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Teaching Tips

Margot Arnold – Entrepreneurship Teacher and Women of the Year Workplace Excellence Award

Margot Arnold – Entrepreneurship Teacher and Women of the Year Workplace Excellence Award
About Margot Arnold

Margot Arnold (@margotarnold) is an outstanding choice for the Women of the Year Workplace Excellence Award. She continually develops an exceptionally supportive, innovative, and creative class environment for her students in the Entrepreneurship 30 class (Junior Achievement Program) and actively contributes to the caring and welcoming environment at school for her fellow teachers at the Weyburn Comprehensive School (WCS).

Connect with Margot: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Women of the Year Workplace Excellence Award

Junior Achievement Program

Weyburn Comprehensive School (WCS)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other spec opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma today’s guest is Margot Arnold. She is a nominee for the credit union workplace excellence award. Margo is an outstanding choice for the Woman of the Year Workplace Excellence Award. She continually develops an exceptionally supportive, innovative and creative class environment for her students in the entrepreneurship 30 class, which you’ll hear about you’ll hear all about in this interview.


Sam Demma (01:04):

It’s linked with the Junior Achievement program. She actively contributes to the caring and welcoming environment at school for fellow teachers at Weyburn Comprehensive School. I had the opportunity to speak to their students a few months ago. And me and Margo connected as a result, she’s had so many different experiences. One of her most proud moments is the teacher project video that was featured in 2017. That highlighted the amazing work that happens in her entrepreneurship class. I don’t wanna get too much into it right now. I’ll give Margo the opportunity to share. And as you’ll hear in this interview with that being said, let’s jump right in Margo. Welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing why you got into the work you’re doing in education today.


Margot Arnold (01:54):

Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be here. I was humbled when you asked me to come on. So my story I was born and raised in and my grandmother was a teacher in a one room schoolhouse. And so I wanted to kind of follow in her footsteps as she also got married at that time. And during the twenties there, you could not be married and still be a teacher. Hmm. So then she went into business with my grand or for 56 years. So I have the passion for business and I have the passion for teaching and I just wanted to make a difference. So I went to business school after high school, and then I worked in a law firm. Then I worked three years in a private school, came back to work at WCS as an admin assistant and thought, Hey, I wanna be the teacher in the classroom with a degree. The private school didn’t need it. So I went back to school at age 30 and I’ve been teaching now for 20 years.


Sam Demma (02:55):

Ah, that’s awesome. Yeah. And what subjects? I, I mean, I could dive right into the passion for business, but I wanna know where did the journey in education start and what does it look like today?


Margot Arnold (03:07):

So when I was hired on, I took a maternity leave in the business ed area. So teaching accounting, 10, 20 and 30 grade, 10, 11, 12, and information, 10, 11, entrepreneurship, 30 and over the years, I’ve taught online as well. I’ve taught entrepreneurship online and accounting online. So that’s a, a different experience. Although I missed I didn’t do it full time. I did it half so half online, half in the classroom. And that’s a really nice mix cause I, I miss seeing the students faces back when I was doing it. It was a little bit less technology with video and, and whatnot. So that being said over the years, I’ve also taught English and I’ve taught drafting. And that would is interesting because drafting, AutoCAD and learning inventor, which is the 3d mechanical and Revit. And I knew nothing in that area. It was all self taught. So my principal said, well, you teach computers. I said, yeah. And so, so he says, there’s your fit? So that being said, it was pushed personal growth for me. So, but right now I just teach entrepreneurship, accounting and IP, which I’ve renamed as business technology.


Sam Demma (04:36):

I have to imagine that your parents, entrepreneurial spirits inspired you to, you know, take hold of the same sort of ideas and teaching entrepreneurship and running Ja in the school and doing some phenomenal initiatives with the students. Where did that passion internally for you, for entrepreneurship come from? Was it your parents?


Margot Arnold (04:56):

I, I think a little bit growing up in, in a home with a family business like that, I worked at the business, so I understood some of the internal part of it, but my grandmother was a pioneer business woman and I just always strive to be like her. And so she in, they started a gas station and then they added three little rooms at the back, which was kind of cool room and board. They just diversified. And then they got into the car dealership. Hmm. So just seeing all the innovation and the change, I like to be at the forefront of change, which is why I’m on a lot of committees and associations and things like that. So I just love business. It’s always changing.


Sam Demma (05:39):

And you translated that passion for business, this to classrooms of students. I, I watched a couple weeks ago after the speech, you sent me a link to the, the teacher project video, what a phenomenal video that was put together by the Saskatchewan association of teachers or Federation of teachers encapsulating some of the work you’ve been doing. Can you share a little bit about what you do with the students in the entrepreneurship class and with Ja and what that looks like?


Margot Arnold (06:07):

Absolutely. So we were lucky enough to be offered, to have the entrepreneurship program offered in 2014 with the Ja in the classroom. So that means instead of just assignments and textbook and that we went to hands on real learning. Hmm. So with that, they start the first month or so is a lot of what is entrepreneurship? What is an entrepreneur? Different things like that. And then we get into the meat of it as just running the business. So they brainstorm ideas. They come up with feasibility studies, they do some market surveys. They gather that analysis and they analyze that surveys information and they think, okay, this is the idea we’re going with. And then they implement it with the management team. So they either vote or sometimes they work it out amongst themselves. They say, I would like to do this, or I would do that. And if they have two going for the same position, then they’ll do a, do an actual vote. So they write their business plan with or co-presidents. And then they have vice presidents in areas of human resources, sales, and marketing, finance, environmental health, and safety production, and information technology. So they learn if they allow themselves, they will learn so much in class. And that’s usually the feedback I get. It’s not like any other class it’s more relevant, more hands on, more real life. And they have the opportunity to make a profit.


Sam Demma (07:49):

One of the students in the video described it as getting a head start on your future. And I think that’s such a great way to encapsulate what happens in that class based on the videos that I’ve seen. And you mentioned that they make a profit and they, you also donate a profit over the years. How much money roughly do you think has been raised through these companies that were founded by the students and in the class?


Margot Arnold (08:14):

So my first goal was $10,000 when, and I thought that was a really lofty goal. However, I like to set the goals high. Nice. And my benchmark is usually high for the students too, so that they will grow. We have raised in just over six years, just under $14,000 to give back to different organizations. They have to donate the minimum 10%. That’s a da requirement, but other than that, they can donate more or they’ll round up or they can have more than one charity or nonprofit. It just depends on what the company group members wanna do.


Sam Demma (08:55):

That’s amazing. And what are some of the projects that you think have been the most unique or fun to work on? They might also include the most challenges. I saw sweet dreams is a really cool one, but what other projects have been a lot of fun to manage and to watch grow?


Margot Arnold (09:10):

Well, I would say the very beginning one was called kick glass and we took wine bottles and we cut them. And then I learned how many different grits of sound paper. I’m not even sure how to describe it, but there are cuz they had about six different stations where they had to get it, of course, for safety to turn these wine glasses in, into drinkable glasses. So we broke a lot of wine bottles. I tell you that much. However, they it, it was neat to see the progression from how to look at a video and go through it, learn how to do it. And then, okay, that’s not working. How do we have to innovate or change to do? And so they ended up about three or four different processes and they just get it right. And then the business comes to an end and they dissolve the business.


Margot Arnold (10:06):

But students can take on the businesses after I know there was one in Regina, it was a tie dye business, and it’s still operating today. That being said there was one palatable project. I, I enjoyed that one as well, because it also depends on the makeup of your class. There was a lot of creative students in that class. So they made Barnwood signs, free hand and stencil, and they made fire pit chairs from PA pallets. They made wine racks from pallets and they made Barnwood hook shells. And so they had a variety of about four different things, 27 students. And they ended up being a national winner for the chamber of commerce company of the year. Nice. And the other one was overtime and they took brown, new skate laces. It was the idea of one of the gold wing hockey players in eayburn.


Margot Arnold (11:04):

We have a AAA girls team and she came up with the idea, the president was a gold wing and they thought let’s take hockey laces and turn them into lanyards. And I still use my lanyard today. So they had single lanyards, they two different color lanyards together, or they braided them with colors and then they also made the bracelets. So there’s a, a lot of labor in some ideas. And then there’s others where like balanced jewelry, theirs was based on a triangle cuz you think of mental health being the three pillars kind of thing. And so that was their version. They wanted everyone to stay balanced and they made different jewelry right in the classroom and very unique little pieces as well. So I’m it, it’s very exciting to see what they come up with. And every year they surprise me and I learn so much from them. And it’s fun.


Sam Demma (11:59):

I was Gonna say, I’m sure there’s lots of labor, but it’s, it sounds like for you, it’s a labor of love, you know, like it’s a, it’s an exciting labor. What makes you so passionate about teaching entrepreneurship? Like why, why do you think it’s so important to give these students these opportunities to start these little companies in their classrooms?


Margot Arnold (12:17):

Well, I think with this program, the skill sets that they can come out of, it will certainly prepare them for life. Hmm. There’s a lot of communication. There’s a lot of negotiation there’s analyzing there’s parole and solving decision, making all those kind of things and mostly teamwork if they can work well as a team, because of course getting out there in the real world, they have to do that. So that’s interesting at a teenager level and teenagers managing teenagers. So there’s always the strong personalities versus the other personalities. And I just say, you gotta find a way to make it work. And we’ve had some drama I have to admit, but I say work it out and they do.


Sam Demma (13:05):

Oh, that’s awesome. And I know aside from, oh, sorry, continue.


Margot Arnold (13:07):

I was just gonna say lots of great friendships come outta that too, because they work in groups that they may not have ever worked in any other classes.


Sam Demma (13:15):

That’s a phenomenal point. I even think about the little initiatives that we’ve started in Pickering and some of the things that we used to do in high school, it it’s almost like extracurricular activities are an equalizer or like a friendship maker, you know, because you might talk to certain people in class, but then, you know, there’s a, another kid in the corner of the room who has the same interest as you, that you’ve never to, before I went out of your way to talk to, and you’ll meet them at this, at this business idea or at an extracurricular activity. So I think it’s a phenomenal way. Not only to build new skills, but to meet new people. I wish I had your class when I was in, when I was in high school. I think it would’ve been a blast to get involved in that.


Margot Arnold (13:55):

I was just gonna say when I was in high school too, they did it as an after school program. So these students are very lucky that they can take it as a credit program and get an entrepreneurship through 30 credit out of it.


Sam Demma (14:05):

Now, is this something that other school boards or other teachers listening can approach JA and try and do the same thing? Or like how did it start for you?


Margot Arnold (14:12):

It, it started for me in 2014 when the ministry of education came down and, and we had a one-on-one meeting and asked if I would, they wanted to pursue students learning entrepreneurship. So they thought this hands on program is a great way of doing it. I used to have students write fictitious business plans as a final project. So they got to write a business plan and all that’s entailed, but when you can actually implement it and see how it comes to fruition, that makes all the difference in the world. So we do have more schools in the south have taken on JA in their classrooms. I know that in Saskatoon, more in the north, they usually present it as an afterschool program. So it hasn’t flourished there in their entrepreneurship, 30 classes, as much as it has in the Southern part of the, of, but the students that do participate in the Ja are eligible to apply for Ja Canada scholarships.


Margot Arnold (15:20):

Hmm. And only if you’ve taken the class, Ja Saskatchewan then would come out, came out to, after I agreed to take it on Ja Saskatchewan came out to my classroom and they did that. Sorry, can I stop for one moment? Yeah, no worries. Did that ding come through on your end? Okay. That’s okay. I’m thinking I should have maybe closed my email when they, so they came out, Katherine G for vagina was the president at that time and she came out and she explained the whole thing and I thought, okay, this sounds kind of cool. And of course, naturally you’re a little bit leery cuz what you were doing, you thought was working and now let’s try something new. Yep. Which is always scary. So I just see even myself from day one to, this is my 21st company coming up. And that being said, it’s not just one company per class.


Margot Arnold (16:16):

One time I had the, I think the video was focused on my three during that class because you, if they’re willing to take on that leadership position, they could have a group of eight. There was a girl in Yorkton, a group of one and she had her own company and, and she Ja likes you to produce a product or provide a service. And it’s harder to provide a service in a one hour class, but with COVID we are in two and a half hour blocks right now in morning and afternoon. So I have entrepreneurship all morning or all afternoon, like it goes morning, alternates new in the next class. And so that becomes a little bit of a challenge too, because it’s a five day AB block. Mm. So you may not see those students for a good week to 10 days. Yes. So a lot of communication has to be done outside and be on top of that.


Sam Demma (17:13):
I’m sure they create slack groups and, and, and they all have a, a unique way of communicating. I, I would assume that they would work on this stuff even outside the classroom, if they’re super passionate about it, is that what ends up happening?


Margot Arnold (17:26):

Does actually. And depending on the item, as I said, and the amount of time it takes for production pre COVID, we were able to have production nights. And those were a lot of fun because it was after hours or weekends and I would come and, and we usually would have food because food’s a good thing to motivate teenagers. And, and so I would bring in food or we might order pizza in or something like that. And it was fun because they could they were working, but they were socializing. And right now that’s obviously missing right now. But I really was pleased when I was reading my final evaluation questions from first semester and the one student he said you know, most of our classes are pretty silent, pretty quiet for the two and a half hours, but I am so grateful that this class had that socialization and it made you forget you were in a pandemic. And so that one kind of warn my heart when I heard that, because of course anything we can do to build that community relationship right now. So students aren’t feeling as isolated.


Sam Demma (18:40):

That’s the goal that’s so important, especially during a time like COVID 19. And I know that you have also served as the SRC advisor for or multiple years. You’ve organized provincial conferences. You’ve probably seen dozens of speakers. Why, what makes you passionate about student leadership? Also?


Margot Arnold (19:01):

I think I am just really passionate about helping students be the best they can be. Hmm. And I always say kind of an it’s funny analogy, but it’s like a tomato when you are green and when a tomato’s green, it has to ripen, but if a tomato’s red and it sits there and sits there and sits there, it will rot. Mm. So I always say, push yourself outta that comfort zone. It’s not gonna feel good, but you will grow. And I use another analog, yo wipey, you only get out what you put in.


Margot Arnold (19:39):

And that’s what their companies are all about. And, and that’s true for all relationships really, and your schoolwork and everything in life. So just I love business. I love technology. Those are constant changing all the time. So I think that is exciting cuz every day’s different.


Sam Demma (19:57):

Yeah, no, I, I totally agree. And I love the acronyms and the use of the tomato. I have a story that I share with middle school students about my Italian grandfather and trying to get him to quit smoking by burning all of his cigarettes. And then the story I talk about how he comes. So the back of the cottage and his face is as red as a tomato. And I show a picture of him with a tomato head and all these kids just start laughing so much. But analogies are so powerful. Student leadership is, is so powerful. Giving students examples of people who have, who have done things that maybe they’re striving to do is so powerful. What is your advice to an educator who might want to start a JA chapter at their school or, you know, perhaps pitch to their principal to start allowing them to teach entrepreneurship? Like what would be the best way for them to go about it?


Margot Arnold (20:47):

I, I think obviously talk to your principal, get them on board, get your division on board, but contact your JA chapter in the province. And they would be more than willing to come in. And right now Catherine would come in, she’d FaceTime in, she’d Skype in, but she said she’s brought me in to kind of mentor other teachers. We used to get together first and second semester and what works, what doesn’t work in Regina. And so that I could help new teachers get going. So I have done some video calls with other teachers to help, help them get going. And so our province right now is looking at an entrepreneurship 20 and 30. And we’re just trying to decide cuz whether we need that or whether we, we don’t have prerequisites. So the ministry doesn’t, so would you take 20 and 30 or would you just jump into to 30?


Margot Arnold (21:51):

So just some things to consider that we’re working through, but Jas Canada has been phenomenal. Jay Saskatchewan’s been phenomenal and I wouldn’t go back to teaching any other way. Students prefer this business leaders think it’s great. I have business people come in because they do a formal board meeting. They chair it. So they learn about how that works with motions and things like that. And they present their business plan and those business people give them feedback, they share their expertise. And have you thought about this or did you think about that or they’ll come in and help them if they’re having trouble figuring out their startup costs or how to set that sweet spot of price, making sure everything’s covered in the unexpected. So the chamber commerce gets involved in way and a local businessman is on board and he comes to our meetings and then community development community, future sunrise. She comes to the meetings too. So she’s been there from the start. So I have such support from the wave community and they want to help students learn business and they are all, I always think, I wonder if this is gonna be the company that struggles and they always finish strong so far.


Sam Demma (23:17):

That’s awesome. I was knock on wood. Yeah. When you were when you were thinking of, when you were stating that you have so much support, I was thinking of the quote, if you want to go fast, go alone. And if you wanna go far go together and I think it it’s so true that it takes a village of people to bring an idea to life, to support a young person. So kudos to you and everyone involved in the project. I think it’s phenomenal. If someone’s listening to this and they wanna take you up on the offer to maybe just reach out and set up a call with you, what would be the best way for another educator to reach out?


Margot Arnold (23:54):

So I of course, or email, yeah, we could email me. We could, I if we put it on how we do that, but margotarnold@secpsd.ca. It stands for Southeast Cornerstone Public School Division. I’m also on LinkedIn.


Sam Demma (24:26):

No, that sounds great, please. That, that, that works just fine. Margot, thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation. It was awesome. Please keep me updated on what’s going on with the students and the projects I look forward to seeing the impact that it makes in the community.


Margot Arnold (24:42):

Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.


Sam Demma (24:46):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Margot Arnold

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.

Lara Spiers – Secondary Vice-Principal at Durham Catholic District School Board

Lara Spiers – Secondary Vice-Principal at Durham Catholic District School Board
About Lara Spiers

Lara (@MrsLSpiers) is a secondary school educator and administrator. She is the secondary vice-principal at Durham Catholic District School Board. She taught me (Sam) when I was in high school! She has her Master of Education – MEd focused in Educational Leadership and Policy Development from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.

Her passions include Analytical Skills, E-Learning, Student Counseling, Critical Thinking, and Social Justice Pedagogy.

Connect with Lara: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Durham Catholic District School Board

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

George Couros’ “Innovator’s Mindest”

Kristin Souers and Pete Hall’s “Fostering Resilient Learners”

Tony Robbins

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview Lara Spiers. Our guest today was one of my high school teachers. We haven’t stayed in touch as much, although it was a breath of fresh air to have a conversation with her on the podcast. She is now a vice principal at a Secondary School Catholic school out in Whitby, Ontario.


Sam Demma (01:04):

And she’s in the midst of completing her masters of education, which is focused in educational leadership and policy development from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. She is super passionate about e-learning student counseling, critical thinking, social justice and philosophy slash religion. And I’m super excited to dive into a bunch of different topics on today’s conversation. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed the conversation and I will see you on the other side, Lara, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. You know, it started from sitting in your religion class or English class religion, religion.


Lara Spiers (01:48):

It was religion. I’ll never forget it.


Sam Demma (01:50):

I’m already outdating myself already forgetting about high school.


Lara Spiers (01:53):

I’ll ever forget you. No, not really. I, I remember that you had brought in cake, I think your mom had made banana bread or, or something along those lines for my birthday. No. And I just thought that that was so classy and delicious. So that’s my favorite things.


Sam Demma (02:06):

No, I love that. Well, why don’t you start by introducing yourself, just sharing a little bit about, you know, how you got into the role you’re in education right now. And where that, where that spark or desire came from to be a teacher?


Lara Spiers (02:19):

It’s a loaded question, but I’ll try. So this I’ve been in education for about 15 years or 16 years and it wasn’t really something that I always wanted to do to, you know, to be Frank. I always saw myself in law, I really enjoyed thinking about, you know, ethics and morality and right and wrong. And I thought that I would be kind of one of those crusaders always in defense. Right. Never impressed. But as I got closer to the actual, I even applied to, I took the LSATs and I applied to law schools. And, and as I was going through the application process is when I actually started thinking about the type of life that I wanted to lead. So Le less about the ideas and more about the actual results, right? The fruit of the labor.


Lara Spiers (03:06):

And I realized, and I was holding both acceptances in my hand, right? One for Osgood, one for U of T or OISE. And I realized that the one path was, you know, what I had always wanted, but it wasn’t the actual life that I wanted to lead. It was what I wanted as a child. And I realized as I was aging, that, you know, it wouldn’t be as meaningful as a life dedicated to the service of others. So that’s why I chose teaching cuz that’s exactly what I consider teaching to be. You know, I’m not strong enough to to start a nonprofit. I’m not going to green peace or I’m probably not saving any whales, you know, or, or golfing. I won’t intentionally hurt them, but I, this is, this is my contribution to the world. I, I firmly believe it right through education.


Lara Spiers (03:52):

So that, that is what drives me. And and now this year I’m in a different role, I’m vice principal at a, a high school. And I see that as an extension, that’s the reason I wanted to move out of the classroom and into, you know, this sphere was really to exert that influence whatever positive kind of change or that I could possibly bring to as many kids as possible. Right. So onwards and upwards. I mean to, if you’ve got it, you gotta give it. Yeah, no it’s talent, everyone. It’s so true. That’s, that’s the name of the game?


Sam Demma (04:27):

What, what sparked the desire to teach though when you were in that moment, holding both acceptance letters, bring back, you know, if it wasn’t, if it wasn’t law, how come it wasn’t something totally outside of teaching? Like why a teacher specifically?


Lara Spiers (04:43):

Well, because that’s the best way to change the world. Mm. The best way to change the world is to, is to educate the youth. And the best way to enact positive social change is to make sure that those values are transmitted through the next generation. So parenting is one of the most important jobs that they is one of the hardest and one of the most important. Yeah. And and you’ll know that one day, you know, I hope and and then teaching teaching is the next year in local parentis. You’re, you’re the parent substitute for those children. And even if you’re a teenager, you’re still a child, right. Sorry, sorry. I left true. And you know, it’s a huge responsibility, but with great, you know, work with great effort comes great reward. And the reward for me is like, even the fact that I’m sitting here today, having this chat with you, right. I didn’t I’m not taking, you know, credit for your goodness and your, you know, greatness, but I was a part of your story. And I think that that’s quite something, you know.


Sam Demma (05:44):

True story. Yeah. It’s and, and you’re a part of student stories who you might even never hear from again. And they could have had a hu you know, you could have had a huge impact on them. I find it really funny, but I find it makes sense that when I reach out to educators and I ask them to come on the show, I always get a couple of responses, you know, first being, no, why do you wanna talk to me? And, and second, usually being, I don’t wanna talk about myself. And, and I realize that like every educator says it, but it’s because the work that they do day in and day out to them becomes so natural, so normal. And they almost get this curse of knowledge where the things that they might have and possess that might be beneficial to others. They just think are normal things that everyone knows.


Lara Spiers (06:30):

That’s very astute, you know, that’s, that’s a, I, I think you’re absolutely right. The curse of knowledge well is being for sure. I mean, as Socrates said, right, the, the truly educated man knows that he knows nothing, nothing. Right? Like it, the more, you know, the more you become aware of how little, you know, right. And that’s also true that that comes from lifelong learning. That’s not, I don’t think that’s just for educators, but I personally am a strong advocate for you know, self improvement and betterment and learning and knowledge and all that good stuff. Right. Because that’s how that shapes your perspective of the world and other people. And that lets you kind of see the path that lays before you. Right. I think that’s the only way. Also why history is so important too, because you have to check out the trails that other people have left before you.


Lara Spiers (07:16):

Right. I think all, it all comes down to really humility. If you have the virtue of humility, then you have a sense that you’re just like a little bit, like you’re a piece you’re a grain of sand and it’s really mind blowing to think about it that way. Like, if you think about your experience in your life as being just a, you know, a, like such a small part of, of kind of the universe and you know, that’s the sort of thing I think about all the time. It’s like, and that’s probably why for me anyway, I don’t wanna talk about myself and well, I’m so great. You know, I’m a great teacher because you know, again, who that question, who am I right? Who am I? And I struggled with that a lot, actually the first few years of teaching, especially you know, this impart of knowledge, decider of grades, you know, like you’re, you know, you pass, you fail, you know, it’s like a gladiator, you know, like yeah.


Lara Spiers (08:11):

Thumbs up, thumbs down. But I’ve come to terms with that. Like I got the more you become familiar or accustomed to kind of being that helper. You stop seeing yourself as less of like a Sage, you know, Sage on the Sage and then your guide on the side. Yeah. That we can all be that we can all be a guide on the side. Right. And I’m not gonna have all the answers for you, certainly not today and not in the classroom either. Right. But that’s because the answers are all always, there are always more questions than answers and that’s part of the fun.


Sam Demma (08:44):

Tell me more about what helped you shift your mindset. Now I can tell you a crazy story right now. Like when I first started speaking in schools, I used to post a picture at every school saying, look at me how great I am speaking at a school. And you know, I turned 21 and I sat myself down and had like an honest reflection on my social, social media usage and the way I was putting myself out there. And I just decided, like, I don’t think this is helpful to the young people that I’m speaking to. Like they’re looking at these pictures, probably thinking, I don’t know if I can ever speak on a stage in front of 500 people that makes to me nervous. And, and so I stopped posting all that stuff. And in fact, I’ve been taking a social media break aside from Twitter, which a girl named Rachel helps me manage. And I haven’t posted anything in the past like five months. And I’m trying to make that shift from Sage on a stage to a guide. Right. The helpful guide. And I’m curious to know kind of what helped you make that shift when you were of starting your teaching journey?


Lara Spiers (09:37):

Well, it wasn’t, I think a lot of, a lot of it really came down to this board I had from other teachers, like the teachers have been there longer than me. I know you’ve spoken about Mr. Loud foot quite a lot in the past, right? Yeah. He was, I worked with him at St. Mary. He, we were in the same department, Mr. Eck. Miss Menardi, who’s still there Mr. Val Aaron shadow. Mr. V shadow. Mr. V. Well, these are the people that you know, I maybe it’s like this for other careers. I don’t know, but certainly in education it can be a lonely job, you know, you think you’re always kind of surrounded by by people or by kids, but it’s isolating, it’s very isolating. And I think a lot of people are struggling with that very much so now. But if you’re lucky, like I was you’ll have, excuse me, you’ll have the support of people that not only maybe have a lot more wisdom than you do, but are willing to share it. So that was what got me through definitely those first few years, like, you know, I’m thinking back now and it feels a lifetime ago to be honest, but I, I am constantly every step I take. I, I know that I’m doing so because of the support I had of those colleagues of mine.


Sam Demma (10:47):

Oh, that’s awesome. And for an educator who might be just starting to teach now, it might be a little, it’s scary. It might be a little different, but do you have any P of wisdom that you could share with someone who’s just starting now?


Lara Spiers (11:01):

No. No. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Like, it’s, it’s the ones that it’s those individuals and I think this is translatable across profession. If you act like, you know, everything or you’re, you’re kind of in that frame of mind where you have perfected your in ever you know, it’s, you’re the furthest thing from it. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s like an oxymoron right. Of sorts. It’s a, it’s that humility piece, but it’s also just reality that, you know, we are not going to be able to you know, invent fire alone. Right? Yeah. We’re not going to be able to move mountains alone. They can be moved even though it’s these tasks seem Herculean and impossible, but but they’re not in community, in you know, a consortium of individuals working together, figuring out best practices. Like the only thing I actually just wrote for our yearbook, I don’t wanna give too much away cuz you know, the kids are gonna read it in the fall. But I, I had to write like a message of support and kind of words of wisdom. And I, they probably were only asking for like a line.


Lara Spiers (12:10):

Yeah. I did actually wrote an essay about how the heck I’m gonna tell you about how you want to embrace failure, how to, you know, lower your expectations because the root of all disappointment in life comes from high expectations. And if you are constantly expecting perfection of yourself, of others, of the world, then you are inevitably invariably disappointed. And sometimes that disappointment is like a, a small word. Like sometimes you are traumatized, you’re, you’re torn, you’re you’re done. Right. Because you think, oh my gosh, things are not the way I thought they would be. My life is over my life is ruined. I stink, you know, I’ll never get it. Yeah. And it’s, it’s Ugh, awful. Like it’s a very normal human feeling it’s natural and it takes effort to really get yourself out of that mindset. But that’s something that I’ve been, I’ve strive driven to do you know, over the years.


Lara Spiers (13:05):

And I think when you teach religion and you know, I have a background in philosophy that helps, right. And a lot philosophy, you know, some people are, you’re feel philosophical or you’re not right. So I guess I am. But it, it really is about kind of reframing your expectations of, of who you are and what you want and how you’re gonna get there. And it doesn’t mean settling for less. It, it doesn’t mean like accepting that you’ll, you’ll be a failure. It means seeing that failure as actually just in the road. Right. And I, and I think, you know what I mean? Right. In terms of having a path and then the path changes. And does that mean because I’ve taken a different road, does that mean I’m never gonna get to my destination? Well, maybe you’ll get to a different destination, but I mean the car doesn’t stop moving. Yep. We don’t stop living and we don’t stop growing if we, if we choose to keep our mind open and we choose to keep learning.


Sam Demma (13:58):

No, it’s so true. And I think you’re right. Our, our expectations either make us happy or disappointed dependent on the result that occurs. I think what’s really cool. Is that in any specific scenario or situation, we get to choose what we perceive as real. Like we get to, we get to choose our perception, which, you know, Mike, Latford always used to say your perception is your reality. And we would, we all, didn’t get it back when we were in high school. And that can be dangerous though.


Lara Spiers (14:24):

Yeah. You have to, you have to watch with that. Right. Because what you’re talking about.


Sam Demma (14:28):

Oh, I totally, I totally agree.


Lara Spiers (14:31):

Right. Right. Cause certain, sometimes that can be used to twist in bad ways.


Sam Demma (14:34):

Yeah.


Lara Spiers (14:36):

Right. Just look to our neighbors in the south. Yep. And you know, we’ll say no more, cuz this is not a political podcast. Yeah. We’ll talk about another time. Very true perception, reality. Right. I can choose to see this 75 as, you know, a great mark or I can choose to see it as a disaster. Yeah. And I mean, there are students I talk to and, you know, always have as a teacher, but maybe even more so now as an admin students and parents who are devastated by receiving like an eight, like an 80, 85, you know, this is this won’t do, you know, and, and looking outward, looking like who to blame, what, what, how can I fix this? And that’s the sort of thing that you can’t really fix. Like, well, you can’t fix it. I can’t fix it for you them because it requires that shift from within.


Sam Demma (15:26):

Yeah. They have to change what they believe is success or yeah. You mean, yeah. So it’s so, so true. How do you manage to differentiate between expecting a lot out of a student that, you know, has a ton of potential and not being disappointed if they don’t fulfill it or if they, you know, over exceed? Like I know that there’s a difference there talking?


Lara Spiers (15:46):

About like my own children now at home, because I totally could translate there and even of ourselves, yeah. Right. That’s, that’s towing the line. It’s it’s a daily adjustment. It’s a minute by minute adjustment, to be honest, it’s not like you can find the formula of expectation versus reality and say, oh, there it is. I’m done. You know, I will live in bliss forever more. Days I think anyone, one who’s trying to do anything. Like I’ve never really been into sports, let’s say, but I, but I played the piano for many years. Like I took lessons for about 15 years and the musical, like I’ve never been as nervous as I had to be when I had to play the piano. Like if I had a concert or I had a competition, oh my goodness. Like still to this day, like that was just the, the height of nerves.


Lara Spiers (16:34):

And I imagine that that’s the case even for the most seasoned of professionals. Right. And and athletes and what have you, because those performances, you can practice a million times, right? Yeah. And you get better of course. Right. And you do become more seasoned, however, game time, never know, right. Like that it’s you win or you lose or you fall or you make it like it’s it’s not in our control. So I don’t think I have, I don’t think I, I manage my expectations perfectly all the time. Right. I think I’m constantly reevaluating. Like I tend to spend a lot of time reflecting and I think most teachers good teachers, they do are, they’re constantly reflecting on their practice, on their lessons. How did that go? The way I expected it to go, what will I adjust for next time?


Lara Spiers (17:24):

And the good thing about teaching is that you do to like, in a way you do kind of get to relive the experiences, right? Like yeah. Each master each year, you, you get kind of fresh starts, you know? And, and we get used to a new new school year and new classes, new kids. Right. And the good teachers, I think there are not just living the same year over and over and over. Like, I read a good quote one time and don’t ask me who it was. I don’t remember. But it was like, you could have 20 years of experience, but you could be reliving the same year, 20 times. Right. Are you really improving or are you recycling? Mm. Recycling is good, but not in this case. Right. Like, you know it’s important. It’s important to be reflective. And I tend to do that every single day. Whether I’m conscious of it or not, you know, I don’t necessarily journal. I know people journal and they love it. I think I would love it. But even if you just do it informally with yourself, right. How did that work out? Was that what I expected to happen? What could I change for next time and just honing your, your practice, right. Teaching practice, but like life practice, so true. And that’s, you know, that’s what we’re all doing. We’re all figuring it out. We’ve never lived this day before.


Sam Demma (18:42):

Yeah, no, it’s, it’s so true. When I first started speaking one of the, one of the first mentors I made his name’s Chris and he’s in his fifties and he’s been for 20 years, he told me, get yourself a notebook. And after every presentation you give, make three columns, the first one says add, if you, if you said something that you didn’t expect, you were gonna say, and the students loved it. And it was a really great point. You write it down to make sure you include it next time. Third second column said change. Maybe you worded something really poorly. And it was taken outta context. You have to, you know, readjust what you’re gonna say next time. And then the third column is remove if you, you know, crack a terrible joke and nobody laughs and you’re gonna take that out of the presentation. Yeah. And after doing the work a hundred times to a hundred different schools, by being proactive in reflecting and giving all feedback, the presentation looks totally different. And I would say it’s probably the same with, with teaching. I’m missing like every year or after each lesson, a teacher would sit down and kind of go through a similar exercise again.


Lara Spiers (19:41):

I would hope like this is what a good teacher would do. This is what a good practitioner would do. Just like a doctor, like the things, think of things that they call practice. Like that’s why I mentioned like earlier, right. Cuz you’re practicing and performing teachers are performing right. And practicing medicine. You’re practicing medicine. Yeah. Because there is no definitive static answer that will be a one size fits all or one, one cure. All right. It’s a constant re reimagining reinvigoration. You’re constantly learning. You’re going to seminars. You’re adapting based on demographics. You’re adapting based on economics. You’re adapting based on COVID. Yeah. You know, and who knew who thought we would have to adapt in the way that we have, like we’re all Gumby. Right. We’re all in.


Lara Spiers (20:30):

And that’s and that’s what we do. Like that’s called survival of the fittest, so to speak, it’s very Darwinian. Yeah. You know, but it’s, it’s, we’re evolving as we speak. I honestly do feel that way. Like it’s, it’s imperceptible of course. Right. But, but we have evolved as a society. And we only track that, you know, by looking back of course. Right. But I think in the last year we’ve had a huge leap in our advancement, in our evolution, in our technological advancement because of our our situation and our challenges. So that’s, that’s the bright side of of having, for having yourself kind of be in a situation that you didn’t really want. You know, like the like COVID and et cetera, but also working together with the people around you and, and finding your way through and seeing the, seeing the silver lining and the, the hope and the love of others. Yeah. And really the rise in solidarity.


Sam Demma (21:27):

Yeah. I think honestly there was a couple months where I felt super isolated and alone when COVID first hit, but I have to agree with you as it progressed, things have like totally changed. And again, if I was always looking at the negative sides of the, the issue, I would’ve always felt those emotions, but I started looking at the great things that were happening because of it. And I, I changed how I felt about it as well. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still crazy. And there’s so many, yeah. There’s so many struggles, you know.


Lara Spiers (21:57):

But just from, from a teacher’s perspective, like, you know, we we’ve advanced cuz cuz people are generally slow to change. Right. Institutions especially are slow to change. Right. Like look at the churches for instance. Right. And that’s what we like about them. Right. If institutions change too rapidly, then we would lose our grounding you know, in society. Right. We’d kind of fly off the, the planet. But this has forced, like I said, you know, that that evolution in thinking we’ve, we’ve been forced to reimagine our practices and it’s been like, like PD, do you know what PD like professional development? Yeah. It’s been like a year of PD for every day. All day. Everyone. Yeah. Like even those. So like I’m a nerd, right. I always like to learn and read and yeah. You know, kind of, oh, look what they’re doing over here, you know?


Lara Spiers (22:42):

But not everybody is, is that way. And I understand, but this has kind of thrusted upon us where I think across the board we’ve seen the, the highest kind of rates of, I, I don’t wanna, I’m hesitant to use the word improvement, but of change we’ll say change. Right. Innovation, innovation. Yeah, that’s right. That’s one of my favorite books for teachers is called the innovators mindset and it’s and it’s great. It’s by George Couros. Oh cool. And he’s got he’s got wonderful ideas about how to change cultures in the school and, and how to like adopt best practices and, and use the word out there. And that’s probably one of my greatest sources of inspiration of inspiration for my current job. Yeah.


Sam Demma (23:27):

Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. Shout out. Maybe we get, we post the episode and maybe he’ll he’ll listen to it.


Lara Spiers (23:34):

Go. He has a podcast as well.


Sam Demma (23:36):

Oh, very cool. That’s awesome. On the topic of books and being a nerd, what are some other books or resources that you’ve read that have reshaped some of your thinking about how you’ve done your work or that you’ve pulled inspiration from?


Lara Spiers (23:50):

Okay, well just recently, I mean, I’ve read a few books over the summer. I read a book called fostering resilient learners, which was very inspiring in the sense of, you know, kind of seeing seeing people through the lens of trauma informed approach. And and that’s something I don’t think we all always think about as teachers, we tend to kind of, some of us can focus too much maybe on the curriculum itself, which is very important, however, not as important as the per the human being in front of you. So that’s my own, that’s my personal philosophy, which is backed up by, you know, science and and definitely, you know, from a mental wellness perspective. So trauma informed thinking I, I was reading a lot of information about culturally relevant pedo pedagogy. Geez, I’m getting tongue tied here.


Lara Spiers (24:38):

There’s a lot of words. Yes. Culturally relevant pedagogy, which is a relatively new field with critical race theory. And it’s again, reframing the narrative that we have been telling ourselves as, you know, me a, a white individual for, you know, an entire lifetime. Right. And it’s again, perspective taking right. It’s one of the, one of the most difficult things to do is to not have sympathy for others, but yet to actually have true empathy. And we use that word, like it gets used so much, right. Empathy empathize, but what it really means is, is quite difficult. Right. It’s quite difficult to actually see, you know, a scenario from another person’s perspective. And even when we try, we’re not actually going to do it, like there’s no way we will never match or mirror another person’s experience and history and feelings and sentiments. Right.


Lara Spiers (25:30):

Doesn’t mean that we don’t, that the endeavor is not necessary. Right. So the last book, the book that I read most recently over the summer that was along those lines was called white fragility. And it was like, it was so good. It was, have you read that book? I just started it. Oh, wonderful. Yeah. Well, there is a part cuz Sam, you know, we share the the Italian background, right? Yeah. There was one part there, especially that I found so actually practically useful because I’ve had you know, I grew up kind of sharing my my learning with my parents and I’m an only child. So, you know, I had nobody, I told my friend and what have you, but my parents were the prime depots for whatever I was learning in school that week. And so, you know, in university it’s like, don’t stop talking about philosophy all the time.


Lara Spiers (26:19):

We think you’re a psychologist, you know, because I would take psychology. Yeah. And then I became a teacher stop talking to me like, I’m one of your students you know, over the years and older Italian people, you know, generally have particular particular ideas and I don’t wanna stereotype them all. But you know, the older generation in general is, is not as attuned to 21st century social politics, right. Like, you know, as we are, that’s just the fact. So I’ve been, it’s been my mission to kind of move them along in the spectrum. Right. And yeah. Even use words like spectrum with, with regarding like, you know, sexuality and human experience and yeah. And racism. And my mother for years has insisted that you know, Italians faced a lot of racism, a lot of discrimination in the fifties and which they did. Right. But there’s a, there’s a part in the book that really frames that experience in the, in the, and compares it to anti-black racism of today in such a where it’s like, you know what guys? No, it’s not the same.


Sam Demma (27:26):

Yeah. It’s not, it’s not the same apples and oranges.


Lara Spiers (27:29):

Exactly. I mean, they’re both fruits, you know, let’s steal from my big fat Greek wedding now. Right. We’re both, but which I showed you in grade 10 religion, by the way. Yeah. I remember. But yeah, it’s not the same, so it’s, that’s okay. And it’s okay. Not to be sure. And it’s okay not to understand and it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to say, you know, I’m learning and it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to, you know, move on from them. So yeah.


Sam Demma (27:55):

All those so good. So such a good, such a good lessons to take home.


Lara Spiers (28:01):

I’m cooling you. No, no, it’s, it’s not, not like that. It’s just it’s I think we should be always helping each other. Like, it doesn’t matter that, you know, the fact that I’m a teacher or the fact that I’m, whoever, you know, is, is helpful, I guess. Right. Because at least you can, you know, you know, to trust what the person is saying, right. If it’s like, they’re a P they have a PhD and, or they’re an expert in their field, but they don’t have all the answers.


Sam Demma (28:24):

No one does. No one does. I think it’s just important. I think it’s important that we all be like aunt. And this is an interesting analogy I heard, but there’s you probably know him, Jim Rowan. He’s like a he’s passed away now. He was one of the early mentors of like Tony Robbins. Who’s like all into like self-help and personal development. And he said, this analogy, Jen, one of his tapes, you know, he had tapes back in the day. This just outdates me a lot. But one of his young, I dunno.


Lara Spiers (28:54):

What are these tapes you speak of?


Sam Demma (28:55):

Yeah. In one of, in one of his tapes, he was talking about being like an aunt and he said, you know, and when an aunt is carrying a piece of food or doing a job, it doesn’t it. And stop. If you step in its way, it’ll just go around your shoe or it’ll find a new path. And I think like that’s important for anyone, whether you’re a teacher or any, any person working any job, it’s like, you know, you might, you might hit a brick wall and then you’re gonna have to find a different way around it, but don’t drop the food and just call it a day, you know, figure it out, find, find a different answer, ask somebody or help read another book, gain a different perspective.


Lara Spiers (29:30):

That’s one of the single most important pieces of advice. I think you can give people, read a book. Mm. Read, read, read, and make sure that you read a variety of sources. Yeah. Right. If you don’t wanna read a physical book, get a knee reader, I don’t care, but I need a book. You need, you need that knowledge. Right. That that’s the only way that’s literally the only way it’s like expecting to be a chef, but you don’t wanna touch food. Mm it’s not gonna happen. Yeah. Right. You need, you need the raw dough to make the pizza pie. You know, you, you need the information so that you know how to feel about certain things, what, what to adopt, what practices to adopt, what, what ideas to dismiss. Right. And we, we’re so quick, you know, ideas to teach world religions for a long time.


Lara Spiers (30:12):

And and also just, you know ethics, but we’re so quick to rely on our gut feeling and, and our gut can be useful, especially in an ethical sense. It can alert us if we have had the right experiences. And if we have had you know, the proper socialization, we’ll say it can alert us to dangerous situations and, you know, maybe wrong situations, but the only way to really know why or how, or to even sometimes know if what you’re feeling is correct, is, is that knowledge yes. You know? And I think it’s, I think we’re to, of like, we’re too quick to judge a lot of times, like that sounds trite, but, you know, and I don’t wanna start saying I blame social media, you know, but I kinda do. I, I blame, I blame a lot of our conveniences. I blame my cell phone for the reason why I don’t seem to be able to remember anyone’s phone number anymore. Right. My AI is getting a lot smarter than me and and then the robots are gonna win Sammy. And then what are you gonna do? Like we have to hold on to our humanness. Yeah. As long as, you know, as long as we can. And ultimately that just comes down to relationships and taking care of others and learning for of mothers.


Sam Demma (31:24):

I love it. If you could, if you could create a time that’s, if you could create a time machine, you know, using AI and travel back in time and speak to yourself the first year you started teaching, what would you say? Like, what would you tell your younger self based on what you know now? And I, you know, I know you have the mindset of you. I know, I know very little, but with.


Lara Spiers (31:46):

Or something, you know, why do I have to go back to Jesus? Right after I met with Jesus and said, what’s up, I would I’d go back to myself. And I would, I would warn myself that I was gonna get sick a lot cuz you know, jurors. But also I think just to trust myself and trust trust people and, and just really reiterate the, the fact that, you know, just because we don’t have the answers now doesn’t mean we’re not on the right path. And even if I didn’t know what the path was gonna be just to kind of follow, follow what I know is right. Make sure to treat other people well and and cultivate those relationships with the, with those that I had around me, you know, it took me a long time actually. Like when I, when I started, I was very hesitant, like I said to, to reach out right away.


Lara Spiers (32:34):

And I remember, you know, I, I was so focused on work, work work, and I had a VI, there was a vice principal at the time and his name is and he still is, he was a principal in our board. He is retired. His name is mark Lacey. And he conducted one of my first inter evaluations. Right. My teacher evaluation. And he was, he was impressed by my plan and he was impressed by what I did. And you know, here, I’m in my first year thinking that it’s garbage, you know, like, I don’t know, you know, I wasn’t always fold itself down and, and he said to me, he said, well, you know, you’re gonna be a, a leader in a school one day. And I think I giggled, you know, nervously like, oh, what do you mean? You know, I thought he was kind of putting up airs and but he was dead serious.


Lara Spiers (33:16):

And, and, and then I don’t remember the rest, but that line and his feedback that day has always stuck with me. And he’s also the one that when I the next year had to come and talk to me because I had been spending too much time in my portable, I had a portable. Right. And I would like have lunch in the portable and teach in the portable. And I was getting notes, like tunnel vision, right. About like, oh, I gotta do at the work time, et cetera, et cetera. And he said, you know, there’s more to teaching than teaching. I’m like, I don’t understand what do you mean? And I’m like, I’m just trying to do a good job. He’s like, no, no, that’s right. You are. But you have to also remember to, to step outta here, step out of this, like little Shelly and and head into this school and look around.


Lara Spiers (34:01):

Right. And to have a conversation with with other people and, and you know, get involved. And cause at that point, I don’t think I had even been involved in extracurriculars. And what have you, cause I’m naturally, I’m quite introverted, you know, as a general rule. And it was that conversation that really at first, like, no, no, no, I’m just, I’m gonna focus. I, you know, he doesn’t, I dunno, he’s got me mistaken with someone else, you know, and years later, oh my gosh, was he right? Like totally right. Yeah. Cause he knew he had the wisdom. Right. And he dropped it on me and it took me a bit to really appreciate it. And then it took Mr. Val, Karen, you know, to, to tap me and say, Hey, you know, there’s the group here that could use some help. You know, would you like to help?


Lara Spiers (34:46):

And you know, of course me saying, yes, cuz I was so flattered that he asked me, you know, and, and that group was the Alliance for compassion at St. Mary and and the rest was history. Right. And then it, it just became naturally it became my favorite part of work. That’s part of also the reason why I’m, I’m not in the classroom and why I’m here because that’s all I get to do that all the time. Now I get to work with, you know, other teachers and student groups and board level initiatives and like the equity steering committee and, you know, during the parent involvement committee and, and just trying to get our community as a whole to feel United, to feel connected and especially now, right. Have a little bit of grounding right. In, in some semblance of hope and love and you know, just spread the word.


Sam Demma (35:34):

Yeah. That that’s awesome. I love it. I love it. And if someone’s listening to this and at all inspired by the conversation or thought something, one of us said was interesting or something that you said was intriguing and they wanna learn more, what would be the best way for a fellow educator to reach out to you and maybe just have a conversation?


Lara Spiers (35:54):

That would be great. I personally, I love everything that you said Sammy. So why wouldn’t someone reach out? It’s lara.spiers@dcdsb.ca and that’s my email.


Sam Demma (36:11):

Lara, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I appreciate it.


Lara Spiers (36:17):

It’s cool to see you again. Thanks for asking.


Sam Demma (36:17):

Yeah, I know this has been awesome. I’ll stay in touch and keep up with the great work.


Lara Spiers (36:21):

For sure. Good luck to you. You too. We’re very proud.


Sam Demma (36:23):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lara Spiers

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.

Breanne Oakie – Teacher at Wolf Creek Public Schools

Breanne Oakie – Teacher at Wolf Creek Public Schools
About Breanne Oakie

Breanne teaches grade 7/8 in a smaller town in Alberta.  Instead of giving you a formal bio here, take a moment to read the below email highlighting the story she shared with me over email…

“Sam,

Thank you for an amazing session today.  It was emotional and I loved how you had us all involved.  The way you presented made it feel like we were actually together, which I think many of us needed to feel.  I’m sure you are going to get bombarded with emails today but I wanted to tell you a short story that touches on what you said about our worth.

I teach grade 7 and 8 in a smaller town. One year, my supervision schedule had me as the detention room supervisor.  This seemed very weird to me as I am not known to be a hard disciplinarian and I’m a bit of a talker and it’s not supposed to be a social time in the DT room.  On the lunch hours I supervised, I saw the same kids over and over, many from the year before who were in my grade 7 class so naturally I wanted to catch up with them, find out why they were there, what they needed help with etc.  Over time, they just seemed to present this sadness.  I decided to email them telling them that I hoped they didn’t judge their self worth by the time they spent in the detention room, with the conflicts they had with their teachers, that were worth so much more and in time they would recognize it.  They never responded to me but they were in grade 8 so emotionally, they aren’t always up to discuss their feelings.

A year later, I ran into one of the boys who was in high school now.  He said he thought I would be happy to hear that he had figured some things out and was doing really well at school and was feeling successful.  He said he hadn’t realized his role in his own learning – that he was responsible for attending class and actively listening to the lessons, for participating in discussion, for reviewing his notes, for being prepared.  He is graduating this year.

The other boy was struggling with family trauma, drug use as a coping mechanism, and touched base with me when he was in high school. We try to touch base every few months to just check in. He messaged me to not let Covid dim my light:) He is on schedule to graduate but has some challenges ahead for sure.

Both boys said they got my email when they were in grade 8 but that they didn’t know how to respond to that level of emotion but now that they are older, welcome any kind of motivating letter from their former teacher.  I’m pretty sure Covid will prevent me from attending their graduation but I am working on their grade 12 letter to send them on their way into the real world and I think I’ll reference some of the points you highlighted in your presentation.

Thanks for starting my day off perfectly,

Have a good one,

Breanne Oakie”

Get excited!  This was an amazing conversation! 

Connect with Breanne: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Wolf Creek Public Schools Website

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

Alberta Teachers’ Conventions

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Friday, February 19th, I got this email from today’s guest, Breanne Oakie. She was a part of the teacher’s association that I was keynoting at, speaking at a teacher convention out in Alberta, and she reached out and she ended up sharing this really long story over email which I thought needed to be heard by you, by other educators, by people that work with young people that might be inspired to hear this transformational story.


Sam Demma (01:13):
And so I invited her on the podcast and she came on and we had an amazing conversation about so many different things. She is a grade seven/eight teacher in an elementary school that’s a part of Wolf Creek public schools in the Alberta area, North Red Deer. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Breanne and I will see you on the other side. Bri, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do today?


Breanne Oakie (01:48):
So I’m a junior high teacher and I kind of fell into that by accident. My degree is in elementary and I, I taught kindergarten one year and then after that I was teaching grade seven grade/eight grade/grade nine, and I’ve been doing that for the past 15 years. And I actually really love that grade cuz it’s kind of this juxtaposition, I guess, of emotions. You know, they’re going through a lot of hormones. They don’t wanna talk to you, but they need to talk to you. And it’s just a, you know, people always say that that’s a hard age but it’s actually one of my, my favourite things to do is spend time with teenagers. Just you feel really validated when they choose you to listen to their stories.


Sam Demma (02:34):
Hmm. I love that. And I’m actually curious to know why you got into teaching. Did it, did you know from a young age, were you one of those people that just knew or did someone nudge you in that direction? How did you end up landing in education?


Breanne Oakie (02:46):
Ah, it was completely by accident. I actually wanted to be a veterinarian course and I went to university and was recommended to go through a conservation biology course degree through, through agriculture, which you could get into vet school if you had taken the right the right classes. And so my first two years were in science and I kind of got my butt whooped by statistics and math and the labs. And I was like, I don’t belong here. Like there’s things I love about this. I love the animal courses. I love the nature courses. I love all of those things, but living in the lab and, and the scientific method and I just aren’t agreeing like it was very hard. Yeah. And I don’t know if it was just because I didn’t spend enough time studying. I wasn’t prepared or maybe I just inherently it wasn’t for me.


Breanne Oakie (03:37):
Hmm. So I actually got asked by the university to take some time off and I took the year off and I was like, what am I gonna do? And I was pretty stressed out because I always thought like, you have to go to university like, this is, you have to end up back here. What the heck are you gonna do if you don’t go there? So I worked at a whole bunch of different jobs that year and I did take some night classes just to get some credits and I wrote a letter to the university and they let me come back on probation. Nice. for the same program. But I took all the options for education, but mostly because I asked my friends, I said, I don’t know what to do with myself. And they said, well, I don’t know why you’re not spending it with people because that’s what you like to do. And they were like, you should either do psych or why don’t you be a teacher? Like you love spending time with kids. So I got into education and immediately it’s completely different. Like there’s, there’s nothing really scientific about it. It’s all about talking, sharing philosophy. And I definitely belonged in that realm a lot better.


Sam Demma (04:40):
Ah, I love that. So growing up, did you have teachers that had a huge impact on you or would you say that most of your drive came from your friends pushing you in that direction?


Breanne Oakie (04:49):
I did have amazing teachers and I loved school. And I remember my kindergarten teacher. My grade one, two teacher was the same teacher for two years. And , I remember when I had to move, she had a big special day for me and I went to her house and spent time with her kids and, and I just remember feeling so loved and having so much choice in the things that those teachers offered. My grade four teacher, my grade six teacher, I just, they were doing so many things that we’d talk about now, like mindfulness, you know, taking that time to set intention for your day, sun salutations in gym class. And I remember thinking nice, like, man, we’re just talking about that stuff now. We’re still trying to implement that stuff now. But when I was, you know, nine years old, my teachers were doing that and I just feel like they were kind of ahead of the game and and they never really inspired me to be a teacher, but I definitely remember how I felt out around


Sam Demma (05:43):
Them. Hmm. Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. Maya Angelou always says you, you might not remember what people said, but you’ll remember how they, how they make you feel. Yeah. Which is awesome. How do you think we can make students feel how you felt back when you were in school today? Like what do you think is important to focus on as a teacher?


Breanne Oakie (06:04):
I think we have to realize for a lot of kids that they’re not like us, like not a lot of kids love school for academic reasons. Yeah. not a lot of the kids wanna go to university or that’s their plan, so they’re not, they’re not mirror images of us. So the very first thing we need to do is make that connection with, you know, what, what interests you. So if they play hockey, I spend a lot of time with hockey players in my school. Watching them play hockey. I don’t understand anything about hockey. I don’t have a favorite team. I don’t watch any NHL games, but I watch a lot of minor hockey. And they’ll be like, did you see my goal? Did you see this? And I’m like, I did see that, you know, and they wanna talk about it and they know that you will take the time and then it, it kind of segues into, you know, when they’re having a really bad day stress maybe about that or anything in their life, they know that, you know, maybe I’ll take some time to listen to their problem.


Breanne Oakie (06:54):
So I think it’s more just like that reconnection the heart to heart.


Sam Demma (06:58):
Yeah. Like


Breanne Oakie (06:59):
Listening. It’s not all, it’s not all curriculum. It’s not all academics.


Sam Demma (07:02):
Yeah. No, that’s awesome. I love that. Tell me more about what teaching right now specifically looks like for you is COVID having a big impact on the way you teach right now or is, is it still in person for you? How does that look?


Breanne Oakie (07:15):
It’s in person now. However, like our school is a 6, 7, 8 middle school and it used to be, we all had the same recesses and so the gym would be open and we’d all get to the kids, could all play in there at recess and the teachers could go in there and play basketball with, with them. And you could have relationships with kids in all different areas. Like I used to, I teach grade eight, but I coached grade six volleyball in the past. So I would know some of the grade sixes. And you can just have those, those ranges. And now we run our system on the grade, sixes have a completely different schedule. The sevens have a different schedule. The eights have different schedule. There is no mixing of grades. And so you can’t really connect with those kids. And like, it’s been a talk like a topic, get staff meetings, or the grade six teachers are like, you know, these grade seminars wanna come back to talk to us, but we’re teaching because their recess break is during our teaching time. And so we’re losing those connections when we’re trying to encourage them to have a person in the school, but the person is not necessarily the teacher that they have at the moment. It’s the person that they were connected to last year. And there’s a, there’s a gap there, right? Yeah. And we can’t have our classes intermingling. So if you know somebody from a different grade eight class and they wanna talk to you about a problem, they, they can’t come in your room. So you have to, it’s kind of hard.


Sam Demma (08:34):
Yeah. It’s a, it’s a weird time. And I’m gonna ask you, like personally, what has helped you with your teaching and what has helped you just stay positive during during the, the turbulence


Breanne Oakie (08:49):
Acts of service. I think it has affected me a lot. Like I remember crying because last year we were at home for three months and then we came back in September and then things started getting aggressive again. And they’re people like, I think we’re gonna shut down again. And I was like, no, no, no, no, no, we can’t do that. And I found out during a parent teacher meeting that the, like the, the government was having their meeting that night, that my husband was texting me. And he’s like, I think you guys are gonna be back at home next week. And I was like, what? I’m talking to parents right now. And one parent said, well, I just heard the news. So now, and I was like, what’s the news? And, and I, I remember crying cuz I was like, I do not like teaching kids because they disengage or they don’t have the internet.


Breanne Oakie (09:30):
And you don’t hear from them for so long. Mm-Hmm that it’s not the same as being in person. So for me to, to make myself feel better, I have to give back. So I did a lot of COVID drop offs. As soon as I heard that, I was like, okay, I’m gonna mark my calendar. And in two weeks I’m gonna, I’m gonna do these little drop offs for these people that I know are gonna need a little boost. And it makes me feel better, but I like to do it as a surprise, but they always know it’s me. Their parents always know to check the doors step, but it makes me feel better. And I know it’s ridiculous. Like some of the things that I put on their doorsteps are very,


Sam Demma (10:01):
Very funny. What do you put on them? Tell me .


Breanne Oakie (10:03):
Oh, well, so like I started last year, so like Easter, I made little Easter bunny eggs and I glued ears on the Ziplocs and I just dropped them all off and left a little message from the Easter bunny and then nice one summer was coming. I, my friend cleaning air basement. And she gave me this book of paper airplanes. So there was like premade ones, you just had to fold them. And so I folded like, like 10 of these airplanes and I had packages of sunflower seeds and I made a little tail and I just said just a little bit of sunshine for your day. And then I thought, well, they could flat them. So one of my students pictures over the summer of these sunflowers, like grow against her house. And then at Christmas I made little salt dough ornaments for their trees and just stuck them on their doorstep.


Breanne Oakie (10:43):
And it was actually a lot of work, but I think I needed to keep busy. I needed something to make me feel connected because we, we can’t see anybody. We can’t even talk to people in our school really. Like the teachers can’t have staff meetings together. You’re really not in proximity of people. You know, you can’t hug each other and I’m, I’m a very physical person. Yeah. That it’s hard when you’re going down the hall and they’re like, we have to be away from each other. So I just try to make people’s days in, in the smallest of ways, I guess.


Sam Demma (11:14):
I absolutely love that. It’s the whole idea of like being at the taco, right. yes, exactly. But such cool ideas, like who would’ve thought that a, something as small as a sunflower seed that a kid would be passionate about it, it plant them and send you pictures and now you, you can probably bond over that thing all the time. Like if they bring it up or if they send you a new picture or, you know, oh yeah.


Breanne Oakie (11:35):
If they always think that they’re my favorite, but I tell them that they’re all my favorites so I’m like, cause you got sunflowers. Someone else got something else. Like I love everyone. So yeah. But it is fun because then I, I get to have those relationships for years to come.


Sam Demma (11:48):
Right? Yeah. No, it’s so true. And sometimes, you know, a students like a sunflower, you know, sometimes you see them flourish, sometimes you don’t and, and sometimes they flourish 20 years later and, and you don’t really know the impact that you had, but I’m curious though, over your years of teaching, have you had any, have you witnessed any student transformations due to the, the love and attention from a caring adult? It could be you, it could be someone else in your school will. And the reason I’m asking is because there might be an educator listening, who’s burnt out and mm-hmm needs to be reminded why this work is so important. And I think, you know, seeing students transform and seeing students grow and become successful or become their best selves is one of the most rewarding things that this, this calling gives teachers. Mm-Hmm so when I ask you that question to any stories or students come to mind and, and if it’s private, you can change their name.


Breanne Oakie (12:39):
Yeah. yeah. I have ive had a few students. I have some students now that are either their twenties. I taught grade seven, two. Nice. And I was there for a couple of years and sometimes you, I like, and I taught friends. I was actually the French teacher, so I was teaching English. But then the school was like implementing this mandatory French program and they hated it. They lived in this like small little town and they’re like, this is so ridiculous. We have to take this. And I was like, oh, I love French. Like, this is my passion. Like, and this kid, he was like, and I remember he was always like skipped school to go to these farm. I don’t know, you call ’em symposiums. Right. He come back with all these free pencils and like talk about these tractors. And like, I’m not coming to school, I’m helping my dad with a Hey, like okay, whatever.


Breanne Oakie (13:22):
And like just last year. So he would be like 20, 24. And he sent me a message on Instagram and it was like some weird meme and was like, did you ever really experience high school? If you didn’t have a crazy French teacher? And I was like, dude, I haven’t heard from you in 10 years. And he’s like, do you remember? He’s like, I could barely get through English and you were making me learn French I, and I was like, this is coming at a really good moment because I had applied to take the year off because I, I was kind of burnt out and I was like, I just needed to figure out I, if I needed some more time or maybe I just need something different. And it was like the day before the last day of school and I was really emotional about saying goodbye to everybody.


Breanne Oakie (14:04):
And he was just like, you know, even though I hated French, like you were really like, you really made a connection with me. And I was like, I can’t believe you, like, after all this time you were reaching out. And it wasn’t like there was, he didn’t have any trauma or anything like it wasn’t like, but he didn’t, he wasn’t like a school person. Right. So the fact that we still had a positive relationship where he could think of this funny memory really made me smile, cuz I was like, man, I didn’t really know that you ever thought of me after all this time. 10 years. Yeah. Like a long time. But I mean I, and I know his family. I still try to keep in contact with a lot of people. But I’m trying to think if I can think of other people, sometimes you’re really amazed of the transformation.


Breanne Oakie (14:48):
Like if you only have a tea, a student for one year and you just pass them off and you don’t really have a relationship with them, you might not see that difference. Mm-Hmm . But I do have some students that I’ve been purposely in their lives or have taught their, their siblings. And I know their parents and you’re really happy that you stayed along the journey for those years, because then you do realize that they needed to you. Mm. I have a student who’s who’ll message me. He’s like, I really hope that when my cousin comes up to you that you teach him the way you taught me. Hmm. That you open up your heart and you, you talk about the hard things with him, because talking about the hard things is what really helped him because he wasn’t talking about those with his parents. But just being vulnerable. Yeah. I think is it’s very hard for people, but sometimes you have to be that person right. To kind of force them into, to opening up. Cause it’s a lot of pain if you keep it all inside.


Sam Demma (15:44):
Oh, it’s so true. And I’m curious to know the student who, who was skip class and go to the farming symposiums like what did, do you, what do you think you did while you were teaching him that had such a significant impact on him?


Breanne Oakie (15:57):
Well, we talked about chickens a lot. He was really into chicken farming. Nice. And I, I had moved to an acreage and I was like, I really wanna start chickens. Like, I don’t know how, I don’t know anything about chickens. And he was like, it’s like, you’re overthinking this. I have 100 chickens. I was like, I want five chickens. I just he’s like, yeah. So he made like a slideshow, him and his friend made a slideshow like how to build a coop and like what you had to do. And it actually took me seven years before I actually got chickens. And it’s true. Chickens are really low maintenance. They’re lower maintenance cats. and I told him, I said, well, I finally have chickens. I still five chickens. They only took me seven years to follow your slideshow to build this chicken. But yeah, I think just like kind of those interests and being fun like


Sam Demma (16:39):
That. No, that’s like, that’s so cool. Curious, do you still have the chickens?


Breanne Oakie (16:44):
I do. And I actually have, we still have one chicken that is still alive from the very first time we got chickens. So she’s like four or five years old. Yeah. but yeah, we, we always get a few more chickens every year.


Sam Demma (16:55):
Are the eggs good?


Breanne Oakie (16:57):
Well, mine are lazy. So they don’t really and they’re old. Like, I think that’s why most people get rid of them after a year. And then they get new ones. Yeah. But we get them, we get babies, but then they all grow up to be rooster. So now we have five roosters and then it’s really


Sam Demma (17:09):
Loud at our house. Now, now it’s an alarm clock system.


Breanne Oakie (17:11):
Yeah. And they do find their way into the house. Like they come out of their pen and they like, they know they eat the dog food. And then I found one in my, my kitchen the other day. Cause it came through the dog door so they’re not afraid of anything. So, but it’s fun, Mike. That’s awesome.


Sam Demma (17:27):
No, that’s awesome. So you would think it’s mostly about connecting with students on their particular interest


Breanne Oakie (17:34):
At the so yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (17:35):
Cool. I love that. And when you think back to the teachers that you had in, in, I think you mentioned them that grade one and kindergarten grade two, do you think they did the exact same thing?


Breanne Oakie (17:47):
Yeah, they did. I remember when we have journal time in grade one and you have those little booklets with half page of blank space for your drawing and then half lines for you to write your three sentences on. And I was always right about animals, about how I saw a deer or I was walking in the woods with my dad. And I remember she once wrote in there, like, I think when you grow up, you’re going to be like a wildlife biologist or you’re gonna be in a college just you’re gonna really observe nature around you and I, when I was 20 and I was in that program, I was like, you know, I love this, like listening to these CDs of bird sounds. And my dad is a birder and that’s just kind of inherently in my life. Hmm. Like thinking like how does she know that that was gonna be such an important piece of, of who I was. Right. but like other, their teachers I think mostly when they were with me during hard time, my parents separated mm-hmm I remember just like their actions when they found out that that was happening of how they treated me and how they were there for me. Really impacted me too.


Sam Demma (18:43):
Yeah. It’s tough to have hard conversations. How do you think you should initiate a tough, a tough conversation with a student?


Sam Demma (18:51):
It’s a tough one, right?


Breanne Oakie (18:53):
Sometimes it’s really scary. Yeah. And sometimes even though we’re adults, we try to avoid hard conversations. Like I, I do sometimes, like I know there’s kids, I need to talk to about hard things and I’m like, I really don’t know how to approach this. But sometimes I’ll be direct. If I, I can, if it’s, or sometimes you can just tell if you’re like an observer and you watch them come in the, in the morning and they sit and their head is down or the bell rings and they don’t leave for recess right away. And they’re kind of lagging around or they ask to stay in multiple times and you can kind of infer that something’s going on with their friends. And they’re not spending time with those people. Then it’s time for a talk. And some, sometimes I’ll be like, so let’s just lay it out straight, like something’s going on.


Breanne Oakie (19:36):
And you don’t have to tell me what it is, but I want you to know that I’m sensing that something is off. And, you know, if there’s someone in the school that you wanna talk to, then please let me know and we can facilitate that conversation. Hmm. Sometimes you wait too long and then like something happens and a, a kid runs to the bathroom and they don’t come back. And, and there’s, you have to have that hard conversation while they’re in tears because they waited too long to talk to somebody about it. Right. So you just have to be make space for them to be able to talk about their feelings. We do talk a lot about making safe space and trust. And I know a lot of students are afraid to say like one student told me a couple weeks ago, he’s like, I’m kind of afraid to talk to you because I’m afraid of what you hear.


Breanne Oakie (20:22):
You’re gonna make a phone call and things are gonna change for me. Hmm. And it’s like, really, like sometimes you’re amazed that you spend so much time with people and so much time’s gone by and you have no clue of what is happening. And so, I mean, I’m lucky I have two teachers like I have a partner teacher, so we split. So she sees those kids. We have two EA who get to work with some of those kids. The four of us adults can, can group and be like, something is, something is off. And one of us can at least make a connection with those kids. And then we have a counselor at school who does talk to them. But I think as an adult, you have to kind of get over that fear and just approach gently.


Sam Demma (21:04):
Yeah. Well, so true. And I think that students, like, they want to be treated like adults also. Right. So being able to have those real heart to heart conversations that are just super authentic, they probably connect to those too. Right.


Breanne Oakie (21:19):
Yeah. And I would hate to have a kid be like, you know, you, you were my teacher for two years and you never once reached out to me when I was struck. Mm. You know? And I’d be like, yeah, I couldn’t, I think that’d be really hard on me. Like I never reached out to you because I was afraid to talk about something hard with you. That’s my job. Like I’m supposed to, to make space for you to feel free, to cry or talk or just get it all out and, and then assess. Right. Sometimes I think they think, like he say something and, oh, no, shouldn’t have said it. And then there’s like not a plan. I’m like, you know, like let’s just sit and talk and let’s make a plan. And if certain things come up, then we do have to talk to a higher power. But sometimes it’s just, let’s just get it out and let the leg guys come because you’re obviously carrying something that’s very heavy. And if you don’t talk about it, then that’s, it’s painful for you.


Sam Demma (22:10):
Yeah. It’s gonna weigh them down. Mm-Hmm , if you could go back and give your younger educator self advice from when you just started teaching, like what would you say?


Breanne Oakie (22:23):
I, I think I would be more, more gentle mm-hmm I remember being like, you know, like even for something is public speaking, like the anxiety of, of kids crying and breaking a kid and being like, you know what, this kid’s gonna remember me forever for the wrong reasons. There are things that are more important than accomplishing certain tasks. Like I remember I had one, one little guy and in grade seven and he caught me a lot of grief and I, I’m probably not his favorite person. And he’s graduated since, but he was very smart and he just felt like he didn’t have to do what we had to do in class. He wasn’t gonna take the notes. And I think, you know what, maybe I wouldn’t have fought him so much. Like, you know what, if you think, you know, it, I’m not gonna sit there because eventually it escalated.


Breanne Oakie (23:07):
And he was suffering from a lot of turmoil. And I just thought that he was in there to dig it to me every single day. And then one day it, all, this came to a head with another student and he was bawling. And I was like, oh no. And it was going to the vice principal, this, this problem. And he was terrified. And I was terrified for him because I was like, I don’t know, at this point, if people have the strength to give you space to, to, to feel how you’re feeling right now, people are upset. They’re angry. They want you to have consequences for your actions. But it’s kind of haunted me ever since, because I remember sitting with him that moment and he’s telling me his story. And I’m like, I wish I had known this earlier. Hmm. You know, because right now you’re gonna get suspended. probably, and this is the way I wanna end everything. But I know he’s okay now, like he’s he’s grown up, he’s graduated. He’s he’s doing okay. School was never really his thing still, but he got through it. But I’ve never talked to him since. And I, it’s kind of one of my regrets that


Sam Demma (24:18):
I couldn’t be gentler at an earlier stage in my life. I think that it was just like, like teaching’s not a pres I think before it was like, we have to do this. Like we, this is our lesson. It has to get done. We can’t just abandon the lesson like this is, but now I’m more like, you know what, throw it out. We’re going to the forest. You guys need a mental health hour. Like, let’s just go and let’s go play. You guys need to run around. We’ll come back. We’ll regroup and we’ll get this done to. Yep. But I think when I was younger, it was more like they had to get done. Ah, that’s such good advice. And the, the mental health hour in the forest, is that something that you, you try and do now?


Breanne Oakie (24:57):
Well, because I do have like outdoor time with them. We’re supposed to be like outdoor education, but we just call it outdoor time because they only have gym three days a week. So we have this forest behind our school a little bit down the ways, and the kids love it, cuz it’s completely wild. It’s like dead fall. And they just, and we, we just play games in there. So we’ll play sometimes it’s camouflage or sometimes we’ll play infection tag and we’ll run around. And sometimes we just be quiet in there. There’s lots of deer in there. It would be nice if, if the grades could settle down enough to just do like journaling in there or read our novel study in there and, and be happy just being in outside. Right. But a lot of those guys have a lot of energy. So we do a lot of tag games in there, but they love it. The flag just for running around and like, I love it cuz our classroom has no windows cause we’re kind of inside. Yeah. And I don’t like not walking every day, so it’s just good for us to get out and just expel all that energy. Right.


Sam Demma (25:51):
You ever seen a bear in there? Pardon me? You ever, have you ever seen a bear in there?


Breanne Oakie (25:56):
Oh, there’s no bears in there. No, just lots of deer. Okay. We don’t have bears in town here. We’re in bear. We’re definitely in bear country, but not in town. Cool.


Sam Demma (26:05):
Cool. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. Good conversation flew by. It’s almost been 30 minutes. Thank you so much for sharing some of your stories, some of your personal philosophies on teaching the advice you would share to yourself. If another educator is listening and was inspired by anything you said, or just wants to connect about something, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Breanne Oakie (26:27):
I don’t have any special platform. You can send me an email at my at my work email is fine, breanne.oakiecarriere@gmail.com.


Sam Demma (26:42):
Awesome Bri. Thank you so much. I appreciate you coming on the show.


Breanne Oakie (26:44):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (26:46):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating in review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity to, I mentioned at the start of the show, if you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities, and I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Breanne Oakie

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

Darrell Bergmann – Athletic Director at Boyle Secondary School

Darrell Bergmann - Athletic Director at Boyle Secondary School
About Darrell Bergmann

Darrell Bergmann is extremely passionate about athletics and keeping himself and his students healthy. He is also the Athletic Director at Boyle Secondary school. We met after he watched me speak at a teacher’s convention and as a result, this episode was created!  Enjoy. 

Connect with Darrel: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Boyle Secondary School Website

#funsockfriday

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, San Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s episode. Our special guest is Darrell Bergmann. He is someone that I met after doing a presentation to a group of teachers at a teacher association. He is someone that believes in the power of pushing yourself physically.


Sam Demma (01:00):
What you’ll hear about on our phone call today; he’s the athletic director of Boyle Secondary School and activity, physical activity is something that he holds very close to his heart. I hope you enjoy today’s episode where we talk about engaging students virtually in this new environment, especially related to gym class and how he is helping to keep his students fit during this crazy time. I’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy! Darryl, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and why you got into the work in education that you’re doing today?


Darrell Bergmann (01:37):
I guess Darrell Bergmann teaching in Boyle, I’ve been a teacher for about 20 plus years now. I got into teaching because I thought to myself, geez, it’d be pretty cool to spend all day in a gym, playing dodgeball and basketball and games with kids. I figured that out when I can remember distinctly is at my grandma and grandpa’s house and we were watching NFL playoffs, and one of my uncles says to me, what are you gonna do when you get older? And I thought to myself hmm, phys-ed teacher. Summer’s off and you get paid to play games. So ever since grade eight summer holidays, I think it was, I knew I wanted to be a teacher in 20 years and best job ever.


Sam Demma (02:17):
I love that. And that’s what got you in. I’m curious to know what keeps you in it?


Darrell Bergmann (02:22):
Oh, the kids hands down on the kids. I, I, so I work at a K to 12 school and I teach PHED, I’ve taught PHED from kindergarten to grade 12 and it’s the kids, just the energy they bring to school every day. And the way I look at it is I get to help them learn to be good people and they wanna be good people. And just those converse conversations and interactions with them every day. It’s just, I don’t know. It helps keep me young. So it’s the kids hands down.


Sam Demma (02:51):
Now I’m curious to know throughout your own journey as a student, before you decided to get into teaching, did you have any educators, gym teachers, coaches that slightly pushed you in this direction, or was this solely a decision you made based off your own personal ideas and experiences?


Darrell Bergmann (03:06):
So I never had any coaches or teachers push me into the field of education. I just, I, I, I can remember as young back as grade three, I always looked at the schedule for the day and I always looked where was PhysEd class during the day. And to me that I just I’ve always loved being active playing games and competing and doing all that stuff. And just, I don’t know, it was just a natural attraction to be a PhysEd teacher.


Sam Demma (03:33):
Which makes sense as to why you run 70 kilometers a week.


Darrell Bergmann (03:37):
That’s for fun to have.


Sam Demma (03:40):
So why do you think it’s important to keep challenging yourself as you grow? Like I, I mean, you mentioned earlier before this call that you, you like running because it’s, it’s a way to challenge yourself. Why do you think that’s important?


Darrell Bergmann (03:52):
Oh, just to stay motivated. Like you always gotta find something. Whether, you know, whether it’s running, whether it’s cooking, whether it’s a sport, give yourself a purpose just to get the most outta every day. You, you, you everyone’s gotta find that unique thing. And for everyone it’s something different. And for people, it changes over time. Like I said before, we got started here back when I was younger, I absolutely despised running. I couldn’t stand, I didn’t understand why people did it. And now it’s like the one activity I do more than anything else besides, you know, being a PHY ed teacher is I love to run.


Sam Demma (04:25):
Ah, that’s so awesome. And I would assume that being an athletic director as well at the school, you encourage all the students and kids to do similar stuff, or are they running kilometers and, and letting you know?


Darrell Bergmann (04:38):
So like my kind of my big goal for all my PhysEd classes, try to introduce the kids to as many different activities so they can pick the one that they are gonna continue for the rest of their life, whether it’s Bochy ball or volleyball or basketball or whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be running for them, whatever they’re doing, if they enjoy it and it’s get, and they’re getting some exercise go to the deal that doesn’t matter to me. So whatever it is for them, you know, as long as they’re having fun.


Sam Demma (05:07):
Oh, I love that. And how do you think you’re still making personal relationships and connections with students dealing with some changes in education this year? Are all of your students still in class? Are you able to all see each other? What does education look like and how are you still managing to of those strong relationships?


Darrell Bergmann (05:23):
So our school, we have been lucky. We have been basically open like other than the inception of COVID where kind of everyone closed down our school. We’re a small school in Northern Alberta and we’ve been lucky. We’ve been pretty much regular classes online. We’ve had a few hiccups here and there, but for the most part we’ve been in session. Now it’s not exactly the same as it was pre COVID. I mean, there’s a lot more protocols and we have to do things as safe as we can, but I don’t know the kids are going through it. We’re going through it. We’re just trying to make our way as best we can. And you just, I don’t know, to, to me, kid, to me, kids are people and they want you just, you talk to them like they’re a person and you just, you keep making those connections and everyone’s in it together. And just trying to get through this as best we can. Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know if that answered your question at all,


Sam Demma (06:14):
Sam. Yeah, no, it does. You know, it treat human, treat them like they’re human beings and adults and, and they’ll reciprocate that energy for you, I would assume. That’s awesome. And if you could go back and speak to your younger self, like when you first started teaching, knowing what you know now with the wisdom you have, what advice would you give?


Darrell Bergmann (06:35):
Oh, advice I, to inexperienced teachers is they’ve gotta figure out what works for them. And they’ve gotta figure out how to connect with students in their own way and what works for me. Isn’t gonna work for John or Jim or Julie. Everyone’s gotta kind of be themselves to, to create those you know, positive connections with the kids that you know, that that’s unique to them cuz everyone has their own style. So it’s it’s you gotta be you and you gotta connect with kids at your own way.


Sam Demma (07:06):
I love that. And in terms of connecting with students, sometimes we see the impact we make. Sometimes we don’t, sometimes it happens 20 years later when they send you a handwritten note. Sometimes it happens the day after something you said they come in class and tell you how much of an impact it had. Do you have any stories of student transformation, whether in your class or in your school that you have seen that have inspired you and reminded you why this work is so important? And the reason I’m asking is because I think right now, some teachers listening might be burnt out and forgetting why they actually got into teaching and a story of transformation might remind them why they’re doing the work they’re doing. And you can change the student’s name if it’s a very personal story. But I’m curious to know if anything kind of comes to mind.


Darrell Bergmann (07:49):
Well at my school we have we it’s called work experience. The students get credits for our, and they cut. They help out with different roles at the school. Nice. So me being the PHY ed teacher, it’s always helpful to have a student or two help you with set up, clean up refereeing. Joining in. I had one student, I won’t, I won’t name the student, but so we were, we were outside playing slow pitch, pre COVID. And I got nailed in the side of a head by a, by one of the balls we were using. Oh wow. And the student was about 60 yards away and they’re like, oh, I accidentally hit you. And it was, it was like in a crowd of about 30 kids. And I’m thinking to myself, I don’t know how this could be an accident. well, and then the next day he kind of made a joke about, you know, oh, how’s your head.


Darrell Bergmann (08:36):
And then the next year he wanted to be my work experience student. I kind of hum. And I thought, you know what, I’m gonna give him a chance. And I’ll tell you what, he turned out to be one of my best work experienced students ever. Like, so it’s just giving him a chance. Kids do dumb things sometimes. And, and you never know, you don’t always see it or you can’t always expect it, but you never know when that difference is gonna be. So for me, just taking that chance on that guy who nailed me in the side of the head, 60 yard, Sam and it, and at the time he didn’t seem too sorry, the next day he wasn’t very sorry at all. Yeah. But I gave him that chance. And boy, we actually, we, we got a real good relationship now where every day see each other, we say, Hey, how’s it going? He’s not my work exp experienced student anymore. But it just, you know, he gave him that chance and he came through and I gotta give him full credit for that.


Sam Demma (09:24):
Oh, I love that. There’s so much wisdom in this. So, you know, treating students like humans and adults, giving students a chance to own some responsibility and to challenge them the same way you would challenge yourself when you’re running. And you might just be surprised what a young person is capable of. Would you agree?


Darrell Bergmann (09:42):
Oh, 100%. They, they want so like, like it’s funny cuz when I first started teaching, I never wanted to teach junior high, the old, you know, they’re all kind of attitudey and moody and, and they’re gonna talk back and stuff and it’s just, they want to fit in. They wanna be like they want and, and not just their peers, but they want teachers to like them. And it’s, they’re, they’re struggling with making good choices on a daily basis. And that, you know, as a teacher, we get to help them learn what you can and cannot do. And you know, sometimes you can have a little bit of fun, but sometimes you gotta work so that I, I that’s just a reward every day, helping them be, you know, positive people and citizens and you know, good people.


Sam Demma (10:24):
I love that. Cool. Darrell or AKA Berg. thank you so much for coming on the show. Appreciate it. If another educators listening wants to reach out, maybe ask you a question or chat about this conversation, what would be the best way for them to, to contact you?


Darrell Bergmann (10:41):
To contact me? well, I’m on the TikTok @bergs_27. I got a cult following on there. I’m trying to start the fun stock Friday movement. So if you look at #funsockfriday, you’ll definitely find me there. Cool. You can, could shoot me an email Darrell.Bergmann@aspenview.org. Gosh, I better spell my name. No one will spell that correctly. Darrell.Bergmann@aspenview.org. And I’m freshly on the Instagram as well. That’s a new one for me, but yeah, I definitely love to hear feedback from people.


Sam Demma (11:18):
Awesome. Darrell, thank you so much for doing this. Really appreciate it, and keep it up with the awesome work. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Darrell Bergmann

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.

Chris McCullough – Teacher and Vice-Principal in Red Deer, Alberta

Chris McCullough - Teacher and Vice-Principal in Red Deer, Alberta
About Chris McCullough

Chris McCullough (@mccullough9) is a Teacher / Vice-Principal in beautiful Red Deer, Alberta.  Chris has a broad range of educational experiences, having taught in elementary, middle school, and high school in mainstream programming, as well as in inclusive education and behaviour management programs. 

Chris is actively involved in the community by volunteering his time to coach hockey, ringette and baseball. Additionally, Chris works alongside teachers from across Alberta to organize the annual Alberta Teachers’ Association (MYC) Middle Years Conference.  

Chris’ wife Kristie is also a teacher and they have 3 teenage children to keep them busy.  

Connect with Chris: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA)

Alberta Teachers’ Association (MYC) Middle Years Conference

Chris’s Personal Blog: thepocketeer.blogspot.com

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Chris McCullough. Chris is a teacher and vice principal in beautiful Red Deer, Alberta. He has a broad range of educational experiences having taught in elementary, middle school and high school in mainstream programming, as well as in inclusive education behaviour management programs.


Sam Demma (01:03):
He has a very interesting start in education as well, which I think you’ll really enjoy hearing about on the podcast. Chris is actively involved in the community by volunteering his time to coach hockey, ringette, and baseball. He also refs and he’s been a ref for a long time, which is something that I learned about on the podcast. And he also works alongside teachers from across Alberta to organize the ATA. The Alberta teachers associations middle years conference. Chris’s wife Christie is also a teacher and they have three teenage children to keep them extremely busy. I hope you enjoy today’s podcast interview with Chris and I will see you on the other side. Chris, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. You know, one of the NHLs free agents as I’ve heard, why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you got into the work you’re doing in education today.


Chris McCullough (02:00):
Wow. That’s a long podcast you’re in for . As you said, I’m Chris McCullough. I’m in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, and I grew up in central Alberta, just south of red deer in a town called Olds. And I’m hearing the question as, why am I a teacher? And I guess as a, a child myself, I always enjoyed running around and playing with my young cousins and stuff like that so it seemed like a good fit. I got, I got along well with people and you know, I’ve got to I’m not saying I love every aspect of my job, but , I do enjoy coming to school every day and working with kids and how many people get to say they get paid to do that every day. So


Sam Demma (02:42):
I love that. And being that you were someone and who enjoyed, you know, spending time with your younger cousins, that passion could have taken you in various directions, social work could have taken you to camp counseling, could have became, you know a youth speaker, like there’s when, when it comes to working with young people, there’s so many different ways that you can impact them. What drew you towards, like teaching specifically? Was there teachers in your life that inspired you? Or did you just say, let me try this and see how it goes?


Chris McCullough (03:12):
I think it was a couple things for me. One was I think just naturally as a relational person, I wanted to work with people. Yeah. If you were to read my high school yearbook, it would say that I was gonna be a golf course, superintendent, interesting position, a job that runs in my family. Okay. My dad actually taught that at a small college at old college turf grass management. And that was the plan, but I think him being a teacher I himself kind of pushed me in that direction. And, and actually I had a teacher I mean, I wasn’t as well put together as you are Sam at 21, I was still making bad decisions. and I remember my grade 12 teacher asking me what I was doing in his math class, because I really was kind of being your response and I didn’t need that class to be a golf course. Superintendent was what he said to me and he was absolutely right. And after that moment, I kind of decided that I was gonna pursue education and being a teacher. And along the way, I had a few bumps and bruises, but I ended up meeting my wife and she helped me a lot get through university. And the next thing, you know, go through the interview process and you get a job and here I am, 19 years later,


Sam Demma (04:31):
Happy international woman’s day, right. yes,


Chris McCullough (04:33):
Yes.


Sam Demma (04:35):
For sure. That’s awesome. Very cool. And when you first started, what were you teaching and how did the journey kind of evolve? I know somewhere along the way, you decided to get involved in the Alberta teachers association and really spearheaded some cool events and initiatives with the organization.


Chris McCullough (04:51):
Yeah. Along the way, I, my first job was a maternity leave. I taught grade six. Nice. And that led to which was at the time middle school age. And then in my, my school division, they, they opted to build some middle schools and moved to the middle school philosophy more formally. So there was a big middle school conference and a lot of teachers at that level were going to it and, and my wife ended up going and just, I think, I think my principal did allow me to go to the conference, even though I, I wasn’t necessarily guaranteed a job the next year, but I, I did go. And from that point on, I was really involved in middle school philosophy cause I ended up getting a position later in June that year. And then of course my involvement with the middle years council has been pretty consistent for, I could say 17 in my 19 years just in different roles and wow, largely it just comes from our core group of friends that worked on the conference and a desire to, to create a, you know, an event for teachers every year in a local context, I also got involved with my ATA, the ATA provincial and local and a variety of things at the time in our school division, I believe there was no vice president of the ATA local, and I just was off for that position and like a dummy, someone who didn’t know his AST from his elbow, he took it.


Chris McCullough (06:23):
And and I think it was a second year teacher at the time. And then of course the president had me at that point. So he retired and moved on to other things. And then I became the president of the, the red Catholic local. And I just learned a ton of great things. I, from some really great superintendents, I were, I worked with some great teachers on ATA stuff, union stuff, association stuff. And that was in red deer and Edmonton and Calgary. And that’s just been a nice bit with the middle years council as well. So I’ve always kept busy with that.


Sam Demma (06:55):
That’s awesome. And when you, initially we decided to take on one of the roles with the middle years council, was it because someone tapped you on the shoulder and said, you’d be great for this? Or you just saw the opportunity and decided I’m gonna try this out.


Chris McCullough (07:09):
I remember a colleague yeah. Tapped me on the shoulder and you should try it. Sure. And then I, one of the principals in my school division, I asked him if this was a good, I did because it was getting pretty real. And his answer at the time was, yeah, you’re gonna learn, you’re gonna learn a lot. So I’m probably guilty of getting too involved and, and having too many irons in the fire, if you will, cuz I have three kids on my own and I like to coach their sports and I’ve always been involved in that stuff. So again, it’s international. I couldn’t have done any of these things without support of my life, but overall I’ve learned a ton and yeah, I, I wouldn’t change anything that’s for sure.


Sam Demma (07:50):
Ah, that’s awesome. That’s, that’s such a good way to look at it over the years. I’m sure there’s been changes in teaching and education, especially when you introduce a global pandemic over the past year and a half. How has education shifted in your school area or in your school over the past year and a half? And what are some of maybe some of the challenges you’ve faced or have started to overcome?


Chris McCullough (08:17):
Yeah, so many challenges, honestly, I think as I look back over the, the course of the year, cuz I guess just almost a year to the day that we left school in Albert anyway and had that pause and shift to online education, I’m pretty proud of the work that teachers have done. And in my seat here as a vice principal, yeah. I, again, I work with some really great teachers that pivoted and really made that experie for the students. So that would’ve been March to June of last year. And then again, this year we’ve had our challenges with classes and situations where whole classes have to go home. But you know, at the end of the day, just the ability of these teachers to, to pivot and, and make it work for their students. Now I’m amazed every day by ’em to be honest. And it’s good to see. And I think moving away from that question, I guess broader in my 19 years, I, I think teachers in education improved a lot in terms of assessment practices, relationship with kids and understanding trauma and how that impacts student learning. I, I think we’re just getting in as a whole, whole lot better at meeting kids where they’re at and helping them with their needs. So


Sam Demma (09:33):
I love that and I, I would agree too. I think this, especially this year, the forced innovation through the pandemic has forced all of educators in education to focus on what matters most. And I think what’s been highlighted is the fact that the relationships are so important and sometimes building those virtually is a little more difficult. But how do you think schools or even educators can, you know, make their students feel heard, valued and appreciated. Now in, in this situation, is it a matter of checking in with the students on a daily basis or a weekly basis just tapping them outside of class saying, Hey, how are you? Is there anything we can help you with? Or from your perspective, what do you believe is the most important thing for educators to continue doing?


Chris McCullough (10:19):
I think from my perspective, you know, relationships matter, I, I once had a principal and she told me the number one thing she looks for in a teacher is their her or their ability rather to build relationships with students. Mm. The rest of it, you can kinda teach. And I, and I’ve seen that in a of tweet here and there, how important relationships are, whether it’s Sam or Robinson or, you know, it just matters a lot how you treat people. And I’m not saying you have to be nice to everyone because I think that’s a very broad term. And some teachers are very strict at the same time. They’re very effective and they, they don’t disrespect anyone. Yep. And other people, you know, are very good with people and maybe they can improve that they’re teaching. So I’ve kind of seen a lot of that too. So yeah, I think overall people care about kids and they, they work to make their school successful.


Sam Demma (11:16):
Ah, I love it. Very cool. And if you could, if you could travel back in time and speak to first year, Chris, when you just started teaching, knowing what you know now and with the wisdom you’ve gained and garnered, what would you tell your younger self?


Chris McCullough (11:32):
I would tell my younger self to listen, listen, slow down and listen. Nice. There’s a ton of knowledge. And I think, yeah, I guess as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more mature, but you know, my school’s really focused on mindfulness this year from a school improvement plan perspective. Nice. We’ve done a lot of work on trauma training too, but you know, I think just learning to breathe and learning to pause, really look at situations in a whole context is an important skill for anyone, for me, for kids, for anyone. So we’ve done a lot of work on that. And I, I think if I was talking to my former self, I would’ve been more mindful of really not so much kids because I was always good with kids. And I feel like I connected with them well, but just being this is the wrong word, but sympathetic to maybe me being a little more understanding of what my former principals were trying to achieve and more or superintendents and current superintendents and politicians even I think at the end of the day, everyone wants schools and kids to be successful people. So yeah, just focus on listening and, and trying to make it work for everybody.


Sam Demma (12:48):
Love that. So cool. And I’m sure over the years teaching you’ve seen student transformation. I think that one of the coolest things about education is that it can change a student’s life. Now, sometimes you water that seed and it doesn’t flourish for 20 years. You might not ever know the impact you had. Or 20 years down the road, a kid writes you a note, letting you know that this one thing you said in class totally changed his life. Sometimes you hear about them, sometimes you don’t. I’m curious to know though, have you seen any student transformations within your school? Within the 20 so years you’ve been in education. And the reason I’m asking is because another teacher might be listening to this, burnt out, forgetting why they got into education and sharing a transformative story. Might remind them why they’re doing the work they’re. And if it’s a serious story, by all means you can rename the person to Chris or Sarah or change their name for privacy reasons.


Chris McCullough (13:44):
Yeah. I, to be honest story, I’m thinking of, I can’t even think of the kid’s name right now, thats. Okay. It was a high school situation and he was very struggling with school in general. He hated a, he hated school. He hated being there. And this is a great 11 boy who was in tears. I, I wasn’t even his teacher, I don’t think. Yeah. Other than one course like an option course. Anyway, he was balling his eyes out to me and we long story short, we, we changed his timetable so that he could do work experience cause he wanted to be a welder . So we got him outta school in the afternoons and set him up with a company. I don’t know if it was his dad’s company or a company his dad was kind of familiar with and you know, he loved it.


Chris McCullough (14:26):
He could come to school in the morning to leave at lunch. He started, started working on getting his ticket for, for welding. I think it was. And you know, I think that situations like that, making school work for someone, so he had a kid crying and in tears, that’s super frustrated to a situation where he is just happy, happy he can leave at lunch, go make some money. And I assume he is still working in the trades, which I think is a great avenue for a lot of students. And I think schools worry a little too much about academics sometimes where there’s lots of different possibilities where people can you know, think about their future.


Sam Demma (15:06):
Yeah, totally agree. I love it. And my dad’s a plumber and he loves his job and he builds homes. So there’s yeah, there’s so many, there’s no one pathway for all students. And I think it’s important to remember. So I love that you shared that story. If an educator listening or someone listening is, is enjoying this conversation is inspired by, it wants to have a conversation with you. Maybe Talk about your, your fandom for Calgary flames or star wars. what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and connect?


Chris McCullough (15:37):
Probably, I hesitate to say it a little bit because I find it to be a very angry place these days but Twitter is probably the best place to reach out. My handle’s @McCullough9 and I like Twitter. I find, I’ve learned a lot from it. There’s lots of good articles and inspirational messages and stuff like that. Sometimes I get caught up in the politics of the day or whatever and, and I’ve had to really reflect on what that looks like. But overall I think social media is a powerful force. It is a two-way sword and I enjoy it, but sometimes I have to take a, take a break from it and stuff like that. That’s kind of the best place, I guess, to find me.


Sam Demma (16:20):
All right. Got it. And what’s the first thing you’re looking to looking forward to once COVID ends.


Chris McCullough (16:26):
I think just general social situations, you know, being with family and friends and not having to worry about masks and social distancing and all that kind of stuff so sign me up for a vaccine as soon as you can get it, Sam, you know.


Sam Demma (16:43):
I’ll send it your way if I do. All right, Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. I appreciate it. And look forward to talking to you soon and hopefully meeting you in Banff one day.


Chris McCullough (16:53):
Cool Sam. Take care of yourself and thanks for doing this.


Sam Demma (16:58):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show, if you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities and I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chris McCullough

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.

Tom Yonge – Leadership Teacher and Speaker at Edmonton Public Schools

Tom Yonge - Leadership Teacher and Speaker at Edmonton Public Schools
About Tom Yonge

Tom Yonge (@TomYonge) is the Department head of Leadership at Strathcona High School in Edmonton, AB.  The heart of his leadership model is service work and in the last 12 years, the program has raised over $3.5 million dollars for local and global charitable organizations.  Through these initiatives, the students have learned important life lessons and the emotional reward of giving back.  

Connect with Tom: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bachelor in Physical Education Program at University of Alberta

Strathcona High School Website

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls

The Power of Moments by the Health Brothers

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Alberta Association of Students’ Councils and Advisors (AASCA)

Alberta Student Leadership Summit (ASLS)

Leadership Retreat Ideas

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited about today’s interview. Our guest is Tom Yonge. He is a leadership teacher, speaker, and workshop facilitator at Edmonton public schools. He has such a diverse experience working within leadership and within schools. Currently he is a department head of student activities and leadership programs at a high school in Edmonton, Alberta.


Sam Demma (01:06):
He’s also a storyteller who honed his craft chirping teammates in hockey dressing rooms and having heart to heart conversations around the campfire and by sharing his passion for student activities in leadership class. He’s spoken in front of different crowds and, and different conferences before he has a bachelor in PE and education combined degree program from the university of Alberta, but he brings so much wisdom and ideas to the table during our conversation today. It’s a pretty long one, so I hope you enjoy it. There’s tons of ideas to take down, so don’t get overwhelmed. But have a note, have a sheet of paper and a pen and be sure to write some things down. I will see you on the other side, enjoy today’s conversation with Tom. Tom, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you got involved in education?


Tom Yonge (02:02):
All right. Well, first of all, Sam, it’s a pleasure to be here. Congratulations on your podcast and speaking. I’ve really enjoyed listening to a lot of your episodes and this is a, an honor to be here. But maybe before we start Sam, I wanna wish you a happy Wolf Wednesday. I don’t know when this is gonna be released Sam, but I’m you can tell viewers, can’t see at home, I’m wearing a, an, an awesomely tacky wolf shirt right now. and this is one of a roster of almost 52. Years ago. I I was in a, I had a young advisor, leadership teacher and I had this Vice Principal named Tom Davy and he’s from South Africa and he has an accent and he’s just a, just a beauty of guy, probably one of the best administrators I’ve ever worked with. But we differed in one thing and that was dress code.


Tom Yonge (02:48):
Tom was the kind of guy who was like you dress up in suit and tie every day and he was pushing to have like formal days, like not like touch of class formal days, but like teachers just, you know, pick up your game kind of thing. And I was all about casual Fridays. And so this got on the faculty council, like department head agenda, and it was on a Wednesday that we’re having this meeting. So I showed up with my tacky you know, gas station Wolf shirt, and he was at the gas. He’s just like, he’s like “Thomas Young! What are you wearing to a professional, you know, meeting!?” And I, I said, Hey, Tom, I’m in charge of, of leadership and student activities and just like pajama days now, every single day is maybe Wolf Wednesday and he just kinda shook his head and we agreed to disagree.


Tom Yonge (03:27):
And it’s kind of became a it’s it’s, I’m controlling the world by wearing these tacky Wolf shirts on Wednesdays, but it’s actually became a thing. And, and kids sometimes will, you know, give us a gifts after writing reference letters or at the end of this school year. And I’m collecting as many terrible wolf shirts as I possibly can believe it or not. It’s actually a lot of fun. And when, when I actually dive a little bit deeper, there’s actually some symbolism there that goes back to original question about why I got into teaching. And that actually is community and the metaphor of the wolf pack and the dignity and having to survive and face the harsh elements you know, is actually symbolic for, or, you know, my, my group of friends outside of school and, and also the mentality that I want my my class to have. So there’s a little bit of a little bit of realness underneath the trolling, but very also out there it’s like wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but it’s a woo shirt and this makes, you know, hump day on Wednesday that much better.


Sam Demma (04:17):
I love that, man. That’s so good. I, I can’t say the I’ve had a teacher that had something like that similar, so that’s awesome. Yeah. You know, you mentioned that this educator, Tom was one of the most phenomenal educators you ever had, but the one difference was your dress code. Yeah. What were the similarities, what were the things that he did that had such a huge impact on you when you look back at and reflect on how he taught now?


Tom Yonge (04:42):
Well, I’m so glad you’re asking this because I’d like him to hear this. And I think I I’ve mentioned it to him in person, but it’s, it’s nice be able to do this on the larger platform. I’ve never met someone who had a, a bigger heart for teaching. Wow. And would give more of himself to anyone in the school. And I said, he’s one of the best administrators. And I mean that because he help, not just myself and my leadership department, he’d be there to help. Absolutely everyone. He held everyone to a high standard, he would open doors. And if he felt that you were doing right by kids he had your back and, you know, he is kinda guy who actually had your back regardless which that’s another layer of, of why he’s such a phenomenal mentor to me. And so I was actually lucky enough to coach his son as a student teacher in my practicum.


Tom Yonge (05:26):
And I was I coached the, the, the Jasper place rebels team to a one and seven record league play. We lost all seven games, but we had the best team spirit you’ve ever seen. And it was after that, that you know, he approached me at the end of the season. He said it, you know, I, I’m actually a vice principal and I’ve been watching this whole season. And I just think that you’re, you found the right profession, you found the right vocation and maybe our paths will cross. And he kind of smirked as he left. And then years later I got a phone call saying, there’s this, this job you know, opening at, at strap Kona school, which he happened to be the vice principal of. And then we got to work together and we worked together until his retirement. And yeah, I just, you know, we’re so lucky to have people like that in our lives, who open doors and then support you and develop you and, and ask good questions. And that’s what Tom, Dave did. He’d always be asking good questions. And sometimes it was challenging coming up with good, but he sharpened sharpened us to be the, the best versions of ourselves. So I eternally grateful for Tom DVY.


Sam Demma (06:22):
What does holding you to a high standard mean? Like when you say he held you and I assume all the staff to a high standard, what does that look like? Was that his expectations or, or how did he display that to all of you?


Tom Yonge (06:38):
Well, for a couple reasons, one, he’s the type of person lead by example, you know he’s he would be there on evenings and weekends and whether it was my events or it was his work, he, you know, he’s not one of those people who’s asking you to work hard and then, you know, is leaving the parking lot at four o’clock got it. And so we knew that he was working as, as he could to build the, to do his part and his portfolio. But when I say also high standard it was through conversation and questions whether it was casually in the hallway, dipping into our classroom, or having us have a, in a conversation in his office, he would just keep on digging deeper and trying to ask us if we understood the meaning of the thing that we had planned. Hmm.


Tom Yonge (07:18):
And sometimes it would twist my brain up and the meetings would go on. They, they would take some time, but that was, he loved talking teaching and he loved talking life. And so that’s what I kind of mean by that is that when I say high standard, it wasn’t good enough just to go execute an event or teach a good lesson. He wanted you just to ring every drop of knowledge and takeaway from that experience. And he was gonna make sure that you did. Hmm. And that’s you know, and that’s what we tried to now kind of also emulate for our students.


Sam Demma (07:47):
I had a teacher Mike loud foot who changed my life and he taught me this idea that your self worth doesn’t come from your talent, skills, and abilities. But from two decisions, you make one to be of service to others. And two, every single day to give a hundred percent of your effort to whatever it is that you’re doing. And the reason he taught me those things was because he thought that even if the result didn’t go the way you expected it to be, or the event you planned flopped, if you knew you gave a hundred percent of your effort, you could look at the mirror at the end of your day. At the end of the night, a I’m still proud of myself for giving all my effort and energy into this project, despite what happened. And that sounds very similar to what, you know, your admin Tom kind of lives by. Did, did the discrepancy in dressing in shirts ever get resolved over the years?


Tom Yonge (08:35):
no, I think we kind of agreed to disagree. I think you know, he gets a chuckle at me now. He’s, he’s no longer working at the school and every once in a while, every once in a while, I’ll throw on a tie and it’s, and I’ll what I’m doing is I’m just gonna tipping my hat to Tom Davey. And I, I think of this is this story I just told you there, as goofy as it was, is something that I’ll, I’ll definitely relish as I get onto my more senior years of teaching.


Sam Demma (09:00):
I love that. That’s awesome. And so if we go, even back before you got involved and became a teacher I know you played hockey. I know you developed your speaking skills by chirping other players in the dressing rooms. , I’m curious to Melville at what moment in your young adulthood, your adolescents, did you say, I wanna be an educator. I wanna be a teacher. And how did that unfold for you?


Tom Yonge (09:22):
Alrighty. Well, I’ll try to get this as quick as I can to you because, you know, we don’t that much time I could go on, I could go on and, and get into a storytelling mode, but I I’ll keep it quick. I was actually origin gonna go, go into business. And I was in high school. I had all my, my choices chosen for, or, you know, I was gonna go grant McCuen. I was hoping to, you know, play for the college hockey team if I made it. And that was the plan. I was, I was going that route. I was literally the last two weeks of school of I was in a Fette 30 class and we had another school partner with us and we have a swimming pool attached to our, our school and our campus.


Tom Yonge (09:53):
And we were teaching these students with special needs, how to swim. And I was placed with a kid who had an extreme phobia of water. And I met him in the change room and he had two aide trying to pry his hands off the lockers while he was screaming. And he was just this little guy, but he was strong and he did not wanna make the walk even to the pool. And that’s where we started. It was just, just screams. And over the course, that two weeks, we just made incremental little changes of little growth. And I remember at one point I, I got him in the water and he was wearing two water wings per arm and leg, and two life jackets. Like he wasn’t even wet, like he was floating onto quotation and he was screaming at the top of his lungs, just yelling, screaming.


Tom Yonge (10:35):
At one point I got right over top of him. I looked in the eye and I said, Christian, are you okay? And he paused for a second mid scream. And he said, I’m okay, Tom. Ah, and he went back to screaming again, and I know by the end of the two weeks he was comfortable enough in the shower and that he could actually hold onto the, the rail outside of the pool and just and be wet. And in addition, he learned to catch a ball and his mom came on that last day and we, which I described this as what I call my first teaching moment. Mm. It was so powerful. Like I left that day and I, I went when I, I went home and I told my parents what had happened. And I dropped out of all my business program courses.


Tom Yonge (11:17):
I changed the direction of my career. Wow. And I enrolled in education. Well actually Fyed, I went to Fyed first at the university of Alberta. But I was thinking I wanted to do something now more with people and maybe less with business, but I was still kind of caught because I, up until this point, I also had an interest in being an outdoor guide. So it was my love of adventure, which I still love today. And I think teaching leadership is absolutely an adventure that I, I thought, you know, maybe my teaching won’t be in the typical classroom, it’ll be in the outdoor classroom and I’ll take people on canoe trips on the Nhan river or back country trips, you know, whether it’s skiing or, or hiking. Cause that was my other passion outside of sports. So I kind of went into the Fyed realm thinking, you know, I might be able to specialize in, in that, in that area.


Tom Yonge (12:02):
And while I was in university, I got coaching a junior high girls volleyball team, nice at the junior high, close to my house cause they needed someone. They needed someone. And I knew that I wanted happy to experience working with kids. So I said, sign me up. And I got to, to work with the Mustangs and junior high volleyball, as you probably know, Sam. I know you’ve played a lot of sports as well. You know, kids haven’t really like, they’re not as coordinated as they are, as they get older yet they haven’t grown into their bodies and volleyball’s a tough sports team sport. And typically it’s not skill that wins at the junior high level. It’s the, you have to get the basics down, you have to move as a unit and you have to be able to feel that trust on the team that they got your back.


Tom Yonge (12:43):
So you just can simply get balls in and not make mistakes. In fact, you can pretty much, you know, have a winning record by just playing a very basic game, but getting the ball back mm-hmm . And what I learned in my, my first few years, while I was doing my PHys ED degree was that we didn’t have the best team. We certainly didn’t have the tallest girls. We weren’t the most talented, but we were able to get that group moving as a unit on the court. And more importantly, I noticed that that group being hand moving as a unit off the court and into the hallways and after school, and many of them went on to still have life, life, life, own relationships. And that teaching moment number two was I loved coaching mm-hmm and there was that point. I was like, wait a second.


Tom Yonge (13:21):
Maybe clearly I’m not a good coach. You know, based on the Tom D and Sean Davies story. So I love coaching whether, regardless of the record, but I love the team aspect of it. And so then I know I was thinking maybe I don’t wanna always to be outside taking people, you know, on trips, maybe like I need to take my love of people and team and move that into the classroom. Hence the education degree, fast forward, a few years, an opportunity opened up to, to teach leadership. And I saw that as like, this is my gymnasium. This is like where I can actually build team every single day, myself and my colleague Jane Grant, who I think you might wanna talk up to at some point we’re the coaches and the, the students are the players. And each class that we have is a team and we have a season and our job is to peak until we get to that last day of, of leadership for that year. And that’s our Stanley cup, that’s our championship game where we get to look back and be like, whoa, look, how far became the season? And just like earn a hard goodbye. And like, because that’s time well spent. And so that’s what I’m, I’ve been addicted to, to building team. And I, that’s my nutshell story. That’s my arc.


Sam Demma (14:28):
Oh man. I love that. That’s so awesome. So many ideas came out of it. You know, you talked about that split moment decision that you out of the business courses and totally changed your direction. Jim, Jim Rowan business philosopher passed away. Now always used to say, you know, you can’t change your destination overnight, but you can definitely change the direction. And that’s exactly what you did in that moment where you dropped all your business courses and shifted into education, which I think is so cool. Secondly, you talked about at the junior high level, you know, it’s not about being the players that spike the balls. It’s just about the fundamentals and basics. Earlier today, I actually interviewed Alan Stein Jr. Who’s well known the basketball community. He actually coached Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant Steph Curry. And he told me that the one thing he recognized watching these players play was that they were obsessed with the fundamentals. It was the fundamentals and obsession over becoming so flawless and perfect with the fundamentals that led to their awesome performance. I’m curious to know, from your perspective, what do you think are the fundamentals of making sure students feel heard, seen, valued and appreciated? Like what do as educators? What are the fundamentals to make sure a student feels like seen, heard and appreciated in a classroom?


Tom Yonge (15:49):
Well, I think you, you actually just nailed the, a bunch of, of the fundamentals through your question. They have to give each other the opportunity to feel seen and heard and connected. So one of the words that we tell the students on the very first day of school is that we will be relentless. We will not give up. We will hold you to account that you will come to this class to be the best version of yourself in hopes that that will be reflected in others. Mm. And these are, and therefore you got get used to, we call ’em just our norms, which is basically our fundamentals, but that is phones are, are not on like, we, you, we don’t see phones in our room. It’s, it’s a no phone zone. If you wanna. And if, and if that’s a problem, then you, you’re probably not gonna you know, have a great experience here.


Tom Yonge (16:35):
Yeah. We might get the odd break or something where where, you know, kids can, can be on their phone. So it’s not like it’s, it’s that militant, but the philosophy is the moment you walk in our door, like, and it’s like, like you’ve passed the door frame you’re on. And you have a responsibility to look around and make eye contact and say hi to people. We always have a do now on the, on the screen or the whiteboard and like, and this sounds so, like, I’m not giving anything wise here. Like, I don’t remember learning about, do nows in, in university, but we try to get really creative with them. And basically it’s not, it’s, it’s an activity that is not teacher led. You can like, the materials will be out if needed. It could be a big group, small group, a pair, an individual thing.


Tom Yonge (17:17):
And the goal is that it sets the tone of the class. It’s the appetizer before the main course, we, a few years ago, I noticed that our class was really good when Jane and I were running it, like they bought into like, we’ve got our redemption and I Clapp once clapped twice, they knew the routines. They nice. They knew how to say, like, we, we, we always say like, hi everybody. And then they all in Houston say hi, like Mr. Young Heman grant. And, and they have to match our intonation and our expression and our energy and actions. If we do it, they’re bought into all those routines. But we noticed the areas where, where they were kind of struggling with the, in between the break time, the after class, the, before class started, where they put their bags away. That’s where we would see that clicky behavior that, that, you know, divisiveness of, of that we don’t wanna see in our community or on our team.


Tom Yonge (18:02):
And for us, our reflection was, this is really where they are at. And this is where they’re at when they leave here to get into the whole away. So we are gonna make sure that every kid is, feels seen and heard because they’re gonna be encouraged due. So from the moment they walk in, and another thing that Jane and I do is every single time someone comes into our class, this is again, not wisdom, but it’s simple truth. We say, we leave by example and we’re at the door. And we say, hi, and no one leaves that. And no one leaves the classroom without saying, without passing us and getting a hello and eye contact. And I used to always give high fives. I was really sad when COVID happened, because I’d have all these fancy high fives of different kids are just like, you know, just, you know, classic.


Tom Yonge (18:42):
Right. But it was like my little way of saying, I may have not called on you today. We may have not had a conversation, but I’m looking you in the eye right now. And I see you here. Appreciate you being here. Thanks for taking my class. And I hope that you have a, a better day now that we’ve spent time together, moving forward, high five, boom, see you tomorrow. And so that was tough with COVID, but we kind of, I’ve kind of realized that it really never was about the skin contact. And by the way, I haven’t been sick yet this year. So maybe less terms is not the worst, but it, but what it is a about is the eye contact and that little connection. And so we’re encouraging kids to do it. We wanna lead by example, and I think we’ve seen really good results.


Tom Yonge (19:17):
So it’s been really, really neat just watching the, the class. I’ll give you one example quickly, Sam, if I could give as many as you want we, we have all sorts of of, of activities. It could be like, you know, sanitize your hands and keep a balloon in the air sanitizer. Don’t touch your face, sanitize your hands. It could be something as simple as that. And every time you get into a group of six and you split into three and you always bring people in, it could, that could be an example of a very simple do. Now here’s the simplest one, but it was really cute. And it was, and, and kind of challenging. It was put your bags down, sanitize your hands and say hi to the person who comes in next. And so they would read the door, but they they’d read.


Tom Yonge (19:53):
Then you’d have to go find that person and say hi. And then the two of them would say hi to the next person, which became three. And I, I was expecting just a whole bunch of one-on-one hellos and it turned into a gauntlet and it, and then now everyone everyone’s walking in and they’re getting, you know, 35 highs, they would say, hi, hi, high, high, going all the way down the line. And it wasn’t what we expected. But then kids wrote, you know, on one of their early, like, you know, week or two week into the quarter in, you know, surveys, they said, that was really cool. They’re like, that’s the moment that I knew that, that our class had got to a point where we felt trust and we felt connection. And so yeah, I think providing opportunities for our norms to become authentic experiences. That’s my, to answer


Sam Demma (20:32):
Love that. And you just mentioned something that I think is a foundational piece of building a, a team, whether it’s a team of students, a team of athletes, which is trust, and you’re someone who’s obsessed with teams, you’ve, you’ve played on sports teams, you build teams of students and you coach teams. What do you think are the, the foundation or the fundamentals of a team in terms of characteristics?


Tom Yonge (20:56):
Yeah, it’s a good question. I think number one is that people have to feel on the team. I don’t mean that make that, and that’s very different than making the roster. You can make the roster, but not feel a on the team. And, you know, especially at elite level sports, I mean, you can be on the roster, but you might be a bench player. Yeah. And you know, you, you, you might be able to wear the Jersey, but you know, people kind of know who the starting lineup is. So when I bring it, whether it’s a sport metaphor or it’s a class metaphor, it’s not enough just to be there. You’ve gotta feel that you’re, you’re connected. And, and so I think that’s really I into, on, on a few things. I mean, I think the, the, the teacher plays a role, but I think it’s also making sure that you have students who, whether they do it on their own or through a nudge take on responsibility to make sure that they know everyone else needs to feel, feel included.


Tom Yonge (21:43):
So we talked about trust and then other big thing that there I would say is inclusion and that, and also feeling valued. And so I usually try to find a couple kids who I know have that confidence. So, and I’ll pull ’em aside and I’ll be able to give them some positive affirmation, say, Hey, I just noticed what you did there today. You went over and talked to so, and so last year, I’m not sure I saw that many people talking to, so and so, and I just I’m seeing, so, and so’s eyes are lit right now, what you just did was awesome. That is what we’re looking for now, without saying anything. Do you think that you could go a good compliment to someone else next time you see them doing something like that for someone else? And it just becomes a chain reaction.


Tom Yonge (22:20):
And and I, I think that’s you know, know COVID has certainly changed a lot of things and a really changed a lot of things of how our school runs. We’re a event, heavy school, and we do massive campaigns and bikes and, and things. And we all that had to had to stop. And we had to kind of re refocus and bring it right back to what brought us to the dance mm-hmm . And that was the original thing was building team under getting to understand each other’s stories, you know, to feel the range of emotions. I mean, you know, from being at a, being a speaker yourself, whether it’s at a conference or whether it’s on a camping trip, like a retreat, you wanna laugh and you wanna have moments where you can get so real that you cry, but it’s not like sorrow cry. It’s like, I just feel good cause I’m alive and I’m connected to people cry. And and I think when you, when you do all that, then people, they feel part of that team.


Sam Demma (23:06):
That’s so awesome. There’s an awesome book. If you have an already read it, you should check it out. I think you would love it personally. It’s called catch them doing good or catch them when they’re doing good, something along those lines. And the basic idea is our instinct is to correct people, you know, when they do the wrong thing, correct. That behavior in sports it’s Hey, Jessica, make sure your knee is over the ball. When you kick the, a soccer ball or else it’s gonna go over the soccer net or, you know, make sure that your arms are fully inverted when you bump the volleyball or else it’s gonna go right. Or left. Yeah. The whole premise of this book though says, if you actually just encourage the correct behavior, no one feels like they did a bad job. And in fact, when you correct the, when you, when you heighten or put a spotlight on the correct behavior, everyone around sees you highlighting the correct behavior and subconsciously says, wow, that’s the right thing to do. I will adjust my behavior to fit that as well. And it’s such a powerful tool. So I would, I would assume that the way that you praised that one student’s behavior to compliment another student could even lead to everyone else, assuming, wow, this is the right thing to do. We should all compliment each other and would have a huge impact. So that’s awesome. I think you would, you should definitely check out that book if you haven’t heard it before, but I think you would really like it.


Tom Yonge (24:23):
I, and I’m gonna check it out. I appreciate the record. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:26):
And I thought it was awesome. In your years teaching, and in your years doing leadership, you talked about a couple activities or exercises. What are some of the events you’ve run or things you’ve done that the students really enjoyed that you think someone else listening might also benefit from learning about?


Tom Yonge (24:42):
Woo. There’s so many things to so many directions to go. Yeah. okay. Well, I’ll try to just touch on, on a couple different ones. I I’d like, I love how you talked about your mentor and I know work that you’ve done. This is involved service. I know whether it’s, you know, you know, getting, you know, rallying people to clean up the community, you know, through garbage or what have you. I truly, you know, love service. I love being part of it. I love encouraging others too and doing it for the right reasons. I really love your, your podcast with Sarah Dre. Who’s a friend of mine in her project equal and and just how she gets people in regular core classes. Like you’re in a core class. You’re my, you’re my students you’re serving. Yeah. And I just, I just love that then, and know our motto at our school is as one who serves and I can common out in a lot of different ways.


Tom Yonge (25:27):
We’ve done a lot of really big fundraisers. We, we normally have this thing called the annual SCO initiative which is basically a full year of planning, but it, you know, it’s a campaign that’s usually launched in December and culminates in March for the greater population, but the planning’s happening around the clock with our, with the core of our grade 12 leadership, 35 class. And it ends in this massive 1200 person bikeathon that has just events happening at all times, but that’s something that’s, so that that’s really big. It’s really big inate and it’s not necessarily something that, you know, everybody can do, but you know, some people do walkathons or, you know, relay for life. And so there are ones that are out there, like the, the big ones. One of the things that that I, I would like to, to just suggest is a classic just retreat where it’s not necessarily going.


Tom Yonge (26:14):
I mean, by the way, if you can go to the horizon conference, if you can go to CSLC CSLC, if you can do, I’ll go to your provincial leadership. Yes, absolutely do that. That’s where I cut my teeth. That’s where I’ve learned. Thank you to all my mentors. Thank you all my community of friends who’ve ideas over the years, but I, I really think that one of the most simple things you can do when it comes back to building team is carving time with your class to have a little retreat. And now it’s really tough in, in COVID. And so we normally take our, our grade twelves on camping on the very first weekend of school. And they’re still looking forward to that. Cause we, we plant seeds since they’re in grade 10, about what a great time it’s gonna be. And so what this year we did, we did all the activities that we would do at the retreat, but in class time.


Tom Yonge (26:55):
And luckily it was in September and we could go outside and, and be out and, and, and do things safely. But we were able to experience a lot of the magic that had happens. But what the idea of the, of a, of a retreat is that it’s, you are retreating from your normal space and therefore the norms of how we interact in our environment and are, are, are changing. And that’s why we tend to have memories when we go camping. Cuz we talk a little bit differently when we’re sitting around the campfire, looking up at the stars, contemplating our lives. And we are now that we’re exchanging books. One of my favorite authors is Heath and Heath Heath and Heath brothers. And they have a book called the power of moments and they talk about creating experiences of, of, of a elation to elevate, sorry.


Tom Yonge (27:36):
And I think when we intentionally, as teachers create moments that make memories that also cements relationships to last longer. And so I think that a retreat could even be a two hour after school activity. That’s focused on team building done in the soccer field, outside of your school, but done early in the year. The, the value we get from investing our time early is pays dividends throughout the rest of the year. And I think any school can do that. And I think you can do it with a very little budget just by, and many people with with experience probably already doing that. And then that leads to a larger retreat. We, we call word, call Theone Lords, we call it JLo, get your, get your Lord on is the idea that, and that’s kind of like a day of it’s.


Tom Yonge (28:23):
It was originally model after a day of like Canadian student leadership conference or an Alberta student leadership conference. That’s kind of where it started, but it’s truly transformed to a completely student led thing. Now it’s a retreat for everybody in the leadership program and friends. And that’s why and, and so it’s usually, but a four or 500 person event which is big, but it’s not like bikeathon big and it allows them kids to practice like learning and leading and figuring out who’s gonna be on what committee and you know, everything from serving food to being on stage to running a wild scavenger hunt all over white avenue, which is kinda like your Yonge street. If you’re in Toronto, you’re in Toronto area, are you right Sam? Yeah. Yeah. And so, and it’s it’s, it’s been really cool. So I think there’s a range of, of a small, middle and big activities you could do. And I could probably give you more specific things that we do at any of them, this podcast or another one. But I, I think it’s really important to be intentional and take that time cuz it builds community in your class and your school.


Sam Demma (29:22):
And I agree that doing it early is, is best, you know, better. It’s better than doing it later. You know, you can look at the analogy of planting a seed in the garden, you plant it in the spring before the summer, you’re gonna have huge harvest. You know, if you wait to plant that seed in the middle of the summer, you might not get a tomato. Right? Like my, my N would come and hit me, my grandmother, if I tried to plant tomatoes in the middle of the summer, you know, . Yeah. and I think it’s the same with, with leadership activities. The sooner you can build that trust within a class, the more they’ll flourish together throughout the year. I’m curious in all the years you’ve been teaching, I would assume that there’s been moments where you’ve literally witnessed students, transform. A lot of teachers tell me that sometimes you don’t see the transformation.


Sam Demma (30:03):
Sometimes the seed gets planted and it gets watered for the four years. You have a student or the couple of months you have a student and then 20 years later they might come back and thank you. Or you may never hear from them, but your guidance and mentorship still had an impact. But have you witnessed any student transformations just to the, the appreciation and love of a caring educator and adult that has changed their students life? And the reason I’m asking is because I think at the core of education, when I ask, you know, why did most people get into this work? They say it’s because they have a passion for helping young people and coaching young people and mentoring young people. And some educators right now through COVID might be teaching virtually from home might be really struggling and sharing a, a story about a student who transformed might remind them why this works so important. Do any stories come to mind? And if it’s very personal, you can change a name. Yeah.


Tom Yonge (30:54):
Oh man. There’s so many stories that come to mind. Sam, that’s the beauty of the work that we do is that we get to be part of these stories. One of the things that I, I love about teaching junior high or high school kids is that a they’re they have a sense of humor. They’re creative. They don’t take life so seriously yet. But they’re also resilient as I’ve found through COVID and we it’s a, it’s a really, it’s a privilege to be part of their lives at such a formative time. And, and some of them, some of my, some of my best do have not had the greatest home lives. And maybe that’s part of the reason they wanna spend so much more time in a, more of a, I guess, a loving community or a room or space with other people.


Tom Yonge (31:32):
And others have come from F fantastic families. And it’s a little bit more like the rubiks cube that Phil Phil boy talks about where, you know, they’re already on a great path. And by being in our leadership program, we can just give ’em a few extra tools and they’re gonna, they’re gonna go out and just have a fantastic, you know, career in life, outside of, you know, the time that they spend with us. I guess I’ll tell you that in the, the quickest version, when I think of truly transformational and, and there’s, there’s, there’s so many, but my very UNT I can take back from my very first year at, at SCON and or my very first year having a grade 12, like this is my second year at school, first year having a grade 12 leadership class and this kid got put in there.


Tom Yonge (32:11):
And just cause I, I haven’t had a chance to talk to him in, in a couple years. I’ll, I’ll use a different name from now. His name is I’ll call him Braden. Braden was known for, or I think at the time he had the record for most skip classes of any student that ever came through or school. And had a few bad habits as well along the way, but on the very first day of school, we did this thing called hot dog tag, where I just wanna get them moving. You’ve probably seen it. You know, one person stands in the middle, two people on either side, few people that are it, few people running around and someone joins your trio. The other guy got a run. And then I turn that into a name game and they can say hi.


Tom Yonge (32:43):
And I, I normally do this outside now for anyone else who’s watching because of what happened. But I was doing it inside and the room I was teaching and also was like our trophy case room. And at one point he was going really hard and he hopped up and he actually sprinted across four tables and he did a triple flip off the end table, went flying through the air. He rotated three times, tried to land, but missed and some salted into the display case. And, and I just saw like, like, like a lawsuit coming right away. Cause he’s, he’s going cracked right into the glass. Everything shook, trophies fell. Luckily the glass didn’t break. If it did, it would, would’ve showered upon him and that other people were around and I just flipped. And I just went into like, like assertive mode and I was like, Braden, like, what the heck are you doing?


Tom Yonge (33:28):
Like just kind of, and I just like, and he looked at me after you just having so much fun in the class. And he flipped me the bird. And he just flipped me the bur. And I think he, he might had a couple choice and he told me where to go and Audi and Audi walked and I was like, Ugh, like that’s the worst? Start to a team building experience, worst start to a school year. Like what could I possibly do? And I, I thought, well, he’s gone. They gave, they, you know, they, they tried, they tried, they put him in my class. They thought maybe this would be a good fit. Didn’t work. He’s gone comes by after school. And he’s standing in the doorway. He doesn’t wanna say too much. And I’m like, do you wanna talk? And he was just, he was really non-verbal and, and I just said like, listen, I lost my temper there.


Tom Yonge (34:07):
When I, when I got upset with you, I thought you were gonna like hurt yourself or hurt somebody else. But tell me, where did you learn to do that flip? And he is like, and you wouldn’t say too much. He’s like, I’m a trampoline and Tumblr, like I got, this is what I do. Like, like I, this is the one, the one thing that’s going, that’s going well is, is, is I, I, I have this skillset. And I was like, I would love to see that skillset that, you know, perform sometime on stage, like at a pep rally or, or something. Cuz that’s pretty cool if you wanna come back tomorrow. This incident is behind me as far as I’m concerned. But I’ll let you think about it. And he left that. He came back the next day and he kept coming back.


Tom Yonge (34:41):
And this is our first time planning, one of our big, you know, S Scona initiatives trying to, you know, raise money. And we had no clue what we were doing. We were, we are nickling and di our way to try to raise, you know, $15,000, we were kind of classic school, build a school somewhere else kind of thing. And we never had done a live launch in front the whole school before, but you know, we took a moment of, of, of a pep rally to take 15 minutes to talk about this. And we weekly leading up to it. Everyone’s getting super stressed out. We weren’t sure how to tell the story. We weren’t trying to make it relatable kids. Like, you know, 1500 kids getting outta class mostly are just happy to be outta class. They’re not ready to listen. And you know, especially when it’s a pep rally, all is fun stuff.


Tom Yonge (35:19):
And now we want them to get serious and talk about kids who are living in paw somewhere else who want a chance to read. And we called it to spread the word campaign. And while all the kids were getting at each other, like three days out, he eventually at one point he was just like, stop. He’s like stop. And we’re just like what? Because mostly, mostly just sitting there and he is like, listen. And he told us about where he grew up. And he told us about what had had what, some of the, the issues in his family and the community that it’s a rough, rough place, different city. He won’t get into it just for privacy’s sake. And he is like the kids that we’re trying to help, you know, a lot of them had had worse off than I did. He’s like, he, like, we gotta stop.


Tom Yonge (35:57):
Like we’re losing, we’re losing, we’re losing sight of, of what this is all about. Like, why are we here? Like, what’s our purpose? And he’s just like, and when he told his story and it was really personal, like everyone just was like, Teeter’s rolling down to the, down, down the face. And he came back like a few days later and he had a poem. And he’s like, I think I’d like to read this on stage. And, and so we got up and, you know, we got to this moment and all of a sudden the guy pretty much has never been to a pep rally cause he skipped every single one prior to this is the guy who has the light shining on him. And, and yeah, I, I don’t, I almost, I almost have bit memorized still, but I I don’t know if I, if I can do it quite, quite, quite right.


Tom Yonge (36:43):
But bottom line is this. I can, I can save, save that cause I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna butcher his words, but I still still remember it. So crystal clear, but he went off and he, and he basically did his spoken word poetry and the whole Jim just went silent and they were focused on every word he said, and that it was called to spread the word campaign. And we’d asked every kid in the school prior to write a powerful word on their hand before they got there and they didn’t know why. And when he was done, they, they, you know, he asked everyone just to kind of raise their hands. And we took the spotlights that were on the, on the stage. And we turned them out just to illuminate the audience and of a sudden 1500 hands in the raise high with words like, like hope and dreams and, and care and love.


Tom Yonge (37:25):
And like, he’s got this massive standing ovation and it’s like, right then I knew like we had it and that we were gonna be able to be successful in that first campaign. And that first campaign was called, you know, you know, the campaign, it became the annual SCON initiative and we’ve been doing this, this ever since. And he went on to do really good things. And I believe at one point, I don’t know if it was like fully working with, with CTA slay. But he was, he took his, his skills elsewhere, but my first thought he’d be on stage doing flips instead, he, he, he opened up his heart. And that that’s a story that will probably always dig with me.


Sam Demma (38:02):
Wow, man, I have goosebumps under my sweater. that was such a good story. I, I know, I know of another speaker named Josh and he always says that, you know, a kid’s most brilliant trait sometimes first makes its appearance through an annoyance. Right? Yeah. And I think this is perfect example of that, of that principle and story and how, you know, the love of a caring adult, the appreciation of a caring adult can turn that annoyance into some magnificent thing. And not that it was directly a result of just yourself, but it’s true. Educators change lives, you know? And that’s a phenomenal, that’s a phenomenal story. I still have goosebumps.


Tom Yonge (38:44):
No, I mean, and that’s the thing. It really, I, I think it rarely is about, about the educator. I think our job is to provide the opportunities. Yep. And oftentimes we’re just as, as surprised as, as anyone else would with what happens. Like I, I can take out to zero credit for that because I was the blind leading the blind that year. And actually for my many first years of teaching leadership, I really had no clue. In fact, a lot of my best activities that I’ve kept from the early years literally came out of kids saying things like Mr. Young, no offense, but we can tell that you’re not actually really ready for the next couple months. So could we do this? And they come up with an idea and I, yeah, that sounds like a good idea. And, and then, so they, weren’t a lot of the best stuff that I have, like didn’t come from me, but then I learned what did work.


Tom Yonge (39:21):
And you know, we follow the experiential learning model, which is not just learning from doing, but learning from reflection upon doing. And that’s, that’s really what we drive the kids. So we never do an event or even an Energizer or an activity without talking about the purpose or the metaphor or the, that can come out of it. I think that is like the, the real key is, is to, to extract meaning. And that goes back to Tom D if you wanna go full circle is you’ve, you’ve gotta reflect to be able to to move forward. And so the students were, were the ones that have often shown me the road and I’ve been happy to, to drive along on the bus with them.


Sam Demma (39:54):
Last final reflection question. you talked about your first few years of education. If you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what your, in your first, second year of teaching, what advice would you give knowing what you know now?


Tom Yonge (40:10):
Ooh, that’s a good question. Wow. Well, first of all, I’d probably say you know, embrace every moment, cause it goes quick. Mm-Hmm , you know, it it’s, it’s, it’s a wild ride. I think one of the, the, maybe, I dunno if it was a mistake or things that almost drove me to a point of burnout early on is I tried to do too much myself. I tried to carry the load and I always pride myself from being a guy doesn’t need much sleep and have a boundless energy. I mean, my mom grew up on a farm and you, you went to bed late and you woke up early to, you know, take care of the cattle or, you know, the goats or what have you. And I have that energy in me and I’m, I’m grateful to have it, but at, at some points in my career, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve gotten pretty close to line I’ve, I’ve drawn myself pretty thin.


Tom Yonge (40:53):
And I think a few of your different people you’ve had, you know, I think Mark England and Brent Dixon have talked about the importance of, of staff collegiality and making sure you take time to get to talk to people. And so I’ll take a slightly different take though. I agreed with everything they said, I would say you’ve got to find an ally. My mentor one of my mentors and, and still good friends who I met through student, this Canadian Sioux leadership conference. But I also, so I worked with her briefly when I was a young young teacher, her name’s Stacy, maybe. And she was just a giant in, in leadership world when I was coming in. And I remember her saying that, trying to be like an advisor by yourself show that being an advisor, student advisor or leadership teacher in a care is challenging and doing it by yourself is almost impossible.


Tom Yonge (41:39):
Mm. And, but if you have at least one other person who you can brainstorm with, you can say, you can go in the back office and say, did you just see what I saw? And either it’s a celebration or it’s event, but it’s someone you trust and you can, you know, you know, you can create with. And so in my, my fir I’ve been at school now for 12 years. And my, my first, you know, five or five years, I was getting pretty tired and I was just, you know, it was hard. But I think this is the perfect way to end this Sam, when I went to my very first Canadian student leadership conference in, in Waterloo, not Waterloo Niagara and I was just a young was my first year at the school, after all the bill, all these billets, you know, come and pick up the kids and people who are listening, we’re talking about like 800, maybe sometimes like a thousand kids all get billed.


Tom Yonge (42:22):
After going to this conference, you know, you find a plane, you go to this amazing opening ceremonies, the energy so high, and then you get these kids get billed. And then the advisors get to go to their hotel and, and get to network and meet one another and shared their ideas. And I was left. Like my kids had left and I’m talking to Stacy, cuz we used to work together. We’re so surprised to see each other at this conference. And she has one delegate and her name’s Jane Grant and this poor kid is in, in, in grade 11 or 12. And she’s the only one who didn’t have a bill come pick her up. Mm-Hmm . And so I’m trying to get on her level and just, you know, like have fun. So I remember like making like, like these dumb seal sounds like I won’t make it now.


Tom Yonge (42:58):
Cause it’ll break you the eater drums of your audience. And we were singing the beach boys and we were just trying to like play name that tune and just try to keep her mind off the fact that she didn’t have anyone come pick her up while you know, the people ran to con sort, you know, try troubleshoot. Well long the story short, I got to know her through state AC over the course of the week. And she said she wanted to be a teacher. And at the time an elementary teacher, well, when we came back, I introduced her to one of my former students and, and now one of my best friends, Michael Schlegel melt, and I said, you guys need to meet like, you’re really good Sam trying to get people to connect. And this is one of those moments where I was like, Jane, you’re awesome, Mike, you are awesome.


Tom Yonge (43:34):
And Michael’s is the guy who would come back and staff, all my retreats and camping trips and stuff cause most other teachers didn’t want to. And so I always rely heavily on my alumni and Mike was just a year older or too older than, than her. And he was starting this thing called the Alberta mentorship program, which is basically a bunch of young kids who would come out and they, they helped school. They helped at other schools and they would offer their services to be that bridge between student and adult and do mentorship or just simply be the backbone of, you know, big retreat like, you know, bikeathon and different things and say we’ll stay up all night. We’re the ones who like doing that. We’ll do the Brun work. We’ll take the garbage and we’ll meet with your kids and we’ll hold sessions.


Tom Yonge (44:08):
And so Mike and Jane actually started this, this thing and it became like a nonprofit and many of my alumni who left my class, went through this. And so Jane and I got to stay in touch through her entire, you know, university. And so she already was working with my students as like a university student. And then when she finally graduated, we said, Hey, like, would you come work with work with SCON and run the leadership program with me? And, you know, at that point, just like I before at one point was like, I don’t know, do I wanna be an outdoor guide? Do I want to, you know, be a coach, she chose to leave her elementary training and become the leadership teacher with me. And that is the TSM turning point. That is when things really took off. And we had, I said, we’d reach small events where we’d only use, kind of get like, you know, you know, 50 kids to a hundred kids max to an school event in the early years, once she came, things took off.


Tom Yonge (44:55):
And, you know, the last few years when we ran our bikeathon, as I said, it’s like 1200 people plus alumni plus volunteer plus staff. Like it’s like the whole school like involved. And she’s you know, at one point I probably was her mentor and now I kind of feel that she’s mine and we’ve kind of, you know, switch spots. She’s incredibly hardworking, organized, creative. And I just I think having an ally, so back back to the back, then find your ally guys and gals, everybody like find your ally. And and, and for me, I was fortunate enough to, and I had to work though. And I had to like really like lean on the administration. And some of us living in small town, this, this, this advice doesn’t help you too much. So your ally might look different and maybe that’s someone at home, it’s someone in the community.


Tom Yonge (45:37):
Maybe it’s not a teacher like my ally before that was Mike who was just alumni became who became my friend. And he was the one who I, I, I knew I could take kids on trips cause they’d always come to me. These big ideas. I couldn’t ask my staff to do that, but I couldn ask Mike. So Mike was my ally until he went and got his, you know, multiple degrees and, you know, became a doctor and moved to Ottawa. But and then by by the time he could not give the time that he, he did Jane could. Mm. And at some point I’m sure her she’ll find other allies, I’ll find other allies, but iron sharpens iron. And I think all of like I’ve benefit, she’s benefiting and most important’s students have be benefited from our co-teaching.


Sam Demma (46:15):
There’s an awesome book, think and grow rich. And there’s a chapter on the mastermind and Napoleon Hill, the author basically says when two minds, you know, two humans talk to each other and brainstorm ideas, a third intangible mind is created because of the two coming together and that’s what you’re describing. It’s like your creativity will never out match two people talking together and brainstorming together. We all have blind spots and other people help us identify them and amplify each other’s creativity, which I think is so cool. Ending on that note. If someone wants to chat with you and bring two minds together who listened to this interview and thinks it was a phenomenal conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and, and have that conversation?


Tom Yonge (46:57):
Well, I’ll say this in, in just to be funny, but probably email Jane.brand. ATSB, DOTC be more organized than I am. And I hope you, Jane, I hope you listen to this sometimes because it’s true and you know it, and you’ll get a kick of this when you see me next. No, but my, my emails, tom.yonge@epsb.ca and as long as you don’t mind getting emails late at night, I tend to get the kids to, I got a four and six year old. I get the kids to bed and that’s when I get back on and do my schoolwork. So I usually reply late and if that’s okay then I’m always happy to connect. And as I said, Sam, it’s been such a pleasure listening to the different educators from all over the place that you brought on this podcast. I really miss the community of CSLC teachers. And so much of, of my growth and everything that I’ve done is a direct result of better mentorship. And so cycle continues.


Sam Demma (47:52):
I love it. And I heard the rumor that if you’re near the school on a night of a full moon, you might hear a Ooh


Tom Yonge (47:59):
Right. I’m no, no lone Wolf. I’m looking for the pack. So just join in.


Sam Demma (48:05):
I love it, Tom. Thanks so much for coming on.


Tom Yonge (48:06):
I really appreciate it. My pleasure, Sam, thanks so much. Take care.


Sam Demma (48:10):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tom Yonge

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.

Jennifer Lemieux – Teacher, Guidance Counselor and Student Leadership Advisor

Jennifer Lemieux - Teacher, Guidance Counselor and Student Leadership Advisor
About Jennifer Lemieux

Jenn Lemieux (@misslemieux) feels blessed to serve the staff and students at St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School in Barrie, Ontario (SMCDSB). She has been a teacher, guidance counselor, and a student leadership advisor. As an educator for the past 22 years she continues to be inspired by the students and staff she works with.  

Her favourite quote is by John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”  The actions of educators have a large impact on the lives of students, families, colleagues, and the community.  As educators, we are gifted with many opportunities to be able to inspire others to dream, learn, and become more. It is one of the most amazing jobs in the world!

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School

Ontario Student Leadership Conference (OSLC)

Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC)

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Jennifer Lemieux . I met her a couple years ago, presenting at a conference in Ontario, known as the Ontario student leadership conference. She was one of the teachers that were in my breakout room and we stayed connected and I thought it’d be really awesome to have her on the show.


Sam Demma (01:00):
She has such a diverse experience in teaching. She’s a teacher, a guidance counselor, and a student leadership advisor, and also an Ontario director of the Canadian student leadership association. Her teaching roles occur at St. Peter’s Catholic secondary. She lives out in Barrie and she’s a part of the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board. I have an awesome conversation with Jennifer on today’s episode about so many different topics and her philosophies about teaching and education. And I hope you truly get a lot out of this interview and reach out to her towards the end when I, when I give you her email address. So without further ado, enjoy this interview with Jen and I will see you on the other side. Jenn, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing the reason behind why you got on why you got into education?


Jennifer Lemieux (01:56):
Well, thanks for having me. It’s an honour to be here. You’re doing amazing things, so that’s pretty awesome. I just got noticed that my internet actually is unstable so that’s how this goes. Why I got into education? Well, when I was young, my mom was a teacher, so that’s sort of where some of it, I guess would’ve begun. She taught elementary school. So we’ve had our share of being in classrooms; helping mom out. In high school of my history teacher, Mr. Adia, he was one of my inspirations in becoming a teacher. He was just an amazing individual who could inspire us to do awesome things with history and I actually majored in history and then ended up, it was either law school or education. Those were my two sort of goals. And after three years of school I was liked, I really wanted more and education was calling my name and so that’s where I begun. And I’ve been at the same school, this is going on 22 years. I haven’t had to leave and so it’s been a pretty awesome experience.


Sam Demma (03:06):
That’s awesome. And at what point in your own career journey, did you know that you were gonna be a teacher? Like, was there like people who pushed you in this direction? Did you know it since you were a little kid or how, how did you make the decision that it was gonna be education?


Jennifer Lemieux (03:25):
I don’t think, I mean, I just loved always. I mean, coaching when I was young doing thing with youth and, you know, it was just part of a natural habit to, to want, to help people. And though I think, you know, having the inspiration of, of course my mom and Mr. OIA was, was lovely to have and just wanting to be able to make a difference in the lives of people. So that was that I think was my go to.


Sam Demma (03:53):
I love that. And if you could pinpoint what the things were that Mr. O did that had a huge insignificant impact on you? Like, what would you say was it that he tried to get to know his students and build relationships? Or what was the main thing he did that made you feel? So, you know, stern, a scene heard and appreciated and inspired you so much so that you wanted to get into education yourself.


Jennifer Lemieux (04:20):
He was definitely human first teacher second. Right. So, so you could see those connections. He tried to make, I’m also from a fairly small town in Northwestern, Ontario, and he was also my driving instructor. nice. And he taught me how to drive . So he just, you know, sometimes people, he didn’t coach me he did coach golf where we were from. But he was just, just authentic and human and he cared and he challenged our thinking. And so it just was a great relationship we had.


Sam Demma (04:54):
Hmm. That’s amazing. And funny enough. He was also your, your driver’s teacher, you were saying, it sounds like he was a teacher in all aspects of life.


Jennifer Lemieux (05:03):
You betcha.


Sam Demma (05:04):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And so then you grew up do you still stay in touch with him today? Do you still talk to him?


Jennifer Lemieux (05:13):
I’ve seen him because I still have family in the small town we were from actually just saw him. Last time I was home in the grocery store and just had a little convers and with him, you know, in the aisles of the grocery store, I mean, that’s not a, a constant communication, but he knows he was pivotal.


Sam Demma (05:30):
Yeah, no, that’s cool. I was gonna say sometimes teachers see the impact that they, that they’ve created. Sometimes they, they don’t see it. Sometimes it takes 25 years for a student to turn around and, and let the teacher know. And I’m sure you of that, I’m sure you’ve, you know, had stories of transformation and maybe some that are, you know, 10, 15 years out of school and then they come back and they, they speak to you and tell you about the impact you had. I’m curious though out of all the students that you’ve seen transform due to education, maybe not directly in your class, maybe in your class or on your sporting teams do you have any stories that really stick out that were really inspiring? And the reason I ask is because another educator might be listening, being a little burnt out for getting why they got into education in the first place. And I think at the heart of most educators it’s students, right. They really care about young people and the youth. And so do you have any of those stories of transformation that you’ve seen that really inspired you? And if it’s a, if it’s a very personal story or serious story, you can, you know, give the student a fake name. just to keep it private.


Jennifer Lemieux (06:35):
Well, I mean, there’s, there’s many in instances. I mean, I wear two hats right now. I still teach classes, but I’m also a guidance counselor. Nice. so you have, you have two sort of different things to look at. I mean, as a teacher, you work with your students and, and I just love to see them gain their confidence and grow. I mean, I taught history. Then I went in and taught psychology G and so I say, I teach the life courses. My husband says I don’t teach the real courses of math and science. So I like to think leadership is life and psychology is life. Yeah. And just watching some of the students, especially in the leadership classes that they come in and they’re not really there. Some are make it, and they don’t know why they’re there and just a watch their confidence grow throughout the time you have with them.


Jennifer Lemieux (07:22):
I mean, we’re in the business of human connections. Yeah. I struggle sometimes to really think about, you know, I’m a, a task person and I like to do my tasks. And, and so I really have to consciously think sometimes people first tasks later same with, I think all teachers, we need to think students first curriculum later, mm-hmm . And I know a lot of my colleagues probably agree with that as well. But it’s really hard to do that sometimes. And so, I mean, I’ve watched students who have passions in their high school career go in, I mean, I’ve got one student working at Google in Cal now. Wow. So he’s working, he’s working there in high school. He was that kid who created websites, created videos for the school. Nice. So, you know, you have these kids who have their passions and to foster them and provide those opportunities and let them grow.


Jennifer Lemieux (08:14):
Those are some big transformations you see in kids. And then you also have the kids that, you know, have no family support and no, you know, they rely on the caring adults in the school to be their family to speak and to help push them to grow. Right. And you have those kids too, that have a lack of confidence or are the introverts who join your classes and you give them opportunity to try to shine, even though they don’t wanna do those presentations, you know, you provide some safe parameters and boom, off they go. So, you know, to say that there’s one specific, there’s a lot in the very many categories, if that makes sense. Yeah. That we can, you know, providing, I like to think we provide opportunities for students to grow. Yeah. In the very different capacities that we have. Right. And I, you know, kids come back and say, thank you so much, like you did this. And I’m like, all I did was provide the opportunity. You took it. Yeah. And you lost them. Right. So that’s sort of where I like to think we have the huge responsibility and opportunity for, to provide opportunities for our students to, to flourish and blossom.


Sam Demma (09:28):
What does and support them. Yeah. No, I agree. What, what does providing the opportunities look like? Is it a, to cap on the shoulder? Is it an encouraging, you know, word? Like what does that actually look like from a teacher’s perspective?


Jennifer Lemieux (09:42):
Well, it varies from giving them opportunities to attend conferences, right. To actually plan and execute and deliver a full event from start to finish, to provide them your full trust that you believe in them that they’re going to be able to do. Right. I mean, I had one student, we have a massive event in our school called clash of the colors and it’s a big, loud, crazy event. That’s four extroverts. And this one student had entered my grade 11 class and was like, but I’ve her bin. And I’m like, that’s okay. Right. Mm-hmm so how do we make you go? And so she was like, well, I don’t know, like maybe a board game room. And so we were like, okay, let’s create a board game room. And so we created this board game room and, you know, we ended up having kids that we never had and she then felt included.


Jennifer Lemieux (10:37):
Right. So she, she spoke up, had the courage to say, yeah, well, you know, I’m in this class and here we’re planning this thing I’ve never attended. Right. And I also had the flip where I had a brand new student come in last year or two years ago cuz COVID he came in and has no idea what our school culture is about and he’s lumped into a leadership class. Right. And he’s just like, yeah. Okay. And he ends up leading an entire assembly when he really knew nothing that was going on. Wow. You know, and I’ve had an ESL kid come in who couldn’t speak English. So basically they were put in my class for socialization and just to watch the, the student engagement and the support and students helping each other. I mean, those are the opportunities we get to provide for them to build confidence.


Sam Demma (11:28):
If that makes sense. Yeah. No, a hundred percent. You’re you are the person that provides the opportunity for growth, whether it’s the planning of an event, whether it creating inclusive opportunities where everyone, whether introvert or extrovert feels included and can use their specific gifts to make a difference in the school. That makes a lot of sense. And I, I appreciate hearing a little bit more about your philosophies. I, if we wanna call them that, you know, I think that everyone builds their own personal philosophies based off their experiences. And it sounds like one of the philosophies you have around education is that, you know, humans first curriculum, second, like you were saying, and I’m curious to know, what other philosophies do you have around education? Or what other things do you believe, you know, over the last 22 years of, of teaching that you think might be beneficial to reflect on personally, but also to impart upon another educator listening right now?


Jennifer Lemieux (12:23):
Well, one of my biggest flus, I have a few that are speakers. So Mark Sharon Brock, he used a quote that I order forget to leave things better than you found them. Mm. Right. So he uses it cuz that’s apparently how we use leave camp sites is better than how you found them. Nice. Right. So I heard him say that in a speech one time and I was so excited to actually see him at an Ontario student leadership. One like conference one year I was as like a kid, like meeting their idol anyway, nice. I use that now even with, with the kids at school and and just as a philosophy in general, to always try to get them to leave our school better than they fit as well as people. Right. So to just try to leave the people and places better than you found them. And that is something we, I do try to impart when I meet people is to try to do that. Right. So that’s, I mean, not a huge philosophy per se, but it, it was a line from him that I won’t ever forget that has stuck with me and is now in my day to day living.


Sam Demma (13:38):
Yeah. I love that. I it’s so funny. You mentioned Mark Sharon Brock a few months ago. I just picked up my phone and called him and his wife. Wow. Yeah. His wife answered the phone and she’s like, hi, and I can’t her name now, but it was on his website on the contact page. She was holding up a Phish on the contact page and we had a beautiful conversation. And I, I said, you know, you know, would it be crazy to think that mark might talk to a young guy who’s 21 years old who just has some questions? And she’s like, let me check. And she put me on hold and she called his office and he answered the phone and, and gave me his time. He gave me 30 minutes of his time, answered a bunch of questions. And I just remember thinking to myself like, wow, this is someone who owes me, nothing who doesn’t know who I am, who just took 30 minutes out of their very busy day to just share some wisdom. And I, I, I sent them a handwritten thank you note for, for, for giving me some time. But I think that that relates also to education that when we give students time to, to make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated when we go out of our way to show them that we care. Despite the fact that we all have our own busy lives, it, it makes a huge difference and a huge impact. I’m curious though, it’s


Jennifer Lemieux (14:55):
A nice bike story right there.


Sam Demma (14:57):
So for everyone who doesn’t know what that is, you wanna summarize it?


Jennifer Lemieux (15:03):
Oh, mark. always talks about nice bike. How he was at a big bike, I guess, convention, I guess. Yeah. And all you have to do is, you know, come up to big Burley guys who drive bikes and say nice bike and they kind of don’t seem so intimidating anymore. Yeah. it was a nice bike story.


Sam Demma (15:23):
That’s awesome. I like it. it’s so true. Right? A little, a little compliment, a little, a little appreciation, I think goes a, a really long way for an educator who’s listening right now and might be in their first year of teaching. right. During this crazy time, knowing what you know about education and about teaching and the wisdom you’ve gained over the past 22 years, like, what would you tell, like, imagine it was your yourself. Imagine if you just started teaching now, but you knew everything, you know, what would you tell your younger self as some advice?


Jennifer Lemieux (16:01):
Well, it’s interesting. Cause I remember being in teachers college and they like to tell you, you know, to set that stage when you enter that room and don’t smile until Christmas and all of those sort of things. And I would yes. Agree that there needs to be structure and parameter in a classroom and boundaries. But I also think it’s okay to be you and be your authentic self. I remember teaching an ancient history course and I never studied ancient history. I mean, I had, you know, American history, Canadian history and they plunked me into one of those and I was struggling in this grade 11 course knowing nothing. And I had to not lie to them. Right. Like it was like, okay, we’re gonna learn this together. We’re going to be okay. You know, because they’re going to see through you. So if you, you can be your authentic self.


Jennifer Lemieux (16:57):
I think sometimes we’re scared to let students see we’re human. And one of the first things I always try to remind them on the first day of school is yes, I’m your teacher, but I’m a human being. Right. And I have two rules in my classroom about respect and honesty and just, just be you because we just need to be us and be our authentic selves as scary as that is. Right. Yes. Again, we have boundaries. Like we don’t talk about what we do outside of school and you know, our lives to an extent, but for your, your personality and what you’re comfortable with. I think it’s fair to, to share some of those things with students and be okay doing that. It’s not about don’t smile until Christmas, at least in my world now. Right. When it, you know, when I first started, I think I was a bit scared and to lean on lean on your peers, like lean on people that have been there a while that are willing to help. Because it’s a pretty, pretty powerful thing. If, if you can be mentored, had huge mentorship in my career. I look at like St. Saunders, Phil Boyt one of my old athletic director partners I mean, they’ve all mentored me, right? Dave troupe was a huge mentor of mine, Dave Conlan. So they’re, they’ve all gotten me to be a better person and a better educator. And you want to be able to rely on those things and not be afraid to be you.


Sam Demma (18:30):
Hmm. That’s awesome advice. That’s such, such great advice. You mentioned that you created two rules in your classroom. Can you share exactly what they are and when you, when did you create those? Was that something that you started right when you first started teaching or did that, was that created some years in?


Jennifer Lemieux (18:46):
Oh, when I first started teaching, I of course had every rule they tell you to do. Right? Yeah. And like, and sign this contract. And then later as I developed, it was, I mean, honesty that was rule number one, be honest to yourself, me and everybody else. And if you know, your homework’s not done because you were too tired to do it, or you just didn’t get it done. Or it was a bad night. Don’t lie to me. I don’t wanna be lied to. Mm. Just tell me life is happening or something’s going on, you know, don’t have your parents write me a note. That’s not telling the truth, you know, try to just be, be real. And of course, to me, respect encompasses everything being prepared as a student. So again, I’ve remind them to respect themselves, to respect others. And of course it’s a mutual respect between all of us and, and we’ll get along.


Jennifer Lemieux (19:40):
Right. And sometimes you have to have those tough conversations with kids. I remember where a uniform school and I remember one student didn’t really love wearing her uniform. And so we butted heads a lot. Mm. Right. Because I was following the rules and that was not, that happens sometimes. And so often when that happens, students think you’re targeting them or you’re after them. And I always try to remind them, it’s the behavior. I’m not impressed with. It’s not their personality. It’s not them. Right. It’s their behavior. That’s not driving with me. And so I ended up having a tough conversation with that kid and we ended up figuring out a way to, to exist and coexist and be okay. Right. Because it’s not the behavior. It’s, I mean, it’s not the person, it’s always the behavior. I usually, you know, don’t, don’t like, so if you can separate that with students too, I find that’s helpful.


Sam Demma (20:33):
Right now there’s a ton of challenges. But in the spirit of leadership, we always try and focus on the opportunities. And I’m curious to know, from your opinion and perspective, what do you think some of the biggest opportunities are right now in education?


Jennifer Lemieux (20:51):
Well, in trying to stay positive, I think some of the biggest opportunities we have right now is challenging our creativity. We are being forced to, to change the, the things that we know to be right. So our course is how we deliver them. When I speak to many staff, they’re, they’re a bit challenged and discouraged that they’re having to destroy their big, awesome courses because they just can’t do the same in person activities and things just aren’t the same. And so we have an opportunity as educators to use different tools jam boards Google interactive, Google slides with para deck. So we’re using a lot more technology and having to force ourselves to be a bit more creative than we’ve ever been when it comes to teaching the things we love to teach. And of course, we’re, you know, challenged to keep our, our person surveillance up and just to keep plugging away. But I think we have to look at, you know, while we’re facing all of these challenges, now we are still growing. And we have the opportunity to become better differently. Yeah. If that makes sense?


Sam Demma (22:04):
It does. It makes a lot of sense. And I love that. And the piece about creativity D is so true. I actually, right now I’m reading a book, it’s a handbook that helps you become more creative. It’s called thinker toys. And the whole book is about different strategies and techniques to bring creativity out of you. The author believes that creativity isn’t something that you, you are born with, but it’s something you can create within yourself. So it’s an interesting book and I think it’s so true. Everything’s changing. The world is changing, which is bringing out so many different ideas and so many different innovations and I think education is at the forefront of a lot of it. Awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation. If someone wants to read out to you, ask you a question, have a phone call, bounce, some ideas around what would be the best way for somebody to get in touch with you?


Jennifer Lemieux (22:59):
Well, I’m not really active on Twitter, but I have a Twitter @misslemieux but my school email is probably the most frequently thing I access. So that’s jlemieux@smcdsb.on.ca, it’s for the SIM Muskoka Catholic district school board. That’s what the SMCDSB stands for. Yeah, I don’t know if it’s been helpful, but that’s, that’s who I am and how I roll.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Thanks, Jen. Really appreciate it, you did a phenomenal job.


Jennifer Lemieux (23:35):
Thank you for the opportunity.


Sam Demma (23:37):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator Podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jennifer Lemieux

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.

Tania Vincent – Chaplain at St. Michael Catholic Secondary School

Tania Vincent - Chaplain at St. Michael Catholic Secondary School
About Tania Vincent

Tania Vincent (@stmchaplaincy) is the Chaplain at St. Michael Catholic Secondary School.  She is good friends with Angelo Minardi, a past guest on this show, and both of them share a very obvious passion for giving young people the best opportunities for future success.  

Connect with Tania: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St.Micheal Catholic Secondary School

What does a Chaplain Leader do?

Role of retreats

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Tania Vincent. She is the Chaplain or the Chaplaincy leader of St. Michael Catholic Secondary School. She was someone who was also introduced to me by another past guest on the podcast. If you go back to the early days, this show was launched, I interviewed a good friend of mine.


Sam Demma (00:59):
His name is Angelo Minardi, and he gave Tania, Tania’s name as somebody that he thought I should speak to. And I’m so glad that I did because we had such a passion filled conversation. You can feel the authenticity and the genuine desire to impact her students in Tanya’s voice. And she shares so much amazing wisdom and advice from her own past experiences and for what she thinks the future might look like in education. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed speaking to Tanya to create it and I will see you on the other side. Tanya, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the audience who you are and how you got into the work that you do with young people today?


Tania Vincent (01:47):
Sure. So thanks. First of all, Sam, thanks for having me. So my name is Tania Vincent, and I’m currently the Chaplaincy leader at a high school in Bolton, Ontario called St. Michael Catholic Secondary School. Before I was a Chaplaincy leader, I was a high school teacher for about nine years and I I taught religion at a few different schools in Brampton. How did I get into this? I studied religion in University. And who in the world does that? And what do you do with that after you study religion and university? Well, I had no idea and I ended up going to teachers college and it turned out that I really, really loved the idea and loved the actual work with students, particularly with teenagers. And here we find ourselves today, you know, still doing it, still going at it, still trying to do it. And it’s been, it’s been great.


Sam Demma (02:42):
That’s awesome. At what point in your educational journey did you know, you know, yes, chaplaincy leader, that’s what it’s gonna be. Was there a defining moment for you or a progression?


Tania Vincent (02:54):
So I when I started teaching, I I just come outta teachers college and I worked with someone who kind of inspired me to go on to do some graduate work that I had never really thought about before. And so I started doing that and then I realized that this role that I have now in chaplaincy, that there was such an opportunity there to connect with to, with, to, to connect with young people in a very different way. It’s one thing when you’re a classroom teacher and you’re delivering curriculum, but you form a very different kind of relationship and rapport with students when you’re a chop and sea leader. And when you’re, you know, trying to encourage and help students kind of find their way in their journey of faith, even in adults in that matter. So that’s kind of how I ended up where I am today and what kind of inspired me to do. So


Sam Demma (03:43):
That’s cool. And I’m sure when you first started in this role it definitely looks different this year, as it does for anyone working in a school. What are the current challenges your school is facing? And there might be similar challenges in all schools and maybe what are some of the ways some of those challenges have been overcome, that’s working for you guys and you think might be valuable for other educators to hear?


Tania Vincent (04:07):
So I think first and foremost, the biggest challenge that I’m finding is that, or that I’m noticing in our school anyways, is student engagement because, you know, right now the way the model works in our school board in different field is students. It’s a hybrid model. Some students have chosen to stay home and, you know, be totally virtual a hundred percent. But for those that are in a hybrid model, they come to school for about two and a half hours in the morning. You know, they, they go straight to class and then they leave and there’s no, you know, you, there’s no, you know, leaving class to, you know, wander the hallway for 30 seconds or five minutes or whatever. There’s no there’s, there’s no opportunity to interact with other staff, with other students. You just come to go to your class and leave.


Tania Vincent (04:57):
And so students don’t feel engaged. They feel disengaged because it’s really become a building. You know, schools are, are these kind of great places for communities to develop, whether it’s because of co-curriculars or sports or athletics, all of these things, none of those things are very few of those things are happening right now. So we have a problem with keeping students engaged in anything beyond education. And even when it comes the educational piece, you know, we, and, you know, the, the, the adults in the building, if you will, are still figuring out how to do some of the same things that we would normally have done when we were physically all together in a school. And so I think, I guess, you know, the challenge really is how do we now continue to move forward and continue to learn and, you know, try to keep these students engaged, not only in the academic part, but in the other kind of stuff that happens at school.


Tania Vincent (05:52):
So like me being a child, for example, I, my role is to try to continue to keep students engaged in the faith aspect of school and of, you know, and of their lives. And that’s been its own challenge. But one of the things that I’m seeing is working is I know for, for me, and even in speaking with other colleagues is a willingness on our part as the educators to really kind of do things and step beyond our own comfort zones when it comes to being virtual, when it comes to being accessible in a virtual platform. So even something like, you know, I used to run retreats, for example. So how do you now, how do I now run retreats when I can’t physically take students out of the building, or I can’t necessarily see them face to face? Well, now I, I deliver retreats.


Tania Vincent (06:39):
I lead retreats virtually. It’s not, it’s not amazing. But it’s, it seems to be working. And I think it’s something that, you know, I can continue to build on. And the same thing goes for, you know, class for teachers in their virtual classrooms. You know, initially I think a lot of teachers were, you we’re there and they were, you know, sharing PowerPoints and all this kind of stuff. And, you know, again, this issue of student engagement, but as we become more comfortable as the adults with the technology, then we’re able to kind of infiltrate a few more ways to, you know, maybe make students more involved in their own learning processes. But that’s something, you know, we have to work on too, right. Because we’re not, you know, like you said, you know, a lot of, a lot of things have changed since March and we need to be willing to move past what we’re used to doing. That’s the thing, right. Everybody wants to kind of mimic what we did before, what we did in person. And I think part of the challenge is recognizing that we can’t necessarily mirror or mimic what, what we did before, but we need to look at other ways to still keep students engaged and still remind them that we are a school community.


Sam Demma (07:47):
Yeah. That’s so true. And the community piece is huge. You know, how do we ensure as educators, as people that work in the school that the students still feel appreciated and heard. And I know that’s a big part of chaplaincy as well, because you’re almost like, you know, an extra guidance counselor that they might come to before going to a guidance office. You know, yeah. How do we make sure the students still feel appreciated? So I think,


Tania Vincent (08:15):
So I think, you know, I think first and foremost, I think they need to recognize a real, I should say that we are still accessible so that even though, you know, they can’t leave class to come and see me in my office, for example, or they can’t leave class to go and talk to a guidance counselor. That doesn’t mean that, that they’re still not able to contact me or contact, you know, a guidance counselor or whatever. So, you know, if I’ve kind of found more creative ways for them to do that. But I, I really think it’s really important that I continue, at least what I’ve been doing is I try to make, make sure that they realize that I’m available even virtually, you know, my DMS are open on Instagram, for example. Right. So I know it, it sounds kind of funny, like to hear someone say that , but it’s true because a lot of people, a lot of students will reach out to me that way as, Hey, miss, can I come and talk to you about something?


Tania Vincent (09:06):
Absolutely. And then, you know, you can use that that’s, you know, just an opening door for them, but letting them know that they’re still, their, their voice is still being heard. Their concerns are still being heard and addressed, and we wanna hear their concerns. I think that’s part of it too. Right. We, they need to know that not only are we accessible, but we wanna hear what they have to say. I know when I, when I meet with students, when I meet with a, you know, a small group of students once a week, I always kind of ask them, it’s not even, you know, I asked them, what is it I can do for you that maybe I’m not doing or something that I did before when we were, you know, in total lockdown that you really appreciated that I can maybe bring back that I haven’t been doing, but what is it that you wanna see as students in our school to, you know, to ensure that you feel appreciated because students are a huge part of our school be community.


Sam Demma (09:57):
Yeah. I would argue almost the whole part , but yeah, without the, without the teachers and educators, but and you guys play a huge role in organizing the community and keep it moving along and transforming the community. I think a huge part of school is also, you know, helping students become self com confident in their abilities, because a lot of the time they don’t know what they’re doing. We don’t know what we’re doing. We have to learn as we go, you know, a student gets a new assignment, they have to learn the, the barrier is for them to say, I believe in myself enough to find the information, to figure this out. And I think, you know, that transformation is a, a huge part of, of school and of education. Do you have any stories of transformation that you’ve seen as a direct result of education in your school? And the reason I ask is because another educator might be a little burnt out right now thinking like, I don’t know what’s going on this year. You know, maybe this is their first year teaching and they’re like, what the heck am I doing here? And those stories might motivate them to remember this work is so important.


Tania Vincent (10:59):
Yeah, I think, you know, in my, in my own personal experience, one of the things that I do every day, one of my jobs, if you will, is to lead the school in prayer every morning. Mm. And so what I do with my, so I write these reflections and you know, on a very personal level, they become all was therapeutic, I guess, or they’ve allowed me to kind of exercise a muscle that I haven’t exercised in a while, but I digress. And so I, you know, I see them every morning at school, but we have a large, you know, number of students that aren’t in the building. So I also post them on Instagram. Hmm. And, you know, I, I spoke before about making sure that students know that I’m accessible. And so one of the things that I’ve had happen a lot, whether we were, it happened when we were sort of in lockdown and schools first shut down and it continues to happen now is me, you know posting these reflections and they’re about all kinds of things.


Tania Vincent (11:53):
And I try to make them kind of relevant to, you know, to students and to, to younger people, to young people. But sometimes they kind of trigger something or, you know, you say something or I write something, I should say that somebody needs to hear that day. And they send me a message. They send me a D and that says, Hey, you wrote something to today. This kind of really, I really appreciated that. And it starts a conversation mm-hmm . And I think that whether you are like me and have to, you know, lead people in prayer every morning, or whether you are just starting off a class online that day I think it’s really important to try to say something that’s not necessarily even curriculum based, even if it’s just, Hey, how’s it going today, everybody, right. How are you feeling? What, you know, one thing I do when I meet with my group weekly is I ask them to give me their highs and the low, their lows for the week.


Tania Vincent (12:47):
And, you know, it’s amazing to know sometimes their highs are really great. Sometimes it’s like, Hey, you know, I did well on a quiz today. Something that might not seem so important in the grand scheme of things, but it gives a student an opportunity to, to think about something positive. And it also gives ’em the opportunity to share something that’s maybe not going so great. And as the adults, as the educator, you know, you get a, you get some insight into your students that you might not otherwise get. Right. Instead of being so curriculum focused, you’re so focused on getting things done. You know, the thing I feel like we’re so worried about making sure we get everything done, because we’re trying to mimic what we would normally do. And we, we have to, we have to try as a collective, I guess, I don’t even know, but we have to try to move past not, and remember that right now. I think the, the importance of relationship and building relationship with our students, I think that is paramount over everything else because everybody’s finding it, tough adults, kids, administration, we’re all finding this challenging. But if we realize that we’re all in this together, and if we just vocalize that with our students, I feel like that really can breed some really great things.


Sam Demma (14:02):
That’s amazing insight. And I’ve had so many other guests give such similar advice on relationships and building relationships. And I think that’s so powerful because when someone trusts you, they, they’re more open to tell you things. And that comes through a strong relationship that you build with them over time. You shed some great advice on the fact that we can’t continually focus on education, being something that we have to solely focus on shoving curriculum, you know, through the day and making sure we finish it but adjusting and allowing the students to speak or, you know, slightly adjusting to what they might need that day. If there’s an educator listening who’s in their first year, and maybe they got into a role where they took on that mentality of here’s the outline here’s what has to get done. What other advice would you give them, maybe even to your younger self when you first started?


Tania Vincent (14:55):
First take a breath that would be the first thing to take a breath and be open to trying new things, and don’t be afraid to, to fail. And I guess at the end of it all, really, what is, I guess, what I’m getting at is be patient with yourself. Mm. Cause I’m finding that even now, because we’re all trying new things and we’re all kind of figuring out this new mode of, you know, delivering education and building community, be patient with yourself. And if something doesn’t work oh, well, so it doesn’t work. So you don’t do it again. You know we have to be willing to kind of make mistakes and giving, granting ourselves a little bit of grace and patience when some of those things don’t work, but it’s gonna get easier. You know, that’s what I would tell them. That’s what I would tell my my first year self is it’s gonna get easier and in, you know, enjoy your students or enjoy your time with your students while, while you have there, because you can learn so much from them too. And you’re all experiencing this together. Like, you know, I said that already, but you, we’re all kind of figuring this out together. Don’t be afraid to make those mistakes and be patient with yourself when you do.


Sam Demma (16:05):
I love that. That’s such a great piece of advice. And if another educator is listening and wants to hit you up in the DMS or, you know, get in touch and just bounce some ideas around what would be the best way for them to do so?


Tania Vincent (16:20):
It’d either be on Instagram or on Twitter and you can find me there @stmchaplaincy.


Sam Demma (16:26):
Okay. Perfect. Awesome. Tania, thank you so much for making some time I chat on the show. It’s been a huge pleasure doing this, and I look forward to seeing all the work you continue to do in the school.


Tania Vincent (16:36):
Thanks so much for having me.


Sam Demma (16:38):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tania Vincent

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.

Pamela Pereyra – CEO & Founder of Media Savvy Citizens and Media Education Expert

Pamela Pereyra - CEO & Founder of Media Savvy Citizens and Media Education Expert
About Pamela Pereyra

Pamela (@aducateme) is passionate about helping youth and adults in their drive for transformative experiences through critical thought, creative expression and hands-on play. Pamela is a leading voice in media education with over 20 years of experience as a designer, trainer, consultant, educator and advocate. 

She is an authority in comprehensive media and digital literacy working with schools, nonprofits and companies to transform learning with media and technology. She has received the 2021 Media Literacy Community Award by the National Association for Media Literacy Education and the 2019 Media Literacy Champion Award by Media Literacy Now. As the chapter chair of New Mexico Media Literacy Now, she advocates for media literacy education for all students. 

Pamela is the founder and CEO of Media Savvy Citizens, which facilitates understanding, positive participation and meaningful media interaction for learners. Their work is centred on building the capacity and resiliency of youth and adults in a changing technological world through media education and technology training, facilitation and consulting through hands-on experience. Media Savvy Citizens worked with 30 New Mexico school districts transitioning them into digital learning into 2020 and 2021. 

She is also an adjunct instructor at the University of New Mexico and holds an MA in Media Studies. 

Connect with Pamela:  Email  |  LinkedinWebsite  |  Twitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Pamela Pereyra
Resources Mentioned

The National Association for Media Literacy Education

New Mexico Media Literacy Now

The Journal For Media Literacy Education

Media Savvy Citizens Youtube Channel

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Pamela. And I’m so excited to have her on the show here today. Pamela, why don’t you introduce yourself and share a little bit about who you are?


Pamela Pereyra (00:19):
Okay. So my name is Pamela Perrera and it’s Pamela. That is just pronounced in Spanish, just for the people out there who are wondering what’s going on. Yeah. I am the founder and CEO of Media Savvy citizens, which works on media education initiatives and the understanding positive participant and meaningful media interaction for all learners. I’m also I live in the states and I’m the chair of New Mexico chapter chair of New Mexico media literacy. Now, which advocates for media literacy education in the state of New Mexico.


Sam Demma (01:02):
You’re like the media ninja, the media expert. What is media, how do you define and explain media to somebody else?


Pamela Pereyra (01:12):
That is a great question. And I think everybody has their own conceptual ideas depending on like when they were born so when they came into this world and what their experiences are, there’s like media legacy, right? Which is like broadcasting and television and radio and the, but there’s also new media, right? Which is digital technology media. And so media in this broader scope is any form communication that is not face to face. So, if you think about it, any, if it goes through a medium, any communication that goes through a medium is a form of media. Mm. So a podcast is media, a, brand on a t-shirt is a form of media that has a communication, right? Mm-hmm so it’s like a billboard is media, a poster is media and ucell phone is media. And also like all the apps in the cell phone are different forms of me. So like most of what we do in our lives, especially now,uin 2022 and 2022 are, mediated communications. Right? Most of the work that we do, even our schooling is through mediums. Right. We go on the internet, we search things. We, participate in social media. We take pictures, we share, means all of those things are media and mm-hmm.


Sam Demma (03:01):
Yeah. It’s, it’s a big concept.


Pamela Pereyra (03:05):
It is a big concept. Right. So literacy like media literacy, right. Is being literate, being able to read and really read in like a conceptual way. Right. So being able to like, understand how these, all these different technologies work how we participate with them, how we act with them and also like you know, how we create with all of these technologies, right. So we can be passive or we can be active depending on our mood.


Sam Demma (03:39):
And I think whether you’re passive or active with the media, it’s important that you understand how it works and you understand, and are aware and media literate, like you’re saying, why do you think it’s important that someone is media literate or, and understands media?


Pamela Pereyra (03:58):
Well, we’re bombarded we with media, right? We live in a mediated world. We have people who are creating messages for us with different intentions. Right. And are they, and being aware and just taking the time to reflect and understand, is this a fact, is it an opinion, am I being persuaded who think a certain way or behave in a certain way? And so part of that, like media literacy is just taking a moment, you know, and taking a, a, you know, breathing space to understand what is happening. And also like, am I gonna participate? Am I gonna share this information? And if I share, how does that impact people? So yeah. And so like, is it not, you know, important to understand the world in which we live and the world in which we live is, is impacted by all different forms of communication, whether it’s entertainment or whether it’s work related and doing any kind of internet search, you know, or working like a two or three year old who have, you know, who are given tablets, right. These are tools that we use. And so being media literate just makes us a stronger, more engaged citizen, conscious of what’s happening and possibly even a more engaged in civics and possibly society and our democracies.


Sam Demma (05:27):
What got you inspired to work in this vocation to spread media literacy as much as you can, because it’s important work and you’re obviously extremely passionate about it. So what prompted you to start and get into it?


Pamela Pereyra (05:44):
Well, it’s been a process. I started out back in the nineties as a journalist, I studied communications. I understand, I understood and had studied public relations and like how messages are put together from the ideas of like layout to colors and the psychology of color to influence people, to make them feel certain things, to give, you know, provide certain headline, to engage people to, you know, and so everybody has different motivations, right. For putting messages together. And I realized that I didn’t really wanna do that. I wanted to work with youth and talk about a lot of these things and talk about how media function. And so it kind of started with a, well, it started with me like working in film and journalism and moving in publicity and then realizing I didn’t really wanna be a producer so much as I wanted to discuss a lot of these things with, with youth and, you know, how have a different kind of impact I am a producer, we’re all producers, you know, if we press like that’s producing something, it’s producing a message.


Pamela Pereyra (07:05):
Right. And, and so for me, like really working with students and like getting into a classroom, I did that through a film festival. I worked for this film festival and expanded their education programs. And so I worked with a lot of teens and we made all kinds of media and films and audio pieces, but we also discussed the impact of, you know, FM messages and the impact of media. And I felt like it was a good, well rounded form of like working with youth and seeing how positive, what a positive impact it had on teen’s lives and how they were thankful, you know, for being, going through the process and, you know, discussing things that for them felt really real and like authentic and things that were relevant to them. And so that has been, my driving force is really working with teens and seeing like the impact, you know, that that being media literate can have on people. And so I have not stopped because I feel like it helps, there is like a balance there, right? Like if we are just sitting back and only consuming, what does that do for us, you know, as a society. Right. So it’s great to consume. It’s also great to produce, and it’s great to do both and to consume with a consciousness and an awareness around like what’s happening.


Sam Demma (08:42):
It’s important, regardless of what subjects students are learning in school that they’re taught and explained, I think in some sort of context with global awareness with what’s going on in the world with media literacy. And I’m wondering what you think some of the key concepts are that you can pull from media literacy and, and apply to classroom learning that maybe an educator listening to might explore, look into or think about how they could tie into their own classrooms.


Pamela Pereyra (09:13):
Yeah. Well, media education fits into any subject, right? Yeah. Whether you’re working with math and like graphs and data and statistics, or whether you’re working in a social studies classroom or a English language arts classroom, or a health classroom, there are different concepts that educators can different concepts that educators can implement in their classroom. So there are different ways. So one of ’em is like, before I get into some of these concepts, one of ’em is like using media as a, as a way to like spur discussion, right? Like using a video or, you know, using media in the classroom and, you know, discussing things, making media, like making a video for instruction. So the educator can make a video for instruction or an educator can ring in media and like work on different projects and have students participate with that media as a learning tool and then even make, there are little podcasts in the classroom about like what the reflection was.


Pamela Pereyra (10:29):
Right. So when looking at different media we have like to discover meaning and it is, we go through a series of like questions. So there are like five major, key media literacy questions to look at. And this is like when you’re studying different ideas. So let’s just say somebody brings in, in a math class, a statistic and an infographic, right. On something, whether it be math class or science, I mean, it could be COVID right. So it could be like a COVID related science message and, and statistics. Right. So you, you could look at it from different way, but one of the things that you would look at the first one would be author and authorship who created the message, like who is the author who paid for that message. That’s also part of the authorship, right? Like where is this message coming from?


Pamela Pereyra (11:34):
So that’s one, the other the other thing would be purpose. Like why did somebody create this message? Were they trying to inform, were they trying to entertain? Were they trying to persuade have you think a certain way or act a certain way. Right. So discovering purpose, symbols and techniques is another, like, what symbols are they using? What techniques are they using to, to hook you, to hold your attention? So this may be you know, it could be D different words that are being used, different length, which like is their language loaded, is are the symbols like, are they using certain colors, like lots of red? Are they, you know, like, you know, what, what symbols and techniques are they using? If it’s a YouTube video are people you know, using sources and do, you know, does the information is the, you know, you’re looking at context as well, right?


Pamela Pereyra (12:43):
So like what are those techniques, even within like a, a YouTube video or something like that. Right. So then you’re looking at representation, point of view, whose point of view is this coming from? Right. So is this point of view whose point of view is being presented and who’s this not like who’s being represented and who’s not, you know, if you’re looking at a historical piece of writing to look at point of view is like fascinating. And, you know, when you bring in the concept of global right. A global world in which we live, and especially since we’re living in a network world, we are, we are, you know, global, right. So we are way more connected to anybody anywhere in the world and at the touch of a fingertip or cell phone. Right. so we are looking at like, what it, you know, what, what historical perspective would they be presenting this information from, if you’re so that’s representation, right.


Pamela Pereyra (13:49):
If you’re looking at different messages, right? Like, or a text and a history book, where is this text coming from? Mm-Hmm so you are really kind of decoding in order to code, right. It like looking at all this stuff, the, the last part would be interpretation. And like, what did I learn from this message? Like, how did that change me? How did, how might different people interpret a message? You know, being a woman and being a brown woman in my interpretation of certain messages are sometimes just the frame in which I look at my world, come from that place. Also being media literate, I continually continually ask questions of any, you know, infographic or piece of data, where did this, where’s this coming from? Is this credible? Is it not like who’s the author, you know, all of those things, but also you can have, like, teachers would have students make a certain infographic, right.


Pamela Pereyra (14:46):
For a, a science class or a, and so understanding the process of what goes into media making and also deconstructing the, to then construct, right? Like, why am I making this infographic? Who I, who am I whose point of view am I representing? Even with numbers and data, people represent a point of view. And so it’s like, seems a little bit kind of hard to conceptualize, but going through a process of like practice and practicing these, these questions like where you ask the questions and you decode, but then you also encode, right? You also code these things. You also can make an infographic. You can make a meme, you know, know and make it funny and make, you know, and bring that into learning and talk about point of view, you know, in a, in a meme, or you can pull a meme and kind of deconstruct it as a form of text.


Pamela Pereyra (15:43):
So a lot of what we do is like bring in these PE pedagogy, right? The pedagogy in the classroom and have teachers go through this process of like becoming and embodying the concepts of media literacy so that you know, where they’re consuming and decoding, but they’re also constructing so that then they can like help their students construct for the classroom for learning. There are more concepts, you know, and some of ’em are like media construct, our culture, you know, they shape culture, right? Mm-Hmm and media messages, do they affect our thoughts or attitudes or actions? They are, are most powerful when they operate on an emotional level and have emotional power. They Def always reflect the point of view, right. They always reflect the values, the viewpoint and intentions of media makers. Right. So anybody who’s making a message has a point of view that they’re shared and they have values and viewpoints.


Pamela Pereyra (16:56):
And so understanding that is important. So media messages contain texts, but they also contain subtexts. So what that means is there’s like what is said, but is also what is not sad was like implied. Yep. Right. So these are like, this is part of that framework for media literacy and like kind of going through a process of using media, but also like when I have students in, in the classroom, when I have students make something like, let’s just say, we’re gonna all make memes today and we’re gonna make memes on, you know, any subject matter that would be relevant. That is being studied. Like we’re making memes on the American revolution. So you study the American revolution you make, possibly will make a mean, but then you deconstruct a memes and understand like, what is a mean, you know, and what, you know, and, and how do they function to be able to make a meme, but then it’s related to whatever is being studied.


Pamela Pereyra (18:02):
Right? Mm-hmm so it might be related to the American revolution. And you know, what, if you, okay, everybody make a meme from this point of view, or from that point of view, make a meme from the point of view of a revolutionary or make a meme from a different point of view. And so it really helps bring, drive home the concept of like, what is being studied, but also that, like the understanding that there are different points of view and that there are different authors and there are every author has a purpose. Yeah. And every per, you know, and every message can be interpreted in a certain way. And so those are some of like the conceptual pieces that we put into practice, right? These are just like theory, right? These are concepts, but then to put them in a practice and to really bring that have teachers, like when we work with teachers, we have teachers use a lot of these concepts. They go through a process of a hands on decoding and then a hands on like making stuff. And it’s really fun. And they, they get to plan, you know, a lesson, they take a lesson and maybe like revamp it and be, make it media literacy focused. Uand that’s always really fun for teachers because they get to like sit down and like plan and figure out like, how can I make this more of a media literate lesson when I I’m already it’s some that already exists. Right.


Sam Demma (19:33):
Tell me more about the importance of the author. I think that’s a really cool concept. And I’m curious if any examples come to mind where you think it would’ve been very helpful for society to know who the author was of a certain message. I think about nutrition. And, and I watched a couple of documentaries on, and this is two years ago, and this is also, again, if I asked myself these questions, I would’ve had a better perspective on the documentary itself, but it was a documentary about not being vegan, but it was a document tree on reducing our intake of meat. And they started showing that behind most of the dairy and meat industry is like one sole company or like one massive company that has like 50 brands under it. And it’s like really one author. But then if I ask myself who made the documentary, there’s a whole other author who made, who made that with a whole different purpose. I’m curious why you think it’s so important that we ask ourselves who the author is when consuming a piece of media.


Pamela Pereyra (20:44):
I mean, this is like, authorship is like, it’s huge, right? Yeah. So, and a piece of media could be a lot of different things, right? Yeah. You were watching a documentary. And so to have that understanding of point of view, right? Like it’s all kind of related. Yeah. Because the author has a point of view. Right. And it’s made for a purpose and the purpose of that documentary for you, it was possibly made. So people could stop eating meat and become vegan because they were influence and it was meant to influence people to feel certain things. So they showed you certain images, those are symbols and techniques. Right. And they were presenting a certain point of view that was who have you be against eating meat. Right. Yeah. And so understanding the author really helps you understand the message right. And where it’s coming from and why it’s being put together.


Pamela Pereyra (21:40):
So when we’re looking at like a post truth world, right. We’re looking at like, what is, you know, when we’re discerning, whether it’s a piece of news, whether it is a presidential speech, whether it’s you know, a meme, a silly meme. Yeah. You know, if you are looking on know a lot of young people get their news from Instagram, right. So it’s like a caption and actually it doesn’t give you the whole story. So you don’t actually get the whole story. You only get a tiny component of it. So that also is like, has almost a different kind of authorship than the actual story. So when you’re looking at author, if you’re looking at you’re also thinking for me, you know, when we dig deeper and you go deeper into this kind of work, we’re looking at bias, right. So we’re looking at like, where is the bias and what is the bias?


Pamela Pereyra (22:44):
And like, even like, if I look at a media or article, right. A news article, the bias, like first I might be looking at like, okay, the author is Sam Demma. Right. That’s the byline, but, and Sam Demma may have written the article, but also Sam Demma works for a certain company. Right. That has certain point of view that they’re, you know, trying to relay. So if you’re looking at, you know, is I always look at, when I look at news, I think about, is this left leaning? Is it right? Leaning? Is it more central? Do these people stick to the facts? Do they not? Like there are a lot of a few different, and for news literacy, there are like media bias fact check. Right. Mm-hmm like, so there’s you can go and look at media bias and figure out like, where’s the bias in this company.


Pamela Pereyra (23:45):
Right. But also like, so you might realize like, oh, this is extreme, right. Or this is right leaning, or this is extreme, left or left leaning. Or this is, you know, they’re presenting news. Especially if you look at news, cuz it’s supposed to be centered, right. It’s supposed to be objective and presenting both sides of the story, but is it trying to influence you still to look at a, in a certain influence you to, to, to lean in a certain way? And so when you’re looking at author, I look at the byline who the person is. I look at the company and who the company is. I look at the bias and what the biases of that company also, like it might be the funders like of different like organizations or companies, like how is this project being funded? Who’s funding it.


Pamela Pereyra (24:38):
And like, where’s the money coming to back up, you know, to back the, that project. And so it’s, you know, it’s, it’s really quite complex because there are many authors to one piece of news or one documentary, like you said, right. So it might be like the person, the director of that documentary and the writer of a documentary, but also like the, you know, like, is it whoever put out that memory, right. Is it like 21st century Fox or is it, you know, Warner brothers or is it Disney? And you know, like who’s putting that out and you know, and so there are, there are many authors yeah. To, to a piece of media, you know? Uso that, and also when you’re looking at stuff that could be,unot credible, I guess, would be the, the right word when you’re looking at information that could be not credible.


Pamela Pereyra (25:37):
That lacks credibility, the lacks validity then is, is important to understand when you’re looking at authorship to know like, how do you find something, whether something is credible or not, how do you know if something is reliable? How do we know if something is valid? And there’s a whole process that we go through, which is gonna take me to train you Sam you’re probably, and you know, like that, because it’s, it’s a process, you know, and it’s practicing the, these skills. Like it’s not a one time shot. It’s not even like a one semester shot. It’s ongoing from kindergarten through college and onward on through your life, you know, to continually practice these skill sets, you know, to ask questions and be curious about media and message and like, you know, and what that is a, a book, a textbook is a piece of media that has a point of view and has, you know, authors and, you know, if, and so who are those authors?


Pamela Pereyra (26:46):
What is their point of view and how is it being presented whose point of view is being presented. So all of that can be decoded from a textbook and also what’s inside that textbook. Right. And so to understand that just means that we begin to understand, like by and begin to understand point of view and representation and begin to understand our world in a different way. When we ask questions, when we go through the process of inquiry, you know, of of communications, right? And like question our world and question our, you know, question the Instagram posts that we see and we, you know, and we question it in a curious way, it doesn’t need to be negative. Yeah. It doesn’t need to be like bad. It’s just like, I, media literacy, doesn’t tell people what to think. It just helps people to go it through a process of how do you go through the process of critical thinking, right?


Pamela Pereyra (27:48):
Yeah. Like, how do you do that? How do you, you know, ask questions of authorship to understand if something is credible or not credible. Right. Got it. And if something is like a conspiracy or not like, how do you figure that out? You know? And there are, and so we have to continually go through the processes. And I do a lot of research. I of like, when I look at an author, I don’t just look at like, who is Sam Demma? You know? I mean, I actually, don’t just look at the author and like read the article I go through and figure out who is the, you know, the author’s name, right? Who is Sam? What is he? You know, what do other people say about Sam? Like, and like, I, what is called what used to be called, like triangle reading. And, but now it’s called lateral reading.


Pamela Pereyra (28:36):
When you do the research and you read across and you open up a bunch of tabs to figure out who is the telling the story about this documentary, like, yeah. Not just like who is the director, but is like, who is this company? And who is, you know, and who are these brands that are trying to influence me to, you know, to drop eating meat and to be vegan and, you know, and what’s, you know, all of that. So I think in the end know, authorship, I know this is a long, you know, I know this is a really long answer, but I think authorship is like so important because understanding who is putting messages together and why really helps us understand what’s credible. What’s not especially right now, you know, and we’re, we’re living and I’m just gonna repeat myself where we’re living in this in a, in a world that is complex.


Pamela Pereyra (29:31):
And it’s hard to understand, like there are a lot of authors there, EV anybody’s a producer, anybody could put, you know, could produce information. And is there information credible? Like when sometimes within a piece, somebody might quote a doctor. I go and figure out, is this doctor who is this doctor? You know, is it a doctor, a philosophy that’s actually being quoted for a, you know, for a scientific, you know, opinion, you know, piece, is this like, so then a doctor of philosophy would then make that person that credible, right. If they’re being quoted in something that just because they’re a doctor, doesn’t make him an expert in COVID, doesn’t make him an expert in like, you know, whatever is that they’re talking about. So even within a piece, I go, I might search different people different because they’re also, you know, part of the whole story.


Sam Demma (30:24):
It, I got it. And media literate, like citizens in society is so important. If educators are listening and want to integrate media literacy more into their classroom, one way they could do it is by going on your website, media savvy citizens, and getting in touch with you but how else can they learn? How, what, what can they read? What other pieces of media have you found very insightful in your own journey of learning about media literacy? any books, courses, videos that you think educators should check out as a, or to start their own journey.


Pamela Pereyra (31:04):
Yeah. And I’m glad you asked that there there’s a lot of information out there. Media literacy has become more and more popular. And just to clarify, there are media literacy is this big umbrella, which looks over news literacy, which is a subset information literacy C, which is also a subset digital literacy, digital citizenship. So depending on what they’re looking at, they’re looking for, they can find different information. Some people call digital media production, media literacy. Well, it’s just like a small component of it, but it’s not all of it. And then, you know, and so, you know, it’s, it’s, I just wanna make that distinction. Sure. Because if you just look up the word media literacy, like you’re gonna find only news literacy or only certain, you know points of view that it’s not the whole scope. So the national association for media literacy education is a great resource.


Pamela Pereyra (32:01):
That is a resource for educators. That really breaks down a lot of these concepts that I talked about, the key media literacy questions and like resources there. They have they put together a journal, which is a journal for media literacy education. I think it’s called. And so they, you know, you can go through them. There are also the I’m the, like I said, I was, I’m the chapter chair for New Mexico media literacy now, but media literacy now is an advocacy organization and they also have a ton of resources on their website. So it’s media literacy now.org. And they have a lot of resources on their website to access different information and courses and different things. And not courses necessarily, but just entities, you know, that are media receive media education entities. So yes, media savvy citizens, which is my project.


Pamela Pereyra (33:06):
We have a lot of resources, our YouTube channel, lots of webinars and different resources on our highlights page that people can access for, you know, for free and different like information specific to media. Like I, the scope of media education. Hmm. Yeah. So those are some places to go to. And, you know, and now if somebody wants to just specifically deal with news, then you know, they’d be looking at news literacy. You know the center for news literacy is a great place, you know, for just news literacy resources, but media literacy overall in general and resources for media literacy, I think is net national association for media literacy education is a great place to start. Sounds


Sam Demma (33:57):
Good. And where can someone send you a message by email online? What would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Pamela Pereyra (34:07):
Yes. Thank you for asking. So Media Savvy Citizens is the name of my entity. And so my name is spelled like Pamela. So they could just email me pamela@mediasavvycitizens.com. You can, most people can just go on my website, https://www.mediasavvycitizens.com/ and go to the contact page. You can, people can subscribe there and they can just peruse the website, my, my events page and my past events page. I have tons of resources there as well. So any talk that I have done this specific piece of in this interview, I will put a link together there once, you know, I get the link. So any interview that like media savvy citizens has been involved in, and there was a lot of information there as well. So as far as resources, and then as far as contacting me, go to the website to the contact page.


Sam Demma (35:12):
Pamela, thank you so much for taking your time to come on the show. It’s been a pleasure. Keep up the great work and all the best in 2022.


Pamela Pereyra (35:20):
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate your time.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Pamela Pereyra

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.

Larry Tomiyama – Consultant and Retired Administrator with 32 Years of Experience in Education

Larry Tomiyama - Consultant and Retired Administrator with 32 Years of Experience in Education
About Larry Tomiyama 

After spending over 30 years of his life as an administrator in the Calgary School system in Canada, Larry (@TomiyamaLarry) was gifted the opportunity to work with some of the most vulnerable and behavioural students in his school system.  Through that experience, Larry learned so much about trust, trauma-informed teaching, and how to build really deep relationships with kids.

He believes that his opportunity to work in this environment was a gift from God because it truly changed the way Larry understood education, leadership and life. He was so motivated to share his discoveries, he left the school district so he could speak with other educators and leaders about what he had learned.

Connect with Larry: Email | Website | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Robert Greenleaf’s book – Servant Leadership

Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education – Book

What is Trauma-Informed Teaching?

Calgary Board of Education

In Everything Give Thanks (website)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Larry welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Please introduce yourself and share a little bit about the work you do in education.


Larry Tomiyama (00:11):
Thanks. It’s a pleasure and privilege to be here, Sal. It was great to meet you the other month and I’m happy to be here today. So I’m a,, I guess a lifelong educator, if you count of when I was in school it would be 55 years almost that I’ve been in school as either a student a teacher, a university professor. And I guess even the speaking that I do right now and the everything that I get to do right now is due to the path that God provided the opportunities that he provided for me. And it all kind of culminated in the last two years of my K to 12 teaching career with the Calgary Catholic school district. And in those last two years, I got to work with, be the principal of a school that educated the most behavioral, the most vulnerable, the most volatile students in the city of Calgary.


Larry Tomiyama (01:19):
But those students and the staff that I got to work with taught me changed and transformed the way I think about education, about life and about leadership. And I believe it’s been my calling for the last five or six years to go share this information with anybody who wants to listen because it’s it, to me, it was, it just put everything into perspective. It made sense to everything, to that part of things. So I don’t know if you want to hear anything a little bit about my, how I grew up and things like that, but really everything is kind of culminated. And the purpose of, I think why I’m on earth is occurred in, in that little space of time. I’m in, in the last five years,


Sam Demma (02:06):
What a beautiful realization to have and to still be able to share and have the time to share these things, which is phenomenal. I think you’re doing an amazing job. Please take us back to when you were growing up, tell us a little bit about your upbringing and also what got you into education in the first place, or should I say made you never leave?


Larry Tomiyama (02:30):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, my, parents were both, Japanese. My mom was born in Japan. My dad was born in, Canada and, so I grew up in a small Alberta town of Taber, Alberta. 5,000 people there. It was a fantastic place to grow up. Small town, you went to school there. My dad owned a service station in a town, just, just east of the city. my mom worked in a canning factory, canning vegetables when she wasn’t, at home chasing us around, I have two brothers and a sister and, get to hang out with them in Calgary. So that’s, it’s great. both my parents have passed at this at right now, but, certainly the work ethic and the example that they provided will live on. And I hope, and I know that, they’re in heaven right now and I’m happy with most of the stuff that I do.


Larry Tomiyama (03:34):
But I’m sure wanna criticize me as well, too. So I’m, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with that. I went played a lot of baseball and basketball as I grew up and sports is a big part of my life and was able to pass that on to our kids, my own kids as I grew up. So went to the university of Calgary, started my teaching career in Calgary and never left and had a really, really fulfilling career as a teacher, as a principal worked at the, our central office for a little while and then kind of only moved into the post-secondary world. But that’s been part of it, but really the again, things really culminated in basically 2015 to 2017. And in those two years that I got to work with those students. My wife was gonna kill me, as I said, right after that, then I know I have to go share this information and I decided to leave the district. And that was not part of our retirement plan, but it had to be done. Luckily I’m still married. So,ushe was okay with it.


Sam Demma (04:57):
Hey, sometimes you have to ask for forgiveness and not permission, right.


Larry Tomiyama (05:02):
That was definitely one of those occasions sound I don’t re I don’t recommend it, but it worked out. Okay.


Sam Demma (05:09):
Bring us into the environment of the school that you had the opportunity to work in. I don’t think every educator understands the feeling, the experience. Tell us a little bit about, and also what you learned


Larry Tomiyama (05:23):
You bet. I think if it’s okay with you, Sam, I’ll tell you a little bit about it and then I’ll tell you a story. And it really it kind of, I think people get a better visual visualization of what’s there. Sure. So our lady alert school was created to educate those students because of their behavior, because of their brokenness, because of their issues that they were having. They couldn’t be successful in any other school. So they needed a place to go to do things maybe a little bit differently than other schools but to see if we could help them provide some type of therapy for them to get them to the point where they might be able to integrate themselves back into regular school. So most of the time these students been suspended or expelled from other schools and there’s really no else, nowhere else for them to go.


Larry Tomiyama (06:22):
So we got to educate them in our building. So we had 60 students. Half the building was for really cognitively delayed and students with severe, severe autism. And the other half was the students who, and I called them to screw you kids because they had no problem telling to, to screw off and many other things as well. But they were just students who had experienced no success in school. And as we found out lots of trauma that they experienced that caused them to not be able to function. And it was our opportunity that we got to help them function in a way that they can be a little bit more successful. So the story that kind of illustrates this really, really well is a story. I call this student little G I gave all my students nicknames and Ralph was really, really good then, and the kids really liked it.


Larry Tomiyama (07:31):
So they liked, they liked that name. So this guy was little G little G came to us in kindergarten. Story is that at the age of two little G had to be removed from his biological parents because his biological father was sexually abusing him. At age of four he was in the foster system and social services felt it was important for little G to be with a sibling to try and get a family connection. So little G was moved into a foster home with his 12 year old brother. He was four at the time that lasted about six months and he had to be removed from that house because his 12 year old brother was sexually abusing him. Enter us. We normally didn’t take students that young at five, we usually took them at grade three.


Larry Tomiyama (08:31):
We wanted them to go into a regular system and see if they could function. And then if there was a problem we would try and step in, but myself and our psychologist went to go see little G in his school that he was at. And we saw this cute, angry, sad, outta control, little boy. And I looked at her and she looked at me and we looked at each other and said, we gotta take him. So I entered little G into our school. I, he started in September. The hope was that we would hear at some point that little G was gonna be adopted. That was really the goal, social services working super, super hard to try and make that happen. And it was like November. And in November, we got the word that little G there was a family from out of town that was extremely interest in little G.


Larry Tomiyama (09:38):
It was like a party at our school. We started planning the party. His last day was gonna be December 22nd. I think it was the last year of school. And then he was gonna leave school with the family and go to their help. And in in conversations and therapy sessions little G had mentioned over and over and over again that he just wanted to call somebody, mom and dad again. And so we heard this news, we did everything. We invited the family in. We saw, we let little G be with his perspective parents. As many times as we could at school, things were looking really, really good. And I remember it so clearly it was December 21st, the last day before school was to let out. And I got a call from Steve, the social worker, and Steve said, Larry, I’ve got some bad news. I said, what’s that? The parents can’t take little G they’re not ready. They don’t want ’em. I don’t know what the reason was, but they can’t take ’em. So I’ll be there tomorrow morning, the last day of school tomorrow morning to let little G know that that’s what the situation was.


Larry Tomiyama (10:55):
Selfishly, selfishly, on my part, I it’s, Steve, this is. You’re gonna come to school at nine o’clock wreck this kid’s life again, and we’re gonna have to deal with them for the rest of the day. I’ve got no choice, Larry. We gotta do it. Fair enough. So December 22nd rolls around we’re in the conference room, I’m sitting across a little G little G’s teacher is sitting across from Steve. The social worker. We bring little G in our little G’s teacher is she’s crying already. And we’re just waiting. So the meeting starts and Steve communicates the little GE gee, I’m sorry that the, the adoption didn’t go through the, family’s not gonna take you and you’re not gonna be going home with them today. And I just put my head down and waited for the explosion and to everyone’s surprise, LGI jumps up onto the table that we are at jumps into my lap and says, that’s okay, Steve, Mr. T that’s me, Mr. T you’ll be my dad. Right.


Larry Tomiyama (12:23):
And I had nothing and I was praying to God, what the hell do I say? What do give some words, gimme some words. And what came outta my mouth was absolutely. I will always be your dad at school. G always, always, always. And he jumps outta my, laughing into this teacher’s lap who can’t even talk and says, and miss G you’ll be my mom too. Right. And I, and she couldn’t even breathe. So I took her head and I motioned it for a nodding action. So she would say, yes, I think that was a yes. G you’re doing okay.


Larry Tomiyama (13:03):
So the, the reason why I tell that story is because we got to work with these students who experienced trauma and everything else that no student should ever, ever have to experience, but we got the chance through the model that we used to get that kid to the point where he thought enough of us thought enough of me thought enough of his teacher, that he might be able to call him mom and dad. And we have that opportunity every day. And this is an extreme case for sure. But every day, as educators, as teachers that we have, when we get to step in front of our students, there’s lots of little G’s out there, lots. And in order for us to be able to tee each them, those kids need to feel safe and they need to feel that somebody cares about them.


Larry Tomiyama (14:04):
And I don’t care if you’re in grade, if you’re in kindergarten and grade 12, that, that model, that formula in order to make those kids safe and secure prior to teaching them and get them to trust you. It just spoke volumes to us as a staff. And we got to do this every day. Not that it was easy. In fact, it was brutal sometimes, but to be able to do that, it showed me why we got into the business at educating and teaching kids and how we can get them to learn to like themselves enough to be productive in the, in, in whatever that they do. So, like I said, I can go into the model a little bit more if you want, but certainly he’s a great example of teaching us what needs to be done with these, with some of these kids.


Sam Demma (15:08):
Wow. But before we jump into the model and talk about that a little bit, can you share in your perspective how you believe you’re able to build trust with students? Not only the challenging ones, but also the easy ones. You shared some experiences on our previous call that really highlighted how I believe, you know, sometimes building trust is a long process and can be very challenging, but once you have it, like you just explained with little G it becomes a beautiful thing. How do you think you build it?


Larry Tomiyama (15:46):
It doesn’t matter if the, I mean, if, if a student is traumatized or not, sometimes, I mean, and, and the model speaks to it really well at the bottom of the model before anything happens, it’s safety. So the student needs to feel safe and how we define safety. When we worked with these kids was that the student needs to be able to predict what’s gonna happen next. That’s what safety is because in their lives, in their homes, in their situations, you’re not safe. If you can’t predict, I don’t, they can’t predict how mom’s drunk boyfriend is gonna act. They can’t predict if they’re gonna have supper that day. They can’t predict if they get in trouble, what that’s gonna look like. So we are able at school will be able to create an environment where they can predict what’s gonna happen regardless of, of how they act, what they say or what they do.


Larry Tomiyama (16:41):
They’ll be able to predict how we’re gonna act towards them and that’s respect respectfully, lovingly whatever we need to do that doesn’t, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t consequences. Cause there consequ are critical, but students need to feel safe. The next step that we need after we got them to feel safe, we called it security and security is that they’re willing to do things, even though they might fail, they feel secure enough because of the adults in the room or their teacher or whomever that even though if they fail, it’s gonna be okay. And kids, especially kids who struggle in school, they don’t, they’d rather not try than fail. So we need to get ’em to that point where you know what it’s okay to. And I actually, I was listening to another podcast and people didn’t like that word failure. So they used the word falling instead of failure.


Larry Tomiyama (17:46):
And I kind of like that, cuz falling gives the connotation that that you followed, but you want to get up as well. Mm like that. I like that. Yeah. So, so first safety, security, and then trust and trust was vague. They knew how we were going to react in every situation, even though it was a consequence and, and there were, there were students that I suspended. But they knew that what was gonna happen, they were able to predict that part of things as well. The reaction of, of somebody when things didn’t go right. And once that was there ex that’s when the magic happened, but that sometimes that took years, but even, even in a regular classroom, their kids that, that are trustworthy already, just because they’ve had pretty solid background, loving parents, et cetera. But they still used to it’s they still gotta trust you so you can prove it to them.


Larry Tomiyama (18:54):
And it comes pretty easy for a lot of kids and teachers. But it’s that bottom third to bottom quarter where it’s not easy. So we have to work a little bit harder. We have to make an effort. They might be the kid in the class. And you might think that kid is the greatest kid in the world. He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t bother me. He’s fantastic. But he might not feel safe. So we need to go and make an effort to create those relationships with those kids. It’s easy for the kids that you, like. I tell the kids that, you know, the teachers in training that you think you’re gonna, like all the kids, you’re not gonna like all the kids. In fact, you might not, you might dislike a lot of them or some of them, the key is they can’t know that every kid in that class needs to think that you’d love them. Your inside voice might not say so, but it’s okay. They just need to know that you care about them and yell. And then, like I said, that’s where the joy of teaching comes from when you get that pack from the students. So hopefully it might be kind of confusing, but hopefully I explained it.


Sam Demma (20:13):
Okay. You did a phenomenal job explaining that. And it leads me to my next curious question, where have your principal’s ideas come from? It sounds like a lot of them have come from your past experience. The two years spent in this school and the 55. So or so years you spent in education altogether, but what resources, what courses, books programs, anything have you used or consumed that have been very helpful in helping you make a bigger impact on kids in the classroom and also as an administrator?


Larry Tomiyama (20:53):
Yeah. You know what it’s to say that there was I mean, a, a big on Robert Greenleaf’s book, servant leadership was certainly influential in my life, but you know, most of my stuff and, and most of the things that I speak about is from firsthand experience stuff that I screwed up royally as a principal, as a thing, and then to be able to think back record it, document it and understand, okay, that’s, that’s why I messed up on that. I should have it this way, or I should have asked for more input this way or they didn’t trust me yet. So I’ve taken what those kids taught me and the model that we used there and brought it back to the way that I was a leader in the way, the, the successes that I had and the failures that I had. And it’s all the same thing when I messed up.


Larry Tomiyama (21:51):
And, and I thought my staff should act this way and they didn’t it’s because I didn’t take the proper steps to get ’em safe. They didn’t feel safe. They didn’t certainly didn’t trust me. After a year, two and a half, they trusted me and then I could, then we do anything and everything. And we created culture. That was amazing, but it took me that while. So like I said, it was a culmination of those two years, but all the years that I was a principal and as a, a leader with the district and things like that, it all made sense to me when I got to live it with these students. And it made sense why I fell or failed in that situation. And it made sense why I am success. I was successful in many of those ventures. If there’s another book that I’m, that’s really influential in my life, right, right now it’s called neuro teach and is written by educators.


Larry Tomiyama (22:55):
And it’s all about brain-based research. And, and again, all the stuff that I thought is now reinforced by recent brain research. That that’s why we are able to help these students said we did. That’s why many of these kids were so stuck that when they were traumatized and they were young, their brain was damaged, physically, physically damaged. But research also shows that we have an opportunity to create neurons in the brain. That’ll help switch or flip their script, that all these people hurt me in my life. So I’m not lovable. I’m not likable and switch that to your more than lable. You’re more than likable, more than worth it. And we’re gonna show you why you’re worth it. So it, it, I don’t know. I I’m just, most of my life is cuz I’m a little bit messed up and that’s how we kind of evolve for me that those two years risk reinforced all the things that I had done before. And it’s really created and given me a a platform and a foundation to be able to share some of this information.


Sam Demma (24:18):
And you do a phenomenal job sharing it and telling it through the old art of storytelling in a way that’s engaging and fun for the audience. And last time we connected, you shared the story of I don’t know if that made a good representation of the sound or what happened, but, man you share that story before we wrap up today’s uhonversation and what you learned from it personally, if remember,


Larry Tomiyama (24:46):
Yeah. W was that with the I’m trying to think of which story that I had told was that with the little guy that I was in the timeout room with, correct. Ah, okay. Okay. So let’s, let’s call this student OB. And so OB was a grade three student who came from a war torn country. And his life was basically before he came to Canada, was running and fighting in refugee camps. So he comes to Canada and not functional in a regular school, kicked out of a number of schools or Exel from a number of schools just because he wasn’t able to, to function in a regular classroom. So we arrived at our season grade three and as most kids are, they’re not really that happy when they start in our building, because it’s just another place that they’re gonna be unsuccessful at and they’re gonna get kicked out of.


Larry Tomiyama (25:54):
And that’s where their head is at. So I got a call from the classroom saying that’s coming down and it doesn’t look like he’s very, he’s very happier. He is not ready to start class. So I said, fine. So I leave my office and O’s coming down the stairs and I know he’s not doing really well because he’s sucking his thumb. And that was his coping mechanism for when he was stressed or anxiety rid. And he comes down the stairs and I said, OB, how you doing? Just take a seat on the chair and we can get started with the day when you’re ready. You let me know. And he had his thumb in his mouth and everything. He just says, sure, up, shut up, Mr. T screw you. So it went on and, and on to that nothing that was pretty tame to some of the names I was called.


Larry Tomiyama (26:48):
So I was okay with that. And he came down, so it came down the stairs and was really, really angry, started throwing chairs, throwing things around and then went after a student. So we had intervene and when a student gets violent, we have a room that we call our calming room. And it’s basically a six by six cinder brick wall room with a door and a window in it. And so we brought him in there and he lost his mind in there. Kickings spitting, anything that you can think of. And usually they calm down after a while. So when they calm down, we enter the CLA enter the room and, and see if we can work with them. And so I walked into the room and he was lying in the corner of the room and started to get violent again. So I had to leave. And so I just waited and waited them out and got quiet. And he was mumbling and mumbling. I said, OB, are you okay? What are it’s gonna happening? Oh, I felt, tell me MRT. And I said, what’s that OB what’s happening, whatever you need. And he says, MRT, I’m gonna take their outta your and rub it right in your eyes.


Larry Tomiyama (28:23):
I couldn’t even talk. I was laughing so hard. I, I thought that’s so brilliant. How can and someone be so elevated? So, so mad and think of something like that. It took me like five minutes before I could collect myself. I looked in there and he’s crying again in the corner. So I walk, I walk in, open the door and I just sit on the floor and don’t do anything. And,uhe looks at me and I look at him, he puts his head down and nobody says a word for another five minutes. Uand then I see him army crawl over to me and put his head on my leg. Cause I’m sitting down in the ground. So he sat there for a few minutes and he’s crying and crying. And then he kind of collects himself. And he says to me, Mr. T, you can hurt me now.


Larry Tomiyama (29:24):
And I said, OB, what are you talking about? No, one’s gonna hurt you. That’s not why you’re here. We’re not doing that. Cuz he said, when I’m bad like that, and I say bad things, my brother or my dad beats the. And so I, I said, OB, listen, it doesn’t matter what you say, what you do, no one is gonna hurt you here. That’s not gonna happen. So we sat there for a few more minutes and in my work sense of humor, I said to him, I said, you know what, OB, you know, that stuff said to me, you know, with this and putting in my eyes and stuff like that, I go, I don’t know how possible that is. Do you think you could really do that? And there was a pause and he says,uand then he just starts full out,ubelly laughing.


Larry Tomiyama (30:29):
Yeah. Things like that. I said, OB, go clean up and get your to class. Mm. And so it went off to class. The, the, the big thing with that again, is the safety piece. Mm. That a, in his mind he was predicting what was gonna happen. Yeah. So when he acts like this, then he gets hurt and we had to flip that and we had to convince him that doesn’t matter what happens and how much you lose your mind that you’re gonna be safe here. So that was a huge, huge step in creating that safety for him. And again, this is an extreme story, but we can do little acts in our classrooms that show students that it doesn’t matter. What’s gonna happen. Whether whether we reprimand you or not how we say it or whatever. But you’re gonna be safe in my class. And that’s really, really the that’s the place to start


Sam Demma (31:27):
Love that. That’s such a powerful story along with the other one you shared and I’m sure there’s hundreds upon


Larry Tomiyama (31:33):
Hundreds. Yeah, no, it’s some of ’em are, are so ridiculous. They’re funny. Yeah. ,


Sam Demma (31:42):
That’s so true. Well, Larry, this has been such a pleasure with you about the, you know, the philosophies, the principles you have, the way you view education, the framework from which the school functioned. It’s really interesting. And if another educator is listening and is inspired by this conversation or has enjoyed it and wants to ask you a question or invite you to their event, what would be the best way for, for them to get in touch with you?


Larry Tomiyama (32:08):
Probably. I mean, if you need more information, I mean, my website’s not great, but it’s okay, but certainly it’s there. And my web website is https://ineverythinggivethanks.ca/about/. My email address is larry20ltomiyama@telus.net.

And shoot me an email take a look at the website that my contact information is on there. I’d be happy to talk to anybody. I talk to a lot of educators just about working with, at risk students about what, what I believe in leadership and what I, what I know works. And so I would be willing to share with anybody because it’s that’s what God God has asked me to do. And I don’t want to, I don’t wanna make him mad.


Sam Demma (33:06):
Larry, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate the time, effort and energy you put into your work and appreciate you sharing some of it here. Keep up the amazing job. And I look forward to our next conversation, hopefully on a golf course.


Larry Tomiyama (33:20):
My pleasure. Thanks.

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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.