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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Chris: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA)

Alberta Teachers’ Association (MYC) Middle Years Conference

Chris’s Personal Blog: thepocketeer.blogspot.com

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris McCullough (04:33):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chris McCullough

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