About Ren Lukoni
Ren Lukoni (@RenLukoni13) has been a teacher in Nipawin, Sk. for 24 hours – just jokes – 24 years. She is also the student leadership advisor at L.P Miller Comprehensive High school.
During that time she has written two leadership courses, two local pottery courses, and has been involved in student leadership not only in her school and community but also through provincial and national organizations.
Hosting and attending student leadership conferences has been a highlight of her career, as has the relationships she has formed through those conferences and leadership networks. Ren is a firm believer in “being the change” and is also very aware that people usually hear her before they see her.
Connect with Ren: Email | Twitter
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
L.P. Miller Comprehensive High School Website
Saskatchewan Student Leadership Conference
**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. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is a new friend of mine. Her name is Ren Lukoni. She has been a teacher in Nipawin, Saskatchewan for 24 years. During that time, she has written two leadership courses, two local pottery courses, and has been involved in student leadership, not only in her school and community, but also through provincial and national organizations. Hosting and attending student leadership conferences has been the highlight of her career as has the relationships she has formed through those conferences and leadership networks.
Sam Demma (01:13):
A lot of her friends are actually other guests on this podcast. Ren is a firm believer in being the change and is also very aware that people usually hear her before they see her. This is a very powerful conversation and I hope you enjoy it. Ren has so much passion and advice and insight to share. Make sure you have a pen and a sheet of paper ready for this interview. I hope you enjoy it. I will see you on the other side. Ren, thank you so much for coming on of the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge honor and pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the listener, why you got into education and why you do the work that you’re doing today?
Ren Lukoni (01:55):
All right. Well, thank you so much, Sam, for having me on, I I’m really honored to be in the esteemed ranks as Mark England, as I saw before, and some of the others that that you’ve had on your podcast. I think what you’re doing is great. Basically my parents, both of them are educators. So it just kind of came in the, the bloodlines and I never really thought of doing anything else. Well, I did think of being a veterinarian until I realized you don’t get to play with animals all day long so that got me into education. My parents are both educator and like I said, I’ve been doing it now 24 years.
Sam Demma (02:28):
Wow. And despite the fact that your parents were educators, I know you still had to make the personal decision that you wanted to get in teaching. At what moment in time did you know I’m gonna be a teacher and dive down that path?
Ren Lukoni (02:43):
I think it just, I, I always, I guess what solidified it for me was my internship. Okay. I’m just being with the students, you know, being hands on you know, you get your four years of education you know, through lecturing, but it’s the hands on being in the classroom, that energy, that vibe that’s what solidified it for me. And I knew that that was, that was my jam.
Sam Demma (03:03):
Awesome. And you’ve been doing it now for 24 years. I would call you a veteran things, things have definitely shifted changed. You’ve had different challenges over the years. What keeps you going though? Why this work even it’s tough and challenging. Why is this the work that you think is so important to keep doing?
Ren Lukoni (03:23):
Because it’s rewarding to work with students. It’s, it’s, it’s a reward. It’s a, you, you learn from them every day. They’re inspiring. You know, lots of these students come from backgrounds and, and things that, that we have no idea what they’re, what they’re going through. And so just to, to be, be part of their day and try to brighten their day and, and make it be a you know, make school, be a place that they want to be, that they want to learn that they wanna be part of. And that’s been really tough in COVID because everyone’s been so, you know, separated and so kind of isolated. Right. Literally. So you know, that that’s, that’s been tough, but being back in has been so good on so many levels.
Sam Demma (04:06):
No, that’s awesome. And mm-hmm, speaking of, you know, seeing students change and transform and being able to impact them no matter what part of the journey they’re on right now, over the past 24 years, I’m sure you’ve had lots of students reach out. Or you’ve seen students, who’ve had huge transformations and they thank you, or they write you notes. And I’ve been talking to mark and other teachers, and they tell me that some of them have a rainy days file where they basically pull out notes that people have read them, or students wrote them, sorry to brighten their spirits. And I’m curious to know if any of those stories you’d like to share if any of them come to mind. And the reason I’m asking is because if another educator is burnt out on the edge right now, forgetting why they got into this work, a story of transformation could be something that reminds them, why, what they’re doing is so important. And if it’s a very serious story or a big transformation, that’s great. But you can change the name for privacy reasons if it’s, if it’s really serious.
Ren Lukoni (05:03):
No, it’s just there’s been a couple of things I’ve had like, like I, I said in my classroom, I keep up reminders of kind of legacy pieces from students. I mean, I keep in touch with a lot of them through social media, although not till after they graduate. That is one thing that I’ve been, been really tough on. And actually, it’s kind of funny because as I tell them, okay, once you graduate, then, you know, you can, you know, look me up on social media and I’ll have some of them at their grad parties at the stroke of 1201, send me, you know, the friend invite or whatever. And I’m just like, oh yeah, like that, that kind of, that’s a feel good thing. Right? Yeah. You know, and it’s been interesting, like I’m at the point now where I’m even, and starting to teach some of those students some of the kids of my students.
Ren Lukoni (05:46):
Nice. and so that’s, you know, a real con you know, a real feel good thing, but kind of a, a realization of, of, you know, it’s kind of cyclical, right. I actually, one of the biggest transformations that had actually, it was last year, I was actually away on medical leave. I, both my knees replaced at the same time. And, and the I was honored enough to have one of my former students who just freshly got outta university, be the one who covered my leave. And so that was really inspiring for me too. It, it has been tough with COVID it’s that connections, right? It’s the connections that are key with the students, you know, when they’re in the classroom, when they leave the classroom, I think a lot of educators would agree that our jobs are to teach ’em in the classroom, but the important ones are outside the classroom.
Ren Lukoni (06:35):
It’s what sets them up for life after, you know, high school and, and the real life situations. And I think that’s what really actually made me gravitate towards student leadership. Right. Is those, those, those impactful experiences, those life lessons. And, and I think that, you know that’s been part of key of why I’ve, I’ve kept doing things is just to keep that those life lessons going, they keep you on your toes, they keep you AF fresh. Right. and then that’s why I, I enjoy doing those kind of things, but it has been challenging in COVID that’s for sure. Yeah.
Sam Demma (07:09):
And when did you get involved in student leadership? Was this something that when you started teaching, you got involved with right away or were you introduced to it? How did that introduction to student leadership happen?
Ren Lukoni (07:20):
Well, I was I was actually involved in student leadership when I was a student myself. And I looked back in my notes when I became a teacher and I got to go to a conference in Chicago, Illinois, and one of my favorite speakers there was Mr. Mark, she Brock. Nice. and so I actually still have like, and it was a typed copy of a handout. You know, that was kind of what got me hook, line and sinker. And then I thought, you know what, I enjoyed that myself as a student. So I want to continue that in, in my role as an educator you know, getting involved in student council I actually was one of the first ones in the province to write a leadership course for credit. Nice. So that really got me inspired.
Ren Lukoni (08:03):
You know, I got involved with hosting our school here. We’re a, we’re a town, literally a town of 5,000 people, one traffic light. nice. And we hosted the, the Saskatchewan student leadership conference. We’ve hosted it three times. Nice. so at, you know, having a thousand people come to our school, come to our community and, you know, be part of it. And, and another thing too is, and I, I tell this to my leadership friends my, my C slickers people who are missing really, really greatly during this COVID experience, because we usually get to see each other at CS slick in, in some time each year. But like I said, it’s just getting involved in that and getting to know those people and having that, that network of, of people who are like you and who want to do the same and want to, to be better and, and make things better.
Sam Demma (08:55):
I love that. That’s such a great story. And it’s funny, you mentioned Mark Sharon Brock because I called him last month to talk about speaking and what advice he would give a young person, the nice bike principle. He was telling me all about his own journey. And I’m sure that had a huge impact on you. You alluded to a little earlier the challenges that you’re being faced with right now, and what do they look like? I know they’re different for each teacher and each school in each location, but what are the current barriers you’ve been facing? And maybe you can share a little bit of how you’ve overcome some of them and some of them that you’re still working on?
Ren Lukoni (09:29):
I mean, it’s an ever evolving process. And I think that’s part of it just kind of wrapping your head around it. it, it’s, it’s been a challenge, I think for me, and I don’t know what other educators feel like, but it’s the constant cleaning. Yeah. That part has kind of, you know, taken a bit of a, a hit on me. The challenges are just with people being in the classroom and then not being in the classroom. Or, you know, here, I feel we are providing a, a very safe environment you know, with the masks, with you know, sanitizing hand washing those kind of things, but it’s those connections doing so safely that at first was a barrier and now it’s, it’s been a good thing we’ve realized, you know, you can socially distanced and be safe.
Ren Lukoni (10:13):
I think it, that it’s part of the trust issues I think, is what has been the hardest overcome. Mm. And that we’re working, we’re working on it. And again, I mean, we’re just a town of 5,000. Like, you know, I, I tell my saying before I tell my, my friends, you know, N one’s really on, on the, the road to nowhere. Like, not that we’re at the end of the road, but you know, we’re not on a trans Canada. We’re our closest city of 40,000 people is an hour and a half away. So at first it was kind of interesting because , some people were joking with us like, oh, you know, Laconia, you always have an isolated life because you live in nip one, you know, you’re, you’re on the way to nowhere. And, and that was kind of the chuckle, but I mean, you know, COVID is proven to us that it, it can be in any community anywhere. And so it’s, it’s that establishment establishment of trust, you know, and, and hard during these COVID times to, to, to keep that going.
Sam Demma (11:06):
Yeah. No, it’s so true. And the relationship building is harder. I know you mentioned it earlier a little bit as well. Are you doing classes in, like in person or are they virtual? Is there of both, how’s that looking for your school?
Ren Lukoni (11:19):
It’s a mix of both for us here, our high school, well, our school, I should say it is a high school, but we’re grade seven to 12. We have about 425 students here. Nice. so with grade seven and eights they’re in the same kind of cohorts are same groupings, grades nine, about the same, they switch a little bit up for some of gonna apply to our classes. And then our grade 10, 11 twelves are division fours. We’re running a block timetable mm-hmm which I’m sure lots, others are doing two, two hour classes running quarters and then one, one hour class for a whole semester. So that’s what it’s looking like for us. It, it, you know, we’ve had to make some tweaks, some adjustments. I also happen to teach art and, and pottery. So having a two hour class of that has been really good.
Ren Lukoni (12:02):
We get a lot more creativity and, and things like that done. And I am looking forward to, I have my leadership class next quarter. So I’m really excited to do that, but then there’s gonna be challenges with that too, because, you know, we want to do things to help people and be out in the community. And it’s, it’s finding those ways to be, to, to do that still and be safe and show that we care and build those relationships and and, and just kind of get out there, but doing so in a safe way.
Sam Demma (12:26):
Yeah. No, it’s so true. And things are definitely difficult, but not impossible. And so I’m curious to know what things are working in the school right now, in terms of maybe some ideas that the school has tried to engage the students, or maybe that you’ve tried on zoom or in your classroom, any ideas come to mind that you think are worth sharing?
Ren Lukoni (12:46):
Oh, yeah, for sure. So we are running, I didn’t answer that in the previous question, but we are running like fully face to face. Okay. cool. So we do have some students that have elected to go online when people have to self isolate or self-monitor, I mean, they’ve been in touch, you know, we, we, we go online for that. So we’ve been able to do some things in our school you know, running Kahoots doing some virtual bingos have been great. And I talking to some other colleagues just this morning, actually in their saying, okay, what can we do to get that spirit up? You know, you can do your spirit days and, and people can do those individual things today as plaid day mad for plaid day. So, I mean, lots of people were dressed up unintentionally even, which was great.
Ren Lukoni (13:28):
Nice. but that’s been a challenge too, just because of the, the numbers. Right. you know, we’re still lucky enough we’re running our extracurricular programs and then live streaming them. So that’s been kind of a connection you know, to our sports. We’ve had modified sporting seasons. But like I said, our student council’s meeting our humanitarian group is meeting. They actually did they was their idea. They came up with post-it notes on lockers, just to old people that they care and to kinda give ’em a boost for the start of a second quarter. Nice. So that’s good, but you know, you do what you can and you, like I said, you have to kind of make it a place where people wanna be worth doing school clothing right now, which is also, you know, help kind of boost morale. But like I said, you know, other than that, you’re always kind of looking for something, okay, what can I do reach out? Or, you know, it’s tough to, we think of our school as like a hub for a community. And yet the only ones that are allowed in are really the staff and the students. So that’s been a real barrier as well.
Sam Demma (14:26):
Yeah. That makes sense. No, it’s true. I love the ideas of Kahoot. I love the virtual bingo. those are all, those are all great. And no one can see it right now cuz they’re listening, but you you’re in an art room with beautiful paintings all over the walls and on the roof. And you know, what, what got you interested in art? I know we didn’t talk too much about that. We talked about your journey into education, but why is an art teacher? How did that start for you?
Ren Lukoni (14:52):
Well, believe it or not. At the time our current art teacher, it was over Christmas and he was roofing and actually fell off the roof and broke his arms. Oh my gosh. And then I came in. Yeah. So it was kinda trial by fire. At that point I was just kind of a newbie. I was, I was teaching arts educat, which is music, dance, drama and art. Yeah. So the principal at the time said, Hey, you know, can you fill in? And, and that’s just how I got my start in, in doing art. Kind of took some, took some workshops and, and had help of another teacher. And I also was teaching Potter kind of self taught, took some lessons on that. You know, and just kind of went that route. And, and it’s interesting because I actually started all my educational career as an elementary teacher grades four or five.
Ren Lukoni (15:40):
And actually what, what brought me to this area? This is actually my, my dad’s hometown. But it was my, my grandmother who saw an ad in the nip one journal. And she actually sent me the clipping mail, but when I went to apply for it I heard from the division office. Oh yes. We’ve heard your grandmother. She called and I was like, really? And they’re like, oh yeah. And it went along the lines of likely my granddaughter need job and and you know, so that’s what brought me here. You know, I was lucky enough to have many years with my, with my grandmother here in Nipon my dad’s hometown. So there’s a bit of that kind of legacy. And I think that that’s a, a, a key point that we need to, you know, maybe go back to, or you know, when things kind of get tough or when, you know, things kind of seem impossible or like we’re dealing with COVID it’s, it’s, it’s those reminders of the leg see of what you did in the past, but then also how you can move forward.
Sam Demma (16:36):
I love it. and I could relate to the grandparents story. I never had my grandma or grandfather call, but they’re very, they’re very, they’re very outspoken as well. That’s how I’ll say it. And that’s a great story to end with because you showed that despite you didn’t know the role and the requirements and the skills involved, you kept a growth mindset and you were, you pushed yourself to learn the skills by taking extra classes and by jumping into the fire and with COVID, it’s a very similar scenario, although it’s not art class, it’s just new reality that we don’t know much about. And we have to put on that growth mindset and try and figure things out as we go. if you could give your younger self advice in education, like if you could go back to the first year you started teaching, but have all the wisdom you have now, what would you tell yourself that you think would be really valuable to hear.
Ren Lukoni (17:28):
Take the small risks, take the safe risks cuz those, the ones that you either learn from or they pay off the most mm-hmm I, I really believe strongly in like, you know, smart risk taking I would say like just, just put yourself out there and, and always want to lifelong improve. Mm. You know, there’s always things you can learn and be open to those things. You know, if you would’ve asked me then would I be a high school teacher teaching art, pottery leadership and art Zeta? Absolutely not, but that’s just the way it went and, and you just have to kind of roll with the punches and go with what’s what’s thrown at you and, and just find to persevere. I think that’s a big I think that’s a, a big area that we all need to, to, well, we have been persevering, but especially with students, it’s just to, to persevere, to stick with it you know, try to make it fun.
Ren Lukoni (18:21):
Yeah. Obviously you know, that first year teaching is is a lot of work. But it’s a lot of fun as well. That’s a tough one to go back and tell myself because you know, you reflect back on, on your career and, and you look back at how things have changed or how things are evolving, especially now with COVID. You know, and I think that’s also advice that you need to give is just be, be ready to evolve. You know, take, take those experiences, take those risks and, and, you know, do it for the better and to stay positive. You know, it’s easy to say it it’s hard, it’s harder to do, but it it’s that it’s that positive outlook, that positive mindset, that growth mindset, like you said that we need to, to, to really emphasize right now.
Ren Lukoni (19:09):
And, and for me, it’s the people. Yeah. People are, are, people are what and the relationships are what keep me going, keep me inspired. You know, and, and I, I wouldn’t be the person I, I am today without those, those, those impacts and, and you know, the Nicole hairs of the world, the mark E Englands of the world, Dawn, we here in Saskatchewan the, the two twisted, I call ’em twisted sisters, even though they’re not Sandra and dot out of Alberta, like I’ve had so many you know, really I’ve been so fortunate to have the crew of people that have been around me to, to you know, support me and, and help me grow. And like I said, I could go on for hours on the list of people. I mean, we got a crew from our cease, like the PI crew, the new fees you know, our own Saskatchewan crew, our SACA crew, like I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many quality people and quality leaders. And I think that that’s a good piece of advice is, is, you know, be around a good people. Hmm. Surround yourself with a good people and learn from them.
Sam Demma (20:13):
I’ll tell Nicole, you say, hi, she’s in Qatar as I’m sure. You know I interviewed her literally two days ago. And her you’ll be coming out just, just before yours. So maybe too can connect about it.
Ren Lukoni (20:26):
Yes, no, I, like I said, I miss Nicole and like I said, she has been a leader by example, let me tell you.
Sam Demma (20:33):
Nice, awesome, Ren, thank you so much for making some time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. This was a great conversation and keep up all the great work.
Ren Lukoni (20:40):
Well, thank you so much, Sam. I really appreciate all you’re doing and, and truly thank you. I’ve really appreciated it.
Sam Demma (20:47):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an 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 wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna 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 to you on the next episode.
Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ren Lukoni
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.