Tomy Valookaran – Chaplain at St. Mary C.S.S

Tomy Valookaran – Chaplain at St. Mary C.S.S
About Tomy Valookaran

Tomy (@tvalookaran) is the founder of bridges for solidarity. This is a business enterprise operating on social enterprise principles to bring together the poor in developing countries and the youth in Ontario high schools to work together to help create a global community of caring and mutual help. 

Tomy is also the Chaplain at St. Mary C.S.S, the high school from which I graduated.  Over the course of his career, Tomy has worked alongside other educators to coordinate one of the largest student clubs in the province called “Retreat Leaders.”  

Connect with Tomy: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St Mary Catholic Secondary School Website

Retreat Leaders Leadership Program

St Mary Catholic Secondary School: Alliance for Compassion

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 back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest on the show is a Chaplain; he’s a Chaplain that was at my high school. He was the Chaplain at the high school that I grew up at, that I graduated from; St. Mary Catholic secondary school in my hometown Pickering. He is someone who lives out this idea of serving others every single day, whether it’s with students, with his fellow colleagues and teachers, or for disadvantaged peoples and poor people around the world.

Sam Demma (01:11):
He’s the founder of something known as the bridges for solidarity. It’s a business enterprise operating on social enterprise principles to bring together the poor and developing countries and the youth in Ontario high schools to work together, to help create a global community of caring and mutual help. He worked closely with dozens of teachers from the high school I grew up at, to over this man of 20 years, donate over a million pounds of food to local food shelters. He runs and organizes one of the largest school clubs catered around service and mentorship for other young people. He calls it the retreat leader program. It’s a phenomenal program, phenomenal opportunity. My head was so deeply sunken in soccer when I was in high school that I didn’t get involved as much as I wish I could have, but he shares how he runs this on today’s episode and if you’re looking for ideas Tommy is definitely someone you should chat with. He will, he will give you a ton of ideas and he’s always looking for ways to help. So enjoy today’s interview, and I will see you on the other side. Tommy, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of the journey that got you into working with young people today?

Tomy Valookaran (02:32):
Well my name is Tommy Valookaran, and this is my 35th year of chaplaincy in general. I spent three years in a hospital chaplaincy before I came to high school working with young people. So my journey is is like, it takes like couple of books to write, but to put it just shortly, I was born and brought up in India. I was born to a family of seven brothers and two sisters and we just had a one bedroom house where we lived and we were pretty poor; so I can remember being hungry many times. And when I looked around as a, as a young person growing up like 10, 11, 12, I was always very angry at the society. You know, I could see all the injustices which are happening. Then I looked to our, our church and I became an altar boy.

Tomy Valookaran (03:36):
And the church was very involved in people’s lives there. So I, I felt, you know, this is something I could do with the together, with the help of others to improve things for everybody. And I was at a, in grade 10. I clearly remember there was a, I couldn’t go to a Christian school because we had no money. So we went to a, a Hindu school, which was free run by the government. And they, they had a guest speaker, a, a priest Salian priest who came in, he did sort of like a small assembly and he talked about how he’s making a difference in so many people’s lives. So he was asking for volunteers and I jumped in and they took us to a, a three day retreat. And one thing I remember is they fed that so well.

Tomy Valookaran (04:27):
And, and I, I bought right into it. Anybody who gave me food I’m good. Yeah. So that, that memory always stayed with me. And, and that made me passionate about social justice. So I went through priesthood through that. I spent 12 years in different seminaries and I was a few months away from ordination and we did, I did a retreat where, you know, it got, it became very clear to me that God is calling me to be a lay person doing the same work over must. Most priests do. And that’s how I got into chaplaincy and sisters of St. Joseph hired me from in Hamilton. I was a chaplain at the St Joseph’s hospital. And one of the wise nuns who was mentoring me she sort of suggested that I have a lot of gifts which will be useful for young people.

Tomy Valookaran (05:23):
And I’m a second Vatican council person, and I’m very passionate about all the changes, which has happened in the church. And so she sort of nudged me to apply and I applied to Durham and, and different people, and Durham called me for an interview. And we were like 25 people being, I, it for two, two positions and I got hired and I was very shocked with that hiring. So that’s how so the, it sort of organic how it came to young people. Then I started listening and you know, my passion has always been the passion of Jesus. Mm. And, and I spent a lot of time trying to understand the doctrinal teachings versus the real Jesus who was born in Palestine and some of the struggles he went through. And I realized, you know the God, he tried to reveal through his work was a, a God who is passionate for justice, a God who Christ when his people or anybody suffers because God created, everybody doesn’t matter what religion or no religion.

Tomy Valookaran (06:35):
So when they suffer, God suffers. And and Jesus really felt that passion. And he passed that on to a few people and those few people became a movement. Yeah. And I used that. So my experiences made me, first of all, very inclusive in my chaplaincy that everybody’s welcome no matter what, especially those who are struggling, especially those are marginalized. And well, my ministry is iCal because I grew up with Hindus and Muslims equally. So especially in a high school, there are Hindus and Muslims and buds. And I know they feel very much at home in my ministry. And I’ve always made it a point to let everybody who works with me know we preach God always, but we use words only when absolutely necessary through our actions. And, and that’s what St. Francis of ASIS preached. Yeah. Yeah.

Tomy Valookaran (07:44):
So, so the, the ministry I do is modeled after the ministry of Jesus, especially in the early church. And we build communities, small communities and not within the large school. So right now we have we eight color groups, we call them color families. And they are all led by two or three core leaders whom we have selected and trained, and they meet every week with their family and make it a safe space for everybody. And out of which comes all the other initiatives we do. So, so our retreat of the community, I was, I was explaining to a couple of kids who asked me what retreat leader was all about during the interview. So, so I tell them, listen, this is not another student group you are joining, or you wanna join. Yeah. This is a movement you a movement, which has changed the lives of so many people, a movement where so many before you have given so much to build it up the way it is.

Tomy Valookaran (08:49):
So right now it’s your turn to take it to the next level. And, and so we always try to go below the radar. We don’t like to show off too much attract too much attention. So people, everyone feels safe. Right. Nice. And so, well, Esterday like T I met with four great 11 students who are already retreat leaders, and they wanted to study a women’s group. And that’s our next initiative here. That’ll be our ninth initiative, nice coming out of our retreat leadership. So they want to focus on intersection of feminism, nice and amplify the voices of especially black and indigenous and people of color voices in feminism.

Sam Demma (09:44):
I like that.

Tomy Valookaran (09:44):
No, I believe, I believe when God, when, when we adults give their platform a safe platform where young people can express themselves and are given support. So they shine. They really shine.

Sam Demma (10:01):
I agree. I, I,

Tomy Valookaran (10:04):
Yeah, go ahead.

Sam Demma (10:05):
No, I was gonna say, I totally agree. And I have a follow up question, but continue. I don’t want you to lose your thought.

Tomy Valookaran (10:13):
Oh, okay. Well, Mr. Mora who is one of who worked with me as a team member asked me if I could suggest a speaker for their LGBTQ group. So I suggested one of our outstanding alumni. And so I was talking to her about it. And then, and then what she said was just incredible. She said, sir, your group saved my life.

Sam Demma (10:43):

Tomy Valookaran (10:45):
So we, we have that Alliance for compassion, LGBTQ safe group, which we run out of our chapel every Friday and just incredible how kids feel so safe and come every Friday at four 30 to five 30. And then

Sam Demma (11:03):
That’s awesome.

Tomy Valookaran (11:04):
So this is about you know, life. Yeah. You know, creating safe spaces where people feel safe, and that is the heart of Christianity. You know, it’s not about everything else that you, there is a famous saying. The Budha said the hand, that points to the moon is not the moon. So the, the, the sacraments going to church, they’re all the hands that point to God. They are not God. So a lot of people get stuck in the, in the, and, and I missed, missed the whole point. So

Sam Demma (11:43):
That’s a great perspective shift. I, I, I have to ask two questions. The first is, you said you were mentored by a nun, a very wise nun and do nuns sleep. And I’m asking because I was at a summer camp one time and, and the, you know, the nuns seem like they’re up at like three in the morning. And just, just outta curiosity, what do you think?

Tomy Valookaran (12:08):
Yeah, there are there are different types of nuns religious group. Yeah. Some are very active. They call it active condemn. So they, they are action oriented and some nuns just stay indoors and pray for everybody do counseling. So my sister is a nun of saying, you know, Francis commissioners of Mary and I have two aunts who are nuns. So yeah. NA had a big influence on my life.

Sam Demma (12:37):
Yeah. That’s awesome. So cool. And you know, the educator that’s listening to this right now is, is probably wondering how are you able to get so many students from the school involved, you know, the program, their treat leading program has, I think you, you said roughly over 120 students right now, and that’s a massive accomplishment where, you know, most student clubs and it’s not a club, it’s a movement, but, but where most, you know, typical student clubs would have 30 kids. Maybe if they’re lucky, you know, that many students involved your retreat leading and core program is, is, is, is blown up. And I’m curious to know what is it that makes so many students want to participate and get involved and, and help

Tomy Valookaran (13:22):
Because well, we, we do have a big history, like going back 10, 15 years, we have been building slowly, right? Yep. So their brothers, their sisters, older sisters recommend many parents know the work we do. So parents recommend kids to, to join because they see the change in their own children. Mm. Once they become part of a movement as opposed to ING your ego, like, so the, the way we train is we, we really give them opportunity to we, we call it graced history. So, so we give them the tools to go through their life five year cycles, zero to five, five to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 17, whatever. And they have to write down the significant events or people they have had who had either a positive or a negative influence on them.

Tomy Valookaran (14:28):
Mm. And then we created safe space where they share that with each other. Mm. And, and once, once people see that, you know, everybody has burdens, they’re carrying and they really mold and become a real community. It’s almost like a family. And then, and that is what attracts people to join, to become part of that. You know, all of us are seeking, you know, to belong to something more than bigger than us. Yeah. And, and know that’s, that’s the God part in us wanting to connect with the God part in everybody else and thereby create what Jesus called the kingdom of God, where everyone, everyone is valued and appreciated and affirmed, especially those who are marginalized.

Sam Demma (15:23):
I love that. That’s awesome. And I would, I would only, as I would only assume that this year it’s been a little more challenging or a little bit difficult, but it sounds like from our previous conversation that it’s still moving forward and proceeding, and you still had an overwhelming amount of students interested. What, what looks different this year than previous years, and how have you been able to kind of adjust

Tomy Valookaran (15:47):
Well, well, this year it takes much more effort.

Sam Demma (15:53):

Tomy Valookaran (15:54):
From, from the team’s part. Cause you know, it, it’s not just about me. It’s about you know, there are many teachers who are very passionate about what we do. And, and so when you build a team, then, you know, when, when we come to a crisis, so one of the first things I, I got all my leaders together and what I said, including teachers, and what I said was, you know, the word for crisis in Chinese is means two things. It’s danger opportunity. So when it, when a crisis comes media, everybody looks at the danger like coronavirus and everybody looked at the danger, but there were so many hidden opportunities in there. Mm. And so we started focusing on the opportunities and then we had the George Floyd thing happened. And, and so we got all our black students together on zoom every, every week.

Tomy Valookaran (17:02):
And like we would be doing like two, three hour zoom meetings in the evening because there was so much hurt. We had to process. And then we brought in guest speakers and, and help them to heal. And once they felt they were comfortable, then they start going out into the community and, and, and start connecting with others who are hurt. So, you know, that’s typically how God works. You know, if you look at the history of God, you know, it’s when crisis has come, those are opportu for God, really to show up. Right. And so we do a, we have, we have done a lot of creative things like kids, we put together a black history assembly, like no, before no one has before done that. And, and kids loved it because it’s our own kids who shared their experiences. Oh, wow. Of being black and, and experiencing racism and how they managed to survive still. And then many kids were crying during the was ritual assembly. We Preap it and we asked every teacher to it. And so that would’ve never happened if it wasn’t on zoom and recorded. And, and

Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s awesome. And I was gonna ask you, you know, you just shed lay on one of them, but what are some of those opportunities that you think it came out of the challenges and changes that came along with COVID 19? I, I would assume that presentation doing the, the zoom was one way, because everyone had a chance to speak and share, and, and it was prerecorded. So you could re-watch it as opposed to a live thing. But yeah, you would know better than I, what were some of the opportunities that came along with?

Tomy Valookaran (18:51):
Well we learned so much new technologies.

Sam Demma (18:57):

Tomy Valookaran (18:58):
Well, I personally was forced to learn much more than kids, but because we had so much youth involvement in our leadership, they took over that side and they, they started teaching us how to do some of this stuff. So and care youth are very good at technology, you know looking from far to like a faith perspective, you know, what I see happening when you look at the digital technology, digital revolution, which happened like 20, 30 years ago, that was in preparation, God was preparing the earth to deal with crises like coronavirus. Now, can you imagine if we didn’t have the digital platform, holy, how we will deal with

Sam Demma (19:46):
It? I don’t know.

Tomy Valookaran (19:48):
Yeah. A lot of people don’t think that way. Right. But you know, really that God has been preparing with or pushing out all these new technologies, you know, from the east east end philosophy that they have a theory that you know, deep inside the earth lies all the, all what we need. And when the time is right, certain things, resources get pushed out and, and that’s how the earth survives. Right. Hmm. And when you look at oil, when you look at, you know, going back, you can clearly see certain technologies and certain resources being intentionally pushed out so that we, as a humanity can, can serve. Right.

Sam Demma (20:34):
And even when you look at activism, like, you know, everyday people expressing their concerns and having their voices heard wouldn’t be as possible if we didn’t have social media or, or the internet, you know.

Tomy Valookaran (20:49):
No, no, no. The climate movement, the black lives matter movement. These are powerful tools if used well to build the kingdom of God.

Sam Demma (21:01):
Yeah. Totally agree. I think that’s a great distinction to make in terms of your program this year and not just yours, but all the teachers who are involved, what are some of the initiatives that have gone on so far? I know you talked about the, the black history month, this Emily, I’m curious, like, what are other, some of the other things that have gone on? And yeah,

Tomy Valookaran (21:20):
We, we have a domestic outreach group. Nice. And this, usually we do Christmas outreach. So, you know, you remember when you were at St. Mary, it’s a big but this year we couldn’t collect things, right? Yeah. So, but we still had the families we sponsored. So kids went creative and they went with gift cards only. And and, and cash donations online. Nice. And I was just astounded like we initially kids only said, you know, let’s just put $10. People who want donate. I said, no, let’s put 10, 25 and 50, so people can choose. And we got so many people donating.

Sam Demma (22:06):

Tomy Valookaran (22:07):
And one of our alumni gave us $5,000.

Sam Demma (22:10):

Tomy Valookaran (22:11):
Because he has a business which has been successful during the coronavirus. Wow. And so we raised more money than normally we would. So we were able to give, I think about a hundred dollars gift cards per person, per family.

Sam Demma (22:31):

Tomy Valookaran (22:33):

Sam Demma (22:33):
That’s awesome. And the food drive has historically also been something that you and a lot of teachers worked on for years this year, I guess it’s not possible or how’s

Tomy Valookaran (22:44):
No, no, no. We are doing again gift cards, cards, cash. Oh. So we, so they’re preparing for our Easter food drive already. Got it. And we also, that group is connected with the bleed, the north, the organization, which which supports menstrual products, menstrual education. Oh, cool. So we also collected a lot of menstrual products to be given to that organization and, and they send it to some of the original communities or indigenous communities. And, and so we did that, then we have the international outreach group. They focus on international issues and they’re right now planning, excuse me, a, a hour fast from social media.

Sam Demma (23:34):

Tomy Valookaran (23:35):
Coming up in may. And they’re also planning a multicultural night, virtual in may. Nice. And, and the other group we have is best buddies. They focus on make out, making sure our our special education students are looked after. And so they have a group. They plan things that support them. Another group we have is indigenous F and M I group. They focus on highlight, educating our community on indigenous issues.

Sam Demma (24:09):

Tomy Valookaran (24:11):
Then we have a large group called safe and caring. So they focus on mental wellness and they are right now working. We just had a two week mental wellness week at, at our school where they highlighted how to get help if you need. And they have even created a website. So all these groups have Instagrams to, to follow. Okay. Then the other big group what am I missing among the nine. Okay.

Sam Demma (24:40):
That’s okay. Yeah. So there there’s does it’s. Yeah. It sounds like there’s, all of these groups are umbrella under the retreat leading program. Yes. Okay. So they come for weekly touch points altogether, monthly touch points, or how does it look like from the retreat?

Tomy Valookaran (24:57):
Well, the initiative groups is open to the whole school.

Sam Demma (25:02):
Got it.

Tomy Valookaran (25:03):
So, but it is run by retreat leaders.

Sam Demma (25:05):
Okay. Understand.

Tomy Valookaran (25:07):
And, and so what happened? They meet once a week.

Sam Demma (25:10):

Tomy Valookaran (25:11):
So each day we have at least one or two groups meeting for planning their activities. And these meetings are not just for planning either because one of the other big needs during this quarantine is isolation.

Sam Demma (25:27):

Tomy Valookaran (25:27):
And people feeling lonely. Right? Yeah. So, so as soon as we come together, we do what we call processs and thoughts, you know, what’s going on. What’s good. Nice. know what’s hurting you. And, and then, you know, people connect the, you know, I look at all these initiatives that tools to build intimate communities. Yeah. And out of those communities come miracles.

Sam Demma (25:56):

Tomy Valookaran (25:57):
So we, yeah. We have an Alliance for compassion. I spoke about the LGBTQ group. Yeah. And we have eco

Sam Demma (26:04):

Tomy Valookaran (26:04):
Eco is pretty they, they were involved and you know, Fridays for future, we even took a bus lot of kids, city, Queens park against, against all the bus school board. Well, they want, they don’t want you to do stuff like that. Yeah. But kids loved it. And, and, and because they felt they were, they had a voice. Right? Yeah. Yeah. Those are most of the groups I think I covered.

Sam Demma (26:38):
Yeah, no, no, no worries. And if we miss any, I can link them in the show notes of the episode as well. Just to make sure they have some recognition. How do you, how do you think as an educator, we make students feel valued, seen, heard, and appreciated without being like face to face physically, is it, is it just by giving them the chance to speak? Like, you’ve obviously you, you and a bunch of other teachers that run these programs have created those intimate communities. Is it the kids themselves interacting that makes them feel safer? Or what is it exactly that gives them that feeling of safety and community?

Tomy Valookaran (27:15):
First of all you know my advice to teachers who help run these things that you don’t run it it’s, it’s kids who run it. Yep. And then it’s kids who set the agenda and it’s kids who lead discussions. And we only get involved only if, for, we feel something is hurting somebody and, and otherwise, you know, they’re all student run. And so there’ll be a, a teacher present one or two teachers with with them, but that’s just to support. And, and I feel, you know, once you provide a safe environment where kids feel that they can speak and not be judge, mm. Then they tend to open up.

Sam Demma (28:08):
And how do you create that safe space? Is it by ensuring that when something happens, you address it, is it by setting rules or,

Tomy Valookaran (28:17):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, initially we, we talk about what are some of the, you know, we come as a group and then create certain rules for ourselves so that each of us feels safe.

Sam Demma (28:29):
Got it.

Tomy Valookaran (28:30):
Okay. So they come up with suggestions and we keep the, as our as our safe space. So everybody needs to follow those. Cool. So, so one of the one the, we expect people to contribute. Yep. So, but you have the ability to Surpas, but the expectation is you’re going be actively participating.

Sam Demma (28:54):
Nice. Oh, very cool. That makes a lot of sense. Amazing. And I want to ask you a personal question. So in your own educational journey, when you were up and going through school, did you have teachers in your life that had a huge impact on you that, that inspired you to work with youth? Or why do you think that your ministry took you towards working with young people in education?

Tomy Valookaran (29:24):
I, I really have no answer for that because it sort of evolved.

Sam Demma (29:30):

Tomy Valookaran (29:31):
In fact if I have had any positive most of my experiences with educators have been pretty negative. And, and so I always want to go go the other way. Like, I’ve been expelled from a couple of institutions. Got it. Because of my activism. And, and, and so it, that the anger, which I grew up with against injustice is, you know, was healed and transformed by my connection with the, with the real Jesus Christ. Mm. Like, you know, a lot of people think Christ Jesus, Jesus, last name. No, that Jesus last name was something different. Mm. And so, so when you understand what Jesus Christ me means, then you start getting a feeling that, you know, if Jesus was the son of God, so are we, that’s the message of Jesus was like, we are all children of the same God. And, and, and once we get that, then we get empowered just like, Jesus, God.

Tomy Valookaran (30:41):
And, and that’s why we call, you know, the resurrected Jesus becomes us. Yeah. When we are passionate about the kingdom of God. So the work Sam you are doing is very similar. So you might think it’s your, well, it’s your two. But my experience tells me, no, we don’t choose. You know, it’s like, we are provided like, you know, we are lead. Yeah. You know, it’s like the Eastern philosophers. They say, you know, many times we think we are the dancers and, and artist, the person leading us. Mm. But they say, that’s not true. It’s. We are the dance itself, the God dancing through. Mm. And, and that’s the doctrine incarnation, right? Yeah. A lot of people don’t get it. Jesus never wanted to be worshiped. Jesus wanted to be followed. Mm. You know, just clearly said, you know, follow me, follow my teachings. That’s how you worship me. So, so I’m not I’m not very like a churchy churchy person. Yeah. But you know, I support churches when, what they do inspires people to create a caring, compassionate world. Yeah. And if they are inspiring them to be judgemental, you know, to divide people as versus them, then that’s not true. Authentic religion. Yeah. That’s brainwashed.

Sam Demma (32:25):
Yeah. Yeah. I think I love how you open this conversation, talking about, you know, the church is one of the hands that points to God, right? Yeah. And if it, if that’s something that helps you personally get closer to that, then, you know, go there and that’s great. And I love that philosophy. I want to bring this to a close I wanna respect your time. I know we’re a little overtime here, so I apologize. If you could go back and speak to younger Tommy, when you, when you did your first year of teaching at St. Mary and chaplaincy, you know, knowing what you know now and realizing that you know, you’ve learned things throughout the past. I don’t know how 20, how many years have you been at St. Mary now?

Tomy Valookaran (33:11):
I’ll St. Mary since 90, 99, 21

Sam Demma (33:15):
Years. So, you know, in the 21 or 22 years give, take if you could go back and speak to yourself when you just started, what advice would you give that might help you along the way?

Tomy Valookaran (33:29):
My advice would be Tommy relax. No, there is, there are other unseen grace is working with you because you are working for a cost greater than yourself. It’s not about you. And so, yeah, I wish he would, he, would’ve relaxed a little more. Got it. Because I’m much more relaxed now. And then, then big things happen, right? Yeah. People are attracted to you and you carry some, they, they, they connect with your passion because they have the same passion, otherwise they wouldn’t connect. Right. So, and, and we know from our experience that we all have a passion to make our world better than we, we know. So that’s God working through us to no, that’s what we call the journey to, to heaven. Right. And Jesus mission was to bring heaven to earth. Mm. And no, that’s the journey we are in.

Sam Demma (34:34):
Yeah. I love that. Awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation. I feel inspired. Oh. If another educator is listening to this and is inspired, or just wants to have a conversation with you, like what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you? And if it’s, if it’s by email, go ahead and spell it out, just so they just, so they.

Tomy Valookaran (34:54):
Okay, email would be the, the best way, because I check my email. I have to cause a lot of kids communicate with me. So it’s Tomy.Valookaran@dcdsb.ca.

Sam Demma (35:16):
Perfect. Tommy, thank you so much for sharing some of your thoughts and advice and wisdom today on the podcast. I, I really appreciate it.

Tomy Valookaran (35:25):
Well I’m so proud of seeing you Sam, as an alumni of St. Mary we are always speaking highly of you and, and we hope to have you back again once the opportunity arises. Maybe we will see if we can come and talk to our, our leadership once I put it together for the next year’s leadership.

Sam Demma (35:48):
Yeah, for sure. No, I appreciate that.

Tomy Valookaran (35:51):
Sounds good. Okay, Sam.

Sam Demma (35:52):
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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Tania Vincent – Chaplain at St. Michael Catholic Secondary School

Tania Vincent - Chaplain at St. Michael Catholic Secondary School
About Tania Vincent

Tania Vincent (@stmchaplaincy) is the Chaplain at St. Michael Catholic Secondary School.  She is good friends with Angelo Minardi, a past guest on this show, and both of them share a very obvious passion for giving young people the best opportunities for future success.  

Connect with Tania: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St.Micheal Catholic Secondary School

What does a Chaplain Leader do?

Role of retreats

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 back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Tania Vincent. She is the Chaplain or the Chaplaincy leader of St. Michael Catholic Secondary School. She was someone who was also introduced to me by another past guest on the podcast. If you go back to the early days, this show was launched, I interviewed a good friend of mine.

Sam Demma (00:59):
His name is Angelo Minardi, and he gave Tania, Tania’s name as somebody that he thought I should speak to. And I’m so glad that I did because we had such a passion filled conversation. You can feel the authenticity and the genuine desire to impact her students in Tanya’s voice. And she shares so much amazing wisdom and advice from her own past experiences and for what she thinks the future might look like in education. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed speaking to Tanya to create it and I will see you on the other side. Tanya, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the audience who you are and how you got into the work that you do with young people today?

Tania Vincent (01:47):
Sure. So thanks. First of all, Sam, thanks for having me. So my name is Tania Vincent, and I’m currently the Chaplaincy leader at a high school in Bolton, Ontario called St. Michael Catholic Secondary School. Before I was a Chaplaincy leader, I was a high school teacher for about nine years and I I taught religion at a few different schools in Brampton. How did I get into this? I studied religion in University. And who in the world does that? And what do you do with that after you study religion and university? Well, I had no idea and I ended up going to teachers college and it turned out that I really, really loved the idea and loved the actual work with students, particularly with teenagers. And here we find ourselves today, you know, still doing it, still going at it, still trying to do it. And it’s been, it’s been great.

Sam Demma (02:42):
That’s awesome. At what point in your educational journey did you know, you know, yes, chaplaincy leader, that’s what it’s gonna be. Was there a defining moment for you or a progression?

Tania Vincent (02:54):
So I when I started teaching, I I just come outta teachers college and I worked with someone who kind of inspired me to go on to do some graduate work that I had never really thought about before. And so I started doing that and then I realized that this role that I have now in chaplaincy, that there was such an opportunity there to connect with to, with, to, to connect with young people in a very different way. It’s one thing when you’re a classroom teacher and you’re delivering curriculum, but you form a very different kind of relationship and rapport with students when you’re a chop and sea leader. And when you’re, you know, trying to encourage and help students kind of find their way in their journey of faith, even in adults in that matter. So that’s kind of how I ended up where I am today and what kind of inspired me to do. So

Sam Demma (03:43):
That’s cool. And I’m sure when you first started in this role it definitely looks different this year, as it does for anyone working in a school. What are the current challenges your school is facing? And there might be similar challenges in all schools and maybe what are some of the ways some of those challenges have been overcome, that’s working for you guys and you think might be valuable for other educators to hear?

Tania Vincent (04:07):
So I think first and foremost, the biggest challenge that I’m finding is that, or that I’m noticing in our school anyways, is student engagement because, you know, right now the way the model works in our school board in different field is students. It’s a hybrid model. Some students have chosen to stay home and, you know, be totally virtual a hundred percent. But for those that are in a hybrid model, they come to school for about two and a half hours in the morning. You know, they, they go straight to class and then they leave and there’s no, you know, you, there’s no, you know, leaving class to, you know, wander the hallway for 30 seconds or five minutes or whatever. There’s no there’s, there’s no opportunity to interact with other staff, with other students. You just come to go to your class and leave.

Tania Vincent (04:57):
And so students don’t feel engaged. They feel disengaged because it’s really become a building. You know, schools are, are these kind of great places for communities to develop, whether it’s because of co-curriculars or sports or athletics, all of these things, none of those things are very few of those things are happening right now. So we have a problem with keeping students engaged in anything beyond education. And even when it comes the educational piece, you know, we, and, you know, the, the, the adults in the building, if you will, are still figuring out how to do some of the same things that we would normally have done when we were physically all together in a school. And so I think, I guess, you know, the challenge really is how do we now continue to move forward and continue to learn and, you know, try to keep these students engaged, not only in the academic part, but in the other kind of stuff that happens at school.

Tania Vincent (05:52):
So like me being a child, for example, I, my role is to try to continue to keep students engaged in the faith aspect of school and of, you know, and of their lives. And that’s been its own challenge. But one of the things that I’m seeing is working is I know for, for me, and even in speaking with other colleagues is a willingness on our part as the educators to really kind of do things and step beyond our own comfort zones when it comes to being virtual, when it comes to being accessible in a virtual platform. So even something like, you know, I used to run retreats, for example. So how do you now, how do I now run retreats when I can’t physically take students out of the building, or I can’t necessarily see them face to face? Well, now I, I deliver retreats.

Tania Vincent (06:39):
I lead retreats virtually. It’s not, it’s not amazing. But it’s, it seems to be working. And I think it’s something that, you know, I can continue to build on. And the same thing goes for, you know, class for teachers in their virtual classrooms. You know, initially I think a lot of teachers were, you we’re there and they were, you know, sharing PowerPoints and all this kind of stuff. And, you know, again, this issue of student engagement, but as we become more comfortable as the adults with the technology, then we’re able to kind of infiltrate a few more ways to, you know, maybe make students more involved in their own learning processes. But that’s something, you know, we have to work on too, right. Because we’re not, you know, like you said, you know, a lot of, a lot of things have changed since March and we need to be willing to move past what we’re used to doing. That’s the thing, right. Everybody wants to kind of mimic what we did before, what we did in person. And I think part of the challenge is recognizing that we can’t necessarily mirror or mimic what, what we did before, but we need to look at other ways to still keep students engaged and still remind them that we are a school community.

Sam Demma (07:47):
Yeah. That’s so true. And the community piece is huge. You know, how do we ensure as educators, as people that work in the school that the students still feel appreciated and heard. And I know that’s a big part of chaplaincy as well, because you’re almost like, you know, an extra guidance counselor that they might come to before going to a guidance office. You know, yeah. How do we make sure the students still feel appreciated? So I think,

Tania Vincent (08:15):
So I think, you know, I think first and foremost, I think they need to recognize a real, I should say that we are still accessible so that even though, you know, they can’t leave class to come and see me in my office, for example, or they can’t leave class to go and talk to a guidance counselor. That doesn’t mean that, that they’re still not able to contact me or contact, you know, a guidance counselor or whatever. So, you know, if I’ve kind of found more creative ways for them to do that. But I, I really think it’s really important that I continue, at least what I’ve been doing is I try to make, make sure that they realize that I’m available even virtually, you know, my DMS are open on Instagram, for example. Right. So I know it, it sounds kind of funny, like to hear someone say that , but it’s true because a lot of people, a lot of students will reach out to me that way as, Hey, miss, can I come and talk to you about something?

Tania Vincent (09:06):
Absolutely. And then, you know, you can use that that’s, you know, just an opening door for them, but letting them know that they’re still, their, their voice is still being heard. Their concerns are still being heard and addressed, and we wanna hear their concerns. I think that’s part of it too. Right. We, they need to know that not only are we accessible, but we wanna hear what they have to say. I know when I, when I meet with students, when I meet with a, you know, a small group of students once a week, I always kind of ask them, it’s not even, you know, I asked them, what is it I can do for you that maybe I’m not doing or something that I did before when we were, you know, in total lockdown that you really appreciated that I can maybe bring back that I haven’t been doing, but what is it that you wanna see as students in our school to, you know, to ensure that you feel appreciated because students are a huge part of our school be community.

Sam Demma (09:57):
Yeah. I would argue almost the whole part , but yeah, without the, without the teachers and educators, but and you guys play a huge role in organizing the community and keep it moving along and transforming the community. I think a huge part of school is also, you know, helping students become self com confident in their abilities, because a lot of the time they don’t know what they’re doing. We don’t know what we’re doing. We have to learn as we go, you know, a student gets a new assignment, they have to learn the, the barrier is for them to say, I believe in myself enough to find the information, to figure this out. And I think, you know, that transformation is a, a huge part of, of school and of education. Do you have any stories of transformation that you’ve seen as a direct result of education in your school? And the reason I ask is because another educator might be a little burnt out right now thinking like, I don’t know what’s going on this year. You know, maybe this is their first year teaching and they’re like, what the heck am I doing here? And those stories might motivate them to remember this work is so important.

Tania Vincent (10:59):
Yeah, I think, you know, in my, in my own personal experience, one of the things that I do every day, one of my jobs, if you will, is to lead the school in prayer every morning. Mm. And so what I do with my, so I write these reflections and you know, on a very personal level, they become all was therapeutic, I guess, or they’ve allowed me to kind of exercise a muscle that I haven’t exercised in a while, but I digress. And so I, you know, I see them every morning at school, but we have a large, you know, number of students that aren’t in the building. So I also post them on Instagram. Hmm. And, you know, I, I spoke before about making sure that students know that I’m accessible. And so one of the things that I’ve had happen a lot, whether we were, it happened when we were sort of in lockdown and schools first shut down and it continues to happen now is me, you know posting these reflections and they’re about all kinds of things.

Tania Vincent (11:53):
And I try to make them kind of relevant to, you know, to students and to, to younger people, to young people. But sometimes they kind of trigger something or, you know, you say something or I write something, I should say that somebody needs to hear that day. And they send me a message. They send me a D and that says, Hey, you wrote something to today. This kind of really, I really appreciated that. And it starts a conversation mm-hmm . And I think that whether you are like me and have to, you know, lead people in prayer every morning, or whether you are just starting off a class online that day I think it’s really important to try to say something that’s not necessarily even curriculum based, even if it’s just, Hey, how’s it going today, everybody, right. How are you feeling? What, you know, one thing I do when I meet with my group weekly is I ask them to give me their highs and the low, their lows for the week.

Tania Vincent (12:47):
And, you know, it’s amazing to know sometimes their highs are really great. Sometimes it’s like, Hey, you know, I did well on a quiz today. Something that might not seem so important in the grand scheme of things, but it gives a student an opportunity to, to think about something positive. And it also gives ’em the opportunity to share something that’s maybe not going so great. And as the adults, as the educator, you know, you get a, you get some insight into your students that you might not otherwise get. Right. Instead of being so curriculum focused, you’re so focused on getting things done. You know, the thing I feel like we’re so worried about making sure we get everything done, because we’re trying to mimic what we would normally do. And we, we have to, we have to try as a collective, I guess, I don’t even know, but we have to try to move past not, and remember that right now. I think the, the importance of relationship and building relationship with our students, I think that is paramount over everything else because everybody’s finding it, tough adults, kids, administration, we’re all finding this challenging. But if we realize that we’re all in this together, and if we just vocalize that with our students, I feel like that really can breed some really great things.

Sam Demma (14:02):
That’s amazing insight. And I’ve had so many other guests give such similar advice on relationships and building relationships. And I think that’s so powerful because when someone trusts you, they, they’re more open to tell you things. And that comes through a strong relationship that you build with them over time. You shed some great advice on the fact that we can’t continually focus on education, being something that we have to solely focus on shoving curriculum, you know, through the day and making sure we finish it but adjusting and allowing the students to speak or, you know, slightly adjusting to what they might need that day. If there’s an educator listening who’s in their first year, and maybe they got into a role where they took on that mentality of here’s the outline here’s what has to get done. What other advice would you give them, maybe even to your younger self when you first started?

Tania Vincent (14:55):
First take a breath that would be the first thing to take a breath and be open to trying new things, and don’t be afraid to, to fail. And I guess at the end of it all, really, what is, I guess, what I’m getting at is be patient with yourself. Mm. Cause I’m finding that even now, because we’re all trying new things and we’re all kind of figuring out this new mode of, you know, delivering education and building community, be patient with yourself. And if something doesn’t work oh, well, so it doesn’t work. So you don’t do it again. You know we have to be willing to kind of make mistakes and giving, granting ourselves a little bit of grace and patience when some of those things don’t work, but it’s gonna get easier. You know, that’s what I would tell them. That’s what I would tell my my first year self is it’s gonna get easier and in, you know, enjoy your students or enjoy your time with your students while, while you have there, because you can learn so much from them too. And you’re all experiencing this together. Like, you know, I said that already, but you, we’re all kind of figuring this out together. Don’t be afraid to make those mistakes and be patient with yourself when you do.

Sam Demma (16:05):
I love that. That’s such a great piece of advice. And if another educator is listening and wants to hit you up in the DMS or, you know, get in touch and just bounce some ideas around what would be the best way for them to do so?

Tania Vincent (16:20):
It’d either be on Instagram or on Twitter and you can find me there @stmchaplaincy.

Sam Demma (16:26):
Okay. Perfect. Awesome. Tania, thank you so much for making some time I chat on the show. It’s been a huge pleasure doing this, and I look forward to seeing all the work you continue to do in the school.

Tania Vincent (16:36):
Thanks so much for having me.

Sam Demma (16:38):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tania Vincent

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.

Paola Di Fonzo – Chaplain All Saints Catholic Secondary School

Paola Di Fonzo - Chaplain All Saints Catholic Secondary School
About Paola Di Fonzo

Paola has over 10 years of work and volunteer experience in youth and adult faith formation in both the Catholic parish and Catholic school settings. Currently, she is the Chaplain at the All Saints Catholic Secondary School.

She recently finished her Masters in Theology at the University of Toronto.  

Connect with Paola: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

All Saints Catholic School website

BA in Christianity and Culture at the University of Toronto

Masters of Theological Studies at Regis College, University of Toronto

Meditation Basics

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is my good friend, Paola, Paola Di Fonzo is the chaplain at All Saints Secondary School. She just recently got her masters degree. So she’s still pursuing education, even while she’s teaching. She is a powerhouse. I had the opportunity to work with her last year with her entire school, doing keynotes for all four grades.

Sam Demma (01:06):
And this year I got to work with her again, to do a SHSM certification, a specialist high skills major with her with, with her students on public speaking, it went really, really well. It was awesome. This year she’s also responsible for OYAP, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Programs coordinating that and SHSM programs, so she has a lot in her hands. Here’s my good friend, Paola. Paola thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to see you again, virtually not in person this time. Can you share with the audience who you are, how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today and yeah, I think that’d be a great way to kick this off.

Paola Di Fonzo (01:46):
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me, Sam. So my name is Paula Di Fonzo. I’m a chaplain out here on the east end with the Durham catholic school board and I’ve been here for about, I think it’s like two and a half years now. Before that I spent the last decade, the last 10 years, which sounds crazy, because I’m still such a baby. I’m still so young, but I started right after I graduated high school working in like churches, parish settings, and developing youth programs for young people. So I’ve been sort of doing this sort of faith formation work with young people for the last decade. And, and yeah, that’s, that’s what I do. And the reason really I got into this kind of work is because during those formative years for me, probably starting in grade five till well into high school, I had such a wonderful group of adults who took care of me and cared for me on that deeper level.

Paola Di Fonzo (02:43):
Like I played sports and I was in the musicals and I was on student council and I did that sort of stuff, but it was this one particular community that cared about me on a spiritual level that, that held me up throughout those major years where things get really tough and you’re changing so much and the world seems to evolve so quickly. And it was that group that really sustained me during that time. And, and the reason that I think that I’ve been successful and I don’t mean that in an academic or a career way, but just as a human being, it was that group that really held me up and all, all I wanted to do was do that for other people. Mm-Hmm and I didn’t know that at the time, I didn’t know that it was a career opportunity.

Paola Di Fonzo (03:26):
I always thought I, I get a job as a teacher. Not that that’s a, a bad job, but I thought I’ll do that and then on my evenings and weekends, I’ll work in this faith formation setting and I’ll work with young people and guide them in that way. And then as I grew up and started to branch out a network, I realized, oh, like I could get paid for this. This could be my livelihood. I would love that. So that’s what I did. I pursued it. I, you know, I studied Christianity and philosophy and my undergrad, I did my masters in this and, and here we are and I’m loving it. I’m really happy.

Sam Demma (03:58):
That’s awesome. I know you completed your masters recently, so congratulations again. Thank you. Going back to that group for a second, that really uplifted you through high school. What was it that they did for you that made a huge impact because whether you realize it or not, you kind of describe the current state of the world being that it’s changing and evolving and have a constant support, or I guess someone looking over your shoulder could have a huge impact. So I’m curious to know if you could boil down, you know, from that group, you know, what did they do that just made such a massive impact for you as a young person?

Paola Di Fonzo (04:33):
That’s a great question. And it’s hard to really reduce it to one thing, but the word that immediately came to mind for me was relationship. They, we built real relationship. It wasn’t, you know, you come and you listen to this message and you go home. It was a family so much so that you couldn’t wait until Friday night came along because you knew you were spending your weekend with these people. And it felt like a home you felt like that need for belonging was truly fulfilled them getting to know you getting to know like the deepest parts of you and still like loving you and caring for you through that is transformative. And, and I can only hope to replicate that in the roles that I’m in, but it’s really grounded in that relationship building. I think that’s what it was for me. If I could reduce it to one thing that was the major part.

Sam Demma (05:20):
That was awesome. And the way they, I guess, built those relationships was just asking questions. And like you said, getting to know you on a deeper level and you know, during COVID, that’s a huge challenge. I know usually you you’re in an office and the student walks right in and has a conversation with you. The state of the, the world in education right now is totally different. And I’m just curious to know, as you take in that big breath, what are, what are some of the challenges that have been presented? And I’m sure they’re very similar to everyone who’s listening. So you’re not alone here. I’m just curious to know what it looks like in your world.

Paola Di Fonzo (05:55):
Yeah. Like it’s exactly what you just said. I mean, as I was preparing some thoughts for our conversation today, I kept going back to that. The biggest challenge for me and my role right now is how limited we are in building relationship, real, authentic connection. Isn’t really happening virtually. Like that’s the one thing that I haven’t been able to translate to the virtual platform. I, I can’t have, you know, like the students would come in before and after school on lunches, we’d just hang like, it’s not, yeah. They certainly came in to, you know, seek guidance and some counseling and, you know, to pray together, we did that, but for sure, we’re the beauty lies more so than in any other.

Paola Di Fonzo (06:39):
I think interaction is like those casual Hangouts where we’re just chilling. Like we’re just being real with each other. We’re being human with each other and we get to know each other in that real way and that’s just not happening. And I, I haven’t been able to translate that again to the virtual platform just yet. So that’s been, that’s been a challenge that it’s something that I miss terribly. That’s something that without it makes my job really hard, really, really hard because there’s no relationship of trust being built and relationship of vulnerability being built. So how do we, how do we journey together in the faith without those things, right? How do we journey together as human beings, without connection and trust and vulnerability that can really only be established with human connection. Like we need to be around people and that’s been the hardest part I feel. Hmm.

Sam Demma (07:29):
Yeah. The reason I ask is because there’s a lot of educators listening who might have some great ideas and if they do at the end, we’ll share your email address for you. Two can connect, having been power in conversations and just bounce different ideas around on the other end of a challenge is I would say hope and overcoming it, which is obviously a great feeling during these difficult times. What sustains your personal hope? What keeps you hopeful? Although there’s lots of challenges and, and turbulent times right now.

Paola Di Fonzo (08:03):
Yeah. I, as difficult as it’s been, and as exhausted as I feel, I don’t feel like I’ve lost hope. Hmm. And that’s a major blessing. I’m so happy for that because as soon as you lose hope, like you’re in trouble, right. Things can get really, really dreadful. But for me, I’ve, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to get back to basics mm-hmm and what I mean by that is like reflect. So we can’t my role as chaplain, right? So some of the big things I would coordinate in our school are, are large scale school masses. That’s not happening. Our grade retreats not happening. Anyway, we gather for liturgy together not happening. So I have had to really reinvent the wheel here and ask myself, all right, what are the basic human needs that I can cater to? Mm-Hmm what can I do to really see, like going back to like the most primitive needs of human beings, right?

Paola Di Fonzo (08:57):
The need for rest, especially during this high emotion time, the need for community, the need for belonging. Like how can I cater to that? And just the opportunity to, to just strip away all the layers, you know, sometimes you can just build up so much around the base needs of a human being and we start to layer up just so it make it look like we’re doing something good or you know, it makes it look good to other people like, look how much I’m accomplishing all of that’s out the window. And we’re just, we’re down to the most basic needs of our, of human beings of our students and stuff. And that’s sort of been exciting. It’s so terrifying, but so exciting to have the opportunity to do that because I think it’s a gift to have that opportunity. And it’s gonna change the game from here on out. It’s gonna change how we do things going forward. It’s given us an opportunity to stop retreat, reflect and kind of come back stronger. And that’s, what’s giving me hope, knowing that we we’re learning a lot right now, we’re gonna learn a lot about ourselves, our communities, and how to do things better. And that’s exciting. That’s

Sam Demma (10:01):
Exciting. Yeah. That’s what you just explained is how I’ve even felt during this time, because I made the rash decision before even watching the social develop. I meant to take a year off social media and it’s been over a month and a half now. And that to me was the whole like, Hey, look what I’m doing. And Hey, let’s, you know, keep in touch and Hey, check out my life and there’s positives and negatives to social media. But, but you’re totally right in terms of, you know, the state of education right now, it’s, it’s going back to those basic needs. How are you reinforcing those things? Are you make, are you just ensuring students are getting enough rest by encouraging them to or what does that look like for you as a, as a teacher and an educator?

Paola Di Fonzo (10:44):
Yeah. So in a very PR I, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my time. At least in the first few months of transitioning back to school, it it’s looks very different. It’s not transitioning back to what we know school to be. It’s, it’s a totally different world, but I knew that I didn’t wanna do anything that would just be for the sake of doing them. Like I don’t operate like that. Right. nothing showy and nothing, you know, I just wanted to make sure I was caring for the person at the most basic level. And so what it’s and I’ll explain maybe one of the, the things we’re are trying to do around here, but I’ve developed something called tee time and meditation on the field. Mm-Hmm so classes sign up one class at a time and I do two slots a day in the morning.

Paola Di Fonzo (11:28):
And because they’re only here for a couple hours in the morning, right. Our students, and we go outside and we sit on the field, they’re six feet apart. So it’s a mask break. And I have, I have cookies with, for them. And we chill under the sun and we do some breathing exercises, some meditation, some stretching, and like, that’s it. And like, that’s just upping our self care game. And that’s really the, the extent of my connection with the students. But by the end of that hour together, they are just so relaxed. Some of them are asleep, which is like, I give them that permission. I’m like, I’m not gonna get offended, listen to your body. And mind here, allow yourself to just rest. And that has been so great, so fruitful, but we’re getting back to, to the basics, right. They just need time to check in with some deeper parts of them that maybe they don’t have the opportunity to, or even know how to, without some guidance. So those tee times have been a gift for, for me, for sure. And I hope for the students and staff and we’ve been doing that pretty much every day since mid-September, it’s

Sam Demma (12:30):
Been good. You must feel like a monk by now two hours a,

Paola Di Fonzo (12:33):
Well, that’s what someone says to me. They’re like, wow, you get to meditate for two hours every morning. And I’m like, you know what? I’m not really meditating. Like I’m guiding them in it. So I’m so like, okay, what’s next? And I’m in my head. So I’m really not relaxed when I do it. But but I hope they are. That’s the whole point.

Sam Demma (12:49):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. Is there any common questions that come up that you use as prompts to have them reflect during that stuff?

Paola Di Fonzo (12:57):
Great question. It the whole time is really just them listening to their bodies and their minds. So I say to them, I always give them this. Disclaimer. I say, no matter what I demonstrate up here, whether it’s a type of breathing exercise or it’s a stretch that we’re doing, or, you know, I encourage you to lie down for the meditate, no matter what I demonstrate or model at the front of the space, if your body or your mind is saying, I’m not into that today, I don’t really want to, or I don’t feel comfortable or it hurts, listen to your body and give yourself the freedom to adjust, modify, or sit that one out and, and give yourself what you need. And that’s really, the only prompt for the morning is I just want you to learn to listen to yourself. And that’s not just for that hour.

Paola Di Fonzo (13:38):
It’s hopefully a skill that you take with you for the rest of your life. Like, I’m learning that I’m getting to the end of my twenties now, but like spend a lot of time listening to so many other things. So many other voices, so many other opinions, so many other, you know, expectations and, you know, social media is a whole other thing, but we don’t listen to what we need sometimes. Right. And so that’s really what I, I ground the whole exercise in learn to listen to yourself. Do you need to practice this breathing? Probably like, we, we all need some deep breaths every so often, but give yourself what you need. And I think that’s, I think that’s the message that we need right now as we transition back to school and figure it all out. Yeah.

Sam Demma (14:22):
So true. And sometimes an educator just needs a reminder that the work they’re doing is really important and it has a huge impact. It makes a huge difference. A lot of the educators that I’ve spoken to tell me that they have a file on their desk, they call it different name, but sometimes it’s called the bad day file. And it’s filled with all the notes that students sent them over the years or have written to them. And I’m curious to know, if you have a story of a student who has you have witnessed become, you know, become transformed into a, into a better version of themselves and maybe had a big breakthrough through school because of the work that you do and that your school does. And the reason I’m asking you to share is because another educator might be listening is a little burnt out, is forgetting why they got into education. and the impact you have, you can have in this, in this, in this work is tremendous. And you can change the student’s name if it’s a very personal story. But when I ask you that, is there any student or story that comes to mind?

Paola Di Fonzo (15:26):
There’s there’s names bouncing around in my head. But I’ll say this one thing about the work we do as chaplains and educators, and is we plant a lot of seeds. Mm. And sometimes we don’t get to see the fruit. Mm. Right. And so, like, I’m sure maybe some educators out there are like, I can’t even think of a name of a person who I’ve seen change because of my influence. And that can be so disheartening and you lose motivation, you lose hope. But something I was always told in this role was you just plant the seed. Right. And that might bloom in an hour, a day, five years three decades, who knows. Right. But it doesn’t mean that your impact wasn’t wasn’t relevant, wasn’t important. You plant the seeds and, and it’ll be watered, you know, and, and you might not see the fruits of it, but it doesn’t mean that you’re, that you’re any less effective as an educator, as a chaplain.

Paola Di Fonzo (16:30):
So that’s something I hold onto. Like, can you a specific example of students who, you know, their lives are transformed cuz of my influence? I don’t know. Like, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t even think that way sometimes. Like I don’t, I just hope that God’s doing something in their heart. Right. And I’m just here going, God loves you, you know? Right. In my role as chaplain, it’s very faith focused. So I just, I just plant that seed and I hope that it’s being watered down the road, but I love that. That’s that’s I think how I would respond to that.

Sam Demma (16:59):
Okay, cool. I love that. That’s a great, that’s a great way to look at it. And planting the seed is just as important as re you know, sewing the fruit. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. So I think that’s a brilliant way to look at it. Amazing. And if there’s an educator listening, who’s in their first year of teaching and they’re like, what the heck did I sign up for? This is very different than what I expected it to be. You know, what advice would you have for them? Think back to when you just got into teaching what advice do you wish you had someone tell you, or maybe they did tell you it and you think it’d be wise to share it with someone listening. Who’s also getting into this role,

Paola Di Fonzo (17:36):
Give it time, give it time. Like in the first I’m still so new at this. So I like, I feel kind of silly giving, sharing some wisdom, but if there was anything, like if there is anything I could have heard in the first few years of this kind of work, it’s, it’s gonna feel like a whirlwind of emotion and chaos in the beginning, and you’re gonna be so busy and tired and maybe unmotivated. Can you hear that? That’s okay. It’s okay. Oh, they’re even calling me. Perfect. So , we’ll wrap up here. Iming. No problem. No, it’s no, it’s not a big deal. I think it could be easy to quit the game because you’re so tired and you’re like, I don’t want this. I didn’t sign up for being this overworked and maybe feeling unmotivated because you’re not again, seeing those fruits from the seeds that you’re planting.

Paola Di Fonzo (18:35):
And it could be really easy to walk away, but over the years, as you, you know, you grow and you, you develop as a person. And as an educator and as a chaplain and whatever it is it gets easier and you start to maybe see those fruits and to just trust that you have gifts to offer, like we all do. Every single person on this planet is put here for a reason. And we have something to offer the world. It’s just discovering what that is. What are our gifts? What are our desires and how can we give that to the world? And we all, we all have that purpose. So that’s what I would say.

Sam Demma (19:09):
And if there’s, someone who wants to reach out and bounce ideas around or have a conversation, like I mentioned earlier, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch with you?

Paola Di Fonzo (19:18):
They can certainly reach out through my board email. Okay. So I don’t know if you wanna put that into the description or anything, but it’s paola.fraietta@dcdsb.ca.

Sam Demma (19:32):
All right. Perfect, Paola, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show here and chat. I really appreciate it.

Paola Di Fonzo (19:37):
Thanks Sam. It was my pleasure.

Sam Demma (19:39):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paola Di Fonzo

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.

Brian Dunn – Chaplain at St. Francis Xaiver C.S.S

Brian Dunn - Chaplain at St. Francis Xaiver C.S.S
About Brian Dunn

Brian Dunn has been a Chaplaincy Leader for the Halton Catholic District School Board for 16 years and currently serves at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Secondary School in Milton. As a proud graduate of St. Michael’s College (University of Toronto) Master of Catholic Leadership degree, he continues his passion and vision of Catholic Leadership within his school community by coordinating retreats and the student government, The Knights Council, that encourages all students and staff to get involved in leadership.

Brian provides opportunities for his staff and students to become leaders that reflect the call of Jesus in the Gospel to become Students of Service (S.O.S.) ‘to accept, include and serve with love’ by presenting a Catholic worldview that encourages them to see the world through the eyes of faith. “

“In our S.O.S. Knights Council it is imperative that all students and staff work as equal partners with our Best Buddies, Safe Schools, Media/Tech Crew, Grade Reps, Social Justice and HCDSB Student Senators making our priority to hear the voices of those who are the most vulnerable in our school and the local community.”

Brian also hosts a morning broadcast on Youtube to pray for the needs of our school community, the world and to share school initiatives.

Brian’s passion for music, both secular and religious can be heard as he entertains with his band Descendants of Dunn.

As well, Brian also enjoys his solo performances where he will even write a song – Singing Telegram – for any special occasion to celebrate! He is the proud father of two boys Jacob and Jamie and has been married to his wife Carey for 16 years. Brian lives by the family motto passed down from his father ‘keep the faith, and a sense of humour and God will look after the rest.’

Connect with Brian: Email | Instagram | Linkedin |

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Masters of Catholic Leadership degree

Brian’s morning broadcast

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Secondary School

Stream Yard Software

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 back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is my good friend and Chaplin Brian Dunn. I had the pleasure of working with him in September at his school St. Francis of Xavier to do the opening keynote speech for his grade nines. It was phenomenal. And he is someone I look up to. He is someone who is always looking for new ways to engage and impact his students. You can even see it on this episode as he plays in music during the intro and outro, but I’m not gonna ruin it for you. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this episode. Make sure you take notes and reach out to Brian. He’s a wonderful human being. I’ll see you on the other side, Brian, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. It is an absolute pleasure to have you on here. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the work you do with young people today?

Brian Dunn (00:50):
Well, Sam, I gotta tell you before we begin, I, I have to say one of the ways I got involved with young people was through what I’m about to do right now. And it goes like this. I got a smile on my face. Now I got four walls around me. I got the sun in the sky, all the waters around me. Oh, you know? Yeah. I went down. Sometimes I lose. I’ve been better, but I’ll never bruise. It’s not so bad. And I say, wait, Hey, Hey, it’s just an ordinary day. And it’s all your stay at the end of the day. You just have to say it’s alright. Cause I got a smile on my face and I got four walls around me.

Sam Demma (02:00):
Ooh, everyone. Please give Brian a huge round of applause from your cars all around wherever you’re sitting, wherever you’re listening. that’s awesome. Brian, how to say

Brian Dunn (02:12):
That Anthem for me. I started when I started in ministry I worked for the the CYO, the Catholic youth organization in Hamilton. And that song just come out by great big sea. And I was looking for sort of like an inspirational something to help me keep perspective. And a friend of mine said, you know what? This is like, this is a great song. And then we learned it and I’ve sort of used it as my Anthem. Since that day to get involved with young people the power of music with young is everything. It’s, it’s just, it’s incredible and not only for them, but for for me to be able to develop a relationship in terms of, you know, journeying with them through, through music and through motivation. And sometimes it gives us words that we cannot say.

Brian Dunn (03:01):
So in, in that song, you know, obviously it’s just these ordinary days and it it’s similar to what you’ve talked to our students about already Sam and the small actions small, consistent actions. It’s like in these every ordinary days. How do we, how do we go? And especially in COVID all these times every day, it’s like, oh my gosh, goodbye for these kids sitting there looking at they got the mass on and they’re, you know, just told just sort of scared to, to even move or answer a question or, or do whatever. But we have to say, all right, in this ordinariness in sort of things that it feels like everything’s happening, you know just mundane. How do we make these ordinary days extraordinary? And I think music is a key obviously moving forward with with all the different things that are happening in the world, we need to step out of our comfort zones to help others.

Brian Dunn (04:03):
And music is a, is a great way to do that. So yeah. So I’m really excited to be here you know, share a little bit of maybe some of the stuff that I’ve done at this school. This has been, this has been my this is the school St. Francis savior, Catholic secondary. We just renamed our school. We were Jean Banay for the first six years. So we’re in the process of reestablishing and redefining who we are as a school community. Mm-Hmm and it’s not changing what it was. It’s just reminding people, the foundation of who we are and the foundation that we are truly built on faith and the action, faith and action, basically in our motto. That’s awesome. So, yeah, so I don’t know. I don’t know how I’ll let you, do you want me to continue on with that topic or I don’t know. What are you feeling today?

Sam Demma (05:00):
Yeah, I mean, I wanna to know, I’m curious to know at what point in your journey as a teacher or as a, as a person, did you decide ministry is the thing for me and I wanna play music. And was there defining moments or, you know, another educator in your life who pushed you down that path? I’m, I’m curious to know more.

Brian Dunn (05:18):
Yeah, I mean, for me everything starts with family. You know, we growing up I grew up in Anne caster, Ontario, and my parents were very involved in St. Anne’s parish in Anne caster. And we were always our house was always sort of the hub of I, I I’m the youngest of seven. So being the baby, I had all these brothers and sisters that would bring home their girlfriends and boyfriend. And I sometimes didn’t know who my parents were all the time at . But it was a house that we really celebrated. So every weekend we would, you know, make sure that we had the priest over and celebrate. And faith to us was inter interlock with music and family mm-hmm . So faith, music, and family was like a big deal for us.

Brian Dunn (06:07):
So I, I kind of grew up that way. And so when, you know, starting to think about what I wanted to do for my life I always had positive role models in faith. That surrounded me always encouragement from my parish priests at my at my parish my parents many people would come to me like take time out and say, you know what? We started a youth group at our church and, and then people would say, you know what, you’re doing a, you’re doing a great job. This is, you know, you were always validated by others that when you stepped outta your comfort zone, people were like, yeah, man, like you’re doing a good job. Keep going. And people don’t realize the impact that, that has, especially on a young person that’s, you know, in a, in an age where, you know, probably having faith was not the coolest thing.

Brian Dunn (06:58):
You know, in terms of being popular, but it was important that the people you looked up to said, good job. You know, just those little words of encouragement helped. So after starting a youth group called a generation acts, you know what I invited all of my friends, I invited, I knew people that didn’t believe in God, people that were whatever they’re big smokers, whatever, like a, anybody, I was just like, guys, come out to this youth group. Like, you know, we don’t have to, you don’t have to talk about too much, but this is, you know, we would like to try to do some stuff for my church and do some volunteer, work in the community and make sure that we’re serving and helping others. And you know, what, we had ended up getting good 15 for 20 my friends together. And, and just starting, just starting to say, you know what, church begins with us.

Brian Dunn (07:44):
It begins with, it begins with who we are as leaders, and you can’t rely on other people to say, oh, come up with this idea or this idea, you know what, just come up with the idea and do it. I know you have done that too at the, you know, a lot of the things that you’ve done, Sam and you know, mean starting with the, the whole picking up trash thing. And, you know, it’s, it’s gotta be something that idea is started, but it’s also someone did someone tell you that you were doing a good job? That was a teacher? My parents. Exactly. Yeah. Like those supports that were, that were there. So from there again, like God opens doors, you Don know another person said, you know what? You would be good in chaplaincy. I didn’t even know didn’t I had one at my, at my school, but he was a brother.

Brian Dunn (08:28):
Like he was an ordained sort of ordained brother. And I’m like, you know, what am I, I, I’m just sort of like a, just like a regular guy. Well, how could I be a chaplain? And as I learned that the fact that we can to actually take courses and similar and get fully trained and educated as a chaplaincy leader and ended up getting my masters in Catholic leadership, which was something I’m that degree that master’s program was just sort of being developed as I was taking it. Nice. And, you know, it’s just, God opens doors, but you gotta take the steps. Right. Mm-hmm and the people encouraging you along the way. Just so, so important. I think also working when I worked at the sea, I O I was involved with world youth days. Okay. And world youth day, 2002 was in Toronto.

Brian Dunn (09:20):
And we played a major role in hosting people from different countries and seeing the church alive in so many ways. In Toronto, we had, we hosted pro a couple hundred people from around the world, in our diocese and the Hamilton diocese. And we were in charge of different locations and different things. So it was cool to see faith alive in those people and know that our church is universal. So other people, you know, other leaders from around the world really it’s that, that gathering. And then 2005 was Germany. We actually went to Germany, brought a delegation from Hamilton and again, an amazing when you’re being hosted across the world, you know and, and you still feel connected as a sort of that as a church, as young people who are, who are being motivated to serve our Lord.

Brian Dunn (10:12):
It’s, it’s amazing, amazing again, D people along the way, saying you’re doing a good job, you’re going the right way. Things, you know, and also your prayer life. It’s like, okay, God’s giving you those opening doors through people. And that led me to into chaplaincy where I was asked of a, fill a role for for Halton through my involvement with worldview. They saw a lot of the things that, you know, we were able to establish leadership that way, and they liked that vision. And 17 years later, I’m here at St. Francis Xavier secondary school. That’s awesome. So that’s a, yeah, it’s pretty, pretty amazing along the way.

Sam Demma (10:53):
But yeah, that’s awesome. Brian, during these times, and they’re challenging times for everyone in education, how do we continue to encourage kids and give them that tap on the shoulder? You, you mentioned earlier about, you know, trying to integrate creative ideas right now in the schools. Is there anything that’s worked out that’s been a great success or that you’ve realized maybe you we’ve shipped away the you fat and realize what’s most important about school and what’s most important about building relationships? What are some realizations or challenges you’ve you come across due to COVID?

Brian Dunn (11:28):
I think, you know, what, the challenges that we all face we have to make sure that our students know that we’re facing them as well. Don’t gloss over things and say, you know, oh, you know, well, this is, this is working so good. And, you know, it’s making me feel good. And the kids are like, what the, you know I mean, I have a son that’s in grade nine now. I’ve worked all my life, so that to build young Catholic leaders, to give opportunities for kids. And then my kid gets to grade nine and he can’t do anything. It’s like, Ugh. So it’s like, man, come on God. Like, this is, this was, I was so excited. You know, he was involved in elementary, but I’m saying, okay, so this is a challenge. This is something we are facing and we’re sort of facing together.

Brian Dunn (12:16):
But we’re going through it together. And we’re saying, listen, one day at a time, we’re gonna face this, but how can we use this as an opportunity? So I had my son come in and he was doing some filming. So we did some filming at the school for our mentees. We have a great mentorship program here at St. Francis Xavier, where the grade elevens are mentoring the grade nines. So I got ’em to come in and, and play a grade nine student asking questions, who to go to in the school. And we decided to come together to make a YouTube channel for our school, which is on our website. So we invite anybody to go to St. Xavier, Milton website and check out our YouTube channel. Right now it’s called the Knights council report where we’re reporting on all the school events.

Brian Dunn (13:05):
So it’s kind of cool, but again, what are ways, what are opportunities? What things can we do? And obviously you media, just like you’re doing Sam is the most important thing that we can do to get students involved. Whether they’re in cohort, a cohort B or cohort C everybody tunes in at 8:20 every morning for the night’s council report, where we do our morning prayer, we pray for people in our school community, especially those who are struggling or have just lost, loved ones, but we also celebrate the same of the day. And we pray as a school community. And then we move on to our Knight’s council report, where we talking about how we live out that faith through the different activities in our school. So, you know, using media is, is a big deal, but I think working together, like I know I have the opportunity to work with my son, but now we have a team of tons of students from each of those cohorts.

Brian Dunn (14:09):
So maybe not tons. So we have about, you know, 10:10 every morning that come in to run a report, they’re socially distanced. Everybody comes in, you know, do the things that they have to do, but sees the opportunity to put on a great show every morning. And so if, if there are leaders out there that want to know a little bit more about what it is to put on a show like that, I’d be happy to happy to, to help I’m learning as well. We, we fortunately have a great teacher here. Who’s running the I C T Chi. Who’s also involved with our Knight’s council. And he is helping sort of set up all this technical stuff as well. So again, you have that adult in your life that can help you through it, but the students you know, is providing opportunities for them to step out of their comfort zone, to to come up with something new.

Sam Demma (15:01):
That’s amazing. And because we’re listening audio and you’re listening audio, you obviously don’t see Brian, but he has a professional microphone set up in front of him and he was playing his guitar for, and I promise you, he taught me a couple things about tech and I’m 21 years old.

Brian Dunn (15:16):
There’s, I’m a little older than 21. We won’t mention. Yeah.

Sam Demma (15:22):
But maybe you can outline very, basically the pieces of software you used to run that live show because you live, stream it on YouTube and it’s, it’s a pretty cool production. Like, what are the pieces of software involved if someone else was curious? Yeah,

Brian Dunn (15:36):
Well, the technical initially when COVID hit I had to sort of go right from my downstairs and the darkness of my downstairs, because we were all at home, right. It so was like, how are we gonna reach, what the heck are we gonna do here? So I looked around around, and I use stream yard streamy yard as just a basic tool to it’s a free software for that they use. They obviously would want you to pay money if you want to go and keep using it for long periods of time, just like zoom and different things. But stream yard is actually a very good if you just have yourself and you need to get your message out there it’s fairly easy to set up and it is you can actually it has the sort of software loaded into the program already.

Brian Dunn (16:27):
So if you wanted to put your announcements, it will scroll across the bottom or cool. If you want to have your, a, a name tag at the bottom left, it’ll have those as well. So it’s, it’s good for if, you know if you need just a, if you don’t have a team, I’m fortunate. I have a, I have an I C T I have AHI students here and also an awesome nights council that everybody steps up to learn. But if you don’t have that, that would be your go-to. Now the show that we run in the morning, and I’ll have to guide you to to Mr. Kova, who is who’s running, the technical aspects of the show. Just like, you know, any other show, there’s a director, there’s the switcher, there’s the, we have about six screens that are going on and we can now go live on location.

Brian Dunn (17:10):
Like our remembrance day, we’re gonna go live on location and do like, you know maybe we’ll go to the Sanita in Milton and you know, it’s, it’s just, it’s, it’s really cool. It’s like, well, we’re outside, we’re following the rules and we’re doing everything that we can do. So yeah, if you wanted specifics to make up like a huge production then I I’ll, I’ll guide you just you can just email me and I can guide did a to co backs, but if you’re willing to be on camera and you’re willing to just do that, I would refer you to streamy yard just to to do basic streaming. And then the actual YouTube channel in itself is through your Gmail. If you have a Gmail account, just make one and then just go right through your YouTube, your own YouTube account.

Sam Demma (17:58):
That’s awesome. There’s a lot of educators listening as well, who, you know, are hesitant to do events this year. You know, it’s very confusing. You don’t, they don’t, we don’t know what’s going on. Here’s someone who’s put on an event. I was lucky enough and UN honored to speak at it. What would you say to other schools and other educators who think that, you know, we shouldn’t do any events this year, do you think it was a positive experience for your students? Should, should schools still strive to do some sort of events? What are your thoughts and opinions on that?

Brian Dunn (18:27):
Oh my goodness. Well, I think it starts, yeah, I, I think, oh my goodness. I can’t believe this. Oh my goodness. Yes, of course you should be putting on events. It’s, you know, we we’ve built and I know everyone else feels frustrated. I think in terms of you’ve built up all these events, especially schools that have been around forever traditions and, and you know, we’ve always focused on liturgical year for us chaplains and certain things that we’ve sort of built up. And there’s certain expectations to come to school and say, Nope, sorry, like we’re, you know, we, we, we can’t do anything, you know, everything shut down. That’s, that’s just wrong. It’s just, how do we adapt? Are we, how are we people that adapt? And as people of faith we, we have always been taught to adapt to the signs of the times.

Brian Dunn (19:19):
That’s our call. As Christians as Catholics. We, we look at the signs of the times and react. He’s like Jesus did when he was around. And the answers are not always with us. Actually, the answers are never really with us. They come through the holy spirit, working through our students, our staff, using the gifts and talents of our students and staff and our administration and, and coming together as a team to say, how are we going to face this together? As a school community if people are working in silos, it never works. But once we sort of extend it and say, okay, listen, we’re gonna do a show. It’s gonna concentrate on everything that the school is doing. It’s gonna focus on us coming together, but also there’s gonna be a virtual conference coming up and we’re going to, to have different speakers and Sam’s gonna be one of our speakers.

Brian Dunn (20:15):
And Mr. Dunn’s gonna be one of our speakers, and we’re gonna pull in a graduate student that’s sitting in you know, doing the same thing from home because they can’t go to to their university that they’re in. And we’re also gonna call in another Catholic leader in the community to see how they’re, you know, facing it. And we’ll, we’re just gonna have a, a short question answer, period. And you know, there, if, if you dare to dream, it, it can happen. It’s just getting those people in place that can help it move forward. So don’t stop, don’t stop believe don’t stop believing that it can happen. Right. I think people are too quick to say, ah, I can never, we are, are you really, are you serious? And, and that’s where we say Uhuh, like the holy spirit is bigger than anything that we can ever do. So that’s when we sit and whether whatever way we pray, whatever way we gotta figure out our vision and purpose, we say, God, if it is your will, it will happen. And please bring the people to me that we need. And if it’s not your will it, ain’t gonna, it’s not gonna happen. This isn’t gonna happen. That’s okay. And then you move to the next thing and, you know, we, listen, you see the spirit working and yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing.

Sam Demma (21:31):
And what has been the student response to the events you guys have put on so far? Because I know like one big worries that the students aren’t gonna get as much out of it, have the students expressed interest that they like it. They want to keep doing stuff like that, or have they, have they said, you know, was good, but we don’t really wanna do again. well,

Brian Dunn (21:48):
The, from the mentorship the being mentors right now, it’s really important because they are connecting with the grade nines and any type of motivation that they can get. That’s targeting a specific group of people doing a specific purpose. Of course. I think for the mentors, you know, hearing your talk, hearing a little bit of leadership from the Knight’s council report having a mentorship minute where now that’s a part of the show right now our Knight’s council report where they they’re doing a mentorship minute, how can we help our grade nine? So they’re gonna do tips. They’re gonna do you know, just maybe some body mind and spirit things to help them, you know, just to know that we there’s someone that cares about you in our community. And, and that’s important as well. So yeah, I think they are wanting it.

Brian Dunn (22:44):
I’ve had many requests for the students to become hosts on the show. Everybody wants to be a . Everybody wants to be a stop yeah, no, but which is okay, which is good. I mean, it’s like, you wanna be, so we have so if you’re trying to organize, now, who’s gonna host the show and if you’re gonna have the joke of the day and you know, what do you bring? Like, you know, it’s like the church, what do you bring to the table? And you are called, we’re all called to the table table of the Lord. So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s what gifts and talents do you bring as, as followers of Christ? So, yeah, it’s and even if you’re, and even in our school, it’s in particular, we’re very multicultural multi-faced school. So in whatever way that you follow that call from God that personal, all that you have, am I giving you that opportunity to do it? And I think within our school’s foundation to accept, to include and to serve, we, we do that. We, we provide an opportunity for every student to be a student of service with love, and that’s their talent. Yeah. If that’s their talent, then Hey, come on in. Yeah, come on in or sign up for one of our six different, you know, subgroups that we have that you have interest in. And they all have to do with serving either our community in school or outside community.

Sam Demma (24:02):
Amazing. No, I love that so much. That’s, that’s great. You know, it, it’s good to just spread awareness and let everyone know, you know, this stuff is still possible. You might have to just get really creative this year. You might fall on your face a few times, throw speed against the wall. And some of it not stick.

Brian Dunn (24:16):
But oh yeah. Oh, it it’s been, yeah. The, this morning it was chaotic, you know, things don’t work, you have to put up the, they have a technical difficult screen or whatever, you know, like it’s just like, we, we all wish we could throw that screen up when we’re making our three mistakes per day, I think isn’t it three mistakes per day. You’re supposed to make. I’m pretty sure something like that. I make way more than that. That’s for sure. Yeah. But no, it’s, it’s amazing to feel part of a team. Again, it’s a team aspect and people coming together for a common purpose that we’re missing in this, you know, it’s, you know, every day we sort of are hearing these down things about pandemic and how we’re not doing things and not doing things. It’s like, all right, stop. We’ll cut the things we’re not doing, but we will do all, all offense, I think all offense and no defense that, so that was what Mr. Mr. Kovas who’s running the Knights council report. He said, we’re doing all offense and no defense. So that’s pretty cool.

Sam Demma (25:14):
I love that. And if there’s other, you know, there are other educators listening who right now might be feeling a little bit burnt out. And I would say one, this has been a great interview. No one has actually sang live before. So they better be feeling better just because of your music . And in the case that they’re still a little burnt out. If you could, you know, take the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the past 18 or 17 years teaching in this, in this work, in this calling what pieces of advice, knowing what, you know now could you give to other educators who are, you know, willing right now? I just need some words of advice from her friend.

Brian Dunn (25:50):
I would say like exactly what my, my dad has always, and my family’s always taught me. Mm. Is truly to keep the faith and a sense of humor. And God will look after the rest and for all of the us his seven children and all, I have 27 nieces and nephews from all my brothers and sisters and stuff. Oh. We’ve always said that keeping the faith in a sense of humor, no matter what’s going on in the world is important. So to be able to laugh every day, find things that that make you laugh. And usually it comes from humility and being able to laugh at yourself. yeah, because honestly it is that it’s so freeing to be able to think you don’t have the answers. I don’t have the answers in my job as chaplain. I, I deal with a lot of sad things.

Brian Dunn (26:48):
A lot of the time in terms of bereavement or different things that we’re praying for in our community and counseling kids are not necessarily sort of pastoral counseling for kids that are going through stuff and working together. Sometimes in that we, you have to have a perspective of faith and a sense of humor and give those things over to God that we can’t handle. Hmm. We, this virus, we can’t handle it. You know, we, we, we have to just do what we’re told, but we can give our frustrations. We can give all of those things that are making us unhappy over to God. And that’s the, the victory of the cross is the fact that we don’t have to deal with it. God has conquered fear. God has conquered death. We are good. He’s already fought that fight. Our job is to let the holy spirit work through us now so that we can bring that hope to others.

Brian Dunn (27:40):
And unless we have the hope, we are not giving it to others. So we pray every day for that hope. I pray every day that the spirit can work through me and work through everyone that I touch. Every day in terms of Knight’s council report, what’s going out our, our, our, our Knight’s council and itself. And just coming up with ideas that will hopefully resonate with our students here at StFX and the staff as well in supporting them. So, yeah. Oh, look, someone’s calling right now. I love that. that’s OK. That’s awesome. Maybe it’s God calling maybe it’s God calling you.

Sam Demma (28:21):
If, if an educator listening wants to reach out, just have a conversation with you, bounce ideas around, share some hopeful energy, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Brian Dunn (28:31):
I would love to hear from anyone. Yeah. . I’d love to hear from anyone, especially the person that’s calling me on the phone right now. they really want to talk to me. It’s like the 12th ring. Yeah, if you could just, you could email me I work for the Halton catholic district school board, and I think it’s dunnb@hcdsb.org. It’s probably the best way. That’s my work email and it’s St. Francis Xavier school in Milton. So we also on our website just check that out. And you can also check out the Knight’s council report, which is on there as well. If you are looking for some ideas and I’d be happy to help anybody that was thinking of just doing something a little different and we can also brainstorm, I’m sure you could teach me a few things as well.

Sam Demma (29:16):
Cool. And I’m gonna put you on the spot here. Do you wanna close this off of the song? Yes, I do. All right, let’s go for it

Brian Dunn (29:25):
Now, this song I’m just gonna end with I picked ordinary day at the beginning, but I don’t know how much time we have or whatever, but this song is it’s brought me through a really cool journey. A journey of faith. I talked a little bit about, you know, what called me to serve others but also throughout my life when I was a lot younger, I was, I was sick with Crohn’s disease and went through many surgeries, many surgeries that sort of built up sort of my physical and spiritual life after that. So this was a song that we sang all the way through it that sort of helped keep perspective. So it goes like this, Laughing, all that easy. I can testify too. There it’s been up and down and round and round to get to where I’m at. You could see how I live in this old car ride drive. Well, you probably wonder and even wonder why even wanna stay alive, but gimme one more shot. I’ll give it all. I got, let me open my eyes to a new sunrise upbringing. Give me one more chance. I’ll learn the day dance hum is five to be alive. Gimme one more day.

Brian Dunn (31:08):
There’s a little verse of it. That’s by Alabama. And the whole song goes on to continue to say, Hey, we all get one more shot every day we wake up. And when we have the grace of God with us, we act with, for faith and love and sense of humor. Keep the faith in a sense of humor. What else can we do? That’s it. We gotta keep moving and hopefully, hopefully been a little bit of inspiration to your listeners and feel free to, yeah. Feel free to contact me at any time.

Sam Demma (31:38):
Brian, thanks so much for coming on the show, playing some music, sharing some stories. It’s been a great conversation. I really appreciate it. Okay. This is crazy. We’re coming back on for one quick second, because we figured out why Brian’s phone was ringing 12 times during the episode. And I wanted him to share real quick.

Brian Dunn (31:54):
Okay. So here, like here’s me thinking I’m really super important. Eh, it’s ah, you know, it’s like the backbones go on. I’m gonna have to go do something. And then I’m like, okay, we’ll just let it go. And then our amazing custodial staff come over because last week I had mentioned, I don’t even know what did I say? I think it was something like, oh, it’d be great if you know I don’t know, I got a coffee, whatever. I, I was hard being sarcastic. Of course they were listening to me and after, and they, they call me down and they had this, beautiful Starbucks coffee that’s right in front of me. That was just a, just a, just a little thing that totally just made my day after babbling on for, for Sam’s podcast. But you know what amazing. It’s just amazing. When people just are stepping out of their comfort zone, just helping, helping their, their, their chaplain here. But we have such a great community and I’m just so so blessed and you know what? The coffee doesn’t hurt either. Man, this is amazing. Amazing. Thank you guys. I love you. Love you guys.

Sam Demma (33:00):
Cool. And there you have it. The full interview with my good friend, Brian Dunn, if you didn’t take anything away from this episode, I hope you at least enjoyed the music during the intro and the outro. He’s a very talented person. If you wanna reach out, please do. He’d love to hear from you. And as always, if you’re learning something from the these episodes and you’re loving the content, please consider leaving a rating and review so that more high performing educators, just like you find this show and can benefit from it. And if you yourself have inspiring ideas or insightful stories that you’d like to share, shoot us an email at info@samdemma.com and we’ll get you on the show anyways. I’ll see you on the next episode talk soon. Okay.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melissa Wright

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.

Angelo Minardi – High Energy Educator, Chaplain and Student Council Advisor

Angelo Minardi - High Energy Educator, Student Council Advisor
About Angelo Minardi

Angelo Minardi (@AmbrozicChap) is a chaplain at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School. He is a Husband, Father, Educator, Sports junkie and passionate about his faith and catholic education. Angelo is also a High Energy Educator and Student Council Advisor.

Angelo is one of the most kind-hearted and purpose-driven educators you’ll ever meet. His high energy is infectious, and his ideas are actionable. He also currently serves as a Chaplaincy Leader at the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board.

Connect with Angelo: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School

Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board

St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School

Angelo Minardi Youtube Channel

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 back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today we have another friend and guest from education on the show. His name is Angelo Minardi and fun fact, his wife actually worked at the school at which I graduated from Saint Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. So it’s a very small world, as I’m sure you already know, as you make more friends and colleagues in this industry, Angelo was a chaplain at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic secondary school. He is a husband, father, educator, sports junkie, and very passionate about his faith and public education. Angela was one of the most kindhearted and purpose-driven educators you’ll ever meet. And I hope you do meet him. Please reach out to him after this episode, he’d be more than happy to connect with you. His high energy is infectious as I’m sure you’ll find out and his ideas very actionable. Let’s get into this episode right now with a good friend Angelo Minardi I’ll see you on the other side, Angela. Thank you so much for coming on to the high-performing educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to see you. I know we talked earlier in the summer and we’re connecting again and hopefully again, in the future what got you into the work that you do with the youth today and how are you doing

Angelo Minardi (01:17):
Right? Good. Well, first of all, thanks so much Sam for having me on. And it’s exciting, especially knowing that you are, you’re a product of St. Mary’s in Pickering. I have a lot of friends there. My wife works there so exciting to be on with you look you know, young people in terms of my work with them and, and why I I got myself involved with young people. My studies were in sociology and history when I left the university of Toronto. And then I was working at the bank of Montreal right after, but very quickly I found out that I wasn’t really using my gifts. You know, I had the many other gifts and I, and I thought, you know, how do I begin to explore for this? And it was just in conversations with my local pastor and conversation with some friends in conversations with my girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife Katia where, you know, they people said, Hey, listen, we see a gift in you.

Angelo Minardi (02:05):
You have a lot of enthusiasm and joy and you seem to be great around young people. Have you thought about working with young people and that’s kind of where it started really, that’s where it was planted. And I remember when world youth, they was in Toronto, it’s a big celebration of young people across the Catholic church. And I attended it. And I remember meeting people from all across the world, young people from Mexico and Germany and Switzerland and USA all over the place. And I just found myself immersed in this, you know, th th this Nirvana, if you will, you know, this is like amazing place where young people were, you know, together sharing, singing, laughing, and it just kind of kicked off from there. And then I got myself into high school ministry and haven’t looked back ever since

Sam Demma (02:51):
It’s about enthusiasm, it’s definitely a trait that you don’t lack. It’s evident even just talking to you over this. And it’s, it’s funny because the biggest impact that my world issues and religion teacher had on me was the, was the fact that he was passionate. And I want to ask you when you were a young person and you were in school, what are some educators? And if I asked this question, you probably have some names that pop in mind right away, who are some educators that made a huge impact on you. And why? Like, what was the trait or the reason why you still remember them to this day and how do you try and have that same impact on your kids?

Angelo Minardi (03:28):
Very good. Yeah. That’s an excellent question. And you’re right. I think instinctually, you remember right away. So there’s two teachers that come to mind. First teacher was my grade eight teacher. Peter Gane was his name. And he was also my basketball coach and I’m an avid basketball player played right up until the university level. And I remember I was in grade eight and I was kind of one of the better playing guys, but there was something missing that was taken me to the next level. And I remember Mr. Gain would always pull me aside and say, Angela, you have a gift in playing basketball. You need to work on that gift. You need to work harder and you’ll, you’ll have much more success. And really that’s what kind of that mindset changed everything for me, because when I got to high school level suddenly I emerged as one of the better players in, in high school that was playing over at or attending new McNeil high school in Scarborough and was having great success there.

Angelo Minardi (04:20):
And then a coach there was coach day pat day. And I’ll never forget him were same idea. You know, you can do a lot of good stuff here. Have you thought about playing, you know basketball at the varsity level and, and you know, if you do, you’ve got to start thinking ahead. And, but it, wasn’t only the sports, you know, these coaches, the great thing about sports is it unifies, right? It kind of helps build you up as a person, but then it also helps your life improve too. So not only am I becoming a better basketball player, I’m beginning, I’m becoming a better person. Right. And so I finally remember those two coaches. I remember also Mr. Vander Steen, my grade 12 religion teacher, who was so random, but he had enthusiasm and passion that could bury anyone, right? Like he just would never stop with it.

Angelo Minardi (05:05):
And I ran into him at a McDonald’s years ago. He was, we were in a drive-thru and there’s this chaos in front of me, this vehicle in front of me, kids all over the place. And and this car is taking forever to move ahead. Finally, he moves ahead. Well, he recognizes that as me behind him, and he gets out of the car and gives me a big hug. It’s like, how you doing? And so these are kind of the, the, the memories you have the relationships that you’ve formed. And I tell you, my wife’s a teacher, of course, I’m, I’m in high school chaplaincy, but so many great people in education. Right. And, and so many great role models for sure.

Sam Demma (05:40):
No, I love that. And it seems just talking to you and I’m sure an educator listening to this right now probably thinks the same thing. You took the same passion that you saw from your teachers and apply it to your own work now. And it’s, it’s fascinating to me because I think there’s always teachers that we never forget for a very reasons like the ones you shared. And I’m curious to know if through your own enthusiasm and passion, you’ve touched on some young people’s lives. And for the sake of this interview, you don’t have to use their name if you don’t want to. But I’m curious to know if you have a story that you could think of, of a young person who maybe was transformed by some work that you’ve done with them or with the school.

Angelo Minardi (06:18):
Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, there’s a few that come to mind. One in particular of which I’m still in contact with today. So I met her, I met the student when I was at all saints high school in Whitby. I was the chaplain there. And you know, she was struggling. It was a lot of issues at home between mom and dad, mom and dad were thinking of maybe possibly getting divorced. And you know, she would come into my room and just want to chat. You know, I could never resolve the issue for her. There wasn’t anything I could do other than listen. So that was one issue, but she also, academically, she wasn’t, you know, your model, a student, she worked harder than any student, but just couldn’t achieve the grades she needed. She always wanted to be a teacher.

Angelo Minardi (07:02):
And she was always told she couldn’t, and I would work with her, you know, all at pretty much, every, every other day she was in my office working on this. And anyway, she moved on to post-secondary kept applying herself. We had many conversations, good and bad, many tears. Laughter. and she just kept going. And I remember she, she called me, we had drawn apart for a few years. We had stopped communicating and then she contacted me and she basically said, thank you. And I said, for what? Well, just for being there for being present for listening, I said, I didn’t do anything. She goes, no, you don’t understand. She goes, I’m a teacher. I got into teacher’s college. I’m graduating. I’m like what? She goes, yeah, I’m graduate. I’m going to be a teacher. She’s now living in Quebec and she’s teaching in Quebec.

Angelo Minardi (07:48):
And, and again, that’s one of many stories, right? Cause you don’t realize the impact you’re making on lives of people. Not only students, but even people you meet every day. Like the words you say, how you interact, how you respond to them. And the thing about education or even working with people is that you don’t, you don’t know you can’t, it’s not tangible. Sometimes you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. You don’t know the benefit right. To that conversation or to that, that relationship. But there’s an example. And we just spoke the other day. She was telling me how she was very nervous because there were 562 cases of COVID in Quebec and they were shutting down schools and you know, she’s an elementary teacher. She was worried. Right. So yeah. W that’s someone, gosh, I love her. I tell her all the time that, you know, I’m so proud of her and yeah. That’s someone I think of immediately. Yeah, for sure.

Sam Demma (08:40):
It’s amazing. It’s an amazing story. And the reason I wanted you to share was because so many teachers right now are experiencing burnout or facing instrumentable or what seems like instrumentable challenge. Like you mentioned with COVID there’s so many, so many unfortunate things happening in education right now. It’s hard to get a pulse on what we need to do. It’s like, you know, education’s around peg and now the peg hole is a square and nothing’s fitting properly. There’s no rules of the game. Imagine showing up to a basketball game with no raft, there’s no lines. There’s five nets. You’re like, what are we supposed to do here? Right. So many educators feel like that. The story you shared, hopefully brings them some hope and reminds them why they’re doing what they’re doing. So I want to ask you the reverse. What brings you hope? Why do you keep working so hard? Why do you keep inspiring all these young people and, and show up every day, excited with enthusiasm to your job? What motivates you?

Angelo Minardi (09:32):
Listen, man, I, you know, I, every day when I get up, I think, you know, how can I make a difference today? And I really mean that I’m not, it’s not cliche. Like I, I mean, I, you know, I wake up every morning and I’m just grateful, right? That I’m healthy. That, that there’s another day here place before me. And you know, young people inspire me, man. Like, it’s just, I find that young people are not judgmental. You know, young people don’t carry, you know burdens in the sense that that weigh them down when they’re around other people, young people do have hope. They have compassion, they are empathetic. And so when I surround myself with young people, when I see a young person I’m, I’m filled with joy, man, I just want to do more. I want to give them more.

Angelo Minardi (10:15):
How much more can I give? How much more of an example can I be? But I get it from them. Like they’re giving me the energy. They’re giving me the hope, right? It’s not what I’m doing. I don’t do anything. Right. It’s their presence. It’s their ability to answer me. It’s their desire to want to go out in the community with me and do good. You know, at the end of the day, I’m exhausted. I’ll be honest with you sometimes. I think, man, how much more can I do? But this is my 19th year that I’ve been working as a high school chaplain. And I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Right. it’s so life-giving gives me so much hope. So, you know, students give me hope, but even teachers and again, yes, my wife’s a teacher and I’ve been working with teachers for 19 years, but even amidst this whole pandemic, there’s been so much negativity around teachers and what they do.

Angelo Minardi (11:02):
And I can tell you working with teachers for the last 19 years, these are amazing people. Like they are. They’re amazing people. And they give so much to children that are not their own right to young people that are not their own. And I know my wife will be up day and night asking how much more can I give to these kids? And so teachers inspire me, right? The work of an educator inspires me that somehow, who am I to be able to share with someone, my, my gifts or my wisdom, like who am I in the grand scheme of things. And yet for, for young people, they look up to us, right? They want to hear us, they want us around. And so that’s where I find hope. I find hope and enjoy. I find hope in youth. I find hope in, you know, educators people that, that selflessly give Sam, that’s what you’re doing. I see that you’re selflessly giving. And that’s what makes the world always a better place, right? That’s what makes there’s always more good than there is bad in the world. Because of that,

Sam Demma (12:00):
I love it. There’s a book. I was recently reading called how to sell your way through life. And it has nothing to do with sales, but everything to do with developing a very sound and integrity based personality. And one of the traits was get into the habit of doing more work than you’re expected. And there was another habit that was just embodying the golden rule, right? Cheat your neighbor as it can be treated. And, and he said that if this was the basis of all of humanity, almost all of our problems would be solved. And you raise a good point about service. You also mentioned that you’ve been doing this for 19 years. That’s almost as long as I’ve been alive.

Angelo Minardi (12:39):

Sam Demma (12:41):
And I say that not to position you as an older gentleman, but to show your experience, you know, you’ve been doing this a very long time. You’ve been, you’ve been doing this. You’ve, you’ve worked with hundreds of students. You’ve also worked with a, probably a lot of outside different events and partners to bring into a school. And I’m really curious to pick your brain for a second. What do you think is the most important characteristic or trait of an external presenter or speaker that you bring in front of your student audience? If you’re going to share an idea, you know, how do you choose which ones to share?

Angelo Minardi (13:13):
Well, th th that’s a great question because, you know, there’s never a shortage right. Of, of people that we bring in experts, if you will, in a field or whatever, I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of a young person. Right. So if someone shows up in my school and presents to me, you know, what am I, what am I looking for? What do I want to see? You know, I think the first thing I would, I would look for is an authentic person. Right. Then authentic message. What is it that this person wants to communicate? Is it just another item on their agenda or another another group on their, on their list as they rise, you know, in stature, arise in their work? You know, what is the message? And is it authentic? Right. But there also has to be a personal site to, can this person connect with young people and listen, I know many older people than me that are excellent with young people, but it’s because there’s the gift, right.

Angelo Minardi (14:02):
There’s gotta be a gift there. There’s gotta be some connection mate. And so that’s important to me too. Right. So authentic message, you know, is there a personal side where they can connect with these people? You know, ultimately is there a love of, of, of, of the group that they’re speaking to? So when I’m looking for a speaker, you know, do I see from that speaker love to be with young people or a desire to want to help young people become better young people. And so, you know, that’s kinda my approach. Usually, you know, I try to find someone with the same enthusiasm to, if I can, you know, just imagine two of us standing up there. Right. And then the kids are wild now they’re wild. Right. But that’s okay. We got them, we got them. Right. And they’ll listen when you tell them to, but yeah, that’s also important, right. Otherwise there’s no connection Sam. Right. Otherwise we’re just up there talking just like any other person talking. Right. So,

Sam Demma (14:53):
Yeah. I love that. That’s a great point. And right now, unfortunately, it’s tough to bring people in due to COVID you mentioned you’re the girl that you taught is having the same difficulty out in Quebec. I’m really curious to know how you’ve approached school during these times. Have you had any ideas that are generated by you, your staff or your students that have helped increase student morale, increased student engagement during these times? Or what just general tips would you have for other educators to push through during COVID-19?

Angelo Minardi (15:23):
Right. So, you know, I think we, we, we need to begin by, by saying that this is something we’ve never experienced before, right? Like we absolutely have no idea from day to day kind of how to go forward or what, what to do next. That being said you know, I’m always a guy glass half full, right. So I see this as an incredible opportunity to be present. And let me explain that for a second. So usually in a typical high school year as a chaplain, I would be out of the school of three to four days a week, whether it’s leading a retreat meeting with a pastor having to attend the board office for a meeting because of COVID-19. I have actually been in the school every day, since first day since September eight. And so it’s given me this incredible opportunity to be present and presence, meaning my physical presence in the school as the spiritual leader, you know, like being able to visit students just to drop into their class, being able to spend more time with teachers.

Angelo Minardi (16:21):
I’ve never had this much time with teachers in all these years because our students in high school, they usually only come in for a couple of hours. So they’re gone by lunch and I’ve got the rest of the school day with teachers now. Yes, they still have to continue teaching online, but they do have launched. They do have a work period where I can connect with them. So it’s been an incredible opportunity in that time. I also been able to continue meeting with our students online. And so I work with a group of core kids, which is a, a group of identified students from grade 10 to 12 that work with me more closely in chaplaincy. And this group of core kids, we’re about 180 this year. We have weekly check-ins, so we’ve started last week. We continue. We’re continuing again this week where we just check in, how are you doing?

Angelo Minardi (17:09):
What are you hearing in the community? How do we continue to be a caring, inclusive and, and, and compassionate community? And I tell you, Sam, the, the things that these young people are telling us, and I’m talking about 15 and 16 year olds, right. Which the world would say don’t mean anything don’t count, have nothing to contribute. I tell you what this generation, as far as I’m concerned is as more as, as compassionate, as empathetic as a generation. I know I would even say more so than my generation. I know a lot of adults, you know, in my age group you know, that would not have the compassion nearly have the compassion or empathy these young people have. So in terms of, you know how have I approached it or what opportunity has been presented? It’s been presence, presence with, with, with teachers in particular, but it’s been that constant right.

Angelo Minardi (17:58):
Weekly check-ins daily. Check-Ins for some students, you know, we’re here, you know, we love you. We support you, you know, how can we help you? Because that’s the reality, right? We’ve got to accept, what’s been given. And so rather than complaining about it and finding other ways to ignore the issue, or just further isolate ourselves, you know, how do we, how do we kind of continue to build that community and that relationship with, with what’s, with what’s given in terms of the pandemic. So that’s kind of it, I, again, glass half full, right. I always try to be positive. Cause when I’m negative, I always, I always joke around with my own kids at home, but also the kids at school, I say, listen, when minority’s negative, it’s always in the car, on the drive home. Right. So if I need to cry or scream or whatever, I’m by myself in the car. Right. And you know, then I’m, once I’m out of the car, I’m back. Right. I’m I’m ready again. So that’s, that’s pretty much it. Yeah.

Sam Demma (18:51):
I like how you opened it by saying we have to all agree and understand that it’s a new experience. Something we’ve never experienced before. And with that perspective, no idea is a stupid idea because it’s a brand new situation and you just mentioned the positive side of it, as you, as you explained, I’m curious to know if there are any mistakes, you have also seen things that maybe you have been tried and didn’t work out or things that educators have tried, but aren’t really maybe, maybe not the right time to do something. Like what have you seen on the mistakes? I think, and the reason we share this is so someone else can avoid the same thing you can write.

Angelo Minardi (19:27):
And there is, there’s always two sides to a coin, right? And, and you know, sometimes we have to be careful when we talk about what’s not working because if we’re not in the right frame of mind, or if we don’t have the right perspective, we can get trapped in it. But yeah, there’s a lot that hasn’t worked. I can tell you this hybrid model of learning that we’re currently going through, which is, you know, students coming in in the morning for a couple of hours, so they can have some FaceTime with their teachers and then heading home and, and going online the rest of the day, it’s not working because number one, our students tell us it’s not working. Right. And it’s not working because our students come in they’re quickly ushered to their class. They’re not to leave their class unless they need to go to the washroom.

Angelo Minardi (20:11):
And then they’re quickly ushered out. No conversations allowed in the hallways, no contact within two feet in the hallways. And there quickly, I should also the whole social aspect, the whole social piece is gone. And it’s funny, Sam, because here we had, and again, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist and not a psychologist, but here we have, you know, psych lead psychologist from the hospital for sick children at the end of the summer, saying for the old, for the wellbeing of our young people, for their mental health, you know, we need to get them back to school. Why can tell you Sam, not only in my board, but you can see what’s happening in Toronto. We don’t have enough teachers for online. We have more and more students leaving in class and going online because there’s no social piece. And so where does that leave us?

Angelo Minardi (20:58):
You know, so what’s happening is that’s one piece. The other piece is we seem to be isolating ourselves more and more at least isolated in our students. More and more for me, Sam, and this is my own personal opinion. And, and hopefully no one calls me out of this, on the board level, but you know, where, where, you know, where’s the concern of our kids. When have we spoken to our students, we’re talking to ministers of education, we’re talking to politicians, we’re talking to teachers, but what are we talking to our students? Are we asking our students what they need, what they would like to see? We’re not, we’re not, you know, so there’s that. And then at the end, I would just say this whole process, you know, where we’re continually daily, introducing new documents or daily, introducing new approaches, where is it getting us?

Angelo Minardi (21:46):
Like, what is it doing to us? Right. And so again, like I said earlier, I don’t want to, don’t want to sound like I’m kind of trapping myself in this negativity, but let’s Sam, if we’re going to speak clearly. And honestly, then we have to be, you know, we have to be, you know, speak with truth, right. Speak with what we believe. And so I think we’re losing the battle, man. I think we need to maybe just get everyone back online, do our best that way, but find approaches online to have check-ins, to have mental health checks, to have, you know opportunities for kids on a more social level to just hang out in a zoom breakout room and just talk about whatever, you know? So yeah, so I think, I, I think those are some of the mistakes and again, we’ve never been on this path before, right? We’ve never had this journey before. And so maybe looking back in 50, 60, a hundred years, one week, you know, when we’re no longer here, we can leave some stuff behind to say, Hey, if a pandemic happens again, this is what we learned, right?

Sam Demma (22:47):
Yeah. It’s that old, it’s that old proverb that says, when you chase two rabbits, you catch none. And you’re trying to, you’re trying to do this integrated learning with online and in-person, you’re losing it, both of them right now because you’re dividing the attention maybe. And I love the candid approach. I love the honest open truth because that’s what other educators want to hear, including myself and the students. I’m sure if I was in school right now, I would be saying minorities, the best job, whatever, whatever I gotta, I gotta take the consideration of, of their point of views into the bucket of opinions as well. So I love that. You’re considering that Angelo, look, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you briefly today. You know, it’s, it’s already been 30 minutes. That’s crazy. Yeah. Why is it we’re having a good conversation? And if any educator from around the globe listening to this wants to reach out to you, where can they just, you know, email you or

Angelo Minardi (23:42):
Get into the app? Absolutely. So email, just angelo.minardi@dpcdsb.org. I’m on social media as much as I can. So on Instagram @ambrozicchaplaincy on Twitter @ambrozikchap. And recently students have encouraged me to start up a YouTube channel. I’m not, not quite sure how to use that yet. I’ve just got daily prayers on there, but I’m even on YouTube as Cardinal Ambrozic CSS Office of Chaplaincy So yeah, you can certainly try there as well.

Sam Demma (24:14):
If anyone has some unique advice to share with Angelo on using YouTube more effectively, please do reach out.

Angelo Minardi (24:21):
I’m reading it. I’d love to be an expert please. Yeah, man, for sure.

Sam Demma (24:25):
Awesome. Angelo again, thank you so much for taking the time. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Angelo Minardi (24:29):

Hey, thank you, Sam. All the best with your stuff too. You’re doing great, man. Thanks so much.

Sam Demma (24:34):
Another jam packed interview with yet again, another high-performing educator Angelo, again, would love to hear from you and have an amazing conversation. So please be sure to reach out. And if you enjoyed this episode as always, please leave a rating and review. Let me know how you liked it. Some more educators can find it or even better yet. Tell your colleagues about this show. And if you know someone or you are someone who has inspirational stories and actionable ideas, we would love to interview you. I would love to interview on the podcast. So shoot an email to info@samdemma.com and let’s make it happen. Thank you.

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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.