teach in the corporate world, or those habits you teach adults, teenagers should learn those habits too. So he took the book, took the same habits and then rewrote it. So that it’d be easier for teenagers to follow.

Sam Demma (10:33):
He was being proactive.

Michael Consul (10:36):
He was, I wish I learned the seven habits when I was in high school. Oh man. Yeah. It would’ve been a world of a difference.

Sam Demma (10:44):
How do you think as educators, we live out, especially the first habit of being proactive in a time like COVID, especially for principals, for student activity, advisors and directors like yourself, where it’s tough to put on events or it’s a little, I don’t want to say challenging, but it’s a little bit different. How do we still exercise that first habit? Have you maybe made some mistakes that you learned from, or through some spaghetti against the wall that stuck, that you think is worth sharing?

Michael Consul (11:14):
If you asked my girlfriend, I always tell her that I don’t make mistakes and I’m always right. But that is really not true because she’s the one who’s always right. So yeah, being proactive is key. And that’s really, you know, if you’re going to run an event or if you’re going to have students in your building, or if you’re going to run this extracurricular activity, like think of all the different scenarios. So that rather than being reactive and putting a band-aid and dealing with it, when it comes up, you’re being proactive. So that issue doesn’t even doesn’t even arise. So whether that’s making sure if we’re bringing students into this building, let’s make sure that they’re physically distance. Is there hand sanitizer or are we disinfecting surfaces? Is it too tempting for them to socialize if we do this activity? So all those things you kind of have to, you know, troubleshoot before it even becomes something to troubleshoot. And that’s, that’s really what being proactive is about.

Sam Demma (12:21):
You told me about a software before we began the podcast that might be useful for other educators who are thinking about doing virtual events. Do you want to share a little bit about it and your own experience using it?

Michael Consul (12:31):
Yeah. We’ve been using software called stream yard and it’s free. There is a free account, and then you could also purchase a license for a, you know, for the higher level of that an account, but the free account is awesome because you can do so powerful. And it’s basically a software that we’ve been using because now I can’t run those conferences with 500 people, or I can’t run those monthly leadership meetings with 200 people, however I could run it virtually. So streaming mode is a software is a platform that allows you to broadcast a live stream and we broadcast it to YouTube live and you can also broadcast it to Facebook. So it’s your choice, or you can broadcast to both at the same time. And so similar to what we’re doing here, where, you know, I’d be speaking to the camera and I can have an audience of however big I want, because it’s basically a YouTube live link that the participants click onto.

Michael Consul (13:31):
And I think our highest was over 2000 students watching at the same time. So there’s no, you know, there’s no limit on the amount of viewers and there’s also some interaction involved because there is a chat box feature on YouTube live or through stream yard where I can ask a question and say, okay, how many people here? And then the question can be anywhere. And then the chat box will just blow up. Or I could use online tools and say, everyone in the chat box, I am going to put this link, click that link, and now bring you to this website, or I want you to fill out a poll. And in that poll, I can ask whatever I want, but streamlined is a great, great tool because it allows me to have a guest, like, let’s say I’ll have you as a guest and me, and you can be on the screen together.

Michael Consul (14:21):
I’ve had a panel and you can have nine people on the screen all at the same time. And so, you know, I could be hosting the panel and post questions to different members of the panel. So powerful tool. I could show my slideshow at the same time, I can embed a video. I can put up banners or a ticker tape at the bottom. So it’s free. So easy to use. It’s I mentioned before, it’s kind of like an iPhone. It’s very intuitive. Even. You’ve never used it before. If you jump onto the first time, it’s like, so I click this. That happens, oh, that’s easy. Like it happens the way that you want it to happen, which makes it, which makes it easy in it. And it’s free. So it’s an alternative to zoom. It’s a, you know, alternative to Google meets and it’s most powerful if it’s an, if it’s an a, you know, a webinar capacity. So if I’m meeting with 20 students, I wouldn’t use it because I could meet 20 students and on zoom and I could see all 20 at the same time, but if I’m meeting 200 students, I can have 200 little zoom icons. And so streamline allows me to have a larger audience and still be able to interact at the same time

Sam Demma (15:44):
That I think it’s important to share because educators are looking for ways to continue doing events. And there’s someone who was proactive and who’s figured some things out that I thought were valuable to share those experiences, the classic camps, you usually run camp Olympia, your conferences, they change young people’s lives. And I’m sure over the years, you’ve had students reach out to you. Maybe even after they graduated and wrote you letters telling you how big of an impact it had. Maybe some of them are now good friends that you stay in touch with. I’m curious to know if there’s any story that sticks out in your mind about how leadership changed a young person’s life, and you can change their name for the purpose of the story. If it’s a very serious one. And I want you to know, the reason I’m asking is because an educator might be listening and is a little burnt out right now. And I think it’s these stories of transformation through education that reminds educators, why it’s so important, the work that they continue to do.

Michael Consul (16:39):
Yeah, it is. It is important that we do, you know, I might be biased, but I think a teacher’s job is the most important one in the entire world. You know, you might be a doctor or a lawyer or a carpenter or, or, you know, a broadcaster or a utuber, but at some point there’s a teacher in your life that taught you what you needed to know. So without that teacher, where would you be? So I definitely think the teaching profession is definitely the most important profession you could ever enter. And I see like planting seeds because I never know what I say or what I do or what experience I create or what opportunity. And I’m able to make for a student, how that seed is going to grow. And sometimes it’s immediate sometimes next semester because of the cause they went to this camp or because I went to this conference or because they wanted this meeting next semester, it changed person, or it might be five years down the road where the student comes back and says, I never realized is that, that particular speaker that I heard at that conference made such a impact in my life.

Michael Consul (17:53):
So you never know, you never know how big that tree is going to come from that tiny, tiny seed. I remember I was speaking to, I went to a gradient graduation and the valedictorian had a speech. And in her speech, she talked about a guest speaker that we had at our Eyelight conference. And I told this, I told the guest speaker, Hey, I went to this graduation and they S they were talking about you. They were talking about you. And, and the speaker, his name is Andrew. Andrew’s like what, who? And I described the grower. And he goes, oh, I think I remember who it was, but she sat in the back corner and she didn’t say nothing. And now she’s the valedictorian of her grade eight class. And she’s in, I was like, here’s the speech? I got a copy. And she had like three different quotes that he said within that one hour.

Michael Consul (18:50):
And she’s, he’s never met this girl before. And they only had that one hour together at this one conference. And she’s quoting him saying this piece of information has allowed me to X, Y, and Z. And so we never know what we see or what we do, or how much impact our words can have on a particular student. And there’s so many stories. I have tons of reference letters that I’m writing for. Cause cause now, because of whatever influence I’ve had or whatever, you know, whatever experience they had with me now, they want to be teachers and they want to, you know, they want to pay it forward and they want to also be that influence on other people. So I have a ton of students that want to be teachers. I have a bunch of students that said that camp that I went to, oh my gosh, it changed my life.

Michael Consul (19:47):
You know, it sounds cliche and stuff, but I you’re. Right. It’s true. And I never realized how impactful these things are until people come back and, and tell me, there’s I had the best job in the world because not only do I have fun doing it, but it’s extremely rewarding. When a student comes back and says, Hey, I’ve, I’ve entered the police foundations. And the reason why I did so is because when we went to smile camp, you had five police officers there. And they were such a role model to me. And I, it made me want to become a police officer, or I take kids overseas to do work in the Philippines where we, we build houses with, with the poor. And we work in the orphanage and we do a clean community cleanup, but then I’ll get, you know, I’ll get pictures sent to me the year after. And student says, Hey, I went back to the village that we, that we went to or where we were building with the people. And they, they show me all the donations that they’ve accumulated throughout the year. And they went back to themselves to bring it back to the community. So stuff like that is like, it makes you smile and it is super heartwarming.

Sam Demma (21:04):
That’s awesome. That’s so true. And I wanted to ask, because, you know, an educator might be listening and it might be their first year in education. And they’re thinking, what the heck is going on in this, in this world right now, this is not what I was prepared for. And I want you to think back for a minute, to your first year of teaching and with all the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years. Now, what advice would you give yourself looking back? Because there are some educators that might be listening who are just getting into this profession and are a little bit flustered and not sure what to do, how to manage themselves. And what’s going on.

Michael Consul (21:41):
When I look back, wow, I thought I knew everything. I know way more now than I did back then. One, be yourself, be yourself. You know, everyone has their own strengths. You might be a funny person, used your funny personality. You might be super organized. Use your ability to, you know, be super organized be yourself too, is you gotta get involved outside the classroom in terms of extra extracurricular activities. You can bond a lot with students in the classroom, for sure. But the level of relationship bonding that you can have with a student, you know, on the soccer field, like I know you’re telling me stories of your coaches or in the student council room or at camp, because you’ve decided to become, you know, a chaperone for the grade nine orientation or sitting on the bus three hour drive to camp Olympia, like that level of conversation.

Michael Consul (22:47):
And that level of relationship building can’t happen if you’re only in the classroom, so definitely get involved. And when you have those students that you’ve bonded with in those extracurricular activities, now they’re in your classroom. Those are your biggest allies. Those are the ones that are taking initiative. Those are the ones that are telling everyone else to be focused. Those are the ones that, you know, help run the class with you. So yeah, definitely be yourself, get involved and then number three, and I’m still bad at doing it. And I started teaching in 1999 and it’s, it’s 2020 right now. You gotta take care of yourself. You gotta take care of yourself. Whether that means, you know, a couple evenings or one evening, a week, spend time with your partner and close your phone, close your laptop, no email, no marketing, and just have quality time with your family or the people that you love.

Michael Consul (23:54):
Whether it’s saying no, because as a new teacher, you’re going to always have principals and administrators and other teachers say, Hey, you want to be part of this program. Hey, can you do this? You know, you are allowed to say no. And I know you want to make a huge impression, especially if you don’t have a permanent contract yet, but say yes to everything, but you also have to say yes to yourself. So if you’re finding your way too busy, and now you have to drop going to the gym, you might have to realize, you know, figure a way out that you could still go to the gym. Don’t drop that exercise part of your life. Or if you’re finding, because you’re doing all this stuff, now you’re skipping breakfast. You gotta either say no, or find a way so that you’re not hurting yourself. And I guess that happened. Number seven, sharpen the saw, and you can’t be an effective educator unless you sharpen the saw because eventually if you keep, like if you never stopped to fill up for gas, you’re going to end up empty. So from time to time, you have to fill up that gas. Awesome.

Sam Demma (25:06):
I love that. Mike, this has been an amazing conversation. If there are educators listening who want to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around here about the conferences you’re running, maybe even get involved in some of the virtual stuff you’re doing. What’s the best way for them to reach you.

Michael Consul (25:22):
A couple of ways. You can send me an email and my email is Michael dot Consul@tcdsb.org. So that’s Michael dot Consul, C O N S U L at T CDSB, which is Toronto Catholic district school board that org, or you can check out our website, it’s Catholic student leadership.com. So every time we have a new conference, a new camp or new PD opportunity, we always posted on the website and that’s Catholic student leadership.com. Or if you look up Michael Consul on Facebook, not on Facebook, on YouTube, we’ve got Michael Costa on YouTube, our live stream. So, you know, we have different, we have different live stream events, student leadership meetings, guest speakers, it’s all on my YouTube channel, which is Michael Consul. And on there, you also see, you know, footage from different events prior to COVID, you’ll see footage there from our service trips to the Philippines, you’ll see footage there from camp Olympia.

Michael Consul (26:24):
So there’s a whole bunch of stuff that you’ll see there as well. If you YouTube Michael Consul, there’s two things there to come up. They’re giving you my teaching career and my fishing show. So I also have a a fishing show called the CFN Fisher, which airs on the sportsman channel Canada and the world fishing network on in the states. So know that two things will come up click the one that’s me smiley face without holding a fish. And then you’ll get to my education side. Watch both. You can watch both for sure.

Sam Demma (27:05):
All right. Awesome. This has been again, an amazing conversation and I look forward to staying in touch.

Michael Consul (27:10):
All right. Thank you so much, Sam. You’re doing amazing work and I can’t wait to hear all the episodes and all your amazing guests.

Sam Demma (27:17):
Another interview was done on the High Performing Educator podcast. Mike is a close friend of mine and someone, I really look up to an education. And if you got some actionable ideas, consider connecting with him to bounce ideas around and have a very fruitful conversation. I’m sure he’d be open to it and also consider leaving a rating and review. If you enjoy these episodes, it will allow other educators like yourself to find this podcast and also benefit from the conversations we’re having. Maybe you’re a person who has ideas you’d want to share, or you know, somebody, a colleague who has ideas that they could share. If so, please reach out by email: info@samdemma.com, so we can share your story and inspiration on the podcast. I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Consul

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

Brent Mattix – Activities Director for Roseville High School in California

Brent Mattix Activity Director California
About Brent Mattix

Brent Mattix is the current activities director for Roseville High School, in Roseville, California.  He had the honour of attending Roseville High School as a student (Class of 1992).  His two sons are graduates of RHS and his daughter is a junior.  Brent Mattix began coaching in 1994 and has coached over 50 teams, from varsity football to t-ball.  He has coached football, wrestling, water polo, soccer, basketball, baseball, flag football, and is the current track and field coach for the high school.  

Mr. Mattix began teaching in 1999 and has taught English, speech and debate, positive power, leadership, and student government.  He has served as a class advisor, club advisor, smaller learning communities program coordinator, and link crew coordinator.

For nine years, Brent Mattix was an administrator, working as an assistant principal at Granite Bay High School for seven years and principal for two years at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.

Driven to make a positive difference, Mr. Mattix loves working in the community in which he grew up.  In addition to teaching, Mr. Mattix is also a scoutmaster, magician, and pyro-technician.

In his free time, Mattix is passionate about spending time with family and friends in the outdoors via camping, hiking, cycling, canoeing, backpacking, and rock climbing.

Connect with Brent: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Workshop)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (Book)

Phil Boyte (Learning For Living Program)

Link Crew Transition Program

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Brent Mattix. He is the current activities director for Roseville high school in Roseville, California. He had the honour of attending Roseville high school as a student in the class of 1992. And his two sons are graduates of R H S and his daughter is now a junior.

Sam Demma (01:04):
Brent began coaching in 1994 and has coached over 50 teams from varsity football to T-ball. He has coached football, wrestling, water, polo, soccer, basketball, baseball, flag football, and is currently track and field coach for the high school. Mr. Mattix began teaching in 1999 and has taught English speech and debate positive power leadership and student government. He has served as a class advisor club advisor, smaller learning communities, program coordinator, and link crew coordinator for nine years. Brent was an administrator working as an assistant principal at granite bay high school for seven years and principal for two years at Thomas Jefferson elementary school, driven to make a positive difference. Mr. Maddox loves working in the community in which he grew up. In addition to teaching, he is a scout master magician and pyro technician in his free time. Brent is passionate about spending time with family and friends in the outdoors via camping, hiking, cycling, canoeing, backpacking, and rock climbing. I hope this bio does an awesome job of encapsulating everything that is Brent Mattix. He is a phenomenal person and educator. I had such an amazing time speaking with him on the podcast, enjoy our conversation, and I will see you on the other side, Brent, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your story and what brought you to where you are in education today?

Brent Mattix (02:46):
Sure. My name is Brent Mattix activities director at Roseville high school in Roseville, California saved by the bell. Love it. There we go. We get long bells here. So I actually had the pleasure of attending the high school in which I teach, which was outstanding. So I’m class of 1992. I also, some of my backstory is I got kicked out of Roosevelt high school my senior year. So February 21st was my last day of my senior year. I pulled a prank. I was the top student in the school and suffer the consequences. So I guess the only way I was coming back was via education. And so I started coaching at Roseville when I was 20. And then in the interim, I was working on my teaching credential and came back to Roseville high school as an English teacher in 1999 and taught for eight years and then took an administrative position.

Brent Mattix (03:43):
So as an administrator for nine years and then came to my senses and wanted to get back into the classroom. One of my big motivations is my own three kids were at Roseville high school and I kind of had this scare where I realized my baby has seven years before she turned 18 and was out. So my mission shifted a little bit and I was very fortunate to get the activities director position. And now I’ve got two years left with my daughter. My two sons have graduated. I got my oldest boy in the us air force and my second is just graduated and he’ll be starting at UC Davis here in a few weeks.

Sam Demma (04:23):
Wow. That’s awesome. I mean, you can’t mention prank without explaining what the heck happened. You got to bring me back and tell me what’s going on back there.

Brent Mattix (04:33):
Well, I’ll tell ya. That was in 98 and 99. That was in 92. And you know, it was just one of those things where we had had some stuff going on with our rival. And so it was one of those feeling like, Hey, I’m the all American kid you’re supposed to pull off this epic prank where I went wrong as I involved firecrackers. And so that was right on the cusp of school violence. This was pre Columbine, but we had had a shooting and all of hers, which is not too far from us. And so I haven’t been an administrator and looking back, I can definitely get a sense of the concerns administration and the community had with, with stuff going on. And so anyway, what I tell students is that you make a mistake, you learn from the mistake you grow and that’s what life’s all about. And so took responsibility for it. And then it was really cool being able to come back and actually participate in graduation as a teacher. But I counted it.

Sam Demma (05:37):
Oh man. That’s awesome. That’s a good story though. Go, it goes to show that your, your current situation doesn’t have to equal your future, your future destinations as well. What, okay, so what led you down the path of education though? So after high school ends, you get it, you know, you go to school like what made you decide yeah. Want to go back to education where you direct them down that path, or did you know from a young age at that, that’s what you wanted to do?

Brent Mattix (06:05):
Yeah, I actually in high school wanting to go into politics because I I’m a community person. Yeah, I was really active when I was in high school, making a difference for the community and just wanted to give back in some capacity. I had the opportunity to go to Washington DC on a youth leadership, going into my senior year and went back and spent a couple of weeks at, we actually stayed at Georgetown and set up a mock Congress. And so that was an outstanding experience, but I realized some of the challenges in politics. And, and I remember, you know, here I am 17 and I’m thinking, holy smokes, this is going to be a grind to really make effective change. And so I, I think that’s when I started to shift gears and felt like I could be more inspirational and a benefit to the community by going into education, I’ve always wanted to help people.

Brent Mattix (06:59):
And I started coaching, you know, like I said, I was only 20 years old when I was coaching and, and just had to make a shift in a little bit of thinking and maturity in the sense of I wasn’t playing anymore. So now it’s all about a drive to help others loved English. I grew up reading and had a passion for it. And if I could teach anything, I wanted to teach a course called life. And they didn’t teach that in class. And I felt like English gave me the most flexibility to kind of hit some of those components again, just to be an inspiration and had some really good teachers in college and had some good folks that I was when I grew up, I had outstanding teachers and coaches. And so I think just probably looking at two, what they modeled and the impact they had had on me was, was what got me going.

Brent Mattix (07:51):
So I do have a little side note. One of my heroes was my Spanish teacher in high school. And I started coaching at the same high school I got kicked out of. And so Mr. George IVIG would always be working the gate as one of the supervision assignments. And so I’d come in with the football team and usually interacting with, interact with them for a few minutes. So when I finally made the decision, okay, this is where I’m headed and made a shift. I let him know and he looked at me and he said, don’t do it. And he was dead serious. And that was a little crushy cause I just idolized them. And he was just such an outstanding teacher and really did well with his curriculum, cared about his students. And for him to say, don’t do it. I, it, it caused me to pause and think like, okay, what’s that all about?

Brent Mattix (08:44):
And what he was trying to communicate was a, was a shift that he felt with the responsibilities as, as being a teacher and feeling a little bit set up where the challenges were going to outweigh the benefits. And so, thankfully I didn’t listen to him. So I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and then had the opportunity last year to sit now with him at just a little social gathering. We were, we were all outside cause of COVID we all were masked. And so it was great to catch up. So I reminded him that he told me that he kind of laughed and said, well, I’m glad you, you stuck it out. But I have seen it change a lot. And so that was the kickoff, just jumping in a full go right out of the gate, you know, I’ve lucky to get hired.

Brent Mattix (09:30):
I actually went to go see the assistant principal or sorry, the assistant superintendent who was in charge of discipline and said, Hey, do you remember who I am? And he laughed and said, oh yeah, you like to play the firecrackers. So I, I told him where I was in my life and I said, I didn’t want to waste his time or waste my time. And he said water under the bridge go ahead and apply. So yeah, I was fortunate right out of the gate. I, I got a job at a school that I knew really well and had a passion for and, and just jumped in as much as I could. So I, my first year of teaching, I got married, bought a new house, had the new job, and then about oh seven months after we got married, we were pregnant with our first kiddo. So I said, Hey, the four stressors in life, the biggest stressors, they’re all, they’re all. No, man, I don’t have to worry about anything else. Now that’s all.

Sam Demma (10:25):
The early stuff out of the way. Yeah. So you mentioned coaching a few times and it sounds like coaching is also an important part of your life. If I read your mind correctly, you coach tennis. Tell me more about it. And also is that a sport you played growing up or do you coach multiple things?

Brent Mattix (10:44):
So I actually have not coached tennis, but my daughter was leaving my class. So I have, I’m fortunate to have her in my class. Got it. She was out, she, she is playing tennis and a couple of her girlfriends that she was with are playing tennis. So they have their first match today. So we’re going to go check that out afternoon. Nice. So you’re going to get me on my soap box for youth athletics here. I’ve coached, I think somewhere between 50 and 60 teams anywhere from probably half of them at the high school level, from varsity football down to, with my own kids T-ball and little bitty soccer, so, and everywhere in between. So I’ve done football at the high school football wrestling on the current track and field coach and water polo, which I knew nothing about and just the coaching that had a blast with that for six years.

Brent Mattix (11:38):
And then at the youth level we had baseball, basketball, soccer, flag football. So, you know, a variety of stuff. I grew up loving athletics. She has had so much fun and was fortunate to be on really successful teams with coaches that were positive and it wasn’t about winning. So I think the winning piece was probably a lot of a by-product of just having this really engaging atmosphere that was enjoyable and, and made a lot of relationships. So I’m still best friends with my football buddies from high school and we still get together, you know, 30 plus years later. So it’s been a definitely an important part of my life. And just seeing where I feel athletics has changed with students where I, I see for a select group of students, it’s outstanding because that’s their life. And they really want to dedicate a lot of energy or all their energy to it.

Brent Mattix (12:42):
I’ve seen a lot of students just not have as much fun where it becomes a little bit more of a job and had conversations with them where they feel and communicate that they’re burned out. And so after I think it was 15 years of coaching in high school, that’s about when my, my kid was my own kiddos were getting into athletics. And so I jumped down to the youth stuff and there’s some amazing organizations that really focus on making it fun for the athlete and informative where they get to learn and grow. And then there are some programs that are difficult to work with because, you know, like my wife said, one time first graders should not be crying after a game. You know, so much intensity that gets pushed upon them by the Allston. It’s, it’s a difficult deal to work with. So I’ll tie this into education. I had a psychology of education professor that one of my other heroes in my teaching credential program and something that he would pull out often as there needs to be more teaching and coaching and more coaching and teaching. And that’s something just stuck with me through the years.

Sam Demma (13:51):
That’s a, I love that. It’s awesome. I played sports my whole life. I was supposed to go to Memphis university on a full ride scholarship and had three knee surgeries rip that apart. But yeah, I think sports are such a crucial part in development. And even if it’s not a sport getting involved in something outside of the classroom, I think is just so important. Did you play a lot of sports growing up yourself? Like was that a big part of your childhood also?

Brent Mattix (14:20):
Yeah, I started in like first grade with the T-ball did soccer, did flag football. And then once I got into middle school, we started with with football, with tackle football and that was my main sport in high school. Then I also swimming and wrestling and then just a ton of intermurals, but, you know, I grew up I’m 47. So I grew up in an era where that’s all you did as far as athletics. Cause if you weren’t playing with an organized team, you were playing out in front of your house, on the street, your front yard, if you’re playing tackle football is two and touch right in the street, less, less we wanted to get bloody. Yeah. I mean, constantly we, we would kind of mirror the professional sports where we’d be playing basketball and then the basketball season’s done and then we’re playing some baseball or football or whatever the case may be. So it was kind of 30, some kids in the neighborhood that would be in and out doing unorganized sports. And that was just an amazing experience where we had to figure it out ourselves and, and we kept score, but it was you know, it, wasn’t about just the score. It’s mostly about being together and having a good time.

Sam Demma (15:37):
And you mentioned at the beginning of this interview, that if he could have taught any class in the world, you would have taught a class called life. What does that mean? And if it was to be a legit class that does exist, what would it include and why are those things crucial?

Brent Mattix (15:53):
So I, I guess even when I was young, I, I gotta tell you when I was in high school, I was probably the shyest kid in the school. I at least successful, but I was an introvert. And I was always a teacher’s pet. I always could have great conversations with adults, but when it came to interacting with my peers, I really struggled. So I was talking about that youth leadership program. I went to and flew back to Washington DC, and we had to wait for another group to come in before they put us on the shuttle. So it was about a 45 minute wait. And we sat about a half hour in our seats, in the airport waiting for this other group to show up. And I think there’s probably between 12 and 15 other students all the same age. And nobody said a word for like a half hour.

Brent Mattix (16:41):
And I remember it was so painful for me to sit there because I wanted to say something, I just couldn’t get myself to, to do that. And finally somebody broke the ice and it wasn’t me. And within like seconds, we were just having this really great conversation because everybody’s the same age. Most of us were AP students. So we had just taken the AP exams. And so, you know, we were in the same place in life and we just, just got going. And that was a watershed moment for me, where I thought, why did I just spend 30 minutes of wasted time? Because I didn’t have the courage, the guts, the gumption to just, you know, say something. And so I started shifting where I pushed myself more to interact. So I say that as a foundation, for whatever reason, when I was in high school and even younger and early adult, a lot of people would come to me and just ask me for advice.

Brent Mattix (17:36):
Or they would share things with me where I felt like I was helpful. And so I think that carried over. So it was just that wanting to help people and make a difference for them. And that’s where the life piece comes in. So I had really, I was so fortunate. My second year of teaching, I had an administrator come to me and say, Hey, we’d like you to teach a class, a leadership class. And I didn’t know what that was. And I said, oh, that sounds awesome. What is it? And she looked at me and said, we don’t know you’re going to figure it out. So they said, we want you to write this course. They sent me off to a Stephen Covey workshop. And Stephen Covey is probably most famous for writing the seven habits of highly effective people. And that program was repackaged to the seven habits of highly effective teens.

Brent Mattix (18:27):
And that was what they were teaching. And so I remember I, it was a two day workshop and I spent the first day just not being very excited by it. Cause I, I, you know, wasn’t grasping where they’re going with. I hadn’t read the book before. And, and then day two, I think we were halfway through day two. And all of a sudden the light bulb went on for me like, oh my gosh, this is what I can use for my class. So that became the foundation for their, our leadership class. And so I’ve been teaching that I, I said I was nine years in administrator. And so I was away from the class for nine years, but you know, otherwise I’ve taught leadership for a lot of years. And just teaching students, some foundational elements or habits has been fantastic. What I have seen in the last five years that I’ve been an activities director is that a lot of students struggle with skills.

Brent Mattix (19:27):
So their managers, if I give them a task sheet, they will get it done, especially if I attach a grade to it. So if I put points on it, that’s been something that we’ve been working on is changing things from being expensive motivator to intrinsic motivator. And I’m so proud of the students in our program because we’re, we’re almost to that point where that’s where everybody is, but the points piece for kids. Yeah. It gets them going. So they’ll do stuff if you give them the list, but if you give them a task, which is, or I’m sorry, a project, which is where we are with activities, I’ve seen a lot of struggle and I’m in the midst of rewriting where we are with our student government program and also come back and retool our leadership program, where it just gives students the opportunity to create or learn more skill sets that they can then apply because they, a lot of times have the desire. They want to make a difference. They just, they don’t have as much life experience. I think adults have done too much for them as we have. They’ve been growing up and they have some pretty good skill sets maybe when it comes to English and math and science and history, but just some of the leadership stuff that we need to see from them as is painful. Watson, try to grow wings there. Yeah.

Sam Demma (20:52):
I love that. That’s awesome. It sounds like such a rewarding class. How many students are roughly in there? Is this a large group, a small group? Like what does it look like?

Brent Mattix (21:01):
So our, our traditional student government program, which is the student leaders that get elected. So we have four ASB officers that are elected by the student body and then for each class. And we’re a nine through 12th grade high school frees class. They have three officers that are elected. The other students that are in the class for student government get in through an application process. And so we are generally it ebbs and flows, but generally the numbers there between 45 and 55. Yes. And I continually say, Hey, I’ll take a hundred. If we have students that are engaged in taking care of business, then we’ll take as many as we can get in. We we only have so much space in the physical classroom we’re in right now. So that kind of dictates a little bit just the functionality of the room.

Brent Mattix (21:58):
And then our leadership class is an elective. And that traditionally is right around 40 students. And those students that are in the class are it’s a wide spectrum. So I’d say I ended up with about 40% freshmen, 40%, maybe 35% sophomores. And then the other group would be juniors and seniors, and anywhere from students that are super motivated and want to take the course so that they can learn some more skills to get into student government, to students that are behavior issues on campus and a counselor or an administrator said, man, we got to get them in the leadership class. And that’s what I love because we have just across the gamut and when we do our group work and when we’re in our committees and working together, there’s so many different ideas because we have so many different walks of life involved in that class.

Brent Mattix (22:53):
Sometimes I say we’re a little incestuous in the student government program in the sense that the same type of students attract their friends who want to be in the program. And so that can be a good thing. It’s a double double-edged sword to some degree because you get into that group think sometimes, and it’s hard to break outside that mold. So that’s something we’ve been challenging students with. Now that we’ve kind of changed at our school, changed the, the culture of the student government program, where it’s more about the school than just the students are in the classroom. It’s a matter of, okay, now we got to get out to our stakeholders and make sure we’re understanding what their needs are and what their desires are and give them a voice and get them a more, more involved that way.

Sam Demma (23:39):
And which of the seven habits have you integrated in the classroom that you think has been the most impactful on the students and why?

Brent Mattix (23:50):
That’s a great question. You know, I, I tell the students in my leadership class, but we’re going through a particular topic or habit. I say, Hey, this is the most important day. And then I tell them, okay, I know I’m always saying that. So it’s, it’s difficult. I’ll tell you the, the habits and the concepts. I think that are probably, I, I see that are most powerful is one of them is, and it’s not particularly a habit, but it’s the circle of control and no control. And I asked students, I don’t say anything about the circle of control, but I asked students about a time that somebody made him really upset. And I tried to get a few volunteers that will share a story with the class. And my goal is, and that interaction to get that person upset and reliving the experience.

Brent Mattix (24:43):
And a lot of times it gets to that point. And usually it’s something with a friend or sometimes a parent. And to the point where sometimes, I mean, they’re, they’re yelling, they’re fleshing in the face and at the end of them telling their stories, I tell them, now, wait a minute. I asked you guys to share a story about a time where somebody made you mad and you guys all lied to me. And then they get more upset at me when I tell them that I did not lie to you, Mr. Maddox, and they go, go and go. And then we start talking about the circle of control and no control. And the goal is for them to understand that somebody didn’t make them mad. They allow themselves to become mad and that they are empowered and they need to they need to really control that and understand there’s very few things in life that they can control.

Brent Mattix (25:31):
And when that sinks in, you see some students that really kind of have an awakening because they’ve had crap in their background in their life. And they understand that, Hey, I, that was outside of my control and I can’t get upset and emotional about it. Or if I do, I got to have some tools to back down from it and, and take back my control, take back that power. So that’s my favorite lesson plans. I think that the just creating habits to begin with and that habit number one is be proactive and getting them. And that’s where the, the control piece comes in and get them to understand that how they respond to everything that’s coming at them is so important. And having some tools that they’re at their experience and disposal to be able to utilize and pushing pause, and maybe not reacting is just outstanding.

Brent Mattix (26:31):
I feel for these kiddos with how bombarded they are with everything technology. I tell a story where I was a sophomore and we had lockers back when I was a sophomore. We don’t have lockers at the school anymore. And so I get to school and I go to open a lock my locker, and right as I open it, this piece of paper falls out. So I bent down to pick it up. And as I’m bending down to pick it up, I’m realizing that there’s in the row, there’s like five or six other students that are picking up this kind of same piece of paper. So I look at it and it was a letter that one of my fellow students had written about his girlfriend. They had just broken up and the most worst message, disgusting comments. Her secrets were on this sheet of paper that were typed out.

Brent Mattix (27:19):
And I mean, they were horrific. I didn’t know that young lady, but that young lady was gone that day. We did not see her back at the high school again. And I don’t know what happens her. She transferred schools and went elsewhere. And so I juxtapose that with, we had a student that was incoming and it was from tech. He was coming in from Texas. And some kids were talking about him coming to the school and they were talking about the baggage. He was bringing from an incident in Texas. And I just had this realization that, I mean, these kids can’t escape the negativity sometimes and, and heartbreaks for that a little bit. It, it breaks for the kids that have stuff. That’s just a constant reminder of things that they feel are inefficiencies or challenges or, or bad stuff in their life.

Brent Mattix (28:11):
And so back to trying to empower them where they can take control and, and reprogram themselves and be proactive, come up with a plan is just really, really important. So the first three habits focus on what’s called the private victory. And so I teach leadership in that. You’ve got to, you’ve got to teach yourself, you’ve got to control yourself. You’ve got to your beer best you before you work with others. And so then the public victory where we transition into working with others habit four is think win-win. And so that’s really trying to empower them with some tools and how they can work well with others. And come up with ideas that are bigger than themselves, right? It’s about what they want, it’s about what others want and how they’re gonna work well together. And then my favorite habit is habit six, which is synergy and synergizing and working well with others.

Brent Mattix (29:08):
And to me, that’s what LIFE life is all about. And bringing us full circle back to athletics. There is nothing more powerful than when you’re working with a group of people that have the same mission, and you’re just hitting stride and in the flow and, and winning and winning doesn’t mean you got the highest score. Winning just means that you’re working well together and make a magic happen. So I love seeing that. I love it when students create those types of events on our campus and when they have that same experience in the classroom. So I got end with saying that you know, I’m super Pollyanna and positive all the time, but going back to that circle of control, I say, now, you know, the reality is you’re going to get awesome times. And when I get frustrated and I’m at home and my wife and I are in a disagreement, or I’m having a challenge with one of my kiddos and I feel my blood come up and I’m just starting to shake a little bit you know, I’ve got to back myself down. So it’s one thing in theory, it’s another thing to actually put it into practice. And so that’s the, that’s the toughest part. And, and trying to model that for the students is really important for me as well. Yes.

Sam Demma (30:21):
Oh, such an important book. I was, I was lucky enough to stumble across the seven habits of highly effective teens back when I was a freshmen in grade nine.

Brent Mattix (30:33):
Good for you.

Sam Demma (30:34):
Yeah, because I was a, I mean, you didn’t mention sharpening the saw or the, the, the square, the four places where you could spend your time, the time charger. But yeah. I know those are, it’s such a good book and I think it’s so cool that you’re teaching it in class. If you could, if you said you’ve been teaching now, how many years?

Brent Mattix (30:54):
Well, I started my student teaching in 1998. So what’s that, I’m not a math teacher. So 23 years, somewhere 24, I don’t know.

Sam Demma (31:04):
Yeah. So if you could go back to year one with the experience and understanding that you have now, what advice would you give your younger self? Because there might be an educator listening. Who’s just getting into education and might be willing or able to learn from something you’ve experienced. Sure.

Brent Mattix (31:23):
So you, you talked about sharpen, the saw, which is habit seven in the book, and this is by the way, I don’t get any royalties from FranklinCovey foundation. The sharpen, the saw is probably where I’ve most struggled and sharpen the size just about reenergizing yourself, taking care of yourself. And, you know, I feel for educators, we get emotional here was setting boundaries because our profession is a passion. It’s a calling. And I really think that a strong majority of educators are in this to make a difference for our kids difference for our community. And education has evolved where it’s not just about teaching the content that we were trained, that when we got our master’s or whatnot in we’re teaching the whole student, and there are so many things that come at us with working with special education students and working with English language learners and working with behavioral issues, I can go on and on and on.

Brent Mattix (32:25):
And I think I struggle with this. And how do you set healthy boundaries? Because we all care. We want to make a difference. That’s why we chose a profession. And I don’t know. I don’t know what the advice is. I haven’t done yet, but trying to set up those healthy boundaries where you take care of yourself and, you know, Hey, I’m in a good place. I I’m healthy. I’m happy with my job. I work my butt off and it’s a constant struggle to keep up. I don’t know what I could have done earlier, except maybe downsize what I was doing, mess the job.

Sam Demma (33:09):
No, I appreciate you sharing that. And you know, all the students that, and parents that haven’t told you, you know, you’re making a huge difference and not only you Brent, but everyone listening, you know, it’s a, it’s a profession where sometimes you plant the seed in and then someone else watches it grow. So it’s a, yeah, it’s a great way for y’all doing

Brent Mattix (33:29):
Well. Okay. So one of my, one of my good friends, I’m a name drop here, Phil boyte, who has a company called learning for living. And he’s the gentleman who started the link crew program. I had an opportunity for him to mentor me for awhile. And he, and I think I brought up setting healthy boundaries and he said, Brent, you know, what I’ve found is you’re juggling a lot of balls to use an analogy. And those balls are all up in the air. And if you drop them, I’ve found that most of them you’re going to find are made of rubber. They’re going to bounce back up. You’re going to be able to get them back in the game. The two balls that are made of glass are your health and your family.

Sam Demma (34:12):
Boom. We just dropped the mic there and call it a day.

Brent Mattix (34:17):
Well, you know, that’s why he’s got a company. He’s a smarter guy than I am, but I it’s like talking to Yoda.

Sam Demma (34:23):
That’s awesome, man. So cool. I’ve seen Phyllis speak at some conferences, which is phenomenal. But thank you so much for taking some time to share some of your stories and experiences. I really appreciate you coming on the show. Yeah. Keep up the great work. If another educator is listening and wants to reach out to you and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Brent Mattix (34:42):
Sure. Well, I’m setting healthy boundaries, so don’t call, I’m just teasing. We’re all in this together. And so my emails, my to-do task lists, that’s what I keep coming back to. So my email address is bmattix@rjuhsd.us

Sam Demma (35:09):
Yeah, I’m going to put it in the show notes as well.

Brent Mattix (35:12):
Emails that email’s the best way. And Hey, if I can make a difference and share anything with anybody, happy to do that because you know that old metaphor or analogy or whatever it is is I am an English teacher of the pebble and the pond is so true. And, and we’re in this together. Keep doing good stuff for kids because they truly are our future and deserve everything.

Sam Demma (35:38):
Awesome. Brent, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate it again, keep it up and we’ll stay in touch. My pleasure, Sam, and there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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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.