About Shonna Barth
Shonna Barth (@ShonnaBarth), is the Principal at Crescent Heights High School. She is a recipient of the 2020-2021 Distinguished Leadership Award presented by the Council for School Leadership of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. She started at Cresent Heights eight years ago as a counsellor and moved into her role as vice principal after three years and is now the Principal of the school.
She cares and works with ALL students in the school. She enjoys all aspects of the Grade 7-12 life including student leadership, drama, band productions and athletics. She coaches volleyball and is an avid supporter of other CHHS extra-curricular events. Shonna believes it takes a variety of life experiences and a village to help students grow and develop into their best potential. Student and staff wellness is a passion of hers as she continues to work to find balance and fulfillment in her own life.
Connect with Shonna: Email | Twitter | Linkedin
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
**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):
Shonna, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind your journey that brought you to where you are today?
Shonna Barth (00:13):
Awesome. Well, thanks for having me. I am the principal of Crescent Heights High School and medicine hat Alberta. I have worked in kind of all levels of education. I spent a good chunk of the first part of my career in elementary, mainly grade six, and I really found with grade six. So you had that real opportunity to build student leaders at that age. They’re the oldest kids in the school, and they’re just really keen on giving back to the community and being part of the school as a whole. So I often led the student leadership with, through the schools and just try to really branch out with student experience to not just in the classroom. How can we impact their lives beyond that and how can we help them impact the world beyond that as well? So that’s been a passion of mine, right from probably about the third or fourth year when I started teaching before too long, I moved into the role of part-time counselor.
Shonna Barth (01:02):
So I was half-time teacher part-time school counselor, not a, I don’t have a mental health background per se, but just, I always told the kids, I’m an adult that gets along with kids. Well, and so through that platform, I was able to really get to know what some of the real concerns kids were going through. You have more time to sit and talk with kids and chat about what’s going on in their lives. And then from that, we could work with the student council kids to, okay, we’ve got a lot of kids going through this. What could we do to try to support those students? Although I still put a lot of time into my classroom and my teaching that side of my career started to really feel like a passion for me. So I spent about five or six years as a school counsellor.
Shonna Barth (01:41):
And then I moved into what we call mental health capacity building, project program in Alberta. So we had three for three years. We worked in the schools to try to work in the universal side of supporting our students and families. So we would go into classrooms with programs. We would work in small groups on things that were going on, and that was funded by Alberta health. Recognizing that teachers don’t go to school in order to be able to work with a lot of these things. We don’t get taught a lot of that. So we were building capacity within the teachers to support their students through some of these challenging times, the administrators, the families we’d offer family nights. So I was really immersed then in that whole world of mental health, then resiliency and building grit. So that has been an excellent resource for me moving into high school. I moved into that after that, with working with the grade nine through 12 counseling and teenagers are a whole different breed and, you know, just as exciting if not even more. So I think grade six and then I’ve been in administration the last about five years, I guess, and just moved into being a principal this year.
Sam Demma (02:43):
Awesome. And did you know, like from a young age that you wanted to get into education and teaching, or like what kind of steered you in that specific path?
Shonna Barth (02:51):
Well, my whole family, pretty much your teachers. My father was an administrator, my aunt uncle. So I actually didn’t want to be a teacher cause I was determined to do my own thing and make my own mark on the world, but it was fairly early. Obviously I wanted to work with people and that I am on that side of the spectrum of working with things. So I had at one point really wanted to be a social worker. And my mum was worried about my, my soft heart in that world. Cause that’s a real challenging world at times. And I big props to anybody who is doing that work has that is a, it’s a challenging area, but man, you can really make a difference. But once you got into education, I realized that that side of me could also come out through my teaching as well. Once I did my first round of student teaching, I was hooked when I got to know those kids. And there’s no looking back after that.
Sam Demma (03:39):
That’s awesome. And you mentioned at the beginning of your response that you thought grade six is like the perfect age to start introducing students to student leadership. Like what does that look like in grade six? Is it getting students involved and engaged in planning events? Yeah, like take me back there for a minute and kind of explain what that looked like or why you thought student leadership was so important to introduce at that age.
Shonna Barth (04:01):
Yeah. So in our curriculum, a big part of grade six, social studies is about government. So there’s kind of a natural fit to start forming some sort of student government. I was always reluctant though to do the whole voting thing. Like I know there’s some value in learning of that, but I also know there’s value in rejection and how bad that can feel to be begins a popularity thing. So my philosophy has always anybody who wants to get involved, come on, we just called it leadership. And yeah, it was a lot of planning, looking at the fun events in the school and the extra activities and really started with that part of it. Cause to me, that kind of gave them the hook with the other kids in the school. It also gave me a hook with the other kids in school. I never had to deal with discipline because kids knew I was the lady who planned the fun stuff.
Shonna Barth (04:42):
So they don’t want us to get in trouble with her. And then we kind of branched out as I got to see how these kids had influence in the school and really started to work with them on how can you use that, that for good, rather than for evil, because you don’t want these kids thinking they’re a big deal and bullying the grade fours because they’re in grade six leadership and taking a look at those kids who maybe didn’t have a buddy to sit with or that sort of thing, like really encouraging get some of them aren’t at that maturity to be able to think outside themselves. But there definitely was ones that good. So we kind of balanced it out between planning Western days and school, spirit days with also, okay. We’ve noticed a lot of kids like really kind of on their own, what can we do to help those kids?
Shonna Barth (05:24):
So try to balance that they were lunch hour meetings. We also rounded once I moved to a more of a six to eight school, we ran a leadership class. And so within that class, the students chose to come to that. So we could go in a little bit deeper about what it looks like to be a leader, looked at traditional leaders in our community as well as throughout history and just try to pull out some aspects of things they were doing. So just tried to really branch out on the interests that they already had past planning, school dances and fun days.
Sam Demma (05:54):
I love that. It’s amazing. And when did volleyball come into the picture? I know you also coached now. And did you play when you were younger or where’d that passion?
Shonna Barth (06:02):
I did. And that I told this story a few times, I guess, but I went to a smaller high school where my dad was a principal and I tried it on grade seven and I didn’t make the team, which if your dad’s a principal, you gotta be pretty bad not to make the team in grade eight. They brought me on as a manager, cause I think they felt sorry for me that I still kept coming out and trying. And I would go to camps in the summer and I kept working and I’ve made the team of grade nine. And by grade 12, I was the captain of the team and never have I ever received an MVP trophy. But through my, my years of volleyball and different sports, I played most improved or more sportsmanlike. And I tell it to these young kids that I coach a lot that a lot of the real rock star volleyball players that I played with, they’re not playing anymore.
Shonna Barth (06:47):
As soon as they came up against somebody that maybe was as good as them better, they got frustrated and they were done. I had always been in it because I love the game. I liked being part of a team. I like part of that atmosphere. So once I got out of university, I knew I wanted to provide that opportunity for other students. So the first, probably five or six years, I coached a team of the kids. Who’d been cut from other teams. So we would just form a team, our own little team and so that they still get to play and we’d go into the league and we didn’t win a whole lot, but the kids were just so happy to be there. Mandy of them still played right through, up till about grade 11. And now we’re playing as young adults and I’ve ran into them because I still play in the ladies league, not at tier one or anything anymore, but I still play and I’ll run into those kids and they quite regularly say like, thank you for providing that opportunity. So I, the reason I stay with it now, as much as it’s a little bit overwhelming time commitment wise is that’s where I really get to connect with kids. You don’t get to, you don’t have too many kids coming back to a school going, oh, I remember when you were my principal. Like, it’s more about the coaching and the times that we get to spend with them, then.
Sam Demma (07:55):
That’s amazing. And you know, it’s cool because you are a student who tried really hard and didn’t make the team. And I’m in a situation you’re probably in yourself is, you know, you have to bring on some kids and turn down others. How do you do that effectively? Like how do you know, how did it, how did, how did the other coach do that for you when you were in growing up and maybe your dad helped a lot there? Cause he was the principal. And, and how do you do that now? Just to make sure students still feel motivated like you were to keep trying.
Shonna Barth (08:22):
We we added another team here again this year, once we got to the cat. So we try to find as many adults as possible. There was a few that just, unfortunately there’s just not enough gym time and not enough coaches to enable everybody. We try to be as respectful as possible. We don’t post a list where somebody has to read it at eight in the morning and deal with rejection all day at school, you get a letter at the end of the day and you’d take it home. And we would list all the other things that are going on in the school that we encourage them to try out. So that we’re hopefully that if volleyball, wasn’t their thing, we have a really strong drama program. We have a cross-country program, things that there aren’t as many cuts having to be made. So we try to encourage them, okay, this wasn’t your thing, but that’s all right. Try something different. And on student council here too, we’re always like, Hey, come join us. You can still be part of things. So a lot of times when kids come and they don’t have the skills, you’re not necessarily coming because they love volleyball. They don’t necessarily even know volleyball. They just really want to be part of something and be part of a team.
Sam Demma (09:18):
And you mentioned that students, some of their fondest memories are with extra curricular activities and you know, that’s, that’s how you really get to connect with kids. Like, do you think it has a huge impact on students and like, have you seen the impact be realized like you have students come back and say like, oh, the volleyball team made a big difference. And were there any stories that may have been like very impactful that stick out to you and maybe even to the point where you could change the student’s name, if it’s something really serious?
Shonna Barth (09:44):
Yeah. Well, I am a for more, I guess the teaching has so much more one-on-one impact than you do as a principal in that sense. So I reflect back on that era, maybe a little more. So through that grade six era, like we would go for outdoor ed trips where we’d stay for two or three nights out at camp and be together, we’d go to Calgary and go to the Calgary science center. So you’re sitting on a bus, you’re walking around the science center with kids. You’re walking around the zoo with kids. We did a lot of just, oh, I used to have science sleepovers where the kids would stay overnight in the school. And we do science experiments and they get to have races up and down the hallway. And just like lot of work on my part, like I was tired, but the bucket feeling you get as an adult from that.
Shonna Barth (10:25):
So what I’ve found now that I’m able to go out places where you can have adult beverages and things like that. And you run into students that you have taught at those ages. They come sit down and they had me a beverage and that like, they want to talk about, remember when we were walking on that hike and elk water, and we were talking about blah, blah, blah, like, and they can remember almost word for word in their mind what they felt. I said, I can barely remember the conversation. I can almost always remember the student, but those are the times you really get to have those real conversations with kids and they get to have a glimpse of you as a human. And you get to see them as a human as well. And I can count how many cards I’ve been sent over the years or kids who’ve stopped to have those conversations.
Shonna Barth (11:08):
Just about things that we talked about, the difference I made in their life. I’m like, wow, like you were such an easy kid. I never really felt like I was doing anything super impactful for you. Or on the flip side, sometimes the really challenging kids I’ll see them a year or two later. And they act like they’ve never met me before. And I do think some of that is they don’t want to remember who they were at that point in their life. And you’re kind of a reminder of that. We still kind of hope that some of the conversations you had maybe had some impact, you’re not going to affect every kid for sure. But yeah, I think this one young lady who I, I, I should move down for grade four, five and six on charter all three years. So I had got to know her very well.
Shonna Barth (11:49):
And then I remarried her again in grade 10. At that point, she was kind of going sideways in life, just making some bad choices and we just run into each other somewhere. I did not recognize her because she was pretty changed the makeup and the hair. And didn’t look quite as innocent as she did in grade six. And she just came over and talked and we talked for about an hour and I’ve heard from message from her about three years later about that, that conversation was that I’ve changed time for her. It just reminded her who she used to be, where she wanted to go. And she couldn’t. I asked her if she had any like specific thing that I said and said she couldn’t remember, but just having that conversation and that connection with the person that she was and where she wanted to go. And just that summer, I didn’t just walk away and ignore that. I spent some time with her time for a lot of these kids is, is a huge value. And it’s not always easy if you have 32 kids in your class to be able to have those one-on-one. So if you’re not able to do some of the extracurricular, you miss out on those really cool opportunities. Yeah.
Sam Demma (12:50):
Yeah. It’s so true. I even think back to my own high school experience and I play on the soccer team cause I was a big soccer player. And I remember building not only deeper relationships with the coaches of the team, but also the teammates I find that you don’t, unless you proactively schedule time with the friends in your class to hang out, you don’t really have another opportunity during class to build super deep relationships. Because if you talk, the teacher starts yelling at you and it’s like stop talking, I’m teaching, you know? And the soccer field enabled that as well. So I ended up building relationships with so many other students which is why looking back. I wish I got way more involved in high school. I was just way too focused on soccer that I didn’t really join anything except for the soccer team. And it’s like one of my regrets when I talk to students now and encourage them to get involved. But what are some of the, like, education has changed a lot in the past two years, it’s been a lot of challenges. What do you think some of the challenges are that your school and yourself as a principal are currently faced with? And then how are you trying to overcome those things?
Shonna Barth (13:52):
I think, I guess from a personal part I’ve really pride myself a year and a half, two years ago that even with 1300 kids in the student school, somebody walked down the hall that wasn’t part of our school. I would recognize that. And now with the masks, it’s just, it feels like we’re so much more anonymous. Like kids, I normally smile everybody that walks by, they can’t tell if you’re smiling and like, we’re just losing that personal connection. And I worry about that because for some kids that just those little conversations in the hall might be the only time they talk to an adult during that day, like on a one-on-one sort of thing. Definitely the loss of some of those extracurricular this last year has been really concerning. Like they we’ve had kids not come back. Finding jobs has been really important part of high school because for some of them they’re the sole breadwinner in their home.
Shonna Barth (14:43):
So they’re, excuse me, they’re not going to leave their job and come back and play soccer or volleyball or join the band cause their family needs them. So it’s become kind of a place right now of just come get your education because that’s what you have to do. And then go back to your real life. So we don’t have the pep rallies. We don’t have this th the school assemblies everything’s done over zoom. And I do think that depersonalizes us. It’s also on the positive side, it’s encouraged us to be creative and try to find some new ways to connect with kids. I think some students, when we were online, being able to talk one-on-one with their teacher over screen was a little less intimidating than having to put your hand up in class and potentially say something down with your teacher can only hear you when you can only hear them.
Shonna Barth (15:31):
It’s it allows for some really positive relationships, but I do worry just about the students’ physical health, their emotional health. It’s been a lot of sitting in front of screens these last two years, and that becomes very easy to do. It’s when you’re a teenager, especially there are junior high kids who struggle a bit with anxiety to start with staying at home can feel really comfortable and safe, but then learning how to push through that and learning how to deal with difficult kids is, is unfortunately, this is a skill that we need, like adults, don’t all of a sudden become nice. When you turn 18, 19, you’re still gonna have difficult coworkers or difficult bosses. And so I think we’re missing out on some of those skills as well, that would benefit them in the work world.
Sam Demma (16:15):
And like what I know this has been ongoing for two years. What, what are some programs or things that you did in the past year that were successful despite the challenges or things that the school adjusted or that the teachers might’ve tried that worked out kind of well.
Shonna Barth (16:32):
Oh, we still through our school student council still been trying to organize some sort of spirit day. Sometimes it’s like, even when we were at home, like dress up and we’ll take pictures of you over zoom, like we’ve tried to encourage that sort of thing at home. We really tried to keep up with our any sort of justice projects that we can to make sure that the kids aren’t getting so insulated into their own world, that they’re forgetting what’s going on in the world. So within our English and social programs, they do a lot of work in, in those areas. We still managed to pull off a musical at the hand of last year. Our she was just amazing, like they’d practice over zoom, which of course is delayed and backwards trying to do dance. Like the creativity that they have come up with has been just incredible.
Shonna Barth (17:15):
So the last two days of June parents were able to come in and watch a performance. So those grade twelves who’ve been part of musical theater since grade seven, got to still have their, their audience, which meant a lot to them. We still ran some sports in the fall and the winter when we were in the real lockdown, not so much, but we just kept it to more of an intramural type things. We didn’t go play schools from other places, but we took more kids. So we had a guy coach guy seven last year, we had like 30 grade seven kids that came out. We just broke them into teams and they played against each other where in the past, we would’ve broke back down to only 12 students. So we had 30 students that, you know, maybe the only time in their life, we’re part of a team and got to have the shirt and take home the shirts and that sort of thing.
Shonna Barth (17:59):
So just really trying to keep things as normal as possible. We did manage to pull off a graduation both years. First year was very, I felt very personal and we had a lot of positive feedback from that group of parents took us about three days to get through it. But each parent and students and their parents and family come up on the stage, the parents handed the diploma to the student. We stood in the back and clap for them to pictures. So the parent didn’t have to sit through 200 other kids getting their diploma was very personal. We had a couple of photo booth set up and then this year was more of a traditional one in our, one of our larger convention centers, which I know the parents and kids appreciated my, the kids appreciate it because they got to have their peers with them. But it last year definitely was very, it was kinda heartwarming. Cause we, we got to those kids that really had a tough time getting to that diploma and worked their butt off together. We could really celebrate that student heart and cheer and congratulate them and made it really personal. So those are some good things have come out of this.
Sam Demma (18:57):
Yeah, I agree. I think with every adversity, there’s an equal opportunity somewhere. It’s got to be creative to find it and figure it out. What keeps you hopeful? Like what, what do you think inspires you to continue doing this work with a big smile on your face and show up every day and lead others and coach and try and make an impact in these young people’s lives?
Shonna Barth (19:18):
Definitely from the, I picked the hardship of missing my first seven days as a principal cause I was home with COVID and not being able to see people face-to-face and having to do it all over zoom or just join into assemblies, made me appreciate the energy of the kids, the resiliency of the kids. They continually amazes me. Like we really thought coming back to school this fall with mass mandate being implemented again, we had thought when we left in June, we’re kind of done with all this and we’re going to be more back to normal. And we’re really our numbers are really high mess. Not right now. We thought the kids were we’re going to be fighting with the kids and they’ve been amazing. They’ve just, I just continue to remind you why you’re doing what they’re doing. You’re doing, they’re so positive.
Shonna Barth (20:01):
And they are sometimes they’re teenagers and they’re going to grumble about things. But honestly I find the adults gumball more than the kids do. So I just, I think being able to watch those kids walk across the stage, being in a seven to 12 school where we get to Washington through their junior high axed and struggles. And then by the time they come to grade 12 and I know every one of those kids walking across the stage and like this time, we’re like, oh man, I wish I could give you a hug. Like, you know what so many of them have been through. So I think being able to watch the growth and how they learned to be grateful, even by the end of grade 12, not always grateful and grade eight, but by the time they hit grade 12, like know to just recognize what everybody in the school is doing for them of that.
Sam Demma (20:42):
I love it. And there’s a lot of younger educators listening to this podcast as well, who might be just getting into education. And I think there’s a lot of value in sharing your experiences and also your mistakes. You know, like when I talked to high school, because when I talked to high school students, I say like one of the mistakes I made was not getting involved enough and I can reflect on that and encourage students to get more involved as an educator and like a, you know, a teacher. Do you have any mistakes that you’ve made or actually learning opportunities that you’ve experienced that you think are worth sharing with other educators that are listening?
Shonna Barth (21:14):
Yeah. I think for new educators, a couple of things that I would stress is get involved. Like I’m not going to say this one mistake, cause I definitely I’ve been involved. I’ve been doing things my whole career. It is a balance though, of your personal wellness and the students. I worry sometimes now where we’re putting our personal wellness. So high up on the scale that we’re missing out on opportunities that would make us feel better. I think we don’t necessarily recognize that. Yes, physically. I was tired Saturday night when I walked home at 7, 7 30 at night after coaching all day, but just sit and reflect on how the kids improved throughout the day, playing volleyball and their excitement and their cheering, that bucket feeling kind of stuff really can. It makes you feel really good too. So I guess that’s been a vice like mistake can be thinking that putting time in equates to being tired, you gotta put your time in the right places.
Shonna Barth (22:10):
I know when I first started, I was, I’m not artistic, but I put insane amount of time into my bulletin boards in my classrooms. Like every month I’d completely change the theme of the room where I spend five hours on a Sunday, making a game of some sort for the kids to play that would take them about three minutes to play. They would never appreciate it as much as I felt they should, because I knew how much time I had put in to making that thing. I thought they should be bowing to me and saying like, you’re just the greatest teacher ever. They don’t value that stuff as much as they value the one-on-one the time you spend with them. So a beginning teacher having that Pinterest perfect classroom might make you feel good. Your kids don’t really value that as much. You know, they don’t want to come in and see a bare walls or a total disaster either. But thinking about where you spend your time, like time spent with kids will always pay off. Always time, spent marking all that stuff has to happen. But if you can find ways to make that less in your life and time one-on-one connecting with kids, you’ll have a great career.
Sam Demma (23:15):
I love that. That’s awesome. That’s amazing advice. Well, Shauna, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a great conversation. If another educator is listening and wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce, some ideas around what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.
Shonna Barth (23:31):
Probably email. And I would love that. I really love exchanging ideas. People always tell me I’m a creative person, but I’m an idea stealer. I like to take stuff from people and adapt it from where it’s at and I’m more than willing to share that we’ve done as well. So my email address is Shonna.Barth@sd76.abb.ca. I think what you’re doing is great here, Sam. I really appreciate it. I think we need more people spreading the positive things that are happening in education and sharing ideas. So I really appreciate you taking the time to be doing this.
Sam Demma (24:07):
Pleasure, and it’s been great chatting with you. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.
Shonna Barth (24:12):
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