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Teaching Tips

Josh Windsor – Principal at Grand River Collegiate in the Waterloo Region District School Board

Josh Windsor - Principal at Grand River Collegiate in the Waterloo Region District School Board
About Josh Windsor

Josh Windosr is the Principal at Grand River Collegiate in Kitchener, Ontario. He has worked in numerous sectors including social services, business and marketing, and for the past 22 years as an Educator. Josh began his teaching careers in Health and Physical Education and Special Education but has taught Math, History, Geography, Science, was a Department Head of Special Education and a consultant responsible for professional development and a district elearning program.

Josh was a Vice-Principal at 3 high schools in the Waterloo Region before becoming the Principal at Grand River. In addition, Josh has been a long time coach in various sports in the community, at secondary schools and at the University level where he has been the head Men’s rugby coach at both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

As a leader, Josh believes that growth mindset and self determination theory are the key components to school improvement and fostering innovative teaching practices that support student learning.

Connect with Josh: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Waterloo

Wilfrid Laurier University

Grand River Collegiate

What is an EA?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Josh Windsor. Josh Windosr is the Principal at Grand River Collegiate in Kitchener, Ontario. He has worked in numerous sectors including social services, business and marketing and for the past 22 years as an Educator. Josh began his teaching careers in Health and Physical Education and Special Education but has taught Math, History, Geography, Science, was a Department Head of Special Education and a consultant responsible for professional development and a district elearning program. Josh was a Vice-Principal at 3 high schools in the Waterloo Region before becoming the Principal at Grand River. In addition, Josh has been a long time coach in various sports in the community, at secondary schools and at the University level where he has been the head Men’s rugby coach at both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo. As a leader, Josh believes that growth mindset and self determination theory are the key components to school improvement and fostering innovative teaching practices that support student learning. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Josh. I surely did, and I will see you on the other side. Josh, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Josh Windsor (02:19):
My name’s Josh Windsor. I’m a high school Principal at Grand River Collegiate in Kitchener, Waterloo in the Waterloo Region District School Board.


Sam Demma (02:27):
And you’re sitting in the seventh house that you will be flipping . Tell me about your unique journey into education. And when you realized that education was a thing that you wanted to work in.


Josh Windsor (02:42):
Yeah. So when I was young Sam, I had I, my father died very young and I kind of lived on my own right around 17 because my, my stepfather and my mother moved away from town and the relationship I had with my stepfather. Wasn’t great. So I just decided I didn’t wanna leave my friends. I stayed here and I had worked pretty much full time from the time I was 14. Like I, well, full time summers part-time jobs. And I started delivering newspapers. I had two newspaper routes, one in the morning, one in the afternoon when I was in grade six. Right. So I banked a lot of money. So I had some money that I could sit on rent. I rented a room from one of my parents’ friends and, and stayed here. And at about 19, I started working in group homes.


Josh Windsor (03:30):
So with kids and and that kind of led me into some positions where I was in a school. So kind of being a bit of an EA with kids that needed extra support. So one to one support for kids that kind of struggled with behavior and things like that. So I did a few of those stints through university and then 22, I started working for the children’s aid society and I did that offer around eight years. So one of my jobs well, most my, the job I did the longest was a night job while I finished university. It was 10 at night till nine in the morning. And part of that job was crisis support for foster parents. So I would go into foster homes when there was crisis issues and, and try to calm kids down, support the parents, you know do some mediation, those kind of things.


Josh Windsor (04:19):
And and kind of finishing school. I then really like, I liked working with kids, but I started I stayed with that night job. Then I did some business stuff during the day, and I ended up leaving, leaving that night job because I was eventually the director of sales and marketing for a very small software company. Nice. I decided I wanted to go to teachers college because it wasn’t really that fulfilling. So at 30 I went to teachers college. I continued to work in that business while I went to teachers college. And then I had my employers, they were, they were great. And they allowed me to do that because I could continue to do my job. And then when, when the Mike Harris government kind cut a lot of funding to municipalities, our software business started to decline quite a bit. And you know, the owners had said they, they probably can’t keep staff on. So they said, you know, if you have job prospects go, go around. And I was, I was done teachers college for about six months and I went in and saw a few principals and I had a job starting in January.


Sam Demma (05:21):
Wow. How did your upbringing inform the way you work with kids today?


Josh Windsor (05:30):
It, I think I have a, I have a unique perspective just around kids that live in situations and poverty. I would say, you know, I’ve, I I’ve learned through education, so I, I did my master’s bit. I I’m about three years finished my master’s and I learned quite a bit about equity work at that time, I dunno if you’ve ever heard of Laura Malindo, she’s a M P P for province of Ontario. She was actually one of my professors in


Sam Demma (06:01):
Wow.


Josh Windsor (06:08):
And she was shoe section with poverty and things like that. So I started to recognize kind of my privilege and thought I was a self-made person, my whole life. Right. I kind of


Sam Demma (06:17):
One


Josh Windsor (06:18):
Sec, Josh, that ceiling


Sam Demma (06:19):
You, you cut out after you said the word professor, you don’t mind just going back and say she was my professor and continue.


Josh Windsor (06:25):
Sure. Yeah. So Laura, me, Linda was my professor and


Sam Demma (06:32):
Oh, can you hear me?


Josh Windsor (06:35):
And I learned quite a bit about equity as cutting out.


Sam Demma (06:38):
Yeah. It’s chopping in and out just a little bit. Well try one more time. If it, if it cuts out, there’s also a call by phone option and you could just add a, a call. You could just call into this. I could give you a phone number. Okay. And we’ll get the video on, but then the, like, there’s very little chance that it’ll cut out on the phone, but it’s funny every time you say professor, it cuts ,


Josh Windsor (06:58):
But okay. Let’s I can probably go to a different computer and see if I can hard wire in might you think is my wifi.


Sam Demma (07:05):
It could be shouldn’t


Josh Windsor (07:06):
Be, but,


Sam Demma (07:07):
Well, it was fine. The whole, like first section, so kinda odd. Let’s let’s try it one more time. If it cuts out again, I’ll I’ll, I’ll pause you and we could try something else, but okay. Yeah. Start again at professor.


Josh Windsor (07:20):
So, okay. So Laura Malindo was one of my professors and a lot of the coursework was around equity and she taught me a lot about intersection between poverty and, and race and, and other types of situations where people have to deal with deal with being disenfranchised right in our society. And so thinking that I was a self-made person for a long time, I started to recognize the privilege that did have just basically white individual, right. White male. And so understanding kind how to work with kids that kind of live on those margins recognizing difficult situations. I’ve, I’ve been able to, I think build really strong relationships with students and staff. And and that helps me, I think, as we, you know, think about, especially with pandemic learning that trauma informed lens that we need around everything we do. And, and my, you know, my values are students first. And so, you know, we work to try to support students and, and we make decisions that are based on what’s in the best interest of the student at any given time. So that’s really how I, how I see things and, and how I work with students.


Sam Demma (08:41):
How do you build strong relationships with students, whether on the margins, you know, marginalized youth or not? I think there’s they definitely need different things, but I think all young people also need some standard things to build relationships with adults and teachers and educators. How do you think you go about building relationships with students?


Josh Windsor (09:05):
Well, I think, I think the first thing that we need in a school setting is, is we need good structures in place to support students as they understand what their responsibilities are and, and what their opportunities are. And so making sure that you know, students understand kind line around, around behavior and what’s acceptable, but then also recognizing that each day is a new day. So making mistakes is what we do when we’re young and, and that shouldn’t penalize you for an extended period of time, right. There’s consequences for our actions. But you know, if, if a student kind of does something that’s inappropriate in the school that, that warrants some kind of a consequence, then that next day, you know, I welcome. I, I welcome that student. You know, I make sure that my, my staff are treating that student respectfully all the time and, and try to kind build those relationships from the perspective of recognizing that, that we do make errors in our life.


Josh Windsor (10:09):
And I’m not perfect. I made a lot of errors when I was a kid, right. So I know what that can be like. And when you get those multiple chances and when you have those people that care about you in your life, especially you know, your parents, but also your teachers, when those, when those people that are a little bit different from your, from your family situation can invest in time in you and, and make you realize what’s out there and what your potential is. Then, then you feel way more confident in being able to move forward. Right.


Sam Demma (10:37):
Tell us about one of those caring adults you had in your life that made a significant impact on you when you were going through a difficult time or just trying to get by.


Josh Windsor (10:50):
Well, I would say like from the perspective of, you know, family, my mother always, you know, provided those moral values that I still hold today. And and, and then as, as kind of, I went through school, I, I would say there’s a few teachers that, that really supported me. So one of them, his name’s Jeff Sage I, I started to play rugby. So I was a varsity rugby player at university. And when I started to play in high school, I was, I was 18 years old, never played the sport, didn’t know much about it. And he just really encouraged me. And then he, he had said to me, at one point, you know, you could play rugby at university. And I said, really, I’d never thought about going to university. I’ve got three extended families with, I probably have 150 cousins.


Josh Windsor (11:38):
And I would be the only one out of that whole group that’s ever gone to university. Right. And so that was that to me was kind of inspirational where I, I, would’ve never thought about that pathway but I began to love this sport. And then I, and then I thought, well, Hey, maybe I can do that. Right. So that, and that’s where I say, when you have a, a teacher that just says to you, Hey, you could do, you could do this, or you could be this, or you’re good at this, right. That, that makes a kid feel so good. And, and, and they’re encouraged, right. And that confidence and that you know, capacity to think about themselves in a different light is, is really how, how we change lives and how we make sure that, that students can move forward and be good citizens.


Sam Demma (12:26):
Tell us more. I couldn’t agree more. I think back to the educators in my life who made a big difference and it’s people who listened people who got to know me on a personal level and built a relationship regardless of the curriculum or topic or subject they were teaching. Tell us a little more about what your journey looked like after you got your, you know, your degree in teachers college to where you are today. So the various roles you worked in education, what they looked like. And yeah, the whole journey in essence.


Josh Windsor (12:59):
So I, I started out teaching at Waterloo collegiate and I was a, I was a phys ed teacher, and I also worked in the special education department. So I was a coach as well. So I, I coached a lot of different sports. And so you got to see, you know, through, through that coaching and through PHZ, you gotta see lots of different kids, but lots of, kind of really motivated students. And then through my work in the special education department, I got to see students with learning disabilities and other needs that, you know, were needed, needed much more support weren’t as confident, right. So I had kind of, you know, those, those two real different experiences. And I worked there at WCI for about five years just different contracts, you know, never really having a full, never really having a, a tenured position at that point in time.


Josh Windsor (13:48):
And then I got a phone call from a principal Preston high school. And he was an interesting guy, like, I would, you would think like cowboy, right? Like in education and, and back then a lot of the principals were like that right there, wasn’t, there wasn’t a whole lot of rules about what they could or couldn’t do as far as hiring and, and those kind of things. So he said he said, Hey my name’s my name’s Murray baker. I hear you’re pretty good. I need a special education department head. You gotta tell me by noon. And that was, that was kind of the end of the conversation. So I, I went upstairs and talked to my principal who, who was a bit of a different character too. And he was, he laid out kind of, well, you kind of need to have more experience.


Josh Windsor (14:32):
And, you know, I had this seven year plan where I did each position for seven years and he says, you know, I don’t think you should take it. And you know, I thought about that a little bit. And then I, then I realized that, you know, opportunity doesn’t always knock. So I called him back and said, sure. So I, I did that for three or four years as a special education department had at Preston high school. And then an opportunity came up I was a gentleman by the name of Mark Harper, who was a superintendent at the time. He’s done a ton of work now. He worked at the ministry of bed and then he was a consultant for a while and he was going, he’s been going around the world to different ministries of education for different countries and supporting them.


Josh Windsor (15:15):
Wow. You know, he’s a incredibly intelligent guy. He’s, he’s super smart, but he was a superintendent on our board of did tell me, he called me and he said, I need someone to spearhead and run this new eLearning program, and then you’ll have some other duties. Would you come and be a consultant? And so I did. So I, I ran our eLearning program for a few years there. And then I went I, I went back to a school for a little while and, and after teaching for a little bit longer as a student success teacher and, and special education, and then some PHED I decided I might want to get into administration. So I became a vice principal at Huron Heights collegiate. And then I’ve been at I was at three schools as a vice principal and grand river. Now I, this is I’m into my fourth year and as a principal there, and it’s my first school. So that’s kind of my journey through different things in education anyway. So it’s been about 20 years.


Sam Demma (16:13):
That’s awesome. When you’re at here on heist, did, did you cross paths with Bob Klein?


Josh Windsor (16:18):
I know Bob Klein very well. Yes. So I actually taught leadership as I was a half vice principal, and I was the leadership teacher. Yeah. At Huron Heights before Bob Klein came to do leadership. Cool. so he, he kind of, he was doing a little bit of work with me initially, and then I got, I got moved school, so I went to kitchen and collegiate. And then Bob kind of took over leadership there. So yeah, he’s a, he’s a great guy. He’s full of energy.


Sam Demma (16:48):
Now you have a reason to call him and say, Hey, I was just to this young guy, Sam mentioned your name. such a cool journey through education. I love that. You mentioned that idea, that opportunity doesn’t always knock often. So when it does, you know, pounce on it, if it’s something that fires you up, say yes, try it out. At the beginning of this conversation, you told me that along with your career throughout education, you kind of self taught yourself to flip and renovate and sell houses. Like at what point did, did you start getting to that as well? And do you think it’s important that people in education also pursue things outside of the classroom to keep their fire lit?


Josh Windsor (17:35):
Yeah. So to probably Sam, I, cause when I started teaching, I was still working at the children’s eight society on nights and weekends. Got it. Mostly that was because I had a, had a, I just had a child. So my son was born, we kind of needed money. My wife was off. And I, I had bought a house a few years earlier with my brother that we had to sell cause he was moving. And so a lot of learning those things was just because I didn’t have enough money to, to pay anybody to do it. Right. And then and then I just started to like it and, and got into a few other things. I had a couple student houses at one point in time. The other thing that I’ve done and partway, you know, through that career in education, I’ve been a varsity rugby coach at two universities.


Josh Windsor (18:22):
So I coached at Wilford Laurie for seven years and I was I left L Wilford, Laurie. And I went back to my Alma mater, which was Waterloo. And I was there for five years as, as the head coach. So I’m not doing that now. I stopped doing that kind of the year before I became a principal, just because I didn’t feel like I was able to do everything well. And that was what I decided to give up. I also knew my son is now at university of Waterloo. So that son that was born when I first started teaching is now 20 and he’s playing varsity rugby at Waterloo. And I knew he was kinda going down that path and I likely didn’t wanna coach him. I stopped coaching him at the 13 because he, we, we wouldn’t get along very well when I was his coach. So


Sam Demma (19:07):
Awesome. I love, I love it. It’s funny. My dad was in a similar role coaching or helping very heavily with soccer programs. I was on up until about 11, 12, 13, and that’s when he took on the spectator role of quietly sitting on the stands and, you know, analyzing the game and we’d have those conversations in the car after the game ended, when it was a phenomenal performance, we had great conversations and when it was a terrible performance, we had great conversations. sometimes here in the harsh truth or feedback is difficult. Although it’s, it’s shared with you from a place of love and support in the hope that you’ll take it and improve your performance, how do you think you break sometimes hard criticism to young people, not only in a sports sense, but also, you know, in classrooms.


Josh Windsor (20:02):
Yeah. I, I think it’s really important to be honest with people. And so having those difficult conversations is something that as a, as a school administrator you really have to work at. I mean, as a principal, I spend more time with staff than I do with students now. Yeah. I really push myself to get out and, and talk to students and work with students. And because I’ve got a I’ve got a love for leadership. I try to do a lot of work with those kids still. So men in our school board, we still have kind of quasi activities directors that kind of run leadership classes. And then we have an administrator that oversees budget for those things. And so I always take on that role, despite the fact that in almost in most of our schools, it’s a, it’s a vice principal that does.


Josh Windsor (20:47):
But I, I just enjoy it. It’s an opportunity for me to, you know, be with great kids and, and support them and help them. But also then be a presence in this school. So when I have those, when I have those difficult conversations with some of those kids, it’s usually around kinda, you know, here’s the reason why we can’t run this event, right? Here’s the procedure, here’s the, you know, here are the worries that I have from a safety perspective. And so you’re gonna have to go back to the drawing board. And so, you know, students that have spent a lot of time on something have to kind of hear that, take that feedback and then go back and, and try to work. So you, you talk about positive things as you give them the, the advice or the, or the, you know, the negative feedback that they can’t do.


Josh Windsor (21:35):
Something I like to use one of the techniques that I, that I use is like a it’s inanimate third object. So if we’re, so if we’re talking about your, your planning process, for example, so when a kid tries to run an event, when our students run an event, they, they go through this planning process. There’s a template that they have to use. So when I give the, when I give the criticism or the feedback I’m talking about the template, not about them. Ah, and so using re using language like, so, so this plan is, needs some work because as opposed to, you need to work on this plan, right? So the language that, that we use is really important when I, when I use the term, you you’re, you are going to inherently take that as a personal comment. Right. And so you’re gonna internalize that when I talk about your plan though you’re not internalizing that as much. So that’s one of the techniques that I would use to kind of provide feedback to people that they maybe don’t want to hear. It usually makes things go a little smoother, right. Also use a lot of eye language. So I believe, I feel and, and that, you know, makes them recognize that I’m a part of that process. So you take on kind of that responsibility on their behalf.


Sam Demma (22:57):
I, I love that idea. I’m gonna steal it. when I have to break some bad news to people. I think when you said, I language, my mind also went to like, people’s physical eyes. I think it’s so important that when you not break bad news, but share a truth or an honest feeling with somebody that they can hear the tone of your voice and see you because you can tell if someone’s sincere in their remark or, you know, if they’re just brushing you off, whereas if you were to write it as an email, there’s so much left for guessing. Right. And people could assume one thing when you meant something totally different.


Josh Windsor (23:41):
Yeah. Agreed. I mean, there are some other techniques that I use, especially with students because body language and stance is really important. So a lot of the research out there would let you would tell you that males, for example, when you, when you are face to face with an individual, with a, with a male your shoulders are square, that, that really, to us signifies conflict or, or you know, challenge. So a lot of times when I talk to students like boys when they’re upset or angry, I go sit beside them. And so you’ll, you’ll maybe hear this, like there’ll Bey, there’s psychological kind of research and books around it. So when you wanna talk to your, to your son, you talk to him in the car. Cause you’re side by side. Right. And because, because you know, the, your tone and of that face to face stance really, really triggers kind of their, their fight or flight.


Josh Windsor (24:40):
Got it. Response rate. So, so when you sit beside them, then they don’t have to look you in the eye, which is, which is, if you think about kind of things from the animal kingdom. Right. And you know, you, look, you look at cat in the eye, for example, that’s con that’s like a challenge, right? Yeah. So there’s, so that works with humans quite a bit too. Whereas if you’re having a conversation with a, with a young lady, then they want that face to face contact, right. That, so you do square up and then you make sure your body, your body language is open. So you would never sit with your arms crossed, for example, cause that’s a closed stance and that means I’m not willing to listen. Right. So those body language things that you, you have to really think about as you have those conversations.


Josh Windsor (25:21):
And I use those quite a bit with students, but also with parents, because you can have parents that come in that are hop and mad about something, right. And then, you know, you have to try to calm them down and, and work to a solution. And that’s that’s one of the things that I find really interesting about education. And when you talk to you often talk to people in the business world who you know, think teachers get paid too much or, you know, there’s, there’s too much money spent on education and things like that. And, and I always explain it to them this way. I say, when you’re, when you’re managing a situation in your business, whatever that business is, you, you really have two points of view. You’ve got your customer and you’ve got your employee. Right. And so you’re trying to manage those two points of view when I’m trying to manage a situation in a school.


Josh Windsor (26:05):
So let’s say it’s a conflict of some kind between two students. I have four parents, if I’m lucky, cuz lots of times I have eight parents. Right. I could have outside agencies like the children’s aid and other things. I have to think about any of the adults that staff, that work with those individuals that may be involved in this. I have to think about the, the public perspective of what education should look like. And then I have to think about the policies and procedures of the school board and the school. And so I’m taking, you know, 6, 7, 8 different perspectives as I try to make a decision, which normally isn’t gonna make anybody happy. Right. Mm-Hmm, in those, in those conflicts. And so you know, you navigate those waters and, and really have to, you have to be able to build relationships and, and be able to kind of adhere to your moral compass as you, as you work through those things,


Sam Demma (27:05):
What resources have you found helpful in your professional development that has given you greater awareness at work, but also personally in your own life, you mentioned the NPP that taught you during your master’s degree. It sounds like she was a massive resource, but I’m wondering if anything else has been an inspiration or like a north star and guiding compass for, for your belief system and who you are today.


Josh Windsor (27:33):
I, I would, I would say recognizing that the public education system needs to be good for all students. Yep. Is one of the things that really drives me to continue you know, trying to do, trying to make those good decisions on a daily basis, trying to build a school culture that is welcoming to everybody and, and trying to help our young, you know, our, our young people recognize that they need to be engaged in the world to be good citizens. So you know, diff reading different, reading, different things all the time. So I’m always interested in, in research education. I’ve got a keen interest in science and physics cause that’s kind of a new area and I don’t know much about it. I was never science or physics trained, but when you hear kind of some things that are, that are happening out there, like around vision or, or other things where it’s like magic, these, these things that are going on.


Josh Windsor (28:31):
So, you know, I, I, I read different articles on a regular basis. I think about those things. And then learning from other people I think is where I, I truly get most of my kind of passion is just, just listening and talking to people, being engaged in professional development opportunities where you’re working in a group. So I think those are the, those are the places where I gain my efficacy at around, you know, what I believe. And then you know, trying to, trying to move barriers over the way a school board is school boarded, administrative of education is a significant bureaucracy. So I really work at trying to navigate through some of those things to make, make sure that things can happen. It’s really easy to say, no. You know, especially from a leadership perspective, which is where you do a lot of your work, right?


Josh Windsor (29:24):
So, you know, a student comes with an idea like we wanna have a hot dog eating contest. Right. you know, that would be one that we would say no to, but how do we then navigate through, what is the purpose of that activity? What is it that you, what is the end goal of that activity and how do we modify it to make it safe, to make it inclusive, to make it, you know, good for all of our students and to bring people together as opposed to do something that a couple of you, your friends wanna do. Right. so where where’s the greater good in what we’re doing? Where is the service leadership in what we’re doing? And, and I think, you know, from that perspective, it’s part of the reason why we’ve moved our school is a, an SDG school. And I dunno if you know what that is, the UN global system, the goals.


Josh Windsor (30:12):
Yeah. So I’ve got those goals posted up in our hallways, around our schools now. So the 17 goals are in each of our hallways. I’ve got teachers really working to try to do some real world things in their classrooms. So one example of that is we had a, a civics and history class. So two classes with one of our teachers last year start to engage some of the politicians in our community because my school is on Indian road. Mm. And the iconography, the original iconography of the school was a was a caricature of an indigenous person. And so that went away about 12 years ago. But our school nickname was the renegades and there’s still some of that residual feeling kinda around those things. And so some of our students didn’t think it was appropriate that the school was on Indian road.


Josh Windsor (31:04):
That’s our address. So we have started a process of, of engaging politicians around that with, with student support our students were at delegation at a city council committee meeting where they passed the, they, they they passed the motion to change the name of Indian road. And then that went to the, the larger council. So city council has passed that and we’re beginning a consultation process with people in the neighborhood beginning in may with our students being involved and, and teachers and things like that to, to try to move forward around, around making that change. So engaging our students in real world issues at the municipal and, and maybe provincial level, but also globally is I think how we have them recognize the change that they can make in the world, but also you know, understand that, that we all have a role as citizens to, to do the right thing.


Sam Demma (32:10):
I couldn’t agree more. It’s so cool to hear that the SDGs are on the walls in the hallways throughout your school. And teachers are actively trying to integrate those holistic outcomes and challenge based learning into the classroom. If you could take all your experience in education, bundle it all up, travel back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Josh, this is the advice I wanted you to hear when you were just getting into education. Not that you would change anything about your path, but think about how you felt when you first got into this work and some advice or ideas that would’ve been helpful when you were just starting.


Josh Windsor (32:52):
I, I think what I would’ve told myself is just to be a little more confident in situations where, where you were working with other people mm-hmm I would say colleagues where you felt the decisions or the things that they were doing were not okay. Not in the best interest of kids. So I think as a young, as a young educator you have, you have your Federation and you hear things like, well, you don’t wanna say that to another teacher because that would be a member to member issue. And so you stay quiet on some things. And that’s one of the things I’m trying to do with some of our young teachers is encourage them to use their voice. Our, our young teachers coming out of teachers college, truly understand education. They’ve, they’ve been taught all of the right things that are research based.


Josh Windsor (33:40):
And I would say for the most part, the people that we’re hiring there’s, there’s still others there. But they’re still not confident. And they feel like they can’t say what they need to say. Right? So a lot of, a lot of the really good work gets hidden. So I think it’s, it, it’s such a, it’s such an issue with public education that we, we hire somebody at whatever 24 years old, you know, give or take a year or two. Then we put ’em into a classroom with 30 students and we have them close the door and we really don’t talk to them support them, or do much with them for a period of time. Those processes are getting a little better, but it it’s, you know, it, the professional development time that’s needed to build a, a quality teacher is extensive.


Josh Windsor (34:31):
And I, and I think, you know, I would go back and tell myself to have those conversations with those older staff that you don’t believe are doing the right things for kids. Cause it’s, it is easy to get jaded in, in this, in this business or, or industry because you will never, ever get paid anymore for working harder. And lots of times things occur that are negative in your, in your professional life that you feel like are causing you more stress, more issues. And so then you start to pull back on the things you do, right. And, and you’ve seen that clawback of time provincially over the last number of years. So things like planning time and prep time for teachers is, has continuously been clogged back while real wages have, have been reduced. And so people just don’t feel valued, right? And, and when people don’t feel valued, their efficacy drops and their capacity to be optimistic goes down and then their willingness to work hard really kind of starts to fade. Right. And and I think that can be, that can be combated just by bringing in young people that, that, you know, can energize you right. When you have those conversations.


Sam Demma (35:45):
Got it. Love the advice, not only applicable for education, but for any industry. If someone had a question about anything you shared on the podcast, wanted to reach out, chat with you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Josh Windsor (36:01):
Well, they could reach me via email. So, you probably have my email. So do you want, do you want me to say it out loud?


Sam Demma (36:08):
Yeah. You can share it out loud, but I’ll put it in the show notes as well.


Josh Windsor (36:11):
Okay. Yeah. It’s josh_windsor@wrdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (36:21):
Awesome. Josh, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Josh Windsor (36:28):
Thanks Sam. It was really good to talk to you.


Sam Demma (36:31):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Josh Windsor

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.

Laura Briscoe – Learning Coordinator of Innovation at the Thames Valley District School Board

Laura Briscoe - Learning Coordinator of Innovation at the Thames Valley District School Board
About Laura Briscoe

Innovation, experiential learning, and global citizenship are at the heart of Laura Briscoe’s teaching philosophy. Laura is a forward-thinking educator who collaborates with teachers and community to build learning environments that exude energy, ignite critical thinking, and embrace risk taking to create spaces that are inclusive, relevant, and innovative. Laura is currently the Coordinator of Innovation for Thames Valley District School Board.

Previously, Laura was a Global Competencies Facilitator for the board, and Visual Arts Department Head of Oakridge Secondary School in London, Ontario.  Laura has been recognized as a leader in education locally, provincially, and nationally. In 2015 Briscoe was awarded the Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award, 2016 the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Government Award, the national Classroom of the Future Spirit Award, 2014 the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award by the Ontario Business Educators’ Association, and 2016 Bishop Townshend Thames Valley Award. 

Laura Briscoe stimulates imagination and empowers people to make relevant connections through building relationships, interdisciplinary approaches, and community partnerships.

Connect with Laura: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Thames Valley District School Board

Oakridge Secondary School

Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award

Ontario Business Educators’ Association

XR Studios

Art of Math Education by Laura Briscoe and Jeni Van Kesteren

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Laura Briscoe. Innovation, experiential learning, and global citizenship are at the heart of Laura Briscoe’s teaching philosophy. Laura is a forward thinking educator who collaborates with teachers and community to build learning environments that exude energy, ignite critical thinking, and embrace risk taking to create spaces that are inclusive, relevant, and innovative. Laura is currently the coordinator of innovation for Thanes Valley District School Board. Previously, Laura was a global competencies facilitator for the board and visual arts department head for Oak Ridge secondary school in London, Ontario. Laura has been recognized as a leader in education locally, provincially, and nationally. In 2015 Briscoe was awarded the Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award, 2016 the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Government Award, the national Classroom of the Future Spirit Award, 2014 the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award by the Ontario Business Educators’ Association, and 2016 Bishop Townshend Thames Valley Award. Laura Briscoe stimulates imagination and empowers people to make relevant connections through building relationships, interdisciplinary approaches, and community partnerships. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Laura, and I will see you on the other side. Laura, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Laura Briscoe (02:25):
Thank you for having me. I’m really excited for this conversation. Yes, so I’m Laura Briscoe. I’m currently working in Thames Valley District School Board as a innovation coordinator; Kindergarten-Grade 12. So it’s a big loaded title to me what innovation is, but yes, that is kind of who I am and the role I’m currently in.


Sam Demma (02:45):
What the heck is innovation?


Laura Briscoe (02:49):
So I’m, I’m starting to feel like it’s an incubator, cause I’m, I’m finding lots of connections with all different portfolios for innovation, but specifically interdisciplinary connections. So all subjects, all grades partnerships with community to encourage student engagement and, and make learning relevant and with big connections as the world that we’re living in to technology. And so there’s lots of those aspects of how we can support personalized learning with technology and experiences. So that’s kind of a description of, of what it is, but it changes to me every day, depending on the initiative I’m working with,


Sam Demma (03:25):
growing up in school were always asked, what do you wanna be when you grow up? Did, would you write down innovation coordinator or like when did you realize that working in education was for you and how did you also from that point forward end up in this role?


Laura Briscoe (03:43):
So my, my answer to the innovation question was, no, I wouldn’t know that I feel like we’re always creating in these roles opportunities for students to be prepared parent for jobs that don’t exist yet. And I, I don’t know if this job existed when I was in school. But I did know that I love, I love change and I love ex experimentation and new ideas. So I could see myself going in that direction. But when I was younger my mom was a teacher. And so I, I appreciated how she really connected with interest students. I like, I, I looked up to her as a role model. But for my own personal experience as a teacher, I was in high school and I was teaching gymnastics and I had a student who was deaf and, and trying to find ways to create an equitable approach in, in the gymnastics experience was so rewarding with where that relationship went.


Laura Briscoe (04:38):
And it, it really touched my heart and inspired me to wanna go into education. But then as many youth will say, you never really know what you wanna do when you grow up. I feel like that that’s a question that’s always changing because when I went to university, I did not go in for education. I was interested in experiential marketing and, and that had to do with creating memorable experiences. And, and that kind of led me into, if we can do this for marketing, what does this look like for school? And so it kind of, I went through this roller coaster of pathways before I got here, but I I’m so excited to be in the role that I am.


Sam Demma (05:17):
What does a, what does a project in experiential marketing look like? that sounds so cool.


Laura Briscoe (05:23):
Well, well, you know, when we think of our traditional, like marketing old I don’t wanna traditional marketing would be like a commercial or an ad, and it’s kind of like a sit and get experience where as, when you look at experiential you’re, you’re, you’re involved and you’re an active participant in engaging with something. And, and that experience triggers something that becomes memorable, that you associate it with maybe a product mm-hmm . And so if we look at something like that for education instead of our students sitting in classes and, and just being like offloaded information from their teacher is how do we get them to learn and, and retain that information because of the experience they associate with it. So that that’s kind of what, what it would be for marketing or in this role for education.


Sam Demma (06:13):
Is innovation coordinator your first role in education or


Laura Briscoe (06:18):
No. Okay. What did the


Sam Demma (06:19):
Journey


Laura Briscoe (06:19):
Look like? Oh my gosh, my journey, I was some teachers might call it a backpack teacher because when you, when I first started jobs were not necessarily readily available, so I was willing to teach anything. I’ve taught in seven different subject areas running from one class to the next and then moved into visual arts department head specifically with connections again, to technology and business as well. And then from that, I was a global competency facilitator. So I was teaching part-time and then going to different schools, supporting educators on how do we integrate the core global competencies? So these are like the skills we want kids to have in the real world beyond just curriculum specifics like critical thinking and problem solving and, and global awareness and creativity, all of those other skills. So I had that role prior to innovation as well.


Laura Briscoe (07:18):
And then the last piece that I just add to that my classroom teaching experience was in high school. So grade nine through 12 in art, as I mentioned, but I was noticing a lot of students with anxiety and struggling in math. And so the, I got to be part of this pilot project where we partnered art and math together. So, so team teaching and students were getting math credits and art to be responsive to that the need for us to kind of de silo and make connections to the real world and different subjects. So that kind of a as, from that own experience, it’s like, how can, we’re doing this at one school and how can we do this bigger and how can we connect more educators? And so this was kind of a system initiative and I’m very passionate about supporting that and the educators who are involved in, in that type of thinking,


Sam Demma (08:11):
When you talk about system level programs or board wide programs, I’m sure how many years have, well help. Let me ask, how many years have you worked in the innovation role?


Laura Briscoe (08:21):
So this is my third year in the innovation role. But it’s been very different because I transitioned into it during COVID in full remote. I had previously just been on Matt leave when the role first started. And then it’s been interesting to, to look at how we create these experiences and collaborative opportunities when many of us are in full remote situations and, and going back between school and it’s been, I know we hear all of the, the challenges and hardships that so many educators have overcome. It was, it’s been really exciting to be in this portfolio during that time for change in ways that we could bring in industry and community experts at the push of a button and everyone has access. So it, it was interesting to be in this role at the timing that I have been in opening, even more opportunities.


Sam Demma (09:16):
What are some of those opportunities? what are some of those programs that you are passionate about that you’ve worked on over the past three years?


Laura Briscoe (09:23):
So I can give you they’re, they’re very, there’s there there’s a lot of different ranges of experiences. One that I’m super pumped about where it’s going right now is aviation school. So students throughout our board can go for a semester and we have an air hanger where they’re getting five credits instead of four, the teachers are team teaching. So interdisciplinary learning, supported by our industry leaders in aviation. And so the, the subject areas have a focus on aviation and it’s out near the airport. So that’s one example of kind of like rethinking how we have a, how we’re doing education. So it’s like a bundled program with industry. And then there’s the ones where the students can’t just leave their homeschool and go to these types of experiences. So, most recently we’ve brought about 22 classes together in a virtual conversation with a panel of community partners.


Laura Briscoe (10:19):
And we talked about how can we form human connections and how do students wanna see themselves represented in the community directly sharing this? And, and we had grades seven to 12 from all different subjects, because what it looks like in construction class versus what it looks like in English or drama might be different. But the idea is that this community project is like the vehicle for connecting everyone together with different entry points. So my job would be to kind of connect with community, facilitate those conversations, and then the edge educators take it with whatever entry points that they each have. So that’s a, like two different examples. One we’re going to an actual changed environment. And the other is where we’re bringing people together towards a common goal. And often it’s a community impact project that I’m doing that with.


Sam Demma (11:14):
Very cool. The team. Yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. That program sounds amazing. Aviation one. when you think about the programs you’ve run, I know you mentioned the first two years, it looked a little different because things were, you know, COVID and pandemic times what did you try and pull together, or what was the focus during the first two years when leaving the classroom or even doing things together in public? Was it, was it challenge?


Laura Briscoe (11:42):
So the one that I just ex shared was an ex a recent example. But it was similar to what we were doing in full remote, because we could bring everybody together. We had classes that were talking about, you know, what is community when we’re all isolated. And we were working with professional artists, for example, and students wanted to have a more inclusive representation of themselves in, in a smaller town. And they weren’t seeing that diversity represented. So we talked about with several different classes, what a mural could look like, and because we couldn’t get together in person, the artists could go and create that mural. But the students from different subject areas were able to contribute and research and give ideas about what that could be. So there’s an example of, we can physically see it in action, but at that time, because we were virtual, we were able to do like digital collaborative boards and planning all online.


Laura Briscoe (12:42):
And then we had a community person that could bring it to life. And so that’s one example. We, we have some exciting events coming up may where schools that we’re doing things virtually were finally starting to open things up, which is amazing. So some stuff with augmented reality where the kids were working with industry virtually again, but now all of the city of London will be able to go to the coven garden market and see what these kids had created with, with our XR studios, industry partner, for example to create the augmented reality experiences. So a lot of it was virtual and we are trying to find ways to make it come to life. And oftentimes that was with community partnerships.


Sam Demma (13:26):
That’s awesome. Very cool. Throughout your journey in education, have you had mentors people who kind of tapped you on the shoulder and said, Hey, Laura, you should explore X or consider looking at this slightly differently. And if so, who are some of those individuals, if they come to mind and what are some of the things you kind of take away from them or learn from them?


Laura Briscoe (13:51):
Yes. So absolutely. I have mentors. I feel like every time you make a new connection, you learn something and take away from it. Like right now, I feel like I’m, I’m just so inspired by what you’re doing. And, and so I, I could speak about so many people because none of this work can happen on your own. Yeah. A first person that comes to mind was my principal, Tracy Langland when I was an art teacher, because she was somebody who was willing to challenge traditional structures in order to allow some exploration opportunities and risk taking to happen. And I feel like sometimes when we hear no, especially in education because of bureaucracy and, and, and just like the, the world that we’re trying to work within and be innovative, can be very challenging. And so when you find people who are willing to take that journey and, and challenge your thinking and help you break down some of the barriers to make it possible that is so that would be what makes me think of when I think of Tracy.


Laura Briscoe (15:04):
And also when I’m thinking of students students are often the ones that are bringing new ideas of what they’d like to see happen. And then all the educators who are wanting to be responsive to those ideas, that’s kind of who I try to align myself with, because I, I feel like when you work together on some of those the students bring the heart and the motivation to make something happen. And, and then the educators who are working with them can make it possible. So, yeah, I have, I have a lot of people I could list. I don’t know how much time we have or how specific you want me to get with name, name dropping, but one more person I’m gonna have to mention sure. Is cause I mentioned team teaching art of math, and that was as an educator when you’re used to kind of running your classroom and you know, how you, how you work basically to team teach was a very eye opening experience for me, especially as an art person teaching with math. And so when I started team teaching with Jenny van Kerin we didn’t really even know each other that well. And I feel like she’s become such a mentor and almost best friend to me for, through the journeys that we’ve taken and our abilities to challenge each other and learn from each other through that whole experience. So that’s another person. Yeah.


Sam Demma (16:31):
That’s amazing. You, you mentioned art a few times. You mentioned that you love change. No one can see this, but there’s like a picture of the globe behind you. are you someone that travels a lot or do you have an itch for travel?


Laura Briscoe (16:45):
I do have an itch for travel and, and you know, when I think of travel of education too, I I used to always take students on March break to, to different trips. So I’ve, I’ve done a bunch of those like Italy and Greece and England and and myself like backpacking type of travel and adventure is definitely my personality to immerse myself in different cultures in a different way. So yes, I would say travel is definitely a passion of mine.


Sam Demma (17:15):
The reason I bring it up is because like travel and even art or artistic expressions, whether it’s making music, art, all these things, some part of society still views it as a hobby and like not a, a, a field or a thing you can pursue. And I totally, this disagree strongly , I think there’s so many benefits to art and also travel and like exposing yourself to new perspectives and ideas. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is on the importance of artistic expression and travel when it comes to like educating a human being.


Laura Briscoe (17:54):
Wow. That’s a big question. OK. So I think, you know what, I, I, I, there’s so many, you’re gonna have to, like, if I miss anything in my answer here, you have to re repeat the question for me. But one thing I do know about like travel and experiences and the arts is there’s not one right answer mm-hmm . And when we look at things like we can go to the world economic forum of what do students need to be successful in the future. And we look at those skill and we think about how do you develop those skill? I would go back, okay. We have math that could have one right answer that you’re working toward. Yeah. Whereas art it’s, it’s very arts in general exploratory and, and, and you develop that innovative creative mindset and, and where we need those types of thinkers.


Laura Briscoe (18:45):
So I feel like when you’re, when you’re traveling or when you’re creating, you’re ending up in places that you don’t expect. Mm. And that is when true innovation can happen. When you, when you take all of these different experiences and come up with something to enhance them, or a new idea or approach to something. So I feel like that exposure is something that is very powerful and, and really important to education. I also think it, it puts people in like a little bit of discomfort, like to get you out of your comfort zone. It’s interesting because when you’re a personality that needs to work towards the right answer and there really isn’t one, it can create a different type of challenge for you. Yeah. And I, and I really do see that when the more we do things in an interdisciplinary way, specifically with the arts, you start to see that little bit of discomfort of uncertainty, but then the best results afterwards. Hmm. So that’s kind of where I would make those connections to education and how valuable it’s.


Sam Demma (19:52):
I love the perspective and I mean, I also love traveling, so


Laura Briscoe (19:57):
Okay. Well, where, where’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled?


Sam Demma (20:00):
Yeah. Good question. Probably Costa Rica. I have this music a few years ago, me and my family, we went this is before COVID and I fell in love with like BHA and salsa and the Latin culture. So yeah, that was a eye opening trip for me. I, I haven’t traveled too, too much outside of that and also just driving places, but I’m super excited to, to continue traveling once COVID is fully gone. I mean, it’s, we’re pretty much there now, but yeah. Yeah. That’s so cool.


Laura Briscoe (20:35):
My connection. Yes, I have spent some time in backpacking in Costa Rica. I, I did surfing lessons there actually. So I feel like trying to learn something new, but I also think when, like going back to travel experiences, what technology has allowed us to do the, the virtual experiences now an augmented reality. Yeah. So when we can’t physically get to certain places, it’s way better than a textbook to actually go through like a virtual guided tour with a real live person and, and looking at how we can create those travel experiences, obviously going to the place is the ideal. Yeah. But looking at different opportunities wherever they are. I think that, that is interesting too, to explore.


Sam Demma (21:21):
You mentioned that when you lean into arts and go on experiences where you’re not sure where they’ll bring you, it exposes you to new things and it, it, I would argue it like, it makes you curious because you come somewhere or you end up somewhere where you didn’t expect, and maybe now you have a new question or a new perspective. Which makes me wonder, like, is the beginning of innovation, like a question, like what starts an innovation cycle, or like, what, what starts changes in education,


Laura Briscoe (21:57):
Like the two things that really stood out to be in that question that you just asked isuriosity and fostering curiosity, and, and you also mentioned questions and asking questions, and there’s a technique called the question formulation technique. Cool. Where when you’re teaching something, you’re, you’re presenting an idea, a challenge or a problem, and just asking questions about it and where those questions might lead. You will be different for every person that might be introduced that problem or challenge. Hmm. And I think that that is really where you get that intrinsic motivation where you’re doing something because you’re you’re passionate and you’re working towards something that you’re curious about. So for innovation, that’s also why I have a really hard time describing what the portfolio is, because every time there’s a new connection, it’s different for each group of educators and students. Ah but one thing is often like a prompt of a community challenge or looking at the UN sustainable goals or looking at something, and then just asking questions about it and figuring out what, like really strikes you personally to pursue.


Sam Demma (23:13):
Yeah. Got it. Yeah. I love it. Cool. this has been an interesting conversation, travel innovation, art experiential marketing. yeah. If you could, actually, before I ask that over the past three years, you, you mentioned some of the programs you’ve run. I think one of the coolest things about education is you get to, you know, organize programs and facilitate learning for students that has an impact on the end user. And most of the time you can see the impact of a student or you, or at least you hear it. And I’m curious to know if any of the programs you’ve run, if there’s any stories of students. And I know you’re at the system level, so it might be harder to name like a specific individual, but if there is a story of a program that really transformed or changed the student’s life or experience, I would love for you to share it. I, I think an educator listening, considering getting into this field or one who’s already in education and burnt out those sorts of stories really reinforce the idea that this work is important. You know,


Laura Briscoe (24:14):
So this is a great question, and I think it’s so important. And I don’t know how well we are at like, tracking where student impacts have gone. And I personally have now so many former students on LinkedIn because I feel like they have lived experiences to advise us back in, in their own educational journeys and where they are now. So I can give you a story of student who wasn’t actually a student that I taught in my class. It, when we talk about like system initiatives. Yeah. So when I was teaching visual arts, we started a video pilot program where every student had a community client, it turned into a film festival. And then I was part of COFA, a co-founder for the forest city youth film festival that has now gone, is going all Ontario for, to basically empower student voices through film.


Laura Briscoe (25:09):
Wow. And, and that could be connected to any different subject area based on the type of film they’re creating, whether it’s documentary or experimental or, or like fiction or nonfiction. But there was a student who had had an interest in film and, but didn’t have experience in it and then ended up winning so many awards at our, our film festival, the, for Southwestern Ontario, and now he’s going off to make larger pictures. And I, I just think about in a very short amount of time from being exposed to industry supports and being part of something beyond the walls of the school, it kind of amplified his own experiences. So that example would be Ethan Hickey. And he was from a school in London. And I just am so excited to see where his career goes, because when, when we have these industry supports championing students early on, it really creates more pathway opportunities. And I find as educators, we can intentionally find out what kids love, connect them with the people that they need to know who are doing that in the real world and, and support them to build those connections. So that’s one example of kind of a huge long winded story of, of how I, I connected with that student, but it was through the film festival and I’m just excited to see his career take off,


Sam Demma (26:38):
Shout out Ethan Hickey


Laura Briscoe (26:40):
yeah. Shout out, Ethan HIE.


Sam Demma (26:42):
Are you still involved in the film festival?


Laura Briscoe (26:45):
I, I do support that, so yes, I am still involved. I’m not technically on the board or anything cuz of my role now. It started as a volunteer bunch of passionate educators, all working together as a committee and it’s because it’s grown so much. I now work with them in support and supporting educators and students to be involved, but I’m not an active director anymore because of too many balls in the air at once. But I, so yes. So yes, I’m still supportive and working with them, but not directly every day.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Awesome. when you’re not working and Mo probably spend like every second of the day thinking about work and innovation, cuz you’re passionate about it, but when you’re not physically working or answering emails or focused on school work, where do you get your own inspiration? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up with a full cup and attack these challenges and opportunities?


Laura Briscoe (27:49):
Hmm. Friends and family. I love like for a passion. I love the outdoors and being active. But I also look at, you know, needs of friends and their children and, and family and being in this role when I hear of different needs or gaps in those experiences, it’s always like, well and what are we gonna do about it? Like, why don’t we try something if this is something that I’m hearing. So that’s kind of where some of that passion comes from is just in, in local networks and hearing different challenges and trying to be a solutions person of what we can do with that. But yes, like in my free time I have two young children. And just, you mentioned that word earlier. Curiosity. I feel like when you’re two and five years old, you’re asking a lot of questions. Yeah. And that definitely keeps me motivated and on my toes. And then that probably trickles into my role as well.


Sam Demma (28:51):
Cool. that’s awesome.


Laura Briscoe (28:54):
I can give you a question actually. I like my son asked me how come as we all get bigger? How come adults, when you’re big, you don’t get bigger every year. Cuz every time we have a birthday, we’re bigger. Why do we stop growing? And if we kept growing every year, would we be extinct like dinosaurs so there you go. When you ask about questions, like now we need to look up, why do we stop growing and what happens?


Sam Demma (29:21):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Well,


Laura Briscoe (29:23):
Yeah, things like that. How can we keep that and adults, how do we get better at that as adults to, to be asking questions?


Sam Demma (29:30):
It’s so funny. Not only asking questions, but using the imagination to full ability, right? Because he tied your, is it, was it your son or daughter or


Laura Briscoe (29:39):
Son? My son. Yeah,


Sam Demma (29:40):
He’s fine. Like he tied together like five different things. Like the fact that we stopped growing and if we did, we would turn into dinosaurs. Like, you know, there’s like things, so many different things tied together in that question. And it’s funny, I was talking recently with my own friends about this idea that when we were young, we would get back from school, go into our forest and pretend we were fighting some imaginary army and we’d be like kicking the air. And like, you know, there’s no one there and we were having the funnest experience ever. And then my dad would whistle really loud and we’d all know to run back for dinner. And that child like curiosity and imagination at some point, like gets buried. So I think it’s so cool to kind of even get inspiration from that, that experience and, and younger people, you


Laura Briscoe (30:27):
Know? And, and you know what I appreciate about that story too, like not just that you’re outside in nature. But I feel like with this constant over stimulation that we all experience, it’s really hard to be. I wanna, I don’t wanna say bored, but it’s really hard to just pause everything and turn off everything. And what I’ll realize that some of the best ideas happen when you do are able to do that and you need to do that for certain amounts of time for that to happen. Some people will say their best ideas come to them when they’re driving and that’s that, you know, your logic brain is turned on cause you’re focused on the rules of the road, but it allows your mind to get in your head if you turn off the radio and you’re just alone without your phone on or Bluetooth or whatever it is. So try to find moments to pause in order to use your imagination, whether it’s fighting an invisible person or thinking about missed my exit once on the 4 0 1 when I was driving, cuz I was so in my head D which is different. I think it’s really hard to, to force ourselves to do that because it seems like a never end of list of things that you have to do.


Sam Demma (31:41):
Yeah. So I agree. I couldn’t agree more and thanks for sharing that little story and the questions. What if you were just starting your first role in education again, with the experience you have now and the knowledge you have, not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice would you have given your younger self that you think another person getting into education could benefit from hearing?


Laura Briscoe (32:05):
Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t need to doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be done that way. And I feel like that advice is so empowering because as a new teacher you want to be almost like a people pleaser, cuz you’re trying to prove yourself in a new role and keep up with what everyone else is doing. And, and there’s a lot to be learned from people with experience, but there’s also a lot to be learned from people who are, are new to the system because they’re coming from a whole different experience. So I would tell myself to not be intimidated to share ideas and explore ideas that I felt would have a positive student impact. And the best people to ask those questions to are often the students themselves, about what they’re interested in and then, and then connect with the educators who also are interested in that type of approach.


Sam Demma (33:02):
I love it. Cool. that’s not only great advice for education. I feel like anyone can take that advice, especially if you’re pursuing a path where the entire industry seems dominated by one demographic. , you know, film art. My sister works on film sets and it’s, it seems like, and it’s changing now and thank, thank goodness it’s changing. They seemed like it was a male dominated industry and it’s like, no, it shouldn’t be. And doesn’t, you know, just cuz it was like that in the past doesn’t mean that has to be like that now. So I feel like that advice can be so reassuring, no matter what path you’re choosing to take.


Laura Briscoe (33:43):
I, I, you know, it’s funny I didn’t today when we planned this meeting and I know, I don’t know, it’ll be shared later, but it’s international day of the women. And, and so I didn’t, I didn’t realize that, but I thought, oh, what a great day to, to do our, our podcast. When we talk about different careers and, and different experiences recently it’s funny that you mentioned that I was in a conference on stem and education and all the presenters were women and somebody commented on social media. I see a lot of gender inequity in here because it’s all women. And when we look at the need and the detriment in our society, not as many women in stem, of course we have a conference with women presenting stem because in everything that we do, we want everyone to see themselves in something, if they care about it and something else in innovation that I’ve really championed and worked and collaborated with is supporting newcomers. And when you mention travel, you don’t have to necessarily go somewhere when you have people with lived experiences right. In our own worlds that we have a lot to learn from and to support. So I know I’m going off onto another conversation. I feel like I can keep talking to you, but yeah. Yeah. So I, I just making that connection to looking at opportunities for all students specifically, for me, I’ve worked very closely with newcomers and indigenous students and, and creating opportunities that connect with them personally.


Sam Demma (35:17):
I promise you, this interview is gonna end at 1245 and we’re 10 minutes over


Laura Briscoe (35:21):
I know, sorry.


Sam Demma (35:23):
No, you don’t have to apologize. I’m asking the questions. You did ask a question though that we didn’t have the answer to, and the question is you know, why do we stop growing when we get older? If someone out, out there is listening to this and , they love the conversation and wanna provide you with a brilliant answer, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Laura Briscoe (35:43):
okay. So if they’re on, the easy way is how we found each other, on social media @Briscoeclass is my Twitter. If people follow me, I always follow them back ’cause I hope for those deeper conversations or my email’s l.briscoe@tvdsb.ca is another way to, to find me. And in my role @tvinnovates is a Twitter account that celebrates what all these amazing passionate educators throughout our system are doing.


Sam Demma (36:14):
Awesome. Laura, thank you so much for taking the time today. It’s been a pleasure. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Laura Briscoe (36:21):
Thank you. Nice to, nice to meet you in real life.


Sam Demma (36:25):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Laura Briscoe

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.

Heather Pierce – Principal at Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute

Heather Pierce - Principal at Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute
About Heather Pierce

Heather Pierce is the Principal of Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph. After completing her BA., BEd. in 1998, Heather began teaching at Gateway Dr. Public School. She entered the teaching world during a period of significant change, including the introduction of EQAO testing and the new Ontario report card. After 2.5 years in the elementary panel, Heather moved to the secondary level, teaching English at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute.

Throughout her 16 years at GCVI, Heather had the opportunity to teach in 4 departments and took on the role of Head of Student Services. Heather’s passion for working with diverse learners led her to two program positions at the Upper Grand DSB (Student Work Study Teacher and Pathways and Postsecondary Education Lead). In 2018 she was placed at Centennial Collegiate as Vice-Principal and in 2021 she was appointed Principal at the same school. 

Heather’s experience teaching everything from Kindergarten to grade 13 has allowed her to watch students develop through all stages of the education system. She feels strongly that all postsecondary pathways need to be honoured and is focused on supporting students as they navigate the wide variety of opportunities beyond high school. She is committed to supporting students and families to end the stigma that university is the “best” path. 

Heather maintains her sanity by making personal fitness a priority; this comes in handy while she follows her two teens around the competitive sports world.

Connect with Heather: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute

Gateway Dr. Public School

Upper Grand DSB

EQAO testing

Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman

North American Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Student Success Programs at Upper Grand DSB

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.


Sam Demma (00:59):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Heather Pierce, the principal of Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph. After completing her BA and BED in 1998, Heather began teaching at Gateway Dr. Public school. She entered the teaching world during a period of significant change, including the introduction of EQAO testing and the new Ontario report card. After 2.5 years in the elementary panel, Heather moved to the secondary level teaching English at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute. Throughout her 16 years at GCVI, Heather had the opportunity to teach in four departments and took on the role of the head of student services. Heather’s passion for working with diverse learners led her to two program positions at the upper grand district school board; student work study teacher and pathways and post-secondary education lead. In 2018, she was placed at Centennial collegiate as Vice Principal and in 2021, she was appointed Principal at the same school.


Sam Demma (01:55):
Heather’s experience, teaching everything from kindergarten to grade 13 has allowed her to watch students develop through all stages of the education system. She feels strongly that all post-secondary pathways need to be honored and is focused on supporting students as they navigate the wide variety of opportunities beyond high school. She is committed to supporting students and families to end the stigma that University is the best path. Heather maintains her sanity by making personal fitness a priority. This comes in handy while she follows her two teens around the competitive sports world. I hope you enjoy today’s insightful conversation with Heather and I will see you on the other side. Heather, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Heather Pierce (02:45):
I am Heather Pierce and I am the Principal at Centennial Collegiate in Guelph, Ontario.


Sam Demma (02:52):
When did you realize that you wanted to get into education?


Heather Pierce (02:57):
I think that I am, am kind of genetically predisposed to work in institutions. I come from a long line of teachers. My grandmother was a teacher in rural Quebec. My mom, I refer to her as the super teacher. She actually has won teaching awards at the provincial and board levels. Wow. And she, she was just growing up. I watched her you know, jump out of bed at five in the morning, so excited to go to school every day and stay up late, you know, working on, on projects for her kids and, and, and working through lessons and assessment. And she definitely didn’t make the job look easy, but she made it look so rewarding. And I think as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. So I created a little school in my basement when I was little and I forced my brother.


Heather Pierce (03:49):
very meanly, forced my brother to be my student. And, and I followed her footsteps into the elementary panel and did start at that level. And then after about two and a half years, decided that I really enjoyed the working with the older kids. So I made the switch to secondary and and then I gravitated towards students that struggled. Once I was in the secondary panel, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. I taught a lot of alternative education which was so rewarding. And so I had zero intentions of ever getting into administration. I loved being a teacher. And when my principal at the time in 2001 said, I think you should think about administration. I said, you’re crazy. It’s not gonna happen. And by 2018, I just got the itch and I decided to give it a try.


Sam Demma (04:41):
You mentioned growing up your, you know, your mom didn’t make it look easy, but she definitely made it look rewarding. What, what did that look like? So how did you know, growing up that from watching her education was such a rewarding career path?


Heather Pierce (04:58):
Yeah, I think the enthusiasm and the energy that the, the job brought for her like I said, she was super mom on top of being super teacher, but she would bake cookies at 10 o’clock at night for her students. And we would always, my brother and I would always ask, are those for us or your school kids? So she just, he gained so much energy from the job. And my mom is tough as nails, but I saw her cry at times as well. Cry with happiness, but then also cry with frustration and just the for anybody that really likes a challenge and who really believes like I do that, the best things are the most difficult things to achieve. It’s, it’s the perfect job for that because that’s, I saw that through her and she would go and visit. She would actually go and watch her, her students play hockey at night. They, I have a game tonight and she’d find a way to pop by and watch a period or something. So I just saw the joy that it brought and the frustration, but then the triumph when she would tell a story about how she got through to a student who was struggling with a learning disability or some behavior issues, and just to see the accomplishment, that kind, that came out of that. That’s what really drew me in.


Sam Demma (06:16):
What about your role now and your own journey in education? Have you found extremely rewarding about working in education?


Heather Pierce (06:24):
I, I love the fact that working in education has very measured successes and they come in such interesting ways because a success for one student may be that they came to school for two days in a row. For another, it may be achieving honor roll and for another, it may be just that they actually advocated and asked a teacher for help on an assignment instead of sitting there silently for 75 minutes, you know, being confused. So I love that those, I like to I’m a little bit of a type, a personality, like a lot of teachers, but I like to have goals and cross those off and, and really see and measure success. And so those small wins that happen all the time are, are just what, what keeps me going and what I love about it. I love problem solving mm-hmm and bringing people together to communicate.


Heather Pierce (07:16):
And as an administrator, I find 99% of the time that we are dealing with issues it’s because of miscommunication. Mm. So I love being that person that mediates all parties and kind of brings everyone together. And it’s amazing when a student finally says, you know what, this is the reason I’m not coming to class. And it’s like, like, it just kinda blows your mind. Oh my gosh, we could have figured this out much sooner if we just all sat at the table together. And I love watching young people try to navigate through being trapped into minds. So there’s the child mind and then the adult mind. And and I love trying to figuring out, figure out what they need and, and what they want. And I am the parent of two teenagers. So that has been invaluable just to understand what’s relevant for teens. And you know, I, I don’t feel so uncool sometimes because I actually know some of the things that are going on in hip, so to speak.

Heather Pierce (08:15):
Very uncool way of saying it.


Sam Demma (08:18):
That’s awesome. You definitely have the pulse being that you are the parent of two teenagers, which is awesome. If you didn’t have kids, I would say, go on TikTok and spend a couple hours on there. Yeah. You know, you, you exude positivity and enthusiasm. It’s clear you’re doing the work that you love doing. What are the various roles that you’ve worked in within schools? You mentioned something about not wanting to leave the classroom. And I had a pass guest mention, you know, the perfect candidates for administration are people who love teaching and don’t wanna leave the classroom. Mm-Hmm, mm-hmm, what are some of the kind of pros and cons or pros and challenges of each of the different roles that you’ve worked?


Heather Pierce (09:02):
Yeah. I, I did love teaching in the classroom and I I’ve had the opportunity to teach kindergarten to grade 13 through my career, which is incredible. And so what I loved about the classroom was you know, the instructional piece, the instructional leadership of bringing things that I learned in PD into the classroom and trying them out and really trying to reach each student and through assessment, really trying to move everybody forward wherever they were. But I was also able to extend my classroom experience into some leadership roles as the head of student services in my last school. And that was essentially the head of spec ed but also alternative education and ESL education. So through that, I started working with small groups of students because generally that’s in spec ed. Yes. Or AltEd, that’s what you do.


Heather Pierce (09:57):
And I loved being able to really have deep conversations with small groups or one to one. And then as I was doing that job, my administrators started asking me if I wanted to be designated. So if there’s ever a meeting offsite or, you know, a principal has to be outta the building, they’ll ask, designate to come in and fill in. And I started doing that work here and there. And I absolutely loved it because it was again, an extension of that work that I was doing in spec ed and Ted, and trying to, to deal with difficult situations. And so what the role of administrator you do lose that whole, you know, experience of being in front of 30 kids and bringing a program to that room, but you gain so much in those really, really small conversations that then you can be an advocate and a mediator for you know, that student between the teachers or the parents or social workers or whatever it is.


Heather Pierce (10:55):
So there’s definitely a level of responsibility that comes with administration that you you have a little bit more control or you feel that you’re a little bit more in control when you have 30 kids in front of you and you kind of know where everybody’s at, but when you get to a school where there’s 1700 students, but you’re ultimately responsible for in families it gets a little bit overwhelming at times. But but again, I, because I get to have those small conversations and intensive conversations I, I find that to be the most rewarding piece of my current role


Sam Demma (11:31):
For an educator listening, who loves teaching in the classroom, but maybe has been tapped on the shoulder before, by others to say, Hey, you should consider administration. And they’re unclear, like, how the heck do you make a decision for 1700 students? Like, can you give us some insight into how in an administrative role you’ve like, decide to do things or how decisions like the process of decision making?


Heather Pierce (11:59):
Yeah. The the key to making decisions that are going to work effectively for everybody is forming the relationships the minute that you get into the building. And of course, you’re going to have to make big decisions before you really get to know everybody. Yeah. But the faster that you can get into all of the department, offices and classrooms and meet with the teachers you, you get an idea of where the priorities are, where the passions are. What’s been done in the past and maybe where some of the, the issues are. And I think when administrators first get to schools, they kind of sit back on committees and just watch what’s going on to get a pulse on where, where some of the issues may be. I’m very, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m very open with people and say, look, I have the, you know, the big job of making this decision.


Heather Pierce (12:52):
And there are people that are not gonna be happy. My goal is to make the decisions that are the best for our students and the student success and their families. I obviously care a lot, a great deal about my teachers. So I consider those you know, that perspective as well. But I think when you’re really honest with people and you have a process and you clearly lay that out, it’s really effective. So for example, we just had a huge, a tech refresh order that had to go in. And of course we are relying on technology more than ever before. And we’ve lost a lot of devices because we’ve had shutdowns and students have borrowed devices from the school and ended up, you know, a lot didn’t come back where they were broken. So everybody wants their department to be, you know refreshed or whatever.


Heather Pierce (13:39):
So it’s, as long as you have a process and say, look, I looked into what we did last year. And the year before this department got this, this department got this, these students are, you know, in the most need of technology at this point, or this is how much we’ve lost. So really doing your homework getting some data. And I, I always tell my staff, I’m a data nerd, whether it’s quantitative or qualitative, I gather as much anecdotal information or just crunch numbers as I can. And I rationalize my decisions that way. And I find it also works with parents. If I’ve made a tough decision, you know, if there’s a mark appeal or if there’s, you know, something that’s very serious something that’s related to an I E P development or something like that, you need to have the data and the evidence to back it up. And then if you, if you make it clear that you have the student’s best interest at heart then it, it works.


Sam Demma (14:32):
What resources throughout your career have been helpful in developing yourself professionally and also just giving you more ideas or resources. And that could be books, you’ve read courses you’ve been through and even humans, like human resources as well.


Heather Pierce (14:50):
Yeah. Our board, the upper grand district school board has really put a lot of people, power and money into particularly the topic of equity and C R P, which is culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy. So there have, there are books that like for, for example, right now, it’s I’m reading a book called grading for equity and just kind of opening your mind on, it’s not a one size fits all. You don’t just write one test and that kind of measures everybody’s success within a classroom. So that’s an example of a, a book, but it, it comes from the board. And I find my board in particular has been really good about providing those paper resources. But I also think that the biggest resources, just talking to people talking to my colleagues and, and getting out into the school, I do not tie myself to my office.


Heather Pierce (15:48):
I am out in the halls as much as possible I’m in and out of department offices in and out of classrooms. And so you get an idea of what’s going on and you ask questions and you find out, you know, which, which websites, or, you know, teacher resources have been effective. I love doing TPAs teacher performance appraisals for new teachers, because they’re coming out of, out of teachers college with incredible information yeah. And experience. And some of them are doing master’s degrees in equity topics. So they, they’re a huge source of information for me. And then one most recent one that really hit me is a man named Kevin Cameron. And he’s actually the director of the north American center for threat assessment and trauma response, which sounds like a very complicated position. And he’s been called into he’s a social worker by training.


Heather Pierce (16:45):
But he is been called in to respond to tragedies, like the Humboldt bus crash the shootings in Nova Scotia, Columbine and also with COVID because there’s trauma associated with COVID and that’s carried over into our classrooms. And so our board brought him in for a couple speaking engagements, and I found it fascinating because he is presenting this idea of a connection gap. So there’s, you know, you’ll hear teachers say, there’s an academic gap. We just, how are we gonna close that gap? They’re missing. The kids are missing so many skills, but Kevin Cameron’s idea is that we need to go right back to the connection gap. And until we make those connections again with the students that have been behind an avatar on a screen for a while we need, we need to deal with that piece first. And then the academic gap will close. So he’s been a huge source of professional development for me recently.


Sam Demma (17:42):
That’s amazing that that sounds like a phenomenal person to learn from and steal, steal some ideas. There’s a book called steal, like an artist. And it’s like this idea that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel that the ideas are out there. Sometimes it’s just a matter of, of finding them and, and implementing them in your own unique way. I’m curious to know throughout your career you’ve definitely had programs implemented in the school. And one thing that I think really inspires educators to remember the importance of their role is hearing a story about a student transformation. And I’m wondering of all the programs you’ve run. If there’s any stories that come to mind about a student, you remember who was transformed or changed, or very impacted positively by a program. And if it’s a serious story, you could definitely change the name just for the sake of privacy.


Heather Pierce (18:37):
Yeah. some teachers at my school about 10 years ago created a program called cadence, and it’s an offsite alternative education program. That’s available to all the students in our board, in the program grant board. And the motto of the program is a leader looks at the world and says, it doesn’t have to be this way. Mm. And then does something about it. So the kids are programmed from day one when they go in there. And this is a collection of students that have struggled from probably about eight different schools. And they are programmed to think if you don’t like what to see, then you can be the, be that agent of change. And of course you can imagine that kids that are coming out of those situations don’t have a lot of confidence and don’t see themselves as leaders or having the potential to, to make any change.


Heather Pierce (19:29):
So this, this one student named Jordan she, I didn’t actually ever hear her speak back at, at our homeschool. She was her attendance was spotty. She had no confidence at all, a lot of family issues going on had some learning issues in an IEP and was credit poor, like, I mean, S years old with five credits. And she went to this program cadence, and at the end of the program, they do a lot of experiential things. They go to camp Muskoka they volunteer and get their volunteer hours at yeah, food bank in town hope host and just, they’re given a lot of leadership opportunities to build skills. And I talk about measurement. I mean, this is the biggest example of measuring success at the end of the course, every student in the program stands up in front of a huge room of people. Most of them strangers, some of them have supports. Like I went to support, you know, my students to watch, but in general, they don’t know all of the people that are in front of them. And each student does a speech. And it is, they lay it all out there of how they’ve grown. And she stood up and at the microphone and looked out at this room and she gave a five minute speech. That was unreal. You would think she was the professional speaker.


Sam Demma (20:53):
Wow.


Heather Pierce (20:54):
And so like, I just about fell off my chair because to see the change that she went through and it was just chipping away slowly and building that confidence and building those skills. And I, and saying, building skills can live very up in the air and it’s very abstract, but they give specific, like, these are things that you need to do when you are creating a speech or communicating with someone or standing up to, to, to pass on what you’ve learned. And so she returned after doing that program she returned to school and she is in a position to graduate now, which I mean, awesome. There’s if you had have asked people at that point, they would’ve said no way. So it is definitely a success story. And I, I look forward to every semester I look forward to going and hearing those final speeches cuz it’s, it’s amazing.


Sam Demma (21:46):
That’s so cool. So the program is still running now. Like it still goes on yeah.


Heather Pierce (21:50):
Currently running right now. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:52):
Very cool. That’s amazing. Do you know how the idea came to life or what originated it?


Heather Pierce (21:59):
I, I know the teachers quite well that that created it and I think they just saw the need for an alternative for students that were not comfortable in the building, in a traditional building, sitting in a desk, looking at a chalkboard. And, and they really, I think took time to identify what was it that was missing. And it’s that sense of belonging and the sense of community. And that drives so much of that program. So I think it was a to get it offsite and get it out of a school building so that students could feel at ease and really feel like they were part of something special too. I think that was really important. And then for that, for thet two teachers to identify the motto of making change and doing that through community and collaboration, it was just amazing. So I think it was just from regular they’re, both PHED teachers. And they, they saw a need and they just jumped in and, and got, they got you know financial contributions from different groups in the community to make this happen. They did presentations to the board, they did their homework and and they pitched the idea and, and people absolutely loved it.


Sam Demma (23:12):
It sounds like they, they were a living example of the motto, see something in the world. You don’t like, you can do something about it.


Heather Pierce (23:20):
That’s exactly right. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (23:22):
That’s awesome. If you could travel back in time, but take with you the experience and the wisdom you’ve gained teaching in education and working all these various roles go and speak to Heather in her first year of education. What advice would you have given your younger self? Not that you want to change anything about your path, but things you think would’ve been helpful to hear earlier in your career.


Heather Pierce (23:47):
Yes. I look back on 1998, Heather, and I, it, it, I’m a totally different person and I often wish I could go back. And actually I taught grade six that year. And it was a very challenging class with six kids receiving self-contained spec ed support. And I went into that as a brand new teacher with a lot of theory in my head. And it was a very difficult time in education because it was very beginning of EQAO testing. Ah, it was the first year of EQAO testing and it was the, the first year for the new report card. And so people were spinning and I was so focused on the curriculum and the 125, you know, science expectations that you need to get to and preparing the students for the next stage and the big move to grade seven.


Heather Pierce (24:41):
And so I was buried in curriculum and paperwork and making sure that I was crossing everyt and doting every eye. And so my advice to that, Heather would be just to look at the big picture, not that I’m encouraging people to not teach curriculum, cuz obviously we do, but really looking at the big picture and sitting down with those expectations and saying really what do they need to know? What’s the bottom line. And learning about the kids first I would spend, like I encourage my teachers now not to give out a course outline on the first day of school. That’s always what we do in high school. We, we give them a Chris outline. We say, okay, 30% of your mark is this. And 20% of your mark is this. And then I, why not just spend the first few days or even the first week or in elementary you could spend a big chunk of time just getting to know who plays hockey in their spare time and who plays the trumpet. And you know, just getting to know the kids as individuals, because that will get you so far with the curriculum. Because then you can make it relevant and tailor it and responsive and, and just have the big picture. So I was buried, I was overwhelmed and when I was young and I was just so attached to that curriculum document and I, I would say focus on the kids in front of you first and you’ll be fine.


Sam Demma (25:58):
Yeah, that’s such a good piece of advice. One of the teachers that had a big impact on my life knew us all on such a personal level that he could teach a lesson and then apply it to every single one of our personal interests. Like he would stop and say, Sam, for this for you, this means X. And Kavon, for you in the fashion industry this means X, and I’ve stayed in touch with him. He knows how much of an impact he had on me. I’m actually going to his farm this, this summer to help him. Yeah. And, and I think it’s because he got to know us on a really personal level that I invested was invested much more in the things he wanted to teach us. That’s a great piece of advice. If, if, if someone wants to reach out to you after listening to this conversation, maybe they have a question about a program or something you shared or said, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Heather Pierce (26:50):
Unfortunately, I’m a really private person, so I’m not active on social media, which I love to follow other people on social media, what we’re doing, but I’m not really that person. So email would be the best and I can, I can have that in my bio. Email would probably be the best way to reach me and I’d love to connect with, with other administrators or teachers.


Sam Demma (27:11):
Perfect. I will make sure to also include it on the show notes of the podcast episode, if anyone wants to reach out. But Heather, this was amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it a lot. I know it’ll be helpful for educators all over the globe, whoever chooses to tune in. So thank you for doing this. Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Heather Pierce (27:31):
Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (27:33):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Heather Pierce

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.

Robyn Hollohan RMSS B.Sc, B.Ed, M.Ed – Junior High Science Teacher at Roland Michener Secondary School

Robyn Hollohan RMSS B.Sc, B.Ed, M.Ed – Junior High Science Teacher at Roland Michener Secondary School
About Robyn Hollohan

Robyn Hollohan (@kathholl99), is a junior high science teacher at Roland Michener Secondary School in Slave Lake, Alberta. She recently finished her masters of Education in Leadership and Inclusion. Her thesis on the “Impacts of Restorative Practices on a Northern Secondary School” is currently on the waitlist to be published by the Alberta Journal of Education.

While finishing her masters of Education she welcomed her son Bryce into the world during the chaotic pandemic of 2020. She has been teaching in Alberta for 9 years and has also taught in Nova Scotia and in Kenya. While in Kenya she worked under Canadian International Development Agency to work with students with disabilities in the low-income areas of Nairobi. She enjoys coaching basketball, volleyball and is the teacher liaison for her school’s student council.

This year her student council had the 2nd most money raised for the Terry Fox Foundation in Alberta (4,100$) and they have also raised over $5,000 for Movember, and other local charities this year.

Robyn’s focus on education has been from a restorative practice pedagogy where she believes that every student is a valued member of our community and we need to support their growth by providing safe, meaningful and impactful relationships in their learning journeys. She hopes to one day soon be a vice-principal in a school and build capacity within schools to increase student success. 

Connect with Robyn: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Roland Michener Secondary School

Alberta Journal of Education

Canadian International Development Agency

Terry Fox Foundation

Teachers These Days by Jody Clarington

Careers at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

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.


Sam Demma (00:59):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Robin Hollohan. Robin is a junior high science teacher at Roland Missioner Secondary School in Slave Lake, Alberta. She recently finished her masters of education in leadership and inclusion. Her thesis on the impacts of restorative practices on a Northern secondary school is currently on the wait list to be published by the Alberta Journal of Education. While finishing her master’s of education, she welcomed her son Bryce into the world during the chaotic pandemic of 2020. She has been teaching in Alberta for nine years and has also taught in Nova Scotia, and in Kenya. While in Kenya, she worked under Canadian International Development Agency to work with students with disabilities in low income areas in Nairobi. She enjoys coaching basketball, volleyball, and is the teacher liaison for her school’s student council. This year, her student council had the second most money raised for the Terry Fox foundation in all of Alberta; $4,100.


Sam Demma (01:57):
And they have also raised over 5,000 for November and other local charities this year. Robyn’s focus on education has been from a restorative practice pedagogy, where she believes that every student is a valued member of our community, and we need to support their growth by providing safe, meaningful, and impactful relationships in their learning journeys. She hopes to one day soon, be a Vice Principal in a school and build capacity within schools to increase student success. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Robin, and I will see you on the other side. Robyn, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this afternoon. Please start by introducing yourself.


Robyn Hollohan (02:38):
I’m Robyn Hollohan. I’m a junior high teacher in Slave Lake, Alberta. I teach science and I’ve just recently, I guess, finished my masters of leadership in inclusion education.


Sam Demma (02:50):
When did you realize throughout your own student journey and career journey that education was the calling and vocation for you?


Robyn Hollohan (02:59):
I think that was a tough one. Originally in school. I wanted to be a police officer and cause I always just valued how much they give back to the community. And then through my biology degree in university, it just struck me that kids were the way the future. And I think during that time I was reflecting back on the, the passing of an a relative and then how much they had changed everyone’s life. And I really wanted to do the same that she did.


Sam Demma (03:21):
Was she in education by any chance?


Robyn Hollohan (03:24):
Yeah, she was, she was my grade 8, 9, 10 teacher for home economics. And then when I was in grade 10, fortunately my auntie passed away very suddenly. And then at her funeral there was a lot of people there. So at the time I was just kind of like, wow, she had really, you know, made a difference, but now farther as an adult, it was like, yeah, she definitely made a difference. Cuz even when I’m now as a teacher in slave lake, I actually have a, a group of kids who I taught their parents and I’m not from Alberta. I’m actually from


Sam Demma (03:51):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And I mean, it sounds like your made a really significant impact among your own, amongst your own school journey as a student. Did you have any other teachers that had a significant impact on you personally? Yeah. That you could think of. Definitely.


Robyn Hollohan (04:09):
Yeah. I had this grade four teacher, Mrs. Weam. She was super, super stickler and she had helped me significantly. Remember my multiplication tables. I remember getting frustrated and not wanting to do it, but so many times she was like, Nope, Robin, you are going to do this, sit down and stop crying.

Robyn Hollohan (04:27):
She was just stern. And then I remember like hard work makes it, makes it happen and you know, yeah. At the time I definitely didn’t like her, but as an adult, I was very thankful.


Sam Demma (04:36):
So the, the sternness sounds like it helped, it sounds like sh as much as she was stern, she was probably also patient like willing to sit by you and help you kind of figure it out. Like, what are some of the things you think that she did and other educators you had that made an impact on you in terms of like the, I think it was


Robyn Hollohan (04:53):
The way that she cared about us and it wasn’t just that we were students in our class, but we were her own kids. Like she, I think had three or four kids of her own, her sons, but she also every day came in and just say, Hey, you know, Robin, I have a twin also, Rebecca, how are you doing guys? Like how’s everything at home. And she just genuinely cared, even though there was a lot of sternness and like I remembered the finger, she would point at you . But it was just that you tell, you could tell from her heart that she really wanted you to be successful.


Sam Demma (05:20):
Mm. So you got the glimpse in biology when you were going through your biology experience in university what did the journey look like once you kind of made the decision? I want to pursue this from that moment to where you are now?


Robyn Hollohan (05:36):
Well, the journey was a little different, cuz at first I was pursuing an RCMP occupation and I got all the way to the end of almost a depo posting. And I realized at that point it was just, my uncle had sat me down and said, well, Robin, I really don’t think this is for you. Are you sure you wanna go? I said, well, you know what? It’s, it’s a great career. They get back to the community. I said, yeah, but in the long run, do you ever wanna have to harm another human? If that’s what you have to do? And I just broke down and cried and I was like, no, I can’t do it. I honestly don’t think if I had to weight, raise my weapon, I’d be able to do it. He’s like, all right, you better call them back and figure out what you’re doing.


Robyn Hollohan (06:09):
And then I had more conversations with him and he was like, why did you never, ever want teaching? I said, well, I’ve always thought about it. I just didn’t think it was for me. I was like, yeah, well you’re patient, you care. You wanna give back? So why not teaching? So I had talked to some friends who were teachers and then I started to apply to a couple universities. And then I guess I just started to realize how much teachers make a difference and it’s not, you don’t have to be the author, you know, the, the dictator or the, the leader in every classroom. But it’s just how much that I remember teachers cared about me and it helped me be successful.


Sam Demma (06:42):
So you transitioned from the RCMP job. And did you have to go back to school to get more like education? Like what exactly was the path?


Robyn Hollohan (06:54):
Yeah, so I was in my last year of my biology degree. Would’ve been my fifth year and when I applied for all that stuff for the RCMP, and then during that time I had just had said, all right, I need to, I wanna be a teacher. I need to figure it out. So I had to go back to teaching school for two years and Halifax, Nova Scotia. And that was an interesting path. Cause I ended up playing university volleyball for the two years I was there just because I was tall and I could play. And the coach was like, you better be trying out girl


Sam Demma (07:22):
that’s. That’s amazing. And then, so you finished you finished school, you finished volleyball. Did you start applying and landed in the position you’re in now?


Robyn Hollohan (07:33):
It was an odd journey. So where I was in Halifax, they do like a teaching job fair from everywhere at west. Basically Northern communities come into Halifax and do a job fair for teachers. Okay. And I had done a couple interviews and then I got offered a position for a school division in here in Alberta, but in the Northern parts, it’s called the for Vermillion school division. Nice. It’s quite remote. It’s about an hour and a half from the Northwest territories. And within hours of doing the interview, they offered me a contract, asked when I could come. And I was like, well, September. And it was pretty exciting and that, I didn’t know where up there I was going, but ended up in a beautiful little town called high level Alberta and made some incredible, incredible context. And then two days later I actually was on a flight to Kenya where I didn’t the rest of my teacher practicum in Nairobi in Africa.


Sam Demma (08:24):
No way. Tell me about that experience. You, you kind of just, that was a, that’s a big, that’s a big journey. Tell me what brought you out there and what that experience was like. My, my sister in her fourth year of film and media production did a documentary just outside of Nairobi. I can’t remember the name of the city, but they were there for three weeks and she said that the interactions with the people and the, the kindness and the generosity and the humanity like changed her life and perspective. I’m curious to know what brought you out there to finish it and what the experience was like.


Robyn Hollohan (08:57):
Well, just before Christmas, that year I went, we applied for a grant with the Canadian international development agency and myself and three other, my colleagues my Stu I guess my classmates at the time had gotten the position to go. So we left, I think the beginning of February to go for eight weeks, no, nine weeks. And then we got over there and we were working with mostly with students with disabilities. So we started off, like, we lived on campus at university, which is quite different because it’s, it’s not like a campus life that everyone pictures everywhere else. Cause I I’ve lived on that. It’s, you know, it’s very rough and different environments. And then we had taken like little either motorbikes or taxis or these little tutus. They’re like little tiny minivans with like a driver to different schools, different like cuz they don’t have like inclusion there.


Robyn Hollohan (09:48):
Any of the kids with disabilities are either unfortunately not treated very well or if they are in education, they’re in a separate building in like a completely separate school than anyone else, which is quite different and it was quite shocking. And then we visit a lot of the slums and we did get to visit like a private school, but we didn’t stay there long. We really didn’t enjoy the atmosphere. It wasn’t what we were there for. And then we worked with a non-for-profit called start small and helped them with children who were victims of abuse.


Sam Demma (10:17):
Wow. what was the duration of your entire trip and how do you think those experiences kind of shaped and informed the way that you look at teaching and education to today?


Robyn Hollohan (10:27):
So I ended up staying there for almost 12 weeks. I stayed for a couple weeks after and traveled around. But it completely changed my outlook. I didn’t, you know, we didn’t have a lot when I was a kid, but I, we, we had enough and it, it was so different to see children, either being treated differently because they had disabilities or not having the things we’d had, you know, like we brought crayons and all the kids stood up and cried. They haven’t seen full crayons. Like just, I don’t know. We take for granted at the little things or even pencils. They were like writing with the tiniest little nub of a pencil and just tell the absolute end. And I remember kids in my first practicum in Halifax just snapping them. Wow. So that was super hard. But then the way students also responded to authority was much different.


Robyn Hollohan (11:09):
You know, they, they stood when you entered the room, they wouldn’t sit down until you said you could sit, which I found hard in one day. I actually didn’t believe it. So I just waited a second and I was like, oh, oh my God. They’ll stand until until I tell them to sit. I was like, okay, sit. And they’re like, thank you, miss. Yes, miss no miss. And it was just, it’s different, so different, but they love not that all kids don’t love school, but they genuinely loved being there cuz not everyone could get to go to school. A lot of the kids walk a really long distance or they’re at a boarding school and they don’t see their families for months on end.


Sam Demma (11:45):
Wow. Yeah. That’s a, a unique experience and I think a really helpful one before you get into education in north America, you know? And do you think traveling, if you can, when you’re just getting into education is a worthwhile thing to do or an opportunity to take for someone who’s just considering getting into teaching.


Robyn Hollohan (12:06):
Yeah. And even just get outside of where you’re from and where you would wanna teach, you see different parts of our country. Like I grew up in Newfoundland, so I was fortunate to be in their school system. And then I did my teaching degree training in Nova Scotia and then my then Africa and Kenya. Yeah. And then I taught in high level in Northern Alberta. So seeing the other settings kind of made me understand that not every system is the same, but all of our kids really in some way are the same. They wanna learn. You just have to find someone who cares about them.


Sam Demma (12:33):
I love it. So you, so you went to Nairobi and you spent 12 weeks there, you came back, you applied you got a fulltime position. Not in the school board journey now. So what was the journey from that to today?


Robyn Hollohan (12:49):
I actually met my spouse when I was in high level. Nice. we’ve been together nine years now. So then his son actually lived here enslaved lake Alberta with his mom. Okay. So after we were up north for a couple years, we wanted to be closer down here to him. So we moved down to slave lake, which was also hard. Cause you go from like, there was nothing in high level. They got a Tim Hortons my second year there. And that was huge because there’s no Walmart, there’s no Costco. There’s nothing like it’s dark by two o’clock in the afternoon. The sun might come up at 10 in the morning for some days in the winter. So it was really isolating. And then coming here, we have Walmart, the school is massive. The school is 700 kids from seven to 12, which I was used to maybe 300. So it like doubled.


Sam Demma (13:33):
Wow. Wow. Cool. And have you been in different roles in the different schools you’ve worked in or what is your yeah. What is the role you’re in now and what various roles have you been in? Pretty easily.


Robyn Hollohan (13:46):
Okay. So when I was up north, I was still like, it’s hard up there cuz a lot of the younger teachers tend to take on leadership very fast because the turnover’s really high. Not a lot of people stay in Northern communities very long and even my four years there I think most years on staff, we had at least six or seven brand new teachers, like just out of university where that’s quite rare in most teaching practices. So even in my second year I was mentoring a first year teacher. Wow. And which was different. Cause I still felt, I wasn’t really, you know, I didn’t have the ground underneath me yet. But then since I moved here, I have been mentoring other teachers. I was active administrator before I went on maternity leave last year. I’m a 20, 20 pandemic mom.


Sam Demma (14:27):
Woohoo. yeah.


Robyn Hollohan (14:29):
That’s and then now being back this year, I have a student teacher she’s actually in my class today. I’m off for some medical appointments. So I’m mentoring a student teacher.


Sam Demma (14:37):
That’s awesome. Very cool. This, yeah, that’s great. It’s cool that you hear that you’ve done some different positions and also mentored some educators. I know mentorship is a huge part in no matter what career you choose to get into, but especially in education, it’s a big part of the journey. Do you have some people that have mentored you? I know we talked about teachers earlier that have had an impact. I’m curious when you started going down this path what other educators have been impactful on your professional development or mentorship?


Robyn Hollohan (15:08):
I guess like when I was up north, one of the vice principals, her name was Anna, she just had a harder gold. And I remember telling her, I don’t know how long I could live in the darkness. And it was just hard. Like, you know, the, the cold it’s minus 40, most of the winter, your eyelashes freeze, the kids and the culture was so different. There’d be times where like most the class would be absent because they’re gone hunting wow. A large indigenous population or some kids just hated school and they just didn’t come. And so she just said, talk to me and asked me what were my long term goals? And I said, well, my spouse and I, we do wanna be near his son eventually. And I do wanna be a leader eventually. So she had like gave me the ins and outs of leadership and evenness like just a person and just, you know, she was always there to listen to. And when you had a bad day, she’d, you know, pull up a chair, get a coffee and like cry, which is great. And sometimes people to do that for you and helps you just see it’s okay to be upset. And that we’re human too.


Sam Demma (16:02):
Yeah. A hundred percent. I love that. When you think about that, that idea of it’s okay to not know the answers and it’s, it’s also okay to, to be human. What other pieces of advice kind of come to mind that you have? Cause that’s obviously a great learning. What other things kind of come to mind that you think have been helpful for yourself throughout your journey in education and maybe the way you can think about this is if you could speak to yourself when you were just starting knowing what you know now with the experience you have, like what would you have told your younger self or someone else who’s just getting into this work


Robyn Hollohan (16:39):
Say no more often.


Sam Demma (16:41):
I love it.


Robyn Hollohan (16:43):
I think a lot of new teachers like are always looking to impress and they’re always looking to take on, you know, how many teams can I coach? How many clubs can I run? Yeah. And it’s great to like give back, but you also to take care of yourself and that like statistically one in five teachers in their first five years burnout and stop teaching. So there’s a reason, right? And the system is hard to get in to get your permanent certification. So I mean, it’s pick a couple good things and stay good at them. Don’t overwhelm yourself and take the time for yourself. Like your mental health is so important. It is so tough now, especially with, you know, the pandemic slowly, slowly trickling away. But a lot of teachers and staff are just exhausted and you’re taking care of your mental health and yourself is the best thing you can do.


Sam Demma (17:26):
Such a good piece of advice, just don’t say no to Sam demo’s podcast interviews. That’s the only thing


Robyn Hollohan (17:31):
Yes. Do those


Sam Demma (17:34):
But I love that advice. I think I struggle with that. Some part of us feels guilty when we, you know, turn someone else down or turn down an opportunity for our own mental health reasons. We might feel like we’re letting somebody down, but really I think it’s beneficial for everyone involved you benefit because your mental health is, is better and you’re not biting off too much than you can chew. And there’s probably someone else who has the capacity to fill the role. If you say no, that could even potentially give it more energy time and do a better job. So I think no is important for everyone. Not just not just the person saying it or the person receiving it.


Robyn Hollohan (18:11):
Yeah. And it’s, I’m not perfect at it yet. It’s still hard, but like my, my sons will be two in July, but I start to think about, you know, like there’s only so much of me I can give and I wanna make sure my son gets enough. My spouse gets enough and my students and you know, you only have so much on your plate and that you gotta take care of yourself is really important


Sam Demma (18:29):
And you get enough of yourself. yes.


Robyn Hollohan (18:31):
And yes. And you know, and you gotta your own, your own self, your own body and your mind and your soul.


Sam Demma (18:36):
Yeah. Speaking of taking care of yourself what keeps you motivated and inspired and you know, showing up with a full cup when you’re not working or in school virtually or in person, what do you spend time doing to kind of refuel and take care of yourself?


Robyn Hollohan (18:51):
I read a lot, like I’ve been reading a lot of Dr. Jody Carrington. She’s like a psychologist who tells like teachers basically to like with a lot of cost words, to relax and to think about why they become teaching. She’s great. I won’t mention any of the things she talks about, but


Sam Demma (19:05):
What are some of the books? Do you remember any of the titles of the books or


Robyn Hollohan (19:07):
One of them is called teachers these days. I just


Sam Demma (19:12):
Read after Jody Carrington. Cool teachers.


Robyn Hollohan (19:14):
Yeah. Kids. It keeps Kesy stays and teachers, these days is the new one and it’s great. Cuz it just, it kind of make, have you have, have a good laugh about your job, cuz sometimes even in the hardest moment you do need to unwind and relax and think about everything and I don’t know what else do I do? I love craft beer. We have a local brewery here in slave like dog island brewer is really good. So we go there and just try to relax. Try not to think about life too much and prepare for our next travel or my next goal on my massive checklist, whatever it may be.


Sam Demma (19:44):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And if someone is listening to this right now, thinking to themselves, they would love to chat with you, ask a question, have a conversation. What would be the best way for them to reach out and, and get in touch?


Robyn Hollohan (19:59):
I’m on Facebook, Robin Hallahan they can message me Instagram. I think it’s @kathholl99. I tried to avoid students searching me and just email on my emails too; RobynKHollohan@gmail.com. Cool. But I’m always easy to chat. I always like to talk to other educators just to see what they’re doing and to, you know, figure out the balance. And that’s the most important thing, you know, like I think I mentioned to you before my interview, I also finished my masters during the pandemic when my baby was at home. So trying not to overwhelm yourself, but you know, pick the goals that are achievable, but you know, within a certain, you know, stretch, you don’t wanna make yourself too burnt out.


Sam Demma (20:35):
Yeah. How, you know, before we wrap up here, how do you balance all the different, you know, containers you’re juggling master mom, teacher, like what has been helpful in managing time and energy organization?


Robyn Hollohan (20:49):
I have like a massive checklist in our kitchen of like things that are coming up and then sticky notes. I think I need to invest in the sticking out stocks I just honest to God use probably hundreds a day and my students think it’s hilarious, but that’s you just, you know, you think of something that you’re not sure when you’re gonna remember it. So it’s a sticky note and it’s bad. Cause it’s, I don’t even go into the note section on my phone. I put the sticky note on my phone or it goes on my computer screen or it goes on my mousepad or wherever it may end up there’s it’s just reminders and organization. And then I think the biggest thing is to just make sure whatever you choose to do is making you happy. And at the end of the day, you’re not like, why did I decide to do this? Why what’s the reason so that you’re not completely upset with your choices.


Sam Demma (21:36):
I love it. One final question before we wrap up here. You mentioned reading a lot, you mentioned Dr. Jody Carrington. Have you found any other resources helpful among your, your journey in education, whether it’s courses, books, people, things you’ve watched, things you’ve read, that you think would be worthwhile to share?


Robyn Hollohan (21:56):
I guess it’s a lot of stuff. Depends on where you are in your life and stuff. I’ve been doing some like just self searching to try to figure out I have like a, really A type personality overachieving. So I try to find some stuff to dial that back. I’ve always been a fan of Bill Nye the science guy. I don’t know why. I just find no matter how old or young you are, you can listen to him and have a laugh so any podcast that he’s been posting out oh my goodness. My brain’s not quite sure.


Sam Demma (22:23):
No, those are good.


Robyn Hollohan (22:23):
There’s a lot out there. Or even just like, not necessarily the stuff online, but your colleagues or people around you. Sometimes they have the wealth of information and the capacity building that you may never ever ask any. They can be there one day for you that you might, you know, they take the chance to take the offer or be there for them.


Sam Demma (22:40):
Love it. Love it. If anyone has any questions, I’m sure they’ll reach out. I’ll include your email in the show notes of this episode and also on the article we post on the High Performing Educator website. Robyn, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate you. Good luck with the rest of your endeavors in education and the family. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Robyn Hollohan (23:00):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (23:02):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Robyn Hollohan

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.

Jeannie Armstrong – Superintendent of Learning: Special Education Services, Faith/Equity & Indigenous Education at the Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board

Jeannie Armstrong – Superintendent of Learning: Special Education Services, Faith/Equity & Indigenous Education at the Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board
About Jeannie Armstrong

Written directly from Jeannie (@JeannieArmstr20):

Originally thought about Communications. Had the opportunity to be on local radio as a teenager and I really liked the experience. One of my best friends was killed in a car accident a week before graduating high school and this experience changed my life.

Following the devastation of this experience, I knew that I wanted to help other people but truly did not know how….. Changed my direction to a degree in psychology and thought about pursuing a Ph.D. to help young people process grief and loss.

I had classes at Ottawa U from Monday to Thursday and would often travel home from Friday to Sunday to spend time with my family. On one of my trips home, I ran into my grade 6 teacher, Mrs. Yolkowskie. She encouraged me to come volunteer with her on days when I did not have class.

I said I would call her and did. I began volunteering at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School every Friday in Mrs. Yolkowskie’s special education class. I loved the experience. It was in this classroom that my dream of becoming an educator was born.

I finished my BA in Psychology and applied to Faculties of Education at Ottawa University and Queen’s. Between finishing my BA and starting my BEd, I married my husband (now 29 years). I chose Ottawa U because of its close proximity to home. I travelled back and forth that year to finish my BEd.

When I finished my BEd. there were few jobs. This was a time when few positions existed in the province so I supplied for a year until I received a contract with the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board. I worked in a rural school community and in a larger school until I became a principal at the age of 31.

I worked in Renfrew Catholic for 22 years before making a family decision to transfer to Ottawa Catholic where I worked as a principal for four and a half years. Working in a rural board and large urban board was a wonderful experience.

Throughout my career I have been inspired by so many educators,family and friends. Perhaps my biggest influence is my Aunt Jean.

Was hired as a Superintendent with PVNCCDSB in December of 2020. Had the portfolio of Faith, Equity, Indigenous Education and Secondary Program from January 2021-February 2022. Have since moved into the portfolio of Special Education Services, Faith/Equity and still supporting Indigenous Education until the end of the year.

For me, advocating for, supporting & empowering students is what I try to do each and every day along with continuing to learn and grow. When we stop learning, we stop living.

Two quotes that resonate with me are:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” Steve Jobs

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” Eckhart Tolle

Connect with Jeannie: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Ottawa – Psychology Programs

University of Ottawa – Faculty of Education

Renfrew County Catholic District School Board

Ottawa Catholic District School Board

Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board

Calm within the Storm: A Pathway to Everyday Resilliency – Dr. Robin Hanley Dafoe

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 is Jeannie Armstrong. She originally thought about communications as her career, had the opportunity to be a local radio on local radio as a teenager and enjoyed the experience. But it was after a very tragic event that occurred in her life that totally shifted her path. It changed her direction, led her to do a degree in psychology. She reflected and considered about pursuing a PhD to help young people. And it was an educator she met along her journey that helped her realize that the true passion she had lied in a career in education. She finished her BA in psychology, applied to the faculty of education at Ottawa University and Queens. She finished her BA and started her BED, married a husband, now 29 years, and she chose Ottawa U because it was close to home and traveled back and forth that year to finish her BED.


Sam Demma (01:58):
She then worked in the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board in a rural school community and in a larger school until she became a principal at the age of 31 years old. She worked in the Renfrew Catholic board for 22 years before transferring to the Ottawa Catholic board. And throughout her career, she has been inspired by so many different educators, family members and friends, but perhaps her biggest influence was her aunt Jean. Jeannie was hired as superintendent with PVNCCDSB in December of 2020. She had the portfolio of faith equity, indigenous education and secondary programs until February of 2020, and has since moved to the portfolio of special education services, faith and equity, and still supporting indigenous education. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Jeannie. It’s a very insightful one. I will see you on the other side. Jeanie, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Start by introducing yourself.


Jeannie Armstrong (02:57):
Hi, my name is Jeannie Armstrong. I’m the superintendent of faith equity, indigenous education and special education services for the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board.


Sam Demma (03:09):
You gotta do a course just to get the name of the school board, right?


Jeannie Armstrong (03:13):
Exactly. Yeah.


Sam Demma (03:14):
When did you realize growing up that education was the career or field that you would pursue?


Jeannie Armstrong (03:21):
It actually came in my mid twenties. So originally in high school, I thought of communications. And I was thinking of going into broadcasting. I had done some stints on local radio and was certain that that was my path. And so I headed off to university or I planned two in the area of communications a couple days before graduation, Sam, my best friend was killed in a car accident. And at that point in time going through that process, that grieving process at such a young age, I really felt as though I had a calling to help youth who were going through similar trials. And so I really thought seriously about changing my program. And eventually I did move into psychology and I was certain that that was going to be my path. And I would end up doing a PhD in psychology and be able to support youth who were going through the grieving process.


Jeannie Armstrong (04:24):
And then I ran into one of my favorite teachers from elementary school. She taught me both in grade one and grade six, and I had classes four days of the week and came home on the weekends sometimes. And I met her on a Friday afternoon and she asked me if I would volunteer in her class, she was a special education teacher. And you know, when one of the most impactful people in your life ask you for a favor to volunteer in the classroom. I certainly wanted to support her in that. And so I said, yes, I would, I would go in and start volunteering. So I filled out the appropriate paperwork and began my volunteer experience and working with those students each and every day, it changed my life. It changed my path. It was so impactful and the relationships that I developed it was such a wonderful experience to see the growth and development, particularly with little ones who maybe three or four weeks before weren’t able to read. And then all of a sudden they got it and the light bulb went off and it was just such a rewarding experience that I went home. And I said to my family, I, I found my calling. I wanna be a teacher. And so I finished my psychology degree and applied for my ed at Ottawa U and away I went. And that was the beginning of the path that I continued on for the rest of my life.


Sam Demma (05:51):
Did you teach in elementary school first? And what, like, what are the different roles you have played since in education?


Jeannie Armstrong (06:00):
Oh, I’ve taught a range of grades and including being a special education teacher, both as a teacher and as a teaching principal for many years. And so I think for about seven years in my career, I supported special education students. I mean, we support all students as in any role, whether it’s a classroom as a classroom teacher or a principal, but specifically as a special education resource teacher, I spent about seven years in that role. And I loved it. So yes, a range of grades. I had a lot of system experience, wonderful people that supported me in my growth and development and taking on system pieces, working with the ministry of education and different projects being a guest lecture at O U faculty of education with some mentors who I worked with there, completing my master’s in education. And so just a range of experiences.


Jeannie Armstrong (06:52):
And I was quite young when I became a principal. It was not something I had really thought about doing. It just sort of happened naturally. And I had a few really wonderful mentors as well who encouraged me. And I think saw something in me that I did not see in myself. And one of them was the director of education at the time, Lauren Keon who was just an amazing man. He had was wonderful at building relationships. He could meet somebody once and remember their name and a little bit about their family. And so he was able to make that connection with people. And it was from those mentors that in particular, Mr. Keon, that I recognized the importance of relationships and making people making that connection with people. Cuz he had a way of making people feel as though you were the only person in the room, even though he was very busy he made a point of always connecting with everyone.


Jeannie Armstrong (07:49):
So he was an important influence in my life. And then there was another principal that I had. There was so many, but Carol sulfur was another mentor who was just an amazing curriculum, expert, phenomenal leader. And she really encouraged me to become a principal. And so I became a principal at the age of 32. I was very, very young. Wow. And was a principal for 17 years. Worked with Renford county Catholic district school board for many years. And then my husband and I decided to look at relocating to the Ottawa area and I worked with Ottawa Catholic school board again for another four and a half years before my current role.


Sam Demma (08:33):
Do you stay in touch with your teacher from grade one and grade six?


Jeannie Armstrong (08:37):
So she passed away. She passed away about five or six years ago, but I did get to connect with her and she did see my pathway into leadership at least. Yeah. So it was wonderful. I, I did go to visit her at her home at one point in time and you know, it was nice because she did get to say that she was very proud of me. So I did have that opportunity for her to see the pathway that I was pursuing. So that was wonderful. But she, she has since passed away


Sam Demma (09:08):
One of the most meaningful aspects in it of education and you’ve probably experienced it firsthand now is when you teach somebody and then they go on their path and come back and say, thank you so much. And it’s like, that person used to be five years old. That person used to be 15. And now they’re an adult with the family doing their thing. And I was able to play a part in their development. I think it’s such a full circle moment. In fact, one of the teachers who changed my life, I’m going to volunteer on his farm on June 11th. just to catch up with him and see how he’s doing. So I think those connections are so, so important. What is, what does the role you’re working in today? Look like, explain a little bit more about what’s you’re responsible for now and, and, and what you’re doing


Jeannie Armstrong (09:54):
Well. So I came to PB C in 2020 and you know, it it’s a different role at the system level. I did a lot of system work as a principal and being able to make those connections and working at the ministry level. And as you know, as a teacher, you have a tremendous impact on students in your classroom. And when you coach sports, then you get to, again, impact other students. As a principal, you have an impact on students schoolwide and you get to really be able to create a culture at this school that supports student growth and wellbeing and engagement. And so that was wonderful. And at the system level you have an opportunity to impact system change. So that as well as excite is exciting yesterday I had the opportunity to visit a school when I try to get into schools as much as I possibly can to still have that connectedness to the kids.


Jeannie Armstrong (10:52):
Yeah. And so it’s wonderful that I still get to go back and visit. So I, in my role right now, I’m the superintendent of faith equity, indigenous education and special education services. So those are large portfolios but I love everything that I’m doing. And the work that we’re doing is so important. When you think of those portfolios and the impact on the lives of students you know, I don’t take for granted each and every day, the work that I get to do, and I recognize with great humility and respect the impact that the work that I do can potentially have, and the work of my team, it’s really the team that I have that I’m supporting that I’m serving each and every day that I making the difference for students system wide.


Sam Demma (11:44):
Hmm. You’ve done so many different positions in education, so many different roles. Someone once told me the person that makes a good principal is the person that loves teaching in the classroom. The person that makes a great superintendent is the principal that loves being a principal. And doesn’t wanna leave that role. Did you ever struggle moving along the roles or and, and how did you get over that, that emotional barrier.


Jeannie Armstrong (12:17):
Yeah, no, that’s a very good point. And, and yes, I would say that each transition is difficult because it’s the relationships and the people that you meet along the way it’s difficult to leave. So as a teacher, it was challenging for me to make that leap as a principal, particularly being so young. Yeah, and, but what really helped me was the fact that coming from a small board, we were, were able to be a principal in a rural area first and then work our way up to a larger school. So I was a teaching principal for seven years, so I slowly got to transition the role and it, it was wonderful that opportunity always tried to stay connected to classrooms and to kids. No matter what role I’ve had you wanna be able to put a face to the name and to you know, really connect with both the staff and the students in school. And so even now as a superintendent as I said, I try to get into schools all the time and make sure that I’m still keeping that connection to the people that I serve, but it is difficult. Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:23):
Yeah. I, I, I mean, it’s like leaving a family. , it’s like you’re leaving a family to go to a different family and it can be challenging. I’ve heard some stories that people are really struggling with the transitions.


Jeannie Armstrong (13:38):
One of the things Sam that I think has really helped is I’ve stayed connected to, I have friends that in Renford Catholic, I have friends in Ottawa Catholic that I’m still connected to regularly. And of course my new family at PV and C. So I’ve tried to stay connected with all of those peoples on a regular basis so that I still have kept up those relationships, which helps.


Sam Demma (14:02):
Would, would the name Deb Lawler ring a bell?


Jeannie Armstrong (14:06):
Yes.


Sam Demma (14:07):
Deb was a good friend. I had lunch there last week in Ottawa. That’s awesome. That’s so great. When you say stay connected, what does that look like for you? Is it checking in every once in a while via text email, or like how, what does that look like?


Jeannie Armstrong (14:22):
Yeah, checking in all the time with phone calls, texts and also visiting face to face. So making plan to, you know, I’ll go back to Ottawa for a visit and you know, I’m planning to meet up with staff members from my former school in the next couple of months. And so just trying to, to stay connected as best you can and making time to keep those relationships up by meeting face to face and going for dinner and all of those pieces. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:54):
You talk about systems, level roles, giving you the opportunity to make a big impact on schools within a district or a school board. And the work is it’s really important and, and it can impact thousands of young people. I would assume you also have the opportunity to, to meet other superintendents, people from other boards and kind of collaborate. And overall it gives you this cool perspective of education. I’m curious to know what you think are some of the challenges that education is for currently faced with right now. And secondly, part two of this question, some of the opportunities that you believe exist.


Jeannie Armstrong (15:29):
Yes. So I, I don’t like just to use the word challenges cause I do see everything that we’ve been through with the pandemic as an opportunity for growth and change. And I think everything that is presented to us in life is an opportunity for growth. So I try to use a positive mindset with rather than thinking about challenges. I, I see them as opportunities for change for growth, and the pandemic has been very difficult for many of our families for our staff. We do recognize that, but in many ways there’s been tremendous opportunities for students to develop skills that they may not otherwise have developed. You know, when you think of the technological skills that students have when you think of the ways that teachers have been able to adapt their practices to online learning that’s not going to go away.


Jeannie Armstrong (16:21):
And so I really do see that what we have been through as a system, as a country globally has had a positive impact in some ways. And I think coming out of this, what we need to recognize is the value of connection and relationships, because that is what truly has been missed. And so we really do need to reinvest some time on self care on student mental health and wellbeing on student voice and engagement. And just being able to, to recognize the importance of that connectedness, that teachers need to have those re positive relationships with students as superintendents, we need to be connected to the schools that we serve. So just really it’s about relationships and connection, and that will be our path forward.


Sam Demma (17:12):
People use the term teacher burnout in the education sector field, but I think during COVID, there was a global human burnout people as a whole, no matter what industry you worked in were experiencing this overwhelming anxiety and frustration and confusion, what, while you were going through that challenge yourself, how did you ensure to fill your own cup? Or what does self care look like for gen Armstrong


Jeannie Armstrong (17:41):
Well if you ask my family, they’d probably say I don’t do that enough.

Jeannie Armstrong (17:47):
But you know, it really is. It’s about my family and you know, my faith as well. And it’s the little things each and every day, you know, sometimes our days as system leaders are long and sometimes we have meetings till late at night, and it’s hard to find that time for yourself, but I try to celebrate in little ways, whether it’s a favorite cup of coffee, whether it’s listening to my favorite playlist, if I’m commuting in the car whether it’s taking time to just read a book, I love to read. So for me, that’s always something that I valued and it’s, it’s what I do to really unwind to try and get in some physical activity. And, and I would have to admit I’m not great at that, but I’m trying to, to work on that and get better at that. Nice, but take time to go for a walk at night and to just spend time with my husband and my family.


Sam Demma (18:37):
That’s awesome. I love that. I, I think self-care looks different for every person, right? As long as you find the things that fill your cup and work for you, I think it’s really important that we spend time on those things. You mentioned reading, being a big part of your life, what resources in the form of books or podcasts or people have you found helpful throughout your entire educational journey and career thus far?


Jeannie Armstrong (19:01):
Oh, Sam there’s so many one that our team is reading right now as a part of a book club is calm within the storm, which is Dr. Robin Hanley depo. And she is a professor at Trenton university here in Peterborough, and it’s a book really about resiliency. And so as a team, we’re, we’re reading that right now and, or just finishing that book. And it’s very, very powerful. And I’ll just share with you one quote that really resonated with me as we’re coming outta a global pandemic, not every storm that comes into your life is meant to take you down. Perhaps that storm is coming to clear a path that you could never have found otherwise. And so if we think about, you know, the, the different things that have even happened in my own life that have maybe shifted my path slightly, they were meant to be all of these pieces are meant to be, they’re meant to steer you in a certain path.


Jeannie Armstrong (20:03):
I really believe that. And you know, I’m very grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had and for even, you know, dare I use that word, the challenges that I faced because they’ve brought me to where I am today and I wouldn’t change any of those experiences. Because I believe it’s made me who I am today. And it’s brought me to this exact point in my life. I think if, you know, I had any advice for people who are starting out in their career, I would say to have faith in yourself and to trust your instincts and stay connected to the people that support you because they often help guide your path in ways that may not be clear at the time. And that, you know, if one door closes another door opens and just follow the path where it takes you and don’t be afraid of change, many people are, you know, are fearful of change. It’s a challenge for sure, but embrace change because sometimes if you have the courage to embrace change, wonderful things can happen.


Sam Demma (21:10):
I got shivers when you shared that quote like goosebumps, like through my body, that’s such a powerful way to reframe a challenge or a storm. And as you were saying it, my mind instantly started going back to challenges, quote unquote, that I faced storms that I weathered and like connected the dots to ways that some of those storms actually opened up new doorways and avenues that I wasn’t even looking at or focused on or new learnings or new character traits that I had to develop. What a phenomenal way to look at. Yeah. Look at challenges in life. Thank you for sharing that. I, I’m gonna leave this interview thinking about this for the whole day when you think of your time in the classroom or in the school, and you still spend lots of time visiting schools. So maybe you also hear about the stories, but I’m curious to know if there’s any stories that remain in your mind about how education has changed the life of young people and maybe there’s specific student in mind or somebody who was having a difficult time that was maybe in one of your classes or one of your schools that you heard of and had like a serious transformation.


Sam Demma (22:24):
And if it’s a, you know, a very serious story, you could change their name just to keep it private. And if there isn’t a specific story that comes to mind, you can also just talk about how you think education impacts the lives of young minds.


Jeannie Armstrong (22:39):
Wow. That’s I’m just trying to think, Sam there’s, there’s been so many, I mean, over 26 years in education, there’s been so many students that I could speak of. But I think what I reflect on most is, you know, the times when I could be in the grocery store and all of a sudden I hear a voice behind me and, you know 15 years later, or 20 years later, if somebody that I taught many, many years before and a few have stopped me to tell me about, you know, perhaps a change in pathway challenges that they face, that they were able, able to overcome. And the fact that they remember my name and wanted to take the time to tell me about, you know, how they’ve put their life in order or how they’ve made the changes necessary.


Jeannie Armstrong (23:39):
And whenever I have someone take the time to do that, I make sure to tell them that I’m proud. Mm. I always try to do that as a teacher. And, and I, and I mean, it, you know so there’s been those opportunities, but I also think of the many opportunities for students, perhaps that the transformation may not have been as great, but even for example, students were shy and afraid to share their voice. And, you know, I could see leadership potential in them and encourage them as a principal to apply to the minister student advisory council where they’d have an opportunity to share their voice with the minister of education. And in my time in Renfrew Catholic, I believe I had six or seven students that made the minister student advisory council. I think it’s something of a record. But it’s simply just encouraging them to apply and share their voice at a large level and, and to believe in themselves.


Jeannie Armstrong (24:36):
And many of those students then have, you know, commented to me about how that impacted them and how they were able to develop confidence in themselves. And again, like I talk about the people that had faith in me, it’s just about paying it forward. And when you have faith and you believe in students and you give them the opportunity to share their voice, not just with you, but at a system level, at a provincial level, at a national level great things happen. And I think as adults, what we can learn from that is that it’s really important to listen. It’s important to just take the time to listen to what kids have to say. Our students are amazing, and I think of you, Sam you know, doing these podcasts and international speaking events, and it’s really remarkable. And I know that at your age, I would not have been confident enough to do even what you’re doing. And so, you know, hats off to all of these young people who are making a difference each and every day and creating that national or global impact students like, like you said, that that are making that, that change. And it’s those voices that will really propel our nation forward. And that’s exactly what we need to do as adults is take a step back and let students be leaders and listen.


Sam Demma (26:09):
And it was my teacher in grade 12, Mr. Loudfoot, who helped me redirect my focus when I was going through my biggest storm after three major knee surgeries or knee injuries and two surgeries and lost the full ride scholarship and felt like my life was falling apart. And he was the one who believed in me when I stopped believing in myself and helped me realize that soccer was just one game in life, but life is filled with thousands of games, and at any time you can start playing a new one and that the skills you learn in one aspect of life can be transferred to another. And the list goes on and on. He like foundationally changed my life, and I’m so grateful I crossed path with him and that’s the person I’m visiting on the farm, you know, next week. And this has been such a refreshing conversation about education, about opportunities, about the future of education. If someone wants to ask you a question, get in touch, reach out, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Jeannie Armstrong (27:08):
They can contact me by email or through my Twitter account, Sam. So that’s, that’s great. I’m always open to learning from other people and connecting. So absolutely!


Sam Demma (27:19):
Awesome. Jean, thank you so much for coming on the show. You were awesome. Have an amazing day and we’ll talk soon.


Jeannie Armstrong (27:25):
Thanks so much, Sam, take care.


Sam Demma (27:28):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Jeannie Armstrong

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.

Curtis Carmichael – “CC the Futurist”

Curtis Carmichael – “CC the Futurist”
About Curtis Carmichael

Curtis (@CurtisCarmicc) is an award-winning author, keynote speaker, STEM and hip-hop teacher, social entrepreneur, and the founder of Source Code Academy Canada — Canada’s first culture-focused innovation and entrepreneurship academy preparing children and youth for the future of work. Curtis is the critically acclaimed author and mobile app developer for the World’s First Augmented Reality Memoir, Butterflies in the Trenches. As a self taught computer programmer, Curtis built “BITT Smart Book App”, the mobile app that brings his memoir to life. By holding the device over photos throughout the book, readers use the app to unlock hidden audio and visual content. Curtis’ guiding mission of No Child Left Behind ™ provides students, educators, and organizations with tools and actionable strategies to identify their passion, find purpose, and use their gifts to make a difference in their lives, schools, businesses, and communities.

For Curtis, this journey all began with a bicycle. After sacrificing a professional football career, Curtis led a cross-Canada cycling tour called “Ride for Promise” and fundraised $100,000 in 60 days for Toronto Community Housing after-school programs. He was featured in the award-winning documentary, Ride for Promise. Curtis’ journey has been covered by CBC, CP24, Global News, Breakfast Television, CityNews, CTV, Your Morning Show, and TED. In his spare time, he is a Team Canada Duathlete for the 2021 Multi-sport World Championships.

Curtis grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, where he still works. He has dedicated his life to advocating for Black and racialized youth in low- income communities across Toronto, Canada, and globally. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Physical and Health Education from Queen’s University and a BEd in STEM education from Ontario Tech University. Curtis has been the recipient of numerous awards including USPORTS National Russ Jackson, 2021 Best Indie Book Award Winner for Inspirational Non-Fiction, Herbert H. Carnegie National Citizenship, City of Toronto Spirit of Sport Diversity and Inclusion, and the City of Toronto Hall of Honour inductee. Curtis believes with conviction that each and every person is gifted, it is just a matter of having the right platform and opportunities to unwrap and use these gifts. 

Connect with Curtis: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

curtiscarmichael.ca

Source Code Academy Canada

Butterflies in the Trenches

No Child Left Behind ™

Ride for Promise

Queens University – Bachelors of Physical and Health Education

Ontario Tech University – Bachelors of Education

USPORTS National Russ Jackson

2021 Best Indie Book Award Winner for Inspirational Non-Fiction

Herbert H. Carnegie National Citizenship

City of Toronto Hall of Honour inductee

The Terry Fox Foundation

The Rick Hansen Foundation

Ubuntu Philosophy

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 (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have on a very special guest. His name is Curtis Carmichael. People call him “CC the futurist.” Curtis is on a mission of improving schools and organizational culture. By helping people realize that they have innate power and gifts to make a difference in their lives and communities. He is so many things; an award-winning author, keynote speaker, stem and hip hop teacher, social entrepreneur, and the founder of source code academy, Canada, which is Canada’s first culture focused innovation and entrepreneurship academy preparing children and youth for the future of work. He’s the critically acclaimed author and mobile app developer for the world’s first augmented reality memoir; “butterflies in the trenches.” As a self-taught computer programmer. Curtis built BITT smart book app; the mobile app that brings his book, his memoir, to life. He is also someone who has traveled across the country. After sacrificing a professional football career,


Sam Demma (02:02):
Curtis led a cross Canada cycling tour called ride for promise, where he and everyone he knew helped fundraise a hundred thousand dollars in 60 days for Toronto community housing after school programs. He has been featured on news, CBC, CT, CTV CP 24 global news, breakfast television, your morning show, and TEDx. In his spare time, get this, in his spare time, he is a team Canada dual athlete for the 2021 multi-sport world champions. There is so much to this powerful young man. Curtis is an inspiration. He is changing the world one speech, one book, one product at a time, and it is our pleasure and honor to have him on the show here today. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Curtis and I’ll 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. I met this individual a few years ago. In a conference room, we were sitting at the same table. We chatted a little bit, but didn’t get into any deep conversation. And recently I read his entire book and I’m so glad that it prompted us to reconnect. Curtis Carmichael is a special guest today. Curtis, please feel free to introduce yourself, explain who you are and why you do the work you do to ensure that no children or child is left behind.


Curtis Carmichael (03:29):
Yeah, for sure. Thank you for having me on. Always a pleasure to reconnect with you. You’re such a bundle of hope so I’m glad I can be here to kind of match that as well. But yeah, when people ask who, who am I, I always say I am a revolutionary. And what does that mean? For me that’s a person or a vessel that brings around radical or complete change. So my radical change is to ensure that no child and no community is left behind. So being a revolutionary kind of unfolds in three separate ways. So one is; I’m author and athlete. So my background is that I sacrificed a pro football career moved back to my public housing project and I ended up biking across Canada raising 100k in 60 days to save three afterschool programs from closing down in Toronto community housing.


Curtis Carmichael (04:11):
So that’s one way of being a revolutionary. The second way of being a revolutionary is I’m a keynote speaker educational consultant and a stem elementary teacher. So on this planet, I feel like I’m here to help students, educators and organizations kind of realize their innate power and gifts that they possess in order to make a difference in their lives and their community. So in doing so in short, I build a culture of service and prepare both students and educators for the future work. And number three what does it mean to be a revolutionary is I’m also a tech founder and self top mobile app developer. So how that unfolds is also created the world force, augmented reality memoir, which is a book that comes with a free augmented reality mobile app, and also founded source code academy, Canada, which is Canada’s first culture focused academy that prepares children and youth for the future of work.


Curtis Carmichael (04:56):
So target population for that is by pocket and low income kids. But yeah, that’s kind of who I am. I think your second question there is why do I do the work that I do? There, there’s a story behind this always want to give you context in a world where our, our systems are designed to oppress and marginalized and limit opportunities for bipo and low income communities. Since I was a kid, I remember looking at a lot of indigenous communities and African people across the diaspora and they always follow this model of a BTU. It’s actually a south African phrase philosophy. That means I am because we are so essentially the, we is more, more important than the I, so the collective kind of highlights that each of us have something of value to contribute to the whole.


Curtis Carmichael (05:38):
So that’s kind of like my grounding of, of where I come from and community circles is something that I believe, you know, were very well as well. Sam demo that most communities, how they operate is they have the most vulnerable at the center of community. So the kids and the toddlers, and then around them are the adults around them are the, the, the older adults around them are the OGs and the grandparents. And this is kind of how they work in community. So foundationally to answer that question, cuz that was long winded. I always wanted to give you the context before I answer, why do I do the work that I do? And because I come from a community that is disenfranchised in Scarborough the most culture and ethically diverse place in north America, I believe my goal here is to build an inclusive world that includes us all inclusive world. That includes all of us, regardless of what communities you come from. So that’s why I always say my mission as a kid was no child left behind. And the mission of source code academy is no child left behind.


Sam Demma (06:30):
When do you sleep Curtis?


Curtis Carmichael (06:33):
Yeah, I do. I do a lot. To be honest I sleep , I try to find moments, but I think when, when I, when I feel like I’m here, I don’t feel like I’m doing something for a resume or anything. I just feel like it’s my responsibility. I’ve been given something to do. So it’s like every day I work up work, wake up with a mission in mind knowing that I’m working for the collective. So I think my six hours of sleep is enough. get me up in the morning.


Sam Demma (07:00):
Hey man, I can attest to your passion and purpose from all the phone calls we’ve had. It’s so apparent that you’re doing the work that you need to be doing. And deep down in your heart know you should be doing. I know you, you mentioned that you’re like the plug and the, the OG for everyone for so many different programs, everyone’s always hitting you up with questions and your phone’s buzzing, nonstop. Even during meetings and calls. You have other people requiring your attention. It seems like you do a really great job to, to balance it all, despite everything going on. What, what inspires the work that you do? So you told me a little bit about the why, but what inspires you to continue going in the moments where things feel overwhelming, extremely challenging? Like, are there role models you look up to or people that, you know, you speak to often to keep you going? What’s your inspiration?


Curtis Carmichael (07:50):
Yeah. I, I have a, I have a few inspirations. One inspiration is that in all the work that I do, which is what infused of informed my book is that when you look around the world, you start to realize that opportunities aren’t universal, but talent is. And once I realized that talent was universal, I started to look at all these communities that were facing like structural racism, structural poverty. I realized that access to resources, information is class based when I realized, despite those realities, that talent still exist here, value still exists here. Passion and power still exists here. That kind of inspires all of my work, cuz I go to these communities that usually people kind of look at them and they don’t understand that they have value and don’t feel like they have value. But when I go there, I see a, like a, a landmine of just of just worth and value and power and purpose and hope.


Curtis Carmichael (08:43):
And I always say like hope is hold on pain ends, right? So if you have that mentality that’s kind of what grounds my work is when I go back to community and I see myself in all these young kids, young boys and girls grandparents and family. So that’s what inspires the work. My role models are interesting. my, one of my biggest models, my mom and my dad, my dad actually used to be a professional cyclist in in guy in south America, but had to stop cycling because he had to make money for his 10 siblings and his parents that are struggling to make ends meet. So he actually gave me the love for biking, hence why I ended up biking across the country. And now I’m actually riding for team Canada, but my mom actually got me into tech and financial literacy at a time of early 2000, we’re the only family that had laptops.


Curtis Carmichael (09:28):
My mom really saw the value that tech was gonna be the future. So she saved up all her money, working multiple jobs to get each, each of us, me and my two older brothers laptops. And that’s kind of what started the early journey. So those are like the role models. Like I talk to all the time. There’s some role models I don’t see as often, right? One of my biggest role models as you see from the book is Nipsey hustle. In short Nipsey hustle is the best global example in history at elevating the social and economic fabric of a community. And at the end of his life at 33 had over 200 million in assets and would’ve helped assisted or hired over 40,000 people. And all his money got reinvested back into his neighborhood, which is a disenfranchised black and brown community. So those are kind of my role models that inspire me that we gotta play chess, not checkers, but we also have to know that services are currency to elevation. So we actually find ourself by losing ourself in the service of others.


Sam Demma (10:19):
Mm. I love it. I really love this idea that talent is universal. Talent is universal. Can you provide an example of a moment where you realize talent is everywhere, especially in one of these situations where opportunities didn’t exist. Maybe even growing up in the, in the, in the hood where you grew up, like give us an example of a story or a person that really brought that idea to life for you. That talent exists everywhere, no matter where you are.


Curtis Carmichael (10:49):
Yeah, definitely. My number one example is my homie, Alex we call him Dr. Alex, cuz we said he has a PhD in the streets, not, not in academia and Alex was that kid who was 12, right? I was 10 years old. He came from a Jamaican background, but in our neighborhood we lived in a food desert. So we were listening who may not know what that is, but in Toronto we have areas that are, that are very far from grocery stores. So the closest grocery store is about 90 minutes away, away. So Alex wanted to solve that problem. He didn’t want us to spend long times walking or, or long time kind of waiting for transit that never comes. So he decided I’m gonna make a motorcycle. So at 12 years old, over the course of several months, he actually invented what we called the hood motorcycle.


Curtis Carmichael (11:26):
So he, he was able to tinker with like a lawnmower engine, a broken toasters, broken microwaves and a bike parts. But he basically made a bike that was powered by a lawnmower engine. So he was able to make a motorcycle at 12 and he also made other people motorcycles, cuz he made a business out of it. He’s like, you know what? Everyone wants this. It’s something of value. I understand it’s solving a problem and a pain point in our community. So we actually gave us all Mo motorcycles. So that’s Alex at 12 years old. And, and I always say that creativity is the mother of necessity, right? So that mentality that we face problems that no one else in the world faces, but we’re able to create innovative solutions that can help add value and help people in the community. So that’s Alex who kind of inspired me to get into business and, and technology all at 10 years old, watching that happen


Sam Demma (12:13):
Is Alex, someone you stay in touch with today, what’s what’s going on in his world.


Curtis Carmichael (12:16):
Yeah. A lot of people ask about him cuz there’s a shopping book about Alex. So Dr. Alex is unfortunately at a time early 2000 before socially media, before I didn’t even know smart phones didn’t even exist yet. So we only had landlines and he moved soon after or about 13 years old. So when I was 11 and we kind of lost touch. So typically speaking when, when neighborhoods are gentrified, usually there’s a force relocation of people to other areas around the city where they don’t know where they’re going. So I’m not in touch with Alex today. It’s only a matter of time with the story out that I’ll be able to reconnect with these kinds of people. So my, my hope is that we, we can reconnect again.


Sam Demma (12:49):
I think it’s a beautiful reason to ensure we stay present in all of our conversations because we never know when our conversation with someone might be the last one for a really long time. Mm-Hmm you mentioned it to me on our last call that you guys haven’t talked. I wanted to ask you just to bring that up. yeah. Sometimes, sometimes inspiration, you know, comes from somebody who may not be around in a week or a month and we don’t know when we’re gonna connect with them. So I think it’s really important. We really value our communication with people and be present with them. And that’s something you do really well. And I think the people you mentioned as role models also did extremely powerful powerfully. Why butterflies in the trenches? I know it’s the name of your book, explain the concept and where that idea came from and share a little bit about the book itself and why you brought it to life.


Curtis Carmichael (13:36):
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Butterflies and trenches is is interesting concept. So I’m a certified stem elementary teacher by trade. So I’ve always been a buff for the first one science and something about butterflies. I always noticed that a lot of people don’t understand certain parts of nature that I think are some of the most profound concepts for us to ground our own life compass on. So when I look at butterflies, I started to realize that the only way they can survive is by eating minerals and nutrients from the mud. So there’s actually something that happens at a chemical level when water interacts with dirt and what it creates is something that’s essential for their survival and reproduction. So that kind of was beautiful for me cuz when you Google butterflies in the mud, you see millions and millions of photos. And that kind of reminded me that these caterpillar once came through the mud and now they return to the mud as a butterfly.


Curtis Carmichael (14:24):
So it made me look at disenfranchised communities globally and say our past is actually the building blocks for our future. So that’s kind of what launched the title of butterflies and the trenches. And, and when I remember as a kid even looking for a book about someone in Canada who broke the psycho poverty and empowered young people to do the same I couldn’t find it. And historically this book didn’t exist. So when I became a teenager and a young adult, I kept looking for the same book. And I couldn’t find it. And I remember becoming an elementary teacher 20 years later after looking for those books since I was a kid and now the kids I was teaching and interacting with in the community were now asking for the same book I was looking for 20 years ago. Mm. So essentially what I did, I followed the, the words of one of the greatest writers over time, Tony Morrison.


Curtis Carmichael (15:05):
And she said that if there’s a book that you wanna read that hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. So I took it as my responsibility to write the first book from a Canadian author about breaking the psycho party, empowering young people to break the psycho party, but also prepare them for the future of work. So cool thing I bought the book is that I, I didn’t only just make one, I, I also designed it as the world’s first augmented reality memoir. So it’s a book that has written text and over a hundred photos. And with the mobile app, you scan photos throughout the book and it displays interactive visual and audio content. And the goal for that is to further immerse readers in the story. So he can feel like you’re right there behind, beside me, right there beside Dr.


Curtis Carmichael (15:42):
Alex, right there beside, when the police raids my house right there at the drive-by shooting. There’s so many other stories that I wanted people to feel like they’re right there in that moment in time. So that was the best thing to do was to make it the world’s first augmented reality memoir. So second question you asked in short was what is the book about? So the way I always explain it, I always say like a couple sentences. I said, if you were to think about me being outside of the book it looks like when I was failing in school, but successful at crime, the book essentially covers what my life was like growing up in Scarborough. So a neighborhood that’s played by poverty, inadequate schooling drugs and violence, but it shows how it broke the cycle I was born into.


Curtis Carmichael (16:19):
So essentially what I do is people see the early stories of a childhood drug dealer all the way to his computer programmer, a social entrepreneur and a tech founder and how I cycled across Canada. So the run memoirs two parts. The first part is me cycling across Canada, but it goes back and forth between the ride and my actual early childhood stories. And then the second part of the book shows other people from around the world who I call butterflies and the trenches who made amazing difference in their lives in their community. And the whole OUS is to show that we all have the power and gifts to make a difference in our lives and communities, all we just need is the right people and the right opportunities and platform kind of like you’re giving me to help unwrap our gifts,


Sam Demma (17:00):
Self, top programmer developed an app that you could use to make the book come to life and I’ve downloaded it, held it up to my book pages and watched the video start playing, which is so freaking cool. I don’t think anyone’s ever done this before. What did the process look like? A bring that app to life, you know, in the book you talk about design process, the design thinking. Did you go through something similar when you were building this app and learning how to code?


Curtis Carmichael (17:26):
Yeah, definitely. Design think is cool. Cause design think is in any, anything, any successful invention that has helped humanity in some way, use the design thinking. So essentially I use the process of design thinking to stumble upon like, Hmm. How do you make people more like immerse themselves in a story that they either haven’t been in that community or they feel outta touch with that community. And that’s what kind of made me kind of spend a lot of time with students all across the country. Cause with me, it’s interesting. A lot of my friends are like, oh, are you speaking still? I’m like, I don’t really post anymore. Like my website’s old. I’m like rebranding that now. So I’ve always still been speaking. I’ve been visiting a lot of places, coast to coast and the kids are telling me that yo, all these books are just with texts and I’m like, oh great.


Curtis Carmichael (18:05):
Then maybe I should add photos. They, once I had the photos, a lot of kids are like, oh, I wish I was there. And then I’m like, I heard a lot of kids go to go say this. So I decided, you know, what, how do you make someone feel like they’re there, if there’s only written context and photos? Mm. So that’s when I’m like the app is just a no brainer. So I went through the exact same process of design thinking, which is essentially a process of how you create a solution to a problem that plagues a certain population. And it’s also user focused.


Sam Demma (18:31):
Dr. Alex did the same thing when he designed the motorcycle, right.


Curtis Carmichael (18:36):
exact same process. Apple did the same thing when they created smartphones, exact same process.


Sam Demma (18:41):
Hmm. You mentioned your dad from guy, he was super into cycling and also inspired your own interests and passionate and dedication in the field. Tell me a little more about when you started biking just in general. And then how that love for biking translated into ride for promise where you raised the a hundred K.


Curtis Carmichael (19:01):
Oh, definitely. Yeah, so my parents are both from Ghana. They they grew up middle class and my dad grew up poor and in his community, biking and farming were huge things. So when he came to Canada they’re working multiple jobs, so we didn’t see them a lot. So usually when your parents are working multiple jobs day and night shift, if your parents don’t parent you, the streets parent you. So while I was in the streets, he wanted to be able to give us something. So one was, he’s taught us about farming. So we had a garden in our backyard. We had like veggie vegetables and fruit for the whole community, but then also he gave us the love for biking. So I can remember being about six years old in region park in Toronto which is the oldest housing project in in north America actually.


Curtis Carmichael (19:42):
And when I was in that community, I just remember him looking at us while we’re trying to learn how to bike. And it wasn’t about, oh, just teaching us how to bike. It felt like he was giving us his life. Like the, the biking was the core of who he was as a professional cyclist and guy who was beating people who had like the best bikes in the world. And he grew up poor and he was beating them on average bike. So I can remember being six years old, him teaching us how to bike. And it felt like it was his life’s mission to teach us farming and biking. So that’s kind of my early story and my dad was working a lot. So our relationship strictly was just through biking, gardening, and that kind of led later in my life where you could see like Dr.


Curtis Carmichael (20:18):
Alex and you could see my bike got stolen at 12. And I ended up instead of complaining about it or asking my parents who couldn’t afford to buy a new one. I actually decided to make my own bike shop with about 10 other great school employees. And we made affordable bikes that were usually thrown out bikes. We renovated them and sold them for profit. So I’ve always been around. Bikes has been my, my core being. So when I ended up this is the ride for promise that you mentioned when I ended up coming back to my neighborhood after Queens university I got an academic athletic ride there for football and I was about to go play pro. I was talking to Hamilton tie cats and the red blacks and the CFO. And at that moment, being back in my neighborhood during the draft, I started to realize nothing had changed.


Curtis Carmichael (20:58):
It was getting worse. So my, my solution was how can I be of service? And the community center said, Hey, we’re closing down three locations potentially, cuz we just lost a hundred K funding to any way you could help. So at that moment I decided, do I wanna have a long impact long term impact and be less known or do I wanna have a short term impact and be well known? I decided to take the other route. So the other route meant hanging up my football cleats, moving back to my community and then making a difference. So when I moved back, I decided, you know, the best way to make noise is to ride across the country. So I ended up riding across the country which was huge. We ended up raising a hundred K and 60 days for these afterschool programs in in high priority Toronto community housing neighborhoods.


Curtis Carmichael (21:41):
But what I realized with that trip, I remember we talked about it before, out of 800 interactions with phone calls, donors meetings, presentations. I only got 16 yeses over the course of a year and that was what made the trip possible. But my motivation was Terry Fox and Rick Canson, Terry decided to run across Canada raised money for cancer research to find a cure, Rick Hanson, wheelchaired around the world over 40,000 kilometers in order to make the world more accessible for all, but also to find a cure for paralysis. So these stories we didn’t have in the hood. So I had to become a story of someone doing something adventurous and sports related in order to inspire young people that success is not making it out. It’s actually making your life and your community better.


Sam Demma (22:22):
Mm let’s talk about success for a second. I think so often today, people, when they hear the word success or chase your dreams or create a life of meaning, the first thing they think about is fame and fun. It’s like, you know, people talk about being getting on and being successful and it’s like, it’s just so societally linked to making money and having fun. And I think that’s so far from the truth. Sure. There’ll be moments when you’re enjoying it because you love the work and you’re pursuing the journey and there’s lots of cool people you’re gonna meet, but there’s gonna be moments where you just gotta sit down and do really difficult work for really long periods of time. How do you define success? You just kind of alluded to it in a world that’s always trying to pitch us their its own idea.


Curtis Carmichael (23:07):
Yeah. I think that’s essentially my definition. I actually learned it from a, a former drug dealer in Baltimore. Actually. He’s one of the original stories of the wire, the HBO series. And he ended up becoming a professor at the university of Baltimore and he is also like a five time, New York times bestselling author. And from going from a drug kingpin to where he is today, he actually defined it as success is not making it out. It’s making your life in your community better. And when I thought of that quote, that had nothing to do with monetary gain, that has nothing to do with, oh, life is all about my ego and filling my ego and getting status, getting popularity, getting followers, it has to do with everything where we go internal to kind of make, make ourselves better. So in sense of taking care of our health, it’s kinda like the compass, the idea of of north is nutrition.


Curtis Carmichael (23:53):
East is exercise. You have south as, as south and west as being, you know, wanna focus on water and you also wanna focus on this idea of like, we need to do things that benefit our health. That’s actually something that’s successful. But then when it comes to the external, you can actually pour from a cup that’s empty. So when I think of success of not making out, it’s not, it’s making your life, your community better. It’s all about focusing on self care and your mental health and improving your mental health and wellbeing. And then from that full cup, you’re able to overflow into other people’s cups. So that’s kind of like my mentality of, of success. It’s, it’s really about focusing on my own mental health and being well with self and then using that well and pouring into other people.


Sam Demma (24:32):
It’s beautiful too, because you mentioned in our last call, sometimes you don’t post on social media for like seven months or even a


Curtis Carmichael (24:42):
Year or


Sam Demma (24:42):
Even a, or even a year. Cause you know, you’re, you’re behind the scenes doing the work. And it’s just, it’s super inspiring, especially during a time where everyone is all about sharing and posting and following and like just, just talking about it and, and you’re doing the reverse, which is really, really inspirational. You talk about this idea of choosing to take the harder path that makes a bigger impact instead of the short success that will get you more well known, like the, you know, the athletic route. You also took that same approach with the ride for promise project, like the ride for promise wasn’t the end goal. It was the thing that you did to raise money, save the programs and generate the attention needed to bring an even bigger, longer term vision to life. Tell us a little bit about what that longer term vision is with source code academy and everything you’re doing moving forward.


Curtis Carmichael (25:35):
No, definitely. Yeah. I’ll tell you about that. So it’s cool with the, when the ride finished I knew the ride was gonna be moment in time. So I actually called my friend because I said, Hey, I have this vision for something in the future, but I think we need to cover the ride for promise journey in a documentary because we’ll be able to use this story to really show people the future of what it looks like to build an inclusive world. That includes us all. So we actually got a, the whole ride is covered in a documentary. I actually sent it to you. It’s a documentary that we won a lot of awards for. And we played at like TIFF and a few other film festivals. And that mentality kind of led me to this point of like, do you want to have short term impact or do you wanna put kind of like the groundwork done and 10 toes down and making something long term that outlives you.


Curtis Carmichael (26:18):
So essentially what I’m doing now, I actually founded with a few other people close to me a lot of well known educators, something called source code academy, Canada. So essentially what source code is it’s Canada’s firsts culture focused academy that prepares children and youth for the future of work. So essentially we work with kids K to 12, primarily in bipo and low income communities. And our goal is to provide all the programming they need in order to prepare for the future that they won’t find at home or in school. So we partner with community organizations with schools and also corporations in order to bridge that gap with educational programming. So our phase one is more so events and workshops and communities we’re currently in my hometown, my home Homeland neighborhood, actually our home office is in my community. I used to sell drugs out of, which is very full circle for me.


Curtis Carmichael (27:02):
So we do events and workshops starting from there for the Toronto community. Our phase two is to do workshops and professional development in schools for students and educators. And in our phase three, we’re actually moving quite fast for that is we’re already getting a lot of attention through that documentary. I mentioned where we wanna purchase the 50,000 square foot building in Scarborough and turning into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub for the community. So that’s kind of what we’re, we’re focused on. Once we secure that space, we’ll be able to scale our programs both across the GTA and across Canada and reach communities globally and in Caribbean and also the us. So in short, our mission for source code academy is to empower the, the next generation of global leaders from bipo and loan from communities. So they can embrace the marketplace and the global innovation economy as owners, builders, and creators.


Curtis Carmichael (27:47):
So what this means is we democratize access to tech, steam education and financial literacy and entrepreneurship programming. So holistically, like we said, we talked about it before, how do you prepare people for the future without caring for them holistically? There’s a lot of programs that do that. So what we’re trying to do is in order to teach you tech financial literacy, steam education and entrepreneurship, we have to holistically have focus areas on creative arts, mental health, literacy, fitness, and nutrition, social, emotional learning, and social justice. So our goal is when he care for the whole child, then we can prepare for their future. Like we said, that’s when we can build a world where no child is left behind.


Sam Demma (28:23):
Hmm. I love that. I really love the analogy of the compass too. I’d never heard of the Northeast Southwest analogy.


Curtis Carmichael (28:29):
That’s Anthony McClean.


Sam Demma (28:31):
No way


Curtis Carmichael (28:33):
Speaker. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (28:34):
Huge shout out to Anthony. I love that huge


Curtis Carmichael (28:37):
Dude. One of the, one of the greatest man,


Sam Demma (28:39):
That’s amazing. Oh, you have to tell him to tune into this afterwards. yeah. Oh man. That’s so cool. Yeah. I love, I love the idea as someone who grew up athletic athletically and having soccer is centered being the center of my life, I could definitely relate to taking care of your body and how that translates into whatever you choose to do in the future as well. You’ve obviously done that you you’ve stayed extremely fit. So are you currently bike riding for teen Canada right now? I know you mentioned that earlier. Like


Curtis Carmichael (29:07):
Yeah. So my race my race was in 2021. It got canceled.


Sam Demma (29:11):
Oh, wow.


Curtis Carmichael (29:12):
Yeah. So I was I was on a team Canada age group to Athlon team for sprint to Athlon. So it’s 5k run 20 K bike, two 5k run to finish. So I got invited for that. Our whole team was meeting and then it got canceled and postponed to Romania. So it’s actually supposed to be this June, but with everything going on with the Eastern Europe right now it’s not something that I actually feel comfortable going to, so unfortunate part about it. I have to go to another qualifying race this September in order to qualify for year’s world championship. So I have to go through the whole process once again.


Sam Demma (29:45):
Yeah. By any means necessary. Right?


Curtis Carmichael (29:47):
Any means, man


Sam Demma (29:49):
so educators are tuning in loving the story right now wanting to figure out how they can take your life, take your stories, experiences, and bring them back into their classrooms to spark really awesome conversations with students and colleagues. Like how can educators utilize your book, your work to start those conversations and have learning conversations in the classroom?


Curtis Carmichael (30:13):
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So there’s the multiple ways educators can get involved. I think as a certified teacher myself, that’s how I designed the book. So it was a young adult book for kids grades six to 12, the language is very accessible, but it has a lot of benefits for adults as well. So essentially what I did for teachers we actually provided a free high quality curriculum and teaching guide for the book and it’s basically 30 pages and it covers a lot of topics that focus on preparing for the future of work. So there’s areas that focus on mental health, financial literacy, steam education, entrepreneurship creative arts, literacy social, emotional learning, and anti-racism, so that’s kind of like, it’s very all encompassing. That’s why it’s 30 page with the curriculum expectations with the culminating assignments, kind of the discussion questions. It has everything a teacher would need to teach you don’t literal.


Curtis Carmichael (30:58):
You don’t have to do anything. You just need to grab the guide in the book. So I made it easy. So the nice part about it’s free on the website. And it’s also free with the book. So the book’s also purchased only on my website exclusively. And right now there’s a few schools that already have it as retire required reading. So Ontario tech university has it as required reading for all their faculty education graduates. So all the new teachers and the veteran teachers have it as required reading. And there’s also 10 schools into TDSB. So Toronto district school board five schools in Toronto Catholics board here as well. And then there’s teachers in London, England Los Angeles, New York and Australia and the Caribbean reading it. So it’s kind of, it’s cool when you’re indie cuz now I know everyone who’s has their hands on it worldwide, but it’s my goal. Like when they get the book, they’ll learn how to read widely think critically and question everything. That’s kind of the model.


Sam Demma (31:42):
Hmm. I love it man. And the app, where can people check that out? Even if they just wanted to poke around and be impressed by what you built, not knowing any code


Curtis Carmichael (31:52):
, but it’s a code part about it. So the only way for them to actually experience the app is to have the book. So what we did is we did something in tech called we geo lock the experience. So essentially what we do is the, the, the app is only able to come to life with the book in hand, cuz you need to access the photos in the book, scan them with the app and then it displays interactive audio and visual experience. So unfortunately that’s kind of like the, it’s kinda like an NFT approach where it’s like, you have to have the actual physical copy in order to access the app. But the app is available for free on iOS as well as the free guide. I I’m big in giving things for free but yeah, it’s on iOS and then on it’s gonna be on Android soon, later this spring, I’m gonna have to take a break from coding.


Sam Demma (32:33):
Hopefully everyone listening is feeling that FOMO right now.


Curtis Carmichael (32:37):
yeah.


Sam Demma (32:39):
If they are, and they’re wondering where they could purchase a book or a set of books, how can people connect with you, buy books, reach out, ask questions and absorb everything that is Curtis?


Curtis Carmichael (32:49):
Definitely. Yeah. The best way is to just go to curtiscarmichael.ca. You can check out the stuff there and there’ll be a new website we’re launching very soon in the next couple weeks. But yeah, you can check me out there. You go to purchase the book through there; anything speaking related, book related, or you just want to chat, or you need some resources in the community you’re from, regardless if you’re in Canada or the US, I’m pretty well connected. So feel free to reach out and I’ll be be of service.


Sam Demma (33:11):
Awesome. Curtis, thank you so much for coming on here, sharing some of your ideas, insights, philosophies, beliefs. Really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Curtis Carmichael (33:21):
Definitely. Thanks so much, Sam. You’re a golden.


Sam Demma (33:25):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Curtis Carmichael

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.

Terresa Amidei – Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy

Terresa Amidei - Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy
About Terresa Amidei

Terresa Amidei (@DRAsb2) has been an educator for 23 years.  She grew up in North Pole, Alaska and is currently the Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy, a public middle school in Southern California. 

She cares about student voice and advocacy and works to be sure every student on campus is seen, heard, loved, and valued.  She says teaching is exhausting, but so, so worth it.  The work all educators do is vital!

Connect with Terresa: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Desert Ridge Academy

California Activities Directors Association (CADA)

What is American Sign Language (ASL)

SAVE Promise Club

PickWaste

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Terresa Amidei. She has been an educator for 23 years. She grew up in North Pole, Alaska, and is currently the activity director for Desert Ridge academy, a public middle school in Southern California. She deeply cares about student voice and advocacy and works to make sure every student on campus is seen, heard, loved, and valued.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She says teaching is exhausting, but so, so worth it. The work all educators do is vital. You can reach her at her email, which she’ll share at the end of this interview or through her Instagram @draleadership. I cannot wait to share this, this conversation with you because it was so inspiring, and so filled with amazing ideas that you can implement into your schools and with your students. I will see you on the other side, talk soon. Teresa, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in education today?


Terresa Amidei (01:41):
Oh, sure thing. Thanks for having me, Sam. This is fantastic. So I am Mrs.Amidei. I am the activity director at Desert Ridge Academy. We are in the Coachella valley and it is hot, it is so hot. Fun fact, summer school last week; 122 degrees. Swear, the actual temperature. So, the next part of your question was for what brought me here? Well, a fantastic thing. Funny story. I went to CADA, which is the California Activities Directors Association, and I happened to hear Sam talk about his amazing PickWaste thing, which is recycling and how he was student voice, student advocacy, making a change for the better. And that’s how I met Sam and how I got into education was this, I thought like this, hmm, what really matters? Hmm, what, what matters? What will make a difference? Where, what should I spend all my energy and talent on? And it was education and then not only being an educator, but then I was middle school because middle school, there’s no one who gets to be an adult that says, you know what, if I could just go back to middle school, bless you. If I could go back to middle school, my life would be so amazing. Middle school is the best years. That’s only true for kids that come here because we really do try to make middle school, not so middle schooly. Do you know what I’m talking about?


Sam Demma (03:02):
yeah, I absolutely. I absolutely love that. And you know, before we even started the interview, I saw this little, what I thought was a tattoo on your wrist. And for those of you that are listening and don’t see the video, there’s this little butterfly on her wrist. And I thought it was a tattoo. And so I asked Theresa what it was. And can you explain a little bit about that, how it originated and how it’s being used within the school?


Terresa Amidei (03:20):
Okay. Well fun. Another fun fact, our school is situated. We’re in Southern California. So we’re in the migratory path of the Monarch butterfly between here and Mexico. So a few years ago we got a grant and we actually had some butterflies. And now I wish I would’ve put that picture up that were painted as a mural on our building. And so the kids were like, wait a minute. I thought we were Diamondbacks. Like, why are we getting butterflies? So my student leaders came up with this way to make our, our butterflies make sense for them. They use this initiative, it’s called the D butterfly project. And it’s like this, you know, there’s a lot of kids, especially post pandemic. And during the pandemic and this year and a half of lockdown, they were struggling, right? Their mental health was suffering. Their emotional health was bad.


Terresa Amidei (04:03):
Their physical health was maybe they, you know, they were stuck middle schoolers. It’s the hardest part because like they don’t have jobs and they can’t drive. So they can’t leave their house. Right. Unless someone’s picking them up or we have zooms like this, where I’m like, come on, we have this activity just come on down. We’ll have a quick dance party. Woo, woo. So my kids noticed the mental health was not so great. Right. But kids, it’s such a hard thing. Like, they’re not gonna say, Hey, hold a little sign. I’m suffering. Like I’m having, I’m struggling. I’m having a hard time. I’m thinking of hurting myself. But what they will do is take Sharpie and make a little butterfly, which is what I do every day. Now, when we see that as a trusted adult, what we do is I look and if, if you were holding it up, I would say, oh, Sam, I see that you have a butterfly.


Terresa Amidei (04:50):
I’m a trusted adult at desert Ridge. Can I help you? I, I can get you any kinda help and I can listen to anything that you need. Right. and I’m happy to say that I, I was in that situation and I was able to get a kid help so that, you know, it just takes one to make it worth the effort. Right. And even if you say, no this is just a support butterfly, cuz you can put one on to say you’re supporting other people. So it’s not so stigmatizing to be like, Hey, I need help. I’m you know, if everyone’s like, oh no, we’re all rocking this. Like we’re all here to support each other. Then I would say, oh thank you so much, Sam, for your support. That means a world to, to someone who’s really struggling. And then I’d also go like this check on Sam next week in case it was a legit butterfly.


Terresa Amidei (05:33):
And it’s just been a really great, great project. It’s so simple. It costs nothing. In fact, some of my students in leadership last year, we presented virtually of course at the national youth violence prevention summit. And we shared this idea and there was a kid in Georgia who was like, miss a, I love that butterfly project. I mean, that’s not exactly how I sounded, but to me that’s how I sounded. And he go and it’s, I mean, everyone has a pin. If there’s kids who are also on distance learning, we also had a thing where if your parents were like, don’t write on yourself, you know, that’s a thing. We just added the butterflies onto our name. So where I have mine with my pronouns, my she and her we would just add a little butterfly fun fact, if you go eight, I eight kinda makes a butterfly. So that was my butterfly when, when we were on distance.


Sam Demma (06:23):
Wow. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. Does that idea or project relate to the hashtag save promise? I saw that in your, your email and I was wondering what that was all about as well.


Terresa Amidei (06:32):
Yeah. Okay. So save promise is another organization that we are a part of and we have a club I’m the advisor for that club as well. Nice. So the safe promise is stands for students against violence everywhere. Mm. It actually came out of the Sandy hook promise group and save promise club was another one. And so they kind of merged and they had this fantastic organization where they’re just saying, Hey, we gotta minimize our gun violence. And to do that, to do that, it starts with eliminating isolation, social I isolation. Like if you, I mean, it makes sense. You’re like, yes, that makes sense. If you feel like you don’t have a place in the world, if you feel like you can’t get any help, if you feel like no one notices, if you’re there or not, then of course you might be, you know, drawn into violence because nothing matters.


Terresa Amidei (07:23):
So for us, we, we were really happy to be a part of that club. In fact we got oh, what was, I, I wanna say it was a relationship. And like like what do you call it when you get like a little award? And we were like, oh, you guys are doing such a great job of like, you know, being innovative and connecting students. And I was like, yes. Because we only just started it last year. We just saw this is a serious need. I mean, not to get all serious on a, on a upbeat podcast. But when we, when the whole nation was closed down, you know, due to COVID wow. The school shootings were dramatically dropped because there were, there were no kids to be engaged in violence. When we started opening up, it was, it was heartbreaking to hear like, oh, there was another case and then another case and then something else.


Terresa Amidei (08:09):
And it’s like, guys, we can’t go back to the same way of operating. We, we have to be there for each other. We have to rise up by lifting others. If you see somebody who’s sitting by themselves, don’t let the sit by themselves. You know, like you can say, like, if I saw you by yourself, Sam, I would say, Hey Sam, do you, do you need someone to stay with you? I mean, some people are introverts, you know? And they’re like, no, I’m really good by myself. That’s great. But I need to ask to be sure, because if you’re like, no, I really just really want, I just feel terrible. Like I’m, I’m by myself, you know, mm-hmm so part, part of that initiative is we, we participated in a start with hello campaign, which is simply like, hi, hello, Hey. Yeah. How you doing?


Terresa Amidei (08:55):
You know, like acknowledging you exist, that’s where it starts. So you don’t feel so isolated. And then later in the year we had a whole districtwide where say something campaign. So it’s like, when you see something, most people who are gonna be drawn into any kind of violence, whether it’s like, oh, I’m gonna, I got some beef. I’m gonna have to fight with that person at the bus stop. You know, they say something, someone hears it before it actually happens almost every time. So part of that campaign is like, Hey, let us know. Like our number one thing is keeping kids safe. Yeah. We wanna educate you. But we I’m, I’m also trying to make fully formed functioning, loving adults, you know? Yeah. So I don’t want you to get a black eye. Like, how are you gonna you’re you’re like all scared of the bus stop cuz you think someone’s gonna try to get you like that.


Terresa Amidei (09:43):
That’s no way to live. So that’s kind of the things we’re trying to be ahead of the game and be like, no, no, no, no, we, we don’t play that game. Like no, no, no, no, no. You don’t have to sit by yourself. Like no, no, no, no, no, no. You need a friend come on over. And the other cool thing we’ve done Sam, like I’m just on a roll I better, I better have some wine keep no, no, no. I’m good. I’m good. Another thing we started is we noticed you know, there was a lot of turmoil in the country. I don’t know if you noticed, have you noticed? Yeah. A lot of divide, a lot of people, like not talking to each other, a lot of people, like, I don’t believe you or you no, you’re this. So you must not be that.


Terresa Amidei (10:20):
Or if you’re this, then you’re all these other things. People are very complex. And I think we don’t, you know, take that time to get to know each other when we realize, oh my gosh, we’re really the same. We’re really the same. Like you care about the environment. I know that from the work that you did. Right. And so I care about the environment. Like I turn on my water, I get wet. I turn off my water. Yeah. I get some soap. I turn it on. I turn it off. Yeah. That’s that’s me. You might, you didn’t know that till now. But we had that love of, of the world and the environment in common. And if we don’t have a chance to ever talk about it, we will never know that we’re really the same. Mm. You know? And, and it’s like, when you know somebody and you care about someone, it’s like, you know, I’m not gonna hurt you or I, I’m not gonna want to hurt you or I’m gonna understand you better.


Terresa Amidei (11:07):
Or I’m gonna be more willing to listen to what you have to say, because we’re the same. Yeah. We have the same things in mind. So one of the clubs that we started when we were noticing all this, you know, national turmoil, people, adults being mean at each other, adults yelling at each other adults like, Ooh, I hate you because we, we just started a club called the rise above club. And it’s a spot where, I mean, I hope I can launch it with like, you know, and make it something great. But it’s the idea that we gotta be better than that. You know? And like kids, adults always think, oh, kids like, you know, kids, they’re little, I’m telling you kid, you’re a kid Sam. Well, okay. You’re probably really an adult, but I’m like, oh, you’re much younger than me. So to me, they’re kids. Right? Yeah. Kids have great ideas. Yep. Kids can change the world. They’re not the future leaders. They’re the leaders now. Yeah. They’re the leaders now. And they need a space to like, figure this all out. Like how are they gonna be able to talk about things if they don’t understand it? How are they gonna change something? If they can’t have a voice, how are they gonna be able to navigate the world when it’s all confusing and scary and make them have anxiety?


Sam Demma (12:18):
Yeah.


Terresa Amidei (12:19):
So for me, the club is it’s about student engagement, student advocacy, speaking up how to have a voice. Like there’s so many kids who don’t even know like, oh, that’s the process of speaking to the school board and getting policy change. Oh, I could write an email to every Senator which I did on my veteran’s day. Cuz I thought, well, this is an important day. I’m gonna use my day to make sure everyone knows what I’m thinking. Sam. It took all day. But you know what? I did it. Why? Because I thought it mattered. I thought it mattered. And, and even, even if no one reads it, I know I have spoke my truth to people who have are in a position to make a change, make some kind of change. So I’ve done what I can do from my little space.


Sam Demma (13:06):
Yeah. No it’s so true. Just so much, so much good stuff. So many cool ideas. Thank you so much for sharing. What led you in education towards the extra mile mentality? It sounds like you’re involved in so many things in the school. You know, you’re making an impact on so many levels as opposed to just being a teacher. No, there’s nothing wrong with just being the teacher and teaching the class and going home. quote unquote, but there’s so much more to it than that, but it’s like, you know, you, you get involved in so many different things. Where did that drive come from? And do you think that’s been a very self-fulfilling experience as well because you probably get more out of being a teacher and an educator as well by getting involved in so many different things.


Terresa Amidei (13:51):
Yeah. That’s excellent question. And here here’s the thing. First of all, I do have a, a wonderfully supportive family, my children and my my, my husband, you know, they, they know that this work is important. Because I always tell ’em this work is so important. Yeah. Like, like I I’m thinking about the work that I could do. I mean, I, I could do so many things. Right. Like I could have any kind of job, but I always say when it comes to education you know, I’m exhausted like on the daily, you know, like when they always do the COVID screening and they’re like, do you have a headache? Do you have muscle fatigue? And I’m like oh shoot. I do. because I’ve been here for like 15 hours. Yeah. And I’m like, wait, is it because I’ve been typing and is this why I have a headache?


Terresa Amidei (14:36):
Oh, is it because I was outside and I was 122. We were doing a tour of the campus. Yes. That is why I have a wait, can I wait? I’m like, okay. I can still taste. We’re good. We’re all good. We’re all good. It it’s I always say this, like, it’s just it’s not supposed to be an easy job. Mm-Hmm like some people think, oh, teachers it’s so easy. You’ve got the summers off fun fact. I worked three sessions of summer school this summer. I, I didn’t have any time off. That was self-imposed because I wanted to help the kids. I wanted to make a difference. Ooh. I wanted, I, I, I, I’m not, I always say this shouldn’t be an easy job. It should be a job. That’s worth it. Yeah. The job is really difficult if you’re doing it, if you’re doing it well, that’s how I see it.


Terresa Amidei (15:22):
If you’re doing it well, you should be tired because you’ve put everything into it. Yep. Like imagine whatever sport that you wanna play. You know, and it’s the, like, we just had the Olympics you know, you have an excellent, like the goat Simone. Right. And she’s doing it even. She’s like, wait, you know, like, wait you know, I gotta watch out for myself. Right. That’s one little side lesson, but, but she’s gonna be tired. She’s gonna be sweaty. Right. Because she’s giving it at all. She’s not coming in. And she’s like you know, she’s, she’s doing like amazing, innovative things that have never been done. Right. So I’m thinking, yeah, I’m in a classroom. But the work that we do, what most people don’t know, unless you’ve been an educator is how many decisions that you’re doing and how many things that you’re man, like my mind is always firing.


Terresa Amidei (16:12):
Like, like this is every, like the Sies right now. It looks like this in my brain. Right. because I’m like, okay, I gotta watch out for this kid. I know that kid’s dog just died. I know this mom is in COVID this one’s battling cancer. Like I’m managing all that stuff and trying to be like, you need to help others because you’re gonna feel better if you help others, if you serve other people. So for me, this job is like, it’s mission critical. It’s mission critical because whatever I do here, if I’m doing a good job, I’m gonna create happy, fully functioning, nonviolent, helpful humans. Mm. And that’s what I wanna see. You know, that thing, like be the change you wanna see. That’s the change I wanna see. I wanna see people who care, but also like have fun. Like I I’m, I work with children, you know, elementary kids, middle school kids, high school kids, even high school kids.


Terresa Amidei (17:06):
Right. Okay. Maybe they turn 18 when they’re in high school. Right. senior year. But are they really adults? Like, do they really understand all this stuff? And like have a driver’s license and know how to vote and pay a mortgage? Like, you know what I mean? How to get a rental application? Wait, the answer’s no, they don’t know any of those things. So it’s like, you still gotta remember they’re still children. Right. They’re still navigating what it’s gonna be to be like, oh, this is the life that I wanna have for myself. Mm-Hmm and this is the things that are important to me. I mean, there’s so many advocates out there, like thank goodness that are young people. Right. even like, I look at Amanda Gorman and I’m like, oh my gosh, that poem was just gives me the chills. Right.


Terresa Amidei (17:46):
But she’s in her twenties. Mm-Hmm , you know, this is a world that belongs to everyone who’s here. So for me, I, I just want, I just want kids to come in and be able to make mistakes, but like, you know, turn it into things that are gonna work for other people. Like, you know, we create the welcome messages and we don’t just make posters and we’re trying to lift people up. Like, we’ve got little secret, you know, like, oh, we’re gonna leave the, okay, I’ll tell you secretly okay. Like Friday, we’re having this welcome back dance. Of course, with the whole COVID like, you know, we’re very mindful of all those rules. And we’re like, okay, 10 of you here and 10 there. And we’re playing the games because they’re just so craving interaction. They they’re just craving this interaction. Right. So, you know, it wouldn’t be a time like, Hey, I’m gonna invite you to dance and we’re gonna do, we’re gonna learn times tables.


Terresa Amidei (18:35):
Cause I’m gonna get you caught up. Like that would not be an event that would go over while. Right. So safely giving them this interaction. But then here’s the secret. We already made these little love notes for every single person at the school and every single adult at the school. And while the dance is going on, we have a secret, you know, happiness ninja team where we’re gonna tape them on every single desk so that when they come in on Monday, they’re gonna go what now? I mean, I hope they do that. Some will be like, what, what is this? Like, you know, and whatever. Yeah. Because they’re kids, but some it’s gonna matter to some kid and some kid is gonna keep this little note and some kid is gonna tape it onto their little Chromebook or stick it in their backpack. And you know what and will probably, and this is the hardest part of leadership. We will probably never know that it made an impact on that. Yeah. We might never know, you know, like in a school, we we’ve got like a thousand kids and, and adults here. Right. And so in that, in that huge number, you know, you, you will not get any kind of feedback. That’s like, I love that. Keep that more of that, you know, they’re, they’re not gonna say anything. Yeah. But I just have to believe like it matters.


Sam Demma (19:50):
Yeah.


Terresa Amidei (19:50):
Being welcome social, you know what I mean?


Sam Demma (19:52):
Yeah. It’s like, you know, a tree falls into forest just cause you don’t hear it doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall. Right. It’s the same thing with student impact like it. Right. Right. You know, just cuz you don’t see the positive mental changes in physical changes that a kid might be undergoing due to something at school they’re still happening. Right. And that’s such a good reminder. You know, I like to think of educators, people like yourself as gardeners, you guys are planting seeds and watering them every day and sometimes you don’t see them grow. Sometimes you do, but they all grow, you know?


Terresa Amidei (20:21):
Well, and here’s the other thing, like what you put into it. So what if I’m, what if I’m like super critical, you know? And I’m like super short with you and I’m like, just sit down, Sam. That’s growing too. Yeah. You know what I mean? Yeah. That grows too. So I mean, and we’re all, we’re all human and it’s hot and there’s lots, lots of moving pieces. So, you know, I, I try to be mindful. I don’t always, you know, hit the mark, but I also try if I realize I’m like, Ooh, I was kind of harsh to Sam. I, I always try to be like, Sam, come on. I gotta make, I gotta make amends on that one. Cuz that I didn’t, I, I need you to understand, like even if you’re correcting a kid, like, I still love you. This is fine, but you can’t do these two things like stop doing this and then I still love you. You’re good. And now it’s over for me. If you stop doing that. right. Yeah. we just gotta have a way that we are like, oh, okay. Communicate, communicating what I need so that you can be successful. I’m just, I, I feel like I’m like the German guard, like help me help you. Yeah. That’s what I’m trying to do.


Sam Demma (21:23):
That’s awesome. Love it. Cool. And what are you most looking forward to this year? I know it’s gonna be maybe looking a little different than the past couple years. but, or maybe not, but what are you looking most forward to?


Terresa Amidei (21:36):
It’s okay. I mean, you know, not to sound so cliche, but it’s, it’s like that it is the little time when you catch a, well, you know what? I’m not gonna say miss a, I love that activity. I love getting my note. Oh miss a. I love that poster was so cute, but what they, what will they will do is they’ll come in and they’ll go like this, miss am. Hi. That tells me I’m doing the right thing. Or I’ll see a kid and they’ll be like, I’ll catch ’em and I’ll see ’em I’m like, I’m like, they’re getting their note and they’re like


Sam Demma (22:06):
Quick little smile.


Terresa Amidei (22:07):
yeah. And then I’m like, yes. When here’s something to happen on Monday. Okay. You ready for this one? Sam? It is. So this is so important because here’s the other thing with leadership. You don’t have to like, I mean, I’m trying to get all kids. I mean all like all of them, I’m trying to get all of them right. To where they need to go successfully, but you gotta do it. It’s like you gotta make those special moments. Like one kid at a time, one kid at a time, like this is, this is how here for me. Like the amount of reinforcement. If I can get one kid that’s enough to get me another week. You know what I’m saying? Mm. So this happened on Monday. My kids were, it was our last week of summer school, right. Of the last session.


Terresa Amidei (22:49):
And we were giving tours to the new kids who were coming in. So sixth graders who had never been here from seventh graders who had never been here because of COVID. Okay. And I was already like, you know, we had practiced in that super hot, hot heat. And I had like Otter pops for after, when it was done, then I’m not being paid by that. They’re just the cheapest Popsicle. I’m just saying Hey. So we were practicing, we’re doing all this stuff. And I had told my kids, look, I, some parents are gonna try to sneak in and I’m gonna be like, no, no, no parents, because I can’t have you lead a tour. I don’t know who those parents are. Right. I gotta keep you safe. That’s my number one job. Yeah. So there was this kid that came in, I’ll have to demonstrate the kid comes in and they’re with a parent and I’m like, wow, like getting ready.


Terresa Amidei (23:31):
Like I’m getting ready. I’m not in my pose, but I’m getting ready. Like, you gotta go, you can’t be here. Right. And the mom says, I’m an interpreter for my daughter. And I was like, whoa. And I’m like, what, what are you interpreting? And she says we’re doing, I need to do sign language for her. Okay. Now this is where it gets really good. Don’t make me cry, Sam don’t do it. I won’t okay. This is where it gets really good. Okay. So everybody’s messed up and you can’t really, you know, you can’t really see how anywhere they’re like this. Right. And so this mom says I’m doing a you know, ASL. And I said, oh my gosh. And so then we’re like my name. And we started doing, and then the girl, okay, you gotta imagine it. Okay. So with her mouth, she goes like this, she goes,


Sam Demma (24:13):
Mm.


Terresa Amidei (24:14):
Like this and it gets better because one of the clubs we have is ASL. So I, I bring over the little QR code where, you know, we have this for all the kids and I find the ASL club and I hold it up for her and her mom. Ooh. Yeah. I’m getting goosebumps. That’s how, you know, it’s the right thing. I pull up this card and I say, Hey, we have an ASL club. And she just went while she’s still like, and she just leans into her mom and her mom and her are like that. Okay. That, that alone will get me two more weeds of effort, because think about it. Are there a lot of kids who are gonna come to our school and need ASL interpretation? No, but this girl came now think about it. She came, it’s a new school. It’s already scary.


Terresa Amidei (25:00):
Anyway, she hasn’t been to campus forever and she now she’s here and, and she’s probably worried, oh my gosh, I’m not gonna be able to talk to anybody. Like no one will understand what I’m doing. Like everyone’s gonna think. I mean, well, plus I just watched Coda last night. It’s so good. Anyway. So I’m, I’m thinking about that. And then, and I didn’t know she was coming, no one told me like, oh, Hey, you’re gonna need to have a, you know, services for this kid. No one. I didn’t know. So the fact that we are like able to accommodate it and I’m like, I have a, we already have a spot for you. We have a spot for you already. You didn’t even have to say anything. We have a club that’s already everything that you like, it’s your field. Like, it’s like, if I was a kid and I was coming to school and I’m like, what?


Terresa Amidei (25:43):
You have a sticker and hot latte club. What, it’s exactly my people with exactly the things that I like and need that I identify with. You already have a space for me. Like, just think about how I mean, and it wasn’t, I mean, just think about how she was like that information to know there would be people and clubs hearing and, and not who could, she could already communicate. Like she wouldn’t already have to advocate for herself because it was already there. Mm we’re already ready for her. What, what do you think? What do you suppose a difference that would make for that family? And, and for that kid, now that she’s coming to our school


Sam Demma (26:26):
Safety, you know, they know there’s a family away from the family, right. It’s like, right. Every student might not need ASL, but every student needs a community where they feel welcomed and involved and loved and you know, included. And I think that’s exactly what that does.


Terresa Amidei (26:42):
right. And I mean, and to me, her face was like, you get me. Yeah. You get me and you have a space already ready for me. You saved me a, a space on the bus. Yeah. That’s what it says to me. So that like, I, it wasn’t, I, I keep a little sticking out. Like I keep all my little inspirational things. Mine is like, okay. It, it didn’t have to be a big thing. It just had to be the right thing. Like nothing heroic, just the right thing. That was, it was the right thing to have that club.


Sam Demma (27:09):
Yeah. I love that.


Terresa Amidei (27:10):
And, and you never know, you just never know when you’re gonna need it. You know? Like I said, I didn’t know she was coming and I’m like, boom, I got you. You know, some other kid came out like, boom, I got you too. Yeah. Oh, we don’t. Oh, we don’t have a club. You know what? Come sit down. We’ll find you advisor. We’ll make it right now.


Sam Demma (27:26):
That’s awesome. that’s so cool. Yeah. So how long have you been working in education?


Terresa Amidei (27:33):
Ooh this is my 23rd year.


Sam Demma (27:36):
Let’s go. Thank you for your service.


Terresa Amidei (27:42):
you’re welcome. That was easy. Yeah.


Sam Demma (27:45):
that was the first time anyone’s ever pushed that button. I love it.


Terresa Amidei (27:50):
It wasn’t, it wasn’t easy. It was hard, but, but worth it, like I said, it was hard but worth it.


Sam Demma (27:55):
Yeah. I hear you. So knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had and the things you’ve learned, if you could go back and speak to Tonya year one, what advice would you give me to yourself?


Terresa Amidei (28:08):
Sam? Why’d you have to go there. Why’d you have to go there, Sam . Okay. Well, so many things have changed right, since that time, but there, if there’s anyone out there who’s listening, who’s an aspiring educator. I say, jump, jump all in and be all in from the very beginning. The, I mean, I see kids all the time, like in this community, cuz I, I live where I work and you know, my, my own children are like, oh mom, we don’t wanna go to the store with you. Cuz people are always like, miss, is that you? Or they’ll be like, oh, was Ms. Like what she got in her cart? I’m like, what? Nothing, nothing gonna see here. Just all vegetables and fruits but what I would, what I, I, when I have seen kids that are now like, oh my gosh it’s so my first job I was doing eighth grade. And so that was 23 years ago. So they were 14. So 14 to 23? Yeah. 37.


Sam Demma (29:01):
Oh


Terresa Amidei (29:02):
Yeah. I, I haven’t had the thing where those kids, kids are in my class yet. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m waiting for that. But, but I see him and like I saw one guy at Costco and like, he was, I’m like, you have a Costco card and I’m like, wait, you’re married, wait, you can drive like, wait, I’m like you. And he had like a toddler. And I was like, oh my gosh, why? And I say then like, I’m like, wow sorry about anything that I might have messed up you know? Cause I just was trying so hard, you know, trying so hard back then, but you don’t have, you really don’t have the skills for several years, like a, a full on, you know, repertoire of like everything, you know, plus I’ve taught like every subject before I got into leadership.


Terresa Amidei (29:46):
So math, science, English, social studies, intervention, computer Jo geography and, and now leadership. Right? So I’m like, oh no, I know. So I would say when I got to year 15, I was like, yeah, I think I’m pretty good. you know, like I’m like, I think I’m, you know what, I think I’m not being doing an right job. Yeah. I mean, yeah, yeah. I think I’m getting this right. And then I would say maybe like by year 18, 19, it was like, I know, I know what I know. You know, I know what I know. I know my value. I know that I understand this I’ve I’ve been around this block. Like, you know, kids are always like, oh, how’d you hear me? And I’m like, oh bro, I’m a mom. I’m a wife and I’ve taught middle school for 23 years. You really think I’m missing any of that. That’s going on in the corner. Cause I’m not, you know like I already know, I already know what you’re gonna do, you know? And so you can plan for it. So my, my only advice for my young self would be like, you’re gonna get there, you’re on the right path. Your, your ideas are golden. You just need to just firm it up a little bit. Right. And then, and then you’ll be here. Woo. With


Sam Demma (30:56):
Sam


Terresa Amidei (30:57):
I’ll be like, know, I’ll be like this one day. You’ll be with Sam, the recycling guy that you met at cat . You’ll never believe it


Sam Demma (31:05):
In 122 degree weather.


Terresa Amidei (31:07):
I know that. Awesome. Doesn’t global warming. Let’s seriously get on board.


Sam Demma (31:12):
Terresa, this has been so, so fun. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat about your experiences, what’s going on in your school. Everything that you’ve gone through and your journey into education, this has been so, so cool. If someone is listening and wants to reach out and just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Terresa Amidei (31:31):
Yeah. I would say email. I can, do you want me to drop that to you? And then you can,


Sam Demma (31:36):
I’ll put in the show notes, I’ll put it in the show notes as well, but if you want, you can even say it now or spell it out for


Terresa Amidei (31:42):
All right. Well, do you see my name right on the little thing? So put a . in between there. So terresa.amidei@desertsands.us.


Sam Demma (31:52):
Cool. Easy, simple. Thank you so much again. This is awesome, Keep up the great work.


Terresa Amidei (31:57):
Sam. You’re doing such great work yourself. I just wanna say thanks for reaching out. Like anytime, anytime you need some filler, just call me.


Sam Demma (32:04):
I will, appreciate it.


Terresa Amidei (32:05):
I love it. I love it.


Sam Demma (32:07):
All right. Well talk soon.


Terresa Amidei (32:09):
Okay. Bye Sam.


Sam Demma (32:10):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Terresa Amidei

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.

Kevin Fochs – Executive Director of Alaska FFA

Kevin Fochs - Executive Director of Alaska FFA
About Kevin Fochs

Kevin Fochs (@fochs_for_hd60) is the Executive Director of the Alaska FFA. Kevin spent 32 years in the classroom and is an award-winning agriculture educator and FFA advisor.

Kevin specializes in leadership development of youth and educating them about the opportunities and importance of agriculture. He is responsible for the oversight and management of the Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska FFA Foundation.

Connect with Kevin: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alaska Future Farmers of America Association (FFA)

Agriculture Education at Montana State University-Bozeman

Masters of Education at Montana State University-Bozeman

Hobson Public 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 (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today I have the privilege of being joined by Kevin Fochs. He is the executive director of the Alaska FFA. Kevin spent 32 years in the classroom and is an award winning agricultural educator and FFA advisor. Kevin specializes in leadership development of youth and educating them about the opportunities and importance of agriculture. He is responsible for the oversight and management of the Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska FFA Foundation. Kevin does amazing work and we have a very enjoyable, laid back, but authentic conversation on today’s episode. I hope you enjoy it and I’ll see you on the other side. Kevin, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in your own life’s journey so far?


Kevin Fochs (01:32):
Yeah, well, I grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana actually, ’cause kids spent most of my life, life or youth in on a farm and ranch, raising cows and milking cows, riding horses. And when I graduated from high school, my mom said “Hey, you need to go on to college” and I was kind of fighting that I wasn’t actually thought, oh, I’ll just keep be work for a while and then think about it but she insisted, which was a very good thing. And so I went to Montana State, actually got a degree in agriculture education, started teaching in the state of Montana, taught there for, actually taught 6 years in a little town called Hobson. And and then I took a year off and got my master’s degree in school administration, which I never did use, but went to and then went to a town of Livingston. It was kind, it’s kind of a funny story, how I got to Livingston.


Kevin Fochs (02:31):
I finished up my master’s degree and the agriculture teacher that was there called I’m take a sabbatical for a year’s pregnant in Livingston. So he says, will you come teach for me for a year? And I said, sure, that sounds good. I didn’t have a job at the time. And so I went thinking I was gonna be there a year and he decided he was never, he was gonna stay on the ranch. So I stayed there and taught for 26 more. So, wow. So I taught 32 years in Montana. Wow. And actually taught those twin girls too, which was kinda cool when when they were, they took my class and the, the first week of school they, I had the kids introduce themselves and these two twins introduce themselves. And, and I says, you know, if you don’t, if you don’t like your ag teacher, you can blame your dad. And they, they would come up to afterwards, like what you about getting started in Oxton. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (03:37):
So that’s awesome. And


Kevin Fochs (03:38):
Then I, you know, I retired 32 years in Montana retired. I was, but, and I last about four months and I’m like, no, this isn’t ready. This isn’t where I wanna be. So not ready for retirement. So that’s brought me to Alaska. So I took the job up here in 2014 as their state FFA advisor. So I oversee all the FFA chapters in the state. So I’ve been doing that going on seven years. So


Sam Demma (04:08):
That’s awesome. And it sounds like your mom played a big role in you going to school and continuing your education. Did you have other educators in your life that tapped you on the shoulder and said, Hey, Kevin, you know, you should consider doing this work or getting into agricultural education. Did you have other educators that inspired you? And if you did, what did they do that made a huge impact on you? If you can remember any of them,


Kevin Fochs (04:32):
You know, I probably you know, my family, yeah. On my mom’s side was a lot of educators. My grandma was an elementary teacher. I had, I had three of my uncles actually taught my mom’s brothers and, and really, you know, I’m real close to, or really my, my uncle John made a big impression on me as youth. You know, part of my history. I lost my kinda a tragic story when I was young. I lost my my grandfather and uncle and my dad were hit by a train and killed when I was wow. Little, my mom at the time had four girls and myself and was pregnant with my little sister birdie. So she ran our ranch for about three years before she remarried. So wow. Real strong lady. So got a lot of, I listened to my mom, I guess growing up and making, you know, having her tell me to go to school, I guess was probably a good thing.


Kevin Fochs (05:38):
I actually looked at being a vet and got accepted to Colorado state finances. Weren’t that great for me? So I couldn’t afford to go to school there. So that’s what took me to, to MSU. And I actually started in architecture and that didn’t sit real well with me. So I actually got good grades in architecture, but decided I wanted to get into something that was, you know, probably still keep me associated with agriculture. Nice. That’s what led me to agriculture education had a, had a great ag teacher in high school, you know, ate, taught for over 40 years. Wow. Still, still talk to Gary Olson frequently. So yeah. Good guy.


Sam Demma (06:26):
Oh, that’s amazing. And thank you for sharing that part of your story. Yeah. I appreciate that must have been a really difficult experience growing up. But I believe that our adversity shapes our values and our principles and the rest of our life. And I’m curious to know what are some of the principles and values that your mom raised you with to help you pursue and continue through this, that difficult challenge at that point in your life or things that you think, ah, I believe this because of my mom. Any, any of those things come to mind? I feel like our, you know, parents play a big role in how we grow up as young people and educators play a big role in how students grow up as well. Curious.


Kevin Fochs (07:05):
Yeah. You know hard work I guess. And, and the ability to do what you set your mind to do, I guess, you know, in a matter of hardship, you know, my mom remarried and had two boys too, so there’s eight kids in our family, but my stepdad real close to him. Cause I was so little when my, my dad passed, my real dad passed away that he was my father, you know? But he used to always say, there’s no such word as I can’t,


Sam Demma (07:35):
Love that.


Kevin Fochs (07:36):
So yeah, that, that’s kinda a, something that drives you, you know, and just seeing the, the hard work and the strength of my mom.


Sam Demma (07:45):
I love that. Thank you for sharing. And, and what do you think keeps you going now? You know, what keeps you, you said you’re well past retirement or you stopped teaching in the classroom and now you’re, you’re doing a lot of work with students in agriculture and you know, it’s been keeping you in Alaska for the past couple years. What is your motivator today? What keeps you going?


Kevin Fochs (08:05):
You know, working with youth keeps you young, that’s fun.


Sam Demma (08:09):
Yeah.


Kevin Fochs (08:10):
And I guess you can always see the impact, you know, that even if you just change, you know, one person’s life there’s to the impact that you make with youth and particularly in Alaska being a young state and not having a lot of strength in their agriculture education programs in the state. So being able to grow that and seeing that you’ve made change, I guess that’s rewarding. So but, but youth always keep you young and you know, and still even touching base with those kids that you impacted when you’re teaching or, or associated with an FFA, you know, is rewarding.


Sam Demma (08:54):
Ah, I love that. And when you think of students whose impact you have seen or heard of maybe even 10 years down the road, sometimes you can probably attest to this. You don’t really know you impacted a kid until 10 years later when they come back and tell you other times, you know, right away do any impact stories of students that that have happened over the past 20, 30 years, however long you’ve been working with youth stick out in your mind are any stories that you can recall that are like, wow, this is, this was amazing. And maybe it’s a very serious story, so you can change their name if you wanna keep it private. But I’m curious if anything comes to mind.


Kevin Fochs (09:29):
Yeah. Oh yeah. There’s a lot of stories. You know, I always said, you know, the kids that were struggling, that you could see that you made a change with were the, probably the most rewarding, you know, a lot of times you have really intelligent students, really capable students and you don’t know that you made an impact on, so the ones that, you know, that’re having tough time with school or with life and, you know, I guess they’re the most rewarding, but one student in particular, I don’t know, I’ve told this story. It’s kinda my success story. I guess a teacher, I had a, I had a student that came into my class as a freshman. He was wearing sandals and short, you know, he was a city kid. He wasn’t your typical FFA type student. And he immediately brought his drop ad slip up to me and said, Hey, I didn’t sign up for this ag class.


Kevin Fochs (10:23):
I’m will you sign my drop ad? And you know, the school’s policy was, they couldn’t change class till the end of the week. Anyway, this was like beginning of school year. And I said, well know what, yeah, I will, at the end of the week, if you want me to sign it, bring it back up. But why don’t you, you know, stick with class till Friday and see what you, you see what you think. And bring it back up Friday if you wanna change so well, the end of the week comes up and he goes, you know, this sounds like an interesting class. I think I’ll, I’ll take this class. You know, he, the funny part is he was, didn’t have any association with agriculture whatsoever. He grew up in, you know, in town and as a sophomore, he ran for our chapter officer and he actually partnered with another classmate and they started raising pigs and he went on and he was really competitive and FFA, our FFA organization had speaking contests.


Kevin Fochs (11:28):
He went to national convention as the state winning speaker and competed nationally in a speaking event. And wow got elected to, to state office in FFA. The president president Clinton at that time came and toured Montana when he was a state officer. And he was one, one of like four people that got to spend a couple days with the president showing him agriculture in Montana. Nice. He went on Montana state and, and, and he got into vet science and he, he met a gal and was in vet science, ended up marrying this gal. He’s now managing the farm and ranch of his wife’s parents who retired. And he runs a 10,000 acre ranch in Montana growing grain and hay. Wow. Livestock and yeah. So pretty cool story. The, the highlights of that story when he got married, he actually asked, asked me to stand in. So


Sam Demma (12:36):
Was that’s amazing.


Kevin Fochs (12:39):
That’s yeah. Success story didn’t have any interest in agriculture whatsoever, but you, you know, impacted him and showed him that there’s opportunity in that as a career. And


Sam Demma (12:55):
That’s amazing. So when, when you think back to that first week of school, and this might be a long time ago, so I apologize for the pressure, but when you, when you think back to that first week that he was in your class, what do you think made him wanna stay by the time Friday came around, but you know, was it just the introduction that week and he might have been interested in the subject. Do you think you did some things that made him feel more welcome and involved, or what do you think by Friday made him not bring that slip to you and have you sign it?


Kevin Fochs (13:27):
Don’t know, I guess hopefully that, you know, I, I always tried to treat all kids with respect and, you know, care about kids. You know, I was accused of spending more time with my students sometimes than my own kids, which I don’t, think’s a bad thing, you know, so I kind was a father figure to some kids, you know, because they spend a lot of, a lot more time, a lot, some, some of ’em probably spent more time with me in class and on FFA activities than they did with their parents. A lot of ’em, but, you know, just welcoming. And I think you know, the nice thing about teaching agriculture was that it’s an elective. It’s not a required course, like some academics. And and, and there was a lot of variety. I really tried to show kids the big picture of agriculture when they were freshman.


Kevin Fochs (14:19):
We did a lot of things. You know, I actually, one thing I did was kinda unique is I actually gave them a list of, of materials of subject units that we were gonna teach. And I would let ’em vote on them, I would say, okay, we’re gonna, I’m gonna teach you most of this stuff, that’s on the list, but I wanna see where your interest flies. And so you know, we had animal signs and plant science and computers and mechanics, little stuff like welding carpentry. And, you know, that’s the neat thing about agriculture. You teach a lot of different subject areas. And so, so I’d give them a little buy in because they thought, you know, that they were, you know, getting to choose what they wanted to learn. Some, you know, that’s a, but most, you know, the one thing I wouldn’t give ’em a choice on, I would preface that too, is, is I had public speaking down as one of one of their choices. And that usually I got the worst voting, you know, nobody likes to public speak, but I would say this one is probably gonna get the least number of votes, but you’re still gonna do a speech this year, you know? And I made all my classes and good speeches during the year. So


Sam Demma (15:34):
That’s awesome.


Kevin Fochs (15:35):
All my classes. Cause I just, it’s just a, it’s a scary thing for people to speak. You know, they say it’s a big fear of people, but I think it’s really important that sometime in your life you’ll have to stand out in front of somebody and speak,


Sam Demma (15:50):
Yeah. Whether it’s one or 50 or thousand, it makes no difference getting up in front of someone and speaking, whether it’s one on one or with a bunch of people is a fearful thing to do. But I would argue it’s also one of the most important skills. Like you’re saying whether you want to get a job or whether you want to make sure you can ask that girl or guy out on a date I mean, can use in every capacity. Right?


Kevin Fochs (16:14):
Exactly. Exactly.


Sam Demma (16:16):
That’s a


Kevin Fochs (16:17):
Brilliant, you’re always,


Sam Demma (16:18):
That’s a brilliant idea though, having your class vote on the subjects or the chapters, like maybe you have a whole year curriculum, but instead of doing it in the way that you wanted to organize it, you, you could even yeah. Get the kids to vote on it and then whatever ones they wanna do first, you just put those the, you know, the start of the school year and work through it. I think a lot of teachers listening to this will love that idea and maybe even implement it in their classroom. So thanks so much for sharing this year and last year, and hopefully not the year coming have been very different than the rest of education up until this point in time. What are some of the challenges you’ve been faced with personally and how have you tried to overcome them?


Kevin Fochs (16:59):
Yeah. You know education, I think so, you know, it seems like budget is always an issue. I guess you learn to live with that. You do things that, that you can to, to supplant maybe some of the money that you don’t don’t have. You know, I wrote a lot of grants and my, and continue to write grants to support the programs that I’m doing now. So trying to alleviate that, you know, finding good support from community, I had a real strong alumni group that supported a lot of the activities that we did and they would financially support a lot of the things that we did with our, at least with our FFA organization. So that was good. You know, the, the COVID challenges that we’re facing is, are huge. You know, I actually worked in my house for 16 months. I just, realistically just came back to my office just a month ago.


Kevin Fochs (17:59):
So it’s been a challenge and I applaud the teachers that are, that are out there in the trenches trying to teach in this atmosphere. I, you know, it’s, you know, I told somebody, honestly, I told somebody if, if I was still in the classroom trying to teach what I taught to my kids, you know, agriculture’s a lot of hands on stuff like welding. And you know, we had a greenhouse where I, where I taught. So we worked in the greenhouse, grew plants and you know, we were actually raised chickens and used them in the school, we school farm. So we did some interesting things, but a lot of hands on skills and how you, you know, how you become innovative and are still able to teach those hands, this, but, but, you know, we’ve, I’ve operated in that climate, you know, the last two years we, we did our state FFA convention virtually, and we’re one of the first states in the, that put on our convention.


Kevin Fochs (19:16):
Granted we have a, we have a small membership in our state. So we have some advantages that way, but, but it was, you know, just stepping up and saying, Hey, we’re gonna make this happen. Kinda goes back to that, no such word as I can. You know, we just we’re gonna make it happen and do what we can and that’s what we did moving forward. And I think they were successful. You know, it brought some things to light that I think are positive. In Alaska, we’re such a we don’t have a lot of roads in our state. You know, the Western part of Alaska is pretty much you get there by a boat or plane or in the winter, you know, you take snowmobile up the river. So a lot of the villages and a lot of the, the communities are, are really remote.


Kevin Fochs (20:08):
So the thing that I see is I think we’ll deliver some of our future events and our conventions and our leadership events, I think will deliver them remotely and in person. So we’ll be able to provide some opportunities for kids that maybe weren’t able to do that just because of the distance. I mean, here’s, here’s a crazy story. I had a FFA chapter in cake and they came to our state convention. It cost about $7,000 to travel to our state convention. wow. If you could believe that. I mean, that’s normally what, you know, in Montana, that’s not even, I wouldn’t even pay that kids to, to, you know, national convention in Indianapolis. So, so, you know, huge, you know, two taking plane fair and taking another plane to get here and then, you know, yeah, just huge amount of expenses. So, so, so those barriers with travel are huge.


Kevin Fochs (21:13):
So, you know, being able to look at things a little differently and deliver some things remotely, I’ll good for us out. We saw a huge impact. I mean, we, you know, our convention had numbers in this. Well, you know, when you look at Facebook, we had over 8,000 people accessing some of the events that we were doing in our convention. And normally we have 250, 300 people at our convention in attendance, so, wow. So definitely reached a lot of people that weren’t, we hadn’t reached before. So that’s pretty neat, you know, so we’ll, we’ll look at that as we move forward.


Sam Demma (21:52):
Nice. Ah, I love that. And I would assume it’s also harder to get the word out maybe this year about FFA, but I remember on our previous phone call, you told me that you’ve still been able to keep the groups going and most of the chapters are still running in schools. And since you started, you know, you went from a couple FFA chapters to, I think you said 18. Is that how many are currently in Alaska?


Kevin Fochs (22:12):
Yeah, we started with six and when I first took this job and had like round, we had our actual membership was a 17 and we’ve grown our membership over 500 and we grew to 18 chapters. We’re actually had some, we’ve lost some members. I’ll be honest with you. We lost some members and lost some chapters is last couple years with COVID. So yeah. So we’re trying to rebuild that because there’s still that in person, there there’s a need for people to meet in person and have that relationship, I think, to draw new members and, you know, and just show kids what we’re about. So,


Sam Demma (22:55):
Yeah. And I hear, I hear you have a huge team as well. Is that true?


Kevin Fochs (23:01):
Oh, oh, as far as I, I do have state officer team, you have five state officers that help conduct our activities across the state. We’re just gearing up for things that we will go out and visit chapters this fall and do activities with them workshops. Matter of fact, they’re coming in next week to do those workshops, that training. Oh, great group. Great group.


Sam Demma (23:27):
Awesome. And if you could go back and speak to your younger self and give yourself advice on education, on teaching, on working with young people, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had over the past 20, 30 years, what advice would you give a younger self?


Kevin Fochs (23:48):
You know, that’s probably comes more from a personal side was I’m kind of a workaholic. So that was pro I guess if I had to do it everything over again, I’d probably to devote more. I’d take more time to, to be with family and do things that were personal. My work was and still is kinda my life. So, so it cost me, you know marriage. So yeah. So if I was gonna talk to people starting out, I’d say that, you know save some time for your personal life. That’s, that’s very important. So,


Sam Demma (24:32):
Ah, thanks for sharing that. I appreciate that. That’s it’s honest and I appreciate the, the honesty. Awesome. Kevin, thank you so much for doing this really appreciate you taking your time to come on here. Means a lot, and I know that educators listening took away some great ideas and hopefully can implement some of them as well. If someone li is listening to this and wants to reach out, maybe just send you an email or just, you know, get in touch with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Kevin Fochs (24:58):
Yeah, they can, they can share email me my emails, my last name’s pronounced Fox, but it’s spelled F O C S so it’s K Fox, alaska.edu, so, okay. And yeah, they’re welcome to send me an email. I’d be happy to talk to ’em, you know, I’ve done presentations for teachers that are just starting out and always enjoy doing that. Cause you know, they ask a lot of good questions and you can relate some, some stories, you know, that things that you’ve done, that you do different and


Sam Demma (25:33):
Love it. Yeah. That’s awesome. And they’ll see your beautiful HBAR mustache as well. They choose to book you but awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much,


Kevin Fochs (25:43):
Paul. You know, can I close with one thing though?


Sam Demma (25:46):
Yeah, please.


Kevin Fochs (25:47):
You know, and may I’m at fault too, you know, I had my youngest daughter, she, she was talking about she kind of said she didn’t wanna go to college. And you know, I had a college professor that retired from the university and even admitted that maybe sometimes we, we look at college as you know, we all want our kids to go to college. We all want them to get a college education. Like my mom consistent that I do. And I think that’s good, but I think there’s some, some some other opportunities out there that we need to pull from too. I think there’s some technical schools and other career choices that, that are easier to attain and, and are, are really rewarding careers and good paying careers. You know, my daughter, I insisted that she, she go to college and she was like, she’s kind of she’s hardheaded like her dad, you know, she said, oh, I’m gonna go into the military.


Kevin Fochs (26:43):
And I says, well, that’d be good. You can get an education in the military. That’s alright. You know, and, and she thought about that for a while. And she says, no, I’m not gonna do that. She goes, well, I’m, I’m gonna become a hairdresser. And I says, well, that’d be a good way to pay for your college. You cut hair while you getting your education. And then she, she was indignant, you know, my oldest three kids went to Montana state and she was indignant that she wasn’t gonna go to Montana state and follow in her older brothers and sisters footsteps. So she was she’s insisted that she was gonna the university of Montana. And in, in Montana, that’s kinda, there are rivals, you know, in football and, and our big rivalry between U of M and Montana state. And I says, well, okay, I suppose, you know, I was like, honestly, didn’t want to go to U of M, but I says, why don’t you as a senior, why don’t you go check it out and go to their orientation?


Kevin Fochs (27:42):
And so she did, and she came back and, and and she said, dad, I’m not gonna go to U of M I didn’t like it up there. So I’m gonna go to Montana state. So she did. And she started out and you know, getting the college education probably because I had forced her. And then she decided that she was gonna just get a two year degree in accounting. And, and she went to, you know, gall college there and got her accounting degree and is doing real well. She’s now sales manager for state farm insurance agent. So she, you know, is doing extremely well, you know, started off making more money than any of my kids that went, got a college education and, you know, like job and stuff. So, so I think, you know, sometimes maybe I don’t fault parents wanting their kids to go to college education, but sometimes they need to listen to, cause there was a lot of good occupations out there that kids can get. And I saw that, you know, teaching too, I had a lot of kids go to technical schools and go to two year programs and, and doing very well and enable to come back into their own communities and work and live and, and make a good living. So just a side note,


Sam Demma (29:01):
Oh, I appreciate you sharing that. I’m also someone that took a very different path. I went to school for only two months actually, and then decided to postpone my education to pursue all the work I’m doing with students. And back when I first started and told my parents that they would’ve thought I was absolutely crazy, in fact, they did. Right. you know but it’s important. I think that, that we love what we do and to love what we do. We have to sometimes go against other people’s opinions initially. But hopefully at some point in our future, it pays off. Right. yep, exactly. And I, I appreciate you sharing that, especially now there’s so many opportunities that didn’t exist, you know, 50, 60, 70, a hundred, 200 years ago. Like they, and, and some of them don’t even make sense unless you’re a student growing up right now and experiencing them first end. So yeah, it’s such an important thing to share. Cuz one thing that you say to a student could stick with them for the rest of their life. You know, you, you tell a student something about not being able to do something or being more realistic, and that might be the one thing that changes their future career choice and, and you don’t even know it. Right. So


Kevin Fochs (30:12):
Yes, funny to say, but that I, you know, I was a good student. I, I got good grades all through school and through college and I got one D in in college and it was in a, and it was in a class called introduction to agriculture education and it was introductory class for, for people to become teachers and agriculture. And it made me dang mad that I guess maybe that’s, part of the reason I ended up being a teacher is I was like, God, I can do this. You know, what do I get a D for


Sam Demma (30:46):
ah, I like that. Oh yeah. And sometimes when people say you can’t do something, it also gives you a little spark or fire to, to prove that person wrong and to continue pursuing the thing that you want to do. Or prove yourself right. You know, you overcome the challenge of not doing so well and now look at you, you know, 30 years later, but oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Oh, amazing. Thanks for sharing that story. Any other things come to mind? You wanna, you wanna share with these educators listening before we wrap up?


Kevin Fochs (31:14):
Oh, I think that’s good. I, you know, I could go on and on and tell stories, but that’s probably enough stories. If they wanna get ahold of me, I’d be happy to talk to ’em too. I, you know, I, I will say that I applaud all the educators, you know, for what they do the time they spend with kids. And I guess when you look, there has to be some rewards besides money because they don’t get well paid for what they do, you know? So I applaud, I applaud you for, for the last two years of being able to get through the, the dilemma that you’re faced with and change the direction you you’ve been, you know, teaching the way you’ve been teaching. So still be able to do that.


Sam Demma (32:00):
Yeah, they appreciate it. I can tell you that for sure.


Kevin Fochs (32:03):
Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.


Sam Demma (32:05):
Yeah. Thank you for coming on. This has been awesome, keep up the great work. Don’t retire soon ’cause we need you too. Kevin. totally joking, but yeah. Keep up the great work. Stay in touch and yeah. You know, I look forward to hearing all the cool stuff you continue to do over in Alaska.


Kevin Fochs (32:21):
Thanks.


Sam Demma (32:23):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kevin Fochs

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.

Debbie Hawkins – Campus Culture Director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified

Debbie Hawkins - Campus Culture Director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified
About Debbie Hawkins

Debbie Hawkins (@SHS_Leaders) is the Campus Culture Director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified, but grew up in the south valley and is a first-generation college graduate who after attending Fresno State made her home in the greater Fresno Area.  Debbie is the wife to Jimmy and the mother to Jonah and Noah. Family is a defining factor in Debbie’s life and thus she reduced her teaching load to part-time status in order be home with her young boys while they were young.

Having raised her boys, she finds herself immersed in the work of student activities. This work has become her passion and her home.  Sunnyside is a school committed to the work of developing student relationships, establishing a college-going culture, and being a healthy student-centred environment.

Connect with Debbie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sunnyside High School

Fresno Unified School District

CAA Speakers

Capturing Kids’ Hears Program

Phil Boyte’s Podcast

School Culture by Design – Phil Boyte

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom – Miguel Ruiz

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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Debbie Hawkins, who is the campus culture director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified, but grew up on the south valley and is a first generation college graduate who after attending Fresno state, made her home in the greater Fresno area. Debbie is the wife to Jimmy and the mother of Jonah and Noah. Family is a defining factor in Debbie’s life and


Sam Demma (01:02):
thus, she reduced her teaching load to part-time status in order to be home with her young boys while they were young. Having raised her boys, she finds herself immersed back into the world of student activities. This work has become her passion and her home. Sunnyside is a school committed to the work of developing student relationships, establishing a college going culture, and being a healthy student centered environment. I know you’ll enjoy this interview with Debbie because I enjoyed chatting with her and I will see you on the other side. Debbie, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in education today?


Debbie Hawkins (01:40):
My name is Debbie Hawkins. I have a very fancy title called Campus Culture director at Fresno Unified’s largest high school in where I’m located, obviously in Fresno. Our, our student population pushes 3000 so we are the biggest. What brings me to the moment of campus culture or what other people would call student activities is when I first got into education I was a coach, but really everything I’ve ever done in education’s really about mentorship and mentoring kids and investing in kids like you know, who they would become as an adult. So I find myself in this world of student leadership, because that’s always kind of been my passion and it just, that trail led me here.


Sam Demma (02:24):
Did you have educators that kind of pushed you in this direction? Cause caring for kids could have brought you into different roles. I’m I’m wondering why it specifically brought you into a school


Debbie Hawkins (02:34):
I guess complicated childhood, but easiest to say that school was always safe for me. Mm. And I had hero teachers who very, I’m a, I’m a first generation college student. I’ll and if you knew my whole story and we had like a lot of time maybe perhaps some wouldn’t see me in the seat I’m in today because I probably never would’ve got go to college. So those teachers, those heroes of my childhood passed very much pushed me eventually into the classroom once in the classroom and coaching. I don’t know. I always found myself when the crowd of kids having a good time. And there was a point at which I was at a site and I was a little burned out with being an English teacher. If I’m being honest. And the principal flat out, looked in the eye and said, what, what, what can I do to keep you? And I said, I need to do something where I’m investing in kids as people where I care more about their story than whether or not they know a list of conjunctions. And she approached me with student activities and, and that’s where it started 16 years ago. It was just a principal trying to keep me on campus.


Sam Demma (03:48):
That’s amazing. And tell me more about how do you define a hero teacher? What does that teacher do for you that has such a big difference and impact on you?


Debbie Hawkins (03:58):
I think as much as you can, like strips down everything, I came from a really small town. Yeah. So like when you’re from a small town, everybody knows the legends of your family and your cousins and you know, all that stuff. But, so I think my hero teacher saw me individually as a person and, and none of the backstory. Mm. And like, let me start from that point on. And in a lot of ways, never saw me as broken, but saw me as having potential. Mm. So to me, a hero teacher, as somebody who gives you a clean slate from day one, and it it’s, it’s harder to do than it sounds like it really is because Def kids definitely come with stories and brothers and sisters and cousins. And you, you know, things about kids before you ever meet them. I mean, I can log into student profiles and read all sorts of things, which by the way, I don’t do intentionally and never did, even when I taught English. But I always appreciated those teachers who, who just gave me a chance to be me.


Sam Demma (05:02):
Yeah. That’s such a cool perspective. And if a teacher is listening to this in the classroom and you know, they wanna make, they wanna make their students feel the same way you felt in those classes, like what would you kind of advise or tell them that they could try and do you know, is it to make sure you set aside time to get to know each student make time to hear, hear their stories and share their experiences and upbringing or, well, how do you think that looks in the classroom or school?


Debbie Hawkins (05:30):
What I think it looks like in a classroom at a school in general is you have to be very people first. You have to be very relationships oriented first. My son’s high school English teacher, her name’s SCR and officially, and, and I will love her forever because she changed my son’s life. And what she did is in Fresno unified, we’re a restorative practices school, which has all sorts of things that go with it. But one of the things that happens within restorative practices is that the idea of circle time, which I use in my classroom every week, we call it family Fridays. But it really is, is a restorative circle where kids get an opportunity to have a voice. Well, miss officially at Bullard high school does that every week in her English class. So she pauses her curriculum to put kids in circle and, you know, really dive deep into who each other are as people and what they think and, and what I think miss officially does.


Debbie Hawkins (06:23):
And what I I do in my own leadership class too, is, you know, that whole idea of start slow to go fast. You, you gotta like slow down and let kids know you as they need to know us as people too, like as an instructor, they need to know things about me because that’s what builds trust. And you do, you have to slow down. And I think when you’re a core content teacher, it’s scary because you don’t have many instructional minutes and you have a lot of expectations of you. But I have found that in education that once a kid trusts me and they have put me in their corner as somebody who’s gonna defend them I can get 80% more out of them academically, cuz they follow me off a cliff. If I told ’em to go, you know, I guess a bad analogy, but it’s true. They’d follow me anywhere. And once you’ve built those relationships, where are kid gonna follow you anywhere? Because you’ve slowed down, you slowed down and you took that time. You actually get more done academically.


Sam Demma (07:21):
I love that. That’s such a unique way to look at it. And I think it’s so true. I had one educator come on here one time and tell me that there was one student in his class that he was struggling with and the way that he won the heart and mind of this student over was by giving the student responsibility that this student thought he would never give him. And the situation was the keys to his car to go grab his lunchbox in the front seat and you know, and it, the story just hit me in my core. I was like, wow, that’s such a cool example of building a human to human relationship, not a teacher to student one. I think that’s amazing. Where do you think these philosophies and ideas came from? Was it just from your personal experience from other teachers? Like how did you come up with these ideas and these teaching philosophies?


Debbie Hawkins (08:08):
Well, everything’s, I, I guess seated in personal experience to some extent, I mean, there’s great educators in my past when I was a student and then you get involved and you start listening. You know, you it’s, the organization, CAA is an amazing one. So many speakers there. I, I would say that on my personal journey for development as a, as a leadership teacher there’s a program called capturing kids’ hearts, which was an early program in my career that really drew me in. And then fast forward, I, I meet a guy named Phil Boyt who is Phil, boy’s amazing. He has his own podcast. Everyone should be listening to Phil Boyt, read his books. And then you, you know, there, there’s just speakers and that come into your life. And I have the privilege at working at Sunnyside. And when I was hired here, there was a man named Tim Lyles, who he lost this year.


Debbie Hawkins (09:03):
And men talk about just an amazing person to learn from what you find out in education, which I’m going to assume applies to any profession out there is that once you have an ideology of who you want to be and what you want within this setting, you surround yourself with people whose core values begin to align with yours, right? So like you go find your tribe. So I found my tribe, you know, I listen to T street speak at kata and, and now, now that I heard her at kata, I’m gonna follow every talk. I find of hers on YouTube, you know deep kindness by Houston craft my class, read that together last year. Nice. You just, you began to, you know, you hear of this person who tells you about this person who tells you about this book and you begin to seek it out. It’s personal work though. If, if you wanna be that kind of educator, it’s personal work, which I think it’s personal work, no matter where you are in life.


Sam Demma (10:01):
Yeah. I love it. And people leave behind such amazing principles and values. I think more than everything else, when someone, you know, passes on, we can look at the things that they left behind and something that sticks out for me, even, you know, you talk about service a little bit and great people to learn from like, after my grandfather passed away, I was 13 years old. And the thing that sticks out in my mind are the values that he passed on to me as a young child. And it, it sounds the same with your colleague who passed away. Sorry to hear about that. And yeah, I’m sure your school is doing a great job of celebrating his, his life and his legacy. That’s amazing though. And did you ever have any doubts growing up as a, as a young educator and what were some of the things that went through your mind? Because I think it’s a very common experience for all educators to go through.


Debbie Hawkins (10:47):
Well, I have an atypical educator story. I mean, I failed the third grade and I’m I’m dyslexic. Oh, so yeah, I I had some challenges and in, in high school I remember my very favorite high school, creative writing teacher, like on my college application to the educational opportunity program at Fresno state saying student has unlimited potential. If she can get some support with her writing. And interestingly enough, as soon as he said it, it became this quest to be good at it. And like academically after my freshman year in college writing became my strongest thing. Wow. So, you know, it’s, it’s almost like when someone shines a light on it in a way that is soft and trying to guide you rather than like light you up and blow you up, but rather a guiding light. Yeah. It inspires you to kind of go on that path and take that journey because ultimately as a, you know, a 16 year old kid, I, I wanted to be successful and change my family’s narrative. Yeah. You know, I, I wanted it badly. So this man whom I trusted his name was Greg Simpson from ex or high school, amazing educator just gently said unlimited potential with a little support in writing. So I joined writing lab. Like I went and found some people to help me and ended up being a game changer for me.


Sam Demma (12:10):
I find that. So fascinating how someone that you trust, very few words have such a powerful impact on your mindset of how you view yourself and also the actions you took in your future. And it goes to show us how important it is that we choose our words and our actions both extremely wisely when working with any human being, doesn’t matter if it’s a student in your class or a stranger on the street. Do you think that the words of educators and students have such a massive impact on each other? And have you seen in, in reverse scenario where your words or your colleagues’ words have had a huge impact on students in your school and do any stories stick out in your mind?


Debbie Hawkins (12:51):
Well, since you wanna call me on the carpet on that one today, yeah. Honestly I’ve only been at Sunnyside for four years and cool. My first year here, I, I received an email during homecoming because I did something a little different that how don’t know maybe it was because I was new or, you know, and when you’re new, you’re a little unsure and you know, I’d never been at a high school. It came from a middle school and man, that email shock me to the core. Like I never had anyone talk to me like that. So I became like this head trip thing I had to come over and I overcome like it taught me a lot though, like in reflection. Mm. I am extremely cautious about what I say to people via written communication. Mm. I try to not be short and if, if I’m gonna be short, I try and go walk over and speak to them face to face. Yeah. Like lesson learned. And then, so this week we actually had two rallies before we had a rally on day one and day two of the school year.


Sam Demma (13:51):
Nice.


Debbie Hawkins (13:51):
So day one of the school year, I told my, my little commissioner, Hey, you know, don’t play YouTube videos because the signal’s gonna drop when everybody comes into the gym. Yeah. And the hustle and bustle of it, I didn’t check in with him and he didn’t convert the file cuz he ran out of time. So sure enough, we get to this part where these very adorable little mom, girls are supposed to go dance to promote our diversity assembly. Mm. And the video wouldn’t play. so, yeah, I mean day one and I didn’t snap at him in the moment, but I also didn’t build him up. What I should have said was him and let it go. There’s always something that fails. This is our thing today. Of course. Yeah. And helped him like move through it. And I, you know, we haven’t been here for almost two years. Yeah. I didn’t coach him well enough. Like, so I’ve been spending the last I’ve spent the last week and a half now trying to build him back up, you know? Yeah. Cause it’s gonna take 20 or 30 interactions for him to be brave again.


Sam Demma (14:53):
Well, I applaud first of all, your responsibility. Thanks for sharing. I was also curious about the positive side of how words have affected students or


Debbie Hawkins (15:00):
Wouldn’t oh, positive. Okay. Positive side. Positive. Side’s easy. Yeah. I, I don’t know how I’ve become the, the teacher who, who attracts a lot of our foster and homeless youth kids. Mm. I don’t know how, but one, one philosophy I say leadership’s about what you do, not what class you have. Yeah. So a few years ago I had this one kid just show up in my room every day and just make artwork. And I just looked at him and I said, Hey, you, you have the ability to show up and be positive. You know, you should join my class. Mm. I don’t remember saying it to him, by the way. I just said it one day while they, I don’t know, coloring with markers. And anyway, Damien did join my class. The following year. He became my spirit commissioner. I didn’t know his whole story until almost the year was over. But wow. His words back to me were really powerful. He’s like, he, he basically said, your first impression of me is you should be a leader. Like you belong here. And for him, it, it made a difference cuz it came at a real critical time when he was doubting where he was. Mm. So I, I there’s, there’s a million instances where I could say I’ve said something to a kid, but here’s the funny thing. I very rarely remember the words I used.


Sam Demma (16:11):
Yeah.


Debbie Hawkins (16:12):
So you just always guard them and keep ’em positive. And, and the one thing I will say, and that I, I need to get back to doing, I used to keep a class list and I would mark down like an X mark, like, so for an for that week I had to give one overtly positive statement to each kid on my roster. Mm. And I made it like anecdotal where I would check it off.


Sam Demma (16:34):
Nice.


Debbie Hawkins (16:34):
Because you know, life’s busy. Yeah. So that’s one way that I I’m gonna get back to that this year, but that is huge. And I’ll tell you another huge one that we all overlook. I also try and call three parents a week just to tell ’em their kid’s amazing.


Sam Demma (16:48):
Ah I love that. That. And what is the, what is the, what is the usual parent response to those phone calls? how does the phone call start? I’m sure it starts with oh is everything okay?


Debbie Hawkins (17:00):
50% of the time. It’s what do you do?


Sam Demma (17:02):
yep.


Debbie Hawkins (17:04):
What’d she do now? What’s going on? It’s always guarded at first and it’s really funny that if I don’t use my personal cell phone, 50% of them don’t pick up. And then, and I give ’em my cell phone number and tell ’em, if you have any questions, feel free to call me. And it’s odd because I will get random sets of parents who will text me and ask me a general school question because I just called them to tell ’em, Hey, your kid’s amazing.


Sam Demma (17:28):
That’s awesome. That is so good. I,


Debbie Hawkins (17:29):
I, I try and I’ve, I try and do at least three kids a week for the first month of school till I get through everybody.


Sam Demma (17:35):
There’s a, there’s such a cool story behind the idea of appreciating other people that I heard on a recent podcast as well. There’s a, there’s a gentleman named Jay Sheti. Maybe you’ve actually heard of him. Heard the name. Okay. So he has a podcast. He was a monk. He went to the mountains for like three years, came back and now he makes what he says is it makes wisdom go viral. And he has all these like cool videos and that’s awesome. He has a podcast and he interviewed this guy named scooter bran and scooter, scooter bran is the music manager of Justin Bieber and Demi Lavato and all these like huge music artists. And he was on the podcast and he was saying that his grandma did something for him and his family that changed the trajectory of all the kids’ lives. He said there was four grandchildren.


Sam Demma (18:16):
And on separate occasion, she pulled each grandchild, each grandchild aside and said, I have to tell you something very important and very special. And you can’t tell any of your siblings about this. And she said, you’re the special one. and she did it to all four of them on separate occasions and scooter didn’t find out till the day of her funeral while the grandchildren were around. He said, guys, you know, grandma pulled me aside and told me when I was a young kid, that I was a special one. And then his brother said, no, me too. And me too. And, and all four of them went their whole life believing that they had this special ability that they were an amazing young person. And I thought, what a powerful way to plant a positive belief in the mind of a young person. And it sounds like you’re doing the same thing, not only with the students, but also with the parents.


Debbie Hawkins (19:01):
I’m trying. And that’s, that’s the whole thing that I will all educators like, it’s, it’s an awkward time. Yeah. Alls you can do is try and over the summer I read this book called the four agreements and, you know to Miguel


Debbie Hawkins (19:14):
. Yeah. So like, you know, in the four agreements where it says, take nothing personally. Yep. You know, that’s my challenge, this year’s cuz in this crazy world where everything’s, everything’s uneven right now, still, you know, like everything’s still uneven and people react daily at us, around us, within this organization out of a sense of fear and self protection. Yeah. So really take nothing personally. And I’m really talking to my leadership class about that. We’re actually gonna read the four agreements at the end of the year when we do our book study as a class. But Tim Wild’s favorite book, by the way. I, I just, that, that whole that’s resonating with me this year is don’t take things personally because I think when we take things personally, it, it, it holds us back. Right.


Sam Demma (20:01):
It’s true. So true. And I think that sometimes the words of other people are based on one, their past experiences and two, the current things they’re going through, you know, you, you mentioned about the email and writing a short email. It’s it’s funny because whenever we write an email communication, the other person reads it based off the current mental state that they are in. So if they’re extremely happy, they’re gonna assume that your email was, was a pretty happy one, but if they’re struggling and, and then they read a short email, that’s just to the point, they’re gonna think that you’re upset or something and you know, 90 something percent of communication is nonverbal. And so I think, you know, some of the times too, when people attack us or put us down or attack a student or an educator and put them down, it’s, it’s asking ourselves, you know, what do they have to be going through to be expressing this situation like this? And I think that’s where empathy wins, you know, but it’s tough when you’re in the experience. It’s like, it’s a tough one. So if you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you were just getting into education, knowing what you know now based on the experiences that you’ve had, what would you tell your younger self? What couple pieces of advice would you give?


Debbie Hawkins (21:10):
Number one, I’d say quit keeping score. I came in as a coach. Like I was so competitive and not just about like when we were on a basketball court. Mm. You know, I wanted to be the teacher with the highest reading scores. I wanted to be the teacher with the most kids coming to, you know, this or I, I was so worried about being perceived as having value that I think it held me back. I would’ve been much better off to have been more concerned about if I was valuable to at least one kid, you know, let go of those public perceptions a little bit when you’re young and invest in people individually, like deeply in one person at a time, one staff member, one kid my younger self and I would say not to take things so personal. Yeah.


Debbie Hawkins (22:04):
I, I, I don’t know when I was young, I had a lot of pride and, and things would hurt. And, and when you let things hurt, like where they wound you, it literally prevents you from having relationships with kids and being available to kids who need you, because you’ve spent too much time in your own self hurt. Like it was a waste of my energy as a young educator, you know, I, I needed a, I, I, I would encourage every young educator to find a group of two or three teacher, friends who are safe. And when something hurts, you can tell them so you can let it go. Cause you know, there’s something about that whole, like, you know, the truth will set you free. We’ll find people to go tell your truth to yeah. So that you can be free of its damage and move on. Yeah. Sometimes I think your, our pride like makes us put in the negative stuff, cuz we don’t want other people to see it. Like go get that ne get a trusted crowd, share with them, all those, those like doubtful things so that, that you can just be set free from it and move on. Don’t let it hold you back.


Sam Demma (23:06):
I love that.


Debbie Hawkins (23:07):
Trust me. Nobody’s good at this job. I’m 26 years in every year. There’s 10 things I need to be better at.


Sam Demma (23:14):
Yeah.


Debbie Hawkins (23:15):
It, it, it, this job never, it’s a big beast. You will never be perfect. Hey, it’s messy.


Sam Demma (23:21):
Every job. That’s the mindset to have. I mean, the day you think you arrive is the day you shouldn’t ever do it again, you know?


Debbie Hawkins (23:28):
Amen.


Sam Demma (23:28):
We never arrive, you know, like we’re all human beings. We’re all messy individuals going through this experience called life and balancing everything, you know? That’s a cool mindset to have. I call what you just mentioned “Emptying my backpack.” When I feel like I’m holding onto too many thoughts and opinions of others or opinions and, and experiences and situations in my head, I call it emptying my backpack. I’m actually writing a poem about it for kids Yeah, that’s such a cool piece of advice to give yourself and I appreciate you being so honest, vulnerable, and open about this whole conversation. I think a lot of educators will listen to this and will really enjoy it and see a lot of their own experiences in what you’ve just shared. So thank you so much for coming on the show. Debbie, it’s been awesome. If someone wants to reach out, send you an email, bounce some ideas around or chat with you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Debbie Hawkins (24:21):
Just use my staff email it’s debra.hawkins2@fresnounified.org. You could Google Fresno Unified in my name and find me honestly.


Sam Demma (24:41):
Cool. All right, Deb. Debbie, thank you so much. This was great, keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Debbie Hawkins (24:47):
Thank you very much for having me.


Sam Demma (24:50):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Debbie Hawkins

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.

Lynda Burgess – Education Manager with Alberta Education

Lynda Burgess - Education Manager with Alberta Education
About Lynda Burgess

Lynda (@LyndaBurgess) is a relational leader and teacher first who has over 20 years of experience in teaching and leadership positions with St. Albert Public School.  She joined Alberta Education in 2013; working in the areas of technology, curriculum and First Nations, Metis and Inuit education.

Work-life aside she enjoys kayaking, hiking, cycling, golfing and lives in St. Albert with her 2 university-age children.

Connect with Lynda: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Albert Public School

Alberta Education

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey

The Coaching Habit by Michale Bungay Stanier

University of Alberta – Faculty of Education

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m so excited to bring you today’s interview. It is with my good friend, Lynda Burgess. Lynda is a relational leader and teacher first, who has over 20 years of experience in teaching and leadership positions with St. Albert public school. She joined Alberta Education in 2013, working in the areas of technology curriculum, and first nations meti, and Inuit education. She enjoys kayaking, hiking, cycling, and golfing and lives in St. Albert with her two University aged children. I hope you enjoy this interview with Linda as much as I enjoy chatting with her, and I will see you on the other side. Lynda, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the journey that brought you to where you are today in education?


Lynda Burgess (01:27):
Well, good morning, Sam. I’m so pleased to be here. Thanks so much for the invitation. Just delighted to be able to take part, what brought me here to this? My journey. Gosh. Okay. How far back can we go, Sam? I, I don’t know how much time you’ve got.


Sam Demma (01:42):
we can go as far back as you’d like


Lynda Burgess (01:45):
Got into teaching by default actually had always been teaching piano lessons to, to others when I was started teaching piano when I, I was about 12 and didn’t start in teaching that’s for certain, in terms of a degree started in science and, and biology and mathematics and those sorts of things, but actually ended up teaching math and science in the end, but just, you know, not sure where I was headed and someone suggested, Hey, why don’t you be a teacher? Cuz you’ve been doing that, a music teacher all along. So yeah, what the heck thought I’d give it a shot. So did, and thought I’d stay in it for a few years. Actually. It’s, it’s tough to keep teachers actually the average retention is about five years on average, which isn’t very high. So you know, but several decades later I was still teaching and loving it, absolutely loving it and continued to be inspired by and model actually I guess, teaches I’d had along the way. So Sam, I don’t know how much detail you want, but happy to chat more.


Sam Demma (02:41):
Yeah, that’s awesome. And you mentioned piano lessons. Did you play the piano growing up? Was music and art, a big part of your, your life?


Lynda Burgess (02:51):
Yeah. My mom was a music teacher. She was on the Royal conservatory board in the Western board of Canada. You know, really, I don’t know if you know much about the piano world or the, the instrument world, but she was really involved. And so we like, you know, some kids learned the first thing they put on as a pair of skates. First thing we had was piano lessons since we were, I can’t remember how old, but so did that did study seriously for, for a lot of years and actually was teaching others since I was about age 12 myself. So it was just always part of the world and I played the violin as well and studied that quite seriously for quite some time. So I guess it was kind of a fit, you know, why don’t you just be a music teacher? So , and actually that ended up being my major and I did of course, mathematics and business ed and science as well. And I’d already done somebody outta my science degree. So there was lots, lots to offer there, but it was music that got me my first teaching job. There’s no question.


Sam Demma (03:46):
Yeah, that’s awesome. Specialty. And, and people often say that you learn the most when you start teaching the thing you’re learning. And I think that’s so unique that at the age of 12, while you are probably still learning to play the piano and still, you know, honing your skills, you took on the role of teaching others, which would probably, I would assume help you also become a better piano player. I think that’s one of the unique aspects of being a teacher. The more you teach, the more you also learn, you’re always a student and I’m curious to know, you know, music could have brought you in all these different paths, but it brought you to the classroom. Was there inspirations in your life that directed you to the words of the classroom? Did you have some awesome teachers or educators growing up that really inspired you to take this path on? Or maybe even your mom


Lynda Burgess (04:31):
Well, she’s the one who suggested it actually, but okay. But I suppose not to inspire me to take that on, but they didn’t inspire me along the way. There’s no question. And then once I started teaching that I would, you know, reflect on often in terms of, you know, what I was doing in terms of modeling what I had seen from them. Some, some great leaders who really inspired me, you know, from a math teacher whose style I just loved in terms of, and I was ended up being a math teacher actually for, for a lot of my career. But, but others as well, you know, who just were so passionate about what they did or just how they approached people, you know, at the end of the day, it was always about relationship and what they were able to draw out of people and how they, how they, they got got you to certain places that you didn’t even know you could go to, you know, in terms of exploring your, your talents or your skills or your interests or just opportunities, and just really inspired by sort of positive people, amazing humans who just did great work.


Sam Demma (05:28):
Can you recount personal examples of something that might even happen to you? Like I can tell you for me sometimes to a fault when I was in high school, certain classes were just check boxes that I needed to check off on my resume to be, hopefully become a professional soccer player and get a full ride division one scholarship. Yes. And it was my grade 12 foot issues teacher, Michael loud foot who made this crazy intentional effort to get to know every student in the class, teach a lesson. And then at the end or throughout the lesson, he would call you out. He would say, Sam, mm-hmm for you. This means X and Kavon for you. This means Y and he, he knew us based on our personal passion, so would take his content and apply it to our personal lives. And I could tell you, like, that’s a personal example of something an educator did, did, for me, that made a huge difference that turned his class, not only from a checkbox, but into a, an engaging conversation that I always wanted to participate in. And I’m curious to know if you can recount like any specific personal examples, similar, not similar to that, but maybe with another teacher you had that really helped you,


Lynda Burgess (06:35):
You know, that’s a, that’s a great, great point, Sam and great examples. I love it. And it’s, you know, for me, I think if I can think of gosh, 3, 4, 5, the more, I think the more come to mind of, of instances where that happened. And it was probably more around the general theme of someone paying attention or someone seeing something and you that you didn’t even recognize that was there, you know, or didn’t know was there, I think of a, you know, option classes in high school, I took drama cuz all the buddies were taking drama, you know, really was I talented at acting cotton but, but once I was in there, this drama teacher who was, and they used to put on major operatic productions at high schools back in, they do still now too. But suddenly he was casting me as the lead role in this play.


Lynda Burgess (07:21):
I was going, what, who were you calling on? you know, just, but he would give opportunities for these things cuz he saw something that I was like, I, are you sure that kind of thing. And then other, you know, other times too, with just like, I like the, like the comment you made there about connecting to you and to you personally. And you know, I just thinking back to a grade five teacher who was, you know, teaching science and talking about something and had seen me bring something in from recess and tied it into the lesson, it was like, wow, somebody’s paying attention here. You know, somebody’s connecting to something that I thought was, you know, neat or fun or important to me. And, and so it comes back to that whole relationship piece. It really does. So that’s really, what’s driven me over the years. Even now, you know, I’ve left teaching and gone to the government side of, of work in Alberta education, but still it’s all about the relationships and empowering other people.


Sam Demma (08:15):
I love it. And what does your work look like today and what are some of the exciting parts of the work that gets you up every day and move you to action?


Lynda Burgess (08:27):
love, it gets as excited up today and, and move to action. Love it. Well I we’ve been with Alberta education now for probably, oh gosh, how long now? Eight years maybe officially and been in many different roles there started there with the technology and then engagement curriculum. And now with the first nation maintain Inuit education directorate. And so, you know, I guess what inspires me all the way along to get up and come to work every day is the people I work with. Quite honestly, it comes back to that relationship piece and within the first nation maintaining education directorate, there’s just so much to learn and it’s a whole, it was a whole new world to me when I entered that, that work group about two and a half years ago. But it’s really about and what I’ve realized more and more as I’ve been there, it’s about still coming back to the relationship and having people, you know, where are they in their journey? Where are they in telling their story? And not that what’s going on with them that they own. There’s lots of other cultures who’ve been through many things. I won’t even get into any of that stuff. Yeah. But, but it’s really comes back to their perception of where they’re at at this moment in time really. And, and moving through that journey. So lots again, it comes back to the, the people and the relationships.


Sam Demma (09:39):
That’s awesome. And how did you find yourself in this role? Like what did the transition look like? And yeah, tell me more about that.


Lynda Burgess (09:47):
Well that was an interesting one. I was in curriculum for a few years and then they were looking to bring, wanted the leadership wanted to bring more educators into the directorate who had actually education experience in the field. And so I got tapped on the shoulder, did I, would I wanna come over and work with this group or work in this area? And it was a whole new world to me and I said, yeah, why not? How could I not? Right, right. There’s so much to be learned.


Sam Demma (10:12):
That’s awesome. And how did, and you probably got this question a few times, from other people, but how did, how did COVID and the pandemic shift plans change things or force you as a team to focus on some problems or things that are going on.


Lynda Burgess (10:28):
Yeah. Great, great question. And we’ve all lived it and still living it and it’s kind of UN unfolding a little bit. Now life is kind of returning to normal slowly. Right. But yeah, it was interesting cuz it brought to the forefront and some issues that were always there, but they weren’t as urgent particularly, you know, I think of the technology and the connection and being able to connect, you know, whether it’s having bandwidth or even having a device to connect through. And you know, we saw lots of that within our communities, you know, with the first nations communities and the met settlements, et cetera, but not, not, but even urban urban centers. You know, a lot of kids here, you might have four kids in the family and do you have four extra laptops at home? No, , you know, so lots of those kinds of issues and actually technology has always been a passion and love of mine that’s ever since I started teaching.


Lynda Burgess (11:18):
And it’s what brought me over to the government initially as a lead on projects, provincially and video conferencing was one of them. And so we’d been working on that for like over 15 years so this last year and a half has been really exciting for us because , we now see that everybody’s really embracing has a need to embrace it. Right. So it’s that, that need meets to, you know, that that need meets the technology that’s there. So just lots of adjustments like that, just lots of listening, lots of listening, lots of, you know helping folks to realize that they’re not alone, that they’re not taking this. They’re not the only ones dealing with that. There’s that there’s a lot of folks going through similar things and it’s okay to be feeling or dealing or whatever. Let’s just help each other out.


Sam Demma (12:06):
Love that. And what projects are you working on right now that you and your team are excited about and they get you up every day and get you moving


Lynda Burgess (12:16):
Well, in terms of the actual work, I guess where we work now is really about, you know, supporting indigenous education, the, the students. So there’s some different things we have going on. We have this one great committee that has representatives from all across the education system. We’ve got representatives from the superintendents group, from the professional development providers across the, across the province. We’ve got school boards, we’ve got university deans who sit on this there’s people from all across the education system, the teachers, the, a TAs represented as well. And we all come together when we work in what we call our indigenous education and reconciliation circle and just pulling together all of our expertise and knowledge to, you know, how can we continue to build capacity and understanding and, and support so that really trying to improve those outcomes for, for our indigenous students. So that’s, that’s that’s an exciting setting piece of work.


Sam Demma (13:10):
That’s awesome. Do you, or have you ever heard of Larissa Crawford,


Lynda Burgess (13:16):
Marisa


Sam Demma (13:16):
Crawford? She has a company called our future ancestors and it’s, she’s doing some phenomenal work in this space. That it’s sounds like you’re working in and she might be someone to connect with. You might have just a cool conversation.


Lynda Burgess (13:31):
Excellent. Yeah. Great to know. Thanks Sam. Thanks for sharing that. And, and could be too that our, my partners in the other side of our branch who connect more outward, could be, could have made connections with her already. And that’s good to know though, appreciate that. Yeah. Always looking for those connections.


Sam Demma (13:46):
I’ll, I’ll send you like a link and you can check out someone, her stuff. She, yeah, she’s, she’s awesome. I’ve seen her speak before and yeah, it’s really empowering and super powerful and she’s breaking a lot of different echo chambers and starting like really cool conversations. But if you could go back and you could speak to, you know, you’re not old, but younger Linda


Lynda Burgess (14:08):
I Sam ,


Sam Demma (14:12):
If you could, if you could go and speak to Linda when she first started teaching, knowing what you know now and what the experiences that you’ve had, what advice would you give your younger self?


Lynda Burgess (14:24):
I just say to trust your instincts and just believe in, in, in what your gut’s telling you. I mean, there’s just so many things that come flying down all the time, you know, let’s swing the pendulum this way and here’s the latest, greatest thing. And just, you know, you, it can be overwhelming at times and it it’s overwhelming anyway, that kind of a job that it is because it’s a service profession. There’s no question about it. And don’t enter it unless you really have that, you know, you really believe in to others because that’s the kind of profession that it is and requires that kind of hard in mind. And there’s so many great teachers out there who are, you know, and who are examples of that. But you know, just trust, trust your instincts and just, you know, believe in, in, in what you know, that, you know, if somebody else comes along and like, oh, well, should I, should I, could I, should I, what should I, you know what it’s like, you know, just disbelieve in yourself really mm-hmm and don’t be afraid to ask because nobody’s got all the answers and nobody’s an expert.


Lynda Burgess (15:25):
None of us are experts. None of us have arrived at that ultimate place on top of the hill where we know it all never gonna happen, not in this business. So yeah, just keep an open mind, you know, keep learning and you know, being that lifelong learner is so true, you know, that’s a passion of mine is that just, there’s always something more to know, you know, it’s one thing I go into I’ve, I’ve met a lot of people say, well, we’re the experts. And I go really, really? You mean you, you know, absolutely everything there is. How could you possibly, you were just amazing. Wow. and they often have lots of great stuff to offer, but it’s like, I mean, you never, you never get there. You never completely get there, which is exciting though.


Sam Demma (16:04):
Right’s


Lynda Burgess (16:05):
So much more waiting. The more, you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Right.


Sam Demma (16:08):
It’s the curse of knowledge. yes. It’s funny. Every time I ask an educator to come on the podcast, oh, you want me to share? I’m like, Hey, you know, lots of things, I’m not calling you an expert by any means, but you know, you know, lots of things. And sometimes people that know lots, they think they know little and, and that’s because they’re always continuing to learn. And I think that’s such an important thing to remember on that note. Some resources. Do you have any favorite books or things that you’ve read watched, listened to that have been impactful for you as an educator or even with the work that you do specifically with the government?


Lynda Burgess (16:47):
Oh my gosh. That’s, that’s a great question, Sam.


Sam Demma (16:51):
I’m putting you on spot and


Lynda Burgess (16:51):
That’s gonna be, you have, and you know, I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast. It’s that’s okay. So long ago, right? What did you do on the weekend? Oh gosh, let me think. It’s so long ago, but you know, just, just little tidbits. I like those sort of quick hits and quick little tidbits. I know there’s a lot of podcasts out there now that share good information. You know, just even little books on that you might think might not fit, but to me, communication is a big piece of it. It’s not, it’s not just what you say, but it is what you say, but it’s how you’re saying it too. And it is the what, yeah. You know, I see more people paying attention to that now, as opposed to, you know, just, you know, telling students as opposed to let’s rephrase that so that the student might be really thinking it’s about them or engaged.


Lynda Burgess (17:37):
And, you know, one little book I love is the coaching habit, which just talks about how to phrase different questions so that when you’re pulling out or you’re getting the person to, to think about as opposed to giving them the response as that’s one of the best PDs I ever did was called cognitive coaching. And it was all about that. All about different sort of questioning and different situations and how to get people to really think through. And it was all by choice of language all by the language that you’ve chosen and other great resources Covey, the seven habits. Yeah. you know, there’s a lot


Sam Demma (18:09):
Of good pieces.


Lynda Burgess (18:10):
Yeah. There’s a lot of great pieces in there, you know, and it’s something will come up and go like, oh yeah. Begin with the end in mind. Right. Or listen first, you know, as opposed to waiting your turn to talk, all of those kinds of things I, I find are just so important. They’re little nuggets, but they just really make a huge difference in terms of moving things along.


Sam Demma (18:29):
And a book I read when I was 15, 16 was the seven habits of highly effective teens. yeah. So teachers, teachers, if you’re listening, you can buy a set for your students. I’m not affiliated, we are not affiliated, but it is an awesome book with cool, really cool and effective principles and highly recommend checking it out. That’s awesome.


Lynda Burgess (18:51):
Yeah. Agreed. Absolutely


Sam Demma (18:53):
Cool. Linda. Well, thank


Lynda Burgess (18:54):
You. I’m affiliated either. I get your permission.


Sam Demma (18:56):
yeah, we have no affiliation here. Just trying to be helpful. Thank you so much for taking some time to chat on the show. I really appreciate it. I look forward to seeing the awesome work that you continue to do in the indigenous space. It’s so important. Keep it up and I hope to stay in touch and we’ll talk soon. If someone wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you to have a conversation?


Lynda Burgess (19:19):
On Twitter, it’s probably the best way or through email is good too. It’s been a pleasure, Sam, thanks so much for the opportunity. Best of luck to you. It’s been, it’s been super.


Sam Demma (19:28):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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