fbpx

Educator

Camille Loken – High School Principal & Executive Coach

Camille Loken – High School Principal & Executive Coach
About Camille Loken

Camille is a Principal at a high school concurrently pursuing her Doctorate of Education. She brings enthusiasm, creativity, and a passion for reciprocal learning and teaching to all endeavours. Camille is also a certified executive coach and has worked with many leaders to help them find clarity and a path forward with their leadership dilemmas. 

She is a forward-looking leader who enjoys complex challenges.  Camille is committed to seeing herself as a perpetual amateur where learning is about taking risks and is a grand adventure. Fundamentally, she believes that life, with all its lovely challenges and complexities, is meant to be enjoyed. It is all about evolving and looking at experiences as opportunities for growth.  And, it’s always okay to have too much fun!

Connect with Camille: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Skill of Self Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Camille; Camille Loken. Camille is a Principal at a high school concurrently pursuing her doctorate of education. She brings enthusiasm, creativity, and passion for reciprocal learning and teaching to all endeavors. Camille’s also a certified executive coach and has worked with many leaders to help them find clarity and a path forward with their leadership dilemmas.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She’s a forward looking leader who enjoys complex challenges. Camille is committed to seeing herself as a perpetual amateur where learning is about taking risks and is about grand adventure. Fundamentally, she believes that life with all of its lovely challenges and complexities is meant to be enjoyed. It is all about evolving and looking at experiences as opportunities for growth, and it’s always okay to have too much fun. I had an amazing time with this interview with Camille, and I hope you enjoy it. Get a sheet of paper, get a pen or pencil, take notes, and I will see you on the other side. Camille, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We just had a great conversation off the air about adversity and my story, now it’s time to flip it over to you. Can you introduce yourself and share a little bit behind the journey that got you to where you are today, doing the work in education that you’re doing?


Camille Loken (02:00):
Sure, I’m a high school Principal. I’m at a really large high school in Edmonton, Alberta. I think probably the largest one in the city. I mean, that might change in terms of student enrollment, but it’s a big one so there’s lots of levels of complexity in a, in a high school. And I’m new here this year. So I transitioned from a k-9 school as a Principal last year to a high school this year, which so many people say, well, isn’t that interesting taking on a big school in the middle of a pandemic and yes, actually the word is more, more like fascinating than interesting. Yes, because there’s, that’s just another level of complexity. So in terms of my journey, this is my third principalship. I never set out to be a principal. That’s not, that’s not how and really setting out in this journey.


Camille Loken (02:55):
Actually, I started when I was about five. So you know, how people ask you, what would you like to be when you grow up? Yeah, I was very clear in my intention, even when I was very young; I’m going to be a teacher, and I didn’t ever go off that path. That was what I had decided I was gonna do. And so you know, a little bit of a calling and even as a kid, I remember kids coming to our door knocking on the door, can Camille come out and play? Yeah, and then there’d be a crowd waiting, because I’d come out and I’d organize everything. I’d be like, we’re playing this and this is how it’s gonna go. And they would, you know, that’s how it would be. And so like those skills were, were in me to just quite naturally to wanna be with people and wanna help them to, you know, be together and, and be a collective. And all of that was just in, in me as a young, as a young person. So yeah, so I started that path, went to University, became a teacher, worked on my master’s of education at some point and currently I’m working on my doctorate.


Sam Demma (04:00):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And sometimes we embark on a path from a young age and we veer off. Did you veer off it at all and do something different at first? Or was it like, no, this is, this is the direction we’re going in. And every step just took you closer to this destination.


Camille Loken (04:16):
Yeah. It wa it was, I didn’t really veer off, off. I remember a time in high school when everybody’s talking about, oh, this or that or the other thing I thought, well, is that for me? Or, you know, when you do those assessments, oh, you could be an architect or a lawyer or whatever. Typical thing came out. So in those moments, sometimes I may go, well, maybe I can be an architect or a lawyer, but then none of that ever lasted very long. Yeah, it was, it was kind of, I’m going to be a teacher. That’s, that’s what I wanna do.


Sam Demma (04:46):
And when you think back to your own teachers that have taught you in your life which ones stick out and had a huge impact on you because I’m sure you were inspired by other teachers along the journey to pursue this path as well. Sometimes it’s the reverse also having bad teachers inspires it as well, but let’s focus on the positives. Can you share any of those names and then also expand and tell me why they had such an impact on you?


Camille Loken (05:13):
Well, one, I think teachers are everywhere. I think sometimes when we talk about teachers, we, we limit teachers too, our schooling experience. But I I’ve met some fabulous teachers along my journey that are, have not ever been in school. So yeah, teacher large is a much bigger thing. And so there’s lots of people that in my life that I would consider significant teachers. And, and yet to your point of teachers teaching you how you don’t wanna be, that there’s a couple that come to mind as well. And on that note, I, I think the like school system worked for me. I got the, and, and when I say school system worked to, for me, I got, I understood the system. I knew what you needed to do to do well. I knew what you needed to do to have effective relationships like me deciding on that for myself, like working the system a little bit.


Camille Loken (06:07):
I mean, it sounds a little bit CRAs, but I got the system. And then because I got the system, the system worked for me, so I got recognition teacher, you know, well, we enjoy having Camilla in class. She’s just such a really good student. One of the things that really informed me along my path is I have a sister who has some, some significant learning disabilities. So at some point she, her and I are two years apart. So at some point in school, I was accelerated a grade and at some point she was held back a grade. And so we were in the same grade. Even though we were two years apart and not in the same class, but in the same grade. And oftentimes we were in small schools. My father was in the armed forces. We moved over two years.


Camille Loken (06:54):
So that’s, that comes into the story as well, every two years, I’m somewhere new. And so I didn’t ever stay in a school for any length of time. So naming teachers for me is like the only teacher actually that comes to mind is Mr. Peters. And I’ll get back to him when I, because I was side by side with my teacher and the school system did not work for her. Well, lot of that informed me about how I would want to be in a system and what a system needs to look, cuz it needs to be equitable. A system that works for me also needs to work for my sister and it didn’t. And that’s a problem. And you know, that’s always in me to make sure that we’re creating systems to ensure that every that is going to have an excellent and equitable experience.


Camille Loken (07:43):
So Mr. Peters was my grade nine teacher at sir, Samuel will steel doesn’t exist anymore in Calgary, Alberta, which was a school on the base. And he was, I think it was his personality and he really just went outta his way to connect with kids and see us for who we were. Hmm. So I think I probably had established a little bit of a reputation of being the good student maybe, but he, but he saw this other side of me too, right? Like the, the quirky little, you know, kind of creative, those kind of things. And he nourished those, those things in me as well. Yeah. He saw me.


Sam Demma (08:26):
No, that’s awesome. Back to the, the equity piece for a second as well. Can you share what some of those challenges specifically were, and I’m curious to know, do they still exist now? I’m sure a lot of them still do. And can you talk to some of the ways that you envision the future systems changing to fix those issues?


Camille Loken (08:48):
I think our systems are better now. I still think we have long way to grow. I think we need to, I think we really do need to pay attention to that and, and ask ourselves and check into our systems to, to see if how we’re doing. Like we need to measure it as we go along. So now we talk, we talk a lot about, oh, and I think about this just Steven as because as a kid, I didn’t have an under of how you would even do that. I just saw that it wasn’t, it wasn’t right. Yeah. But I, I wouldn’t have had an understanding of how anybody would go around about, about that as a, as a teacher. And I’ve been teaching for, I, I first started teaching in 1986. I haven’t taught all those years cuz I took off time to have lots of sons.


Camille Loken (09:35):
So was a stay at home mom for a while. But when I started in 1986, we didn’t really talk about differentiation. We didn’t talk about, you know, meeting the student where they’re at and filling or recognizing their gifts or what the strengths are they bringing into the classroom and going from there, we, we didn’t talk about that. It wasn’t something we discussed and over time that has been it, it is part of what we do now as educators who really think about how do we meet everybody’s need as a unique individual. And it’s struggle. I think we, we haven’t arrived around really understanding that because you can, as complex as human beings are like each individual is, is incredibly complex and then put 30 human beings in a classroom and you know, then you have really lots of complexities to think about


Sam Demma (10:30):
That’s so true. In, in this idea of creating more equitable schools, like what are some of the steps that, that should be taken or considered? Like, for example, imagine you, you were removed from your current reality in place, back in that school you were at with your sister, like 20 years ago or 30 years ago, I might be bettering the numbers. Totally. but you look very young, so it’s oh.


Sam Demma (10:57):
And if you’re placed back in that situation with the knowledge you have now, what are the first things you, you change or what are the first things you tell all the staff like, you know, if you have the opportunity to bring them all into the cafeteria and say, this is how we need to change right now, because I would imagine that some of the schools are like, you know, a lot of them are changing and we’re getting better as a system. Some of them might still be stuck in those old ways. And what are those initial first things we have to consider?


Camille Loken (11:22):
Yeah. That’s such an awesome question. It’s a time travel question, Sam. I love time travel. Cool. want me to travel back in time, knowing what I know now and if I were talking. So if I were talking to the staff of the school that we were both in a, at the same time and, and she was having a different experience and I, I would say, think about my sister and what are the unique gifts she brings to the classroom. Please identify with her from that. Not, not from a deficit lens. Because I think many people saw her from a, a deficit lens, what, you know, what she didn’t have or what she couldn’t do. So think about her unique strengths and what she brings to this classroom. Because I think even, even that is step one. Yeah. She would be, she would feel valued.


Camille Loken (12:12):
Yeah. And appreciated from a, from a, from a gift point of view from yeah. From being valued. And then I would say, okay, so here’s someone that maybe learns differently. Maybe retains things differently, connects to things differently, you know, what is she interested in? What are the passions that you could tap into to make this relevant? How might you make learning relevant to her? How would you provide her voice about how she could demonstrate her learning? Cuz maybe you want her to demonstrate your, her learning this way and that’s not in her wheelhouse or that’s not a strength thing or she wouldn’t even be interested in that. So how might she demonstrate her learning in unique ways to her that you, that still would meet the outcomes that you still could assess and have an understanding? I mean that, and that gets to that student voice and choice.


Sam Demma (13:08):
Hmm.


Camille Loken (13:10):
I think if we had teachers who could really understand that we would have yeah. A lot more successful students who struggle. Yeah. And not even the ones who struggle. I mean, we also think of the ones we have our gifted students that are just so incredibly bright and they’re in a classroom with teachers who are kind of teaching to the middle and yeah. They’re like this isn’t meeting my needs at all. Right. Yeah. And those students are as at risk, as, as kids at the other end, like my sister, because they they’re like, this is boring and meaningless and I, I’m not in, I’m not engaged.


Sam Demma (13:50):
Yeah. It it’s an interesting conversation because like you said, there is so many complex within the confined walls of a school building and it’s a exciting challenge to figure out how to meet all their needs. Because I think that when that day comes it will come sometime in the future. It’ll be an exciting celebration and day because I think schools will have an even a huge impact on the lives, future leaders or young people. Absolutely. You, you mentioned time travel and loving time travel questions from a teaching perspective. Personally, if you could go back to the first year that you taught what would you tell yourself as a teacher? Imagine there’s a teacher whose first year in education is right now, it’s like a full blown pandemic and maybe they’re in their PJs teaching from home with the zoom mullet. Like what, what, what advice would you have for a teacher?


Camille Loken (14:54):
Yeah, that’s right. Showing up in front of the screen with your pajama bottoms on and it’s


Sam Demma (14:59):
Knows.


Camille Loken (15:00):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. You know, if, if I were to travel back in time to talk to, you know, Cannell first year I, you know, I’d say things like you, you, you haven’t figured out, you got it. Don’t don’t question yourself so much. Like, you know, am I on the right track? Do I understand this? Am I doing the right thing? Like trust your instincts. And if you are, you know, if you love this work, like if you’re showing up for the right reasons, because not everybody necessarily goes into this career for the, for the right reasons. Yeah. I think most of us do because it, it isn’t easy to work. So I think most of us show up because we are in service and we, we want to be with children and we want to make a difference in the world. I mean, I think that’s what pulls us into that.


Camille Loken (15:54):
So I think if, if you stay in that place, right. And always be a perpetual learner, like if you don’t, I, I don’t know how to teach this or I don’t, I don’t get this kid or, or, oh my goodness. This kid is pushing my buttons. So stay in the place of being a learner. What do you need to understand about yourself? I’ve said to, I say this to teachers all the time, and I would say this to first year Camil if you have taught it and they haven’t learned it, then you haven’t taught it. So you need to think about that and, and get to it. Right. Which is gonna challenge you it for sure it will. And there’ll be time that you’re like, I, I, I don’t know. I, but there is a support system and there’s lots of, there’s lots of places you can go and there’s people you can talk about and you can work as a collective and we’re better off together. And we’re you know, creating those conditions for yourself, even if they’re not in your school so that you can have that support to, to, to support our students.


Sam Demma (16:55):
I wanna go back to the last question. You mentioned something, and that was a great answer. Thank you for sharing that. If, if younger Camil was still around, she would’ve loved that advice. Yeah. You mentioned that sometimes students get looked at at what they don’t have at the lack at the deficit from a deficit perspective. And there’s this amazing book called “Catch Them While They’re Good”. Good. And it talks about the importance of coaching and giving feedback from the lens of, you know, reinforcing what they’ve done, right. As opposed to reinforcing what they lack or they’ve done wrong. And the example that I heard in a TEDx talk by this guy Dr. Ivan, Joseph, he took a self confidence expert. He was saying, I used to coach soccer teams. And, and if a player, you know, didn’t kick the ball, right. It would go over the net.


Sam Demma (17:42):
And usually the reasons are that their knee isn’t over the ball and they’re not looking down. And he said, you know, I, I could have stopped a player and said, Hey, you know, next time, make sure your knee’s over the ball. You know, you did it wrong, make sure your head’s looking down. Or he said, I can let that player have a mistake. And you know, not, not really focus on it or hype on the mistake. And then someone else goes up and they do a great job. And I reinforce the good behavior and that in the next athlete who kicks the ball, and then the first athlete doesn’t feel demoralized cuz you didn’t single them out. But they’re like, oh, that’s what I have to do next time. I’ll try again. And I think praise and catching people while they’re good is such a, a low hanging fruit and an easy way to make them feel valued, seen, heard, and appreciated in today’s environment how do we make students feel valued, seen, and you know, teaching virtually or teaching in a classroom? Like what do you think are the ways we can make students feel like they’re a part of the community.


Camille Loken (18:39):
I love that title, catch them being good. I, you have to read that book. I have stacks of books that just wait for me to


Sam Demma (18:46):
Me too.


Camille Loken (18:47):
I know it is kinda ridiculous. And what one time, you know, at some point you’re building get books all the way kinda doubted that catch would be good. Yeah. You know, as you were, as you were saying that, talking about that story, catch them being good. I, all of a sudden in my, in my head popped a student that I had when I was so relatively new teacher, I think I was maybe seven years into my career. Nice. And she was so this is in St. Albert, very affluent community. And she was new to this school and she was living in foster care, which was relatively unusual in our school. And she came to our, to my classroom, more to our school with just so much stuff, like so much baggage, she was angry, angry, angry, angry, and she would, she would come into a class and try to get that going like to, I, I think she understood anger.


Camille Loken (19:44):
She understood people being mad at her. So she would do something to, to have that happen. And I, and I thought, well, I’m not, I’m not doing that. I’m going to go outta my way to love you. Like just to, to have the loving energy. And I had to work on it because she, she could be incredibly provocative as she stopped into stomped into the classroom and whatever she was doing. And, and I would kind of just be grounded about it and I would greet her and a big, big smile. And it’s so nice to have you and just, just blaster with this, this energy that I just I’m so happy you’re here. Right. Even if I didn’t say those words. And then in my actions throughout the classroom, just attending to that making sure that she understood that I really wanted her to be in the classroom, despite all the things that she was doing, which didn’t mean that we didn’t have conversations about this or, you know, or had a redirect or anything, but it really is, you know, love them despite what they might have or what they’re bringing, because they are a human being and they’re unique and they’re beautiful with all of that.


Camille Loken (20:51):
And you have, you sometimes have to work really hard to get to that place because some kids come with so much, they just wanna push you away, push you away, push you away. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:02):
Wow. That’s so powerful. You you’re telling this story. I immediately thought of this guy named Josh ship who was a foster kid himself. And he he would see it as a challenge, as he mentioned it in one of his talks where he, every house he got placed into, he would try and get kicked out as fast as he could. Yeah. And it was one caring adult who showed him. No, I don’t see you as a problem. I see you as an opportunity that totally changed his life. Yeah. And I think when we approach our students as if they’re opportunities, not that we’re the grand master and are gonna shape them, but we have the opportunity to plant a little seed that might be growing and watered 20 years in their future. You, you know, you mentioned about actions and how actions kind of speak louder than words. Sometimes a student doesn’t tell us that they’re feeling down or that something’s going on, but you can tell by their actions, by the way, they walk into the classroom, how do you approach a student and address a student who you think might be having something going on or something’s a little bit off


Camille Loken (22:01):
For, for that to even be able to happen. You need to have relationships established mm. Right. From the beginning, because you can’t just approach someone that you haven’t spent time with trying to get to know or have relationships or understand, you know, and it’s in the casual conversation. So, you know, so what happened this weekend? Or what did you work on? Or whatever. Like what do you, what are you watching TV, whatever, whatever they’re interested in is just kind of these, these conversations. And they, you have an understanding, you start to get, get to know them. You share a little bit about yourself as well, like the relationships and you tell ’em little stories and does anybody have a little story? Whatever that, that foundational piece of everything that we do, everything that we do is relationships. Mm. And if in, when you’ve established the relationships, then of course you can move into those conversations.


Camille Loken (22:47):
If you have established as a relationships and you try to move into that conversation, well, somebody’s gonna look at you and go I’m not talking to you. I don’t even trust you. Right. That’s not gonna happen. So that, that has to happen before you even approach. And then it is paying attention, right. Just paying attention. It it’s, there’s this, there’s this simple thing that teachers can do greeting students at the door. And it’s, you know, there’s research on this, about what difference that makes in students lives. So you’re just outside of your classroom drawer as they come in, you’re, you’re greeting them by name, or you have some kind of handshake, or whatever’s not now in the pandemic, but anyway, before some kind of whatever, whatever, as they go in, but wait, you’re doing is you’re paying attention to how, how, how they’re showing up that day.


Camille Loken (23:33):
What’s the energy they’re bringing in that day. And it gives you an opportunity to say, oh, Hey Sam, before I go in the classroom, let’s just have a little quick talk. And then the other kids go in, I go, Sam, you just, you just seem kind of, you know, not so great today is something I need to know. And then we have a relationship. Yeah. You know, this happened this morning and okay. Okay. Thanks for telling me about that. We’re gonna, we’re gonna try to cheer you up today or whatever. Right. It’s just, it’s just moving into those kind of conversations and setting a place that you can do that


Sam Demma (24:04):
Love that that’s great


Camille Loken (24:05):
Intentionality. It takes so much intentionality around those things.


Sam Demma (24:10):
And teaching is, is, is rewarding and challenging at the same time. You also have to make sure that you have fun doing it and it’s okay to have too much fun. Yeah, exactly. How do you ensure, how do you ensure that you enjoy the work and the vocation and the calling, even in those, in, even in those tough moments?


Camille Loken (24:34):
You know, I, I think it’s this, and this is probably a, a statement that may be overused, but it, its come to mind anyways, choose your attitude. Mm. So, so right from the beginning of my teaching career, well pretty close to the beginning of my teaching career, I thought, oh wow. How I show up on any given day actually influences that entire climate of the classroom. Yeah. And when I, when I first had that realization, it was, it scared me a little bit. And I thought, wow, that’s a lot of power. Like really? I mean, if I’m having a crappy day and I go in there and, and then everybody seems to be having a crappy day or so. Okay. Knowing that deeply understanding that, that I need to show up every day and be, and have the energy for the of work.


Camille Loken (25:27):
And it makes me think so I’ve I in university, I was a drama major. I was a drama teacher when you are doing a performance and you know, this you’ve done Ted talks, right. Or so, or you go and do a speech in front. So you are, you’re moving into this performance piece. And I don’t mean that in a, they you’re moving into this in an inauthentic way. So I wanna be really clear about this. Yeah. But you’re moving in front of an audience. And they’re there to listen to you. So let’s say on your way to, to there, I don’t know you got a flat tower and you had to change it or somebody cut you off or, or you and your partner had an argument with them or whatever. Cuz you’re a human being. This is gonna happen. However, you’re showing up in front of them. They don’t wanna know all about that. That’s not important to them. And so it is on teachers to really have an understanding of that and saying, I am going to choose my attitude every day. So the climate of the classroom is such right. That I have the energy for you. And I, I love this work and I love you and I have a passion for it. And here we go.


Sam Demma (26:32):
I love that. It’s a, it’s a reminder to stay present. It might something might have happened 20 minutes ago, but the moment we have is right now and what matters is the task at hand? Yeah. It’s funny, right? When you were talking about, you know, flat tire, I once had a speech two and a half hours from my house in London, Ontario. And we drove and we went to an on route, me and my buddy Dylan. And we had about an extra 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes. We were gonna show up pretty early and we pulled up to the on route and we went inside and got coffee and I came back outside my pockets. Oh, snap, where the heck are my keys? Look through the window, locked in my car. It’s like nine in the morning in the middle of like a random highway.


Sam Demma (27:14):
You know, I don’t have CAA, I call CAA, get them on the phone, like order the, the subscription for the next two years, they show up, we make it five minutes late. I remember running into the cloud assume going, Hey, my name’s Sam demo. Like just jumping into the presentation and yeah. Anyways, I just thought, you know what you sparked that thought. I thought it’d be a funny thing to mention, but I think you’re, you’re so right. And what’s interesting is our attitude is always in our control. Like it’s not sure it’s influenced by exterior events, but it’s, it’s up to us to choose how we, I, how we walk into the classroom. Right.


Camille Loken (27:45):
And we owe that to the children, the students that we serve to do that. Yeah. And I, I really like how you characterize that. Just staying in the present moment cuz that’s it let go of everything else. Cuz the present moment is always good. Really. I mean, you’re just right here. Just enjoy this present moment and the other things that you need to think about or worry about or whatever they will come. But right now this is where I’m at. Right. I’m


Sam Demma (28:09):
Gonna


Camille Loken (28:10):
Here.


Sam Demma (28:10):
Yeah. You wanna add another book to your list? The power of now it’s all about, oh


Camille Loken (28:14):
I love that book. I have read that book. Love


Sam Demma (28:16):
It. Okay. Yeah. Kar, Kar. Totally. I might be mispronouncing his last name, but no,


Camille Loken (28:21):
I think that’s right. Totally.


Sam Demma (28:23):
Okay. Yeah. So I found his book just awesome. And it’s a great reminder that there’s no other moment that exists. Like this is all we have.


Camille Loken (28:31):
Yeah, absolutely. So,


Sam Demma (28:32):
And, and if anyone’s been inspired so far, this has been an amazing conversation. We definitely have to do a part 2. But if anyone’s been inspired so far and wants to reach out to you, have a conversation, talk about equity or how to make the school more equitable or just to bounce ideas around what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out to you and get in touch.


Camille Loken (28:51):
Oh wow. Like, you know, I listen to podcasts and podcasters always ask that question. I love podcasts, and then people say things like, well I’m on Instagram and I’m on Facebook and I’m on LinkedIn and I’m not on any of those things.


Sam Demma (29:05):
That’s okay. Me either. I don’t use it much.


Camille Loken (29:07):
That’s great. I was gonna go, you can’t get a hold of me. My email address would be the best one. Yeah.


Sam Demma (29:14):
Do you wanna just spell it out for and like, and other educators are listening, so like you just might hear from some colleagues around the country hopefully.


Camille Loken (29:23):
Absolutely. So Camille.Loken@epsb.ca


Sam Demma (29:40):
Yeah. Awesome. Camille, thank you so much for doing this. It was a pleasure bringing you on and keep doing awesome work and good luck on the doctorate.


Camille Loken (29:48):
Well, thanks Sam. This has been awesome talking to you as well. This is fun, this conversation.


Sam Demma (29:56):
Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Camille Loken

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.

Jason Pratt – Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

Jason Pratt - Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School
About Jason Pratt

Jason Pratt (@jasonpratt) is the Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. He is in his 22nd year in education, and working in his fifth school in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

An English and Special Education Teacher for 10 years, he spent 8 amazing and exciting years at two different schools as a vice-principal before being promoted to Principal at St. Martin, where he oversees a highly successful and exciting Regional Sports Program, which is run in conjunction with the mainstream neighbourhood school. He is passionate about all students and is involved in the community as a coach and volunteer. His experiences growing up and being involved in various community sports make him a great fit for the school.

Growing up the oldest of five boys and being a father to four active and energetic sons allows him the perspective of a parent and caregiver in his decisions running a school, and is something that informs his practice daily. Jason believes it takes a diverse and balanced set of opportunities, staff and experiences to support student success, and with a loving approach, students can grow and develop to their full potential.

Connect with Jason: Email | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

Regional Sports Program DPCDSB

Naval Ravikant – The podcast and book

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:01):
Jason welcome to the high performing educator. A pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.


Jason Pratt (00:08):
Thanks, Sam. It’s a great honor to be part of this really interesting podcast. My name’s Jason Pratt. I am the principal at St. Martin Catholic secondary school in Mississauga Ontario. And this is my fourth year as a school principal. This is my first school that I’ve been a principal at. I was a vice-principal for eight years previous at two really fantastic schools as well. And before that I was a teacher for just about 10 years with a background, mostly I, I taught in English and special education before I got into administration. So it’s my 22nd year now in education.


Sam Demma (00:49):
Did you know since you were a child that you wanted to work in a school or what was the yeah. Journey to where you are now?


Jason Pratt (00:56):
Yeah, so like I was telling you before I, I had actually listened to a few of your podcasts and I had to stop because I didn’t wanna get too modeled. And you know what I reflected on that because I’d listened to some of your previous podcasts and it’s not something you’ll hear sometimes where people who wanna get education when they were really young. I knew all along for me, it was, it was a little bit more of a, a lengthy journey. I’m the oldest of five boys. And I ironically I have four sons, so I grew up with four younger brothers and now I have four younger sons. And we moved into a, a neighborhood in Mississauga, both neighborhoods I lived in, I was one of the older kids in the area because, you know it was the suburbs and we were moving in there and my parents were, were pretty early and moving into miss to, so, and I remember, you know playing right around where square one is now, and it wasn’t there.


Jason Pratt (01:49):
Then when I, when I was a kid and, you know, it was a lot of really cool experiences, but everywhere around me was all younger kids. And so I just naturally took on this leadership role of kind of organizing activities and games and, and we we would spend a lot of time in the outdoors and, and whether, you know, going to the park or going to like undeveloped areas, there was a lot of force in that area, if you can believe it back then. And we had tree houses and, and really cool things like that. And then when we moved our second time and I was, you know, in my, you know, early teens on, you know, I had these four younger brothers and we moved once again to a new development area, but we backed onto a park.


Jason Pratt (02:32):
We had tennis courts and, and, you know, baseball diamonds. And so I grew up with you know, a really good you know, an accessible space in which I could kind of organize and, and, and run these games. And my mom would often say to me, she was a teacher. She would say to me in the summer break, get these, you know, get your brothers out of the house, keep them outta the house for six hours. And I was the oldest one. So I’d organize, you know, tag or we’d play, you know, capture the flag or just different games. And a lot of kids in the area kind of you know jumped on, on board, right? So I would, I’d be kind of that organizing, you know, the organizer and I would get involved with a lot of these these activities with the kids.


Jason Pratt (03:57):
So I wasn’t a qualified teacher, but I got to, to spend some of time in a school. These were elementary schools at the time and got to be around kids. And I, and I said, you know what? This is actually pretty cool. So I, I finished my undergrad went to teachers college, and then I was lucky enough at the time the, the climate in the late nineties was such that you know, they were, they were offering permanent jobs right away. So it’s very different than it is now, where there’s a much more lengthy process of getting in, you know, on the supply teacher pool. And then you become an LTO. So I was actually fortunate enough to get hired permanently, right at a teacher’s college at a great school St. Francis, Xavier and Mississauga, that one of the bigger schools on the board with, you know, two housing plus kids at the time, and worked there for seven years and, and really enjoyed it.


Jason Pratt (03:13):
And then I think as I grew up, I, I didn’t necessarily, wasn’t drawn to toward teaching as much as I was coaching. So even at a young age, maybe 18, 19 years old, I started coaching my younger brothers, hockey teams and, and, and getting involved with being in that role. And I think it lent itself naturally to the position of teacher. And as I had mentioned, my mom was a teacher and my godmother, she was a teacher and the two of them were, were influential as going through my undergrad saying, you know, do some supply teaching. My godmother was actually a principal and she got me in as, as one of those emergency supply teachers. So actually before I finished university, I went in and it was like in a, you know, an emergency volunteer. And then I became an emergency instructor.


Jason Pratt (04:47):
And then while I was there, I got in with I wouldn’t say the wrong crowd, but the right crowd, a bunch of guys who were in and girls who were interested in getting into administration. And, and it kind of took me that way. So it was never something that I, I was, you know, you, people will say, I want to become a, a principal. I want to be everything just kind of happened with, with a certain natural flow. So I’ve really enjoyed the ride. It’s been great. And that’s kind of how I’ve ended up here.


Sam Demma (05:17):
Because this podcast is solely audio. No one can see the off, some metals hanging over your right shoulder there. How has sports impacted your journey in education and also your background?


Jason Pratt (05:32):
Well, as I had mentioned, I, I, before I wanted to become a teacher, I was a coach. And and I think the, one of the first things I did when I was a teacher is I signed up to coach hockey and we never had a strong team at St. Francis sea, but we were competitive, but we were never the elite hockey and Mississauga and hockey in particular, in the defer, in the, in the, in the robs league is, is, is pretty much just a handful of teams. It was back then, but I I, I truly enjoyed coaching. And, and, and one of the things I, I really enjoyed was organizing a lot of intramurals in the school. I thought that was almost as reward as, as coaching the school teams, because when you’re coaching the school team, I know if it was the same when you were playing same, but there was a lot of competing interests with the kids playing with club teams.


Jason Pratt (06:28):
So it was almost as if you were begging these kids to play on the school teams. Yeah. It’s very much different than the us model where the, at the, the high school teams, especially with hockey in Minnesota, they don’t even have club teams. It’s just, it’s, everything is high school, but I felt you know, with, with sports, it was a natural, it was a natural for me. I, I loved coaching. And so I coached all the way up until I became a vice principal. And even my first year as vice principal, I tried to help coach, but it was offer because, you know, the practices were right after school and you were busy dealing with stuff. So it was it was, it was, it was tough to, to have those competing interests. So, you know, I’ve gravitated more towards my role right now, as, as a school principal here at, St.


Jason Pratt (07:14):
Martin is, is really providing opportunities for these kids to to train in a, in a good safe environment. One that is financially available to a greater section of students. And that, that also comes from my experience as being a parent of my, of my kids. Two of them played at the triple a level, and I coached them both as a head coach, one with the Masaga rebels and one with the Masaga senators, both AAA organizations. And, and I took on that role as a head coach and loved it as well. But I also saw some of the, the, the pitfalls that parents can get into getting into that, that culture with with the sports and the training. So one of the thing, things we do here at this school is provide a really good opportunity for students to train and to earn credit phys ed credits, and some leadership pH ed credits, and some other elective credits while still training for their primary sport.


Jason Pratt (08:16):
Cool. And, and, and, and balancing them, playing on club teams versus is versus training. So it’s, it’s, it’s allowed us to win a lot of medals here, but that the championship medals and, and, and the, and the, the high school leagues per se, are almost a, a, a secondary now compared to these kids in their club teams. A lot of these kids go on to, to, to get a lot of success in sport because they they’re playing on club teams, whether it’s hockey, soccer, as you mentioned, like, you know, like the FC academies now, there’s, there’s a lot of different soccer academies, a lot of our basketball kids that are here our they play club basketball as well. In addition, high school is probably one of those last high school. Basketball is one of those last environments where it still is pretty competitive.


Jason Pratt (09:05):
And then now we have kids who are baseball, but we have kids that from our school have scholarships for tennis, golf swimming gymnastics, lots things. So we, we, we tend to bring a lot of kids in here. And, and so the relationship between sport and and schooling is, is so important to me. I, I did one of my master’s thesis proposals was on the relationship of sports and, and performance in school. And, and I, I it’s always been a passion of mine. So, like I had said, I’m, it’s a dream, you being at this school being surrounded by so many student athletes and, and their families and, and, and it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s been quite a ride so far. Well, but COVID is yeah. Yeah. That’s the other real part of it. I know. That’s, yeah. It’s kind of put everything on pause for a couple years.


Sam Demma (09:54):
Yeah. Athletes are being forced to get very creative, unfortunately, high school sports isn’t happening as much as it would have in the past, but, you know, I think as an athlete, you live, eat, and breathe or sport, you gotta figure out a way to continue training and stay sharp. And even if you gotta do it in your home basement for the time being, but you mentioned your school is one of the only re regional athletic schools. Can, can you explain a little bit about that?


Jason Pratt (10:21):
Yeah. So we are the only school in din peel that has a regional sports program. There is one offered in our determinist board, which is the PO district school board. So din peel. We are the only one and we’re located pretty far south we’re in the year on park valley, which is Mavis and, and Dunas which is really far south in considering our board goes all the way up to Dran county, which is right on the, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty, pretty far up there. Like when you’re, when you’re looking at the board, it’s, it’s a very large geographical board. And so the way it, cuz the students apply out of grade eight, they apply to our program it’s regional. So we accept students from all around the region. They don’t have to live in our neighborhood area. Transportation is not provided so the students have to come here.


Jason Pratt (11:10):
So it’s a big commitment on, on the students and the parents to come to the school. They, they get references from their teachers of coaches and they, they themselves go through a discernment process. They apply just before the the winter break. And then when we get back, we, we have a selection committee that goes through all the applications and we take roughly 110 to 120 students each year. And those student in are in the regional sport program for two years. And in the regional sports program, the difference is, is that they do full year training in their sport of choice or if they don’t have a sport of choice, we do have a non-sport specific class. And they do that for the entire year from September to June and they get a PHY-ed credit and a leadership PHY-ed credit.


Jason Pratt (12:02):
So they get those two credits. And then in grade 10, we continue the, the program for the entire year, but those teachers are infusing the religion credit in with their PHY-ed credit. So the students will come to the school. They’ll, let’s say they select soccer, they’ll be in the soccer a focus course, which is large group activity course, but it focuses on soccer training. They’ll be with other kids of that same mindset. So the other kids who are in soccer and they’ll train for the entire year from September to June, but it’s not every day because they’ll intersperse the training with leadership activities and in class. And then in grade 10, they train once again for the whole year, but it’s interspersed with religion. So they may be the first two, three weeks. They be doing a lot of the religion work, then they’ll go on the ice or, and on the field.


Jason Pratt (12:50):
And then they’ll kind of do so it’s a real mix match. And like I had said before it back balances out all the training these kids do at night. So a lot of these kids are training 4, 5, 6 days a week with their clubs. Yeah. But we supplement a lot of that training. So I, I, you know, a lot of times when, when you’re playing, let’s say soccer or hockey at a high level, a lot of these clubs and teams that do a lot of systems and tactics they’re, they’re working on, let’s say, you know, their free kicks or their corn kicks. There’s a lot of stop. You know, let’s, let’s work this out a lot of Xs and O’s work, right. Especially at the high school level, these kids now are not doing dribbling activities or kicking. They’re expected to know that. So what we do is we supplement a lot of what these kids will be doing in their on their hockey teams and their soccer teams on their basketball teams with skills.


Jason Pratt (13:37):
So we don’t, we don’t, we don’t do the X’s and O’s here. We do a lot of skills development, but you can’t do that every day. The kids get, you know, burnt out. So we, we try to do it maybe two to three days a week, what then they’re doing their in class work. A lot of times we do yoga with them. We do nutrition with them. So they’re getting a lot of that training. They would get at a, you know, a secondary facility. And we do it for a fraction of the cost because the teachers that are teaching these programs are, are teachers and they’re getting excited. So the students don’t have to pay for it. The only thing they do have to pay for is a facility whether we’re renting ice or we’re going to an indoor bubble for soccer. This year we started a baseball pathways.


Jason Pratt (14:15):
So we have students now who are elite baseball players. So we, now we have the soccer, the hockey, the baseball, the basketball, and the non-sport specific pathways. Mm. So it, like I said, it’s a great program. We have kids from all around the region, as far up as Brampton. We have kids who come from the east and the west and they make it work. The parents make it work because a parent, myself, of, of high performing children, you’re willing to do what it takes to give your kid a good environment and a good opportunity for him to train or her to train and be successful. And then once again, when you have the culture is built around that the, the teachers here at the building are very supportive of these students. Yeah. A student may be gone for a week because they went to Florida to go to tennis tournament.


Jason Pratt (15:01):
And our, our teachers will work with that student and, and give ’em the work that, that he or she needs and, and welcome them when they’re back and not say, well, you missed the whole week of school. Now here’s a, a load of work for you to catch up on. So the culture here it’s, it’s wrapped around that, that mindset. Now, while we are a regional program, we all are still a neighborhood school. Yeah. But we do have kids that, that live in our area that come to our school. And that’s been, obviously not a challenge, but something we look forward, like, you know, something that we are looking for, of managing is managing our neighborhood school identity with our regional sport identity, because it’s, we’re not just a regional sports school. We’re about 50, 50 half of our kids are regional sports.


Jason Pratt (15:43):
And half of our kids are neighborhood kids. Yeah. A lot of them are new immigrants, new Canadians. And you know, they’re not interested in hyper a form sports. They’re just interested in, in learning what they need to do to be successful Canadians. And so it’s really managing all those intangibles and, and, and, and making it all work. And it, and it does. It’s a really good environment. The kids here are fantastic. We have very, very few behavioral issues because the kids are busy and they’re doing stuff they love to do. And then even if those kids are not in regional sports, they’re around those kids and those kids for the most part, as you know, of being a high performing athlete, when you’re in high school, they’re focused, they’re focused on their sport and being successful and not getting into trouble. Yeah. And eating relatively healthy and you know, and, and just, and they have parents or for family who backed them up and pushed them. So it’s great. It really is. It’s been good, but COVID has been like a real drawback on all this, but


Sam Demma (16:41):
You’re making me wish. I went to a regional sports program growing up, man.


Jason Pratt (16:46):
I’m the biggest ambassador for this school. I mean you know, it’s having son, like my oldest line is now in grade 11 and he’s actually in the us playing hockey with with, with a team around Pittsburgh. And he’s kind of in the same type of program, but the school and the, and the training are not related like we are. Yeah. and he would’ve loved to have come here. He really did. But at the time it was one of those things about having your son come to the school. But my other son now is, is a 2008 he’s he’s in grade eight and he’s very interested. And a lot of his friends are because they hear good things about the school. And like I said, it’s, it’s a fun place to be. It’s, it’s pretty exciting. It’s, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s been quite a ride, but like I said of it has really put a damper on things, but we’ve managed to still make it work, because like I said, it’s about training. And even though we haven’t had any teams to be able to compete, because this is part of their curriculum, the kids are still coming here and training and that’s, that’s important.


Sam Demma (17:49):
That’s super important. I was gonna ask how it’s continued, but you just answered it. Yeah,


Jason Pratt (17:54):
Yeah, yeah. So we, we don’t have a league, like our teams don’t compete, but like I said, these kids are all part of club teams anyway. So the parents aren’t coming here because they wanna win an off the championship or win robs is soccer. That’s a secondary thing. And that’s great if they do, but they’re coming here because of the training and because of the environment. And because, like I said, the culture here supports a student athlete, and I think that’s a huge part of its success.


Sam Demma (18:18):
You mentioned doing your masters in the connection between high performing athletics and education. What inspired you to do your masters in that and what was the learning, or what did you take away from that experience?


Jason Pratt (18:32):
Well, when I, I did my masters thesis in 2006 and at the time it was just an educational masters, but what I looked at was the connection at the time between student participation in sports and their academic performance, and essentially what all the, the studies had shown was that there was no difference. So a student who performed who was competing or participating in sports, their marks were not affected. So they did this cross-sectional study. And what that tells me is that, well, then that’s a good thing, because if these kids are, are able to keep their marks up and participate in, in sports then they that, I mean, the benefits are, are, are there, like we all know about the benefits of physical fitness in terms of, of mental fitness in terms of just being part of a social dynamic, being part of a team, you know, the, you can’t speak enough about how that’s so important for kids as they go through their high school years to be part of a team to be physically fit the connection between, you know, facing adversity, how to deal with loss, all that stuff.


Jason Pratt (19:41):
It’s, you know, team sports, individual sports, whatever it may be, the benefits way outweigh the the drawbacks of them competing. Since I’ve come to this school, I’ve actually started a second master’s degree in physical education. Nice. Because I thought it would be important for me to learn as much as I can about the phys ed side of it. So it’s, it’s, it’s a second master’s degree I’m working towards, but it’s a lot, it’s a lot harder this time around. It’s just, I can only tell, take one course at a time and it, it, it’s a lot of work and it’s gonna take me a couple more years and, and I think it’s gonna make me a better principle just having that background, but I think it’s important to kind of continue to learn. And it’s interesting being a student. I haven’t been a student, I started about two years ago, this second master’s degree. And, and it’s, it’s interesting how it’s tough being a student when you haven’t been a student in a while, but, but it’s fun and it’s good. And it’s good for me to, to, to stay grounded and, and to, you know, be that lifelong learner that a lot of us talk about being.


Sam Demma (20:44):
It’s rewarding. I was listening to a podcast with a tech investor, an entrepreneur named Naval, and he gave this analogy of climbing mountains and explained that every undertaking we embark upon, you know, think of it like climbing up a mountain. And when we reach the top, it’s, we’ve accomplished what the goal or that the desired outcome was. And he said, a lot of people climb a mountain, reach some form of success and get curious that, and wanna learn something else, but in order to do so, you have to climb down this mountain and start at the base of a new one yeah. And climb up it. And it’s so true that it could be overwhelming, but I think it’s such a rewarding experience. And it awesome that you’re also through your actions, not even by telling students or others, but just through your actions, proving that, you know, education happens at all ages and being a lifelong learner is extremely important. Yeah. So that’s, that’s awesome. What do you think some of the opportunities that exist today in education, there’s a lot of challenges and discussion about the cha like the, the negatives and things that are difficult right now. I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities are.


Jason Pratt (21:55):
Yeah. I mean, we all know about COVID and all those challenges, but you know, I, I think, I think the way that, that our, our planet is moving in, in be, you know, you can talk about globalization and, and, and that being obviously a huge factor in, in, in where students want to go. I, I think the fact that students have access to so much information and, and so much at their fingertips, it’s beneficial for them because they can look into whatever they want to, and they can research whatever they want to and, and have that, that kind of learning. But I I’m thinking the opportunities for students. I mean, we gotta think of where the world’s headed over the next couple years, next few years, and where these students are gonna, you know, where are they gonna graduate to?


Jason Pratt (22:49):
And I think a lot of it just comes down to the social piece, like how well do they work in, in team environments? How well do they work? You know, with, with their colleagues how can they manage to create a skillset that’s gonna be marketable when they, when they, when they graduate from wherever they do. And, and, and I think it’s, it’s so important right now, I’m, I’m seeing a lot of our students truly engaged. And I did mention the sports thing, but if I can put on the, the non regional sports hat principal for a second, and just talk about our specialist, high schools majors program, which is another big we pushed, which is the hospitality. A lot of our Stu you know, it’s, it’s at the last school I was at St. Marc Salinas. They had a highly successful baking program.


Jason Pratt (23:43):
And you would’ve never thought in a million years, like when I was going to school, like home EC was something you had to do and, and no one wanted to do it. I couldn’t believe it at the school, they had six full sections of baking. This is in hospitality. Hospitality is the cooking class where they learn a lot of those basics. This was a baking class. So when I got to this school, I said, let’s start a baking program. And now we had this year, we had two sections of baking. Now we’re a much smaller school than Marlins. But we had two full sections of baking. And I remember coming home one day and my kids were watching what was it, nailed it, the one where they have to bake cakes all the time. Yeah. It was reality show. And it’s just, it’s funny how kids will change.


Jason Pratt (24:24):
And, and so these are taking baking, and a lot of them will have this in their back pocket, you know, this skill. So it’s, you know, education, I, I think is, is about providing all these kind of student, you know, different kinds of students with opportunities to learn so many different skills in your traditional pen and paper textbook information. You know, there’s lots of great tech programs. We have a lot of kids who are successful in our, we have an electrical program, a lot of kids go into apprenticeship programs for electrical. We have an amazing construction class wood shop where the students are building, you know, excellent cabinetry. And, and they’re, they’re learning about you know, using the, the AutoCAD machine to kind of personalize wood. And they’re learning a lot of these principles and, and some of these kids are going on to university, but they’re keeping all these, these, these, these skills on the side.


Jason Pratt (25:16):
And I remember when I went to school, I didn’t do any of this, this hands on techy. I, I was more of a PhysEd guy and more of a pen and paper type kid, but I think we’re, we’re doing a good job at, in education by being, by diversifying the programs that are out there and giving students the opportunities to learn where, you know, what does success mean for you as you graduate? And, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to university and get a degree, but it, it’s just doing things you’re interested in being happy doing. And I think those opportunities and, and allow, want students to see those opportunities in a safe environment where they can experiment with it. Another big, real, another big program we have here. One of the more successful programs on our board is our co-op program.


Jason Pratt (25:57):
And I think one of the reasons is our, our co-op teachers are amazing at going out and getting really interesting co-op placements, whether it’s working at a veterinarian clinic, or one of our students is working at a co cosmetic surgery clinic. And, and just learning about that industry. We have a lot of students who work in other schools as elementary teachers, a lot of them work at you know, your traditional like mechanics things like that. And they get to experiment these jobs and kind of get a little snippet of what it’s like to work in that in industry. And then come back to school and say, you know what? I hated it, or I loved it. And I think that’s what high school is becoming for. A lot of these kids is, is experimentation finding out what works for you.


Jason Pratt (26:40):
And, and it’s about us working with these students. We’ve de-streamed the math for grade nine. And, and I it’s coming that we’re gonna DStream a lot more. A lot more of high school subjects will be D streamed. And I think that’s a good thing because it gives students more of an opportunity to experi, you know, experience challenges and learn and mature in an environment where they can kind of go back, make mistakes, change their pathway. But it’s, it’s, it’s definitely changing a lot from when I went to school. It was, you know, you go to school and you either, you’re gonna go to university and get a degree, or you’re gonna go and start working. And there’s really like, we’re seeing it now with colleges and, and providing students with so many more opportunities. I think it’s, it’s, it’s a huge, huge thing. So I think it’s just about providing a whole range of opportunities, allowing students to feel comfortable, choosing what they think is, is what’s best for them and, and engaging those families in that discussion. It’s all, it’s a very organic process now where I think it wasn’t so much when I went to school, it was very much, you picked the lane and stayed in that lane and that’s where you went. And that was it.


Sam Demma (27:44):
Yeah. Now students got the signals and they’re changing their lanes like crazy. Oh yeah.


Jason Pratt (27:50):
One eighties going back. Yeah. Know, I know it’s great. And it’s great to see that. And when you’ve empowered students and give them some say in what they’re doing, I think it changes them as, as learners. They don’t feel like they’re being forced one way or the other. They don’t have that pressure. They, I think they feel that they’re they’re in charge and that’s a, that’s an important thing for kids to feel like they have some say and some voice that’s.


Sam Demma (28:13):
A big, I, as a student who took a fifth year, a gap year, went to school, took a different path after school. I, I can’t stress the importance of all that enough. Yeah.


Jason Pratt (28:25):
Well, I’ll tell you something when I, so, I mean, my first year of university was not good. I was playing junior hockey and that was, you know, late games till 11, 12 o’clock at night. Yeah. And I was a languages major in my first year, so I had Spanish, French. And then, and then I took English as a, like secondary. And you had labs at 8:00 AM, and you know what, after a, a junior hockey game and, you know, you’re 19 years old, you’re going out. Sometimes you go out afterwards after the game, you weren’t getting home. And, and by the time I, I was not serious about it. So that first year was a disaster. I took a year off worked two full-time job, but well, one full-time job and a part-time job that was full time hours. And went back after that, you know, that third year, and then did well after that had kind of my focus on what I wanted to do.


Jason Pratt (29:16):
But interestingly enough, one of the side things I did as I was a student was I was worked in the service industry. And I did that for many years after I became a teacher. And what, what I saw in the service industry was a lot of my ex students who had graduated and these were the students. So I traditionally taught a lot of the college level Englishes and, and, you know, not necessarily the kids who were the best, most successful students, but what I got to see was I got to see them almost like a longitudinal study. I got to see them five, 10 years after they graduated. And what became of them. Cause, you know, you’re always like, oh my God, good luck to this kid. When he, when he, when he gets in school, what’s he gonna do? And they were all successful.


Jason Pratt (30:00):
They were happy. They were successful. They had families, they had businesses. They, they were really nice people. And these were the kids that traditionally didn’t do well in school. They were the guys who were in trouble, or they were the guys who were skipping or the girls that were, you know, you know, you know, whatever that may be like, they weren’t serious students. You would’ve thought, but no one sees them after they go. We don’t follow up on these kids after they graduate. But because I worked in the service industry and I worked for good 10 years after I saw some of the, the early kids that I had taught go on to become amazing adults. Like they were great kids and they just had to get through school to, to, but now I think we’ve, we’ve come to realize that there’s, it’s not like that anymore.


Jason Pratt (30:46):
It it’s changed. And so I’ve, I’ve, I, I was fortunate enough to have that experience and I think it opened my eyes a lot to what a school could become. And that’s part of the reason why I became a, an administrator is I loved the culture in my classrooms. I thought the only way for me to influence the culture in a school is to become a principal. And then when you become a principal, you can influence that culture. You really can. And you actually could as a vice principal, because I remember one of my first schools I started at the, there was, there was a lot of not conflict between the student and the teachers. They didn’t know how to handle. The kids were sent down a lot to the office. And as a vice principal, I role played a lot with the kids.


Jason Pratt (31:31):
I’d be like, okay, let’s, let’s go through how this happened. So I’m, I’m the teacher, you’re the student. So tell me what happened. And we would workshop almost how to, how to, you know, manage this, this conflict. And then I would go back to the teacher and say, Hey, listen, I worked with them, give ’em a chance. And, and it worked. And I think when the teacher saw that you had the kid’s best interest at heart and you were advocating for them, and the kids believed that it worked well. And I mean, I loved, I loved being a vice principal. That was an amazing role in a school when you’re a, a vice principal and you’re suspending dozens and dozens and dozens of kids, but never, they’re never angry at you. You’re doing a good job because those kids know that you like, you care for them and you’re being supportive.


Jason Pratt (32:20):
But at the same time, they made a mistake. And that was a, that was a fantastic job. I loved being a vice principal. Principal was more of an adjustment because you weren’t working so closely with kids anymore. And I felt as a vice principal, you have these really tight relationships with families and kids, and you’re working for them and you’re working with them. You’re like, come on, you can do it. I just don’t want you getting in trouble anymore. And you can get through this and, and you kind of work through them. Whereas with a principal, you’re more, it’s, it’s more of a broad picture of a school and you’re dealing with budget and staffing and scheduling and, and you’re dealing more with the adults in the building than you are dealing with the kids in the building. And that’s a change, right? So it’s like climbing another, I, I’ve not got to the peak yet of that mountain.


Jason Pratt (33:02):
I think I was at the peak as a vice principal, and now I’ve gone down and had to climb this next mountain, which I don’t know, maybe I’m getting older and it’s, it’s whatever it may be, but both roles are great. But that, that was really good. And then being a parent, being a parent gives you perspective too, on how your kids and I have, like I said, four boys who are good, good kids in that, but you get to see the parent side of it and the frustrations with my wife. And, and, and the teachers that they may have just in terms of, you know, how do we get these guys to be motivated with school and why the teachers, you know, sending this work, they don’t understand. So it’s really interest giving you all these perspectives. And I think it really influences you as a leader in a school.


Jason Pratt (33:45):
So, you know, I’m very much with, with my staff here, I’m always keep the parents informed, be very transparent, be very forgiving and understanding and, and, you know, just work with, if, if parents know you care about their son or daughter are in the classroom, that makes all the difference. When, when the parents have the impression that you don’t, that their kid is just a number or, you know, it’s, it’s not it, it, it’s just, well, the, you know, the mark is the mark and that’s what they got. You’re, you’re, you’re gonna have issues. And I said, you know, I say to them all the time, just work with parents, talk to parents, give them a call that makes all the difference in the world. And, and it has in this school, like I said, it’s, it’s a great school. We don’t really have any issues. And if we do, we resolve them quick and the parents are happy and the teachers are happy and the kids are happy, which is the most important.


Sam Demma (34:35):
Yeah, that’s awesome. It really sounds like the culture is something you focused on you, your staff, the teachers. Yeah. Even the students cuz they participated it as well. If someone wanted to reach out, ask you a question about the programs, the sports program, the way you try and embed school culture into the school, or just, you know, tell you about something they heard on this podcast, they enjoyed what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?


Jason Pratt (35:01):
Well, if they wanna know more about the programs we do have a pretty good website with, with has some videos because we’ve had to be online the last couple years with our open houses, we actually saved a lot of our videos. Nice. So if people wanna find out more about the program, that’s where they would go and there’s excellent speakers and they talk about our program. But my email address is (email). They’re welcome to send me an email and that’s the best way for me to get ahold of anyone who needs to reach out. And if they have questions about the program specifically, or what not, I can direct them to whoever that may be. I’m always, I’m always advocating for this program because I believe in it, I would never, if your son, daughter is an excellent athlete and they live and you know, you can make it work logistically. We do have kids who come here all the way from Toronto, north York. Like it’s, it’s, it’s pretty amazing what people will do to be part of a good program. And you do it for your kids because you know, that’s so important to them, but no, it’s I’m always willing to talk more and and, and, and, and this was really great.


Sam Demma (36:12):
Thank you, Jason, for taking the time to come on here, share a little bit about your school. You, it is obvious that you’re passionate about your work and we need lots of passionate educators, so keep it up. And I look forward to seeing what your school and yourself and your staff bring to life post COVID. Yeah. With the sport programs, keep it up.


Jason Pratt (36:33):
Thanks a lot, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Pratt

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.

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors
About Doug Primrose

Doug Primrose (@djprimrose) is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He has been at Yale Secondary for the last 15 years, and teaches Student Leadership and Law 12. He was Chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, and Co-Chair of the Canadian Student Leadership Conference in 2019.

Currently, Doug serves as the President of the BC Association of Student Activity Advisors.  In his spare time, he coaches rugby at Yale Secondary and the Women’s team for Abbotsford Rugby Club.  In 2020 he was nominated for the Abbotsford Hall of Fame in Coaching Category. 

Connect with Doug: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Yale Secondary School Website

BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Abbotsford Rugby Club

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Doug Primrose. He is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He’s been at Yale Secondary for the past 15 years and taught student leadership and law 12. He was previously the chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, the co-chair of the Canadian Student Leadership conference in 2019, currently the President of the BC Association of Student activities and Advisors, and he also coaches rugby at Yale secondary and the women’s team for Abbotsford rugby club.


Sam Demma (01:15):
He’s actually selected in, in 2020 for the Abbotsford hall of fame in the coaching category. Doug has a wealth of knowledge to share when it comes to student leadership and coaching, and I’m so excited to give you some of that knowledge today in this episode. So enjoy, and I will see you on the other side. Doug, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast, huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of context behind how you ended up doing the work you do today in education?


Doug Primrose (01:47):
Yeah, so I went to high school here and grew up in in Abbotsford BC and I’m a teacher here at Yale secondary School, and I actually graduated from the same school here that I, that I teach at. So I was at a few other schools in between, but yeah, so growing up, I didn’t have any intentions of being a teacher at all. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I think like a lot of kids, they kind of graduate and not really quite sure and just try to get the feel of things. So, so I traveled for a few years and then kind of got back into it, worked a few different jobs and got back into it by helping one of my mentors; when I was a kid, a teacher who had a big influence on me and I started helping him coach rugby. So I really enjoyed it and he, he kind of said, you know, why don’t you go through and be a teacher since you seem to enjoy it and that’s kind of what I did. So I started a little bit later than in most, I guess, but glad I did.


Sam Demma (02:44):
That’s amazing. Take me back. You said, right when you finished high school, you traveled for a few years. What, tell me more about that. Where did you trave; like where did you go?


Doug Primrose (02:54):
Not all at once, but just yeah, different trips. So I’d work for, you know, a while. And then I take off and go backpack for like four months, like, you know, around Europe and nice and places like that. And, you know, went down to the states a little bit. And so just kind of did that where I work and then travel and work and then travel and, you know, with some friends and, and then, and things like that. So, and then probably right around 22 or so, I started working more full-time and then going to night school. Nice. Just to start chipping away at some classes. And before going back to school, full-time to be a teacher


Sam Demma (03:31):
And the teacher who you helped coach. Tell me more about that person, where, where you said they had a big impact on you. Like, what do you think they did specifically that, that made a big impression on you? Like why were you drawn to that one individual?


Doug Primrose (03:46):
Well, I think a couple things, one is he just always had time for us as, as students and you know, we, we saw how much work he put in and, and we saw how much he cared about us and, you know, we, we could see that as kids and you know, he was my rugby coach, but also my PE teacher. And and he had a lot of patience there’s times when we I’m sure let him down as kids. And but he, you know, got us to learn from it and and never, never really kind of gave up on us and, and, and kept, kept working with us. So, like I said, I wasn’t really too sure what I was gonna do after high school, because I was you know, I wasn’t the best student. So I really university to me wasn’t even something that was entering my mind, but he, he encouraged me and said, this is, you could definitely do it and just put your mind to it. And so, yeah, he was just one of those guys that, you know, all the students really liked a lot because of how involved he was in our kind of school culture.


Sam Demma (04:48):
Ah, that’s amazing. I I’m just, I wanna zero in on him a little more just for a second if that’s okay. Because I feel like, you know, the people in our lives that have a big impact on us, like we can learn from them as well, you know? Like so when you say, you know, he always made time for the students, what did that look like? Was it just setting aside time to have conversations? Like what did that look like back when you were in, in, in his school?


Doug Primrose (05:10):
Yeah, for sure. And time for conversations somebody could go, go to if you had any kind of issues and he would always have the time for you. Just the amount of work he put in as you extracurricular activities you know, through coaching and somebody who was just always involved. And and he didn’t, he was one of those teachers back in the day when you know, there’s all these different types of groups in the school, like social groups and, and every, everyone just really liked him. Like he really crossed all different groups there. It wasn’t just the sports guys who liked him or, or this it’s just every, every, he just had time for everybody. And you know, I think we just really, you know, were drawn to that and just just the amount that he cared for for students and, and always wanted to try and go an extra mile to, to help them out and understood also that sometimes students aren’t at their best during certain times, and there’s growth there’s growth moments, and he would take the time to help you through these things and not quickly just judge you and, and kind of write you off, you know?


Sam Demma (06:18):
Yeah. No, it’s so important to make sure that someone feels seen and heard. Right. And then listen to what they’re saying. Yeah. Take me back to when you were, you know, 22, 23 and you know, you come back from traveling and working full time and you get this opportunity to coach the rugby team. Like how did, how did that all come about? Did he approach you? You are, are,


Doug Primrose (06:38):
Yeah, so he, he did approach me. He you know, it’s always nice to have extra help when you’re coaching teams and you know, I would always come back and visit him after high school. Like when I was back in town or I had some time I’d come by school and, and then he, he’s just said, Hey, you know, I’m on my own this year. Coaching, coaching rugby, and could really use some help. So if you got some time it’d be great if you could just come by and, and gimme a hand. And, you know, I was a little bit more mature then at, at, you know, 22 or so. So there’s enough gap between me and the students as far as getting them to, to listen to me and stuff. So, so he had me come back and I just helped them out. And then I just carried on from there and help them out pretty much every year from there on out until I started teaching myself,


Sam Demma (07:23):
I know sports was also a big part of your own personal life, you know, playing rugby and yeah. And, and, and sport world. Do you find a correlation between coaching and teaching and do you think there’s some skills you’d learn from coaching teams that apply in the classroom? And I’m just curious if there’s, like you think there are some intersections between being a teacher and, you know, being a coach.


Doug Primrose (07:41):
Yeah. I think for sure you know, just preparation for one thing to to, to prepare students for a game or to prepare, prepare students for, for different things in your classroom. So making sure you’re prepared the relationship component you know, really get, and to know your students and getting to know your players. Mm. You know, the, the saying is, as a good coach has to make sure they understand how each player is motivated and treat them all kind of differently. Right. Yeah. And depending on their personality, well, it’s similar in the classroom. You gotta kind of get to really know your students and, and kind of what works for them and what doesn’t. And so I think there’s definitely some correlation there. And then I think also just that I think I came into teaching with a lot more confidence because of the experience in talking in front of big groups and, and you know, getting kids attention and things like that. So I think it definitely helped me with all the experience I had outside of the classroom, in the, a coaching world before I became a teacher. I think if I would’ve gone in straight outta high school, without that experience ahead of time for me, I don’t think I would’ve been as successful at it, at least not at the beginning.


Sam Demma (08:52):
Yeah. No, it makes a lot of sense. That’s yeah. That relates to my experiences with sport. And I can say that I, I think sports add so much and whether it’s playing in a physical sport or just engaging in any hobby, you know, playing music or doing something you know, besides the classroom work, I think it really adds to your, your character and your reputation, you know, building skills and move being on past high school. Yeah. Which is awesome. Your own educational journey. So, you know, you, you start coaching with this teacher you’re doing night school classes. Yep. At what point did you start teaching and bring me back to that first year, what did that experience feel like?


Doug Primrose (09:32):
Yeah, so I eventually did my, you come sorry, somebody’s just coming through that’s okay. I eventually did my practicum and then I I did it here at the school at Yale, and then went into my first year I was doing I actually worked in a severe behavior program. They called it, got it. So that was a program for students that weren’t available or weren’t allowed to go into any other school in the, in the city. So these were kids that had a lot of different needs. So you know, were, there was a lot of the kids had some real substance abuse issues and some real family problems and things like that. So I spent my first three years there and that was really great experience especially kind of being in my first, first job.


Doug Primrose (10:20):
I had a guy who I worked with was who had some experience that you know, also really helped me out a lot as a first year teacher and kind of showed me the ropes that way. And you know, going to see what some of these kids were going through. I think really kind of helped me throughout my rest of my career, putting things into perspective and understanding that you know, there’s, these kids come to school and some of them have a lot of things going on in their life that that we just don’t know about. Right. Yeah. So that was my first experience. And yeah, it was great. It was the school, I would’ve probably stayed in there, but the school ended up going, turning into a middle school. Mm. So it went down to grade six, so they, they moved the program somewhere else. So


Sam Demma (11:02):
Got it.


Doug Primrose (11:02):
Then I went into to another school Robert Bateman, secondary, and I was there for five years and, and taught some law and social studies and and it was great, great experience as well. And then I’ve been at Yale here now for, I don’t know, I think it’s like my 15th year or so. Now’s here student leadership that’s and student leadership in law 12.


Sam Demma (11:26):
Nice. Yeah. That’s amazing. And yeah, you know, thinking back to that first year, you intrigued me when you started talking about the different things that students ha can have going on in their lives that, you know, as educators, you might not even know about out of all the students you met over those three years, was there any transformational stories, you know, of a student, you know, really struggling and then getting to a, a more positive place? And the reason I ask is because I think at the core of, you know, an educator’s passion for teaching is the ability to positively impact a young person, right? It’s you have this ability not to, you know, change a student’s life, but to plant a little seed in them that they might water themselves, you know, three, four years from now, and you can have a huge impact. So were there any stories of transformation? It might remind another educator are listening, why this stuff is so important, why teaching is so important, and if it’s a very personal story or like very serious, you know, feel free to change their name or use a random name just to keep their identity in.


Doug Primrose (12:25):
Yeah, we had a, we had a few actually you know, just a quick one that comes to mind is does Derek, he I, the way we got him into our program was we have a, we had this thing called the Husky five back in the day, and it was a five kilometer run that the whole school would do. I think some students probably do like a Terry Fox run or milk run or things like that. So we had the Husky five, and then when you finish the finish line, they had a table there and they would hand you a freezy when you finish on. Well, all of a sudden this kid comes ripping through, on his bicycle and grabs a handful of freezes and just starts pedaling. So we kind of you know, chased the kid down a bit and, and, and said to him, Hey, you know, would you go to this school?


Doug Primrose (13:07):
And he’s like, no, I don’t go to school. I’m, I’m not allowed to go to school. And so then we started talking to him a little bit and found out that this kid had gone to school in like three years. And he was I think grade probably about grade eight age. And the reason why he wasn’t going to school at the time, was he the only way he could get there by taxi. And I guess he assaulted the taxi drivers multiple times. So they refused to drive him anymore. So we ended up figure things out with social workers and things like that. And we got him in there. And I think just with the right structure, the way the program was for him he did fantastic. And he, he ended up starting where he would only come and see us once a week.


Doug Primrose (13:49):
And then he went to half days, and then he went to full-time where he was also in some other classes like PE and our, and things like that. And anyways, we would have the kids up until they were about 15 or 16, and then they would carry on to the other school after us. And about two years later, he sent me well, he phoned me, phoned me in my classroom when I was working at Bateman. And and let me know that he was graduating tonight and just wanted thank us for, you know, getting him back in school. And yeah, so he, and he’s done quite well. He’s actually a, a DJ now. And I keep in touch, keep in touch with him through social media. And we’ve got a few of those now where I’m still in touch with him, thanks to social media and you know, the kid there’s some now are, have kids of their own and you know, have good jobs and, and are doing quite well. So I think that that grade eight to 10 period in their life was real tough for them. And they could kind of go one way or the other there. And some of them definitely chose the wrong path, but some others we were able to really help out and get them through that hard part when they just needed to mature a little bit more to get them through the next chapter of their life. So, yeah,


Sam Demma (15:06):
That’s an amazing story. I’m, I’m sure the, the emotions come bring true. And you feel ’em again, when you talk about it, probably it’s a, yeah, it’s a cool, it’s a cool example. And it’s, you know, it’s one of millions of, of stories that educators share with me every time I chat with them. And I think what’s really cool to think about is, you know, these are the stories that we know of, but there’s so many more that, you know, they never tell you the impact you made. And it’s there though, right? It’s still, it’s still real and it’s still there. You just might not hear about it.


Doug Primrose (15:36):
Yeah, we, and we had a very supportive school. It was atmosphere junior. It was called at the time. And, you know, it was it was very supportive you know, administration, which is important. And they really wanted to see these kids succeed as well. We had another student he started playing rugby and we ended up going on a tour to UK. So we went over to England and Wales and did a rugby tour. And there was absolutely no way that this one student who was in our program could ever afford to do anything like that. So the school was able to help him out and he was able to go on this rugby tour for two weeks and we were billed over there and he was bill with families. And you know, the, for a chance for this kid, who’s probably barely been outta Abbotsford to all of a sudden going on a trip overseas to, to London and Cardiff and all these great places. And the billet families had the nicest things to say about the way he, you know, his behavior and his politeness and, and everything. So it’s just nice to be able to see, you know, those kids get those opportunities that, and he probably has never been anywhere since. Right. Yeah. So that was just a big, cool experience. And the school was really able to help him out to be able to do that trip. And you know, it’s, it’s, I think that’s just so important for, for some life changing type things.


Sam Demma (17:00):
And, you know, when we’re thinking about students in the classroom as well how do we make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated? Like what can we do as educators to make sure that they feel like they’re a part of the classroom can community? Is it, yeah, I’m just curious. What are your thoughts?


Doug Primrose (17:17):
Well, I think the biggest thing is, is a relationship. And that’s what I always tell, like student teachers that work with me is the, they can teach you all the different tools in in your university classes about classroom management and seating plans and all these different things. But the number one that for classroom management and is just building your relationship with your students, cuz when the students respect you and like you and enjoy being there, then then there tend to be a lot better behaved and they seem to be more engaged. So I think the big thing is relationship and I, one of the thing I always try and one thing I always tell student teachers is try to make sure, you know, one thing about every student in your class. So whether or not I know that this student he plays baseball this student she does dance every night this student you know, they have sibling that I had two years ago and blah, blah, blah.


Doug Primrose (18:12):
So, so I just try to make sure I know something about them. So when they come in you know, I can say, you know, Hey, how how’s it going? Did you guys have a baseball game last night? And that’s all of a sudden you have that conversation. And I think that’s just really important to try and make sure to know them and then they, they appreciate that, I think as well, that relationship part. So, and then if they do have some issues, then they might be more inclined to open up a little bit more if they have that relationship with you.


Sam Demma (18:42):
Yeah. There’s, there’s a gentleman named Jeff Gerber. You probably know him. He’s like, you know, I know Jeff. Yep. He always says the biggest ship. I think the biggest ship in leadership is a relationship. Yeah. And I think it’s so true, you know, it’s, it’s so true. But on that topic of leadership, I know a couple years ago, you know, you guys hosted the Canadian student leadership conference billed, you know, close to a thousand students from different, you know, areas, what was that experience to like doing that and hosting it and you know, bring me back to that moment.


Doug Primrose (19:16):
Yeah. It was amazing. It, obviously it was a ton of work and some stressful times, but it was absolutely an amazing experience. So the planning starts about two years ahead of time. So we put the it in for, for us to be able to host it and we hosted it here at Yale secondary, but it was a school district hosting. So it was the Abbotsford school district that was the host committee. So we had students from all the different high schools in Abbotsford bepi leaders. And then we had teachers from all the different high schools help out as well. Administrators, teachers, EA everybody kind of chipped in. But yeah, it was a huge undertaking. But the week that we put it on, it went really smooth lots of good preparation. And the biggest thing was our team.


Doug Primrose (20:07):
We had an amazing team of, of staff that volunteered tiered their time to put this conference on and, and volunteered many, many hours. You know, if you think like we had, you know, one person, his job was in charge of building, finding bill at homes for 750 students. You know, we had another person, her job was to put a committee together to, to feed a thousand people every single day and a, a in a quickly manner. You know, we had a sponsorship committee who they went out and found sponsorships and it was mostly you know, it was retired teacher or retired principals some, also some people from the community and they just all jumped in and, and really took on and did a great job. So we had just an amazing team. And that’s what I really learned was, you know, there’s no way we could have done this without the support from everybody who who chip in and, and so much of their own time away from, from school.


Doug Primrose (21:07):
But I think one of the reasons everyone was so happy to volunteer was they just saw the value of it and what it, what it did for kids and the memories that these kids would have would be a lifetime a memory of this conference that they helped put on. So I think it was just a real, like I’ve had some of the teachers who’ve taught for over 20 years, to me, that that was the, the most, you know, enjoyable and the most satisfying thing they’ve ever done as a teacher was being part of that conference and the putting it together. So, yeah, it was it was great. Unfortunately, it was the last one because until, until they start up again. But it hasn’t been one since because of the co with stuff, but


Sam Demma (21:48):
Hopefully soon, hopefully I’ll see you at one of them.


Doug Primrose (21:51):
Yeah. They’re gonna, they’re gonna be doing an online one I believe in September. Okay. And then they’re hoping for 20, 22 to go back to, to live


Sam Demma (22:00):
Nice. Oh, that’s awesome. Very cool. And you know, the current situation you alluded to it with COVID is it’s been pretty challenging and, you know, you think are some of the challenges schools are facing and maybe some of the challenges that even your school has faced since the, the whole thing unfolded in March.


Doug Primrose (22:18):
Yeah, it has definitely been challenging. And I think us leadership teachers even have a bit of an extra challenge because you’re, you’re really trying to maintain school culture and maintain that positivity around the building. And it’s very difficult to do when a lot of your functions are getting canceled and grad is getting canceled and, you know, it’s tough to kind of keep these kids positive and motivated and still wanting to do things. It’s you know, I have my grade 12 class going on right now in my grade 12 lead class and, and you know, you’re here talking about, okay, what can we do to, to do some CU, some culture events to have some fun. And then they find out that day that their prom just got canceled. Right? Yeah. So it’s, it’s very difficult. But you know, the students, they persevere and they handle it quite well.


Doug Primrose (23:10):
They, they carry on and, and hats off to them. As far as challenge in our school, it’s just, you know, I know every province is different, but with us in BC right now, we’re not allowed to mix at all. So you have to stay in your own class, which is your cohort. We have a three hour class in the morning and then nothing in the afternoon, so we don’t have a lunch hour. So we can’t do any events during that time. So we’re like for an example, right now we’re planning a pep rally for Thursday. Obviously, you know, our school’s quite well known for its pep rallies and how crazy they are, but this one’s obviously gonna be a lot different. So we’re doing some, some virtual stuff, some games that we can do virtually in their cohorts and put some videos together, some fun videos and, and that, so we’re still trying, and we’re trying to make things go.


Doug Primrose (23:59):
We, we always have a big singing competition here every spring. It’s called all, and we’re still gonna try and do that. We’re just gonna have to do it different. And that’s kind of our saying this year is we’re still gonna do it and we’re just gonna do it different, love it. And but one thing that we have done, I think a good job of this year is we’ve, we’ve done some really good things in the community. And that’s one of the things that the students have done a little bit more of is, is just reaching out to the community. And one thing that we did, which was pretty cool is they, they applied for these grants that the city of Abbotsford and the community foundation put together for COVID. And how can you make people in the community?


Doug Primrose (24:44):
Basically how, how can you engage with them during COVID time and communicate with them? So my students applied for these different grants and they all got approved and they, they started doing pretty cool things like one group. They put together these little care packages for kindergarten students where they get a t-shirt and some decorating things, decorated shirt. And so they gave those to all those students. They took you know, some care baskets down to ambulance drivers, fire police, all the first responders and did that. So they did some things for our, we have a, a teen kind of outreach type program here in Abbotsford. And they put together like little toilet tree bags and stuff to give to the student the kids in the community that might need those. And, and we’ve got out and done a lot of different things at the parks and cleaning up and just outdoor activities and stuff like that.


Doug Primrose (25:42):
So we we’ve been finding some pretty meaningful things to do. And, and I think part of that too, is like with me, one of my things with teaching leadership is I, I really want the kids to come up with their stuff and I really want them to be the ones to do it, and they take ownership over it because when it, when it works out, which it, you know, usually does the the, the, they feel so much more gratifying to them because they’re the ones who really put this together. So when they applied for those grants and they all got approved you know, they were pretty excited cuz they’re the ones who did all the work to put that grant together. It wasn’t me. Yeah. you know, when they go and deliver stuff to the Abbotsford police and Abbotsford, police puts a thing on their Instagram, thanking the Yale leadership students for, for what they did, you know, you can just see that they feel so great about about that because they’re the ones that did it. It wasn’t just me doing it and telling them to do it. They came up with it all. And I think that’s one of the important things when you’re talking about you relationships and stuff is let you know, let the kids are pretty good at at coming up with some great ideas. They’re better than I am during COVID coming up with ideas. So we get them to, so,


Sam Demma (26:55):
Ah, that’s awesome. And I feel like when you give someone more responsibility, they, they feel more part of the group or community, right. Yeah. If they feel useless or like they’re not doing anything, they might not feel like contributing or, you know, using their creative ideas. So I think it’s a, I think it’s a great thing to do. If you could take


Doug Primrose (27:13):
And, and that’s sorry, that’s a, that’s a big part of our program is the community part. So we talk about like pep rallies and stuff like that, but even a non COVID year, we do a lot of community stuff and I think that’s really important. They, they enjoy that just as much as they enjoy the, or maybe even more the stuff that we do in school. Because they don’t think they, a lot of times kids want to do things and they want help and they wanted that, but they just don’t know how to go about doing it. Yeah. So you just kinda steer ’em in that direction and then they get into it. Now, the other great thing is, is when students graduate from here I still see them doing things in the community, volunteering, putting together nonprofits into their adulthood, which is pretty, pretty great because that’s something that they did here at the school that they’ve carried on. And


Sam Demma (27:58):
Yeah, it was like a launchpad here.


Doug Primrose (28:02):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s great.


Sam Demma (28:03):
And if you could take me back to year one year one, Doug, and speak to your younger self with all the wisdom and knowledge you have. Now, what advice would you give yourself? If you could have that conversation?


Doug Primrose (28:16):
Oh man. I, I think my, my problem was when I went through school and stuff, I, I don’t think I really had the confidence. And you know, it wasn’t, I think school was just so different back when I went there wasn’t as many opportunities and you know, like I think like if I had a class like my leadership class or other leadership classes that are out there in the, at all these different schools I think it would’ve been really good for me cuz it would’ve kind of got me to come outta my shell a little bit and have a little bit about more confidence. You know, a lot of the things I did when I was a kid I didn’t do things in class because I was just, you know, worried about maybe what people would think of me or maybe I just felt like I wasn’t gonna do a good enough, so I just didn’t do it at all. Right. so my advice to me would be like, get involved, get more involved in, in school activities and more involved in extracurricular activities other than just play a sport. And, and yeah, just have that confidence to kind of put yourself out there a little bit and move more.


Sam Demma (29:27):
That’s great advice. I, I feel like I’d give myself the same advice as a student. If I could go back cuz I, you know, like yourself, I only played soccer. You know, I was wanted to be a pro soccer player. I didn’t get involved in student leadership, student council, no extracurriculars. The only thing I did was play on the school soccer team and you know, play soccer outside of school and it, if it didn’t relate to soccer directly, I didn’t do it. And I feel like it limited me slightly. And so I think your advice ring shoe, not only for, you know, younger Doug as a teacher, but also, you know,


Doug Primrose (29:56):
Oh, sorry. I thought you meant me as a student.


Sam Demma (29:58):
No, that’s okay. I


Doug Primrose (30:00):
Was sorry. I was one back to my younger Doug as a student younger Doug as a teacher. Yeah, I, I, the thing is, is my first, my first job I was telling you about yeah. Was just so different, different, it was not really like a teaching type job. It was more like a management type job where you’re managing all these different kids and got it. You’re dealing with, you’re dealing with social workers and, and outside agencies and, you know, like the actual teaching part was was not you know, a whole lot. It was more just kind of you know, building those relationships with those kids and things like that. So I think that would be a big part of it. You know, get work on those relationships a, a bit more like right from the start. I think I learned that from the teacher I worked with he did a really good job of building relationships with those kids.


Doug Primrose (30:51):
Nice. I think also I think I, it took me quite a while to get involved in a lot of the extracurricular stuff. Like I did coach rugby. Yep. But I didn’t, I wasn’t involved in a whole a bunch of other different things that were going on in the school in my first few years. So I think get involved a bit more, but yeah, sorry. I thought you meant when I was in high school there, but because I definitely didn’t get involved in much when I was in school. And if I think I could do it again, I think I would try to be more involved in the activities that are going on in the building.


Sam Demma (31:21):
You and I both. I, I appreciate you sharing it. It doesn’t hurt to get advice from both perspectives so I appreciate you sharing both. Well, this has been a great conversation. If, if someone is interested in reaching out to you and chatting more, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Doug Primrose (31:37):
Yeah, they could just you know, send me an email or it’s on our school website; Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford. Awesome. but yeah, it’s it’d be great. It’s one of the great things about our leadership community that I’m in here is that we all just you know, from right across the country, we all kind of know each other and talk to each other, and get different ideas and, and bounce ideas off each other. And especially for those new leadership teachers or new teachers in general for them, don’t don’t hesitate to, to reach out to some of the people that have been doing it for a while, and we’re always willing to help out and do what we can. And, and I tell you, I, I learn so many, every time I go to these leadership conferences, I learn so many ideas from the from the new teachers. Because they got a whole different kind of perspective, and especially with COVID now I’ve learned a whole bunch of new technology things that that I, I, I couldn’t do before. So apparently you can teach old dogs new tricks.


Sam Demma (32:38):
Hey, don’t call yourself old yet. Awesome. Doug, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it. Keep up the awesome work and we’ll stay in touch.


Doug Primrose (32:48):
All right. Thank you very much.


Sam Demma (32:49):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Doug Primrose

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.

Anthony Perrotta – Vice Principal, MEd Student, AQ Instructor & Filmmaker

Anthony Perrotta – Vice Principal, MEd Student, AQ Instructor & Filmmaker
About Anthony Perrotta

A graduate of Humber College’s prestigious Film and Television Production program, Anthony’s (@aperrottatweets) experience in Canadian film and new media production is extensive and diverse. From corporate film experience to independent film and new media works, Anthony’s love of film/new media led him to a career in teaching that has been equally and deeply rewarding.

With a specialization in Communications Technology and Broad-based Technological Studies, Anthony has been committed to providing students with culturally relevant learning experiences. From nurturing students to tell their own stories through video production and sharing their “why” through digital portfolio design and social media branding, Anthony continuously works to cultivate spaces of learning where students feel empowered to show what they know and who they are.

With a commitment to professional learning, Anthony has held a number of positions that allowed him to leverage his expertise in digital media to serve teacher professional development. From 2011 – 2014, Anthony was a Resource Teacher with 21st Century Learning and AICT at the Toronto Catholic District Board. In this role, Anthony worked to support teachers across the TCDSB with the integration of 21st Century teaching and learning strategies and skills with a focus on digital media production, media literacy and the implementation of eLearning. In this resource role, Anthony was the District eLearning Contact for the TCDSB and was the Principal of Continuing Education eClass for a number of years.

With a commitment to student learning and the love for the classroom, Anthony ventured back to the classroom where he became the Department Head of Business and ICT Studies at Chaminade College School. During his time as Department Head, Anthony was responsible for the development of a Communications Technology program enriched by experiential teaching and learning practices. From industry partnerships with Disney Canada to collaboration with film and new media academics and industry professionals, his goal was to provide students with an experience that transcended the traditional classroom space. Furthermore, while at Chaminade College School, Anthony worked with partners including design thinker Dr. Marlyn Morris to develop a culturally relevant pedagogy framework to empower students to become global citizens with a focus on efforts to address anti-Black and BIPOC racism.

With all of this, Anthony is now a Vice Principal with the Toronto Catholic District School Board and is committed to servant leadership with the goal to empower teachers and students to be leaders of change in school and beyond. Anthony is currently Vice Principal at St. Anne Catholic Academy, School of Virtual Learning. In this role he works to support nearly 30,000 FDK-12 students who are being schooled online during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Anthony holds an Honours Diploma in Film and Television Production from Humber College, a BA in Film Studies (with Distinction) and a Bachelor of Education in Communications Technology from Brock University. Currently, Anthony is completing his Master of Education in Media Literacy at Queen’s University.

Anthony has written media / technology curriculum for Niagara University, Queen’s University, OECTA, OPHEA, Nelson Education, Catholic Curriculum Corporation and other institutions across Canada and has presented at a number of leading educational conferences including Reading for the Love of It, STAO, Connect and When Faith Meets Pedagogy.

Connect with Anthony: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Anthony’s Personal Website

Film and Television Production at Humber College

Film Studies at Brock University

Media and Communication Studies at Brock University

Masters of Education at Queens University

Toronto Catholic District School Board

21st Century Learning and AICT at the Toronto Catholic District Board

Chaminade College School

St. Anne Catholic Academy, School of Virtual Learning

Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA)

OPHEA

Nelson Education

Catholic Curriculum Corporation

Reading for the Love of It Conference

Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO)

When Faith Meets Pedagogy Conference

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest Anthony Perrotta is actually someone that I connected with on Twitter. And I just, I’m just coming back from taking eight months off social media. I’ve been on Twitter for a little while and we met through mutual educator connections, and I asked him if he’d come on the show. He has a very unique that led him into education and he has some very grounded, genuine perspectives and experiences that I think would be super helpful to hear about. From the onset of his early career in education, Anthony Perrota has been compelled and dedicated to knowing and empowering students in telling their stories.


Sam Demma (01:21):
With no surprise, he has a huge interest in film as well. As Vice-Principal, Anthony continues in his journey as a leader, committed to creating safe, equitable and inclusive spaces for all students. All while intentionally addressing anti-black and BIPOC racism. Anthony has a very unique again, journey into education. You’re gonna get a ton out of this interview today. I can’t wait for you to hear it, and let me know what you think. Buckle up and I will see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:49):
Anthony, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing who you are; introducing yourself, and a little bit behind what led you to the work you’re doing in education today?


Anthony Perrotta (02:03):
Well, thanks for having me, Sam. I’m not sure how high performing I am but we’ll have a good conversation I’m sure. So right now I am a Vice-Principal, a secondary school Vice-Principal with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. I’m part of the St. Anne’s Catholic Academy school of virtual learning team. This was Toronto Catholic’s response to COVID impacted pandemic learning. This is a fully virtual school, K to 12. There’s over 25,000 students, and I see your mask jump up there. And, and there’s a, you know, great team of teachers, of educational support workers, secretaries, administrators; like it really is a fulsome school in terms of how we want to serve students. And it’s you know, been really, really quite a fulfilling experience to be part of this type of I guess mechanism. I hate to say that word, but it feels like it at times because it is so big.


Anthony Perrotta (03:13):
And prior to becoming an administrator, I was a very passionate and still very passionate about education, classroom teacher. My background’s in film and so I was fortunate to have experience in film production and then transition into the world of education, where I taught communications technology, media studies, and really engaged in a unique experience where I could learn from students and then provide them opportunities to share their story. And for me, becoming a teacher was really about leaning into my experience as a documentary filmmaker, which was really the, the forte that I, that I entered upon finishing film school in the early 2000s and where some people say, well, you went to become a teacher, perhaps because you couldn’t make it in film. Well, anyone who has any experience in Canadian film knows that it’s never about money. It’s, it’s, it’s not Hollywood.


Anthony Perrotta (04:24):
Especially when you make documentary films, you really aren’t making these, these movies for personal wealth. You’re making them because you’re passionate about a particular story you want to unlearn and relearn through the narrative that you’re hoping to bring to life. And it was through a documentary that I was producing in Tanzania, where I met a group of students where my thinking around education was really, I think, reaffirm that young people have a transformational power about them and similar to yourself with your volunteer work and, and your social your social initiatives. And I wanted to be part of, I think that world really, and, and getting to know kids through more of a mature lens, stripping away assumptions of what we think, especially about teenagers and really support the empowerment of their voice. And, and that’s where my mindset was when I became a teacher and, you know, finished schooling, University, teachers college, and all those types of things.


Sam Demma (05:35):
You know, you brushed over Tanzania and you got me so curious, like how, how did that experience reaffirm this idea that, that young people have this transformational power about them? What happened in Tanzania that really shifted or, or affirmed your perspective?


Anthony Perrotta (05:50):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, let me peel it back a bit. So I went, I grew up in Niagara falls and then I went to study film at hum college in Toronto. And I was there from 1999 to 2002. And during that three year period, two of my years was working as a resident assistant counselor within the student residence. So my first year as an 18 year old going to film school, living in residence was about the party. And, you know, it was a great first year being 18, 19 years old, living away from home. My gosh, I’m surprised that I could wake up for classes some days. But then second and third year, I really became invested in the culture of the community and wanted to give back. And so I was successful in becoming a resident, assistant a counselor and living in the residence as a student, but also supporting my, my peers on my floor.


Anthony Perrotta (06:46):
And that provided me, I think, with an affirmation that yes, being part of the film industry, learning how to tell these stories, learning how to leverage technology and economics and get something made was quite compelling, but there’s something quite human and relational about working with people. And even as an RA and as a counselor, I was really invested in that experience. I was like really motivated to engage with people, to help them and, you know, learn from them. And it was quite unique and it shaped me, I think, exponentially. And so when I finished film school and I was working in the film industry in Toronto and different unique experiences, I started leaning into documentary because I found I would have more creative control. I found that my political and social sensibilities could be addressed. I was, was an am still very politically minded. And there was an opportunity to work with a Catholic organization called the missionaries of the precious blood, where they wanted to document their work in Tanzania, developing water windmills.


Anthony Perrotta (08:03):
And it was a unique partnership because they helped fund the project. I received government funding outside of that particular group, it had a formal release, so to speak and tr terms of what a documentary would be a Canadian made documentary. So at 22, it was quite a significant project for me. And what was wonderful was I made really two films. One was the one for the missionaries. And then the other was mine, which was looking at the intersectionality between water international aid and pretty much mindsets around development. And so it was quite a unique piece. And when I was there, there was a group of teenagers from Camloops BC that were there traveling with me when I was making the film. So part of my film was then sh documenting some of their stories and perspectives. And it was amazing because here I am, as this 23 year old young filmmaker with, you know, independent and government funding, I, you know, it’s quite exciting.


Anthony Perrotta (09:16):
It was at the time where film was transitioning from cell, you know, from 16 millimeter to digital, like, you know, the little mini DV cams, like the new technology was exciting. It was expensive as hell, but it was exciting. And I just found myself really invested in finding out who these kids were, who I was traveling with. And I was really just amazed that at 15, 16, they were going to give up their summers and travel halfway across the world and come together as strangers, some of them and contribute to this cause. And then I thought about who I was at 15 and 16, and my experience was definitely not going to Tanzania to develop and work on windmills. I was working at Swiss and, you know, washing dishes on the tourism strip in ARA, which are humbled roots, but it was very, very separate from social consciousness and community engagement.


Anthony Perrotta (10:15):
So I was really, really motivated by these young people and just really admired how them being there, tore away at how sometimes adults think about teenagers and what they are able to contribute. And even, you know, within the world of education, there will be so much that we celebrate around teenagers, but there’s often times where they’re trapped within some type of stereotype. So I was motivated to peel back the stereotype. And I just had a sense that the idea of filmmaking was going to change quite rapidly, that how we make films and tell films and share stories and what we perceive a film to be was changing quite rapidly. And this was before YouTube. This was before Facebook, right? This is really us just recognizing digital technology with the birth of Napster, which would’ve been when I started film school at the end of my grade 13, that wait a minute, the mechanisms of production were going to shift.


Anthony Perrotta (11:22):
So when I became a teacher finally in 2005 and started in 2005 as a full-time teacher with the Negar Catholic district school board, that was really where I was introduced to not only my students, but this whole, whole new democracy around the telling of stories that now we had YouTube, which I never had as a student, for example. Right. So now the way I tell stories and the way I share them shifted the power game. So it was just a very, you know, transformational for me in awakening. So to speak when I met these young kids and just thought to myself, you know, I could still make films, the type of films I want to make that are small scale that are very personal, very intimate. And like when I was an RA at hum college residence play a different role. And, and that’s where the film world and the teaching world converged.


Sam Demma (12:25):
So filmmaking, is that something that you still do now


Anthony Perrotta (12:29):
And oh yeah. Yeah. So there’s no separation be between me and film. Like I happen to be a secondary school vice principal, but on the weekends, you’ll find me blogging about the MCU on Disney plus, or, you know, a film, a popular film that I’ve seen on TV. For me being a filmmaker as the priority, you will allows me to be a better educator. Mm. Because it’s my film making roots that allow me to be responsive to situations. And this is not to say that I look at life in some type of hyper real existence where life is like a movie, but I have to tell you studying how to make films, having a degree in film theory, going to teachers college. I’m just finishing my masters in media literacy at Queens university, looking at how popular film or any type of film, really media literacy, if you will, is very much cultural literacy allows me to be very, very open to the people I work with and the people I year to serve.


Anthony Perrotta (13:44):
So I’m a filmmaker first because that’s how I kind of see the world around me as story that everywhere I go, there’s a story, you know, right now there’s a gentleman in the backyard of my house putting together a Barbie, I’m terrible at putting together things. My wife is way better at instructional design and organizational matters than I am. I, I, I think I might have like undiagnosed ADHD. So I just kind of am outta control sometimes in terms of my thinking pattern. So if you say put together a barbecue, I’m just like, oh my gosh, like, this is not for me. Yeah. So I there’s a gentleman in the backyard now. And before he even started putting together the barbecue, like I chatted with him for about 45 minutes. So I don’t know if he’s gonna charge me for that 45 minutes that it was part of the the hourly fee. But that’s to say, I found his story so unique. Here’s this young guy coming, you know over to the house to put together a barbecue laid off during the COVID experience has leaned into taskrabbit.ca to it has made this as permanent gig. And so for 45 minutes, I was really just wanting to find out who’s this guy who’s over the house. He might be thinking, I just wanna put together your stuff and, and get outta your,


Anthony Perrotta (15:00):
But he had, you know what I have to say, we had a really nice, good conversation. And I could tell that he was like, whoa, this guy’s actually taking the time. Speak to me. Like, he’s not just, here’s my barbecue. And here’s, you know, a sectional that I want you to put together in the backyard. It was a, you know, we had gave him an espresso, he had a coffee and we chatted. And so that’s the filmmaker side of me that I love to dive into story. Right. And that makes you a great teacher. Hopefully I don’t wanna say that. I didn’t great by any means, but the greatest teachers I’ve had are the teachers that really wanted to know who Anthony Prada was.


Sam Demma (15:40):
Mm. You just basically answered the question that was bubbling up in sad while you were speaking, which was, why is stories so important? Why is understanding people’s stories super important?


Anthony Perrotta (15:53):
So when we think about story, even as a parent, I talk a lot about this with my own kids who are 10 and seven years old. There’s a humbling of one’s self. When you engage in story, it’s when you actually say, I want to listen. I want to observe. I want to unlearn and rele. And so when we provide, especially young people, safe and inclusive places to be who they are without prejudice, without judgment, without assumptions. When we start actually rumbling with the power structure of our institutions, our classrooms, for example, where we re eyes, it’s not about, you know, Anthony Prada, the classroom teacher it’s about who are potentially the 25, the 30 students in my classroom. Are they going to be given with intentionality, not by accident, not some morning chat that we start the week with. I mean, real instructional intentionality to ensure that the curriculum that I design is responsive to who they are.


Anthony Perrotta (16:59):
Mm. So the story means everything because it speaks to then as an educator, what type of content am I going to be engaging my students in? And that’s really the hot topic today. When you think about EC, when you think about the type of material that we are engaging in the whole debate around, for example, what is perceived to be a classic to kill a Mockingbird, right? Do we need to be teaching a kill a Mockingbird? Do we need to be using that artifact as a vessel to engage in conversations about equity and race? I would argue, no, I will argue no there’s many other books written by black authors, people of color that provide a more humanized and more representationally profound discourse to engage in story who are the students that compose our classrooms. There is once a time. Very recently, I remember I would often show one particular film with a group of great 10 students.


Anthony Perrotta (18:08):
And I would show back to the future and I would scream back to the future in class, peel it back, talk about its kind it’s dangers around representation. Because when you look at back to the future, everyone celebrates it as this classic eighties film, but it’s a Reagan night artifact. It rises out of 1985, Reagan America. It’s directed by Robert Zeus. Who’s, you know, quite conservative. And the film is really there to make a pronunciation around whiteness and classism that only at the end, when Marty’s father stands up to the bully, when Marty’s father asserts himself to be an American man, does he rewrite the history? And then Marty’s family, this white wealthy unit. And when they’re wealthy, then their problems don’t exist. And the only black character we see is the mayor who we don’t really get to know until, unless he’s serving in the diner.


Anthony Perrotta (19:11):
So I was showing that film and having some conversations, but then I just recognized that the climate of my classroom was changing, that the students were, you know, perhaps not responding to that film. And I learned the value this many years ago of saying, Hey, what choice do you wanna make here? This is what we could watch. What, what, what, you know, connects to you and the students would guide the conversation. And so that’s all to say that the artifacts that we are using in class to engage in whatever type of, of experience we’re hoping to build, hopefully then allows students to be as real, if you will, as possible. So that’s why story to me matters story to me matters because it allows me to understand people. It allow me to kind of check my own biases, my own blind spots. You have to be open to that.


Anthony Perrotta (20:18):
That takes a lot of work, right? That takes a lot of work for you to be able to lean into your own vulnerability and say, yeah, you know, I need to change. Or my thinking in this way is not right. It’s potentially harmful and dangerous. And then when you’re thinking about young people, you are saying, Hey, I’m just the facilitator of this space. This space is yours. I’m here to serve you and people get rattled. When there’s this thinking around servitude in education that as a teacher, I’m here to serve you. And I’ve said that to colleagues, not as an administrator, I mean, teacher to teacher I’ve said, Hey, what’s the rigidness around assessment, or what’s the rigidness around being more culturally responsive in some of our or practices. Why are there these barriers when we’re there as public servants paid for by the ministry of education?


Anthony Perrotta (21:18):
Yeah. With taxpayers dollars, we are there to be in service to the child in front of us. And that child in front of us is perhaps the one thing that somebody else loves more than anything in the world. And I have the privilege to be in that shared space for 72 or 75 minutes a day. And it’s going to be about me. It can’t be when I send my own children to their Catholic elementary school, I’m sending to that school. The two things that I care about the most in the world. And I would hope when they’re there, they’re teachers who are fantastic. And I say this with utmost confidence, they respond to them in elementary school. Teachers, I think tend to do this more naturally with my, with my bias because they’re with students all year round from September to June, got it. In high school.


Anthony Perrotta (22:18):
We tend when we’re teaching to be so content driven. I’m in math. I need to get through the curriculum. I’m in comp tech. I need to get through the curriculum. I’m in geography. I need to get through the curriculum. And then the big daddy of them all, I have to prepare these students for post-secondary. Mm. Right? If I showed you Anthony Prada, transcripts from kindergarten, all the way to grade 13, it would seem as if nobody was preparing me for university. But Hey, at this point, come fall. When I finish my masters, I’ll have a college diploma, two university degrees in a master of education, not bad for someone who other people may have felt was falling through the cracks from K to grade 13. So that’s just to say that the experience of schooling has to really be about not the educator. What about the kids, student centric, student centric, and your work. When you talk about student servant leadership, that’s what it’s about. Mm it’s about saying, how am I going to help you? What is my time here really about? And unfortunately, if in the world of education within the classroom, there can exist a great ego. And sometimes the ego that exists is that of the teacher. It’s my space. It’s my I’m giving you a test. I’m giving you a quiz. Well, within that space, then where does the student fit? Is the student just a vessel to meet the, the end game that you’ve prescribed?


Anthony Perrotta (24:02):
Right? It it’s, these are challenging ideas. And this is not to say that teachers aren’t doing wonderful work. Oh my gosh. I know so many wonderful teachers. Okay. I, I I’ll, I will never say I ran into, or I’ve worked with a teacher that I don’t believe in because the potential that is exponential, the work I’ve witnessed is fantastic. It’s transformational. However, there are time where we have to ask some real critical questions about our lesson design, about our assessment strategies. Are we really there about the students now in that too comes another tough, tough one, especially when you think about high school. And we say, well, I’m preparing students for university or college. That one there kind of always gets me a little bit worked up in terms of having a good conversation, because if you’ve been an educator who’s been far removed from university or college, then how do you know what works?


Sam Demma (25:07):
Hmm.


Anthony Perrotta (25:09):
Why are we, you know, working within a prescribed near of preparing students for university and college, when act, and when in actuality, the college and university in the post-secondary world is evolving and it’s transforming that their, their game is starting to change Yet. We say, you know, I’m, I’m still working. I need to, I can’t make this change for example, because I have to fit this curriculum piece in because of college or university. I don’t know. I’ve never seen an Ontario piece of curriculum that actually states check mark, I’m prepared child, a child for college or university. I’ve never seen it.


Sam Demma (25:51):
And who’s to say that, you know, every single student in that classroom, that’s what they wanna be prepared for


Anthony Perrotta (25:58):
Ex exactly. Right. And if I look at myself as an example, my experience was not a positive one when it came to content. Mm. I didn’t really connect with material, especially in high school, other than in my art in media classes. Cause I was really, you know, very early on, very, very much grounded in where can I tell story? Where can I have control of the mechanisms of storytelling? And so visual arts media classes really spoke to my sensibilities. I knew enough to play the game of schooling. I was respectful. I would get my CS and maybe a couple of bees here and there. I knew enough that, of course I wasn’t going to flunk out by any measures. Okay. But content, the content wasn’t speaking to me and what really spoke to me more was learning about process. And luckily how having really good teachers in unique courses that allowed me opportunities to be resilient, to construct new knowledge on my own, to be curious.


Anthony Perrotta (27:17):
And when we think about education today and what’s called 21st century learning, or are learning that as grounded in global competencies, we think about the critical thinking. We think about the collaborators. We think about skilled communication, for example, using digital multimodal medias to show what students know, we’re talking about a lot of the things that make filmmaking so exciting to me. And then when that student arrives to their post-secondary space, wherever that is, they will be able to thrive. And, and I’m, you know, I’m kind of proof of that because when I went to film school, probably teachers that said goodbye to me in June of 1999, when I graduated, they probably never thought that I’d be showing up in 2005 as a colleague teaching in that same high school as my first full-time job. And you know, what I gained outside of content was what was really invaluable.


Anthony Perrotta (28:25):
It was all about the pro us. And so when we can provide students with the freedom to make mistakes, to grow, when we provide classroom cultures where we’re committed to feedback, ongoing feedback, so a student can rework and be committed to mastery when we provide these opportunities, what we’re also providing our unique spaces to get to know the students. Mm. And the type of feedback I give to student a, in student E is going to be perhaps quite different. The way they respond to that feedback is going to be quite different. And so within that difference, our unique stories. Mm. And that was what excites me when I was as an educator, when I was in the classroom. And as an administrator, that’s what excites me when it comes to helping students and their families get through pro perhaps difficult times or supporting students, you know, to go to the next level, it’s the opportunity to pause and ask myself, how can I help you? And before I can even help, I need to get to know you.


Sam Demma (29:44):
Yeah. Ah, that’s so powerful. I love that. And you, you know, at the beginning of this interview, you mentioned this idea that the school you’re at now is so large, you know, sometimes it feels mechanical or like a mechanism because of how big it is. Can you tell me more about what the school looks like? It’s, I’m assuming it it’s a fully virtual school.


Anthony Perrotta (30:02):
It’s a fully virtual school from K to 12. Got it. Over 25,000 students. And again, in response to, COVID a fantastic team at all levels, like really transformational, really doing something at a scale that was never done before. Yeah. And I can only speak for myself, but the main difference is when you’re in a building as an administrator and you believe like I did having my door open and being in the hallways very rarely when I was in a school as an administrator. And it was only a short time that I wasn’t an administrator in a school because then COVID hit. And I, and I made a transition to the virtual. I was in the hallways all the time cuz that’s where the action was. That’s where the students were. That’s where you get a sense of what’s happening. And when you’re in your school and you’re responsible to a particular community and you’re serving that community, you get to know that community.


Anthony Perrotta (30:57):
That’s the big difference between being in such a, when I said mechanical is I’m reaching sometimes to students who I don’t really know them. So the conversations perhaps don’t have the nuance that I would have with a student in my homeschool, in a physical building. Got it. But that just means that some of the conversations I have within the virtual space, they take a little bit longer that, you know, I take my time and I, and I, and I allow the conversation room. So if a parent wants to share a piece of their story in terms of why something is happening, for example, they have that safe place to do so. And I will say, I talk on the phone a lot throughout the day. And some of the conversations are longer than they perhaps need to be in terms of the more technical piece that I’m trying to solve.


Anthony Perrotta (31:52):
But if I call a parent and that parent perhaps senses in my voice or in my approach that this is a safe place to chat, maybe they just need the chat. And there’s been many times where I must have gotten a parent or even a student on a day where they felt maybe alone and unheard and they just needed to have someone listen. And that’s really the most exciting part of being an administrator is that you get the privilege to listen to all, all of these unique stories. And it’s not about me. These are, you know, these are opportunities that are free of bias of prejudice because I recognize really now fully mature in my 15 years of teaching, that I’ve been blessed with so much growing up, I’ve been blessed with the privilege of schooling. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife with wonderful children that there’s been so much privilege in my existence that it’s not for me to pass judgment on anyone else. Mm. Because my world is going to differ greatly than some of the worlds in which I’m trying to navigate with students and their families.


Sam Demma (33:16):
I love that. I got it. That’s a, that’s a great point. And 25,000 students, that’s like a, that’s like a university. You’re like a huge campus. Yeah,


Anthony Perrotta (33:30):
It’s massive, man. It’s massive. And there’s so many administrators. We have a wonderful lead principal, Joe Russo. Who’s at the helm like really great, great family, man, there’s job, a great team of administrators, elementary and secondary superintendents. But really it comes down to the teachers, the support workers, everyone who is in that trench with the child, so to speak, I hate to use that metaphor of the trench. Right. but in that playground then if you will, of the classroom, the digital classroom,


Sam Demma (34:01):
I get that makes sense.


Anthony Perrotta (34:02):
Thinking I lost you there a little bit. But it’s a, it’s a huge mechanism. Oh, can you hear me?


Sam Demma (34:11):
Yes.


Anthony Perrotta (34:13):
Can you hear me?


Sam Demma (34:14):
Yep.


Anthony Perrotta (34:15):
I can’t hear you.


Anthony Perrotta (34:19):
There you go. Now I can hear you. Okay.


Anthony Perrotta (34:22):
So when it goes, when it comes to the a virtual school, you know, it’s been a transformational experience in, in, so the Toronto Catholic school board has reasons to be proud in, in so many ways because it really is this collective effort coming together to support students in a time that none of us thought we would ever encounter, I, or thought that I would encounter in my educational career, let alone my life, something at this scale. And I think if you look at it through an objective point of view, it really is about recognizing that each student that we serve, each family is unique. So we want there to be the most holistic experience possible. That’s not to say that it’s not imperfect. It is by, you know, everything we’re we’re human beings. So none of us are, are perfect. Right. But the intentions are sound in regards to the work that I’m doing now with the virtual school and in regards to COVID teen and pandemic learning, I think we’re all in education going to really need to pause and reconfigure what teaching and learning really means.


Anthony Perrotta (35:38):
And you talked to me earlier about servant leadership, and I think we’re going to have to do a lot more around that and continue the good work we’re doing, because what COVID has shown us is it’s not about content. It’s not about tests and it’s not about quizzes. It really is out that relational human leadership that is needed. And I see it with the wonderful teachers that work with my son and daughter, they know how to gauge the kids. They know when it’s time to put away the work. And more importantly, they’ve created safe places for them. They go to school mask on happy. They don’t like when they’re put in quarantine or when they’re on lockdown, they wanna be in those spaces. Why not? Because of just the fact that they like to learn. They have my wife’s side. They are very much self-directed learners and, and, and love schooling.


Anthony Perrotta (36:37):
They do their homework. They’re excited about that type of stuff. I was excited about schooling because of the social side. I was never the tiny rule doing his homework. Yeah. but they love all aspects of, of schooling. And I think any educator that puts kids first truly first, like who is that child in front me and how can I best empower them to be the very best that they can be? And as a Catholic educator, what drives me is how can I support this student in being what God intends them to be, whatever that is. Am I providing the safe place for that? I always thought that as a teacher and imperfect, you know, there’d be times, you know, and if I had my students here, many of them would tell you, this is, you know, we’re a production classroom. Yeah. So we would produce movies.


Anthony Perrotta (37:39):
We had a end of year showcase. Every school I taught at was driven by this end of year, bigger than life showcase. And for the last six years, when I taught at an all boys school SHA not college school, the end of year showcase was happening at Yorkdale silver city. One of the biggest multiplexes in the city of Toronto and the whole year was guided towards the end of may, when all of our short films, digital movie posters, graphic media would be on display, not only projected on the big screen, but taking over the concession area. And it would be our end of your showcase on the most Grandes of scales, we had filmmakers who were partners. We were doing work with Disney Canada. We would have video with academics, with filmmakers. I mean like major Hollywood filmmakers. We would go see Steven Spielberg movie and then have a Skype with the screenwriter of that Steven Spielberg movie.


Anthony Perrotta (38:31):
Everything was exponential to the max, which was quite exciting as somebody who just loves that world. But within that space, there could be a lot of imperfection. I could lose my cool, I could pass judgment without perhaps thinking I could lose my patience. And one of the things I pride pride myself on, even as a parent, is my ability to apologize. And I would apologize to the students if there was a morning where we weren’t meeting the demands of production and, you know, I forgot where I was and maybe became impatient, right. And raised my voice, or maybe made someone feel unwelcome. Right. We’re all IM perfect. What mattered next was, do I respect that human being in a way that will make them feel welcomed and right. That will make them feel and know that I value them. And that would only happen with, Hey class yesterday. I lost my cool on Sam. That wasn’t cool of me. I apologize.


Sam Demma (39:38):
Mm.


Anthony Perrotta (39:39):
Right. Sam matters, Sam, I’m sorry, buddy. Right. I didn’t really have many high school teachers who would do that.


Sam Demma (39:46):
Yeah.


Anthony Perrotta (39:48):
And I would do that because I respected the kids, their stories, their uniqueness. So very much the first two of admit that I’m imperfect, but I will do the work to try to limit how many times that imperfections taint my journey.


Sam Demma (40:07):
I love that. That’s it’s, it’s, it’s so important I think, to own up to MI to mistakes or imperfections and we all have them. So it’s a great reminder, even for everyone listening, because it, I’m sure we could all, you know, point fingers at ourselves at those moments. But like, you’re right. What what’s important is that we, we acknowledge them and we bring them to light and apologize and make up for them. Right.


Anthony Perrotta (40:31):
Yeah. And you know, and I, no, I believe that even as a parent, you know, I, there’s been many times where, and what I love about Mike kids. They’re very, very, very self efficient as a 10 and 70 year old. And their self advocacy is like through the, through the, through the roofs, like level four, they will stand up for themselves. And that’s very much something. My wife and I have instilled in them. And that’s very much my extroverted personality where I will stand for what I believe in. I was the person in staff rooms that would say, Hey, you know, that’s perhaps not the conversation to have here. I’ve been in really courageous conversations in staff meetings where, you know, I would stand up and say, Hey, right, have we thought about this? Have we thought about this? Is it us? Are we not doing the job?


Anthony Perrotta (41:22):
And that can make people kind of uncomfortable, but that self advocacy or that willingness to engage in courageous dialogue is something I believe in and something I try to instill in my own children. So as a parent, if I discipline and let’s say, I raise my voice to my son, for example, he has no problem saying, Hey, this doesn’t make sense. Why are you raising your voice at me? Why am I being penalized when this, and this happened? And at 70 years old, old, he’ll say it. And he’s not saying it to be rude. He’s not talking back. He’s sharing what’s on his mind. And you know, I grew up first generation immigrant. My parents are Italian fresh off the boat and we didn’t talk back to our parents. Right. We didn’t as a child, I didn’t say to my dad, oh, by the way, I think you’re understanding of the, this this, this consequence is unfiting like, you’d be like, are you kidding me?


Anthony Perrotta (42:18):
Like it would be nuclear apocalypse. You know, we parent differently. And there’s been many times when I’ve said to my own children, Hey, you know what, sorry, I lost my temper there. Or you know what you were right. Right. I jumped to conclusions that didn’t happen the way it did, you know, let’s talk it out. And I think that shows my kids, hopefully that I actually do value, right. Their perspective and their sense of self worth. And that’s something I think we have to model in, in our everyday encounters with young people, the kids that are sent to us, right? These are not. So imagine the great responsibility we have when another parent or caring adults, guardian grandparents sends you this human being. It’s a huge responsibility. So we have to really ensure to check our ego out the door as much as we can.


Sam Demma (43:13):
I love it. And I think when you have those crazy conversations and you allow the other party, whether it’s a young person or, you know, any human being to, to give you feedback in any way, shape or form, it also shows in that there’s a safe space and that, you know, their opinion and voice matters. As much as it might be uncomfortable for you to hear it, you know, as it is for most of us to hear feedback that we don’t, you know want to hear at certain times, but that’s arguably when we need it most Anthony, this has been a great conversation. We talked about so many different things. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.


Anthony Perrotta (43:49):
No, no problem. I hope by, you know, made sense to some of the ideas that I shared. I think to summarize who I am as an educator, and I’m still growing, I’m still growing really is shaped. Believe it or not by all of that film work. Hmm. You know, the two worlds are not disconnected. There’s a transcendence between the two, there’s an interconnectivity between to, and my mindset around teaching and learning. I don’t think it would be there without studying film production, knowing how to mobilize and tell the story and then sharing that with kids. I don’t think I would be where I am in terms of education and being an educator without living in a college dorm and being a counselor. I, I don’t think that the type of films I was working to tell and documentary, which were really community minded, really about being responsive to other people’s stories. Without those, I, I don’t think I’d be as open to making sure that my classroom wasn’t about me. And that’s really, for me, the end game about teaching and learning that it is not about me. It’s not about any type of prescribed rendering. I may have. It really needs to be responsive to who the student is, their families. And if that means I have to do a lot of unlearning, then that’s what I need to do. That’s what I’m called to do.


Sam Demma (45:32):
I love it. The, the student-centric like, that’s the main take. That’s my main takeaway, listening to this, you know, the students be the center of everything we do,


Anthony Perrotta (45:40):
It’s student, student students. And you know, that is could be complicated at times, especially when you’re working with adults. Right? Yeah. And I just live every day, whether I was a classroom teacher. And now as a vice principal, I’m still a teacher. I still see myself as a teacher, even though the roles are different. Yeah. Every day that I’m working, it really is what’s best for students. Got it. And that’s the guiding, that’s the guiding compass.


Sam Demma (46:09):
I love it. And if someone is listening to this and is inspired and just wants to have a conversation to dive deeper in some of your own philosophies and maybe exchange a, you know, a nice conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Anthony Perrotta (46:23):
They could reach me on Twitter. I, I love using Twitter as a professional learning network, so many wonderful educators. So anyone who would like to chat and, you know, have a good dialogue about education and what teaching and learning is now and what is potentially going to need to be, please reach out. This is all part of the learning. There’s no right or wrong concept or thinking. It’s all about that shared experience of having a good dialogue. So yeah, look forward to it.


Sam Demma (46:49):
Awesome. Anthony, thank you so much. And keep up the great work.


Anthony Perrotta (46:52):
Thank you, buddy. Thanks so much.


Sam Demma (46:54):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Anthony Perrotta

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.

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association
About Jason Schilling

Jason Schilling (@schill_dawg) was elected president in 2019 following two years of service as vice-president and more than eight years of service as district representative for South West. Prior to his election as President of the ATA, Schilling taught English and drama teacher at Kate Andrews High School, in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years.

Schilling is a proud graduate of the University of Lethbridge. Schilling’s assignments as president include chairing the CTF (Canadian Teachers’ Federation) Committee, serving
as a member of the Strategic Planning Group and the Teacher Salary Qualifications Board, and acting as Provincial Executive Council liaison to the English Language Arts Council. He also represents the Association on the CTF Board of Directors.

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

English Language Arts Council at the ATA

Kate Andrews High School School Website

Drama at the University of Lethbridge

Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF)

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited for today’s interview with Jason Schilling. He was the elected President in 2019 for the Alberta Teachers Association, following two years of service as vice president, and more than eight years of service as district representative for Southwest. Prior to his election as president of the ATA, Schilling taught english and drama at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years. Schilling is a proud graduate at the University of Lethbridge, and his assignments as president include chairing the Canadian Teachers Federation Committee, serving as a member of the strategic planning group and the teachers salary qualifications, board, and acting as provincial executive council liaison to the english language arts council.


Sam Demma (01:27):
Ah, that’s a lot of words. He also represents the association on the CDF board of directors. All that aside, Jason is an awesome human being with a lot of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy today’s episode and take something valuable away from it. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Jason, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education?


Jason Schilling (01:56):
Well, thanks Sam for having me in it. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and have a conversation with you today about the things that I love, which is education and teaching, and I’ve always found teaching to be a joy. It’s one of the things that has been a great fit for me as a profession because I, I love working with children. I love working with students and helping them in the capacity of helping them grow and learn. I teach english and drama. Those are my two main areas. I am a drama major actually, but you can’t always find a drama job so you end up teaching other things as well. But I fell into English because there’s a, there’s the way those two really marry together quite nicely and, and things like that as well.


Jason Schilling (02:38):
From the Lethbridge area, I taught around Lethbridge my entire career and it’s started off in a small school in Vulcan teaching junior high and then worked my way up into high school. Then I switched to where I was teaching before I became President at Kate Andrews in Coaldale. And when I became president of the association, I had to go on leave from my teaching job and relocate to Edmonton in order to do this work and I knew that was a factor that I’d have to do in my life, but the day that I had to leave my school was one of the hardest days of my career because I, I built these relationships up with students and colleagues and the community over 17 years; and so then when I left, it was, it was pretty hard. And I miss teaching every day, but it’s also a really good reminder of why I do the work that I do now as association President.


Sam Demma (03:30):
I love that. And if you take me back to, you know, younger Jason, not that you’re old or anything, but like, you know, Jason right before St. Art in your career as a teacher how did you know that that was the path for you? Was there educators in your life that directed you down that path because they thought you had those associated characteristics and skills or from a young age, did you just know, you know, this is what I wanna do. Like, you know, gimme more context on how you landed in this profession.


Jason Schilling (03:59):
No, that’s a great question. When I was in junior high, you know, I was that typical kind of socially awkward little weird kind of kid in junior high, right? Yeah. And so I had this really great language arts drama teacher in grade seven. And I just always thought in my mind during that point, this would be all right. That would be a cool job, you know, and, you know, she was really great. And she, she worked with us really well and I felt it was one of the first times I remember in school feeling like somebody saw me. Right. Mm. And, and, you know, I had great teachers all through school, but this was a, you know, this, I was just something about this teacher that really kind of, kind of hit that mark. And that’s always in the back of my mind, but it was interesting when I went to university, I was a marketing major.


Jason Schilling (04:47):
I was going to get into advertising. That was my, my initial plan. And I remember, you know, university left bridges where I got my undergrad degree. It’s a liberal arts university. So you have to take all of these other subjects within the list requirements as they like to detail of them. So I ended up taking drama, which I never taken drama before. I was too shy. I was too chicken to do it as a junior high kid, no way would that ever happen. And I just remember my prop, I had there just said to me, he goes, this economics marketing thing that you’re doing, doesn’t sit you on you. Well, it doesn’t fit you, you well. And the drama class was just super easy. And then he, he tapped me on the shoulder to be in the main stage production at the university.


Jason Schilling (05:29):
And just from there, I, I changed my major. I got into drama education because it was a way to to take sort of the things that I, I really enjoyed working on. I think students really grow through the fine arts courses especially in drama. I’ve been able to, to work with students who are super shy and awkward. Like I was as a, you know, junior high kid and put them into a, a, a play where they just shine and they come out of their shell and they, and you see this growth and it’s phenomenal. And, and you kind of learn that through university when you’re working on that with students. And it just sort of came from there. And once I got into that sort of drama education part in university it changed the whole dynamics of going to university. It was suddenly became much easier. It was a joy to be there. The work was hard and the hours were long, but I didn’t mind doing it because it was, I was doing something that I love. And I, I’m very fortunate that I had on people who kind of pushed me in that direction to, to do that because you know, I, you know, some days are hard, but it’s what you love. And so you just keep doing it. So it’s great.


Sam Demma (06:32):
You, you mentioned that the day you left your school to move into the, you know, this president role of this association was one of the toughest days of your life. But that reminds you now why the work you’re doing is so important. What do you mean by that? Tell me more about the work you do now and how it relates to education and why you think it’s so important.


Jason Schilling (06:52):
Well, part of my role as, as association president is that the ATA you is you know, part of our mandate is to promote an advanced public education in Alberta. Nice. And I’ve just seen the benefits of public education for my students myself you know, I’ve gone to public school. All my university degrees are from pub arcade or from public universities in Alberta. I just know the benefits of public education and we need to fight for it because I always believe, and I’ve, I’ve said this a few times in other places as well. I think you, you fight for what you value and what you believe in. Hmm. And that’s why this role is important to me, it’s challenging. There’s some good, like everybody else, there’s some good days in there some bad days. But I carry with me, you know, that it experience of my, my teaching career. And I’ll end up probably going back to teaching once I’m done with this role as well with my colleagues and my students, and just knowing that education’s important to them as well, because they value it and they believe it as well. And I took a bunch of my mentors that I had in my classroom that I have collected over the years, and I have them in my office in Edmonton, because they’re just there as a visual reminder as well of the reason why we’re doing the work that we’re doing


Sam Demma (08:07):
Beautiful. And COVID 19 introduced some interesting challenges not only in, you know, every school, but I’m, I’m assuming also in the association and everywhere could the world, what are some of the challenges that have, that have come up and how have you and your team trying to tried to address them and overcome them?


Jason Schilling (08:28):
Well, definitely. And it’s been, it’s been a huge challenge and a difficult year for teachers and even staff working at the association because every way that we’ve normally have done things has changed and has been altered. And the things that we thought would be temporary have become sort of these permanent mainstays in our lives right now. And, you know, we still have lots of pandemic ahead of us. And so we’ll still be doing these things for, for months to come, even though vaccinations are coming, but we’re still seeing an increase in, you know, variance and other things around that as well for teachers, they literally had to change how they were interacting with their students overnight when classes were canceled last March. And they did a phenomenal job. Some days weren’t great. Some things worked, some things didn’t work. It was hard to connect with all of our students because one of the things I think the, the pandemic EC has done as well is highlighted the inequalities that we have within our system.


Jason Schilling (09:19):
Not every student has access to technology, not every student is able to you know, connect at home because they might be sharing a computer with their parents and their siblings, or, or just a multitude of things that came up, you know, poverty, income, security, all sorts of came up with this as well. And so that was a lot, a big challenge for us to manage at that time and still to do that at this point, as well as trying to deal with health protocols and now, you know, close it or schools that might have to close because they have a COVID case and moving everybody online, then coming back in for myself as a, you know, president, I usually tens of thousands of kilometers a year. Yeah. And so it’s it’s a little bit of isolating in that fact that a lot of my work has done sort of how we’re talking today through zoom. But you know, it’s, it, you just keep doing it, you just get up and you keep working to make sure that you’re connecting and engaging with members and being able to hear what they’re saying in terms of their experience, and then turning around and advocating for them down the road with you know, ministry staff and such.


Sam Demma (10:23):
And I also believe that every adversity challenge, you know, also plant there’s a seed somewhere planted of an opportunity within that adversity year challenge. And, you know, one of them is to create more, you know, equitable school. I’m curious to know what are some of the opportunities that you’re seeing as well, or the shifts that you’re seeing that you think are great and are good to be having in conversations that are happening within schools and within the association?


Jason Schilling (10:51):
Well, I know through the last little part in March and June, where teachers were working online, a lot of collabo between teachers in terms of making, you know, talking to one another and their school leaders or principals about connecting with kids and connecting with parents and making sure that lessons were being delivered. And it really started to spark a conversation towards the end of the school year about assessment and what are we assessing in school and what are the things that we need to be assessing in what’s a priority and what’s important. And those are really good conversations to have, because teaching it to me is always reflective, look back at what you’re doing, where you’re going with with things like that. And then to analyze that. So the, the conversation around assessment has been a really good one. Like, do we need to have diploma exams and provincial achievement tests?


Jason Schilling (11:37):
Like, are they capturing what students are truly learning? And we know that they don’t. And so to keep those things going forward is important. And it’s also really highlighted, I think the importance of relationships, we know that relationships are key when it comes to teaching with students, with each your colleagues in the building with their parents in the community that really highlighted that over this last year. You know, I talked to teachers who they don’t like having to go online because they want to be in the room with their students face to face, even though they’re wearing a mask and have to do, try to do social distancing as best as they can. They still want to be in that space with their students, working with them in that capacity, because trying to connect with people is really difficult through a screen.


Jason Schilling (12:20):
And for a variety of reasons you know, some kids might not turn on their cameras and and things like that. So that makes it even harder. And we also kind of learned, you know, the inequities that we have with some of our students and that we have a greater need in terms of society to address those things such as poverty even connected to the wifi is one of them. And of course, I think one of the biggest conversations that we’ve been having and still need to have in the future will be around mental health and supports around mental health as well.


Sam Demma (12:52):
I love that. And you, and we’re living in a time where students bedrooms have been transformed into the classroom, and some students are rolling outta bed and turning on their, you know, computer to join class. And it’s just as stressful and difficult for the teachers sometimes. And I would even assume yourself, like, I, I’m not sure if you’re, you’re doing this interview from an office or for, you know, from a place in your home, right. You have beautiful pictures behind you and it looks great which is awesome. You have a nice microphone, which is great. But how do you balance that work in life when they’re both? So, you know, closely intertwined personally? I just, just a very curious, personal question.


Jason Schilling (13:27):
No, it’s, it’s, it’s a really a great question because I’m actually, yeah, I am talking to you today, actually from my apartment in, in Edmonton. So I I’m working from home today because I’ve had that, that luxury being able to do that, but I do go to the office quite a bit as well, just to find that balance and that normality in life, I think COVID is really altered a lot of the normals that we, we normal. We, I’m gonna keep saying normal over and over again. Yeah. It’s gonna alter, it’s all altered the way that we’ve done our lives professionally and personally. And so I do go to the office just because some days it’s easier to, to do that, the work that I need to get done that day there, but also it allows me periodically to see other human beings.


Jason Schilling (14:10):
Right. So I might, you know, I try to time things sometimes with my assistant, because maybe there’s some, some documents I need to sign, or we need to talk about some things that are in the, the plans and works like that. So we try to, to focus that as well, or if we have a big media event such as the curriculum was just released here on Monday some of the com the communications people might come into the office as well. And, and then we’re able to do that work together because it’s easier that way. So finding that balance is it’s hard it’s because when you’re working from home and I’m not sure about your situation, Sam working from home, your work is just sitting on the kitchen table. Yep. Right. And it’s always there. And so you just end up working longer and, and, and things like that. And it’s, it’s important to find balance and to, to, you know, get outside and, and do the things that you can in a safe manner that are, are protecting yourself and others.


Sam Demma (14:59):
It brings, it brings the conversation back to that topic of mental health, right. Addressing student mental health, but also staff and human, mental health, the whole, the whole world should be addressing that. What do you, you think is important around, you know, addressing mental health in the next couple of years? Like, what do you envision or think should be happening more in schools to support that in relation to students and staff?


Jason Schilling (15:22):
Well, that’s a great question. And I think it’s a great question that a lot of us need to have conversations with our elected officials about because you know, I’ve, I’ve insane that I don’t think anybody is untouched by the effects of the pandemic. Some will feel it differently than others and that’s just human nature. That’s the way that we are. But I think one of the things, you know, coming from a small rural school is you, we would only have a counselor in our building maybe one day a week. Right. But the, the the effects of the pandemic make, or the mental health needs of our students, they come to school every day. And so we need more support that way in terms of having counselors in buildings working with students helping staff as well in terms of the support that they have.


Jason Schilling (16:05):
I mean, staff are able to access health benefits if they have them substitute teachers don’t necessarily have those support, but other staff do, and to make sure that they’re, they’re taking care of themselves and getting over the stigma of taking care of your mental health as part of your health, I’ve always been saying to teachers through this whole time, and I, I’m a victim of it myself, you know, it’s okay not to be okay. And it’s okay to have bad. I have them too, but just work and, and, and chat with people and try to support that and, and making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. That’s key. And we also need to make sure that you know, government is providing those means of support for that and making it a priority as we move forward.


Sam Demma (16:50):
I agree. And I’ve experimented with some like, different things like meditation, and, you know, there’s stigma along with that too. Right. Like, you know, just talking about mental health is, is it shouldn’t be, but it, you know, historically has been a touchy topic. But you tell someone, oh, I’m meditating. And you know, my friend’s like, what are you a monk? I’m like, no, what are you talking about? Like, this is something that I do to quiet my thoughts, quiet my mind, and start my day off on the right foot. And I think it’s so important to normalize those things in schools. Like I, I don’t know. Do you think in the next couple years, wellness will be like a, you know, something that’s very implemented in schools and social, emotional learning.


Jason Schilling (17:29):
Yeah. I think we need to make the idea of wellness as, as normalized as part possible that these are just the things that I do, whether you meditate, I run, right. And so you know, I get out there and I strap my shoes on and I, there’s not a, I say, there’s not a, there’s not a problem. I can’t solve on a good 10 mile run. Nice. And and things like that as well. And I’ve actually even said to students in the past, you know, I could have marked these assignments, but I went for run instead. Just because I’m going to be a much happier teacher for you today because I went for a run yesterday and I’ve actually had students in the past. Sometimes that we’ve, if I’m might be having a particularly cranky day, they’ll like, could you go for a run today when you’re done school?


Jason Schilling (18:12):
And, and then maybe when you come back tomorrow, you might be a little bit more pleasant and I’m like, duly note it. So, I mean, we all have those things in there that we, it just, we have to make this an ingrained part of our life and know that wellness is important for us in all aspects of our lives. And the pandemic is really showing that as well, because it’s really highlighted the things that we’re missing from our lives, maybe in terms of personal relationships and our professional relationships, and then trying to find a way to rectify that so that we can just be better or happier as we move down the road.


Sam Demma (18:45):
I agree. I totally agree. And, you know, we, we mentioned relationships earlier and how, you know, that’s one of the things that you noticed, you know, as a, something that’s super important that came up during COVID 19 and maintaining relationships how do you think we continue building relationships virtually? Is it by just, you know, phone calls and checking in with the teachers and, you know, having them check in with their students, like, yeah. How do you think we build those relationships?


Jason Schilling (19:11):
Well, ideally, I mean, in person is always gonna be better. Yeah. I mean, we, we do have these virtual things and there’s ways to, to stay connected with that. I don’t know you know, I talk to a lot of my colleagues and, you know, my friends and family I’ll do the zoom thing, but periodically I just like to pick up a phone yeah. And just call somebody. So instead of, you know, I always say if my email chain gets more than five, I’m phoning that person just to talk to them about it because after a point you just lose that. And so it’s hard and it’s not ideal, but you just do the things that you can do. And I know Christmas holidays was difficult for a lot of people and I didn’t have the chance to spend it with my family for the first time in a long time. And so we, we still managed to have Christmas dinner. We just did it by FaceTime. And we were kind of weird at first, but then at the end it was, it wasn’t bad. It was okay actually. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t too bad. And, you know, when it came dishes time, you could just, instead of having to do them, just click end then,


Sam Demma (20:09):
And then you put on your shoes and went for a,


Jason Schilling (20:12):
Yeah. I’m not sure it’s Christmas time. It was kind of cold, but I don’t know if I would,


Sam Demma (20:17):
So, yeah, that’s awesome. That’s amazing. And you know, if you could give advice, there’s educators listening to this right now who maybe burnt out right now, who may also, you know, couldn’t see their family for Christmas, who, who have been question whether or not the work they’re doing is making a difference. And, you know, they may even be thinking about, you know, leaving or quitting. You know, what advice could you share as someone who knows how important education is and educators are on the lives of our youth? What advice could you share that might be helpful? You know, imagine you were talking to a friend of yours, who’s a teacher.


Jason Schilling (20:50):
Well, and I have these conversations with teachers all the time over this last year about feeling overwhelmed or burned out by the requirements and, and things like that, of what they have to do, or working with the health protocols or carrying the stress of, you know, trying to keep a class of the 30 kids safe through the course of the year so that they don’t get ill. Is that time it’s okay to, to step back a little bit from the pressures and it’s okay to say no to some things, and I’m, I’m not, I’m not doing that. Or I’m not running book club this year. If I was at school, actually in the classroom right now, there would be no way I’d be doing a drama production this year. Just on top of everything else that needs to be done. It’s okay to take a break from that stuff.


Jason Schilling (21:33):
It’s also, I would just say, you know, talking to people we sometimes get stuck in our heads over things, or we, we, we see a lot of negativity maybe within social media, stuff like that. And, and it’s hard to put that down but to put it to, to try to find ways to support mental health and, and things like that as well. And also talking with your colleagues, because if you might be struggling with some aspect on something, they might be as well. And just finding ways teachers work very well collaboratively. And so finding that space in that time, I was really appreciative of this last year. We had a couple school boards in the fall, actually changed a couple of their PD days into just wellness days and just gave everybody the day off. And it was around the remembrance day weekend.


Jason Schilling (22:18):
And I thought that was a really good approach. Not saying, okay, well, kids, you have the day off teachers, you have to do all this extra work. And they just said, no, here’s the day off. And so I think that’s important for employers as well to, to look at what’s happening and saying, okay, we need breaks. Let’s not try to cram everything in cuz this year’s not normal. And I’ve always cautioned people from normalizing this year. Nothing about this year is normal. Nothing about the way that you’re teaching is normal. And it’s okay if you don’t get to everything because a resilient I’ve, you know, I’ve taught for English 20, 30 for 20 years. I know what I need to do in the curriculum as a professional to make sure that my students are reaching the outcomes that they need to have in order to move on to the next grade, teachers are professionals and they’ll do that. And so it just, you know, having that conversation with them and saying, you know, it’s all right, it’s, we’re all in the same boat together. And, and to just reach out that way. So


Sam Demma (23:13):
I love that I was talking to another educator the other day and, you know, we were, you know, talking about the situation, but trying to make it a little more lighthearted by like laughing about some things. And she said, you know, we’re all in the same boat and the boat’s the Titanic. I was like, relax. Like I, I know I totally get it. And you know, like yourself, I’ve had lots of conversations on this with this project on this podcast. And yeah, I think it’s important to have those people in your life that you can talk to and have conversations with and realize that it’s okay to take a day off. I’m curious to know personally what is, what is the first thing you’re looking forward to once this passes blows over the world opens up per like what is the first thing that you’ll be doing at that moment?


Jason Schilling (23:58):
Joe, what’s funny is I’m, I’m often known for not being a hugger. And so I, you know, when I keep saying to people, when this is all over, I’m still going to keep that six foot rule away from me at all times. And there people are like, we are gonna give you a hug. That’s great. I think it’s one of those things is I’m just looking forward to being able to spend time, you know, with my parents and my family. And, you know, I have a sister who lives in the states and that, and being able to see them in and for probably well over a year now. Right. And so just getting to, to be around people in that capacity, we’re, you’re just not afraid at the time and, and, and stuff like that as well. So that’ll be the biggest one. Yeah, yeah.


Sam Demma (24:40):
Yeah. You know, as long as everyone stays six feet apart, right.


Jason Schilling (24:42):
As long as there’s just not some big hug I’ll be working with.


Sam Demma (24:46):
That’s awesome. Jason, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today about education and you know, it’s important and why you’re so passionate about it, and some of the things that you’re observing and seeing. If someone wanted to reach out, you know, send you an email you probably already have a lot of those, but if someone did wanna reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and maybe have a conversation?


Jason Schilling (25:06):
Actually the best way is just through email and it’s just jason.schilling@ata.ab.ca. And I always, I always say to teachers, I try to get back to everybody. Even the hate mail that I get, I always respond to those as well but not always as quickly as I would like to sometimes; just always depends on what’s going on.


Sam Demma (25:28):
Sounds great. Again, thank you so much. This was awesome and I look forward to staying in touch and watching the great work you do.


Jason Schilling (25:34):
You bet, Sam. Thanks very much. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (25:36):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Schilling

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.

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association
About Brandi Rai

Brandi Rai (@rai_brandi) has a passion for public education – to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world.

Married, with five children in grades 5 through 10, and many pets, Brandi lives in Edmonton. She has served as an executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer, with a lifelong goal of serving others.

She is drawn to ASCA’s support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities.

Parent voice in education is crucial to student success. Education is a foundational pillar in society and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans.

Brandi attended her first ASCA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2014 and was elected as a Board Director at the 2016 AGM. She was elected Vice President at the 2018 AGM, and elected President at the 2020 AGM.

Connect with Brandi: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA)

Alberta School Council’s Association Conference and AGM

Expanding Mental Health Supports in Schools

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview. Our guest, our special guest is Brandi Rai. Brandi has a passion for public education to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world. She is married with five children in grade five through 10, and has many pets.


Sam Demma (00:58):
She is also from Edmonton and she has served as executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer with a lifelong goal of serving others, and it’s very evident that that’s something that is very close to her heart as you will learn in today’s interview. She is drawn to ASCA; the Alberta School Council Association support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability, the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities. Being that she is a parent of five kids, she definitely wants to make sure that her schools are being run as effective as possible. She believes that parent voice and education is crucial to student success and at the heart of everything she believes is that education is a foundational pillar in society, and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans, but for everyone in the world. I hope you enjoy today’s interview. Brandy Rai is a phenomenal human being doing such amazing work in education. I will see you on the others side, enjoy. Brandi, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today.


Brandi Rai (02:22):
Thank you so much for having me. And so I am the mother of five children who are neurodiverse, they are biracial, and they are queer. And so having, having a family that is full of diversity and full of wonderful young souls who are trying to navigate a world that is not always made for them has really inspired me to lean in and to volunteer and to actively work, to create an education system that is equitable and meant for all children. And then additionally, I am married to a teacher, and so education is in every aspect of our life, whether we’re volunteering or we’re working or we’re trying to help our children through their, through their lessons. So I’m very involved because I need to be involved. These are my people and I want to do good for them.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned your kids, all five of them that you have. Are they a big motivator and driver behind the work that you do and, and why? Like if you had to give me some, some reasons?


Brandi Rai (03:23):
Well, I think that, I think that most parents are engaged and involved in their children’s education. And I know that it looks very different depending on what families, what their work schedule looks like or what their culture looks like. And also what experiences they’ve had in education a four, because they, they may not have always been positive for that family and the generations before them. And so for, for me, it has been, you know, my children are going away from me and they’re learning and they’re navigating their life and their relationships in, in, in school and class. And I think that what the, the light bulb moment that happened for me is my children are spending more time away from me during a school year than they are with me. Yeah. And so those people and those interactions are really shaping the young citizens that my babies are going to be.


Brandi Rai (04:10):
And so I am, of course I am their parent and I am an expert in my child, but schools are the resources that I am using to help them educate and navigate the world. And so it is very important that I remain connected to those schools that I volunteer in those schools and that I have a voice in the education system in terms of advising you know, my principal and my school board, even the education minister. So I show up because my kids matter to me and all children matter to me. And so, because I have the time and the, and the ability to do these things at this season of my life, that’s why I’m doing what I do.


Sam Demma (04:47):
Ah, that’s so cool. And when did you start getting involved? Like was your whole career in education or when you started having kids, you decided to get involved? Like what, tell me a little bit about how it actually manifested in your life.


Brandi Rai (05:01):
Yeah, so I actually, so I had children young, so my first child was born when I was 20. Yes. And so then whenever they went into kindergarten you know, just volunteering in the classroom, it just looks like, you know, going and helping cut things and do things with art and then it really morphed into yes, parents are important volunteers, but did you also know that they have a role in advising principal? Did you know that they have a role in understanding board policy and influencing board policy? And I didn’t know those things until I knew those things. And so once I got a taste of it’s really important that I’m, you know, reading with the, with the students or I’m you know, helping fundraise for, you know, more technology that, you know, because education is vastly underfunded in our province. So whether I’m doing those things or I’m sitting down with a principal and, and looking at time tables and saying, yeah, this would really work for junior high and this is how families feel about this. When those things came into focus for me and I realized I could have a piece of that voice I lit up and I leaned in. Mm.


Sam Demma (06:04):
Ah, so that’s so awesome. And what did your initial involvement look like? I know now, you know, you have a huge role with the all of Alberta, but when you first started, what was the, what, what did the initial role role look like?


Brandi Rai (06:17):
Well, I, so initially I started as a volunteering classrooms, you know, going on field trips in the classroom fundraising, and then for school council, I went and I was a, I was a school council member who attended and listened to the meeting, participated when needed. And then when we had our elections, I became secretary. And so you take the minutes for the school council and used, send out the agenda, you do the things that your chair would need you to do. And that’s how I started. And then it, it, you know, I became vice chair and, you know, at one point I had four children. I had five children in four different schools. And so I was on the executive of each school council and I might have been in different roles, but I was active in all those. And, and, and so there was a huge time commitment right.


Brandi Rai (07:02):
To doing that. And then eventually my school council, we, we went to the Alberta school council’s association conference and AGM. And so a trustee had talked to me about that. And a principal had talked to me about that and a fellow council member had talked to me about that. And, and I went, and I was amazed at the professional development opportunities that were available for parents to be engaged partners in education. And that was the next step that I took. I said, okay, this is how I’m impacting change locally. This is how I’m making my school community a more vibrant, inclusive space. And now I can lend my voice to a provincial landscape. And so that was the next step that I decided to take.


Sam Demma (07:40):
And as the parent of five kids yourself, who obviously you were super engaged in all of their, you know, student activities and within all of their schools, why do you believe that parent engagement is so essential and important in relation to student success? And how do we engage more parent during this interesting, crazy time?


Brandi Rai (08:03):
So that’s a, that’s a wonderful question. Thank you. And I think that so studies have shown that parents who are engaged and involved in their education, those students have higher success rates. And sometimes that can be defined as completion of high school or, you know, higher on standardized tests, those sorts of things. But what I really look for is that parent engagement that helps students become global citizens who are well regulated and can co-regulate their peers. And, and it’s that success that I believe that parents have a wonderful hand in because the school is helping with curricular outcomes. The school is helping with, you know, basic behavioral standards, but it’s the parents who re enforce that whenever those children come home, it’s the parents who, who say, oh, tell me more. They lean in and they nurture their children. And then they nurture their school communities whenever they volunteer and they help shape the culture at those schools.


Brandi Rai (08:52):
So I think that it’s, it’s the parents that solidify the learning that happens at school. And that’s why that relationship is so important. And then additionally, I think that it’s important that systems recognize that parents are partners in education. And so they do more than just inform inform the parents about decisions that are being made because and I think that we can all recognize this when you take the time to engage and consult with stakeholders and parents are a major stakeholder in education, they have more buy-in to whatever decisions are being made. So if you tell me that something is happening, but you don’t include me in any of the process, I may, I may not agree with it. I may revolt against it. I may not be an active participant in making sure that it becomes meaningful meaningfully implemented. But if you engage me the whole time, if you consult with me the whole time, then I have buy-in. I see my voice, I see the, I see the, the need for these changes to happen, and then I help with implementation. And so I think that from a system perspective, student success is impacted when parents are brought a lot on the journey rather than being told what the journey is.


Sam Demma (09:58):
Mm oh, I love that. That’s awesome. And how do we bring more parents into the journey right now? So like, I know I would assume, and I could be wrong yeah. That with COVID maybe parents feel a little more disconnected to their students and their school activities. Maybe it’s the reverse. Maybe, maybe you can tell me what you guys have been seeing in the province of Alberta and how can we still get parents involved and engaged during this crazy time?


Brandi Rai (10:24):
So I think that, yeah, so this, so the last year and a half has been, you know, obviously an anomaly. And so there is a huge disconnect that’s happening for many parents across Alberta, because we are not physically able to go volunteer in the schools. There is different communications that are happening because most of our communication is now based on emails. Or we hold our school council meetings virtually to, you know, in order to be able to respect health protocols. And so you don’t have the support of your parent community. You’re not talking to each other at pickup or after, you know, a dance performance or those sorts of things. You are extremely disconnected from your parent community. You’re additionally disconnected from your admin because all communication comes in either black and white or through a virtual platform. And so you, you’re not having the same opportunities, which means that you also don’t feel connected or, and you also don’t wanna step on toast.


Brandi Rai (11:15):
So you don’t wanna say, well, I don’t really sense some of the things that are happening, but you don’t wanna be a burden in asking for clarification or, or the ability to give your input, because you already know that the system is stressed, the adminis stress, right? So there has been, this has been a huge year of disconnect across our province in many ways. And then the flip side of that is when there’s disconnect, we are, we are wired for connection. Yeah. So when there is disconnect, we will actively seek solutions to fill in those gaps. And so we’re having council meetings virtually we’re, we’re increasing, you know, school councils and parents are increasing sharing things on social media. And that is why that, that is the, there has been an uptake in the things that are happening in education in a different way this year, partially because everybody’s getting a lot of information on social media, because that is the only connection point that they might have.


Brandi Rai (12:06):
And so, and we know how that, that can be good and bad, but we know how easy that is. So maybe I, you know, maybe I’m at the end of the day and I don’t have time to go through, you know, on my school zone or, or my power school and like read all the things. But if I connect to my school council Facebook page, or if I’m on Twitter and I see some things that are coming out around the new curriculum that might peak my interest, that’s an engagement point. That’s a touch point that lights a fire in me to do more in education. So there are some positive, even though we have been extremely disconnected this year.


Sam Demma (12:37):
I love that. And I think there’s always positives, even in every negative situation. It’s just up to us to go ahead and look for them. Right. without darkness, you can’t have a bonfire. Bonfires are beautiful. Right?


Brandi Rai (12:50):
I love that. Yes.


Sam Demma (12:51):
Right. Question for you, you, what exactly is a school council, I would consider you and your association like the experts of school councils what exactly is a school council and why are they so important and essential to schools?


Brandi Rai (13:08):
Well, no pressure to get that question. Right. Thank you for that. So, so yeah, so a school council and, and it might look different across the province, depending on that school community, but a school council. They have members parents or community members that would like to be part of the school council. The principal is also a member of the school council and a teacher designation, and then a, a teacher designated representative. And then additionally, if you’re in older grades, you might have a student representative attends. And so basically it’s, it’s parents and community members and possibly students who come and they, they work with admin on issues related to the school. And so a school council’s job is to advise the principal on any issue relating to the school. So maybe that’s the school’s plan. Maybe that’s the, like the, the school’s, you know, in, and some of the districts, they schools have three year plans.


Brandi Rai (13:57):
And so maybe you’re advising towards that. Maybe you’re maybe you’re advising towards the budget, you know, schools get budgets. And what are the priorities that parents also identify are really important places to spend that money knowing that the principal has final decision making in any decision related to a school then additionally school councils also in buys to their school boards. And so their school board might be engaging them on any changes that are happening within the district, you know, related to transportation or fees, or scheduling those sorts of things. And then higher, higher things such as right now, you know, the new curriculum draft, those are things that boards would be engaging with school councils around. And then additionally the Alberta school council’s association is the provincial voice for school councils in our province. And so school councils, can we, we have a variety of resources that help school councils understand their role.


Brandi Rai (14:49):
And so we believe that the empowerment and the respect and engagement of school councils is important for student success. And the way that we help that happen is we empower schools to learn how to be active in their own communities and to be local advocates, to, to affect change in their communities as needed or to support the culture as it is. And then we have we have an upcoming conference in AGM where we provide professional development for school council members. And then additionally, we have our AGM where members themselves have put. And so when we say members, we actually mean the school council as a whole, so not individual parents, but those school council members have put forward resolutions that then become advocacy policies that we advocate for. So for example, you know, years ago, there was a resolution that came forward related to class size and the importance of there being lower class size numbers for supporting student success.


Brandi Rai (15:41):
And so that then became an advocacy policy that we then advocate for. And it can be utilized in a variety of ways, not just in standard years, but specifically in a year where there has been COVID the importance of having smaller class sizes to mitigate the risk of spread. So that was a really long answer to say lots of things. But the, the main thing that I think that is important is that their, you know, school captures school councils are captured in legislation and regulations, and they have a role. They have a legitimate role in education. Parent voice is, is locally important. And then it goes all the way up to every table that we can carry that voice to through ASCA, as we talk with like trustees, superintendents, secretary treasurers the teachers association, any other major stakeholder group in education the Alberta school, council’s Associa this caring parent voice through school councils to that table.


Sam Demma (16:35):
And if you could speak to, you know, educators and principals outside of even Alberta and everywhere and be the bridge between, you know, a student and what they need to know about students right now, because you’re a, you’re a parent of five kids who are all in school. Like what could you share with a, you know, a principal or an educator who might not have kids that are in school right now and say, Hey, like, this is what kids or my kids are struggling with, which probably is the same struggles for most kids in certain ways and shapes like what could you relate to them to kind of say like, this is what you’re not seeing or not hearing right now.


Brandi Rai (17:10):
So I think that it’s, I think that right now what most parents and school counselors are talking about is mental health. And so they’re saying that, you know, my child’s mental health has been severely impacted and there is no support system readily available that my child can access in a timely or affordable manner to, to help with these, these issues that are happening. So that’s one thing that I know right now that parents on school councils are bringing up. The other thing is that through the years, we have really talked about the importance of, of school community. So teachers and admin, you know, relating to their students in ways that let the students give feedback and the students own the culture. And that’s really important because I can say, well, this is what my child is, is experiencing, and this is what they need.


Brandi Rai (17:54):
But as a parent, I believe that it is, it is actually more important that the teachers in the admin listen to my babies, they need to be talking to my babies about what the culture looks like in a school at their level, because we can have policies place. We can have wonderful conversations and metrics that we measure things by. But if the lived experience of those students does not reflect those policies and the intent of those policies, then it’s all for not. And so that is why it’s important that that educators be looping back to students and then be including parents in that dialogue as well.


Sam Demma (18:26):
And you started this interview by talking about the important of, you know, equity in equality in schools. What does an equitable school in your eyes look like? And, you know, how can we strive towards creating more equity within our schools?


Brandi Rai (18:41):
That is the, that is the universal question of, of how to how to solve all the problems in education. So just so, so no pressure, I guess, no pressure. So I think whenever I try to just collapse it down to the core of what it is that I’m asking for, I’m saying that equity and education and equitable access means that students in rural locations have the same opportunity and quality of education that students in metros would have. And I think that that is, and also the same inclusivity and the same opportunities. So, so I think that there is, there are definitely barriers when you travel across Alberta in terms of location and funding. And, and I think that equitable to me means that there is consistent quality and standards that are applied across education so that all, all students have access to the same opportunities within education that, that we know are meaningful for them.


Brandi Rai (19:37):
And for, for so long, I think that we’ve talked about you know, we’ve, we’ve boiled it down to, to funding and all of these different pieces. And one of the conversations I think that needs to be had as a collective with an education and is what do we identify as a basic quality education? So if we’re saying we’re providing a basic education to every student in Alberta, what does that basic education look like? How are we informing that? And then how are we measuring that to make sure that it is equitably applied and also inclusivity? So how are students with learning needs? How are they being in, into their school communities, all across the province? And, and what does that look like and what are the resources being given to make sure that it’s equitable inclusion? And then additionally, how are student, how are minorities, how are they, how is their lived experience being positively impacted across the province?


Brandi Rai (20:28):
And, and what about our queer kids? You know, how, how are they living this? And so when every student irrespective of their learning needs or their, or their racial composition or their you know, gender identity or sexual orientation, when I can say that every baby has a quality education where they felt loved and valued and seen in their community and in their curriculum, then that to me is actually equitable education. And I know it’s gonna take a long time, but I’m here for a long time. So I’m willing to keep doing this work


Sam Demma (21:03):
Awesome brand. This has been a, such a passionate conversation. Like it’s so clear that this is something so close to your heart, which is amazing because we need empathetic and heartfelt leaders. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice when it comes to fighting this good fight to end off this interview here today, like, what would you tell younger Brandy to know?


Brandi Rai (21:26):
Oh, that’s a really good question. I would just say to her oh it’s this metric that I now have that I wish I had learned a long time ago is will it matter in five minutes? Will it matter in five months? Will it matter in five years? Mm, because I think that lots of times we put our energy to putting out small fires right now. And I have learned to measure for myself if it’s going to matter five months from now, I need to give this a significant amount of energy. If I need this to look drastically different five years from now, I need to make a roadmap to make that happen. And, and that is a hard learn lesson that I have learned in my own life and in my own children’s life that if I could have given myself that 16 years ago, oh goodness, how much more could I have done with my time?


Sam Demma (22:18):
Hmm. Love that. And if an educator is listening right now and enjoying this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Brandi Rai (22:27):
So they can go to the Alberta School Council’s website and then go if they go there, we have our contact information there so they can get in contact with me directly through our executive director or our communications coordinator. And I am always willing to have a chat to help in any way that I can to get, to get the spark going, because I know that if I can help just make a tiny spark, everybody else in that community can continue to fan it into the flame that will, as you said, create a bonfire in the darkness and I’m willing to do that so thank you for that.


Sam Demma (23:01):
Oh, I love that. Awesome. This has been a great conversation, Brandi. I appreciate you taking the time to come on here and share some of your perspectives and philosophies around education. Keep, keep up the amazing work and I hope to meet you one day in person soon.


Brandi Rai (23:14):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (23:16):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brandi Rai

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.

Marco LeBlanc – Vice President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association

Marco LeBlanc – Vice President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association
About Marco LeBlanc

Hooked on Leadership and Community Service since 1999, Marco LeBlanc is doing leadership right! He’s been teaching since 2009 and has taken students to local, provincial, national and global student leadership conferences.


Married to the wonderful Sindy and father to Kate, Marco has also adopted his 29 year old cousin after the sudden passing of his Mother. Scott lives with a mental and physical disabilities but gives an entire new and positive meaning to quality time, he is amazing!

Marco is currently a director on the board of the Canadian Student Leadership Association, the Vice- President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association, President of the Local Association for Community Living, where we run a learning center for 35 adults living with mental and physical disabilities as well as a community residence for 7 adults, and Co-President of a Drug Free Community Committee. He’s a Grad and Student Council Advisor and Homestay Coordinator for Atlantic Education International finding host families to give an amazing experience to international students.


Winner and Recipient of the 2008 UNB Unsung Hero Award, 2014 Tom Hanley Leadership Award, 2014 and 2018 NBSLA Community Outreach Award, 2015 CSLA Leader of Distinction Award, and 2019 New Brunswick Teacher’s Association Teacher Recognition Award.

Connect with Marco: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association (NBSLA)

Atlantic Education International (AEI)

New Brunswick Teachers’ Association (NBTA)

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited. Today’s guest is Marco LeBlanc. He has been hooked on leadership and community service since 1999. That’s right; the year I was born. Not to age Marco, he’s a phenomenal dude. And he has been doing leadership right since that day. He’s been teaching since 2009 and has taken students to local provincial/national global student leadership conferences.


Sam Demma (01:03):
He’s married to the wonderful Sindy and father to Kate. He has adopted his 29 year old cousin after the sudden passing of his mother. Scott lives with the mental and physical disabilities, but gives an entire new and positive meaning to quality time and Marco believes he is absolutely amazing. He is currently a director on the board of the Canadian Student Leadership Association, the Vice President of the new Brunswick Student Leadership Association, the President of the Local Association for Community Living, and the Co-President of a drug free community committee. He’s a grad and student council advisor and home state coordinator for Atlantic Education International, finding host families to give an amazing experience to international students. His bio goes on and on. Marco has done so much in the world of education, so much for young people, and it’s really inspiring. And I hope some of his stories that he shares today in his podcast really touch your heart.


Sam Demma (01:54):
Marco is the winner and recipient of the 2008 UNB Unsung Hero award 2014, Tom Hanley Leadership award 2014 and 2018 new Brunswick Student Leadership Association Community Outreach award, 2015 CSLA Leader of Distinction Award, and 2019 New Brunswick Teachers association Teacher Recognition award. There’s a reason for all of that and you’ll hear about it on today’s podcast. And I hope that his stories really touch your heart and remind you why you got into teaching. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Marco, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit, why you got into the work you’re doing in education today?


Marco LeBlanc (02:41):
Well, my name’s Marco LeBlanc. I’ve been an educator for about 12 years and a student council advisor for about 10. I’m part of the New Brunswick Student Leadership and the Canadian Student Leadership Associations. And I guess I would’ve gotten into this leadership journey because it was offered to me as a student and I just grabbed onto it. Totally fell in love with being of service in my community, whether that be in my direct community or my school community. And from there, I mean, I just wanted to share that passion with students and give them some purpose and, and things to do while they’re at school and so it’s been working great.


Sam Demma (03:29):
And what made you back when you were a student? What made you want to grab onto that opportunity of getting involved in the student leadership? Was it the, did encourage encouragement from another educator or were there other things in your life that really like drove you towards wanting to get involved?


Marco LeBlanc (03:49):
So that’s a great question. It was an another educator for sure. And she’s actually a colleague of mine now, which is kind of odd, but it, it works. We team tag now, so it’s partnership. But basically as a student, I wouldn’t, I would not have been involved very much in, in school and probably on the path to making a few wrong decisions consecutively in, in, in my teenage journey. However, this teacher was adamant that, you know, she saw that I was always willing to help. And then from there she just used that as the spark and always made sure that I had a project going. And so she kept giving me these projects and I kept falling into it and, and taking it by the horns and planning activities, doing fundraising is being involved and having something to do. And from then on, I was hooked on this leadership thing.


Sam Demma (04:50):
That’s awesome. I love that. And when you say hooked, I mean, if that’s the analogy we’re using now, you’re like a professional fisherman then, because you’re you know, you’re heavily involved with the school you’re at, you’re also heavily involved with the new Brunswick student leadership association. At what point in your, you know, your educator career, your teaching career, did you start getting involved in the new Brunswick, you know, leadership association and, and what drove you to get involved there? You know, cause I’m, I’m sure you were heavily involved at your school, but I’m assuming that took it to a whole new level as well.


Marco LeBlanc (05:22):
Yeah. So in, in my last year, as a high school student, I was able to finally take part in a new Brunswick student leadership association conference. And, you know, that was a wonderful experience. I networked so much by just being an attendee and, and learning many new things. And when I went into college and university, I mean, I still took part in, in some social clubs and, and I did a, a working group from the university as well. So when I returned into education at a school after, I mean, I, I dipped my feet in to get my first year under my belt, but starting second year, we went right into let’s get a student council going. And after that first year of having a student council connected with the new Brunswick student leadership Associa, and then have never looked back, went through as a, as a director. And then now I’m vice president and loving what, what we do and the opportunities we provide for our New Brunswick youth.


Sam Demma (06:32):
That’s an amazing story. And I’m curious to know, like, I’m, I’m sure there’s other educate who you share your experiences with with student leadership that are very fascinated by it. And there’s also other educators who sometimes think like, why is this stuff so important? You know, like what makes student leadership such an impactful and essential part of school? Like, we’re not, you know, we’re not teaching them math or science here, it’s, it’s life skills and other, you know, other things, what would you share with another educator who might be thinking to themselves? I don’t understand why this stuff is so essential and so important. Yeah. In your opinion, why is this this work around student leadership, very foundational to learning and growing as a young person?


Marco LeBlanc (07:17):
Well, I think, I think given the anything with student leadership is a lot about finding, finding out who you are and, and tuning into you know, the, the skillset you have and, and the things you want to develop and, and maybe try out, it’s also having that ability to take a risk also. And so once, once these students start entering into these, these leadership opportunities, you really see them develop and, and, and turn into, you know, students who wanna make a difference, wanna make an impact, wanna serve their community. And, and there are still those students that want to be at the background, and that’s fine because that’s still a foundational element of, of anything. And so in speaking with, with educators, I would say that the best thing would be, you know, the, the importance of this is that students find like their, their niche. They find something that they can and hook onto. They can invest in it and they see what happens. You know, they, there’s, there’s an automatic response. So it’s either, you’re gonna see that people are enjoying themselves at an, a event you’re running, or you’re gonna see that people are getting involved in a fundraising effort for a cause, whatever it be, if it’s social awareness and, and just that networking that happens, the connections, the community, partnerships, all these things, follow them beyond school. And, and that will be where the benefits will show.


Sam Demma (08:57):
Yeah, that’s a, I love that. And I mean, from the perspective of an educator, you’ve also seen the impact firsthand in your own life, but also in the lives of the students, in your schools and communities. And I’m curious to know, like if I had described the state of the world right now, I would say, it feels like sometimes it feels like someone has taken a large blanket and just dropped it on top of the planet. And it seems a little dark at times. And a little lonely at times, and student leadership provides a light, a light for students. And I’m curious to know in your experiences, if you’ve seen firsthand, you know, student transformations occur maybe because of student leadership or because of a, you know, a caring adult or educator, and do any of those stories come to mind. And if they’re, if they’re very serious, you can change a student’s name just to keep it private. And the reason I’m asking you just to be transparent to share it is because I think another educator listening can be reminded of why the work they do is so important. We hear about these transformational stories.


Marco LeBlanc (09:59):
Yeah, I guess the, the one thing that I always go back to is a story of I’d say about six or seven years ago, I had a student council election coming, and I had a student who was basically peer pressured by his buddies to, to join in, but it was, it was as a joke. It was as a first, it wasn’t going to be an authentic commitment and whatnot. And anyways, we went through the election process anyways, and I knew that, that this had occurred, but I wanted to see what the results were. And after student vote basically I had a tie for who was going to be leading the student council. And so this individual had received almost 50% of the votes from the student body. And so I sat down with the student with the two individuals, and I said, you know, I think this is an opportunity to, to work as a team show that teamwork is possible.


Marco LeBlanc (11:02):
That one position can become two, and maybe we can you know, have more success this way. And obviously the voice of the building was saying that they, they really think that that person might, you know, do the job real well and represent their student by. And so we went for it and everybody was in agreement. We had a wonderful year, tried new events. Everything went well so much success, but in the end, at the end of the year, we had what we call a turnaround award in our, in our school district. And that’s that award is actually created so that students who have totally flipped their lives, they were experiencing some difficult circumstances in their lives or academic, behavioral, troubles, whatever it’d be. And they’ve shifted their life around fully. And, and this student one, I mean, he had, because of peer pressure, he was obviously in a bad place, poor choice, poor decision making, but went for it anyways, got into student leadership, found out that it was a passion. And he obviously brought forth a major skillset that was lacking in our student council. From there, you know, then he, he just built upon, totally changed his perspective. Everything got better. His relationships got better. His academics got better. He looked into post secondary, which he wasn’t even considering before. And he was the recipient of that turnaround award. And, you know, it, it was the best kind of full circle moment at the end of a school year.


Sam Demma (12:41):
That’s such a great story to share. And that student any chance you stay in touch with him to this day or, oh,


Marco LeBlanc (12:50):
Yes, for sure. That student is working full time and started a new family and everything’s in the up and up. Yeah.


Sam Demma (12:58):
That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate it. And did he have any realizations as he got into it? Like I’m sure at first he might have not been the most confident in himself, but through student leadership, did you see a change in him? Like how did he transfer form personally throughout the journey as well?


Marco LeBlanc (13:18):
Yeah, he, he definitely transformed because he, wasn’t going to start this with any level of, of knowing what to expect. And so he was coming at it quite blind. He didn’t know what to expect, what his role was going to be. And, and obviously he wanted the, the appearance to peers was a major concern of his if, if he’d be accepted or not, and, and what would be the repercussions of that. But his revelation was probably his first successful event and how many people knew his name would say hello in the hallway would start to, you know, ask him questions and, and suggestions of new ideas. And he took it on and he really felt that he got the student’s voice vote. And so he needed to commit to being there for them. And the minute he started doing that, I mean, it was, it was wonderful just to see how he could blossom early.


Sam Demma (14:22):
Yeah.


Marco LeBlanc (14:23):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:24):
Oh, awesome. And this year, obviously things are a little different.


Marco LeBlanc (14:30):
Very different. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:32):
A little comedic, you know, but I’m curious to know, despite the, despite the challenges that are going on, I, I think that with every challenge, there’s an equal opportunity if we really try and find it and look for it. So I’m curious to know one, what are some of the challenges and two, what do you think some of the opportunities are as well during this time?


Marco LeBlanc (14:54):
So, I mean, a different a definite challenge is the fact that, you know, a lot of activities are not following the distancing protocols and so on and so forth. So they’ve been put on hold for the year and with a lot of activities that in involve having a lot of students gather it’s been a lot, a lot more difficult for our student council members to digest and, you know, to, to understand that those limitations exist. However, we do talk about limitations are often opportunity as well. So you need to check what can we do? And how can we flip this around so that people get to, to enjoy it too? So I mean, meetings are not in person. Meetings are virtual. We do theme days, we still plan classroom events. So if they’re in already in their bubble, we’re, we’re able to have those classroom events. And we’re starting now that the weather’s nice in new Brunswick, we’re starting to do some of the activities outside because we’re allowed to have a little bit more people outside. So, yes. Yeah. And I mean, they’re, they’re still committed. They’re still doing their part, it’s different, but they know that any, any time they commit and anything they do for the benefit of somebody else, then it’ll come back as being a successful thing.


Sam Demma (16:23):
And correct me if I’m wrong. But I also believe that this, there might be an opportunity of a reminder that reminded us how important relationships were. Yeah, I think it really showed us how important it was to maintain relationships and build relationships with not only our fellow colleagues and family, but the students in our classrooms. What is your philosophy on relationships? And how can we try and still build relationships during this like weird time?


Marco LeBlanc (16:52):
Yeah. I mean, relationships, so are key. That’s, that’s just, that is the foundation. If you don’t have the ability to sustain relationships and make relationships, then you know, leadership is very difficult. So you need to be very open to that. What students are, what I’m noticing here this year is a lot of, of youth empowerment is happening. We, we want positive messages out there. We want to tell people they’re okay. We want to have these moments of celebration and, and make sure that, that we take that time to do it because maybe before it was a little bit, you know, something that we just, we were too busy or caught up with with our own lives. But now we’re really intentional with the fact that we need to celebrate the successes. We’re having the great things that are happening. We need to tell people that we love them and why we love them. And we need to tell them why we appreciate what they’re doing for us. And I think not only do we need to say it, but people are really starting to show that they feel it too. And so you know, I think students are learning. There’s still a, a curve. Some people are struggling through this, obviously, but others are, are taking that advice and they’re, they’re going with it. They’re offering some positivity and it’s, it’s working for us.


Sam Demma (18:13):
Awesome. It’s so true. And you’ve been doing this for a while. Not to age you, you’re not old, but, but


Marco LeBlanc (18:26):
Yeah, no kidding.


Sam Demma (18:28):
You’ve been doing this for a wow. I’m sure you’ve, you’ve changed your own philosophies around education since you’ve started teaching from now. And I’m curious to know if you could go back in time and speak to Marco when he first started teaching, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now and from learning from so many, the other awesome educators?


Marco LeBlanc (18:50):
I think I’d actually go back to that relationship piece. When I was starting into education. I mean, it was all about the content and it was all about delivery and it isn’t about that. It’s about the relationship with the people you have in your class. You make sure that they feel valued. You make sure that they understand that they’re worthy and, and then you can get to content because they’re comfortable in your class and they’re ready and willing to learn. And I, I think I’d tell myself back then that it, it’s very important to spend a lot of time on building relationships and then the rest will come.


Sam Demma (19:23):
Mm, love that advice. That’s awesome advice. Awesome. Marco, this has been a, a great short but jam packed conversation and I appreciate it. For everyone who’s listening to this, Marco and I recorded an earlier episode about two months ago, and we had both some technical difficulties so he was kind enough to come back on and rerecord, and I’m so glad that we did. If, if an educator is listening and wants to reach out to you just to share some ideas or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Marco LeBlanc (19:53):
So the best way would be through email probably. So it’s quite simple; marco.leblanc@nbed.nb.ca. I can also be reached through any student leadership platforms, whether that be the Canadian one or the New Brunswick one. So feel free, reach out.


Sam Demma (20:10):
Awesome. Cool, Marco, thank you so much for calling on the show.


Marco LeBlanc (20:14):
Thanks Sam. Keep doing that amazing work of yours. We appreciate that.


Sam Demma (20:18):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Marco LeBlanc

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.

Maren Abuzukar and Bryanna Rentz – Two Student Leaders from Buffalo Trail Public Schools

Maren Abuzukar and Bryanna Rentz – Two Student Leaders from Buffalo Trail Public Schools
About Maren Abuzukar

Maren is a high school senior at J.R. Robson Highschool, in rural Vermilion, Alberta. She is super passionate about helping others, and within the last few years, she has been taking initiative within her community through volunteering at long-term and representing youth in my local FCSS committee. Being a senior has been really stressful at times and it’s been really important to have activities to help her de-stress. After a long day, she loves reading a book, baking, knitting, or working out whether that’s on the school’s volleyball courts, the cross country trails, the soccer fields, or my bedroom. Contact maren by email: mabuzukar@gmail.com

About Bryanna Rentz

Bryanna Rentz is a grade 11 student attending Wainwright High School. She participates in volleyball and curling in school and Girl Guides and archery outside of school. She is passionate about archery, and helping others! Contact Bryanna on email by: Bryanna.Rentz@btps.ca

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (book)

The Believe Leadership Program – Sarah Wells

Buffalo Trail Public Schools (BTPS)

The Duke of Edinburgh Award

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 (01:50):
Maren, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Maren Abuzukar (01:59):
Well, hi, thank you for having me, Sam. That’s the first thing I wanna say. Like you said, my name’s Maren I’m currently in grade 12 and I’m from a small little town in Canada called Vermilion. Some things about myself, some things I enjoy. I love to volunteer giving back to my community. I love just taking walks or running outside. I also love reading books. I think that’s just, yeah, it’s tiny little excerpt about myself.


Sam Demma (02:26):
Before this interview, you mentioned tomorrow, you’ll be doing work with four H you’ve also done volunteer work with the believe initiative. Where in your journey did volunteerism start for you or become such a important part of your life?


Maren Abuzukar (02:43):
I think that was something when I was in the fifth grade, I believe so I played soccer in our town and one of the things they wanted you to do was they’d like ask you to go and volunteer during games or something. And it was just mandatory for every team. So my parents were really busy people. So I would take up their shifts for like my age and we’d go help out in the shack, like giving out treats, we’d pick up garbage, we’d help out wherever we could in games. And then what I specifically decided to do was I was the assistant coach for my sister’s team. And that was kind of where it all started because there’s like something to push me. So I started there and I took a little break because for the longest time I thought I couldn’t be a volunteer cause I was too young.


Maren Abuzukar (03:26):
And that was one of the things I regretted the most because it doesn’t come in an age so you can do it whenever. And from there as I got older, it just kind of naturally started failing I in my school, I did like a program or I wanted to teach people about vaping and the harms about it, which was a huge thing to me. So I was, again, I was like, I, I don’t care about my age at this point. I really wanna do it. And then from there just more opportunities came out. I joined the BLC, I volunteered in my hospital and it’s so rewarding. Like you, you feel like you’re giving back. And I just, like I said, one of the biggest are starting late.


Sam Demma (04:02):
In your journey throughout school. Did you have any teachers that encouraged you to volunteer or also made a big impact on you as a student? And if so, who were they and what did they do that made an impact on you?


Maren Abuzukar (04:16):
I think I’m very grateful and I’m like very happy to say that with my school, I’ve had such amazing teachers. They’re all very different and they all help encourage me in different ways. I think sometimes the easiest thing is when they just, they applaud you for what you’re doing or they recognize what you’re doing or, you know, they’re goofy. They’re fun. I think once, like one teacher I’m thinking of specifically this year too. So like, don’t think you have to learn when you’re younger, I’m still learning to, and he was my math teacher and I remember there was one test. I had like a volleyball game. Like I was busy. I wasn’t feeling the greatest and I didn’t do all too well in that exam. And I feel like it, it broke me at some point, I thought like I had such high expectations and it was a grade that I didn’t normally get.


Maren Abuzukar (05:02):
So I got it set. And I remember going up to him and talking to him and he told me, he was like, you have to understand that sometimes you don’t get the outcome you want, but it’s your job to keep going to persevere, to not let that hold you back. Because if I let you retake that test right now, I’m not teaching you that lesson. I’m not, I’m, I’m almost brushing it by and I’m, it was tough love. And I really, really appreciated that. Cause it’s true. You know, you don’t always get to redo things in life. And he taught it to me the hard way, but sometimes that’s just how things have to come. So that was one lesson I’ll never forget.


Sam Demma (05:37):
Will Smith recently released a book titled will. And it’s all about his journey through life. One of the chapters, he mentioned a quote that in school you get taught the lesson and then you take the test and in life you get taught, you get the test and then it’s your job to try and figure out the lesson. One of the amazing things about education is you have teachers who are helping you learn the lessons, which is really awesome. And it sounds like this teacher did that for you.


Maren Abuzukar (06:13):
I was, I was really grateful because I think up until this point, I’d never had test result like that. And it did break me, but like he said, if I had just retaken it, I wouldn’t have learned that lesson. So I can say I was a little mad initially. But after like afterwards I worked harder brought my grade up. I was super happy. He really saw that. I tried and it just, it helped me so much. So I’m really grateful.


Sam Demma (06:37):
Volunteerism was one aspect of your high school and elementary school experience. At what point did you start getting interested and involved in student leadership and why?


Maren Abuzukar (06:51):
I think like when I was just from a young age, I’ve always been very outspoken. I’ve always liked to just say what’s on my mind. I’ve always like to just, you know, know, represent the kids who didn’t really wanna talk. Like if somebody told me their concerns and I knew they just felt shy in class to say, oh, but like teacher, you haven’t taught us this. You haven’t said this. Like, when’s this gonna happen? I would be the first to put up my hand and be like, well, I’m just wondering, like, I’d say in, like I was wondering, but it was really dumb. So I’ve always been outspoken. And I think that almost it becomes contagious. People start realizing it. People start relying on you for certain things. And I remember one thing, grade seven, maybe grade seven or grade six, I came up with an idea up, but the worst ideas are the one that you don’t follow through with.


Maren Abuzukar (07:39):
So this one, I was like, we gotta follow through with it. It’s a new thing. And it was to have a Christmas party where it would be a potluck. Everybody bring something in, it’d be fun. And I remember how hard it was to convince everybody to bring something, to come in and to do something or to get involved, especially the guys in my class. For some reason, they just wouldn’t budge at the very beginning. And I just kept going, kept going. I had a lot of people helping me on my end, but I was really like the speaker of the group. And it was a success and it became like an annual thing. I remember two years ago when we could still kinda have these events in our school, I was like, everybody bring $2. We’re gonna get pizza. Plus everybody bring everything. And it was it so successful.


Maren Abuzukar (08:22):
And from there, it’s just, it’s been, I think here’s what I’m gonna say. With leadership, a lot of the traits that come with leadership are they’re like muscles. So the more you practice them, the bigger they get and the better they become or the more prevalent they are in you. So with that just first situation, it made me more confident. It made me break outta my, and from there it was like, like I said, I did that. Vaping presentation broke me outta my shell more. And then I had just people coming up to me instead of me going out to them and being like, can you do this for me? Do you wanna be part of this? And it’s just, yeah. It’s like a snowball effect here.


Sam Demma (08:58):
Sounds like small, consistent actions.


Maren Abuzukar (09:02):
Right.


Sam Demma (09:03):
So do you think there are specific characteristics that make a well rounded leader? Or how would you describe a strong leader?


Maren Abuzukar (09:14):
I think one misconception is a lot of people. Like, especially when you’re younger, you envision a leader, some big CEO sitting at an office, he’s got like hundreds of people. He’s got a lead, he’s taking action. He knows everything. He’s super smart and just, he’s got everything going for him. And I think that’s something that a lot of times scares people away. I think that is, that is an example of a leader. But just because that is a leader, doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t be a leader, there is no cookie cut leader, their cookie cut shape of a leader or anything. I think some well rounded leaders would be confident. They’d be resilient when something doesn’t go their way, they keep going. They they’re very outspoken. I’d like to think they’re also very, they like to take initiative. They see a problem. They wanna be the first one there.


Maren Abuzukar (10:02):
They wanna take that start. They wanna do something about it. And of course, when you’re a leader, you’re not singular. You’ve got a group. So you gotta know how to lead a group. Now, with that being said, I also wanna say that just because you don’t maybe possess a, all these characteristics, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader. I think like Sam said small, consistent actions. So one of the big things for me, I think with leadership is like I said, taking that initiative, maybe it’s in class, maybe you’re the first one to put your hands up. And all of a sudden there’s a wave of other kids who feel more confident. They’re like you broke the ice. I’m gonna join in, in a project. You wanna take that lead. You wanna tell people in a friendly way, like what to do, and maybe you’re not seeing anybody take that charge and you wanna be that person.


Maren Abuzukar (10:48):
And like I mentioned before, it’s a muscle over time. You’re gonna get better and better at it. You’re gonna get that. You’re gonna be able to speak well in front of crowds, you’re gonna be able to look for the crew group and want the best for the group. You’re gonna have that skill of confidence. You’re gonna be resilient. You’re gonna have that discipline. So I think those are definitely traits. But remember everybody has to start somewhere. And just because you don’t have an abundance of one of them right now, doesn’t mean you can’t in the future. So I wanna end that question by thing. You can be a leader too.


Sam Demma (11:20):
Resilience is a trait that’s being much needed right now with COVID 19 with the transition to virtual school. How has your experience been with online school? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?


Maren Abuzukar (11:40):
I, yeah, so I was one of those special cases that completely got my high school taken away from me. Like my high school experience. I remember we had like, we’d go for volleyball. We’d go to out like a away tournaments. We’d sleep over. We’d do what? Not completely gone. I didn’t know what that felt like until this year. So that was weird there. Like it obviously came all at once. I know one of the big things, of course the school aspects that like electronic learning for a lot of people. It wasn’t interesting. I know sometimes I get up, it gives like, it just seemed so slow and you’d lose motivation and you wouldn’t know what to do and you just didn’t wanna go to class. And that was always hard. And of course there’s like a social aspect to it. Like you wouldn’t be seeing your friends like that.


Maren Abuzukar (12:24):
Got you lonely. Of course that’s never good for your mood. And for me, one of the best things to do was take it one day at a time. I would wake in the morning and have that mindset of being like, okay, I’ve got this class from this to this, I’m gonna pay attention. I’m gonna take an active role. Like I had to do Rome and Juliet online, fun time. And I was like, I put my hand, I put my hand up and I was like to my teacher, I was like, can I be Romeo? So I took that like, you know, first step to that made me that helped me accountable. I had to get up. I had to go to class. I had to take part in that class. Cause Romeo has a lot of lines and that made it better for me. But I think still, even with taking part, it was hard because once we came back to school, it just felt way more fast.


Maren Abuzukar (13:15):
And I remembered like now you had to put back all that sports that you hadn’t done for two years, like the classes or like the extracurriculars. And you’d go into a class that maybe you did in person before the lockdown. Cause we had a smaller school. So we didn’t lock down as frequently as the bigger school. But then a lot of some kids in your class, weren’t on the same page as you cuz they had done it online. And of course that was slower. A lot of things were taken away. So I think the best, the best thing to do in that case was just, don’t be scared to ask, go to your teacher, ask them what you’re gonna do. Cause there’s nothing better than sitting or nothing worse, sorry than sitting in a class, not knowing what to do, going home, still not knowing what to do. And you’re just gonna continue a cycle and you’re never gonna know what to do. So that was another thing that we had to follow through as the year went like as the year kinda opened up.


Sam Demma (14:10):
There will be many educators listening to this podcast who hopefully will share it with their classroom of students. You know, I’m hoping lots of them will listen to it and wanna share it with the kids in their class. Some of which will be in grade nine. If you could give advice to grade nines right now what advice would you share?


Maren Abuzukar (14:34):
I think the first thing I would say is believe in else. And with that kind of take those steps to break outta your shell. I know with me, I said before I found like I fell in love with volunteering. You just feel so good after you’re doing it. And you find something so rewarding. But I had placed limitation on myself saying that I was too young. What would it have hurt if I had went to somebody and asked, Hey, can I volunteer? The worst thing they could have said is no you’re too young, but by not even trying, I didn’t even have that outcome. I didn’t have that opportunity. So I’d say believe in yourself, break outta your shelf. Take those opportunities that you want. A lot of times there’s no matter where you go, no matter what you do, there’s always gonna be people that are gonna have something negative to say about you.


Maren Abuzukar (15:22):
And if you believe in yourself, if you don’t necessarily take what they have to say to heart, or maybe you take it in a critiquing way, maybe they say, say like, you’re you have bored some or something. Maybe you have to ask yourself, Hey, what did I do? What can I fix? What can I improve? But don’t ever have that negative mindset on yourself because that’s never gonna help you. I think something else I would say is you’re in grade nine, you’re young. Like I’m in grade 12, I’m still young, but you’re even younger. And I would say, don’t place limitations on yourself. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do this or you don’t wanna do this or this doesn’t interest. You I’d say try things out. I know in grade nine, some kids knew exactly what they wanted to be, what universities they wanted to go to, what programs they wanted to be or come out of and like that.


Maren Abuzukar (16:13):
But they’d never experienced it or experienced other things that they might have liked even more. So they placed that limitation on themselves. And I think you’re too young for that. Try things out. See maybe you had a picture perfect with that idea in your head about what being a lawyer would be. But one day you go and shadow someone and you’re like, well, I don’t like this aspect of it. I love of it. Maybe take something out of it and see what other careers come out. I think the thing I’d wanna end off is discipline. It’s hard. I know you think you’re young. I say you’re just you, but it’s to discipline the, I take time outta your schedule, lock things out, organize things in your day so that you hold yourself accountable. Whether that’s for practice. If you have an extracurricular that you love, whether that’s for school, maybe it’s so you get better characteristics and work. I discipline is a huge, huge thing that I’m still working on. So yeah, those are some things that I’d probably say I wish I knew grade nine, definitely would wanna know and hopefully it benefits someone.


Sam Demma (17:19):
Awesome. Aaron, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, sharing some of your experiences. I know it’ll be helpful for educators to share this with their students and their classrooms. If someone wants to ask you a question or reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Maren Abuzukar (17:36):
I’d probably say my email. That’s probably the easiest way I do check that occasionally. And my email, like just saying it out loud is M Abukar gmail.com. I think I do have to give you a file. So is it okay if I write that down in there? Just so it’s a little easier for them to see.


Sam Demma (17:52):
Absolutely. I’ll put it in the show notes of the episode where everyone can grab it. Thank you again so much for coming on the show. You were awesome. Keep up with the great work and I look forward to speaking to you soon.


Maren Abuzukar (18:04):
Thank you. I had a lot of fun. I am now officially a podcaster, I guess. So that’s something new.


Sam Demma (18:11):
And there was the full conversation with Maren. We will now start the conversation with Brianna Rentz. Brianna, welcome to the high performing student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself who you are and tell us a little bit about your journey to where you are today as a student.


Bryanna Rentz (18:32):
So my name is Bryanna Rentz and I’m a grade 11 student from Wainright Alberta. I got involved in student leadership in the third grade. I had an incredible teacher. She taught us about the seven habits of happy kids. Oh cool. Since then, my grade has always been looked to as leaders within our schools, the seven habit. They encourage me to get the skills to become a strong leader. Yes. Since then I’ve been heavily involved in leadership in many different ways. I’ve been a part of the girl guides in my community, my leadership class mentors, grade seven kids. And I was able to volunteer with the four H club in my community and teach them what I’m passionate about.


Sam Demma (19:09):
That is so awesome. And seven habits. Those sound awesome. Do you still remember any of the seven or like any of them that stick out to you?


Bryanna Rentz (19:23):
One of them, I don’t remember which number it is, but one is first to understand and to be understood.


Sam Demma (19:29):
Hmm.


Bryanna Rentz (19:30):
That one really with me.


Sam Demma (19:32):
Yeah. That’s super important. That’s such, I, I think those those lessons come from Steven Covey. He has a, yeah. So when I was like your age, I read a book called the seven habits for highly effective teens. And I think this is like the very, I think it might be the same book or something very similar.


Bryanna Rentz (19:51):
Yeah. our teacher, we didn’t have very much of that in our school before, but she was really into it and she brought leadership to our entire elementary school.


Sam Demma (20:01):
Damn. What, what was her, sorry, what was her name again? And also tell me a little bit about what she did specifically for you that you think made a massive impact on you as a student.


Bryanna Rentz (20:11):
Her name was Marion and she had us teach other classrooms in the school about the seven habits. Oh wow. And how we’d do them every day. And we’d watch videos on leadership. And I remember in grade three, we, we were all obsessed with rainbow looms and making those bracelets.


Sam Demma (20:28):
Yep.


Bryanna Rentz (20:28):
And one day our class, just the entire day we made bracelet and then we had a sale at the school and we donated all of the money we made to charities. Wow.


Sam Demma (20:38):
And do you stay in touch with her to this day or not so much anymore?


Bryanna Rentz (20:42):
Not a whole lot. Now that I’m at a different school, but I remember her all the time.


Sam Demma (20:47):
That is so cool. And aside from her as your teacher, were there any other educators that made a significant impact on you? Like, it, it, it sounds very obvious that she made a massive impact. And it continues to this day. Are there other teachers that you’ve looked up to and have inspired you a lot?


Bryanna Rentz (21:07):
I actually really, really struggle to answer this question cuz so many of my teachers have really made an impact on my life. Yeah. So many different ways. They like, from my schooling to athletics, I’ve learned so many skills from them and they really just make school a better place. They always cheer me up and I can trust them with anything. Yeah. My teachers, Mr. Martin, Mrs. Guy and Han Mrs. Woodell, Mrs. Chesky. And even Mrs. Steele, they were just such a positive impact on our high school.


Sam Demma (21:36):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool.


Bryanna Rentz (21:39):
Sorry.


Sam Demma (21:40):
Continue. Yeah.


Bryanna Rentz (21:41):
When teacher, I just have to tell you about him. He wasn’t really a high school teacher. I only had him in junior high for Jim and art.


Sam Demma (21:49):
Okay.


Bryanna Rentz (21:50):
His name was Mr. Seretsky and every day he’d just greet everyone say good morning. Sometimes he’d forget after turn past 12 and three o’clock when we’re leaving. Hey, good morning everyone. And he just had a super big impact on my high school life. He’d get us all involved and having fun. I remember the day we were told that he was transferring to another school. My heart just sunk and I cried all day.


Sam Demma (22:18):
Wow. It sounds like he made a massive impact because he cared about you guys. Like, like how, what do you think that was? You think it’s him caring about the student? Like if you had to explain what he did. So I, I understand he, he sounds like he was very charismatic and like if you had to boil it down to like one characteristic, what do you think the characteristic was that he embodied that made such an impact on all of you?


Bryanna Rentz (22:45):
He really cared about the students. He gave everything to that school.


Sam Demma (22:51):
Very cool.


Bryanna Rentz (22:52):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:52):
Awesome. And when it comes to leadership, obviously you’ve had some great leaders in your life. Yeah. Shout out to your mom too. She’s pretty awesome. You’ve had some great leaders. What do you think the characteristics or the character traits of a great leader are?


Bryanna Rentz (23:11):
In, I think the most important ones are kindness, ambition, authenticity, fairness, and the ability to get people up off their feet, whether like participating in activity or anything else, a leader should really be able to get people involved.


Sam Demma (23:25):
Hmm. I love that. And you mentioned as well a little bit of involvement in the girl guides and four H can you tell me some stories in relation to those initiatives and how you were involved and what you kind of learned or gained from them?


Bryanna Rentz (23:41):
Well, when I turned, I think it was 14 or 15. I was able to apply for the duke of Edinburg award.


Sam Demma (23:48):
What is that? Tell me more, there’s.


Bryanna Rentz (23:49):
Bronze, silver and gold levels. You can unlock the next one as you go. But I have the app on my phone that tells me all about it, but you have to do a certain number of weeks of community service or volunteerism, recreation, an activity and learning a new skill. Yep. And for a volunteer, I chose to teach the four H kids and then another elementary kid in my community, how to do archery. I’m really passionate about that. And then within the girl guides, we meet up with the younger groups and we help them. We plan activities for them and just work with them.


Sam Demma (24:27):
Very cool. That’s awesome. And would you encourage other young people to get involved? Like what do you think the benefit of getting involved and volunteering?


Bryanna Rentz (24:39):
It’s lots of fun and you never know how much you can affect someone’s life with that, sharing your passions with others or help them learn new skills can really like maybe they wanna get involved with it too.


Sam Demma (24:51):
Yeah. So true. So true. And what do you think was your biggest and maybe will continue to be a big challenge when it comes to doing school online and how have you, as a student tried to overcome that and still make the most of the situation.


Bryanna Rentz (25:05):
It was done. Definitely the social part. It was so used to seeing my friends and my teachers every day that it really took a hit when it was all taken away.


Sam Demma (25:14):
Yeah.


Bryanna Rentz (25:16):
Me and my friends got past that issue. We we’d FaceTime every day before class and after class and any other time we could and we’d just play games on our phones and talk how doing, how it’s going at home. And sometimes we’d make zoom calls with some of our favorite teachers just to see how they were doing without us and how the school was.


Sam Demma (25:36):
Cool. That’s awesome. And if you could give other aspiring leaders some advice, like what, what would you share? And this could also be advice for your own younger self?


Bryanna Rentz (25:47):
Get involved in anything you can, leadership can take you amazing places. It can really just make you a better person.


Sam Demma (25:55):
Love that. That’s awesome. And don’t forget to be someone’s taco, right? Yeah. That’s so cool. Well, look, Brandon, thank you so much for taking some time to share some of your experiences. Some of the teachers had a major impact on you. Do you have any parting words or final things you’d like to say to anybody who’s tuning in or would you like to share a way someone could reach out to you, maybe a social platform or an email address? If a student had a question how should they get in touch with you and any, any parting words?


Bryanna Rentz (26:27):
I just wanna thank you for letting me come and talk with you. I wanted you to thank, or I wanted to thank you for letting me voice how I feel. And I do have Instagram. It’s just @Bryanna_Rentz if anybody needs to reach me.


Sam Demma (26:40):
Awesome. All right, Bryanna. Well, we’ll talk soon. Keep up with the great work and yeah. Enjoy the holiday season.


Bryanna Rentz (26:47):
Thank you. You as well.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Maren and Bryanna

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.

Dov Shapiro – CEO of ConnectU Program Inc.

Dov Shapiro – CEO of ConnectU Program Inc.
About Dov Shapiro

Dov is an Experiential Educator and Business owner with over 30 years of experience working with students. His commitment to improving their well-being, regardless of the challenges they may be facing, is a life-long journey.

Today, more than ever, students are facing stress, anxiety and depression. There are solutions to reversing this trend. As Founder and CEO of ConnectU Program Inc. Dov is responsible for leading the vision to ensure the CU Program positively impacts as many students as possible. His business mindset has allowed him to scale the program in order to benefit all users: from administrators to teachers, to parents alike.

He has over 3 decades of North American education and outdoor recreation industry experience.  His previous roles as Director of Westcoast Connection Travel Camp (NY), Owner/Director of Camp Chateaugay (NY) and Mad Science Director and Science Teacher (FL) have brought a wealth of knowledge to the team about the academic industry. Dov has had the opportunity to empower over 15,000 students, in 4 countries and 3 continents over the last 3 decades.

Connect with Dov: Email | Linkedin | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

ConnectU Program

ConnectU Program Youtube Channel

Westcoast Connection Travel Camp

Camp Chateaugay

Mad Science Group

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dov Shapiro. Dov and I were connected about five or six months ago, and we postponed the podcast because he was working on this program called ConnectU, and it’s a very cool technology that they’ve been building that supports students. I won’t get into it because he talks about it a lot during today’s episode, but here’s a little bit about Dov.


Sam Demma (01:06):
He’s an experiential educator; experiential educator and business owner with over 30 years experience working with students. He has three decades of experience in the outdoor recreation industry. He has been directors of camps, owned his own camp, been the mad science director, and a science teacher in Florida. He has worked with over 15,000 students in four countries and three continents over the last three years. His business mindset also has allowed him to scale his program; ConnectU program in order to benefit all users from administrators to teachers and parents alike. Dov is a trail blazer in the education industry, and I hope you learn something from today’s interview and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed interviewing him. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Dov, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. A huge pleasure to have you on the show. I mean we talked months ago and here we are talking again, and between those two points in time, you know, some exciting things have happened in your life, which we’ll dive into in a minute, but why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do with young people today.


Dov Shapiro (02:16):
Thanks for having me on the show Sam. My name is Dov Shapiro, and I’ve been working with children for over 30 years between mad science, west coast connection, former owner of Camp Chateauguay in New York state. So my passion has always been working with kids and making an impact inspiring youth. And so about a year and a half ago, we noticed that there’s been a massive dip in the mental health and wellbeing of our adolescents and teens and youth; not just in north America, but across the globe. And then as a result of the pandemic, we’ve seen an incredible spike in the rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation. So even prior to COVID, we decided that we wanted to impact mental health and wellbeing of students. And that’s why we decided to do some research and develop our new software program called ConnectU or the ConnectU program.


Sam Demma (03:24):
That’s amazing. And I mean, you got me curious now and I’m sure the listeners are too, what is this software? What prompted you, you know, to, to create a software as opposed to a different tool and, and you know, how can you know, how, how can we learn more about it?


Dov Shapiro (03:41):
So the connect U program is specifically designed to improve student wellbeing, excuse me. And we use a platform, a web app, if you will, to first do an assessment of the student. So we create a profile of each student whereby teachers and principals can learn about each student at a really deep level, because right now it’s really hard to know your students. And even before COVID, it was challenging at times, but now with distance learning hybrid, learning, whatever learning you’re doing, it’s really hard to understand the characteristics and traits of all of your students. So by doing this assessment in real time, you get results, learn about students and their core, you know, kind of personality and where there might be students that could benefit from more teacher based support. Then what we do is we have an intervention model or a means of helping to improve those construct scores.


Dov Shapiro (04:41):
Those assessment scores called smart goals creation. So that’s the name of it is called CU you smart or connect you smart and smart is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. And it’s a widely used acronym in pedagogy throughout the globe to help help students learn how to create and achieve their goals. So we developed a web app that helps students go through a curriculum, teaching them about how to create goals using the smart method. And we have a six week curriculum that is teacher led and supported with 2d animated videos. So we run this program in schools from majors 12 to 18, and we start actually in the sixth grade level. So some 11 year olds are using this as well.


Sam Demma (05:34):
That’s amazing. Why, like what prompted you to create this? Like there’s, you know, anyone could have made this software, you know, why you, what, what, what inspired you to to do this?


Dov Shapiro (05:48):
So I know that in my life it’s always been a challenge to attain the goals that I wanted to achieve. But when I started using smart and started following a formula and being really diligent about it, I started to see some results. I started to change my programming and started to develop healthier habits. And so I did a lot of research, looked into the, you know, the educational systems that are mandating standards. They call in education to teach goals. And there’s very limited standards requiring smart goal methodology to be taught to students. And it’s through research, we’ve studied several old different papers and, and researchers who have shown that by using smart and more importantly, by using goals or teaching students, how to create goals, they’re more likely to achieve better GPA. They’re more likely to stay in school. It as well even has shown to reduce signs of bolding and incidents.


Dov Shapiro (07:05):
So we decided we were gonna hire an educational psychologist, a child psychologist, public teachers, principals, and bring them on the board to put this together in a manner that really made sense. And the reason why we did this is because again, through all the research papers that we’ve been studying, we can see that students are improving their wellbeing by simply creating and achieving their goals. When students create and achieve, they build resilience. Now the whole concept of goal setting falls right in line with what we call social, emotional learning. So social, emotional learning is the process where young people and adults develop healthy identities. They learn how to manage their emotions. They achieve personal and collaborative goals and they learn how to feel and show empathy for others. So it’s really an important element for students to establish and maintain supportive relationships in, you know, in these kinds of processes. So long story short, you know, students who go through this program are hypothesis, is that they’re going to improve their assessment scores and to improve their GPA.


Sam Demma (08:23):
Hmm. Love that. And you mentioned the focus on giving also educators, a way to learn more about each student. And I think that’s an amazing tool because right now, like you mentioned, it’s very hard for you to build personal relationships, especially right now when every kid is stuck at home and who knows how long the learning thing is gonna continue, but why do you, why do you think it’s, it’s important that every educator and principal in a school knows a lot about each individual student.


Dov Shapiro (08:53):
So as a former educator, myself science teacher, director of mad science, I know how important it is to understand your students character and really what makes them ticked. That’s how we connect with our kids. That’s how we connect with students as an owner and director of a summer camp in New York for 15 years. If I knew my, my campers really well, I could connect with them. Mm. And so learning about them, getting to know their family, getting to know their names, getting to know what their passions are, and even where they have room for improvement was a way for me to connect with my campers and a way for me to connect with my students. And now teachers, I believe find it harder than ever to make that kind of connection, to understand their students at that level. They don’t see the kids walking in the classes with a tennis racket or a book or a football or a basketball. It’s not the same experience. So getting to know your kids, getting to know your students is a real challenge. And now more than ever, we really need to, we need to know where our students can benefit from more intentional learning environments. When we understand our kids and what they need, we can really support them.


Sam Demma (10:12):
And you know, you’ve been an educator you’ve been around student in forever. I’m curious to know what got you into education. You know, your interest in science, it sounds like could have taken you down many different avenues, why teaching?


Dov Shapiro (10:27):
So my father always taught me that if you’re really passionate about something, you should teach it. Mm. So I love to ski. I became a ski instructor. I love to work with kids. So I wanted to teach children. I wanted to inspire children. And I love kids because kids really are the essence of what is possible. I mean, they inspire me because of the fact that they’re so enlightened and infused by the smallest things, they get excited about, you know, fun activities and, and in summer camp, they get, you know, inspired by any kind of music and song and dance and the spirit of what a camp is like. I mean, that environment is absolutely incredible. So when I think about the fact that in 2020 kids, mostly didn’t go to camp. That was a huge blow for kids. So my experience working with kids, whether as an educator or sorry, or working in summer camps has always been about inspiring youth because they are, I hate to say it, they are our future. And I know that saying is often used. Yeah. But that’s what drives me because I know that kids have so much opportunity. And so if we can empower them and if we can create an environment that feels very safe for them, or they can grow and develop, who knows what they can do.


Sam Demma (12:07):
Mm. I totally agree. I, I think it’s, it makes sense to me, you know why you’re so passionate about it. Was there any teachers or educators who along your own journey, you know, poured back into you and inspired you to get into teaching? It sounds like your, your dad played a huge role, but did you have any educational mentors as well?


Dov Shapiro (12:28):
I had a few actually. I had one principal and two teachers who really impacted my life, especially when I went to a military academy. Mm. In just outside of Toronto. That was an incredible experience for me. And definitely had a very positive impact. I’m still in touch with some of those faculty members to date, in fact, doing some work with them for another initiative that I’ve developed for student mental wellbeing. Nice. And so, yeah, teachers have always been a big part of, of, of my life in terms of, you know, inspiration, support, even me the idea that anything is possible, but really what it boils down to. I would have to say my late father, he was definitely my hero. And he definitely was the one who inspired me to, to continue this work.


Sam Demma (13:22):
Ah, I love that. Thanks for sharing. And if you don’t mind me asking, what, what did he do? Was he a teacher as well? Or


Dov Shapiro (13:28):
He was a ski instructor, but no, he actually he was a luggage luggage manufacturer And I did not wanna, did not wanna get into that industry. And he actually encouraged me not to,


Sam Demma (13:41):
So that’s awesome. But, but it sounds like his entrepreneurial spirit kind of was, was, was handed down to you in some way, shape or form.


Dov Shapiro (13:51):
It was definitely, he, he definitely was an influence and a very, very positive man, always, always looking at the bright side and always had a very, you know, open mind and a growth mindset. He was definitely an inspiration.


Sam Demma (14:10):
Cool. I love that. Very awesome. Okay. So I wanna go back to the, the software for a second school interested wants to learn more about it, wants to understand what this actually looks like. Could you gimme a breakdown of how it would look if a school wanted to use this and get in touch? Like what would the actual program itself look like?


Dov Shapiro (14:30):
Sure. So right now we’re actually at beta testing the software with several schools in the Montreal area, like ECS, sacred heart, the primary school LIC, and a few others. And we’re also beta testing with schools across the globe. So at this point, if schools are interested, we’re running a summer pilot program that begins in June. So if they’re interested, they can always go to connect U program.com and they can reach us that way through requesting a demo, or they can call our toll three number, which is 807 0 6, 8 8, 7, 6.


Sam Demma (15:10):
Perfect. That’s amazing. And if a school did want to get involved, like and wanted to pilot it, like how much of a time commitment would they be looking at for something like that?


Dov Shapiro (15:19):
That’s a great question. It’s about eight weeks total, which includes the six week curriculum to get everything on board and get all the consent forms arranged with parents because every parent and child who’s 14 or older plus faculty have to sign electronic consent forms through our app.


Sam Demma (15:41):
Perfect. Awesome.


Dov Shapiro (15:42):
But we need about, we need about two months.


Sam Demma (15:44):
No, that sounds great. And if, if a teacher’s listening right now and wants to just get in touch with you personally, what would be the best way for them to, to reach out, would it be email or, or what could you share for an educator listening?


Dov Shapiro (15:55):
Yeah. best way is just info@connectuprogram.com. Awesome. And we’re happy to share information. There’s also a fall pilot project, which launches in September. So for anyone who’s interested in is not running a summer school this year. Of course we have those programs available, we have a few spots open for those as well.


Sam Demma (16:17):
Amazing. And one last question for you, I see over your left shoulder rack of dumbbells, and I’m curious to know if personal fitness plays a huge role in your own life.


Dov Shapiro (16:28):
Absolutely, very physically active. I’m a rock climber, skier, water skier, and physical fitness. More importantly, strength training is what I’m doing these days, just so I can do the sports that I love aAnd it’s always been a big part of my life.


Sam Demma (16:44):
Cool. Love that. Dov, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it and keep up with the awesome work. I can’t wait to see the impact you make in these schools.


Dov Shapiro (16:52):
Yeah, thanks. I really appreciate having me on board and I hope you have a very safe and healthy rest of your week and the rest of your year. Good luck to you guys.


Sam Demma (17:02):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dov Shapiro

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.

Eleanor McIntosh – Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School

Eleanor McIntosh - Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School
About Eleanor McIntosh

Eleanor (@Eleanor27332035) is a secondary Principal within the Durham District School Board. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration and undergraduate degrees in Biochemistry and Kinesiology. She is an advocate for youth and the community.

Eleanor is one of the founding members of the Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN) since its inception in 2005. She has held executive positions of Treasurer, Vice-Chair and two terms as Chair. Eleanor is a founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE), where she lends her skills and experience to inform policy and programming for educators across the province.

Eleanor has been a panellist and presenter at 30 different speaking engagements and conferences since 2012. She has appeared on CTV, Rogers TV, and a variety of Metroland Media local newspapers. An avid global traveller, Eleanor has visited over 25 different countries around the world and is happy to call the Durham region home.

Connect with Eleanor: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN)

Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE)

Durham educators call for more inclusivity in wake of George Floyd’s death (Global News)

Ajax High School – Durham District School Board

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:01):
Eleanor welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Eleanor McIntosh (00:08):
Yeah, for sure. So good day, everyone. Eleanor McIntosh here, my pronouns are she her and hers. I am excited motivated, inspired to be here today for this podcast. I’m a principal in the Durham district school board at Ajax high school where I’ve been for the last five, almost five years doing, doing the good work, getting into some good trouble.


Sam Demma (00:37):
Why education? What drew you to teaching and education as a whole?


Eleanor McIntosh (00:42):
So interesting story. My pathway to education was not direct by any means. I, I always tell people that I kind of fell into it because I never really saw myself as an educator education found me. So after my post my undergraduate post-secondary adventures, which are more, mostly geared in the sciences, actually, that’s my undergraduate degree. I decided to put a pause in my life to try and sort things out, I guess you could say. And I traveled, I took I took a job teaching English, a overseas through the a program called the jet program, the Japan exchange and teaching program. So I applied got shortlisted and then got accepted to the program. And off, I went on my adventure to Asia. So I spent two years in Japan where I had never been that far away before, but, you know went along with many other educators from Canada and around the world and found myself in a small little town kind of like Pickering or Ajax in the Durham region.


Eleanor McIntosh (01:59):
And I taught English in a large academic high school cuz they do, they, they stream there in Japan. And in that experience I found my calling. I loved teaching. I loved connecting with kids. I loved being in a classroom and English is not my background, but I had to figure it out. And it wasn’t about the English, right? The English was just a part of it. It wasn’t about the English, it was about the connection and, and being in community and all, lots of other different things. And so it’s because of that experience that I applied to teachers college here in Ontario, came back and became an educator.


Sam Demma (02:42):
That is so awesome. Would you other educators who are teaching now or thinking about teaching to travel international and if so, why?


Eleanor McIntosh (02:53):
So again, a really good question because it was because of this experience that I really often encourage students and educators to travel and to use international travel or education as a gateway to learning and building, building our personal selves and verse building character because I really, we found that that experience, it, it was for me life changing. I will say that I say that all it was life changing for me. I grew as an individual. I grew as a professional at the time I didn’t really see myself at the professional, but I really grew into my professional self. And, and, and so, you know, I often talk about my international education experience as a stepping stone to to whatever you want to learning to growing. And I talk a lot about that, especially with students who are unsure, you know, take a year go and see, because you can gain so much from traveling around the world and connecting with people, which is what I found.


Sam Demma (04:06):
That’s so amazing. I found similar experiences traveling not to teach, but to play soccer. Yep. At the age of 13. So I think travel opens your mind and eyes to many things you might not hear or see, and it changes your perspectives. It gives you more tools to see the world through.


Eleanor McIntosh (04:27):
It does. It does. And it’s, it’s amazing. I think probably there was lots of aha moments in that, in that traveling. I was there for two years. Like I was overseas for two years. Didn’t come back to the Western world for two years. Because why I could come back, I’m gonna be back here eventually. Yeah. But you know, I really, I really saw the value of perspective because the world views the west their differently than the west views, the rest of the world. So that was eyeopening for me.


Sam Demma (05:09):
Tell me more about that. How does the rest of the world view the west versus us?


Eleanor McIntosh (05:15):
So we are very, as a Western society, we’re very, we’re new compared to the west of rest of the world, right. Because our, our civilization started much later than, than other countries. And I think we’re a little bit arrogant in the way that we believe the rest of the world operates or a ESP for the rest of the world to operate. And so it’s very Western centric. So, you know, it’s like the west is the center of the world and everybody else operates based on what the west does, but oh no. You know, you know, the west has its own ways of functioning and, and operating. And, and I found in particular I often got confused for being American. And so I was interrupting notions of discrimination and, and viewpoints of Americans or black Americans, even when I was traveling overseas.


Eleanor McIntosh (06:13):
But the minute I said that I was Canadian boy, the, at the viewpoint change. So the world welcomes and sees Canada as a very big partner for it around for its, for its citizens and a global participant positive global participant. Whereas it doesn’t view the Americans in the same way. Exactly. And so there was a lot of hate coming, you know, I, I heard a lot of hate for the west and we, you had to kind of separate Canada and America a little bit because really that hate was about America a lot. Right. Wow. So it was, it was really I opening yeah. Really eye opening.


Sam Demma (06:59):
Speaking of perspectives and the importance of gaining more, I’m grateful that lots of perspectives that have been very underrepresented are starting to, you know, hopefully bubble to the service and have over the past two years especially in the communities of a diversity equity. And you’ve been a champion of pushing that message forward as much as you can. What do you think are some of the challenges that have existed and to this day still exist, that you’re really passionate about speaking up and, and trying to make a change in that you think are underrepresented perspectives.


Eleanor McIntosh (07:38):
Really great question. So a couple of things come to mind I think for a long time education, public education was allowed to be ignorant yeah. To the realities of what was happening in its communities, where it was centered. You know, it was always seen as the powerhouse and there was a very clear, defined way of operating and still it’s still there. It’s absolutely still there. And so you know, George Floyd, the, the incidents and George Floyd a couple of years ago, I think served as a real catalyst for the world to wake up and for education to now participate in interrupting biased practices, discriminatory practices that have been going on forever and still continue. So it really allowed us to will no longer be silent. So those who were on the margins who were working in education, it gave them voice mm, gave them a space it gave and not them cuz I’m included in that.


Eleanor McIntosh (08:52):
It allowed us to advocate for the change that we knew we wanted to see for so long, but really we were silenced for for years. And I will say that specifically about my work in education. I never really saw a, an avenue where I could participate in challenge notions of, of racism, discrimination, oppression in the system. I felt that I really had to maintain the status quo because if I chose to speak up, then there, I would be for lack of a better word blacklisted, I would be I would limit my career possibilities, right. There would be, there would be impact to me personal impact and professional impact to me. But as the doors have widened more and more examples come to the forefront that have allowed the conversations of equity and diversity and more specifically anti-oppression to find its way into learning spaces.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:09):
And that was nothing that we ever wanted to participate in before you might have seen pockets, but they were quiet pockets. Yeah. They were people that would close their doors and do their thing quietly. But now people have opened their doors and let that freedom out into the entire school community. And that is bringing students joy because we’re not, we’re no longer harming, we’re not harming kids anymore. That harm. You’re giving students voice. You’re giving them the opportunity to say, no, I don’t want my education to be like this. I wanna make sure that it’s going to resonate with me fully and, and allow me to be my full self.


Sam Demma (10:54):
And represent the whole truth.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:58):
100%. Cause we were speaking partial truths for a long time.


Sam Demma (11:01):
There’s a book by Martin Luther king Jr. With the title. Why we can’t wait, it’s something, I might be butchering it a little bit, but it’s something along those lines. And the whole book is amazing and it talks about a lot of the movements he engaged in and why now was the time for change and why? Like we can’t be patient anymore. And I’m curious to know why you believe the reform that’s happening currently in education and, and hopefully continues to happen throughout north America and all over the west. Why is now the time and why can’t we be patient with this stuff anymore?


Eleanor McIntosh (11:36):
We can’t be patient because all kids are not succeeding. Mm.


Eleanor McIntosh (11:43):
All, all students, that’s what publication is grounded in. Yeah. Right. The success of all students, Nelson Mandela talks about that education is the powerful equalizer. Right. But it hasn’t been yeah. For so long. And so we can’t wait for more and more students to be harmed for black students, particularly black males to be pushed out of the system to end up into this pipeline into activity because they don’t feel a sense of belonging that no one is there advocating for them. So you’re right. We can’t wait. And sadly for those who hold privilege and those who have, have garnered that privilege through just by who they are, we can no longer allow those loud voices to control the outcomes of students cannot. Right. It’s time now for those who have been silenced underrepresented or marginalized to bring those perspectives back to the forefront so that we are there to, to advocate, that’s what public educators are for. They’re there to advocate for all students, not just some and the ones on the margins need us the most. And so we need to stand up for them. Now, the data’s clear, kids are not succeeding and we can’t do it anymore.


Sam Demma (13:11):
It seems like the motivation and motivation is very fleeting because it might last for a minute. It might last for a month. It might last for two months, six months. Yep. But the motivation and excitement of something happening in the world and our initial reaction seems to fade very fast. Yes. How do we sustain this change? How do we move away from motivation and decide to commit and discipline ourselves to follow through with these things? Even when it’s hard, even when the doors are open and the conversations are extremely uncomfortable, I’m not asking you for the key of this whole solution here, I’m putting on the spot, but how do we bring this back to the forefront of the conversation and continue it?


Eleanor McIntosh (13:59):
Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a, there’s a number of different ways that that can happen. From a, from a professional standpoint, I think it’s, it’s twofold, right? So from a professional standpoint we have a responsibility in schools, right. And so for this question leans more towards what is our responsibility and, and not just, not just in the way that we believe that this should be, but what is the legal responsibility? Because there is a legality, right? What is the legal responsibility that we have to make sure that this that we’re not closing these doors, that we’re keeping that at the forefront, right. So that’s the first thing. And there’s been a couple of really strong moves made by the government in order to make sure that, that that, that responsibility is clear for educators. And I’ll give you an example.


Eleanor McIntosh (14:55):
So one example is, is that the Ontario college of teachers has now advised it has now become as part of the education act that discriminatory practices are now an act misconduct for educators. That’s a bold move. That was a necessary move to legitimize the work and keep that responsibility very ever present for educators. Right. they’ve also put out an advisory relating to anti-black racism, right? Again, another bold step that allows for that high level of accountability for educators. Right. So no longer. So now as a system, we have some, some very clear lines to lean on, right? Should people decide that they no do not want to participate, that they want to give up their responsibilities to the students that we serve. Right. but I also think it goes deeper than that because we have to also lean on ed administrators, like leaders in the right leaders, leaders have to participate in, in making the space for this change to happen.


Eleanor McIntosh (16:07):
Right. We are part of that responsibility because we are also we’re educator at heart. And so from, from middle to upper management and the executive level, how are we making sure that the policies, procedures and frontline work of leaders make sure that we are advocating, educating, building awareness, right. With our staff so that it doesn’t fall to the wayside so that our, our educators feel not just empowered, but confident to entertain and engage in conversation of injustice in the classroom. Right. Because it’s not just about teaching you know, literacy and numeracy, that’s important, but we want to make sure that we are creating a world that we, that is not reflective of the current day. We wanna create a world that is reflective of what we want to see in the future. We do that through opening up these conversations in the classroom.


Eleanor McIntosh (17:21):
Right. And so that, I think it’s so it’s, it’s multiple things. And then on a personal level for people, people have to also feel as though that they are not comp that they’re not complicit in racist practice or discriminatory practices. Right. So, you know, you know, they have to choose to educate themselves, right. So how do they, how do they, why, why would I, as an educator, as a human being choose to participate in, in learning more, right. People don’t want to feel as though that they are creating barriers for people or upholding white supremacy. They don’t wanna feel that way. And so it’s also playing into people’s compassion and right. We wanna make sure that people understand that justice is for everyone, from every location, from every identity. And so by putting that and making that as a priority, right. Going, leaning on the moral compass, if you will, the compassion that everybody holds, I think it’s how you also get to educators or people to buy in right into these circum, into these conversations, even when it’s hard. Right? Yeah. Even it’s hard.


Sam Demma (18:40):
It sounds like we really can’t afford spectation or spectators anymore.


Eleanor McIntosh (18:46):
You can’t, you can’t afford to be a bystander anymore. Yeah. If you’re a by, in, or someone’s gonna call you out, like this is the thing now, right. People aren’t gonna stay silent, somebody’s going to call you out. And I have had to on many occasions, you know, engage in conversations, sometimes difficult conversations with staff about something they may have said or whatever. And again, not ill intention. I would never think that anybody is doing something maliciously. We are gonna make these mistakes, but it’s up to me and, and everybody else in the building to make sure that we are all moving this forward together, nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:26):
Hmm.


Eleanor McIntosh (19:26):
Nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:28):
What have you found helpful in terms of educational resources? So there’s an educator listening right now who is mentally deciding, not because they’re just motivated due to your passion for this topic. Yep. But they’re mentally deciding right now. Okay. I don’t wanna bystand I don’t wanna spectate. I wanna join this conversation and participate. Where should they start with their own self education or what have you heard, or even read yourself or heard other educators reading, going through, watching to learn more about the situation to inform themselves?


Eleanor McIntosh (20:07):
So reading is a lot of what I’ve been doing over the past little while, and also, you know, encouraging my staff to read as well. Right. Yeah. And presenting them with choices and options to help build their awareness cuz you’re right. We can’t do it all right. As I so a couple of, so in terms of titles, you know me and white supremacy by Lelas Asad white fragility, lot of, so I read white fragility by Delo. So a lot of DeAngelo’s work. A lot of Kent’s work you know, anti-racist education. Anything by Kent DLO Leila, sod is all very important readings to participate in because it allows us to connect with that personal side of us and push a little in terms of our thinking around what it means to be just a human being, not even just for educators, just a human being. So those are some of the things that we’ve engaged in here. And then of course there’s any number of videos and media pieces that are all put together by again, people who are doing this work that allows us to build more awareness about the issues that are at the, the forefront of this. Right.


Sam Demma (21:25):
Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for sure. What personally on all fronts of life and education, not only with this topic, but what keeps you personally motivated and hopeful to show up every day with your energy and continue doing this work?


Eleanor McIntosh (21:40):
Yeah, so a few things, when I, I decided to become an educator, I came back to Durham where I part when I, where I went to school and, and was raised, I came back to Durham because I wanted to make sure that other students who were in our system didn’t have to experience some of the injustices that I experienced as a, as a young woman. Mm. The young black woman growing up in, in the Durham region. So it was really important for me to be active as an active advocate, right. To interrupt those, those injustices, that was really important. You know, I wanna make sure that I’m actively participating in state in change and not being complicit. And that, that, that, those aha moments, those, that feedback I get from teachers, from students that what we are doing is working definitely keeps, keeps the fire lit for me.


Eleanor McIntosh (22:41):
Mm. You know, when I hear that positivity, when I hear, you know, student voice coming to the forefront, definitely that that warms my heart. It really does to know that I’m, that I’m making those connections really strongly for, for our students. When I, when I see a student turn the corner that’s huge, huge for me because I I do this work for students. I do this for that next generation who is going to do amazing things very much like yourself, Sam, right, who are doing these amazing things that you know, 10, 15 years ago, we couldn’t even imagine, right. It is students that are going to create change for the future, right. We, it is, it is, it is this generation, your generat that, that are going to make that change. And so it’s really important that we empower them to do so. And the last piece in particular is at some point in my career, I became a parent and I have a young daughter a young queen. And you know, I definitely, I’m a young queen. And you know, I wanna make sure that the path is very clear for her coming in, into a system where I know there is injustice. So she is my light every day. And the one who helps to make sure that I am staying focused on the work that needs to be done, because I don’t wanna ever ha have my daughter to come home and tell me that she wants to have blonde hair and blue eyes again.


Sam Demma (24:24):
Amen. That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that.


Eleanor McIntosh (24:28):
Yeah, no problem.


Sam Demma (24:30):
If you could if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, bundle it up, walk back to when you first started teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, this is what you need to hear right now. What, what advice would you have given your younger self?


Eleanor McIntosh (24:54):
Yeah, that’s another good question. I always, I always ask myself, I have learned, I, you know, when you, when you know better, you do better. And I, and I definitely have done better. So I was gonna go back to myself. I would definitely say, make room for, to connect with students, build community it’s community that signals belonging and value for kids. When you have that belonging and value, you get engagement. When you have engagement in the classroom, learning happens when learning happens, success happens. So I would make sure that I would tell my younger self to put aside. There are times when you need to put aside your plan and you need to make sure that you are bringing conversations that matter into the classroom.


Sam Demma (25:48):
Mm.

Eleanor McIntosh (25:49):
I really wanna encourage, I would really spend that time. I was a math and science teacher. So sometimes it can be very linear right in the way that we think. But I think, you know, sometimes we have to take risks, right? I I’ve, I’ve become a risk taker as I’ve, as I’ve matured in the profession. And I would, I would try to take more risks a little bit. I would try to make sure that I’m also using my voice, cuz I didn’t use my voice in those early years. I was too worried. I would use my voice as a vehicle and a platform to advocate even when it was difficult. Even when I fell, felt scared, even when I was fearful.


Sam Demma (26:32):
That’s awesome. Right.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:34):
I would do that.


Sam Demma (26:35):
Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Talk about your experiences, talk about your beliefs and philosophies and share some important follow up on all the things that have happened over the past year or two years. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, collaborate with you, ask a question, brainstorm some things. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:59):
Best way is to reach out to I’m not see super huge on social media to be truthful. So I’m on LinkedIn. That’s the one platform that I’m on. So you can look me up on LinkedIn for sure. And then look me up at Ajax high school for now or through the DDSB email’s always great. I’m always open to doing the good work and getting into good trouble with anybody who wants to do that.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Cool. Oh no. It’s thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Eleanor McIntosh (27:26):
Sam, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Eleanor McIntosh

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.