About Dr. Elaina Guilmette
Elaina Guilmette (@ElainaYelich) is a curriculum development coordinator for the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan and a wellness coordinator at Sun West School Division. She enjoys learning and researching how curricula can improve and enhance learners’ pathways and educational experiences.
In 2013, Elaina completed her Master’s in Curriculum Studies at USASK, where she created a curriculum titled Inclusion 10, which focused on the positive effects of creating an inclusive Physical Education experience for students of all abilities.
In 2018, Elaina co-developed the Mental Wellness 30 curriculum with a team from Sun West. In 2021, she completed her Ph.D. in Curriculum Studies at USASK, where she gained valuable knowledge of the experiences students and teachers fostered while utilizing the MW30 curriculum and teacher support resource.
From her research, it was found that many of the resiliency building activities taught in the MW30 curriculum enhanced students’ emotional, cognitive, behavioural, and affective domains.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.
Sam Demma (01:01):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Elaina Guilmette. Elena Guilmette is a curriculum develvopment coordinator for the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan and a wellness coordinator in Sun West School Division. She enjoys learning and researching how curricula can improve and enhance learners pathways and educational experiences. In 2013, Elena completed her master’s in curriculum studies at USASK where she created a curriculum titled Inclusion 10, which focused on the positive effects of creating an inclusive physical education experience for students of all abilities. In 2018, Elena co-developed the Mental Wellness 30 curriculum with a team from Sun West. In 2021, she completed her PhD in curriculum studies at USASK, where she gained valuable knowledge of the experience students and teachers fostered while utilizing the mental Wellness 30 curriculum and teacher support resource. From her research, it was found that many of the resiliency building activities taught in the mental wellness 30 curriculum enhance students’ emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and effective domains. I hope you enjoy this conversation today with Dr. Elena Gilmet, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Elaina Guilmette. Elaina Guilmette, and I’m so excited to be joined with her here today. Elena, please take a second to introduce yourself.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (02:36):
Hi. Well, thank you so much for having me. My name is Elaina Guilmette, and I am a curriculum developer. I’m also a course instructor, and I am just kind of finding my, my medium here of where I am. I, I teach a grade 12 course called Mental Wellness 30, which is online, but I’m also developing curriculum from an indigenous perspective from the University of Saskatchewan. So I kind of have my hands in, in both fields. I finished my PhD in curriculum studies which was also what my master’s work was around. So I’m really passionate about finding ways that, you know, curriculum can be used to, you know, equip our students and make learning a meaningful journey.
Sam Demma (03:24):
How does one get into curriculum development? <laugh>, What was like, tell me a little bit about your journey into education and what brought you to where you are today?
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (03:32):
Well, I always knew I, I wanted to be a teacher. I would always play teacher as a little girl. And I was a swimming instructor for many years. And, and so I knew education was where I wanted to be, and I, I started out with those little elementary, you know, K one two and, and then they became really needy and <laugh>, you know, and I did. I didn’t know if that was for me. So then I gradually moved my way up into high school where I found them to be, you know, much more independent. And and when I was there, I was a, a physical education teacher, and I loved teaching phed, but I always found that there was not a lot of inclusive strategies for students with special needs in the physical education classroom. A lot of the times they would be, you know, pushed aside or not integrated in a meaningful way.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (04:20):
And so as I made these observations, I decided to pursue my master’s in curriculum, and that was where I created a program called Inclusion 10, where mainstream students, peer teach students with intellectual disabilities, physical education. And I saw the power that curriculum had in being able to bind experiences and make meaningful learning experiences that I, I wanted to do it again. And so I always kinda had in the back of my head that I would, you know, do a PhD and one day hopefully teach teachers at the university level. And so I, I moved from being a PHS ed teacher to an online teacher. A new distance learning center was being put up and I decided, you know what, Maybe I’m gonna make this shift into online learning. And, and as I was in this online school, I started to gain an understanding of who and what students were coming to our online school.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (05:19):
And, and many of them struggled with mental health challenges. They had been bullied in school. you know, they were trying to make a work life balance. They were struggling in the classroom. And I started to look around at the different curriculums that we were offering. And there wasn’t many to do with mental health and mental wellness initiatives, especially from a proactive perspective, you know, very reactive mm-hmm. <affirmative> and very quite dated. And so what we decided to do was make a curriculum that would help support students that had mental health and wellness challenges. And then, then I decided to pursue my PhD in that area and evaluate the curriculum.
Sam Demma (06:03):
Tell me more about the program that you co-developed. it’s mental wellness 30, right?
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (06:09):
Yes. Yeah. so I was teaching exercise science at the time. And I had this student who was just brilliant. She was, I think 18, and she was so smart. She would start and she would submit an assignment and she’d get like a 90 or a 95, but then I wouldn’t hear from her for, you know, a couple months. And I would pursue talking to her again, and then I couldn’t get ahold of her, and then she’d submit something and, and we kind of had this like relationship where I didn’t really know what was going on with her. And at the time, my husband, like I said, had, had just gone through brain surgery. So he had deep brain stimulation, which is for Parkinson’s, but he was using it to cure his OC d anxiety and depression. And my youngest son had actually just been diagnosed with adhd.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (07:02):
And then this little girl called me, well, she’s not a little girl, she was 18 at the time, but she called me from the Dub Bay Center, which is the mental health center, and, and started to tell me about her struggles and just how she was trying to get this adult 12. And I thought, you know, my husband is, is almost 40, and he hasn’t learned a lot of the things that he needed to, and he had to go to the extreme of getting brain surgery. My son is going to be going into an education system where he’s not gonna understand, you know, why he takes what he does, but what he needs to know is that the medication that he’s taking is, is something his brain requires. It’s, it’s not, it’s not his fault. It’s, it’s just medicine. You know, we take, when we’re feeling sad, we take, you know, an antidepressant, seasonal disorders when we have, you know we never judge anybody for diabetes and taking insulin when they have diabetes.
Sam Demma (07:53):
And so I wanted, I wanted to create a, a platform where he felt comfortable saying, You know, I have ADHD and this is what I need. And so then this girl, Alexis, we decided that we were going to write a curriculum that attacked mental health and wellness from a proactive approach where we wanted to take the best things that work for youth and put them into a curriculum and, and teach them to students. And that’s what we did. And we went around and we met with multiple psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, youth counselors, peer supporters, cm hha, Saskatchewan. And we ended up taking the best things that work for youth. And we built an online course and an online curriculum for that. And now we offer that free for students to take around Saskatchewan, thanks to rbc. They provide the funding. And and there’s also a teacher mentorship program where we offer all of of the resources for teachers to teach it for free in face to face classrooms. And the whole idea is that, you know, we really start opening up the conversation in the classrooms and start talking about it. when I did do my PhD research on the four classrooms that implemented mental wellness, 30, the impacts were outstanding. students gained self-awareness, they gained empathy, they gained you know, just, just skills that they would’ve never learned or were never taught. And so I, I know that we’re onto something great with what we’re doing.
Sam Demma (09:31):
You definitely are, I think back to my experience in school, it would’ve been so cool to have a curriculum like this in place that I could access, whether it was for myself or to support someone who was going through a difficult time. is this a full length semester program that a student would choose in their high school education, or is it supplementary to their current course load?
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (09:55):
It’s, it’s an elective, so they can choose to take it and it counts towards their grade 12 course. We do not have it adopted yet by other provinces. So, you know, the hope would be that Alberta and BC and and different provinces would adopt it, and then we could open it up to Canada. But right now it’s just a grade 12 credit in Saskatchewan. But there is free online counseling and free online peer support that comes with that as well. We really wanted to make sure that our northern, indigenous remote and rural communities have access as we know that those supports are very limited.
Sam Demma (10:29):
That’s awesome. What a cool program. What are you most proud of when it comes to the creation of it or the co-creation of the entire curriculum and the test runs and trial runs of it So far,
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (10:43):
I think that it’s, it’s in it’s youth led and, you know, if you want youth to be involved and you want youth to be actively engaged in the activities, you have to talk to youth. And we have to engage them. So many of these programs come from a top down approach, and without it actively coming from youth, it’s incredibly difficult to find, you know, what that language is that works with them and, and, and how the learning experiences really can benefit them. Rather than just being, you know, just a bunch of knowledge out there. Let’s, let’s work through some activities. So, you know, one of the activities we do is a cognitive behavioral therapy approach. So where students actually just have to work through different thinking traps and different thoughts and just teaching them about that, because I don’t ever remember anybody telling me about thinking traps or talking about thinking traps. And, you know, maybe if I didn’t take things so personally, you know, if I knew that I was falling into that trap, would it be easier for me to have a conversation with somebody? Right. And, and starting to understand those pieces.
Sam Demma (11:53):
it’s awesome. This sounds like such a helpful resource. <laugh>, I would like to go through it myself. <laugh>,
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (11:58):
You can <laugh>. Yeah.
Sam Demma (12:02):
thank you for sharing a little bit of the behind the scenes regarding that. I’m curious to know what keeps you hopeful and motivated every day to show up to work and puts your best foot forward and try and make a difference in an impact?
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (12:15):
Well, I, I, for one, I really just have to make sure that I try to, you know, put what I’m advocating into practice mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and, you know, if we take the time to fill our own cup, if we take the time to bring ourselves into a calm space, we will be better able to help those around us. And so I always try to make sure that, you know, my day starts out with, whether it’s exercise or whether it’s meditation, or whether it’s just drinking a glass of water, something that, you know, I feel like I’ve done something for me. And that just, that helps to kind of set up my day so that I can, you know, give my best self to my students. And yeah. No, it’s, it’s all about, we really have to, as a society, we actually have to carve out more time for ourselves, and we have to understand that self care is not selfish. And a lot of the times we find it very, you know, Oh, I’m taking time for myself, but you have to do that. That’s when we get burnt out and we’re trying to avoid burnout.
Sam Demma (13:19):
I read a quote this morning that said one day you realized you have two hands, one for helping yourself and one for helping others, and you have to use ’em equally <laugh>. Yeah. And I thought that was a really great perspective shift. Yeah. In terms of self care and the balance of that with serving others. you alluded to some of the practices you engage in. What are some of the things you think are very important for staff and students to maintain a positive mental health and, and their own wellbeing?
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (13:50):
Well, I think for sure a self-awareness check-in is always really important. And there’s lots of different questionnaires that you can go through and different apps, but checking in on that physical, that mental, that spiritual now’s the emotional domains. And that can be just as simple as, you know, what have I done for myself physically? Have I, have I showered? Have I gone some fresh air? Am I drinking enough water? You know, spiritually, am I connecting with nature? Am I trying to connect with something bigger than myself? Am I being kind? So asking really basic questions about yourself and trying to find out where you’re at, self-awareness is one of the fundamental pillars of resilience. And when we are more self aware of what we are doing and how we react to certain situations, we can put the, the practices forward to make change. But when we are completely unaware of what we are doing or, you know, how we’re burning ourselves out, So one of the big things that I start out students with is, is by doing this.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (14:58):
So they go through an engaging activity where they get asked questions about their physical, their social, their spiritual, their emotional domains, and then they have to create a wheel and they have to see how balanced they are in each domain and, and how their, cuz their wheel should go, it should roll. And a lot of the times our wheel doesn’t roll <laugh>. And so usually that’s a big wake up call for them. You know, a lot of them don’t even realize maybe what the spiritual domain is. And, and it doesn’t always have to be religion, it, it, there, you know, there’s, there’s other pieces to it, but unless we help students identify that, so then students will set forth a some smart goals and each domain, and then they have to work through accomplishing those goals. And that’s one assignment. So, you know, that first kind of assignment of getting them starting to feel good, getting them starting to put some proactive strategies into place.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (15:48):
Then we start tackling a lot about, you know, the mental health literacy. So understanding that language about what is stigma and, Oh, I am depressed, or I have a depressed, like I’m in a depression. You know, like there’s, there’s difference between, you know, my boyfriend broke up with me and I’m depressed to, you know, I actually have a, I have a disorder. Yeah. so getting students to understand that. And then we do a lot of the thinking, so the positive thinking approaches, you know, negative self talk finding out those thinking traps that we get locked into. What are the impacts of social media on your mental health? And then we usually end up with a final project where students are to do something active in their community or just kind of outside of themselves. So I had one student who wasn’t going to graduate, and she took my class and she did really well in it. And during the wellness wheel activity, she started biking to improve her physical domain. Hmm. And she ended up raising $900 for her local c h a by putting on a bike marathon, You know, and it’s, when you give kids and youth and adults the power to do something about their mental health and wellness and make it into a way that is fun and is a part of life, it, it’s, it’s unreal where, where you can go when you feel healthy.
Sam Demma (17:12):
I think one of the main reasons educators get into the education world is because of the impact they’re hoping to have on young minds and students and other people. you just shared a story about a young lady who joined your program and was struggling and by the end of it had a new routine of biking to and from school, and it was probably very positively affecting her mental health. Are there any stories that come to mind when you think about students who have been impacted by education, maybe even the course? and the reason I ask is because again, I think a burnt out teacher might be able to remember their why by hearing a story of how education has impacted a student. so are there any stories that come to mind that you’d wanna share?
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (17:59):
well, what, well, one of them is when I first started, so I work in a very rural, rural school division. And, you know, Saskatchewan doesn’t have, you know, maybe as much diversity as, you know, some of the bigger centers. And so a big piece was to make sure that students all felt like they could identify, you know, with, with something, because identity is a critical piece of our mental health. And when we feel that we connect with others, when we feel that that we have that connection, we can feel better about who we are. And so I went through and, you know, I got very many perspectives from indigenous people, from two spirit, from the b Q two you know, and just getting different perspectives of kids and what it was like in youth growing up. And one student comes from a very, very small town where, you know, coming out as gay or lesbian or bisexual it would be, is very challenging.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (18:59):
And nobody talks about those things. Mm. And so in my course during the identity unit, you know, you, you get to in, you get introduced to these students’ lives and what it was like for them to maybe come out to their parent or to come out to their school and, and their journey. And it’s hard, it’s hard listening to them, but by the end, it gives you this sense of hope that no matter what, I will get through this. And so one of these students wrote, you know, a giant letter at the end of the course saying, I, I don’t know where, where I will go right now, but what I know is, is that I, that there’s hope out there for me, and that no matter what I decide to do, if I decide to come out as, you know, gay or lesbian or bi trans, it doesn’t matter because I will get through this.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (19:50):
And that’s, that’s the part about it that’s really important that teachers is that in that, in instilling hope in our students is so important because that when we lose that hope is when, you know, we feel very deflated. And so if teachers can always, you know, provide that glimpse of hope, and that’s where real life stories. So bringing in, you know, real students and real life stories into your classroom, those stories mean so much to students. And I’ve learned a lot of that through my doctoral research is the impact of, of story and how when we resonate with somebody else that relatedness, that that is what fills us and that’s what helps us. So I would recommend, I would recommend those pieces. I’d recommend the, the check-ins with students, you know, doing that as, as tedious as it might sound, we need, everybody needs those check-ins. I, I now make sure I don’t just say to somebody, Hey, how are you doing? I always say, you know, how are you doing? And I look at them in the eye and I wait for them to respond. And if they say, Good, then I say, That’s awesome. But, you know, making that connection and that communication don’t just hi and then walk away. Right. We need to make those connections with people around us.
Sam Demma (21:08):
What is your feedback when a student finds out their wheel is not round, but more like a rectangle <laugh>? What, what is your advice to try and smoothen it out? <laugh>
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (21:21):
Baby steps, Small steps. So figuring out, like, what I will say to my students is, you know, just start out, you know, one little piece in each domain. So maybe today for this week, you’re gonna add five pushups to every day and just see where that goes. maybe start just trying to dr. Make sure you drink one glass of water every day, just trying to make sure you get outside for fresh air once a week. So just really small, achievable goals. And if you can track them, that really does help with your confidence to be able to know that you’re, you’re doing it and you’re making the steps forward. But just don’t bite off more than you can chew. I’ve, I’ve had students come at me where they’ll say, you know, Oh, I’m gonna lose 30 pounds in the next 10 days because I’m way off track on my wellness wheel. And I’m like, No, no, no, no, no, no, not at all. You don’t wanna do that. You wanna make healthy little achievable steps and helping students work through those achievable steps,
Sam Demma (22:26):
This process. And the wheel, I would assume applies to educators and staff as well.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (22:32):
<laugh>? Yes. Yeah. We actually run quite a few different wellness challenges every month where we have a bunch of different, like, self-care activities every day, and we send them out to staff and students and schools and, and they can practice them and submit them back to me for a prize. But the goal is just to do a little act of self care. And it can be anything from tidying up your desk to, like I said, you know, making sure that you have, you know, you visit a friend that you haven’t maybe talked to for a while or connect with a relative that you haven’t, All those little pieces can make you feel so good.
Sam Demma (23:09):
Mm. I love that. It sounds like this has been something that’s very much prioritized in your school division now which is so awesome. Again, I think back to my own experiences in school. I wish I had a newsletter being sent to me about self care tips and challenges to win prizes, <laugh>. that’s, that’s so awesome. when you think about your journey through education, if you could travel back in time, tap, you know, younger Elena, not that you’re old, but you could tap younger Elena on the shoulder when she was, was starting her first year of teaching with the, still, with the experience you have now, like knowing what, you know, what would you have told your younger self not to change anything about your path, but just because you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear it when you were just getting into education?
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (24:03):
I think to value the uniqueness of every student that, you know, they don’t just fit into this box mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and, you know, we want them to fit in this box because we wanna be able to manage that classroom and to understand that, you know, the classroom is becoming such a diverse place and you know, it, there’s a lot going on for teachers way more now than ever, you know, And so if I wouldn’t have learned that, you know, maybe I needed to do things a certain way, but I think we need to learn that there’s so many different ways to, to approach kids, to approach learning, to approach, But it’s tough because there’s not a lot of time in the day and teachers are, you know, feeling really exhausted right now. They’re having a hard time with adjusting from the impacts of Covid. And so, I mean, I think looking back now, I would really just, I would understand that the classroom is, it’s, it’s a, it’s a hard place and you need to be able to reach out for supports and you need, you can’t do it on your own. And, you know, when you’re a first year teacher or second year teacher, you wanna try and do it all yourself, and you don’t want anybody to know, but you, you have to reach out for those people around you. They’re there for reasons and not to be afraid to ask for help and support.
Sam Demma (25:31):
Hmm. On the topic of help and support, sometimes it’s reaching out, you know, when we’re struggling to talk to other people, other times you might need help and support in relation to actual teaching, like looking for new lessons for your classes or for ideas for future class lessons or ideas for your own professional development as a teacher. I’m curious if there are any resources or things that you subscribe to or books that you’ve read courses that you’ve been a part of that you found really valuable in your own professional development as an educator and, and a human being that you think would be valuable if another educator checked them out. or maybe have one that comes to mind, or maybe it’s a person in your life, but whatever you have to share. I would, I would love to hear it.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (26:23):
well, for me, a lot has been about looking at the, the different gaps and figuring out ways that I can fill those gaps. And so, I mean, the internet’s always been, you know, one of my favorite places to go around, but nice. You have to be able to take, take that stuff and make it into your own. And a lot of I know a lot of divisions don’t like to use paid resources. They want teachers to make their own, but everything I got was passed down by a really genuine other teacher. And I think that’s always been the practice that I do. I don’t keep anything for myself. I always try to give back because there’s no point in remaking the wheel. There are other people out there that have taught, and I encourage, that’s why I said, I encourage you to, you know, reach out to other teachers because they will be the ones that will give you the stuff that, you know, hasn’t, that has been used.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (27:21):
And that’s why when we built this teacher mentorship model, I didn’t want, one of the biggest stresses and challenges is for teachers to teach a new curriculum. Mm. And I never wanted one that had to be mental health and mental wellness to be stressful on a teacher. I wanted everything laid out for them. Yeah. And so that was why we built it that way, was to alleviate any of that stress and anxiety. So now I spend a lot of my time building resources for teachers, and we’re trying to build wellness in in Arcade to nine by taking, you know, different health and ELA and art and phed outcomes, and then coming up with mental health and wellness strategies that can meet those outcomes. So I think it’s about it learning how to infuse wellness and mental health into the curriculum as well. And so those are kind of the resources that we’re working on building too. And I encourage anybody that’s on here, if they ever wanna reach out to me for, you know, resources or, you know, different things that we have made, I, we’re free to share them. We have a wonderful resource bank within our school division that houses all kinds of vetted resources. So, I mean, I’m really lucky I have access to a lot of, a lot of staff, but I’m always kind of available if anybody you know, is looking for things I can help direct them.
Sam Demma (28:40):
Not to fill your inbox, but <laugh>, if an educator is listening right now, and was intrigued and inspired by the conversation, wants to have a conversation with you, ask a question or share some ideas, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (28:57):
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam Demma (29:11):
Awesome. Elena, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast, talk about a little bit of your experience in education, the Mental Wellness 30 program, and all the amazing resources you’re working on. I really appreciate it, and keep up the great work and, and we’ll talk soon.
Dr. Elaina Guilmette (29:27):
Sam Demma (29:30):
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