Merle Gonsalvez – TCDSB Teacher and Dancer

Merle Gonsalvez - TCDSB Teacher and Dancer
About Merle Gonsalvez

Merle(@MamaGLeadership) has been teaching with the Toronto Catholic District School Board for 16 years and in the dance studio for 25 years.  She has taught kindergarten to grade 8.

Merle is very active in the TCDSB elementary leadership program. She is always looking to bring new skills to the classroom by taking courses, such as Dr. Bradley Nelson’s Emotion Code and Jim Kwik’s Superbrain.

Connect with Merle: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

E-CSLIT – Elementary Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team

Dr. Bradley Nelson’s Emotion Code

Jim Kwik’s Superbrain

Pixton 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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Merle Gonsalvez. I met her over a year ago at a conference called the E-CSLIT the elementary Catholic student leadership impact team. It’s a group of elementary students from grade six, seven and eight from all across the Toronto Catholic district school board who meet once a month to network, share ideas, work on their leadership skills and learn about topics that will impact their fellow students. And of course, have fun. Now, she is someone who is very involved in all of the extracurricular activities in her board, and she has super high energy. I noticed it from the first time I met her and I’m sure you’ll feel it again through her ideas and insights that she shares today in this interview. You don’t really know this because it’s only audio that you’re listening to, but on the video, Merle showed up with this crazy hairdo, which we’ll talk about as well in today’s episode. She’s also a dancer and a super awesome human being. I really enjoyed our conversation and I think you will too. Without further ado, here’s the interview with Merle. I’ll see you on the other side. Merle, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. You look great. I wish the audience can see your crazy hair day. Can you share with the audience, you know, who you are, why you got into the work you do with young people today?

Merle Gonsalvez (01:28):
Yeah, for sure. So thank you for having me. My name is Merle Gonsalvez. I am a Ontario certified teacher and I have been teaching for 16 years with a few mat leaves in between that. And why do I do it? I do it because I think at the ripe age of 16, when I started teaching dance, I discovered that I got more out of teaching than I did out of performing. So I love to see a child pick up a skill or say, or, you know, when they say I really, I can’t do it. And then they learn the step and they’d be like, oh, I can do it. Like, that was just heartwarming for me. So that was just my passion since a young age.

Sam Demma (02:15):
That’s amazing. And it seems like it’s carrying you because, you know, we had a quick conversation before the podcast started recording and you were laughing and you have some great ideas to share about making young people feel appreciated and valued during these crazy times. What, what motivates you to keep going though when things get tough? Cause I’m sure there are moments where you to feel burnt out from the work you’re doing. How do you just motivate yourself to keep moving forward?

Merle Gonsalvez (02:44):
Yeah, for sure. There’s definitely a lot of teacher burnout, especially now during this time. But I think, and I’ve definitely lost my spark once or twice in my career. And with that, I just had, I just chose to like change grades. So one year I was teaching grade eight and I was like taught it for like two or three years. And I was like, man, I’m just losing my spark. I’m losing my patience with these older kids. And I switched to kindergarten and it was so refreshing. And after a year of kindergarten I was like, I need more stimulation. And I went back to the older grades. So, but it just allowed me to bounce right back. So, I mean, yeah, there’s definitely like lots of times where we’re teachers. I mean, some of them for their whole career they’re struggling. Right. so just, you gotta find change your grade change look for a position outside of schools. There’s lots at the school boards. So that’s just something that you can do in order to get that spark back.

Sam Demma (03:56):
That’s awesome. And from the students’ perspective, they’re also human beings, right? They also experienced burnout. Some of the things we can do during this crazy time to make them feel more appreciated and motivated to show up, maybe virtually to class, you’ve been doing some great things that I’ve been hearing. And I saw the pictures of Pixton and the software you use to kind of create a virtual classroom. Can you share a handful of ideas that you’ve tried and maybe have been successful or have tried and have failed, but you’ve learned from them? I’m sure the audience would love to hear it.

Merle Gonsalvez (04:29):
Yeah. So a lot of the things that I’m doing right, obviously virtual teaching is, is new to people. But I think that it’s important to like, just keep up with technology. I could go either way I could learn to be a dinosaur and never learn how to use these programs and just become obsolete or I can just jump right in and make mistakes and, you know, do exactly what students are doing on a daily basis learning. So that’s, that’s kind of what I’m doing for my class. I like to do a one theme day a week. So the first week was twin day. So they paired up with someone in the class and dressed alike. The next week was facial hair day. So we, I had a unibrow and a mustache and a beard with some sideburns and as I’m, I’m delivering from school, right.

Merle Gonsalvez (05:24):
So as I’m going to the bathroom, or if I’m in the hallways, in the school, I’m in a portable, but when I go inside, like the students just give me, these looks like, what is she doing? So today when I went to the washroom with my crazy hair and you know, for the audience, it’s in kind of two ponytails and then I interweaved some pipe cleaners. Yeah. I tried to give myself some bangs here with these green and orange ones. But yeah, and some feathers too. So yeah. So just steam days I do with them every morning, there’s an ice that we do together. It could either be trivia or scavenger hunt. They love the scavenger hunt where they have to bring the object back to their screen. So you know, my rules are no running over grandma or grandpa or your little siblings and to make sure that you’re safe and you have to bring the object back to the screen.

Merle Gonsalvez (06:20):
So the funniest one, I think was when I said, you have to, your next object is something alive. And this kid went like this and grabbed his mother and dragged her. He pulled her arm out of her socket, but she was like, what are you doing? He just grabbed her. I mean, he won. And so when, even when they win, I will create a little package of candy and send it to their, to their house. Either mail it if they’re far away or if they’re close, like one of my schools all like hand deliver that no contact, but hint, but deliver that. So those are fun things. And I just, the Pixton thing, I just learned about it yesterday. So I saw it yesterday on a Facebook post is there’s like a teacher group. And I was like, oh, that’s really cool. So I looked it up and then I paid for it for my whole class because it just unlocks everything. And it’s basically a site where you have your own avatar, but then you can also create

Merle Gonsalvez (07:26):
Comic this historical figures. There are different costumes, so the students can use it for language. They can use it for science, they can use it for history or geography or social studies. They can use it for religion. So it’s great in terms of, if you don’t want your students to be sitting there taking notes all day, don’t get me wrong. They need to be writing and taking notes because taking notes is great, you know, for them to learn how to write properly, they’re actually like writing proper sentences. But I remember when I was in elementary school getting callouses on my fingers and that wasn’t fun. So this is something where they can be creative have different backgrounds and be funny too. A lot of kids are really funny and they never get to express that or they’re too shy to express it. Right? So that’s something that I thought would be beneficial to my class.

Sam Demma (08:16):
That’s awesome. So many ideas, just to recap for anyone listening, have a theme for each week, play scavenger hunt on zoom, where you ask your class to go run through their house and find things and bring them back in front of the screen. You can do crazy hair days, pajama days on, on zoom as well. And then Pixton is the software that allows you to create a virtual avatar for each of your students or allow or allow them to log in and create their own. Which is really, really cool. I’m curious to know, it seems like the state of education right now is almost like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Merle Gonsalvez (08:55):
A really good analogy. I like that.

Sam Demma (08:58):
Well, I’m Italian, right? So

Merle Gonsalvez (09:02):
For me it would be like Biryani throwing against cause I’m Pakistani. So it would be like throwing biryani.

Sam Demma (09:10):
And whoever’s listening. Just take your own cultural food as well. Yeah. Biryani is delicious side note. Have you thrown any Biryani against the wall and it hasn’t sticked and have you learned anything from it?

Merle Gonsalvez (09:28):
You know what, actually this morning so tech is so hard to work with, especially considering like my students are in a very there, my area is socioeconomically. Like, it’s tough for these kids. This one kid today said, miss I’m using my phone because my iPad the charger isn’t working, so he couldn’t present today. His work a lot of kids are just using iPads and some of the stuff isn’t compatible with iPads, I’m not too sure why. But yeah, it’s tough. So we had presentations this morning and the first one was amazing and she presented and it was like, she like kind of went above and beyond. And then from there it kind of like all unraveled and it went all downhill and there were kids who didn’t know how to present. And there were kids who didn’t know how to share their screen.

Merle Gonsalvez (10:20):
And there were kids who just one kid came on and he said, miss, I didn’t do it. And I said, are you ready to present? And he was like, yep. And then he came along. Me said, bits, I didn’t do it. And I was like, all right. So it’s, so it’s difficult. Like there’s always navigational issues, but you know, I have to take some responsibility in that because I need to know, I know now that I need to show them how to present their screen. So I actually just got two co-op students yesterday. So they’re in high school. So I asked one of them. I said, it would be amazing if you could look for a video because everything is pretty much on YouTube already. You don’t have to, you know, create that yourself, look for a video where it shows students how they can present and students how they can turn in their work. Because a lot of students aren’t, they don’t, they’re not sure how to attach documents and stuff like that. So that’s what my co-op student is doing right now. But there’s, I mean, you’re always learning, right. So, and that’s okay. And that’s great for students to see that you’re always learning.

Sam Demma (11:27):
Yeah, no, it’s so true. And with every challenge offers an ability to come up with a solution that is not only needed for yourself, but also for others, which is the beauty of this podcast. You’re probably blowing the minds of some other educators right now who are having similar issues and needed to hear this today. So I appreciate you sharing with, with COVID. There is a lot of burnout and one quick way to the teacher, why this work is so important, you know, why teaching is so important is to share a story of a student who has been impacted in your journey of education. And I’m sure you have one of those files on your desk called the bad day file, where you keep all the notes. Students have sent you over the years and you flip through them and you pull them out when you’re just not feeling the best. Is there any story that comes to mind and it could be a very serious one that really touches your heart and you can change their name for privacy reasons. Is there any story that comes to mind that you might want to share in the hope that it rekindles some inspiration and another educator to keep doing what they’re doing?

Merle Gonsalvez (12:34):
I think for, I just got actually I just got a letter from a parent, like a card from a parent in the mail and I taught her daughter in grade eight and they were, she was having like marital financial issues had pulled her kids like, and, you know, got another apartment and she was having issues and she came to, to interviews and she just started crying. And then of course I’m, I’m the type of person that cries. If, if you cry, I will cry too. So I’m just, and then she, you know, they didn’t have, didn’t have beds for these kids for kids and didn’t have you know, food for these four kids. So, I mean, just teachers, aren’t just there to educate we’re. I think the first thing you have to tend to is a person’s soul, like curriculum doesn’t really matter.

Merle Gonsalvez (13:31):
So unless you’re, unless the person’s soul is, is, you know, healthy, then it doesn’t really matter what you teach them. Cause it’s not going to stick. So I remember we had our Christmas food drive and I spoke to my principal and said, can we give this food to this family that needs it? And she was like, yeah, absolutely. And I talked to the staff and the staff brought in blankets and they brought, they gave mattresses. And so we just went and delivered it to their house. So teaching is not it’s about relationships. It’s not just about, you know, it’s not just about curriculum. I know, so I got it. So I just, that was, oh man, that was over 10 years ago that that happened. That that child is my class. And I just got a letter like in September from this mother, just a thank you.

Merle Gonsalvez (14:23):
Like I’m still thinking about you. Thank you so much. Wow. I that’s so heartwarming. Right. But there’s also teachers affect students, but teachers affect other teachers. And I think this is really important. If you could help another teacher, it’s kinda like you’re multiplying, you know, one charity say you multiply your gift multiplies. Right? It’s like, you’re multiplying that then that teacher is going to be healthy and that teacher is going to be helping their students. Right. so they’re touching so many more people. So there was a teacher who I met. She asked a question on Facebook and she was like, I’m really struggling. Can anyone help me? And I said, sure. A message like personal message me. So I was chatting with her and stuff and I gave her some resources and, and she’s in Erie, she’s in the Erie board. I don’t that’s far.

Merle Gonsalvez (15:16):
So she, after the first day of school, I messaged her at like four o’clock o’clock and I was like, Hey, how’s it going? Just checking in and stuff like that. She’s like, actually I’m not doing really well. And I was like, oh, well, do you want to you want to like FaceTime or something? And she’s like, sure. So I FaceTime and she’s crying and I’m like, oh great, here we go on down. Am I going to cry? I’m such a, I’m such a wuss when it comes to crying. So she’s crying, she’s sitting in her classroom and she’s literally crying. And I was like, okay, time to take some action. Look, let’s do this. And instead of like dwelling on it, like sure, she got things out. And we talked about it. She was teaching the grade for the first time. She was actually not a teacher.

Merle Gonsalvez (16:01):
In her first career, she was coming into the profession and she’s kind of got thrown into it with nothing. So we did her schedule. I’m like, this is what, and once your schedule is done and you kind of feel like a lot more organized, I was like, you need a mentor in your school, find a mentor tomorrow, that’s your job. Ask them to be your mentor, bring them a coffee the next day, you know, like ask them to show you around the school and where the resources are. And so I just kind of like guided her and she was so thankful and you know, she was good. She was like, honestly, I’m great. I have my mentor. And there’s, I’m like, there’s going to be struggles. Trust me. I’m teaching for 16 years. There’s still going to be struggles. But just helping that teacher and just, it’s going to now go into her class, like she’s going to now touch her students. Right. And she’s not going to be frazzled and like stressed and not be able to teach.

Sam Demma (16:55):
And that’s a piece of advice that could apply to everyone. Even if you’re not a first-time teacher, it’s always important to have a mentor or someone that you can lean on and cry with. If you both started crying.

Merle Gonsalvez (17:07):
Teach and teachers, teachers cry a lot. Parents, you need to get them a lot of tissues.

Sam Demma (17:16):
I’m just wondering if you were in your first year of education and you could speak to your younger self, what other pieces of advice would you give yourself? I know getting a mentor is obviously one of them. What else would you say?

Merle Gonsalvez (17:32):
I mean, mentor for sure. I think I would say don’t don’t judge yourself. You really can’t be so judged. Like we’re the hardest critic on ourselves, right? Where the, like the, the toughest critic. But you can’t, you have to be gentle with yourself and you just have to keep it simple. Honestly, you can’t like, you can’t be like, oh, that teacher’s doing this, that teach you pick and choose what works for you and keep it simple because if you don’t keep it simple, you know what Mike console does this. He does this really, really well. He he gives the kids like a little quiz and he makes class so fun. And that’s where I learned a lot of my stuff from I’m like, you did that. And you know, the kids think, oh, this is a really easy class, but they’re learning so much.

Merle Gonsalvez (18:20):
And he’s doing it in a way where the kids are just having fun, you know, having trivia questions about what you just taught and, you know, having, you know, games in class and stuff like that. So I think just keep it fun, keep it simple. And remember, it’s all about relationships because they’re not necessarily going to remember what you teach them. Hopefully they do. And I know I’ve had students come back and say, miss, when you did the, like, when you like told us, like, if they come in late to my class, they have to come right up to me and they have to say, sorry, miss for being late. And then I say, okay, thank you for your late sip. And then they go to their desk because that’s polite and that’s respectful. That’s not in the curriculum. Right. But I remember one student came back and said, miss in high school, I was me.

Merle Gonsalvez (19:06):
And a bunch of other people were late for class and this teacher was mad and I went up to her and I said, sorry, miss, for being late, I was late because of this, it won’t happen again. And she said, okay, thank you. Go to your class. And the other people just went and sat, go your desk. And the other people just went and sat at their desk. And she said, all of you get up and go to the office. Like she was because you’re, you’re teaching about relationships. That’s so important. Teaching kids, manners, teaching kids, how to be respectful and stuff like that. And it translates into when they get jobs. Right? Yeah.

Sam Demma (19:34):
That’s so cool. No, that’s perfect. I love that advice. And I think in the virtual world, it’s a little more difficult to foster and build those relationships, but you already gave us a ton of ideas on how to do that. Do you have any advice for a teacher who’s struggling to get their kids to turn the camera on? I know you mentioned hand delivering candy, but I know that’s also a challenge people are faced with right now. And I’m wondering if you’ve experimented with anything.

Merle Gonsalvez (19:59):
So some students are able to opt out of that and that’s okay if their parents are okay with that. But for the rest of them, I always say, so one time, a couple of times in the first weeks of school, the kids would turn their camera on and they’re like lying down in bed like that. And I’m like, okay, let’s talk about being professional. Now I have to be professional in my hair and I’ll be professional right now. But I have to be professional when I come to work. And so I’m sitting at a desk, I have a little chair in the side, like a lounge chair in the side, but I’m not teaching from there. Right. That’s for me to take my coffee breaks. I’m sitting at my desk and I’m here and I’m present, I’m dressed. I brushed my teeth and I’m ready to be on screen.

Merle Gonsalvez (20:46):
And that is how you have to come to school everyday, because that is your job. Your parents have their jobs and it pays the bills. Your job is to come to school and be a good student. So that means getting dressed being presentable and getting, and being ready to be on camera at any moment. So every morning I have them alternate or cameras on and say, hello, just a quick, hello. Like, so they either wave or they turn their mic on and they say, hi, I want to see their faces. And then if I’m doing like tasks where I need someone to present and they don’t always like volunteer right. To turn their camera on, but I always kind of say, okay, who’s the brave soul. Who’s really gonna, you know, be a leader and, and, and show their face and present it. And then after they do it, then I’ll give them like, you know, the, the compliments you know, thanks so much for doing that. I know that was tough and stuff like that. And if you say, you know, it was tough and they’re like, oh, that wasn’t so bad, then they’ll do it again. So yeah, it’s if you make it fun too, they want to turn the cameras on. Like a lot of kids wanted to show their hair. Yeah.

Sam Demma (22:03):
Yeah. That’s cool. I think making them proud of something that they want to show is like a ninja trick. And it’s a, it’s a good one. That’s a good one.

Merle Gonsalvez (22:12):
We all, we also like at the end of the day, a couple of kids taught me some tic talks and now, listen, I’m a trained dancer. I have a degree in dance and fine arts. Right. And some of these pictures I can not get right away. I’m like, wait, show me again. So at the end of the day, that’s what we do. We do something where they share. Or like we do like a little show and tell, or, you know, they’re teaching me how to do something. That’s really cool because you know, I’m old. So they’re like, miss, we’re gonna make you cool. Show this to your daughters.

Sam Demma (22:48):
Yeah. Cool. Old boat wise. And you shared a lot of the wisdom today on the,

Merle Gonsalvez (22:52):
On the flat

Sam Demma (22:56):
If another educator wants to reach out, bounce, some ideas around, have some conversations, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Merle Gonsalvez (23:03):
To me? Oh well, I’m, let’s see. I mean, they could email me if you want to put my email in the comments or whatever. They can definitely email me and reach out. I’m on Twitter @MamaGLeadership because my students the guidance counselor runtime and my class was like, you know, you spend more time here at school than you do at home. So like, I mean, technically Ms.Gonsalvez is your mama. And then one kid was like, well, Mama G. And then from there it just stuck. And my students just call me mama G. So @MamaGLeadership, that’s my Twitter, my friend and I are actually starting a new Instagram. We haven’t, you know, maybe by the time this is off, it’ll be up and ready, but it’s @teach.me.tips. So we’re just going to put all of our teacher tips right on that Instagram and share those with everyone. So if anyone wants to follow that.

Sam Demma (24:08):
Awesome. Well, thanks so much again for coming on. This has been a fantastic conversation and I really appreciate it.

Merle Gonsalvez (24:14):
Thank you so much for having me.

Sam Demma (24:17):
And there you have it, another full interview on the high-performing educator podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Merle and took some actionable ideas away, whether it was crazy hair day or little ways to make virtual teaching more effective and engaging for your students. As always, please consider leaving a rating and review so that more educators, just like you can find this content and benefit from the ideas and the network. And if you are someone who has ideas, if you have stories and insights that you want to share, shoot us an email at info@samdemma.com. So we can get you on the show and share those ideas. Anyways, I will see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

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.