About Greg McLean
Greg McLean (@WalkertonGreg) has been in the educational field for the past 28 years as a teacher, school administrator and instructor for Niagara University and Catholic Principals Council of Ontario. Greg has worked in 9 schools and in 3 different school boards and is currently the principal of Sacred Heart, Mildmay after a year of being the principal of St Isidore Virtual School, the first-ever virtual school in Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board!
Greg graduated from Laurier with a Certificate in Positive Psychology this past year and also obtained a certification as a Life and Wellness Coach. He is also a musician (drummer, vocals and guitar) and has performed live over 300 times in a variety of venues over the past 20 years. Greg is also a community-minded individual who embraces volunteerism- being a member of the local Optimist Club and a volunteer at the food bank, Victoria Jubilee Hall and Special Olympics. Greg also advocates for individuals with Down Syndrome- helping others to see their abilities.
Greg has been married to his wonderful partner Jayne for 26 years and has three children, Abby, Lucas and Dashiel. The family resides in beautiful Walkerton, ON.
**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):
Greg, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today from Brockton start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are?
Greg McLean (00:10):
Well, my name is well, first of all, thank you for introducing me as a high performing educator. That’s awesome. My, my name is Greg McLean and I work as a principal in the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. I reside in the town of Walkerton that sits in Brockton. So Brockton’s municipality and Walkerton’s a town in there. The same Walkerton that endured that water crisis back in 2000 best water in Ontario, right? This is what we say. And I’ve been in education. This is, is my 29th year and I’ve been a principal for the past 15. So we’re looking at about a 50 50 split and I’ve got a family. My wife Jane is a guidance counselor at sacred heart high school. I have three children, well adult children now. My oldest is 24 and resides in, in Guelph and is working time. Yay. And my middle child, my son is 22 residing at Toco. And my youngest boy is 16 years old and he’s in grade 11 at the local high school at sacred heart where my wife works.
Sam Demma (01:14):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And as educators, we always preach the importance of lifelong learning. There’s never a day you stop learning. And I understand that you’re someone who, when the COVID initially hit, took it upon yourself to actually obtain more education. Can you please explain how that process unfolded and what you set out to learn and achieve?
Greg McLean (01:36):
Well, sure. First of all, yeah, like lifelong learning. I think if you’re in the education world, you’re forced with lifelong learning, but I don’t wanna use the word force because I’m thinking that the vast majority of people who get into education are, are lifelong learning by choice. And whether it’s a course an AQ course so that you can teach a different course or it’s something that’s just something you’re really interested in. We, we, we kind of attract those, those people. It it’s actually a character, character strength to have a love of learning. And it’s actually a Catholic graduate expectation, lifelong learner. So yeah. Putting all those together. Yeah. Like during the pandemic, I mean, it was really, really easy for people to get down and to get you know, that sense of being you know, I don’t, I’m gonna say hopeless, but cabin fever.
Greg McLean (02:25):
But just knowing like what, what do you do to, to feel good in this and, and mentally well, and I think one of those things that you can do and that I’ve learned is that, you know, obviously part of self-care is, is, you know, having hobbies and things that you can do. And so part of the spirit of my lifelong learning as I kind of went back to school and I got a certificate Laia university in positive psychology which is kinda the study of all the stuff I just talked about. Yeah. And spent the year learning about how to live your best life knowing that your best life isn’t avoiding stress and avoiding problems. It’s actually how to deal with them in a really healthy way, because that’s the price of admission, right? Discomfort’s the price of admission. You just have to learn how to, to, to manage it and, and to, to thrive as opposed to, you know, just languishing. So, and then just this past year, I worked on getting my life and wellness certification coach. So I’m gonna try to at all those things together and you know, kind of push that forward and, and hopefully serve serve my community and the people around me.
Sam Demma (03:26):
That’s amazing. When you say positive psychology how do you explain that to somebody or like when, when you use that term, what does it mean?
Greg McLean (03:37):
Well, I guess there is a catch phrase. I, I kind of used it before. It’s like the study of use of living your best life, like how to live your best life. So that’s how you kind of boil it down. I think there’s psych, when you think about psychology, you might think about what’s wrong with you. Right. But cause of psychology is the study of what’s right with you. Ah, and it’s so much right with us and it’s also about mindset. So the good news is that in the education world, I was able to bring that perspective in the course at all times to say, you know what, I’m really affirmed right now because some of this stuff that I’m learning about, we’re actually doing like the Mo the positive you know, mindset work by Carol Dweck. Right. How important that mindset is in, in resilience and overcoming adversity.
Greg McLean (04:21):
I mean, we’re talking about that right now. Right. We’re back into another adverse moment. So you know what, where’s your mindset. And I mean, let’s not be Pollyannaish here, right? Like pandemic’s a pandemic and job loss and job loss and, and, and, and sickness and illness and death. Aren’t, aren’t positive things, but it’s like a acknowledging that, and it’s okay to not be okay, but what can you do to get out of being not okay? And you can, and we are all, we’re all skilled and we’re all gifted that way. We just sometimes just don’t know it.
Sam Demma (04:52):
And it’s obvious you have a passion for learning, teaching, sharing, which makes you a phenomenal person to get into the vocation of education. How did you, how did you determine you wanted to become a teacher when you were a kid and someone asked you, Greg, what do you wanna be when you grow up? Did you always say a teacher, a principal, someone in education, or how did you discover this path?
Greg McLean (05:14):
Say, I don’t know anybody who starts by saying they wanna be a principal. I don’t know. I don’t know about that. Well, you know, it’s funny because my, I feel like my life has been very serendipitous in the sense that I don’t, I don’t think like some other people, they just have a life track and they’ve got this vision about what they want to do. And, and although as a kid, I do remember getting satisfaction from teaching someone, something, whether it’s a, a skill or something like, you know, you’re working together of the group of kids and you’re one of the kids and those kids get it cuz of something you did or said, and there’s, there’s immense joy and satisfaction in that. And, and certainly obviously that resides in me somewhere because I wouldn’t have gone the root of, of, of, of being a teacher. I disappointed my mom. You know, I think for about three weeks when I was in grade three, I did declare I was thinking about being a priest being in the priesthood. But as I said, that was a three week three week dream and, and with a broken dream for my mom she wanted grandkids.
Greg McLean (06:11):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s what I said. The good news is you got grandkids out of it. Right. and so yeah, like, I mean, going through high school, same, the same thing, right? It’s this niggling thing at the back of your head? I don’t think I was necessarily convinced that that that’s what my, my pathway was. I certainly liked music. I’ve always liked music. And my life, my, my career journey basically is a mesh of, of, of music and, and of, of like leadership and of teaching. Like it all kind of, kind of coalesced and, and again, it evolves and, and, and sometimes it’s, you’re taking specific steps towards it. And other times, again, as I said, it’s serendipitous things just appear before you, but if you were talking to my wife, she’s, she wouldn’t say things don’t just appear, you manifest them with your thinking. So I give her a huge shout out Jane, because certainly from my, the lifelong learning thing, I mean, yep. I can take certain courses, but, but she’s got a real pension for this mind, body spirit avenue that I’m kind of going in towards knowing that it’s of such a benefit to, to everybody.
Sam Demma (07:11):
That’s amazing. I couldn’t agree more. So explain the path that you did take and how you did end up where you are today.
Greg McLean (07:23):
Well I love to say that, oh, I mean, I have heritage a hundred percent heritage in Newfoundland. I’m a, I’m a, a Newfoundlander by heart, but I wasn’t born there. Yeah. I, I basically from my beginnings of being schooled and living in, in Georgetown, not too, not too far away from Pickering you know what, I always have been a believer in. I’ve always gone to Catholic school. I’ve always been a believer of, of the Catholic schools. My parents have been people have always promoted cause I have to pay actually tuition in high school to continue to go to a, to a Catholic school. But, but basically my, my journey into high school where I loved music and I, I loved, I guess I had, again, I set that pension somewhere in there for teaching all came together because eventually as I applied to teachers college, I got accepted and moved to Bruce Gray, moved to Walkerton.
Greg McLean (08:20):
It was a call I got from a superintendent in the middle of, of August looking for a music teacher. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I love music, but I don’t, I don’t have a music background in terms of a degree. I played the drums. I played the drums in the school band, Cardinale school band in the, in the mid to, to late eighties. And and I guess that, that superintendent happened to be my vice principal at the time said, oh, band equals music teacher, which it, it doesn’t really, I mean, it opened the door, but I mean, the first, first little bit was a struggle. And I, I never actually saw myself as a music teacher until probably about four or five years after the fact where I’m going. I, I had that realization that moment where I’m going, I am right, because before I was either thinking I’m gonna get out of this, or I don’t know enough about this, but somehow through self-teaching and absorption.
Greg McLean (09:10):
And the fact that the kids were so excited to learn an instrument, like kind of pushed me to learn it. And then, you know, we had bands and we were going to music festivals and we were doing quite well, and I’m going, you know what, I teach grade seven, eight, but I am a music teacher. And I was really proud of that because that’s unlike math or science or, or, you know art or, well, art, I’m gonna keep art of that. But these are, those are passions of, I think the mind and music is of the heart and, and to be able to have that it’s a real gift to see kids get that gift and to be excited about teaching music. So somehow that ended up me getting a job teaching at Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And you know, what about halfway through the career? About 15 years later, it became a principal and, and in leadership and that’s a different story.
Sam Demma (09:55):
Of course. So your journey was slightly unexpected. When you were thinking about, you know, getting into jobs in the workforce what was the other options on your mind? Like what the other things you were thinking about?
Greg McLean (10:13):
That’s a good question. We won’t count the grade three example. What we, I actually thought about music production. So I actually was accepted at haw college for music production. Wow. I also thought fleetingly about being a pilot. Oh, wow. And but those two are the kind of the areas coming out of grade 11 and grade 12 that I kind of thought of. And you know, it’s like a lesson to, to people maybe listening if they’re in high schools, like I avoided physics because I thought it would be too hard and I didn’t really give myself a chance. And and because I didn’t take the physics meant I didn’t take other courses. And therefore kind of that pilot thing kind of was chosen out for me. Right. And that’s too bad because I mean, we don’t live in, we don’t live in regret, but I’m thinking that that was a, a pathway that was shut down because I shut myself down and, and I, I would’ve been able to do it.
Greg McLean (11:09):
Right. I think about my, my head self now is like, no, Greg, you would’ve been able to do that. Like, don’t sell yourself short. Right. So those are some of the other areas I, I would was I was certainly thinking about, and of course, and, and teaching, and, you know, back to a conversation earlier, before the recording started Sam, like you talked about, you know, even now, like no one I think gets into the business, wanting to be a principal when you start in an education, maybe some people, but, but it’s, as you go along, it’s, it’s the, the higher level view of what you want for kids that are around you in the school, around you. Whereas a classroom teacher, you are, you are responsible for those 25 or 30 kids in that, you know when you begin to look at the higher view of all the kids and the building and the, the you know, how well people are and how much fun people and how, how people are learning is when you start going, okay, well maybe that’s where maybe that’s my, in my sphere of influence needs to be beyond 25 people, but 300 or 400 people.
Sam Demma (12:07):
Yeah. And, you know, you mentioned not shutting yourself down for potential opportunities. It’s not only relevant to people in high school, closing yourself off. I think it’s relevant to all human beings, whether you’ve been teaching for 50 years or not, there might be something you wanna do. And if your mind talks you out of it, there’s 0% chance it’s gonna happen. So I think it’s, it’s an important lesson for all on the topic of you know, things that are helpful, pieces of advice, mindset shifts. What have you found beneficial in helping you show up as your best self in your day to day job at school? Are there any books, resources, programs you’ve went through that helped you as an educator or someone that worked in schools?
Greg McLean (12:56):
I don’t know if there’s been one resource. And as I had mentioned, like there were some of the things that we were doing in schools for a long, for a little while now, at least for 10 or 12 years, if not longer, that help with that kind of positive psychology, we were calling it positive psychology with the kids, like the fact that we do guided meditations with, with kids. Yeah. And we do mindfulness with kids and, you know you know, we talk about mindset and those sorts of things. That’s been helpful for me as well, because not only am I learning about as an adult to help the kids, but I’m learning about it as an adult to help myself. Yeah. So that work all the way through. Now we’re, we’re a little bit more fortunate than say 20 years ago where we didn’t have the same mental health support 20 years ago.
Greg McLean (13:38):
I don’t know if we needed, had the same mental health need. I don’t, I don’t have the data on that, but the fact that I work with professionals who are in the, in the you know, the know about these things is also incredible. I’ve learned a little, like a lot about that. And certainly just a speaking with my wife today about a, a new book that I’d really like to read that Torene brown has just released. And she talks about emotions. I think it’s something about Atlas of emotions or something like that. Don’t quote me on that. I’m gonna look it up, but it’s really fascinating cuz she talks about 87 emotions and I’m thinking and she says that, you know, most adults can only name that they’ve experienced three or four emotions. And to know that there are 87 and what do you do with that information?
Greg McLean (14:17):
The fact that you know yourself that way, and you’ve got that language and then how does that, how does that benefit you? Right. So there’s always things there’s always things to learn and kind of the pathway kinda opens up as you go, right? Like it’s like, you’ve got this flashlight and you’re seeing as far as the flashlight can go, but that the outer edge of the flashlight it’s still opening up for you. Right. So it’s, it’s good stuff. I’ve been very fortunate to be in education because I can’t imagine how much less I would know if I wasn’t in education.
Sam Demma (14:43):
Yeah. So true education is a, a seed planting career, a seed planting vocation sometimes, you know, your actions plant a seed in somebody else who you may never realize the growth of you. They may be far gone out of the school building when you see the growth happen, but sometimes the seeds you plant and a student and a staff member and we that we plant in each other, you have the opportunity to see it grow and flourish in front of, and it’s really spectacular and cool. And it’s a very fulfilling feeling when you think of the students who you’ve seen grow and transform over the past 29 years and all different schools you’ve been in. Are there any stories that come to mind of a student who first came and wasn’t their best set or striving to live their best life and, and somehow had a transformation. And if you do, would you be willing to share this story?
Greg McLean (15:39):
Yeah. I might speak in some generalities as opposed to like naming anyone, but of course from, from an elementary school standpoint, I, I mean, that’s a really great stance to have is to know that you’re potentially planting a seed. And you’re not gonna, you may not see that. And that’s the, that’s the faith piece because you, you, you, you are doing what you can in grade one. Like people might remember the grade one teacher, but they’re not gonna remember the content. They’re not gonna remember all the songs that they sang. They’re gonna remember that. So, and so was a love, loving, caring person. That’s a pretty good seed to plant love care. The virtues, you know, like those things are super important and the importance of relationship, but, but when you run into students and you see them three or four, like, okay, so for me, we’re in a small area kind of a rural area.
Greg McLean (16:31):
And we recycle a lot of, of our grads back into education, which I think I, I take as like a real feather in the cap for what we’re doing because we, a lot of our young teachers and EAs and support people are people that were students. And now I’ve been in it long enough that they’re coming back as students and they’re coming back as employees. So I have a co you know, I have people on staff who’ve, I’ve, I’ve worked with or worked with their parents. Oh. Or I’ve known their parents. And, and thinking back to what that student, when, and I’ve been primarily a grade seven, eight teacher when I was teaching to think about the kids that struggled and then finding out that a couple of ’em own their own businesses. A couple of them you know, work at Bruce power here locally, which is, you know, a great, a great career to have.
Greg McLean (17:13):
And, and thinking that, you know, at the time, maybe in the back of your mind, you were thinking, wow, what’s this guy, what’s this person gonna do. Right. Like, I, you know, you don’t see that, but that’s a back of your mind thing. And if you keep in the front of your mind at all times that, you know, it’s a work in progress. And what you’re seeing now is like a brushstroke and the painting’s not done. Yeah. That has to keep, and you have to keep reminding yourself of that because there are times you’re going to come up against some challenging, challenging behaviors and, and, and, you know, and people, who’ve got some life circumstances working against them, but that’s what education’s all about. You know, Catholic education, that moral purpose, right? Like we’re here to kind of, even up the playing field. Right.
Greg McLean (17:50):
You’re I always say we’re here for all the kids, but we’re, we’re there for some, a little bit more than everyone. It’s like, kinda like an analogy of going to the doctor. Does everyone go to the doctor? No. and some people need a doctor more often than other people. Right. So you think of yourself in teaching an education as you go to the people that you need to bringing the faith piece back into, it was, you know, who did Jesus minister to like, wasn’t the rich and famous wasn’t the people who were doing well. It was people that weren’t so like, let’s, let’s emulate what we’re doing there in, in education. And, you know, I mean, it’s worked for me.
Sam Demma (18:21):
Yeah. I love the philosophies. Thanks for sharing. When you think of 29 years all the experiences you’ve gained, the people you’ve met, the people who have poured into you and helped you become the school leader you are today. If you could wrap it all up, it’s a hard question. Go back, walk into your first year of teaching, walk into that classroom, look at your younger, as he was doing his job. What advice would you give knowing what you know now and what the experience you have?
Greg McLean (18:59):
Wow. You’re right. That’s a good question. That’s hard. That’s a tough one. That’s, that’s a question I’m gonna include on my podcast, by the way that I’m gonna, if you could go back to your younger self yeah. You know what, that’s, that’s, that’s a great reflective, I think number one is to tell myself, you, you can do it, have faith in yourself. You’re resourceful. You’re whole, you’re talented. You’re you, you’re perfect as you are. And just embrace that and that lets you go, cuz I didn’t think so when I was first starting, right. I’m thinking, you know, you’re a confident which is again, maybe the, not a natural, but to know that, you know, you’re doing the best, you’re bringing the best. And if all your, if you’re bringing your best at every single moment, like, you know who you can be, then you have to take, you have to be happy with that and have be satisfied with that and be kind to yourself about it.
Greg McLean (19:48):
I think the other piece is, is, is the, is the kindness for other or love for others? And I certainly have come from evolve you know, evolved in my depth of understanding of what that looks like. And, and not just an education standpoint, but just in, in a relationship standpoint is, is, is knowing that if you’re, I always thought I was empathetic, but I think I I’ve grown my empathy. Knowing that you can’t always account for what people are bringing in behind them. And what you’re seeing is just face value and there’s so much more behind them that you don’t know about. And, and so don’t make assumptions and just, just, you know, love one and love them for who they are. And, and you don’t try not, you know, try to be like, not judgemental, I guess, or, or you don’t shut anyone down. Right. That’s I think that would be it like those open, maybe some like an open kind of vision towards all people.
Sam Demma (20:40):
Love it. Cool. And if someone is listening to this right now and was inspired, intrigued, curious to learn more, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and get in touch? And by the time this comes out, you might even have your own podcast. So maybe they’re gonna reach out about that show also. So please share some contact information.
Greg McLean (21:00):
Okay, well contact information let’s start with email: email@example.com. You could also find me on Twitter at @WalkertonGreg and also I have a Facebook presence, just look up Gregory, J McClean. And I’d love to hear from people who’ve heard this and have a question or wanna talk to me about being a priest when they’re in grade three.
Sam Demma (21:29):
Sounds good, Greg. Thank you again for coming on the show. This was awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.
Greg McLean (21:35):
Thanks very much for featuring this. And it was great to talk to you as well.
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