About Paul Dols
Paul Dols (@PaulDWildcat) is the Climate & Culture Coordinator at Monrovia High School in Southern California. His responsibilities include being Activities Director, Renaissance Coordinator, and Link Crew Coordinator.
A classroom teacher for 26 years, his passion and goal are to create a school that every student and staffulty member calls home and no one wants to leave. Paul believes that education is the noblest of professions and provides the opportunity to “Sow the Seeds” each and every day.
**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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Paul Dols. He is the climate and culture coordinator at Monrovia high school in Southern California. His responsibilities include being activities, director Renaissance coordinator, and link crew coordinator, a classroom teacher for 26 years. His passion and goal is to create a school that every student and Staffold T member calls home. And no one wants to leave. Paul believes that education is the noblest of professions and provides the opportunity to sow the seeds each and every day. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Paul and I will see you on the other side, Paul, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you do the work you do today in education?
Paul Dols (01:34):
Sure, sure. Sam, thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it. I’m flattered. So I I’ve started in education back in the previous century. I had my first classroom in 95, 96 at a middle school in Northridge, California. I did middle school for a couple of years. And then in 1997, I moved to Monrovia high school. For those who don’t know where Monrovia is, we are in the foothills of Los Angeles about 10 miles from Pasadena in the rose bowl, which is kind of our GeoCenter for everybody. Who’s not sure where we are. And I’ve been at Monrovia ever since. It is a home away from home for both my wife and me. She’s an elementary teacher in the district. She’s my reason for being in Monrovia. And we, we have been invested in the kids and the families of this community now for gosh, 23, 24 years.
Paul Dols (02:26):
And it’s a passion, it’s a passion for, for this community. And especially for the kids who grew up in this community. I was social studies teacher by training and, and love government and, and politics and that kind of stuff. So that was what I taught for a long time. In 2008, I got tapped to take over something called the Josten’s Renaissance leadership program from a friend and mentor of mine who moved into administration. And that kind of started my divergent journey a little bit towards student leadership and towards reaching into the more social, emotional side of things which is where I’ve kind of been ever since. I, in 2017, I picked up activities as the activities director created a title for myself. I started calling myself the climate and culture coordinator and, and encompasses the Renaissance side of things and the activity side as to do our link crew program for our freshmen mentor project.
Paul Dols (03:25):
And I’m all about the social emotional side of education now. And it’s something that I didn’t think about when I started, I was all about the curriculum. And now it’s complete 180 and I am preaching for the mountaintops that we’ve got to take care of our kids on the social emotional side first and throwing out the, you know, the Maslow before bloom phrases become very popular lately. We’ve got to take care of what our kids need first before we give them that curriculum. So in a nutshell, that’s me, man. I I love what I do. I’m super spoiled here that I get to focus on that side of things almost exclusively. And that’s it, man. That’s, that’s the, that’s the nutshell version.
Sam Demma (04:09):
It’s it seems like social, emotional learning is finally coming to the table of discussion in all schools, across the, hopefully the world for an educator out there. That’s still unsure why it’s important and what it’s all about. Like how do you explain social emotional learning to someone and why you think it’s so important?
Paul Dols (04:27):
You know, I think the easiest way to do it. And I think one of the most important things to understand with there’s such a wide range of where teachers are and educators are on the spectrum of this is it’s okay, wherever you’re at. For some folks, they get into this, this job and it is it’s the, the subject they teach that they love. And they come to realize that they love the kids even more than they love the subjects that they’re teaching. And, but it can be hard for people. People have had all these different life experiences and maybe being a little bit more open with their own life with students is not something that they’re really comfortable doing. But the way I, the way I try to, to bring people to my side of things is basically just to reminding them that the world that we’re creating for these kids now, the businesses that are looking to hire these kids, when they get out of high school and college, the corporations that are trying to grow, they’re now looking at what used to be called the soft skills and it’s everything that they’re looking for.
Paul Dols (05:27):
It’s no longer about their GPA or their sat scores. And people are finally beginning to realize that those measurements really only measure one very small part of who a person is. And when you’ve got corporations like Google and Microsoft and, and even the banking firms are looking for people, AI that can work well together, that can critically think and analyze a problem and then work with other people to solve them. These are things that we don’t teach that well in America, we don’t really focus on it. It’s more about that rugged individualism still, but I think coming through COVID especially, and I don’t think we’re completely through it obviously, but through what we’ve experienced over the last 18 months, I think we realized that that individual I’m just going to get through this on my own kind of mentality is actually really detrimental to what we’re trying to accomplish.
Paul Dols (06:18):
And once we kind of realized that, and for me, I tried to instill in my kids as the leadership kids on our campus, to demonstrate that through how they act you know, practicing kindness above everything else, putting other people first taking and putting themselves in somebody else’s shoes, that empathy gap that Michelle Barbara talks about in her book, selfie is just incredibly true. And you know, that she cites a statistic that says that the more that we have less, less empathy, we have, the more anxiety we have, and we’re seeing this huge uptick in anxiety in kids. And we’re lucky enough, we came back. This is our second or first day of our second week back to school and we’re back fully in person and God-willing we get to stay there. But the anxiety that I see on kids’ faces and the concern and the unsuredness of what they’re doing is very, very real. And if, if that is the case, then we have to practice that empathy with, for those kids. And that is where I come at with, with staff work question, you know, I don’t know if I want to do this or not. We have to remind them that they’re not going to learn if they don’t feel safe. And like my buddy, Phil Campbell says, if they’re not seeing her in love, they’re not going to learn. How do we make them feel seen, heard, and loved.
Sam Demma (07:40):
That’s awesome. I love that. And the, the principles are so important. And you even have one behind you right now. I know this is only an audio podcast, so most people won’t see it, but it says leadership is an action, not a position. What does that line mean to you? And how do you use that to help students understand that we can all be leaders?
Paul Dols (08:00):
You know, I think it’s, we, we put that up there right before the pandemic. It was, it was ironic, but we so often, especially with, with like the ASB mentality or the Renaissance mentality of kids who come in and I’m lucky enough that I have classes, I have an ASB class, I have a Renaissance class. So it’s about 75 kids who are in our leadership program for a lot of people. Sometimes it’s a title. It’s something that they drop on a college application. It’s I was the senior class president. I was the ASB treasurer. I remind them on a daily basis. It’s not who you are. It’s what you do. It’s, there’s a, there’s a poster, the Maya Angelou quote up above me. You know, they’re not going to remember, you know what you say, they’re not going to remember what you do, but they’re going to remember how you made them feel.
Paul Dols (08:50):
For me, that is, you know, I just hung that up. We came back to school because I needed to see every day to remind myself or my kids leaving the room feeling better than when they came in. And for my student leaders, that same challenge as the case when they go into, when they’re in here and in my classroom, our classroom, it’s easy. It’s easy to, to be that empathetic kind soul. But what are you doing in math class and hour later, what are you doing at lunchtime to make other people in your campus feel important, feel connected, feel seen. And so it is that’s there to remind them and they see it. They can’t help, but see it cause it’s right above the board. And you know, it’s also to remind them that people watch them. I think it’s really important that, you know, there’s, I don’t, I can’t attribute the quote to somebody, but it characters what you do when people aren’t watching. And I think that is important for students to realize, even when you’re out in the community, your actions that you’re taking is going to determine who you are.
Sam Demma (09:53):
And they also impact other people, whether we know it or not driving by and looking over, right. One of the reasons why we would, we would always pick up trash on Saturday morning in large groups in very populated areas is because our hope was that someone would drive by look and instead of throwing their cigarette butt out the window, say, oh, maybe I should actually not. When you see 20 young kids picking up their garbage, you know it’s true. Every action has an influence. And I’m curious to know if something influenced you when you were growing up that directed you towards education. Like, did you know from a young age, on your own career journey that you were going to be a teacher, or did you like fall into this? What was the story behind your own career journey?
Paul Dols (10:33):
You know, I, I just told the story yesterday in class. That’s kind of funny. So I knew from the sixth grade off I was, I was blessed and I use that word very carefully, but I was blessed with incredible teachers from the little tiny private school that my brother that I went to in Baltimore through my middle school journey and then high school out here in California, I was blessed with teachers that just got it. They cared, they, they were invested in me as a person, not as a number on a roll book. And I I’d had a natural love for learning that I think came from my mom and dad that that really kind of drove me. I love to read. I love to learn about stuff. I don’t know. And that’s from a very young age, you know, I remember this is going to date me, but there was a huge deal when my parents bought the world book encyclopedia.
Paul Dols (11:26):
So for all the young people listed here, there used to be these books that took the place of the internet, the internet replaced the encyclopedia. But I just remember every year that we would get an update of everything that was new for the year. And I thrived on that book, I would page through it and just, it was amazing. So that love for learning drove me. In my brain, I always thought I was gonna coach basketball and teach U S history. That was, those are my two loves. The history part kept growing and the love for basketball is still there, but the idea of coaching and, you know, to all of the coaches out there, God bless you for what you do for the small amount of compensation that comes to you financially. And the time you give it’s amazing. But I made a decision when our, when our first child was born, that I can’t give up that kind of time with the family to do that.
Paul Dols (12:19):
But I just knew from the first time I stepped into a classroom as an educator, this was it. This was what I was supposed to do. I don’t have a ton of stuff left over from my time at a middle school, but there’s one picture in my office that it was my very first class and it’s just a class picture. It was super weird eighth graders, like, what are we doing, dude? But still hanging in my office to remind me of that day. And, you know, I think it is just, it’s such a privilege to do this job. When you realized that, you know, anywhere from 120 to 180 kids a year, you, you have somebody’s most precious possession and what you do with that can shape their entire life and you never know. See, and that’s the funny part. You never know when you’re going to influence somebody.
Paul Dols (13:13):
And when you’re going to say something that just sticks, that’s a little scary. Cause it gave me as I have a first period conference I’m blessed to be blessed. You know, I think it’s, it can be really intimidating when you realize that if you’re not in the right Ted space and you say something to a kid, it could send them the other direction. And there are days where that could happen. Cause because as human beings, man, we people forget that the teacher in the front of the room may be having a bad day too. And it may have nothing to do with anybody in the room. It could be something going on at home. It could be something that happened on the freeway. It could be an illness, especially, you know, with everything going on now. And so I think it is if you maintain that idea of being a privilege to serve and you approach it that way, you get so much back in return and these, these kids that I’ve been lucky enough to work with over the years.
Paul Dols (14:13):
I mean, they’ve gotten me through some really hard times. I’ve lost both of my parents in the last five years, six years now. But other than my wife and two children, the people that got me through it were my students, their reaction to when I came back the way they would lift me up and, and just kind of carry me through and just messages of encouragement that periodically see, and they give it to you. And they, you know, there was a kid who left me a note on my desk just the other day. She said, Hey, you look tired. I noticed the first week, but thank you for who you are. I don’t know who sent it. I don’t know who left it on my desk, but I was like, Ugh. So they give as much as we probably more than what we give. And it’s a, it’s a need for us to be able to look at a kid regardless of where we’re at right now and say, okay, that kid has a story. They’re writing their story right now. And we were lucky enough to be a part of it. And because of that, you have to take that role seriously. You have to step into it and embrace it and cherish it really.
Sam Demma (15:16):
I love that. That’s so awesome. That’s so cool. The note on the desk too, and it’s so true that every student is writing their own story chapter by chapter. And the coolest part is that the things that you say, the way that you hold yourself could actually alter the way they write their chapter. Right? That’s the, that’s the coolest privilege. You know, you mentioned you had, you were blessed to have teachers that just got it. What does that look like? Like what did those teachers do? That another educator listening could strive to do something similar in their own classroom to have a, you know, a positive effect on their students. Can you recall any of the things that those teachers did for you that made a huge difference?
Paul Dols (15:55):
You know, I think for, for, to have an impact on a kid, you have to be real with them, be authentic with them. And it’s, it’s, it’s not simple, but it sounds simple. And it’s, it’s being open with them about who you are as a person and making sure that you see them as people, not just as kids, the, the phrase you’d all well, kids these days, and then you fill in the blank. It’s, it’s always irked me a little bit when, when people talk about, oh, how could you teach high school? They’re so hard. They’re, they’re, they’re just disrespectful then. I’m like, no, they’re not, they’re not. You know, I think, you know, Diane dollar was my AP us history teacher and inventor at point of high school. And she had a passion for history and she taught her butt off every single day.
Paul Dols (16:49):
And she held us to a really high standard and it was hard. It was the only AP class I took in high school. I wasn’t one of, I was an okay student. I wasn’t a great student, but, you know, I took it because I wanted to have her as a teacher because I had heard you’re going to learn more than you ever can imagine. So I took that challenge and it was hard. And, but, you know, I still have contact with her and we still periodically, we’ll sit down every couple of years and have a cup of coffee and, and I get messages from her on Facebook and to just be encouraging, I mean, and that’s been good Lord, it’s 30 plus years now that I was in her class and you know, not every teacher is going to be like that. And I don’t think there’s a mold to create what that looks like, except for the fact that if, if you care about your kids as people first and you really delve delve into who they are as people and realize that those stories that they’re writing, that you’re just lucky to be in it.
Paul Dols (17:54):
And in operate from that mentality. I think one of the hardest things is there was always this idea of classroom management that we get taught in teacher school, which you know, is kind of the worst and giant waste of time that we do because you can’t really teach how to teach. You just have to get in there and do it. But you know, it was always, I’m going to respect you as the students, when you respect me first. And that’s actually the reverse of which had happened. And it’s hard for adults, especially the longer you do this. It’s, it’s hard to look at a 13 or 14 year old kid and say, I’m going to respect you for first. And then eventually you’re going to come back and respect me as the older person in the room, because that’s the opposite of what we teach in society, respect your elders, respect your elders, respect your elders, which is true.
Paul Dols (18:46):
And they should. But when you’re coming at an adolescent, who’s dealing with his own stuff at home and has a 50 to 60% chance of coming from a broken home where there’s, you know, one parent or there’s a divorce or whatever they’re dealing with and you add onto it, their mental health and their mental wellbeing. And if you come at a student and you say, look, respect me in their brain, the question should automatically be, why would I respect you? What, why is that required of me? But if you come at them with love and you come at them with compassion and you come at them with empathy, they can’t help, but respect you. I have a couple of kids that I’ve been working with for three years now. And it’s been a three-year battle for me to break down the walls that they’ve put up.
Paul Dols (19:33):
I’m starting to see that happening with them. And it’s just persistence. It’s an unwillingness to give up on, on that relationship. And I think when we throw that word into it, when you throw the relationship word into it, it gives some people back off a little bit because they believe there has to be this barrier between the teacher and the student. But if you build that barrier, you’re putting up an unnatural obstacle to the relationship. And so I think for me, that is, is what I focus on a lot. When I was teaching my content back in the day, I was never the most effective AP government teacher. You know, back, we used to have rate your teacher.com. I think they still have it. I would periodically be brave enough to go out there and read what they said. And, you know, my comments were always positive for the most part, but that was kind of said the same thing.
Paul Dols (20:24):
I may not have learned a lot, but I know he loved me. And I don’t know if as a, as a teacher, maybe that’s not the best compliment in the world for some, but for me, I’m okay with that. If, if kids leave here and they know what it means to be a good person and if know what it means to be kind to others and how to work with each other and to work their way through problems critically, I’m okay with that because I think that’s what the world needs. The world doesn’t need somebody, you know, that, you know, understands how the war of 18, 12 formed had happened and what was the relative salt of it because they live in a world now where that information is at their fingertips. They need to know how to relate to each other because that’s what honestly, that’s, what’s missing right now.
Paul Dols (21:17):
We’ve messed this place up so badly collectively as the adult for young people that we can’t fix it, the young people are going to have to fix it. And the only way it’s gonna get fixed is if they learn how to communicate, how to compromise and realize that it’s okay to have divergent opinions, if you’re willing to listen to each other and not see each other as that person is my enemy, they may have a different belief system. They may have a different faith. They may have a different opinion on masks. They may have a different opinion on a vaccine, but they’re still human. They still are writing their own story. And if we just talk to each other respectfully, we may not agree, but we have to be okay with that. And the adults in the room, whether it’s Congress or your state legislature, or your school board, or whoever, the adults in the room, aren’t modeling that. And because of that, what kids are seeing is society embracing conflict instead of compromise yeah.
Sam Demma (22:22):
Or discussion, right? Yeah. Yeah. It’s so true. It’s so, so true. If something that someone else says triggers you, it’s, it’s a, it’s an opportunity to go internal as well because people can’t make you angry. You know, they can say things, but at the end of the day, you’re, you’re in control of your emotions. And of course, sometimes, you know, we get upset and we say things, and again, that goes back to the idea that we’re all human, but, and then that all ties back to the importance of social, emotional learning and regulating your emotions. This has been such a great broad conversation. Paul, thank you so much for sharing a little bit about your journey into education, some of your own beliefs and principles that have served you and also the other teachers that had an impact on you growing up, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out and just have a conversation, another educator from somewhere in the world, what would be the best email to, to, to send or to get in touch with?
Paul Dols (23:15):
No, I would love that. I love talking about this stuff, man. I think, you know, one of the biggest, it’s a community of learners who do this job. I learn more from colleagues and from people all over the country that I’ve been lucky to meet through some of the stuff that I’ve done that social network and that, that PLC or that personal learning community. So yeah, you can reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter at Paul D Wildcat. And I’m not on social media as much anymore because I watched the social dilemma. I am out there a couple of times a week posting some stuff and reposting some of the encouraging stuff that I see. But yeah, I would love to connect to anyone who wants to talk about social, emotional learning, what we do and why we do it and share stories. Cause I think it is incredibly important to pursue that.
Sam Demma (24:22):
Awesome. Paul, this was amazing. Thanks so much. Keep up the great work and I will talk soon. Thanks brother. Appreciate it. And there you have it. Another amazing guest and 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 want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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.
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