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Teaching Tips

Don Middleton – Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary

Don Middleton - Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary
About Don Middleton

Don Middleton (@DonMiddleton1) is an Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary. Don has been an educator for 30 years. During his career, Don has been an Athletic Director, Learning Leader, and System Learning Specialist in Off-campus and Dual Credit.

Don believes that every student has the ability to succeed and strives to create those conditions for success in his school. Don is active in the community outside of school as a volleyball official and volunteers as a Vice-Chair for Calgary Elements Mental Health Centre.

Connect with Don: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lester B. Pearson High School

Calgary Elements Mental Health Centre

Masters of Education – MEd, Curriculum & Instruction Trauma and Resilience at Concordia University, Nebraska

Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.), Physical Education Teaching and Coaching at the University of Alberta

Mount Royal University

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)

Ironworking at SAIT

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 (00:56):

Hey, it’s Sam. Welcome back to the podcast. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Don Middleton. Don is an Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary. Don has been an educator for 30 years. During his career, Don has been an athletic director, learning leader, and a system learning specialist in off campus and dual credit. He believes that every student has the ability to succeed and strives to create the conditions for success in his school. Don is active in the community outside of school as a volleyball official, and he volunteers as a Vice Chair for Calgary Elements Mental Health Center. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Don, and I will see you on the other side. Don, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Don Middleton (01:44):

Hi, I’m Don Middleton. I’m an Assistant principal at Lester b Pearson High School in Calgary.

Sam Demma (01:50):

Why, tell me a little bit about how you got into education.

Don Middleton (01:54):

Oh, how I got into education. Well the reality is that when I finished high school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do university. And after six months of working night crew at Safeway, my manager said, I’m only coming off of night crew from working midnight till 8:00 AM if I was in school. So I applied for University of Alberta. And there’s only two faculties that were accepting students at that time, and it was education and arts and nothing against arts degrees, I think they can be very valuable. But at that time, my dad said, Friends, don’t let friends take Arts <laugh>. So I, I applied for education, but my brother was in physiotherapy and my plan was to take one semester of education and then transfer into the faculty of kinesiology, get an athletic therapist degree. And we were gonna open up a clinic together, him the physio, and meet the athletic therapist.

Don Middleton (02:49):

 my first month in education, they put me into a a student teaching role. It was supposed to be an observation, and my cooperating teacher handed me some tests and said, I’ll be back in an hour. And I was supposed to go over these tests with the kids and there was a young man that was it was a grade six class, and there was a young man that was quite upset with his test score. I sat down with him, tried to go over it with him, turned out that he got a zero and the reason he got a zero was cuz he didn’t show any work. So I started making up some math questions and he was answering everything out of his head just like that. And I realized that this kid was brilliant and the zero wasn’t indicative of what he really was capable of.

Don Middleton (03:32):

And so when the teacher came back to the classroom, I asked if, you know, we could adjust as mark. And he said, Well what’s your professional judgment? And I said, I’m 18, I don’t have any professional judgment <laugh>. And he said, What’s your gut tell you? And he said, My gut tells me that this kid understands he needs to show process going forward, but penalizing him by giving him a zero isn’t going to have a positive impact on him. And the teacher said, That sounds like a great professional judgment. He said, You tell him he got a hundred percent, but next time if he doesn’t show his work, he gets a zero. And the kid lit up like a Christmas tree when I told him the outcome. And I went home that night and I told my parents, I’m gonna be a teacher.

Sam Demma (04:13):

That’s such a cool story. What a, what a unique intro to education. I’ve asked over 200 educators about what got them into education. This is a very unique first answer, so I appreciate you sharing that backstory. you mentioned you had no interest in post-secondary education as a student yourself when you initially finished high school. I get direct messages all the time from students who, and it’s not a majority, but there’s a portion who reach out and say, Sam, I hate, like, I hate school. I I don’t, I don’t enjoy it. I don’t think it’s right for me, and I’m not sure what I wanna do after high school. When you have students who walk into your office and say things like that or express that being that, you know, you might have had a similar experience growing up as a student, what advice do you share or what do you tell them to help them along that journey?

Don Middleton (05:07):

You know, I think that’s a really great question. And I would say that my answer to that has evolved throughout my career. I used to say early on in my career, if you don’t know what you want to do, go to university. Go to college, take some general studies, find out what your interests are, and then check out what career pathways align with those courses that you enjoy and take it from there. now that’s become cost-prohibitive. It’s not, it’s not economical for a student to go to university if they know, don’t know that that’s what they want to do. And my my advice now is, do you like to work hands on? if you’re a problem solver, if you’re creative, get into a trade, go pick up a trade, go become a mechanic, go become a, a an, a carpenter, a cook, a plumber, pipe fitter iron worker, doesn’t matter.

Don Middleton (05:59):

 but go and get a trade. It takes you four years to get a journey person ticket in Alberta and a four year journey, person ticket in Alberta will earn you more money than a four year bachelor degree as an average income. And you will be paid from day one. And you’re not shelling out money towards courses that you may not ever use or need. And in Alberta, the average age of a first year apprentice is 26. And a lot of those people have university degrees and a, a pile of student debt. So go out, pick up a trade and, and get certified. And it makes you more valuable as a student later on if that’s what you wanna do. Plus students are always looking for summer jobs, and if you’ve got four months off to work in a trade and you’ve got a journey person ticket, you’re going to be paid far more than those people that are working in the service industry or in retail.

Sam Demma (06:53):

Not to mention, I like to go over in my head, best case scenario, worst case scenario when I’m making a decision. Worst case scenario, if you go down this path of becoming an apprenticeship, you get paid from day one. If you decide two years later, you know what, I don’t wanna do this. You’ve built some amazing skills. You might know how to fix your own car now because you went down the mechanic path and you wanna adjust at least the entire time you were being compensated. And you can now, you know, try something else if it’s still not the right fit. my my com I come from a family filled with trades. My dad’s a licensed plumber, my uncle Sal’s hvac, my uncle Peter’s electrician, like my cousin Joseph Mechanic, like the list. I don’t need to go outside of my family to fix anything <laugh>. and they love their jobs. So I think that’s such a great piece of advice. You mentioned, you know, are you hands on, try something in the trades. You also mentioned maybe even a cook and mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it dawns upon me that your cooking program at school at Pearson is phenomenal. Tell me a little bit about it and why it’s so special.

Don Middleton (07:55):

So we’re very fortunate that in our school we have a culinary and a personal foods program. So both of those instructors or teachers in those programs are Red seal chefs. So the students are getting a first class experience being trained by people that have worked in industry and are experts in their, in their field. personal foods is learning how to cook for yourself. and then culinary is cooking for a large group. But in addition to our two Red Seal teachers in those trades, we also have a Red Seal baker and then a Red Seal instructor. So we’ve got people that have a huge wealth of experience in those fields, and it gives students an opportunity to really find out if that’s what they want. And the great thing is, is that not only would do they get the high school credits, but our students, because our, our our teachers are Red Seal chefs already, they can also start getting them the apprentice credits while they’re still in high school. So they’re basically double dipping, getting high school credits, and they can get post-secondary credits if that’s a field that they wanna pursue.

Sam Demma (09:01):

And it keeps staff’s, bellies full

Don Middleton (09:04):

<laugh>. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we have some incredible, incredible meals here. And as I said, our our our FACAs bread that our baker makes is second to none. Her habanero cheddar PCA bread. I’ve got a standing order that every time it makes, I get a nice fresh loaf on my desk.

Sam Demma (09:24):

<laugh>. That’s awesome, man. Let’s go back for a second. You said the day you came back from school in the student teacher position that you told your parents, I’m becoming a teacher, obviously because of the emotional experience you had with that young man who was brilliant and you change his mark to a hundred on the test. what did the journey look like after that decision that brought you to where you are now? Have you worked in different schools? Tell me a little bit about the process.

Don Middleton (09:50):

Sure. I’ve worked in a number of different schools. I’ve been, this is actually my 30th year teaching. I I started in a small rural community in southern Alberta. it was a K to 12 school that had 84 students in it. Wow. So we had a graduating class, I think of oh, was it 12 students that year? And it was the biggest graduating class they had had in a, in a while. yeah, 12 students. That was a big <laugh>. But I realized that that day when I had had that experience in student teaching, that making a difference for kids and seeing them succeed, that’s what, that’s what turned my crank. That was something that I found so rewarding and it was something that I was, I felt I can make a career out of this and make a life out of this.

Don Middleton (10:36):

And and so that’s what I did. and I spent about 20 years teaching PhysEd coaching various sports. I I coached them all predominantly football and volleyball. And then I transitioned into what’s called off campus and Dual Credit world. And so students were getting work experience or registered apprenticeship program. I would supervise them. I had a great deal of success in one of the schools that I was working with. And I was asked to take a position with the with the board downtown overseeing rap and, and work experience for all of the Calgary high schools. I turned it down three times, and then the fourth time they said, Come downtown, meet with us, see what it’s like. And so I interviewed for it, fully intending to turn them down a fourth time. And then the the gentleman who became one of the most influential mentors in my life said to me, You’re going to have an impact on about 2000 students at your school. If you come downtown, you’re going to have an impact on 25,000 students. And that he sold me right then and there because that’s my goal is to have a positive impact on students. And if I can broaden that, then, then that’s a huge part of, you know, why I do what I do. my apologies,

Sam Demma (11:57):

<laugh>. That’s okay.

Don Middleton (11:59):

So in terms of different schools, I, I try to change up about every three to five years. I find that I never want to become stagnant. And so my goal is to change schools, like I said, about every three to five. and I’ve spent time as a phys ed teacher, as a phys ed learning leader, off campus coordinator, off campus, dual credit specialist. And then the past four years as an assistant principal.

Sam Demma (12:25):

I believe one of the most important things to measure when we start a new pursuit is our attendance. You know, are we just showing up and putting our foot forward? And I think once you get over that hurdle and you continuously show up, one of the shortcuts or fast tracks is finding a mentor. And it sounds like you found one in that individual who convinced you on coming to the board wide position to have an impact on more students. Who is that individual and how has he or she or them been instrumental in your own personal development in the education world?

Don Middleton (12:58):

Sure. so I’d actually like to mention two mentors. One was when I was a phed learning leader at Forest Lawn High School in Calgary. And the mentor was a gentleman by the name of Tim Maine. And Tim Maine was my principal at the time. And Tim had been a former phys ed teacher and university varsity volleyball athlete. And Tim and I had a lot of discussions about what’s best for kids. And, and I remember sitting in his office and asking him, Should I do this? Shouldn’t I do this? And he said, Well, what’s your filter? And I said, What do you mean? He said, What’s your filter? And I said, Still don’t know what you mean, <laugh>. And he said, Is it good for kids? And I said, Yes. And he said, Is it illegal, immoral? No, of course not. And he said, If it’s good for kids, it’s not illegal and it’s not immoral.

Don Middleton (13:43):

He said, Then we’ll make it happen. Mm. And I said, What about the funding? He said, We’ll find the funding. And that was, that has shaped the way that I look at anything that I do, You know, is it good for kids? Is it going to help them? And if so, we’ll find a way to make it happen. And quite honestly, that was one of the reasons why we brought Sam Dema in to talk to our kids. It was good for our kids. we needed to find the money to make it happen. And you have had a lasting influence on our kids here, because I still hear them talking about it. And it’s been several weeks after the fact. Thanks. The second mentor I had was Jerry Fiddle, and he was the education director for for me, when I went downtown. And Jerry was the role that I stepped into, I was the first person in that role.

Don Middleton (14:31):

 there had been nobody else that had done that before. So I got to define what that role looked like. And, and that’s quite an intimidating thing when I’d been in education for over 20 years and now all of a sudden I’m the first person doing something. So I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m actually inventing it. And there was nobody else that I could draw upon. And, and so I, I went to Jerry and he said, You’re doubting yourself. And so he encouraged me to take risks, which in education, usually the vanilla plane, you know, stay the course, stay between the lines, That’s the advice that you get. And Jerry was like, No, go outside the lines. Let’s expand this. Let’s grow and let’s do what we can. And we grew a program that saw students earning high school credits and university credits at the same time.

Don Middleton (15:19):

We had students going to UFC and Mount Royal, and we had multiple programs with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology for now state polytechnic it’s called. And to see students be able to start seeing themselves in a post-secondary setting after high school was amazing. And then on top of that, we set up a number of trades training programs where students would go out of school to, to learn a particular trade. And that was, again, we saw students’ lives changed because they were learning in an out of school setting. And not every kid is wired to be sitting in a chair for seven hours a day getting lectured at sometimes learning. And the best learning happens outside of a school setting. And, and Jerry taught me that, and Jar Jerry encouraged me to go down that path.

Sam Demma (16:08):

Thanks for sharing those two names. I appreciate it. And hopefully we can send this to them as a o of appreciation after this is aired and released. You mentioned the importance of students seeing themselves in post-secondary. I think that you and the entire staff and the entire community at LB Pearson does a phenomenal job of enabling that your students feel welcomed and included and at home at your school. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you have over 70 languages. Is it 70 languages spoken at the school?

Don Middleton (16:41):

61 61 is is the last count. Yeah. 61 languages for the students. In, in our school, we have an incredible amount of diversity. 77% of the students in our school, their first language is something other than English. And that’s what makes our school so special is, is that diversity and the way that everybody comes together. we have these these days where, where students get to celebrate their heritage and students will, will dress in traditional wear and they will bring traditional food. And it’s absolutely amazing to see the different things that are going on in the building at that time when those things happen.

Sam Demma (17:18):

One of the things that you shared with me when I came to the school was that sometimes the area in which the school is positioned gets a little bit of a, a bad rep, but I’ll be completely transparent, my experience with the school was, to be completely honest, one of the best schools that I visited in the past while and had the most, some of the most respectful and kind students that I’ve come across. how do you think as a school community, we work towards changing the narrative that’s been placed on us when it’s not one that we any longer deserve? <laugh>,

Don Middleton (17:49):

Thank you for the, those really kind comments, Sam, because that means a lot to me. I grew up in Northeast Calgary, and Northeast Calgary does get a bad rap. And the reality is, is that if you look at the newspapers you know, if there’s been a violent event or something that’s happened, it’s usually happened in northeast Calgary, and we get labeled with that because our school is in that, in that setting. Are we a perfect school? No, but the reality is, is that it doesn’t matter what highest school you go to, if your intent is to do something bad, you’re going to find like-minded people that are going to encourage or participate in those bad things. It doesn’t matter what school you attend or what area it’s, but unfortunately, when once a reputation is earned, whether it’s deserved or not, it sticks with you.

Don Middleton (18:37):

And I like to think of us as being a diamond in the rough. the people that come into the building, the people that experience Lester b Pearson, they know what it has to offer. Those people that prefer to, you know, be arm’s length and just point fingers and say, That’s not a good school. I would encourage them to come in, experience it for themselves, and then then pass judgment. I know that in the past, you know, we’ve had fewer violent incidents in our school than many, but we get the the notoriety. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

Sam Demma (19:10):

The phone ringing is a good thing. It means that things are happening within the school building and it makes it more real <laugh>. So I, I appreciate the humor. you’ve been in education for such a long period of time. You shared some of the mentors that have helped you along the way. If you could travel back in time and speak to Don in his first day of teaching, but maintain the experiences and knowledge you have now due to all of your different unique experiences, what advice would you give your younger self or that to other educators who are just starting this profession?

Don Middleton (19:47):

I think the, for me intuitively I’ve always known that relationship is a key to a student’s success. And building those relationships I’ve always had them happen organically because again, being involved in PhysEd and having multiple coaching seasons, you develop those relationships outside of a classroom setting. I would tell myself or any beginning teacher, be intentional. You know, don’t wait for them to happen organically. Seek out those kids and, and ask them, Hey, what are the things that you like to do? Oh, do you have any siblings? Hey, do you have a dog? I see, you know, whatever. make that connection because I, I finished a master’s of count, or not a masters of counseling, a master’s of education with a focus on trauma-informed learning. And really, it solidified that a relationship between adult and students is an absolute critical part of that student success, especially if they’re coming from a traumatic background and having one positive relationship for that student coming from a traumatic background can change their entire trajectory.

Don Middleton (20:50):

And I got to see that several times throughout my career, but it became more prominent when I would help students connect with trades and seeing kids that were not traditionally successful in a school setting all of a sudden thrive outside of a school setting. And the way that then that would carry over and they would, you know, went from having poor attendance to having over 90% attendance. They went from not being on track to graduating, to graduating in with their classmates in, in a two and a half, three year program. pursue those relationships, make them happen and, and be authentic and be yourself. kids have a great BS meter and I respect that, you know, those kids that call you on it. And if they do, and that’s what I love about Pearson is that if they think you’re, you’re giving them a pile of bs, they’ll tell you and if they do, you gotta look in the mirror and say, Hmm, are they being honest? Or, or, you know, Am I, am I doing the best that I can?

Sam Demma (21:52):

It sounds like genuine curiosity is the key to building relationships. Like is it all about kind of getting to know the student and being genuinely curious about them and their life?

Don Middleton (22:04):

Oh, without a doubt. When you, you have to show interest in who they are as a person. No kid wants to just be, Oh, okay, this is your ID number. And, you know, you sit in that back corner mm-hmm. <affirmative> getting to know that kid’s name and going down the hall and being able to say, Hey, you know, Antoine or Mohammed or whomever, right? When you know their name, then, then you’ve already started down the road to a relationship. And so that’s a critical part, is getting to know who they are, getting to know what their interests are, what is it that makes them tick. And then you try to, to work on those and build on those things to help them to be successful.

Sam Demma (22:43):

 such a good piece of advice. Thanks for sharing that. I think that’s how you also build relationships with anybody, whether it’s a student or a staff member, a colleague, whoever it might be. have you found any resources throughout your journey to be extremely helpful? That could be people, that could be books, that could be courses, that could be your peers, it could also be resources like other humans. I’m just curious if there’s anything that you’ve returned to a few times because you thought it really informed your beliefs around education or some of your ideas

Don Middleton (23:17):

I’ve had. Yeah, there’s several resources. I, I, I believe that learning is an ongoing process and, and the more you learn, the less you know, or the less the you, more you realize, the less you know. Yep. And, and so there’s various things that I’ve done throughout my career. As I said, I’ve, I just recently finished in the last few years, a masters of education. I did a, I never completed it, but I started a master’s of counseling because I thought if I did that I could have a better impact on my students. I, I always am searching out different types of professional reading I’m looking up here cuz I’ve got a list of books in front of me that that I try to work with. And it, it really is also having those mentors and somebody that has been down the road and can offer you that advice and, and going to your peers and saying, what’s worked for you?

Don Middleton (24:12):

 we don’t know it all and we’re better collaboratively and more effective as a group than we ever are individually. And, and schools should never be silos, You know, yes, you’ve got your science department, your math department, phyt, et cetera, but all of those people that are in there are expert teachers and they know how to work with kids. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re having success in phys ed, that success can be duplicated or replicated somewhere else. But if teachers don’t talk and they don’t collaborate and they don’t have the time to do that, then they’re not going to be successful or you’re going to be more challenging to reach the, the success that they want.

Sam Demma (24:50):

You mentioned that you did a master’s in trauma informed learning and started the one in counseling. I would assume that both of those would help you in some degree navigate difficult conversations with kids. and I’m, I’m sure that there’s moments where students, even with their parents sometimes might walk through the doors of your office, sit down, and you have to prepare for what could be a very difficult conversation about something that happened or about certain performance. How do you navigate and approach those really challenging conversations?

Don Middleton (25:23):

Number one is, is being authentic. I, I truly care about every single student that I work with and I wanna see them succeed. So if I approach my conversation from that perspective, then that gives me a sense of legitimacy and integrity in that conversation with a student and with the parent. And so that’s the number one thing. Number two is that I don’t beat around the bush. I’m very straightforward. This is what I want. This is what I would like to see for your child. This is what’s happening and this is what’s the barrier is how do we get from here to here and overcome those barriers. And sometimes there are things that are external, often they’re internal, usually they’re their issues within that student that is keeping them from being successful. I see my job as trying to help students be most successful and remove barriers for their success.

Don Middleton (26:18):

I also see my job as helping teachers jobs be easier. So if I can do those things, then I feel like I’m being effective as an administrator. And again, when it comes back to those conversations, it’s being truthful. And sometimes those conversations are hard and making the students understand that your choices are yours. You know, if I, and and I use this as a, as a common example, if I point out to you that you, that there’s a rake on the ground and you proceed to step on that rake and it hits you in the face, is it my fault? Is it the rake’s fault? No, you stepped on that rake. So the natural consequence is that it’s going to hit you in the face.

Sam Demma (26:56):

I love that analogy. <laugh>,

Don Middleton (26:58):

That’s,

Sam Demma (26:58):

I I might steal that one. Thanks for sharing. Absolutely. One of the reasons I believe most people get into education is they, like you mentioned, wanna have a positive impact on young people. They want to make a difference in the lives of kids. do you have any stories that come to mind when you think about a student who came across your desk and was really struggling and within a certain timeframe really switched around their situation, blossomed, if we use the gardening analogy and had a really big transformation. and the reason I ask is because I think other educators who might be listening will be reminded of their personal why when they hear stories of students making positive life changes.

Don Middleton (27:43):

You know, it’s, it’s funny because there are times when you’re in education and you don’t feel like you’re making a difference and you think, you know, is this it? Is it, is it time to pack it in? have I stopped being effective? And then you, you all of a sudden get an email or a note or you know, somebody reaches out on social media and they say, You know, I haven’t seen you in X number long, you know, number of years coach, but I want you to know that you made a difference in my life. And it, it’s funny, the universe, it seems to happen when you’re feeling at your lowest. having been in education for so long, I’m very fortunate to, to have a number of stories that where students have completely changed and, and have had very, very positive outcomes from maybe some pretty humble beginnings.

Don Middleton (28:34):

And, and if I have the time, I’ll share one with you. a young man came to me and he was in grade 10 and it was just before Christmas and he was 15 years old in, in Alberta. You can legally drop out of school at 16. And this young man hated school, absolutely hated school. And his mom was a young mom and she brought the, the student to see me. And he said, As soon as I turned 16, I’m done. You’re not gonna see me in the school again. And we talked about why and he just said, I cannot stand being in a desk for six hours a day. And so we, we talked about registered apprenticeship program and what that would mean. And I said, We can set up your timetable so that you have academic courses in the morning.

Don Middleton (29:18):

You’d have two academic courses in the morning. You can leave at lunchtime, you can go work all afternoon. the mom had a connection in a particular trade and for second semester the deal was that he was going to do that. And I said, I will support this and we will make this happen as long as you’re attending your classes in the morning. So fast forward kids doing great part way through grade 11, I’m going to visit him at the summer job. So we’re already about a year in and pardon me, it was only a few months in cuz it was grade 10. And he was working constructing a music conservatory on the university campus and he wanted to know who the trades were that put up the big iron girders and stuff. And I said, Well, that’s iron work. And he said, I’m doing this.

Don Middleton (30:04):

And he was kinda doing some, it’s called Interior Systems Mechanic, which is drywall type work and dealing with non combustible carpentry materials, so metal studs, et cetera. And he said, I would like to do iron working. And I said, I tell you what, you finish off this summer next year, I can get you into an iron working program because we had set one up with the with the Iron Workers Union here in Calgary. So the next year we put him into the Iron Working Program, he continued having his half day academic mornings working in the afternoon. He was thriving, he was doing great in his academics, he was attending classes very well. He went out, did the iron working program, got hired between grade 11 and 12 as an iron worker. The kid made $20,000 between grade 11 and 12 because he was p picking up a ton of overtime.

Don Middleton (30:51):

He, he made way more money than I did. And then part way into his grade 12 year, his mom called me and she said that her son was going to finish school at Christmas. And I said, What do you mean? She said, Well, he, he said that he’s, you know, not coming back in January. And she said, Is that okay? And, and so then after some further conversation, I realized that what she meant is that he was going to take one class on his own in the evening online, have his full academic course load first semester so that he can finish high school early and then go back to work full time as an iron worker come February. And so mom wanted to know, is this a good thing? And I said, You realize that two years ago, almost to the day your son was sitting in this chair saying he was dropping out of school and now he’s going to finish his high school diploma a full semester early. I said, That’s a huge win. And the young man is now in his early twenties, he’s a journey person, iron worker, he owns his own house. He’s actually come out to talk to students in school about his experience and why getting into a trade was the best thing that he could have done for himself.

Sam Demma (32:03):

What an amazing story. And I think it’s so important that when we have students in situations like that, that cross our, our desk, we begin with questions, Why is it, why is it that you wanna drop outta school? Because if you didn’t probe and ask questions, you wouldn’t have discovered that he didn’t enjoy sitting in class all day. And it would’ve been a lot more difficult to find a proper solution. Maybe the end result would’ve been totally different, right?

Don Middleton (32:32):

Oh, absolutely. And, and I think that that’s, again, getting to know the kids that are in front of you. if your goals and aspirations are going to university, then I think that’s very different than if your goals and aspirations are to go and work in the family’s restaurant or to take up a trade. and that’s not to say that university is a bad thing. I mean, clearly, you know, it’s done well for me. but the reality is, is that less than 50% of all students ever attend a university and even those that do the attrition rate is extremely high. So we need to do a better job as an education system and as teachers to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the students that are in front of us, find out what it is that makes them tick, find out what they want to do, and not every kid is going to figure that out in high school. But then let’s open up doors and expose ’em to as many different opportunities as we can so that they are developing those skills and they’re not afraid to step outside the, the norm and take risks and do different things.

Sam Demma (33:30):

Don, this has been a super refreshing conversation. The half hour flew by. If an educator is listening, wants to reach out to you, ask a question, have a conversation, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch with you?

Don Middleton (33:44):

My email address is dtmiddleton@cbe.ab.ca. I can’t promise I’ll get back to you right away, but I will respond at some point.

Sam Demma (33:54):

Awesome. Don, thank you so much for your time, your expertise, your ideas. I appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Don Middleton (34:02):

Thank you, Sam. I appreciate it. Take care.

Sam Demma (34:05):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Don Middleton

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.

Sheri Lowrie – Communications and Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor

Sheri Lowrie - Communications and Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor
About Sheri Lowrie

Sheri Lowrie (@sherilowrie) is currently a Communications & Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor. In March of 2022, Sheri received the Windsor Proud Award, which recognizes an individual who continuously demonstrates they are Windsor Proud and an excellent community ambassador. She has worked at the University of Windsor for 20 years and enjoyed different roles, from Program Administration to Academic Advising and Recruitment.

She is incredibly passionate about the students, building valuable relationships, making an impact in the lives of young people and being a part of a student’s journey. Sheri finds herself busy in her community by sitting on different boards and committees, coordinating events, and running for the municipal election in her town. She plays hockey and, since the pandemic, found a new love for golf. Sheri believes in personal growth and development and tries to show up each day as her best version. She wants everyone in education, from students to faculty and staff, to know that all they can control are their attitude and effort and knowing that will help them tackle anything.

Connect with Sheri: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Windsor

Employee Recognition Awards – University of Windsor

What does an Academic Advisor do? – University of Windsor

Bachelor of Arts (BA), English – University of Windsor

Bachelor of Arts (BA), Communication, Media & Film – University of Windsor

Bachelor of Arts (BA), Sociology – University of Windsor

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Sheri Lowrie. Sheri Lowrie is currently a Communications & Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor. In March of 2022, Sheri received the Windsor Proud Award, which recognizes an individual who continuously demonstrates they are Windsor Proud and an excellent community ambassador. She has held a career at the University of Windsor for 20 years and enjoyed different roles, from Program Administration to Academic Advising and Recruitment. She is incredibly passionate about the students, building valuable relationships, making an impact in the lives of young people and being a part of a student’s journey. Sheri finds herself busy in her community by sitting on different boards and committees, coordinating events, and is currently running for a municipal election in her town. She plays hockey and, since the pandemic, found a new love for golf. Sheri believes in personal growth and development and tries to show up each day as the best version of herself. She wants everyone in education, from students to faculty and staff, to know that all they can control are their attitude and effort and knowing that will help them tackle anything. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Sheri, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest, Sheri Lowrie. Sheri, welcome to the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Sheri Lowrie (02:28):

Thanks so much for having me. It’s really exciting. I’ve, this is actually my first podcast, so I’m excited to, excited to that you invited me on and be able to just ,to chat. So just a little bit about me. I graduated from the University of Windsor in 2004 with my Bachelor of Arts in English literature and language. And I minored in communications in media film and in sociology. And then I started working for the University right away and, but then also got to go travel around and live in New Zealand and visit Australia and backpack Europe as well, before I really settled into my career at the university. And then, you know, flash forward 20, you know, so years later, still here, still enjoying my career, but have also endeavored on running for municipal election in my municipality of Kingsville. So that’s gonna, you know, come to a close next week. So by the time this airs, maybe we will have, have a result. We’ll see what happens. But that’s a little bit about me, married, two kids, and just really living the dream.

Sam Demma (03:43):

You mentioned travels through New Zealand, some parts of Europe. Was that a part of you trying to figure out what you wanted to do, or tell me more about those travels and how they informed the choice you made to get into education full-time?

Sheri Lowrie (03:55):

Yeah, of course. Cause you know, I, all, everything is part of our story. So I think that having that experience really helped shape who I was gonna become. And cuz it was, it was early on, you know, after graduation. So I had finished school, got a job with university right away as, as a contract recruiter where I got to travel Ontario. So then I got this bug of being able to travel and being able to travel independently as a, a young woman. And so then as that contract was kind of coming to an end, I was like, Well, what do I do now? Like, let’s go see the world and really like open up my, my eyes to what’s out there. So New Zealand felt safe for me and safe for my parents as well to, you know, let me kind of go off and explore it.

Sheri Lowrie (04:42):

It was at a time where internet was becoming more relevant. There were internet cafes back then, and so I knew I could check in with my parents every few days and it was being away that made me realize that Canada was home. So I didn’t know exactly what my future held, but I knew that that that year in New Zealand and traveling around and living in a van. but you know, working along the way as well, it made me know that, you know, Canada was where I wanted to at least settle down but still experience all these fun travel things while I could. So I returned back and then I did another recruitment contract traveling Ontario again. And then that’s when I went out and packed Europe after that. And then it was after the Europe experience that I, I settled in and, and really focused on my career at that point in time. So being in the mid twenties by then and wanting to look to start to to buy a house. So it just got all that travel out of me that I felt confident in being able to go and figure out what my journey at the University of Windsor was gonna be in my career.

Sam Demma (05:55):

So after the traveling recruitment, what was your first, I guess, official full-time position and what are the different roles you’ve worked since?

Sheri Lowrie (06:04):

Okay, so when I first came back, so my first full-time job at the university would be in recruitment as well. So I covered a maternity leave in the beginning of my career was a little bit of maternity leaves. And I think a lot of young people these days, they do see that contract work and you, you need to look at it as really valuable because you’re getting that experience, it’s building your skill set, it’s really shaping your resume. So that first full-time job was a student recruitment officer where I was aligned with the faculty of arts, Humanities and social sciences and that was my home faculty. So I absolutely loved that position. from there, you know, I moved around the university, I went into university advancement or university campaign, so that’s fundraising. So I was a development officer there and got to find out what it was like to ask alumni to give back.

Sheri Lowrie (07:02):

And you know, we have as staff and faculty and alumni, that’s how we support our university in our own ways, whether through student scholarships or you know, capital projects. So I got to do a lot of interesting work around campaigns and fundraising. Then I moved over into the Center of Professional and Executive Education where I became a program administrator. And so then this got to, let me see that, that whole full circle of a prospect student, whether international or domestic. And then coming into university what their experience was gonna feel like as, as the person that’s administering administrating their program and then bringing them through to graduation and on to becoming an alumni where then that fundraising circles back. Now, did you have this great experience? Do you wanna give back to your, your university? So in the program in Min I did a lot of grad programs, so working with master’s programs in several of our faculties and even some partnerships with our, our social work program in the Toronto area as well.

Sheri Lowrie (08:10):

 from there I went over to academic advising, which was one of my career goals early on was I really felt that, you know, like Aunt Sherry or cousin Sherry or how I could like help out students in their academic journey. I loved course planning. I love figuring out a timetable and how to piece that together and helping a student get to figure out a degree audit so they can get to the end and make sure they’ve taken all the right courses. So I had a couple years in academic advising and then I went back over into student recruitment and now I am in I’m doing a, a temporary small mat leave cover for student communications and events for the, the Office of Student Experience. So even though I’ve been at the University of Windsor for 20 years, I’ve got to have really good opportunities inside of it through different roles.

Sam Demma (09:06):

 it sounds like you’ve really done a ton of different things, which is so unique and it gives you a unique perspective when you approach whatever role you’re currently gonna be working in. You sound like you were very passionate about the academic advising which is why I kind of had a follow up question for you. I’m sure it’s a conversation you’ve had before and so many other educators have it. Student walks into your office and they’re like, Aunt Sherry I have no idea what the heck I wanna do with my life. Like what, what is the practice that you would put forward? What would you say when a student walk in the office confused, overwhelmed with that sort of response?

Sheri Lowrie (09:48):

Yes, such a, such a typical day in my office, <laugh> academic advising for sure. And it usually, like you have those students that know exactly what they wanted to do and they’ve known it forever and that’s where they’re going. But 50% of of students change their major. They change their mind. They really have no idea. And what I really want students to know is that you don’t have to know right now. And even, even now, I’ve had several different jobs at the university, like your career can go in so many different ways. And so when that student walks in is like, what do I do? Then it’s, let’s try and unpack what are you passionate about mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like what lights you on fire? Like what do you wanna study? What do you wanna read more about? Like, let’s not think about the job, let’s just think about what is this four years going to look like that you are going to be excited about it.

Sheri Lowrie (10:45):

So that way when you graduate, it’s, it’s, the degrees are just backing you up. It just says that you had what it took to go through four years and develop the skills that an employer is looking for. So let’s not care that you’re gonna become a probation officer at the Windsor Detention Center. We don’t know that you’re gonna become that, but we care about your criminology course. If that’s what’s making you excited is that you wanna learn about crime and society and, and drugs and policing and all of this, then let’s study that and we’ll worry about getting that job after. So I also would always recommend students go to career advising too. Cause those are experts in that field. So I’m really good to help them with their courses and that degree audit. But I also think that it’s worth a lot of value to go take a career test and to see like what different things are out there. And at the end of the day when I look at my little kids, I’m like, you know, so many of the jobs that are gonna be there for them don’t exist yet. Mm. So not having to know and have it all figured out but for those that do have it figured out, good for you and follow that dream and go for it.

Sam Demma (11:58):

What keeps you hopeful to show up to work every single day and put your best foot forward? There’s obviously the great moments, the very smooth conversations, and on the other end there’s obviously the overwhelming aspect of work sometimes with so many projects being thrown on your plate with deadlines that seem way too short, <laugh>. what keeps you motivated and hopeful to show up, be your best self and do your best work?

Sheri Lowrie (12:26):

That is absolutely amazing question. I think I was actually given an award this year for the Windsor Proud Award. And, and I think that that is something that it’s, that’s what keeps me going. I really had an amazing time in my university undergrad experience. So like my professors were great, I changed my major, but it was seamless. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but my experience was really good. Like I loved being a student and so even though I didn’t know what I’d wanna do, I knew that I wanted to be in education and I, so I didn’t know what it looked like. I didn’t know who I was gonna become, but I knew that, that I wanted to work for the university. And then once I got a job there, then it just kind of snowballed after that, that now here I was working for.

Sheri Lowrie (13:26):

So some people will say I was lucky, right? I got a job right out of school. but I also think that took a lot of hard work and effort and it is that hard work and effort that still keeps me going. Like I wanna be proud of the work that I do. I want to be proud of where I work and what my university represent. I don’t understand how anybody who could graduate from anywhere and then go out and speak negatively of that institution because all that’s gonna do is devalue your own education. Yeah. So I, I’m the one that’s out there praising good word, like wins are proud. It was a good school, it was a great experience for me. It’s where I wanna show up and go to work every day. cuz I know I am valued as well and I know at the end of the day the students, they’re my customers and I want to provide them with a great customer experience.

Sheri Lowrie (14:20):

And when they come back and they send that one little positive note and I put it into my Happy Smiles folder that just says, okay, I helped that student, whether it was at the beginning of their journey and they were 17 and didn’t know what to, how to, how to apply and I helped them, or it was throughout their program or as an alum, whatever it was, how if I had an impact and they took the time to thank me, then that keeps me going too because I know that I’m making a difference in people’s lives and you know, just trying to have them have a good interaction with me, feel good about myself. The only thing I can control is my attitude and my effort. And so how I show up every single day as the best version of myself. So I think just being a good person is, is what keeps me going.

Sam Demma (15:07):

I love that the only two things I control is my attitude and my effort. I feel like if we carried those sentences around with us when things weren’t working out too well, it would really empower us to try and change our perspectives and continue to put our best foot forward despite external circumstances we can’t control. speaking of which, there have been many <laugh> what were some of the challenges that you inter faced during Covid and more specifically you and how did you and the team strive to overcome some of those challenges?

Sheri Lowrie (15:43):

It was definitely a time that we’ll all remember, right? Like that this is something that we’ve lived through together and so much research will be done in years to come to look back on the experience that we had. So when, when it, when we first shut down and we came home at that time I had six year old and a three year old. So to pivot to online learning for my kids, but also have to do my job and then have how do I then at the time as a recruiter, so how do we then, I would’ve been out in high schools. I would’ve been driving, I would’ve been going around visiting students face to face interaction all the time. And I was amazed that within one week we put an entire recruitment platform online, we established our virtual coffee chat, which then became, I found even more valuable for a student because if I’m standing in a hallway of a high school or in a gym or an auditorium or a cafeteria, you know, students can just walk right by and they can, in the back of their mind they’re like, Yeah, I saw Windsor in my school today.

Sheri Lowrie (16:54):

 but they didn’t have to come talk to me. Whereas if a student books a coffee chat with me online, they’re coming with actual questions, wanting to have a conversation, they’re in their comfort zone because they’re wherever they’re comfortable having that chat. And it’s one on one, it’s me and that family. And I think that was one of a, a true blessing that came out of Covid. And then at the same time, that challenge of having to do my kids at the same time, well a lot of students. So I would work seven in the morning till 10 in the morning and then I would teach my kids all day and then I would work seven at night until 10 at night when students were online and wanted to talk to me. So it was definitely challenging for sure, and it made me see that I probably did have a calling to be a teacher.

Sheri Lowrie (17:44):

I really enjoyed teaching my kids. but no regrets there at all. but it also made that flexibility of life and work life balance and we can do our jobs in a different way and we don’t have to be afraid of it. And we can have change even though it’s scary and we can pivot as much as I hate that word and how, which we had to use it. but there was, there’s definitely a lot of challenges. But, and I’m excited as a hybrid that we have now where I can still use this beautiful virtual background to have a coffee chat <laugh> but be doing it from, from home and being on campus and having that interaction and the face to face again, but still being able to get that balance. So I think Covid actually did some really good things for us.

Sam Demma (18:33):

That’s a virtual background. <laugh>, don’t give away the secret. <laugh>

Sheri Lowrie (18:38):

<laugh>. It’s funny cuz in the winter someone will be like, Oh, it’s so nice there. And I’m like, Yeah, there’s no snow at all. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (18:47):

You mentioned you’re Happy smiles folder out of the notes and messages that you keep stashed away in that folder, are there any stories of impact of students being really transformed or sharing their gratitude for your help that stick out in your mind that you return to often when you’re not feeling the best? And the reason I ask is because I think stories of student transformation remind other people in education why this work is so important and re-energize their personal wise. Do do any stories come to mind that you wanna share?

Sheri Lowrie (19:27):

Yeah, actually there’s one that she, she, it’s really in my bag right now that’s cool. <laugh>, It was a car, like a card and like handwritten. She had come, I had seen her in her high school or however the initial interaction was. Virtual coffee chat, I don’t remember. But I started that recruitment process with her and then, you know, she visited campus. Most important thing to do is visit your campuses that you’re thinking about going to. And so she came, like, she put in all this effort of trying to figure out where she wanted to go. Her mom and her came for the tour. I sat down with them, I mapped out what some stuff would look like, you know, like just a really good conversation station, stayed in touch throughout the next part of the cycle where you’re now converting and becoming, like choosing which one you wanna go to.

Sheri Lowrie (20:19):

And you know, just reaching out, doing my normal thing. And she then decided not to go to Windsor, which is fine. She would’ve been a student from the gta. So Windsor is a little bit of a hike, but she took the time to send me a card and so just addressed it to the universe, like my name and the university ones address. And so it had to go through the process of distribution to find its way to my desk. And then in this card just saying how even though she didn’t pick Windsor, that I still made an impact on her to want to go to school. And that it was the interactions with me, just Windsor felt too far and that maybe it was in her future, but that she needed to start closer to home. But without what she had with me, she doesn’t know if she would’ve went to school or if she would’ve chose college or taken a year off or done something else.

Sheri Lowrie (21:11):

And so it’s, it’s cards like that and moments like that that I’m like, I impacted that person’s life in that moment without even knowing it. And that’s, I think what’s, what’s so important and why you go to those, those folders to just reread those messages to say, yeah, like this is why I do what I do, because people really appreciate it and sometimes it’s confidence that they need or they just need to know that they, they can go to school and just relieve some of that anxiety for students. so that’s one story of, of several that, that I, I remember recently of someone just reaching out and I was, the fact that it was a card and handwritten just blew my mind.

Sam Demma (21:58):

<laugh>, you’re probably more familiar with opening bills and opening handwritten letters, which makes that even more special. Yeah. When you think about all your experiences in education, I would assume that most of the impact you’ve created in the life, in the lives of students who have come through your offices, who have worked with you was the result of building a strong relationship. And I’m curious from your perspective, how do you build a relationship with a student as a caring adult?

Sheri Lowrie (22:32):

Yeah, that’s a great question too. And it’s so true. Like everything, you know, everything is a relationships like people, people are people. And it is a, it definitely is about building those relationships. I think for me is I’m very, I love, I want to be an active listener and a lot of students just need to be heard. And so when, you know, I’m first meeting a student and I’m gonna use a student that I met when I was in academic advising, and he came in and he had failed out two universities and he basically was like, I want you to give me a chance. I can, I can do this. These are the reasons that I didn’t do well before, but I need somebody to believe in me and I promise you I’ll go to law school one day. And I was like, you know what, what do I have to lose?

Sheri Lowrie (23:27):

All I have to do right now is believe in you. And so I work with registrar’s office, we accept and admit this student, and then I say, You need to come back and see me every semester because I wanted him to know that I do care and I want to see that you, like, I’m gonna challenge you to be true to this word that you’ve said that you are going to make this the time that it works. And he came back every single semester and with his A’s and showed me that he had done it and he also had that value in me that somebody was there that believed in him. And so like that’s how that relationship was built was on like, respect, challenge, honesty belief, and then just genuine care, right? And then I got to see him graduate and he did go on to law school.

Sheri Lowrie (24:22):

And so, and I hope that he remains someone that stays in touch for forever, right? Like it’s, it’s amazing when you can see a student all the way to graduation and all they wanna do is introduce you to their parents or have a picture with you at graduation because you are someone that they feel that they had a relationship with. And what one of my actual dream jobs possibly is being able to be that person that is with them from recruitment till the end and that they felt like, yes, like I had that, that girl in my life and she helped the whole way through and she always cared. And so I, I value the relationships that I have been able to build. And mind you, not every single relationship wants to stay with you the whole time. So, but for those that that do want that relationship back, I think any employee at a university or college or they, that, that student has to matter. It has to be the number one reason that they, they go to work because those are our customers and those are the ones that are our future. So it’s just so important to give them such a great experience

Sam Demma (25:35):

On behalf of all the families and students you’ve helped who haven’t told you how big of an impact you had on them. Thank you very much. You know, you’re, you’re changing lives and doing great work right now, so keep it up. if you could take all your experience in education, bundle it up, travel back in time, tap Sherry on the shoulder, her first day working a full-time job in this industry or vocation I should say. What advice would you give your young, your younger self, Not because you would change your path at all, but because you thought it might be helpful to hear this as some advice as you embark on this journey in education.

Sheri Lowrie (26:16):

And this is probably so true with so many things of just, you know, what you learn in your twenties versus your thirties and now in my early forties to be able to look back to that, that 2020 year old self, 22, you know, fresh outta school, trying to get a full-time job. And I think it’s just like work hard. Like that’s if you work hard, you will prove yourself. You have new try things, try new opportunities. Don’t be afraid. Just put yourself out there. And at the end of the day, I think personal development and growth is so important. And I wish I would’ve started to invest in myself in my twenties instead of just work as like, just prove, prove proof to everybody else. I think if I would’ve taken some time on that personal development instead of in my forties would have made that much more of an impact. So I want those 20 year olds definitely great work ethic, work hard, prove yourself, but remember you in this whole grand scheme of life and finding out who you are and taking the time to work on yourself.

Sam Demma (27:48):

Beautiful. Sherie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. You wrapped it up so nicely. If a young educator or any educator is listening and wants to reach out to you, ask a question, start a conversation, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch?

Sheri Lowrie (28:03):

I would, I definitely would welcome that. Probably the easiest is by my email, so sherio@uwindsor.ca

Sam Demma (28:15):

All right. Cheerio, my friend <laugh>, thanks for coming on the show. This was awesome and keep up the great work.

Sheri Lowrie (28:22):

You as well. You are doing some great things in this world, so I appreciate it and give you gratitude as well.

Sam Demma (28:29):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sheri Lowrie

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.

Amy Andrew – Education Assistant at Red Deer Catholic and Red Deer Public School Divisions

Amy Andrew - Education Assistant at Red Deer Catholic and Red Deer Public School Divisions
About Amy Andrew

Amy Andrew was born and raised in Red Deer, Alberta. At the age of 18, she became an Education Assistant working both for Red Deer Catholic and Red Deer Public School Divisions. After a decade of working in schools with various age groups, she has returned to finish her education program.

Amy grew up with the challenge of epilepsy and a learning disability. Despite these challenges, she has been able to overcome many obstacles, and because of this, she knows what it’s like to be in the student’s shoes who struggle. She wants all students to be able to believe in themselves and know that a disability doesn’t mean it’s the end. It just means you got to work a little bit harder.

Connect with Amy: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Red Deer Public Schools Divisions

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools

The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown

Dr. Jody Carrington Books

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:56):

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

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Amy Andrew. Amy was born and raised in Red Deer, Alberta. At the age of 18, she became an Education Assistant, working both in the Red Deer Catholic and Red Deer Public School divisions. After a decade of working in schools with various age groups, she has returned to finish her education program. Amy grew up with the challenge of epilepsy and a learning disability. Despite these challenges, she has been able to overcome many obstacles, and because of this, she knows what it’s like to be in the student’s shoes that struggle. She wants all students to be able to believe in themselves and know that a disability doesn’t mean it’s the end, it just means that you have to work a little bit harder. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Amy Andrew, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Amy Andrew. Amy, welcome to the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Amy Andrew (02:06):

Hi. Well thank you for having me. My name is Amy Andrew. I’m an Education Assistant for the Red Deer Public School Division, and I work in a middle school currently.

Sam Demma (02:18):

When did you realize you wanted to work in education with kids in, within schools?

Amy Andrew (02:26):

 I, well, first off, I struggled with school myself. I have a coding issue in math. I have a learning disability when it comes to reading, writing, comprehension, all basically all of it. <laugh>, <laugh>. so for when I was in school, it was not enjoyable. It was a really difficult time for me. I struggled. I was frustrated constantly, but I also was very social. So I was able to kind of advocate for myself and see what works for me. So when it came to picking a career or finding something I wanted to do I thought, well, being an education assistant allows me to show these kids what I’ve learned throughout my life. And I genuinely understand how difficult school is because that is me. I, I still am that kid that struggles, but I have great coping styles and great skills that I’ve had to learn throughout the years that I try to pass on to them.

Sam Demma (03:29):

Ah, that’s so amazing. it must be really rewarding to help students who might be going through difficult situations. Being that, you know, you had similar experiences when you were growing up. how do you kind of help a student, or what are some of those skills or coping tech techniques that you could share? Because I’m sure not every, you know, person that works with young people has a toolkit that they say like, Hey, you know, this might work for this student. They might not have an idea of what they could share. So I’m curious to know, like what are some of the things that you would share with a student who might be struggling right now?

Amy Andrew (04:02):

Yeah, absolutely. well first off, when it comes to reading a lot of the time kids will have trouble understanding what they’ve read, the comprehension component of it. So what I always say is, what if you just took all the pressure off reading the proper words? What if you just listen to it? Hmm. Can you, do you understand what’s being read to you when it’s just, you just have to focus on listening? And most of the time kids do. So that’s my first part is like, forget trying to struggle through reading the big words. Let’s listen to the book. And I do that in college too. Like I’m currently halfway through my education degree. Again, it’s taking me a little bit longer cuz it’s a little bit more difficult for me. That’s ok. But all my textbooks, all my literature I have to read is an audio version because I have to keep busy.

Amy Andrew (04:53):

But then I can also still listen to my books and understand what I need to do for the course. So I say that to kids, I said, Let’s listen to books. the second one is always voice to text. Kids find it very hard to write. They don’t know how to form sentence structures. A lot of the time it’s this texting style of writing and that’s totally fine. But when it comes to writing essays, they’re gonna need to know how to do that. So I say, get your phone out, get a Google Doc open and walk around and talk, talk to your phone. Just get it out what you need to say. And then we’re gonna go back and we’re gonna edit it so it sounds proper, like a proper English essay rather than, so hey girlfriend. So <laugh>. But a lot of times kids don’t even know where to start with it.

Amy Andrew (05:39):

So I’m like, just talk, tell me what you’re thinking and then we’ll go in and add quotes and then we’ll go in and, and put the commas where it needs to be. And so that’s, that would be my second one. And my math skills is, and this is different and not a lot of people know this, but when I look at numbers, I see dots. So if I see a three, I see 1, 2, 3 down in a linear line. Hmm. Because a lot of the time when you were li when I was little, I didn’t like counting on my hands. I was really obvious I was struggling and I didn’t want people to see I was struggling or making tallies on my paper. So I started counting the points on each number that I had to add or multiply or divide. So I try to teach kids that skill so that way I’m like, you’re struggling and that’s okay, but if you don’t want people to know or if you’re trying to mask it a little bit, let me show you how I used to do it. So those would be like my three big heavy hitters of what I try to help kids with. But yeah.

Sam Demma (06:43):

That’s awesome. I was gonna say, I think it’s so cool that you also listen to audio books. I think it’s actually more effective sometimes to listen anyway. so you’re definitely onto something with that. do you listen to your books while you work out in the gym?

Amy Andrew (06:59):

<laugh>? Actually all the time. I listen to books when I’m cleaning. I listen to books while I work out when I walk. Oh. All the time. And you know what, I get stuff done and I actually think I’m absorbing the information better because I’m busy. Nice. So yeah.

Sam Demma (07:13):

Cool. Aside from your own parents who work in education, did you have who must be a big support in your life, do you ha did you have any educators growing up who played a significant role in your own, like personal and professional development? And if so, who are those people and what did they do for you that you think made a big impact?

Amy Andrew (07:33):

 okay. Well funny enough, on my 25th first birthday I ended up writing to each 25 different people in my life. That event changed my life. And most of them were teachers. And so I did reach out to a lot of them at that time. But a few that come to my mind right away is one Justin Ffl, he was my grade five teacher for social studies. And that was the first time in my life I ever felt intelligent. And I think you need to have that with like, you need to have that early on in your education. You need to feel like, okay, I can, I can actually do this. Like this is me, I can do this. Because then that excites you to learn and motivates you to keep going rather than constant failure. After failure after failure, then you get so discouraged. So he was the first teacher and I remember it was our first nation’s buffalo parts of the body unit and I got 81% and I was like, Whoa,

Sam Demma (08:35):

<laugh>.

Amy Andrew (08:36):

It was just so awesome for me. And that was how I left elementary school. So going into middle school, I was like, Okay, I can do this, I can do this. I’m, I’m smart, it’s gonna be harder, but I’m smart so I can do this. And then I think the next one would be Sherry Schultz ski. So what she was was my math teacher in high school twice <laugh>. So I had her twice. I went in every lunch hour and was like, I don’t get it. I know you explained it <laugh>, but I don’t get it <laugh>. I just give that woman so much grace for sitting with me almost every lunch hour in grade 10 and 11 to help me with my math homework because I was just struggling. But that’s, that’s the other thing. Kids don’t wanna go and ask for help. But the thing is, these teachers, that’s their job. They want to help they, and you build a connection with a student when you sit down and work one on one and then they’re there for you to help kind of give you little boost need on the days where you’re not doing so great. So I always encourage kids, I’m like, go in, get help. Also, you get to stay inside when it’s cold out. Bonus <laugh>. So yeah, those would be the two teachers I can think of right now that we’re really impactful in my life.

Sam Demma (09:53):

That’s so cool. I think the self-belief piece is so important because whether or not a student remembers the curriculum you taught them in class or the specific lessons you shared, if you help a young person believe in themselves, that will be an applicable skill that they’ll carry with them no matter what task is in front of them for the rest of their life. You know, if they believe they can figure out the math problem, even though it’s very difficult, they’re gonna believe they can figure out other challenging things in their future outside of the classroom walls. So I think the, the self-belief piece is, has been a huge part of my life and the educators who have made a big difference on me as well. So thank you so much for sharing. yeah. Do you stay in touch with them or are some of them aside from sending them letters on your birthday <laugh>?

Amy Andrew (10:39):

I do. Well, being in the education system now I’m in the public and I grew up in the Catholic division, but I will see them at schools and it’s, or out walking, I’ll see Mrs. Schultz, the walking. I’m like, there’s just, it’s just that is, they inspired me to be that person for someone else. And I think that’s the cool part of built being a teacher. Your legacy is endless because not only are you inspiring people and you don’t even know who you’re inspiring or who you’re connecting with or who you like, who you are impacting, It’s who you are as a person. And that is what’s impacting other people to go out and be that for someone else. And so I think that’s the coolest part about teaching is like, you don’t even know until later and you’re like, Oh, okay. Cool.

Sam Demma (11:28):

<laugh>. It’s so true. It sounds like the teachers you mentioned build relationships with you. You mentioned that, you know, when you’d stay after school and ask for a help, you’d build these really tight relationships and then they’d push you when you needed a little bit of a push. How do you think you build a relationship with young people as a someone who works with them?

Amy Andrew (11:49):

I personally, I think this might be my strongest asset because I find a lot of people, a lot of adults talk to kids and teens. they talk almost down to them sometimes. And when these kids are growing up in such an adult environment, unfortunately that’s just how it is. Yeah. So instead of harping on them and disciplining them, I often approach with what’s going on. Mm. Because let’s talk like adults cuz you wanna be treated like an adult. I I wanna be treated like an adult, so let’s talk, figure this out to move forward. Cause that’s how we deal with things in real life. We don’t fight, we don’t argue, we don’t discipline. We have a conversation. So that’s how I approach everything with the kids I work with or the teens I work with. And, and that is when you find common interest or common ground, while I’m struggling with, I hate math.

Amy Andrew (12:44):

Math is the worst class. Literally same. I actually literally same. I get it. But like I had to do it. You gotta do it. So let’s figure out how we can get this figured out together. Cause you, you know what, And I always say, and I’m always honest, I’m like, you know what, you might not ever love this ever. And that is fine, but you’re gonna need to know some skills to get through life. And if you know some skills, you’re gonna be okay. But if you’re gonna shut that door and not listen to what anyone has to say, it’s gonna be hard. So you pick your path, you can learn a little bit, make it easy, shut the door and it’s over.

Sam Demma (13:22):

So

Amy Andrew (13:24):

It’s kind of choices, it’s kind of, it’s just giving them the respect and the ground to tell you what they need to say and then re re rooting or rewiring how they see it and how they think about it.

Sam Demma (13:36):

Hmm. I love that perspective. I feel like your age helps as well. You probably like Yeah. You know, one of the more relatable people in their lives, <laugh> which is, which is really cool. tell me about a story where you saw a student who maybe was struggling a little bit and through their interactions with yourself and other members in the school community, they were able to kind of chart themselves on a slightly different path or almost like transform. And I know you’ve only been in education for a little bit, so it’s new. but if there are any stories like that of students that come to mind, please feel free to share them. I I think one of the thing teachers, and not just teachers, but anyone who impacts and influences youth, like love being reminded of is the impact that their actions can have on a young mind. Especially when they might be feeling a little bit burnt out because that’s typically the main reason why they got into the work in the first place. so I’m just curious, like, do you have any of those stories or like, do any of them come to mind?

Amy Andrew (14:37):

Yeah, I would say the most life changing one for me is I started with a student who was no longer allowed to be in a building with other kids. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, he was a danger to himself and to other people. So I, I started working with this individual at their house and to go from working in a house, I mean, here’s the other thing. It takes time and I think that’s what teachers forget sometimes is it does, it’s not an overnight fix. It’s not even like a next year fix. They might even be outta your building before you see any type of change in this student. Mm. But know what you’re doing in the moment with them is worth something. And so rather than going halfway in, you need to go all in with that kid because a lot of the time kids need you to need to see that you show up day after day for them.

Amy Andrew (15:31):

Because a lot of the time people give up on them and that is why they act the way they act. So when you don’t feel like being there and putting up with the garbage that you’re getting from that kid that day, you still gotta, you still gotta be there fully. But, so that was with this student I worked with, it was four years. Four years. We went from an hour a day working together and not allowed, not a lot of curricular activity. It was a lot of play-based learning, which was difficult for me because you often think too, Oh, I need them to be at a certain point, but that’s not where they’re at right now. You need to meet them where they’re at in order to move them forward. And that’s hard for people to understand because when a kid has a disability like autism, let’s say their, their moment, like where they’re at now is where they’re at now.

Amy Andrew (16:22):

Even though they might have been able to do something months ago, that doesn’t mean that’s where they’re at today. So you need to always meet the kid at where they’re at now. And so with this student, we went from an hour today, hour a day working on non-curricular activity to, he’s in high school this year without an ea. He’s full, full-time school <laugh>. Yeah. It was a very, they always said to me too, his parents and they’re like, You’ve changed our kids’ life. And I’m like, you’ve changed minds. Like this kid has taught me so much about being patient, being understanding, Oh, I’m gonna get emotional. Oh my gosh. It’s, but that’s how powerful, It’s like you don’t always see it. You don’t always take a step back and go, Huh. Yeah, I might have, I might have changed that kid’s life, but he, he changed mine just as much. So, Yeah. And then you feel, you feel hopeful that you got to see this progress, you got to see this happen in someone’s life. And, and maybe I could do that again. Maybe I could do that for someone else. Yeah. So it inspires you to keep going.

Sam Demma (17:25):

I was gonna ask like, what keeps you motivated and hopeful on the days where maybe you don’t have those warm, fuzzy feelings in your chest and you’re not remembering the impact that you’ve created, but only see the obstacles standing in your path.

Amy Andrew (17:42):

 yeah. I, I struggled with that for a little bit too because obviously not every day is sunshine, roses, <laugh>. you work at a middle, middle school, not,

Amy Andrew (17:52):

But I often have to leave everything at the door. Right. Cause if I’m not taking care of myself, I can’t give fully back to these kids. Yeah. And so if I have a bad day and it’s not going well, I always, and almost to a fault. But it’s ingrained to me every day is a fresh day regardless of what happened the previous day. And so that is how I try to live in our schools. And even when there’s been a violent outburst, I’ve always had this role for myself. If I was not mentally in the right state to be going back the next day, I would, because again, I wanted to show this child or this person, no matter what I’m showing up because I wanna show to you that I’m not giving up no matter how hard you’re pushing me out. Cause that is not who I am. I’m not giving up on you. So I would always make a role. You cannot take the next day as a sick day, but you could maybe take the following day,

Sam Demma (18:53):

<laugh>

Amy Andrew (18:56):

Nice. Cause they

Sam Demma (18:57):

Dunno anything. Yeah. But

Amy Andrew (18:59):

Right. But now what motivates me is just, you know what, knowing that there’s always going to be someone that needs you. Yeah. There’s always going to, and it doesn’t have to be a kid you’re working with directly. It could be the kid you say hi to in the hallway. Cause I’ve had kids say that to me, but it’s you yesterday. Like, I literally say hi to you once it’s <laugh>. So, but you never know who’s looking forward to seeing you at the school. So to show up for even the ones you don’t think about that, that’s you’re there for them present too.

Sam Demma (19:30):

Mm. How do you make sure that you take care of yourself so that you can pour into others? Like what are some of your self care habits or things that you try and do to make sure you can be your full self at work?

Amy Andrew (19:45):

Well, I do kickboxing, so I know I can fight them. I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding.

Sam Demma (19:48):

<laugh> damn. They’re only, they’re only in middle school. Amy realize <laugh>,

Amy Andrew (19:53):

They’re feisty. Oh yeah, they’re feisty. no, I, I work out a lot. I weightlift, I do kickboxing, I do Pilates. I mean, I’ve grown up in a very active household, so it’s like inevitable. but I’m also a big time swimmer, so I swim open water and I love, love swimming open water because it’s this wide open space. Anything can happen. You’re going everywhere. And nowhere <laugh> it’s just, it’s, it’s such an exhilarating feeling being out in the open water. So that is what I love to do personally and everything just kind of fades away when I’m working out. Yeah,

Sam Demma (20:32):

That’s good. Do you watch your mom’s YouTube videos too?

Amy Andrew (20:35):

I sometimes, I mean, I basically helped her with all of them. So <laugh>.

Sam Demma (20:40):

That’s awesome. Cool. have you found any resources helpful throughout your own journey? Whether that be like videos, books, podcasts even like other people? I know you obviously mentioned teachers that had an impact on you when you were a kid, but what about like, right now in terms of like professional development?

Amy Andrew (21:01):

 yeah, I, we do PD sessions with the school. but I really do love listening to being vulnerable. bene brown every nice, I feel like every educator talks

Sam Demma (21:15):

About,

Amy Andrew (21:16):

But I, I listen to her books. I listen to Dr. Jodi Carrington stuff and I, I like, I like real genuine people who bring their personal experiences to their studies and inspire people that way. I like, I like the authentic people, you know, authenticity.

Sam Demma (21:37):

Okay, cool. Nice. Love it. if you could, how long have you been in working in classrooms now?

Amy Andrew (21:45):

This will be nine years.

Sam Demma (21:49):

Okay. If you could like, bundle up all your experiences working in classrooms with kids travel back nine years and <laugh> and talk to your younger self, but with the experience and all the wisdom you have now, what advice would you give Amy nine years ago when she was stepping into her first classroom to help out?

Amy Andrew (22:11):

Oh a kid will swear at you and you will be okay. No kidding. <laugh> <laugh> to not put such high expectations on how the day should go, because I found that that is what I did at the beginning. And I was disappointed because things don’t always go as planned, especially in a school, but you also need to leave your pride at the door. If something doesn’t go right, it’s not on you. You did everything you could, You’re still doing everything you can, you’re showing up. But not every day is going to be perfect. And that is okay. And I think that was something I had to learn throughout my years is I felt like it was my fault or I wasn’t doing everything I should have been doing or yeah. I just, I, I was disappointed with myself and how things turned out, but when you take that away, breathe and approach every day with just, it’s going to be a great day. We’re gonna try our best. We’re gonna small wins, small little victories. You gotta look for something good and everything, everything these kids do because even if it’s picking up their pencil without stabbing the person beside them <laugh>, that’s a win. Yeah.

Sam Demma (23:28):

That’s awesome. I love that. I I was thinking back to when you mentioned how you’re also working on your bachelor’s right now while you’re working in the classroom and you, you kind of were saying how it’s taken you a little long. And there was an educator that I spoke to one time, her name was Sarah, and she shared this analogy with me and it was like really powerful and I just wanna share it with you real quick. And everyone else who’s listening, she was like, No, imagine that you were going to your friend’s house party. Like think about all the ways that you could get to the party. And she’s like, you know, you could take an Uber, you could ask your parents to drive you, you could ride a bike, you could walk there, you could skateboard, you could try and hit your vibe with the pizza delivery person.

Sam Demma (24:08):

 you could go on a scooter, you could chart a helicopter if you have some money <laugh>. but like, there’s so many different ways to get to the party. and you will arrive. But like every single option takes a different amount of travel time, effort, and energy. And if you keep your eyes focused on the final destination and forget about the fact that your timeline might look different than everybody else, and that you’re ju you know, you’re gonna arrive and you’re gonna do what it takes, it’s like you kind of stop worrying about, you know, the, the length of the journey and more so the final destination. And I feel like for a certain educators especially they might have an idea in their mind of like exactly what they wanna do and where they want to be and maybe they’re not getting there as quickly as possible. And that could be like a new position or a new school. and so just remember like you will arrive at the party. Everyone will, it just takes different times. <laugh> Yeah. And

Amy Andrew (25:02):

You emotional. Oh my gosh, you’re so right though. It’s, it is a journey for everyone. Everyone’s got different timing, but I always believe in divine timing. There is a reason. Yeah. I did not go into education right away, like as a teacher, it’s, I went in as an EA to gain this experience and this knowledge and a different outlook. And two, when I have a classroom, someday I will value my ea. So, so, so, so, so much. Yeah. Because I truly believe some of the most incredible women and or not women, people in our education world are education assistants. They’re like these superheroes HEROs about Yeah, they really are. They go above and beyond you. You don’t always see what they’re doing behind the scenes, but they are huge reasons. Some of these kids are so successful in our buildings is the EEAs are going outside of what they should be doing and doing work outside of the classroom at home on their own time. It’s amazing.

Sam Demma (26:03):

I just gotta give you a round of applause cuz you’re one of them. <laugh>. Yeah.

Amy Andrew (26:09):

Keep,

Sam Demma (26:10):

Keep up, keep up the great work. It’s so great to chat with you a little bit about some of your ideas around education, some of your beliefs around how to build relationships, with young people and hear some of the stories of people who played a big role in your own personal development and life. If someone’s listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, start a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Amy Andrew (26:34):

They can contact me on my work email, which is amy.andrew@reddeerpublicschools.ca.

Sam Demma (26:47):

Okay. Awesome. Amy, thank you so much. Keep up with the great work.

Amy Andrew (26:50):

Thank you. You’re doing amazing too. Thank you so much for what you do and inspiring people everywhere. It’s awesome.

Sam Demma (26:56):

Appreciate it. Appreciate it. And yeah, we’ll talk soon.

Amy Andrew (27:00):

Sounds good, thanks.

Sam Demma (27:03):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Amy Andrew

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.

Dave Levy – Language Arts Teacher at Green Acres School and Passionate Athletic Director

Dave Levy – Language Arts Teacher at Green Acres School and Passionate Athletic Director
About Dave Levy

Dave Levy (@DavidAsherLevy) is a passionate Athletic Director and Educator. Throughout his career Dave has been motivated by student choice and voice. As Lowell School’s first Athletic Director, Dave recognized potential growth opportunities and created a strategic vision to develop a robust athletic program. He recruited coaches as well as athletes, and fostered positive school community relationships which embody the values of diversity, inclusion, sportsmanship, and fair play. Over 80% of the student body participated in after school athletics. Now, the program boasts 18 different teams. Additionally, Dave coaches cross country, basketball, track and field and baseball – and he has coached three state Long Jump Champions!

Dave enjoys working in the classroom as well as a Middle School Language Arts teacher. Currently at Green Acres School, Dave helps students to find their passions and motivates his students to be able to communicate their ideas both orally and in writing. Dave has also served as the founding Student Government advisor, helping the students to make sure that their voice is heard.

He is also a passionate volunteer for the Washington, D.C. chapter of HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership) a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. Dave has been volunteering with HOBY since 2001 as Treasurer, Leadership Seminar Chair and the President of the Corporate Board.

Connect with Dave: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lowell School

Green Acres School

HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership)

HOBY Canada

University of Guelph

University of Western Ontario

What is a Writer’s Workshop?

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.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest crossed paths with me at a conference in Washington, DC and I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity to bring him on the show today. David Levy is a passionate athletic director and educator. Throughout his career, Dave has been motivated by student choice and voice. As Lowell School’s first athletic director, Dave recognized potential growth opportunities and created a strategic vision to develop a robust athletic program. He recruited coaches, as well as athletes, and fostered a positive school community filled with relationships which embody the value of diversity, inclusion, sportsmanship, and fairplay. Over 80% of the student body participated in afterschool athletics. Now the program boasts 18 different teams. Additionally, Dave coaches cross country, basketball, track and field, and baseball, and he has coached three state long jump champions. Dave enjoys working in the classroom as well as a middle school language arts teacher.

Sam Demma (01:59):

Currently at Green Acres School, Dave helps students to find their passions, and motivates the students to be able to communicate their ideas, both orally and in writing. Dave is also served as the founding student government advisor, helping the students to make sure that their voice is heard. He’s also a passionate volunteer for the Washington DC chapter of HOBI, Hugo Bryan Youth Leadership, a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. Dave has been volunteering with HOBI since 2001 as treasurer, leadership seminar chair, and the president of the corporate board. I hope you enjoy this fun-filled conversation with Dave, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. I met him at a conference in Washington DC called The HOBI. He was wearing an orange hat, really caught my attention. <laugh>. David, such a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dave Levi (03:03):

Well, thank you. It is, it’s a real honour. Sam blew us away when, when coming to the conference, we said, qell, we can’t pay you. He said, No problem, I’m gonna come, I’m gonna light it up.

Sam Demma (03:12):

We don’t do that for everyone, just so you all know when you hear it. This is

Dave Levi (03:16):

A youth youth volunteer program. Okay. So it’s a little bit, we don’t pay anybody. It’s a little bit, It’s just getting his brand out there, which as you can see, you know, there’s like a book, there’s like awesome speaking gigs, so it’s going pretty well. but anyway, I’ve been volunteering for this youth leadership organization called Hobi, or he O’Brien, Youth Leadership for a long time. And we run leadership programs for high school sophomores all throughout the United States, but also in 40 other countries around the world. I know we have a, a big Canadian audience and I got to do the program at University of Guelph. Nice. A couple years ago. That was great. with some really epic Western Ontario friends. Nice. And Hopi was kind of my, my intro to education. I feel like. I started volunteering when I was 15.

Dave Levi (04:00):

I’ve not gone away and I had a great opportunity, I think to work with small groups of high school students, but also to realize that, as you say, small, consistent actions matter when you’re do behind the scenes before you get to climb the ladder, you know, and you’re getting, you know, drinks for speakers, you’re setting up chairs, you’re running around making sure everything is, is ready to go. And those things make the program special for the student ambassadors, whether they know it or not. so I think that was a really great intro to education that and sleepaway Camp. I worked at a camp called Independent Lake for many years, which has a circus so you can do flying trap PEs and juggling. and I got to be a counselor there and work with a lot of students and I knew after that that’s, that’s what I wanted to do. And I was very lucky because I have a, my middle school librarian became the head of a school and she saw me when I was in college and said, If you wanna be a middle school teacher, call me in four years. And I did. And then I got to work with her. So, very lucky opportunity

Sam Demma (05:01):

For those educators who know absolutely nothing about Hobi. Do you wanna give them a little rundown what it is, why it’s so special and important to you, and why they should look into it for maybe even their own kids?

Dave Levi (05:12):

Yeah. First of all, you should all look into it. Hobi is a youth leadership program for high school sophomores. And we run programs for students from public charter and private schools. And it is a three day weekend in which we focus on individual group and leadership for society. So we bring in speakers who are experts in a variety of areas like Sam and the kids get to learn from those speakers and sort of ask questions and make connections with both the speakers, but also with their peers about ways that they can make a difference right now. They don’t have to wait until they’re an adult. A society sees them to be a leader. They can, they can sort of get going in their communities right away. We do a lot of community service projects. so this year the group worked to Clean Horse Tack and all kinds of other materials for a nearby barn.

Dave Levi (06:02):

It was quite a hefty project. That stuff gets real muddy. we’ve also gone to soup kitchens. We have gone to retirement homes. We have been very busy and we do service projects throughout the year afterward. and the connections that the kids make through these panel opportunities, through games and simulations, through service projects is very, very powerful. And I think they really walk away a change person. It’s only three days. but they come back as alumni. We do service projects together throughout the year. we have an international program called the World Leadership Congress that has 400 kids from 20 different countries. It’s like a mind blowing, you know, leadership on steroids. It’s just, it’s magical. so I love Hobie and I was very privileged to be a student ambassador as a 10th grader and I just have not gone away cause it’s great.

Sam Demma (06:52):

The experience for me, even not as a high school student, was phenomenal. And the activities, the tunnel of love, which we can talk about in a second to clarify <laugh>. but some of the, some of the things that really, I guess one of the specific things that really made an impact on me was the handwritten notes that you would write for students and that you wrote for myself and pretty much every single delegate and and person that was a part of the event. can you talk a little bit about where your habit of writing handwritten letters came from and why you think it is it matters and makes a difference?

Dave Levi (07:29):

Yeah. well I’ll think, I’ll start with my mom who’s the, the real expert behind handwritten notes, Thank you notes, birthday cards get well cards, everything. She’s got everything organized. And so I developed this habit where I, I have a stack of envelopes with everyone’s birthday, all of my connections for the whole year. And when their day approaches, I wanna make sure that I send them a handwritten birthday card. Cuz I think the message is totally different In our media era receiving mail, it’s very exciting. So I always ask my students what kind of mail they get and they’re like, I don’t get mail. I mean, occasionally there’s a magazine or there’s like a note from grandma but generally speaking they don’t get mail. And so I do a letter of correspondence with each one of them. It’s a true labor of love.

Dave Levi (08:11):

 and I ask them questions about the characters in the books we’re reading, but eventually I also ask them, you know, Hey, you did really well in the soccer game. Can you tell me more about that? Oh, I understand you’re really into robotics. Like what you know, and they can sort of take it whatever direction they want. They ask me questions too. And then I learn a lot of things about them that I would not learn if we were having an allowed conversation. There’s usually a little bit of pushback before the first letter. So they think seriously, like, I have to get out my notebook. I’ve, you’re standing right there, I forgot you. A letter like <inaudible> <laugh>. but usually after I have written them back once and they realize that the letter is very specific to them that is a, a real game changer for them. And you know, they get to talk about their favorite subject, which is them and language arts. Language arts is also their favorite subject, but <laugh>, so, and then at, at the hobi at the youth leadership program, I started leaving the notes outside of the student’s doors. So when there are dorm rooms and you know, you wake up and you’ve got, it’s like Christmas, you wake up, you got a letter, boom, how cool is that? What a way to start your day, right? Yeah.

Sam Demma (09:13):

Yeah. It was memorable and I enjoyed reading it and I keep a journal so I stay footed in there and 10 years from now I’ll look back and be like, Whoa, this guy David wrote me a letter back then. I remember that <laugh>.

Dave Levi (09:24):

Yeah, I mean I think the relationship building is probably the key to having good classroom management, having good successful educational practices. And so that’s one of several ways to do that. But I do think that kids have a real buy in. They’re like, Wow, he spent a lot of time on this. and he must really care otherwise why I do that.

Sam Demma (09:45):

How else do you build relationships with the students in your classroom? like when you think about students and the relationships you’ve built, what do you think you’ve done that’s helped facilitate those relationships?

Dave Levi (09:57):

 well it’s really important to me that I find out what their passions are. In some cases I’m helping them find their passions in other cases they already know and I just ask them a lot of questions and then I sit there and listen. there’s a lot of like, tell me more about that. Oh, that’s interesting. You know. and so I think those things are really important. And then, you know, being in their world as much as possible. They’re in the play, they’re in the basketball game, they’re in the whatever. I’m gonna go and I wanna see them in action and then I wanna be able to ask them very specific questions about what I saw the next day. And I think those things make a huge difference in terms of building relationships. I also try to build some, a lot of routines in our classroom, but also, like I tell them every day that they’re my 32 favorites, you know that I cry one tear for each one of them <laugh> that we’re apart on the sad days where we don’t have language arts. I tell them just how miserable that’s making me. I’ll recover, but it’s rough. and I think that they, they appreciate my like horrible sense of humor. <laugh> on some level. You know,

Sam Demma (10:58):

Something that also made an impact on me at Hobi was the compliments in that exercise, the tunnel of love. I’m hoping you can explain what it is. I’m not sure if it’s illegal, if you’re legally allowed to do it outside of hobie events, but maybe an educator could steal this at like the end of the year and maybe do it with their classroom as a cool little activity.

Dave Levi (11:17):

Yeah. Every educator should steal it. I think it’s really a magical experience. So we set the tone by saying this is gonna be a, a very sort of low-key, almost somber experience. And so every kid, we get them to form a human tunnel. So there are people on both sides and then someone will go through the tunnel and they’re blindfolded. And so you can sort of pull them to the side and whisper something positive that you’ve learned about them or that in a way that they impacted you. And in Hopi it only comes from three days. So it’s like really magical. The things that the people say and the things people say are surprisingly very specific. You know, it really impacted me when you said this to me when you led this activity, you know, I learned this from you and so on. And some of those relationships are, are many years deep with kid people who’ve come back to volunteer on a number of occasions.

Dave Levi (12:06):

And so as a result those connections are really deep. And so you walk through the tunnel, people are pulling you aside to say special things to you about all the things that you’ve, you’ve done. You don’t necessarily know who they are cuz you’re blindfolded and you just met, but you know that you like what they’re saying cuz it’s very nice and thoughtful. And then you get to the end and like, if you’re not crying, I mean, I, I mean impressive, but I could never get through it without crying. And then you get to get back in the tunnel. Like the tunnel just keeps growing and you get to share the same messages with, with other folks who are coming through. And it has never done anything like it. I think it’s really a magical experience. So I do, I recommend it to all educators.

Sam Demma (12:44):

Yeah, it’s a cool activity. I, that definitely stuck in my mind throughout the entire three days along with everything else about the conference. But that exercise was, I thought really cool and something that could be replicated and used in different situations to make a positive impact on youth and the people surrounding them. so tell me more about your journey through education. You’ve done a lot of volunteer work on the side. How did your career start in education And tell me about the different roles you’ve worked in and what, what brought you to where you are today?

Dave Levi (13:13):

 well I had the privilege of of starting with my middle school librarian as my boss and I got to jump right in and teach seventh grade humanities right off the bat. So it was history and English and one big party of fun. Nice. That’s how I advertised it to them. And I learned a lot in that year. I got to run the student government, which was a real experience and teach writer’s workshop, which is where the letter writing correspondence started. Nice. and I was at that school for three years, I think the most memorable student government experience. And working with student government has taught me a lot about the issues that are important to students and how I can support them. Nice. And taking that. And they were concerned about the amount of time that they had for lunch. So they made this very unique a PowerPoint presentation about all of the reasons that lunchtime should be extended.

Dave Levi (13:58):

You know what, if you wanna meet with a teacher during that time, like is it really healthy to be eating that quickly? You know, what if you’re studying for, And they had like a lot of data, it was very impressive. And so the principal was not thrilled about this presentation cuz you know, the schedule was set. And so they went on a hunger strike where they refused to eat lunch for like a week march around school with signs. And lo and behold we added 10 minutes to lunchtime and what a victory it was for those kids <laugh> to have that opportunity. other student government experiences have included with, I recently helped some kids rewrite the dress code Nice. To make sure that the dress code was focused on sort of a gender neutral language before that it was basically just written for girls.

Dave Levi (14:43):

Yeah. And the girls took issue with that as they should. And I said, we’ll rewrite it. And they did. And then they came to a faculty meeting and they presented their, their new, their new language and we went with it and that was the new dress code. And I think it’s been really powerful for those kids to know that they have a voice and they can make those things happen. And then a few years into my teaching career, I was already coaching cross country and basketball and track, which are my, my sport loves. And I had an amazing experience coaching cross country where we started with just a few kids. by the time I left that school after three years we were up to 30 kids. I had coached a state long jump champion who went on to run a university. and so when I got to the new school I thought, gosh, like this has gotta come.

Dave Levi (15:29):

 so at that time there was no sports program to speak of at that school at all. And so I thought, well, cross country is a very accessible sport for everybody. You don’t need any equipment. You just like go out in the woods or the neighborhood, whatever you can go running. And the best part to me is the ability to improve and how easily measurable it is. You know, I can say, well this time you ran this and this time you ran this and so you’re better. Like, you can’t argue with me whether you have like you made a number of passes in a basketball game that’s like a little harder to measure, although it can be. but cross country and track are just so very simple. And so we got up to the point where we had 70 kids, we won many championships.

Dave Levi (16:04):

But I think the best part was that the kids improved dramatically. They made a little tunnel as the runners came through at the end to support their teammates. and I think the culture of cross country is really special in that every runner is competing with themselves, has an opportunity to improve and their teammates really care about the success of each other. Even though it is a somewhat individual event. There’s definitely a team aspect. It’s you’re scored as a team but also people are really supporting you in those regards. And so once I had done cross country and I got together one of the first basketball teams and then I had, you know, six or seven track kids who we took to meets and they got pounded and it was an experience for everybody. you know, then I went to the head of school and said, Hey, I think our school needs an athletics program and I wanna run it and this is what I think it should look like.

Dave Levi (16:54):

And she thought that was a good idea. So it started as something that was very small. and you know, we were sort of the homecoming opponent at the beginning. but we grew to be a very competitive program with lots of participation. about 90% of the kids were participating. Wow. 170 kids were participating in track and field, which was really special. and it’s starting as early as as kindergarten. So I had five year olds out there like long jumping over the sandbox and shot putting with wiffle balls and like really learning the language. And then, you know, they’d get to middle school and I could ask them about their lead leg and trail leg and hurdles and they knew what I was talking about, which was pretty technical stuff for a 11 year old. so that was really a very neat experience to be able to build that.

Dave Levi (17:40):

 we grew to have lots of teams. You know, originally there was only one girl that wanted to play basketball. Now there’s four basketball girls basketball teams. Wow. So and she came back recently to speak to them, which was a really neat experience. So I think having kids get excited about this program and have passion for it and be proud of it was really important. And then all the leadership skills that they learned very valuable. And then their voice too. They kids wanted to start a baseball team and I said, If you can find 15 kids and an adult to, to coach you, I will do everything else. I didn’t actually think that they would, but they did. And so then lo and behold there was a baseball team and the same thing happened with girls lacrosse. And so that’s been really exciting to be able to build a program into something I’m really passionate about to help schools kind of get that off the ground.

Dave Levi (18:29):

And I think it increased the brand dramatically. You know, we’re all over the place competing against schools double our size and to make the kids know that I took and bring it back to the letter writing thing, I wrote an email after every game highlighting the accomplishments of every kid with a line that was specific to each person. Damn. and so the kids, you know, I was like reading about themselves in the New York Times and I think they felt really special and I know parents forwarded onto their grandparents and aunts and uncles and there were like hundreds of them cuz I would do them after every game. So it was really, I thought I enjoyed being able to retell the story. Yeah. And I think the kids then knew that it was really important. Whether they made the buzzer beating jump shot or they, you know, just were in a good defensive stance that day, I was gonna find something to highlight them. and I think that stuff is, that’s been a really special part of my experience is being able to combine athletics and teaching so that kids know I see them in in multiple places and understand them.

Sam Demma (19:31):

What a powerful, another powerful example of just compassion and showing how much you care. and just making people feel seen and heard and how much of a difference that makes. I’m surprised you didn’t say baseball was one of your favorite sports, knowing that your parents own a mini, a little stadium <laugh> and run a team. You better careful think they listen, listen to this

Dave Levi (19:52):

<laugh>. but yeah, no baseball all super fun. and the Orioles had a winning record this year. So we can, we can be excited about that at

Sam Demma (20:01):

The start. It’s all the same. Can’t say the same about the Blue Jays, but yeah, that’s a, it’s for another time. <laugh>.

Dave Levi (20:06):

Yeah. I had a, I had a really powerful moment when I played basketball, which is that we had, there was like 30 seconds left and one of my teammates said, Listen, give me the ball and then after I score, no one’s gonna celebrate. We’re just gonna pretend that we don’t care. That it doesn’t matter. We’re gonna be excellent sports by just shaking hands and walking out here we can celebrate on the bus. And that moment really, really impacted me. So now if we’re ever in a a close game, I will tell the kids, you know, regardless of the outcome we’re just gonna be like, cool. We came, we played, we had fun. Yeah. And we can, we can debrief later, but we’re gonna make sure that people leave having a good experience from the opportunity to play us.

Sam Demma (20:45):

Mm. I love that. I, I’m curious, sometimes people struggle with getting students to buy into any programs they’re running. The fact that you were able to, and you know, you and other staff and the entire school culture, you were able to create this environment where from one student starting four, you know, girls basketball teams, that’s like pretty significant. H how do you start engaging the population of a school to get involved and engaged in programs, sports or other programs?

Dave Levi (21:16):

Well, I think part of it is if you have a passion for a sport or a club or a team that you wanna start the first thing is to just go around and tell people that it’s your passion. Say I’m doing this, you wanna come do it with me. there is not one kid that I have not spoken to about running cross country. Mm.

Sam Demma (21:34):

At the whole school

Dave Levi (21:35):

In the whole school. And a lot of those kids have heard it from me over and over again. And they’re, they could, they could deal with a different conversation topic if I, if I granted that to them. But just try it one time. Just come one time, you’ll have a great time then I won’t bother you anymore. That isn’t true. But <laugh>, no, I think that show showing people that it’s important to you and, and bringing really positive energy no matter what the activity is, people are gonna gravitate towards that. and then no matter how many people you have, like just start, just say, okay, well we’re gonna meet at this time and we’re gonna do this. and create an agenda whether you’re like building a robot or you’re going for a run or you’re creating a constitution for student government, which is how we started with one kid.

Dave Levi (22:19):

 you know, I think those things are, that’s the energy that you need to bring is, you know, this is happening. And then I think the more you talk about it, the more you post flyers and you’re telling everyone about it in the hallway, people will gravitate towards that kind of energy. And, you know, being the first follower is, is a really big deal too. So I think having, having people come out and get excited about it and then over time you can build, build a history. I was told my, my class, you know, once you’re in the, once you’re in the group, you’re always in the group. and I meant it, you know, whether I’m not, I was still working at, at whatever school, you know, they’re, if I see them around the city, you know, they’re all, we’re always in the group. And I think that builds a culture of, you know, these are the records, this is the history, you know, you’re part of something bigger than yourself. but it, it oftentimes just starts with one idea.

Sam Demma (23:08):

What keeps you personally motivated and excited to show up every day and pour your energy and heart into programs and try and make a difference?

Dave Levi (23:17):

Well I think the kids are just the best. That is the, you know, the kids are really, truly never the problem. And it’s interesting because during Covid I had a lot of people tell me that their teaching experience was highly unpleasant. and you know, working on Zoom is, I mean some people work from home all the time and they’re Zoom experts, but I think most teachers were like, What is this? What is this platform? I can’t see any of the time. They don’t have their camera on what’s the deal. but for me it was like, why miss you? So I’m gonna come and show up and I wanna learn more about these kids and try to make the experience as best as possible. And if it’s a good experience for them, it’s usually gonna be a good experience for me too. So in the covid time I studied as much as I could.

Dave Levi (23:58):

I watched as many videos and reached out to as many tech experts. But at the end of the day, I think the most important thing was the kids just knew that I was still me and they were still them. And even though we were behind a screen, we were still gonna have class discussions that were the same. We even, I did cross country where we like virtually over zoom, like warmed up and did our butt kicks and hi knees in the kitchen. And I was like, this is your workout. Like go do it. you know, we had virtual dances and virtual spirit week and virtual talent show and I just think trying to find a way to make things special is important. And for me, knowing that I get to wake up every morning and go hang out with middle school kids, cuz they say to me, Why are you always so happy? And I was like, well you, you know I get to hang out with middle schoolers every day and middle schoolers are great. They’re just becoming people. It’s very exciting. They’re learning those passions that we talked about earlier, but they haven’t fully developed their views on the world, which is awesome. And so they’re willing to engage in really intense debate and they’re also willing to be sophisticated and silly. When I wear a cape and dress up is super similarly <laugh>. Like they’re into it. and they learn all kinds of comparisons. So.

Sam Demma (25:03):

Cool. Well what resources have you found helpful in your own journey as an educator and a teacher? And that could be other people, that could be podcasts, that could be books, that could be things you’ve watched that could be movies, that could be like absolutely anything. Where do you draw your learning from?

Dave Levi (25:21):

Yeah, I mean I think that people is probably the best resource and I had a really awesome opportunity early in my career where I was paired with an expert teacher, Natalie, who is just extraordinary and shout out Natalie was, yeah, shout out Natalie, she’s a rock star. And so I got to observe her in action and then she observed me in action and we compared notes. and that was really powerful in part cuz she wasn’t my boss, she was just a peer who wanted her classroom experience to be better. And I wanted my experience class, classroom experience to be better. We learned a lot from each other and I think that’s true in general, if you go to observe other master teachers doing their craft and talk to them about what makes them tick. My all time favorite teacher, Mr. Chaman from 11th grade US history, he runs a newsletter called Class Wise.

Dave Levi (26:11):

And when I told him that I was gonna be a teacher, he said, Well you know, you gotta subscribe to this. And that has taught me a lot of nice great best practices too. in terms of books, I really enjoyed the power of thinking neutral at something like that. I see. but the idea was that when you’re in a car you can put yourself in drive or you can put yourself in reverse or you can be neutral. And so while I am an enthusiast and I believe in being positive, I also think there’s a point where one needs to be realistic. So if you’re facing struggle you can just say, Okay, well today I’m gonna go to school and I have first period and we’re gonna do this lesson and I don’t know if it’s gonna go well or if it’s gonna go poorly.

Dave Levi (26:53):

I assume it will cuz I’m really good but I don’t know that. but I do know this. And so I think sharing that mentality with kids, you know, is very valuable a lot of times when they have doubt about what they can and cannot do helping them to sort of solve that puzzle is best from a neutral perspective where they’re not thinking about themselves in a, in a negative way. So I think that’s been really positive. And then also I’ve listened to quite a few episodes of the high functioning educator and seriously, I have learned, I have learned a lot, I’ve been very impressed with all of the best practices of many people you’ve interviewed. So thanks to those who came before me.

Sam Demma (27:32):

Yeah. And thanks for sharing those. I love those ideas. If you could take your experiences in education, bundle ’em all up, hop in a time traveling car, go back not to the future, back to the past and you know, walk into the first day you started teaching in a classroom setting and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey David, this is what you’re, you need to hear right now. What advice would you give yourself? Not because you wanna change what unfolded or your pathway, but because you thought it would be helpful to hear it at the start of your teaching journey?

Dave Levi (28:08):

Yeah, I mean I think the first thing is not to take it so seriously. Hmm. I think we have a lot of, well a lot of teachers were star students and so they are sort of perfectionists and so, you know, people spend hours planning their lessons in the same way that they plan them in university, which really has very little application to the actual experience in the classroom. And then if kids are talking out of turn or they don’t seem a hundred percent engaged or they say something to you that you wish you didn’t hear I think those things can really throw you off course and they just don’t really matter that much. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I also think there’s a lot of pressure from administrators whether it’s from observations or turning in your lesson plans or whatever that feels really important in the moment, but actually is just like a blip on the radar.

Dave Levi (29:03):

It’s just one day out of 180. And so I think knowing some of those things is great. I also think that having routines in the classroom is absolutely essential and I did not, I didn’t really know that when I started teaching and I didn’t have great routines and the kids, well it’s sort of their job as, as you know, first year teacher, seventh grader just gonna give you a hard time. That’s like they, and they, they nailed that job. I have discussed that with lots of them since then who are now adults and they’re like, Yeah, you were young and you were new and we were just gonna, we were gonna give it to you. and they did. They, I mean we had fun. We learned a lot. Yeah. but they did not make it easy. And so I think having routines in terms of we’re gonna do this for the warmup, we’re gonna get out our planner and we’re gonna do this. And letting the kids know what what’s coming is really valuable because they really benefit I think from being able to plan ahead and then you can do all kinds of fun activities within that framework once you have sort of a structure planned out.

Sam Demma (30:04):

Gotcha.

Dave Levi (30:05):

I would add, if you say you’re gonna do something, you gotta really do it. so kids remember everything and even if it’s a small thing, if you tell them that you’re gonna do something, then you need to deliver.

Sam Demma (30:17):

I always tell students when you tell someone you’re gonna do something, you put your reputation on the line and if you don’t do it, your reputation in the other person’s mind who you promise something to slightly decreases. Like when I tell my dad every Wednesday, I’m gonna take out the recycling. If I don’t do it <laugh>, I know my dad’s gonna be thinking about me <laugh>. And I think it’s the same for everybody, but probably especially young people because they are looking up to you as that, you know, as their role model. and you don’t wanna let them down. Right?

Dave Levi (30:50):

Absolutely. Absolutely. I want them to, I mean, it is okay for them to see me make mistakes cause I make mistakes all the time. And we work through that together. Actually, it’s funny, I give them, I call them grammar dinosaurs, I give them a sticker when I make a grammatical mistake on like a handout or nice whatever. And so usually they put those on their binder or their water bottle, but this year they have taken to putting them on the wall so they can document all of the mistakes that I’ve made. And we’re got, we got a whole menagerie up there of dinosaurs at the moment, so I got up my game I guess. But I appreciate that they’re taking this with a grain of salt and they’re holding me accountable too, which is important. Yeah. Cause it goes in place.

Sam Demma (31:29):

That’s awesome. Very cool. Well if someone’s listening to this and has been at all inspired or intrigued by some of the things you’ve shared or the stories you’ve talked about, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you and ask a question?

Dave Levi (31:41):

Well they can, they can email me at davidasherlevy@gmail.com. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter with all the same handles, and I would love to hear from other high functioning educators and compare notes ’cause as I said earlier, I think that’s the key to, to success in the classroom and on the court and on the field.

Sam Demma (32:08):

Awesome. David, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Appreciate it big time my friend. Keep up the great work and we will talk very soon.

Dave Levi (32:15):

Looking forward to it, Sam, thanks so much. It’s real honor.

Sam Demma (32:19):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dave Levy

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.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette – Wellness Coordinator in Sun West School Division

Dr. Elaina Guilmette - Wellness Coordinator in Sun West School Division
About Dr. Elaina Guilmette

Elaina Guilmette (@ElainaYelich) is a curriculum development coordinator for the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan and a wellness coordinator at Sun West School Division. She enjoys learning and researching how curricula can improve and enhance learners’ pathways and educational experiences.

In 2013, Elaina completed her Master’s in Curriculum Studies at USASK, where she created a curriculum titled Inclusion 10, which focused on the positive effects of creating an inclusive Physical Education experience for students of all abilities.

In 2018, Elaina co-developed the Mental Wellness 30 curriculum with a team from Sun West. In 2021, she completed her Ph.D. in Curriculum Studies at USASK, where she gained valuable knowledge of the experiences students and teachers fostered while utilizing the MW30 curriculum and teacher support resource.

From her research, it was found that many of the resiliency building activities taught in the MW30 curriculum enhanced students’ emotional, cognitive, behavioural, and affective domains.

Connect with Elaina: Email | Facebook | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

School of Environment and Sustainability – University of Saskatchewan

Sun West School Division

Master’s in Curriculum Studies at USASK

Inclusion 10 Curriculum

Mental Wellness 30 curriculum

Ph.D. in Curriculum Studies at USASK

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.

Sam Demma (01:01):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Elaina Guilmette. Elena Guilmette is a curriculum develvopment coordinator for the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan and a wellness coordinator in Sun West School Division. She enjoys learning and researching how curricula can improve and enhance learners pathways and educational experiences. In 2013, Elena completed her master’s in curriculum studies at USASK where she created a curriculum titled Inclusion 10, which focused on the positive effects of creating an inclusive physical education experience for students of all abilities. In 2018, Elena co-developed the Mental Wellness 30 curriculum with a team from Sun West. In 2021, she completed her PhD in curriculum studies at USASK, where she gained valuable knowledge of the experience students and teachers fostered while utilizing the mental Wellness 30 curriculum and teacher support resource. From her research, it was found that many of the resiliency building activities taught in the mental wellness 30 curriculum enhance students’ emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and effective domains. I hope you enjoy this conversation today with Dr. Elena Gilmet, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Elaina Guilmette. Elaina Guilmette, and I’m so excited to be joined with her here today. Elena, please take a second to introduce yourself.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (02:36):

Hi. Well, thank you so much for having me. My name is Elaina Guilmette, and I am a curriculum developer. I’m also a course instructor, and I am just kind of finding my, my medium here of where I am. I, I teach a grade 12 course called Mental Wellness 30, which is online, but I’m also developing curriculum from an indigenous perspective from the University of Saskatchewan. So I kind of have my hands in, in both fields. I finished my PhD in curriculum studies which was also what my master’s work was around. So I’m really passionate about finding ways that, you know, curriculum can be used to, you know, equip our students and make learning a meaningful journey.

Sam Demma (03:24):

How does one get into curriculum development? <laugh>, What was like, tell me a little bit about your journey into education and what brought you to where you are today?

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (03:32):

Well, I always knew I, I wanted to be a teacher. I would always play teacher as a little girl. And I was a swimming instructor for many years. And, and so I knew education was where I wanted to be, and I, I started out with those little elementary, you know, K one two and, and then they became really needy and <laugh>, you know, and I did. I didn’t know if that was for me. So then I gradually moved my way up into high school where I found them to be, you know, much more independent. And and when I was there, I was a, a physical education teacher, and I loved teaching phed, but I always found that there was not a lot of inclusive strategies for students with special needs in the physical education classroom. A lot of the times they would be, you know, pushed aside or not integrated in a meaningful way.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (04:20):

And so as I made these observations, I decided to pursue my master’s in curriculum, and that was where I created a program called Inclusion 10, where mainstream students, peer teach students with intellectual disabilities, physical education. And I saw the power that curriculum had in being able to bind experiences and make meaningful learning experiences that I, I wanted to do it again. And so I always kinda had in the back of my head that I would, you know, do a PhD and one day hopefully teach teachers at the university level. And so I, I moved from being a PHS ed teacher to an online teacher. A new distance learning center was being put up and I decided, you know what, Maybe I’m gonna make this shift into online learning. And, and as I was in this online school, I started to gain an understanding of who and what students were coming to our online school.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (05:19):

And, and many of them struggled with mental health challenges. They had been bullied in school. you know, they were trying to make a work life balance. They were struggling in the classroom. And I started to look around at the different curriculums that we were offering. And there wasn’t many to do with mental health and mental wellness initiatives, especially from a proactive perspective, you know, very reactive mm-hmm. <affirmative> and very quite dated. And so what we decided to do was make a curriculum that would help support students that had mental health and wellness challenges. And then, then I decided to pursue my PhD in that area and evaluate the curriculum.

Sam Demma (06:03):

Tell me more about the program that you co-developed. it’s mental wellness 30, right?

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (06:09):

Yes. Yeah. so I was teaching exercise science at the time. And I had this student who was just brilliant. She was, I think 18, and she was so smart. She would start and she would submit an assignment and she’d get like a 90 or a 95, but then I wouldn’t hear from her for, you know, a couple months. And I would pursue talking to her again, and then I couldn’t get ahold of her, and then she’d submit something and, and we kind of had this like relationship where I didn’t really know what was going on with her. And at the time, my husband, like I said, had, had just gone through brain surgery. So he had deep brain stimulation, which is for Parkinson’s, but he was using it to cure his OC d anxiety and depression. And my youngest son had actually just been diagnosed with adhd.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (07:02):

And then this little girl called me, well, she’s not a little girl, she was 18 at the time, but she called me from the Dub Bay Center, which is the mental health center, and, and started to tell me about her struggles and just how she was trying to get this adult 12. And I thought, you know, my husband is, is almost 40, and he hasn’t learned a lot of the things that he needed to, and he had to go to the extreme of getting brain surgery. My son is going to be going into an education system where he’s not gonna understand, you know, why he takes what he does, but what he needs to know is that the medication that he’s taking is, is something his brain requires. It’s, it’s not, it’s not his fault. It’s, it’s just medicine. You know, we take, when we’re feeling sad, we take, you know, an antidepressant, seasonal disorders when we have, you know we never judge anybody for diabetes and taking insulin when they have diabetes.

Sam Demma (07:53):

And so I wanted, I wanted to create a, a platform where he felt comfortable saying, You know, I have ADHD and this is what I need. And so then this girl, Alexis, we decided that we were going to write a curriculum that attacked mental health and wellness from a proactive approach where we wanted to take the best things that work for youth and put them into a curriculum and, and teach them to students. And that’s what we did. And we went around and we met with multiple psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, youth counselors, peer supporters, cm hha, Saskatchewan. And we ended up taking the best things that work for youth. And we built an online course and an online curriculum for that. And now we offer that free for students to take around Saskatchewan, thanks to rbc. They provide the funding. And and there’s also a teacher mentorship program where we offer all of of the resources for teachers to teach it for free in face to face classrooms. And the whole idea is that, you know, we really start opening up the conversation in the classrooms and start talking about it. when I did do my PhD research on the four classrooms that implemented mental wellness, 30, the impacts were outstanding. students gained self-awareness, they gained empathy, they gained you know, just, just skills that they would’ve never learned or were never taught. And so I, I know that we’re onto something great with what we’re doing.

Sam Demma (09:31):

You definitely are, I think back to my experience in school, it would’ve been so cool to have a curriculum like this in place that I could access, whether it was for myself or to support someone who was going through a difficult time. is this a full length semester program that a student would choose in their high school education, or is it supplementary to their current course load?

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (09:55):

It’s, it’s an elective, so they can choose to take it and it counts towards their grade 12 course. We do not have it adopted yet by other provinces. So, you know, the hope would be that Alberta and BC and and different provinces would adopt it, and then we could open it up to Canada. But right now it’s just a grade 12 credit in Saskatchewan. But there is free online counseling and free online peer support that comes with that as well. We really wanted to make sure that our northern, indigenous remote and rural communities have access as we know that those supports are very limited.

Sam Demma (10:29):

That’s awesome. What a cool program. What are you most proud of when it comes to the creation of it or the co-creation of the entire curriculum and the test runs and trial runs of it So far,

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (10:43):

I think that it’s, it’s in it’s youth led and, you know, if you want youth to be involved and you want youth to be actively engaged in the activities, you have to talk to youth. And we have to engage them. So many of these programs come from a top down approach, and without it actively coming from youth, it’s incredibly difficult to find, you know, what that language is that works with them and, and, and how the learning experiences really can benefit them. Rather than just being, you know, just a bunch of knowledge out there. Let’s, let’s work through some activities. So, you know, one of the activities we do is a cognitive behavioral therapy approach. So where students actually just have to work through different thinking traps and different thoughts and just teaching them about that, because I don’t ever remember anybody telling me about thinking traps or talking about thinking traps. And, you know, maybe if I didn’t take things so personally, you know, if I knew that I was falling into that trap, would it be easier for me to have a conversation with somebody? Right. And, and starting to understand those pieces.

Sam Demma (11:53):

 it’s awesome. This sounds like such a helpful resource. <laugh>, I would like to go through it myself. <laugh>,

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (11:58):

You can <laugh>. Yeah.

Sam Demma (12:02):

 thank you for sharing a little bit of the behind the scenes regarding that. I’m curious to know what keeps you hopeful and motivated every day to show up to work and puts your best foot forward and try and make a difference in an impact?

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (12:15):

Well, I, I, for one, I really just have to make sure that I try to, you know, put what I’m advocating into practice mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and, you know, if we take the time to fill our own cup, if we take the time to bring ourselves into a calm space, we will be better able to help those around us. And so I always try to make sure that, you know, my day starts out with, whether it’s exercise or whether it’s meditation, or whether it’s just drinking a glass of water, something that, you know, I feel like I’ve done something for me. And that just, that helps to kind of set up my day so that I can, you know, give my best self to my students. And yeah. No, it’s, it’s all about, we really have to, as a society, we actually have to carve out more time for ourselves, and we have to understand that self care is not selfish. And a lot of the times we find it very, you know, Oh, I’m taking time for myself, but you have to do that. That’s when we get burnt out and we’re trying to avoid burnout.

Sam Demma (13:19):

I read a quote this morning that said one day you realized you have two hands, one for helping yourself and one for helping others, and you have to use ’em equally <laugh>. Yeah. And I thought that was a really great perspective shift. Yeah. In terms of self care and the balance of that with serving others. you alluded to some of the practices you engage in. What are some of the things you think are very important for staff and students to maintain a positive mental health and, and their own wellbeing?

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (13:50):

Well, I think for sure a self-awareness check-in is always really important. And there’s lots of different questionnaires that you can go through and different apps, but checking in on that physical, that mental, that spiritual now’s the emotional domains. And that can be just as simple as, you know, what have I done for myself physically? Have I, have I showered? Have I gone some fresh air? Am I drinking enough water? You know, spiritually, am I connecting with nature? Am I trying to connect with something bigger than myself? Am I being kind? So asking really basic questions about yourself and trying to find out where you’re at, self-awareness is one of the fundamental pillars of resilience. And when we are more self aware of what we are doing and how we react to certain situations, we can put the, the practices forward to make change. But when we are completely unaware of what we are doing or, you know, how we’re burning ourselves out, So one of the big things that I start out students with is, is by doing this.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (14:58):

So they go through an engaging activity where they get asked questions about their physical, their social, their spiritual, their emotional domains, and then they have to create a wheel and they have to see how balanced they are in each domain and, and how their, cuz their wheel should go, it should roll. And a lot of the times our wheel doesn’t roll <laugh>. And so usually that’s a big wake up call for them. You know, a lot of them don’t even realize maybe what the spiritual domain is. And, and it doesn’t always have to be religion, it, it, there, you know, there’s, there’s other pieces to it, but unless we help students identify that, so then students will set forth a some smart goals and each domain, and then they have to work through accomplishing those goals. And that’s one assignment. So, you know, that first kind of assignment of getting them starting to feel good, getting them starting to put some proactive strategies into place.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (15:48):

Then we start tackling a lot about, you know, the mental health literacy. So understanding that language about what is stigma and, Oh, I am depressed, or I have a depressed, like I’m in a depression. You know, like there’s, there’s difference between, you know, my boyfriend broke up with me and I’m depressed to, you know, I actually have a, I have a disorder. Yeah. so getting students to understand that. And then we do a lot of the thinking, so the positive thinking approaches, you know, negative self talk finding out those thinking traps that we get locked into. What are the impacts of social media on your mental health? And then we usually end up with a final project where students are to do something active in their community or just kind of outside of themselves. So I had one student who wasn’t going to graduate, and she took my class and she did really well in it. And during the wellness wheel activity, she started biking to improve her physical domain. Hmm. And she ended up raising $900 for her local c h a by putting on a bike marathon, You know, and it’s, when you give kids and youth and adults the power to do something about their mental health and wellness and make it into a way that is fun and is a part of life, it, it’s, it’s unreal where, where you can go when you feel healthy.

Sam Demma (17:12):

I think one of the main reasons educators get into the education world is because of the impact they’re hoping to have on young minds and students and other people. you just shared a story about a young lady who joined your program and was struggling and by the end of it had a new routine of biking to and from school, and it was probably very positively affecting her mental health. Are there any stories that come to mind when you think about students who have been impacted by education, maybe even the course? and the reason I ask is because again, I think a burnt out teacher might be able to remember their why by hearing a story of how education has impacted a student. so are there any stories that come to mind that you’d wanna share?

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (17:59):

 well, what, well, one of them is when I first started, so I work in a very rural, rural school division. And, you know, Saskatchewan doesn’t have, you know, maybe as much diversity as, you know, some of the bigger centers. And so a big piece was to make sure that students all felt like they could identify, you know, with, with something, because identity is a critical piece of our mental health. And when we feel that we connect with others, when we feel that that we have that connection, we can feel better about who we are. And so I went through and, you know, I got very many perspectives from indigenous people, from two spirit, from the b Q two you know, and just getting different perspectives of kids and what it was like in youth growing up. And one student comes from a very, very small town where, you know, coming out as gay or lesbian or bisexual it would be, is very challenging.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (18:59):

And nobody talks about those things. Mm. And so in my course during the identity unit, you know, you, you get to in, you get introduced to these students’ lives and what it was like for them to maybe come out to their parent or to come out to their school and, and their journey. And it’s hard, it’s hard listening to them, but by the end, it gives you this sense of hope that no matter what, I will get through this. And so one of these students wrote, you know, a giant letter at the end of the course saying, I, I don’t know where, where I will go right now, but what I know is, is that I, that there’s hope out there for me, and that no matter what I decide to do, if I decide to come out as, you know, gay or lesbian or bi trans, it doesn’t matter because I will get through this.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (19:50):

And that’s, that’s the part about it that’s really important that teachers is that in that, in instilling hope in our students is so important because that when we lose that hope is when, you know, we feel very deflated. And so if teachers can always, you know, provide that glimpse of hope, and that’s where real life stories. So bringing in, you know, real students and real life stories into your classroom, those stories mean so much to students. And I’ve learned a lot of that through my doctoral research is the impact of, of story and how when we resonate with somebody else that relatedness, that that is what fills us and that’s what helps us. So I would recommend, I would recommend those pieces. I’d recommend the, the check-ins with students, you know, doing that as, as tedious as it might sound, we need, everybody needs those check-ins. I, I now make sure I don’t just say to somebody, Hey, how are you doing? I always say, you know, how are you doing? And I look at them in the eye and I wait for them to respond. And if they say, Good, then I say, That’s awesome. But, you know, making that connection and that communication don’t just hi and then walk away. Right. We need to make those connections with people around us.

Sam Demma (21:08):

What is your feedback when a student finds out their wheel is not round, but more like a rectangle <laugh>? What, what is your advice to try and smoothen it out? <laugh>

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (21:21):

Baby steps, Small steps. So figuring out, like, what I will say to my students is, you know, just start out, you know, one little piece in each domain. So maybe today for this week, you’re gonna add five pushups to every day and just see where that goes. maybe start just trying to dr. Make sure you drink one glass of water every day, just trying to make sure you get outside for fresh air once a week. So just really small, achievable goals. And if you can track them, that really does help with your confidence to be able to know that you’re, you’re doing it and you’re making the steps forward. But just don’t bite off more than you can chew. I’ve, I’ve had students come at me where they’ll say, you know, Oh, I’m gonna lose 30 pounds in the next 10 days because I’m way off track on my wellness wheel. And I’m like, No, no, no, no, no, no, not at all. You don’t wanna do that. You wanna make healthy little achievable steps and helping students work through those achievable steps,

Sam Demma (22:26):

This process. And the wheel, I would assume applies to educators and staff as well.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (22:32):

<laugh>? Yes. Yeah. We actually run quite a few different wellness challenges every month where we have a bunch of different, like, self-care activities every day, and we send them out to staff and students and schools and, and they can practice them and submit them back to me for a prize. But the goal is just to do a little act of self care. And it can be anything from tidying up your desk to, like I said, you know, making sure that you have, you know, you visit a friend that you haven’t maybe talked to for a while or connect with a relative that you haven’t, All those little pieces can make you feel so good.

Sam Demma (23:09):

Mm. I love that. It sounds like this has been something that’s very much prioritized in your school division now which is so awesome. Again, I think back to my own experiences in school. I wish I had a newsletter being sent to me about self care tips and challenges to win prizes, <laugh>. that’s, that’s so awesome. when you think about your journey through education, if you could travel back in time, tap, you know, younger Elena, not that you’re old, but you could tap younger Elena on the shoulder when she was, was starting her first year of teaching with the, still, with the experience you have now, like knowing what, you know, what would you have told your younger self not to change anything about your path, but just because you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear it when you were just getting into education?

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (24:03):

I think to value the uniqueness of every student that, you know, they don’t just fit into this box mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and, you know, we want them to fit in this box because we wanna be able to manage that classroom and to understand that, you know, the classroom is becoming such a diverse place and you know, it, there’s a lot going on for teachers way more now than ever, you know, And so if I wouldn’t have learned that, you know, maybe I needed to do things a certain way, but I think we need to learn that there’s so many different ways to, to approach kids, to approach learning, to approach, But it’s tough because there’s not a lot of time in the day and teachers are, you know, feeling really exhausted right now. They’re having a hard time with adjusting from the impacts of Covid. And so, I mean, I think looking back now, I would really just, I would understand that the classroom is, it’s, it’s a, it’s a hard place and you need to be able to reach out for supports and you need, you can’t do it on your own. And, you know, when you’re a first year teacher or second year teacher, you wanna try and do it all yourself, and you don’t want anybody to know, but you, you have to reach out for those people around you. They’re there for reasons and not to be afraid to ask for help and support.

Sam Demma (25:31):

Hmm. On the topic of help and support, sometimes it’s reaching out, you know, when we’re struggling to talk to other people, other times you might need help and support in relation to actual teaching, like looking for new lessons for your classes or for ideas for future class lessons or ideas for your own professional development as a teacher. I’m curious if there are any resources or things that you subscribe to or books that you’ve read courses that you’ve been a part of that you found really valuable in your own professional development as an educator and, and a human being that you think would be valuable if another educator checked them out. or maybe have one that comes to mind, or maybe it’s a person in your life, but whatever you have to share. I would, I would love to hear it.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (26:23):

 well, for me, a lot has been about looking at the, the different gaps and figuring out ways that I can fill those gaps. And so, I mean, the internet’s always been, you know, one of my favorite places to go around, but nice. You have to be able to take, take that stuff and make it into your own. And a lot of I know a lot of divisions don’t like to use paid resources. They want teachers to make their own, but everything I got was passed down by a really genuine other teacher. And I think that’s always been the practice that I do. I don’t keep anything for myself. I always try to give back because there’s no point in remaking the wheel. There are other people out there that have taught, and I encourage, that’s why I said, I encourage you to, you know, reach out to other teachers because they will be the ones that will give you the stuff that, you know, hasn’t, that has been used.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (27:21):

And that’s why when we built this teacher mentorship model, I didn’t want, one of the biggest stresses and challenges is for teachers to teach a new curriculum. Mm. And I never wanted one that had to be mental health and mental wellness to be stressful on a teacher. I wanted everything laid out for them. Yeah. And so that was why we built it that way, was to alleviate any of that stress and anxiety. So now I spend a lot of my time building resources for teachers, and we’re trying to build wellness in in Arcade to nine by taking, you know, different health and ELA and art and phed outcomes, and then coming up with mental health and wellness strategies that can meet those outcomes. So I think it’s about it learning how to infuse wellness and mental health into the curriculum as well. And so those are kind of the resources that we’re working on building too. And I encourage anybody that’s on here, if they ever wanna reach out to me for, you know, resources or, you know, different things that we have made, I, we’re free to share them. We have a wonderful resource bank within our school division that houses all kinds of vetted resources. So, I mean, I’m really lucky I have access to a lot of, a lot of staff, but I’m always kind of available if anybody you know, is looking for things I can help direct them.

Sam Demma (28:40):

Not to fill your inbox, but <laugh>, if an educator is listening right now, and was intrigued and inspired by the conversation, wants to have a conversation with you, ask a question or share some ideas, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (28:57):

My email is elaina.guilmette@usask.ca.

Sam Demma (29:11):

Awesome. Elena, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast, talk about a little bit of your experience in education, the Mental Wellness 30 program, and all the amazing resources you’re working on. I really appreciate it, and keep up the great work and, and we’ll talk soon.

Dr. Elaina Guilmette (29:27):

Thank you.

Sam Demma (29:30):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Elaina Guilmette

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.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma – Program Leader at the Halton District School Board & Practicum Advisor at Brock University

Dr. Sunaina Sharma - Program Leader at the Halton District School Board and Practicum Advisor at Brock University
About Dr. Sunaina Sharma

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (@DrSunainaSharma) is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over twenty years of experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, ON. She strives to put the learner’s needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning so that students participate in authentic and relevant knowledge construction.

Her doctoral research centred on understanding how to leverage digital technology in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at a Bachelor of Education program, she uses her knowledge, skills and experience to guide future educators.

Connect with Sunaina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board – HDSB

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Dr. Susaina Sharma’s Personal Website

Google Workplace

Ted.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. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over 20 years experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, Ontario. She strives to put the learners needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning, so that students are participating in authentic and relevant knowledge construction. Her doctoral research is centered on understanding how to leverage digital technologies in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at Brock University at a Bachelor of Education program, she is using her knowledge, skills, and experience to guide future educators. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Sunania Sharma and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. And today we are joined with a very special guest, Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma actually uses one of my TED talks in her classroom, <laugh> which prompted her to reach out, and I’m so excited to have her on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:18):

Hi, I’m Sunaina Sharma and I have been an educator for over 20 years, and despite all the challenges, it is still my passion.

Sam Demma (02:30):

What made it your passion over, or I guess 20 years ago, what started this journey for you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:36):

It’s an interesting story because I never intended to become a teacher. My path was set. I was going to go to law school and I was going to be a family lawyer. upon graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree, I walked down the street from where I lived to the local high school and asked if anyone needed a volunteer because I graduated and I wanted to have more experience working with youth. And an English teacher at that school, Mo leaking, said, Oh, I’d love to have you join my class. My grade elevens are writing essays and they could use some help. So I started by going in twice a week. And what Mr. Leaking did with his students in that classroom was magic. His students were excitedly engaged and I wanted to be a magician like him. So I actually rescinded my acceptance to law school and set up on the path to attain my Bachelor of education.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned Mr. Leaking was a magician of sorts. What exactly did you witness in his class that got you so excited about doing something similar with your own group of students?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (03:47):

So what he was doing with his students in his classroom was completely different from what I experienced in high school. My high school experience wasn’t very positive and I just remember copying notes and wrote memorization and weekly quizzes and monthly tests. And what he was doing was there was such an energy and excitement in the classroom. There was so much noise and movement, but it was all very planned and calculated. So if you looked through the window of his classroom, it looked chaotic, but it was all like organized chaos. It was so much fun to be in that room. I went from volunteering twice a week to four or five times a week. I just wanted to be in that room.

Sam Demma (04:31):

Oh, that’s so awesome. And what took you from that room to where you are today? Tell me a little bit about your journey through education.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (04:39):

Okay. So I completed my Bachelor of Education in 2001 and immediately got hired by the Halton District School Board at the school that I volunteered at No Way <laugh>. So that, that opportunity allowed me to build connections, real connections with students, but also other educators in the building. So I ended up working for that school until it closed in 2018. And that school was amalgamated into the school that I am currently at, which is mm, Robinson in Burlington. Nice. And I’ve been at that, I’ve been at that school for four years along the way. I do love learning and figuring out how to be a better teacher. That’s always at the root of all of my learning and experiences that I seek out. So along the way, I ended up attaining my master’s degree, my master’s of education, and then I thought I was done, but then I wasn’t and ended up completing my PhD in 2018. So I have my PhD in education. Nice. So with that opportunity, it’s allowed me, I am a department head or program leader in my school. It’s allowed me to not only inspire and engage the people I work with, but it’s also allowed me to work in a Bachelor of education program in mentoring and guiding our future teachers,

Sam Demma (06:03):

Which is such an important role. I think teachers when performing very well and making genuine connections with their classrooms have a very big impact on the future being the kids that are gonna be running the future and being a part of it. I think back to an educator I had in my life who, like Mr. Leaking for you created an environment that all the students in his class wanted to be in. you know, over the past couple of years things have been quite different and a little bit challenging. I’m curious in your roles, what are some of the challenges you’re faced with right now and, and kind of how are you coming, coming, getting out of or getting over some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (06:43):

Yeah, definitely the current challenges that students are struggling in the classroom after two years of disruptive learning, they do have gaps. And as such, when they encounter difficulty, they get frustrated and the outcome is they’re giving up, they’re struggling to persevere, to overcome the challenges and the obstacles.

Sam Demma (07:03):

Gotcha. H how as as an educator do you kind of support or help a student get over that or get through it? <laugh>

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (07:12):

It’s, it’s offering care and support. We always have to remember that our students are children. Mm. Although they like to present themselves as adults, they are children and we as educators are in a position to teach them we need to reestablish or reteach them. That learning involves failing. Mm. Somehow they’ve learned along the way that failing is bad or wrong and that’s where the unlearning needs to come. And we really need to reinforce that failing is part of learning and they have to fail forward.

Sam Demma (07:46):

I love that. I think back to soccer, growing up as an athlete, our coach would always sit us down after a terrible performance and instead of scolding us, would provide us with the opportunity to chat about it with all of our teammates to try and identify what went wrong and what we could learn from so that, you know, in the future, similar situations wouldn’t unfold again. And it felt like he helped us look at failure as a stepping stone rather than a, you know, an a dead end. So I think that’s a really important lesson to share with young people. what gives you hope? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up to work every single day and put your best foot forward?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (08:25):

Students and my colleagues give me hope. Students since 2020 actually have gone through four different modes of learning and they continue to still come to school every day and try their best and engage My colleagues give me hope because they’re always reflecting and learning. My department does not have the course binder that we keep reusing every semester or every year. We’re constantly revisiting our courses to make them better. Our courses never remain static. And the fact that my colleagues are willing to put in the work every summer to make the courses better for the upcoming year is inspiring.

Sam Demma (09:06):

I love that. you mentioned thinking about failure not as a challenge, but it’s something to learn from. I’m curious, among your own journey, if there are certain mistakes you’ve made or certain situations that have happened in your career that you’ve learned from that you think are worth sharing with other educators who might be listening?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (09:25):

Yeah, that’s a great question cuz it actually is gonna allow me to talk about my PhD research. I used to think technology engages students and over the years I would encounter various professional development opportunities that introduced me to new technology and that would peak my interest. And I would go home and spend the whole evening planning this amazing lesson for the next day. And the next day as the students would walk into class, I would be excited because I thought I had this amazing lesson planned. And on a number of occasions there was detachment, disinterest, and complete disengagement. The students were not compelled with this lesson that I spent hours the night before planning. So that would have to result in me going to my teacher’s toolbox to just come up with something different for the day. But this happened a number of times and it led me to want to explore the relationship between digital technology and student engagement.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (10:28):

I have seen the power of technology to engage students who have previously been disengaged, but I’ve also seen that sometimes they, the technology itself is what causes them to disconnect. So that actually is what inspired my PhD research because I couldn’t figure out why does technology work sometimes and why doesn’t it work other times? And I learned it’s not the technology that actually engages them, it’s what the technology allows them to do. It’s the outcome. Mm. So if the technology allows students to collaborate, connect, and construct their own knowledge, then it will engage them. So if you’re using technology in a different way than you should dump the use of the technology.

Sam Demma (11:16):

Tell me more about some of the tech tools that you have come across in your journey that you often go back to and consistently use because you think they allow students and teachers to have those three types of interactions.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (11:32):

It’s nothing new. Often I think as teachers we’re looking for the new thing, but it’s often going back to the tools that we have and using them in a different way. Hmm. So for example if you attempt to have a class discussion, you’re always gonna have these few students that are participating in the class discussion. Often all your other students in the classroom have a lot to say, but for whatever reason they’re not raising their hands. Sometimes they just need more time to process to articulate their ideas or they feel like they’re being dominated by this other strong voices in the classroom. So one thing that I do is I’ll have a class discussion on a Google doc. We all use Google Docs, but to suddenly use a Google Doc for a class discussion allows students to carefully read each other’s thoughts process and then thoughtfully share their ideas. When I post a Google Doc as a class discussion, I will typically get 100% participation on that Google Doc. So again, it’s not a brand new tech tool, it’s using the tools that we already have at our fingertips in a different way so that students are able to collaborate and connect and construct their own knowledge.

Sam Demma (12:47):

And if working in groups, each of the groups could have a different color font selected so you could very quickly and live see the edits happening on the document, which is really, really awesome. I think that’s a, that’s so cool that you use Google Docs. I had never have used in a classroom Google Docs live with my classmates and my teacher. I think that’s a really cool idea. So thanks for sharing. you know, we talked a little bit about the learning around technology. what are some things that keep you motivated personally outside of technology? Cuz it seems like it’s a big part of your career. <laugh>,

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (13:29):

The people who I surround myself with are always the ones that are motivating me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we all have our days where it’s just, it’s not a good day, but suddenly you’ll enter a building and the people around you inspire you. I think educators are incredible people and we are resilient and never give up and that’s what we want to inspire in our students. I’m always working to try and build that self-efficacy and capacity in other educators around me. And this year I’ve actually received a great opportunity. I’m actually on a leave from my teaching position for one year. So I can take on this opportunity as a instructor and practicum advisor in a Bachelor of education program. That way I’m working with our future educators to motivate and inspire them. And it’s really interesting. I entered the program to motivate and inspire them and it has been so motivating for me to see our future educators. They are lifelong learners, they are dedicated to making school positive and they’re dedicated to making positive change in the schools.

Sam Demma (14:43):

Hmm. That must be a pretty cool experience working with the future educators of tomorrow. Right now. I’m curious maybe this, you’ve been in that role for a short period of time so it won’t be as applicable, but tell me about a story or a situation where a program that you ran or maybe you in a program you were a part of had a big impact on a student, whether that’s an educator as a student or an actual student in a high school or middle school.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (15:11):

Yeah. I’ll tell you about our English program at our high school and then I can kind of share a little nugget of information on how that impacted my Bachelor of education program. Sure. But I don’t have a single story cuz how do you capture an amazing program? In, in one story, while I’ll give you a little snapshot, our entire English program focuses on the overarching umbrella of equity. So in our Grade 10 program, our students choose a graphic novel from a selection of nine. And one of the students chose to read a graphic novel and she said, I’ve never read a book for school that had a Muslim character. She’s wearing a hijab. And for me that was impactful because she saw herself in something that she was reading for school. our English program in grade 11 has students identifying what they see as a problem that is impacting equity or is creating an equity.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:12):

And they work to identify a solution and try to inspire a larger audience through media to tackle that problem. And that allowed, so one of the grade 11 students actually took on a project to advocate for change. It took her to our school principal, it took her to the parent council, it took her, took her to our school board, and the result was change. she advocated for menstrual products in all hdsp bathrooms regardless of the fact that they were male bathrooms or female bathrooms. And now Htsp has implemented that across the board and that came from a grade 11 students English project.

Sam Demma (16:53):

Wow. So

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:55):

The impact of our program is that students are seeing themselves, seeing our community, seeing their global world, and they’re inspired to use their voice for positive change. So I was sharing a little bit of our program with my Bachelor of Education program students and one of my students started to get emotional. So I, I went over and said, Is everything okay? Cuz regardless of the fact that they’re adults, they’re still my students. Yeah. And they’re all humans. And she said, and she began to share a hurtful comment that a teacher had made about her eyes because she’s of Asian descent. And she said, What you are doing in your school with your English program is what I want to do, and now I realize it can be done. Mm. So I think the, when students see themselves in the curriculum, it is so powerful not only for those students, but for us as educators to see that positive impact.

Sam Demma (17:58):

Those nine books, it sounds like, you know, those resources had a big impact on that one student who saw herself in the material shared. I’m wondering for your own personal and professional development, if you have come across any resources throughout your own learning journey that you found really helpful. And this could also be peers but if there’s any books or courses or videos or people you follow that you found helpful what are some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (18:30):

I don’t like to say this is the golden title. Yeah. This is the Golden Book. As I mentioned, we’re constantly changing our program. We’re on a four year cycle, so every four years we kind of revisit and say, Okay, is this outdated? Should we keep this or should we remove it? So I’m reluctant to name a title, but the news, we’re constantly using the news and having students look at the news. It’s so important. They’re aware of what’s happening in our world. We like to live in this little, I call it the Burlington bubble, but we need to be aware of what’s going on around us. The news is a great resource for me. Also, Ted, that’s how I stumbled across your TED Talk. We use your TED Talk. I think Ted Talk is the platform that we’re trying to create in our students. We want our students to know that their voice matters. Sometimes they say, Why does anyone wanna hear about this? And you go to TED Talk and you hear these amazing pitches or speeches or presentations on topics that you would think maybe wouldn’t have a large audience, but they do. So TED Talk and the news for me are great resources and tools, also documentaries. Hmm.

Sam Demma (19:49):

Awesome. I love that. I, I would love for you to send me <laugh> outside of this podcast, a list of awesome documentaries for my own pleasure watching <laugh>. So please do. is there anything that you would share or say to an educator right now who is feeling a little bit burnt out, a little uninspired and needing not a full pep talk, but maybe some words of advice? and if that person walked into your office at Brock and told you that, what would you kind of share with them?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (20:22):

I would tell them to just take a deep breath and you’re not the only one. Lots of fe people are feeling burnt out and tired. with the ch with the changes in our students and their own self-efficacy they are needing our care and support more so than before the pandemic. I would continue to affirm to them that they are amazing and they’re great. Keep doing your best. If you are doing your best, that’s what matters. And if you’re feeling like you need some support, you really need to count on the people around you. Everyone’s a team and we’re all working together. That’s the case in my department, in the school that I work at, but also in the Bachelor of Education program with the other instructors in the cohort. We’re always leaning on each other for care and support. So I would tell that burnt out teacher, you’re doing great. Take a deep breath. Is there anything that people around you can help support you through?

Sam Demma (21:28):

Mm. Love that. That’s awesome. Well keep up the amazing work that you’re doing with educators. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:44):

The best way to find me is on twitter. I think twitter is such a great way to connect with others from around the world to engage in professional dialogue.

Sam Demma (21:53):

Awesome. What would your Twitter handle be?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:56):

@drsunainasharma

Sam Demma (21:58):

Okay. Awesome. Sunaina thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast here today. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk to you soon.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (22:06):

Thank you so much Sam.

Sam Demma (22:08):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Sunaina Sharma

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.

John (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario

John (João) Linhares - Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario
About John Linhares

John Linhares (@MrJLinhares), is the Vice Principal at St André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in Education in the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education Program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board as well as in the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the DCDSB’s virtual school which was home to over 3600 students.

John truly believes in an inclusive model for education, and strives to get to know each one of his students’ and their God-given special gifts and talents. He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st Century learning in the classroom to help engage students today and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a life-long learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out-of-the-box perspective.

Connect with John: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St André Bessette Catholic School

York University – Concurrent Education Program

Toronto Catholic District School Board – TCDSB

Durham Catholic District School Board – DCDSB

DCDSB virtual school

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:57):

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 someone that I see walking around my block almost every single week. His name is John Linhares. John is the vice principal at John (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in education the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, as well as the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Virtual school, which was home to over 3,600 students. John truly believes in an inclusive model for education and strives to get to know each one of his students and their God-given special gifts and talents.

Sam Demma (01:50):

He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st century learning in the classroom to help engage students today, and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a lifelong learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out of the box perspective. I hope you enjoy this conversation with John, and I will see you on the other side. Today, we have a very special guest. I actually see him a couple times a week while walking around the block. <laugh>. His name is John Linhares. John, please feel free to introduce yourself.

John Linhares (02:33):

Hey Sam. Thanks so much. Yeah, I feel like we should be walking right now, actually. Cause Yeah, we’re always like crossing past, like crossing ships here. I’m John Linhares and I’m super excited to, to be here with you. I’ve seen you in person in your inspirational conversations and your inspirational presentations with our schools. You know, I’ve been following you as well the last couple of years, and I just was very happy to take on this, this little invite to come in on your show for a bit.

Sam Demma (03:00):

So you’re in education, what do you do? How did you get into it?

John Linhares (03:05):

So, yeah, so it’s it’s been a pretty long, like I’m not kind of, I was that kid who grew up basically knowing that I wanted be a teacher okay. And I would wind up my toys and all that. I pretend, and I was an only child, so the creativity had to come out. And yeah, so I know I, so from a young age I wanted to do that and started teaching in 2000. So it’s been essentially 22 years. And I love it. Obviously I do love it. The pandemic kicked in and another passion, the minus technology. So when the pandemic kicked in, we were all went virtual Yeah. Class. When virtual, I just felt this urge to be like, Listen, I need to help out more. At the time I was kind of in a small bubble of classes and could only help out a few people, I guess.

John Linhares (03:49):

And were reaching out to a few people to help them out. So that kind of inspired me to wanna help more people. And so I reached out to some people at the boards, listened, You guys need help with, with, you know, getting people on board with their classes and helping out. Like, what are we gonna do in the situation? you know, let me know. So that’s how I, I got on board with that. And as luck would take it, you know, the next step into my career was becoming a vice principal. And just led me to this path to being a vice principal. And the first school that I was a vice principal at was the German Catholic virtual elementary school. First of its kind created or we were announced of it, ironically, the morning of my interview come vice principal <laugh>.

John Linhares (04:33):

So I’m like listening to this like broadcast by the director and a few principals and superintendents and you know, I’m like waiting. Cause they, they, you know, I had my interview, let’s say at 10 30 and they said, Listen, your might be late. They’ve got this, you know, this big ment they’re making out to the whole board. So I’m like, Gary, no worries, I’ll just listen in. And then once that’s done, then I’ll pop on the zoom. It’s all good. And I remember hearing about this virtual school, I’m like, That’s it. That’s where I, to me, and went into my interview and saying, You know what, at the end of it, I just made a pitch for it. And yeah, I have to say three years later I’m still with the virtual program here with German Catholic. And it’s been quite the journey for sure.

Sam Demma (05:13):

What are some of the things about working with the virtual school that you absolutely love? I think over the past couple of years people have realized how important technology is, but before that may have resented it a little bit and always, or, you know, preferred the in person learning, which has both have pros and cons, but what are some of the things that you love about the virtual school?

John Linhares (05:35):

A hundred percent. Like I think that you’ve nailed it there. That there are, again, I think for me, I’ve always loved technology and I’ve always embraced it and I’ve always helped a lot my colleagues who don’t feel comfortable with it. Right? Like there’s a bit of a fear out there when it comes to it. And so just helping out my colleagues in that sense and new my students to move through those things is really key. Yeah. but with the ver the thing that, that I love the most is that when I get passionate about is when I hear kind of people kind of dismiss it and that it is not a viable option. And I have to disagree with that wholeheartedly, especially after seeing some of our kids. Listen, it’s not for everybody, a hundred percent. It is not for everyone. you know, we know that being in person with people and all that is definitely a great place to be.

John Linhares (06:19):

However, for some of our students, they do struggle in person. Like they have a hard time going to class every day. They have to put on a big front to be there for whatever reason, be on anxiety, be it social anxiety, be it just having a hard time reading people sometimes. Yeah. So just the overall, like too much noise going on or just too much business going on, you know what I mean? So for them, they’re succeeding in virtual and that in that reason alone I feel very passionate about it, that it does work for a lot of a few of our kids. not for everyone. Definitely for those kids that they do well and they succeed in, Yeah, I think we have to provide the best that we can for them. A hundred percent.

Sam Demma (07:02):

Where did your passion or love for technology come from? Did you grow up playing Atari in nta? I did. I

John Linhares (07:10):

<laugh> I saw it all summer actually. That little like little joy signal that Yeah, a hundred percent. No, I, I’m actually not a massive gamer, to be honest with you. Yeah. but I think just the creative side, I am very creative. I, I’m a bit of an artist and I think just dabbling into that creative side of things. sorry, my email will probably continue dinging as we do this. Okay. All good. It’s it’s it’s just something that I always kind of tapped into enjoyed. I just like the creative process of the technology side of it. And then I remember years ago, God, it’s really 2004 I got involved in this program in schools and it was about differentiating. So that is that, you know, we don’t, when we teach, we look at the kid and like what their talents are and what they’re about.

John Linhares (07:51):

And it’s, think of the same assignment to everybody. For an example, you may have a choice of assignments so that, you know, if you are artistic, you can tap into this assignment. If you’re more of a writing type person, you can tap into that. If you’re more of an oral person, you can go and tap into that and create a presentation on this, Right? There’s no need to have everybody doing the exact same thing. So from that project that I did there was some ministry funding for smart boards, which I’m sure you probably noticed Smart board is, but for South <inaudible>. And that is basically something that, gosh, that was like what almost 20 years ago wasn’t very heard of, but something that started coming out because it was helping, again, a few students in the classroom to engage in their classroom, Right? Get to a little more shy kid who may have you know, some issues with their writing.

John Linhares (08:36):

They were actually able to communicate their learning through the smart board in the classroom. So it became a little bit of a project. And I remember the school I was at, nobody had a smart board at the time. We were one of the first primary, or the first elementary classes to try and out. And by the time I left that school, three years later, every single classroom had a smart board. Yeah. So all these kids were engaging and just like, excited about it and just really, again, igniting, reignited about their learning, which was awesome. And then I went from another school and the same process happened. I got there no smart boards. I’m like, that’s not happening. I, I’m by my own or you guys are, find the funding for it. And sure enough, they’re like, Oh, no, we’ll support you. Right. And so, yeah, so I got a smart board and then again, five years later, every classroom had one in that school. So it’s, it, it’s your motto, Basical, that you bring on your mantra, right? Like it’s small things. Yeah. Small. Its in actions, it’s small, consistent even like little projects, little things that carry on. Right. So

Sam Demma (09:34):

Yeah, big time. You peak my interest when you mentioned you’re a little bit of an artist, you can take out the little bit of a part and tell me a little bit about the artist side of John <laugh>.

John Linhares (09:43):

Oh gosh. Yeah. So the artist side of John is like, I know I totally self-taught. I just always loved drawing, you know, doodling, that kind of stuff. Yeah. And, and then just explored it more as I grew, grew older and had my own time to explore different genres and that kind of stuff. I love going to art galleries and, and going to like installations. Like we’ve launched all that Toronto and all that kind of stuff. I see. and then that, that actually led me to working at All Saints Catholic school, which about five years ago now, six years ago opened up our first arts and media program which was very exciting. Cuz again, there are other boards that have art specific schools and our board did not. It was a lot, It was an air that was lacking and I was super excited to get on board with that. And was the grades the grade eight teacher there, one of the grade eight teachers there, but also teaching the visual arts to our grades seven and eight students. So that year, the few years that I was there, definitely a highlight in my career because it was you know, marrying my two passions of, well, three passions of teaching technology and also art. So was great.

Sam Demma (10:49):

It’s, it’s such a unique perspective and story because I think sometimes certain people veer students away from artistic pursuits because they might not be quote, realistic. and I’m curious to know your perspective, like when you see that in a student that they have a passion for an artistic field and you know, one day I wanna work full, you know, full time in, in an artistic industry. How do you kind of guide them or what, what do you share with them when they tell you that?

John Linhares (11:20):

Yeah, for sure. That’s like, I think compared to like several things, I think for myself, like I always wanted to be a teacher. Yeah. But I also thought, okay, I don’t wanna have just one path, right? You don’t wanna down any doors like that. So I always say like, try to keep as, as many doors open as possible and I’m, and I’m listening with kids, right? I’m not gonna be like, Yeah, no, you can be the best artist, you can be the next van goal. Like, listen man famous after they were dead, that’s not gonna help goal <laugh>. So that’s just the truth, right? So like, yeah, I do tell them absolutely keep going at it. And, and for some of these kids might get here some great programs that you should look into, be it the arts that we have, be it, you know, going to OK ad looking at term whatever, right?

John Linhares (11:58):

There’s ways that you can pursue that. But I always say there’s almost like a plan A and plan B, right? The arts are something that you can do that fuel your soul and you know, you can do it on the side or you can do it in conjunction with another job or another passion of yours, right? So just dealing with both of those, I think it’s the same about kind of conversation. We’re talking about an athlete, right? Like you have a kid, fantastic athlete in school and absolutely don wanna crush everybody’s dream, right? Like, yes, you can do this, absolutely, but at the end of the day, don’t close any doors. So what else you have? And you can try and aim for both or keep both going concurrently. Absolutely. Yeah.

Sam Demma (12:33):

Yeah. No, that’s great advice. what keeps you motivated personally to get up out bed every single day and keep doing the work you’re doing?

John Linhares (12:42):

Yeah, I think I honestly today’s rule teachers day, so I’m gonna say again big shout out to all the teachers out there. They I’m back in there. Yeah. You know, it’s, and I know that, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of stuff going on in education as always, but the impact and when any of us look back to our lives and how we raised and and our lives, there’s always the one or two teachers that really impact us. And they’re the ones that guide us along our path and, and help us along. And cuz we we’re parents, like for the most part of the day when we’re with these people more than we are with our families on home, right? So and sometimes you click really well with, with people with a teacher and sometimes it does work, right?

John Linhares (13:26):

But at the end of the day, there’s always that one or two that you’re going to make that connection with. And so that to me is honestly what keeps me going. It’s those connections with the students. and the beauty of it now, like now that I’ve been in it, is now my 22nd, 23rd year in education, you know, this, looking back, some of these kids that I had when I first started teaching we’re still in contact with each other. They’ve now got families, they’re now grown up. They pursued their dreams and, and their goals and I know they’ll come over for dinner, we’ll meet up somewhere for, for coffee. And it’s, it’s just neat to see these adults now, right? Like they’re not kids forever. They grow up and they, they become these amazing human beings who are doing good in our planet. That’s the most rewarding part. Like, that’s the thing. Like who am I gonna go out today and perhaps put a smile on their face that I’m gonna make their day go a little better today? Mm. That’s what motivat Yeah, for sure.

Sam Demma (14:18):

You mentioned because of World Teachers Day, how important the role of educators are and how most people have those one or two educators that make a really big difference on their development as a child, as a young person. When you think back to when you were in school, can you identify any of those teachers that had a big impact on you? and if so, like what did they do for you that you think made such a big impact?

John Linhares (14:46):

I was asked to reflect on this this morning cause I was watching a TV show in the morning, my morning TV show. I got night to get about five o’clock. Five o’clock is my time to get up, have my quiet time with a family at home. You know, it’s just nice to have that time to not be talking to anyone and not be stopping problem. Just sit there with my coffee and leave me alone with nothing <laugh>. Right. And so the TV show was watch this morning though, my morning TV show. They, they were talking about this, reflecting on that as well. And I couldn’t pitch for it. One or two people, to be honest with you. I had a series of tea of teachers that I, I think I can go back and I can name all of them and I can name probably one way that they did impact me, Right?

John Linhares (15:19):

Or they helped me along or somehow saw in me something that they felt they needed to be bring to bring out. So that I can’t say, but I can. So the one conversation that stood out to it was actually a teacher, a young teacher my first or second year. And I was chatting with an older teacher who was near retirement and she nailed it. And she said to me, and she’s like, Listen, the main thing about our profession or anything in life is that you just have to remember this. And I said, Okay, I’m listening all yours. She said, It doesn’t matter what you do for me, it’s how you make me feel. Mm.

John Linhares (15:55):

How you make me feel. I go with that statement and, and my, that statement is in the back of my mind, I have to say every hour of my day. Mm. And it was like a three second conversation that we had outside one day and it was after school. And that just stuck with me. And I’m like, you’re so ranked, it doesn’t matter. Like I can do whatever actions that I want to right. Or whatever. But at the end of the day, it’s that feeling like how when I meet someone, when I’m leaving someone, how am I letting them feel about themselves at that moment, right? Like, how leaving them, are they feeling better about themselves? Are they feeling like that they have a smile on their face? Do they feel better than they were five minutes ago? That’s what I’m going towards to be honest with you. And I mean, sometimes I fail and sometimes I, I do okay. But that statement just stuck in me, Sam. Like that’s just something that I totally hold near and near to my heart and, and as a human being, I feel it’s very important to totally describe to you.

Sam Demma (16:46):

Yeah, the educator who changed my life made me feel like there was hope when I felt like there was none, not, it wasn’t even about his curriculum <laugh>, although his, his teachings were great, but it was how I left his semester feeling about myself and what was possible for me that I really remember and sticks with me to this day. So I think that is so true and you’re absolutely right. Not only in education, but regarding whatever you choose to do. All of our interactions hopefully leave other people feeling better about themselves and feeling hopeful and all that, all that good fuzzy feelings in the chest, <laugh>

John Linhares (17:25):

People, right? Just that, that validating of people, like just with the pandemic there seemed like those walks, right? Like people were walking around street before that it’s rare that somebody would just sit and talk Right. Or even make contact with each other. Now when people walk by each other, they actually make icon and say hey, or a hi or how’s it going? Right? Like it’s something that I feel I think is interesting and it’s changed with the pandemic. I think people have gotten more that human side actually has come out a lot more, whereas before the people were getting a little too cold and just not validating each other. Right. So, and that teacher that you’re taught, speaking of, I’m pretty sure the same one that you referred to in your story. Yeah. married there. I, I unfortunately did not have the privilege of having that teacher struggle. He was around when I was there. but I remember my friends who did have him. Nice. Same thing. So yeah, definitely again, those teachers had that impact, right? Like how you making me feel? Yeah,

Sam Demma (18:17):

Yeah, yeah. So your first job in education, take me back, like give us a little bit of the snapshot of where you started to where you are now.

John Linhares (18:27):

Oh wow. So I started teaching, gosh, it was funny. My buddy and I had decided at that time back in 2019 99, 2000, there was a ton of teaching jobs like time. Okay. Like there wasn’t like the winter period here, there was not a lot of teaching jobs for the longest time. and now we’re back into, there are a few, there’s a lot of jobs out there, but at the time there was lots of jobs. So my buddy and I were like, listen, we’re listening to like, we wanna enjoy life. We wanna take the first couple years, let’s just supply teach cuz supply teaching, we’re gonna get some income but we’re gonna be able to travel. Yeah. So we travel more, right? Because then teach is a great gig going wrong, but if you’re a traveler, you’re kind of stuck cuz you can only go March break when they jack up the prices or summer when they jack up the prices not, but it’s a reality, right?

John Linhares (19:13):

Yeah. So my buddy traveling like know in February or whatever, Oh that’s a great deal. Like great have fun, right? <laugh> so we’re supply change so that we can rack and limit of money. Yeah. Pay the s right. And then we have no warnings like pay the Cardinals and then Jet just go right. And both of us got calls from principles that we respected a lot and just before the long weekend Ashley Ladale on weekend and they were like, yeah, offering us both jobs and unbeknowns to each other. We both accepting and then we were kind like, shoot, how are you supposed to tell me? You know, tell my buddy now I’m totally bail on him. And then like, yeah, I was like, like that man, I had to take this job. I was like, got me too. Like what <laugh> job?

John Linhares(19:55):

And I was great, well here we go. So took on these jobs. My first job was JK in the morning and grade five in the afternoon. Okay. Why accepted it? I still at this day was like, I don’t know who, who would take that. Like it’s just crazy. but it gave me a great perspective in the sense of like just, just kids in general. Like yeah. You know, these three and four year olds coming into the room screaming and crying first in the morning cuz they were new to school. And then I go upstairs and there was these grade fives to, I was told the year before had sent off several teachers <laugh> on leaves cuz they they were not the easiest class to deal with. So I had to go up there and be like, you know, a little more a little different than it was downstairs, the jks.

John Linhares (20:35):

Anyway, so that was a great four years that I did that actually. But I still look back to look back like, man, we should have done the supply teaching. We just should have traveled like crazy cuz we couldn’t have done it, but we didn’t. but I have to say I still have kids from that kindergarten class and that great flag class that I still talk to today. And again, they’re grown up and, and doing some great things in this world. So, so that was pretty cool. And yes, I was in Toronto Catholic and then taught that for a few years and then I moved on to getting closer to home and then I moved to Ger Ger Catholic in 2005. So that was a good job. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:10):

When you think about student impact and stories of students who’ve been transformed or have built new skills as a result of education, maybe there’s a student you can think of who was really struggling and then had a breakthrough and made a very positive turn. Are there any stories that come to mind that you’d be willing to share? And I, I ask it because I think that’s one of the cornerstone reasons why people get into education for the impact you can have on young people. And sometimes when an educator’s feeling burnt out, they forget about those stories. They forget about that side of the job. so I’m hoping you can maybe share one if, if if you have one that comes to mind.

John Linhares (21:54):

Yeah, I got you’re saying this like, I’ve got a few that are running through my mind. Cause like I I’m for the underdog. Like I, I have to say that, you know, as a teacher looking out for that kid, there’s you know, we only sound like in the summer where about to start, it was last week of August. People are kind of in buzzing around getting their rooms ready for September and there’s an energy in the school. Everyone’s excited for the new year and oftentimes the teacher, you know, and and with the greatest of place days will come, Hey, I hear you got so and so, you know, just, you know, last year they were struggling with this and I stopped them and I’m like, listen, I appreciate it. we’re gonna just, this a new chapter, I’m gonna see how things vote and then if I need to like consult with you about maybe some strategies that worked for you last year, I know who to come talk to.

John Linhares (22:38):

But ultimately I don’t, I’m in my head like I don’t want to hear what happened last year. Yeah. Because it’s a new chapter, man, it’s a new year. We don’t know who this kid is right now. so I had several of those like I can think of off the top of my head you know, kids who were probably struggling with let’s say like maybe it’s ADHD and just could not fit into the mold of school, Right. Could not sit still at school because you know, that teacher wants them to be sitting in their desk. And I’m like, that you wanna stand, stand, go ahead <laugh> you. Yeah, I see your moving around a lot and you’re at the front of the class, let’s move here to the back. Yeah. You’re more comfortable back there if you need to get up, buddy, go, go nuts.

John Linhares (23:15):

Right? Yeah. Like your college not bothering other people around you. Just do what you gotta do. Right. And that I think again is that valuing where people are coming from and making them feel validated, right? So that, you know, I think some, for some people just they have a harder time just fitting into the mold of what school system is, right? So like why do we break those molds? And that’s what I try and do. so yeah, a couple of the kids who, those kids who yeah, every year was the same kind of thing where, oh, you know, they’re struggling, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time. And then you see them grow up and now yeah, they’re, they’ve got a great family. They actually owned three properties, they’re in real estate they’ve done quite well for themselves.

John Linhares (23:55):

And all these concerns, all of these, you know, little things that were happening back in grade three, you know, on a kid, you, they can’t sit still, they can’t sit still on that desk. I dunno what they can’t, they’re not gonna learn. We’re fine. You’re doing awesome actually. But again, it’s, it’s because this whole journey of education, I think everyone’s supporting and I mean, again, like in every stage of your life there are certain things that we all look out for and and, and are trying to to help out with. Right. But the beauty of this job too is that you see that it is, it’s making Jake k to like end of college, university, you’re in your twenties, that’s a big journey, right? And if we’re all doing our part to help out this kid, there you go. Right? I, and one kid I’ll never forget was I came in, it was actually when I came to Durham Durham Catholic, I started midyear.

John Linhares (24:42):

 I actually had a rough year the year before. and mother had passed away and instead of being there for my kids, I thought, you know what? I need to go half time so I can, you know, take care of myself in the mornings, basically. Like do what I gotta do, get in the right head space, go in for a couple hours the afternoon for those students, but be the best person. At least I can be. During that time, Yeah, that year I decided to switch boards and I decided, okay, I’m a supply teach for supply teaching. You have less, you know, there are, there’re less concerns that you have, right? You don’t have to work about planning and marketing and all other stuff. So it’s a pretty sweet gig. So I’m go, I’ll do it for a few months just to kinda get in the right head space again.

John Linhares (25:17):

So that’s split in. So it was February this job came along in, in at St. John, the evangelist at Wink. And so I took on this job and I remember taking that job on and the teacher was taking over for Matt. They loved her. She, they, she was their favorite teacher, you know, like she was the best. Like they just loved her and then she got this other job, so she was leaving and then here was this, who’s this coming into our room now, right? Like I had big shoes to fill it. So I tried my best to just continue on. She did things, but I’m me. Like I’m not somebody else. Right? Right. But yeah, they were not happy with me at all. And there’s one little character in particular was not happy with Mr. O at all. So anyway, so every day, let’s call it, he was just acting up a lot.

John Linhares (26:00):

Like he was getting into a lot of trouble going on. Yeah. And end of the year comes and then we get our class list for the following year and buddies in my class again. So I’m like, great. So end of the day, last day of school, he was about to take off and I’m like, Hold on, come back here, let’s have a chat before Eagle. And I remember pulling him aside, he was grade five <laugh>. And I’m like, Listen, just so you know, get back in my class next year. The waitings last few months have gone, you could have the worst year of your life next year or you can make the best of your life. And you started answering, No, no, I don’t want you to answer right now. I need you to go, go into, go the summer, have fun, you know, have a great summer, come back in September and think about what I told you. Cause Basical, this is in your court. So it went, it’s back in September, comes to find me, I’ll smiles will happen. It’s like, Mr, I’m ready for a new change. I’m like, Right. Cool, I’m glad you’re saying that, but let’s see what happens. Let’s

Sam Demma (27:05):

Do it. <laugh>.

John Linhares (27:06):

Exactly right. Yeah, fair enough. That’s exactly what it did. He, he became such a great leader that year at the school, helped out was just wanting to volunteer and help out with like, with other staff and other kids and, and with know afterschool activities and that kind stuff. And he just grew up through such a great leader for the, for the years that left here to the point where the lasting school grade eight graduation officer post all go. He kept coming back. I’m like, Buddy, you guys are done. Go <laugh>, you’re done school. Like, no, no, I’m hang out whenever. So he, yeah. So he is suck around helping me out. I was actually packing my class over the time whenever Nice. Again, continu on in contact ever since. And he was actually perusing the, the arts department here. Ah. So he still looking into it now, so

Sam Demma (27:50):

That’s awesome, man. You know what, I think it’s so important that we have big expectations for who our students can become. And it sounds like you had a vision for what this young man could be that maybe he didn’t have himself. And when you present that in a very kind way in front of a student someone that you care about you know, it forces them to actually think maybe I can be that student leader. Maybe I can change my behavior. Maybe there is a something that they see in me that I don’t see myself. So I think that’s a really cool little story. So thanks for thanks for sharing that one. if, if you could travel back in time and speak to John when he was in his first or second year teaching but with the experience you had now, what would you like tell your younger self when you were just getting into this profession? Maybe there’s a, a very fresh new educator listening to this right now and they’re looking for some words of wisdom as they journey down this education path.

John Linhares (28:51):

I think the main thing was to basically again, get to know your students. Like we get caught up in like these checklists of what have to get done, like wanting to get this, get that does this deadline. There’s that deadline I got report cards are coming soon. there’s just checklists coming out of the yin yang to be honest with you. The things that we have to do. Yeah. But we don’t, we cannot lose sight of why we’re there and that’s the most important thing. And so making those connections with those kids on a daily basis, I didn’t care what was going on. Trying to literally build in time, you know, like we talk about our families now, like, you know, talking about like traveling life, right? But it’s like, make time to meet your family, make make time to meet with your friends, make time to meet up with whatever, like work people, it was the same thing like in, in the classroom, you can easily get caught up in your checklist, make time to get to know those kids and talk to them, not about school stuff, right?

John Linhares (29:41):

Like getting to know them on that social level that human side. And that’s really key, right? And just build your success up for the whole year. Like no matter what, you know, issues are in the classroom or or behavior issues, they’re in the classroom. You put the time into really getting to know and acknowledge those kids and let them see that side of you as well. Like that you are human. You’re not this like, you know, robotic teacher creature that’s Yeah. human being, right, like with interest and whatever. And that, that really wins them over. Like, it makes a big deal. Like when you talk to a kid about just random stuff, other weekend wins, whatever for a minute or two each day. It makes a massive difference.

Sam Demma (30:23):

Small, consistent actions.

John Linhares (30:25):

<laugh> that again, back to that. Yep. If,

Sam Demma (30:28):

If someone wants to reach out to you and ask a question, bounce some ideas around, share some of their own art <laugh>, what would be the best way for another educator to get in touch with you?

John Linhares (30:39):

Yeah, so based on, on Twitter I’m @mrjlinhares, I think you’ve got that on the, on my bio. so that’s one way. And on LinkedIn as well. I’m kind of new to LinkedIn, so I’m not not on there as much as I am on Twitter. Twitter, I find a little bit easier to keep track of stuff and, and joke. But yeah, I am on those two platforms for sure and definitely would be more than happy to have conversations with you. I love conversations. I just love sitting down and chatting like we are now and, and sharing stories and all that.

Sam Demma (31:10):

Yeah man. Well I enjoyed this, a lot big time. So thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast, share a little bit about your experiences and your journey, and I hope you have an amazing rest of your school year, and I’ll see you walking around the block sometime soon.

John Linhares (31:26):

<laugh> Sam, we’re looking forward to your, your book launch as well, so that’s coming up, so that’s amazing. Again, kids like yourself who we know are doing some great things out there, that’s what makes our jobs worthwhile. So thank you for all that you’ve done.

Sam Demma (31:39):

Thanks John, Appreciate it. Let’s talk soon.

John Linhares (31:41):

All right, take care.

Sam Demma (31:43):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with John Linhares

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 Stones – Grade 8 Teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Alberta

Tom Stones - Grade 8 Teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Alberta
About Tom Stones

Tom Stones (@tstonesteacher) is a grade 8 teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Innisfail, Alberta. In 24 years, he has taught all core subjects and dozens of option courses in grades 4-8. When asked which is his favourite grade to teach, he struggles to choose one. There are amazing and challenging things about all grades. In all grades, his core belief is that relationship is the key component of working with middle years students. Tom has found that all students want a relationship with teachers, and making this a focus has been an emphasis of his career.  

Another role Tom is proud of is his work as a member of the Middle Years Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. He has helped plan numerous yearly conferences, which have provided quality professional development to many teachers from all over Canada.  

Tom is passionate about promoting wellness in teachers and himself. He has found that any success that we help students to achieve is largely contingent upon our own well-being. His advice to others (and himself) is to look after yourself first and find ways to help others.

Connect with Tom: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Innisfail Middle School

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

Middle Years Council – ATA

Conferences and Events – ATA

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 to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Tom Stones (00:10):

My name is Tom Stones. I’m a teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Innisfail, Alberta. And this is, it’s on our last day of school here, so we’re it’s, this year is just about wrapped up. And I teach grade eight mostly science, a little bit of social studies, a little bit of health. And I’ve taught all kinds of different grades in from four to eight, I guess, so.

Sam Demma (00:33):

That’s awesome. When did you know growing up that you wanted to work in education? Like at what point did you make the decision and start moving that direction?

Tom Stones (00:45):

So, I got a funny pathway. I, I’d always kind of thought that was something I wanted to do but then when I graduated high school, didn’t feel super confident about going to university, so I didn’t, And then I got a job and it was, you know, got, kind of got too good of a job that I was getting paid decently to do it. And so stayed working. I was working in a warehouse running a warehouse for a printing company for about 12 years. And then my, that, that job was ending the, the, the business was shutting down. So I had to decide what I wanted to do. And I, I, you know, vividly recall my wife, one, I was married, had two, two kids at the time and my wife saying, Well, if you had to do something else, what would you really want to do? And I said, Well, I probably would wanna be a teacher. They, why don’t you just go to university and be a teacher? So, so I did

Sam Demma (01:34):

<Laugh>. That’s awesome. So you, you came from like a business that kinda like a business background, like you entered the world of work right after high school with the printing company and stayed with them?

Tom Stones (01:44):

Yeah. Yes. Yeah, I mean I think it was 12 or or so year or something like that that I worked for them. That’s all. A few different spots, but mostly ran the warehouse most of the time.

Sam Demma (01:54):

Yeah. Very cool. And so you made the decision to go to school, you know, back to school to work on the teacher credentials. And then what did the journey look like from that day forward to where you are now? Give us a little summary of all the different places you’ve worked positioned and what brought you here.

Tom Stones (02:14):

Yeah, so I was the sort university. I had to do a, I did two years at a, a college, which was in the town in the city we were living in, which was Red Deer. So I did two years there. Nice. And then took two years, went to University of Calgary and sort of drove back and forth, which is about an hour away from where I lived. And, and I obviously that wasn’t real easy cuz I was, had a family and, and my wife had to do a lot of extra things during those two years. And then got a job shortly after graduating, but a year after, graduated a couple other things first and then got a job at an elementary school and then in a town real close by. And then so we moved to that town to Ink, which is where I teach now. And so taught the elementary school there for about six years, I think taught grade four and four and six. And then a, a new school opened up next door and I came over here to teach grade five at the school I’m at now. And I’ve taught grade five and then grade six and then moved up to grade seven and then moved up to grade eight. I’ve been here for three or four years, I think.

Sam Demma (03:16):

How, how did you get voluntold to go and help out with nyc? And for those folks who don’t know what that is, give us a little explanation. <Laugh>

Tom Stones (03:26):

Yeah, that’s Voluntold is a good good <laugh>. The Middle Years Council is the, the association is the Alberta Teachers Association. It’s a specialist council within the Alberta Teachers Association. And there’s, there’s various ones. There’s that language arts ones, there’s math ones, there’s religious education. And this one happens to be about middle years school schools or teachers, which is from grade, about grade four to grade nine is sort of our, our target people. And I had, I’d gone to a few of the conferences, knew a few of the people, but then had kind of gotten away from it. And then one of my colleagues at the school was, was helping when she was pretty involved in it and they were having some struggles and, and needed some help. And she said, Well, would you come and help us? And I went, I don’t know, I don’t know if I can be any help or not, but sure I’ll come for a free conference.

Tom Stones (04:17):

So I, so I went and, and then just started helping out wherever I could. And then one, one year they said, Hey, you wanna run the conference? So I was, okay, sure. I had no idea what I was doing, but what we were, we just made it up, was who went along. But and then, you know, got to meet lots of really good people. And since then there’s been a few of us who’ve been on that committee for, I don’t know, about seven or eight years I guess. And so it’s, it’s now, it’s a whole lot easier than it was that first couple of years when we did what we were doing. But, and then we’ve been very fortunate to get some, you know, amazing people coming in to talk, including you and it’s just, it’s been a real great conference. And of course we had to shut down for two years and during pandemic and that was really disappointing. I remember that being one of the worst days of the early pandemic was when we had to make the decision. We, we just can’t go to ban this year. Cuz nobody could go anywhere, obviously. And then the next year we had to cancel as well, and then last year was our big return.

Sam Demma (05:16):

Yeah. You know, c has been a challenge for many people, many Ed especially people in education. I know personally you had some significant challenges as well. You know, what are some of the challenges that you face personally that maybe shifted your perspective a little bit and then also some of the opportunities that you think came out of it? Yeah,

Tom Stones (05:39):

That’s a really big question, Sam. So break

Sam Demma (05:42):

It down.

Tom Stones (05:43):

<Laugh>. Yeah, <laugh> early on in the, the pandemic, I, I don’t think we can, we can talk about it enough, what, what educators had to do. Like, we were March the 20th, I think was the day in Alberta here when they, with the Sunday afternoon we got a call or on email saying, Yeah, we’re not going to school tomorrow, we’re gonna be shut down for two weeks. And of course that was, I mean, nobody had any idea what that meant and then said, Oh, and by the way, we really want you to start teaching. Oh, we want you to come back to school. So we all went back to school and we all sort of hung around and cleaned out lockers and did report cards and all that stuff. And then there was a, a, the Wednesday afternoon we had a staff meeting and I remember the principal looking at his phone and he goes, Okay, it’s one o’clock.

Tom Stones (06:26):

I can tell you we start teaching on Monday morning online, but you can’t be in the school right now. You’ve got five minutes to get outta here. And we’re just like, what <laugh> and <laugh>. So we, well, and I think we end uping, you know, 15, 20 minutes. We just kind of sat down with the group of us that had to teach together and sat down for, what are we gonna do on Monday morning? Yeah, yeah. And of course there was a lot of, lot of Google meets in the next three days there. But, but we started teaching on Monday morning. So we, we had no idea what we were doing. Kids had no idea what we were doing. The parents had zero idea what we were doing. And, but we made it work. And then it turned into three and a half months in Alberta.

Tom Stones (07:04):

We spent the whole rest of the year online. And then the next year came back, started out back and then did the same thing again. We, in November we were told we had two days prepare to be online and we wrote did the same thing, you know, pulled it off again. And then that was right around Christmas time and just before Christmas, and this is a personal part you’re alluding to, just before Christmas, I ended up in the hospital with a heart attack, which had nothing to do with the, the stress, I don’t think. It was a, some genetic things, but, but I ended up with a heart attack and so I missed about two months of school. We kind of recovering from that and getting over all that stuff. But and it, you know, I told, I talked to the, the students who were in that class who were a very special group of kids, but and I, I just said, when I was laying in the hospital, I thought, I don’t wanna quit.

Tom Stones (08:00):

I want, I don’t want to be done cuz I wanna go back from work with these kids more. And so that really put a, a different spin on I guess some of that for me. But what really, what really you think affected me at that point was how, what, what that group of kids did. Like they were mean there 13 and 14 year olds and that they get a, that group of kids get a real bad rap, like 13 and 14 year olds, Aren be the best people in the world usually. But they, they, you know, they looked after me, they protected me, they supported me. And even now they’re into school next door and they, you know, I think I saw all of them all year long. They all come over and talk and, and we, they’re so we’ve got a, a connection that will not ever go away, I don’t think. But just that to me, just that, you know, when you ask kids to step up and do something amazing, they can do some, they can do amazing stuff. And I mean, they, they didn’t volunteer for this. They didn’t volunteer to <laugh> to get themselves involved in that, but they they were amazing. So

Sam Demma (09:04):

Yeah. Continue.

Tom Stones (09:06):

Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s all just that they were like, it was pretty cool what they did.

Sam Demma (09:12):

Do you remember some of the specific things they did that you think made a really big impact on you when you think back to some of the, those challenging moments?

Tom Stones (09:24):

I guess even just the, when I was getting, when I was recovering, the kids would send emails like, Hey, we’re really hope you’re right. Can’t wait for you to be back. That kind of thing. And there was actually, there was one day I don’t know if I can need to talk about this. One day we had an author visit Eric Walters, who’s an amazing author from Ontario was doing an author visit. And I had arranged that visit before I went, went off six. So I, and it was done all virtually, of course, at that time. And so I came on and the kids didn’t know that I was listening to the, the visit, like it was the whole school, but they didn’t realize that I was on there. You were there.

Tom Stones (10:07):

And, and I was in the background listening to it. And then when they, it was all over and that the teacher who realized that I was on there flipped the, the camera so they could see me and I could see them and that they just went wild. It was, it was pretty cool. I remember my wife texted me from work and she said, So how’s your day? And I said, I just, my kids just made me cry. Yeah. And yeah. So that was pretty cool. Just that. And that was about three weeks, I guess, before I went back Yeah. To school.

Sam Demma (10:41):

I can feel the emotion while you talk about it. Yeah.

Tom Stones (10:44):

<Laugh>, I know it, it’s, it that just comes back at me right now. It was crazy. And just others, just stuff like when I got back and the one, it was one day somebody said something about somebody having a heart attack and it was, he was just saying it as a throw away thing, Right. He wasn’t meaning anything. And this one girl just wheeled on says, We do not say as shit <laugh>. Mm. And the kids going, Oh, sorry. Didn’t think about it. And she’s going, Dad, you do not do that here. <Laugh>.

Sam Demma (11:11):

Yeah.

Tom Stones (11:12):

So, yeah. That’s cool. That’s

Sam Demma (11:14):

Awesome. That’s awesome man. Well, it, it sounds like you build such a great relationship with the students, which I think is the goal of every person in education to build relationships, to make an impact on the young minds that are sitting in front of them. How do you think we build relationships with the students in our classrooms? Like what are some of the things you try and do as teacher, teacher to ensure that we, you know, we build strong relationships.

Tom Stones (11:40):

There’s lots of stuff. Part of it I think is, is just getting to know them right. Or early, early on in the year, getting to know as much as you possibly can. Now I’m, I’m fortunate here, the school that I’m in, the grade seven wing is right beside the grade eight wing. We’re actually in the same hallway. Mm. So, so I can start to build some relationships with kids, you know, from April Mayon kind of thing, start to get them so that they’re, they, they know who I am even, you know, obviously they know my face, but they don’t know anything about me. Yeah. And I don’t know anything about them really, but start to build it just early on and, and just mostly I think just show them respect. That’s really all anybody wants is just to get respected. And if you show it to them and, and they, they, they’ll almost always give it back to you.

Tom Stones (12:32):

Now there’s always ones who don’t, obviously then, and those are ones that there’s other things going on in their world and that that’s something else to work with. But for, you know, the 99% of the kids, you give them some respect, they’ll give you respect back. And, and, and just showing interest in their lives, like what, what they’re doing, whether it’s hockey or dance or, you know, whatever. Or, or nothing. So I’m just like playing video games and I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, but if I look like I do there,

Sam Demma (13:01):

<Laugh>, <laugh>,

Tom Stones (13:03):

I found my computer breaks down, I give it to them fix. And so yeah, just, yeah.

Sam Demma (13:09):

That’s cool. Yeah, I like that. When you, when you think about your journey in becoming the educator you are today with the beliefs you have, like, are there any resources that you have found helpful? And, you know, obviously the Middle Years Council has been a big source of per, you know, PD and professional development and maybe you can even recall some of the speakers that you think had a significant impact on you or some of the books or courses as a result of some of those speakers that you looked into. I’m curious if anything comes to mind that you think was helpful.

Tom Stones (13:43):

Yeah, there, there’s lots. And we’ve, we’ve had over the years, have had lots and lots of really, like I said, really good speakers. And that’s, that’s kind of one of the things, one of the places that I get that from. Yeah. Also, just because of my role in that committee, going to some conferences and trying to, to connect with some people so that you can, you know, as potential speakers

Sam Demma (14:04):

Bring them back or whatever.

Tom Stones (14:05):

Yeah. Bring them back home. There’s, and has lots is it a psychologist from Alberta here at Dr. Jody Carrington? Like, she, we’ve had her a number a couple of times and she’s pretty in way. She’s taught me a lot about sticking up for kids and, and being, you know, an advocate for kids. So like Dave Burgess is the, the teach like a pirate you know, corporation basically now from San Diego. We’ve had him up and, and just, just doing crazy stuff with kids and just, yeah, doing whatever it takes to reach him. You know, wherever it takes to way outta your comfort zone kind of thing. So lots of people like that. And books, I’ve, you know, then tried to read books by different people and, and get ideas and just, I, I think on my Twitter account it says something like, I’m always looking for ideas to engage kids and just taking that from anywhere. And some of them, like there’s some people I would never do what they do. Ron Clark from Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta went, went to see him once, like, he stands up on the table and yells at people. Well that’s, that’s not my personality. I would never do that, but, but I’ve, you know, done some crazy things too, <laugh> with, with kids that are, that are at least I think crazy, But yeah. That’s awesome. Little bit from anybody, like really just taking stuff from everybody and building it.

Sam Demma (15:34):

I once heard a quote from Tony Robbins and he said, Approach every conversation as if you could learn something from the other person and you, you probably will. And yeah, the way he explained it is that you might be better at gardening, but they’re problem, They might be better at cooking. And so, you know, you could learn something from that person in relation to cooking. They could learn something from you about gardening. And if you kind of go into every situation trying to learn from other people’s strengths I think it, it just leads to a better conversation. And you walk away with new information, you know.

Tom Stones (16:08):

Yeah, Yeah. And, and I think being in the school, and I’ve been at the same school now for, I don’t know how many years, quite a few 15 or something, but just the people who have come through and, and just every one of those people, whether they’ve been here for a year or for 15 years you pick up something from those people you know, something that person does and you know, new person comes from another school or a new person just new to teaching and be, go, that’s something I can use right there. And or that’s something, you know, you think, well, I’m not sure that’s in my personality, but it can be, you know, I can use something like that. I appreciate it. Yeah. Yeah. And just yeah, even from the kids, like, this is something that I, I don’t understand, but let’s, let’s go from there. Yeah.

Sam Demma (16:57):

Nice man. Nice, nice. When, when you think about students that you’ve worked with over the past 15 years it’s obvious that they’ve made an impact on you. And I appreciate you sharing those stories earlier of what they’ve done did for you, even during some of your challenging times to make you feel special and appreciated. I’m curious to know if you can think of a story where due to education, you saw a student transform, meaning maybe they started in your class one way and by the end they were totally different and they had different characteristics and built confidence. And if it’s, it’s a, if it’s a very serious story, you could also change their name just for privacy reasons. But I’m wondering if any story comes to mind that you wanna share

Tom Stones (17:37):

There. There is, and I’ve told this story quite a few times and I’ve actually talked to the, the student and he knows that I use his name. He’s okay with it. Okay. It’s a pretty common name. It’s Braden, so it’s not like there’s <laugh>,

Tom Stones (17:49):

50 million of them <laugh>. But he he was the toughest challenging kid that I’ve ever taught. And it wasn’t his, you know, his behavior wasn’t so extreme, but it was just every day. And like he, he pushed some button for somebody every single day of grade. I think I taught in grade six. And it was just like endless, endless, endless, endless. Mm. And I remember saying to the principal at the end of the year, not, not one of my better moments. So just saying that I don’t think I made any difference to that kid. Like he’s exactly the same, walking out the door in June as he walked in September. And and the principal didn’t really say anything. Jay didn’t really say anything to me, but then he moved, like, he moved up the upgrades and then went to another school that, and he eventually was doing some alternative school cause he was gonna fit into school. But then he started coming back and it was one day he I was walking down the hall and one of the teachers says Tom turn around.

Tom Stones (18:51):

And this kid was running down the hall, wanted to talk to me, coming from the high school, wanted to talk to me. And I, so we, we chatted for a second and he says, I like to come be a work experience student in your room. Wow. And that’s what that’s kinda weird cuz you spend a lot of time trying to get outta my room in grade six. And he goes, Yeah, I know, but I wanna come be work in your room. And so he did. For semester, that was kind the thing we have at the high school beside is cause they come and do some work experience. And then I sort of lost track of, and I think it was last year or the year before last year, I think he came back he had just graduated from a computer animation program in Toronto was ready to start a job and he just wanted to come back and say hi.

Tom Stones (19:33):

And so we chatted a little bit and I said, and he says, I know I was tough. And I said, Yeah, you were really tough <laugh>. And he goes, you know, he had done everything online. It was during the pandemic, everything, his whole program was online. He said, when we got into when we did, did did the lesson, then we would go work with other students. And it was on Zoom I think he said. But they would put us in, they would call breakout rooms and he says, every single time I got put in a breakout room, I remember I thought of you because you put me in a breakout room every day in case was a physical breakout room. So we had a little room beside there, which the other kid basically called the Braden’s office cuz he was in there almost the whole day anyway, so it was like, that was pretty funny. But he says Andy, he’s successful, he’s gonna do really well. And I thought that’s now you’re playing a long game there cuz that’s about seven or eight years in between those two conversations, but Wow. But yeah, pretty cool to have that come and there’s lots of kids that come back like that, but he’s pretty, he’s pretty dramatic one, so.

Sam Demma (20:36):

Well, what do you think you did, like, you know, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint like exactly why, but like what do you think if you reflect back on it that you did that had such a significant impact on him that he did feel the need to come back, even though in the present moment you thought you were, maybe you weren’t getting through to him. It sounds like you obviously were, you just didn’t realize it.

Tom Stones (20:54):

Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know. But I think most of it is consistency. Cause he knew he knew what he could do and he knew he was gonna cross the line every single day, but he knew where the line was. Yes. And lots of people, lots of kids, but don’t have, they’re not not sure where the line is. They’re not sure what, what the consist he is. And I, I think that’s it. And, and not just writing him off, like when he come back, when he came back in high school, you know, accepting him for where he was at in high school, even though he was still way off the charts. But yeah, it, it’s, it’s hard to know. Cause if you certainly, if you could, if you could do it, you could

Sam Demma (21:42):

Replicate

Tom Stones (21:43):

It’s a lot of money marketing that Yeah. <Laugh>.

Sam Demma (21:46):

Yeah. Just

Tom Stones (21:47):

Curious

Sam Demma (21:47):

More than anything. So I appreciate you sharing,

Tom Stones (21:50):

Asking. Yeah. I think just the consistency. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:52):

Yeah. I like it. I love it. When, when you think about your journey throughout education and the lessons you’ve learned if you could go back in time but retain all of the experiences you’ve had and tap yourself on the shoulder in your first year of teaching, knowing what you know now, what would you have told yourself in the form of advice? Not because you wanted to change anything about the path you’ve taken or what you’re doing today, but because you thought it might have been helpful to hear certain things when you were just getting started.

Tom Stones (22:26):

Yeah, you know, I, I kind of thought that was a question you might ask. Just having listen to other podcasts, the ones I I’ve started cheating and trying to get some Yeah, yeah. Lines there. I think that I’d look after myself better. Hmm. Now early on you just, you just go and you go as hard as you possibly can. And sometimes that, you know, I, I was pretty careful not to let that get in the way of being, having a family on that, but, but just you know, put, don’t push quite so hard. The, the kids will be fine if you like, the students will be fine if you didn’t stay up till 11 o’clock. They’re probably better if you get, if you’re well rested and went for a walk. <Laugh> mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And just the, yeah, just looking after yourself.

Tom Stones (23:19):

Our actually our superintendents talked about this a bit and he says like, there’s three pieces to self the wellness and one of ’em is the division has a little bit of input into it. Like, we can put some things in to help you. The school has a little bit, but the, the biggest pieces yourself and you’ve gotta decide how to look after yourself. And that’s since, since I’ve been sick that that’s become, you know, pretty important to me. Obviously just looking after in my own boundaries. Even just thinking, No, I’m not doing that tonight. I’m going to play with my grandchildren and instead, or, you know and I don’t think that young teachers that they think they have to push real hard and then they do better if they didn’t.

Sam Demma (24:00):

Hmm. That’s a great piece of advice. And I think it’s not only for young educators, but young professionals in general, I think,

Tom Stones (24:06):

You know. Yeah, I think so. Like

Sam Demma (24:08):

You, I sound, it feels like you’re talking to me sometimes because I, sometimes I’m doing that and then I don’t get good sleep and then I don’t show up too well the next morning. And it’s a really great piece of advice. You know, so often after people have experiences that are traumatic and sometimes even challenging just like you did with the, with the heart attack sometimes. And oftentimes they have this big realization that maybe they weren’t doing the thing that they wanted to do and they make this grand life change and they’re like, I’m now gonna chart my path in the direction that I really wanted to go in because life is fragile and I’m getting goosebumps just hearing you speak. Because I think what’s so amazing is that when you were in the hospital on the bed, the thought running through your mind was, how can I get myself healthy enough to get back in the classroom?

Sam Demma (25:00):

And that to me is a signal and a symbol that you’re doing the work that you should be doing. And it’s so obvious that you’re passionate about this work and that it’s making a difference. And I just wanted to say, keep doing it because it’s so important that we have people who on their deathbed will say, I did the work that I wanted to do that I loved doing. And if, you know, if education, if you’re in it right now and you’re not enjoying it, that’s okay too. May, you know, maybe it’s time to change, but it’s really refreshing to speak to you today and hear from someone who wouldn’t change a thing about the path you’ve taken. And

Tom Stones (25:39):

Yeah, I a year ago today, basically when I said goodbye to that group of kids Yep. I said that, that you were, like I said, I could’ve walked away. Nobody would’ve said a word. I could’ve quit. And I said, but I didn’t want to. Like, I thought I was, I I wanted to come back and work with you some more and then, and continue to this year and my plan is to continue for next year. But, but yeah. And I, if it’s, I guess maybe just to follow up what you said there, if you don’t have that, then you, you should quit. You should get out. But if you’ve got that, that don’t do what you’re supposed to do. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve seen seen lots of people hang on too long cuz they, they should quit. For lots of reasons. I don’t, I don’t wanna do that, but I also want don’t wanna quit too early either, so.

Sam Demma (26:40):

Yeah. No, and I, we appreciate it and I think if you haven’t found the thing that gets you super excited as well yet, keep searching, you know, it’s out there. I’m glad that you found it in education and teaching and really enjoy it every day. Tom, this has been a phenomenal conversation. I just wanna say thank you so much for spending, you know, 30 minutes on the show, talking about your experiences, talking about how your students have made a difference in your life and how you strive to make a difference in theirs. Talking about Braden yeah. Really has been a really impactful conversation. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Tom Stones (27:19):

By email, its tstones@cesd73.ca and I, I have a Twitter account, but I don’t actually avoid is <laugh>, it’s @tstonesteacher I think on, on Twitter.

Sam Demma (27:35):

Awesome. Perfect. Perfect. Tom, thank you again for coming on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work, and we’ll, we’ll talk soon.

Tom Stones (27:43):

Yeah. I think, are we planning to see you in September? Has that got set up yet? Or is it

Sam Demma (27:48):

I hope so. It hasn’t happened yet, but if fingers crossed I’ll hear, I’ll hear from them and we’ll, we’ll make it happen.

Tom Stones (27:55):

Okay. Awesome. Sounds great.

Sam Demma (27:56):

Awesome.

Sam Demma (27:56):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tom Stones

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.

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma – TEDxYouth@Toronto

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma - TEDxYouth@Toronto
About Sam Demma

Sam Demma (@Sam_Demma) is the youngest board director of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. A highly requested keynote speaker in the education space, Demma has delivered over three hundred presentations for clients who want to create a culture of hope, service, and self-belief. He is routinely invited for interviews on national media outlets and has been featured on the TEDx platform twice.

As a high school student, he co-founded PickWaste, a grassroots initiative that mobilized youth to pick up garbage in their communities. Within five years, the organization filled more than three thousand trash bags and provided students with six thousand meaningful volunteer hours. The initiative’s success confirmed for Demma how small, consistent actions could have a significant impact, and he lives that message in all he does.

Following his keynote presentations, students and educators often commit to performing more acts of kindness, taking small, consistent actions toward their personal goals, and proactively looking for ways to serve others. In his spare time, Demma dances the bachata, eats handfuls of tacos, and works to convince people that pineapples do not belong on pizza. For more information and booking inquiries, please visit www.samdemma.com.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers

TEDx

TEDx Talk, “Small, Consistent Actions”

PickWaste

Top 25 under 25 Environmentalists

www.samdemma.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 (00:13):

When I was in grade 12, my teacher told me three words that totally changed my life; small, consistent actions. It was April, 2017, and I was seated in his world issues class. Growing up, I have to admit, I wasn’t the brightest student and I didn’t like school all that much, but for some reason, every time I was in his class, I always felt engaged. And on this particular day, he was not talking about any ordinary topic. Instead, he was speaking about figures in history who have massively changed this world. People like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinham, Gandhi. The list went on and on, and he took these figures and he wrote their names on the board. This was the only teacher I ever had who still used the blackboard.

Sam Demma (01:21):

But then he began breaking down their lives, trying to figure out what common characteristics they all shared that enabled them to make a massive change in the world. We found they had many distinct traits that made them each different and unique. But there was this one thing, this one thing that was common among them all, they all took small, consistent actions that led to their global massive changes. You see, that day in class, my teacher proved to me and all of my classmates that if we wanted to make a massive change in the world, we could, and all we had to do was commit to a small, consistent action. I left class that day with a burning desire within my chest to try and make a change within my community. But like many of you, at the age of 17 years old, I had absolutely no idea how I was gonna do this. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even know where I wanted to go to university, let alone talk about something like changing the world, right? Well, like many students, every day after school, I would walk home and my walk was about 30 to 40 minutes. I would take my headphones out, pop in my ears, listen to some music and podcasts. But after that day in class, I decided to change my routine. I took my headphones out, I put them in my pockets, and I began asking myself the questions,

Sam Demma (03:03):

Sam, how are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? Now, before I continue with the rest of that story, I need you to understand where I was personally at that point in my life, or else the story won’t make that much sense. Because two years ago, if you told me that I would be standing on this stage here today talking about a lesson that changed my life, I would’ve told you that you’re insane. In fact, I probably would’ve told you that I will be in the United States on a full ride scholarship playing division one soccer. Like many of you, I had a dream for my life from a very young age, and my dream was to play professional soccer. At the age of 13, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and live by myself for six months and experienced the professional culture. And when I came back to Canada, I came back with a new passion for the sport. And throughout my four years of high school, I sacrificed everything to pursue my dream of playing professional soccer. But in grade 12, at the age of 17, everything changed. It was mid-November, maybe one week before the biggest opportunity in my soccer career, and I was playing in a friendly match with my team. It was just before half time, maybe five minutes before the whistle when I went shoulder to shoulder with this 250 pound beast.

Sam Demma (04:48):

And after our initial contact, I caught myself, but very quickly I realized that something felt a little funny in my left knee. And for the next five minutes, I ran around with some pain in my calf before deciding to put my ego aside and get off the field. And as I crossed the line, I immediately burst in the tears because deep down I knew that something was terribly wrong. And the worst part about it is that my parents weren’t even there, and I had to hit your ride home with my teammate. And for the whole 40 minute drive home, I pted in the backseat like a little child. Fast forward one month, I ended up getting the results from my mri, and it turned out I had torn the meniscus in my left knee. I felt absolutely defeated mentally and physically because I just missed the opportunity I had been training for so emphatically.

Sam Demma (05:50):

But you see, I wanted this dream so badly, so I would not give up. I got the surgery done and I got back onto the field. And just as things began to improve, I ended up tearing the meniscus in my left knee a second time. And this time around, looking back, I realized I broke down uncontrollably crying in front of my family, my friends, and my teammates. I couldn’t understand why life seemed to be beating me to the ground for no reason. I then had a second surgery, and I even took a fifth year of high school or grade 13 for you old folks back here to try and keep that dream alive. And just when I thought things could not get any worse, it happened again a third time this time in my other knee, which forced me to quit and give up the sport that I loved. It was at that point in my life that I realized I had so deeply attached my personal identity and self-worth to the sport I played. I mean, raise your hand if you have an email address here. I’m pretty sure we all do. Just to put it in perspective, it was so bad that my email was soccer, Sam 99, soccer was all I knew, and I feared that I would be worth nothing without it.

Sam Demma (07:16):

So that’s where I was at this point in my life when my teacher taught me this lesson about small, consistent actions. The reason I shared with you my soccer story is because I want you to understand you do not need to go through extreme adversity to knee surgeries and give up a lifelong dream only to realize that doing good things that benefit others also fulfills yourself. And my teacher proved that to me through his personal passion for solving world issues. And so while walking home from school, after that day in class, when I was asking myself the questions, How are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I now see that I was taking the first small step towards building some serious momentum. And it took me 14 days to finally come up with an answer to those questions.

Sam Demma (08:21):

I was walking home when a coffee cup blew across the sidewalk, and I still can’t explain this portion of the story, but for some reason on an impulse decision, I decide to put my teacher’s theory to the ultimate test. I walked up to the cup, I bent down, and I picked it up. And for the next four months, I made my small consistent action picking up litter while walking home from school. I had no intentions of building something outta this, but to, to my surprise, my teacher was correct. And that small consistent action would soon thereafter grow into a citywide initiative. Because five days before summer break, my good friend Dylan saw me driving home and like any teenager, he pulled over, he rolled down his window, and he looked at me like this.

Sam Demma (09:17):

And then he said, Sam, what the heck are you doing? Why are you picking up garbage? And when I explained to him the theory that small actions lead to a massive change, he absolutely loved it. And then he made this statement that changed my future forever. He said, Sam, let’s do something with this. And that was the day that Pick Waste was born. Pick Waste is a community initiative that was started outta the necessity to play our small part in solving a global issue, while at the same time inspiring individuals like yourselves to realize the potential you have on this planet. It began on July 1st, 2017, and since that day, we have kickstarted four different cleanup crews in four different cities, completed over 80 cleanups, filled over 850 bags of garbage and picked up over 21,000 cigarette butts. It has also given me the opportunity to speak in front of over 8,000 individuals just like yourself, to spread this message and to raise awareness.

Sam Demma (10:29):

You see, our movement exemplifies the power of consistency. It was one small action, one small idea that led to this citywide initiative. But please do not get me wrong. The reason I told you about pick waste is not because I want you to go and start picking up litter, although if you do see it, please do pick it up <laugh>. But the reason I told you about pick waste is because I wanted to give you a real life example about how this theory of small, consistent actions played out in my personal life. But what is 10 times or even a thousand times more important is how this theory could play out in your life. Because there are thousands of social issues facing the world today that need courageous leaders like yourselves to step up and face these problems. The biggest lie we have ever been taught, told, or heard, is that one person is too insignificant, that one person is irrelevant in the bigger picture or on the global scale.

Sam Demma (11:36):

And I am here today to tell you that that is absolutely false, and I can even prove it to you in less than 10 seconds. Are you ready? Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Stein, and Lewis Tapp in Salman north of Will and Will before is Gandhi, Bill Dre and Forres, Nan, Gail, Fabio Rosa. The list goes on and on of people no different than you and I. You see, they’re just human beings who decide to commit to small, consistent actions, and it allowed them to change this world. What is stopping you from being the next person that I count on my fingertips? Tips Because my teacher told me that those figures in history are not anomalies. We can all change the world. Never underestimate the power of small actions executed consistently. Never underestimate the power of momentum because things in motion tend to stay in motion and never underestimate yourself because you are no different than any other change maker who has ever walked on this earth.

Sam Demma (12:47):

Now, before I wrap this up, I have one piece of homework that I wanna leave you with. As you leave this conference here today, I want you to think about one problem that you are passionate about, one problem that you wanna start solving. And over the next two weeks, the next 14 days, I want you to come up with some small, consistent actions that you can begin implementing in your personal life to start solving this problem. And I promise you, you’ll begin taking these actions, and it will start gaining momentum, and you will build a little initiative. And as you start to have an impact, people will begin asking you the question, “How do you plan on changing the world?” And when I was 17, in grade 12, I did not have ‘an answer to that question. But I hope that after hearing this presentation here today, if anyone ever asked you, how do you plan on changing the world,” you would take a little step back, put a big smile on your face, and respond with those three, simple but extremely powerful words; small, consistent actions. Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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

Richard Karikari – Former CFL Athlete and Co-Founder of Complete Performance Centre

Richard Karikari - Former CFL Athlete and Co-Founder of Complete Performance Centre
About Richard Karikari

As a proven leader in the domestic and international sports industries, Richard is known for his skills and experience in sports business operations, training and conditioning, minor association team management and his professional football career. He is passionate about promoting health and fitness for people of all ages.

Reputed for being self-motivated, over the past six years, he has founded and grown The Physio Studio. Currently operating at three permanent locations and various pop-up locations throughout the Durham region, he is excited to be working on getting a fourth location ready to open.

Other ventures include:
• Co-founding the Complete Performance Centre.
• President of the Durham Dolphins minor football club.
• President of the Ajax United Soccer Club, a black-focused club to get underprivileged kids back into sports.
• General Manager for the Ajax Soccer Club.

Prior to these endeavours, he was a professional football player in the Canadian Football League (CFL), giving him a unique perspective and first-hand understanding of sports from an athlete’s point of view.

Richard is a motivated and determined leader with strong managerial abilities in building, mentoring, and leading large, dynamic teams. He believes in displaying hands-on leadership in delivering activities and programs and supporting employees through first-rate employee development, performance management, and an environment where employees can strive for improvement in all areas.

Karikari works hard to build trust and respect with clients, colleagues, teams, and management and collaboratively develops strategic goals that drive organizations forward. Clients and business professionals enjoy working with him because he leverages his extensive experience to help them achieve business results diplomatically, responding to challenging situations with creativity, diffusing conflict, and upholding a high level of professionalism in all interactions.

He is a well-known community leader in the city of Ajax, and this fall, he is running for the position of school board trustee within the Durham Catholic District School Board

Connect with Richard: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Physio Studio

Complete Performance Centre

Ajax United Soccer Club

Canadian Football League (CFL)

Durham Catholic District School Board

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.

Sam Demma (00:58):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is someone who had a huge impact on me growing up as a young athlete and young man. His name is Richard Karikari. He is the proud owner and co-founder of the Complete Performance Center for Athletic Training. He trained me as the young man when I was pursuing my dream to play professional soccer. He is the president of the Durham Dolphins Minor Football Club, the President of the Ajax United Soccer Club; a black focused club to get underprivileged kids back into sports, and the general manager for the Ajax Soccer Club. Prior to these endeavors, Richard was a professional football player in the Canadian Football League, the CFL, giving him a unique perspective and firsthand understanding of sports from an athlete’s point of view. Today, he is also running for one of the positions as a school board trustee, which we’ll talk a little bit about today in this interview, along with his entire journey. I hope you enjoyed this conversation, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. This individual played a big role in my life as the development of an athlete, but more importantly, a young man. Richard, welcome to the show. Please introduce yourself.

Richard KariKari (02:20):

How you do it, man. Thanks, Sam. You know, I appreciate it. You know, I have been doing a lot of work with different groups in the community, so you’re one of them, and I appreciate you guys reaching back out.

Sam Demma (02:30):

Absolutely. for those of you who don’t know much about your journey and also your impact, can you please just talk a little bit about yourself, your, your story and what brought you to where you are today?

Richard KariKari (02:42):

You know, it’s, it’s first and foremost I’m from Ajax Pickering area. I grew up here. I came here in grade four. Most like, just like everybody else that came from the Toronto area. And you know, just, just went through the system, went through the whole Catholic system, went through St. Mary’s. I ended up going to university and I’m, I’m right back here as a small business owner, just like my dad was in this community. So, you know, my impact, I feel that I’ve been able to give is, is to the youth. Right now, currently the president of the Durham Dolphins as well as a gm Hja Soccer Club. So these are two things that, these are two platforms. I’m allow myself to speak with kids, parents. I let them know about my journey. So it wasn’t an easy journey.

Richard KariKari (03:23):

Everybody expects you just to go to school, get a scholarship, come back, and everything is gonna work out. It’s complete opposite. You know, the scholarship means the university has taken control of your life in some capacity. And I know a lot of athletes come back and tell me that, but for me, I try to guide them as best I can. Work with the schools, the guidance counselors, let them know that, you know, there is opportunities outside sports to, to make an impact and look just like yourself. You’re doing a lot, and I do appreciate what you’ve been doing for the community. But you, sports is a foundation of just getting kids to understand everything works off a team, right? Takes a village to raise a community, and that’s kind of mindset I have.

Sam Demma (04:00):

What sport did you play growing up and tell us a little bit about your journey through your athletic career,

Richard KariKari (04:05):

<Laugh>. So, I, I’ve got a couple interviews and people always say he must have played football his whole life. So I ended up playing in a professional football, but that was not my first love. My first love was baseball. I grew up in an era where the Blue Jays were the number one thing in town. You, if you didn’t wanna play baseball, actually something was wrong with you. I know that the main fans would probably think I’m crazy, but the B Chases was, was defined. Tron went one era. And growing up I played baseball. I played baseball, started in age H eight went through the system, did the house league select rap, Played on the one, probably the best travel teams where we had four or five guys drafted. And, and you know, it, it just, it just, it, you know, it’s full circle how things work out.

Richard KariKari (04:46):

And I tell parents this all the time. I was a small kid, You know, I remember your meeting your parents and, you know, you were a smaller, at a younger age when I started working with you and you will grow. I tell parents, Relax, just take a breather. And I think for myself, being a baseball be my first sport, which I loved tennis. I joined the tennis academy at age 13 and 14. Loved this sport. It wasn’t affordable at the time for my parents. I appreciate my parents given the effort that they did at that time to try to accommodate it, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t feasible. And then I kind of just started to play football a lot with my friends outside. And I think that’s the things that’s missing these days. Just the, the ability to just play the sport.

Richard KariKari (05:24):

And yeah, it just, it just worked out. And I, there is a teacher or two at St. Mary’s that kind of guided me, and I, and I, and I shout out to those teachers, Mr. Sheridan, who ended up being the, the headmaster at St. Michael’s College in Toronto who wanted me to actually transfer from St. Mary’s, go to St. Mike’s at that time, which was a dominate football program. And he said, I suddenly, he said, Rich, you got talent. I was only in grade 10, 11. I was like, We just played flag football. And he was like, Yeah, flag football, but you’re pretty damn good <laugh>. So, so I, you know, I took that with my mindset, came home and one of my friends who was a wrestler was playing for the Durham Dolphins. It was actually called Ajax Picker And Dolphins at that time, AP Dolphins played out the old Kingsman Field there. And he told me to come out. And that changed my life. I came out and because of my baseball arm being a pitcher, third baseman, I ended up being the quarterback for the team. And, you know, the rest is kinda history now.

Sam Demma (06:20):

That’s awesome. You’ve done so much for so many young people in the community. Why do you think sports are such a great foundation to anyone’s future success?

Richard KariKari (06:33):

You know, I can look at multiple ways. You know, I, I was what we call an average student. You know, my mom told me to get an 80, I to get a 75. You know, I don’t wanna push envelope too much. But sports allowed me to, to know that first of all, the friends around you is what keeps you in sports, right? There’s not a lot of sports nowadays that you’re, you’re an individual. There is a rare, you know, golf and, and other sports like that. But I always played on team sports where the friends were crucial, right? You go out with them, your social is a environment is around them goods and bads. You know, you have bad days. They raise you. You know, they’re the people that tell you it’s okay. I think sports is important for that. I think sports is also important just for the parents.

Richard KariKari (07:15):

Parents want their kids out active fit. You know, we, we talked about the obesity levels. That wouldn’t be the case. Know kids are active, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> screens were not an issue. You know, we had a, I don’t wanna age myself. We hadn’t attend on Nten was at its prime. You know, Super Nintendo came out that was at its prime, right? But screen time was not an issue for, for kids at my time. It was, it was literally get outside and played a sport. And I, and I think truly, you know, becoming to Durham, when I came to Picker in moved here, it saved me. It saved me. Cause I could’ve got caught up, you know, being a guy that just hung up the mall, right? No, I ended up being a guy that played road hockey at a street in Pickering called Pebble Court pretty much every day. <Laugh>, you know, so, you know, made that, that attribute to just being Okta, being around my friends, keeping me in a straighten narrow. We all know kids like to follow their friends. That’s why parents always say, you know, who you hang out with will sometimes be who you are. Mm. Well, my friends are guys who just love to play sports, you know, stay active after school. So I am what I am. I I wanted to be like that. And, you know, that’s what kept me outta trouble.

Sam Demma (08:18):

And it sounds like sports and just team activities is what introduced you to some caring adults in your life that guided you and really had a big impact. You know, being the headmaster at St. Mike’s and even other teachers that you had growing up I know personally from experience that when I was a student in school my parents actually came to you as like a caring adult figure and we’re like, Can you help guide our son? Like what are some of the conversations that you have with parents even that have kids that aren’t in sports and some that aren’t in sports? What are some of the conversations that you have or what do they reach out to you to ask?

Richard KariKari (08:56):

Well, you know, I, I think a lot of parents, and I do appreciate the parents do come and reaching out to me. I’m, I’m from this area, and I feel they can just relate. I think first and foremost will relate. I don’t have a doctor beside my name. I further my education end up with my masters, but that’s irrelevant to the parents. Yeah. They just see Richard as a guy who’s coaching kids, who trains kids. So there’s a mental and physical component to that. And they see me as somebody who, if you can get into my son or daughter’s head athletically, physically emotionally, when you’re training athletes, then you can also talk to them about their behaviors, good or bad. And that trust is what I’m, and I, and I all sneaky, I’m not gonna lie to you, I knew a lot about kids, you know, if their grades were slipping, but the parents are still bringing them to me to work with them.

Richard KariKari (09:39):

Parents will kind of slide that information in there, and as I’m training the clients or training the athlete, I’d leak it in there. Hey, Sam, you know, how you doing, Sam? You know, just wanna get an idea. You know, you gotta, you got an 81 in your English, you know, but you know, you usually get 88, so what’s going on? And, you know, sometimes you’re truthful with me. You’ll just say, Coach, you know what’s going on? I met this wonderful girl, and I think she’s distracted me or coach, I’m doing some projects that my parents don’t know about which is a great, a project you’re doing right now. And it’s kind of distracting me. I’m really trying to change Durham. I’m trying to be a more impactful to just being a regular student in an English class. Those are things you may divulge to me, but you may not divulge to your parents. And then, you know, that gives me an opportunity to kind of give you my advice on how to either A, be more open with your parents, or b to continue on your journey, but not, and not suffer the, you know, the outcome of maybe a great job. And in the long term.

Sam Demma (10:29):

Hmm. Richard Carri Carri, the trusted parent advisor of the Durham region, <laugh>, you know what? Like,

Richard KariKari (10:37):

Don’t give away my seat now. My secret’s gonna be up now. No kids are gonna be, I’m very transparent with me. So, no, no.

Sam Demma (10:42):

You know, it is funny, when I stopped playing soccer and I’m, you know, I’m, I was, I was still in my late teens, I still found it difficult to kind of rebuild my image. You know, everyone looked at me as the soccer guy. And, you know, similarly to yourself, you’ve been so involved with sports your whole life. And some people might think your current interests, they don’t really relate exactly. But I would argue the opposite that, you know, if you’re able to pursue something and achieve greatness in one area, those same, you know, skills and attributes can be applicable elsewhere. Tell me about the other personas of Richard that no one really sees about.

Richard KariKari (11:19):

You know, something, I’m, I’m a quiet person and, and everybody, and here’s a key thing about me, and I say this for anything I do, everybody knows where to find me. Mm, right? I’m always at the same location here. I’m always working with athletes where, if not the general public, and, and I strive to focus on what’s in front of me and not about anything, what I call distracting me, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. And I think the, from when parents really do come to me, I, I find the time and I will get an answer. It’s sometimes not an answer they want to hear. And I know some of the tough ones I’ve, I’ve dealt with is, you know, my kids started to, you know, smoke. Those are one of the toughest ones. Cause I’ve never smoked before. Mm. So it’s really hard for me to relate and, and I try to talk to the athlete or the, or the individual.

Richard KariKari (12:04):

And, you know, sometimes I have to be very honest, the parents, if you have a relative around you that smokes, maybe that’s what’s happened. Maybe they’re seeing it, maybe they’re witnessing it, you know, so it’s very hard for them. Maybe they have to take some responsibility for it. So I, I have to be honest, like, it’s, it’s really more of me trying to just put myself in both shoes, but at the same time, be honest, just be honest with either side, who I’m dealing with. And that I think parents that have come to me and athletes have come to and will probably recognize that I’m just, I’m very thorough in my decision making. Mm.

Sam Demma (12:35):

You, your, you know, you also have your own kids, and I’m sure there are people in your life who, when you can’t get through to yours, you lean on <laugh>. But you’re starting to gain a big interest in, you know, being a part of the community in these school space, in the education world. And I would assume an aspect of that is because your own kids are in it. Tell us, tell me more about that interest and that passion and why you wanna pursue being one of the counselors.

Richard KariKari (13:04):

Yeah, so, or

Sam Demma (13:05):

Trustees,

Richard KariKari (13:05):

I should say. Trustee. Yeah. So a lot of parents have come to me for, again, various issues. And I’m so happy, thankful for that. And, and ultimately for me, I have to start making some decisions because I’m starting to see a reoccurring trend. And it’s, it’s truly a trend. And you start looking at the research and data, same way you have done in your field, you start to say, Oh, hold one second, man, this is, this is not just a, a simple one off. This is not just a, a seasonal thing. This is actually something that potentially could be a change from, you know, policy, curriculum, you know, mental health could be anything. It could be anything above the, that you could start to say, How can I make a change in that direction or change in that for, for kids in the future.

Richard KariKari (13:48):

And that’s why ultimately started looking at the role of trust. And it took me about a year to decide that, you know, everybody pushes you towards me, a counselor, a mayor, I’ll, and I’ve said this and I’ll say it again. My, my, I don’t have interest in that at the moment. My interest right now is in continue to work with athletes, continue work with youth, Okay. Continue to guide people. And I think this is why it was the best fit for me to, to run as Ajax Catholic board trustee. It, it, it just fit well and well. I know have some public, have some public school people. Really ho why didn’t you go for public? I’m like, I understand, but my faith is Catholic. I went to St. Mary’s. you know, my kids are baptized in St. Francis. So I, I, I, you know, I mean, for me, I, I’m Catholic, right? But I continue to help, regardless of what board you come from I’ll continue to help, but for me, from a formality point, I, I fail those best for me to put my hand, my head my name in for Ajax Catholic trustee.

Sam Demma (14:39):

What has been the response from all your friends, family, the community at large? <Laugh>,

Richard KariKari (14:46):

It’s it’s exactly what you started by saying it’s Richard, well, the CPC guy, or Richard, the HX picker and Dolphins guy, or Richard, the HX soccer guy. It’s really breaking the the, the stereotype of who I am, right? Or the ex professional football player guy. You know, I have so many hats and I’m, I’m thankful that I have these hats to wear because when you have a lot of hats, good or bad, you’re making an impact in different areas. So I feel that the people around me, I’ve seen the social media thanking me, saying finally, I, I did get a lot of personal emails saying, finally <laugh>. And I, and I rep, I did reply all of them. I’m like, I, I understand. And I also get people saying, same thing I said before, I, I hope that I was wishing you could do the other board. I’m like, No. My focus again is just working with as a, as a Catholic trustee. And that’s what I, I’m aiming for. So it’s been amazing, all the support out there. It’s been amazing. And I’m hoping everybody can go out and vote the week of the 17th to 24th, and hopefully we can make change within the Durham region.

Sam Demma (15:48):

That’s awesome. What are the things that you’re hoping to support with in schools or like maybe for the parents who are curious, like what exactly is your role, you know, as a, as a trustee, if they’re not too involved in the system? <Laugh>

Richard KariKari (16:03):

Trustee, again, a trustee. You’re, you’re there for the parents, okay? You’re there for the youth. You’re there to be in an ear. It’s not always about the bad issues, it’s also the good issues. You’re there to support the schools. There’s gonna be different events that, you know, involve the youth, that you wanna make sure that you’re present, you’re there to continue to build the faith. We are in the Catholic faith, right? So you wanna make sure our kids, our kids are, our youth, are continuing to, to understand the Catholic faith. These are all different things that, you know, I my, I want to be a part of, right? But the most important thing is wanna build community. I think that’s ultimately the biggest thing. It’s too diverse here in Ajax that we do not wanna get caught in a situation that all this diversity will turn into everybody being separate, whereas the whole is to build.

Richard KariKari (16:49):

And I, and I’ve started that mindset at Aja Soccer. It’s our model. It’s our diversity inclusion model, which we brought in three years ago. And I’m, I’m pushing hard. We are a melting pot at a, a soccer, we are a melting pot that Durham dolphins. I want more and more kids to be involved in sports that they may not be a part, a part of their cultural background, which is a better way of saying, you know, there’s always a, and I can make this statement, there’s always been a stigma that if you’re Italian, you must be great at soccer <laugh>. You know, that’s, that’s a stigma, but you know something, why can’t semi dema play, you know, football? Why can’t stand semi dema play, you know, badminton? So these are all different things. We wanna build that community. I played tennis, I played badminton, I played, you know, volleyball in school.

Richard KariKari (17:34):

I think everybody took an attempt at that. We wanna build that in other ways outside just athletics. Build that in, in, in realms of our stem. Build that in realms above getting our kids and our high school students into job opportunities co-op, which you did co-op in, in, in this building here, which we work out of, you had an opportunity. Now see the different side at that time, at that time was called cpc. Yeah, you got a chance to see different side. So I think those are things that I wanna make sure that we continue to build on.

Sam Demma (18:02):

If a parent is listening to this right now or anyone in the education community and they wanna reach out and just like ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Richard KariKari (18:13):

I have cards going all through the, the Ajax area. They can contact me. I do have a number. It’s 289-201-0497. Give me a call. I’m always available. You know, I do coach sports programs. If I get a call while I’m coaching, don’t worry. I’ll pick up and I’ll make sure, I’ll give you a call right back. My email is richard@completecentre.com. You can give a call, sorry, an email there. Ask me any questions as well as my social platforms. You can ig me or if not, send a message to Facebook. Either way you’ll get a response back, probably.

Sam Demma (18:45):

Awesome. Rich, thank you so much for taking the time to chat, share a little bit about your future pursuits and what you’re hoping to do in the community, and it was really inspiring just to catch up and chat, and I wish you all the best.

Richard KariKari (18:56):

Appreciate it. Thanks, Sam.

Sam Demma (18:58):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

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