Sam: Why do you do the work you do with young people?
Jeff Gerber: I am blessed to serve in the community and at the high school where I attended. In my school years, there were numerous educators who built into my life and provided me opportunities to learn and grow. It was important for me to be in a position to do the same for the next generation of young people."Seeing a student learn and grow and be ready to embrace what lies ahead for them is why I work with young people as an educator, Student Council Advisor, and presenter." – Jeff Gerber Click To Tweet
Sam: What inspired you to get into this work?
Jeff Gerber: It is hard to point to anyone occasion or person, but throughout my years at Waterloo-Oxford there were many A-Ha moments that provided inspiration to work with young people.
From sharing an awesome conversation with our Student Council President as a Grade 9 student on the plane ride to Charlottetown on our school music trip to being given the microphone for morning announcements and at school assemblies, to attending Leadership Camp, to be able to be a student-teacher as a senior student, and building so many positive relationships with so many role models, all of these things provided the inspiration to see what was possible as someone to mentor young people.
Sam: What gives you hope? What do you think is the biggest opportunity in education right now?
Jeff Gerber: The adaptability and optimism of young people today give me lots of hope! As I type this there are 2 students in class editing a video for a virtual school spirit contest they just completed and their laughter, joy, and dedication to building school community through all that this school year has brought just shows that young people are more ready, and capable, than ever to be leaders in their world, to build relationships, and a sense of belonging."The biggest opportunity in education right now is how technology and the positive use of social media (for connection, not consumption) can bring people together, empower people to make a difference, and allow so many more voices to be… Click To Tweet
Sam: Share a story about a situation where you witnessed a student transformation due to the impact of a caring educator.
Jeff Gerber: Early in my career I had the opportunity to provide some timely support for a student who was experiencing some relationship trouble at home and had moved out. This was starting to affect school and also I believe in the choices they were making outside of school. Living in the community I teach allowed me the chance to see the student’s potential, help them mend some fences, and begin to realize their potential.
They ended up flourishing as a student in their senior years and are now a published author, speaker, and life coach. I was honoured to be able to be a test reader of their first book and to receive confirmation that the support I had provided early in their high school career played a key role and getting them pointed in the right direction again.
Our influence is not often that dramatic, and we often don’t get a chance to connect with students later in life to see the difference we may have made. However, I know many students if given the chance would be able to credit the influence of a caring educator at key points in their life.
Sam: What unique ideas, tools or software are you finding very helpful in your practice right now?
Jeff Gerber: It has been awesome to see so many different groups and organizations pivot to providing various lessons, learning experiences, and curricula online. From the work CSLA has been doing, the conferences and content put out by YLCC, podcasts like the High Performing Educator, and more, there have never been more resources available to support educators looking to build relationships and connect people. I also want to highlight the resources available through CharacterStrong. At CADA in the Spring of 2019, I was fortunate to connect with Houston Kraft and the work of CharacterStrong through mutual friend Tyler Durman.
Since then we have implemented the CharacterStrong Leadership materials in our Leadership class and are in the midst of rolling out the CharacterStrong curriculum school-wide. The vast array of research-based resources for social-emotional learning and character development, its ease of use, commitment to equity, relevance, and constant updates have made it an invaluable tool through the pandemic and beyond.
Sam: What is your motivator (or your driver)?"Young people today self-report to be more lonely and less happy than previous generations." – Jeff Gerber Click To Tweet
While being connected through technology more than ever, they lack the closer, personal relationships that are the foundation of a meaningful life. Building this sense of belonging and providing common experiences for young people to develop relationships is what motivates me.
Sam: What advice would you give your younger self when you just got into education?
Jeff Gerber: The biggest piece of advice I would give to my younger self would be to focus more on the process than the product. And to pay as much attention to character development and social-emotional learning as to the quality of the events and activities our leadership students were putting on."I have always believed "the biggest ship in leadership is relationship" but as I look back on how we used our time I would be more intentional in spending time on character-development, soft skills, life skills and give students more… Click To Tweet
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Sam Demma is an entrepreneur, youth coach, and keynote speaker. He co-founded the volunteer organization PickWaste, created the High Performing Student, delivered two TEDx Talks, and is a Board Director of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. Sam’s mission is to provide students with the hope, tools and strategies they need to become servant leaders in their schools and in the lives of those around them. www.samdemma.com