About Steph Pearson
Steph (@TheSPearson) is an engagement, education, and technology expert. She is constantly working to unlearn mindsets which result in inequities for Indigenous, Black, racialized and 2SLGBTQ+ students and colleagues. She has coordinated the OCSB elearning program for 4.5 years and assists teachers working to leverage technology from kindergarten to grade 12.
She has presented at various conferences across Canada demonstrating how digital tools can be used for differentiation, deepen understanding and to promote activism for social justice. She has contributed to several Ontario elearning writing projects such as Canadian Families (2017) and the Catholic Virtual Ontario’s Canadian History courses (2022).
As she returns to the classroom in September 2022, she looks forward to applying equitable and responsive strategies to engage students from grade 9 – 12 in History, Geography and Social Sciences. She has experience in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, the New South Wales (Australia) Board of Studies Curriculum, and taught in Glasgow, Scotland.
She can be found most days enjoying a grilled cheese sandwich, planning her next trip abroad and would like to say, “pspsps” to your cat.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.
Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Steph Pearson. Steph is an engagement, education, and technology expert. She is constantly working to unlearn mindsets which result in inequities for Indigenous, Black, racialized and 2SLGBTQ+ students and colleagues. She has coordinated the OCSB elearning program for 4.5 years and assists teachers working to leverage technology from kindergarten to grade 12. She has presented at various conferences across Canada demonstrating how digital tools can be used for differentiation, deepen understanding and to promote activism for social justice. She has contributed to several Ontario elearning writing projects such as Canadian Families (2017) and the Catholic Virtual Ontario’s Canadian History courses (2022). As she returns to the classroom in September 2022, she looks forward to applying equitable and responsive strategies to engage students from grade 9 – 12 in History, Geography and Social Sciences.
Sam Demma (02:00):
She has experience in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, the New South Wales (Australia) Board of Studies Curriculum, and taught in Glasgow, Scotland. She can be found most days enjoying a grilled cheese sandwich, planning her next trip abroad, and would like to say “pspsps” to your cat . I hope you enjoy this conversation with Steph, 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 very special guest. Her name is Step Pearson. Steph, please introduce yourself.
Steph Pearson (02:38):
Hi, I’m Steph Pearson. I am currently a learning technologies consultant with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and I am heading back to the classroom in September to teach grade nine through 12 contemporary studies. And this is my 20th year of teaching.
Sam Demma (02:55):
Thank you for your service. tell me more about the pathway that brought you to learning technologies and how, like, what is that? Explain it to us.
Steph Pearson (03:05):
Excellent. So learning technologies is basically a fancy way to say what digital tools are we using to help students engage in the content to show what they’re know, show, what they know about a, a topic discover for themselves what they’re learning, but having technology really the perfect, the perfect way to describe technology is it becomes just that vehicle that kids use to learn. It also allows when used in the best possible ways, the teacher to really just fade into the background so that students can really pursue their interests and seek information that may not be available to them in the classroom in another way. So a classic example is some teachers like, well, I can’t teach black history and my Canadian history course because it’s not my textbook, well, get rid of the textbook and go to the internet. so cultivate sources for your students to be able to find that and see that and, and see themselves.
Steph Pearson (03:59):
And when we know representation really matters, technology just makes it so beautiful to be able to have students chase the stories of themselves and, and how they fit to take pictures. So so that’s really what learning technology is about is how do we, not only how do we get kids to be able to see themselves in the world, but how do we help students with special education needs? How do they use technology in order to show what they know about topics? And then how do we make the world more efficient? Like how do we make teachers time more efficient so they can spend that one-on-one time that technology just can’t do, they don’t have the human touch that do,
Sam Demma (04:35):
How did you get into this role? Was it something you always wanted to do or like, tell me a little bit about the big picture journey from, okay. Student growing up. When did you realize you wanted to get into education and then let’s zoom in as well to how you got specifically to here?
Steph Pearson (04:51):
Okay. So I never wanted to be a teacher, both my parents were teachers, my older sister was in training, so I kind of tried to avoid it. And then I realized, oh, crap, I actually really kind of good at this. And I’m, and I really started liking it. Yeah. And then I, and then I had the opportunity to go Australia for a year on a, on a teaching exchange. So it was a pretty amazing experience that I could walk out the gate of my, of my school, where I was teaching in Australia and be at the opera house in 40 minutes, like walk over the bridge. Like it was absolutely stunning, but part, they were in the very, this is in 2009 and they were just moving to a one to one student to laptop ratio with with apple products. And so I was there kind of participating in this kind of opportunity.
Steph Pearson (05:34):
We were nowhere near this, my home board, but here they were doing it. It was a private school. There was lots of money, lots of intention coming in at it. And so one of the things, their tech learning technologies, people did was let’s have a day every week where teachers can come and learn about what’s available to them. So that’s the year I got involved in Twitter, 2009. And because they were like, there are so many things to learn there. And so I got interested in that and I would just these little bite size ways to use technology better in your classroom. So then when I moved home came back to the Ottawa Catholic. I was like, this is something we could start doing here. And so I started leading little sessions. I’ve always been interested in technology. Like I was born in the seventies.
Steph Pearson (06:14):
So I tech like computers became a really, they only became really essential in my life in university. So I did all my research and paper, but I would word processor, I even learned to type on a typewriter . And so when, but when so as I’m leaving university, that’s where word processing is on computers and the internet is justfancy and, and so I’ve never been afraid to press buttons. And I think that’s really what all being techy looks like is just like helping people press buttons so that they go, oh, actually this is not a problem. I can press these buttons and it’ll be okay. And, and when they have, when educators get the opportunity to play in a, in a non-threatening environment, they are more likely to give their students those opportunities to play in those non-threatening environments as well. And sometimes when you talk to somebody who is really gungho computers, and they’re talking about Rams and gigabytes and ly blurs that means no nothing to somebody.
Steph Pearson (07:09):
So if you have somebody who’s willing to sit beside you and talk to you in really simple terms sit beside you and help you click that can really build confidence. And of course, we’ve seen that in the last two years, the pandemic where people who kind of tried to avoid everything technological, they’ve had to jump on board. And it’s been really amazing to see some, some teachers who were basically almost in tears when they would first start coming to our office hours. But then by the end, they’re like, we’re gonna try this really cool tool. And we’re, and, and so that just gives us so much to play in our role,
Sam Demma (07:41):
What did, what did that nonthreatening environment look like? Tell me a little bit more about how this looked and what the facilitation looked like. If another board is getting inspired by this and wants to try something similar.
Steph Pearson (07:54):
That’s a great question. So at first it was literally, I convinced the principal to buy coffee every morning. And so it was first thing in the morning and we would have coffee and donuts. And I I’m just like, this is kind of how I act in a classroom, so I would make jokes and we would just literally walk through the steps and and everybody would just, we’d do one tool and we focused on the tool. And then once people could feel like they could, you know, felt pretty confident about how to start like a how to, how to use a slide deck in their classroom. For example, once they got used to where they could click, then we could say, okay, these are the ways you can now use it. Right. So then they go, oh, and then I would volunteer.
Steph Pearson (08:36):
Like, if you really need me, I will try to organize so that I can be available, the period that I’m off on my prep and go, and excuse me, help you help your students. But most people, because they were only concentrating on that one tool that week, they were able to use it with their students, had some success. And so the next time they’d be like, okay, we’re ready to learn something else. Right. So it was, it was literally just building those relationships between people who were, who were afraid to kind of go or intimidated to go into these technologies and creating those opportunities for them to just get a chance to play. Now, this was, this was unique because again, the people who weren’t willing to give up time outside of the Workday they wouldn’t necessarily participate in this, but it was amazing that they would be talking to people who were participating in my workshops and they would start talking to their neighbor and their neighbor would go, oh, I didn’t know you could do that. So it was like that slow infiltration of like sneaky PD, right? One person’s more confident. And then everybody else built their confidence. And, and, and within a few years we had a, a very positive environment where when your own device became really just the norm, cuz the students were so used to seeing, oh, we’re gonna be using our computers game. Which of course in 2012 was a much different thing than now where a lot of people have gone one devices. So
Steph Pearson (09:59):
Sam Demma (10:00):
I like that. What are some of the tools that you find yourself using to maximize your time or that you really love and enjoy that you think every teacher should know about or use? And I know there’s no one size fits all, but it sounds like you’ve pushed a lot of buttons and you’ve probably pushed some buttons
Steph Pearson (10:22):
metaphorically and then
Sam Demma (10:24):
Some, you know, no pun intended you’ve probably pushed some buttons that have helped you a lot and you co you probably keep pushing those buttons. So I’m curious what those buttons are, what some of those tools are.
Steph Pearson (10:37):
Awesome. So one of the other hats that I wear is I coordinated our eLearning program at our school board. Nice. And what I find is some people just need the same information over and over again, but they’re asking it for, at very different times during the week or over the months. So Gmails templates are a God send. So if you’ve never looked at templates that saves my life because allows you to just save those statements that you make all the time and one place, and you can just randomly them into all kinds of emails, you can send images or gifts. And so when I’m trying to help students log into their email or log into their e-learning profile I can just send them gifts. So the kids can just know exactly where to click. And that’s also part of that is, is kind of leads to how do, how do young people learn and how do older people learn?
Steph Pearson (11:25):
Right. So a lot of our older staff really like when we, we write down the steps, then how to do it. But I find that if any, most people are pretty good. If I use a screencast and literally show them what buttons to press. So we use stuff like Screencastify all the time we, we video has a screen reporter tool. Canva has a screen reporter tool, and we just find if we can show them exactly where to click again, that anxiety just goes down and if you know, quickly, but they can watch those videos at half spot, half speed, and literally watch, okay, now I click here and literally watch and click here. So our, our our squad of three of us over the last two years, we’ve created something like 500 videos. We call it OCS B how to, and it’s literally how to click around and find the things that both educators need. Parents need students need, because we knew as long as there was a video, people were like, great. If there’s a video show me and then, and we were able to be more efficient in how the concerns and the, the requests that we were getting. So made a huge difference. So I spent a lot of time on video, video editing software over the last two years.
Sam Demma (12:36):
that’s awesome. So Gmail templates, big time saver probably just big stress reliever yes. And how to videos have been both been huge,
Steph Pearson (12:48):
Huge, absolutely huge. And again, once you have a bank, it becomes a lot easier to serve those needs and people, and it, and it’s always funny when people are putting in like service requests in our board and they, they wanna put it at urgent. I’m like, you’re, this is not an urgent issue, but it feels urgent to them. So if we can get back to them really quickly with the here’s the video where to click and I say this to like our teachers who are doing e-learning as well. Like if you send them a video a with your face on it, cuz I think that’s the other disconnect that we have with a lot of digital learning is that we take the humanity out of it. So I say, put your face in the bottom left hand corner. And so they see you talking about where you’re clicking on the screen, because then you are a real person, not just some ran who happens to stuff, right. So how do we build community in a digital world? And so I know that’s where this job is gonna go into the future is how do we make sure that all educators can talk about how do out, how to make positive digital interactions online?
Sam Demma (13:48):
You mentioned next year, you’re going back to the classroom, which also makes me believe that you were in the classroom before. Yes. tell me a little bit about the different grades you’ve taught, what that experience was like some of the high moments or things that you enjoy teaching or from teaching in the classroom.
Steph Pearson (14:05):
Yeah. So I’ve been lucky. So been this current role four and a half years. So prior to that, I, I taught seven and eight for a couple years in a couple different school models. So one where the seven and eights were attached to the K to six schools and another school where the seven and eights were by themselves and in another school where the seven and eights were with the grade twelves. So really interesting to see that very important developmental period of grade seven and eight and how which would be great, like 11 through 13 for our American viewers. They, that kind of, it’s so interesting when they’re the oldest students with kinder, they really get that, that they’re oldest students when they’re in their own world, it’s their own world. Right. Versus when they’re seven to 12 and they’re like, oh, the grade twelves are so intimidating.
Steph Pearson (14:50):
You’re like the grade twelves don’t think about you. I’m sorry. They, they haven’t given you a thought of debt, but yes, they’re intimidating. I’ve been lucky enough to be in contemporary studies. So social sciences, history, geography for over a decade. And and it’s been really interesting over that shift. So I taught in a predominantly white school for many, many years, and somehow I stumbled into teaching about equity and, and all of these things that have become really important over the last four years because of the, the media being better at reporting those issues. Right? Those have obviously always been an issue. But the media has gotten the mainstream media has gotten better at tracing the roots of the causes of inequities. So it was really interesting teaching at a predominantly white school where I’d be able, you know, we finally start talking about like how the color of your skin impacts how you walk in the world.
Steph Pearson (15:50):
So and I would have students just be appreciative at the end of the day saying, thank you for being, speaking to my experiences in a way that they weren’t hearing other classrooms, but then I moved to a school that was predominantly non-white. So a lot of black students, a lot of middle student students, students who identified as as Latinx and I, I was, I was really fascinated at how the teaching had to change. So when I was teaching predominantly white students, I was trying to convince them that racism exists and that sexism exists and that homophobias exist in, in some ways. And then I was teaching at a, at a student, a student group where they would’ve been facing all of those issues and I just would have to get them started and they were happy to run with books, ideas.
Steph Pearson (16:42):
So and we’re really excited to have those conversations and, and be validated that their experience is real and that they could use those to further their understanding of a topic. So for example, I had a student who we were talking about the word franchise and and they got stuck on the idea of like a McDonald’s franchise. And I was like, no franchise like voting. And they said, oh, okay. Yeah, no problem. So one of the students was like, you know, we could all vote miss. And I said, well, no, actually, and I look around the classroom and I said, actually only one person in this whole room would’ve been able to vote up until 1960. And they were like, what? And they’re like, yeah, one of you and they’re, and then now as that kid stood up and was like, I’m the only white guy in here, which was such a fascinating moment where he had never seen himself as other yeah.
Steph Pearson (17:33):
But in a room that was constantly othered by society by not in their own homes obviously, and not in their own communities, but by society at large is it was just so fascinating to see that realization. And of course how this, how their, how his peers reacted to that in a really supportive way that he then recognized that difference that he had never seen before. And that privilege of recognizing that difference. Right. So it’s been really fascinating to kind of watch that that, that arc of, of what that looks like and how that will feel in yet another school. When I go back in September and what the last four and a half years of pandemic black lives matter real deep, hard work in our school board for two S LGBTQ rights for students and opportunities, I I’m really looking forward to what I am going to learn from the students, as opposed to what I feel like I can impart on anyone else.
Sam Demma (18:29):
How did you determine you have to change your teaching style? Because I’m sure there are sometimes teachers who transition different, different age groups, maybe even different schools and try teaching the same way they taught in a previous situation and find that it’s not working. So like, what was the indicator for you to adjust and shift?
Steph Pearson (18:48):
Yeah, so Chris Emden has a great book called to all the white folks who teach in the hood. And so he had some really great ways to think about how, how to see kids who are not from your experience, how to see how you, what question you could ask yourself. So you see them as amazing whole human beings, but that their background is not the same as your background. So for example I stopped being annoyingly annoying about peop kids being late for class, because I realized that, and it probably was the case for a lot of the students in my first school, but in the second school, I realized they were walking their, their siblings classes, that there wasn’t anybody to pick them up in the morning that there they had unreliable power in their homes, right. So they had all these other complexities in their lives.
Steph Pearson (19:37):
That meant that getting to school on time was the least of their concerns, or just that it wasn’t of value that they, they also prescribed to like being on time is my thing, not their thing. So so for example, I just started showing news CRI clips the first 10 minutes of the day before I started teaching the lesson. Right. So so the 10 minutes I’m using my air quotes there. So the 10 minutes gave those students that wiggle room to be able to get there so that they could be there for the initial kit. These are the activities we’re gonna do today. Because part of why I was annoyed about kids being late is I didn’t wanna have to talk them through what we were gonna do for the day again. So if I just shifted my expectation, because I’m the easiest one to shift shifting 30 students is a lot harder than changing me a single human being for what my expectations are.
Steph Pearson (20:28):
So 10 minutes of news. And then what I would say to the students, if you are watching the news and you can connect it to the things we’re, we’re looking at, then do that. And so they got more learning or different style of learning and the students who then would come in, they could catch up if they wanted, they could check out the rule, the, the, the news reel that we’d watched or not, and we’d be able to proceed with our day. So that’s just one little small thing that I think the students appreciated just cuz it was just one less teacher that was gonna get on their case for not being there time. Right. And I think when, excuse me, when there are lots of other complexities in a student’s life, that doesn’t mean that there are any less capable of learning. It just means that there are other things that might also be important at that time.
Sam Demma (21:12):
You mentioned the book as a resource. Yes. Tell my white folks that teach in the hood. What other resources have you found helpful that have informed your practice and it could be books, but it could be absolutely anything that you think has changed your perspective or provided you with some tools and resources that you found helpful.
Steph Pearson (21:30):
Right? So if, if you, I, I do get a chance to read a lot of books in my current role. So one of the ones that I am currently obsessed with is gold. Muhammad’s cultivating genius and how we can think entirely different about how differently, about how we shape pedagogy and how we curriculum, how we design curriculum. And so she uses instead of like white thinkers, white Western thinkers, she uses the deep tradition of black literary societies from the 1830s and how, when people came to learn in a group, it wasn’t about literature necessarily, but it was about literary understanding. So what skill are you doing? How does it show you more about your identity? What kind of critical lens can we bring to a, a concept we find justice or injustice in the world and what does it say about joy?
Steph Pearson (22:28):
Like what kinda joy can we bring? So I love that framing. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching students in their bachelor’s of ed program. And again, trying to get them to think differently about how they want to teach, to get out of the, the, the skills or the way that they were taught. Right. Mm-hmm cause it’s very much, I was only in school and I learned the way the school and this is what my associate teachers teach, but, but let’s stop the pattern if we know the pattern isn’t working for all students. Right. So so I love go Goldie for that. Following voices that are very different than my own on Twitter and social media, Instagram. So a lot of two S LGBTQ voices black, LGBTQ voices people who are more right leaning than I am trying to find places, actively seeking out of my internet bubble so that I am presented with information that is different than I would get in my regular bubble.
Steph Pearson (23:30):
And it’s amazing how often those just little statements that people who identify with those groups will give me little tidbits that will just sit in the back of my mind. So I won’t necessarily jump to the same conclusions in the future. And I think that’s really powerful. Just again, questioning our bias, assuming I have bias, assuming I’m gonna screw things up, getting really good at apologizing. I think that’s a really good skill that all people could get better at, but especially educators, because we are gonna screw up and we need to be ready to hear that from our students that, Hey, you really offended me when and apologizing and then do the next right thing. Do the next thing that is going show that you’re really trying to atone for the mistake that you made, which I think is really important.
Sam Demma (24:17):
I love that. I think being vulnerable to also recognize when we made a mistake is just as important as, as you know, hearing somebody that’s upset with us and then saying, you know what, I’m really sorry. I, I had a guest come on the podcast named Barry Walsh and he’s retired, but still teaches and like volunteers a hundred days of his year in his, in his high school. And he’s like in his seventies now, which is so cool. And he was telling me this story about a student one time that stayed back in class and he was in a, a more rough area and a student came up to him and he must have said something or did something wrong. And the student just said, you know what, Barry, like, you’re you were an asshole yesterday. And you know, and Barry was just like, damn, I didn’t expect to hear that. But he looked at the kid and he, he said, after thinking about it, you know what I was mm-hmm , I’m so sorry. Mm-Hmm the student said that’s okay. Barry and walked outta the classroom and yeah. And he’s like, sometimes that’s really all a student needs to hear is a genuine apology. Yeah. And that’s all they’re looking for. And so I think, you know, apologizing is a really important skill. How have you seen that play out in your own teaching practice or the practice of others and has it been effective?
Steph Pearson (25:34):
Oh man. Well, and again, I think because one of the biggest structures we need to break down in terms of inequities is recognizing privilege, recognizing white supremacy, recognizing that we don’t know we’re swimming in this super of white supremacy. So so for example, I, I was told I used a phrase on Twitter that I had no idea what the route was on it. Cause it never bothered, never questioned. It, never had an opportunity to question someone very gently pointed it out to me. And then I apologized via Twitter. That I’d used the tweet that I’d used, the language that I wasn’t aware of. I deleted the tweet. I apologize because again, it’s that, that language it’s not, it’s not the intention, it’s the impact. Right. And sometimes you can’t explain your intention, trying to explain your intention just makes everything worse.
Steph Pearson (26:27):
Yeah. So you just gotta eat the humble pie. And that is with educators that’s with with colleagues, that’s with people. I don’t even know who I might have offended on Twitter, like all of those pieces, but it was amazing how many people came back to me and said, thank you for doing that apology because they just needed to see that a people make mistakes and B you can apologize. It apologize gracefully, and you don’t, and that doesn’t make you less of a person and doesn’t make you less of an educator. And it, and it certainly, but I think if you’re willing to give a good, solid apology, people are more likely to come up and tell you that you’ve been a jerk because they can see that you’re trying to change your behavior. And it’s the people who absolutely refuse to change that become the problem.
Steph Pearson (27:18):
When, if I’m pointing out where the boundary has to be and you keep crossing it, that I’m gonna stop trusting you. I don’t, you are not a safe space. You are not an ally. And so I need, so then I’m gonna find ways to work around you, as opposed to trying to, to call you in. Which I think is really what the lacks that we wanna do in education. Right? We want everybody to be moving in the right direction for the right, for the right reasons for all the students who need us most. Right.
Sam Demma (27:45):
You mentioned at the beginning of this interview that you’ve been in education for 20 years. If you could travel back in time, tap step on your shoulder in year one and say, not that you need to change anything about the path that you’re about to go down, but here’s some advice that would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just getting into education. What would you have told your younger self,
Steph Pearson (28:09):
Keep listening and keep listening and know that people are giving advice because they mean it from the deepest part of their soul. And even though you may not agree with it now, you may see the value it in the future. Mentorship is exactly that it’s people asking questions, trying to challenge or kind of thought. And sometimes I think, I think this is a issue with all young educators. We think we know everything because we’ve, you know, lived on the planet for 25 years but then when you get to your forties, you’re like, oh, the best thing we can know is that we don’t know anything at all. And the only way to be right is to constantly be willing to change our approach. So I think I was much more stubborn in my early days. And then I was really blessed to have really incredible people guide me not only in, in the classroom, but like spiritually and really kind of give me a different view of say Catholicism in a way that I did not.
Steph Pearson (29:10):
I was not, I didn’t see when I was growing up, but given who I was blessed to work with, I see, oh, this is, this is where the work can come into in Catholic schools where we have some, there’s a lot of political challenges as, as Catholic school boards. And I think there’s lots of room in faith to be inclusive and be amazing. So having that is what I know now when I people tried to tell me what to think earlier, but they were really just trying to guide me. So I think listen more would be a good one. And again, seek out those. I wish I would’ve sought out those different voices earlier in my career from those and people who aren’t necessarily educators, but those different voices back in the early two thousands.
Sam Demma (29:58):
If someone has been inspired by this conversation, enjoyed, it, wants to reach out, ask you a question or have a conversation, what would be the best way for an educator to get in touch with you?
Steph Pearson (30:08):
Easiest way is at on Twitter @TheSPearson. And you could certainly look me up, I’m all over the internet. So Steph Pearson and Ottawa, and you can find me it’s it’s my, my emails all over the internet.
Sam Demma (30:21):
Steph Pearson (30:22):
It’s the fastest way to do it.
Sam Demma (30:23):
Sounds good. Steph, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we will talk soon.
Steph Pearson (30:30):
Sam Demma (30:31):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.
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