About Coral Klein
With 28 years of experience in secondary education, Coral Klein is the current principal of Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Born and raised in northern Ontario, Coral attended Lakehead University’s concurrent education program and started her career with the Lakehead District School Board in 1994.
In the years since, Coral expanded her professional qualifications to include two Specialist degrees, a Master’s degree and her principal’s papers. In 2008, she transitioned from a special education management role into an administrative one. Coral believes very strongly in the power of education and the important role educators play in equipping students with the competencies, knowledge and attitudes necessary for lifelong success.
At present, her key areas of professional focus are “indigenous education” and the creation and maintenance of “safe, equitable and inclusive school cultures.”
Connect with Coral: Email
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
Westgate CVI – Lakehead District School Board
Kevin Lamoureux TEDx Talk on Reconsiliation
Dr. Christopher Mushquash, Ph.D., C.Psych
Niigaan Sinclair – Winnipeg Free Press
**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):
Coral, 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?
Coral Klein (00:09):
Well, thanks for having me! My name is Coral Klein. I am a principal at Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I’m super thrilled to spend a few minutes with you today.
Sam Demma (00:20):
Yeah, me too. And thank you so much for, you know, saying yes to this opportunity. How did you end up deciding that education was the career or vocation that you wanted to pursue?
Coral Klein (00:35):
Hmm, I mean, that’s a pretty loaded question. I, I’m not sure that there was a light bulb moment ever in my life where I, I kind of woke up and, and recall thinking that education was for me. I grew up in a small town in, in Northern Ontario and it was, it was a unique town in that it had one school and it had kindergarten, a grade 12 all under one roof. Oh, wow. So it was pretty unique. And I can recall from a very, very young age having a lot of admiration and respect for teachers and, and probably if I’m being honest probably even could use the word revered them. I, I remember being very excited as a child. Anytime I saw a teacher out in public doing regular person and regular person clothes. And I also have a lot of vivid memories of, of taking my younger brother and, and forcing him to be one of my students.
Coral Klein (01:32):
So I, I think the path to education probably was a foreseeable one, but I, I just don’t remember the exact moment where it kind of clicked that that was going to, to be my pathway, but it was, and that small town led me to a move to a city that was not too far from where I grew up, which is where I am now. Thunder bay. I moved to thunder bay in 1990 to attend, excuse me, to attend lake university in the con current education program majoring in English. Nice. And at that point in time, I was, I, I guess I was a little unsure at that point, whether I wanted to land in elementary or whether I wanted to land in secondary. So I selected a junior intermediate level of specialization because that was almost like a middle ground compromise between the two.
Coral Klein (02:25):
And I was just trying to figure it out through teaching placements and other experiences. Didn’t take me very long to, to figure out that the older kids were the ones that I wanted to work with in the secondary setting was the, was the path that I wanted to take. So shortly after I had graduated, the very first additional qualification I took was my senior lab. And then, you know, from there, I, I think I was very, very fortunate, actually. I don’t think I, I know I was very fortunate because I graduated in 1994 and I was one of the very lucky people that ended up getting a full-time job in education at a time that jobs were very, very scarce. Mm. So I, I was hired by Lakehead public here in hunter bay. I worked for them obviously, ever since my first job was within the realm of adult education. And I was working with a group of, of adults who had recently lost their jobs and were in the process of being retrained and needed to acquire high school diploma. So that was an amazing experience for a young teacher. And yeah. So, so from there, I guess it was a couple years of doing that. And in 96 I made the transition into the high schools and I’ve been working in the high schools pretty much ever since, so, yeah.
Sam Demma (03:49):
That’s awesome. Well, that’s a cool journey. And along like, along the path, what have you found helpful in terms of resources, people did you have mentors that have tapped you on the shoulder and helped you? And if so, who are those people and what did they teach you?
Coral Klein (04:08):
Yeah, I mean, I guess it depends on, on what step in the journey you’re looking at, right? Yeah. Like as a youngster I mean, I grew up playing hockey, so my hockey coaches were always very important to me as were, as were some of the teachers I had in elementary school, my grade six teacher was also my gymnastics coach. So there was a connection there. I mean, early on in my career, I always, I sort of looked up to colleagues that had the level of experience that I now possess, you know, 25 years, 30 years into their career. And, and they guided me along with their expertise and they shared their resources when I moved into administration. It was, it, it was a huge change as you can expect. And there is, there is a person, her name is Jenny lamb.
Coral Klein (05:01):
She, she is a retired principal in Lakehead public schools. And I would say she probably was one of my biggest mentors. I, my first job in administration was a vice principal at a, at a high school in thunder bay called Hamal. And Jenny at that time was my vice principal partner in my first year. And she laid theater, became the principal of that school. And I worked with her another five years as her vice while she was principal. And, and a, if it wasn’t for her, I probably might not have stayed in administration. It is so overwhelming and so challenging. But it’s also because of her that, that I think I, I did a, you know, a lot of really good habits and, and, and picked up the right skill sets to do the job and do the job effectively. So I give, I give her a lot of credit. She’s an incredible person.
Sam Demma (05:55):
You mentioned the different skill sets required for the role. I’m curious to know what are some of the challenges you’re faced with as a principal? How does it differ from teaching in a classroom and how, what are also the similarities, because I’m sure there’s both differences and also some similarities.
Coral Klein (06:14):
Okay. So, well, that’s a multi-part question. So the challenges, I mean, I guess right now, it’s, it’s kind of like stating the obvious to say that COVID is clearly the most immediate challenge that that’s facing all educators at the current time. I mean, it, it it’s adversely impact our schools. It it’s, it’s impacted the type and the quality of the education that we deliver. It impacted the physical and the mental health of our staff and our students. So it, it’s crazy. It’s crazy to be an educator, regardless of what employee group you’re a part of and, and be in the midst of this, this battle that we’ve never fought before and, and trying to do it on shifting sands, which, which has been very, very frustrating. So, but then of course, like if we’re talking about challenges, I mean, the reality is that all the challenges that we dealt with pre COVID rising, mental health issues, substance abuse race relations, poverty, all those sorts of challenges, they all still exist schools, and now they’ve been amplified.
Coral Klein (07:22):
Yeah. So it, it, it makes being an educator very, very, very tough right now. And I, I hate to say this because it does sound very negative, but I, I really do strongly believe that it’s gonna take years for us to recover from the damage that, that the pandemic has done. And, and that can be a little bit of an overwhelming thought if, if you allow it to be right. So, I mean, in terms of kind of coping, it’s tough. I don’t think there’s a, there’s a magic answer that you can sort of narrow in on, but there’s definitely things that we’ve done that have helped us to manage and are definitely things that we’re gonna have to continue to do into the future. So like right outta the gates, I can say that technology has been a savior. It’s been a savior to everybody through the pandemic.
Coral Klein (08:23):
It it’s enabled us to continue to connect with students who are trying to learn virtually from home. It’s enabled us beyond the teaching part of it to provide mental health support and things like that to kids who are, who are struggling right now, it, if you consider the things like social work services being delivered, virtually tutoring supports being delivered, virtually conflict resolution programs being delivered virtually. So, so that’s been, that’s been really, really, really, really critical in terms of like, like through the lens of a principle, I think with respect to what I think is important and what that skillset is particularly now in the midst of a crisis. I think there’s, there’s probably a few things that I could narrow in on that, that I would, I guess, not recommend, but I guess just share that, that have kind of worked for me.
Coral Klein (09:27):
Yeah. Number one would be probably maintaining really strong in open lines of communication with your staff and your students and your parents and your stakeholders. So I’m not sure we’ve ever lived through an era of more uncertainty. And I think that can be very upsetting and it can be very unsettling. So I try every single day to make sure that my school community has the most updated and the most detailed information possible, and that all, all the expectations and all the instructions are always very clear and very concise. I’m also very conscious, I think about trying to make sure that when I’m communicating with my school community, I’m doing so in a constructive way, in a positive way, and with an optimistic tone and I’m trying to be supportive. I think that’s very important because I, I believe that that principals do set the tone of a school. And I, and I think that if the leader falls apart, the team falls apart. Yeah. So I think that’s always kind of in the back of my mind.
Coral Klein (10:35):
The other thing that is, is critically important while we kind of navigate through the pandemic is, is the fact that we all need to be prioritizing wellness above everything else. And that includes the curriculum. So there really is nothing that’s more important right than the health and safety of, of your students and your staff. And, and as educators that think we have to be more in tune with wellness needs than we’ve ever had to be before. I mean, from the outset of this pandemic emotional wellness has had to be at the forefront of everything that, that people have done because kids are struggling right now are kids are confused and they’re, and they’re frightened. And they’re trying to make sense of this crazy world that’s going on around them. A lot of kids are coming to us from homes that are barely holding on whether that’s financially or emotionally, and they’re really kind of looking at schools to be that place of comfort and stability for them. So I think that I’m not sure if I can say for the first time ever, but certainly for the first time in my career to tell an entire staff of teachers that you have the permission to sort of ease off curriculum expectations, modify assessment and evaluation in any way that you need to, and just put health and wellness before all else. That’s been, that’s been really critical in, in, in terms of keeping the, the ship afloat during these crazy, these crazy times.
Sam Demma (12:13):
Yeah, those are all phenomenal reflections and I’m sure other principal listening right now can benefit. And from, from just hearing your experiences and maybe even implementing similar things in their schools, if, if they haven’t already what does wellness look like for you personally? How do you yourself afloat? You mentioned that if the leader kind of falls apart, you think the team does how do you attend to your own wellness? What does self-care look like for you?
Coral Klein (12:43):
I’m glad you asked that question, Sam, because it’s, it’s really something that I used to be terrible at. Yeah, I think earlier in my career you’re very driven kind of the pursuit of your goals and, and, and that type a need to be successful type personality. Yeah. That comes out in a lot of educators. It’s, it’s always there. So, I mean, I think as, as you age, I think you’re, you’re kind of driven by or motivated by less by sort of possessions and more by passions. And I think that in my case, anything that makes me smile and anything that helps me walk away feeling proud of something is something that motivates me and is something that keeps me going. So I love spending time with family spending time with friends. I have all kinds of hobbies.
Coral Klein (13:40):
I’ve walked away from passions like hockey in recent years, just because, you know, I’m getting older and, and that sometimes tends to be a young person’s sport, but certainly all those things are, are very important. I think one of the things we’ve all learned during the pandemic is the healing power of nature. So I think that getting out into the environment, into the fresh air, into the NA natural surroundings is, is a very healing thing. It’s very good for the soul and, and unfortunate because I live in thunder bay and thunder bay is amazing city with respect to access to natural surroundings and, and the beauty of nature. So it’s very easy, easy to do stuff like that.
Sam Demma (14:27):
That’s awesome. And balancing that with the professional development of, you know, your, your career sometimes challenges challenging because especially when a crisis happens and it seems like every moment of your life is spent during and focused on work. But when things are a little bit more in balance and have been for the previous years of your career, what are some of the resources, whether it be books, courses videos you watched, or other people that have inspired you, what are some of the resources that have been helpful in your own professional development? Working in the school.
Coral Klein (15:06):
Okay. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna back up a little bit on the question so that I, so you understand why these resources are important to me. So in thunder bay, we have a rising population with respect to indigenous students. So just to give you an example, I started as principal at the school about eight years ago, and our indigenous population, we, we currently have about 1100 kids or 1000 in fifth, our indigenous population was around 12, 13%. And it’s, it’s more than doubled now. Wow. And, and same within our community. So we have a rising population of indigenous learners. The challenge for us with respect to indigenous learners has been bridging the gap between them and no on indigenous peers. So what I mean by that is for whatever reason our indigenous students, their credit accumulation rates, their achievement levels to graduation rates, they lag behind their non-indigenous peers.
Coral Klein (16:05):
So it’s been a very big focus of mine personally, in my school, as well as our board in thunder bay to try and do a better, a job of meeting the needs of indigenous learners and trying to figure out where we’ve kind of dropped the ball or where we’re dropping the ball and what we can do better in order to meet their needs. And like I said, sort of lessen that gap that currently exists. Yeah. So with that in mind, I would say that with respect to a lot of the, the training that I’ve had recently, or the focus that we have in our school, a lot of it, it stems from there. So there have been a few people that I would strongly recommend that really made an impact on me. When I listen to them, speak, one is a, a guy named Kevin Lamaoreux, he’s amazing.
Coral Klein (16:54):
And, and he speaks a lot about the history of indigenous peoples in Canada and, and what educators frankly need to do and can do to help in the process of reconciliation. So he was amazing. Dr. Chris Mushquash is a child psychology who works here in thunder bay. He’s he’s of indigenous dissent himself. And he does a lot of work around kids with traumatic backgrounds, and he works with educators to help them understand trauma and, and what we can do to help kids that are coming from backgrounds of trauma to be successful. And I just thought he was, he was amazing. And then there was a third, there’s a third speaker that I heard. He too is also indigenous, but like the previous two you, you hear them speak and you just walk away feeling very inspired and you walk away with a lot of like really practical strategies to really help you get started and, and kickstart whatever action research or whatever may be going on in your school.
Coral Klein (18:06):
And, and his name is Niigaan Sinclair, and he’s, he’s just amazing. And, and I’m sure you’ve heard these names before. They’re all quite famous, but like, if I’m speaking to other educators out there in the world that want my opinion of, of a speaker that could come in and, and really be a game changer for you or your staff those are definitely, definitely three of them. There’s also a book that I read and I thought it was fantastic. And it’s a book called in insulting, hang on, I’ve got it. I don’t wanna mess it up, insulting our in insulting our schools. And again, it’s the same thing. It’s, it’s it a book about reconciliation and wellbeing and diversity and how, how you can promote and celebrate diversity in your school. And I, I think that resource is absolutely fantastic.
Sam Demma (19:04):
Amazing. And if you using your own experience as a resource as well, if you could bundle up all the years, you’ve worked in education and walk back into the first class you ever taught or worked in and like tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, coral, this is what you need to hear right now. What would you tell your younger self, or what are some pieces of advice that you would you’d give to your younger self or potentially an another new educator who’s just getting into this work?
Coral Klein (19:41):
There’s probably a couple things I think people need to know who are going into education. I mean, right over the gates. I think it’s really important for principals and, and your principals and future teachers to know that to be effective in your roles, you, you don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. Your, your cognitive intelligence is, is not gonna be the thing that makes the difference between a highly effective teacher or highly effective principal. And, and not, I think I’ve learned over the years, the importance of emotional intelligence, emotional IQ to this job. I mean, let, let’s be honest, Sam, we are in the business of people and in my mind the number one characteristic or skillset that someone needs to possess, if you’re working in education is strong interpersonal skills, you have to be able to build relationships with people.
Coral Klein (20:35):
You have to be able to make those connections and, and people have to feel safe with you. If you cannot connect with a student, if you cannot establish a relationship with a student, you’re never gonna be able to teach them. And through the lens of a principal, it’s the same with your staff. If you cannot connect with your staff and form positive relationships, you’re never gonna be able to effectively lead them. So, I mean, I think the power and the importance of interpersonal skills and emotional and IQ, I can’t overstate that enough with respect to being a leader and, and being a principal. I, I think that there’s probably a couple other little things that I, I think are, are pretty important. Emotional regulation being one of ’em. You certainly can’t be a person who can’t remain calm in the midst of a storm for lack of a better analogy. I mean, you, you have to consciously control your emotions. I heard a, a strange quote, something along the lines of the fish rots from the head…
Coral Klein (21:49):
And, you know, like I said earlier, if the leader falls apart, the team falls apart. Well, if the leader isn’t managing very well in emotionally charged situations or crisis situations, then, then the team is gonna emulate that as well. So I think that’s also important. And I think that’s important to be said to people who are going into classrooms as well. I mean, the, the teachers need to be role modeling how to handle those sorts of situations and managing their emotions in a positive way. And then the kids will, the kids will emulate that. And then, I mean, I, I think I hinted at it a little bit earlier when I was talking about the importance of opening or, or maintaining strong lines of communication. I think you have to be a very strong communicator if you’re going to be effective in education. There’s, there’s really no getting around that.
Coral Klein (22:39):
Right. So as a leader or principal you, you establish the vision vision, you set the goals, you kind of set the parameters for what people are gonna do and the expectation and, and, and you create the conditions, I guess, that are necessary for other people to be successful and to thrive. So communication is a huge part of that. And I, like I said, I already kind of talked about that a little bit earlier, so yeah. So I guess my younger self thought, oh, well, if I have high IQ and I know my stuff, I’m good to go. And I, I, I think it’s a lot more than that.
Sam Demma (23:20):
That’s amazing. I interviewed another principal named Mike Anderson and he described running a school like organizing and being the CEO of a text art up. And he was like, yeah, he was like, you know, there’s a lot of different roles you have to fill. And it’s a very family-like environment, close knit. You have to build relationships and there’s always problems to overcome and situational challenges. Absolutely. So, yeah, your, your definition or description reminding me of that, but this has been a phenomenal conversation, coral, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show and share your experiences amidst a storm right now. If someone was listening and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Coral Klein (24:08):
Probably over email. So it’s: firstname.lastname@example.org. I also am a Facebook person, so I’m on Facebook. So there’s always the option of private message as well through via that means, but yeah. Email or, or Facebook is great.
Sam Demma (24:32):
Sounds good. All right. Well, thank you so much again for coming on the show and keep up the great work.
Coral Klein (24:37):
Thanks so much, Sam, take care, have a good day and stay safe. You as well.
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