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Tara Connor, Ed.D. – Principal, Abbey Park High School in the Halton District School Board

Tara Connor, Ed.D. - Principal, Abbey Park High School in the Halton District School Board
About Tara Conner

Tara Connor is the Principal of Abbey Park High School in the Halton District School Board. She spent her upbringing following her passions of music, but her love for teaching and youth guided her toward a journey working in education. She spends her time thinking about how we can improve, not just as individuals but as schools and a system. 

Tara holds both a master’s and doctorate, has lectured in Universities and has an obsession with helping youth. She believes students don’t have to have it all figured out and advocates that students/educators follow their nudges and passions. 

Connect with Tara: Email

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Abbey Park High School

Halton District School Board

What are Advanced Placement Classes?

International Baccalaureate Program (IB)

Certified Practicing Principal Certification (CPP)

The Transcript

**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):
Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Tara Connor. Tara Connor is the Principal of Abbey Park High School in the Halton District School Board. She spent her upbringing following her passions of music, but her love for teaching and youth guided her toward a journey working in education. She spends her time thinking about how we can improve, not just as individuals but as schools and a system. Tara holds both a master’s and doctorate, has lectured in Universities and has an obsession with helping youth. She believes students don’t have to have it all figured out and advocates that students/educators follow their nudges and their passions. I hope you enjoy this conversation with her, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m so excited to chat with today’s guest, Tara Connor. Tara, please start by introducing yourself.


Tara Connor (02:01):
Oh, thanks so much. Sam, I’m delighted to be here. So again, my name’s Tara Connor. I am a Principal with the Halton District School Board. Currently, I’m the principal of Abbey Park High School, which is a wonderful high school in Oakville, Ontario.


Sam Demma (02:13):
When did you realize growing up that you wanted to be in education, work in education, become a teacher and a principal


Tara Connor (02:23):
so I, I would say that wasn’t in my growing up years likely I didn’t I didn’t kind of have it marked and planned at eight or nine or 10 years of age, which I know some people do if they project their plans for the future. You know, to me, quite honestly, actually I spoke to one of our great 10 careers classes, not too long ago, but a similar type of question. It was very evolutionary for me. I moved into a, a undergrad program that was music program, so classical music and I also loved science. So I was going kind of where passions were and not really a, a deep sense of where I might wanna land. Interestingly I have an older sister that moved into education. I think almost as an antithesis to that, I thought, well, I’ll never do education.


Tara Connor (03:09):
That’s kinda her thing. And, and then of course, as I, as I went through it and started consider where I wanted to be and what I’d love to do, I, I reflected on the fact that I spent lots of years as a lifeguard and a swim instructor and a piano teacher and a babysitter. And I love young people. I love children and I love teenagers. And and so for me, that just that kind of moved into a launch of what made lots of sense in terms of where I was at the time as I was considering career paths. I never went in if you’d asked me second year in my, in my world of being a teacher, if I would ever be a principal, I wouldn’t have even had it on my radar, quite frankly. But what I did find as I moved into my career is that I, I really loved thinking about how we could be better as not only as a classroom teacher, but as a school and as a system.


Tara Connor (04:00):
Mm. And so quite naturally, I just started to wanna be part of bigger and broader conversations because to me that really resonated in terms of what scope and sphere of impact I may have in terms of service in the work that I do as I move through my professional life. So you know, through that, I, I navigated a masters of education, a doctors of a doctorate of education, and have taught at a number of universities and graduate level and, and always with the drive to know, and understand better how we can best serve and support our students. So as I said, at every juncture, I remember sitting in my master’s and folks talked about a doctorate, and I thought like, who who’s thinking about a doctorate? And I just, I think I just wanna do my master’s. And then two or three years later, I was enrolling in an international doctoral program, completely engulfed and excited about being able to do that launch. So I, I I’ve said to my grade 10 class and my own children, I have four you don’t have to have it figured out that life unfold, you follow your passion, you follow what you what you love doing. And at each juncture, you’ll figure that out in terms of what your next stage is.


Sam Demma (05:07):
I couldn’t agree more. I definitely am someone who followed my passion and didn’t really have a perfect understanding of where it was gonna take me. Yeah. so it’s so it’s so, so true. Tell me more about where your passion took you. So what were the different roles, the different steps the different schools you’ve taught in positions? Like take us along the entire journey.


Tara Connor (05:32):
Wow. This will be a long journey. I, I will start by saying just just to your last point. I, I still don’t think my journey’s over, so I don’t, I still am excited about what that, the future and what may lie ahead, what opportunities I’m able to be able to connect with and expand and learn and grow from. So, yeah, if it’s a value I can tell you, I grew up kind of in a typical public school situation, not lots of role in terms of professional women, at least in my life in higher education was not kind of a lived experience in my family or, or really community that I was connected to. So as I moved through undergrad, and then eventually pursuing a, a degree in education my first position actually was in a private all girls school.


Tara Connor (06:19):
And I oversaw a program from grade seven to grade 13. And for me, it was in it, it was an entirely different juncture and experience that I had in my own education. And it really started me to think about some of the challenges, barriers complexities of what schooling is and ensuring all students have an equal and opportunity to Excel and to succeed. I, I moved from within that period of time, I was fortunate to have a number of great professional leadership experiences. I also was able to travel on some professional exchanges, quite extensively, internationally to places like Japan and Australia to Germany and, and trips around north Africa and Spain, Turkey, Italy. And so it really broadened my scale and scope in terms of education beyond the world of Ontario. And again made me challenge and question how we serve and support our students so that all students irrespective of background context family situation has an opportunity to really be who they’re meant to be in this world and to bring all their gifts to the world around them.


Tara Connor (07:34):
So that, that was that created some dissonance for me around private and public education about all, you know, single gendered education that, that drove me to do a master’s. I I’ve always done my graduate work while working full time or raising a family. And then I bumped over to the public poor because at that point I knew I was thinking leadership and I wanted to be able to be part of a community of school so that I could move around and have some flexibility of learning and growth. And then I would say a really profoundly rich experience from there with, to be a vice principal at Sy app, which at the time changed a little bit in its focus, but was for students that were sentenced under these criminal justice act, as well as students that were receiving were, have very profound mental health issues and concerns.


Tara Connor (08:24):
And so I really I really was able to see and understand the complexities of our student populist and, and some of the deficits of our school system and the driver that at times we expect our students to fit a school system that doesn’t work for them as opposed to building a school system that meets the needs of all students. And so I, I, I moved from that by special principalship to a number I’ll, I’ll say I was at a number of schools across the region of Halton large schools small schools kind of re the program between, you know, advanced placement AP or IB, or CPP. So community pathways, types of programs, so real diversity in terms of schools and settings. And I also moved into a program or actually kind of a regional program about maybe 10, 12 years ago.


Tara Connor (09:18):
So a couple of years into my role as an administrator where I was managing information for student achievement. So that was a very broad scale role that was working with all elementary and secondary schools to be able to critically look at data and information, to be able to drive the work that we did both in the classroom at the school level and at the system level. The other, the other probably experience that’s worth referencing is that I prior to this position was also in a, another school as principal that served adult alternative and continuing education. And that that portfolio was had responsibility for maybe thir 13 to 14,000 students in the region. It looked after both the day school components adult education, and then a whole umbrella of continuing education programs, inclusive of things like night school summer school for elementary and secondary international languages, elementary programs.


Tara Connor (10:17):
We had a rich and still have a rich educational program in both correctional facility at Maplehurst correctional. So the male and female prison systems. And and again, that, that was really rich for my own growth, but also my own passion around students don’t age out in terms of when they need education and support and how pivotal education is in the lives of our youth and adult in being able to secure a way to support themselves, support their families, contribute and connect to society. And we as educators have a duty and responsibility to serve and support our students from my perspective right from the time that they come to us through to the point that they that they are ready to, to step back and move into their next phase or stage of life. So, so lots of different experiences, all of which I’m grateful and all which I’ve, and my under able to support the needs. All students


Sam Demma (11:23):
You’ve really played every position on the field , which is,


Tara Connor (11:29):
Oh, there’s probably still more out there. I’m sure. I hope I haven’t hit the wall yet, but yeah, no, I’ve been lucky. I really, I, I, for me, I, I I’m grateful everything that I’ve done has just, has just challenged me in a new and different way. And I think again, has made me a much better deeper thinker as an educator. For sure.


Sam Demma (11:46):
I’m wondering if you could speak about how any of the experiences you’ve had, and maybe you can pick one, cause I’m sure there’s hundreds that you can remember and how it has shaped, how you look at education today. Maybe it was an experience with a student or an experience overseas, like any type of situation that further informed the way you look at education and approach it today. Do any kind of his stories or experiences that were really foundational to you come to mind?


Tara Connor (12:15):
Oh, I think there’s, there’s lots in there and certainly lots of students that I can think of and talk about. The one that I was the one that I was reflecting on a little bit prior to our chance to talk together. I know you talked either, we had talked about it, might there be a story or situation and, and that, that there was an impact that we were able to see that that student experienced in moving forward. And one of the pieces, I, I remember one thing that was really very moving for me is I was quite an early vice principal. So a couple of years in the job, I think was my second or third school. And I remember working with a student who was 16 at the time who was 16 ish, who was struggling with mental health issues and drug issues.


Tara Connor (12:59):
And what stood out for me at the time is that her drug of choice or her addiction with cocaine. And so that in and of itself’s an expensive drug with have her getting involved in issues with police and and theft to be able to support was what was a very serious addiction for her at the time. And it was, it was, you know, I, it was upsetting obviously, and really disheartening. And I remember working with her and trying to work through that. And she was in a real state of crisis in a number of different places as one could imagine, and, and self-medicating, and really trying to manage life at that time. And and, and then probably a year and a bit later, I was moved to yet another school. And I thought about her as we do think about lots of our students and many years later.


Tara Connor (13:53):
So when this was probably 10 years later, I became, as I mentioned, principal of Gary Allen high school now, Gary Allen learning center that, that serves and supports the all alternative continuing education within this region. And I remember being at our first graduation ceremony and the program had some day school with our adolescent students. So students that were looking for alternative learning across I had multiple sites. So Georgetown, Milton Oakville, and Burlington and then adult learners that educa that that connected to learning and credits through either day schools or evening classes. And then we had some flexibility with e-learning as well at the time or some virtual learning. Anyway, we had a graduation service and I was going to each of our events at, amongst all of these different sites and, and having the joy and pleasure of of helping to oversee the granting of diplomas.


Tara Connor (14:48):
And about the third or fourth student that came across the stage with this beautiful, wonderful probably 24, 25 year old young woman who was the same young woman that I remembered as a teenager, about 10 years ago. And and she was there with a loving, supportive family, and she proudly claimed her high school diploma that she had worked sometimes certainly to be able to achieve. And that was really profound for me in that it just reminds us that, you know, there’s, there is no, there’s no time that we tap out of serving and supporting our students and our adults and our community in terms of the access to education, the access to a high school diploma, that is the portal to be able to move forward in terms of either post-secondary or apprenticeship or or workplace pathways. And yeah, that was, that was for, it was, it was wonderful.


Tara Connor (15:42):
It was, you know, it was by happenstance that our path crossed are path. And, you know, you often wonder you do stay connected with some students, but not all, some of the most disconnected, you’re probably least likely to be able to see people and, and evolve is one is school. This is not, you know, high school years are not always the time that everyone can do the same thing in the same way to be able to at, you know, 17 and a half, get their high school diploma handed to them. And there are many complexities that kids carry and live through in their lives. That for whatever reason, make that, not the time, although we do lots of flexibility and access and support and wrap around to help there are times that they’re, they’re just not able to, and, and that notion of student success, they don’t age out at 18 or 19 or 21.


Tara Connor (16:37):
We are here until until they’re able to get what they need from us to be able to move to their next juncture of life. So that, that was really profound. It really drove in me a passion for a adult education. I loved that position because of what I, I believed it was doing in terms of service and support in our community. And it resonated for me as an educator, who’d been in traditional day schools and I became the voice amongst many of our day schools to say always connect. Even if students have a foot out the door and are saying, they’re done, always let them know the door is open and the hand is there and we will wrap around and support at any stage and age in which they’re able and willing to engage in engage in learning.


Sam Demma (17:20):
When you think about other educators who, what a beautiful story, by the way when you think about the educators who impacted you growing up, wh who comes to mind and what did those individuals do for you that made such a big difference. And also as you started your professional career, kinda like a two part question did you have any mentors or I’m sure you had many but any mentors that had a significant impact on you?


Tara Connor (17:47):
Mm-Hmm so I think for, for me, and I would probably liken this to probably anybody that has positive memories of their educational experience in either elementary or, or or high school secondary school, you know? Absolutely. I had a wonderful music teacher and, and I, I already was connected to that world prior to moving into high school. But, but he was a very, very powerful individual in so many of the lives of the folks the students that I was around and connected to. So what do we know about who are those teachers, who are those people? And we know that those are, we always know those are not necessarily the teachers that have the most profound pedagogy, and that can prepare, you know, the best set of notes. And that the, the ones you remember are the ones you connect with and the ones that build relationships and the ones that care and the ones that motivate you and challenge you.


Tara Connor (18:51):
And and, and know you beyond the student, that’s sitting in, you know, row two for fourth chair down. And so I would say that would be the same in my own educational experience as well. We did lots of trips and travel and rehearsals, and it was all the outside of class as much as inside of class of of just, you know, feeling connected and part of something that was big and rich and meaningful and powerful. That was a, that was a great connection in high school. And then in regards to mentors, that’s a great question I grew, I don’t wanna let on that I’m a million years old, but I can tell you in my context, where I grew up, it was kind of a low, lower middle class neighborhood that I grew up in my parents were super young when they had me, I think when mom was about 17 and my dad was 18 or 19, I, I didn’t grow up with role models of women who were either in professional lives or careers, or certainly having families and also balancing what that looked like.


Tara Connor (19:55):
And and I also juxta, you know, again, I would say the other piece of that is I also didn’t have anybody or many people that I knew that had gone through university and had kind of, again, a career path that, that connected to higher education. And so I, I, you know, navigating through that, I, I didn’t have lots of reference points or frameworks around that. So when I moved into my professional life, I was surrounded by other people that certainly became mentors and supports to me. And one thing that I’ll just say of, of maybe some interest is that as a woman, I didn’t have anybody that I knew, as I said, that the mantra that we used, I remember saying it in high school, well, I’ll have a career, but I, you know, I definitely won’t start my career until I, all my kids are in school and everybody’s, you know, where they need to be.


Tara Connor (20:46):
And, and I have a four kids, so that would’ve been about probably 15 years if I had followed that mantra. And so I, I was, for me, there was lots of women that were leaders that I spent lots of time talking to. And, and it was understanding the challenges, the path with areas, the just hearing their stories and, and to be quite Frank. Sam, I actually pursued a doctorate in looking at the knowledge, skills and attributes of female leaders. And I know that’s quite a dichotomous way to think of gender. It was the way that 20 years ago, that was what we had the language of very insular language we were talking through, but the experience of female leaders in moving into senior physicians of educational administration. And part of my research was a narrative point, obviously there’s research involved.


Tara Connor (21:36):
So one of my data tools was being able to in kind of my mid to late twenties, meander around all over the province to talk to all of these wonderful, creative, engaged professional women in the field of education to talk about their own career pathways and their own challenges and experiences in the workplace barriers what, what would drive them, what would inhibit them? You know, all of those things that I was so deeply curious about and that I was defining and refining within my own mind and framework of how I was hopeful to live my life and have my career and, and life unfold. And, and so I would say many of those individuals have been measures and many of those individuals, individuals have continued to be mentors for me even, even, even to present day for sure.


Sam Demma (22:25):
Hmm. That’s just, that’s awesome that you still stay in touch with them and your research sounds like it was a really enlightening experience, roughly how many female leaders did you talk to, or if you remember, like how many did you interview or get to chat with throughout that project?


Tara Connor (22:41):
Yeah. So I, again, when you, when you get into kind of doctor level research, you tend to do, there’s a triangular you know, methodology right. Triangulation, and that you have a number of data collection tools, and then you kind of just suppose to see if there’s some commonalities or somatic pieces that come through that research. Hmm. So the individuals, I, I think it was under 10, I would say it was probably eight to 10 individuals. But it was, it was deep in terms of that narrative process. So it was really and, you know, with your experience in interviewing and, and working with individuals, it was quite a structured process because it would be in, in the nature of that level of research. But it was really, you know, all the pieces, many of the things that you’re saying in that, you know, how did you do this?


Tara Connor (23:28):
And, and why did you do this and what drove you to do it? And what were the things that you have found challenging? And what are the things that you in, in, in making your decisions and pathways and, and working through kind of your next steps, you know, what, what were the things that were most frustrating? And, and, you know, I would hear lots of failures before success that’s really relevant and how people would navigate talking about their family life. I would have women that would say, I never mention the fact that I have kids, or if I ever had to stay home, it would never be because of a child because of their fear of judgment around what they bring to the role and, and what they can or can’t do within the, the job itself. So not an overly large group, that’s not a typical again, depending on the type of research that you’re doing a much broader had a much broader kind of range of data sets more expansive in terms of number of individuals in the, in some of the other ways that I was navigating that research, but for me, it was amazing and it was really compelling.


Tara Connor (24:28):
And it challenged me in lots of ways, personally and professionally in the way I thought about I just thought about understanding, understanding systems and, and leadership, and, and also that marriage of personal and private personal life and public life and professional life, all of those, all of those different pieces, for sure.


Sam Demma (24:50):
Today, education might look a little bit different than the, you know, the first year you got into it. Mm-Hmm, especially with the global pandemic, but hopefully coming to a close now that has brought a dozen different challenges into education. But I think with challenges also come some opportunities. And I’m curious, absolutely. To know what you think some of these new opportunities are that are arising because of the challenges and why you think we should be excited about some of them.


Tara Connor (25:20):
Yeah, no, thank you for that. Well, one thing I’ll start off with is I think that our, when I look at my the, the students who surround me, they are amazing, wonderful, brilliant individuals. And they have, when I think of what our youth have had to navigate at such a pivotal point of their own development and stage, and, and still the optimism, the creativity, the resilience what they bring each and every day to not only their, their daily life, but to their, their future. I think that’s very hopeful and optimistic and, and that we should all feel really excited for the future. When we look at whose hands the future will be in, in the years ahead. The other piece, I would say there’s a few parts of this that actually think are quite interesting. I think we’ve had clearly a significant shift in terms of the use of technology in supporting student learning.


Tara Connor (26:19):
And so we have had a learning for some time. We’ve had lots of, you know, we’ve had, you know, virtual experiences or online experiences for students that we’ve had or in, in the last probably certainly 15 years or so excuse me. But what I think it’s quite interesting is we had, we had a really polarized position prior to going into March, 2020, where we had educators adamantly articulating that we cannot have all students involved in e-learning that, that there are certain things we can’t do through an online platform that we can’t teach certain subjects that we can’t test with the same level of integrity certain aspects of learning by the nature of virtue of being online. And, and as a, as a necessity through this pandemic, we have had to develop the capability and the ability to be able to develop rich, robust learning experiences and opportunities for all students across all grades across all subject areas.


Tara Connor (27:26):
And we’ve been able to successfully do that. I will, for sure say that virtual learning or online learning is not a great fit for all students. And there are students that this is not a platform that serves or supports them well because of the way that they learned and the way that they connect with their learning. But there are lots of students that do very well with it. And we have teachers now with the skills and ability that can’t say we can’t do it because we know we can. And so the question would be how we use it and how, in what ways we utilize it to be beneficial and supportive of students. And and certainly we’ve, we’ve got flexibility from my mind, again, particularly coming as a former principal alternative education, that ability to be innovative and flexible, and as many ways that we can think of to be able to wrap around and support students where they’re at and what their learning needs are in my mind, technology just creates a whole nother range of opportunities that we can tap into now that we have a, a restir of experience and knowledge to be able to do that work.


Tara Connor (28:30):
So I think I will just say, I think that’s a positive by necessity, it’s driven innovation and by innovation, we’ve been able to drive action that I think will have future positive implications for, and, and and I think flexibility and access for students. The other piece I would say is, you know, we get stuck on doing things the way they’ve always been done. And so and I think, you know, it’s very easy to fall into a state of inertia particularly when you’re dealing with kind of the busyness of the day to day life. And so we do teacher interviews a certain way, the way that we’ve always done them. And parent council meetings always start at seven o’clock on a Monday night, and they’re always up in the library and they always run for this, like the time in our agenda always kind of looks like this.


Tara Connor (29:09):
And, and so one of the things that I think, again, that the pandemic has this experience of, of schools being closed of people being not being able to do what they’ve always done has driven us to do things differently by sheer necessity. And so, again, to the two examples of parents, teacher interview or parent counsel, you know, parent teacher interview is fabulous for parents that are available and, and accessible to come into the school between seven and eight 30 on a Thursday night and meet some of their teachers of their students teachers as they go through it. But what we know is not all parents can do that. And lots of our parents commute, and many of our parents are out of country or in job locations or have work schedules that look very different from what our day to day life looks like in school.


Tara Connor (30:02):
So I, I think that we all should be challenged to say, who have we made, what processes we made better or more accessible or more has built connections that end product has allowed us to be able to do what we intended to do, which is essentially connect parents as partners with their teachers and their students to be able to support the learning of the students in our school. And so if the goal is accessibility and the goal is the opportunity and the connection, then when we think in very siloed, very traditional ways, we have to think about who we’re not capturing and we have the function ability to do better. So I think those are, those are some of the things that we should all be teasing out to say, you know, we don’t wanna go back to, to the way it’s always been. We wanna say, what can we do to always be better? And I think there’s some great opportunities to do that, for sure.


Sam Demma (30:57):
I love it. It sounds like you’ve reflected on this. those are some great ideas and the accessibility piece is a huge one. I, I know from speaking to educators as well, it’s something that people are realizing the differences in access have really come to light because of the entire two years being stuck at home and other reasons as well. So I’m, I’m hopeful that it will continue to change and evolve and adjust. And yeah, that, that you’re one of the people that are leading the change. So keep it up.


Tara Connor (31:32):
Well, we have to do that work that that’s work that has to be done. I think


Sam Demma (31:36):
When you think about, you know, Tara in her first year of teaching if you could bundle up all of your experiences right now, and advice and travel back in time and tap her on the shoulder and say, you know, here’s what I think would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting in this profession, in this vocation. Not that you would change anything about your journey or path, but what advice would you have given your younger self or another educator? Who’s just getting into this vocation now.


Tara Connor (32:05):
Yeah, that’s a great question. I have to think way back in the reservoir to go back to that first year as I think about where I was and where I am now you know, I, I think reflectively around you know, kind of advice that that I would think, or that I would offer to others, or I think about for myself is that I think, you know, we do this work because we wanna serve and support. All right. And we want to always do the best by our students, but always do the best by our school communities, whether we’re in the classroom or at, at, at a principal level or at the board level, at, I think at every level of education or provincial level as well. And we set the bar, if, if we’re doing the job well, we set the bar really high for ourselves mm.


Tara Connor (32:48):
In that we want to always do it. Right. And we want to feel like we always did the best and the right thing in the moment at that time. And I can tell you you know, the reality is the jobs that we do are complex. They’re challenging. You’re often in, I would say certainly as administrator, you’re often in the grades, it’s very often very, very rarely that you have, this is the right decision, and this is absolutely the wrong decision. So you’re always trying to navigate with real kind of reflection and clarity that this, this is the right decision to make. This is the right action to make. This is the right way forward. And and I think through that, again, one of the things that we are should be great at is reflecting to say, how could we get better?


Tara Connor (33:35):
So what I would say in terms of advice is that don’t be so hard on yourself. Always do the best. You can always take the time to reflect how to get better. And so there’ll be times that things go, especially if you’re innovative and especially if you’re trying to do things differently, there’ll be things that go great. Cause that’s the nature of innovation and things that don’t go so great and celebrate great reflect on how you could be better action, being able to be better and get better, but then let it go, right? Don’t, don’t hang onto the things of what if I had only done and what if I, and with an, and there was another way I could have handled that there may have been, but be gentle it with yourself. And, and and know that that’s the part, part of part of doing this work is sometimes is always getting better.


Tara Connor (34:25):
And so that has to be comfortable with knowing that you, you can always build from, and you can always get better from where where you’ve been and that so I think we get stuck in ruminating around why did, why did this happen a certain way? Why maybe I should have done something else. And, and again, I don’t think that honestly, I don’t think that’s a particular value or helps you be your best self. I think reflection is important. I think having a, a strategy to be able to deepen as you continue your work moving forward, but at times you have to say, I did the best that I could in the moment with what I had and what I knew at the time. And and I’m gonna keep using those things to get better and be better at what I do and how I service support others.


Sam Demma (35:06):
Mm. I love it. Such great advice. If someone is listening to this and wants to reach out to you, ask a question or chat about something you share on the podcast, what would be the best way for someone listening to get in touch with you?


Tara Connor (35:23):
Yes. No problem at all. So I, I hope to be part of the Helton board for lots of years. So I do have an email through the board that anybody could email me at if they have an interest. The last name is connort@hdsb.ca and I’m always happy to connect and always happy to learn and and be connected to communities with people that would like to talk and like to learn and grow together.


Sam Demma (35:48):
Awesome. Tara, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate your time and insights. Keep up the great work leading the change, and we’ll talk soon.


Tara Connor (35:58):
Wonderful. Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (36:00):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tara Conner

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.

Tim Cavey – Founder of Teachers on Fire, 8th-grade teacher and assistant principal

Tim Cavey – Founder of Teachers on Fire, 8th-grade teacher and assistant principal
About Tim Cavey

Tim Cavey (@MisterCavey) is a husband, stepfather of two, 8th-grade teacher, assistant principal, and the host of the Teachers on Fire podcast. In 2019, he completed a Master’s in Educational Leadership degree that re-ignited his fire for teaching and put him on a new path of growth, professional reflection, and content creation.

Tim’s a firm believer in the growth mindset and advocates often for the kinds of informal professional learning that can be found on social media and in blogs, vlogs, or podcasts. When he’s not creating content or spending time with his family, you’ll find Tim hiking, flying his drone, or paddle boarding in the chilly waters of the pacific northwest.

Connect with Tim: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Vancouver Christian School

Masters of Education in Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University

Teachers on Fire Podcast

Mindset by Carol Dweck

EdPuzzle

StreamYard

FlipGrid

The Transcript

**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 come back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Tim Cavey. He is a husband, stepfather of two, eighth grade teacher, assistant principal, and the host of the Teachers on Fire podcast. In 2019, he completed a masters in educational leadership degree that reignited his fire for teaching and put him on a new path of growth, professional reflection, and content creation.


Sam Demma (01:05):
Tim is a firm believer in the growth mindset and advocates often for the kinds of informal professional learning that can be found on social media and in blogs, blogs, or podcasts, just like this one or his own. When he is not creating content or spending time with his family, you’ll find Tim hiking, flying his drone, or paddle boarding in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest. Tim is a brilliant, brilliant educator and an awesome human being. I’m so glad that he agreed to come on the show and I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with Tim. I will see you on the other side, talk soon. Tim, super excited to you on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself in whatever way you choose to do so and share why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education and with young people.


Tim Cavey (01:56):
Thanks so much, Sam, what an honor to be here. You inspire me so much. So thanks for having me on I’m an eighth grade teacher, assistant Princip, both rookie assistant principal this year, and the host of the teachers on fire podcast. You asked about where my fire comes from, and I always point back to the start of my master’s program a few years ago, and reading Mindset by Carol Dweck as, as kind of a couple of really pivotal moments in my academic journey, my education journey. So those together with launching the podcast have really sort of set me on fire, and gotten me excited about learning again and sharing what I’m finding with other educators.


Sam Demma (02:37):
Love that you mentioned the book mindset, I’m a big fan, and I sure you could riff about the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset. I’m curious to know what would those two perspectives of a growth and a fixed mindset look at today’s current situation of education and, and take away from it. So looking at the challenge of COVID 19, what would the fixed mindset person think say or do versus the growth mindset?


Tim Cavey (03:02):
I think the fixed mindset would look at all of the problems and sort of stop there and attach labels to the problems. Talk about the, just the difficulties we face the, the, the way states and districts are not really listening to the needs of educators, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And, and, and like I said, kind of stop there. I think the growth mindset recognizes the adversity we’re facing, but actually says, okay, what are the takeaways? What can we learn from this? How can we actually move education forward and transform it in a permanent way based on what we’re finding. So educators have learned so much and grown so much and fully mindful that the last year has been a nightmare for a lot of teachers. I, I do see tweets about teachers leaving the profession and so forth, but on the other hand, teachers have really gained a lot of knowledge. Teachers who really didn’t spend much time online a year ago are now fully embracing these ed tech tools, getting into new spaces, covering better strategies for delivering formative assessment to their learners. And it’s super exciting. So the fixed mindset is all about labels. The growth mindset is all about saying, how can I evolve? How can I adapt? How can I move forward based on what I’m facing


Sam Demma (04:16):
And what are the opportunities that you personally have discovered? I know you, you know, you teach grade eight and rookie vice principal in those two roles, what are some of the opportunities that, that have surfaced for you that you think have been very transformational in your own learning and growth?


Tim Cavey (04:33):
I think some of the most growth that I experienced was actually last spring during the lockdown when I was forced to go virtual along with a lot of my colleagues and I did get into some new tech tools that were pretty transformative. So I, I started to experiment with ed puzzle and I’m, I’ll forever be an evangelist for ed puzzle. I think it’s such an underrated tool. Pad is an another one, Flipgrid wake lit some of the tools that I, I, to that point I sort of knew about, but hadn’t really played with too much. Now this past school year we’ve been face to face. And so I’m sort of going back in some ways, but still a, as I said earlier, like trying to implement those new tools in the old spaces, if that makes sense. So trying not to go right back to the way things always were and bring some of those new insights and strategies into my practice. And I would say to some extent I’ve been successful now this year has been really tough in other ways in terms of masking and COVID protocols and, and no field trips and no assemblies, and just a lot of things that kill the joy of school. And so in that process, we’ve learned how to, within our school building livestream assemblies in and deliver them into every class and, and bring about or livestream parent teacher conferences. So those are some things that in terms of access we can move forward with as well.


Sam Demma (05:55):
I love that. And you do a phenomenal job with your own podcast, which we’ll talk about later on today. It’s a huge, amazing resource, not just the podcast, but you have thousands of links on your website to different books and, and past episodes in blog posts. And I was getting overwhelmed with how much you provide, like, it’s just, it’s phenomenal. And I see that you use streamy have like multiple educators on the screen at once, which is amazing. You know, you mentioned a bunch of awesome tools and you said you’re a huge evangelist for the ed puzzle. Can you explain what that is? And also maybe explain what streamy yard is if anyone’s curious about using that for their own virtual assemblies.


Tim Cavey (06:32):
Sure. So full disclosure on ed puzzle, I’m at a new school this year and I, I have not yet convinced my it department to get on board with ed puzzle. So that’s still, that’s still a discussion that is ongoing, but ed puzzle is basically a way to engage and to monitor student engagement with video content. So if you think about the flip classroom, if you think about asynchronous learning resources, we know that our students re night with video, we’re creating more and more tutorials all the time, whether you are a math teacher, English, whatever you’re working in, hopefully you’re starting to do a little bit more screen casting. And so thinking about that, ed puzzle is that tool that actually shows you have my students viewed the content. Have they responded? You can integrate questions really well. And so I it’s, it’s simple. It, it’s not an elaborate tool, but it’s so effective.


Tim Cavey (07:24):
You also mentioned stream yard, which is something pretty different, but I’m having a lot of fun with that one Sam a year ago, I, I started seeing teach better and other friends streaming. And at first I was like, this content is not so great. Like what, what sort of educators gonna sit around and watch this grainy video one on one interview, right on YouTube or whatever platform. But I started to warm up to it. And I realized that there are certain things going on there that are actually really powerful and impactful. So the live Q and a, the live connections relationships are actually forming around some of those streams. So yeah, I, I made the decision to start streaming every Saturday morning on streamy yard, which you mentioned, and it has a free base level that you can just experiment with. And then there are tiered levels above that, that allow you to stream on multiple platforms and get rid of watermarks and so forth.


Tim Cavey (08:17):
But the goal is really just to share ideas and amplify voices. That’s what I do on my podcast. And so now I’m starting to do so by video. And, you know, just last Saturday, I had the pleasure, the honor of hosting five Latina superintendents from California. Nice. And that was such a fun conversation. I was way out of my depth, but it was a really fun conversation. And I learned a lot. I left super inspired, so it benefits my professional practice I find, but it also just gets the word out and shares ideas as well.


Sam Demma (08:50):
My mind immediately jumped to three years ago, being in Costa Rica, dancing the Beata and salsa with people in, in Costa Rica. When you said that that’s so cool ideas, spreading ideas, such an impactful way to share content, to share practices again, your podcast teachers on fire and your whole platform does a lot of that. I’m curious to know out of the, I don’t know, hundreds of conversations that you’ve you’ve kick started and had so far, what are some of the ideas you’re hearing that you think are important to listen to important to try and maybe implement during these crazy times?


Tim Cavey (09:30):
There are so many different directions I could take that. I mean, I guess my brain is still stuck on the virtual sort of hybrid mediums and platforms. So another part of my work, something I’ll be engaging in later this afternoon is is connecting with a virtual conference presentation platform and looking at what they can offer educators in terms of a local conference happening in this area. And so I, you know, I look ahead to the future and I think, yes, I look forward to getting back to face to face. I mean, who doesn’t love those face to face conferences, but as I mentioned earlier, I think we have to really improve our access at, especially when I think of rural educators, international educators, we, we need to think about how we can scale our learning and share it a little bit better. And so virtual conference presentation platforms that that’s one way to do it. And, and then I think your part of your question related to the classroom as well, right? Could you just reframe it for me?


Sam Demma (10:29):
Yeah, absolutely. So a, a teacher right now might be listening or an educator who is struggling. I think the basis of all change stems from an idea, right? Like the water bottle that’s beside me on my desk was an idea in someone’s mind before they created it. You’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands of ideas within your conversations. And I’m curious to know if there’s been any ideas educators have shared that you think might help a classroom teacher or principal or educator in any sense.


Tim Cavey (10:56):
Yeah. Wow. So you just opened the door for me. One, one example that is fresh in my mind that I was just talking about yesterday is there’s an educator on Twitter by the name of Tyler Roblin. I hope I’m seeing his name correctly. And he is experimenting with different forms of assessment and some really progressive practices in his high, high school English classroom. Something he has done is built a rubric for his high school English writers. That is it. It’s got those proficiency columns. So it’s grade list in that sense. And then each of the proficiency levels is actually hyperlinked out to a YouTube video that explains exactly what that student needs to be focused on. And I saw that Sam and I was like, wow. If we can start to hyperlink rubrics like that, then students can on their own time asynchronously actually dig into exactly how to take that next step.


Tim Cavey (11:54):
And so when I think about tools like that, when I think about tools like moat that are offering audio feedback embedded right in Google classroom and other learning management systems, it’s a pretty exciting time just for better feedback, because we know students learn best when they have immediate precise feedback. If you just think about the coaching the coaching metaphor, right? Like a basketball player doesn’t benefit too much from a review of a game two weeks later. Yeah. They benefit from some coaching right in the moment. So looking at the tools that allow us to do that faster and, and more precisely like moat or, you know, deliver that pinpointed advice to take the next step, like the hyperlinked Google docs that really excites me. And I think moving ahead, teachers teachers are going to be adopting more of those practices. And, and it’s a good time to be a student.


Sam Demma (12:47):
Teachers are also struggling to find balance between work and life. And I, I mean, I saw your recent post that said in, in 48 hours, you had 858 emails. And I was, I was blown away and I was curious to know personally, what tools and management systems you use to organize your own time you know, to separate work in life. What is your own system to look like when it comes to time management? Do you have something that’s that you try and follow? That’s been helping you?


Tim Cavey (13:19):
Usually my answer to that is just obviously using a calendar. I shouldn’t say obviously. So using a calendar cementing in those times that are non-negotiables. So, you know, I’ve got Friday family fun night, make sure to connect with my boy and my wife, and actually have some quality family time. Saturday is really date day or date night. Nice. For sure. So spending some quality time with my wife device, free dinners, shutting it down, usually weeknights, we try to shut it down around 9:00 PM and those are all just guardrails that sort of help to put some structure around my life, make sure I’m getting decent sleep, make sure that I’m cultivating relationships and not neglecting them. But other than that, Sam, it’s an ongoing struggle. And so yeah, you saw that tweet where I, I mentioned, I just sort of ignored email for a few days and of the emails piled up and I ended up blowing a couple of appointments and one of them was use and my heartfelt to apologies.


Tim Cavey (14:15):
They, no. So it is, it is tricky. And, and to that point, let me just say about email. I hear some educators or I see it sometimes on Twitter saying like, yeah, I just step away from email and completely ignore it for a while. And I think, yeah, well, yeah, that kind of works. But on the other hand, when you, when you know that the emails are piling up, it, it is going to stress. It’s going to add more people to get back to you. So I, I think email alone is just such a difficult space to manage effectively. One more thing I’ll pass on that might be helpful to somebody in your audience is I keep, I keep my iPhone on, do not disturb twenty four seven. So if you’re not in my favorites list, you probably won’t reach me by phone or by call or by text, at least in real time.


Tim Cavey (15:00):
You’ll sort of have to wait until the next time I actually look at my phone, but to me that just slows down the mountain. Well, it does more than slow down. It kind of eliminates the mountain, the avalanche of notifications. And, you know, I look at some of my colleagues who get a notification every time they receive an email. Yeah. I, I just think that would drive me crazy in a short amount of time. So try, do not disturb on your phone if you are getting a snowed under by notifications. That really that was a game changer for me.


Sam Demma (15:30):
I love that. It’s a great piece of feedback. I saw this funny tweet the other day as well. And it was this girl explaining how you could hang up the phone without letting the other person know that you hung up and essentially you just slide up and you hit the airplane mode button and on the person calling you screen, it’ll say call disconnected or did not go through as opposed to, as opposed to hang up. So if you have to avoid a phone call too there’s this little strategy for you.


Tim Cavey (15:57):
Nice, nice, bad connection.


Sam Demma (15:59):
Yeah. Right, exactly. I’m curious to dive a little more into Tim, your passion for education. Like, you know, you could have taken many different paths back when you were in school. What, with the passion you have for technology with the, in the, the entrepreneurial spirit that you obviously have starting these ventures, what drove you specifically to teaching?


Tim Cavey (16:24):
I think at the time it was a love of people. I knew I, I enjoyed working with kids and a love of the classroom. And I, I will say too, like some really impactful teachers that influenced me. And I just thought, like, I can see myself in this space and teaching has sort of a sense of autonomy, at least within the classroom. Most teachers have a sense of autonomy and independence in the sense that you can really make what you want of the day. Yeah. You’re you caring for these kids of different ages, but you can shape the learning experience and, and you can impact your own level of fun. And I, I get excited when teachers are actually teaching to their passion and that is very evident to their learners. They’re teaching to their strength and they can bring in things from the outside, whether it’s a side hustle or other passions, bring that right into their practice.


Tim Cavey (17:16):
I think on, so another answer to your question, Sam, I look at you at, at, you know, 21 years old, you blow my mind. And I think if I could do it all over again you know, if, if that was my generation, I would take a, a really hard look at content creation as a path to act, actually developing and building your own career. And that may involve some level of being in the school system. It may not, but you, you really excite me because you have that whole, you have your whole career track in front of you. You’re making all the right moves. My Matt,


Sam Demma (17:49):
I appreciate that. And I, I’m learning from gracious educators like yourself, who give their time to chat with me on this podcast. You know, one of the reasons I started it was because I don’t have all the answers to give educators, but I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could just invite them on the show to chat about what’s working for them in the hope that other educators might listen. I want to go back though, still to those teachers that you said deeply impacted you when you were in school. Mm. What did they do? Like, what was it that those teachers did that had such an impact on you that it drove you to go to education? Because I know I had teachers that changed my life and I can pinpoint the reasons why, and I feel like for every person it’s a little bit different. And if you can pinpoint those things, it’s essentially teaching other educators what they can do to also impact their kids. So I’m curious to know if you can pinpoint the characteristics or things that those teachers did for you.


Tim Cavey (18:39):
I think one of the teachers, I always look back to his name was Mr. Bergen and I had him in eighth grade. And it’s kind of funny that I’m an eighth grade teacher today. Yeah. And although my, my teaching assignment is sort of going to evolve a little bit next year, but I, I teach eighth grade. And so Mr. Bergen was such a supporter. And, and like, you always hear, I mean, I don’t remember a ton of specific moments or lessons that he taught, but I remember the way that I felt in his class. And I remember the way that he encouraged me. I came to Mr. Bergen. Now this is going to sound so nerdy, but I came to Mr. Bergen as a really passionate writer and content creator. Pre-Internet nice. And I was, I was, I, I had fun like working with word processors at the time, there was one called print master.


Tim Cavey (19:28):
I I’m sure no one has ever heard of it. That was, this is the time of word perfect. And corre draw and some really primitive tools now. But I was, I was excited to play with these tools and I had the vision of creating a class newspaper. And Mr. Bergen actually trusted me enough or gave me enough space to actually print a few additions of my newspaper and put them up on the bulletin board. And just something like that. I know I, I look back and I’m like, okay, he was giving me that commendation and that encouragement, that, that approval at 13 years old and now you know, much, much later I am writing blog posts. I’m creating content, I’m doing writing all the time. And I look back at him as a really key you figure in that journey. So there were others in my high school experience as well, but I will shout out Mr. Bergen. I haven’t had contact with him in decades, so I hope he’s still around, but, but I will, I will shout him out as someone who just, just gave me that encouragement and gave me the space. Like he took a risk, right. Because I could have, I don’t know, put something really awkward or inappropriate up on the bulletin board or sort of made him look bad somehow. But he, he gave me the space to try that and he cheered me on and I think it shaped who I am today.


Sam Demma (20:46):
I think giving students responsibility is such an impactful way to build trust. I had a pass guest on, who told me that he had a student in his class that was giving him issues or giving them issues. I can’t remember exactly who the guest was, but they told me that after a couple months of of struggle and he took his car keys and said, can you go into the parking lot into the front seat of my car and grabbed the jug for me? And the kid was like, do you want me to do it? And, you know, gave this kid his trust and his responsibility. And he went and he got the thing, he brought it back into the school. And it was like, he said, it was like a flip switch. The kid changed from this problem to this. Wow. I was useful to the teacher.


Sam Demma (21:28):
He trusted me enough to give me his car keys. I kind of crashed the car. And so, you know, hitting on that piece of, of responsibility is so huge. When I look back at my experience, when I was in grade 12, Mike loud foot was the name of the teacher for me, who’s now retired. And you mentioned it already, but he was so passionate about his, that it just rubbed off on me. Like I felt like he was doing his life SQUI teaching was his ministry. And it was so evident. And you mentioned that, you know, you loved when teachers are passionate about their content. Do you think that’s also a, I wanna say a trait of a high performing educator or a teacher on fire. Like you, you need to be passionate about the material that you’re deliver in teaching


Tim Cavey (22:10):
100%. And if you don’t have the passion, maybe you’re stuck with an assignment that you didn’t really want. I mean, try to generate that passion, dig into it, lean into it try to, to bring that curiosity to life. But absolutely if you’re, if you’re in a situation where you have no passion for your content, it, it really is to think about maybe moving on or changing context, right? You don’t necessarily need to leave education, but as I’ve interviewed educators, one story that I didn’t see coming, Sam was this idea that for many teachers, it was just finding a different situation that actually better aligned with their passions and that brought their fire back to life. So I, I do have a, a concern or a passion for those teachers that are burning out or don’t have much fire left. And I think one of the solutions, one of the answers sometimes is just finding a, a situation that fits their passions and aligns with their values a little better.


Sam Demma (23:06):
And how long have you personally been teaching or in educational?


Tim Cavey (23:11):
Well, I’m embarrassed to say beside you, but that’s okay. I started, I actually entered the field in 2001. That was my first fall.


Sam Demma (23:19):
So 20, 20 years now.


Tim Cavey (23:21):
Yes,


Sam Demma (23:21):
That’s awesome. And if you could, if you could like go back in time and speak to younger Tim and give yourself advice relating to the practice of education and teaching, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now?


Tim Cavey (23:36):
Oh, man. Well, my thinking has evolved in the area of assessment quite a bit. Okay. And so the way that I collect grades or, or marks, whatever you wanna call them that would evolve considerably. I would make sure to clarify I could talk about that quite at length, but basically it would be keep the focus of assessment on the learning and not any not any of these old compliance measures that we used to keep in mind. So, you know, that’s a whole other topic, but you know, that’s something I would definitely bring back. And again, Sam, if I could go back to the beginning, I would say just from a content creator perspective and just a growing professional, like just write one blog post a week. And that would be absolutely transformative over the, the decades. Not just for any kind of an audience, although that audience would certainly come.


Tim Cavey (24:30):
And, and that brings a whole lot of opportunity and, and fun growth as well. But just simply for my own professional practice, there is power in self-reflection. We know that from the classroom, we call it metacognition. We think about it all the time. We want students self-assessing more today. We want them reflecting on their learning. Why aren’t we doing more of that as educators? Right. George Kus actually said when he was principal in Alberta, he made his staff take two hours and write a blog post about their learning. I don’t know if a lot of teachers are ready for that. Yet. There, there might be some rebellions in some staff meetings, if, if, if principals tried to force that, but there’s so much power, right. In actually reflecting on what we’re learning and how we’re doing. So I think that’s, my answer is more reflection along the way.


Sam Demma (25:17):
I have to ask, cuz you sound super fired up about assessment. As a young student myself, I struggled with my self worth because I had to hatched it to my talents, achievements and accomplishments, which sometimes was my grades. Because as an athlete, if I did get a 95% average, it would lead to a potentially higher scholarship at a university or a school. I also attached myself with, to soccer because my whole family praised me as an athlete growing up. And I thought if I wasn’t a great athlete or student, I would be worth nothing as a human being, which looking back now I realize is totally crazy, but it seems like the assessment system is set up that way. When a soccer game get a trophy, everyone praises you do well in school, get high grades, everyone praises you. But what makes it scary is that if the opposite is true, if you fail, which is supposed to be something that teaches you a lesson, you get reprimanded. And I’m curious to know how you think assessments could be changed, adjusted or altered to remove that, that issue of failure being a bad thing. And what you think about the whole idea of failure.


Tim Cavey (26:22):
Wow. Well, I mean, it goes back to the growth mindset, right? Do we see failure? I mean, you could spell the word fail as first. Why am I forgetting it now? It’s okay. First attempt, first attempt in learning. There we go. First attempt in learning, but yeah. But I think it goes back to the growth mindset. And as you say, how do we look at failure? Do we look at it as a stepping stone? Do we look at it as a, an inevitable part of the journey as a sign that we’re actually stepping out and taking risks? Do we believe that the most learning and growth happens when we leave the comfort zone? I mean, to take it into sports or into the gym, I, you know, our physical ball is only really grow and develop when we’re pushing them to their limits and the same is true of our brains.


Tim Cavey (27:08):
So to bring that back to assessment, yes. I mean, traditional assessment systems have done a great job of ranking and sorting and yes, traditional grades motivate a certain number of students, but they also demotivate a great number of students. And what they do is assign labels and validate people to say, either you’re smart or you’re dumb or whatever, fill in the blank. I mean, as educators, we cringe at those terms, but that’s the way people tend to interpret grades or have traditionally, as, you know, this, this X pathway is not for me or that kind of thing. We put ourselves into boxes. So all kinds of limitations come with those labels of letter grades and percentages. And as we can start to move away from that and actually put the focus on learning and growth and standards, the, the curricular standards then we start to create some space for students to take risks and not worry about being penalized, but try new things and move forward and move into unfamiliar territory. So there’s so much we could talk about there Sam, but yeah. I’m not a fan. I understand the difficulty. You mentioned scholarships and that’s tricky. I mean, we’ve got some big question to sort of resolve at the high school levels in terms of college and university acceptance. And we, we’re not about to convert the whole system overnight, but that’s where we want to get to in my mind is really put, putting the focus on the learning and the assessment, the feedback on growth.


Sam Demma (28:41):
I love that that’s it’s great to hear from an educator, first of all. And I would, I’d love to see how you test the different theories with the students and classrooms that you work within. And on that note, I’m curious to know, like, have you tried anything unique with your own students with your own grade eights? That’s a little different or outside of the box per se? Over the years,


Tim Cavey (29:03):
I mean, this won’t shock any edge educators in British Columbia, but I have not entered a number in my grade book in math or English in three years. So all I, all I track is proficiency levels and you know, that, and so there’s, I condition the cells in my, in my Google sheet or Excel, whatever to reflect, you know, the color code. And so I can see at a glance how a student is doing on these different learning standards. And that’s just one small answer to your question is I just don’t use numbers. I refuse to put overall assessments on math, you know, summative assessments anymore, because I know that students will just look at that overall assessment and they’ll tend to say, oh, I did, I did great. Or I, I did terrible. And then the, the quiz or the test goes in the garbage and they’re not really moving, not learning forward at all. So yeah. Keeping the focus on the standards, getting away from grades is, is one thing for sure. But does that answer your question?


Sam Demma (30:06):
Yeah, I was actually curious to know when you mentioned people in BC, wouldn’t be surprised by it. Is this like a province-wide initiative that’s been started or tell me more.


Tim Cavey (30:16):
Yeah. So I, I mean, across the province and, and you raise a good question, had know the answer to this in terms of, is it actually provincial policy? Okay. but, but the, just the, you know, if you look across all of the districts K to eight, basically there are no, there are very few holdout schools or districts at this point who are not in a proficiency scale model, you know, moving from emerging to developing, to proficient, to extending and teachers and educators are measuring, learning against that framework. And that’s gonna look different. I mean, there, there are sort of experiments happening and different variations and you see one point rubrics and things like that. But by and large, no very, very few schools would have letter grades and percentages in British Columbia at this point. And I know we’re pretty progressive on that front, so it’s not going to be the same in every state in province, but it’s a, it’s exciting. It’s a great place to teach right now.


Sam Demma (31:17):
It’s innovative, it’s disruptive. It’s, it’s leading the cha change. It, I even fascinating when you mentioned the four words, you know, the, the one at the bottom is emerging. That’s a very positive word. Like I remember getting my report card and it, you know, if you did something bad, it was needs, improve needs, improvement or satisfactory. And the use of positive wording, even if you are on the lower level, you know, of where you maybe should be in terms of the I’m an emerging student, that still sounds amazing. And, you know, the student will probably remain, remain positive in that grading. Yeah, there’s a great book called catch them. Why they’re catch them while they’re good, which talks about the importance of, you know, praising the positive behavior instead of coaching the negative and how sometimes coaching the negative diminishes or is the student’s confidence. And right. I think that system does a great job of ensuring students still feel confident despite where they’re at. Yeah. What, what has your experience been with that? Like, I mean, if you had to grade a student lower or, or as an emerging student what does their feedback, like, how does a student react to respond?


Tim Cavey (32:22):
I mean, so full disclosure, I mean, students do try to sort of compare our current system to their older models. And so they, they will interpret that typically as you know, as, as failing or we try not to use that word, but yeah, I mean that they, they tend to go there, but you’re right. It is a positive word. And the more we can use that proficiency language, it really puts the focus on learning as growth, right? This is where you are now, but it’s not static. I think that’s the key difference. You’re not an F student you’re learning on this particular standard is a urging or developing. It’s going to move forward to proficient. How can we get you there? Got, and I’ve, I’ve got a good friend on Twitter Jeffrey Fri from California who talks about getting rid of, as you said, deficit based assessment. A lot of our assessment looks for the faults. What if we focus on what if we focus on the growth? What if we focus on what we see and sort of fan those flames and work from there. So, yeah, I love it.


Sam Demma (33:25):
Cool. I love this. And I, I wanna wrap up today’s conversation highlighting your role Adex of resources, if, if you’re okay with me calling it that sure. Where can people go and listen to your podcast, give a brief explanation of the cast itself and why it started and, and where all the resources are housed.


Tim Cavey (33:44):
So thank you so much, Sam. I really appreciate this opportunity. You have a brilliant future. My man, and I’m so grateful to be connected with you today and going forward. So I started the podcast on anchor. I would encourage all budding podcasters to consider it. I actually don’t know where you’re hosted, but anchor is free. It, it distributes my podcast to 12 different apps and platforms for free, which is phenomenal. Can’t beat that value. Nice. And you can, so you can find teachers on fire on just about any podcast app, wherever you listen to podcasts. And you can also find my website, which is badly out dated and needs and overhauled, but I do have some posts happening there @teachersonfire.net. And you’ll also find me on any social media platform, including clubhouse at teachers on fire.


Sam Demma (34:32):
Awesome. Tim, thank you so much. And personally you already have enough emails, so I won’t direct people there, but if someone wanted to just shoot you a question or a message, what would be the best way? Would Twitter be the best or what social platform should they gravitate towards?


Tim Cavey (34:48):
Yeah, sure. Like I said, you could probably reach me on your favorite platform, but I am most active on @TeachersOnFire and yeah, you can reach me there. I’ll definitely get back to you.


Sam Demma (35:00):
All right. Cool, Tim, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep lighting educators on fire in a metaphorical sense and thank you so much. It was an awesome conversation.


Tim Cavey (35:09):
Thank you for having me, Sam. It was a pleasure.


Sam Demma (35:12):
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; f you want 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 you on the next episode.

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