About Rebecca Newcombe
Rebecca Newcombe (@Ms__Newcombe) is the Principal of Aldershot School in Burlington, Ontario. She has been part of the Halton District School Board for 20 years. Rebecca is a firm believer in student voice and innovation.
Rebecca is a Collaborative Problem Solving Trainer for Think:Kids. CPS is an evidence-based approach that flips the traditional way we look at students with behavioural challenges and supports the student’s skill development to reduce challenging behaviour while building relationships with the adults in their lives.
**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):
Rebecca welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.
Rebecca Newcombe (01:50):
Hello, Sam I’m Rebecca Newcomb. I’m the principal at Aldershot school with the Halton district school board here in Burlington, Ontario.
Sam Demma (01:58):
It’s an awesome, it’s awesome to speak to you because I would always take the go train. Last stop would always say elder shot and was always wondering what was over there. Cause I never actually got off at that stop.
Rebecca Newcombe (02:10):
Worth the visit!
Sam Demma (02:12):
At what stage in your own educational career and journey did you realize? I really want to get into education.
Rebecca Newcombe (02:21):
Honestly, since the, the very beginning I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. All always wanted to be a principal and I just was, was lucky and fortunate. And here, here I am.
Sam Demma (02:33):
So you grew up kind of just telling everyone around you when I grow up, I wanna work in a school.
Rebecca Newcombe (02:39):
Yeah, weird. Right. that’s awesome. I was, I always loved school. Always loved teaching, always loved learning. It’s just was, it was just natural fit for me.
Sam Demma (02:49):
Tell me a little bit about the actual journey. So you finished high school and then what, what was the path that you took that led you to where you are today?
Rebecca Newcombe (02:56):
So I it was right outta high school, got into the concurrent ed program at Lakehead university in thunder bay. So I was living in Ottawa at the time with my parents, so 17 hours straight north and was there for five years.
Sam Demma (03:13):
That’s awesome. And then right after the five years at Lakehead did you start with the Halton district school board and been here ever?
Rebecca Newcombe (03:21):
Since? I just started out with the Durham district school board, I taught at Fort Perry high school for two years. Nice. Yeah. And then got hired on with Halton and made the move.
Sam Demma (03:30):
That’s awesome. And I would, I’m assuming you started it in the classroom and then
Rebecca Newcombe (03:35):
I did. Yeah, well, yeah, but what my first jobs was with special education. So I kind of fell into special education. It, it became an UN, like, I didn’t realize that it was gonna be my passion, but it’s, it’s turned into that just sort of by accident. I started teaching English and history and then, and special ed. So in terms of GLE, so learning resources classes within the resource room, so supporting students who may have learning disabilities right, right out of right from my, from day one up in, up in Durham. And then when I moved to, to Halton, I ended up being the the head of special education at EC ju in Milton for, I don’t know, maybe a decade and with kids with intellectual disabilities, autism, you name it. And it was amazing.
Sam Demma (04:26):
That’s awesome. Those first couple of years probably informed the rest of your teaching career which is awesome. When you think about those experiences working in special ed, are there any memories that stick out to you or, you know, experiences that you had that were really impactful on the way that you approach teaching today or education?
Rebecca Newcombe (04:53):
That is a great question because I really think it does. And when you think about it working with kids who have special needs it, you know, you have to have a different, different approach. And also found kids who, you know, who may be labeled with behavioral challenges really really were, were those that struggled, struggled the most. And I, when I moved to Halton was introduced to the model of collaborative problem solving with Dr. Alon through Massachusetts general hospital. Nice. And there it’s a, it’s a program or department within their department of psychiatry and the whole model and framework really focuses in on a mindset shift. So when we look at kids or, or people or anyone really with challenging behavior or, or, you know, even, even, you know, a problem of a opposing view, looking at it from a diff a different lens.
Rebecca Newcombe (05:52):
So looking at it as a skillful versus willful. So what I mean by that is that kids, conventional wisdom tells us that kids do well if they want to. So that they’re as if they’re choosing to, to behave poorly when really it’s a skill deficit. So if kids had better skills to manage what were asked, the expectation we placed on them, they would manage it better because that’s what people wanna do people inherently wanna do well. Right. So that changed everything for me. So and I think that really helped me in my role as the head of spec ed as a vice principal and definitely as a principal as well.
Sam Demma (06:33):
That’s such an awesome perspective. I love that, that mindset, that shift, and I think it’s so important. This year kids were forced, not only kids, but teachers and anyone in everyone in education was forced to learn a ton of new skills due to COVID 19. What are some of the challenges that have been facing the school community that you’re in right now and how you all been striving to overcome those things?
Rebecca Newcombe (07:02):
So, so part of my learning with CPS that CPS really is a trauma informed and culturally responsive approach, nice to, to working with humans in general. And I think through COVID 19 and through the murder of George Floyd and through the way we look at at racism and looking at how to become an anti-racist it’s really supported my growth that way. And I think that that’s one of the biggest challenges. I think we face not only in school, but as a society looking at how, how are we anti-racist and what are we doing and how are we breaking down those barriers of oppression and, and racism that, that do exist in all levels of society and how, how we approach that. So that’s definitely one of the biggest challenges that I’m facing right now. I also think too with the pandemic, the pandemic has taught us a lot.
Rebecca Newcombe (08:03):
We don’t, and I never wanna hear folks say like, oh, we need to go back to the way it was. It was so much better. The back at the way, it was, there’s a lot of good things about pre pandemic times, for sure. However, there are some things that we can, you know, we can take from it and looking at, like, for example right now it’s exam time, you know, traditional exam time at high schools. Well, now we’re looking at it from a completely different way, looking at it from what, what are some engaging ways that we, that students can demonstrate their learning without having to sit down and like memorize, you know, binders and textbooks and anything you can Google? Why, why, why would we ask kids to do that? Why can’t they create something that demonstrates their learning that also demonstrates 21st century skills, creativity, collaboration critical thinking, all those amazing things that we want kids to be able to do while adults be able, able to do humans in general.
Rebecca Newcombe (09:00):
So just looking at it from, from that lens, when we think about a classroom in the 1880s, you know, rows and desks and that kind of thing, and we compare it to now, I would say we don’t always see a whole lot of difference, especially when we compare to like a car, think about a car in 1880s to a car to now, or a phone, like a cell phone. Right. So, you know, one of those old school phones back then and a cell phone now, I mean, so many, so, so much different, so much change, so much innovation. And really in the school, in the classroom, we wanna harness that and really change it and bust it open and make it better for kids
Sam Demma (09:44):
As a principal. How do you, how do you manage, like bringing these big ideas into like actionable steps? So like for a teacher listening, who’s never been in a principal role before what is it like day to day and how do we try and get everyone on board with a, with an idea?
Rebecca Newcombe (10:05):
Yeah. It’s, it’s, that’s like, if you can solve that Sam, then you’re solving, like, it’s a million dollar question. It’s multimillion dollar question. I think as a principal, really, you have to trust your staff and you’ve got amazing educators in the building and they have amazing ideas. And if they feel supported in trying something new and taking a risk, you know, it is a thing pedagogically sound for kids. Yes. Okay. Does, is someone passionate to do it? Yes. That as a principal, it’s my job to say, heck yes. Get outta their way and, and let them, let them try it. Like the magic happens when, when teachers, when anyone educators step outta their comfort zone. So as long as people feel supported that way then that’s how you make stuff happen. Because if folks don’t feel supported, then it’s, you know, then they’re, they’re like, oh, what if it goes badly? What if it fails? There’s learning in that. Right. So if it doesn’t go badly, if it goes badly or if it doesn’t work the way you thought it’s, it was gonna work that’s okay. Learn from the experience, tweak it and try it differently. The next time,
Sam Demma (11:11):
One of my favorite rap artists, his name is Russ, and he talks about failures being stepping stones. And he, he even talks about bridges that got burned in the past, lighting the way for the future. And that could be used as like a failure analogy as well. And I think it’s so true that our failures are not really failures. They’re just lessons if we choose to learn from them. You mentioned when you were working in special ed that you were introduced to this new model, which is awesome. What other resources or mindset shifts have you read watched been through or philosophies that you have about education that have really helped you throughout your, your career and journey?
Rebecca Newcombe (11:58):
I would say so like the cloud of problem solving model through think kids that’s really, that’s really, that’s, that’s really guided me guided, guided me through, throughout my journey. I’m also re I’ve read a few different books and always interested in podcasts. Nice white parents listening to that podcast. Nice. the reading a book by Dr. Betina love and really looking at like, anti-racism like, so how, how do we be become anti-racist educators? And how can we make sure that all of our kids feel like they matter? And what does that look like? And how does that, how does that look in the classroom and what, what do we see in the classroom that we know we’re, we’re intentionally breaking down those systemic barriers. What does that look like in a school? You know, so really looking at that.
Rebecca Newcombe (12:54):
So as a staff we, we did an equity audit, so what are we, what are we look, what are we looking at? What are we looking for? And then we also had our equity team, our student equity team, they went and did an equity audit. Hmm. And so then sort of meshing those two, two things together and sort of, okay, what did they, what did the kids see that maybe the adults didn’t and vice versa. And so just kind of identifying the barrier, not the barriers, but identifying those things that need to be improved like life and learning and schools, it’s constant change and it’s constant improvement, and it’s not about, that was bad. It’s just, oh, we, we, we know something different now. So it’s like, when you, when you know, better, you do better. So that’s that’s sort of we’re at as, as a, as a school community.
Sam Demma (13:39):
Teachers principles, the educational field as a whole has staff and people that this year at certain points have felt really burnt out. Maybe you’ve experienced it personally. Maybe some of your staff has as well. When you are, are not feeling at your a game or when you’re a little burnt out, how do you kinda pick yourself back up or fill up your own cup?
Rebecca Newcombe (14:05):
The kids really like the, the kids are brilliant. The kids have so many great ideas. And when you look at some of the experiences that our, our students are having, in terms of the pandemic, make, it gives you sort of a, a blast of reality as an adult. So many, you know, kids 14 years old dealing with ma major life issues and major life changes. So for me that I, it it’s, you know, the, the support in that or the, the hope that they, they have is inspiring. So it just keeps you moving forward. And and the staff, you know, they continue, they continue to work so hard, despite all the challenges and despite things that are said in the media, they keep going, and that is inspiring. So I guess it’s really like you know, the others around me that, that make it, make it worth at all.
Sam Demma (14:59):
Hmm. I love that. It there’s so much inspiration to gain from everybody if you’re, if you’re looking for it. So that’s so cool to hear, you know, the past two years have been challenging. Like we, we all know it’s, it’s been different slightly in education, but it’s opened up lots of opportunities. Like you’re mentioning in areas of equity and innovating education and trying to do new things. If you could take all the learnings you’ve gained over the path entire span of your career, and walk back into your first teaching job and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Rebecca, I know you’re just getting started. Here’s what I wish you heard. Or here’s what I think you need to know when you’re just getting into this profession, because, you know, there could be someone starting in education right now and their new experience is gonna be awesome, but you might, you know, you might have some things to share. That could be some good reminders.
Rebecca Newcombe (16:00):
I would say don’t take it personally. Mm. Do do your best. And every day’s a new day.
Sam Demma (16:09):
I love it. I love it. And you know, one other thing that fascinates me is the program schools run. There are some uniformity in all that, like certain boards bring in the same programs to all their schools. And it’s awesome. And then there’s also some individual cases where a school is looking for a specific program or thing that run with the students. I’m wondering if there’s any programs outer has run at any point in the, in your career at this school that we’re very successful. And I’m wondering if you could share the impact it made and also what the program was.
Rebecca Newcombe (16:44):
Sure. I like the servicing that it’s the students, it’s, it’s a, it’s the teacher student relationship. That really it is what is, is the, is the thing that makes a student successful. It’s not so much the, the the program we’ve, we’ve got many different programs but really, it really boils down to that student teacher relationship. And we’ve got a, a school full of amazing educators. So for me, it’s not about specialized programs. It’s about how, how a teacher makes a difference in the life of a student. Yeah. And and that can be in any classroom, not just specialized programs. And you don’t always hear about those. Right. As, as an educator, you’re lucky if a, if a, you know, a student sends you a Facebook message, you know, 10 years after they graduated to say, Hey, like, thanks you, like you made, you made a difference for cuz you as an educator, you don’t, you don’t see the fruits of your labor, right?
Rebecca Newcombe (17:39):
You, you you work hard with the students in front of you and they, it’s kind of not, not a thankless job, but you don’t always get, you don’t always get the, the depth of your impact. So for me, it’s about it’s about it’s about that. We, we have great teachers, we have a pretty unique school. We’re seven to 12. So we’ve got traditionally grade seven, eight elementary students. And then also, you know, the traditional nine to 12 high school. So that’s that, that’s a kind of a cool unique profile that enables us to have, you know, our grade seven and eights into our various tech shops and and have experiences with, with iSTEM. So we do have an iSTEM program here. So that’s amazing. It is you have to apply to be part of that program, just a, we also have a SHSM, so which also it’s actually doubled in size for, for next year, which is amazing and a can fit pro. So we’ve got lots of cool, unique opportunities for students to hopefully help them find their passion. And, but really the difference is made by the individuals, the student but the individual teacher in the classroom. And in my personal opinion, you know, it takes a village you know, to raise a child or educate a child. And that village must be equally valued. So it’s not just the specialized programs that, that make the magic happen for kids. It’s it’s the collect is
Sam Demma (19:12):
That reminded me. It’s funny, this popped into my mind, there’s a, a book by Malcolm Gladwell called outliers. And in the book he references this study of this little village filled with European people that were all from the same place in Italy. And they found that this very tight knit, close knit community lived longer than everyone else in that state in America. And they also had very low rates of heart disease or heart attack. And it was a spectacle for doctors and they ended up doing a lot of studies on the people living within this small C community. And what they found was you couldn’t determine the health of an individual solely based on that one person’s actions, but you had to look at the community as a whole and how they interacted with each other. And I think that really relates to what you’re saying about, it’s not just about the students individual actions. It’s not just about a program am coming in and that person’s individual actions, but it’s the community as a whole that, you know, lifts the, the student experience and educator experience up which is, which is really awesome. Thanks for sharing that. You mentioned, I stem, I’ve never heard of, I stem, what is the, I stand for?
Rebecca Newcombe (20:29):
It stands for innovation.
Sam Demma (20:32):
Oh, cool. That’s awesome. And then the SHSM. I know what SHSM is cause I live in Pickering, but can you explain a little bit about SHSM for educators who might be outside of Ontario?
Rebecca Newcombe (20:42):
Sure. So it stands for specialist high skills major. And so it’s a number of different courses that students will, will take to then sort of specialize in a particular area. So our equalism is you know, so the teachers who teach it are, are the experts. So if you wanna find out more about that and get all those details, you should talk to them because they they’ve lived that experience for over a decade. So they it’s a bundle of courses and the kids get actual experience being leaders in our community at the RBG through a program called Eagle Rangers. And then also through going out and doing camping and Portage and doing all those wonderful things in Northern well Algonquin. So opportunities that way. So it’s just really about experiential learning, right? Like, so digging in and not just learning about cool things in our world, but actually experiencing them. So again, it’s all about that teacher, student relationship and students following their passion to be able to, to dig in and do what do what they’re interested in.
Sam Demma (21:47):
Love it. I did not get involved in SHSM enough when I was in high school being a high performing athlete. I rarely got involved in any extracurriculars. And I think it’s one of the things I not regret, but wish I did more of. So it’s cool to hear that your school has those opportunities existing for kids. If someone wants to reach out to ask you a question based on anything we shared during this conversation or interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Rebecca Newcombe (22:14):
They can follow me on Twitter. They can send me an email, give me a shout at the school.
Sam Demma (22:20):
Awesome. Perfect. I will make sure I link the links. What is your Twitter handle?
Rebecca Newcombe (22:26):
Sam Demma (22:30):
Okay, perfect. I will make sure to add that in the show notes, Rebecca, thank you so much for coming on the show. This was a lot of fun. Keep up the great work.
Rebecca Newcombe (22:37):
Yes. Thanks. So nice to meet you.
Sam Demma (22:39):
You as well. You as well. Bye.
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