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Michael Saretzky — Recipient of the Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM

Michael Saretzky — Recipient of the Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM
About Michael Saretzky

After graduating from the University of Victoria’s Education program in Cranbrook, BC, Michael Saretzky started teaching in Fox Creek, AB. Michael spent three years there teaching a variety of grades from grade 5 to grade 11. After his time there, Michael moved with his wife, Shauna, to Hinton, where they both taught for 9 years, even teaching PE 8 together. While in Hinton, Michael taught mainly grade 8, and social studies. It was also in Hinton where Michael started his Master’s in Educational Technology through UBC. Also in Hinton, Michael and Shauna had their two children, Peyton and Macy.

In 2017, Michael and Shauna made the move to Red Deer, AB, to be closer to family. In Red Deer, they both teach at St. Patrick’s Community School, the only year-round school in the city, and where both of their children now attend. Michael completed his Master’s in 2021, while implementing a variety of technology programs within his own classroom, as well as his colleagues. Michael has taken many of his classroom practices and presented on them at different teacher conventions. He has spoken about video games in the classroom, using cooperative games to teach, setting up an esports team and using a classroom government to link the federal government system. This spring, Michael will also be presenting on running a media program at a middle school, something Michael has been doing at his current school with students from grade 6 to 9. Since first implementing this program, which started as an idea during online learning, it has morphed into a student led twice a week announcement program. Furthermore, Michael was recently recognized for his use of technology in the school by being awarded The Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM – Certificate of Acheivment.

Connect with Michael: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Victoria’s Education Program

Master’s in Educational Technology at UBC

St. Patrick’s Community School

The Prime Ministers Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM – Certificate of Acheivment

I Love it Here – Clint Pulver

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of The High Performing Educator. This is your host, keynote speaker and author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a new friend of mine, Michael Saretzky. After graduating from the University of Victoria’s education program in Cranbrook, B.C., Michael Saretzky started teaching in Fox Creek, Alberta. Michael spent three years there teaching a variety of grades from grade five to grade eleven. After his time there, he moved with his wife Shauna, to Hinton, where they both taught for nine years, even teaching physical education grade eight together. While in Hinton, Michael taught mainly grade eight and social studies. It was also in Hinton where Michael started his master’s in education technology through UBC. Also, in Hinton, Michael and Shauna had their two children, Peyton and Macy. In 2017, they both moved to Red Deer, Alberta to be closer to family and today, they both teach at Saint Patrick’s Community School, the only year-round school in the city and where both of their children now attend.

Sam Demma
Michael completed his master’s in 2021 while implementing a variety of technology programs within his own classroom and as well with his colleagues. Michael has taken many of his classroom practices and presented on them at different teacher conventions. He has spoken about video games in the classroom, using cooperative games to teach, setting up an eSports team, and using a classroom government to link the federal government system. This spring, Michael will also be presenting on running a media program at a middle school, something he has been doing at his current school with students from grades 6 to 9.

Sam Demma
Since first implementing this program, which started as an idea during online learning, it has morphed into a student-led twice-a-week announcement program. Furthermore, Michael was recently recognized for his use of technology in the school by being awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM, Certificate of Achievement. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Michael, and I will see you on the other side. Today we have a very special guest that I had the pleasure of meeting more recently toward the end of the school year here.

Sam Demma
And our guest today is Michael Saretzky, from, born and raised, Vancouver Island. Michael, how are you doing?

Michael Saretzky
Good, thanks. How are you?

Sam Demma
I’m doing well. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I know that you were born and raised in Vancouver Island, but where is home for you now?

Michael Saretzky
Right now, my wife and family were in Red Deer, Alberta.

Sam Demma
What brought you from the beautiful Vancouver Island to the beautiful Red Deer in Alberta? 

Michael Saretzky
A lot of different paths along the way brought me out to Alberta initially and then we eventually settled down in Red Deer. So, story’s kind of long, but my wife was finishing up for practicum on Vancouver Island and I got a phone call on, I think it was a Wednesday that I had a job offer up in Fox Creek, just between Edmonton and Granbury. And they asked me if I could be out there for the Monday. So we, I said yes. And so we drove from on Friday after she was done her last day of school, drove from my hometown of Gold River down to Victoria about four hours to say goodbye to my grandma.

Michael Saretzky
And then from there, we drove up to Cranbrook to her family because she had to get ready for her wedding that was happening in a couple weeks. And on the Sunday I drove from Cranbrook to Fox Creek, which was probably about 14 hours, and I got the last hotel room in Fox Creek. It was during the break-up in the oil field. And the room was only available because the guy couldn’t come in that day. He actually canceled his room. So it was literally the last hotel room in town.

Michael Saretzky
And so the next day, he was supposed to be coming in. So I had to pack up all my stuff and moved everything to the hotel room, went up to start teaching my first class of high school English. And that was my introduction to professional teaching. And did that for three days and had teacher convention on that weekend. And I was still living in and out of hotel rooms. And went to teacher convention up in Grand then was able to actually go live at a vice principal’s house for a couple days there. And then on Tuesday, I think it was after school, I drove from Fox Creek down to Red Deer, where my dad and stepmom live, and stayed here. And then went and met my wife down in Calgary and her family, and then we flew to the Dominican Republic to get married. So yeah. And then, yeah, we were down there for a couple of weeks, got married, a bunch of family down there, came back up, went to my wife’s convocation in Cranbrook, and then I introduced her to Fox Creek.

Sam Demma
What a story. So you redefined what it means to couch surf. It’s not just about bouncing around. You literally, you bounced around working, like finding a job, finding a permanent place to work. And so tell me a little bit about why you wanted to work in education. Did you know growing up that you wanted to be a teacher or how did you, how did you find this vocation?

Michael Saretzky
Another long convoluted story. Now I had a lot of great teachers in my schooling. My grade three teacher, Mrs. Erb. My grade six teacher, I remember she was brand new to the profession, Ms. Fisher. We were her first class. And a bunch of other ones in high school, my stepdad included. And my mom was an EA, so I had that introduction to school, but I always wanted to be a pilot. And unfortunately, well, I guess fortunately now, I’m colorblind and I was told I could not be a pilot. So, I decided to go into school for business and I want to work in the airline business, but obviously just not as a pilot.

Michael Saretzky
And I was walking down from Camosun College in Victoria down to the mall with this guy. I can’t remember his name. He was in school with me. I think his first name was Chris. And we’re walking down and I was deciding if I wanted to get into education or if I wanted to continue with business. And he said, well, which one’s going to make you happier? And I remember crossing the road and by the time I crossed the road, I said, you know what? I think teaching. And that kind of got me into the path of education. Just a random conversation with a friend from university.

Sam Demma
There is an individual who is a speaker and author by the name of Clint Pulver. And he has a very inspiring story about wanting to be a pilot since he was a little kid, but having a decline in his vision and not being able to actually fly. And he pursued it for something like 10 years before he had to give it up and he was so upset. And he ended up pivoting, taking a different pathway. And today he speaks all over the globe and he’s a professional drummer. And just recently he launched and announced that he was releasing a YouTube special about his journey back to flying.

Sam Demma
Apparently he’s had some special operation on his eyes and it was a very inspiring story. So I don’t know, when you mentioned the pilot situation and things not working out, like yourself, this Pathways probably brought you so much fulfillment in the same way that Clint’s Pathway has and it just made me immediately think of his story. So I appreciate you sharing that.

Sam Demma
It sounds like business was also a passion of yours. How do you integrate your passion for business into the work that you do in education? Is there any way that you do that? Or are you involved in extra curricular stuff with students? Like tell me more about what you love about school. 

Michael Saretzky
Well, one of the things like during COVID, I remember we were doing our online teaching, the grade eight team, and during the first half an hour of the classes, we were getting the students ready and the teachers, we’d just talk online. And I remember the students saying, no, you guys should have like a TV show. And so we started talking, oh yeah, we could call it Wake Up St. Pat’s. And that’s just when we came back in the classroom, we had to do options and the option classes had to be in your cohort, you could like the students can leave. I was like, you guys came up with this idea of having a talk show. How about you guys have the talk show as your option class? In doing that, I structured as a business. That’s probably where that idea of structure came from, just from my experience in business courses. We actually have a COO, we have a crew director, and we have a whole hierarchy in the class where if you’re in charge of the class, you actually need to be able to do everyone’s job, and you need to be able to step in if someone else is absent. You actually were able to meet our two CEOs of our class. They were the ones that interviewed you when you were in here.

Sam Demma
Yeah, that’s awesome. I didn’t know there was an entire structure to the two students that I met who conducted a phenomenal interview. For everyone listening, I met Michael at a presentation in Red Deer and two of his students interviewed me following the presentation and it was a phenomenal conversation. They had amazing tech equipment. How long have you been operating that show and this hierarchy of students in the classroom?

Michael Saretzky
So that would be, sorry, I just got to think. Those students are now in grade 11 that were in grade 8 at the time. So, about three, four years, and now it goes all the way down to grade six, and we have – it’s running three, four days a week now with different classes doing it. Some of the grade sixes are doing an awesome job with interviews, with their part. And what’s interesting is I’ve kind of let the students kind of morph it into what they want. My idea when I brought it to them was sitting behind a news desk, just a very traditional news program.

Michael Saretzky
But they’re each in charge of a segment if they’re part of a production crew. So in the production crew, you have your production crew director who’s in charge, and then you have your camera person, and you have your anchors. And sometimes the anchors are in front of the camera, sometimes they’re behind the camera, kind of prompting questions. And they kind of just come up with their own segment ideas. Last year we had, I think it was grade 6 and then grade 7, say, let’s do finish the lyrics. So now they have a, they’ll play a song and then students as young as grade 1s, maybe even kindergarten, all the way up to our staff have to finish the lyrics. So it might be Taylor Swift or it might be something from Disney, but it’s pretty entertaining.

Sam Demma
How have you witnessed student change throughout being a part of this class in terms of their leadership abilities and personal development? 

Michael Saretzky
Just, yeah, some who kind of might sit in the, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a lot of these guys in a variety of different subject areas. Those grade 8s that started this program actually taught them in grade 6, some in grade 7, all of grade 8, and even some in grade 9. And teaching them in grade 6, I know some were much more quieter in the traditional classroom setting, but they’ve just taken on a leadership role and taking on different responsibilities on their own with editing. Our editors are some of the strongest students, but they’re also some of the quietest ones. And it’s just been amazing to see how strong they are in these classes. And it’s been interesting, too. Some of them have actually come back and offered to edit.

Michael Saretzky
When tvhey’re in high school, they’ve come back and done volunteer hours so they can do a grade nine farewell video and stuff.

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Sam Demma
If someone was listening to this and wanted to replicate something similar with their classroom, what are a sequence of steps you would share with them to encourage them to get started doing something similar? Listen to the students and be willing to let control go.

Michael Saretzky
This generation is so powerful with technology and they have amazing ideas. I know sometimes, I know for myself, from my experience as a teacher, you don’t want to sometimes let go of the control of the classroom, but it’s amazing what sometimes, what can develop when the students are in charge.

Sam Demma
Oh, I love that. Thanks for sharing. When you think back to your own, you mentioned grade three teacher who had an impact on you, what do you think they did that made a big impact on you that educators listening can strive to provide to the students in their classrooms? 

Michael Saretzky
I don’t like my grade three teacher. She was a very traditional teacher, but she just had expectations that you’d need to reach. My grade six teacher being new to the, um, education, she was just, it was a very unique setting where she was willing to try different things. She brought different ideas into the classroom. I remember we were in a split class and she actually had like a different area for the grade sevens where they’re learning about Egyptian tombs and stuff. And so they had like their own little sitting area around the library that was kind of more, there’s hieroglyphics that the students were creating and stuff.

Michael Saretzky
So I don’t know, it’s always interesting what new teachers bring into the classroom. I’ve had a lot of student teachers come in and they’re just a wealth of, like a breath of fresh air, I guess, and a wealth of knowledge. And it’s always neat to bring in ideas off of them and keep them. I had a student teacher last year, she’s actually a teacher here now, and she set up a Sudoku board in my classroom just this year. And it’s a big board on the bulletin board and the students just spend time making their own Sudoku’s. It’s pretty cool.

Sam Demma
Oh, no way.

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Is it like a trivia you start with the beginning of classes sometimes or they fill it in at lunch or how does it work?

Michael Saretzky
A lot of times it’s free time they have in the class that they can work on on their own. Because I know some of them get a little frustrated. They’re working on it, someone else comes in and they make a mistake. But it’s an interesting process just having them realize that people are at different levels of learning

Sam Demma
and not everyone’s familiar with the Sudoku. Yeah. It sounds like you’ve done a great job of building relationships with the students in your classroom by providing different learning opportunities, whether it’s with technology or creating puzzles on the wall. How do you think you build a relationship with a young person, with a student in your classroom? I think the biggest thing is listening to them.

Michael Saretzky
I know I came into the profession and I was very traditional in my teachings where I’d stand at the front, maybe rows of students, and it was, you know, I’m teaching and then here’s your work to do. But getting to know the students as an individual, they have so many different stories that we can learn, we can use that in the classroom, we can just get to know who they are and maybe maybe what they have to bring or what needs you can also help them with.

Sam Demma
I love that. I think when I think back to my experiences in school, I think it was the teachers who listened the most to me, that I felt understood me the most, and therefore I paid more attention to their class and the material they were sharing with us, which led to a greater experience and a better relationship with those individuals. So I think based on my experiences, that what you’re sharing had a big impact on me and I hope other educators listening take that into account.

Sam Demma
What are some of the things that you try and do in your classroom to foster that space where students wanna listen and you wanna listen to them, just to make students feel like they’re safe and understood and appreciated?

Michael Saretzky
it’s kind of different this year because I’m in a new field. For several years I’ve been teaching language arts. Yep. And building that trust with them, with their writing, it has been a big value. So students, I always used to have a, like when I was teaching language arts, I would have a journal and we’d do a topic every Thursday. And their journal was between, like, they would write in the journal and they knew I would read it. And they were quite honest, especially once they knew that it was, like, not for everyone else to read. being in math, it’s been a little bit different because it’s not the same sharing, I guess. But it’s also, I mean, math is different from when I went to school because we were always taught like this is the right way to do things. And I was quite, I always enjoyed math, but there’s so many different ways to learn math. And so just giving students the different ways and allowing them to explore that way that they learn best.

Sam Demma
I guess math can be an analogy for building relationships. Like there’s many different ways to build relationships with students. That’s just one. Tell me a little bit about, oh, sorry, go ahead.

Michael Saretzky
Well, it’s just not always being in the classroom. Like I mentioned, like we have this field trip tomorrow and allowing students to see you outside of the classroom. I also coach a bunch of different activities such as eSports and volleyball. And I mean, eSports has been so huge because now you have the students who might not typically want to join a sports team coming out for a sports team. And there’s so much that you can build with eSports. And like last year was our first year having an eSports team.

Michael Saretzky
And now it’s moved into option class from grade six all the way to grade nine. And you have a lot of interaction between students from grade six and seven, from eight to nine. And it’s just, yeah, there’s so much value in those extracurricular activities and stuff that like, that’s where you build a lot of connections with students.

Sam Demma
Did you get involved in extracurricular activities as an educator first thing out the gate when you were just getting settled? Did it take you a while to say, let me try this? I think there might be some newer educators listening wondering when’s the right time to put your hand up and get involved.

Michael Saretzky
Yeah, I was probably I started coaching volleyball at my first school, but probably it wasn’t until my second or third year. And then at my second school in Hinton, I took on one of my first jobs there was as a phys ed teacher. So that just naturally came. If a coach was needed in a specific sport, then I would take that on. But as you get more and more comfortable in the profession, then I think it comes more naturally to take on that extra responsibility.

Sam Demma
Have you had any teachers or educators that mentored you, or any books you’ve read or conventions you’ve attended that have been instrumental in your own development as an educator?

Michael Saretzky
Oh, there’s countless teachers who have helped me along the way or administrators. I could start listing them, but it would be… I’d feel badly about leaving some out, but definitely my stepdad, as I said, he was a teacher.

Michael Saretzky
He taught me… He was a teacher librarian, and so I was in his class for that. But he’s just been a wealth of knowledge for, getting into the profession. And then my wife is a teacher. We actually teach in the same school. And so, I mean, she’s always being such a strong supporter. And then a lot of admin have helped me along the way, but also all my colleagues. Curious.

Sam Demma
Curious, when you think about the things that they’ve helped you with or shared, are there a few key cornerstone lessons that you go back to or things that you think really make all the difference?

Michael Saretzky
The biggest thing I think like with my wife, we’re both very different teachers. And we were both actually teaching the same subject and just seeing it from a different perspective. And we’re able to communicate like I’ll do things quite differently in my class than she would, but then I also make sure I come back to some of the more like some of the things that she might be teaching. Actually, this tomorrow we’re going on a field trip to a Christmas carol. And although I’m not teaching LA anymore, she’s the one that got me doing that in my class. But she kind of got me going a different avenue.

Michael Saretzky
She always used to take her students to the play in Edmonton.

Sam Demma
Ah.

Michael Saretzky
And so she kind of suggested, like, maybe look at it as a play. So rather than being the traditional text, we would do kind of a reader’s theater in the class. And it’s just, the kids love it. You got your performers who can take on the bigger roles and then you got other students who might take on a smaller role but might do the first time reading in class. So it’s kind of better I think than maybe reading the traditional text because if a student has to read a whole paragraph but they don’t want to read it in front of the whole classroom, it’s kind of a safer environment.

Sam Demma
Sounds like the big lesson is to be open to teaching differently. Have that perspective that you could be teaching the same subject but doing it totally different than somebody else. So even if you have the opportunity to sit in the back of someone else’s classroom and see how they teach it, to have conversations about what you’re teaching, is that a common practice? Like sharing what you’re teaching in your classroom with your other colleagues that are teaching the same things and then sharing ideas?

Michael Saretzky
Yeah, and actually our admin team, they’re big advocates of collaboration.

Sam Demma
Cool.

Michael Saretzky
Actually, once a week we are meeting with our grade team or PDs. If there’s time available, we will meet with our subject team. So, you’ll be able to connect with different people. And actually, they just had us going in and observing our, our grade team. So I would go into like another grade eight teachers class. And it was an excellent experience and just being able to see how people do it differently with the same students.

Sam Demma
If someone is listening to this in the spirit of collaboration, if they want to reach out to you and me too, or have a conversation, ask you some questions about your journey through education, or some of your philosophies and beliefs around teaching, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out to you?

Michael Saretzky
Well, my social media is put up pretty tightly. I use Twitter a bit, but probably email. Just, yeah. Yeah. Which would be michael.saretzky@rdcrs.ca. Awesome. Yeah. Perfect. 

Sam Demma
I’ll make sure to put it in the show notes of the episode just so people can reach out to you if they have a question.

Sam Demma
It’s been an absolute honor having you on the show, Michael. Thank you for taking the time. So close to the holiday season. I hope you enjoy the field trip. By the time this is released, the field trip will have been long gone, but I know it went really well. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Thank you for making the time to come on the show. Thank you for making the time to come on the show.

Michael Saretzky
Thank you for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Saretzky

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.

Jeff Madsen — Retired teacher and veteran of high school English

Jeff Madsen — Retired teacher and veteran of high school English
About Jeff Madsen

Jeff Madsen is a veteran of high school English having taught Hamlet more times than even the old bard read it himself. However, he also energized his mind by teaching Junior High (aka. middle school) in all subjects excluding Math (thankfully, for the students’ sake). His first teaching position was outside of Wainwright, in a K-12 school situated in the “Friendly Oasis” leading eight years later to Edson, and four years after that to Red Deer, where he taught for 21 years. He retired in 2021 and while he waits for his wife, also an English teacher, to retire he works full-time at a bronze Foundry outside of Ref Deer.

Through it all, he has been an ardent believer in multiple intelligences within the classroom requiring diversity and choice. Whether it is assessment or sources used or writer approach, students don’t learn in the homogeneously nor in the same way. Critical-thinking is the perpetual goal and a skill set that’ll be used way beyond grad day. For that to work, there has to be student buy-in. Stand & deliver pedagogy is moot.

Connect with Jeff: Email | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

blurb.ca

The Rhodes Scholarship

Small Consistent Actions | Sam Demma | TEDxYouth@Toronto

University of Alberta – Bachelor of Arts Programs

HARMAN SCULPTURE FOUNDRY LTD

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and author, Sam Demma. Today’s episode is a very special one. Our guest is Jeff Madsen, a veteran of high school English, having taught Hamlet more times than even the old bard read it himself. However, he also energized his mind by teaching junior high, AKA middle school, in all subjects excluding math (thankfully for the students sake). These are his words, not mine. His first teaching position was outside of Wainwright in a K through 12 school situated in the friendly oasis leading eight years later to Edson and four years after that to Red Deer where he taught for twenty-one years. He retired in 2021 and while he waits for his wife, also an English teacher, to retire, he works full-time at a bronze foundry outside of Red Deer. Through it all, he has been an ardent believer in multiple intelligences within the classroom requiring diversity and choice. Whether it is assessment or sources used or writing approaches, students don’t learn in the homogeneously nor in the same way. Critical thinking is a perpetual goal and a skill set that’ll be used way beyond graduation day. For that to work, there has to be student buy-in. He strongly believes that stand and deliver pedagogy is moot. I hope you enjoy this energizing, insightful, inspiring conversation with the one and the only Jeff Madsen. I’ll see you on the other side. Jeff, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. It is a pleasure to have you on the show, especially after our previous episode was with a former student of yours. Please start, and all good things, but please start by introducing yourself to the audience tuning in.

Jeff Madsen
Certainly, I am Jeff Madsen. I call it a veteran teacher of English, high school English. But I cut my teeth in a small school outside of Wainwright. It’s called the friendly oasis. People have to look that up now. And I’ve always maintained that was Wainwright. And then I went to Edson and I’m in Red Deer, was in Red Deer. Now I’m retired. But I still have the allegiance to all the classrooms I was in. I’m a firm believer in the belief that students should not only see their writing or hear it, hear their voice, they should see it in print. That’s really where I started with creative writing and saw a lot of growth in a lot of students and man, they lit up when they can self-publish. So that to me was a, what was that, small, someone once said small, what was that? Steps, small consistent steps, someone said that to me. I forget, I forget where I got that from. But so that was a big thing to just get the creative juices going in the students. And the other one is I’m a firm believer in choice, lots of choice, like in the classroom. So that’s my philosophy. I carried it for 32 years and put that handle down after probably going through Shakespeare a few times too, like 70 times through Hamlet. And people kept saying, why? Why don’t you change play? And I’m going, because I’m Danish. It’s all about Danish. Are you kidding me? Anyways, that’s me in a nutshell.

Sam Demma
So, two firm beliefs that you shared, the one around choice and the belief that students should hear their voices and see their voices in writing. Let’s start with the hear and see their voices in writing. Why do you believe that that is so important?

Jeff Madsen
Well, I think that basically education system has to change a little bit because the student buy-in is so important. And if we gave them opportunity to see their own voice, I think it would really enhance critical thinking because they now are part of the system instead of here’s your assignment, hand it back to me, I want you to espouse what I said to you and you get check marks if you can copy me. That’s not how the world should work with them. Like I couldn’t sit, I have ADHD I know, but I could not sit for 80 minutes in an English class, even if Madison was there, I couldn’t do it. So you have to get them to buy in. And so if you can get them to see that the English experience instead of notes and questions and whatever, that buy-in will allow them to see that they’re connected to the work. But then, I mean, it all came about because, you know, I was in Red Deer and there’s some really good writing that came across my desk and it’s okay, and then I handed it back to them. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we collected all these and then put it into print? And so I would collect for three years and then we published a 125-page book with the student writing and their photography and whatever. And that became like every three years until micro-publishing hit the scene and then we published every year. Because just for them to light up and see it, to me that was engaged thinking and engaged writing and that their opinion was respected. So in a nutshell, yeah, that’s what it is. And along the way, I developed the mantra shut up and write because we are so, they’re so, how can you say, conditioned that everything that hits paper has to be perfect. So I’m not going to hit, I’m going to delete all the time. So I would always say in my classroom, just shut up and write and then get some writing done.

Sam Demma
I started journaling in 2017 and was very inconsistent with it for a few years. More recently, I’ve journaled every single night before going to bed for the past couple of years. And it has brought me so many insights about my life. And when I look back at some of the entries that were almost impossible to read because it looked like chicken scratch and I was so emotional and I was just pouring it all out on a piece of paper, it gives me goosebumps. And I read about the things that I desired in life. And if some of those things came to fruition in the future years, I look back and it just makes me feel so grateful. And writing is such a powerful tool. And it’s just so cool to hear how passionate you are about it. Tell me a little bit about the publishing of books. Like what would the student reaction be when they held their own work in the form of a book in their hands?

Jeff Madsen
Oh, yeah, it can get emotional because, you know, I would ship it away. I’m not going to advertise the micro-publishing place that we have, but I’m connected and they bring it back on UPS and it’s always, it was always addressed to me. So I’d get it, staff room, and then I’d walk down the hall to wherever room they were, and it’s like Christmas, and they’d open up, or it’d be in the creative writing class, and we’d celebrate it. It was, for them, it was totally like, oh my god, like I taught the fifth grade entry level one, we call 15 and then 25 and 35. And I made it mandatory in the 35 that they had to self-publish. And sometimes that’s what, you know, they need in a sense, because you put the deadline in front of them, they go, yeah, yeah, writers are procrastinators, you know, like nothing, no, okay, whatever, I’ll do it, I’ll do it, do it. And in the case of the student you just finished talk to, it, as an example, she had to self-publish. And the Christmas present lights that went on in those people’s head when and emanating these big miles. It’s something that they still talk to. To this day, I have a tiny little anecdote. It was funny in a sense because there’s a neurologist at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary and he was a former student and he was applying for the Rhodes Scholarship. So he contacted you to verify that I’ve been published. Of course. Can you put me at the footnote? It’s crazy eh.

Jeff Madsen
So it’s part of the resume, like really you self publish that takes a lot of courage, but as overdue for some, it’s like you were talking about, you know, you have, you just put it on the paper, I bet you couldn’t even read it fast enough.

Sam Demma
I was so excited to jot the dots down. And I just, I think about my experience with English, and I struggled. That was one of the challenging subjects for me when I was going through high school. And it, my English teacher did a great job of meeting me halfway and meeting my needs. But if I had a project like the one you’re describing now, I think it would have just lit a fire in me to create my best work. And I appreciate you sharing that.

Jeff Madsen
Who says it’s too late?

Sam Demma
And I write a lot now.

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, but the publishing place that I deal with, they handle JPEGs. I’m not trying to convert you, but you can snap pictures of your cursive writing and then insert them as pages. And I’ll guarantee you that if you have 26 pages as the minimum, some of these students said, I’ll never get 26, and then they mail away 125 pages right and you taking a jpeg of each of your pages Shoving them in and it auto Populates it you probably could set up a book Inside of 20 minutes and then you yeah. Yeah, it’s really really wicked So there’s there and that’s what I wanted that Not only did they get a chance in their school. I was trying to set them up for, you know, craving that addiction again. So they keep writing and they keep writing and nothing is ever, ever useless. I followed the readings, writings of Julie Cameron. She said it’s always, never discard, always keep it. old insights even now. Therefore, I’m going to guilt you. Don’t you deserve to see those in print? Because in print, you can actually flip quicker. Going through past journals, you don’t want all this stuff, but you can select some big chunks and put it together. It’s marvellous and marvellously fast. You can make hard covers and soft covers. And you can do the design. It’s just so hands-on. And my whole course was therefore developed that yeah, that’s part of it. You are your own worst critic, which is why your writing or your insights don’t get public knowledge. Like you could go back, you could go back, Sam, and just cut lines out that you think are really good. Stick them on a page, change it up, and then put some sort of maybe an artwork that it reminds you of, or a photo that you snapped. And that’s it, that’s as easy as it is, but it just creates this zest for learning. Like I had horrible English during my high school and this was not modeled on being an E.T. ad. It just kind of like popped into me when, in my head, when I saw all this good writing. And they need to celebrate. So, that’s it.

Sam Demma
What is this software program called for all the teachers who are salivating.

Jeff Madsen
Can I say it over? Okay. It’s blurb.ca.

Sam Demma
Gotcha. Thank you for sharing.

Jeff Madsen
And yeah, and you go on to their site and you download their software program called Book Right. And it’s amazing, you can get it to just do it on its own or you can actually arrange it. And I think the greatest first victory on that was a young writer, Michael. And he had a novel that he’d been reading, writing along the way. This is in grade 12 and he said, you know, do you want to read my novel? I went, that’s kind of like, he had 460 pages, right? And he wanted to get a critical look at it. And he, he was frustrated because he kept going back in his doc. Do you see it? And he was distracted. So he accessed blurb.ca, Okay, 20 seconds? I’m not even, probably 10. It was all on the pages, all numbered. He inserted his cover, sent it away. When he got it back, he was pretty happy. 

Sam Demma
That’s cool, man.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that it would be challenging for you to sit in a classroom these days, if for 80 minutes. What did a Jeff Madsen classroom look like when you were teaching? Tell me a little bit about the experience of the student.

Jeff Madsen
Oh, you got me.

Jeff Madsen
Because I’m ADHD, I’m very visual and I need lots of artwork. So the students contributed the, we call them project-based learning, but I used that PBL derivative and I made a choice. Here’s 70 ideas. We’re studying Hamlet. Here’s the question you have to answer. Choose the format. And then you’re going to critically think through your format. So it has to be done. And you can’t just build me a CAS form, bring it in. So I had a huge proportion of artwork from students over the years. And I just, it was massive. It was like this huge display board. And it wasn’t a typical square classroom, so it’s kind of like angular. And then it also helped that one of my former students was a manager at a local theater, so I had the brave poster, it was 20 feet long and 5 feet high. It had to be colourful. And then I decided that we call it now a soft start for a classroom. I just called it common sense. You can’t get the kid coming in from the cold or just talk to their friend about something. And then they sit in class and then you start in on how this, well, so we, I always had logic quizzes. And that’s the trivial pursuit, because it’s the old me remembering the guys who put Trivial Pursuit together were Canadian. And we just have a, I’d give them 10 questions and they’d have to work at a table. There’s the interesting concept. I was teaching in classrooms, classes, with desks for the first 12 years. I came to Red Deer and they put me in front of circular tables and I went, what, like, can I get some desks? And they said no, and I went, oh, okay. And I will never teach, I’m retired, but I’d never teach again in desks because they’re so disconnected. When they’re sitting at a table, they do these logic quizzes, start the day and they’re connecting with one another very quickly. So it’s a little mini community. And I think that that’s one thing that’s really important is I was the student in my high school journey where I would come in and I wouldn’t know anyone and I wasn’t in the pack. So, you know, finding a way to sit with dignity in a classroom that you didn’t really have anybody hanging around with you. So I made it mandatory that there was a seating plan because then everyone had a place to go. And even if they didn’t know the people at the table, they were going to. And then I rotated seating plan every two weeks. So what was it like? Number one, I couldn’t mark anything in a classroom. I’m so distracted. I could hear them talking about the party plans in the back table. It’s like, ah, you know, so yeah. So it interpretation. I taught Disney unit one time. The film is a big thing. I think visual learners are overlooked. I think they’re the right brain art enthusiasts would never get Hamlet unless you give them a visual of Hamlet before. And it’s like my wife who is also an English teacher would always say, and in the theaters in Edmonton, the Citadel Theater, never says as you come in, oh, here’s a copy of Julius Caesar, you need to read it before you can see the play. Plays are to be experienced, oh, and then we have a script. So what was it like in the classroom? A lot of visuals, a lot of broken up, not stand and deliver, man, stand and deliver.

Jeff Madsen
Man, stand and deliver.

Jeff Madsen
Here you go. Here’s my voice of wisdom. Now, now, can you recite it back to me? You get the marks. Like what what is that setting up for future citizens? There’s no critical thinking there. It’s just rote. Right. And we need to engage them. We need to see and it’s small, consistent steps. I agree with you. It’s just small, consistent. So, could I convert the people around me? Well, I didn’t try. If they picked up on some of the stuff I was doing, great. But I wasn’t out to change them. I just wanted to give students a chance to look at literature through their eyes, not my eyes, because could you imagine? I am now, let’s say I’m 60 times through Hamlet. Okay, A, why would I do that? But B, what are they learning? They’re learning my 60th time through, which they haven’t read it even once. So our master teacher concept is basically over there and we should evolve to bring them to the forefront so they can teach their peers. I mean, the stats, a teacher saying something to the students, they pick up 10%. A peer talking to the students, they pick up 90. I mean, your high school experience, do you remember what subject sticks in your mind?

Sam Demma
The Most? Weight training. 

Sam Demma
Wow, was there a weight training 15, 25, 30. That was a fun class and funny enough, students are always correcting my form. But I think the subject that had the biggest impact on me was my world issues class and it was the teacher I spoke about in my TEDx talks, Small Consistent Actions, and he taught us but then gave us an opportunity to ask so many questions and he shared so many visuals and videos and we had open debates and discussions like it was a little bit well compared to my other classes it seemed it seemed to lack structure but we liked it 10 times more than any other class you walked into.

Jeff Madsen
Great, because you walked in and you felt engaged right away. Like you were salivating, you’re going, what are we going to talk about now? Instead of going, oh, we’re doing 20 questions in Act 1. Okay, well, yeah, I’m excited. But good on you, you remember that. There is no hesitation for you to say, oh, I remember that class. And good on that teacher because that’s a road less traveled.

Sam Demma
Yeah, your past student told me just recently, in fact, an hour and a half ago, take the road less traveled, it has a better view. But I enjoy the insights that you’ve shared so far with relation to writing and getting student buy-in. Like how do you think you get, how do you get student buy-in?

Jeff Madsen
They have to, you have to be mortal. You have to own up to mistakes. You have to go, no, you’re right, I was wrong there. I mean, I still remember the young lady who I was teaching to other salesmen for whatever, a gazillion times. And I always, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that play, but there was always, there was two characters. And I said, in the presentation material we’re going through, and I went, well, that the youngest son is blah, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. And she goes, I don’t think so. And I went, okay. So it’s like, and she stayed her point. So then I’m going, oh, as usual, I learned from the students and I acknowledge I’m learning from the students. And then it becomes my next class. I’m gonna use her input or her insight into it. And to just be able to say to the students, like I had the Dean’s vacation after my first attempt at university. I mean, I came from a junior college where there’s a, you know, kind of like a lackadaisical attitude. I got to U of A and I got body slammed, like seriously body slammed. So I passed two of the eight courses. And so I got the Dean’s vacation as they call it, and I was more successful. So it wasn’t like I got out of high school and went, oh, I want to be a teacher. You know, it was like, oh, I got out of high school and I went, oh, now what? But my parents have degrees, so it’s assumed that I would. I went into sciences, Like biochemistry and inorganic, oh man, I was so lost. So unbelievably lost. So, you know, did I go, I’m going to go into education because teacher? No. Oh, I’m going to go into education because I have a Bachelor of Arts. No. I actually, ironically, packed my entire car up with all my possessions and I head out to Toronto because I was going to be in the magazine or newspaper industry and I was going to start ground up and, no, yeah. So I got to Toronto, drove all the way across Canada myself in May. Yeah, that was an experience. And I get there and I go, oh, way too big. And I came all the way back.

Jeff Madsen
So now I’m back. I remember my dad, first thing he said when he saw me roll in, why are you back? Oh, well, yeah, it didn’t fit. So it was a real circuitous route that I used, including lots of failure along the way. And I’m a believer that yeah, it’s Why do we make high school three years? Why not four? Oops. Yeah, that was Ontario. But why why four why five? because That’s part of being mortal. That’s them saying Hold it. He failed and Hold it. I guess he was wrong that’s how They need to see you so that you can connect to them human to human, not, you know, master to or Yoda to Luke, like not, you know, grasshopper, you know, like I’m not, I want them to feel like they’re coming in with something. They’re besides you, not behind you. Yes, good way of saying it. And then because they have that confidence, watch in your classroom, teachers, how it just ripples. Because now they’re going to stand up and say things, or they’re going to be at their table, which is more secure, and they’re going to not discuss, not argue, they’re going to discuss. And they’re going to find their voice. And when they find their voice, yeah, you can see where I’m going with this. When they find the voice, they’re going to unleash the voice, and they’re going to judge the characters and evaluate the characters based on how they think. And when, as a teacher, you accept that, then they’re going to go more. And that’s the confidence that they need, because 90% of writing is confidence. Just to put it down on page and walk away and say it’s done. If you shut up and write, it’s going to hit the page. And then what you do with that, I mean, yeah, we journal, but it’s like the old era, well, not old era, but we had slides. And the only way you could see slides is if you get a projector out on the screen, everyone’s there, and then we went, oh, we’re going to have phones. So now we capture all this photos on phones. It’s still hidden.

Jeff Madsen
It’s still hidden.

Jeff Madsen
It’s like writing. You write it, it’s hidden. But could they not develop the confidence, start to unleash their insights, build momentum, go, okay, I’m going to look around the world and I’m going to say on paper what I think about this character, about this play, about the writer, and then carry it forward to themselves. I think it really snowballs. But they have to have a secure environment, that’s number one, secure environment where they are respected for their opinion. So there can’t be an atmosphere where they’re worried about what they’re going to say or they’re heckled about it. It has to be the teacher saying, good point, approbation, good point. You should work with that through the play. Okay, then I will. And you couple that with choice. Here’s 25 novels. Choose which one. Instead of going, oh, everyone’s going to like Gatsby because I like it. So everyone’s going to take the Gatsby on and it’ll illuminate. No, it won’t. There’s going to be people that are going to be way ahead of you on AI through the computer or they’re going to cut and paste or they’re going to, you know, fill in the blank with their friends’ words. They’re not involved. You know, I had a student, grade 12, Joe, big, excellent football player. And at the end of it all, he said he read Gatsby, actually. And because the way that I allotted time for them to read, and it was, you know, you can read on your own pace. That’s the other thing, you flip the classroom. So if you need your lava lamp and your bean bag and you know, your reading atmosphere, then why do we make them read in class? As long as they have it read by a certain day, they can read. If they want to flip the classroom, that means they’re going to read at home. So that normally would have been when they did physics. So they’re going to do physics in the English classroom while everyone’s reading and then they go home and read because now they’re free to read and then come back. So I just remember Joe saying, it’s grade 12, Sam, grade 12. And he goes, that’s the first book I ever read. Pin drop? What do you mean? Oh, yeah, all the other ones I, you know, I got, I didn’t like, but because he had a choice, he chose Gatsby, which is right. So his buy-in, again, his buy-in is his motivator. I have all these. Yeah, you can, you pick up the novel, you don’t like it, you return it the next day, get another one, and you keep swapping that off, and I’ll just adjust your deadlines. And then when you get it, start reading. And that is an unbelievable, powerful tool of self-worth that students pick. I guess, and I have been all at the start of the course and after that, tell me what you think, brings on a whole new response.

Sam Demma
Your second belief was that students need choice. And you painted a clear picture as to why that’s so important. What other thoughts come to mind when you think of the importance of giving students choice?

Jeff Madsen
Well, you’re in a conversation on a podcast. You ask your question to the participant and they go, what do you want me to say? And you go, but I want your opinion. Oh, well, what kind of opinion do you want? Or do you give them the opportunity for choice, it comes back tenfold. It just, what is needed is the teacher to back away from being, I don’t want to use the word eagle, but they’re well-meaning, but they have an adult perspective of that novel, from all their life experiences they’ve been through, or the play, or a short story. And that will taint, if you, you know, expound that to the class, that will taint their interpretation of it. Because there will be a whole group of keeners that will give you back your answers, but they won’t have a chance to experience it by themselves and draw their own conclusion and feel worthwhile to put it down on page. So you give them choice, you’re actually giving them confidence. So choice, there’s another c word, confidence. They will take it and run with it and I think that’s what freed up a lot of right brain individuals that took my class because I was not standing to deliver and that frustrated some students, they transferred out. That’s okay. I would always say I can, if you don’t like the way I deliver the content in the first week, let me know and I will help you find another class. I’m not offended. It’s because brain, it’s neurological, it’s our brain wiring has to be recognized, and we have to. That’s how I learned. Okay. So choice, right across the board, whether you’re a physics student, or you’re you’re focused on the liberal arts. Once you got choice, you got armor. Because then you can take a, let’s say everyone dealt with Hamlet, which I don’t know why, but you would take an opinion of Hamlet and know it was worthwhile because it’s your choice that has been galvanized and therefore you can put that out there in safety and security and stand behind it. And you talk about small, consistent steps. A student has no voice, gets the choice. Oh yeah, that wasn’t supposed to rhyme. But they get the choice and then they feel like they can do more. They might not in that course, but man, you have given them a trigger mechanism. And it’s, it, it might see it. So it creates, you go ahead.

Sam Demma
No, continue.

Jeff Madsen
Well, it gives them something that you can’t tangibly see, and something that you can’t put a mark on. And isn’t that about education? I will never forget we had a scholar in one time for profession development and he asked everyone, what does education mean? What the root word, the Latin word, what is education? And you know, all of us teachers go to impart knowledge to, and he goes, you fail. All of you fail.

Jeff Madsen
And I’m going, okay, we failed. That’s what education means. And he said, it’s to pull understanding out of it.So you have to ask yourself, are we putting information in? Are we pulling understanding out? Because once you pull understanding out, you have buy-in. Once they feel good about their opinion, they abide. Once they can choose their curriculum, they abide. I mean, yeah, we’ll do a short story. I’ll show you what I’m looking for in a short story. I will teach you, you know, the strengths of what the technique is and then I want you to apply it to your novel. It’s yours. These are the things. I’d always divide the novel into four sections mathematically, regardless of the novel you have. In section one, you’re responsible for blah. And so when that, I told them in advance, okay? So when they got to the quiz or their assessment, that’s what was being assigned. There’s no surprise, they had all their notes. They can use notes, that’s the other thing. In my course was closed book. It was always open book because that rewards them for their own words. So yeah, I think that the choice gives so much because eventually they’re going to risk their critical thinking and, hey, isn’t that good citizen?

Jeff Madsen
Critical thinking. They’re out there.

Sam Demma
And to think that the choice of what book to choose connects to the way they evolve as critical citizens in society. Some people wouldn’t draw those two things together, but they are so connected, and it’s so beautiful to hear you talk about these concepts. So I appreciate you for sharing them, and I hope that a lot of teachers tuning in are shaking their head and nodding as you share some of these things the same way that I am, because you can’t see the video. Something else you can’t see is that my good friend, Jeff Madsen made a choice to wear a Habs jersey during this podcast interview, which I have no comment about.

Jeff Madsen
But, but, but, look, come on, who doesn’t like the flower? Come on.

Jeff Madsen
Come on.

Jeff Madsen
I was in the era where you’re just hoping there’s lots of penalties so the floor would get on the ice. Just give him a chance. Fight him, fight him. Okay, now it’s clear. Go ahead.

Sam Demma
I’ve been hooked on every story and every concept you’re sharing. I really appreciate your time and And just the ideas you’ve shared. I’m curious, now that you are retired from teaching formally inside of a classroom, what are you spending your time doing?

Jeff Madsen
Well, there’s a gentleman, former neighbor who has a foundry outside of Red Deer. And he is such a talented artisan. He can create his own, but right now it’s project. So there’ll be a 3D mold cut styrofoam of a large Easter Island head. It’s sent to him. His job is to make a bronze exactly like that. A bronze plate creates inch thick. So his, and his skill set, have you been to BC Place at all? Okay, there’s Terry Fox. Terry Fox running towards you.

Sam Demma
Yep, I’ve seen it.

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, that’s his.

Sam Demma
Wow. 

Jeff Madsen
And then there’s the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That’s his and his dad. Is that Ottawa? Yeah. Yep. Yep. There’s probably two or three others that are in the heart of Ottawa that I sent to a former colleague and she said, Oh my God, yeah, I walk past them all the time. So this guy is absolutely amazing with his talent. He’s younger than me. Yeah. And so every day, a lot of people are. So every day, a lot of people are, but every day I drive out to this foundry and right now we’re making four big huge Easter Island sized heads with each head has 16 pieces. Each of those pieces has to have a box in it, has to be cast and whatever. And it’s such an incredible creative process. And it’s fun. It’s fun in the sense that, is it as intense as teaching? No. Do I have two hours of marking because I’m ADHD and can’t concentrate in the classroom every night? No. I’m out there with my headphones on, sometimes classical music, sometimes, you know, whatever, my era music, which is 70s and 80s and it’s just contentment. Wow! Okay and then you’re making things. It’s going to be there for a few hundred years because it’s all bronze. But yeah, his name is Harmon. Harmon Foundries, Sculpture Foundries. It’s a great gig. I really think about why, but I know it’s because I’ve had my own classroom for 33 years. I don’t know if I can waltz into someone else’s classroom, but because and this is my retirement gig.

Sam Demma
Yeah, and I think it needs no explanation. It’s just it’s beautiful and I appreciate you sharing a little bit about it.

Jeff Madsen
You come to Red Deer, you gotta come out and see it.

Sam Demma
Well, I’ve been many times, but I just never crossed paths with you yet. So next time I come, let’s make it happen. I was there recently, I had lunch at Cilantro and Chive and the Italian restaurant called Forno. I took some local recommendations from some folks. But I would love to see some of the work and see you working on some of the work.

Sam Demma
So that would be cool.

Jeff Madsen
And a good Danish person like me, Heritage, there are certain beverages that I will offer because they’re Danish.

Sam Demma
That sounds good to me.

Jeff Madsen
I’m holding you to it, man.

Sam Demma
I have a question, another question. You can choose to answer however you’d like.

Sam Demma
Do you think that everybody is creative?

Jeff Madsen
Yes.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I didn’t think much about that one. What has been proof of that in your experience teaching for 20, 30 years and even just everyday life?

Jeff Madsen
Okay, so if you give them opportunity to reflect their understanding in a visual. I’ve had, I forget, I know I can picture the name, but she was She was amazing in physics and math and she’s going to go into engineering. I kid you not, she made a line graph of a novel. She put the high points on and then handed in. But she had to explain what that was because that was the question. You just don’t hand in a project, you have to answer the question via your project. That proved to me that you’re creative, but you’re creative in your own realm. It doesn’t mean you have to paint. It means that a good engineer can think outside a confined box or question. You have to find if the customer comes in with a low income, they’re not wanting to have the finest caliber repair. You are going to create. You’re going to put things together. mechanics are creative. I mean, we are all creative. It’s just, what is our creative wing? And are we maximizing it? Because maximizing creativity creates the balance. Right? You’re, we have our job, but what nourishes us, what creates that, what gives us energy, and what we have for energy is what makes us tick. What makes us tick is what we like. How is that not creative? What sport were you in? I played soccer. Oh, you guys aren’t creative at all. You just run up and down. I don’t know where creative comes in soccer. How are you? Right?

Sam Demma
Yeah.

Jeff Madsen
The bicycle kick didn’t happen because he slipped on the grass. I mean, it was purposeful and it became a signature, right? I mean, good athletes are creative, like totally creative. I mean, I’m a Chiefs fan. I’m watching Mahon’s, he is amazing. Creative solutions. So what do we do with it? I mean, that’s the retort question. Why don’t we in a capitalist society, why don’t we just give ourselves time to slow down, see, and maybe write, and maybe get it published. Just saying, I’d like a copy when you do. It’s really easy. Sorry, my ADHD. But it creates balance. It’s something that nurtures us. You can be married to your work, but it doesn’t really fill you. You stand in front of an audience.

Jeff Madsen
Can’t tell me that that’s not creative you read the audience you you you connect with the audience So it might not go to game plan but you are you are connecting with the audience and and you’re going to steer it this way because That’s where it needs to be so Okay Creative yes you are I’m creative.

Sam Demma
If you could share one habit that you think every single human being would benefit from practicing in their day-to-day life, I have an idea of what I think it might be. Well, what do you think is the habit that you would share with others? 

Jeff Madsen
That’s a hard one to answer. You know, Julie Cameron said that she wrote three pages longhand, cursive, every morning. And she’s a professional writer, granted, but why do we say it has to be, okay, cursive handwriting, great. and create. But I also remember the novelist who wrote his novel on his notepad going to work every morning on the subway. So you can’t tell me that in our age of, you know, time where we’re traveling or downtime or you’re waiting for a call, that there’s not opportunity to write what you think. It could be a reaction to war, because we always have war somewhere in the world on a daily experience. Or, I hate the price of gas. Okay, put it on there. I think that we would have our opinion validated personally. And it would flush out like we carry concrete cisterns in our head of all the stuff that has gone We carry concrete cisterns in our head of all the stuff that has gone wrong. You do a hundred things, you remember the one thing that went wrong. We put all of that into our cistern and it overflows, but we just keep pushing it down. And then we go, cool. have to go if you just continually shut up and write. If you just put it on page, if you take your notepad, and just I’m a one finger text or some of these people are like, well, you could write probably 400 words in a minute with some of those thumbs going. And it’s about why it might be our frustration might be our celebration. It’s our brain. And we only know 10% of it. But here’s the part we do know, you need to think and you can’t think and clutter. And you declutter by getting rid of some stuff. The stuff you can’t control. Okay, great. Put it to the side. But here’s what frustrates me. I’m going to write down. And when I have a collection of it, I’m Oh, I don’t know. I’m, I’m going to, I’m going to take my journals out and dust them off this hypothetical now. I’m going to take pictures of them. And I heard that you can import those JPEGs. And I’m going to design the cover. It’s going to have me on the TED talk with a great backdrop of black and I’m silhouetted and I’m gonna say I’m gonna have a clever title and I’m gonna put that on a hard copy and I’m gonna give it to mom and dad for Christmas or and by the way that the cost of something like that is like seven bucks. That’s crazy. That kid who sent them all the way, that’s 460 pages, that was $7.95.

Sam Demma
Wow.

Jeff Madsen
Okay, it’s not a book. They’re called, if anyone’s listening, they’re called trade books, but they’re 5×8. So let’s say hypothetically you do put all those JPEGs in, you print it, you hand off your insights to someone and they now know more about you by what you thought and what you’re thinking and what matters to you. So create, create, create. Maybe it’ll land on as a book. Maybe it’ll be like my dad who went to preach for 50 years. When he passed away, I have all of his sermons. They’re so creative. Like he was, he’s an amazing orator, you know, and yet very practical because when it was Grey Cup Sunday, the service was short. It was like, there’s 40 minutes, kickoff is at noon, guys, okay? We are going to get going.

Sam Demma
That’s beautiful, man. If someone is listening to this and has enjoyed the conversation as much as I have, and they want to reach out to you and ask a question or publish their book and send you a copy of it, what would be the best way to get in contact? 

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, that’s a good question. Probably my email. Well, no, probably Facebook, I guess. I just got on Facebook a year ago, so I’m not really like, you can tell. You asked on your forum, Twitter? I went, nope.

Sam Demma
If it’s okay with you, can I share your Facebook link in the description of the podcast?

Jeff Madsen
Yeah, I hope it connects. Again, I was a newbie, so I went, I think that’s the link I’m supposed to if it doesn’t work let me know and I’ll get you to get the link. Sounds good. Awesome talking to you. Yeah this is you do marvelous things you do you you are you’re rejuvenating the process of matter. The students will go and the people that you touch with your TED Talks and your thinking, they will remember. And then if you say, you know, a slide mantra, you say, shut up and talk, shut up and write. I mean, either way, they’re going to be moving forward too. I was thinking that might be the title of the JPEG collection of mine.

Sam Demma
I was thinking that might be the title of the JPEG collection of mine.

Jeff Madsen
Yes! Make it shut up and write and then the subtitles it shut up and talk. 

Sam Demma
This has been so much fun, Jeff. Thank you again for making the time and I look forward to burning your jersey when I come to Red Deer.

Jeff Madsen
I have an extra one for you.

Jeff Madsen
That’s awesome. Keep up the great work, my friend.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome. Keep up the great work, my friend. I’ll talk to you soon.

Jeff Madsen
Yes, thank you. Okay, you as well. Okay, bye.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeff Madsen

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.

Ireland Black — Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View

Ireland Black — Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View
About Ireland Black

Ireland Black, is the Success Coach in Bowden and Spruce View. She facilitates the Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) program for both schools which uses a positive mental health focus to provide universal programming to students in Grades K-8.

After receiving her degree in Psychology, Ireland chose to step away from her job as an Advanced Leader 1 Lifeguard in order to find a position that was better aligned with her future goals. The YES program is a perfect fit for her as she has not only been able to utilize her knowledge from obtaining her degree & to use the skills she developed volunteering with the RCMP but it allows her to continue to foster healthy and positive relationships with the students, staff and communities.

Ireland believes that each child should have a good understanding of what it means to have positive mental health and continues to encourage students with her motto “You can do hard things.”

Connect with Ireland: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) program

Muriel Summers – Leader in ME

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Red Deer Polytechnic

The Bubble Gum Brain by Julia Cook

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and best-selling author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is my friend, Ireland Black. She is the success coach in Bowden and Spruce View, Alberta, and facilitates the Youth Empowerment and Support Program for both schools, which uses a positive mental health focus to provide universal programming to students in grades K through 8. After receiving her degree in psychology, Ireland chose to step away from her job as an Advanced Leader I lifeguard in order to find a position that was better aligned with her future goals. The YES program was a perfect fit for her as she has not only been able to utilize her knowledge from obtaining her degree and to use the skills she developed volunteering with the RCMP, but it allows her to continue to foster healthy and positive relationships with the students, staffs, and communities she serves. Ireland believes that each child should have a good understanding of what it means to have positive mental health, and continues to encourage students with her motto, you can do hard things. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ireland, and I will see you on the other side. Ireland, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Please, let’s get started by having you just quickly introduce yourself to the listeners.

Ireland Black
Awesome. So thanks for having me. I’m Ireland Black. I’m a success coach out of Bowden in Spruce View, Alberta. So what that means is I’m a facilitator with the Youth Empowerment and Support Program, which is the YES program. So that’s about my role. It is formulated to support resiliency skills in kids from K-12. So we support students with their mental health awareness and to enhance their social and emotional skills.

Sam Demma
I’m kind of jealous I never had my own success coach when I was going through school to be honest. Is this a newer position within the school board? Like, tell me a little bit more about how you came to becoming the success coach. I believe the program’s been around for quite some time now, at least within Chinook’s Edge?

Ireland Black
I can’t speak for other divisions. I started in May, so I’m still pretty new to the position, but I have a degree in psychology, so I was really looking for a role where I could use my degree and I love working with kids. So this was just kind of the perfect fit.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Tell me some of the things that you would be talking about with a student and how the role actually operates. Do you walk into a certain amount of classrooms each day? Is it more like a guidance counselor role where they walk into your classroom and you help them through things? Like, tell me a little bit more about what it looks like day to day.

Ireland Black
Yeah, so it’s a little bit of both. I’m responsible for universal programming. So that means every student K to eight in the division is receiving the same like programming within their classrooms. So I think that’s really cool. That kind of looks like me. I come in with a PowerPoint, I have games, activities. Um, just yesterday I taught one about flexible learning. So we read a book called The Bubble Gum Brain, and I had them all like try and squish a piece of gum between their like two peace sign fingers. So that’s a lot of fun, but I also have my own classroom in each building. So students are always welcome to come in, have a chat. I’m in the, I call it the first line of defense. I find that kids, because of the role I’m in, are very open to having chats with me. They’ll come in and ask for hot chocolate, they’ll sit on the couch, but they can’t take on that counselor role. So if it’s just like they’re having a bad day, I absolutely am there for them, but if it’s anything bigger than that, then I refer them to the family school wellness worker. Outside of that, I put on lunchtime programs, so that’s anywhere between small targeted groups for maybe anger management, friendship skills, or at something fun like Lego, coloring, and crafts. And then after school is the same. So we try and pick kids. We call them our yes kids. The kids who might need that extra support, um, need a safe place to land after school before they head home. So we range from a variety of topics between sports. We’ll do mini sticks in the hallway, we’ll do bake clubs, we do craft clubs, basically whatever the kids want, I will provide.

Sam Demma
It sounds like, although you’re not the counselor role, you create so many safe spaces for students to explore their skills and to feel like they belong or are a part of something. Can you think about an experience you’ve put on that has had a big impact on students, maybe one that you consistently like doing over and over again with different groups because it just works so well?

Ireland Black
I found recently that the baking club has been a huge hit. I’ve ran three of them now. I have one coming up in December for Christmas. And I thought it was simple enough. I used to love baking cookies, but those kids come in and I vary the age groups when I run them, but it takes patience

Ireland Black
when they come in because they’re so excited and they don’t always understand like with cooking and baking comes the cleaning and comes measuring and so When I walked into it, I was just expecting you know, like here’s your recipe. Here’s your ingredients Go ahead have fun. But then it was like sitting them each of them down and being like, okay, like this is a measuring cup and this is what the numbers mean. And, um, this is why we do it this way. And this is how we have to preheat our ovens. And so I found that it was super impactful for them because they got to not only learn that skill, but it’s also like I saw them work through and problem solve. And there was some frustration when things didn’t turn out. But it’s the one that they keep coming back and being like, can you do this again? Like it was so fun. And so I think they get the most from it. And being in the position I am and with the knowledge I have, I get to see like the skills that they’re practicing and that they’re learning. So that’s beneficial for me to see as well.

Sam Demma
And you get to eat some of their creations probably?

Ireland Black
Absolutely.

Sam Demma
Which is so great. For someone listening who is thinking right now, oh my goodness, baking club? That sounds amazing. I’m stealing that idea. What does it look like in terms of preparation, facilitating that, and how often would you do it? Like, paint a little bit of a picture so if there’s a teacher listening, they could take some of these ideas and implement them in their own school.

Ireland Black
Absolutely. So I have implemented this year, I try and run each program for a month length. So I pick one day of the week after school, usually two and a half hours for the big club I find to be enough, especially for those kiddos learning how to clean and wash dishes. But yeah, so I’ll pick like a Monday after school, I have them sign up two weeks in advance. And then I, once I get those forms back, I usually ask them what kind of recipes they want. I start with something very minimal, simple. I don’t even jump to cookies right away. It’s like box cake, just so we can practice measuring and following instructions. And so I think no matter what age group you pick, you have to be really mindful that you might be getting the kids who don’t know how to measure and don’t know how to clean. And so setting yourself up for success and setting them up for success is taking those smaller steps by starting with the box cake, which might seem a little ridiculous. But then by the end of it, when they’re baking their brownies and their cookies, and you’re getting to the point where they’re feeling confident, it’s so worth it. I’m lucky enough to have a very decent budget for my position to be able to provide all of this. I know when certain staff or support staff they hear bake club, the first thing that comes to mind is price tag because it can be huge. It’s not cheap for all those ingredients, especially when you’re putting it on for eight to ten kiddos. So my advice, research what you need beforehand, buy in bulk, and just know that at the end of the day, you’ll need a little bit extra because stuff is always, always going to end up on the floor.

Sam Demma
Nice.

Sam Demma
It sounds like the Bait Club has been one of the highlights. Is there maybe one other program that you’ve experimented since you started that isn’t like a typical club that you’d find in a school? Like, Bait Club is very unique. Is there anything else that you do that you think is a little bit unique that others may have never tried before? 

Ireland Black
I actually just this month kind of ran a club of my own that I came up with. So it’s called noodle noggins. And the purpose is to take kids from, I want to say, grade three to six and target the kiddos who aren’t doing very well academically, who might be struggling with writing skills or research skills. And but they still have that drive, like they want to succeed. And not every kid is going to be an honor roll student, but sometimes with that comes lack of self confidence or they keep getting the grades back and they’re not happy with them, but they’re trying their best. So I invented this lunch program where the kids come in and they pick a topic, any topic that they’d like to research and to find three fun facts. They have to, I make up three research questions for them and they go and they put it on a poster or a PowerPoint and every week when they come in, I give them a couple of noodles for lunch. And so, I haven’t seen anything like it. It was something that I know watching my sisters, like my sisters are very smart people but they have people in their friendships, even I had people in my friendship growing up that just were like defeated because no matter how hard they tried, they weren’t doing as well academically as they wanted. And so I’ve really seen these kiddos regain some confidence and trust in their own abilities. And I always tell them like, it’s not the grade, we’re not grading this. I just want to remind you that like, when you work hard, you are successful based on the outcome that you get. So, if you give it 110% and you get a 65 and that’s good for you, then you’re golden. That’s successful. So, I haven’t seen anything like it. It might be popping up in other schools because I’ve shared it with all of my team. So, yeah, that’s probably one that I haven’t really heard of before.

Sam Demma
Free noodles and extra help and resources sounds like a great club to me. What does empowerment mean to you? I know empowering young people is a big part of your your role and from your passion as you explain these different clubs, I can tell that you care about it. What is it like, what does empowerment mean to you?

Ireland Black
That’s a great question. I think being in this role, empowerment means making an impact. I think when if we put too much pressure on the mental health or the emotional side of things, of course, empowerment is uplifting and it’s encouraging and it’s positive. And of course, I believe in those things. But at the end of the day, if I can make the impact on any student, I’ve empowered them. I think empowerment comes in so many different forms. I have a student in eighth grade who I’m running a program, hood up, won’t look at me. Sorry. That’s okay. Hood up, won’t look at me. And by week three, she took her hood off. And so I like went up, we have a water bottle, it’s called the Heroes Program. And I gave her a water bottle and she looked at me, she’s like, pay attention. And I was like, right. But I could tell that you’re, you’re getting there. You took your hood off for me today. That’s huge. So yeah, I think empowerment to me is really focusing on putting those kids first and extending my reach as far as I can to collect all those kiddos in between. Whether they’re super successful, academic, athletic, or they’re on the end where they’re maybe quieter or isolated even, I just want to get my impact and my reach on as many kids as I can. What is the HERO Program? The HERO Program is one of the programs we run for grades seven and eight. I believe it’s the Impact Society. It’s awesome. It’s fantastic. It’s working with real life stories and giving them meaning and showing the kids like if you take down your walls and just let people in, you’ll be more successful and you’ll feel connection and you’ll be able to express more empathy for others because others will finally be able to give empathy to you. be able to express more empathy for others because others will finally be able to give empathy to you. And they have this water bottle and it’s my favorite thing. Every time I hold up the water bottle the whole class says I have gifts and abilities and the desire to succeed. And I just think it’s phenomenal because the water bottle represents, it doesn’t matter the package you come in, if you run a 10k rates, at the end of the day like if you grab your $50 water bottle or the water bottle you bought in bulk from Costco, the water is what’s important. So it’s what’s on the inside that counts. So I love the Heroes Program. I can’t speak highly enough about it. The kids love it. They come up to me all the time, chasing me on the hallways, Miss I, Miss I, I have the gifts and abilities and the desire to succeed. And I don’t always have a water bottle with me, but I recognize that and I know that they’re trying and whether they’re saying it for the water bottle or saying it because it’s important to them, I know eventually it will click and they’ll start to believe it. And that’s really what matters, so.

Sam Demma
The moment where that student of yours took the hood off must have just gave you goosebumps and been such a empowering moment for yourself to remind yourself that the work you’re doing is also making a difference and an impact. Have you had any more moments like that one? It didn’t have to be a student, you know, removing a piece of clothing or something, but like, is there any other moments you’ve had since you started in this position that just reminds you how important this work is? 

Ireland Black
I wanna say that this past week has been such a huge reminder The kiddos I work with they have faced a lot of change through this position, I think there’s been Three of us now which is unfortunate But life happens and so they really struggled when I started being like how much do we want to invest in this lady? Like she might not be around and I think they’re getting to the point now where there’s that trust and that relationship. And I really saw an impact when I had a student in the third grade. And she came up to me one day after school, she’s like, Miss I, you told me that I can do hard things. And when I went home, like I finished my math homework and she hadn’t done her math homework since September. And so I was like, oh my goodness, that’s amazing, good job. And she was so excited, she was jumping up and down, she ran over and gave it to her teacher and he just kind of looked at me, he’s like, she did her math homework? And I was like, yeah, she did her math homework. I was like, he looks at me, he goes, it doesn’t look like any of it’s right, but it doesn’t matter. And I was like, no, it’s handed in and it’s done. And so it was kind of a kind of chuckle because it’s just math homework. But she was so excited. And she, we can do hard things is kind of like a personal model of mine. And so just hearing some little kid just full of excitement, and that they took that to heart was like, mind blowing to me. It was so impactful and I just think it meant so much to me to just see how excited she was even though she got nothing right. And to do that and to hand it in.

Sam Demma
The idea is that you can do hard things. I would argue it’s not just math homework. Like that is a foundational belief that this young person may carry with them for the rest of their life. And remember when they’re in the middle of a hard project at a future job or a hard time in their personal life and running up to you and saying, Miss, I did my math homework. It could be like a foundational moment in developing that principle they carry forward with them. And so I think what you’re doing is just so important and I hope more school divisions create a position like yours to empower young people and remind them of these very important lessons. I’m curious, you are having a positive impact on these young students. I’m wondering if you had a teacher when you were a kiddo who had a very positive impact on you and if so, what did that teacher do for you?

Ireland Black
My most impactful teacher was Jeff Madsen. He was my English teacher from grade 11 to 12. And I was going through a really rough time in my life. I had lost three immediate family members within two years. So I was struggling with a lot of grief. And I was recently diagnosed with Graves’ disease. So I was going through a lot. And I just remember always being so welcomed in his class. And I was very shy in grade 11. And very meek. And I remember I was having a bad day and I was in Radius, which was the writing club in our school that he ran. And there was a little office upstairs and he came in after lunch to his English class, I was just having the worst day. And I came and I sat down and grabbed my book or whatever and he was like, I didn’t know how much that meant, but looking back, like, that was such a critical moment for me. Being able to have someone care and not relinquish expectations, like, I still had to go read the book, but to be put into a safe space and an environment where I was comfortable was huge. And he mentored me through all my writing. And he was someone that I could trust and rely upon. And so I think, in this position, although I’m not an English teacher, and I don’t run a writing program, the care that he had and the empathy and the compassion, and just the kindness, and how he treated us in grade 12. He’s like, you’re grade 12 students. If you have to go to the bathroom, don’t ask. I’m trusting you to come back without Tim Hortons. And so I carry that with me being like, I got to trust these kids and I need to show them empathy and compassion. And I just want to embody what he gave to me.

Sam Demma
I was recently attending a divisional PD day in the Livingstone Range School Division in Lethbridge, Alberta. I had the pleasure of speaking at it, and I also listened to this lady keynote called Muriel Summers, and she runs a program called Leader in Me. And one of her phrases was, could it be that simple. And you’re telling your story about Jeff and the fact that he offered you a safe space. You know, sometimes we think we have to do something so huge to make a positive difference in the life of a young person. But more often than not, it’s just about showing them that we care. It’s about showing a young person that you have time for them, that you believe in them, that they can talk to you. And I’m curious, like how do you think you connect with young people and make a difference in their lives?

Ireland Black
I think the number one thing I try and do is something you just mentioned is make time for them. I never want to turn a student away. So if they come to me, whether it’s to push them on the tire swing at recess or to sit and have a hot chocolate and talk about their bad day, I have to make time for them. And I want to make time for them, because I need them to know that I care. And I always tell them, you’re always welcome here. You can tell me about your bad days. You can tell me about your good days. But you need to know I care about how you’re doing. And I want you to be having the best day you can. So whether that’s you’re having a bad day and we can make it a little bit better, then that’s the best day you can have. And so for me, I always say like, these kiddos will come first to me. And I think that’s what I try and do is care for them and show them in the hallway. I smile, I say hi, I use their names, I give them high fives when I walk past their room, I give them a big smile and a wave. I just try and make myself present for them all the time.

Sam Demma
You mentioned at the start of this interview that you’re a psychology major and you love psychology. Are there any, not doesn’t have to be related to psychology, but are there any resources or books or anything that you’ve read that has informed some of your own beliefs in teaching or helping others? You mentioned using people’s names and I remember as a young person, I had a teacher who told me to check out this book called How to Win Friends and Influence People. And it was all about building these interpersonal skills and relational skills. And one of the chapters was about the importance of people’s names. And I was just so fascinated by it that after I read the book, whenever I was shopping in a grocery store or anywhere, if a person had a name tag on, I would address them by their name. And there was one occasion where the cashier looked at me and said, do I know you? I was like, no, but I just saw your name tag there. And she went, oh my goodness, thank you so much. And we ended up talking for two minutes and she ended up giving me a 15% discount on my order. I didn’t – I wasn’t expecting a discount, but I just became fascinated by that idea. And I’m curious if you’ve read any books or followed any people that have impacted the way that you show up every single day?

Ireland Black
That’s a tough question. I think there was a moment in my positive psych class during my degree and my professor, Anami, she’s lovely, she’s out at Red Deer Polytechnic for anyone who’s curious, she kind of stopped and she was like, Listen, I know to some of you, this is nothing more than telling you to be mindful and be positive. And this is things you’ve heard before. But how often do you apply them? How often do you take that minute to be mindful? How often do you take that moment to actually ensure you’re actively listening to someone, that you’re making eye contact, that you’re using their names, you’re repeating info back to them. How often do you do that outside of these four walls, outside of this classroom? And everyone’s kind of looking at each other like, oh, she got us there. And after that, I just remember taking that to heart and leaving the room being like, that’s exactly what I have to do. Growing up my grandpa had always told me like always take the high road. The V was always worth it and so I think I’ve carried myself through that lens and then when she had kind of called us out in class that day it kind of reminded me like it doesn’t take this big huge grand gesture it’s holding the door and acknowledging someone, it’s saying good morning. Positive psychology and being having a positive and a growth mindset is huge. But it’s so easy to get caught up in life sometimes that we forget that all it takes is that hello and being mindful and connecting with yourself just as much as trying to connect with others. And so I think that, although it’s not a specific book, was probably where I got a lot of my insight was that positive psychology class.

Sam Demma
Take the high road. It’s worth the view. That’s gonna be stuck in my brain for the next couple of weeks because of this conversation. I thank you so much for sharing that.

Ireland Black
Of course.

Sam Demma
This has been an insightful conversation from start to finish, whether it was the bake club, talking about the teachers who had an impact on you, talking about the moments that teachers create when they give their students time and believe in them. Thank you for making the time in your busy schedule to share with everyone listening with myself. I really appreciate it. If there is an educator listening right now, they want to reach out to you and have a conversation or share a compliment, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Ireland Black
Oh, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to be here. It’s been lovely and I was excited coming into this because I don’t think a ton of people know about the position. And so I’m happy to spread the word. I hope it carries on to other divisions. The best way to get a hold of me would be my email. So that’s iblack@cesd73.ca.

Sam Demma
Awesome, Ireland. Thank you so much or Miss.I I should say. Awesome, Ireland. Keep up the great work and I look forward to crossing paths with you again very soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ireland Black

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Department of National Defence

Royal Canadian Navy

Fanshawe College

Nova Scotia Community College

Military-Connected Student in Trades Pilot Project (MCSTPP)

Career Development Practitioner Post Graduate Program

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Okay, tell me some of the new developments

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Lynne: Email | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Flagstaff Website

YESS (Youth Employment & Skills Strategy) Program

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
That’s what they always say.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I’m sorry.

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

Sam Demma
No. Hopefully not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Such a good reminder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lynne Jenkinson

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Shane: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

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

Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership – University of Calgary

Denzel Washington Commencement Speech at Dillard University

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shane Chisholm
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Mmmm.

Sam Demma
I love that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Nice, that’s fair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Ted: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

R. Tait McKenzie Award

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP)

Outlive by Peter Attia

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

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

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Yeah, that’s awesome.

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
I did mention it.

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

Ted Temertzoglou
Sorry.

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

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

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

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah.

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

Ted Temertzoglou
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ted Temertzoglou
Thank you so much, Sam.

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ted Temertzoglou

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Daniette: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Elk Island Catholic Schools

Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School

The Transcript

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

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Oh, cool.

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah. Been around a while.

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

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

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Daniette Terlesky
So that was really cool.

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

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniette Terlesky
Yeah, absolutely.

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

Sam Demma
Absolutely. Thank you so much.

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Kevin Baker — Executive Dean, Faculty of Business at Durham College

Kevin Baker — Executive Dean, Faculty of Business at Durham College
About Kevin Baker

Kevin Baker (@deankevinbaker) has been a senior administrator in the Canadian publicly assisted post-secondary education system for more than 25 years. He joined Durham College in April 2011 and assumed his current role as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business in October 2018.

Before joining Durham College, Kevin was a campus administrator, general counsel, and vice president at College of the North Atlantic (CNA) in Newfoundland and Labrador. He has also taught for over 25 years in the Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario college and university systems.

Kevin has a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts (Sociology) from York University, a Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Ontario, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership from Aspen University, Colorado. His doctoral thesis and continuing research examine employees’ innovative predispositions and organizational innovation climates.

Kevin is the father of three adult children and a grandparent of two. Kevin lives in Bowmanville with his partner, Kellie. He is active locally and serves on several local, provincial, and national boards.

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Durham College – Faculty of Business

College of the North Atlantic (CNA)

York University – Department of Sociology

Osgoode Hall Law School

Aspen University – Doctor of Education in Leadership and Learning – Higher Education Leadership (Ed.D.)

YMCA Canada

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Today’s special guest on the High Performing Educator podcast is my good friend Kevin Baker. Kevin has been a senior administrator in the Canadian publicly assisted post-secondary education system for more than 25 years. He joined Durham College in April of 2011 and assumed his current role as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business in October of 2018. Before joining Durham College, Kevin was a campus administrator, general counsel, and vice president at the College of North Atlantic CNA in Newfoundland and Labrador. He has also taught for over 25 years in the Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario College and University systems. Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Sociology from York University, a Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Ontario, and a doctorate in higher education of leadership from Aspen University, Colorado. His doctoral thesis and continuing research examine employees’ innovative predispositions and organizational innovation climates. Kevin is the father of three adult children and a grandparent of two. He lives in Bowmanville with his partner, Kellie. He is active locally and serves on several local, provincial, and national boards. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Kevin as much as I enjoyed recording it, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest, Kevin Baker. We crossed paths, I want to say, six months ago now. Kevin, thank you so much for coming on the show here today.

Kevin Baker
Well, thank you for having me. I’m a big fan, so it’s quite an honor to be here.

Sam Demma
We’re here now, but you have lived in many different places. What context would the listener or person tuning in need to understand from your childhood to create a better picture of who you are today?

Kevin Baker
Okay, yes, I’ve traveled a lot. I feel sometimes like I’m a military brat, even though my parents weren’t in the military. So, a bit of a long story, I’ll try and be succinct. My parents and my grandparents were migrant farmers, essentially. So, my family comes from come from rural New Brunswick, very close to the Quebec border, and they were farmers. Back in those days, families often would farm in the summer, and then in the winter, they would migrate to the cities to get other kinds of work to have an income over the winter. Then in the spring, they would go back to their farms and farm again for the summer. It was an ongoing cycle. That was my early life where every winter, my family would come up here and then go back to the East Coast. I don’t remember exactly when, but I want to say when I was probably about seven or eight, that stopped and basically the traveling and sort of the East Coast was it. So I spent most of my childhood there. My father lived in Ontario throughout that time, and so I would often come up in the summer for visits or things like that, but essentially I consider myself an East Coast kid. And then when I was about 16, I decided that I wanted to move to Ontario, to Toronto specifically, to find fame and fortune. roughly about 19 years. I did a bunch of different things. I was a kid when I moved here. I was 16 and I did a bunch of odd and crazy jobs and just tried to survive. Then eventually found my way into university much later. I was a Jane Finch guy. I moved there when I was 16 and I stayed in that general area until I moved away 19 years later. Then I moved to Newfoundland where my wife is from. I lived there for 11 years and then moved back to Durham Region where I live now. 12 years. So, kind of half of my life maybe or close to it in the East Coast and half of my life in Ontario. Sort of mostly the West End of Toronto and then the last 12 years here in Durham,

Sam Demma
You’ve spent a lot of time working in the education system throughout your life. Right. But your own journey into the education system is a little different. You know, you said you kind of stumbled into it at some point when you moved here. Tell me a little bit more about your experiences as a student and how you found university.

Kevin Baker
Right.

Kevin Baker
So, it is truly an orthodox path, I’ll say. You know, I did not like school when I was a kid.

Sam Demma
How come? Like, what about school was not catered to your style of learning or experiences?

Kevin Baker
So, I won’t – I certainly won’t get into all of it now, but I think in my area where I was growing up, education wasn’t really valued, especially for men or boys. So we were largely seen as laborers and as soon as you were strong enough to contribute, you were kind of not expected, I guess, but it was socially acceptable to just think about getting your license, driving, having a job and education didn’t matter. And so there was that part of it. And then I think, you know, I just, so there’s a group of educators who feel that school systems are largely not designed for boys and that they’re very disciplinary and they kind of stop out the creative mindsets that we net sort of, I don’t know if I believe in natural, but they’ll argue that sort of our predisposition is to be busy and active and classrooms make you sit in a chair and be very routinized and all those things. Whether it’s a gendered thing or a learned thing, I don’t want to get into that debate, but I will say that certainly my predisposition is one that is a little bit restless and wanting to constantly be a bit scattered and all that. So the notion, I think, just cumulatively of sitting in a chair day in and day out and doing mind-numbing exercises, you know, and rote memorization, all those things were probably just not my strength.

Sam Demma
Yep.

Kevin Baker
Yep. So there’s that piece. And then, yeah, and then I think just as I hit my teenage years I was really just troubled. I was a bit of a hard case, I think, to use an East Coast expression and increasingly didn’t like authority. And I just really didn’t, yeah, I just wasn’t really into it. I loved the social aspects of school. I had lots of friends and all that, but I just, yeah, it was just painful to go. And so I left when I was in grade 10. And, yeah, and so that was, so I would have been 15 years old and the rule back then was if you could get a job and bring a proof of employment, you could leave when you turn 15 years old. Can you imagine that today?

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Kevin Baker
Right? So that’s what I did. I got someone to give me a letter offering me a job and I walked into the school on my 15th birthday and said, I’m done. And I went out and got a job.

Sam Demma
What brought you back? So many years later. Your masters?

Kevin Baker
Yeah. So 12 years later, so a person who’s incredibly influential in my entire life, she’s passed away a few years back, but I referred her as my sister. She’s technically my aunt but we were raised together. She’s the same age as I am and so for me she was always my sister but she had gone through and done everything properly. She finished high school, went to university, got advanced degrees, got a teaching degree and she became a psychologist. Anyway, I used to stop in and visit her a lot when I was traveling past my home. She was always encouraging me to go back to school. At some point, I was really not happy with the work I was doing and I thought, maybe I will look into it. And just by fluke, I found what at the time was referred to as a bridging program at York University and I took it and I loved it. I loved it. It was a humanities course, something that I didn’t even know what that meant. But I took it. We read a bunch of books and I learned how to write essays and I loved it. I just loved everything about it. My classmates were a laugh. We had great, you know, it was great socializing with people in the exact same situation as me. And the teachers were amazing. The professors who were teaching the course, they were obviously, of course, I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but their whole lives were dedicated to helping people just like me. So I took the course, I loved it, and then I registered. The way it worked is if you got a B plus in the course, you could register that you were admitted into York University without your high school. So I got a B plus or an A or whatever, and I immediately ran to the registrar’s office and applied and started that. So that course would have ended in April and I started full-time in May. I absolutely never looked back. It was an absolutely amazing opportunity and unlike my younger life experience, I just fell in love with it. I don’t think there was a course I took that I just didn’t think it was just amazing.

Sam Demma
Do you think it has something to do with the flexibility of choice?

Kevin Baker
Yeah, 100%. So, when you start university, you have to pick a major. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew my sister was a psychologist and I thought well you know we were raised together I’m pretty sure psychology would be cool and I took it and I didn’t really like it that much so but just by fluke I also was taking concurrently a sociology course and it was a sociology of And I absolutely loved it. You know, it’s all the youth gangs and all the classic sort of deviant stuff and sort of quasi criminology. And I knew instantly, I was like, oh, man, that’s it. If you can get paid to learn this stuff and do this stuff for a living, I’m set. So, so I stayed with that and kind of got to meet some really cool faculty in that sort of criminology space and yeah, never left it, just embraced it. And I did take more psychology courses later, but yeah, it definitely wasn’t my kind of learning style. It was much more, you know, there’s so many students in psychology that they sort of mass produced, so a lot of chance to have a bit of fun learning and more writing than tests. And I’m definitely better at the writing side than I am at the test side of things.

Sam Demma
So, yeah. Well, I guess at some point you fell in love with school and education so much that you decided to go and do a doctorate.

Kevin Baker
Yes, well, that came much, well, it was a double attempt Sam. Okay. So I started my doctorate right after I finished my undergrad. So I finished my undergrad in, do we use dates in these where we disclose how old we really are?

Sam Demma
You can if you’d like to.

Kevin Baker
Okay.

Kevin Baker
So I started my doctorate in 1996 and I did it for three years. And at that time I met my wife and by the time 1999 rolls around we’re having our second child. And I’m thinking that this is no way to provide for a family. And I was kind of really just tired. And I won’t say disillusioned. There were some other things happening in my life at that time but I was really just kind of done with school at the time and well I’ll just you know I’m not ashamed of it so that year the same year and it’s it’s interesting how life happens but my sister was murdered one of my sisters not the one I was referring to earlier, but my younger sister was murdered here in Toronto and my father was dying of cancer. While I wasn’t that close to my father, I think just all those life things happening all at the same time just kind of, I think, hit me more than I realized psychologically or emotionally or whatever. I was just exhausted. I was just, I was just, I needed to change. And conveniently, my wife didn’t like it here. She was from Newfoundland. She didn’t like Ontario, really. And so we made the decision to go back to Newfoundland. And I say back, she went back. I went there for the first time to live. And yeah, and then life happened and it was great. But I was out of the PhD program at that time. And then I restarted my doctorate. And then, so really, I did most of it during COVID. Right. Yeah, so, so that was a, actually an amazing experience. second chance to do it and I really enjoyed the second chance way more than I would have enjoyed the wrapping up the first time through. I did regret it, like, you know, in hindsight, I wish I would have just stuck it out. But having done it later, it was a much better experience. I was ready for it. I knew what to expect and it was such a good experience.

Sam Demma
I was recently reading a autobiography or a biography of Muhammad Ali and it talks about his journey into boxing and how he came from a pretty underprivileged family growing up in terms of their financial abilities and they were able to purchase Muhammad a bike and it was like his most prized possession and he would ride it everywhere and one day he wrote it to a Local shop and left it outside as he went inside to talk to some people and he came out and the bike was gone And he was so upset and and he started walking around and trying to find it and stumbled in front of a boxing gym and Walked inside and made friends with one of the trainers and the trainer asked him. You’re pretty tall for your age how old are you and would you ever consider boxing? And the author went on to explain that Muhammad Ali’s journey into boxing was like equal, it was of equal, it was equal amount chance but also choice. And I think it reminded me of your journey into education. Like you know, there’s the chance encounters that inspire you to go back to school, but then it was your choice to finish it or follow up and I’m just curious the Sister of yours who you consider or is technically your aunt, but you consider a sister It sounds like she was very encouraging What else did she do for you that had a significant impact and inspired you to keep pursuing the journey? Um, good question. But before I answer it, I want to say that I’m, I don’t know what to think of someone comparing me and Muhammad Ali.

Kevin Baker
That’s the one and only time that will ever happen in my life, I assure you. So, I’m still caught on that. So what did my sister do? So, you know, I don’t know. I mean, I think that, I think that what she did was she was the rock of our family. So, you know, like a lot of families will have like a matriarch or that person who just keeps everyone together. So my family, I mean, and it’s funny, you talked about Muhammad and his roots. That farm that I talked about, we didn’t have running water. We carried our water from outside and brought it in the house. We were not wealthy. I wanted a pair of white tube socks with a yellow and green stripe on them. You couldn’t get those at your local cheap store, dollar store type. We didn’t have Walmart, but the equivalent. So you had to order them from like the Sears catalog and my family couldn’t afford to buy me a pair of those socks that matched my teen colors. Like we had no money. So, you know, she somehow managed to persist to university and did exceptionally well. Really enjoyed the experience too, but just did really well. But I think she, so connecting back the dots, sorry, connecting back the dots to my family and poverty and growing up in that environment, I think we all left. Like, no, kids don’t wanna stay when it’s like that, you know, they want the excitement of not living on a farm.

Kevin Baker
Yeah.

Kevin Baker
Anyway, and so we all were gone, like all my siblings, none of them stayed except her. But she always kept us together, like, you know, virtually and, you know, every now and again, we would get together for, you know, a vacation or whatever. But she was the one constant. So we’d always go back to visit her. We may not all go at the same time, but she was the glue. And so I think, honestly, what did she do? I think when you live the life I lived pre-university, I think it’s easy to be down on yourself. You might not express it or manifest that way, but I think at the end of the day you don’t really believe in yourself. Like you believe

Kevin Baker
that you’re you know that you’re undeserving or that you’re you’re ashamed of what you’ve done. You’ve made bad life decisions. You’re a high school dropout and you’re just surviving, right? But she never stopped loving me. Yeah, I think that you know, I think that’s something that sometimes I think people like that in that situation just need that and So I think that’s I mean other than that she was she never really nagged me or she never really did anything profound that you know, I could put my finger on and say, you know, this is how she like she never she never micromanaged my education or questioned my choices about my discipline or what I was doing. She just really just was always there if I ever wanted to just shoot the. Do we beep out those bad words?

Sam Demma
We can.

Kevin Baker
But yeah, she was just a wonderful human being. She, her last few years of her life, she worked as a psychologist supporting elders who had survived the residential schools. Oh, wow. And so, you know, I mean, I remember at her funeral, just how all those people, these are survivors of some of the most traumatic life experiences you can imagine. And they were there, every single one of them, just paying their respects like you would never believe, right? Because this is the kind of person she was. So, so honestly for me the same like you know different experiences obviously I’m not a residential survivor but but she just she just had that ability to profoundly encourage people to you know, find strength and yeah, so that’s what I would say about her.

Sam Demma
I think we find individuals like that outside of classrooms, sometimes inside classrooms, and we never know when they’re going to walk into our lives and can’t estimate the impact they’ll have. You just have no idea. Have you reflected on any people like that you’ve met through your education? Like professors or teachers and who comes to mind and what do you think those individuals did for you that had a significant impact?

Kevin Baker
Absolutely. And in fact, I was just talking about this with a friend two days ago about a little project I’ve been contemplating for a long time. And there’s an old expression, I don’t know the exact wording, but it more or less goes, I stand on the shoulders of giants, therefore I can see, or I’m not sure exactly how that expression goes, but that’s the gist of it. And I was talking about that, and I started this little project a while back, and then I just kind of got away from it, but I’m thinking about re-resurrecting it. And I started writing notes to people like my sister, who had such an impact on me. And many of them were faculty. So, you know, there are a couple of folks at York, while I was telling the story, Rabbi Leo Davids, who was the chair of the department when I first started my education, really just met me, didn’t know me from anyone, and immediately embraced me and was just so friendly and supportive and encouraging. And he’s the one who introduced me to effectively the faculty member who would have become my mentor, Livi Vizzano. And Livi, you know, is, I mean, students love him because of his approach and his philosophy and everything, but he really is the only reason I’m here today and everything, my intellectual mindset and so on. But more importantly, he was just the person who really took care of me. He really looked out for me. He really was there as a mentor, as an advisor, and he was the supervisor of my master’s thesis and also was the chair of my PhD committee at the time. But yeah, so him and one of his students who is, was, you know, we’ve sort of drifted off in different paths in our lives and haven’t really talked much over the last maybe 10 or 15 years, but he had a student there named Kevin McCormick, who was a president of one of the Laurentian College or Laurentian University colleges. And Kevin was ahead of me in the PhD program, but he met me when I was an undergrad. And Kevin, honestly, without him, I don’t know what would have happened. He gave me my first job teaching.

Sam Demma
Wow.

Kevin Baker
He graduated before me and went up to Georgian, brought me up there to teach part-time, and he was amazing. And then just some others, like Claudio Duran at York was just another professor who, I loved him. He was like a father figure to me. He just, he really, yeah, just an amazing educator and taught me so much. And just, there were, I mean, honestly, everyone. I went to law school and, you know, there was a professor there, Mary Jane Mossman, who, you know, just, I don’t know, like these people, it’s like they have this ability to see through the baggage and the rough exterior. I was a very unpolished, I still am, but then I was a considerably unpolished individual. And the fact that they could see something in me and see some potential, even when I couldn’t see it myself, is I think an incredible talent. I don’t know how they do it, but they’re pretty consistently good at it. And it wasn’t just me. I got to witness it often. So anyway, and I’ve written a number of professors over the years, some who weren’t that impactful, but I’ve written them letters or emails that said, hey, you probably don’t even remember me, but I wanna tell you about this one time when you said something to me that just completely blew my mind and changed the whole course of everything that happened after that. And I find that just incredible, right? And they had no idea and probably didn’t think anything of what they were saying to me or doing, but it had such an impact that… I’ll give you an example. There was a guy who was a visiting professor from somewhere in the States, or maybe even Europe, And he was teaching a humanities course and it was pretty heavy humanities course on the Holocaust. And anyway, I was totally into it. I, well, it was pretty heavy stuff, but I really, really appreciated what we were learning. I was, you know, I was pretty ignorant about everything that happened. I mean, everyone knows the generalities, but we were deep into the details. Anyway, he had written a book about it and I’d asked him to sign the book. I just bought a copy and I said, yeah, you’re an author, I want you to sign the book. So, he signed the book for me and he wrote to Kevin, the most curious student I’ve ever met or something like that. And I didn’t know what to think of it at first, but after time I got to appreciate that was actually him complimenting me quite a bit. And yeah, anyway, so, you know, things like that, but.

Sam Demma
Where do you think your curiosity comes from and your interest in getting to know people? Because I mean, we had lunch and I noticed that every person we walked by you knew something about?

Kevin Baker
I honestly don’t know. So curiosity, I don’t know. I think that to some extent, curiosity is maybe a bit innate. I just think some people are more curious than others. I don’t think it’s a good or bad thing. It’s just a different approach or maybe, I don’t know.

Kevin Baker
Yeah, I’ve never really thought about that, Sam.

Kevin Baker
I mean, I think we can foster curiosity. I think it’s educators. Yep. You know, we need to do more of that. And so I think that it can be learned. Maybe I did learn it sort of passively through my upbringing and through other people I’ve met over the years, but I’m absolutely very curious. I mean even before I was going to school, I loved like trivia and games like that. It’s just something I always just love that stuff. So I honestly can’t answer where it came from. That’s fair. Yeah. Yeah.

Sam Demma
You mentioned earlier that the educators that had an impact in your life saw something in you and could see past the baggage. And I once saw a post on social media somewhere that said, imagine if tomorrow morning we woke up and the only thing people could see was each other’s souls. And it’s like there was no face and there was no colors and there was no nothing. How would things be different? And maybe it’s their abilities to just see people’s souls or like look past the human flesh, you know, like, I don’t know. But I’m always trying to provide the listener with like some sort of idea on how they can have a similar impact on the students that they serve. And from what you’ve shared so far, it sounds like giving of your time is a big one. It sounds like providing belief, like placing your belief in other people, even when they don’t see them themselves is a big one. How else do you think educators can build that relationship with their students?

Kevin Baker
Yeah, so I think that when I look at maybe how they approach things, and I see it often in faculty I work with now, and certainly the good ones. I would say that they refuse to be superficial about people. They tend to be, and maybe even a bit, Pollyannish. The great debate in psychology is always whether we’re born good or evil. I think educators generally have this predisposition that people have good potential. Everyone has great potential to be good and contribute. It’s their social responsibility, if not divine task, to find that good in people and to bring it out of them. hokey but I think that the educators that I’ve met over my life who are profoundly passionate about education and it’s not just a job, it’s really what they’re trying to do. They’re really trying to untap that potential in people. I think that’s just the key really. Then it’s not work, right? It’s just a challenge.

Kevin Baker
You know, they’re mining, right?

Kevin Baker
They’re mining for gold and they’re motivated by, you know, nothing, nothing gives me greater excitement than to see someone get it, right? And to do something with it.

Sam Demma
Is that what keeps you going now?

Kevin Baker
100%.

Sam Demma
As opposed to going down a different adventure?

Kevin Baker
Yeah, I mean, I was a practicing lawyer. I could have easily stayed doing that. And I’ve always, from my own personal experience, frankly, and then just waking up every morning since I’ve been doing this, I eased into education sort of after the teaching and then I practiced and then I came back to education, but not really as an educator initially. But so during that transition period, I was drawn back to the education side of things instead of the administrative side, mostly because I really do get great personal pleasure out of seeing growth in people, right? And seeing them, I jokingly refer to it as corrupting minds, right? Corrupting young minds. So, and that comes from my sort of, my philosophy around my intellectual area. But the idea is that, you know, I challenge students to think about things they take for granted, and to rethink them, and to think critically about everything, you know, whether it’s the American dream, or whether it’s around our belief that, you know, if you work hard enough, you will become a millionaire or whatever. We deconstruct all these sort of beliefs. When I teach or even when I’m administrating, but I’m working with students who are learning things, nothing, like my favorite day of the year is convocation. on the stage or I’m giving out diplomas if it’s my direct students and I’m just sitting there appreciating how much impact whatever it is program they finished successfully, how much it meant to them, the emotion, just the raw emotion of whoo I did it, I accomplished something, I didn’t even know if I could and I’m just sitting there beaming because I got to be a part of that. You know, and a small part for sure, but it’s such an amazing feeling. It’s addictive. It’s like, I don’t know, it’s like a drug or something.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that feeling an educator gets when one of their past students earlier like writes a letter to them and how you’ve written letters to a lot of educators in your life. For the educators who are just getting started and maybe don’t have those letters yet, what would you tell them in terms of encouragement or a letter you would give them verbally right now on this call?

Kevin Baker
Wow, so I would say to them, they’ll come, right? Don’t worry about the letters, they will come. And sometimes they won’t come, but you will have a feeling. None of this happens with just one individual. Individuals obviously have profound impact and we can actually have more negative impact potentially than positive individually. But collectively, we’re part of a machine that works to help improve people’s lives, and we can all contribute to that experience positively for sure. And so, you know, whether the letter comes or not is not really that important, but we have to assume every interaction we have with the student is a potential opportunity to help that student and give them a better experience. And, you know, we never know how that will be. And we may not know whether the student’s even grateful, but we can’t, I don’t think we’re looking for that kind of instant gratification or that immediate feedback. I think it’s seeing people later in their lives and you go, oh, yeah, you’re doing so well. And I have some students I keep in touch with and you just see them you see them advance in their careers they they do everything you know you can just clearly see that it worked you know their lives are better and different than they would have been otherwise and you’re just proud of that so that’s motivation enough. I’ve had students who’ve had incredible success, not because of anything I’ve done, I just people I knew over the years. And it’s such a rush to know, you see them on TV or you see them in the news and you’re like, oh man, that was one of my students and you’re just thrilled for them, right? So, I don’t know.

Kevin Baker
Yeah, I don’t think it’s always,

Kevin Baker
I mean, the letters can be moving if you get a letter. Yeah, it’s not a big deal, but I taught a course at Trent University that was very unorthodox in the approach. It was a bit of an experiment. I was just trying to do something very innovative and try and see how students liked it. And this guy wrote me, I don’t know, three or four years later saying, hey, I’m a teacher now and I’m using the gamification approach that I had adopted in this course. He’s like, I’m using it in my teaching now and the students love it.

Sam Demma
That’s so cool.

Kevin Baker
You know, you just had no idea he liked it even. At the time, it was just something I was playing with and trying to make my course more interesting and didn’t know how it really affected anyone. But here I am getting an email from this guy just randomly saying, hey, I liked it so much I’m using it now myself.

Sam Demma
Wow, that’s awesome.

Sam Demma
And you’re like, cool, right? Yeah, I guess you just, you show up and do the work and like you said, make the assumption that it’s making a difference and that is enough to continue to show up. And oftentimes the work you’re doing is not even seen, like planning the lesson for the next day, the night before, a couple hours, or working on the next assignment. And that all happens when you’re not sitting sometimes right in front of the students as well. I recently did a speech for early childhood educators with the YMCA in Brantford, in Hamilton area. And I shared this little story with them that really resonated. And it was an experience I had when I was in medicine out of Alberta. And it was early morning, it was the middle of winter, and I walked out to this rental car to go to a convention center. And there was this guy with a leaf blower. And I was like, what the heck is this guy doing in the middle of the winter with a leaf blower, you know? And then I see him and he’s blowing the snow off of all the cars in the parking lot. And it was like 7 in the morning, 6.30 in the morning. And I just couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that all the people who are going to drive those vehicles in the next couple of hours were sleeping comfortably inside the hotel and would have no idea that this gentleman walked the parking lot for two hours and blew all the snow off everyone’s vehicles. And it just made me think of education and how, like, if you’re an educator listening to this, that is you, like you are making a difference even if the people that you’re impacting don’t realize it. And if you don’t get that thank you handshake because, you know, at the hotel, those people were still sleeping. But if there is an educator listening to this, Kevin, and they want to just reach out to you and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Kevin Baker
Well, honestly, I would encourage them to just email me probably, it’s probably the easiest. And I don’t know how you put that out there. Do you want me to just give it like verbally now? So yeah, I’m very responsive to emails and typically will respond to people the same day. I am on LinkedIn and if people want to connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m basically, as soon as I know you’re legit, I absolutely will connect with anyone who reached out to me there. So that’s another way to get a hold of me.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Well, this has been a fun, adventurous conversation, and I’m so grateful we sat down and made the time. Thank you for all the work that you do in education and will continue to do. And I hope we cross paths a few more times, whether on the podcast or in person.

Kevin Baker
Absolutely, and Sam, I appreciate you so much. And I’ve enjoyed this, so thank you for having me. And I’ve enjoyed this, so thank you for having me.

Sam Demma
You’re welcome.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kevin Baker

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Geoff Gauthier — Director of Marketing and Communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology Student Association

Geoff Gauthier — Director of Marketing and Communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology Student Association
About Geoff Gauthier

On his second journey with the BCIT Student Association, Geoff Gauthier takes enhancing the quality of student life seriously.

As the Publications Manager running the Link newspaper in the early 2000’s, Geoff had an amazing opportunity to work with closely with students, finding out what they need and what they think, and that experience shaped and defined his need to help them wherever he could.

Fast forward a number of years and a new opportunity to lead the group responsible for delivering student life programming as the Director of Marketing and Communications was too wonderful to pass up.

Geoff is curious and attentive. He’s listening to his students and adapting to their needs and he’s making the necessary changes to provide them with best experience possible.

Connect with Geoff: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

British Columbia Institute of Technology

British Columbia Institute of Technology – Student Association

Link Newspaper

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

BCIT Hack the Break

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Today’s special guest on the High Performing Educator podcast is Geoff Gauthier. On his second journey with the BCIT Student Association, British Columbia Institute of Technology, Geoff Gauthier takes enhancing the quality of student life seriously. As the publications manager running the Link newspaper in the early 2000s, Geoff had an amazing opportunity to work closely with students finding out what they need and what they think, and that experience shaped and defined his need to help them wherever he could. Fast forward a number of years, and a new opportunity to lead the group responsible for delivering student life, programming, as the Director of Marketing and Communications, was too wonderful to pass up. Geoff is curious and attentive. He’s listening to his students and adapting to their needs, and he’s making the necessary changes to provide them with the best experiences possible. I hope you enjoyed this enticing and exciting conversation with my good friend Geoff, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by my good friend, Geoff Gauthier. Geoff, thank you so much for coming on the show this morning. I appreciate it.

Geoff Gauthier
Hey, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me, Sam. This is wonderful.

Sam Demma
I always like to get started by asking people a big question. What made you the person you are today? Where do you come from?.

Geoff Gauthier
That’s a huge question. What made me what I am today? Yeah, you knwo what, I’m gonna answer your question with a question as I normally do. I’m not even really sure, man I’m freezing up already haha.

Sam Demma
Well where do you come from? Tell me where you come from.

Geoff Gauthier
So I’m from British Columbia, Canada. I’m like mainly from here. I’ve lived here for the vast majority of my life in various places from the lower mainland through the interior, traveled around a bit. Yeah, I think a lot of it is like, what brought me here? I question that constantly. Why do I do what I do and how did I get here? Right? And I was a journalist before all of this, and now I work for a student association in British Columbia. So naturally, I am a service-based person. I like to make sure that people are doing well. And I think that just sort of manifested in how I ended up here.

Sam Demma
Did that come from your parents? Were they of a service mindset or teachers in your life or coaches?

Geoff Gauthier
Or where did that mentality come from? I think probably teachers and coaches. My parents were, I mean, we all have our parental things. I don’t want to speak ill of my parents, but they’re young and challenging. So, my parents were both like 20 when they had me. So, I have relatively young parents. And when you’re 20, I don’t know, you’ve been 20 recently, you know, you don’t really know a lot. And so when you have a child, like, you just do your best to try to like push and encourage that. And like, I know, my dad was a big hockey fan and he pushed me to really hard to like, and my brother to be, you know, to be hockey players. And like, we, we tried our best and you know, you get so far and skill can only take you so far. And then it’s just a matter of other things. Right. So, yeah, I mean, I don’t know if my parents were, my mom is kind of a service person and I think she’s gotten back to those roots, but you know, it was the 80s and 90s and things were different back then. So there were like other avenues and ways of pushing. So I just think I just learned it from watching other people and just like recognizing a need to help others and like ensure success of other people. Right. Like, you know, I can be of service elsewhere, then I do what I can to do that.

Sam Demma
I have a phrase, I say, we can’t lean on ourselves. Sometimes we have to lean on each other. And it’s something that I encourage not only students, but also educators to realize. When there’s a new teacher in a classroom, you don’t have to know all the answers, but you have to be willing to reach out to people in your life to find them, you know? And there are people that want to support you. You talked about watching people in your life and that’s what taught you about service. When I think about the people I’ve watched, one person that comes to mind is my grandfather who came here with nothing and worked on a farm during the day and then did an overnight shift at GM to try and provide for his family, my dad growing up. And he would get boxes of squash from the farm job he did during the day. It was so much produce that he couldn’t eat it or just use it at his house because there was way too much. And instead of just throwing it away, he would put it in boxes, drive around the city, and drop it off on people’s front porches. And he was an individual in my life who taught me the importance of trying to be of service and live that life of service. You mentioned it might’ve been like teachers or coaches. Can you think of any specific person that you think had a really big impact on you?

Geoff Gauthier
It’s funny, man, you mentioned your grandfather and I was thinking about my grandfather. He passed in 2015 or so. Oh, geez. And it was on my mom’s side, and like, but he was, so maybe not necessarily serviced, but he taught me a lot of really valuable life skills. And he was like, kind of had the most impact on me when he passed, it was pretty hard for me. But he, like, it’s the simple things that I remember him teaching me that made me want to teach other people the things that he taught me. So he taught me, he would take me camping and he taught me like how to chop wood and build a fire. And it’s not like, it’s very simplistic, it’s very rustic, but he taught me this basic act of like how to create warmth for people and how to create a comfortable environment out of nothing, right? So it’s like those little pieces. So now I can teach my son how to build a fire and then he’ll be able to teach his friends and family how to build a fire, right? Like there’s all these things that, it’s a very simple act, but it’s like that knowledge, that passing on of knowledge is like a huge thing. So yeah, you mentioned your grandfather. My grandfather was kind of a similar background, came here, was literally born on a, he was born in Canada, but he was born on a latitude and longitude line. There was no hospital, right. He was born on a farm in Saskatchewan.

Geoff Gauthier
Right.

Geoff Gauthier
So, so yeah, he like, he grew up with that, that same ethic of like, you know, you came from somewhere else and you, you, you know, help your community and you, you build that community and you make that happen. So like, he was a big influence on me. I think I had, I had a couple of coaches and I had one teacher along, I had an art teacher in grade 11 and grade 12. She was really influential on like getting me to explore not like what other people were doing, but what I felt like I needed to do. And I think that was a big push. Yeah. Shout out to Mrs. Byfon Schmidt if you’re around. Yeah, she’s rad. So yeah, she like, she just encouraged me to follow an artistic path, which I hadn’t considered before because I was so like into sports and like competition. The artistic side of me was there and she was kind of nurtured that and pushed that out. So those were two kind of really big people in my life that pushed me to learn a bit more about myself and also how to teach others how to do that same thing.

Sam Demma
That’s so awesome. I think the arts get overlooked so much in schools that people disregard them as a potential pathway and also as an opportunity to explore yourself. I think art is such an amazing form of self-expression and I was recently listening to a book by Rick Rubin and it’s like all about arts and you may have actually heard of it. It came out recently. Yeah. And he was talking about the importance of appreciating everything around you and I was on a walk while I was listening to it with headphones in and he was talking about appreciating nature and I just started like looking around and I was like, the world is art, art’s everywhere.

Sam Demma
You know?

Geoff Gauthier
Beautiful, everywhere you look is gorgeous.

Sam Demma
It just forces you to kind of pause. The cool thing that you mentioned about your grandfather is all the activities he did with you, like teaching you how to cut wood and how to go camping, those types of things, they’re all an investment of time. I think investing your time in other people is how you build relationships with them. In the classroom, with students? Like how do educators build relationships with kids or how have you done it in your life so far?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, so it’s awesome that you mentioned that. I mean, the biggest thing with everything that I do in my life right now is as you discover as you get older, everything is about relationships, right? So like if I’m selling a sponsorship to a third party person outside of my organization, I need, it’s not like, hey, give me money and I’ll make you, I’ll put your name everywhere. You gotta like talk to them and you build that relationship with them and you build trust and you build a community and you understand each other’s needs. It’s not like, you know, if I’m gonna ask you for money, I’m gonna need to invest some time in getting to know you, getting to know your company, getting to even know your people. Here at the office, it’s the same thing with my employees, with the people that I work with. You know, I talk to them, I know them. I know everybody’s name in my organization. I know a little tiny tidbit of information about them. And I think this comes from journalism. Because I had to keep a lot of names and notes about people, or I had to keep them straight. I need to know my contacts, who’s who, what do they do, and know a little bit about them so that I can know who they are and like have that relationship with them. So I know everybody’s name, I know a little bit about them. I know if they have a dog or a cat or a kid or what they like to do on weekends kind of thing, like a little bit, a little bit about them. It may not, it might be, some of it might be surface, but I can say hello to everybody, including like the, the staff that do the cleaning. Like Habib empties our garbage cans, but he’s still a person and he’s a human and he has a story. And I ran into him in the community, ran into him at the mall by my house. And I was like, Hey man, how you doing? How are you? It’s, it’s always weird to see somebody outside of their, you know, their role that you see them in every day. And I was just like, dude, you live in my neighborhood. And we got to talking and he lives in the neighborhood with me. And I’m like, this is great. Like, I just, I know people around, right? And I’m going to be, I’m a person who’s in a position of power within my organization. I’m going to be in the community. People are going to talk to me and there’s value in making those connections and knowing those people and being able to keep talking to them. I think that’s like a hugely important part of growth as a person and also like an important part of being a community member.

Sam Demma
And it takes that extra step and effort to really get to know somebody, even if it’s not their whole life story and a thousand details, but a couple of small things. I love that nugget. I think educators should treat that aspect of their work like a journalist and take notes and get to know people in their classrooms. I think that’s a really good piece of wisdom and advice. Yeah, it’s super important, man.

Geoff Gauthier
It’s helped me so much in my career, just being able to know people and being able to talk to people on a one-to-one basis and be like, hey, how’s your son doing? Or remember, like, you know, and time goes by so quickly, you’d be like, hey, how’s your son doing? Oh, he’s married and he’s gone off to Iraq. He lives there now. Whoa, holy crap. He was like 12 when I met him. So, you know, yeah.

Sam Demma
So you mentioned that you grew up in competition. Yeah. You know, hockey was a big part of your childhood. You then had this amazing art teacher who kind of poured belief in you and it challenged you to explore different pathways. Where’s the gap between like end of high school to where you are now? Like what did your educational journey look like that brought you here?

Geoff Gauthier
I just, that’s wonderful. So I took a year off after high school because I was-

Sam Demma
Me too.

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, right? I was like, I was gonna do, so I was playing hockey. Yep. I find that that sort of stopped being a thing, you know, like right around that timeframe, but like 18, 19 kind of thing. Yeah. I’m like, I need to like figure out what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life. It’s not going to be playing hockey at this point, so I’m going to have to figure out what to do. So my dad, I started apprenticing as a plumber for a little bit after high school, which was interesting. I was like, I don’t want to do this. I got my hand stuck in a pipe full of effluent. I’ll use effluent as the word. And I couldn’t get it out, and I had to get somebody to come and cut my hand out of the pipe. And I was just like, oh, I need to do something else. I’m like, I washed my hand a million times and it smelled for like a week. And I was just like, I gotta do something with my life. So I’m like, I’m gonna go to university. I’ve kind of always been interested in journalism. I wanna do that. But I started off, I did a bachelor of arts degree in professional writing, and then went on to fast track a journalism degree. And then I ended up working at BCIT in the early 2000s, and I did a diploma of technology in desktop publishing while I was there. And so like all of my education background comes from basically journalism and print media. And as you know, and everyone else knows, like I used to work at a newspaper and print media just started dying. Newspapers just stopped being a thing that existed. I have all this knowledge in my head about how to like build print processing, and it’s like pretty much useless at this point. So I had to figure out like, how am I going to make this work? And I got a job with a company where I started doing communications, like press releases. I’m like, I’m a writer, I can write. There’s one thing I can do really well, it’s writing. And I wanna be the best at writing, I’m gonna try and work on this and become a really good writer. So I’m gonna like, I’ll write press releases for this company. And then I just got some lucky opportunities in that company where I got to do press releases. I also got to do like machinery installs, which was kind of like a thing that I did on the outside. So like it was a company that does like mining, whole cycle management, whole cycle management. It’s like a tech company, but everybody, it was a small company at the time and everybody did everything. So I was writing press releases. I was creating marketing materials. I was like building computers and like drawing icons for software. It was like, it was a pretty cool, I got to blend my art and my writing and my journalism skills, like all into one thing. And it just sort of blossomed from there. And I just kind of got good at marketing. I got good at like knowing what, build relationships with our customers, know what they want, provide them what they want, really listen to what they’re asking for and giving them those pieces.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And it just sort of, it just blossomed out of that. And I got really good at it. And just, just out of habitual practice. And I’m like, and then that desire and that want to be really, really good at something, you know? So, yeah. And then I, I ran into the executive director, former executive director, weirdly in a liquor store in Coquitlam, I was buying some wine. I don’t really drink anymore, but at the time, I was with my family and I bought some wine and I ran into her at Liquorsworks. She’s like, what are you doing these days? And I was like, oh, I’m working in marketing for this mining company. And she’s like, oh, interesting. And she’s like, we just got to chatting. And it was like, again, I’d made that relationship with her when I worked here the first time, right? And when I worked here the first time, I worked as a journalist. I worked in the publications department. Sorry, I totally glossed over that part. When I worked at the BCIT Student Association the first time, I was in publications. I produced a newspaper. It was the early 2000s, they still existed then, for the students. And I learned about how to be of service to students. And then I was like, I gotta go. I was in my late 20s, early 30s, and I’m like, I gotta go get in the real world and become this, like get some real world experience. And that’s how I managed to get like into that marketing department. And then ran into the ED, talked to her for a little while. And then a couple of months later, she phoned me up. She’s like, hey, why don’t you come back and have lunch with me at the student association? I was like, oh, okay. And like just dumb old Jeff, like not picking up on any cues. I’m just like, oh, okay, sure. I’d love to come for lunch and hang out with you. Cause we’d gone for lunch before in the past. I kept that relationship alive during the decade that I wasn’t here. And, uh, you know, like we went for lunch every once in a while, like it was like every couple of years kind of thing, right. Just to catch up and say hi. And cause she really inspired me to like become who I am as well. So that’s another story I completely glossed over. And anyway, I came back and she’s like, yeah. And she, she had her HR manager with her and they’re like, this is what we’ve been doing with the SA since you’ve been gone. Here’s this new thing that we’ve done. Here’s how we’ve expanded. Here’s all this stuff that we’ve built. I’m like, oh, this is all really amazing. I’m like, I can see the potential of how we can use this to get the students just looking at them. It’s so cool. Then we’re sitting down eating lunch and she’s like, so what would you think about coming back here to work? I was like, what? When I look back on it, it’s so funny because it was so obviously and clearly like a recruitment thing. And I just was like not picking up on it. I was like in my, the prime of my career, in my other job, I was doing really well. I was like, but the problem with that other job is I had traveled a lot. Okay. And this, and so I was like missing out on my son growing up and missing out on seeing my wife. And I’m like, I’m always gone. I’m always at conferences. I’m always in other parts of the world and I’m doing other things, which is kind of cool. But you know, I was, I was gone a lot. So she was like, you want to come here and work in marketing? I was like, yeah, you know what? I was nervous, but I took that step because I trusted her because she’s treated me well in the past. So I came back here and then this is, I came back, I’ve always felt while I was at the other job that instead of like making somebody rich that I’d never met before, I could like come back and help students. I can come back and make a better life for students and make like, I remember how difficult it was for me in university. And I just was like, if I can make a couple of students’ lives better, that’s way more fun than making somebody else get another yacht, who I’ve never met, right? It was one of those things. We ended up, that other company, we ended up getting bought out by a major corporation. And so it ended up being kind of like, I don’t know, this doesn’t really work for me anymore.

Sam Demma
The meaning and significance wasn’t really there.

Geoff Gauthier
It changes, it changes, right? So I needed to come back and I needed to do something with students and then I’ve been here now for four years and I like, three really tough years, but we’re getting back on it now, so.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that that individual who was the director of the school had a really big impact on you and helped you pivot. Like, what did she do for you that made a really big difference?

Geoff Gauthier
So, she asked me a key question and I’ll never forget this because this is like when I was when I was younger, um, I had a manager who was not so great who who was in who worked here and then you know I don’t want to speak really about that but but like The ed app she asked me a very poignant question. She’s like, who do you feel accountable to? Because we were talking about management and like not feeling like I I can trust this person and not feeling like this person is helping me develop my career or meaning to help students in any significant way. And I said to her, I’m like, I’m accountable to the students of this school. I’m accountable to the students of the school. And it wasn’t a thoughtful answer, I blurted it out. And I think that was that moment where she’s like, okay, this guy, this guy actually cares, cares, and actually like believes in this and actually wants to like progress and make things good here. Right. And then, and I shortly after that is when I quit and I left and I went to the other company, but, but yeah. And so I think in the back of her mind, she had that thing where like, we had this relationship where she knew she could trust me. And she knew that if she brought me back here, I would be that person to like help students, to really push the organization to want to do that. And like now I’m in a position where I have that ability and it’s taken some time, but I’m like, I’m getting there now. I’m getting there now. It’s so obvious you’re passionate about the work that you do. I can feel it coming out of you as you’re talking. You’re like, you’re an intense dude. I’m like, I know, I know. Oh, it’s the best way possible.

Sam Demma
You mentioned through university, you kind of had your own challenges. What are some of the things that you’re striving to help to support students now at BCIT that you think would have been valuable if you had when you were going through university?

Geoff Gauthier
So this is the challenge with working in a university setting, it’s like figuring out what most students want.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
So when you work for a student association, we’re a non-profit, right? And we’re here to help all students, but the people that you hear from are the students who are sort of the least, yeah, the most engaged and then the least advantaged. Right? So we’re not hearing from the, the middle students are content and they’re happy. So we hear from the students who have many challenges and we hear from the students who have, who are the most engaged with us. And it’s weird, man, you see it, the most engaged students are the most advantaged students.

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And the students who have the most challenges are the most disadvantaged students. How do I make that middle ground work for everybody? What can I provide? What kind of services and programming can I provide that helps these people out? So it’s always a challenge to put those two pieces together. And that’s like the hardest part of this job is to like make that balance happen. It’s easy to cater to the middle students. It’s easy to like give the right programming and the right messaging to the middle students. It’s much more difficult to A, keep the engaged students happy, and B, keep the, oh, A and A1. And like, where can I step in to help make everybody’s lives better, right? And when you make someone’s life better, sometimes you make somebody else’s life worse. Or in perception, it’s worse. So, yeah, that’s a tough question, man. Like, I’m just doing my best to try to like, make sure everybody has a good time at school, and is able to make it through here. Because like we don’t provide any education at the association. We provide student life. We provide value and we provide services for free to help people get an advantage sort of while they’re here and then also get them out, right? So they have an advantage over their competition when they get out. And as someone who comes from a background in competition, every possible advantage I can give you to beat out the competition in the future, I’m going to try to give that to you. That’s awesome.

Sam Demma
What events have you, or has the organization, association run in the past that you think achieved some of that goal of catering to the middle, the most engaged and the less advantaged, and really had an impact?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, this is a weird question. I mean, you know how things have kind of gotten with the world.

Sam Demma
I guess COVID was weird.

Geoff Gauthier
It was, man, and like I’ve been working, so I started working here again in 2019.

Sam Demma
Okay.

Geoff Gauthier
It was June of 2019. Jeez. So I had like six solid months of like doing really cool programming for students and then we’re all of a sudden everybody’s working from their house. So we’ve just kind of been kicking it back in. But one of the, it’s like I think to like one of the events that’s kind of cool that we do that appeals to my nerdy background where I can kind of help it help out and figure it out. We do a hackathon for the the school of computer studies students and so we’re able to kind of leverage some of my mining contacts to have a company come in and provide data sets to these students who create these sort of virtual businesses and virtual business ideas over a weekend. So we put teams from different schools into or we create teams from students in different schools. So like you get some business students, some marketing students, and some design students, and we put them all together on a five or six person team, and then we give them data sets, and they, over the weekend, they work to create a business plan out of these data sets, or like, and like this is a fun thing for me to like put on for students, and it really only appeals to about 100, 150 students, I’ve said, every year, but it’s, it’s one of those events that like I look forward to it every year. It’s a lot of work. It comes in January, like right after the holiday season. And all my staff’s like, oh, you gotta do that. It’s gonna be such a, it’s so much work. And I’m like, it’s so much work, but it’s so much fun. And yes, I get all excited about it. And what ends up happening is I pair some businesses who are looking for talent, and then I provide them with students who are exceptional within that field. And we get data from those people, we get sponsorship from those people that gives us money to be able to provide more services for more students.

Sam Demma
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
That’s awesome. So it kind of combines, it puts everything in perspective, it puts everything into like what I do, into like a kind of a microcosm of like what we’re trying to achieve here. So that’s why I love that event so much. I mean, you know, you come here and you can feel the excitement and the energy on the Friday night when they start. Everybody’s in the great hall, they’re outside, there’s a buzz, they’re like all excited. Some of them are meeting their team members for the first time. They’re people that, you know, at BCIT we have a very short school year, it’s two years, and they’re in and out really quickly. It’s like you don’t meet everybody, and then all of a sudden you’re paired on a team with a marketing person and a designer and some business and computing students, and you’re like, all right, you all never met, now you gotta work together to create something awesome. And out of that, and then there’s several teams, and so they compete. So I get my competition out of it too. I see my students strive and they want to work and they want to be the best and they want to figure it out. And then on the end of the weekend, on the Sunday, they’re judged and they’re awarded prizes and possibly job opportunities coming out of that. So if there’s something I can provide like that for students that like, A, gets them in front of employers, gets them into a mode where they’re competing to be their best, and pushes them to like work hard and work together and work in a team environment with people they’ve never met. I’m building growth, I’m building challenges, I’m building connections and I’m building relationships. Not me, but you know, my team. I said that, it’s very egocentric, I shouldn’t say me. Our team, our school is building, the event is really building that. And it’s not just me that’s doing it, it’s a combined effort from everybody. But it gets me excited when we do stuff like that, right?

Sam Demma
Is that one of those hackathons where everyone’s in the same hotel, they basically sleep in the same room?

Geoff Gauthier
In the great hall at our campus. They’re like out there, yeah, they stay overnight, they just work all weekend. Sometimes they leave, sometimes they come back, and we roll out like a buffet table. We had a taco bar one year that was really popular. We rolled out a taco bar. Everybody was stoked about that. So we try to feed them and keep them interested and keep them here. And they work really hard all weekend. It’s a satisfying thing for the students to do too. They really get to contribute in a way that’s meaningful and create something cool. And so if I can, I need to do more things like that with other schools and try and figure out ways I can make that happen as well.

Sam Demma
Well, that also facilitates new friends, right? Even if they’re from different schools, you might become friends with someone that you’re gonna talk to for the rest of your life.

Sam Demma
Yeah, totally.

Geoff Gauthier
The weirdest thing happened too, like I coach youth soccer. My son plays soccer and he’s wonderful. He’s a great midfielder, plays really well. I got my team the other day, like on TeamSnap is our program we use. I got the team, there’s the roster sitting there, and I got two new players on my team this year, and one of those players, I was like, this kid looks kind of familiar. And I click on him, and I look at his parents, and I’m like, The parent is one of our key sponsors from the institution who sponsors our hackathon. No way. Yeah, it was like this super weird thing. I’ve never met this kid before. I didn’t even know that she had a kid. And now I’m like, okay, cool. So now one of our key sponsors for hackathons child is on my soccer team. So I’m going to have to be on my best behavior at all times. So yeah, it’s just really, man, it’s funny. And this is what I’m talking about, about how the community thing works, right? How these weird things happen, where you’re in a community, your community, when you work at a school or an institution, is pretty tight-knit. I know people, I’ve known people here since 2001. I’ve met people here when I started working here in 2001 that still work here, that I still interact with on a regular basis. That was 22 years ago, Sam. Wow. Yeah. I still know people, right. And like I’ve gone away and I’ve come back and they’re like, Oh, Hey, you’re back. And I’m like, yeah, I’ve been here for four years. I haven’t seen you yet. Yeah. It’s pretty funny. It’s a big place too.

Sam Demma
Right. Well, it sounds like the funny coincidence finding out that, that athletes, parents, or someone that you knew, that starts from being curious and like exploring a little bit, you know? And you seem like someone who leads with like curiosity. Where does that come from? Where your curiosity stem from? That has been forever.

Geoff Gauthier
That was dangerous when I was younger. Serves me well now that I’m older. Man, I think that’s the journalism part too. I can’t stop. I’m not a very chill person. I think we can discuss that. I like, I remember when I met my wife when we were initially dating and I was like, yeah, cool, I’m chill. She’s like, you’re not chill at all. You’re like zero chill guy. And I’m like, oh, I’ve always thought I was really chill and relaxed, and you’re not relaxed at all. You’re like very high strung. And then so, so I’ve accepted that. And with being high strung, it becomes being curious. But what I have to be careful about is going too far down that rabbit hole, right? Like, I love, I love being curious. I love to know things. I love to know a lot as much as I possibly can. Like you, just even meeting you and listening to you speak, and I’m like, well, I want to know Sam more. I want to get Sam to my university. I want to hang out with Sam. I want to know this guy. I want to talk to him a little bit. I just needed to make that connection with you. I’m like, tell me more about you. And we talked in person for a while afterwards. And I was just like, you’re an interesting person. And I think through journalism, I found a lot of interesting people. And everyone has this really cool story to tell. I haven’t met anybody who’s boring, right? Like people will go, I’m so boring. I’m like, okay, well, tell me a little bit about yourself. Like open up a little bit and let me hear about what you do. Cause you’re not boring. Everyone is inherently interesting. Everyone has a story or something in their background that’s fun or funny or exciting or traumatic or whatever. But whatever the story is, you’re going to have something to tell me. And I wanna know about that. I wanna know who you are. I wanna know like why you do what you do. And I know that’s why you asked me to come on here. You’re asking me those questions. And I’m sitting in back of you. It’s fun. For me, it’s fun. And I know for other people, it’s not fun. And so I’ve gotten old enough now to recognize when people are uncomfortable when I’m asking them questions. So I just back off and I’m like, okay, cool. I get it, right? But like, I used to push, like, you know, no, come on, tell me. Every time I’d find the quiet person at a party, I’d push that person to talk. I wanna know more about that quiet person. Because like quiet people always have the most to talk about if you push them hard, right? Loud people, man, you know what I’m about.

Sam Demma
I hear it all.

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, I will tell you my life story in a podcast in 15 minutes, and no one cares. But the quiet people, they have cool stories. They have the best stories to tell because they only speak when it’s important for them to speak. So yeah, anyway, so I used to do that, but I don’t push as hard anymore on people. I let them kind of naturally open up to me. I build that trust with them first, right? If they want to talk to me, they’ll talk to me. I don’t need to be a and push them about it.

Sam Demma
I hear you. Yeah, I think the, I’ll make an addition to the importance of curiosity, like genuine curiosity.

Geoff Gauthier
Genuine curiosity, yeah.

Sam Demma
That’s like the, I think that’s the key because even if the person is shy, they feel like the question is coming from a place of love and like really wanting to know more about them. So they’re even a little more encouraged to talk. And I think you do that really well. Like, you seem very curious when you ask questions. And even I remember when you approached me in the hallway, I was like, ah, I feel really like acknowledged by this guy. And I would like to get to know him a little more. And so you talked about the beginning service and wanting to help students. And not only do you do stuff with, you know, BCIT, but you do a lot with COCA for people listening who don’t know what COCA is, like let’s give them a little quick snippet of what it is and what got you involved.

Geoff Gauthier
Oh man, okay, so COCA is the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities and I’m the West, one of the Western Regional Board Directors. Congratulations. Thank you, yeah, I filled in for a year, for like half a year kind of thing, or like eight months, and then I was re-elected this year to keep working with them. And a COCA is an organization that like, I didn’t know anything about it. One of the former directors phoned me up just doing their kind of annual drive to get more members. And they’re like, Hey, you used to be a members. And I’m like, I don’t know anything about this. What is this? And so he guided me through like what COCA is. And I’m like, this is beneficial to be a part of for us to learn about what we can provide for students. I would never have met you if it wasn’t for Coke, right? And like all the people that I work with on the board are all fantastic and they’re all high performers. And I think that’s what, you know, you talk about the high performance podcast, man, these are all people that work extra hard to make things happen for for other people. So like, I’m working at BCIT, I coach youth soccer, I dedicate my time to the board of directors. Like, I don’t, I don’t do a lot.

Sam Demma
I don’t eat. I don’t have time.

Geoff Gauthier
But yeah, I just, it’s kind of this never-ending cycle and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do those things. Yeah. You know? And like, and it provides me with these wonderful opportunities to meet folks like yourself and to like, see what is out there. And it feeds my curiosity and I get to know more people and I get to make those connections. And now I don’t have just connections in BC, I have connections all across Canada. So within the universities, like in the university service spectrum, I have connections now and it’s beautiful to hear from them the challenges and the triumphs that they have as well. Right, and see how similar they are and I can learn from them. And I can, you know, I talk, Crystal Ben from St. Clair College, they have, she told me this story about how they have like an eSports coliseum, or like, not a coliseum, but like an arena on their campus. And I’m just like, what? You gotta be kidding me. We have an eSports club here, and if I told them that, they’d lose their minds. They would just go, they’d be like, they have a whole arena for this? Like they have a dedicated space for that. And I’m just like, man. So I’m like, how can I bring that to BCIT? How can I bring that here? How can I, like, how do I make that work on my campus? Right, or I hear from, and that’s like on the other side of Canada. I’m like, how do I do that here? Right?

Sam Demma
I love that.

Geoff Gauthier
I want to know.

Geoff Gauthier
Go ahead.

Sam Demma
I love that it’s not, oh, we can’t do that. Like the first question that pops in your head is how? How can we bring that here? How can we do this? And leading with that, I think so often the thing that holds ourselves back is not other people’s opinions of us, it’s actually our perception of ourselves or our perception of what’s possible for us. And I think removing the words can’t from the vocabulary and focusing on the how and approaching things like challenges, not problems, is such an impactful perspective to hold. And yeah, it’s cool that you just like, that’s your default, it seems like.

Geoff Gauthier
I’m gonna tell you a quick story about that. It’s only been my default recently. I have had to work very hard. I’m a Gen X. I came up skeptical. I worked as a journalist. I had to like, do I believe this person? Is this person lying to my face? Are they credible? How do I fact check this? I didn’t trust anybody for the longest time. And I’ve opened my heart to trust and I’m trying to change my mindset to eliminate can’t, won’t, done. And working in this environment is super challenging because there’s no money in, we’re a non-profit and there’s like, we’re, you know, so how do I create enough resources to build? Right? We don’t have this resource. Don’t tell me we don’t have it. Tell me how we can create it. Yeah. Right? I get that we don’t have it. I’ve seen the budget lines. I know what it looks like. I understand there’s challenges. What could we do to change that?

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Geoff Gauthier
And I’m just like, and if I instill that in the people that I, it’s so easy to say, I can’t do that. It’s so, I can’t do that. I won’t do that. I’m not going to do it. Right? No, no, we’re not going to do it. No, we don’t have the money. Yeah, that’s so easy to say that. It’s way harder to go, is there a way we can make that work? Is there something that we can do? Is there someone we can partner with? Can we build a relationship with someone who can help us do that?

Geoff Gauthier
Right?

Sam Demma
Like- Can we call that athlete on the soccer team’s dad?

Geoff Gauthier
Yeah, exactly, right?

Geoff Gauthier
Like, hey, I know a guy in the community who might be able to help us. Yeah, that’s another thing too, right?

Sam Demma
I got a person.

Geoff Gauthier
I got a person for that.

Sam Demma
People always say,

Sam Demma
when one door closes, another door opens, added like an extension. When one door closes, another door opens, but there’s always a human being standing behind that new door opening it for you. Exactly. That comes back to your whole point of relationships. And understand that person and know that person and take your time to understand

Geoff Gauthier
Maybe why they opened that door for you. Yeah. Is there a reason for that? And like, can I open a door for them if they did that for me? Would I do that in the same position?

Sam Demma
Well, maybe there’s a person listening to this that would love to open a door for you or would love to get to know you in the hope that you might open a door for them. If someone is listening, an educator, and they just want to send you a message and appreciate you for taking the time to share on the podcast or ask you a question or just connect, what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out?

Geoff Gauthier
Oh man, probably a text message. That’s like the only thing I answer now. Man, I don’t post on social media. Like I have an Instagram handle, it’s @mistergoats. It is pictures of my kid, my cat, and my motorcycle. And my family, and that’s really it. I’m not really active on social media. I’m on Blue Sky, I’m on Blue Sky now. I misspelled my name when I signed up, so it’s @mistetgoats.

Sam Demma
That’s awesome.

Geoff Gauthier
And you can’t change it, because it’s a new platform, so I’m over there if you want to look me up, Blue Sky Social.

Sam Demma
I can include your email and show notes as well, if that’s okay with you.

Geoff Gauthier
Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you can email me anytime. ggauthier@bcitsa.ca. They’ll be in the show notes. Man, I don’t know. That’s how you get ahold of me. That’s the best way to get ahold of me. I don’t, I’ll give you my phone number too. You can, people can text me. That’s the easiest way to get ahold of me. And I’m happy, I’m happy to chat. And if you have like, if you want some ideas or if you want to share ideas or you want to get to know me a little bit, I’m totally open to that. Always good to connect with people wherever I can.

Sam Demma
This has been an awesome conversation, man. Thank you for saying yes, despite not knowing what the heck we were going to do.

Geoff Gauthier
I appreciate you. I trust you, Sam. I trust you. And you’re a wonderful person. I know I’ve only known you for a few hours, but man, you make that connection. Like there’s something about this guy that makes sense. I just, I love that. And I appreciate you having me on. I hit my table and shaking everything, sorry.

Sam Demma
You’re good.

Geoff Gauthier
Thanks again. Everyone, podcast rule, don’t slam it.

Sam Demma
Thank you, Sam, thank you.

Sam Demma
This is awesome. This is awesome. Geoff Gauthier. Right on.

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