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Mitchell Duram – Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod and Student Leadership Advisor

Mitchell Duram - Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod and Student Leadership Advisor
About Mitchell Duram

Mitchell Duram is the Learning Support Lead at F.P. Walshe School in Fort Macleod. He is currently teaching English Language Arts; he’s also taught Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Health and Life Skills, and Career and Life Management (CALM). In his first year of teaching, he was awarded the Lieutenant Governor Social Studies Education Student Award and was nominated for the Edwin Parr Teacher Award.

With the support of his amazing colleagues, Mitchell leads Student Leadership (a school-based team) and Livingstone Leaders (a division-wide team). Both of these groups have dedicated student leaders who strive to make a difference in both their schools and in their communities.

Mitchell is passionate about supporting students in setting and achieving personal, academic, and career goals. He firmly believes in Livingstone Range School Division’s vision of “Every student, every day!”

Connect with Mitchell: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

F.P. Walshe School

Awards – Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA)

YMCA Canada

Goose Chase App

University of Lethbridge – Faculty of Education

Alberta Student Leadership Summit

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Mitchell Durram is the learning support lead at FP Walsh School in Fort McLoud. He’s currently teaching English language arts. He’s also taught science, mathematics, social studies, health and life skills, and career and life management. In his first year of teaching, he was awarded the Lieutenant, the Lieutenant Governor Social Studies Education Student Award, and was nominated for the Edwin Par Teacher Award. With the support of his amazing colleagues, Mitchell leads student leadership, a school-based team and living stone leaders, a divisional wide team. Both of these groups have dedicated student leaders who strive to make a difference in both their schools and in their communities. Mitchell is passionate about supporting students in setting and achieving personal, academic and career goals. He firmly believes in living stone range school divisions, vision of every student every day. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mitchell and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today we have a very special guest. I was introduced to this individual Mitchell Durram after being in Claresholm, Alberta and getting stuck in a ditch during a snowstorm. <laugh> Mitchell, please take a moment to introduce yourself so everyone knows who you are and what it is that you do.

Mitchell Durram (01:32):

My name is Mitchell Durram. I am a teacher at FP Walsh School in Fort McLoud, Alberta and I wear many hats in my role as well too. So I’m involved with learning support and I’m also involved with our student leadership group, which is how Sam and I got connected. Our regional student leadership group, our school division, our school leadership group. I am lucky to work with amazing people to run those groups, and I am just very excited to be here this morning as well, too.

Sam Demma (02:09):

Awesome. Thanks so much for making the time and taking the time to join me on the show. What, when you think about your journey through education, if you go back all the way to the beginning of your career search as a student yourself, did you know when a teacher asked you, what do you wanna be when you grow up, that you wanted to be a teacher or working specifically in schools?

Mitchell Durram (02:31):

I did, when I was in elementary school, it was teacher right away, and then as I got a little bit older, my interests grew and I started trying out potential different careers in my mind. So at one point I wanted to be a lawyer. At one point I wanted to be a psychologist, but I would say it was probably around grade 11. I was working at the y, I was teaching swimming lessons. I was lifeguarding where I kind of came back to wanting to be a teacher because I saw the impact that I was having, even in swimming lessons. Like it’s a very, it’s a very practical impact, but it’s a powerful one. Yeah. Seeing, seeing kids go from being terrified of being in the water to swimming and having the best time and playing games. So that’s, I think where I really came back to being a teacher and, and wanting to pursue that in post-secondary.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned working at the Y was that something you stumbled into on your own accord? Did someone tell you, Mitchell, you should work at the y it would be a great role for you? I would love to hear a little more about that aspect of your journey.

Mitchell Durram (03:48):

Well, I had a big, big motivator in my mom who was like, Mitchell, like this, this is a really good opportunity to be a lifeguard, to be a swimming instructor, to have a really awesome summer job, to be able to meet new people. And so I was a little bit resistant at first to the lifeguarding part of it because I knew that I really liked working with kids, but I was a little bit nervous, I think, about being the lifeguard <laugh>. So it took some time to warm up to that. But I, I really, once I got into it, I could see the benefits of being in that role, and my confidence grew and it was, it was really good. But I, I had my mom be someone to say, this would be really, it’s a great opportunity and you should do it. So I’m very grateful for that.

Sam Demma (04:54):

Curious, now, did you have to ever save a life?

Mitchell Durram (04:59):

I have dealt with multiple seizures, which were all like, they all ended up being okay. So that was really good and Okay, good. <laugh>, you know, I’ve jumped into the pool maybe twice for some other stuff, but those were more minor in comparison, so Okay. Yeah. Made it through pretty, pretty good, I would say. Yeah.

Sam Demma (05:26):

Very cool. You did the job

Mitchell Durram (05:28):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s right.

Sam Demma (05:30):

You mentioned one of the cool aspects of it was seeing a student or a young person who couldn’t swim and then months later seeing them swim and the transformation that occurred in their skills and abilities. And I would imagine it’s very similar in school, and I think that’s why so many people get into education. They want to make a difference. They want to speak into young people’s lives and see them transform. When you think of students that have been a part of your programs and in your class, or even just in the school at large, is there any stories of students you can think of where they started the school year, started the semester, were very shy and timid, and maybe they were going through a challenge that no one else really knew about, and by the end of the year blossomed like a butterfly, <laugh>, you know, like, is there any stories like that that come to mind? And if it’s a serious story, you can also change their name or use a different name to keep it private.

Mitchell Durram (06:29):

Yeah, I, I’m lucky that I work in a, a grade six to 12 school. Hmm. And so I see students starting in grade six, and I am lucky enough to see them grow up over the years and the confidence, the sense of belonging that happens over those years. I can think of so many students who we look at in grade six and we see all of their strengths and we see all of their stretches, all of their areas for growth. And by the time they hit grade 10, 11, and 12, just the strides, the gains that they’ve made in both their strengths and their stretches, they’ve become more strong in what they already were, were strong in. And they’ve used a lot of that strength to improve in the areas that they want to improve in. And we have an amazing team of staff at our school. We have an amazing admin team. We are very lucky to have a lot of supportive people. And so I think of some of the school traditions that we have that help students to get from point A to point B, I think of the classroom activities that we do to get students from point A to point B. There’s just so many students that come to mind when you ask that question that it’s hard to, it’s hard to narrow it down. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:08):

You got me curious now, when you said school traditions and classroom activities, are there any traditions exclusive to the school you’re at now that you think are really awesome that helps students? I would, I would love to hear about them. <laugh>.

Mitchell Durram (08:21):

Yeah. There’s one that comes to mind that when I first started at, at the school that I’m at at Walsh, I was just in awe of the amount of participation and the sense of belonging that it brought. So it’s it’s called Shark Week and it is coming up, actually, it’s in, it’s always in our last week of school before the break. And it stands for something. Can anyone tell you what it stands for? Probably not. <laugh>. I think it’s, I think Shark is super happy. Awesome. Really cool with a K and then week I think starts with Walsh, but then I, I lose the acronym from there. Nice.

Mitchell Durram (09:08):

<laugh>. and it’s essentially just a week long set of activities during our lunch hour where we have students in teams and they do friendly competitions. So our first day is usually we change it up from time to time, but our first day is usually window decorating contest. And at our peak before C O V I D, we had, I think it was something like 22 teams. And these are teams of five to seven. Okay. And we have a school of just around 400. So like that’s a huge number of students participating in this event. And then there’s people who aren’t participating that are watching and cheering and, and partaking still as, as spectators, which is really cool. So yeah, our first day is window decorating. Our second day we usually have some sort of like human decorating contests, so like <laugh> and we have paper and like different decorations and ornaments. the third day we usually do some sort of gingerbread building competition. Nice. The fourth day we do a scavenger hunt. We, in the past have used this really cool app called Goose Chase, and it has little different activities that you can do and it gets points, it gives you points for those different activities. And then our last day usually is culminating in a lip sync battle.

Sam Demma (10:49):

Nice.

Mitchell Durram (10:50):

<laugh>, which is very fun. Very, very fun.

Sam Demma (10:52):

That’s so cool. And it’s different. yeah. This Goose Chase app sounds kind of unique too. Is it something where you can create the games you wanna use on it and make it your own? Or is it just an app filled with games?

Mitchell Durram (11:08):

No, you, it’s essentially a way to create a scavenger hunt with points. So you put in the activities that you want and then you determine how many points. And it’s a variety of activities. So you can take pictures, you can do voice recordings, you can do little like quiz questions. And then there’s someone who is kind of running it back in a classroom and awarding points and you can award bonus points. So if they do something with some extra pizzazz, they can get some bonus points. Nice. So it’s a really, really cool app. And it’s free, which is also nice.

Sam Demma (11:48):

Get it on the app store today,

Mitchell Durram (11:49):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s right. We’ll plug for Goose Chase. That’s

Sam Demma (11:53):

So cool. Okay, let’s go back to high school or elementary school. You knew you wanted to be a teacher then you explored into different careers. Tell me about the first role you did in education and what brought you to where you are today?

Mitchell Durram (12:08):

Well, I went to the University of Lethbridge, which is quite well known for its education program. Hmm. And that’s kind of what drew me to Lethbridge. I grew up in Calgary and so Lethbridge, it was really nice because it was close, but it was also, it was also a good program just for teaching and education in general. Nice. And so through that program I’ve done, I did three Practica. The first one I did in Calgary, the second one I did in Cardston. And the third one I actually did at the school I’m teaching at right now. So I was very lucky and grateful because I did my last practicum and they liked me enough to keep me around and then keep me around a little bit more. And here I am about four years later and I am very, like I said, very grateful to still be at the school where I did my first practic, my last practicum. yeah, it kind of feels like home a little bit.

Sam Demma (13:20):

Yeah. That’s awesome. Did you jump in both feet forward and start helping with extracurricular activities, student council, those sorts of things from day one? Or did you transition into those?

Mitchell Durram (13:34):

I was pretty much in it from day one. I started with student leadership, kind of through my mentor teacher. So in your last practicum at the U of L, they pair you with a teacher who is your support person and who observes you and gives you lots of feedback and, and is an amazing resource. And so she actually is the person that I’m still running student leadership with at our nice school level. And she, she signed up for it and just because she was running it and I was in there, I helped out where I could and was just inspired to be a part of that group as well because the students are amazing and the, the things that we’re talking about, like school belonging and and school spirit are things that are important to me too, very important to me. So it just made a lot of sense to join in and, and, and be an advisor for that group.

Mitchell Durram (14:42):

And then for the regional district level group, I kind of jumped in both feet for that too. Nice. And it was just, it was a field trip. We had word from our central office that Yep. We are meeting as a Livingston leaders at that point it was the Regional Council of Student Leaders. Okay. we’re meeting as a group and we’d love to have some students from Walsh and I was the person who could bring them over to central office. So I had the opportunity to do that. And then it was actually at that meeting that we were talking about going to the Alberta Student Leadership Conference. Nice. And I was very on board with that and it just kind of grew from there. And then I think it was the first full covid year that I was asked to be kind of one of the main advisors for that group. Nice. Along with another colleague who is just so wonderful. And so I got to take on a little bit more responsibility there too, which was amazing.

Sam Demma (15:52):

How do you think building relationships with students during these extracurricular activities differs from building relationships with students in the classroom? I think they’re both both very possible and it happens in both situations, but do you think there’s like a special bond that gets formed in those, in those extracurricular activities? And if so, like how and why? <laugh>?

Mitchell Durram (16:18):

I think they both help each other, if that makes sense. So me having relationships with students in a different light in an extracurricular setting, strengthen my relationships with students in the classroom that I was teaching. I think it also though helps when I have a really strong relationship with a student in class and I see them being a leader. Mm. And I can say to them, I see this here. And I think it would make a huge difference in our school life and potentially in yours too, if you maybe joined in here as well mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I think both have so much opportunity attached to them that it’s hard to say one is stronger or more special than the other, but it is certainly really beneficial to see students, to see people in just a different light in a different situation. And I, I love spectating at sports events. I have a very busy life on top of work and just outside of school as well too. Yeah. And so I would love to coach, but I just, I don’t have that opportunity because of my time constraints mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so even there, I, I get to see students in a different light by going to watch a game and the relationship that a coach might have with a student is going to be different than what I might have. But it’s, there’s just so much opportunity in all of those different areas. I think.

Sam Demma (18:00):

I love that. What a great perspective on the difference, but also the strength of having those both as a part of your practice. I, when I was in elementary school and even couple first years of high school, whenever I would see one of my teachers at the grocery store, I would be like, oh my God, you know, miss Sons, what are you doing here? And it was funny because at the younger ages, you think as a student, like, this teacher lives at school, like they don’t have a life <laugh>, you know, like they come, they teach and this is what they do. And it’s like, no, they’re also human beings that go home and have a life outside of work. And I think when you fill your cup by doing other activities away from the school, it helps you show up as a hundred percent of yourself and pour more into your work. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you mentioned, you know, that you have a very busy life outside of the school building which I think is true for every, every human being outside of their work situations. And I’m curious to know, what are the some of the things that you do outside of school that help you fill your cup and enjoy the journey that is life <laugh>?

Mitchell Durram (19:13):

Yeah. Well, I am lucky to have a group of friends where every week we, we play Dungeons and Dragons.

Sam Demma (19:22):

Nice.

Mitchell Durram (19:22):

Very fun. And we are doing that virtually just because we have people kind of in different locations that are joining in, which is really nice as well. Cool. we, we have that weekly and then I love movies, so I try and watch a movie as as often as I can. Nice. And I love being with friends. I often drive up to Calgary where I have a lot of friends still and, and visit with them and, and get the chance to just relax and be around people. I find that gives me a lot of energy and then making time just for myself as well too, to reflect and think about the day and my, my drive, cuz I don’t actually live in Fort McLeod, so my drive is about a half an hour. Mm. And I am really grateful for that time. I often have people say, oh, those, those highways must, you must dread them. and sometimes I do <laugh>. Absolutely. Yeah. But I am appreciative of the half an hour there and back to kind of wind up for my day and, and think, and you know, if I need to blast Taylor Swift and just nice live that life or if I need to just kind of sit in silence and, and think about the, the day and transition into home that’s been really helpful and, and really positive for me as well too.

Sam Demma (20:56):

Mm. Spotify or Apple music?

Mitchell Durram (20:59):

Apple music.

Sam Demma (21:01):

Me too. Actually. <laugh> Nice.

Mitchell Durram (21:03):

Okay. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:04):

But I feel the fomo around this time of year when all my friends are posting their Spotify wrapped stacks on social.

Mitchell Durram (21:11):

There’s, there’s an Apple replay now though, which has a similar thing. So don’t have to feel completely left out. That’s how I felt anyways. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (21:20):

If you said Spotify, I was gonna ask you how many minutes on Taylor Swift <laugh>.

Mitchell Durram (21:24):

Oh, a lot. She was, when I did my apple replay, it didn’t say, I can’t remember if it said how many minutes. Yeah. But she was my number one artist. Listen to artist and album and song, I think

Sam Demma (21:37):

<laugh>. Yeah. And triple 11. Yeah. That’s so cool. yeah, these are all awesome things. I think for me, especially around this time of year when the sun’s not out as much, it’s starting to get cold. my lips are cracking. I also try and make time to see friends cuz I feel a little bit of a mental change and a shift. I love that you have a weekly appointment with your friends to play virtual board games. That’s freaking awesome. And I think it’s so important that as educators we maintain these habits that bring us happiness and fulfillment and connection and community because things get difficult, you know? And it’s important to have those pillars in our lives. so thank you for sharing some of yours. When you think of mentors, people that have played a role in your professional and personal growth, who comes to mind and what did they do for you? Or what do they do for you that makes a big difference?

Mitchell Durram (22:34):

Well, I think of, and I mentioned this before, my mom is a big mentor for me mm-hmm. <affirmative> and an important person in my life. And the encouragement I think, and financial support and, and, and, and <laugh> how often has been really instrumental in me getting to where I want to get to. Mm. I think of teachers when I was younger who supported me. I think of my grade nine teacher. She was really helpful in me losing a little bit of my perfectionism. Didn’t go away completely <laugh>, but helped me to see that it’s good to look at the bigger picture and not always focused so hard on the finer details of,

Mitchell Durram (23:32):

Especially when it was giving me a lot of anxiety and making me really frustrated with myself at times. And she helped me to grow with that I think quite a bit. and I think of my grade 11 teacher who also continued on with that work of helping me to be less of a perfectionist, but also helping me to think more deeply about issues Nice. And understand different complexities that I was maybe missing before. and then I think of a lot of the teachers at the school at Walsh where I’m working right now, who have supported me along the way and have been resources for me to go to and say, I really don’t know what to do here. Can you help me? Help me figure this out? And have always been there to help me to do that. I think of all of the the different things that I have struggled with and grown because of in my role. And I wouldn’t have been able to grow without that support of knowing that, you know, failure is going to happen and that’s okay. Yeah. We support you and we’re in your corner. That sort of, that sort of sentiment. So I really appreciate those people as well too. And I am still a relatively new teacher. Like I, I have only been at teaching for four years and so there’s still so much left to learn and there always will be. Yeah. And I am lucky to have so many great mentors at my current school to help me to, to grow and to, to be a better, more effective educator.

Sam Demma (25:27):

It sounds like there are so many connections you’ve made at this school and so many kindhearted people willing to help and support and I’m sure they learn just as much from you as you do from them because whether it’s a year in two years, 20 years, everyone brings a different flavor and a different perspective and different past experiences, which lead to unique perspectives. people are one of the main resources in education. Are there any other resources that you found really helpful? whether that’s apps like Goose Hunt, <laugh>, or associations that you found helpful just in general, like is there any other things you found helpful that another educator could benefit from looking into?

Mitchell Durram (26:15):

Definitely. I am very lucky in my current role to be working with lots of different external agencies and the, the supports that they can provide and the resources that they can provide. I was teaching Health last year and then career in life management the year before. And so being able to use resources from Alberta Health Services and being able to use resources from money mentors and being able to use resources from, there’s so many organizations out there that are wanting and excited to help. the student leadership side of things like the Canadian Student Leadership Association is just so fantastic and we’re grateful for the conference that they’ve put on and the, the other events that they host. but there’s so many great ideas shared in their blog and in their newsletter that it is very worthwhile to to be involved with that organization. And I also really, really like having just so many resources available. Sometimes I think it can be really overwhelming just

Sam Demma (27:42):

Because so many options.

Mitchell Durram (27:43):

Yeah, that’s right. And it’s, it’s really challenging to kind of narrow down what you need in that moment. Yeah. And so I think I have tried to take the approach and sometimes it’s really challenging to do this, but of looking at one or two resources per semester maybe and seeing what I can use and what supports are available through those resources or those organizations. And then implementing that incrementally. So it’s not so overwhelming. I remember too, I think I, I’ve got this advice through my university education because so many times I had professors say, don’t, don’t look for YouTube videos during your class and show them <laugh>. Cause there are so many. Yeah. And you need to watch them beforehand and you need to make sure that it’s gonna work for you. And so I I almost think about these resources and organizations like YouTube because there’s so many and they’re all so wonderful for different reasons. It’s just finding what’s gonna work for you and taking the time to look at that. And it’s gonna be overwhelming because we all know when you search in YouTube, there’s gonna be hundreds of results and it just takes some time. So, so yeah. I I would say if, if anyone is struggling with that, like I did it, it is good to narrow it down.

Sam Demma (29:20):

Hmm. Ah, that’s awesome. Thanks so much for sharing that. If you could travel back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder four years ago and say, Mitchell, this is a piece of advice that you don’t know you need to hear yet, but you need to hear it. And not because you would change anything about your path, but you thought it would be great advice for someone who is just starting to teach.

Mitchell Durram (29:45):

I think it’s really challenging to have work-life balance in this profession. And I still am working on that. That’s something that’s still a professional goal of mine. And I think the advice I would give myself would be it doesn’t need to be 100% perfect, amazing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> every single time all the time in every single moment. And we recently did professional development in a needs-based approach for students and meeting meeting students where they are. Nice. And something that really stood out was this idea that we don’t need to get it right all the time. And there’s a lot of power in forgiving and apologizing and that is for yourself and that is for students as well. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I think knowing what I know now and knowing the challenges of work-life balance, it is worthwhile to put your heart and soul into this. And I can’t think of any educator that I know that doesn’t do that, but it is also worthwhile to know that it doesn’t have to be amazing.

Mitchell Durram (31:26):

Perfect. Wonderful. Every single second of the day. And knowing that will give you a little bit more time for yourself I think, too. yeah. And I also think of Brene Brown, who I love her Ted Talks and really wanna read her, her books as well too. Books. Book I think books now. Books. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Anyways I think of her Ted Talk, the power of vulnerability and being vulnerable is again a powerful thing. Mm-hmm. And I think being vulnerable with students is powerful too. So I think my other small piece of advice would be saying to myself, it’s okay to have vulnerable moments with students. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it’s a good thing to have vulnerable moments with students.

Sam Demma (32:27):

I love that. Sometimes students are sitting in front of you, look really looking up to you and putting you, you know, you on a pedestal. Like you’re almost a superhero to them and sharing the vulnerable moments helps humanize yourself in the classroom and helps them relate to you because they are struggling and going through things as well. And yeah, I think that’s really, that’s really great solid advice still. So thank you for, for sharing. If an educator is listening to this and wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, join your virtual board game <laugh>. I’m totally joking. but if someone wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources, what would be the best email address or way for them to get in touch with you?

Mitchell Durram (33:09):

Probably through email would be the best and it would be duramm@lrsd.ab.ca.

Sam Demma (33:22):

Awesome. Mitchell, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I appreciate it. Keep doing great work and I look forward to keeping in touch and seeing you soon.

Mitchell Durram (33:32):

Absolutely. Thanks so much.

Sam Demma (33:36):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mitchell Duram

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.

Karl Fernandes – Teacher, Presenter and Life-long Learner

Karl Fernandes – Teacher, Coach, Writer, Guest Speaker and Life Long Learner
About Karl Fernandes

Teacher, coach, writer, guest speaker, life long learner: Karl Fernandes wears many hats as an educator. Blessed beyond measure in his career, Karl has taught in each academic division for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Karl believes strongly in experiential learning and has an extensive history of engaging his students in local and international service projects. He is actively involved in mental health and natural health initiatives and has worked with numerous organizations to develop well-being resources for students and teachers.

Karl has also instructed at the post-secondary level, and currently serves as a course instructor and professional development facilitator at the provincial level for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. He has presented to OCTs and teacher candidates at conferences and workshops across Ontario.

Connect with Karl: Email | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Toronto Catholic District School Board

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Karl Fernandes. Karl is a teacher, coach, writer, guest speaker, and lifelong learner. He wears many hats as an educator. Blessed beyond measure in his career, Karl has taught in each academic division for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Karl believes strongly in experiential learning and has an extensive history of engaging his students in local and international service projects. He’s actively involved in mental health and natural health initiatives and has worked with numerous organizations to develop well-being resources for students and teachers. I’m so grateful that a past guest that we had on the show, John Linhares, introduced me to Karl. Karl has also instructed at the post-secondary level and currently serves as a course instructor and professional development facilitator at the provincial level for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

He has presented to OCTs and teacher candidates at conferences and workshops across Ontario. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with my friend Karl, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today, we have a very special guest. We connected a few times before this podcast, and I’m so excited to finally have him on the show. Karl Fernandes. Karl, please start by introducing yourself so everyone listening knows a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do.

Karl Fernandes  (01:39):

Thanks, Sam. It’s my pleasure to be here with you this afternoon and to share a bit of my background. I guess I describe myself as both an educator and a lifelong learner. I am a teacher with Toronto Catholic, and I’ve taught in different communities in the city for years. All the grades, like from the little ones right up through high school, and I’ve also had the opportunity in recent years to teach post-secondary and to work with teacher candidates, and now I also work with the, at the provincial level with the Catholic Teachers Association. And I’m doing a lot of teacher training there. It’s just a terrific way to continue my own learning. As I said, lifelong learning is, it’s real.

Sam Demma (02:19):

Where did this passion for lifelong learning develop or stem from?

Karl Fernandes (02:25):

You know what? I think it, it, it comes just from the realization that you, there’s so much you don’t know. Hmm. And, you know, your mistakes inform you. So you, it’s tough because, you know, it’s your pride sometimes, but then you have to recognize well about all the things you maybe didn’t think of or didn’t know. And so it’s, it’s something you learn along as you go along the way. It’s really about the questions you asked, right? That’s what leads to better understanding and better thinking. So that’s something that comes from your work with students. But I think it also comes from just being intentional about how you live your life and how you have your interactions and your experiences. And if you allow yourself some space to be still and not to feel like it’s always about, like you have to look ahead, but sometimes you need to look back.

Karl Fernandes (03:18):

You need to be right here, and then you get a better perception and perspective on things. So I think that’s something life’s taught me a bit. And I don’t think you start off recognizing your lifelong learner, but it’s just that we’re all on this journey, you know, to try and make meaning of this time we have. And I think that’s where I started recognizing. I, I went back to grad school years after I’d got my teaching certification and all that. And I was, I was probably the most excited person in, in the rooms at times because I knew I was doing it because I just wanted to continue my education. It wasn’t about I need this to get that. And I did meet some people that were doing that and, and that’s fine. But I felt that for me it was more about, let me take this at this stage of my life.

Karl Fernandes (04:05):

And I didn’t wanna be thinking, oh I could have done it. I just decided not to. I, I knew it mattered to me. So I had a great support network. And in the end, I think it kind of reinforced at that stage in my life, a lot of things that you know, I was intuitively leading towards, you know, the idea of how knowledge is. It’s a reward in and of itself, right? To, to work through a problem, to think about different perspectives, to gain a better understanding, to hear someone else’s point of view. All those things are part of just being willing to learn. And hey, you know, we learn things when we get in the kitchen. We learn things, you know, in so many different aspects of our lives that I think it’s there for everybody. Just, you know, and when you see other people that are inspired to go back and learn something or take a course on the side, you celebrate that. Cuz I just think it’s, it’s such a pathway to their thinking and, and maybe something that becomes a passion project or whatever. Right. So yeah, I see it as natural

Sam Demma (05:02):

Stillness is something that’s very familiar to you. You’ve written about it in a few online teacher articles and magazines. You mean it both in a physical sense of sitting down and not moving, but also in a, I guess a metaphorical sense of not living in the future, but living here and now. but let’s talk about it from a physical standpoint. I know that being still and meditating or finding that pause is something that you practice often. Why do you do that? And do you advise other educators to explore trying that themselves?

Karl Fernandes (05:39):

Yeah, it, it’s something where you have to keep putting yourself in a position, you know, to, to learn and grow and to help your students do the same, right? So even pre pandemic this is something that, you know, the whole idea of mindfulness and meditation, we have to resist this thing that it’s the flavor of the day. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as if it’s kind of like a trend or like a new way, right? Because it’s actually ancient in, its in, its in its wisdom and in its methods. So we, we need to sort of put that aside cuz that’s one of my, my cautions right now. I do a lot of real work in this area. And this has happened organically and authentically as someone that, you know, you have to be thinking about how you’re managing you know, your sense of wellbeing.

Karl Fernandes (06:28):

If you’re gonna lead others, you know, you’re gonna lead your students. And, you know, equally important, you have to think about your students and recognize that if they’re not feeling well, if they’re not feeling good the math lesson doesn’t matter, right? So what can you do? Right? Of course, you wanna be a present and a welcoming figure, and you wanna create a classroom that’s inclusive and dynamic. And, and those things are things that we take pride in, right? And you build through the year, but then you have these other, you know, I don’t wanna, like, it’s sometimes we use an analogy of a toolbox, right? Mm-hmm. And you pull things out and you know, you know what to use and all that. And I actually did a pilot, I was involved with a pilot project some years ago that involved bringing wellbeing practices to students.

Karl Fernandes (07:11):

And you know, through that I had a chance, I had already was committed to a lot of these practices, including the idea of meditating. But to be able to have my, you know, guide my students through these and learn some new things because the people leading it were really top rates. So it gives you a chance just to expand again, to expand your learning. But I saw firsthand, you know, I mean, we, I, if you’ve created an environment that’s safe and welcoming, it’s amazing where students will, you know, where like, they’ll, they’ll come along, you know? So they were, I, I had a, a beautiful group of grade eights that year. A lot of ’em, huge kids, you know, athletes, scholars, the whole, the whole nine. But they didn’t hesitate, you know, if I said, look at, this is what I like to try.

Karl Fernandes (07:54):

They, you know, they already, you had gained their trust and they, they, they also understood that you were putting them in a place where they had an opportunity to try something that could benefit them. It wasn’t something that would, was meant to make them feel self-conscious or, you know, put in a spot. So I, I witnessed it firsthand that they were willing to, to try these things. We did, you know, some of the elements of of breathing exercises and, and physical exercises that are connected to yoga that just would help them with their the relaxation and it, you know, then they’d write about it a bit and how they felt about it. So then you get that sense, and then you do other things, you know, that help them build a sense of community and their appreciation for each other in life.

Karl Fernandes (08:37):

You do things like gratitude circles and it just, you know, builds. And so what was fascinating is from there you know, we, we changed grades and assignments as the years unfold. And I was in with a younger group of students who maybe were a bit more challenged by issues around self-regulation. And this was just pre pandemic. So we started on this journey too, in the fall. And at the beginning, I know for some of ’em, it was really challenging because, you know, I would try to create the right environment, you know, dim the lights, close the door and all that. But then, you know, meditation really teaches you, it’s just like life. Like it’s, you can’t write it up the way you want it to be an expected to happen. So I’d leave the door open a couple times. Someone would walk in already talking to me before they actually saw what was going on.

Karl Fernandes (09:21):

And I just like, you know what, we’re present in this moment, so we’re just gonna stay with this. And it was something where I’ll catch up with that person later. But the priority right now is, you know, we’re gonna continue our breathing. And, you know, the thing I loved about ASAM is that was unfortunately the year where we had to transition to online learning. Mm-hmm. And these these habits that we had developed in person, we extended to our online sessions. And so we would have it as part of our, you know, I would always be throwing new things into the mix to keep the kids feeling connected and that, you know, that, that this matters. And that was one of the things we did. And it absolutely was a, a joyful thing. And I mean, it, it, it, the science is all there, but I can also speak to it from like, from the heart, from an emotional level, just to see your students to look up and see that they’re completely engaged in this.

Karl Fernandes (10:13):

At the beginning you got the kids that are eyes open looking around, you know, wanting to see if any of their friends are maybe looking around too. But, you know, little by little they kind of come to it. And it’s not for you to, to judge or to scold or whatever it is. You just keep the in imitation open. And it’s tough because our minds are just used to overprocessing and racing and, and jumping around and all that. So, you know, wanna go back to your original thought stillness, right? It just, it, it, it allows you to be just a little more aware and when you’re done. ‘Cause the kids at the beginning thought maybe they’d get sleepy. And I said, it’s the opposite that happens, right? Like, you can talk to ’em a bit about the science of your alpha waves and just help them understand a bit that this actually benefits you. You become more alert and more present. So I, I would en I would encourage it. I, I would think, you know, you need to sort of find out a bit, especially if it’s not something you’ve done yourself. And you can always, there’s so many great resources online and apps and really legitimate websites, platforms that are developed by people that are in this field, so that if you wanna get started, there’s always a, a pathway for you.

Sam Demma (11:19):

It’s such a cool thing to hear about that you’re doing in a classroom with students. I’ve benefited greatly from meditation, from silence, from nature. And I think it’s just awesome to hear that you’re creating those spaces with young students. I didn’t stumble into that when I was in high school. I stumbled into it listening to podcasts, and I would’ve loved to have a teacher introduce me to those things at a younger age. You mentioned you create these safe spaces, and I’m curious to know, how do you think an educator creates a safe space? Like, how do you create a space where students feel like they can be themselves, feel like it’s okay to fail?

Karl Fernandes (12:01):

Yeah, that’s important, isn’t it? Because if you don’t make it clear that we’re inherently gonna make our mistakes and we’re not always gonna have the result we want mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you’re creating a climate that isn’t really welcoming and isn’t really gonna, you know, reach the students. So I think, you know, it starts with just that idea that, you know, when you’re in education, you generally are guided by compassion and a and, and an interest in your students. And, and that comes out in many ways. Sometimes it’s just the being that stable, welcoming presence for them, because they may not have enough of that in their lives. And sometimes it’s just the, you know, the little conversations you can have if it’s in line or, you know, as you’re going out, extracurriculars, field trips, all that. I think what you’re trying to tell the student is that as much as their their homework, it sure it matters.

Karl Fernandes (12:54):

And, you know, all these other things matter. It’s the person that matters the most. And kids have this innate ability to sense when they’re in the presence of someone that welcomes them and will, you know, kind of encourage them. So if, if, if you’re just worried about the rule or the, the way it’s done, you could lose sight of the bigger picture. Whereas here’s someone who’s not that different from us, right? Who’s maybe messed it up a bit today or maybe forgot the thing they should have brought. And maybe, yeah, it is the third time, and that could be trying, but if the child understands that what you’re trying to address is the the actual action of the behavior, not the person, you know, there’s the real opportunity for them to, to reflect and, and children of all ages, like they, they, they, they can come to this place, right?

Karl Fernandes (13:46):

One of the fascinating things that you often, that, that I find I, I enjoy doing with students is when it comes to evaluating a piece of work ask them to evaluate themselves, including with the grade, it’s amazing how hard they’ll be on themselves. Mm-hmm. Right Now you get the occasional kid that’s gonna give themselves the flying a plus <laugh>, but, and you know, that’s all good. But you know, when you, when you’re, when you ask them a little further, they’ll, they’ll come down from that too. But so many, I mean, that’s our human nature, right? And I think there are all these studies out there that talk about how many negative comments we tend to absorb in the course of a day. And even the talk we do with ourselves tends to be a little bit more critical. And so I think as a teacher, you’ve gotta check that sometimes, you know, and you’ve gotta remind yourself that, you know, you can put a lot of positive energy.

Karl Fernandes (14:32):

You don’t have to be like singing songs and clapping hands and all that to show that you’re happy, right? Yeah. Sometimes it’s this calm and peaceful environment you create. I mean, gosh, remember with my younger students years ago, I’d played classical music while we were working, and that was one of those years of the EQAO tests where, you know, scores were like such a big concern and the province and all that. And you know, when your students are asking, can they have, can they listen to Mozart while they’re doing their math work or whatever, I mean, something’s happened, right? And it’s not always classical, but it’s just the fact that we can go there. And so you can just create these little dynamics and you also instill trust, right? So for me, like there are a lot of policies without getting too much into teacher speak, you know, the idea of needing to use the bathroom or get a drink.

Karl Fernandes (15:15):

Like that’s, to me, that’s, it’s automatic, but the only condition I place on that is you’re not going for walks around the school, right? Like, there are things you can do in the classroom if you need to get up, and you have to know when you’re, you know, you need to leave. But if I’m if I’m teaching a split grade, let’s say, and I’m teaching the other side, my students that are currently in independent work, they understand like they’re allowed to get up and go, but it’s a trust thing. If even once I find they’re roaming around or they’re, you know, there’s something that’s, you know, a bit of a disappointing choice they’ve made, they have to answer for it. So, you know, I think when you put all these things in place, it’s for everybody. It’s not just for the student that’s easy to trust.

Karl Fernandes (15:53):

Hmm. Right? It has to be for an invitation for all of them to reach a standard. And I think putting expectations forward, I, I’ve, I’ve talked to people over the years to try and understand this better, and I, I really feel it’s true because sometimes you have a group where you recognize they’re struggling, you know, maybe they’re struggling with expectations or with their academics or whatever. And the question is, well, do you lower the standard and just, you know, make sure everyone can jump right over the fence and get these high grades that may be inflated or whatever. Or are there other ways that you need to think about this? How do we, how kind of scaffold it so that they can, you know, see progress and start reaching. And I tend to prefer that. So I think when students are in a room where they understand their expectations, but there’s also, you know, acceptance and forgiveness and understanding all these things that kind of come part of saying, Hey, we’re all human. So I like that you mentioned failure, because if we’re afraid of it, there’s all this stuff about fear failure. And I think you’ve worked in that space as well about encouraging people to overcome that. It, it, it’s important because then we shift our mindset. There’s a whole thinking around the growth mindset, and that can only come if we see these things that don’t work out as opportunities as opposed to complete failures. Right.

Sam Demma (17:05):

I, I couldn’t agree more. I love that you mentioned this idea that you’re not addressing the person you’re addressing the action or the behavior. And that was a big thing for me as a student because I attached my self worth to my success as an athlete. And I thought subconsciously, if Sam wasn’t seen as a great soccer player, he’d be worth nothing as a person. Whereas in reality, soccer was just a game I chose to play outside of Sam Demma human being. and when I was able to identify that it was a lot easier to overcome the challenges, the mental barriers that I had to moving on and starting something new and continuing to build my life mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I feel like you kind of addressing students by saying, you chose to make this choice. that doesn’t, that’s not necessarily a great reflection of you as a human being. It’s just a choice you made. I’m not addressing you. I’m addressing the choice. Let’s talk about the choice together, not you as a person. I think that’s a great way to have difficult conversations and it’s a lot more disarming. so yeah, I thought that was really, that was really great distinction and I appreciate you making it. Did you know when you were a student walking the hallways of the schools you attended that you wanted to work in education as a teacher?

Karl Fernandes (18:22):

Absolutely not. No <laugh>, I didn’t see it. I, I, I knew, I guess there were probably, it’s, it’s, you know, life is such a mystery, right? Like, where we go and the people we come across and all the things that we’re gonna do, it’s, it’s, you gotta love that, that it’s so unscripted. But I know some people say that they, they figured it out. They knew from time. And I, I just wasn’t in that camp. I, I think the things that probably I could occlude into us, I, I enjoyed presenting and I was pretty good at explaining things to my classmates. if, you know, we were working out certain problems, not in all subjects and not in everything, but, you know, oftentimes I could, could lend a bit that way. And I did get a chance to work with youth a co I took, you know, I was always, you know, on the move picking up a job wherever I could, you know, growing up just to sort of, you know, take care of things and, you know, self put myself through university, the whole nine.

Karl Fernandes (19:14):

So I had to I just, and I also wanted to try everything, you know, I thought, hey, life is about this. It’s not just, you know, one thin line to walk. So I did get a chance to work with students a couple times, including at a sports camp actually. And you know, that was an absolute blast. You know, I just found how much I loved being in that space and you know, all the things that come with it. Cuz when you’re with them all day, it’s a little bit like school, right? Except it’s all about sports, <laugh>, this whole, whole whole you have to learn a lot about your, I mean, know we, we refer to as classroom management, but people misunderstand that thinking. It’s about like managing kids and rules and expectations and it’s really about creating environment, you know?

Karl Fernandes (19:54):

So anyways, I think those things helped inform me, but really and truly, I didn’t sort of listen to that voice properly until I was into my university years. And it wasn’t a sort of a fallback or something. It was literally like, well, which path am I gonna take now? I was really interested in international relations and I had done some you know, like a number of studies and things and I was feeling strongly drawn to that, you know, cause I had an interest in politics and, and, and global issues environment. And so I felt that there was something there that was really calling me. And then there was this thing about, boy, you get to do so many amazing things in, in school and I wasn’t the model that you’d expect to become the teacher, you know? So it was something I had to reflect on a bit.

Karl Fernandes (20:43):

But I realized that, you know, there were certain things that were aligning for me that suggested, you know, even when I’d be in university and I was presenting or I was doing other things, I thought there that space is, is, is fascinating, so I should stay open to it. And then I kind of was, I I I was doing the two degrees concurrently, so I was pursuing my international relations and I was pursuing my work through teachers college. And I think if I was gonna be quite honest with myself, my international relations work was, was really lighting up. I was loving it. And I felt like, you know, my mind was alive and sometimes in, in, in teachers programs, I was a little bit more, you know, we’d be having debates about phonics and I wasn’t particularly excited <laugh> about stuff like that sometimes.

Karl Fernandes (21:27):

So I wondered, you know, even as I was going through it, I didn’t know where I was gonna land. But I kind of ended up lending both because I did some international development projects as a volunteer. And that took me into countries in the developing world where I really got to, you know, do the work and meet people and see things and, and, and reflect on them. And what it’s done is it’s kind of informed my practice because one of the things that I am, I’m homely proud of as an educator is that I’ve connected my students to service projects throughout the years mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, you know, it, it is a bit of a leap. You don’t, it’s not a scripted thing. You figure out, okay, what are we gonna do about this situation? Or how can we get involved? And, and then you have to just have the courage to say, well, may not be perfect, but let’s, let’s put this together.

Karl Fernandes (22:11):

And, you know, so I think in a way, now that I look back at it, all the pieces were there for me. I just didn’t know, you know, what the puzzle was supposed to look like. And in a, in a unique way, I’ve kind of blended these different parts of who I am. So environmental work and international work and, and, and social justice work have all kind of combined. And of course I love the material I get to teach, but you know, your, your, your teaching extends so far beyond the lesson, right? And ideally you’re connecting students to the world in whatever form, and you take kids outside and they just, they just, they’re overjoyed. It’s like, wow, we get to go and do something. Right? So you don’t want to just think of it as a static, you gotta check off. Cuz that’s the thing. There’s this weight, you know, you gotta check off all these objectives and lessons and there’s so much more than that. So I guess that’s a wandering answer, but I guess that’s kind of reflective of my path in education. I don’t think it was something I, I recognized until it just aligned and I realized, yeah, this is, this is right for me.

Sam Demma (23:15):

I’ve had a diverse representation of answers when it came to this question. Some being, I used to play school with my, with my family members growing up and acted like I was the teacher to, I totally just fell into it randomly to, I like an answer like you shared. I liked certain aspects of education like presenting and realized I was passionate about it and, you know, during my university degree got into it. So I think it’s cool to hear that everyone has a very different journey to education because someone might feel overwhelmed or like they missed the boat if they’re a little bit later in their education and have started pursuing something differently. So thank you for sharing that. Your path was a little bit different. Steve Jobs always says you can’t connect. Well, he did say you can’t connect the dots looking forwards. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that at some point in your future, the dots will connect. And it’s a part of his commencement speech and it gives me the goosebumps whenever I’m really discerning a tough decision. And I try and remind myself that, ah, this seems very challenging right now, but I’m sure a year from now looking back, it will all make sense even if I can’t make sense of it in the moment. And that kind of sounds like your journey to getting into education <laugh>. So

Karl Fernandes (24:33):

Yeah. Yeah,

Sam Demma (24:34):

Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate you sharing that. At what point in your educational journey did you start presenting to other teachers and educators? it sounds like you always had a passion for presenting.

Karl Fernandes (24:47):

I think it’s more I was, you know, willing to step forward. I think that’s part of where you, you try to lead in whatever way you can. Cuz in the end, you know, in a school, you’re part of a community and you, you want to contribute in a meaningful way. And it’s tricky because, you know, it’s, it’s one of the tensions that sometimes can exist in schools where you can feel that things are being pulled in all kind of different directions. And so my initiative isn’t more important than another initiative, but perhaps, you know, it’s been in place, it’s been formed and it’s ready to be rolled out and then along comes something else. And sometimes you have to just, you know, move with it. So I say that because I guess sometimes it’s just you’re, you’re asked to do it.

Karl Fernandes (25:34):

I remember years ago, I have to think about this really, but I, I think in one of my first couple years of teaching I was asked to, it was more like, oh, just, I was the new guy, right? So I was like a year or two in, and we, we were at some kind of event and I think I was supposed to either do the welcome or the thank you to somebody and I was just, it was literally like, Hey, can you do this in two minutes, <laugh>? Yeah. So I thought, sure, you know, but it wasn’t exactly something that I knew. It was more like, well, we need someone to do it, let’s ask you kind of thing. And, which was fine. I but I was also, you know, asked by people that were friendly enough that I thought, sure, if I can help out I will.

Karl Fernandes (26:13):

But I remember after that some people came after me and says like, wow, do you do that stuff all the time? Like, no, I just did that cuz you asked me to. But I think, you know, ultimately what it is Sam, is that if you, if, if you’re trying to be purposeful, and I, I think thoughtful about things and that doesn’t mean you’re, it’s rehearsed and you’ve got it all right. But just you think about it, I think that just lends for more opportunities. But the rest of this is unfolded over time. Like sometimes it was school events where, you know, we’d put on, we’d put on some amazing presentations for parents, you know, where the students were, obviously the, the, the, the focus Nice. But you’d need to have it stitched together. And sometimes it was coming together, so, you know, last minute and like with different pieces, like, I’d be working, I, I also work with music in the school, so with one, some of my partners are like, okay, so which one we’re doing next?

Karl Fernandes (27:06):

And all that stuff. And then it would just, you know, I would, I would always wanna give students the mic wherever it’s possible, but where the, where situations are unfolding and it’s not maybe you know, like people can rehearse. That’s possible. Yeah. Yeah. And then, you know, sometimes it’s just like, Hey, this is just live to, so you’ve gotta be ready. Yeah, I’ll take it at those stages. And you know, when you have graduation ceremonies and stuff, one of the things that I felt was so important was to address the grads as a teacher and just thank them and wish them the best. And you try to do it in a poignant, meaningful way because, you know, not all of them gonna get called up for these awards and things like that. And I always think about those other kids that, you know, this is a big piece of their life, you know, this is the foundational piece, and they need to know that they mattered and this whole journey mattered.

Karl Fernandes (27:47):

And it’s not about, well, you know, who got the whatever award. So I kind of, I guess more and more would step forward in those lights. And then as you unfold in your career, you think again about what matters and where you can contribute. And part of that’s also finding the things that you are passionate about and that you know, where you can authentically discuss. Because if it’s something that, like, I, I can, I, I really enjoy teaching math and language and all that, but I, I don’t think I could get really jazzed up to do a presentation on some of that. I can help, you know, and, and, and learn with others and all that. That’s all good. But if I get to talk about, you know, mental wellbeing, if I get to talk about the environment or social justice or classroom management, I’m all in.

Karl Fernandes (28:32):

You know. So I think when I, when I went back to grad school, that kind of unfolded a series of interesting pathways where it went from being in class to, you know, I met someone who worked in I think it was the international education department there. And then I got a call from students asking, could I present at a conference? And then I said, sure. And so I did that. This is for university students. And then from there I was asked to teach a, a certificate course. And then, you know, it just one thing, I guess in the end, you get an opportunity and then it’s what do you do with that opportunity? And, you know, in, in recent years, I’ve been really enjoying my work with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. You know, it’s the provincial level for Catholic teachers in the pro in, in Ontario.

Karl Fernandes (29:13):

I see. And the, the professional development work they do is just fantastic. So, you know, when I came into this some years ago, you just apply and you know, at the beginning you’re in with a lot of really well established people. And so I was just like, I was, again, the new kid, so to speak, but I’m just happy to, you know, learn from others and talk. And then eventually you get tapped and I, I did a presentation and that led to something else. And then I think about within a year, I’m delivering the keynote at a, a conference for educators in Eastern Ontario. And I thought I was doing a workshop when I put my <laugh>, my, my work forward. And they said, no, it’s a keynote. And I was like, okay. And then I thought, well, that’s, that’s fine then, you know, I mean, I believe in what I was gonna talk about, and it was about a teacher’s journey and how we have to think about, you know, how we restore ourselves and how that in turn helps us to create these climates for our students.

Karl Fernandes (30:02):

So I believed in what I was gonna talk about, but they did select it. And then from there, I guess it’s, it’s rolled on. So I, I’m, I’m very, very grateful that I’ve had these opportunities, but I also take each one as, you know, extremely important that it matters. And I, I value the time of my audiences. And oftentimes it’s the conversations you have after the session’s done where you feel so good because you’ve reached someone and they come up specifically to tell you that, or they want to talk more about your ideas. And I’m sure you’ve had plenty of those moments, cuz I know how inspiring your talks are, but this is what we try to do. It’s just about taking what we know and then maybe passing it forward or helping people move along. And then we reflect too. So no two presentations are the same mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Karl Fernandes (30:44):

And each group, I’ve, I’ve spoken to teacher candidates, I’ve spoken to teacher groups, you know where they may be getting a PD session and I’ve done an online in person, it just, you know, you just, you just adapt to whatever the environment is and just try and figure out how can I contribute something here that’s, that’s meaningful. And what can you say, you feel so fortunate when you hear the feedback afterwards that people have benefited in some way. Right? But you don’t rest on that. You know probably, I suspect you have this too, as a presenter, you’re never satisfied. You keep thinking, oh, you know what, here’s a little something I wanna try and do a little differently for the next one. Or, this audience is a little different. I always wanna know a bit about my audience. I don’t wanna take anything for granted.

Karl Fernandes (31:24):

So I’ll be doing a presentation this week to some teacher candidates, and I wanted to know a bit more. And it turns out they’re graduate students, so that means that they’ve had a little bit more time with their program, and perhaps they’re coming at this from different lenses. They wanna look at things at. So that’s important to me to consider when I do the presentation. So, you know, I think it’s opportunities they come and I think it’s just that slow patient work where you put yourself in a situation, but I was never the one to sort of say like, like it’s, it’s, how do I say? Like, I need to get to the front of the line. I think I’d rather be tapped on merit than sort of try too hard to say, you know, me. And now I think I feel, you know, that I, I have a, a lot that I can contribute. And so if I am asked, I, I like to say yes. And so I think that’s a lot about life too. You know, just try and say yes and then invite the opportunities to come.

Sam Demma (32:19):

That’s awesome. You mentioned teacher coming up to you afterwards and how they often tell you how it made them feel and they wanna talk about your ideas further or how it connected with them. And it made me think about success because oftentimes we, well, in the presentation world, you feel like your presentation was a success. When someone walks up to you and says, oh my goodness, Carl, that was amazing. It really connected. I have these new tools to bring into my school. And I’m curious to know how you define success as an educator, not as a presenter, but as an educator. And the reason I ask is because

Sam Demma (32:56):

I think a lot of educators wanna make a positive difference in the lives of the students in their classrooms or the teachers they’re leading. If they’re the principal or the principals, if they’re the superintendent, it, it all comes down to helping mm-hmm. <affirmative> and changing people. But sometimes after a presentation, people won’t walk up to you and tell you how great it was, even though it was, and they still have the connections, but maybe they didn’t feel confident enough to come and tell you, or you changed the student’s life, by the way you talked to them in class for a semester. But they tell you about it 20 years later. And you’re left wondering, well, did I make a difference? and Tom, I’m curious to know, like, how do you define success as an educator? So you don’t, you don’t mislead yourself to believe you’re not making a change or a difference in those moments where people don’t rush up and tell you.

Karl Fernandes (33:51):

Yeah. That’s, that’s that’s a really thoughtful thing to, to ask. And I guess to reflect on, you know, that’s one of the dilemmas about being a teacher, right? Like every, most people think they’re doing it really well, and some people are very hard on themselves and maybe they are trying well, but they’re just, you know, presented with challenging circumstances. And, you know, we’re an egalitarian workforce in a way, right? A teacher is, you know, we’re presented with, you know, more or less the same conditions no matter where, I mean, there are variances of course, but by the nature of our employment, this is what it is. We’re not, you know, vice president of teaching and <laugh>, you know, like something like that, right? It’s just you, you, so what you try to do is, you know, learn to be effective, you know, learn to really succeed with your curriculum.

Karl Fernandes (34:42):

Like you need to know your stuff. And on that, I’m, I’m, that’s where I’m uncompromising, you know, like, you can’t teach something you don’t understand and you know, so you have to put the time in to know your material, to understand, you know, the nuances of it, the, the, the traps that students will maybe get stuck with and all that you need to consider changing grades to sort of see how the building blocks form. Like, that’s one of the things I really loved about going down to primary after years up with the older students and just sort of seeing how things come together at that age. And then I was like, oh, you know, I remember sometimes when my intermediate students would struggle with a concept and I’d be working with them at that level trying to figure out how to plug in for them.

Karl Fernandes (35:21):

And then what it probably turns out is this concept wasn’t fully grasped at a younger grade. They didn’t see it, and then they think they can’t do it. And then it just becomes something, whenever it comes up, it’s like, oh, not that like, you know, like, I’m not good at that. And so when you can sort of see it from all these different levels, you can plug in a little differently and you try to just reinforce it in a way that you hope they’ll carry enough forward, that they’ll feel, I can do this. You know, I’ve got this and that’s what you want to help them feel. But you’re right, it’s, success is abstract in a lot of ways. You know, it’s not performance based. It’s, it’s really a, an intuitive and a a reactive kind of thing, right? How do you feel when you walk out each day, right?

Karl Fernandes (36:08):

Or when you walk in each day at the end of the year. To me that’s an emotional time, you know, like it really is, as much as your birthday and a calendar year are times to take stock and to think about things the end of a school year, oof. When you get to June, I mean, I love my break, but that’s a tough month because, you know, you’re all sensing it, right? It’s kind of like a, a joy and also the bittersweetness of knowing this is gonna end and the students feel it too, you know, no matter what grade they’re in, they recognize this comfort, this, this, these dynamics that are in the room, these jokes that you share, these little routines that you’ve created. So when a student walks up to you in the schoolyard and you know, are waiting till they get to be in your class again, you gotta take that and, you know, just sort of just feel that you reached, you know, yeah.

Karl Fernandes (37:00):

That, that, that, that, that mattered there. And when they remind you, even if it’s repeatedly, do you remember when we did whatever it is mm-hmm. <affirmative> and including the online piece, right? Like, I’ve got students that talk about that. We used to go on these walks into the forest cuz we couldn’t really go very far. <laugh> you know, everything was for prohibited, so, yeah. You know, so it’s like, okay, so I’d make up reasons to take the students out and do science, you know, in front of the school. Like, Hey, we’re gonna look at these trees and we’re gonna look at whatever it is and just let’s get outside. Right? And so we’d go to the forest for these walks and then when we went online in whatever that was, January of that year, I told them, listen I, I searched this up when I found these online like ritual nature walks where someone go put, I guess puts a GoPro on and then goes for it and then you can walk along with them in a sense, right?

Karl Fernandes (37:45):

So I asked my students, would you like to try this cuz there’s some amazing places to go. And they were so enthused about it. And then of course, being these enthusiastic kids, it happened to be the first one I showed them as a winter walk in this forest, and they’re convinced it’s our forest. I’m like, that’s not our forest. Like there’s, there’s <laugh>, there’s almost a river running through it, right? <laugh> then, then they’re convinced it’s me. And like I went out there that morning, like I’m in my kitchen, like <laugh>. So, but you laugh about it together, right? And so I think if I know that those little things mattered, then you feel a sense of, okay, so when I, when when fully grown adults who were my former students, reach out, reach back need to come in and just wanna be in, you know, in your company, how can you not just be overwhelmed with gratitude that like, you know, they don’t have to, right?

Karl Fernandes (38:36):

Like they can be well on their way in this world, they can think back or not. And you can’t measure that. You can’t know, right? The, the test of time is what it is that you just have to trust that you’ve done what you can. And if you’re sincere as a teacher, you do your best and you also recognize that you, you weren’t perfect, you know, you did make mistakes and you hope that there weren’t ones that, you know, maybe you can’t get it back. So you just hope that, you know, they, they don’t take the wrong thing from you. But there’s that old expression I won’t say it properly, but it’s, you know, people may forget what you did and you know all that, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. And so I think, you know, I, I’ve, for whatever it’s worth, like I’ve been invited to former student’s weddings and you know, like now some of ’em are playing in bands like, sir, you gotta come hear me play.

Karl Fernandes (39:19):

And I’m like, sure. You know? So I think those are the, those are some of the markers, right? And I think you, you know, when you get to talk about, they come back and they want to talk about how we won the football championship or the soccer championship way back or you did house league with them. And for some kids, like you see them score their first goal, right? <laugh> because they haven’t really played a much outside of the opportunity to have a House league or something like that. So I think if you were to somehow find a way to quantify all that and put it together, that’s probably a bit about what success would feel like. But ultimately I think you, you know, in your heart, if you’re, if you’re, if you’re being guided by principals and if you don’t stop seeing the students, you know, in front of you is who matters. I think that’s where you can sort of, you know, feel really good. Cuz I really appreciate all the other things I get to do, but none of that would matter very much if I was shorting it out on the, in the classroom side, right? Mm-hmm.

Sam Demma (40:18):

<affirmative>, I love that. Thanks for sharing. this has been a very insightful conversation. It’s already been almost 50 minutes. Before we wrap it up, I got some random rapid fire questions for you. Are you ready?

Karl Fernandes (40:31):

Oh, let me try. Okay.

Sam Demma (40:32):

What’s your favourite sport?

Karl Fernandeas (40:34):

Ooh, gotta be soccer.

Sam Demma (40:36):

What’s the last song you listen to?

Karl Fernandes (40:39):

Ooh, probably whatever my son’s made me listen to <laugh>. He’s always putting earbuds in my ear and says, dad, check this out.

Sam Demma (40:46):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. what was the first grade that you taught?

Karl Fernandes (40:55):

As a professional? It would’ve been grade seven.

Sam Demma (40:58):

Nice. who are you cheering for the World Cup?

Karl Fernandes (41:04):

Sam, now I I, I gotta be careful with this one, right? Because I don’t know who you’re back in, but I’ll tell you what I mean, Canada was, I was so hopeful for them, you know, I went down and get a chance to watch them play at BMO last year before like everyone was in on the bandwagon and it was just a special night watching these guys just light it up. And so I, I think, you know, they, the moment may have been a bit much, I felt they had a really great opportunity in that first match and it just got away. And then from there, you’re looking uphill, right? Like, you know, the math of World Cup, if you get the first one, you’re in a good spot. If you get a tie or a draw, you still are in the conversation, you lose and suddenly the pressure’s on, right?

Karl Fernandes (41:40):

And they didn’t go from a difficulty easy, right? They went from difficult to more difficult <laugh>. So I think that was regrettable and I, it did kind of feel in the end they didn’t have their best showing. They didn’t look, they were kind of exposed at times. So that was tough because I was all up on Team Canada. I was ready to, I wanted for this city too. I really think I’ve said this to a few friends and family members, but I think what Toronto needs to see happen, they needed to see can’s team go for it, you know, have a little bit of a run and get excited about that. I think the city would’ve just been, you know, would’ve let it up. Yeah, exactly. And if, if this, you know, this beloved Toronto Maple Leafs team of ours ever <laugh> succeeds here. I’m telling you it’s gonna be unreal.

Karl Fernandes (42:23):

So I hope, but to answer your question honestly, I think the Final eight are really like, there are some powerhouse teams there. I would put in the top tier, I’ve gotta believe the way Brazil and France are playing. They’re the class of the, the tournament and right underneath that you’ve got a solid group of about three teams. And there, there are very few that I’d say, I don’t wanna say the wrong team and maybe have someone say wait, <laugh>, but there are a couple that I think are probably longer shots to, you know, get to the semis. But how about I gotta ask you too then, like who are you looking at?

Sam Demma (42:51):

You, you just never know. Right? Okay.

Karl Fernandes (42:54):

My, that’s safe. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (42:55):

My, my team was definitely, I was training for Canada. I didn’t yeah, think they were gonna win the World Cup, but I wanted to see them win some games. Yeah. next would’ve been Italy, but they’re not in it and Greek, which are both of my half, half and half my ethnicities and neither of them are in it. So <laugh> yeah, those are cut short. So now I’m just watching for the beautiful game, but I’m not exactly really cheering on anyone and it sounds like you’re in the same boat. So that’s I, I like you said, you know, you appreciate it. It is such a beautiful game and if you’ve, if you played it as you have it, you know your level and you just, you, you can appreciate it, you know, it is, it is such an intricate sport and all the little skills that go into the buildup, that’s what, you know, just makes it so special. Cuz you know, you can watch a basketball game and there can be 200 points scored <laugh>, you know, easily between the two teams and, you know, with soccer they can, they can 120 minutes and Yeah, exactly. Right. And yet the drama and the tension and all that is so, you know, so strong that if you, you have to just sort of appreciate it for, you know, it’s all the, all the things and make it up. So yeah, I’m, I’m all in for good soccer.

Sam Demma (44:03):

Last question for you.

Karl Fernandes (44:04):

Sure.

Sam Demma (44:06):

Educators tuning in, listening, if they wanna reach out to you, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you or ask, ask a question?

Karl Fernandes (44:16):

Fair. Let me think. I guess if they’re, if they’re with the any Catholic school board, you can reach me through OECTA because I am part of the professional development network. I’m also with Toronto Catholic, so all teachers know how teacher email works, where, where it’s your name and then the name of the board. So there’s there. I’m really light on the social stamp to be honest. I think it’s one of those things that, it just didn’t really connect for me very much and I just felt that I’m, I’m happier in person and all the opportunities I could ask for have so many have come my way but a couple years ago I was encouraged to start a a LinkedIn profile. So I, it’s lightly used, but it’s there too if anyone, you know, needed to reach me that way too.

Sam Demma (44:55):

Awesome. Karl, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. I hope we can do a part two maybe a year from now when we all have different, different perspectives and are on different parts of our journey. Enjoy the indoor workouts as it gets cold, and I look, look forward to staying in touch.

Karl Fernandes (45:15):

Sam, I’ve gotta thank you not only for the opportunity of being so great as a host and guiding this, but I think, you know, the work that you’re doing for young people and also just to recognize teachers because, you know, we’re, we’re in a really unique stage right now. You know, in society and there, there, there is a lot of frustration and, and, and, and everything else, and we see it at ground level, you know, with in schools. So for you to actually make a point of giving teachers a chance to talk about, you know, what we love doing and all that, that’s that’s a rare opportunity and it’s, it’s greatly appreciated. So I hope as well for you that, you know, your path continues to lead to all these really meaningful projects and so it’s appreciated.

Sam Demma (45:57):

Thanks, Karl. Appreciate it a lot. And again, we’ll, we’ll talk soon. Maybe I’ll bump into you in the forest <laugh>.

Karl Fernandes (46:03):

Love, love it, love it. But we’ll both be still at that time anyways. Right. So <laugh>, thanks Sam, appreciate it.

Sam Demma (46:11):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Karl Fernandes

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.

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor
About Suzanne Imhoff

Suzanne Imhoff, is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School in St. Croix Falls Wisconsin. She is a Nationally Board Certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after 4 years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Council, CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club), basketball and softball coach.

Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journey. She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people.

She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweets Creative Confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically, inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be.

Connect with Suzanne: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Croix Falls High School

Siren Schools

Wisconsin Association of School Councils

It’s All in Your Head: Get Out of Your Way by Russ

CADA State Convention

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Suzanne Imhoff. She is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School, and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. She’s a nationally board certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools and then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after four years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Councul, the CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club) basketball and softball coach. Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journeys.

Sam Demma (00:57):

She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people. She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces, which you’ll hear about on the show today, breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweet’s creative confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be. I hope you enjoy this energizing conversation with Suzanne and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are a joined by a very special guest that I met when I was in Turtle Lake, not in Canada, but in the US of A <laugh>, and her name is Suzanne Moff. She was a part of a, a conference that I was a part of and she came up to me after the presentation and showed me a picture of a beautiful cake she designed <laugh> along with letting me know that she was involved with state leadership and her school’s leadership. And it got me really excited to, to invite her on the show and she’s here with us today. So, Suzanne, please introduce yourself and let everyone know a little bit about what it is that you do.

Suzanne Imhoff (02:16):

Hi. Yeah. I met Sam first virtually a couple years ago when the pandemic happened, and then in person. I’ve been teaching for 27 years now and been with student leadership for that long. Started out in Siren, Wisconsin, but stayed there for four years and I’ve been with my current district for the next 24. I, well, truth be told, was never going into education and was never going to deal with students, with kids ’cause that’s what my parents told me I was gonna do <laugh> and so I was gonna do something completely different. Yes. And then I found myself and everything I was doing for fun outside of what I had to do and going to school was teaching, and so finally I got on my own way and went into education and I, I’d love it.

Suzanne Imhoff (03:11):

There’s just nothing else I’d rather do. I, I think about it and with everything that’s gone on in Wisconsin with education and I guess the United States for that matter I like, oh, I could open, like key said, open my own bakery, and then I’m like, oh yeah. And then I could have a side room where I could have people come in and I could teach ’em how to do things. Oh, so you’re back to teaching. So why get out of teaching to go back into teaching <laugh>? so it’s just in my blood. It’s just what I love to do. I, I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I, I love coaching, I love teaching art. I love the student leadership portion of it, which I’ve been doing since 1995. Probably Sammy weren’t even born, but you know, there’s that

Sam Demma (03:54):

<laugh> you mentioned you’ve been teaching for 27 years and in, you know, in student leadership for that long as well. Does that mean year one you started with student council and helping out with extra cooker activities where you could

Suzanne Imhoff (04:09):

Actually I was involved with the state student council organization that I belonged to Scott Association of School Councils even before I got my first job. Oh, wow. I graduated in May and got a call and said, Hey, we need some help at this leadership camp. I’m like okay. Don’t know what that is. They’re like, okay, we’ll be in Stevens point at one o’clock on a Friday. And I’m like, okay. And I did, and I was hooked saw what it did for kids in one week. the difference that that camp made, I thought, oh, this is something I need to be involved with. And so when I got my first teaching job, I coached basketball. I had been coaching basketball all through high school and through in college, played basketball in college. And then I, I just knew that the classroom isn’t where everything is learned.

Suzanne Imhoff (04:59):

And to me, you can learn just as much on the sports field or in a club if not more of what you need to take out of, you can teach the X’s and o’s you know, addition, subtraction and all that kind of stuff. But truly a student, a kid learns, develops, becomes who they are in these other things. And that’s why I feel it’s so important that they are happening and that I’m able to guide students with that, I guess. Hmm. I, I feel like I do more of my teaching outside of my actual classroom than I do within my classroom.

Sam Demma (05:34):

Hmm. You mentioned that that first, you know, student leadership camp that you went to, it just really opened your eyes to how important those types of activities were because it has the potential to change a young person’s life. You’ve been involved in teaching for 27 years and student leadership, and I’m sure you’ve seen so many like student transformations. can you think of a student who at the start of a new year was really timid and shy or was struggling and by the end of a leadership experience or just, you know, a full year of school really butterflied and just really grew per personally as a, as a, as a human being? And if so, what was that story like? Share it with us. And the reason I ask is because I think educators, that’s why they got into teaching in the first place cuz they wanted to make a difference, you know?

Suzanne Imhoff (06:26):

Yeah. it’s, it’s funny the two stories come to mind. well the first one was a girl who Shai wouldn’t say anything. She was actually she would in small groups would be fine, but was never, she’s like, I’m gonna lead behind the scenes. I’m gonna do this. We had an assembly. I knew she could be that person and I knew she could go out but would never put herself out there. had an assembly. All the kids are in a homecoming assembly needs to start. And I handed the microphone. She’s like, what am I supposed to do with us, Michael? We gotta get this party started. And she’s like, yeah, but, but I go, they’re all way to go. She’s like, what? What? And she stuttered and she, but she went out and she did it. And to this day she will still come back and say, I will never forget that day.

Suzanne Imhoff (07:12):

I didn’t think I could do it, but I knew that you would never tell, put me in a situation cuz it’s something I’ve always told my students, but that you would never put me in a situation that you didn’t think I could do. Mm-hmm. I would never, I, and I, I tell ’em, I’m not gonna ask you to, you may not think you could do it, but I’m gonna put you out there cuz I think you could do it. And she’s like, I, I knew I could do that. Wasn’t comfortable with it, didn’t wanna continue to do it, but I did it and I lived and was able to take that experience and into her adult life. And now she’s married and has her own children and she still comes back and tells that story. The other one I have it was a of a, a boy who as a freshman you couldn’t get two words out of him. Mm-hmm. His end result was becoming the state student council president and then going on to Yale University and graduating from there.

Sam Demma (08:09):

Damn.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:11):

I never thought anything of it other than I was doing my job. I’m like, I saw something in him. And again, I, like I said, I’ve always told the kids, I’m not gonna put you in a situation that I don’t think you can do. And I had him doing things. I’m like, oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you do this here, go do this. I need you to do this. And each year I just pushed him a little farther. He was my student council president and had him run for the regional officer and then as the regional president, he ran for the state president and became that. And I, and it never really dawned on me, I guess and thought about it until his graduation party and his parents came up to me and they’re like, thank you.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:53):

I’m like, for what? And they’re like Matt’s going to Yale because of you. And I’m like, no, he’s not. Matt’s going to Yale because Matt’s smart. Matt’s got a lot going for him. He’s done a lot of great things. They’re like, no, you put him in situations where he could be successful and make himself better and that we thank you for that. And I never looked at it like that. I just looked at it like, oh, I need to help this kid get to his full potential. I need to get him into positions. Putting him, taking him places, taking him to those, you know, leadership things that where we met. and that’s why I do what I do. And that to me is that’s the pinnacle. That’s, that’s my driving force behind things is, oh, that made, you know, those are like what I call my career makers <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (09:42):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> sometimes I’m just like, why am I doing this job? And then I’ll get a text or I’ll get an email or I’ll get, you know thank you from a parent. And I was like, oh, okay. Well that’s why, that’s why cuz I touched that person’s life and I was able to help them move forward in a positive direction. So Yep. Okay. Worth it. Check. And then I can con that fills my bucket and I can continue to move on. And if it’s only one student a year, that’s one more student than I would’ve done had I not been in that position or not kids in those positions. So, Hmm. That’s why I do it. But those are two of the stories that really come to mind when I think about did it work? Do am I doing the right thing? And so, yeah.

Sam Demma (10:21):

Did did you have an educator in your life when you were growing up, tap you on the shoulder and help you try and reach your full potential? Like it was, is there a full circle story

Suzanne Imhoff (10:31):

<laugh>? There is. Well, it’s kind of funny because I just didn’t realize it until after the fact, but my dad was an educator. Mm. well he was a teacher and then became a business manager and then became a superintendent. I hated every minute of that <laugh> thought, oh God, never would I ever do that to my children. I will never be an educator, they’ll never go to school with in the same school. They’re like, I’ll never do that. Both my children will graduate from the same high school I teaching. So never say and ever. but I did have a a teacher who I’m still in contact with that is the person that I could go to for whatever. And she taught health class of all things. and, but she was just somebody I could talk to. And I look back at having that one person made a huge difference in my life.

Suzanne Imhoff (11:23):

And if I’m that one person, whether I have ’em as a student or not, meaning if they’re come to my art class and wanna take art class, they’re all my students. They’re all my kids. I really call ’em my kids. but having that means that I’m there for that person and didn’t realize how much the mental health part of it was a big deal back then that I needed, that isn’t, you know, it wasn’t put out there as mental health like it is today, thank goodness. but yeah, so I’m still, still in contact with that person. Still have a great relationship with them and see him all the time when I can when I go back to the hometown. And so yeah, I guess I did. But my dad was also that person that, you know, he saw it, he knew it, he told me wish he wouldn’t have, would’ve saved me a lot of time in college, but I had to figure it out for myself. I might have that little stubborn streak in me. I like to call it determined streak. I like it. <laugh>, <laugh>. But I did, I had to get outta my own way and see it for myself before I could actually achieve it. So I loved that my students to see that as well.

Sam Demma (12:33):

The, there’s a book I really love called it’s All in Your Head and the subtitle, the book is Get Out of your Way and the Every Time You Say It, that Book’s Confidence in my Mind. <laugh> one of the things I admire about you is that you’ve continuously pursued your other passions along with your teaching and your education work. And sometimes people that get involved in education get so consumed by it that the things that they also love doing. Take a backseat. One of the things I know you love doing is designing cakes and <laugh>, not only maybe baking in general, but not only do you like designing cakes, but you’re pretty damn good at it. <laugh>, <laugh>. The cakes are freaking awesome. thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about how you manage the time? Like, of balancing both losing yourself in education and service of, of young people, but also making sure that you, you spend some time on things that bring you joy personally as well?

Suzanne Imhoff (13:34):

Well, yeah, it’s, there’s times where I’m like, oh, why did I say yes to make this cake? Cause you have a full-time job, do that. And then I start making it and it’s creativity and that it, as much as it, I’m like, oh, I don’t really have time, but it de-stresses me. So I actually doing that forces me to do something that makes me happy. I working with fondant or modeling clay or gum paste, it’s just edible clay, it’s what I do. It’s, you know, people like, oh, did you, you know, go to a class? I’m like, no. Well, maybe I guess college when I worked with clay, but that’s all it was. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s edible clay. People are like, oh, it’s too pretty to eat. I’m like, well eat it because it’s cake. And if you don’t eat cake, that’s just dumb <laugh> cake.

Suzanne Imhoff (14:20):

I mean, so yeah, it’s, you know, I, I like the sculpting aspect of it. I, and it’s my release and I work late at night. I’m a night owl. Yeah, I’d like to be able to sleep. I’m not a morning person. I get up when I do it and I, for myself that extra cup of coffee the next day sometimes. And and obviously more you practice the, the better you get. I am by no means a perfect cake decorator or sculptor, but it’s gotten easier. I’m able to do things faster, so that helps. and it’s funny cuz I do involve my family cause they’re my daughter, she’s an artist, but my husband and my son, no, not at all. <laugh>. I love them dearly, but it’s just not their thing. Yeah. But I ask them, what do you think of this? And they’ll be like, you know, if they’re like, here’s something or if there’s like something they have something’s off on it then I know that the person, cuz I’ve been staring at it for so long that, you know, can’t see.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:19):

If they see it, then there is something that needs to be, or if I’m just being over critical of myself. but it really is a stress really for me. I can actually physically feel myself less stressed after making something, creating something, be it out of cake or decorating cookies or whatever it is. so it might be more time. I might get a little less sleep, but in the end it’s worth the de-stressing that it does for me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the family doesn’t mind cake scraps that I cut off to level the cake or sculpting <laugh>. That’s never an issue. Always having frosting in the fridge, never an issue

Sam Demma (15:58):

<laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:59):

So it, it benefits them as well sometimes.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Just to give context to the listener, this is not a box of cake you buy from the grocery store mix with eggs and 30 minutes later, voila. this is a cake that you would buy at a charity event for $2,800 <laugh>. These are cakes that look identical to a dinosaur. Cakes that have Rapunzel with her hair coming down the cake and going all the way around the base. how long does it take to bake one of these and design one of these cakes?

Suzanne Imhoff (16:39):

Roughly takes, well it depends upon how, you know, if I’m sculpting or whatever on average I would say the least amount of time I’d spend on a cake would be seven hours. And I have spent probably 24 to 30 hours on cakes. It depends upon what the amount of sculpting that I’m doing. and if like for a wedding cake you know, if I’m making cupcakes then I’m at it. I’m making the toppers that go along with all of those those kinds of things. So it all depends upon the amount of sculpting that I’m doing with it. I absolutely love making sugar roses. Those are very time consuming, but they’re so therapeutic. I absolutely love, love, love making them and that my goal is always to make them look as realistic as possible. People are like, oh my gosh, that was made outta sugar. So yeah. But you can eat it

Sam Demma (17:28):

<laugh>. What, what was your introduction to baking? Was it something that you were introduced to in school or how did you get into it?

Suzanne Imhoff (17:37):

Really, I had seen stuff on TV and my son was having a jungle birthday party. cuz I’m that mom who goes overboard on birthday parties. <laugh> always have it’s hard baby. And so I decided, oh well you know what? Let’s just try this. And that was my first cake and he was eight, he’s now 18, so 10 years ago I guess. and I’m like, oh well that wasn’t too bad. And then my daughter had her birthday, well his was in November and hers was in February. So then I’m like, oh, let’s try her. So she had a pink poodle. So I just started sculpting out of the spawn stuff and just kind of blossomed from there. I didn’t, I didn’t really have a, I dunno, I’ve always lud to bake, so that was never an issue. but the whole cake part of it was, oh well I used to watch Cake Boss a lot and then Ace of Cakes. I absolutely love the fact that he would be like, wow the wack and do different things and try different things and stuff. So I haven’t convinced my husband that I need a wood shop in my son’s spare bedroom when he leaves and goes to college next year. So I’m working on that. But

Sam Demma (18:44):

<laugh> That’s awesome. baking teaching, you mentioned that coaching has also been a part of your educational journey in your life. Tell me a little bit about that.

Suzanne Imhoff (18:55):

Yeah, I coaching is just to me is an extension of the classroom. it’s just another place to teach students how to be them, be their best selves and it takes it one step farther because they have to do that and also be a teammate and help others be their best selves. so I find that as a challenge in a different level of it’s a different level of commitment. it’s not necessarily, yes, you have your exes and nos and you’ve got your plays and you’ve gotta do all that stuff, but I’ve always taught, taught my student, my student athletes that you guys have to work as one. Cuz I coach basketball and softball. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, those are the two sports that I have coached. and you have to work as one and you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Suzanne Imhoff (19:48):

Not Michael, but it’s something that I, I think is true because you can have all parts going and one part doesn’t go it, the play’s not gonna work. And then what are you gonna do? I mean, there’s a lot to be said with that. So either you’re gonna just fall apart or you’re gonna adapt and figure out how to make that part work. Or you’re gonna figure out, okay, if this isn’t gonna work with that part of that’s not, that teammate’s not gonna do what we’re gonna ask him to do, then how are we gonna work around that? How are we gonna adapt to the situation? How are we gonna, you know, basketball, you adapt to the defense and all of a sudden one time down on the floor, they’re playing zone. The next time they’re playing, man, you gotta change your def your offense.

Suzanne Imhoff (20:26):

And can you react to that? How do you react to that? Do you just give up? Do you just panic? Do you, you know, so there’s just so many life lessons that can happen on the court and getting to know kids on a different level. it’s a win-win because then it comes back to my classroom and they see me in a different light and I see them in a different light. you know, sometimes they come in and they’re like, you can just tell that they need some space. It’s like, okay, you’re gonna take this, we gotta come back to it. But, you know, take this time, take the same thing on the court. You know, they can come into practice and I coach girls and there’s drama, always drama hate. It drives me crazy. What are my girls? You have to be the best teammates when you are on this court.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:12):

I don’t care if if your teammate just kissed your boyfriend right before you walked into practice. It’s doesn’t matter on this court. Yeah. Because on this court, you guys are the best friends, you’re the best teammates. Now when you go outta here, you have to sell that whatever way. But when you’re on this court, you are together as one and outside of here has to go away. So you have to kind of separate that and how it’s just like going to a job. You know, there’s people you, you have to deal with at your job that you don’t have to deal with outside. And you have to figure out how you’re gonna manage that within that timeframe and make things successful for you and your teammates. And how are you gonna build them up even if it’s somebody you don’t like that happens. That’s life.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:53):

So, and that’s the one thing about it. I just love that you’re able to, to teach them the life skills that they can have going forward and translate that into every other part of their lives. and getting to know them. Just some of my, the students that I come back in I see all the time are the ones that not necessarily were in my classroom, they were on my court or they were in my student council, or they were in our clowns mentoring group. I mean, those are the ones that you kinda get to know at a different level versus here’s my subject matter, learn that and then we’ll, I’ll give you a grade and then we’ll move forward. So it’s learning and meeting kids where they are and meeting ’em on a different level. and being a human to ’em, you know, it’s like, it’s kinda like being their friend but not, but it’s a respect, like, I’m still your teacher, I’m still your coach.

Suzanne Imhoff (22:43):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I’m here for you. But we aren’t gonna cross, you know, there’s that line of respect of I’m gonna respect you, you have to respect me, there’s boundaries. but I’ve, I’ve got you, you know, I’m here for you. I will do what I can to help you get through whatever it is you need to get through or meet the needs, your needs at that at that moment. And coaching allows me to do that, which I really, really enjoy. It’s tough this year cause I’m not coaching cause my son’s a senior. so I’m missing that. And I’ve had some of the middle school kids who I coached last year. They’re like, what do you mean you’re not coaching? I’m like, I can’t give you everything that I need to give you because I want to be able to be there for my son and I don’t think it’s fair. Let’s just leave practice early. I’m like, well that doesn’t put you as a priority and as a coach, if I’m coaching you, you are a priority to me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And if I can’t give you that full priority, then it’s then I’m not going to be that person there for you. So I just love the relationships. I, I, I kind of thrive on those relationships. I guess they mean a lot to me.

Sam Demma (23:49):

What is the clowns mentoring program? The name caught my attention, but I’m sure it’s amazing. <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (23:56):

Well, I have 35 high school students who choose to dress up as different clowns. scary. And what they do is, I know four times, it’s four times a year. We go here at the high school. We will plan they get, they have the, they have their their rings is what we call them. We have a ring leader and then there’s three or four column to work together. They plan a half hour lesson that they’re going to teach elementary students in grades 4K through fourth grade. Nice. they had to come up with their icebreakers, the activities, the, how are they gonna wrap it up. they give ’em a treat, but they plan the lesson, they execute the lesson. They just happen to dress up as clowns. a different persona for them to, it helps the high school student kind of release like, oh, I have this call makeup of and I look like this.

Suzanne Imhoff (24:50):

So, and then they’re going in front of these elementary kids who just absolutely adore them. And anything that they say comes out of them, you know, is, is golden. but I do see the high school students learn just as much as these elementary kids. They the lessons are all based on, we have a program called Saints Cares for St. Falls Saints. so each month has a different target. one is manners or gratitude or empathy. And so the students will base their lessons that they’re gonna teach the kids on whatever month it is that we are going to, to make the visit. each group visits two to three different classes through that day. We get, we hit every classroom in those grade 4K through fourth grade. and we have four classrooms per grade level. So it’s, it’s, it’s something that, it’s funny cause I don’t really have to work hard to get kids to wanna do it.

Suzanne Imhoff (25:42):

Cause these kids had the clowns come and visit them. And every time I ask ’em, why do you guys wanna be a com? They’re like, oh, it was so, it was awesome when they came, they taught us so much. And I wanna give that back to, I wanna give that experience to these kids right there as a, as a mom, as a teacher, as an advisor. That’s why we do what we do. If we can teach our children to want to give back for what they got out of something, that to me is makes it all worth it.

Sam Demma (26:13):

That’s so, cause

Suzanne Imhoff (26:14):

It was a program that was, yeah, it was a program that was gonna die. And I’m like, no, this can’t die. I have had my children go through it and I see what it does for these kids. So I took it on because I had nothing else to do, which is not true. But

Sam Demma (26:27):

<laugh> you know, earlier, a couple minutes ago you said that you turned down coaching because you knew that you wouldn’t be able to give it the time it deserves. You wouldn’t be able to prioritize the students, the athletes. And then you’re just telling me now that you said yes to doing the clown thing and, and you were busy like you already had other things going on. I think it’s so rare to have an educator that like truly wants to say yes and finds it very hard to say no. Because I think there’s also the reverse that want to say no and try and avoid saying yes to things. And yeah, I just think it’s really cool to hear your perspectives and, and to have you on the show. the clown program. My follow up question was gonna be, have you had a student who was impacted by the clowns and then became one? but you answered that, that that’s so cool that it’s, it’s been around for that long and the impact is now transforming into the teachers of the program. You said it was about to die. How did, how did you resuscitate it? <laugh> the, the program.

Suzanne Imhoff (27:30):

Nobody wanted to do it. And so I’m just like, Nope, I’m gonna do it and we’re gonna kind of restructure it and we’re gonna make it. It kind of was starting to get be the, the previous advisor wasn’t really having the kids stay focused. They were kind of just the high school kids, not Mm. it and wasn’t really putting the effort was kind of just there to, to do it and was like, yeah, I’m done and nobody was gonna step up. I’m like, they’re like, well if nobody’s gonna do it, then we’re not gonna have the program anymore. And I’m like, this just means too much for both the elementary kids and the high school kids. Like I said, I see these high school kids, they’re putting themselves out there. Yeah. I got kids who don’t say boo to high schoolers, don’t say anything and they’re willing to go and stand in, in front of a room of 20 little kids, elementary kids and teach them about good morals and values.

Suzanne Imhoff (28:27):

I mean, if we don’t want that as a program, I don’t know what we want <laugh>. I mean, if we would and to have high school students want to teach that and model that. I mean, it’s a mentoring group. We call it that because they have to follow the behavior that they’re teaching. And I have to turn kids away cuz I can only take so many. and they know that there’s, there’s high expectations and if they don’t follow, I’ve had to head kids, you know, I’m like, guys, your grades matter. You have to be a student first. you have to carry a c or above. It’s, you have, these are expectations. These kids they may not know of, but they know how you are behaving and acting. And you have to be that role model with or without the kind of, the story behind it is they’re like, so for some of the kids are like, we know who you are.

Suzanne Imhoff (29:20):

You’re a high school student. They’re like, no, every clown has a doppel, ganger human <laugh>. So they have a twin in the human world. <laugh>. So anytime a human is born, a clown is born as well. And the clowns are like 472 years old and they’re their age is their, their lunch number actually <laugh>. and so that’s how they get it. And they’re like, well why aren’t you? Why is it just your face that’s white? So they paint their face white and, and a symbol on there because the older they get the more the whiteness spreads as a clown. And they’re pretty young so they’re not, they’re not old enough to have their whole body coming in. White makeup <laugh>, there’s a whole story behind it. You know, it goes with that whole Santa Claus Easter bunny, that kinda thing. And

Sam Demma (30:09):

Is this totally created, like the whole story is created by you and and the group of people. That’s so cool. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (30:16):

Yeah. And they, like I say, the kids, the, all of my clowns, I have all but two cuz two have moved in and our clowns have gone through it. They saw them, they and they’re like, we totally thought that was, they were, that was a real, real thing. <laugh>. and, and like I said, but they’re like, it was so cool that would, they would come and that they would spend time with us cuz they go out to recess with them. So they teach ’em these lessons. They eat lunch with them, they go out to recess, they play games with them. and there are, you know, they just remember that again, it goes back to that time outside the classroom that makes a difference in a kid’s life that I, I have had a student tell me, they’re like, you know, the clowns cup came and that was the only day I felt special.

Suzanne Imhoff (31:05):

Mm-hmm. Because they would sit with me and they would talk with me and they would play with me. And I really truly felt special on the days that clown came to visit. So that’s why I wanna do this. I want, if I can help one person, so what I do and the reason I do it is the same reasons they do it. And so that to me is why I’m like, oh yeah, can’t, and we don’t, we’re self-funded. The kids have a a fee. They buy their own makeup, they come up with their own costumes. They’re all themed costumes. It’s not like your traditional clowns. like my, my daughter is currently one and she’s strawberry shark cake. She doesn’t like you call, she just like calling strawberry. So she wears course,

Sam Demma (31:46):

Of course. The

Suzanne Imhoff (31:46):

Strawberry sweater. Yeah. No, I’m like, ah, strawberry shortcake.

Sam Demma (31:49):

Of course there’s a cake in there. Strawberry

Suzanne Imhoff (31:51):

Leggings, strawberry earrings. She puts the white makeup and then puts strawberries on her face. Strawberry headband. So they’re kind of, each one has a theme. Mitz he’s a baseball clone. and then we have qb, he’s the football clown. Yes. So yeah, they’re all different kind of themes and the kids love getting dressed up. I mean, who doesn’t? Cause I do

Sam Demma (32:14):

<laugh>. This is, this, this program sounds amazing. <laugh>. it’s funny, I was talking to an educator the other day from, it would’ve been British Columbia, one of the provinces like far far west in Canada. And he was like, every year I go to California to this conference called Kata. And it’s like the, it’s a big leadership conference in California. And have you been before by any chance?

Suzanne Imhoff (32:37):

I’ve heard of it. I’ve wanted to go. Go. I’ve heard of it.

Sam Demma (32:39):

Yeah. So, so ba basically what he told me was like, leadership in Canada is like a cookie leadership in the US is like, Suzanne m h’s $2,800 cake <laugh>. He’s like, he’s like, it’s a, it’s just a different, it’s just a different experience. Like it’s so, it’s such a big part of the culture and such a big part of the education system. And for someone who’s not familiar with like a statewide conference, like what does that look like? What does a statewide leadership conference look like?

Suzanne Imhoff (33:12):

It’s funny you asked because I’m hosting the one our school is hosting, the one we’re having this year. so you’ll have kids from all over the state come in. We have a keynote speaker. It’s a two day conference, usually a Sunday, Monday. they come in and we have a keynote speaker and then we have regional business meetings where we elect officers, state officers. Nice. talk about things that hit on the regional levels. The state of Wisconsin’s divided into six regions. and then opposite that they have what we call super sectionals cuz they’re a little bit longer. So they’re our sectionals where we have presenters who will present on anything from mental health to how to lead after high school, how to lead in high school, how to any aspect, servant leadership fundraising, I mean, you name it, we, any topic that the kids would want to potentially hear about.

Suzanne Imhoff (34:15):

So we have those. we have banquet, we award like regional administrators of the year, state administrators of the year. Oh wow. also advisors give different leadership roles. And then we have some entertainment of course dances and fun things like that. And then on Monday we have another keynote speaker, but then we have other sectional breakouts as well. The ones on Sunday are typically led by adults, but the ones on Monday are led by students. Oh, wow. So different groups will put together some, like maybe presenting on a service project that they do or different organizations that they work with or different ways that they lead in their school or how they can get students involved. how do they run their homecomings? How do they run different community service opportunities different things. So whatever they want to, how to run a meeting, how to I know this year we’re gonna be bringing in some kids who have graduated.

Suzanne Imhoff (35:21):

Matt, the student I talked to you about earlier, he’s gonna come back and, and sit on the panel and say, okay, how did you take your leadership from high school level to the college level? Mm. And then from college, how do you take it beyond there? So there’s gonna be sectionals based for like freshman and sophomores and then once for juniors and seniors. Like, how can I continue this? I’m here, I’m in this small and a fishbowl of my school. How do I take it to the next level of college if I’m going to, you know, say UW Madison or a big school or even if I’m going to a private school, how do I stay involved and how do I use what I’ve learned going forward? So those will be there’ll be four, three different opportunities, but there’ll be probably 15 to 1220 different sessions.

Suzanne Imhoff (36:04):

Wow. And then we have a closing thing and they, then they go home. So that’s our, the state cover. So it’s a, we have big speakers come in, but then we also, I like the breakout sessions where students can go and, and learn different things that maybe interest them. So, nice. But that’s, yeah, on Sunday it’s usually adults. It doesn’t have to be. but then student led breakouts, which again, it’s putting kids in leadership situations, they have to lead the group, they have to lead these, you know, presentations. So they’re learning skills just as much as the person attending the students that are attending. So

Sam Demma (36:40):

That’s awesome. Yeah, I was gonna say, when you mentioned awards for administrators of the year and stuff like that, that’s, that’s really cool because it’s part, it’s partly for the educators and the adults as well, not just the, not just the students. So, oh yeah. That’s cool. I’m, I’m assuming there’s a big community around it, like each, each year is it held at a different school and all of you come together and it’s like, oh my gosh, Jane, I haven’t seen you since last year. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:06):

<laugh>. Yep. Oh yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s kinda like old home week whenever we get together and be able to, you feel like you just pick up where you left off the last time. You know, it’s a nice network. it that you can build as an advisor. I’ve, you know, I’ve relied on these people, some of these other advisors that I’ve met through this, you know, and through the state conference and through other activities that we’ve done that I’m like, oh, guy sitting on the email, okay, this is my situation. Have you guys ever experienced this? Some have, some haven’t. Hey, gimme some tips. Check. I mean, you, you can’t, can’t live in a bubble and think you’re going to, you know, get it all solved yourself. Learn from others’ experiences, steal ideas, you know, share what you’ve done with, you know, oh yeah, you’re gonna run this at homecoming.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:52):

Oh, we did that. Just know that, you know, this is the issues that we ran into or this is what was so successful. You know, why reinvent the wheel? Let’s take it and make it better. And sharing, I, I think you have to know, you have to work together. You have to give ownership to, you know, or give away the ownership. It’s not mine, it’s ours. Let’s make it all better and let me learn from you and you learn from me. And again, the end result is making students better and whether up here in northern Wisconsin or they’re in the southern part of the state. So that’s the important part.

Sam Demma (38:25):

Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. I was recently at a professional development conference to learn in Calgary, which is about a four hour flight from where I am now. and while I was sitting in the crowd, there was a slide that came up on one of the presenter’s presentations and the slide said something along the lines of, when a group of people get lost together in developing and building a worthy cause and none of them care about who gets the credit for it, that’s when real change gets made. And it sounds like this statewide type of a conference is, is similar. It’s like everyone’s coming together with the goal of hoping to make students’ lives better and help them reach their full potential. And to also help, you know, appreciate some of the staff that played a role in their lives. I just think it’s a really beautiful thing.

Sam Demma (39:11):

It, switching gears for a second, if you could travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder the first year you started teaching, but maintain all of the experiences you had now, kind of like getting in the back to the future car, but not going to the future. But going back if you could like walk into that first classroom you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Suzanne, this is the advice I think you need to hear. not because you would change anything about your path, but knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had, what would you have told your younger self?

Suzanne Imhoff (39:44):

I guess the one thing I would say would be it’s okay to the, to let my students fail. Hmm. I know that, and we’ve always said it, but to truly let them fail in what is happening. and not worry if it is a reflection on whether I failed or not. Hmm. and that’s, that was, that’s probably been the hardest lesson for me to learn. Cuz I’m like, okay, so alright, you’ve gotta do this. Oh, they’re not doing it, I’ll just do it. Hmm. No, I need to like let them not do it. if they were supposed to have a poster out and advertise it and then we don’t get as many people, well guys, we didn’t get as many people why what the reflection and evaluation of anything that I’ve done. That would be the one thing is looking at, you know, the failure as okay.

Suzanne Imhoff (40:40):

And it’s kind of cliche, but it’s a learning experience and I didn’t truly embrace that until I was into, well into my teaching and advising. And that would be the one thing that would be like, okay, no, you need to truly realize that it doesn’t make you a bad person because the event wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped. Mm. Or the lesson didn’t quite go as you had planned. That’s okay. What are you gonna do next time? What are we gonna, where, how are we gonna move forward from it? and know that it’s okay, that’s gonna happen. And if it doesn’t happen, that’s when you aren’t moving anybody forward because you don’t really truly learn or get better. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> if you don’t go outta your comfort zone. Hmm. And I, that was, I knew it. I’ve had had people tell me that, but I didn’t truly embrace it. And that would be the one thing I would go back and cuz there’s like times where I’m like, you know, if you had to let that kind of not go and not have done all the things for the kids, we would’ve gotten to the better place that we are now sooner. Hmm.

Suzanne Imhoff (41:52):

If that makes sense. It does. This took a little longer, kind of like when my parents, if I were to <laugh> listen to them going out, out of the box, I would’ve gotten into education a little sooner. But

Sam Demma (42:03):

Yeah. Hindsight’s 2020, right. <laugh> right

Suzanne Imhoff (42:06):

Own way. That’s what I I i that you just need to get outta your own and realize that you can do this and you will make mistakes, but you’ll get there and you’ll get there sooner if you stop telling yourself that you can’t do it.

Sam Demma (42:22):

Hmm. I love that. I think it applies for educators as well. You know, you’ll become the educator you always want to be when you stop telling yourself that you can’t or that that you don’t have the skills required or whatever the story might be. But yeah, I appreciate you for sharing a lot of your wisdom and insights today on the show. If someone’s, it’s already been almost like 45 minutes. If, if someone I know we, it’s a great episode. If someone wants to reach out, ask you questions, buy cake <laugh> <laugh>, well, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Suzanne Imhoff (42:55):

Oh yeah, sure. Emailing me is probably the, the, the best way that I check that constantly, but that’s imhofsu@scfschools.com

Sam Demma (43:14):

Awesome. Suzanne, thank you again for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, and keep baking those cakes and we’ll talk soon.

Suzanne Imhoff (43:20):

Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. It was great. It was fun.

Sam Demma (43:24):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Suzanne Imhoff

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.

Hoi Leung – Principal of Pickering High School

Hoi Leung – Principal of Pickering High School
About Hoi Leung

Hoi Leung is the principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. While helping to tutor his friends at University, Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest is history.

Connect with Hoi: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Pickering High School

Durham District School Board

Science and Business – University of Waterloo

Faculty of Education – Queens University

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Hoi Leung. Hoi is the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. He has a background in engineering before in his second year, switching into a slightly different career path which brought him to where he is today in education. It started while tutoring and helping to tutor his friends in University where Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest became his history. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Hoi, and I will see you on the other side. Hoi, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Hoi Leung (00:51):

Hi, my name is Hoi Leung. I am the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. I’ve been teaching for about 25 years, and yeah, that’s about, that’s about it.

Sam Demma (01:02):

When did you realize growing up as a student yourself, that education was the, the career for you, the thing you wanted to pursue?

Hoi Leung (01:10):

Well, actually I didn’t realize education as a career until going into my last year of university. So my university journey was actually, I started with engineering, mechanical engineering at Waterloo. And it didn’t really play out for me. I guess it didn’t like me as opposed to me not liking it. And I switched programs after second year into a program called Science of Business. And so when I was in science of business, I was, I guess trained to become a, either a laboratory manager or a pharmaceutical rep. And then going into my last year my friends asked me if I ever thought of teacher’s college, and I said, no, I didn’t. And then, so I looked into it and took a few courses and, and got into a program at Queens University. And then, and then the rest is history. I became a teacher.

Sam Demma (01:58):

Take me back to the moment you decided in fourth year university, this is something I wanna pursue wherever you at, at that stage in your life. what helped you make that decision? And then also what did the journey look like that brought you to where you are today?

Hoi Leung (02:14):

Yeah, so when I was in going to fourth year, I obviously I set switch programs already and and a lot of friends what was happening was I was helping a lot of friends out in terms of tutoring them in terms of the program that we’re in. And then I looked back into my in my childhood and what happened was, in high school I was actually tutoring a lot of friends in math and sciences and didn’t realize I was just pretty much doing what I was doing in, in in teaching. And so when somebody said to said to me, well, what, what about teachers college? I never thought about it as a profession. And and then went into it and just decided that’s where I was gonna go. And and ever since then I started coaching. I coach a lot of volleyball. I’ve been coaching volleyball since 1996. Oh, and and so coaching and teaching are pretty much the same, same type of style in terms of, of of a career.

Sam Demma (03:08):

Tell me about the similarities. When you think about coaching and you think about teaching, what are the similarities you draw from the two? And how has sport kind of impacted your educational journey as well?

Hoi Leung (03:20):

Well the similarities are actually very much the same. Not even similar, they’re the same. you know, you, you have to assess the students to see where they, they start from. I mean, so when I coach volleyball you know, everybody starts at a different level. it is just like in a classroom. There, there, there, there’s students that are, are high achievers students that are starting at a, at a beginning point. So when I, when I do practices, I have to obviously tailor to different entry points for everybody. So somebody to like may, may not even know how to handle volleyball versus somebody that knows how to handle volleyball. So I have to do the drills where everybody’s successful. And then of course from there we, we try to make everybody successful and not bored.

Hoi Leung (04:00):

And then always active. teaching’s pretty much the same. in terms of when I first started my career, I was in elementary school. now I’m in high school, but I, I’m one of the few teachers that have done elementary and high school. So I’ve taught both. And elementary school is I’d be honest, is a lot tougher because again, when the students are coming in, they’re all at different levels or different ranges. high school is a bit more I guess more I guess they’re more, they’re different levels in high school, you know, grade nine, there is a grade nine level, there’s a grade. Well, in elementary school there’s a, a varied level in terms of things. So, so elementary school, you, you have to, like I said do a diagnostic. I mean, I’m using terms obviously, sorry, but it’s, you kinda assess students where they are, and then hopefully you challenge the ones that are, that get it.

Hoi Leung (04:51):

And you, you, you help the ones that don’t get it and, and then get ’em to a medium point. A high school, a high school level is a bit easier because you, if you take grade nine math, you know, everybody, there’s a curriculum that everybody has to maintain in order to get a credit. So it’s credit based in high school while elementary school it isn’t credit based. So, so that’s the difference I find. And with coaching, it’s the same thing. You, you find you know, you’ve got house league volleyball, you got rep volleyball you’ve got club volleyball, you’ve got regional program, provincial program, university program. So, so I tailor, I guess my teaching, my coaching based on what level I’m, I’m I’m, I’m at. So I’ve I’ve done all that. I’ve, I’ve done university, I was a university level coach provincial level coach, regional level coach, club level coach. And even I, I even coach elementary school, which is kind of funny, <laugh>. So I’ve done the whole gamut from grade four to university level.

Sam Demma (05:43):

Did you also play volleyball growing up? Was that a sport that you loved or what got you into volleyball?

Hoi Leung (05:48):

Yes. so volleyball was one of the first sports that I played. so going way back I wasn’t born in Canada. I was born in Hong Kong. Okay. so I, I came to Canada in 1976. I was about six years old. And you know, back then, you know, my family was a typical immigrant family. my, my parents worked long hours, 12 hours a day. you know, I used to come home I used to call the latchkey kid if, if you, I don’t know if you know that term Sam, but it’s called Latch Key Kid, where we’d get a key, my brothers and I would go home on our own. And I mean, obviously back then it was accepted. Nowadays I’m, I’m sure you know, it’s not accepted in terms of having kids under 12, going home by themselves and starting all that.

Hoi Leung (06:29):

So, so I’m sure, I mean, you ask your parents, I don’t know what your background is, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same kind of routine. But so I was a latchkey kid. I used to come home and and my parents made sure that we came home right away. So so starting with sports I have to give credit to my older brother who, who did a lot of sports but wasn’t allowed to participate in any teams. Cause again, back in those days, you know the family rules where you come home right after school, you don’t, you don’t go, you don’t stick, stick around after school. So, so really, I had to, to figure out a way to, to join a team. And with my parents, I had to flip it where instead of telling them that I was trying to join a team, I had to tell them that the school had chosen me to be on this team <laugh>.

Hoi Leung (07:14):

So as soon as they were like, oh, well, the school chose to be on this team, then you better go and go for this team. Cause they don’t realize I had to volunteer to be chosen. But <laugh> was when I started in elementary school grade seven, eight. And then after that I played in high school and I played a lot in high school. And then and then during high school, I also played rugby. And so those were my, my two main sports was volleyball and rugby. And then when I went to Waterloo the joke I have is when I went to Waterloo, I was too small to play volleyball, but I was big enough to play varsity rugby. Ah. So I switched sports and I, and I played varsity rugby back in the early nineties when rugby wasn’t very popular. Now it’s now as popular as you know, a lot.

Hoi Leung (07:54):

But, so when I came outta university, I was a teacher. And and then back then in 95, 96, there was very little, very few jobs and we had to supply, and I started coaching volleyball and rugby at different schools. And and then then I went to a volleyball camp, started coaching there, and then pretty much it just went off from there from 96 onwards. And found early success in terms of coaching, club volleyball, you know, won won a national title then went on to provincial team won Canada Games went to University of Toronto, became assistant coach to Women’s Women’s Program, and won four Oua championships in a row as an assistant coach with that program. And then yeah, so that’s pretty much my journey with volleyball.

Sam Demma (08:39):

That’s amazing. And tell me more about the journey from where you started in education to where you are today. What are the different schools you worked in, school boards, positions? Give us a little insight into that journey as well.

Hoi Leung (08:52):

So I grew up in Toronto downtown Toronto, around Paper Danforth. So a lot of my friends were immigrants Greeks, Italians you name it. It was all a big mix back then. And so when I went to University, I went to a school called Danforth Tech, which is by Dan and Greenwood Avenue. So when I got outta university I decided to go to Durham believe it or not. so I went to Durham and started supplying there. And back in 95, 96 in Durham there was very, there was very little diversity in, in the, in the area. So I was one of the few teachers that were non-white. And, and it was a bit of a challenge for me. I mean, a lot of people, you know, you know, here, here I am, you know, my, my background is Chinese and they, they, you know, I, I was supplying down in South Oua, never seen a Chinese person before, kind of thing.

Hoi Leung (09:46):

It, it was kind rare. And so my journey was I started teaching there, supplying the people around me liked me. I started applying for jobs. unfortunately I wasn’t getting interviews, and I was getting very frustrated. And and I went back to my old high school, Danforth, and I was helping out coaching rugby there. And one of my coaches his name is John Juga. He, he said to me, have you ever thought of changing your name? And I thought to myself, I don’t understand what you mean by changing my name. I mean, it’s ho right? And they said, well, you know so my, my my, my teacher friend John Juga, his, his, he said, when he first started back in the eighties, his name was Giovanni, so his name was Giovanni. So he actually changed to John, and once he changed it to John, he started getting more interviews.

Hoi Leung (10:33):

So he said to me, have you ever thought of changing a name to like or adding a name like Henry or something like that? So instead of ho because unfortunately when people aren’t used to ethnic names, they, they look at the name Ho Liang, and they’re thinking, does, does he speak English? Does he not speak English? my my younger brother who’s born here, his name is Kevin Leon. So when you look at a resume you know, look at Hoy Young, Kevin Young, who would you, who would you interview, right? So, so he said that to me, and I said, you know, I, I thought to myself, no, I don’t wanna go down that road. So I, I stuck with, with Hoi Young, because I started supplying people obviously start to know who I was. And but unfortunately with, with, with teaching there is a lot of nepotism in teaching where, you know people, you know, hire their own cousins and their own siblings and all that kinda stuff.

Hoi Leung (11:22):

And with my background, my, you know, obviously my parents were, were blue, blue collar workers. They, they, they, we had no background. I have no friends or, or family that were teaching back then. So it took me quite a few, few years in order to get onto the board. And luckily what happened was you know, one of my principals, his name is Mel Barkwell, and he was a great guy. He took a chance on me and said, you know what, you know, he asked me what high school I looked up a resume. He goes, he goes for, yes. And he goes, goes, goes, you have two degrees. I go, go, yes. And he goes, wow, if you went to Dan for tech and you have two degrees, you can teach out here. No, no problem. Because cause he knew the school and he knew pretty tough school.

Hoi Leung (12:01):

And yeah. So that’s how I got started. And and then since then I was I went through the ranks and then, and then as I went through teaching, I I went to the board office as a, as a facilitator helping out other teachers in math programs. And then somebody asked, you know, are you, you have you looking into administration? I said, no, I haven’t. Didn’t they go, do you wanna try it? It was the same same principal that hired me Mel, he said to me you should look into it. So I went into it in 2008, became a vice principal. And even that journey was pretty tough because at that time, I was only, the only, I guess the only East Asian administrator in the board. Wow. For high school. actually, sorry, there was two others.

Hoi Leung (12:45):

There was Phil Massada and Keong Cho, there was three of us. but back in 2008, they, they talked about equity and, and they wanted to do a lot of equity hiring because the diversity became the board became more diverse. So I thought, okay, well, no problem. I should be at the cusp of it. And so 2008 I was a vice vice principal, and then after five years, I, I applied to be principalship in 2013. didn’t get on, you know, it wasn’t you know, wasn’t two disappointing. Cause my first try and I, I kept on trying and then, and then it became apparent that there was obviously a lot of political in, in any job. There’s a lot of politics involved. And and I didn’t get to become principal until 2019 when, I mean, 2019 that was when I put, was put on a short list. And then then I got, finally got placed at Pickton High School in thousand 20, 20 21. So it took me 13 years from VP to to principal, which is quite a long time because usually most people get, get on after five or six years. And and so I persevered, I got continued doing my job, and and now I’m the first and only Chinese high school principal in Durham District School Board. So that’s my

Hoi Leung (14:07):

<laugh>.

Sam Demma (14:08):

I, I’m, so, I’m so happy here that you didn’t use a different name. and I, I could only imagine how difficult it would’ve been when you were going through that situation, just personally thinking that you have to even change something about yourself to be accepted or given a better opportunity. And it’s so true that being a white person with a common name gives you this privilege or has in the past, and hopefully things are starting to change and shift with all the movements that are going on. but I’m so happy to hear that you didn’t change for anybody. And you, you remained who you were and pursued and are now here. And although it’s taken a long time, your, your, your story is hopefully one that’s gonna inspire more change and inspire other people to stand firm in who they are. thinking about diversity and inclusion and all the movements that are going on right now, how do you kind of see that changing the culture of the school you are in, or, you know, education as a whole? Are you, are you seeing a shift and what are your thoughts on

Hoi Leung (15:10):

Yeah, yeah, I do see a shift. I mean, the, the issue with education is once you get hired, pretty much, most teachers stay for about 30 years. So, so that’s why the change is very slow. So ah, I, I know as a principal, I am the position of hiring now. So I, I do recognize that when you’re looking at resumes, you’re looking at at different names and, and different backgrounds, and you’re looking at the resume. And I think when I first started teaching, a lot of people use the name as a, as a, as a, as a gatekeeper, the name, right? So, so for me, when I grew up, I grew up with a lot of people with different names in terms of Greek names, Italian names, you name it Indian names. So, so I look at resumes, the names don’t really scare me off.

Hoi Leung (15:56):

So, so I look at in fact, I just hired a teacher and and she went by the name of, of Jenna, which is kind of, so I looked at Jenna and I, and I try to look, and I looked at her I went to O C T, which is the Ontario College of Teachers, looked her up for qualifications just to double check, to verify. But her name wasn’t Jenna on the system, it was her name, the name was Janani. And I said to her, why did you put Jenna? And she goes, well, you know, people, you know, Janani. And so she pretty much, even to this day, I mean, she’s a young teacher probably around your age, she did the same thing. She, instead of janani, she, she changed the Jenna. I said, oh, no, just, just go by Janani.

Hoi Leung (16:32):

Don’t, don’t go by Jenna. I mean, this is, do that, right? And and I think it, it’s, it’s still pervasive where people are still doing that to try to Anglo size their names that were, were that were given to them. And but for me, like I said, when I look at resumes and so my hiring, I, I, I hired about 10 teachers last summer, and I would honestly say at least five of them with not more, were visible minorities. Mm. So, so the lens i I come with is, is different from from a, from a person that is not I guess that is, is considered white. Yeah. So my lens is different. So when I look at qualifications and names, the names don’t scare me or look at qualifications, look at background, and look at you know, where they taught, you know, that, that sort of thing. So, so I think with me in my position, I, I do have as a, as a duty bearer, I do have responsibilities in trying to diversify the teaching staff, because at, in high school, we do have a very diverse student population. And and so I can start off by hiring people that are more like the, the students. And, and I think students appreciate that.

Sam Demma (17:39):

Not to mention

Hoi Leung (17:40):

So does community too. Sorry.

Sam Demma (17:41):

Yeah. Not to mention the fact that you have a diverse staff gives you more diverse perspectives, makes the learning more rich for the students. Like you’re not just hearing one side of history, <laugh>. I think it’s so important that you have a diverse staff, not only for representation, but for authentic learning purposes. and I, it’s so cool to hear that you’re looking at it from that lens as well. I think it’s amazing. when you think about your journey throughout education, what are some resources that you personally found helpful? Maybe it’s people that have had a massive impact on you or books or courses or programs, things that maybe you experience that you think inform the beliefs you have around education and the way that you try and show up and teach and make a difference?

Hoi Leung (18:27):

I think the resources I have, and believe it or not, it’s, it’s interesting how some of the mentors I’ve had, and when I call them mentors, they’re, they’re, they’re older, obviously older educators, they were, they were actually older white men that you would think that were not as diverse in thinking, but they actually were. And I think, I think they were more instrumental because although they were older white men, they were actually more forward thinking than some, some teachers that are are, or some administrators that talk about you know, diversity and all these programs, they were actually doers as opposed to just talking about it. So for example you know, the, the principal that first hired me, Mel Barkwell, he hired a, a whole bunch of diverse staff just because he felt that’s the way he was going.

Hoi Leung (19:16):

And but when you look at him, you would think that he was some kind of, you know, old old hick kinda, kinda guy. But, but one mentor that that that, that spoke to me that was very clear was the fact that I think some, some people are going into, into the teaching profession as a job and not a career. And what I mean by a job, I mean, teaching is more than just, you know, just teaching. I mean he actually made it a situa, he actually called it a calling. And I, and when I said, of calling, what does that mean? He says, it’s almost like going into the priesthood. He goes, or, or the convent, right? Like, you know, when you go to the priesthood or the convent, it’s a calling. You don’t just go into it just because you know it’s a job, right?

Hoi Leung (19:58):

So he did say that teaching is, is like a calling where people coming into teaching should look into it like a, a as like more than just a job, a career. So, for example, social workers don’t go into it just like a job. Social workers care about the stu or care about the, the people they work for, and they try to help the society. And I think some teachers, not all, I mean, most teachers are, are great, let, lemme get through that. But some teachers come into it and I see that where they come in and it’s like nine to nine to five job. They don’t coach, they don’t do anything with the school, and they just kind of you know, they expect students to be perfectly sitting, still putting up their hand, yes, sir. No, sir. And they don’t realize that nowadays, as, as teachers, we are social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists we even considered medical staff because we have to, you know, help students with medication sometimes.

Hoi Leung (20:49):

And so there’s a lot more to the job than just teaching. And I think some, I, I think with, with that in mind, if people are going to teaching, they have to realize it’s just more than just trying to impart knowledge to students. It’s actually all those things because in the education Act, we are actually, it’s actually, there’s a line that says we’re, we’re considered local parentis, which means in Latin we act as parents. And so as teachers, we act as parents at the school in, in lieu of the parents. So, so that’s something that we have to keep in mind as teachers.

Sam Demma (21:22):

I love that. When, when you think about the, you know, the roles that you’ve played and all the experience you’ve gained from them, if you could bundle it all up, you know, go back in time, speak to ho in his first year of teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice. Knowing what you know now and with the experiences you have had, what would you have told your younger self that you thought would’ve been helpful to hear early on in your career? Or should I say calling

Hoi Leung (21:50):

<laugh>? Yeah, it’s a calling. I, I think, I mean, I think the advice I give to any teacher, including myself, would be to have open mindedness growth mindset, a growth mindset, meaning you know, that people are coming from, from different experiences, lived experiences. I mean, I mean, my lived experience, I, I, I guess, is different from somebody else’s, and we have to be be cognizant of that and be open-minded of that. when you come with open mind, I mean, I’ll be honest with you, when I first started teaching, I mean, I used to be the, the teacher that used to give zeros. You didn’t hand in stuff on time or, or late marks and all that kind. And as, as the years go by, I mean, you understand why, you know, some people are, are not handing in stuff or are not doing well, and you have to look into that and, and try to help those students.

Hoi Leung (22:36):

I mean, 90% of the students are gonna do well, regardless of what you do, doesn’t matter who’s in, it’s the 10% or, or five or 10% of the students that you need to work on. So as a teacher, if there’s 30 students in my class, you know, I do a lesson, you know, I mean, you know, 27, those kids will get it. It’s those three kids that you have to look at and try to help them directly to, to help them through. Because the other 27 don’t, they don’t really need your help. They’ll, they’ll do fine no matter what. And I think I think when I first started, I didn’t tell you this background. So when I first started, I taught for 10 years in a program called Section 19. section 19 is is a program. Every board has it.

Hoi Leung (23:14):

And what it is, is non-mainstream students. So for example, I taught group home kids, foster home kids, and young offenders. So tho that’s my first experience as, as a teacher. So, so so I know you’re from the Pickering area, so I used to teach a lot of students that were in group homes in the curriculum area, and my job was to reintegrate them back into the, into the mainstream system. So, so I think with that background, I, I was helping a lot of at risk students already. And when I talked I guess quote unquote regular students, it was easy. I mean, obviously when you teach at-risk students you know, and you teach ’em something teaching regular students is easy because, you know, the, the behaviors are, are not there anymore. Yeah. You know, they have good solid families, you know, family background supports and, and, and those things are easy.

Hoi Leung (24:00):

But you know, one of the, the things I, I tell students a lot when they’re when they’re struggling, I say, you know, education is something that can’t be taken away from you. So once you get that diploma, that degree, they can’t take that away from you no matter what you do. So, for example, a driver’s license, so you get a driver’s license, you don’t, you know, you do, you don’t do well, they’ll, they’ll take that away from you. You get caught for drunk driving in education, no matter what you do, you can’t, they can’t be taken away from you. I mean, not, not to say I want, I wanna tell people to do, do criminal acts, but you know, even if you do something criminal, yeah. I mean, you go to jail, you still have your education behind with you, right? They can’t take that degree away from you. So that’s something I always tell students. Once you get, once you earn that degree or the diploma nobody can take that away from you.

Sam Demma (24:46):

I love it. If someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce an idea around, or was inspired in any way and just wants to send you a note, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Hoi Leung (24:59):

Oh, through the board. My email is hoi.leung@ddsb.ca, and you know, you can always find me at the board. I’m, like I said, I mean, I’m the <laugh>. I’m one of the few principals. There’s only 20 principals, so I, you can definitely find me at the board or google me. I’m, you google my name, I’m, I’m there for, for volleyball coaching and for, for Principal.

Sam Demma (25:26):

Awesome. Hoi, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It means the world to me and lots of other people in education. Keep doing the great work you’re doing, and we’ll talk soon.

Hoi Leung (25:35):

Thank you.

Sam Demma (25:37):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Hoi Leung

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.

Jeremy and Lynn Hayes – Two Incredible Humans Pioneering the Allie Sunshine Project

Jeremy and Lynn Hayes - Two Incredible Humans Pioneering the Allie Sunshine Project
About the Allie Sunshine Project

The Allie Sunshine Project is a not-for-profit organization, and its core purpose is to ignite learning and wellness. They create events and initiatives within Windsor-Essex County that provide a nurturing and educational experience for the body, mind, and spirit, within the self and with others. Their organization is energized by the living legacies of every one of our Rays of Sunshine, who are dedicated volunteers. They make their work possible and embody the spirit of our organization’s core values as wellness explorers. For more information: https://thealliesunshineproject.com/ 

Connect with Jeremy and Lynn: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Habitat for Humanity Windsor-Essex

How to Build a Healing Garden – PennState Extension

SelfDesign Learning Foundation

Brent Cameron’s “WonderTree” and Virtual High

Margaret J. Wheatley Books

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

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 interview is a very special one because it is the first time, the first time ever that I’m interviewing a mom and a son on the podcast at the same time. Jeremy Hayes and Lynn Hayes are two of the amazing humans, two of the visionaries behind the Allie Sunshine Project. The Allie Sunshine Project is inspired by educator and wellness pioneer Allison Hayes, known as Allie Sunshine, for her unique ability to share her light and positive energy with everyone she met while she was still on this planet. The Allie Sunshine Project is a not-for-profit organization, and their core purpose is to ignite learning and wellness. They do this by creating events and initiatives within the Windsor Essex County that provide a nurturing and educational experience for the body, mind, and spirit within the self, and with others.

Sam Demma (01:09):

Their goal, their mission statement, is to inspire a network of wellness explorers through creating and participating in projects in the community that nurture self-healing and capture learning opportunities again, for the body, mind, and spirit. They do this through nature, shared wisdom, and living legacies. Three things which we’ll talk about today. And through those three things, they empower humanity to choose personal wellness. I was so inspired after my conversation with Jeremy and Lynn that I put on my boots and I went for a hike through the forest. I hope and know that you will have a similar experience after listening to this amazing conversation. I will see you on the other side. Put on some headphones and enjoy. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today we have two very special guests that were recommended by a past guest; Anita Bondi. Their names are Jeremy Hayes and Lynn Hayes. Jeremy, Lynn, please introduce yourselves and share a little bit about the work that you do with your amazing organization.

Jeremy Hayes (02:18):

Awesome. Thank you so much, Sam. Thanks for having us. And thanks to Anita for recognizing us as educators. We’re not traditional educators currently, but yeah, we’re definitely working in education and it’s great to be recognized. My name’s Jeremy Hayes and I’m the visionary Director of the Allie Sunshine Project, and by day I’m a salesperson in the greenhouse industry out in Lemington. So to introduce myself and how I got into education, I, after high school, I was working as a machinery operator and not really feeling it, and I was facing winter layoffs and decided to go back to school, and I went to St.Clair College and really caught the bug. I, as, as soon as I sat in those classes where, you know, I was able to choose my own major, I, I just felt a vibe and knew that I wanted to teach at the post-secondary level or some, in some applied way in the future.

Jeremy Hayes (03:30):

and so fast forward from 1999 to 2013, and my great-aunt who is a enthusiastic educator and lifelong learner, she she had always been coaching me, kind of prodding me, grooming me for something something that she saw in me. And so she had recently started on the board of the Self Design Graduate Institute, which was founded based on the principles of Brent Cameron’s Wonder Tree and Virtual High, which were learner directed K to eight and nine to 12 bricks and mortar schools that he founded in Vancouver, British Columbia. And they realized that those learners, after finishing their undergrad, wouldn’t have anywhere to go that was learner directed. So they said, let’s set up a, a graduate institute that is completely learner directed. And so she said, Jeremy, I think you’d be perfect for this. And that was in 2013 at the time.

Jeremy Hayes (04:41):

so I had completed a college diploma and a, and an undergrad, so it was kind of perfect timing for me. I was, I was married Toran at the time, who was a educator. And so we looked at doing that doing that together mm-hmm. <affirmative>. but she you know, she had been living really vibrantly with an ongoing illness for a number of years, for almost a decade at that point. but it progressed. And in 2015, she passed away and almost immediately after she passed the family flanged up, and her brother said, you know, what are we gonna do? are we gonna collect donations at the funeral and give them to a charity? Or he, he suggested that we actually start an organization. And so, at that, at that time, in that moment the Ali Sunshine Project was born and it was born largely because we had been the family and the friends had been so impacted by Allison and her spirit and energy that she, she brought to every situation that she was in and the way that she educated in the classroom and beyond in all of her relationships.

Jeremy Hayes (06:06):

She really had a vested interest in, in everybody that she connected with. And it was as her husband, I got to see her do that over and over and over again. And she just really believed in, people believed in their goals, and she would, you know, ask you what, what your dreams were, and she’d follow up with you. And so that was where the Ali Sunshine Project was born. And in the days and months following, as we were trying to figure out what to do I decided to enroll in the Self Design Graduate Institute and dedicate my Masters of Arts in Education to exploring how we built the Sunshine Project and what that meant. And so it wasn’t long after that I got role in my great Aunt Flore and I cooked up a plan to rope my mom into the mix <laugh>. Cause she, being, she being a retired grade school teacher, was perfect for some continuing education. And I knew that she would love it. And so I put the full court press on and had aunt Flore worked the back channels. And I’ll hand it, I’ll hand it over to Lynn to, to talk a little bit about her experience.

Lynn Hayes (07:25):

Hi. Well, teaching for me is a lifelong calling. I loved school as a child, and role played my favorite teachers at every opportunity I had. Right out of high school I went to teachers college and became an elementary school teacher, and worked in that field for 40 years. During that time, I taught all ages from kindergarten through to grade seven, and were also worked in adult education through our local University, teaching a program called Education Through Music, which really explored how children learn in a dynamic, vibrant way. In retirement, I continue this journey of learning and teaching in all my relationships, and especially as grandmother of my four grandsons. And in my role, my current role as the education team lead of the Allie Sunshine Project. When Jeremy suggested I join him in this Self Design Graduate Institute program, it was the perfect opportunity to fulfill my goal of completing a master’s degree, and to explore what would be next in my learning journey. The research question that motivated our study was how have we inspired a community of explorers to choose wellness with nature, emergent learning, shared wisdom, and living legacy. Today, we will share with you some highlights of how we answered this and continue how we continue to explore the answers to our questions along the way. I think I could go on, I don’t know what we want. I can do talk about learning what a learning community is, or Jeremy,

Sam Demma (08:58):

That’s, that’s a perfect introduction to yourself and your background, and I appreciate you sharing that. one, you mentioned four things there that kind of peak my interests. can you both speak maybe a little bit on the importance of nature and how that has become one of the big pillars of your research question? And maybe we can go through all four of them very, very briefly.

Jeremy Hayes (09:22):

Perfect. Yeah, for sure. I’ll, I’ll I’ll jump in and, and tackle that one. nature was something that we were personally, personally I was always kind of interested in, but never never had a a really close relationship with nature. And so it was something that I wanted to develop, you know, a little bit more personally. And I had an interest in agriculture. I was interested in agriculture from an early age. And so, but I, I was coming at nature from more of a scientific understanding rather than more of a spiritual connection. And so that was something that I was trying to develop for myself at the same time as sharing that passion with the, the rest of the team in the Ali Sunshine Project and the people, our, you know, our, our members and anybody that we engaged with patrons that came to our events or participated in our projects.

Jeremy Hayes (10:27):

One of our first one of our first events that we put together was called The Planting Wellness. we, we initially called it the, the plant giveaway, and be that I had some connections in Lemington. we rounded up some some seeds and got some plants growing. And we were yeah, just set up an event kind of like a nursery style with tomatoes, carrots, peppers, everything under the sun. different stuff that we had never seen or grown before. to give people an experience that they could take home with them and and, and start that relationship with nature on their own to, you know, just break down those walls of our, our Western perception in nature is so, it’s so, so sterile, and it’s so mechanistic, and it’s black and white, and we really objectify nature the way that our language you know, names all of the, the different animals, like they’re a thing.

Jeremy Hayes (11:37):

where what we’ve come to learn is that some, some other cultures, they, they don’t objectify. those they treat them as sentient beings, and they, they, they treat them as an equal and opposite other the tree has a life. the, the plant is, is alive and is a living, being a creature, not a thing. and so we’ve, we’ve come to understand some of the barriers to developing that relationship. And then along that path, we’re we’re doing through our events and our projects we’re looking to break down those barriers. And one of the experiences that really punctuated that for me was you know, this was largely a, a grieving journey, was a grief project. Not that it’s come to be so much more than that. But in the beginning, we were you know, building a community and largely sharing in the grief of missing Allison in the garden.

Jeremy Hayes (12:47):

you know, as the, as the leader of the organization we were planting a vegetable garden and had been doing this for a number of years. When I just realized there was a lot of stress, the plants would all come in, we’d distribute them at the event, and then we would try and plant, you know, as many of ’em as we could before they died. And whatever didn’t make it, we’d throw on the compost pile. And that particular spring our kale plants were having a rough go. And they were malnourished and eaten the bits by the, by by some bugs. And so we had to take the kale plants outta the garden and throw ’em on the compost heap. And I, I really took that on the chin because I felt like it was a bit of my disorganization that maybe planted a month too late and didn’t water ’em on time.

Jeremy Hayes (13:40):

so I was a little saddened by that. But then I took ’em over to the compost pile, and their growing wonderfully fruitfully was kale plant that we had thrown away a month earlier and not even looked at and didn’t water. It didn’t fertilize, it didn’t do anything to it, but nature had shown us the way that nature provides everything that we need if we’re if the conditions are perfect. And for me, it was such a metaphor that I don’t need to be scared of nature, nature’s not the boogeyman. Everything that we need is there, not just for our sustenance, but for our, for our spiritual growth and for our inspiration. there are so many lessons that were there for me in that compost pile because it’s, it’s ironic that it’s a pile of dead bodies. It’s a pile of dead plants, Sam, and it’s being decomposed actively by bugs and microbes that are transforming that death into new life, and providing the nutrients that were those old bodies of those plants in an available form to that new kale plant.

Jeremy Hayes (14:58):

And that was all happening and has been happening for millennia on this planet without me and my watering can, and all my wishes and hopes and dreams. So I’ve just, I’ve really come to, it was like a, a breakthrough moment for me to be able to relax into my relationship with nature and trust that I am a part of nature. And that you know, this life is so much, so much of this life. The Art of living is about knowing what to conserve and what to release to the compost heap. And so I was able to really process a lot of my grief in that moment. And nature helped me with that. And I was also able to gain a lot of insights about just, you know, loosening up on how hard I press to control things in the garden and in my life in general, that everything’s gonna, everything’s gonna work out.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Wow. Who knew a ka plant in the compost bin could bring so much thoughts. <laugh>, it’s such a cool reflection, and I’m so grateful that you shared that. Lynn, what about yourself with, with, with the connection to nature? Has that been something that you’ve had your whole life, or did you find it

Lynn Hayes (16:20):

Recently? Well, it, it is something I had as a child. I think children do that naturally. Yeah. But over the years, it got pushed aside. And, you know, I wasn’t outside that much. My job was indoors. You come home, you work in your house. and part of our studies, we took a eco psychology course with Hillary Layton, and that experience brought us to a deeper connection with nature and experience ourselves. one of her requirements, part of the course was to do site sitting. We had to choose a spot in nature and sit there for 30 minutes a day, every day, no matter what the weather for 30 days in a row, and just be there and see what happens. So for me, this was when the importance of being connected to nature moved from my head to my heart. I chose a spot on the bank of a creek that’s in my backyard, and I had lived there for 25 years, but had probably never done this. Never sat. So I sat on the ground with my back against the trunk of a tree, and the tree that beck and me come sit here. And it was so powerful. I was overcome with a deep sadness as all that surrounded me in that space, whispered to my soul, welcome back. We missed you.

Sam Demma (17:41):

Mm, there’s a continue.

Lynn Hayes (17:46):

 so that was just where it, it I understood it at a deep level that it wasn’t, we, I didn’t feel it was lip surface. It was a deep conviction to the power, the healing power of nature, nature, what it has to teach us. And now this awareness allowed us to be different in how we were leading our organization.

Sam Demma (18:10):

That’s awesome. There’s a really beautiful, yeah, there’s a, a really great book called The Seasons by a man named Jim Roan, and he talks about how the changing of the seasons is such a big analogy for life as well. And what you plant in the spring or in the, in the fall, you harvest in the spring. And anyway, there’s just so many cool little things that you can learn from nature, and both of you are really highlighting that right now we back onto a little ravine. And this conversation has inspired me to put my boots on afterwards and go for a walk, because I used to do it all the time, <laugh>. And I, I hope it’s inspiring the listeners as well, because for me, whenever I’d walk through nature, my nostrils would clear up. And I, I’m not, I don’t have allergies or anything, but the moment I get in there and start walking, it’s like, my body just feels alive.

Sam Demma (19:04):

 so I, yeah, I appreciate this reminder, and I think so many educators will also, the last point you raised was, and you, you said it, living, living legacy. and it immediately brought to mind a friend of mine named Cody Sheen, who wrote a book called Everyday Legacy. He worked in the funeral industry, and for years would listen to people talk about the regrets at the table after their loved ones had passed away, and they would write their eulogies and be, their eulogies would be read. And his whole philosophy after hearing this so many times was, why do we wait to create a legacy instead of living it right now? And that’s what his book is all about. And when you said Living your legacy, I immediately thought of that, but I’m curious to know what, what drove that section to be a part of your research question and how does it relate to the whole project?

Jeremy Hayes (20:00):

Yeah, Sam, thanks for asking. And I think we’re on the same wave there with Cody. I was always of the same frame of mind that it’s interesting to see how we reflect on the lives of people after they’re gone, rather than celebrate them while they’re here. And, you know, this was something that I witnessed often doing. she had yeah, she had a real gift in that way to be able to celebrate and bring her awareness to her own life as she lived it, and and live in a real conscious way. And, you know, I, I, I knew that all along, but then after she passed away, I read some of her journals and I’m like, man, this, this woman was really reflecting consciously on her day to day and and crafting her, her legacy as it unfolded.

Jeremy Hayes (21:12):

 so I, I didn’t realize at the time but well, I guess I intuitively I realized it, but it, it really sunk in once I had a chance to, to see how deeply she was reflecting. And so we, we took that we took that tip from, from Ally and wanted to make that central to the central theme in our organization and the education that we bring to our, to our members, and to the people we engage with that you have legacy that you are living currently mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And given the chance to bring your awareness to that and shape it it can be very powerful. And so we’ve also twisted that a little bit because you know, keeping in line with the, the funment of our organization, we we are a wellness organization, and so we are encouraging people to live their wellness legacy. Nice. And so we’ve, we’ve sprinkled that wellness component in there to say, you know, you know, you can develop a self-awareness that encourages yourself to have greater self worth and to continue to do that work in developing your legacy and living it on the daily.

Sam Demma (22:41):

Nice. Love that. Lynn, any additional thoughts or you think, Jim?

Lynn Hayes (22:46):

I actually, I think we, we coined a phrase called the Ripple effect because there were so many people that had been touched by Allison’s life, and it, it helped us to realize we all have a ripple effect. It’s impossible to throw a stone in a pond without seeing a ripple. And we’re, we’re a stone dropped into our spot on Earth, and just by being here, we, we are creating a legacy, and we have a ripple effect. And yeah. So

Sam Demma (23:16):

I love that. That’s such a cool idea. And sometimes, sometimes you, you know, you actually don’t see who your ripple is impacting, and it gets a little overwhelming because sometimes you might wonder, well, are the actions I’m taking right now making a difference? I, I, I think about this one time I was sitting at our family cottage on the dock, and it was pitch black outside. It was nighttime. You could see the stars and the moon, and you could hear in the distance a boat just like zooming across the lake, and the all you could hear was the boat faintly, but nothing else. And everything else was super calm. And like five minutes later, all these waves start to hit the shore. And it was just this really cool realization to me that this boat has no idea. His waves are hitting my shore while I’m sitting on the edge of my dock 10 minutes after his boat’s gone.

Sam Demma (24:15):

And it’s a cool reflection to think about how our actions every day are affecting people that we may never meet, we may never touch. And it sounds so clear that Allison did that, and I love that that’s a really central theme of your work and your organization. Jeremy, you mentioned that you slightly modified it for the organization, the phrase living your everyday wellness legacy. What does it mean to live with wellness? Or like, how do, how do we ensure we’re taking care of our wellness? are there things that you kind of recommend people do or explore? I’m just curious.

Jeremy Hayes (24:54):

Yeah, I’m gonna back that up a little bit. I appreciate the question. And it actually sparks some work that we’ve done which is, you know, really central to my passion of organizational development. And so I’ll get, I’ll get your, I’ll get your question about how we came to how, how we came to that term wellness. But one of the first courses that Mom and I co-created in exploring the Masters together was a course in conscious business. And we had been operating for almost two years at that point. And we had a mission statement right away, but we really didn’t have the essence of the organization distilled. And so we reached out to so Renee Poindexter, who is an author and educator, and she is just a, a, a dynamic educator.

Jeremy Hayes (26:00):

And so she was our faculty advisor in that exploration and conscious business. And so we, as for that course, we designed and implemented three workshop style meetings with our, with our leadership team to do that work of closely observing what we had, the projects and the events that we had undertaken to date, and how we had shown up in in doing that work to distill who we were as an organization, what it was that we were really focused on doing, and where we would end up when it all came to fruition. And it was some very careful work that that we, I mean, we had a lot of fun with it. And we put our, we put our team through some real fun paces. We did some great team building exercises along the way, and we had a lot of laughs.

Jeremy Hayes (27:01):

We had some tears and in the end, we got real clear on who we are as an organization. And we took our pretty wordy beautiful, but pretty wordy mission statement and distilled it into our core purpose to ignite learning and wellness. And to get to your question, like we debated on whether that word should be wellness or should it be wellbeing or should it be health? And we looked at all those definitions. We looked at different definitions for each word, and we put it to consensus. because in that, in that same in that same timeframe, we were developing how we communicate as well as getting clear on, on who we’re as an organization. And so we chose that word wellness very specifically because of the of the underpinning of that word to be well, and to promote greater wellness, and so that we interpret to be a wellness of body, mind, and spirit.

Jeremy Hayes (28:12):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so in order to, you know, to answer your question to, to move down that path you know, we are I think that the biggest component of wellness is that self-awareness and self-worth. And when you can bring your awareness to yourself and your choices and your habits, and you can pay careful attention to how you feel in relation to your habits and your choices, and what makes you feel good and what doesn’t make you feel good. When do you have more, more energy? When do you feel like your mind is sharp? When do you feel like your head and your heart are connected? you know, what relationships in your life give you energy and what relationships drain you? Just that simple just that simple act of caring for yourself enough to be self-aware and to encourage yourself to make choices that lead to you increasing your wellness is is the work that we’re doing in this organization.

Jeremy Hayes (29:27):

that’s to answer your question, but I, I’m on a roll here because that work that we did we didn’t just distill our core purpose to ignite learning and wellness. we took that one step further. And in one of our fi in our, in our third workshop, we we bought a bunch of crazy big sunglasses, and we had our whole leadership team put on, put on the big, and we called them Glasses of Possibilities, <laugh>. one of the, one of the things that our team was having a challenge with was because we weren’t, we, we weren’t skilled leaders none of us had previous board of director’s experience mm-hmm. <affirmative> this was, this was more than we had bargained for. And for a lot of us we were bringing a lot of fears into this conversation.

Jeremy Hayes (30:21):

And so with Renee’s guidance, mom and I put this exercise together and we prefaced it with, you know, we need to really put our individual fears and hesitations to the side, and we need to ground ourselves as you know, what is best for this organization, because we may not be here tomorrow, and we need to leave this organization as a, as a gift for, for those who come in the future to lead it. And so we had our team put under glass of possibility and with eyes to the future of 30 years and beyond write down what they felt we could accomplish if everything that we were doing and had planned came to fruition. And so that that led to us distilling a vision statement that through nature, shared wisdom and living legacies, we empower humanity to choose personal wellness.

Sam Demma (31:26):

Mm.

Sam Demma (31:27):

I love it. We, we talked about the living legacy. We talked about the connection to nature. We didn’t touch on the shared wisdom piece, but before we do I loved that you put on these massive glasses during your meeting. <laugh>, I, there’s something about oversized objects I <laugh> like, it’s just, it catches the attention and it becomes like a fun thing. There’s I have a new speech that I do for students in schools, and it’s called Empty Your Backpack. And it’s a challenge to have students reflect on the beliefs they’re caring about themselves, their potential, what’s possible for them, where some of those beliefs came from. And if it’s time to let go, and I have a giant four foot red backpack that’s like the backpack of beliefs. So I resonate with like the visual and calling it the glasses of possibility, because you see through them and there’s so many bright things in the future. And I just thought that was really cool. So I wanted to make a, a note to mention that. tell me a little bit about Shared wisdom. how do we tap into that and, and what is it exactly?

Lynn Hayes (32:39):

You

Jeremy Hayes (32:40):

Jump in on that, mom? Because I remember when you didn’t even think you had wisdom <laugh>.

Lynn Hayes (32:44):

That’s, that’s right. Early on in our, our course I had submitted this reflection and the, the mentor who read it, his comments were, oh, lots of wisdom. Your wisdom is duh, da, da da. And I, I came to realize that, yeah, I’ve lived 60 some years. I do have, I’ve learned some stuff and found my voice to be able to share it. So that was, you know, when you are aware of it yourself, then you know how to lead others to find it and or to be aware of it also. So and it, it just is woven through by our studies and what we were doing, and they just came together in this beautiful affirmation of, of what we had to offer and that we were doing important work here. a couple of the things that came out of our conscious business was a quote from Fred Kaufman, that, right, right.

Lynn Hayes (33:41):

Leadership is how being rather than doing is the ultimate source of excellence. Mm. And so we, we let go of that. Like, oh, did we do enough? Did we accomplish enough the checklist thing to how are we being Mm, how are we being? And we came to understand more duly what we mean by a learning community. in the words of Margaret Mead, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. And in developing how we would be together, we decided to do a all our decisions by consensus. I see. And this consensus decision process is powerful. And to have new people who joined us to understand the benefit of consensus, rather than taking a vote in a vote, there’s always some losers who didn’t get heard. Because the majority, it makes the decision.

Lynn Hayes (34:39):

So we believe that we are truly stronger together, and we’ll not process progress over the learning that takes place during the process of coming to deci consensus decisions. It’s really our forum to draw out the wisdom of each person around that table. So cool, because it’s like, there’s no, being silent at a meeting leaves a big gap. It it, it disconnects the group. And so consensus decision, every voice is heard. It’s a requirement of consensus decision to say where you’re at with it and to understand, I’ve been present where the whole decision switched by one voice saying, but I’m not sure I see this. I wonder this. And it’s comes to a better spot. And we’ve operated on if you can live with it, if it makes sense to you, it goes on. If not, the decision isn’t made that day. That’s, that’s wisdom in action to like, let’s wait.

Lynn Hayes (35:37):

Let’s gather more, let’s grow in this. Let’s sit with it for a while. and in understanding the depth of what we mean by learning in community and allowing that emergent learning to happen, like emergent learning and doing it together is really, really brings out that, that wisdom. we followed the work of Margaret Wheatley who asked a really important question, how do we persevere in creating the changes we want to see in the world? And her, she offered a couple of guideposts, and the one guidepost was, learn from what you do after everything you do. Ask yourself, what did we learn? What worked, what didn’t work? Live life as a sci scientist, learning from the data that evolves. And we realized that is really what we had been doing. We cause we, we had freed ourselves to not have to have the answers, but just to be open hearted to asking the questions that were arising and doing it together just is a form for sharing your wisdom.

Sam Demma (36:45):

And I think even if you’re not a part of a organization that’s making consensus decisions and being able to put that reflection instantly into practice in a business sense, the idea you mentioned earlier, Jeremy, of journaling, like there’s one way to start collecting your wisdom or reflecting on your own experiences, even if you don’t have a board of directors. I think every educator could benefit from keeping a journal and writing down their reflections. I think about how cool it would’ve been if my grandfather kept a journal and, you know, was able to hand me 50 books and say, this is my life. If you’re interested, <laugh>. you know, not, I mean, that’s selfishly from my curiosity, but how cool it would’ve been for himself as well to just constantly reflect and tap into the wisdom of his experiences and those around him. this has been such a insightful conversation from a bird’s eye view, what are the ways in which the Ali Sun, the Ali Sunshine Project helps to ignite wellness? like is it event, is it events mainly fundraisers? Like what are the things that you guys do? Do you run programs? Like just give people an idea of the couple different things that you do?

Jeremy Hayes (38:10):

For sure. projects and events are the ones, everything that we do. we’ve got our central project is healing Garden, a one acre space on West Pike Creek Road in Lake Shore that we’ve converted into a healing garden under the guidance of Dan Binet at Windsor Essex Habitat Naturalization Network. Yes. he led a course in Build A Healing Gardens, and that’s been our home base, our outdoor classroom, our community hub. and we continue to gather there on Saturday mornings. and we connect as a, as a community. And we garden, we grow flowers, we grow plant we grow veggie plants. The veggie plants are donated to the Windsor Youth Center. and yeah, we’re market gardening, selling the, selling the flowers, and just really enjoying the space. So we’ve got a whole bunch of different garden installs and we’ve been exploring there together for years.

Jeremy Hayes (39:18):

We’re putting in an outdoor kitchen, so that’s a big one for us. Lots of fun. Nice. and then we have a, a long list of events that we host in the Healing Garden and throughout the community, we have a blood drive coming up November 26th. so if you’re interested in donating blood look us up. You can email us through the website, the ali sunshine project.com. And we have an education team, which Lin leads, and they put together a series of wellness events that have been hosted in the Healing Garden. So more to come on that front. we have a a school outreach team and they install Buddy benches at local schools. I think we’ve got seven Buddy benches installed. And those are a nonverbal bridge to Friendship for children that don’t have the social skills as developed as they need to, to be able to reach out when they are in search of belongingness. so they can sit on the bench and it’s they, the children in school know that if somebody’s sitting on the bench, they’re looking for a friend. So that’s a program that Terry and Sue Sharan have been pioneering. And they host a trivia event every fall at fo or fur in order to raise funds for that for thees. and

Sam Demma (40:55):

Yeah’s a lot. Yeah.

Lynn Hayes (40:57):

<laugh>, I, I

Jeremy Hayes (40:58):

Can, I also, I, I mentioned our planting wellness event. What, what else

Lynn Hayes (41:01):

Mom? I’d like to add to that, that along with our planting wellness, we have had a wellness fair Okay. Which invited local health practitioners and wellness people who have, some are, and people can come in and experience a mini reiki a minute, many just to know what’s available for wellness. Like, cause it’s fine to say, I wanna explore wellness, but where do I go? Who do I choose? So we bring together the local practitioners and our, our community is invited to come and see if something fits for them, give something a try. chair yoga as opposed to yoga. We offered connecting to Nature is a Garden wondering program, which was a really key thing for we felt it was parents and children coming together to explore and to answer their, their questions of wonderment and to have them do it together. so that, that is an ongoing thing. And it has life. It has changed some people’s way of parenting by seeing how what nature has to offer and to step back into your own natural learning through the eyes of your child and the wonder they explore the world with. yeah. So

Jeremy Hayes (42:13):

That’s, so you tell ’em not to get, not to get dirty. Yeah. <laugh> outta the mud.

Sam Demma (42:18):

That’s

Lynn Hayes (42:18):

Awesome. And, and you, you know, you start out thinking you’re going teach the children things, and they teach us so much, and that’s just opening that forum is is a whole world of wellness potential, right? In your own low family,

Sam Demma (42:33):

The, the work you’re doing is so important, and I hope you continue it forever, even when you guys are no longer running it and somebody else is. I’ve been inspired by this conversation so thank you so much for your time. I’m gonna put my boots on, like I said, and go for a hike. <laugh>. If someone wants to reach out, ask a question, share an idea, collaborate, what would be the email address they could send a message to?

Jeremy Hayes (43:02):

I’ve got a, one closing comment here. One of the things that really stuck with me from our, from our research and our thesis was Author and Educator Sam Crowley. He said he’s a teacher and in his Earth Day address in 2020 he said “when my students come to me and ask what can I as one person do to change the world,” he tells them, you as one person can’t not make a difference. What you think, and even the energy that flows through you is always making an impact on the world around you. And so our call to action for anybody listening is to be that change. And this is the essence of what it means to be a rare sunshine, and it’s simple to join us in being a ray of sunshine. As much as it’s powerful to do this work as an individual, it’s much more powerful when we connect as community to do this work of harnessing that positive energy and sending out those, those positive actions into the world.

Jeremy Hayes (44:18):

And so you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram. Go to the website at the alliesunshineproject.com. Sign up to be a member, sign up to donate your time to be an occasional volunteer or a dedicated volunteer. We’re currently looking for people to assist with fundraising human resources on our recruitment team. We also are looking for somebody to lead our events team, and a number of other fun and vibrant opportunities in an organization, which really is the central project. Like building this team has gone from being overwhelming to a source of great enjoyment in my life because we actually have a really well-rounded group of people that are supporting each other and doing this work, and we’re putting people in positions where we’re leveraging their unique ability and we’re giving them an experience that’s challenging and, and fulfilling. And this is it’s a, it’s a real opportunity for growth. So if anybody’s looking for volunteering experience, by all means you can reach out to me personally. My email is visionarydirector@thealliesunshineproject.com. Thanks for your time, Sam. It’s been great conversation.

Sam Demma (45:49):

Yeah. Jeremy Lynn, thank you both again for the work you’re doing. Keep it up. If I’m in the Windsor area, I will definitely be giving you a call and would love to connect. I look forward to continuing to watch the journey unfold and hopefully eating some food from the outdoor kitchen next spring. <laugh>,

Lynn Hayes (46:08):

That was wonderful, Sam. Thank you so much for having us today.

Sam Demma (46:11):

Awesome. Thank you both.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeremy and Lynn Hayes

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.

Jason Kupery – Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division

Jason Kupery - Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division
About Jason Kupery

Jason Kupery (@jkupery) is a Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division which serves students and families in both Southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, vice principal, principal and director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching, both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions.

Jason believes strongly that a strengths based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their “deep joy and the world’s deep need meet.”

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Palliser School Division (PSD)

University of Victoria – Teacher Education Programs

University of Calgary

Mentorship for New Teachers – PSD

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 (00:03):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jason Kupery. Jason is the Director of learning for the Palliser School Division, which serves students and families in both southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, Vice Principal, Principal and Director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching; both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions. Jason believes strongly that a strength based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their deep joy and the world’s deep need meet and intersect. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Jason and I will see you on the other side. Today we are joined by a very special guest virtually, who was recommended by another past guest; Joyce Sonata. Today’s special guest is Jason Kupery. Jason, thank you so much for coming on the show. Please start by introducing yourself and telling everyone a little bit about who you are.

Jason Kupery (01:22):

Hey Sam. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Happy to be here. Yeah, so as Sam said, my name is Jason Kupery and I’m a director of learning with the Palliser school division in southern Alberta. We have some schools in Calgary, and we have lots of schools in southern Alberta as well. And yeah, I just, I’ve been an educator for 23 years now. All of my time has been spent in high school. In high schools I was a teacher. I’ve been a Vice Principal, Principal, and now a director. And a large part of my responsibility is looking after high school programming, and another big rock in my portfolio would be health and wellness as well. I shared that responsibility with another colleague in my school division. And so it’s inspiring young people and seeing them grow and seeing them do that in a healthy way is definitely a passion of mine.

Sam Demma (02:20):

What got you interested in education? Did you know when you were a student, when your teachers would ask you, what do you wanna be when you grew up that you wanted to work in education?

Jason Kupery (02:32):

Yeah, that’s a good question. I always knew that I wanted to be I’m one of those weird people that is <laugh>, identifies as introverted. Okay. do like the, do like the idea of being around people and being of influence. And so when I went to school I was big into sports like yourself. and I went to, I, I grew up in Ontario and so I went to university to play football. Nice. and essentially that’s the only reason I went to university. other than, you know, there wasn’t a real academic pursuit at that time in my life. and I heard somebody else the other day say you know, I wasn’t always the greatest student and I did get myself into a bit of trouble. and, you know, those, those skills I honed around that sort of shenanigans in my life certainly made me a better educator cuz, you know, down the line you’d have kids trying to use things on you. I’m like,

Sam Demma (03:23):

I know this <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (03:24):

I don’t think, I’m not sure that’s original. I know you’re, and here’s how I know. Cause I used that once. Yeah. and so, yeah, I think it did prepare me to be a better educator. So I went, played football didn’t get a whole didn’t get a far away with that. cuz I wasn’t going for the right reasons. and so I sort of hunkered down and went to transferred schools. I stopped playing football and I got a little more serious about my my studies. I actually became a financial advisor for a while given an opportunity I had at the time of my life. But again, still knowing that I wanted to do something different. And I eventually moved to Victoria and the University of Victoria had an awesome teaching program, and I knew at that point that I needed to apply, and I was lucky enough to get into the program and had a wonderful experience there. And the rest, as I say, is history the last 23 years, I guess, have been going, going well ups and downs. And but I do love the idea, or sorry. I love being an educator and the idea of speaking to kids lives.

Sam Demma (04:38):

Victoria’s a beautiful place. I, I was there in August and behind one of the residents buildings at Vancouver Island University. There’s a bunch of wild black berries that grow. I don’t know if it was the same at Victoria University, like near or around campus, but I was just losing my mind. You can go to school and then fill a bucket of blackberries for free <laugh>, it’s,

Jason Kupery (05:02):

Yeah. No, they’re everywhere on the island for sure. Yeah. It’s a, it’s a beautiful place. I, I met my wife there and she grew up there her entire life, and she wanted to get off the island. So that was I’m, I’m now in southern Alberta in the beautiful rock. So no complaints.

Sam Demma (05:18):

So from your transition from Victoria to here, tell me about the different roles you’ve worked in education at different stages of your careers.

Jason Kupery (05:28):

Yeah, so I started out as a, as a junior teacher of course. And my first job in teaching, I had you know, you have eight blocks in a four by four traditional schedule. Nice. I had seven different preps, so I taught everything from English 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 to and so it was it was a good year. it was a busy year but it helped refine me because you have to you have to learn how to multitask no question when you’re in the classroom, of course. and it keeps you on your toes when you’re preparing for so many different subjects and things like that. So it was a wonderful time in terms of the education that I received and, and the lifelong learning that it instilled in me. but it was a lot. And of course, I also coached volleyball, basketball they had a, they had a, a floor hockey team I coached there you know, led some trips and, and those kinds of things.

Jason Kupery (06:23):

And it was wonderful because again, it’s one of those things you mentioned earlier about, you know, your vocation and your passion and that coming together. And I, that certainly solidified that. And I know for a lot of teachers it has a high turnover rate in the first few years because again, that’s a lot of work. And if you’re not totally committed it it may knock you right out of the, out of teaching altogether. Right. Mm. and I found, for me, that was refining that for me, that was, yes, this is where I need to be. this is a great deal of fun and it’s amazing interacting with young people who are learning and they’re awkward and they’re silly, and they do some really dumb things, to be honest. And you get to be Yeah, I, I can help you with that because I did those exact same things. So it’s kind a neat thing for sure.

Sam Demma (07:11):

What is, sorry, continue.

Jason Kupery (07:14):

Oh, I was just gonna say, and then after that, I, I, we moved here to I, I’m in Calgary. we moved here and just progressing through the you know, continuing to do that. You, you find a new space, you’ve grown more, you’ve teach different subjects. And I just always had it in my heart that I wanted to lead. Yeah. and I had I, that, those giftings were identified in me. I was very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors and people in my life who identified those gifts and said, Hey, you need to think about this. and so I went into to administration and then eventually to a principal role. I completed my masters at the University of Calgary, I think in 2012. I was finished. and then was, was administrator in high school. And then of course, now I’m director of learning for last seven years. So that is my progression.

Sam Demma (08:03):

When you think about the mentors in your life, I’m sure there’s so many, but are there any that had a really significant impact on you that you still stay in touch with and are in communication with? And if so, what did some of those mentors in your life do for you that had a big difference?

Jason Kupery (08:21):

Yeah. So for me that, that goes quite quite a ways back. And so I was raised in a single parent home with my mother and we didn’t have a whole lot and I didn’t have a lot of positive male influence my life at the time. And so somebody my mother worked with one of her friends at work was, she was just mentioning that to her at work, and she said, oh, my husband can come by and, and take him out and, you know, hang out with him for a bit. That’d be, and, and so that was arranged, and I think that was back in, I’m dating myself here, but that was probably back in 1986, 87, oh, sooner three maybe. anyways. And so he, that mentor is still in my life. He is grandpa to my kids.

Jason Kupery (09:04):

 he helped he helped me along the way. and so that was a very significant obviously mentor in my life and now like a father. so that was the real blessing. And along the way he’s helped me on a number of occasions. so that’s the major one. But in terms of my, my career there have been so many people that have just been, you know, when you, when you see people that have something you don’t whether that be wow. Wisdom when you’re young, right? yeah, yeah. Or just the way of dealing with people or like a, like a sober second thought, like, hang on a second, have you thought about this? Because my personality is one that, hey, we gotta get this done and I’m just gonna, you know, put my head down and charge through the plate glass window kind of deal.

Jason Kupery (09:50):

Right? And we’re gonna get it done. and there’s been so many wise people in my life that have said, hang on a sec, what if, what if we did this way? Or, or, why don’t you try and just slow this thing down a little bit so that you can help other people catch up? Right? Mm. or, you know, you proceeded too quickly and now look at what happened. You created a massive mess, and now we’ve gotta go clean it up. So what did you learn from that? Right. Which is the big thing. And so the most, the most positive people in my life have, have been the ones that, cuz I’ve made plenty of mistakes haven’t, you know, pointed a finger and screamed and, or shouted or abandoned me or whatever. They’ve said, Hey, look, that didn’t go well. So what did you learn from that? And if there’s anything that I can try and help other people with in that regard, it’s that same thing. It’s like let’s get out of the guilt and shame kind of cycles here and say, yeah, everybody screws up and it’s an important lesson for you to learn, whether you’re one of my students or whether you’re a colleague or whether you’re a friend yeah. That, that didn’t go well. So what can we learn from it and how can we how can we move on in a positive way? So,

Sam Demma (10:49):

Hmm. That’s such a good reminder. I feel like sometimes when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves up for it for way too long. I, as you were explaining, that situation reflected back on one of the biggest mistakes I made in my career, speaking <laugh>. And it was when I was just starting, I was 17, and at the time, I wasn’t using a calendar to keep track of what I had committed to. And you might be able to guess her, this is going, but I basically booked a presentation with about 300 people. Some of them were in the school board that I grew up in, and it, it was at a local, a local arena. And they called me the day of the event, Sam, we’re so excited. We know that you’re starting in about 10 minutes. we just wanted to make sure that you’re nearby.

Sam Demma (11:39):

And I had totally forgot six months ago that I had booked this engagement. I didn’t put it on my calendar. And I was like, an hour and a half drive away. I instantly started bawling my eyes out, and for about two months I would walk down from my bedroom in the morning and look at my parents and go, I can’t believe I did that. And it got to the point where my parents were like, Sam, shut up. Like, you know, we’ve heard about this 60 times now, you’re not gonna make the mistake again. And it took me so long to get out of the guilt and shame period, and into the, let me learn from this, reflect on it, and build new systems so it doesn’t happen again. And I don’t think, there was like a defining moment for me where I was like, I’m gonna stop thinking about this. And I’m curious to know, like when you’ve made a mistake or when someone that you know, in the education world’s made a mistake, how do you quickly, or maybe not quickly, but how do you transition from the beating myself up to the, let’s now learn from this and move on?

Jason Kupery (12:39):

Yeah, that’s a good question. And I’ll tell you, I wish I could tell you no, none of the, I, you know, when I make a mistake, I just let it go and I, it’s gone.

Sam Demma (12:46):

Yeah. <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (12:47):

I dwell, I’m a dweller for sure. And and everybody close to me knows that you don’t have to worry about beating up on me because I’m gonna do a better job than anybody else can, right? Yeah. and so what I do, my strategy for it is to talk to people that I trust and love, right? So that’s, that’s the biggest thing. I I, yeah, it, it’s, it’s important to have people in your life that you can, that you can chat with that you can speak openly to and transparently with. and you know, it’s super important because they understand you. And, and, and none of those people say, well, here’s what you need to do, right? Mm. that’s the biggest thing. it’s not about advice. It just, it, it’s that they understand me, they know who I am.

Jason Kupery (13:28):

So, yeah. Oh, yeah, Cooper’s gonna beat himself to death on this one, so we’re just gonna stand, we’re gonna walk beside him, we’re gonna chat with ’em, we’re gonna let ’em talk. Right? And a lot of times that’s cathartic enough to be able to just to talk to somebody, talk it through, and then real, eventually when you talk it through either with the same person or with enough people, you eventually draw your own conclusions, right? Yeah. You know what, I am being kind of silly. This is, this is not as big a deal as I think it’s right. and, you know, even when it’s a big deal, you have people that you know you can love and trust that will stand beside you and, and help you through it and just, and just be there. I mean, you can use the example, your parents. I have an incredibly supportive spouse. I have some awesome kids. I have some really, really, really close friends. and I’m, so, I’m very blessed that I have that network of people in my life that I can you know, talk to when I screw up. So

Sam Demma (14:18):

I love that. And in the school building, I’m assuming that would be other people in the office as well. If you’re a teacher in, in a school, it’d be other teachers kinda leaning on your supports.

Jason Kupery (14:32):

Yeah, a hundred percent. a lot of times that’s what really makes a really tight knit school community. Like I’ve had the privilege of working on some wonderful steps where it’s just people get along they can trust each other, they can, they got each other’s backs. you know, principals got teachers backs, and we’ll help you even when you make mistakes. I’m not gonna totally, you know, I can’t defend some of those things, but I can certainly walk beside you and help you out with those kinds of things, right? you know, and, and for people who, who go into administration, those gaps tend to widen a little bit and it becomes a little bit lonelier. So finding those external sources that you can talk to and you can trust, right, is very important. And yes, of course, in the role I’m in now, you know, you have to have the right colleagues and, and they’re not all in the same school division, right? You have some great colleagues in other school divisions that can relate and empathize with some of the things that happen and, and just great people to be able to share with, and chat with and, and may have advice because they’ve been through it themselves, right? So those are important things

Sam Demma (15:28):

You, you can tell, just listening to you speak and share your ideas that you really care about this and you care about education. what about education makes you excited? Like, what gets you outta bed every single day to show up to work and put your best foot forward and try to do meaningful things?

Jason Kupery (15:47):

Yes, Tim, I’ll tell you, there’s not many careers, and I know there’s, there’s a lot of great careers and there’s a lot of great people doing a lot of wonderful things, but there are not many careers that you can actually speak directly into the lives of a lot of young people, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as, as challenging and as tiring as it can be, it can also be super inspiring and super wonderful. And it’s not that you know, the times that I’ve had in my career that I’ve found the most inspiration hasn’t been drummed up by me, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s been drummed up by amazing young people that have incredible ideas and that are thinking about the future as opposed to what was, what’s happened in the past and those types of things, right? and to see people grow and to see people learn is just an incredible gift.

Jason Kupery (16:38):

 and so what excites me now in this current role, because there are some degrees of separation for me is providing the structures for students to succeed, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So my job now is to develop programming and develop programs and systems and things like that, that will either help students find their passion and ignite that spark through different kinds of programs or leadership kinds of opportunities we offer. or it’s ways of finding that sort of self-actualization ways for them to you know find the rhythm be mentally well understand what it is to be healthy. These are difficult times, right? I mean, I know I’m getting old now, so it’s been a long time. But I have had, I do have teenage children, and I do, I can understand and empathize with, with what it means to grow up in those worlds, those, those vicious middle school years and the tough high school years, and you’re trying to figure out your life.

Jason Kupery (17:38):

You’re trying to figure out where you fit, who you fit in with what your future may hold. Those are extremely formative but stressful times for students. And to be able to do everything from helping somebody read and learn how to arithmetic and to make sense of the world at a young age, to guide them all the way up through adolescence and into their, you know, adulthood you know, that transition into post-secondary life. it’s such a massive undertaking and what a privilege to be able to be a part of that. so that’s what gets me up in the morning.

Sam Demma (18:14):

You mention, you mentioned at such a cool perspective. Thanks for sharing. You mentioned that some of the coolest experiences, things that got you the most excited were not drummed up by yourself, but by students. And I’m curious, can you give us some insight into what some of those things might be? On our last call, we talked a little bit about an event that you would host and that was created and co-created with kids, and I would love to hear about that, or any other ideas that come to mind.

Jason Kupery (18:44):

Yeah, there, there’s just so much inspiration out there, but we’ve, we’ve had, you know the one we were speaking about, Sam was we had a young a student in our school community that sadly passed away the year after she graduated this from some complications with the medication. and one of her big things when she was in high school, and one of the things she advocated for was organ donation. and she donated all our organs, which was an incredible gift to a bunch of different families. And, you know, we you know, sat as a staff and as administration afterwards, brokenhearted trying to figure out how to make sense of this. and you know, the one thing that I, I mentioned my affinity for sports, and some other people had some affinity for sports too. So we decided let’s do a, like a charity hockey game, and we’re gonna raise some money and give it away to the to the organ foundation around here.

Jason Kupery (19:39):

 and also raise awareness. I mean, I think that’s a big deal. And we mobilized the troops. We were really inspired by this young lady and by honoring her. and so, you know, we had some professional landing McDonald came out and played with us, and, and, you know, it was just great. We had the whole school come. We had, we raised all kinds of money. It was a wonderful event. and over the years and, and we raised a lot of awareness around organ donation and those kinds of things. And over the years we started getting letters from people. And one we had I think the next year we had somebody that had this young lady’s kidneys. Oh. And he was alive and he was thriving because he had her kidneys. So he played with us in the hockey game, which was

Sam Demma (20:23):

Super cool, crazy.

Jason Kupery (20:24):

And then the year after that, a young man from Newfoundland received her heart. Wow. And he, he reached out to us. He reached out through through the David Foster Foundation and he reached out to us and said, Hey, I’d like to come. I’m a golia. I’d like to come play. and in the mean, in, in the meanwhile, he also got to meet this young lady’s family. And I mean, it was a very emotional, you can imagine what a gift. And, and so what a gift both ways. Obviously this young lady’s heart is literally in somebody else. And is, is helping somebody live to a point where he can come out and play a game of hockey with us. and of course, the gift that he brought to the family by saying, I’m alive and well because of your daughter’s sacrifice.

Jason Kupery (21:10):

What, like, incredible. So that was, you know, those moments are are something that helped you as an adult. It puts you in awe of what young people are capable of. and again, as a teacher and as an administrator, and as a director, my, my modus operandi was always put kids in those positions to succeed. They’re not always gonna do it. They’re not always gonna take it up. Some are just gonna go through and that’s fine, and they’ll live their lives. But some really just need that extra little push or that extra little program or that extra little spark to ignite something in a passion in them. And when those types of things happen it’s just incredible what students are capable of.

Sam Demma (21:54):

You told me the same story last time, which is why I was teasing it out of you. It gave me goosebumps, and it’s given me goosebumps again. What a remarkable story of impact and what a great reminder to check the box on the paper we get in the mail when we pass away, if that’s a decision we wanna make, knowing that it could save so many people’s lives.

Jason Kupery (22:14):

And I’m sure that decision she made has. and I just wanna, I, I just wanna share one more with you. yeah, please. We can talk about for sure. But we had a young man whose whose father passed away from cancer. unfortunately, and these guys for some reason were super into unicycles, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, who, like how many people are <laugh>? There was like four of them. And they all just, they rode around, they ate their sandwiches at lunch in the parking lot, and they would try little jumps and things like that. and so this young man was, was sharing a story about his father passed away from cancer, and these guys come up with this brilliant idea, and I say brilliant sort of sarcastically, but it was brilliant to unicycle from B to Calgary, which is about 130, maybe 125 on a unicycle, <laugh> and to raise money.

Jason Kupery (23:01):

So they raised money for cancer research and those kinds of things. I think they raised something like 15 or $18,000. Like it was a lot. But these poor guy, they did it two days cuz it was way too much during a day. But these poor guys, and I, I drove the van behind them with the blinkers on <laugh> Road, and they rode their unicycles from BMP all the way to Calgary. and it was kind of cool in Calgary for anybody’s around here. Edward Worthy Park is just down the road. so they rode in Deady Park and their parents and their families that all had this huge celebration in the park, and they had a check presentation. you know, stuff like that. It just, like, that stuff happens more routinely than you think because young people have such inspiration and such drive, and they don’t understand quite yet what no means.

Jason Kupery (23:44):

You know what I mean? Because we, we, we get a little beaten down over the years about, oh, that can’t happen and that can’t happen. And young people just, they have great ideas. And so again, I’ve tried to be very cognizant of the fact that it’s not about saying, well, here’s what’s gonna go wrong, or here’s what could happen, or here’s this or that, or it’s, Hey, there might be some barriers. How can I help you remove those? and how can we help them? It might, it might happen differently because of certain things that we can’t do, but I’m sure we can, if we just think creatively and, and my job as a, as an trusted adult in their life would be, okay, let’s get rid of those things so you can succeed.

Sam Demma (24:16):

That’s awesome. I’m sure when you were in the schools, you dealt with a lot of those on a face to face basis because they would walk up to you and say, Hey, hey sir, I have an idea. Can I tell you about it? and now from a systems perspective, you probably hear about a lot of those things. One of the things that I think is really special about education, and you alluded to it earlier, you said, there are so many careers, but there aren’t many where you can speak directly into the lives of young people. I think one of the coolest things about education that lures most educators is the idea that they can make a positive difference in the life of a young person. What’s funny is that everything you’ve shared with me makes me believe that the young people have all made a massive difference in your life.

Sam Demma (25:03):

And I don’t think that aspect of it is, is talked about enough. and, and you just shared two inspiring stories and how it had a big impact on you. But I am curious to know in all your years working in a school, working in a classroom, has there been students who, when they first walked through your door or into the school, were really struggling and by the end of the couple years, or by the end of this semester had a real big breakthrough or transformation and yeah. Are there any stories like that that come to mind?

Jason Kupery (25:39):

Yeah, well, there’s, there, there’s plenty for sure. I think that helping students <affirmative> you know, I’m not a big fan of the idea of streaming, like saying, you know, you’re not, you’re not smart enough to do this, so don’t, don’t try. Yeah. and I’ve seen a, I’ve seen a lot and, and sometimes, you know, it is, some things are, are a deep enough level. You don’t wanna set kids up for failure, but you certainly don’t wanna say, well, don’t bother trying, because then, you know, you’re just gonna, you’re gonna end up failing, right? Yeah. So it’s a, it’s a distinction, if you will. and I’ve seen so many kids over the years flourish because you know, well, I can’t do that. I’m no good at math. That’s, that’s the easiest thing to say in, in education is I suck at math, right?

Jason Kupery (26:21):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then, okay, well, okay, I guess that’s it for you then, then we’ll, we’ll put you into something else. and I’ve always tried, I’ve used this match with my own kids too, but it’s just, no, you don’t suck at it. You just haven’t done it enough. You just have to, you need more practice, right? and, you know, trying to sort of present that mindset to students to say, try it. If it doesn’t work out, what’s the biggest, you know, fail forward, what’s the biggest thing that can happen? Right? and, you know, you gotta convince students of that, but you also have to convince their parents of course, too, right? Like, we’re gonna do this. It may not go super well, but that’s okay, right? We’ve got other room, we’ve got other spaces, we can, we, there’s other pathways. and so I’ve seen a lot of students succeed because they under, either they’ve, they’ve gone way beyond what they thought they could which is a wonderful thing.

Jason Kupery (27:08):

And we’ve also seen kids succeed because they’ve made a wise choice, I need to go on a different direction. And there’s another path, right? And one of the things I’ve seen you know, that even, even the most driven of students and the straight A students don’t realize is there are so many different paths in life, and there are so many different ways you can take. but I think that young people and families and, you know, people in general just think that there’s a linear straight, like, I have to get here, I have to get that 95, or I’m not getting into this program. And so part of, part of what I’ve tried to do is in helping people through that journey is to say, look, there’s, there’s a ton of paths, and just because you can’t take this math or take this biology or take this whatever there are other ways to do it, and we can get you there.

Jason Kupery (27:51):

And, you know, in, in a, in a world of instant gratification, it’s hard to understand, Hey, maybe you should take another year of high school, or maybe you need to take another course. Well, and I need this to happen now. It, it doesn’t need to happen now. But I know that’s a hard message for some people to hear. But in order to succeed, you may need to try a little bit, you know, a different way or, or it may take a little bit longer, but that there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no shame in that, right? to be able to take a different path in life to succeed. and the other piece is helping students identify you know, the traditional classroom or the book learning or the, those kinds of things aren’t what I love to do. That doesn’t mean you’re not smart, it means you’re brilliant in other ways.

Jason Kupery (28:30):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so trying to provide students an opportunity to, whether it’s work with their hands or build something or problem solve in a different way you know, helping students understand their own aptitudes and their own, you know, brilliance is, it’s one thing to tell them, it’s another for them to discover for themselves, right? And so, again, as educators we try to create the conditions for students to do that. You know, if you, if you allow for different modalities of teaching in your classroom, and the student says, ah, I, now I can see because I, because I made it up with my hands, now I can see why it’s important, or now I can make the connection with the learning. quite often education is learn this regurgitate it, and now you know it without that real life connection and without that, without that sort of cementing or anchoring the learning it’s very difficult.

Jason Kupery (29:21):

It’s why most times when you, I mean, you’ve done it, I’ve done it a thousand times, where you, you, you study you and then you, you drill everything into your head for eight hours before the test or whatever, and then you forget 60% of it by the time you walk out the door, right? Because it’s like, I got what I needed to do, I accomplished, I got the mark. and so I’ve accomplished that. but have I really learned, so anyways, sorry, I’m rambling. I’m just saying that allowing students different ways to learn helps ’em flourish. And I’ve seen that so many times where students have had that aha moment, like, ah, now I know this is what I’m good at. and I mentioned to you earlier as well, the idea of post-secondary is frightening to a lot of people. It was frightening for you.

Jason Kupery (29:58):

It was frightening for me. Yeah. it’s a huge transition. And so I just had this conversation earlier today with some, some educators around students feel too much pressure. We have to stop asking them what they’re going to do. And I a hundred percent agree what I, what we need to ask. And the question I’m trying to change within our school division here is what do you love to do? Yeah. Because if we, if you can tell me what you love to do or what really gets what gets you up in the morning, you asked me that question earlier, what gets you up in the morning? And then we could connect it to a different career. but if you think that you can only be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or whatever, then those opportunities don’t blossom for you because, oh, I’m not good at that, so I’m never gonna be an engineer, and I just, I can’t do this kind of math, so I won’t go on to do sciences. Well, there’s a thousand other things you could do out there that would bring you joy and would meet the world’s needs. So we just have to figure out what that is for you.

Sam Demma (30:47):

I got goosebumps like five times while you were just, just sharing those ideas because one, I was the student who took the fifth year and the gap year and thought I was falling behind. And I was, I was interviewing another educator Sarah daddario from a school in California, and I try and talk to diverse, you know, amount of educators, and she was sharing something similar that her students were going through, putting so much expectations on pressure on themselves to start the next step right when they finished high school, even though they weren’t sure what they were doing. And she shared this beautiful analogy about going to parties, and she said, this is the analogy that I give my students. She and she, she asked me a question, if you were going to one of your friend’s parties, what are all the different ways you could get there?

Sam Demma (31:36):

And I started listing off all these random ideas, ride my bike, ask my mom for a drive, hit your ride with the, with the taxi guy, called a pizza delivery person and ask him to pick me up. I could walk there, I could roller blade, I could scooter, I could get a helicopter and fly. Like I started giving some funny answers. And she’s like, well, all of those are valid options and they’ll all get you to the final destination, but every single one of them takes a different amount of time and a different set of steps. And that’s how I try and encourage, she, she was explaining that’s how she encourages their students to think about their pathways. That you will all end up at a party. It might not be the same party based on your different interests, but you’ll all end up somewhere.

Sam Demma (32:16):

Your choice of transportation is what will make your life unique and interesting. And I just keep thinking about that whenever I think about pathways and adding so much pressure on ourselves. and then the other thing you mentioned in your second point was this idea that students have five options, an engineer, doctor, lawyer, you know, what we think we, we wanna do. and what we really should try and do is figure out what they love. And I, I thought about an artist who I really look up to, his name’s Russ, and he makes music, and he grew up thinking that he lacked discipline and wasn’t a hard worker, but later in life realized that it was actually the work that made him not very disciplined and not work hard because he just didn’t enjoy it. But when he found the thing that he loved, he was in the studio every day making music, and now he’s one of the largest independent artists on, on the planet.

Sam Demma (33:12):

And I think it’s really important that we don’t judge students based off of the things they don’t like doing. And I’m sure there’s a lot of things that we have to do, even if we don’t like it, and that’s a part of the journey as well. But I really like that you’re trying to help students figure out what they love and then craft the pathway from there. do you have any examples of and I’m putting it on the spot here, but of like a student who came to you and said this is what we’re, we’re, we’re passionate about and you helped kind of create a different pathway or brainstormed ideas around it?

Jason Kupery (33:49):

Yeah. well, I think that the most, when I, when I, I don’t about a specific example per se of one that’s jumping in my head and right at this moment, I’m, I’m, I’m sure I’ll think about 20 when I get, when I, that’s

Sam Demma (34:01):

OK <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (34:05):

 but I think that it’s, it’s more around helping students understand there’s a stigma that exists with certain careers, right? Mm-hmm. and, and so, you know, the trades are things that people that, that aren’t good at school do, which is ah which is seriously flawed. Obviously. I don’t want somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing, building my house or <laugh>

Sam Demma (34:28):

Putting,

Jason Kupery (34:29):

Renovating my kitchen or whatever, right? and you know, there’s that, that sort of, these are lesser than skills, which is so not true. you know you know, the saying is, I’m educated, but I’m all that smart. And and that’s the same, goes like, I have a master’s degree, but you put a hammer in my hand, I’m gonna end up hurting somebody, right? <laugh>, most <inaudible>, I’m sure before anybody else <laugh>. and, and so I really wish, that was one thing that I developed more as a skill, right? Yeah. so just, just helping students understand that, that their gifts are extremely valuable no matter what they are, and they can be used for something. Again, it’s that the biggest thing was is that, that the world’s deep need and, and your deep joy intersecting, right? That’s where it’s at. Like Russ, you know, Hey, I found a medium that I am passionate about and that I want to pursue.

Jason Kupery (35:24):

So I’ve seen more of, of that I should say, in in, you know, where kids are so driven to, to get onto this, and they’ve fallen out of that, and really, and then they’ve come to me later and said, Hey, I’m doing this now I’m, I’m working my hands, or I’m, you know, a paramedic or I’m this or that. And, you know, it changed my life just thinking about, you know, how to you know, striving so much for something that was almost unattainable and, and, you know, at the expense of my mental health and other things in my life. and then when I realized that this was actually my gifting I was able to succeed. So

Sam Demma (36:00):

I love it.

Jason Kupery (36:01):

As we talk, I’ll think of a, of an example. I just didn’t expect to come up with that, but I should have that off the top of my head for

Sam Demma (36:08):

Sure. No, I’m putting you on the spot here. And it’s funny, it makes me think about situations where I have a conversation with someone and then five minutes after the conversation ends, I’m like, God damn, that’s, that’s what I wanted to say. You know? But you, you did a perfect job answering that, and I appreciate it. It’s really apparent that at the core of a lot of your thinking and decisions is the end user, which is the student. and I’m sure there’s ways that the the staff are a part of your, your planning as well because you’re at the, I guess, overarching level now. I’m curious, like for all the educators that are listening to this who are starting their first year of teaching, if you could bundle up your wisdom and experiences and go back in time and tap Jason on the shoulder when he was just starting and say, Jason, this is what you need to hear. What would you have told your younger self? Not because you would’ve changed your path, but because you thought it’s helpful advice to hear at the start of a career in education?

Jason Kupery (37:09):

Yeah, great question. I would say, you know, first and foremost and, and to, to, to sort of connect it to the last question you know, when it’s not so much that people have re retooled and done something and now ta-da, I’m happy. Yeah. it’s more about the kids that had a really, really, really hard time with a, because of circumstances in their life growing up unstable families drugs, alcohol, poor decisions and those are the ones that are, that are throwing things at you or telling F off or, and I just, young teachers and, and people in education, I mean, the one thing I would say is, please look past that. I mean, there is trauma in those kids’ lives, and that trauma-informed practice is really, really important because while it is that person standing in front of you, that young person standing in front of you screaming or throwing a fit or punching a snot at somebody else or whatever it’s not to see that that student or I is a terrible person or deserves some kind of punitive justice or those types of things that, that that young person needs some love in their life and needs somebody to look past that.

Jason Kupery (38:23):

And so when I’ve had people come back to me and say, Hey, thanks for, you know, because you, you because you intervened and because you had enough patience and because you didn’t kick me out and because you didn’t make my life harder, I look at I’m now a success and I wanna come back and say thank you. Those things mean a lot to me, obviously. I mean, they mean a lot to a lot of educators, right? But we tend to, and I’m no different, we tend to look at that and say, oh, that kid’s driving me crazy. I just want ’em outta here. Right? Just get out. and it takes far more patience and understanding to sort of try and look through that and try to reason and try to understand where that young person’s coming from to be able to speak into their lives.

Jason Kupery (39:08):

And it’s not like you have to, okay, now I’m gonna tell you everything you need to know, and I’m the best just, Hey, I’m here to listen and I’m, I’m going to be a safe place for you to come and, and be yourself. that changes lives. There’s no question. and so my encouragement would be, a lot of these people have a lot of people that, that give you a hard time or will give you a hard time in your career, are carrying a lot of, they’re carrying a pretty heavy backpack, if I can use your

Sam Demma (39:34):

Analogy. <laugh>

Jason Kupery (39:35):

<laugh>. and, and that’s, and that’s something that’s so extremely important to understand and to try to speak to them in a way that they can hear and know that they’re safe and cared for, because they’ll still make dumb decisions, but they’ll, they’ll always thank you because you stay, you stay beside steadfast. so I guess please don’t give up too easily on, on people that give you a hard time because they got a lot going on. The other thing I would say to young educators, and I do, and I do say that now because we do have what’s called the teacher induction program here. So it’s called Tip for

Sam Demma (40:11):

Sure. Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:12):

 is don’t let the, the jaded, angry nature of the profession seep into your brain. And I’m not suggesting that’s pervasive, but it, it can happen. All you need is one teacher that, you know, is jaded or disaffected or, you know, kids are lazy or yeah. Whatever. And that sort of can flavor the water and it can get inside your head because that was my experience, right? You know, I had some, some teacher sponsors or whatever that the people that helped evaluate me and helped me through in my early years you know, weren’t always the most possible profession, <laugh> and, you know the, the 40 kids or the 35 kids and, you know, the half of them are criminals and those kinds of things. Right? those are the kinds of things you’re here as a young teacher and you just don’t start believing that.

Sam Demma (40:57):

Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:58):

Cause it really does impact your ability to speak into people’s lives when you start to see them differently as opposed to who they really are beneath that tough exterior.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Mm. I love it. It’s like the advice don’t judge a book by its cover. And I think it applies so deeply in education, especially with young people, and you’re speaking from experience because you started it at the beginning of this podcast saying that you did some silly stuff as a student <laugh>. So I and we all did, you know, I think back to when I was grade seven and got suspended and we don’t have to get into the details of the silly incident, but I remember coming home and uncontrolled be crying and my dad not, you know, scolding me, but saying, let’s go talk to your principal. And bringing me back to school and sitting in the office and my principal at the time instead of seriously punishing me, he asked me a lot of questions and kind of forced me to reflect on the choice I made and why maybe it wasn’t a good choice and what I learned from the experience.

Sam Demma (42:02):

And I ended up having a two day suspension but it was a it was a very kind gesture, and I learned so much from it. So I’ve had personal experiences and I think a lot of students do. So I appreciate you sharing that, and I appreciate you coming on the podcast and talking about your experiences and beliefs around education. And if there’s an educator who listens to this and wants to ask you a question or send you a message, what would be the most effective way for them to reach out and get in touch? Not that we’re gonna fill your inbox, <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (42:33):

Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, I’m, I’m always willing to, to share and collaborate with others. I think it’s awesome. Yeah, email’s the best way and I can certainly share that with you if you wanna attach it somehow or whatever.

Sam Demma (42:43):

Sure. Awesome. Sounds good. Jason, thanks again for, for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate your time and energy. Keep up the great work, and I’ll see you soon.

Jason Kupery (42:52):

Okay. Thanks, Sam. Appreciate it.

Sam Demma (42:55):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Kupery

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.

Paolo Morrone – Principal at St Andrew Catholic School

Paolo Morrone - Principal at St Andrew Catholic School
About Paolo Morrone

Paolo Morrone (@StAndrewStormP) is currently the Principal at St Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a Physical Education and Social Science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the TCDSB and has had the pleasure and honour to have served eight schools as both a vice principal and principal. During his career, he has been also been able to serve as both a teacher and administrator in both elementary panels.

He cares deeply for and works with ALL students in the school. Paolo enjoys all aspects of school life but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well-rounded students and individuals but responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school intermediate boys’ basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extra-curricular events at his school. Paolo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports and always seeks to be a servant leader. He is always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect.

Connect with Paolo: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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Resources Mentioned

St Andrew Catholic School

St. Jude Catholic School

Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB)

Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Today’s special guest is Paulo Morrone. Paolo is currently the Principal at St. Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a physical education and social science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and has had the pleasure and honor to have served eight schools as both a Vice Principal and Principal. During his career, he has also been able to serve as both a teacher and an administrator in both elementary panels. He cares deeply for and works with all students in the school.

Sam Demma (01:51):

Paulo enjoys all aspects of school life, but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well rounded students and individuals, but more importantly, responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school Intermediate Boys basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extracurricular events at his school. Paulo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views, and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports, which you’ll hear about in our podcast, and always seeks to be that servant leader. He’s also always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Paulo and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Today’s special guest is Paulo Paulo. I’m gonna allow you to introduce yourself and please share a little bit about your journey through education.

Paolo Morrone (03:08):

Hey, Sam, first of all, thanks for having me. well, as you said, my name’s Paulo Morone. I’m currently the principal at St. Andrew Catholic School in Rexdale Ontario, or proud at Togo North at Togo, as we say. my journey, my journey is an interesting one, but I started actually in the secondary panel and in high school actually I lied. Excuse me. I came out, this is what’s what’s interesting when it comes to me with education was I started in elementary. I got a little call right outta teacher’s college. Nice. saying, Hey, do you are you interested in a grade six position as a teacher? right outta teacher’s college, just as well, <laugh>. Yeah. I don’t really have the, the experience to teach grades. I don’t even have the qualifications. I didn’t have my junior, it doesn’t matter.

Paolo Morrone (04:02):

We need, they, they were in a, in a, in a bind and they needed somebody quick. And it was quite the experience that I never thought I would end up back in elementary. Nice. it was you know, you look at experiences good and bad, but that was one at the time that probably scarred me from the elementary panel in general. And then I, I, you kind of, when I got, when I got into education or the way I feel is that you’re either one or the other elementary or high school. And I was always geared more towards the high school secondary. I just loved to coach and I just found that I always related better with, with the older kids. Nice. so I spent the first what, 10 years roughly of my my educational career in secondary.

Paolo Morrone (04:50):

And then I made a jump to elementary again, which was quite shocking for me. it was a lot of personal reflection and, and discernment in terms of making that move. and I made the move. And at first it was quite the challenge for me mentally and not physically of course, but mentally it was a, it was, it was quite a change. And now six years later three schools in three schools of under my belt in elementary between a vice principal and principal role. And here we we’re. And I’m enjoy enjoying it much more than I thought I would you know, almost 20 years ago when I stepped in fresh faced and, you know, green under the ears into into that little elementary school.

Sam Demma (05:33):

That’s awesome. Did you know growing up as a student yourself that you really wanted to work in education? Or how did you find this pathway in the first place?

Paolo Morrone (05:43):

 I always tell people this. It was I can date my, my, my realm or my, sorry, my my wish to be an education back to grade eight. Wow. I can, yeah. I had a, I can tie actually being a principal back to being great. I always said I wanted to be a teacher and coach. I kind of started, I volunteered from grade nine in my, at my old elementary school. Okay. Nice. As much as I could, of course. and I kind of did that all throughout high school to get as much experience as I could, knowing that I was gonna get into teaching or that’s where I wanted to land, wanted to go. Yeah. And thankfully it worked out for me.

Sam Demma (06:22):

And tell me more about the coaching aspect of your role. Are you still coaching now? And what are you, what are you

Paolo Morrone (06:28):

Coaching? No, I, I, you know what, I don’t, but I I’m gonna be helping out with the basketball team this year a bit just cause the coach is one of my younger teachers and he found out that I coached back in the day, so he kind of approached me and said, Hey, would you be willing to help? And I said, absolutely. Like it’s actually a big passion of mine. I loved it when I did it. Nice. coaching, coaching was, they say kids kids sports gets kids to school in many cases. And coaching got me to school, not that I didn’t wanna work, but coaching was a, was a big part of the early, early part of my career. I really, really loved connecting with kids inside and outside the classroom. The outside piece, people don’t give it enough credit.

Paolo Morrone (07:09):

People don’t understand that building relationships in that capacity, like outside of the traditional classroom walls it can, it, it does amazing things for you as an educator in a school. Students you just build that trust. You can’t, I can’t put a, I can’t really articulate it, but when you build that relationship and trust with them outside of, you know, the book, the books and the pens and the papers and the iPads, it, it’s another layer. it’s another layer that if you haven’t been in education or you don’t do it while you’re an educator, you don’t really understand it. Sometimes people didn’t, even, colleagues didn’t understand like, why are you doing so much coaching? So first off, I was in, partially in PhysEd as a phed teacher, and I always felt that that was part of what we should do realistically, why else are you in a physical education program?

Paolo Morrone (08:00):

Right? Yeah. and the other part was just, I love working with kids in that capacity period, and I love sports. So you put all that together and I had the dream job. That’s awesome. and here I am sitting as a principal and I always say like, how did I give that up? Yeah. So did I, did I like the coaching? What was the, it was the huge part of my, the early part of my career, and I do miss it. I’m gonna be helping out with the ball team this year. Nice. And last year I ran a little bit of intramurals for the kids when things opened up after a lot of the, the restrictions were laid or taken off. we got some awesome intramurals for the kids at lunch, which kept them engaged. We were having a lot of issues at lunch as well. So that really helped turn things around.

Sam Demma (08:45):

It sounds like relationship building has been a key part of your belief around education, and you’ve done it a lot through extracurricular activities like coaching and sports. Can you think of a a student who maybe was struggling with school that you were able to build a relationship with through sport that had a positive impact on their, I guess, their school experience? Or maybe even maybe it’s not a, a student that you specifically coach, but a story you’ve heard before? I’m just curious.

Paolo Morrone (09:14):

Yeah. I mean I, I can honestly say that I’ve, I, I think I’ve had quite a bit of an impact, or I had quite a bit of an impact in my early, the earlier part of my career with that. I would coach about six teams a year. Wow. Either in a, either, not just in a head coaching, like I would either help as an assistant Yeah. Or I was the head coach, but basketball sort of was my thing. which it wasn’t. I didn’t, didn’t even, basketball was one of the only sports I did to play. I didn’t play as a kid growing up in terms of any type of, you know, you play a little, a little bit on the street or at the park or whatever, but not in a league in any way. So I kind of got thrown into it and fell in love with it. And along the way there was a lot of, there’s a lot of kids. I mean basketball, it can be a challenging sport to coach in many ways. just the game itself is, is fantastic and, and it comes with some challenges in that sense. But the school that I was at at the time where I was really into the, the basketball coaching, there were a lot of kids. They needed a little bit of direction and guidance and one particular kid stood out. obviously I’ll, I’ll name,

Sam Demma (10:27):

You don’t have to say his name. Yeah.

Paolo Morrone (10:28):

But it he was almost your storybook kind of story. It was his, he came from a single pa single family, sorry, single parent family. there was a lot of social issues that he was dealing with and family issues. and that translated onto what basketball was his outlet, first of all, however, this is a kid that would light up the scoreboard. You’re talking 30 points, 35 points without blinking. And I, he was a, he, I still believe to this day, this boy should have been in the NCAA at minimum. Wow. But Canada as you may know, firsthand you know, you don’t get the same type of exposure here. And at that time for basketball, it wasn’t as big as now. Now it’s exploded. Had that exposure been around back then I, I still feel he would’ve, he would’ve had a better opportunity to get a, a free education in the us.

Paolo Morrone (11:25):

 but anyway, the boy, the boy had some issues with anger at times. And with that translated onto the court, off the court there was a lot of friction off them with colleagues that would say, you know, why is this kid playing? And they didn’t understand that if you didn’t have that kid playing, it wasn’t, you know, I needed the superstar on the court is I needed, I did. Yeah. Obviously you wanted the, the, the kid to play basketball. Yeah. But that was his outlet. You take that away from the, the kid. Yeah. Yeah. Did I take him off? Did I suspend him a game or two if the behavior wasn’t appropriate? Absolutely. If it was necessary academically that he wasn’t meeting his, you know, his goals, we would sit down and talk about it. It wasn’t just, you know, arbitrarily, you know, you were coming off the team because you just can’t do that and

Sam Demma (12:11):

Solve anything.

Paolo Morrone (12:12):

Yeah. No you can do that and you have a responsibility as a coach and an educator, but and there’s more to it. You gotta be able to talk to these kids and, and peel the layers off. And this is a guy that mom would call me when he had a little bit of a, an anger episode and would she would take off like she didn’t know. He didn’t know where he was. So mom would call me and say, Hey, can you, I would be drive over to the, the local mall and kind of take a loop around looking for him to find out what was going on. Cause I knew at that point he had a he had an episode, he was angry and something had upset him. And, you know, kind of talk him, talk him back into a proper mindset.

Paolo Morrone (12:56):

 he, I’ve lost touch with him more recently, but last I had heard he was doing really well. He ended up at the University of Windsor. Wow. He did continue to play university ball, but at a Canadian level at CS or U Sport now, whatever they call it. and at the college and at the OCAA, the Ontario College ranks Nice. and he was doing accounting last I heard. But this is a kid that honestly a lot of people had written off. And I had a great relationship with him and a good belief in him, not just as a ball player, but as a student and as a person. He just needed that guidance. He needed a little bit more that, that fatherly character as well because he had some tragedy with his father passing at a young age.

Paolo Morrone (13:40):

Ah, and, and the stepfather actually. So it was you know, that’s a lot of trauma for a young kid at 16, 17 years old to have dealt with prior to even that, you know, as he was a little guy. so yeah, I, I take great pride in that cuz you know, I, I, I wish I, I’m sure I will connect with him again soon, but that was that was one, that one that really stands out for me. But there’s, there’s quite a few stories in my, in my own head that I, I like to think I made quite a bit of a difference at that time. Nice. and it all came down to the relationships truthfully. That’s the truth between, you know, how you, how you treat the kids and they see you here as human. Yeah. Right. Yeah. You don’t wanna be, it’s funny, in an elementary school, the kids think you go home when you plug yourself into a closet. So when they see you out in like the real world, they’re like, totally get out. You’re alive. You’re alive. You know, like, you don’t go home. You don’t just stay in the school all night.

Sam Demma (14:35):

Yeah. They have your top, their purse on the shoulder and they’re like, it’s Mr. Moroni, he’s over there. You see him like <laugh>, he’s in the grocery store buying vegetables,

Paolo Morrone (14:44):

<laugh>, why is he buying food? <laugh>? Yeah. It’s that kind of it’s, it’s funny. It’s a great it’s a great line of work, I tell you. It’s a great revocation.

Sam Demma (14:55):

That’s awesome. So what do you think allows you to build the relationships with young people? Is it like time spent? Is it being curious about their lives? Like what do you think it is about the interaction that allows you to build the relationship and build the trust?

Paolo Morrone (15:12):

 honestly, it’s always hard to talk about yourself. Cause I’m finding it like difficult to say things. Oh yeah. Maybe I wanna come across like from

Sam Demma (15:20):

The, from the perspective of like teachers and students in general. How do you think

Paolo Morrone (15:24):

You gotta have heart man? You gotta have heart and you gotta care about who’s in front of you. And it’s not just, you know it’s not about the summers. It’s not, you sure not you sure as how ain’t getting rich in this, in this job. And it’s not about the money. And you hear that a thousand times, and obviously in the current climate you hear that even more so in the news more recently. you gotta come in with the right mindset and heart. And if you are going to do this, you gotta put the kids first. But you gotta find a healthy balance between building that relationship, the academic side of what as well. And, and the people side, people, young teachers have a difficulty, difficulty like that sometimes lines get blurred. they’re nervous, they don’t know how to interact. They’re, they’re focused more just simply on curriculum. I’m of the belief that curriculum of course is important, but it’s not about just curriculum. It’s about the whole person and educating the whole person, meeting the character of the person. you know, the math lessons will come not for me, but they will come. and you got, you gotta educate the whole, the whole mind, body and soul. That’s, that’s my feeling on it.

Sam Demma (16:36):

That’s awesome. I think back to my experiences as a student in school and I had some amazing experiences with extracurricular activities. Soccer was a big part of my life. Spent almost every minute outside of a classroom on a soccer field or in a gym, working and training and getting, getting better. I was, yeah. Were were you a soccer player as well?

Paolo Morrone (16:56):

 not soccer. Well, I did play, I was a goalie. but I was kinda one of those kids that played a little bit of everything. I played soccer, I played hockey, I played football in high school softball, baseball. But I wouldn’t say I was a a rock star in any one, any one particular sport. I just loved sports. Yeah. And that’s really what drew me. Probably what drew you, you know, in the realm of education as well, is I had that one connection, not one connection I have. I still go out with some of the teachers that, going back to the relationship piece. Oh

Sam Demma (17:25):

No way. That

Paolo Morrone (17:26):

Impact on you. Right. I still talk to you know, one of my good, one of my, one of my good friends lives down the street from here. He was my teacher in high school. No way. I ended up becoming his vice principal down the road and my first placement. So it, it is about that. and connecting, right. yeah, prime example. And sports. So he was my coach and my teacher. So it’s, you know, pay it forward kind of thing. And you see things come full circle and you have that good, those good people in front of you. Like I’m sure you had some good coaches and some mentors along the way in high school and maybe in elementary or high school. I don’t know that set you a foot in the right direction or if you had a setback you know, they kind of picked you up. That’s what I always strive to be when I was teaching. That’s the biggest part of, I miss that con that connection piece in the classroom. But I try to do that as much as I can as a principal by being visible and being active with the kids at recess or whatever I can, wherever I can. Just, you know, even if that means a high five in the hallway.

Sam Demma (18:28):

Yeah. Let’s talk about that for a second. Visibility in your role as a principal now how do you try and make sure that, that you still have that type of contribution? Of course, it’s a different role with different responsibilities, but what are, what are some of the things that you practice or try and do to, to not just be visible but be impactful?

Paolo Morrone (18:47):

It’s a fine balance between the paper, paper aspect and being visible. you can very easily get wrapped up being, I can get trapped in my office all day and there are days that I am. Yep. Those are the days I feel guilty. but my, my general rule of thumb for me is I try to get out at least two recesses a day, whether it’s lunch or at the end of the day. Cuz the kids need to see you out there. not just from a, you know, you know, here’s the big bad principal disciplinarian. No. Like, they, you know, you walk out and you’re, it’s a, it’s awesome. you’re getting tackled. You got, I got one on each, one kid on each limb. they’re, they’re elementary is a, it’s an awesome experience. The kids they really, they need to see you.

Paolo Morrone (19:31):

They need to see you out there. I’m a big sort of burly guy, so they they come running up and <laugh> literally like, you know, two or three of them. They’re tackling Yeah, they’re tackling you out there. But I think the important thing as a, as an administrator is in any school, elementary, secondary, whatever the case may be, you gotta be visible. You gotta be visible, you gotta be accessible. my office happens to be literally in the middle of the hallway, so I am accessible. I get kids knocking on my door all day every day. a little difficult when you’re trying to get something done or you’re in a room meeting or a, a podcast or whatever it is that you’re doing. But you you gotta be there. That’s the bottom line. You gotta be out there and be visible.

Paolo Morrone (20:16):

And again, if that means just, you know, a little dab in the hallway, say, Hey, hey buddy, how you doing today? that’s how I try to be impactful. And then the other piece is when there are activities, when there are things happening in, in the school, again, it’s don’t just be there, be part of it. you know, we did the Terry Fox run a couple weeks ago within the school. You know, the, if we hit our goal, we had a jello weeding contest. I, I, for the first time, I, I kind of felt what a rockstar was like. It was, it was crazy being on top of that, on top of the stage. And just the kids were the, the energy and the vibe coming off just being not having that stuff for the last couple years. It was awesome to see the kids just enjoying it. And again, it goes back to, you know, you’re not plugging yourself in a closet. Yep. And they see you as real. I was on the stage with four other teachers full of whipped cream and jello all over my face. And they, they loved every of it. Right. And I make the the the kids love my I call it bad jokes, but my hair jokes or my lack there of,

Paolo Morrone (21:25):

I think it, I think it just comes down to honestly just being, just being real with them. And they, they know that, they know that you’re, you know, you’re the principal. You’re you’re the disciplinarian in the school. You run the school in that sense, but at the same time, they wanna know that you’re real and you’ve got a big heart and you’re there for them. That’s what I think

Sam Demma (21:46):

I try to do that. It sounds like it. And I think that’s really, it’s really awesome. I think there are also like everything, there’s people who work in different industries that their heart’s not in it. And you can tell right away the, the difference, you know? and I think the students can tell right away too. Like they can sense it sometimes.

Paolo Morrone (22:08):

Not sometimes all the time. they, they, they can pick off a fraud from a mile away. They really can. it’s the energy and the vibe that you give off. Honestly, sometimes it’s not even anything that you say or do, it’s just how you, how you carry yourself in the school. again, I I honestly everything, I relate everything back to building relationships with people, relational leadership, relational educat. Like just being that educator that can connect with people. Right?

Sam Demma (22:37):

Yeah. So how if you don’t have energy and if you don’t have your own your hell health, you know, it’s hard to, you know, try and be the best you can be. Especially at work. One of my one of my cousins she just started teaching and they don’t have kids. And she says to me one time at dinner, I spend, I spend eight hours with kids at school. There’s no way I’m coming home and raising kids of my own <laugh>. I don’t know how people do this. <laugh> and you know, parenting, having a family, beautiful thing. you have kids of your own little ones mm-hmm. <affirmative> among balancing, raising your kids, helping other, you know, people’s kids all day. How do you fill up your own cup so that you can show up and give a hundred percent of your efforts?

Paolo Morrone (23:31):

 I always, I, I, I laugh cuz you say this. I always say I split my day in two. my energy, I try to give the same energy to both. Nice. but it’s a, I psych myself up on the way home in the car because, you know, I do have two little ones. I kind of did things a little different or backwards as I say in my career path where I kind of got into being an administrator very young into my career. you know, I’m, we’re, I’m in year 13 here. Nice. As an administrator. Nice As an administrator. So I, when I started as a vice principal, I didn’t have kids. so it was a totally different <laugh>, totally different experience, totally different energy level. And now I’ve got two little ones under five, five and under.

Paolo Morrone (24:21):

so when I come home, I gotta be on my a game. Nice. I gotta be on ma game in the morning and I gotta be on ma game in the afternoon. How do I do it? I don’t know how I do it, but I do it. you just kind of you know, you’ve gotta be there. And the other piece is health. From a health perspective, that’s hard balance. Finding a good balance and I’m one that I’ve always thought, you know, working out and, and sports in general is important. so, you know, we, I don’t do the gym anymore, but I’ve set up a gym at home. So that, that was the trade off, you know, losing up. I don’t have that extra hour to go back and forth from the gym, but you know, what if I cut off that hour and I got half an hour, I can do that at home. And that’s how I keep my own sort of mental sanity between both both rolls and hats that I, I have on all every day between my personal and family life. It’s, it’s a, it’s a tough balance sometimes, especially as a, a principal these days, there’s a lot of different you know, this, these disconnect policies don’t often work as well for us <laugh> when we come home and you gotta answer, you’re get, you know, you’re

Sam Demma (25:28):

Looking your life right center

Paolo Morrone (25:30):

<laugh>. Yeah. Do I answer this email or do I wait till the morning and then, you know, no, I’m gonna cut. I’m gonna cut it off, but then still gonna be there in the morning. So its it’s tough. It is a fine balance between between home life and, and work life. and a lot of people, it’s, it’s not hard to get totally overwhelmed with work where you, you start letting the other stuff slip a bit. So you gotta bring yourself back to reality and get a reality check and say no. Like, my priority is my family. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I love my job and my vocation, but my number one priority is my family. but I’ve gotta also be able to be there for, for the school, for the kids. They know when you’re not, when you’re not. And I don’t mean just physic, they actually do know. Cause I’m not on the, if I’m not on the pa, they know I’m not there <laugh>. but they know, they know if you’re off, they sense it, they can feel it.

Sam Demma (26:19):

Ah, cool. that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing some of the behind the scenes. When, when you think of your different roles, if you could take the experience you have now, travel back in time and speak to Apollo in his first year of teaching, knowing what you know now with the experiences you’ve had, like what would you have told your younger self? Not because you wanted to change your pathway, but you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation?

Paolo Morrone (26:46):

 truthfully, I probably would have gone into administration a little bit later on in my career. I don’t regret it. I joke around with people and say like, you know, I gave up the dream job as a, as a PhysEd teacher. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> which is something, again, going back to I can trace back to grade eight in terms of me. That’s what I wanted to do. but as I told you, I also said that I wanted to be a principal. I just, I got in a little early and you know out of potentially a 30 year career, 20, 20 plus years of it will be an administration that’s a long time to be a principal and vice principal. I look, I take the positive in it and say, you know what? That that’ll by the time I’m, I’m done and ready to move on to the next stage of my life, I’m hoping that I’ve made quite a bit of an impact in all the schools I’ve, I’ve been at in some way, shape or form.

Paolo Morrone (27:38):

 in terms of my career trajectory, that would be the only thing. I’m not saying I regretted in any way, but I probably would’ve done it a little bit later. so when you get, when you get the tap on the shoulder, you get the tap. And as my mentor at the time said you know, if you got the, if you get the tap on the shoulder now there’s a reason for it and, and you don’t know if it’s gonna come afterwards. So you’re, you’re lined up. There’s a reason for it and, you know, take, take the leap and go kind of thing.

Sam Demma (28:05):

Oh, awesome. I appreciate that advice because I’m sure there’s some people on the edge with that decision who might be listening right now. So, yeah. Thanks for sharing and Paulo, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate your time and energy. I hope you have an amazing rest of the school year. If, if another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Paolo Morrone (28:28):

They can reach out to me either through LinkedIn, email through my board email’s fine. LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn quite a bit or even Twitter. I’m not as active as I was on Twitter, but I do I do check it.

Sam Demma (28:41):

Perfect. Awesome. Thank you so much for again coming on the show. Enjoy the rest of your.I’m glad you enjoyed it And keep up with the great work.

Paolo Morrone (28:50):

<laugh>. Thanks man.

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A Powerful Idea for the Start of a New Semester
About Mr.Loudfoot

Mr. Loudfoot is a teacher that changed my life. He is retired now, although his practices and philosophies live on. In today’s episode, I share an idea he used at the beginning of our semester/term that enabled him to make students feel seen, heard, valued and appreciated. It’s a simple idea, yet when executed, very powerful.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Mike Loudfoot – Former Educator with over 30 years of experience

Small Consistent Actions | Sam Demma | TEDxYouth@Toronto

The Backpack of Beliefs

Empty Your Backpack: Unpack Your Beliefs, Take Consistent Action, and Create a Life of Meaning

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today I wanna talk a little bit about a powerful idea you can use to start a new semester, or when you get a new group of students and you want to build a strong connection and relationship to them. Here is a very simple idea you can use to accomplish that, and it’s not mine. It’s something a teacher did to me in my life when I was in their classroom. If you’ve heard my keynote speech before at your school or at an educational conference, you know that I spend a significant amount of time talking about Mr. Loudfoot. Mike, my grade 12 world issues teacher who changed my life when I was so uncertain about my future. He provided certainty when I stopped believing in myself.

Sam Demma (00:56):

He provided that belief, but there was so many things that he did in the classroom aside from the way that he helped me, that I observed that I think are so valuable for you. For other teachers and people working in the education space. One of the things he did at the beginning of the new semester is he shared a Google form that he wanted every single student to fill out. It was like an intake form at a dentist’s office, <laugh>, but instead all about the student’s personal interests, hobbies, the snacks they like, the favorite candies they would eat. It was a very basic form to fill out, but he was super strategic with the way in which he used it. For example, after receiving 40 Google forms that tell Mike what all of his students are passionate about, after each lesson, he would say things like, Sam, because I know you’re passionate about soccer, for you, this lesson means X and Emily, because I know you’re passionate about movies and art for you, today’s lesson is gonna mean X and Kaon because you’re passionate about clothing and design for you, today’s lesson means X.

Sam Demma (02:16):

And he would customize the learnings, the takeaways in the exact same way that I explained it to you right now on the podcast, live in class. And it made me, as a student feel as though my teacher knew me. It made me feel like he cared about me, like he understood why I went to school. Because for me personally, one of my goals was to play pro soccer and school was an avenue that was gonna help me get there. Mr. Loudfoot recognized that because I filled it out on his intake form <laugh> at the beginning of the school year. That was the first way in which he used the information. He used it to customize the content, to

Sam Demma (02:58):

Tailor the takeaways to each of the students. Now, he wouldn’t stand in front of the classroom and do it for all 30 kids after every lesson. He would just pick two or three people per day and make sure they felt seen, heard, valued, and appreciated. The second way, and I would argue sometimes the even more powerful way, he used the information on his little intake form, was he would bring people their favorite snacks. If he noticed that someone was struggling a few days in a row, not doing so well, coming to class, and they seemed slightly off, he would go look through the intake forms, find what that person’s favorite candy was, and the next day drop off it on their, drop it off on their desk. What a way to make a student feel appreciated and a part of the community, and who doesn’t want their favorite chocolate.

Sam Demma (03:55):

Not to mention buying a mini Kit Kat is only gonna cost a couple cents, 50 cents a dollar, and it’s such a powerful way to make a student feel appreciated. And so he would routinely drop off little candies on people’s desks when he thought they weren’t feeling the best or when he wanted to. Just make them feel great. And I think this little idea is so small that it seems insignificant, but it’s actually the little things that we do that make sometimes the biggest difference. We, we sometimes buy into this belief that we have to do something massive to make a change, when in reality it’s tiny little decisions. It’s being more intentional about the, about the everyday actions already taking that enables them to make such an impact, such a change. So maybe as you start a new semester, as you begin a new term, welcoming new students into your classroom, maybe one of your new practices can be creating your own intake form, having students answer some questions totally unrelated to class and school.

Sam Demma (05:08):

What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not inside the classroom? Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years? What’s your favorite thing to buy from Tim Horton’s or Starbucks? What’s your favorite candy? What’s your favorite music? What’s your favorite movie? These things might seem silly, uh, but it will help you connect to your students on a much deeper level, especially when it’s a surprise when they see their favorite chocolate bar sitting on the corner of their desk. Mr. Loud Foot impacted me and impacted many others in my classroom. Recently, I launched a book titled, empty Your Backpack. Him and his wife Joan were at the event,

Sam Demma (05:56):

And there was probably 5 or 10 other people from the community that walked up to Mr. Loudfoot after the speech, gave him a big hug and thanked him for the impact that he had on them. And I think it’s these little things that enabled him to make such a big impact on so many people. He, he worked in education for about 30 years, so hopefully this little idea is something that you can put to use. Hopefully it’s something that will help you have a deeper impact with your students. If you do try this with your class, I would love to hear about it, so please send me an email. Have an amazing week, and I will see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.

Tracy Beaulieu – Administrative Support Leader

Tracy Beaulieu - Administrative Support Leader
About Tracy Beaulieu

Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.

In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.

Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students.

Connect with Tracy: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Public Schools Branch – Prince Edward Island

Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award

Dr. Seuss Books

Who was Terry Fox?

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:54):

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

Sam Demma (00:58):

Today’s special guest is Tracy Beaulieu. Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She truly believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Tracy and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (02:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m here with a very special guest today. She was introduced to me by a past guest. Her name is Tracy Beaulieu. I’m gonna give her an opportunity to introduce herself as well. Tracy, welcome to the show. Please, share a little bit about your yourself.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:23):

Hi. Thank you Sam. I appreciate you having me. As you said, my name is Tracy Beaulieu and my role is an admin support leader on Prince Edward Island. So basically what I do is I’m the contact for a number of schools. I have 20 of them. Typically the elementary schools. The contact for any of the administrators if they have any questions or need support helping their teachers or helping students, I’m kind of their go-to person.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:55):

That is a very special role. <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:00):

Interesting.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:01):

It’s a lot of support. What got you into education? Did you know growing up that you wanted to work in this industry?

Tracy Beaulieu (03:09):

Absolutely. I actually knew since I was a little kid, that was kind of the same, the thing that was in the books that your parents keep that say, What do you wanna be when you’re in grade one and two? And teacher was always it for me. Ironically, I never wanted to be an administrator and I found myself in that role at a fairly young age. I was only 27 when I became a vice principal. And really only then did I become a vice principal because I had the administrator’s course as part of my upgrading my education. And I was in a small rural school and they needed help and I was asked, I didn’t want to take it on because that would mean that I would be the vice principal of some of the teachers who had actually taught me when I was in school.

Tracy Beaulieu (04:03):

So it was a little awkward, but they were fantastic and gave me a lot of support. So then I never wanted to be a principal. And ironically people then started reaching out and encouraging me to take on the role, but it was actually a student that made me finally make the decision to become a principal. It’s a neat little story. I was just driving down the road, I was going to pick up a sub for my kids and I saw a sign and it basically had said, the signs are there, you just need to listen. And I was like, Oh yeah, sure. And then I get to the place where the sub is and it’s a student and he came over and was happy to see me and said, Are you gonna be the new principal? And I said, No, I don’t think so. I love teaching kids too much. And he said, But you still teach me. You teach me when I’m in the office to make better choices. And I thought, Wow, okay, there’s a bit of a sign. So that’s how I got into administration. But basically my journey has been because other people were tapping me on the shoulder and saw something in me that I may not have seen in myself. And I’m grateful for them for doing that and I hope that I can do that for others as well.

Sam Demma (05:28):

Did you say your first role in admin was at 27?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:31):

Yes.

Sam Demma (05:32):

What was that experience like? Did you ever find it as a young person? I’m 23 and sometimes I have these situations where I’m dealing with individuals who are older than me twice my age. <laugh>, yes, have. How was that experience? Did you ever have any weird situations being so young in that role or what was it like for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:54):

Do you know? I anticipated that it would be really awkward for me. I honestly did the first staff meeting where I knew it was gonna be announced that I was the vice principal. I was quite nervous because as I said, I had a couple of people on staff. It wasn’t a very big staff either who had taught me, but they were actually quite remarkable. They were happy for me and I was very lucky because as awkward as it was for me, they made it easy, impossible for me. They were my support and they all shaped me into who I was as an administrator and I was very grateful. The biggest challenge I think for me sometimes would’ve been with the parents, if there was an issue with that, with a student, they would look at me and think, Well, I’m older than her and what does she know?

Tracy Beaulieu (06:55):

Kind of thing. But I’ve always been about making connections with kids. I preached from that time on that it’s okay to make mistakes. That’s part of our learning. And just because you’ve made a mistake doesn’t mean you’re a bad kid. And that’s what some of them would take it as. So I was lucky that I had a lot of the parent support with that as well. But I think it’s a lot because you start off telling them that their kid’s a good kid and that you actually really like their kid. We’re just gonna work together to help them make better choices next time.

Tracy Beaulieu (07:32):

Let’s talk about making connections with kids. When you were in the classroom and even in the administration roles and even in the roles you’re in today, how do you make and build a connection with a young person? How do you think that actually happens?

Tracy Beaulieu (07:48):

Well, first off, I think they have to know that you like them and it has to be genuine. Kids are very good at a very young age at picking up if you don’t really mean it. And kids are really good at knowing how they can control you if you let them <laugh>, ask a two year old as well. So it’s about giving them some of those boundaries that they do need, but having fun with them, it’s about being interested in them beyond the classroom as well. So I would go to some of their sporting events and watch them there and they would be excited to see you at their sporting events. I would go to their music festivals when I was able to and just being part of their life beyond the school. And then to laugh and joke with them as well and to have fun, then they want to do good for you.

Tracy Beaulieu (08:50):

And that’s the biggest thing. Kids, I guess I’ll say that I was at a conference and it was out at B and Chief Cadmus had actually made this comment and it resonated me because I believe it so heartedly it’s show people your heart before you expect their hand. And that really resonated with me and it’s about the connection piece. Kids won’t learn unless they know you like them. So making those relationships is so, so important and letting them know that they are valued and they mean something and they have all kinds of potential. And part of that learning is it’s about making mistakes because you want them to know that they can trust you and they can be safe to make some mistakes with you and you’ll guide them through.

Tracy Beaulieu (09:47):

I think in education, our mistakes are amazing learning opportunities and in life in general, if we choose to reflect on them and learn from them, they can be these amazing professional development moments in our professional journeys and also in our personal lives. And I’m wondering, in your journey throughout education, if there are any mistakes, but we’ll call them learning lessons that you found really impactful personally that you think other educators could benefit from hearing cuz they might be going through something similar.

Tracy Beaulieu (10:22):

I think one of the ones that kinda stands out for me, as I mentioned, I was in a small rural school when I first started and the school was actually in the community I grew up in. So that was my kind of discourse. And then I went to another school eventually that was a larger school and it had more complex needs in that school and those students and that environment actually kind of awakened me to a mistake that I was holding in my head and that’s that everybody kind of had a similar background and experience to myself. We talk a lot about diversity, but I think to that point, my mind on diversity was more about okay, if it’s a different culture, a different language or that type of thing. But they taught me that we are diverse even with the same socioeconomic background, even the same gender and race.

Tracy Beaulieu (11:28):

So that was a big learning for me and it was kind of an eye opening thing. So I learned that I had to talk to even my whole staff about the fact that we have these invisible backpacks that we carry and we don’t hang those up on a hook when we get into this school. They stay with us all day long and it’s not to make assumptions that people’s stories and what they’ve been through based on what you have experienced and been through. So that was a big kind of mistake or learning for me is and making assumptions that really weren’t accurate.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:08):

I often tell people just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying something that nothing about.

Sam Demma (12:16):

Absolutely.

Sam Demma (12:17):

It’s funny, I actually, I just wrote a book called Your Backpack <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:23):

That is so cool.

Sam Demma (12:25):

So the connection is so immediate and visceral for me with that in mind that every student and every human being walks through life with these invisible backpacks. How do we get to know what’s in a student’s backpack? Is it by asking them questions or how have you got to know what your students were carrying when you were in their classrooms?

Tracy Beaulieu (12:51):

Yeah, it was about asking questions. I was usually at the elementary level, so sometimes it was making connections actually with their parents as well. So many people find it difficult to come into a school environment if they didn’t have a positive experience growing up. So it it’s about making your building a welcoming and safe place for parents as well as students and really listening to their story. So we can always ask questions, but if we’re not genuinely listening, it’s not going to amount to any sort of understanding of what they’re bringing with them. And it’s about building that trust and letting them know that they can come and talk to you and share things with you. It’s the basis of everything. And then it’s starting to really understand for me, if kids were making choices that weren’t the right choices, it was really staying in tune to the fact that there’s an underlying reason why this is happening right now and they deserve to have me help them get through that in any way that I can.

Tracy Beaulieu (14:11):

So it is about building the trust and making connections and making a safe environment and then truly listening to what their story is because those little ones may not even know what is beneath that emotion that they’re feeling. And it’s our job to help them support that growth in learning because they’re not gonna learn, they won’t learn the ABC’s if they can’t control those emotions that they have. If they’re worried about what’s happening at home, if they’re coming to school with some sort of trauma that’s going to trump all of their ability to learn. So we are educators, It’s our job to unpack that backpack with them and with their families the best that we can so that we can help them become the best that they can be because that’s the end goal, making them be the best version of themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (15:09):

It sounds like listening has been a really impactful aspect of your journey as an educator, but I would assume that it’s just a big part of living life. It becomes more interesting when we listen genuinely and be curious about other people’s journeys. When you transition from teaching to administration, who are you listening to or who was in your life in your corner helping you and showing you the ropes and mentoring you? Did you have some other educators who played a big role and if so, who were they and what did they teach you or do for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (15:42):

Yes, I always had, I was very fortunate to have the support, not just in the school but in my family as well. So I was lucky there, but in school I would’ve had different teachers and on my staff as I mentioned, who were kind of aware that they saw something in me, they saw the potential and they were willing to help nurture that potential as I was learning, which I think makes great teachers in general. And then as I got going through, actually there was one gentleman who probably had the biggest impact for me and his name was Doug McDougal. And Doug had this ability to make everybody feel that they were valued and that they were worth something. And Doug would take the time to write little cards and send them to people telling them what he thought was great about either their style or about themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (16:47):

So it could be the educational style or them personally. And he had that ability to laugh and have fun with you as well. Oh wow. So he was probably my biggest inspiration. He was the person that I thought, if I can be like you, I want to be like you. And he set the bar high for a lot of us and I actually, unfortunately a year ago, a little over a year ago, he passed suddenly. And to see the impact he had on so many people was so heartwarming and I felt I needed to keep his memory alive. So I created the Doug McDougal Inspire Award and just presented that to administrators last weekend, I believe it was, or two weeks ago. And it’s my way of keeping his legacy alive. And we’re going to have that award be presented to anybody in the education system that is making school better for staff and students. So it could be a custodian, it could be the bus driver, it could be a teacher, it could be anybody that is making life better for kids. And that award will travel from school to school just like Doug did. So he was probably my biggest inspiration and motivator.

Sam Demma (18:22):

That’s awesome. I love that you pinpointed some of the actions he took that made a big difference, like the writing of cards, I think that’s sometimes a lost art. I’m 23. I learned how to send a handwritten note in the mail at 18 <laugh> because there was no real reason to send a handwritten note at growing up cuz we had emails and all these. That’s right. Donald mentioned Doug as well on the island. Is Doug very well known as a impactful educator?

Tracy Beaulieu (18:58):

Yes, yes. Impactful educator and impactful community member as well. Interesting story that someone had shared because with his passing you got to hear stories, but he was the type of person that they needed a hockey coach in his community and nobody was able or volunteered to do it and Doug did and Doug couldn’t even skate, but he knew those kids needed somebody and he didn’t look at his inability to skate as a barrier. He still took the opportunity because he wanted those kids to have something and he continued to demonstrate that a lot. He didn’t let his quote limitations that some people would say prevent him from doing something that would help others. So he was quite a remarkable person.

Sam Demma (19:57):

Yeah, that’s so cool. I think what’s also amazing about the story is that you mentioned how after his passing you heard about all these stories of impact and sometimes in education we don’t know the impact that our actions are having. Sometimes we have to wait, sometimes we never know and other people get to see it, which is really, really cool. In terms of impact, are there any stories that come to mind for you of students who you’ve seen transformed due to education? And it could be as a direct result of your activities or someone in your school or the community as a whole helping a young person. And the reason I ask is because I think the reason most people get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference in the lives of young people. And when they get burnt out or overwhelmed, I think it’s these stories of impact that really remind them why the work they’re doing is so important. So do any of those stories come to mind? And if it’s a serious one, you could definitely change the name of the student if you’d like <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (21:05):

A couple of things come to mind. One is when I did first start in my administrative role, there was a student and it was, as I said, a small rural school. So there was one grade per grade level and there was one particular student who his choices weren’t always seen as very positive and made other staff members sometimes struggle when this child would be exhibiting some of the behaviors I guess. And I believed in him and I started listening again when he was acting out he would be getting into other people’s business so to speak. But I started realizing, wow, this boy is actually being an advocate for other people, other students, but he’s just not doing it appropriately. His way of doing it is very disrespectful and kind of clouding people’s opinions. So I started working with him a lot and letting him know that, you know, are a good kid, you are making a good choice.

Tracy Beaulieu (22:23):

Even when he was up in junior high, I would take him to work with some of my grade three students and he was quite remarkable at that. And he was a student who we all worried about would he get through school. And he did. He graduated and he actually became a bodybuilder and was on the cover of one of the, I don’t know if it’s a Canadian magazine or whatever, but he made the cover of a magazine and this is a kid that even in high school we stayed connected and I got an invitation to his wedding this summer and he’s a dad, he has two kids, he’s successful and he actually found his way. And I think that just comes from people believing in him. So he actually had a big impact on me because he showed me that it is true that if we just work, if you get past those challenging behaviors and try to see the person within, they can teach us a lot.

Tracy Beaulieu (23:32):

And so he shaped me to always let kids know that again, it’s okay to make mistakes. So I started a program when I was at the other school that I went to and it was really around Carol Wes work with growth Mindset. Nice. And I had a book and it was called Not Yet. And I went to each class and I read it and it was talking about the fact that Terry Fox may not have actually finished his journey. He would’ve had a difficult time even when he was doing his run. He saw challenges, but he didn’t give up and he just kept saying, I’m not done, not yet. And share with them of all the successful people who tried to do things and failed but didn’t give up and they looked at the mistakes that they had and they turned them into opportunities to dig deeper and find more.

Tracy Beaulieu (24:31):

Dr. Suess was always a big person that I would have his quotes around. Kids knew that I loved him, but I shared that he was rejected 27 times before he got to actually write his book. So it was sharing that those mistakes are part of it. And with the not yet I started, I had little neck laces and bracelets that teachers would be able to give to kids whenever they saw them trying things, but not yet succeeding, but given them praise and highlighting the power of them trying to persevere and get through. So that was a way that we were trying to motivate kids. But when I knew it was working is when I was in walking in the hallways or on the playground and I would hear kids talking to each other and saying, No, you don’t have that yet, but you will <affirmative>. And I thought that’s that seemingly small action of repeating with kids that it’s okay to make mistakes, you just don’t have it yet to keep trying. It will sink in. And that’s what I want for all students is to have that ability to believe in themselves that even when you try and you don’t succeed, there’s still opportunities there for success if you just keep trying.

Tracy Beaulieu (25:56):

I love the idea of not yet, I think so often we hit barriers and it ultimately is up to us to decide when we continue pushing forward or when we stop. There’s no such thing as a failure if you don’t quit <laugh>. Exactly. You never reach that point. So that’s such a powerful thing to remind young people, and again, not just students but human beings, we all face challenges, not just the kids. So I love that analogy and I appreciate you sharing it. When you field phone calls from the principals and the administration of the 20 different elementary schools in PEI that you help and support, what is the most common thing they’re reaching out about? I’m sure every school is very different and unique, but are there any commonalities or things that you think a lot of them need support with right now?

Tracy Beaulieu (26:47):

Right now, I believe the biggest commonality that comes from schools is the kind of challenges that kids are experiencing right now with regulating their emotions, <affirmative>, and also some of them just not having the skills that they may have had in the past coming into school. So we’re already starting behind that benchmark and trying to meet their needs. One of the things, and the other layer is those high conflict personalities of people calling and trying to figure out how do we navigate through this kind of tumultuous time where people are wanting things and they’re wanting it now and they don’t see the challenges beyond their own challenges and it is their story and that’s all they know. So you don’t expect them to always understand that there’s a whole lot of other things that are limiting. I think that’s the biggest challenge and the biggest underlying common theme that is coming with all of the phone calls is how can I help this student? My teachers are burning out because of the needs and this parent is upset and I don’t know how to calm them and help them understand. And yeah, those would be the two main things. Right now

Tracy Beaulieu (28:28):

It sounds like the students are at the forefront of some of the best things that happen in the school and then some of the learning moments. <laugh>. Yes. So true. The center of education. And what do you think for those educators that are burning out, because I think it’s a common theme, especially before the pandemic, it was starting a little bit and then the pandemic just exasperated it and it became a real big challenge. What do you think the teachers who are a little bit burnt out need to hear right now? If you could say something out of your window and it would just reach the ear of every educator across pei, what would you tell <laugh>

Tracy Beaulieu (29:11):

That they are making a difference <affirmative>. And they may not always feel it. They see sometimes the challenges that they’re ahead of them and they feel like they’re not meeting the needs of the kids, but they absolutely are. And really trying to help them understand that it may be five to 10% of your class or of the school community that are struggling and don’t lose sight of the 90 to 95% of the amazing things that are done all the time. And it’s really, again, trying to shift our mindset to acknowledging the positives. If we only talk about the challenges and if we only look at the challenges, that’s all we are going to see. And that begins to shape what we believe the reality is in our building where when I get to go to schools, I get to see all of the amazing things that are happening. So it’s to try to always take time to focus on what went well, what is going well, what are the successes and what are we accomplishing to make these kids be the best that they can be and not only talk about what I can’t do and what I can’t get at. So I think that would be my biggest message. You’re doing a great job. Just try to remember to think of the positives.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:47):

We gotta empty our backpacks of those negative beliefs.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:50):

<laugh>. Yes. Yes. They’re there. If you wanna look for them, they’re there, but so are the positives, so

Tracy Beaulieu (30:56):

That’s awesome. Tracy, if someone wants to have a conversation with you or reach out, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch with you?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:06):

Probably email would be the easiest way for them to connect with me and you have my email address. Do you want me to say it?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:18):

Yeah, you can say it out loud right now and I’ll also put it in the show notes of the episode so people can find it.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:23):

Okay. So it’s txbeaulieu@edu.pe.ca.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:33):

Awesome. Tracy, this has been such an insightful conversation. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your morning to come on the podcast and share some of your insights and experiences in education. I really appreciate your efforts and if anyone hasn’t told you recently, just know that you’re making a massive difference as well in so many educators lives and which are ultimately affecting the lives of so many families and students. So keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:02):

Thank you so much Sam for having me, and thank you for all you’re doing as well. That’s pretty remarkable what you’re taking on and it’s very appreciated. So thank you.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:11):

You’re welcome.

Sam Demma (32:13):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tracy Beaulieu

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.

Darrell Glenn – Head coach of the University of Prince Edward Men’s Varsity Basketball Team

Darrell Glenn - Head coach of the University of Prince Edward Men's Varsity Basketball Team
About Darrel Glenn

Darrell Glenn (@coachdglenn) is the head coach of the University of Prince Edward men’s varsity basketball team. He has coached basketball at various programs throughout Ontario and is currently in Prince Edward Island.

He was a high school teacher in Ontario for 17 years and taught various social science courses, and he spent the last 5 years teaching Phys Ed. Darrell feels very fortunate to have had many mentors and role models enter his life, and he credits them for shaping his ideas on giving back.

Darrell’s philosophy on teaching and developing is that you have to establish trust with the people you are working with, and enthusiasm is the difference.

Connect with Darrell: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Men’s Basketball – University of Prince Edward Island Men’s Varsity Basketball (UPEI)

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – University of Toronto (OISE)

Queen’s Athletics and Recreation

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.

Sam Demma (00:58):

Today’s special guest is Darrell Glenn. Darrell Glenn is the head coach of the University of Prince Edward men’s varsity basketball team. He has coached basketball at various programs throughout Ontario and is currently in Prince Edward Island.He was a high school teacher in Ontario for 17 years and taught various social science courses, and he spent the last 5 years teaching Phys Ed. Darrell feels very fortunate to have had many mentors and role models enter his life, and he credits them for shaping his ideas on giving back.Darrell’s philosophy on teaching and developing is that you have to establish trust with the people you are working with, and enthusiasm is the difference. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Coach Darrell Glenn, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we’re joined by a very special guest. The guest is Darrell Glenn. Darrell, welcome to the show. Please start by introducing yourself

Darrell Glenn (01:59):

First and foremost, thanks for having me. As you mentioned, my name is Darrell Glenn, and I’m the head coach of the Varsity men’s basketball team at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Sam Demma (02:10):

How did you get into sports?

Darrell Glenn (02:14):

Well, I, I’ve played sports really throughout school as a kid and I grew up in Toronto and I was fortunate enough to be recruited to come to the University of Prince Edward Rhode Island. Nice. See where I played varsity basketball here for five years and once I finished playing, I actually stayed on the island for an additional year to work with the women’s team and that’s when I caught the bug on in coaching and wanted to kind of pursue it.

Sam Demma (02:42):

Where abouts in Toronto are you from?

Darrell Glenn (02:44):

I’m originally from North York. Nice. But when I moved back from pi, we kind of moved downtown and then we settled in the York region, Richmond Hill area.

Sam Demma (02:57):

Very cool. I’m just in Pickering, so not too far from your home hometown, <laugh>. Nice,

Darrell Glenn (03:02):

Nice, nice, nice.

Sam Demma (03:03):

What was it about, you mentioned you caught the bug. What was it about coaching specifically that year with the women’s team that really opened your eyes to the passion you had for coaching that inspired you to keep going to this day?

Darrell Glenn (03:18):

Well it’s interesting because when I was playing, I was going into my senior year of high school and I attended a basketball camp as a player and at the conclusion of the camp, one of the coaches, his name is Willie Dallas and I credit him really as being the first person to plant that seed. And he said to me, when you’re playing careers over and you’re ever considering coaching, give me a call. I think you’d be a fantastic coach. And I kind of heard it but never really thought much of it cuz at that time I was 18 or 17 and really just thinking about playing. And it wasn’t really until after I had done the year with the girls and I was moving back to Toronto that I actually called them and he kind of helped set my pathway into coaching once I got back to Ontario.

Sam Demma (04:08):

And the aspects of coaching that give you the most joy, would they be the interactions with the athletes, seeing them go on and off the court? What parts of it keep you going back day in and day out?

Darrell Glenn (04:21):

I think to go back to, sorry, just second part of your question. When I did that year with the girls, I think what every component of coaching, it takes a little bit away. It takes certain skill sets that you have to, to do the various things that you need to do. So you’re coaching, there’s the technical aspect of it, the emotional and mental side of it where you have to manage different emotions and different personalities. There’s the competition side of it, which I really enjoy. There’s the preparation side of it, there’s the recruiting side of it and there’s the community relations side of it. So there’s a lot of different things that I got exposed to in that year and I really, really enjoyed it. And I thought this is like there’s never a day that’s the same two days that are the same. So you’re always doing something new. And fast forwarding to where I am today, I think what I really love about it the most is that I’m constantly growing as a person.

Sam Demma (05:25):

That’s awesome. And you’re still throwing around a basketball and being able to be on the court, which was your passion growing up as a kid, which I think is really special. Yeah,

Darrell Glenn (05:36):

That’s awesome.

Sam Demma (05:38):

Have you had any other involvement in the lives of young people off the court? Is there anything else that you’ve done or been a part of that has impacted youth?

Darrell Glenn (05:46):

So I was actually a high school teacher in Toronto for 19 years. I taught at four different schools. So I’d like to believe that I’ve had an impact on <laugh>. A few the people, few of the students that I worked with. Nice. I can certainly say with a lot of confidence, they’ve definitely had a positive impact on me and my development as a person.

Sam Demma (06:07):

So you started with teaching before you became a coach or did you start coaching back when you began your education career in Toronto as well?

Darrell Glenn (06:17):

I actually started them at the same time. I guess when I came back to Ontario, I worked, worked actually for Canada Trust before it became TD Canada Trust. Nice <laugh>. And I had started coaching almost immediately and after doing that for about three years, I was at the side counter doing mortgages and loans. I just realized this is not something I think I can really enjoy doing for the rest of my life. And I was already starting to coach and I’d already kind of felt like teaching was where I wanted to go. So I know I was fortunate enough to get into OISE at U F T, did that and then started teaching right away. So it’s been something I’ve always kind of wanted to do and when I had the opportunity to do it, I really enjoyed it.

Sam Demma (07:03):

What are the different roles you’ve done in education? Were you a high school teacher of the same subject for all 19 years? Did you move schools? Tell me a little bit about your journey after you finished the degree.

Darrell Glenn (07:15):

So sure. I’ll share an interesting story. So in my year at oise, cuz back then it was just one year for teachers college and they had a career day and a bunch of boards came to oise and they kind of talked about the different job, the job opportunities and whatever and how to apply. And during the presentations I made a list of the schools that I wanted to teach at my preference. And so one of the schools that I had written down was Oakwood Collegiate, that’s the school I wanted. That was my number one choice. So when I finished teachers college, there was a hiring freeze and I started teaching at a private school and I found out that the head coach of the men’s basketball, senior men’s basketball team or boys’ basketball team at Oakwood was in his last year. He was retiring the following year, let’s go.

Darrell Glenn (08:16):

And coach head coach Terry Thompson has kind of been a legend in the city, had kind of coached at that school for 30 years. I had kind of grown up when I was in high school playing against his team and I thought that’s the job I want. And so I approached him about being a volunteer with the team that year and learning under him in his last year. And so what I would do every day is I would leave the private school, which was in a Toko and I would drive all the way downtown. Geez. And I would volunteer with the team. And one day when I drove downtown, I got into the gym and I saw my old vice principal talking to Coach Thompson. So I approached him and we kind of looked at each other, what are you doing here? What are you doing here, <laugh>? And so I explained to him that I was teaching and I was at this private school and I reached out to Coach Thompson and he said I could volunteer. And then I looked at him, what are you doing here? And he said, well I’m actually the principal of school

Sam Demma (09:16):

Throughway meeting <laugh>.

Darrell Glenn (09:18):

So through some work he was able to help assist me get that position cool at Oakwood Collegiate. And that’s where my teaching career started. I was at Oakwood for eight years and then I went on to teach at Newton Brook Collegiate. I did that for three years. And then I finished my last six years of teaching or seven years of teaching was at West Houston Centennial. So I taught everything. I started in social sciences cause I got my degree in history and I have a minor in sociology. So I did Canadian history, I taught law, I taught ancient civilizations, I taught politics, I saw family studies. And then in my last years I kind of transitioned into Phed and I started teaching Phed and then became the head of athletics at West Houston Centennial.

Sam Demma (10:14):

What a journey. Yeah, what a cool journey. What a cool story. Let’s talk about the volunteerism aspect of that story real quick because I think you wouldn’t have had that opportunity had you not decided to volunteer. And one of the things I often talk about with people is how important volunteerism is not in the context of getting job opportunities for yourself, but in the context of giving back. And I found if you give back, usually it just naturally opens up cool opportunities and doors in other areas of your life just on its own. Do you think getting involved as an educator and being a part of the community more than just teaching in a classroom is really important?

Darrell Glenn (10:54):

I think so. And I always felt to honestly as being a minority teacher and going into some of the communities and it was one of the reasons why I wanted to get into education. Cause first of all, I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me in the education system when I was going through school. And I just thought there were some areas where students could use a little bit more support and a little bit more understanding. So I always took on the role understanding that it was a lot bigger than just being in the classroom and that my reach and influence could be extended way beyond just being, I thought it was impactful in the classroom, but I also thought I had a unique opportunity to do a lot of a variety of other things to positively impact students that I worked with. So I kind of took that role very serious. And I agree with you and I always tell this story to my players now when I suggest that they go and volunteer and they always say, ah no, I gotta make money or I gotta do. And I always go back to the story and say, when I started out, had I not volunteered, who knows how long I would’ve not been able to coach in the board. Cause at the time they weren’t hiring. I was really fortunate, but I kind of created my fortune by just volunteering.

Sam Demma (12:15):

And I think there’s actions that push our odds in our favor. And Jim Roan, I think always used to say he was like this author and success teacher who’s now passed away that if you help enough people reach their visions and goals, you can have yours too. And it’s this idea that the person who’s always willing to give and pour into others that also ends up living the life that they wanna live. And I think it’s just, it’s a beautiful situation because you benefit because you feel good about it and the people you’re helping benefit cuz you’re helping them. And then the world as a whole just becomes a little bit of a kinder place. And I think sports are such an amazing way to give back. I spent my whole childhood pursuing a dream to play pro soccer. What are some of the correlations that you found between coaching students on the court versus teaching them in a classroom? Are there skills that they picked up in athletics that you think also apply to teaching and to life?

Darrell Glenn (13:14):

It, it’s interesting because when I look at my role as a head coach, I really first and foremost look at myself as a teacher. And I always kind of see it from that lens. And I think the way we, what we see as our strength and I say mean our coaching staff, what we see as our strength here is the development of people. And we don’t just look at that from a basketball perspective, but we look at that as a human perspective. And we’re trying to help our young people grow in more than just the physical part. We’re trying to help them emotionally, spiritually, and we try to put as many resources as we can. So I feel like my teaching background actually helps me. For example, today I’m doing something on time management with my rookies. Nice. So I’ve kinda used my teaching background to put something together and we’re gonna do a classroom session on time management and how they can better use their time to help them be successful both on and off the court.

Sam Demma (14:18):

That’s awesome. I feel like educators could benefit from that too. And any human being <laugh>, if you don’t mind me asking, what are some of the things you intend to share or some of the ideas?

Darrell Glenn (14:32):

Well what the way it’s set up is, and this is the way I approach teaching, is I’m gonna let them, we created a chart where the times from 6:00 AM to 12:00 AM every day. And they’re gonna just go through and I’m gonna get them to put through all the activities that they do in a day, Monday through Saturday or Monday through Sunday. And just get them to look at really to prioritize or just see for themselves where am I spending all of my time and is where I’m spending this time productive. So it’s really a reflective exercise where they’re gonna do most of the work and then they’re gonna look at their own hours and how they’re using it and determine for themselves if there are areas where they could be a little bit more productive.

Sam Demma (15:24):

I love that they could even align their future goals with where they’re spending time and see if they’re actually contributing to bringing that to life or not at all. <laugh>. Right.

Darrell Glenn (15:33):

And it’s those four hours you’re spending a day gaming, is that helping you with your academic work and is that happening helping you as an athlete?

Sam Demma (15:43):

Very cool. Yeah, I love that. It sounds like you’ve had individuals in your life who’ve played a big role. Have you had any mentors who, when you think about people in your life who’ve made a difference immediately come to the forefront of your mind? And if so, who are some of those individuals, even if they’re no longer around or even if they’re authors of books or anything that’s been really helpful in the formation of your own beliefs and ideas?

Darrell Glenn (16:08):

I’ve been really blessed in this regard and I’m a firm believer that people come in and out of your life at different times to give you different things and to provide you with different opportunities if you let them in. And I have been, there’s one area of my life where I feel like I’ve been truly blessed. It’s been with the people who have impacted me and it starts really, really early. And I would say along my journey and there’s so many people to mention, I would be not to mention cause I don’t wanna forget anyone. But I would just say that there are a lot of people who’ve come into my life that have given me different things that have helped shaped the way I think about things the way I live my life. And I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that regard. So I often feel like a great deal of responsibility to give back because I’ve gotten so much that I want to give back to people and especially the people I’m working with cuz I’ve been very, very fortunate in that regard.

Sam Demma (17:15):

Ah, that’s awesome. Without mentioning names, what are some of the things you think you’ve learned or taken away that have been foundational for you? Or maybe there’s moments in your life where something was going on and person crossed your path and it was like, damn, I needed that interaction today. I wondering if you have any moments like that come to mind?

Darrell Glenn (17:36):

Mean there are a lot. So I mean, I’m thinking of early childhood where I had a coach who kind of came into my life and we looked at him as a mentor, a big brother. And he really instilled hard work and discipline or what’s gonna help you be successful. And the way we approached all sports and activities was full out. He never let us take a possession off. And that’s been kind of a running theme throughout my life with different people who’ve come into my life. And I’ve had the good fortune to be around a lot of successful coaches and successful people. And that’s the one common stream that I’ve always seen is the work ethic. That these people are just tireless workers and they’re always pushing to get better. So that’s been, that’s really common. Regardless if it’s sport, if it’s business, if it’s whatever.

Darrell Glenn (18:26):

I’ve teachers, I’ve just consistently seen this in my teaching career. When I was at Boise, I ran into a professor who really, she had a class and I can’t remember the name of the class cause it was just one of these really long titles that had seven different titles to it, <laugh>. But the long and short of it is the class was set up for us to become familiar with what our students are going through outside of life and through those, I’ll give you an example. So one of the things that we had to do is we had to go to a rave. So our class had to go to

Sam Demma (19:09):

<laugh>. Okay.

Darrell Glenn (19:10):

We had to go to a bar, they went to a gay bar is one of the things we had to do. We had to go, we read an an autobiography on Tupac. Nice. And so just all these different things that we had to do that really helped us to understand what our students’ lives were like. And what what’s impactful about this course was the professor created, she created an environment where people were sharing really personal stories about really traumatic things that had happened in her life. And you would leave the classroom with a headache cause everybody would be sobbing uncontrollably. Damn. It was almost like being in a therapy session. It was unbelievable that these strangers, we would get together for an hour and a half or however the look long the class was. And she created an environment that was so trusting that people were opening up about things that they had not discussed with anybody in their entire life. And I remember walking away from that experience in that class and thinking, wouldn’t that be something if you could create a classroom environment like that where people felt that safe and that vulnerable, that they would be willing to share all the things that are troubling them. So that kind of stood out in my mind as a very, very special experience. And she was just an unbelievable professor in order to shape that culture.

Sam Demma (20:42):

I wanna jump in for a second. Sure. That question you have of how cool would it be to create a classroom where every student feels that way, I think is a question that runs through the mind of every educator as one of the goals they have in their classrooms or on the court as a coach amongst their athletes. And I’m curious to know if you found any characteristics or things that she did that you think enabled her to build that level of trust that you’ve tried to exhibit yourself or you think other educators might be able to give a try in their classrooms?

Darrell Glenn (21:14):

To be honest, it’s like I’ve been doing coaching now, this is my 27th year and I taught, like I said, for about 19 and I still haven’t had that magic touch. Yeah, she was just so unique in so many ways and a lot of it was just she was beyond belief and always gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. Never questioned if you came in late and you were always late, she treated it. It was the first time you were late. And when I think about my teaching, your automatic instinct, again, one of the things I’ve learned early in teaching, and I remember this, I had a student and he was always late and then one day I just was just sick of him being late and he was just so casual about coming in and being late. It never had a really good explanation. So I took him in the hall and I just verbally went after him. And then he kind of just calmly said, well sir, what am I supposed to do? I gotta take my siblings to school before I come to class. And I thought, geez. And it was my first real lesson. And you better start asking more questions before you start calling students. Ew

Sam Demma (22:34):

Goose bones

Darrell Glenn (22:36):

<laugh>, right? Yeah. It’s sitting there and you’re thinking to your, how terrible do I feel this kid is in grade nine and he’s gotta get two siblings dressed and take them to school. He’s gotta make their lunch, he’s gotta make their breakfast. And they weren’t even going to the same school and he just did this every day. And he would come to class like nothing. And the kid was 10 minutes late. Was it at the end of the world? No. And what he had already done, he had done more than most of his peers had done for the whole day. He’d already done it before nine o’clock. So that was really highlighting moment for me to realize when I was in education, you need to really get to know your students. You really get need to and imagine no matter what their personalities are like or how they present themselves, there’s always a story there.

Darrell Glenn (23:22):

And sometimes the kids with the biggest behavioral problems have the worst stories or they need the most sympathy, they need the most understanding. So our professor and I can say her name, Tara Goldstein, was, she was unbelievable with that. She made you feel safe, she made you feel understood. She, and she just had had a very unique way of doing it. It was just a very innocent really, to be honest. I haven’t been able to replicate it, so I don’t even know how to describe it. But it was just so genuine that she just pulled you in and made you feel like this is a safe place.

Sam Demma (24:02):

I love that. I think that shares a lot. It says a lot about her teaching for you to still be talking about it now and the impact that it created and how much it inspired you to try and create those similar spaces. Sounds like you’ve had so many, oh sorry, go

Darrell Glenn (24:18):

Ahead. Sorry. I was gonna say this. The other thing that’s interesting about that is, so we were at the faculty and this class was made up of students from various faculty. So I was in history, there would be people in science, there were people in various, we since that grad, I graduated in 2000. Since that time we would see people, I would see teachers at track and field meets or at a teaching like the PD session. And there’s this immediate connection and it’s just from this one class <laugh>, it was like, I don’t even know how to describe it. I still don’t know how to describe it. But anytime I see one of those students, we have an immediate connection.

Sam Demma (25:03):

That’s so cool. How many people are in that class? Do you remember roughly? Was it a big number?

Darrell Glenn (25:09):

Maybe 40, 45, something like that.

Sam Demma (25:11):

That’s so cool. That is a case study

Darrell Glenn (25:15):

<laugh>. Yeah. And the unfortunate thing is there were two parts of the course and the second part of the course in the second semester, she got a promotion,

Sam Demma (25:25):

So she wasn’t teaching it no more.

Darrell Glenn (25:26):

So she didn’t teach us for the entire year. We were devastated.

Sam Demma (25:29):

Wow.

Darrell Glenn (25:30):

We were

Sam Demma (25:30):

Devastated. I think that’s the goal of every educator, build these safe spaces where students can be themselves and secretly know that if you leave, they’d be devastated. <laugh>.

Darrell Glenn (25:39):

Yeah. And what she taught me is the impact that you can have because here we are like 20 something years later and I’m still talking about it. It was yesterday.

Sam Demma (25:51):

Wow. That’s so cool. You’ve had various individuals and people in your life who have crossed your paths and had a significant impact. Have you found inspiration in any books or courses or other materials or resources that you found helpful as well? Or has most of it been people in your immediate vicinity most of your life?

Darrell Glenn (26:11):

No. Again, I kind of alluded to this before, but I think the thing that’s been great about this job, and it’s not just coaches coaching and o’s like what we’re trying to do here is build a program. And for me as a graduate of this school, what I’m hoping to do is to leave a lasting legacy so that the next person who takes this job over after I’m finished with it takes it to another level. And what I’m hoping to do also is to create a foundation where some of the grunt work that I had to do to kind of get the program to where we are now, that person doesn’t have to do, they can just take it and take it to another level. So I kind of see that as my responsibility and I feel a little indebted to the university cuz they gave me an opportunity. They kind of believed in me. So again, one of the things that I’ve encountered that I feel I’m blessed with. So I certainly wanna share that blessing and create an opportunity for someone else down the road.

Sam Demma (27:15):

Very cool. I love that you mentioned that you have a whole staff as well, and that one of the focuses is not just developing the people, the young people into great athletes, but also into great human beings. Where does the latter part of that whole mission come into play? I know that you mentioned that you have in classroom sessions, gimme an idea of what a week looks like as a part of the basketball program or the whole program.

Darrell Glenn (27:41):

And I’m always, I’m jumped, sorry, I jumped over part of your question. The other part you talked about is where is my influences come from? So the other part of that is, and I’ll lead into the answer. Sure. I think the other part of that is, is I’m always trying to find ways to better deliver and better meet the needs of the young people that I’m working with. Nice. And that includes the staff that I’m working with. So there’s this constant evolution and you’re constantly pushing yourself to try to get better. You’re constantly finding ways to communicate better. So I read all the time. I’m always reading. I’m watching podcasts endlessly. I’m talking to coaches across the country. I like, I’ll pick up the phone and ask a coach about retention. What are you doing about retention? So I have a really good friend who coaches at Queens and Queens has one of the best retention rates in the Oua or the Ontario University schools.

Darrell Glenn (28:34):

Well, I called him What’s going on over there? Why aren’t you losing any players <laugh>? Everybody across the country’s losing players you’re not losing. So I’m always, I haveing friends who coach in the states, so I’m picking their brains. I also have those people come and speak to the team. Nice. So we’ve had people come in to speak to our team via Zoom or people locally in the community. So I’m constantly looking for ways to learn and grow. And I’m hoping by example that the players are learning and the people that I’m around are learning that this is an important part of learning and growing is you’re constantly seeking ways to get better.

Sam Demma (29:15):

Yeah. That’s awesome. I love that. And now onto the second question I asked you, but we were back to the last one. What does a week look like in the eyes of a student going through this program and being a part of the team?

Darrell Glenn (29:29):

So it’s actually quite grueling. So we’re on the court. We’re on court probably. So the team is put into small groups and we’re on the court an hour a day outside of practice. So Monday to Thursday there we do small individual work and we just work on their fundamentals and their skills in those sessions for an hour. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they also have weightlifting. And that’s just for the guys who were playing, we call them heavy usage players. So they’re playing 20 or more minutes a game. They lift for twice a week. If you’re playing less than 20, then you’re doing three times a week. So they do that with our strength and conditioning coach. And then we practice every day, anywhere from an hour, hour and a half to two hours. All of our freshmen are in study hall for four hours a week.

Darrell Glenn (30:27):

So we go Monday and Thursday for one hour each session we’ll bring in guest speakers, we’ll bring in various people to talk to our team, and then we compete on the weekends. So within all of those things, I’m constantly bringing in. So we, let’s say we have a, today we practice at six o’clock. So we always meet a half an hour before in a classroom. Nice. And we will go over our X’s and O’s, our technical stuff. But often those discussions start with some kind of a lesson. So we do everything from interrupting harm to study skills to team goals versus individual goals where we’re really just talking about the human being and we, we’ve done stuff on gratitude. Nice. So we just tried cross the full gamut of things. So again, we’re hoping to get our guys to grow as much as possible.

Sam Demma (31:33):

Very cool. That’s awesome. It sounds like the program is a really fertile place for growth <laugh>. I dunno why I like gardening analogy comes to mind. But I have been on many different programs. I’ve had some really phenomenal experiences and I’ve had some really terrible experiences growing up as an athlete and the program, it sounds like you’re running, would’ve been a dream program for me to be a part of, so. Well,

Darrell Glenn (32:01):

Thanks for saying that. I appreciate,

Sam Demma (32:02):

Yeah, I hope you continue to do this work for a long time. And if someone’s listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you questions about retention or how they’ve embedded, don’t

Darrell Glenn (32:13):

Ask you about retention <laugh>

Sam Demma (32:14):

Or if they want to pick your brain just about sports and the connections between that and teaching or maybe they just wanna ask you about education at all because they’re just getting into the profession or having some challenges right now. What would be the most efficient way for an educator listening to reach out and get in touch with you?

Darrell Glenn (32:31):

So they can get ahold of me at dglenn@upei.ca.

Sam Demma (32:38):

Awesome. Darrell, thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate it so, so much. It’s been a pleasure and an honor chatting with you. Keep up the great work you’re doing and we’ll talk soon.

Darrell Glenn (32:47):

Well, it’s a pleasure, Sam. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity. Really enjoyed to chat.

Sam Demma (32:52):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Darrel Glenn

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.