dance teacher

Melanie Randall – Dance, English, Canadian & World Studies Teacher at Chatham Kent Secondary School

Melanie Randall - Dance, English, Canadian & World Studies Teacher at Chatham Kent Secondary School
About Melanie Randall

Melanie Randall has been teaching and coaching dance at the LKDSB for over 20 years. Her lifelong passion for dance began at the age of two, continued as she attended Canada’s National Ballet School at age 9, and inspired her to earn teaching certification in Ballet with the Royal Academy of Dancing and National Dance with the British Association of Teachers of Dance.

She has also studied and performed jazz, tap, and Modern dance and choreographed and produced numerous musical theatre and dance productions. Randall started teaching dance professionally in grade 10, completed her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Dance at the University of Waterloo, her Bachelor of Education at the University of Windsor, and her Honours Specialist in Dance at York University. She is a founding member and current vice-president of the provincial dance education organization: Ontario Secondary School Dancefest.

Randall founded the CKSS Dance Program in 2001, and the Dance Team in 2002, and she has been the head coach of the team ever since. Under her guidance, this student-led team has won dozens of awards, including a provincial championship in 2007. Randall has a passion for helping students improve their technique as well as providing opportunities for student dancers to become confident, creative leaders through choreography and teaching. In addition to dance education, Randall is passionate about literacy, employability, social justice, and supporting student mental well-being.

She is a member of her school’s literacy and antiracism committees and advises the GSA and student well-being council. She incorporates literacy, career studies, social justice, and well-being in the dance classroom as well as when she teaches English, Civics, and Careers.

On a personal note, Randall is a partner, mom, stepmom, sister, daughter, and grandmother. She loves reading, listening to podcasts, travelling, visiting galleries and museums, camping, hiking, and canoeing.

Connect with Melanie: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lambton Kent District School Board (LKDSB)

Canada’s National Ballet School

Royal Academy of Dancing

British Association of Teachers of Dance

Honours Bachelor of Arts in Dance at the University of Waterloo

Bachelor of Education at York University

Ontario Secondary School Dancefest

CKSS Dance Program

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 the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine. Her name is Melanie Randall. Melanie Randall has been teaching and coaching dance at the Lampton Kent district school board for over 20 years. Her lifelong passion for dance began at the age of two, continued as she attended Canada’s national ballet school at age nine, and inspired her to earn her teaching certificate in ballet with the Royal academy of dancing and national dance. With the British association of teachers of dance, she has also studied and performed jazz tap, modern dance, choreographed, and produced numerous musical theater and dance productions. Randall started teaching dance professionally in grade tent completed her honors, bachelors of arts and dance at the University of Waterloo, her bachelor of education at the University of Windsor and her honours specialist in dance at York University.

Sam Demma (01:52):

She is a founding member and current vice president of the provincial dance education organization, Ontario secondary school dance Fest. Randall founded the (CKSS) Craig Keilberg Secondary School dance program in 2001, the dance team in 2002, and has been the head coach of the team ever since. Under her guidance, the student led team has won dozens of awards, including a provincial championship. In 2007, Randall has a passion for helping students improve their technique as well as providing opportunities for student dancers to become confident and creative leaders through choreography and teaching. In addition to dance education, Randall is passionate about literacy, employability, social justice, and supporting her student’s mental wellbeing. She’s a member of her school’s literacy and anti-racism committees and advises the GSA and student wellbeing council. She incorporates literacy, career studies, social justice, and wellbeing into the dance classroom, as well as when she teaches english, civics, and careers. On a more personal note. Randall is a partner, mom, stepmom, sister, daughter, and grandmother. She loves reading, listening to podcasts, traveling, visiting galleries and museums, camping, hiking, and canoeing. I hope you enjoy this interview with Melanie and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a special guest and a good friend who rocks the be someone’s taco merch. Her name is Melanie Randall. Melanie, please start by introducing yourself.

Melanie Randall (03:31):

So my name is Melanie Randall, as Sam said, and I am a 21 year high school educator. Although my education career started way before then, about the age of 12. And let’s see, I have three kids and I coach the dance team at the school and life is busy and wonderful.

Sam Demma (04:01):

When you say your educational career started much longer ago, in fact, when you were 12 years old, what do you mean by that? Tell me how it started when you were 12.

Melanie Randall (04:11):

So my mom thought I would be really bored at home all summer. Okay. So she signed me up for the summer that I was 12 and 13 as a counselor in training a volunteer. So I didn’t get paid. Okay. But a counselor in training for a camp for kids from age two and a half to five. So I really feel like I started back then. And then when I turned about 14 is when I started teaching dance to young children. And eventually I was students just as a high school student, middle school student.

Sam Demma (04:56):

Awesome. Yeah. That’s so cool. So it went from volunteering at a camp to teaching dance, to transitioning. At what point did you realize? One day I see myself working in an actual school setting. And once you made that decision, what did your educational pathway look like?

Melanie Randall (05:18):

So I didn’t make that decision until later I kind of have an unconventional pathway to my career. So I started out I, I, wasn’t a very good high school student myself and I was pulled aside by my guidance counselor who had caught me skipping again,

Sam Demma (05:43):

Skipping rope. You mean? Right. Skipping rope. <Laugh>

Melanie Randall (05:46):

Right. I shouldn’t admit that, I guess.

Sam Demma (05:48):

No, it sounds man,

Melanie Randall (05:49):

But it’s going somewhere. It’s going somewhere. So he pulled me aside and he said, I’ve looked at your file. What are you doing with your life? You know, you’re in grade 11, you’re in grade 12, like, this is ridiculous. What’s going on with you? What do you wanna do? And I said, I have no idea. So he haul me down to his office and he said, what do you like doing? And I said, the only thing that I like doing is dance. And he showed me brochures from post-secondary schools that offer dance programs. So I thought, wow, that’s interesting. I better get my marks up. Mm. So that really all of a sudden engaged me. And I just that’s when I set the goal just for postsecondary. And yet, while I was at postsecondary school, majoring in dance at the university of Waterloo, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my dance degree when I was done. Had originally thought that I wanted to start my own studio, open my own studio, but then I realized that people who run their own studios work evenings and weekends, and I wanted to have a family. I was pretty traditional. I’d always wanted kids. So I thought that schedule probably isn’t going to work out.

Melanie Randall (07:24):

So, and, you know, went from job to job like retail, restaurant services hospitality, things like that just while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And then I ended up getting married and having two kids and staying home with them for a couple of years. And then my sister was graduating from her undergrad at Brock. And my dad was picking up back in the day they were paper applications. Nice. So my dad was picking up a paper application for my sister to apply to teacher’s college. And he brought one to me too. And he said, you know, I think this would be a really good fit for you. And so I basically applied for fun. My dad said if I applied, he’d pay the 75 bucks or whatever, it was nice to apply to teachers college back in the day. And yeah, I got in, so it was kind a, I took the long way, but I got there and yep. Been doing that and loving it ever since

Sam Demma (08:39):

Every pathway is a valid option. So there was no right or wrong choice, just how it unfolded for you, which is awesome. And thank you for sharing. It sounds like one of the key aspects of your story was that one individual who made education personal to you by asking you, what are you passionate about? Mm-Hmm <affirmative> and when you said dance, you kind of connected the dots to, you know, there’s a future and a career doing that in this system, if you would like to tell me about how some of your educators or teachers you had growing up made an impact on you. It sounds like that individual did, is there anyone else that you can think of when you think back to your own educational journey that stood out? And if so, like what did those people do for you that made a big difference?

Melanie Randall (09:26):

So it’s been a really long time and I don’t remember any specific teachers remember that there was a Fette teacher at one of my high schools cuz they went to three different high schools. Oh wow. Yeah, dad was opp, so we got transferred a bunch. Got it. And and there was this P teacher and it was like a leadership course that we were taking and he really helped me to see leadership potential in me where I had never seen that in myself before. I also had a couple of English teachers who really had an impact on me. The, my favorite course I probably ever took was an, it was an O cause I’m really dating myself. Nice. <Laugh> so back, back in the day, O just in Shakespeare and yeah, I just, I, the teacher let us pick what we wanted to learn and she took us on field trips and you know, she appreciated my writing once she copied my essay onto transparency paper and put it up on the overhead projector <laugh> oh,

Sam Demma (11:06):


Melanie Randall (11:07):

<Laugh> to show that rest without my name on it or anything. Yeah. So no one knew that it was mine, but you did, but but yeah, to show the other students what the expectations were. So that was pretty exciting. I really felt like someone believed in me.

Sam Demma (11:24):

That’s awesome. And

Melanie Randall (11:25):

That, yeah, it’s really important.

Sam Demma (11:27):

I think one of the most important things we can do working with youth is put the battery in their back, not just teach them curriculum, but help them realize that they can do the things they envision themselves doing, no matter how difficult it might be or how long a road it might take to get there. Because even if they don’t accomplish the big dream or goal, they tell you about just pouring self-belief in their brain will help them accomplish. So other tasks and activities in their life that just require that extra ounce of self-belief. And self-confidence mm-hmm <affirmative> when you think about your journey in education, you know, once you started, what are all the different roles you’ve worked in? Like tell me like kind of chronologically where you started, what you’ve done and where you are now.

Melanie Randall (12:15):

Okay. So when I originally went to teachers college, it was at a satellite campus of the university of Windsor. And there were only about 20 of us in the class. And it was teaching primary junior, which is BA basically JK to grade six. And I found out pretty quickly that I did not want to do that. <Laugh> it was, it was, that was not my path. Yep. But I still worked really hard and I did my best for the children and did my best for other professors and you know, all of those things. And the summer that I graduated, I headed to Western university to upgrade, to teach high school right away that first summer. And I got hired right away as a supply teacher. This is another neat story in my pathway. So I was supply teaching different courses, kind of all over the county and nice, you know, going to different schools. Everyone knows how supply teaching works. And I had a couple of long term supply gigs and that was cool. And then one of the high schools here in town the parent, the president of the parent council said, you know, she was saying to the

Melanie Randall (13:48):

Princip Thursday could be offering that here. And the principal said, well, yeah, but who’s gonna teach it. And my sister who had been hired full time, right out of teachers college with her high school qualifications happened to be walking by when they were having this conversation. Whoa. And she said, she said, my sister has a dance degree and she’s a qualified teacher. Wow. And I got her phone call that afternoon for an interview. Right. <laugh> and the interview was like very informal. It was, we hear you have a dance degree and teachers college, would you like a job? <Laugh>

Sam Demma (14:27):


Melanie Randall (14:28):

<Laugh> yeah. So I started teaching it actually after school and in the evenings at two different high schools in town. Okay. And then they were kind of test driving it to see if there would be any interest. And there was a lot of interest. I think I had 60 students. Wow. sign up from both schools total. And yeah, I was still supply teaching during the day. And then I was teaching those courses at night and you know, it was a lot but really worthwhile because both schools ended up offering the program full-time during the day. Nice. So then though,

Sam Demma (15:15):

Yeah. A mom teacher

Melanie Randall (15:16):

<Laugh> right. So for two years I drove back and forth and taught at both the schools. And at the end of, I guess my third year of teaching, I wrote a letter to a superintendent and said, you know, I’m exhausted. I’ve been through three sets of breaks. <Laugh> wow. I didn’t tell ’em that, but you know I said, you know, I don’t mind which school you assign me to here are the pros of working at both schools. And I don’t mind which school, but please just assign me to one. Mm. And the one school had built a brand new state of the art dance studio. And at the other school, the principal was retiring. So the principal with the dance studio went to the staffing meeting and said, we want her. And we’re gonna take her at our school. And the principal who was retiring said, eh, do what you want <laugh> <laugh> cause he was retiring.

Melanie Randall (16:28):

He didn’t care as much, no longer invested in it. Yeah. So he yeah, he didn’t fight for me. And the other principal did, so I’ve been there full-time for 17 years and part-time, well, I guess, 18 years and part-time for three. So yeah. And then it wasn’t full-time dance. So my other qualification is English. So I was teaching English and dance at the same time and yeah, it was wonderful. And then about eight years ago, I was assigned civics and careers, which a lot of teachers don’t enjoy teaching or don’t want. And I was really nervous at first, but I love it. I absolutely love teaching those courses, especially the careers. I, I like civics because I really get the kids engaged in social justice and you know, their role in society as an active citizen of the world and the O you know, I can them to so many diverse topics and they get to choose what they explore.

Melanie Randall (17:54):

And, and that tells me so much about them. And you really get to know your students and these classes and the careers I love for the reasons you already said, you know, you get to know the students really well. You know what great things they’re, they’re going to accomplish, and you can fill them with so much confidence to follow their goals. And yeah, it’s great. Having them come back. A lot of them will come back at the end of grade 12 and they’ll say, guess what, miss I got into that program that I always wanted to get into. And I’m like, I teach 75 of you a semester. And I don’t remember what college program you wanted to be in, but that’s awesome.

Sam Demma (18:44):

That’s, that’s, that’s phenomenal. Taught dance, still teaching dance, also teaching English. How do you fill your cup outside of work? So when you’re not dancing, teaching dance or teaching English, what does Melanie do to make sure that she can show up at the best of her ability?

Melanie Randall (19:05):

So lifelong learning is really important. And so I like to take courses I’m actually in the middle of one right now, or actually I’m in the last week of one right now taking courses through the faculty of education, nice at various universities, just to, you know, either upgrade or know something new, or be able to teach something new.

Sam Demma (19:31):

What course, what course are you taking now or working through

Melanie Randall (19:35):

Senior social science. Cool. So it would qualify me to teach like sociology, psychology, anthropology, nice challenge and change in society, social justice and equity studies, gender studies. I, I’m kind of, there are so many I’m listing the ones that are world religions, things like that. Nice. We don’t offer all of those courses at my school, but you know, the, those are all part of the curriculum. So that’s the one that I’m working through right now. And then in the fall, I’m going to take a course called teacher leadership, part three, and I’ve already obviously taken one and two did really well. And I’m considering potentially taking principal course in January. Now I’ve put it out there.

Sam Demma (20:34):

TP some P QP

Melanie Randall (20:35):

P QP. Yeah. Yeah. it’s offered by our board in January 20, 23. Nice. So yeah, I think I might try it. I, I work really well with my administration and I have, you know, all these connections with students and, you know, I don’t, I don’t see the, the students as, you know, bad kids who need discipline in the office. I see troubled kids who need help from the office. Mm. You know, and I really think that I can help them. Not everyone, you can’t help everyone, not everyone wants your help, but if you can reach some or most yeah. Of the students, then, you know, that’s, that’s where you can, and you can do that in the classroom. Absolutely. But you know, next year I’ll be in year 22 and of teaching. And I just think maybe it’s time to try something a little bit different. Sure. And, and I feel that I have the skill for that position and it’s just a matter, sorry. Someone just started their lawnmower.

Sam Demma (21:53):

Can’t even hear it. Don’t worry.

Melanie Randall (21:54):

Okay, good. Yeah. It’s gonna get louder though. I think it’s okay. Yeah. So I forget where I was. You

Sam Demma (22:05):

Have the skillset for the job and yeah. Something that you,

Melanie Randall (22:09):

Yeah. So the course, because it’s offered by our board, I feel will give me a lot of opportunity to network and for the superintendents to get to know me and see my potential. And then I can decide after that, whether or not I want to actually interview to go on the list.

Sam Demma (22:33):

Nice. So, so many different roles, different opportunities. You, you, you said lifelong learning is one of the ways you fill your cup. Is there anything else you do, like aside from books and learning? Cause I feel like you can only do so much reading before. You’re like, I need a break, you know, <laugh> right.

Melanie Randall (22:52):

Well, you know, I love my Netflix. <Laugh> nice.

Sam Demma (22:55):

Hey, that’s, that’s valid. That’s, that’s valid. <Laugh> I do too.

Melanie Randall (23:05):

But not too much. We don’t watch too much TV. And because my partner is a teacher also, we talk a lot about work.

Sam Demma (23:16):

Yes <laugh>

Melanie Randall (23:16):

And you know, we count on each other for that support too. I love to travel and I like to do more of that now that my kids are much older and more independent, two of them are completely independent, but nice. The one, you know, and yeah, just traveling, camping, getting outside, going for walks, hikes in the woods are the best going to the beach with a book. Nice. I love that just by myself. I’ll do that quite a few times in the, in the summer. Oh, nice. And yeah, think that’s,

Sam Demma (24:04):

Those are great. Those are great outlets. Thanks. Thanks for sharing and digging deep <laugh>. When you think about your journey in education, if you could wrap up your 21 years of experience travel back in time, tap Melanie on the shoulder when she was just starting. Not that you would change anything about your path, but if you could take all the wisdom and go back, what would you have told your younger self in the form of some advice that you think would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting

Melanie Randall (24:36):

Not kind of to follow up with what you said, not to stress so much over the curriculum and you know, the curriculum, it all comes. It all happens anyway. But to really focus on not so much teaching curriculum, but teaching human beings. Mm. And really making that effort to connect with students as you deliver curriculum and, and allow them to explore the curriculum as well. And yes, just take advantage of all the professional development opportunities that are presented to you. And it’s all so useful and yeah, just don’t stress as much. I used, I used to be super uptight and now I’m chill.

Sam Demma (25:33):

<Laugh>, <laugh> love

Melanie Randall (25:35):

It. That’s what my students, well, that’s what my students say that I am, they say MROs so chill <laugh>. But you know, I have high expectations for my students because I believe that they all can reach those expectations, but I’m not an intense teacher. I’m not in their face about it. Cool. Just provide the opportunities. But I used, I used to stress out about every lesson and every every over schedule every second and make sure that I was doing everything by the book and I still do everything by the book, but I realize that it’s not as hard it’s, it’s easier than I thought.

Sam Demma (26:24):


Melanie Randall (26:24):

You know, and I think you just get better at it. So it comes more naturally and that’s experience.

Sam Demma (26:32):

Yeah. Right. Less, I guess, I

Melanie Randall (26:34):

Think, yeah. We all need experience to get to the point where everything’s kind of second nature. But that’s what I would tell younger me is just connect with students and relax a little bit, just enjoy it

Sam Demma (26:49):

And empty your backpacks and eat some tacos. <Laugh> <laugh>.

Sam Demma (26:53):

Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah.

Sam Demma (26:57):

Mel, thank you so much for coming on the show. This is a great conversation about your journey in education. Some of your beliefs around education, some of the things you’re working on or resources. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out or ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Melanie Randall (27:13):

I would say Instagram probably. And that is @_melrandall.

Sam Demma (27:25):

Awesome. @_melrandall, hit her up. She’s super chill. <Laugh> ask the questions. Connect. if you are a teacher who also teaches dance, you know, reach out or you’re looking for dance ideas, reach out. Mel’s an awesome person and a friend, and I know she’d be more than happy to chat with you. Mel, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure to have you keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Melanie Randall (27:52):

Thank you. It’s been great talking to you as well.

Sam Demma (27:56):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melanie Randall

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.

Cortnie Freeman – Dance Teacher and How to Adjust Virtually

Cortnie Freeman – Dance Teacher & How to Adjust Virtually
About Cortnie Freeman

Cortnie has been teaching for the past 12 years with the Durham Catholic District School Board. Her passion for teaching drives from a growth mindset that no one is ever done learning.

Cortnie currently teaches at the AMP Arts School in Durham where her passion for dance and teaching continues to grow as she develops young dancers to be all that they dream to become one day.

Connect with Cortnie: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Durham Catholic District School Board

Arts and Media Program Arts School


Teaching with Zoom

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 to the High Performing Rducator podcast. I’m your show host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Before we get into today’s awesome interview with another amazing educator, I have something of value that I wanna share. If you’ve ever struggled with teaching your students virtually, if you’ve ever struggled with getting them to turn their cameras on, I have have assembled all the information that I’ve learned and developed over the past six months of presenting to students virtually I’ve spoken at over 50 events since COVID hit back in March and I’ve taken my best tips, my gear list, and any special ninja tricks and assembled it all into a free five video mini course, you can go and get access to it right now at www.highperformingeducator.com. And if you do pick it up, you will also get added to a private group of educators who tune into this show. People who have been interviewed on this show and you’ll have access to opportunities to network and meet like-minded individuals during this tough time.

Sam Demma (00:59):

So if that sounds like it might be helpful, go to www.highperformingeducator.com, grab the free course and get involved in the high performing educators. Network enough for me and onto the show. Today’s special guest is Cortnie Freeman. This is someone who actually taught at the high school that I grew up at at St. Mary Catholics, Secondary School. My sister, Franchesca actually had Ms. Freeman as her dance, her dance teacher, I believe. And I can always remember her coming home from school and just sharing how much she enjoyed her class, loved the way she taught, loved her style, loved her energy, and it’s apparent more than ever in this podcast episode. She has a huge passion for teaching and she shares that today on the show. I hope you enjoy this. I hope you have a pen and paper, so you can take some notes and I will see you on the other side of this conversation with Cortnie. Thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on today. Can you share with the audience who you are and why you got into that you do with young people today?

Cortnie Freeman (02:05):

My name is Cortnie Freeman and I’ve been teaching now for 12 years. Sometimes that seems like it’s gone by really fast in other days. It seems like holy cow. Why I got into what I do is I feel teaching almost chose me in a way I never like growing up. I was never kind of like, I’m gonna be a teacher. It was just something that as life went on and I was trying to find more purpose in what I love to do. I got nothing more satisfying than when I was teaching students. Like my first year teaching was probably one of the best years of my life. I just feel like it’s, it’s a profession where you, you have to be a life learner. You have to constantly want to know what’s happening. What’s going on. You’re meeting new students every year.

Cortnie Freeman (02:56):

So you’re engaging them different ways. And it’s just, it’s something that I cannot see myself doing anything other than doing. I just love the opportunity to make a difference in students lives. I wanna be able to make that connections with them. I wanna be a positive stepping stone in this journey of life, especially in the high school realm. I feel like those are really a crucial times in kids’ lives. And I really love the opportunity to kind of just dig in deep with them and help them find kind of who they are and where they wanna take their life.

Sam Demma (03:32):

It’s, it’s so true when you mention, you have to find different ways to connect with them and engage with them every single year. And I think this year specifically, that’s true now more than ever. And I’m curious to know for you specifically, how has teaching online slash in the classroom been for you and have you figured anything out that’s been successful or had any experiences that totally flopped and you learned from that you think might be valuable to share?

Cortnie Freeman (04:03):

I would say for me, like, it was really challenging at first. I originally, you know, wanted to do the teaching in school as opposed to the online portion. So I thought I would be seeing students a lot and then we kind of got into it and it’s, I don’t, I hardly see them at all. You know, it’s, it’s a very 50/50 mix. So majority of my day is on the computer. And for me that’s a big change because seeing my students every day is kind of why I became a teacher, right? Like I wanna see them, I wanna have those daily conversations and those daily check ins with them. And I I’ve noticed that even when I see them on Zoom, it’s tough to get those conversations with them going, you know, I have these little boxes of their cute little faces online, and I wanna have one on one conversations with them, but that’s gonna take up the whole hour we have together because I need to click on each kid have that conversation.

Cortnie Freeman (04:56):

Right. So I’m finding where before it’s like they walk in the class, you can have a quick check in say, hi, how how’s it going? So I’m finding the biggest challenge right now is just keeping those connections with my students going and like, those kids need those connections. Right. So I’m finding that that’s been the biggest challenge so far and just keeping them motivated when they’re not with me and engaged . So I’ve had to change a lot of my lessons and just kind of not make them so on the computer. So when it is kind of those Zoom moments, when we have the whole week where it’s online to give them assignments that take them away from the computer. So we have our check-ins, I give them the assignment, but instead of having them write about, you know, somebody, I want them to go out and explore about it. So here’s an element here’s an idea and I’ll go and explore with it instead of writing about it, just to kind of get them out of the technology realm.

Sam Demma (05:58):

Awesome. How else have you changed your curriculum? You mentioned changing curriculum. I’m curious to know if there’s anything else that’s been helpful for you that you think might be helpful for another educator. Who’s struggling to kind of adjust to the new reality?

Cortnie Freeman (06:13):

Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve had to change it quite a bit, actually. I’m, I’m finding that you know, a lot of my pieces have turned into reflection pieces, so instead of you know, it’s tough because I’m not a normal, I, I hate saying that, but I’m not like a normal teacher, right. Like I teach a subject that dance. So a lot of it is physical and in order to, to make it equitable for all students, I can’t, a lot of ’em don’t have homes where they can just start dancing everywhere. Right. So I’ve had to change a lot to make sure that every student, when they’re not with me still has access to be able to engage in the lessons. So I’m finding that a lot of my pieces instead of I kind of, sorry, I’m repeating a bit from previous, but, you know, instead of them writing a paragraph about, you know, we just did healthy eating, I’ve got them to do like a little blog on it.

Cortnie Freeman (07:06):

So they’re out in their kitchen. They’ve actually had, now they’re at home. Right. So instead of them talking about it in class, they’re at home. So they’ve now been able to create a little like actually show the food. They can make it with us in the class. So just trying to get them engaged in physical, in their learning a little bit more than just sitting at their computer all the time. And just especially this year, I find a lot of my subjects have changed. Mm-Hmm as far as, okay. So there’s so much going on in the world today that I think need are hard things to talk about and that kids wanna talk about and they wanna be engaged in it. So I find now too, a lot of my assignments instead of being like, okay, write a reflection piece on this, I’m saying, okay, I want you to choose what you wanna write about mm-hmm and these are kind of the checklists of things you also need to include in. So I’m giving them the basics of what they need to write about, but the topic can be their own choice. And I’m finding that they’re feeling really empowered about being able to choose the subject matter. And then just focusing on like the checklist.

Sam Demma (08:13):

I think options is a great idea right now, especially when there’s so many different topics going on, I applaud you for that, that great. I think if I was in your class, I would, I would’ve loved that option. So keep, keep doing that for sure. And anyone listening, it might be something to consider.

Cortnie Freeman (08:35):

I just find when you give the students the chance to focus, what they’re really passionate about, mm-hmm , it can still, it can still grasp those ideas of, you know, the curriculum, right. They need to do a reflection piece, that’s the curriculum, but what they’re reflecting on can be something that they’re more passionate about and personable about, and it just adds to the level of learning and engagement crazy.

Sam Demma (08:59):

No, that’s true. And the impact it has on the student, I know they’ll enjoy class more and get a better outcome because of it and also have a better experience with you because of it. And I think that’s one of the reasons why Mr. Loud foot from St. Mary had a huge impact on my life. And I stay in contact with him to this day. And you mentioned earlier that one of the main reasons you got into teaching was to change young people’s lives. And I’m sure over the years, you’ve had dozens of people, you know, write you letters you know, Ms. Freeman, thank you so much for everything you did. You changed my life. Maybe some of them even got into dance and now our dance teachers because of your class that, that’s a very rewarding moment. And I want you to think, you know, about an educator who’s listening, who’s burnt out right now, who might want to hear a story about how education has changed a young person’s life. And this could be a story that you’ve personally, you know, of, of someone you’ve personally taught. Who’s written you a lead and you can change their name if it’s a very serious story. Just for the sake of privacy, but share a story about, you know, a kid who is deeply touched by your teaching style or your class in the hope that it’ll inspire other educators to remember, you know, this is really important stuff that we’re doing.

Cortnie Freeman (10:15):

Yeah, that’s, there’s, there’s quite a few, honestly, where I’ve had moments of students that are just like, I would not have gotten. And it’s, it’s so weird saying it out loud because honestly, I feel like when I’m teaching, I’m just being human. I’m just making them feel human. Yeah. You know, I’ve never, I always say when I’m teaching with my dancers that we’re working together, it’s never like, I’m, you know, I never look down on them. I just make them feel like we’re on the same level and we’re in this together. And, you know I feel like the biggest impact I’ve had on most of my students that have written letters to me, or thank me kind of years later is just thank you for seeing me. It’s it’s those years and high school, I find kids get very lost and they get very confused sometimes.

Cortnie Freeman (11:01):

And they’re just, you know, one day they have best friends and then the next day they don’t. And, you know, it’s, it’s a lot of an emotional toll and I was kind of that consistent in their life. Like they knew every day they’d walk in my class. I would have a smile on my face. I would say to them, I would give them good structure in the class and just giving them that steady, especially cause I’ve had them, I have them for the full four years. So I guess the, the one that kind of sticks out to me the most is I had a a foster student in my class. Mm-Hmm I’ve had quite a few of them over the years and you know, it’s hard for those kids to feel like they belong because they’ve been in few homes here and there and they kind of get passed around a bit.

Cortnie Freeman (11:51):

And just this one student I could just tell needed to have that kind of what I’ve said in the past is that consistent adult in their life that believes in them mm. And encourages them, you know, like, even if it’s just checking in on how they’re doing in their other classes, when they come in or saying, Hey, you seem off today, like it’s okay to ask those questions and make them see that I see you. I see when you’re off. I see when you’re doing well. I see when, you know, like, I, I, you know, kind of the idea of like, I’ve got your back and I think that’s important as an educator to remember, we’re not just, we aren’t, we are not just there to teach them the curriculum. And if you are, then you’re just, you’re not doing your job properly.

Cortnie Freeman (12:33):

Really. We are there for the student and curriculum comes with that, but if they’re not whole, and they, they don’t feel comfortable in your class, they don’t feel engaged in your class. Like then they’re not going to get the curriculum. So I always spend like the first week or two weeks of my class, I’m teaching them yes. The curriculum, but that’s my time to really get to know who they are. Mm-Hmm and get to know what they’re into and maybe what their background is, what their struggles are, what really kind of gets, ’em excited about learning. And the more like it’s all about the student, it is. And that’s the biggest thing. I fine when students kind of, you know, say their thanks use to me is thank you for seeing me mm-hmm . And I never wanna forget that moment. And I never wanna forget that each student in my class is honestly so important to me. Like each, each one, the one that, you know, mouthy, the one that’s quiet, the one that’s, you know, like they all are just , it’s just, you have such a small window of their lives that you spend with them. And I wanna make the biggest impact I can. And that, that small little window. And I don’t know, that’s kind of what I find is the most consistent when students kind of reach out to me and, and years later.

Sam Demma (13:50):

I love that. And you alluded to the importance of asking questions, getting to know the students. How else do you see? Like, how else do you make a student feel seen? Like, those are two great examples. Maybe you have anything else that you do during those first two weeks that you think is really impactful?

Cortnie Freeman (14:09):

Yeah. Making them feel seen. I just, you have to be present, you know, know, as a teacher, I never like the idea of they come in my class, I give them work to do, and then I go sit down at a desk. Yeah. You know, like I just, I, I just don’t like that. I, you have to be, it’s such a physical, no matter what subject you’re teaching it’s it has to be like a physical presence as well. You’re walking around, you’re saying high, you are, you know, at the, you know, as the kids walk into your classroom, you’re standing at the door door. You’re saying those highs to them. You’re making sure that, you know, they’re also making connections in the class, you know, it’s not always like, okay, pick your groups. You know, like first two weeks I pick their groups for them.

Cortnie Freeman (14:54):

It seems like such a small, like little thing. But then the more they get a community in that class as well, the better they’re gonna feel. Right. And I have a lot of kids that take like dance is a huge exposure. Like you’re standing in the middle of a room. , you know, there’s no guests, there’s no nothing. And if you’re a kid that’s a little self conscious or, you know, you need to feel like it’s a safe community, especially in, in a realm of a class where it’s all about creating, right. You need to feel vulnerable. You need to allow to, you know, vulnerability is so huge in creating. And I think that’s why the classroom, my C from setting is like my number one, you know? And also like the more you get to know them too, like I’ve taught jazz the jazz lesson, like a hundred times, right?

Cortnie Freeman (15:40):

Like I’ve taught for 12 years now. But do you think I’ve taught it the same twice? No. Because levels are different. Kids are different. Their music is different, you know? So it’s also just staying in tune with, with the kids are into. And so then when they come in, like, I’ll remember things, they said, oh, that was their favorite song. So then next week I’ll like, have it playing as they enter the classroom. And I’m like, I’m so cool. and they’ll me for like dabbing or whatever. Right. Yeah. But it’s just you know, being that positive, happy, even if you’re having happy day as a teacher, like it’s not, that’s not your time. My time is my students. And I need to make sure that if they’re having a bad day, it’s my job to kind of just remind them it’s, it’s good. We’re gonna have fun today. This is gonna be your time to forget about all of that other stuff in life. And we’re just gonna have fun in these, you know, the 70 minutes we see of them for the day.

Sam Demma (16:31):

That’s awesome. And in a virtual scenario, that could be something as simple as commenting on what you see behind somebody as like an object that’s sitting on their shelf. You know, maybe you can’t come up to their desk and talk to ’em on the shoulder, but you can show you’re paying attention and, you know, virtually walking around the classroom by commenting on what you see. I, I did a speaking engagement for a school in Saskatchewan one yesterday. And while I was speaking, a girl went like this and during my speech, I just pulled the peace sign out and she automatically saw it and started laughing because she noticed that I was paying attention. And I think that’s how we can also do it virtually for anyone wondering, you know, how do you transition that into virtual class or virtual school? I, another cool idea might be the, you know, the idea of playing their favorite song. Maybe you can’t play it in class, but maybe you can share the music through your computer as they’re all doing the Zoom room or Uber eats them a coffee or their favorite drink or favorite McDonald’s Sandwich.

Cortnie Freeman (17:29):

So funny you say that, cause my dancers were on Zoom meal other day. And then all of a sudden I just saw like this little, like, and I was like, wait a sec. You know, she just pulls a Starbucks over and I’m like, okay, what’s your go to drink? And it like just opened this whole conversation of like Starbucks and drinking or coffee and was good for you. And we’re like, well, actually this is a good segway into the healthy unit. Right. And it’s, it’s paying attention to those little moments of yeah. Connection, right? Like any relationship, right. It’s being aware and communicating.

Sam Demma (18:01):

Yeah. Just being interested, showing interest.

Cortnie Freeman (18:04):

Being interested. Exactly. Showing interest. I, I want to get to know you. I, I want you in my class, especially if they’re absent. Right. Like I find if a student’s away for a day in my class. Oh. They will know that. I notice that they were not there in a good way though. Like not like, where were you? Well, sometimes I do that. But just being like, Hey, where were you yesterday? The class is not the same when you’re not here. Right. And like, sometimes I get your looks on their face, but just letting them know that, Hey, we missed you. And this class is made up of 24 students. And when you’re not in here, it throws the shift off. Right. We need you all here. We like, you know, and it kind of reminds them that when they’re not there they’re, they’re missed. Right.

Sam Demma (18:40):

Yeah. That’s so important. I’ve never, I don’t think I ever had a teacher who, who, after missing a class said, we missed you here. It wasn’t the same. so that’s, that’s cool. I love that actually. Yeah, that’s a great, that’s a great point. If you could travel back in time to your first year teaching, you know, you just got into it. You’re probably confused a little bit unaware of what was going on excited, but also overwhelmed by all the new realities and systems and procedures and all this stuff. What advice would you have and think about, you know, the educator who’s just starting, just teaching like their, their first year is this year and they’re thinking, you know, what the heck did I sign up for? This is crazy. What advice would you have for yourself and, or those people just starting to teach in their first year as well?

Cortnie Freeman (19:28):

Yeah. Oh my gosh. I remember my first year I was so nervous and I was just like, oh my God. And everyone’s like, you look like a high school kid. I’m like, okay. I know , you know what I would recommend for any teacher kind of starting out. The first thing to do is just kind of write yourself a little note just of why you got into teaching. Like I, on, I, I have to reflect teaching is hard. There are moments where it’s just like, I don’t know if I can do this anymore with all the others, aside from the student stuff, it’s just, it’s a lot. And it’s, I always go back to those first years of how excited I was to get like your first paycheck, like, oh my God. Right. And just like trying, getting to know your students and you’re excited and you say your classroom went perfectly and I can see as kind of the years go on, you just stop paying attention to those little details.

Cortnie Freeman (20:18):

And it’s those little details that make you get excited. Right. So I, I always kind of, whenever new teachers kind of, you know, frantically like, oh my gosh, this and that. And I’m like, it’s all about the kids. As long as your students are having a good time in class, just take a breath. But I, I always say like, write yourself a note right now of how excited you are. We can always tell a new teacher, cuz they’re like so excited and they’re like, you’re like, okay, write yourself a letter and remind yourself of these points of how you feel right now, how excited you are to, you know, make those lesson plans to make those rubrics that now seem like tedious, ridiculous thing, but remind yourself of how exciting that is and how good it feels to have your own space in your own room.

Cortnie Freeman (21:01):

And you’re in charge of these four, you know, these 24 humans for the, you know, the semester and stuff like that. But, and it’s also surrounding yourself with the right people. Mm-Hmm, that kind of share the similar interests in you that have the same passion as you do. I’m lucky, like in the arts, almost every teacher is pretty passionate about what they teach almost probably or too passionate sometimes. Like we take it to another level of serious fashion. But it, it is, it’s just finding those teachers where you can constantly feed off of and, and, and bounce ideas off of like, you know, Mr. Lab. And I like, we are always messaging each other about ideas we have or things that aren’t going so well. And how can I sad or what did you do for this unit? Cause it’s not really working for me and those moments, you need to find it yourself. Cause we’re not given it a lot of time. You know, we, we teach at the same time we leave at the same times. So you have to work at it. You have to find those people and you have to have those people to bounce ideas back because it always makes your learning styles and your engagements so much more stronger when you have another teacher kind of looking at what you’re doing and bouncing off ideas from. So those would be kind of my two cents to the new teacher.

Sam Demma (22:22):

That’s awesome. And if there is a teacher listening who wants to get in touch with you, maybe reach out by on some ideas around, ask some questions, you know, share some good energy, how could they reach out and do so?

Cortnie Freeman (22:35):

Yeah, I would love that I, as a life learner, like I love giving my stuff and I also like hearing new ideas. So my, probably my email is cortnie.freeman@dcdsb.ca.

Sam Demma (22:52):

All right. Perfect. Sounds good, Cortnie. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast. It was a pleasure chat.

Cortnie Freeman (22:57):

With you. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, it was great. You’re doing amazing things. So stick with it. It’s I don’t know. I’ve heard so many teachers just say such great things about you and seeing you at all saying like just blown us away. Thank you. And for giving us also this forum to talk about teaching because it’s, it’s great.

Sam Demma (23:17):

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 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.

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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.