About Melissa Wright
Melissa Wright (@WrightMelissa_)is a passionate educator and speaker that is driven to help schools create a place where students belong and everyone feels like they matter. Melissa is also the president of the New Brunswick Student Leadership Association President.
By sharing ideas that work in her school, she helps educators and students see they can improve their culture and climate. She is known for her passion and desire to see students succeed, and find their inner leader.
**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 (00:02):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today we have on a very special guest. Her name is Melissa Wright. She is a passionate educator and speaker that is driven to help schools create a place where students can belong. And everyone feels like they matter by sharing ideas that work in her school. She helps educators and students see they can improve their culture and school climate. She is known for her passion and desire to see students succeed and find their own inner leader. Along with all this, Melissa is also the new Brunswick student leadership association president. And on today’s episode, she has so many unique ideas and inspiring moments to share. I hope you enjoy it. Let’s get in with the interview, Melissa. Thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you here. We were just talking about some salsa and bachata and dancing early morning. Can you share with the audience who you are and why you got into the work that you do with youth today?
Melissa Wright (01:08):
Yeah. Thanks so much, Sam, for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that you’re doing this. I’m so kudos to you. But yeah, a little bit about me. I’m a high school educator at Kennebascis Valley High School. This is year 16. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my whole career here and I mostly teach math, but I also have a local option of dance. So that’s super fun to teach because, you know, we do classical styles like tap and jazz, but then we also have a vice principal in our school that had learned but shadow from a previous relationship. And I had never done that style before. So he taught me and then we taught it to the class. So now he comes in and guest teaches that.
Melissa Wright (01:47):
So that’s a super fun class, but you know, it’s so great every day to be able to come and do something that you love. You know, I got into teaching because of dance. So when I was about 13 or so, I started assisting at my local dance school. And then by the time I was 16, I was teaching classes on my own. So that’s where I fell in love with teaching. And then, you know, I love math as well in school. So I said, well, I’ll become a teacher. And then once I became a teacher saw that, Hey, there’s an opportunity. You can write your own curriculum because in new Brunswick don’t have a dance course it’s written by the province. So I took that opportunity to, to write that and got it approved. So it’s great that we, that we have that here, but also part of what I do in love is, is student leadership as well.
Melissa Wright (02:30):
So when I was in high school, I was fortunate enough to have an educator and she always gets embarrassed every time I say this, but Heather Malco was my student council advisor in high school. And she really, really inspired me to be a teacher and pushed me to be the best version of myself. I could be. She was my, she taught me French in grade 10, but she was my student council advisor in high school. And, you know, it’s just amazing that she got me into that and pushed me to go through that. And we now work together, actually the pneumonic student leadership association. So it’s come completely full circle. And you know, it’s so great to have those people that inspire you to do those things that you know, that you love and that they sometimes can see in you that you can’t see in yourself.
Sam Demma (03:14):
I love that. That’s amazing. I have a similar story with the educator in my school named Michael loud foot. He just retired, although we don’t stay in touch to this day. So I think it’s awesome. And shout out to Heather and make sure you reach out to her after this and tell her that her name’s on another show. I was reading on your website before this interview that you want an award and your whole, your whole messaging in schools and for students is to help them feel like they matter. And I’m curious to know how do we make students feel like they matter during a time like COVID-19?
Melissa Wright (03:50):
Well, you know, it all comes down to relationships. It really, it really, really does. And, you know, I was fortunate enough when we closed in the spring during COVID that, you know, we’d had some time to build those relationships in the classroom so that the students trust you you know, coming into a new school year, that can be a little bit more difficult if you haven’t taught the students before. But I think it’s the fact of, you know, if they know that you’re there and that’s, you’re supporting them, you know if they have things going on outside of school and they come to you and say, you know, can I have an extra day to write before I have this test? You know, give them some grace, right. Then that’s really going to help them feel comfortable. And the thing of it is we are, we’re finding that so many of our kids with this whole cause we’re a hybrid, right?
Melissa Wright (04:35):
We’re there one day in the classroom and then the next day at home. So they’re getting stressed out about, you know, the workload and that sort of thing. But you know, sometimes we just have to take them aside and say, listen, you know, you have this math assignment, but what’s going on outside of school because this math assignment pales in comparison to perhaps the thing that you have going on in your personal life, or, you know, and I always tell the kids, they always ask me, you know, like, where am I ever gonna use this math? And I said, you know sad as it sounds, you might never learn, need to know how to graph a parabola in your everyday life. But I said, the skills that you use to do that, like grit and perseverance, and you know, this is a challenge and working hard, all of those skills, I guarantee you, you can use in any field that you go into. So I think we need to build those relationships with kids and show them that these skills and the resiliency it’s going to take them to get through this situation. And this school year is going to be something that’s going to stick with them for a lifetime.
Sam Demma (05:34):
Awesome. I love it so much that the social emotional learning side of subjects is not talked about enough and you did a great job just now explaining that. So other educators, if you get that objection by your students, definitely quote Melissa, what did Heather do for you when you were a student that pushed you? Did she tap you on the shoulder and tell you to get involved? What was it that she did if he could travel back in time that lit a fire within you that maybe another educator listening might think, wow, let me try and embody that thing, whatever she did to also light a fire under their, their own students.
Melissa Wright (06:10):
Well, when I first had her, she came into our school when I was in grade 10 and I had her for grade 10 fringe and she was just, she was a young teacher, bubbly personality, full of energy. So obviously, you know, her personality for one I gravitated towards right away. But the second thing was, you know, she, I had been involved in student council in grade nine and you know, I was lucky enough to be involved again in grade 10 and she ended up coming to take over. So, but when it came to grade 12, I was like, oh, you know, maybe cause I’d been a rep in grade 9, 10, 11. I was like, well, you know, maybe I’ll run for an executive position, but you know, I’d be okay with just being grateful type thing. And she’s like, no, you know, Melissa, I think you should run for president.
Melissa Wright (06:52):
So she was kind of the one that just said, you know, like the, what if you take those what ifs and turn them into, you know, I can’t, you know what I mean? So she was the one that said, you know, why don’t you run for president? I said, well, I’ll give it a shot. Cause you know, if I didn’t get elected, then the recollections were after that. Right. So I had a, I had a second chance type thing. So because of her just saying, you know, like, why don’t you do this or try this sometimes it’s just planting that little seed and that idea in a person’s head that makes them think a little differently, that things, wow. Maybe I should take this opportunity.
Sam Demma (07:28):
Yeah. That’s a great point. And I think back to my story as well, and my teacher did the same thing, it was a challenge. He challenged us. I think young people love challenges. They always want to show other people up, especially their teachers. So a little tap on the shoulder. A challenge is a great way to do that. Speaking of challenges during COVID, there has been many, I know you’re doing hybrid learning. Has there been a challenge that you have overcome that you think is worth sharing with another educator? Maybe you had a unique idea to solve a certain problem. And then I’ll ask you a follow-up question about, have you had any students who have been impacted during this time in a major way, and you can change their name if you want, but share a story and it doesn’t have to be during COVID.
Sam Demma (08:09):
It could be in your whole journey of education, share a story of a student who has been deeply impacted by something that’s happened in the school. Because another educator might be starting school this year and this might be their first year teaching and they might be thinking, oh my goodness, like what did I just sign up for? And a story like that might just light a fire in their belly to remember, no, the reason we do this is to change lives. And although it’s tough, we develop that grit and resiliency. So long question, first part share some unique ideas about overcoming COVID challenges. Second part student story changed their name for privacy reasons if you’d like,
Melissa Wright (08:43):
Okay. So yeah, ideas for, for COVID. So when I’m actually, I’m involved here at school, we have what’s called a Renaissance. So it’s all about school, culture and climate. So Jocelyn’s, everybody knows Jocelyn’s further rings in yearbooks. They’re kind of the ones that they don’t like determine what your program is, but they help with resources and that sort of thing. So we’re lucky enough to have the Renaissance team here at the school that I, that I run. And the big thing that we did was to make sure that the kids were still connected. So in those first two weeks, when for here in new Brunswick, when they closed in the spring, the first two weeks were kind of treated like snow days. Everybody was just home. There was no schoolwork, but as the advisor, one of the advisors, I have another advisor, we felt it was still important for us to stay connected to our team.
Melissa Wright (09:33):
So we kept continue to meet virtually, even though we didn’t really know what was going to happen in terms of our events and that sort of thing, we said, okay, we still need to meet with you guys because it’s just a, check-in say, Hey, how you doing? Do you need anything? But then the kids were the ones that said we’d brought in a guest speaker and a fellow educator, friend of mine from Wyoming Bradley Skinner. And he sparked them to say, why can’t we still do what we were going to do, but do it virtually. And I’m like, that’s phenomenal. Let’s do it guys. How do you want to do this? So we did all, like, we still did almost all of our events that we would have in the spring virtually. So we did things like in the springtime, we always do something called Kisa grad goodbye.
Melissa Wright (10:15):
So it’s, it’s quite cute. It’s normally it’s a piece of cardstock with a grad cap on it and people can purchase them for 50 cents. They write who it’s to who it’s from. And then they can write a little note on the back and we stick a Hershey’s kiss to it. So, and we usually deliver it to their homeroom class, but we weren’t physically in the building to do that, but we still want it to be able to have that because that’s become a tradition for our grads that, cause it doesn’t matter what grades you have, you know, how long it’s taken you to get to the finish line. Anybody can get a kiss goodbye. And our advisory teachers love it because it’s very affordable because you have the same kids until they graduate. And it’s a nice little, just a little something that they can that they can get.
Melissa Wright (10:59):
And so we said, well, we have to do it digitally. So we set up a Google form and people filled it out and we thought, you know, we shared it on social media. We thought, okay, you know, teachers will fill that out. Probably some students, but it was amazing because not only teachers and students did it, but there were also, you know, grandparents or aunts or uncles or friends that, you know, they might not even have been coming home for graduation, but they were like had normal time, but they were even still able to send those wishes and congratulations virtually. So the, and then we did the opt to look like they did on the paper copy and we emailed them to all their advisory teachers. And then that way they could send them to them through email or teams or however they can get ahold of them.
Melissa Wright (11:40):
So that was something that became very positive. And because of that, I think now this year we’re still, you know, in the building, we will do it like we normally do on paper, but then there’ll be an option for people to also it virtually, it won’t be as fancy. We won’t do it as fancy because it takes a lot of time, but it’ll still be an option. And I think, you know, it’s something important that we give those options because it’s important to celebrate our grads. It’s important to celebrate our students and our staff. So any way that we can continue to do that even during the, especially during these times is, is gonna make a huge impact. Another thing that we normally do in person is called thank a staff number. And we do this in may because everybody knows that may is a grind and educator.
Melissa Wright (12:26):
It really, really is. Everybody is exhausted and you know, they’re looking towards summer vacation. So what we usually do when we’re in the building is in advisory, people get slips of paper and they can write a nice note about any staff member in the building. It could be teacher custodian, cafeteria worker, you know, office staff, anybody that works here at K VHS and kids are allowed to fill up more than one. So, and the kids were like, well, we still have to do this, especially now because the teachers are working like mega overtime more than they normally would. So same thing, we set up a Google form, people filled it out. And then we even had parents that were filling it out, you know, not just students and teachers for other teachers. And it was just so nice to see the appreciation that everybody had and we thought, okay, so we’ll do these up and email them out.
Melissa Wright (13:16):
But we were lucky that teachers came back, just teachers in new Brunswick came back to the building in June. So as the advisors, we were able to hand deliver those, the teachers and some of them were like, what? This still happened. I didn’t even know. Right. And we make sure that every, every single staff member in the building gets at least one, because if, if there isn’t one for them, then members of our Renaissance team take minute, a few minutes and write one for everybody that doesn’t have one. So, you know, I have, I have stacks of them. I found them when we were home at a stacks in the home, I keep them in my desk. Teachers have told us when they’re having a bad day, they pull out and read those notes. And sometimes they’re not signed. Sometimes they’re anonymous and that’s perfectly fine.
Melissa Wright (13:57):
We tell the kids, you don’t have to put your name on it if you don’t want to, but if you want to that’s good. And there’s one other idea I’m going to share with you. And that leads into my student story. So we always do something in the spring called Crusader champion and what that is. It’s a ceremony to recognize students that have made improvement in their attendance, their their behavior or their attendance. So students are nominated by their teachers to come. So we have a population of approximately 1100 students. And the last one that we did in-person we were at about 120 kids. So that’s over 10% of our population got nominated to go to this, which was amazing. So, and they, so they get an invitation in their homeroom class and they don’t know. It just says, you’re invited on this date to the mini gym at this time to be celebrated as a Crusader champion.
Melissa Wright (14:45):
And the kids are like, I thought after 15 years they would start to catch on. They always forget. It’s okay though. So they get the little card and they get to get out a third period class. And they, they love that part, first of all, but they have to have the invitation to show their teacher and to give it to us when they come to the ceremony. So they come to the ceremony and they get free lunch and there’s, you know, door prizes that we draw for, but they also get a bunch of swag. So our parents school support committee sports, we have a little rewards card and they’re the only kids that get that for that month in the school. And there’s six spaces on it. So there’s two that are one more day on a homework assignment, pretty simple. Two of them are best seat in the house.
Melissa Wright (15:24):
So they get to choose where they sit for that class. Most of the time in my class, if they use it, they get, take my teacher comfy chair to their desk. That’s usually what happens, but in the middle of the two in the middle are the favorite. So there’s one, that’s a fi it’s just a five minute break away so they can leave one class five minutes early. But the other one, which is the most coveted square on that card, and I’ve actually had kids try to get their cards early because of it it’s called a KD quick pass because the church at the top of the hill, every Wednesday serves free craft dinner for our whole school population for anybody that wants to come. So after third period, it is a mad rush to get up that hill, get Kraft dinner, like the beat the line.
Melissa Wright (16:07):
So if they have that one space, they get to leave once on a Wednesday, five minutes early to beat the rush. Now, unfortunately this year because of COVID, the church is not doing craft dinner, but we’re hoping that eventually we’ll be able be able to get back to that. And then there’s usually, you know, swag from, we have sponsors like dairy queen gives us gift certificates and that sort of thing that we give them. And then usually there’s some sort of cavies way, whether it’s a t-shirt or a bag or a water bottle or something like that. But they’re kind of when they come into that ceremony, like the deer in the headlights thing, cause one year they walked in and our superintendent was there and a bunch of officials from district office and they were kind of like what’s going on here. So, but when they, when they find out why they’re there and that a teacher has nominated them to be there, it completely changes everything.
Melissa Wright (16:51):
You just see the smiles, you know, on their faces and we, and the wonderful thing about that ceremony, it doesn’t matter what your academics are. Right. You know, teachers just want to nominate you for your improvement. Right. We’ve had all different kinds of students there, you know, from students, you know, special needs students to our we’ve had high academic Florence, but we’ve also had those kids that are the middle of the road, you know, that are working their tail off, making an improvement little by little. But yeah, like I was saying that that leads into my story and I will change the student’s name for privacy. And where’s the student probably, oh gosh, probably three years ago now. And we’ll just call him John. And he, he was having, he was having a rough go. So I had him, I had him first semester in math and his mom came in.
Melissa Wright (17:35):
She said, you know, for me, the teacher, I’m very worried about him. And when I said, you know, don’t worry, we’ll do whatever we can to help them to try to get through. And so the semester came and his attendance wasn’t that great. But when he was in the classroom, like he worked hard, but he wasn’t a behavior problem, but he just missed a lot of time. And so, and you miss so much that, unfortunately he wasn’t going to get the course, but he still came and he wrote the exam and he wrote a note on the exam. You said, you’ll see, I’ll do better next semester. Cause you knew I had the repeater class. So second semester came, he was doing great. He had like 85 working hard. And then one day he came into class and something just seemed off, you know, how you can tell when one of your friends or something that just seems something’s off.
Melissa Wright (18:24):
So I said, you know what, I’m going to call mom and do a positive phone call. So I called her and I said, hello, this is Mrs. Wright calling from KVA. Jess, do you have a moment to talk? Oh yes. Just a second. You can hear like running down a hallway and she’s like, okay, I’m somewhere quiet is everything. Okay. And I said, everything is wonderful. I’m just calling to let you know how proud I am of John and the work he’s doing. And you know, when the improvement and the turnaround that he’s made, and she said, you do not know how much this phone call means to me today. She said, this weekend, John saw his father for the last time. You will not see his dad again. And she said, you know, we’re in the process of selling our house. And this morning, you know, when he went to leave for school, there was a big kerfuffle and he couldn’t find his cell phone.
Melissa Wright (19:11):
She said the things that you guys have done for him, like, cause when they go to that Crusader champion, he had been invited there, they get a certificate. She said, he’s a grade 11 boy. He came home and put that certificate on the fridge. He said he didn’t even do that in elementary school. So we never know what impact, like it was a, it was a piece of paper that we photocopied a slice of pizza at a lunch ceremony. You know what I mean? And our little rewards card, but we don’t, to us, it seems so insignificant. But to that kid, it was everything right. You, you don’t realize the impact sometimes your ha having. And sometimes we don’t hear those types of stories, but when we do, man, those are the little golden nuggets that you, that you have to hold on to. Wow.
Sam Demma (19:59):
A phone call,
Melissa Wright (20:00):
Just a phone call, one simple phone call.
Sam Demma (20:04):
That’s so amazing. And I think even just thinking about most calls home are for negative news. Changing that script and doing, doing a positive phone call can make a huge impact as well. And that’s an amazing story. And for anyone listening, who’s just getting into education. Those stories happen. I spoke to dozens of educators on this show. Melissa is not an anomaly. That’s a great story. But you’re going to change lives. It’s, it’s, it’s a part of this job. You’re not just a teacher, you’re a mentor. You’re sometimes a perinatal figure to some students. I would even believe in a certain to a certain degree and you never know what a student’s going through. So that small action like Mike lab would set a action can make a massive global change. That’s an amazing story. I honestly think we should just end the podcast right here. This is, this is a phenomenal way to close it up. If if another educator is listening, do you have any last words you might want to share with them? Imagine, let me put it this way. Imagine you were starting teaching this year and you wanted to be Heather for yourself and you would give yourself some advice. And this is a crazy first year of teaching. What would you say?
Melissa Wright (21:18):
First of all, just in the teaching world, give yourself some grace. You’re not going to be able to do it all. And that’s okay because those students need you in the classroom. So like you might not have the perfect lesson plan, you know, try something new and if it flops it flops, but you have to take care of yourself so you can take care of your kids. And be there if you have a family as well for your family. You know, and the biggest thing of it is if you see that potential in a student, tap them on the shoulder because you don’t want to regret not doing that. You know, it’s sometimes, you know, sometimes it’s a, it’s a hard thing to approach. Like you’re not sure how to do it. And it might take a couple of times a tapping the kid on the shoulder, but don’t lose sight of that.
Melissa Wright (22:06):
Like seriously do that. And you know what I mean? You have to find when you’re a teacher, especially in your first couple of years, find your thing and find your people. Like you need to find those people that lift you up and inspire you to want to be better every single day in that building because yeah, teaching is tough. Teaching and COVID-19 is even tougher. It’s seriously, seriously is. And those people that support you and are going to be there for you. Those are the ones you always want to have around you. If they inspire you to be better, those are the people you need to be hanging out with. And don’t, and don’t lose, lose sight of who you are. You know, if ever, you know, I’m myself, I’m a very positive person. And in these times it’s so easy to get sucked into the negative.
Melissa Wright (22:53):
Try not to find the joy and every single day that you can, even if it’s one little nugget, like maybe a kid told a funny joke in class, I had a kid last week, somehow he got off topic and was talking about Donald Trump and his dad sent him a text and said, stop talking about Donald Trump in class. So he was short. So that was a funny for me that day that I took home and was laughing about it. You got to find those little moments of joy and seriously, seriously, you will make an impact even though you might not hear about it until years later. So they take it one day at a time and drink lots of water.
Sam Demma (23:33):
That’s awesome. I did a recent podcast with Dr. Greg Wells. It’s like a performance expert and he said the biggest biohack is a drinking water, drink, more water. I, that was a great way to close it. Make students feel like they matter small actions, small acts of kindness. This episode has been amazing. Listen, thank you so much for spending some time on the show with me. If another educator, maybe from another province or country is listening and wants to reach out to you to just bounce some ideas around and borrow some of your joy and enthusiasm. How can they do that?
Melissa Wright (24:07):
Well first they can, you can find me on my website, just www.melissawright.ca, or you can find me on social media. I’m on Twitter and Instagram. It’s @wrightmelissa_ on both Twitter and Instagram, or if I’m on Facebook, I’m under Melissa Sue Right.
Sam Demma (24:24):
Awesome. Thank you so much, Melissa. It’s been a pleasure.
Melissa Wright (24:26):
My pleasure. Thanks
Sam Demma (24:28):
There you have it. Another action packed interview on the high performing educator podcast, Melissa would love to hear for you from you and have a conversation. So definitely reach out if you have the time and also consider leaving a review on the podcast so that more educators like yourself can find these conversations and benefit from the inspiration and ideas. And if you are someone who has either of those things to share on this podcast, either inspiration or ideas, or, you know, somebody who would be a perfect guest, please email us, email@example.com. So we can share those stories and ideas on the show until then I’ll see you on the next episode.
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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.