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Educator

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor

Suzanne Imhoff – Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School and Student Leadership Advisor
About Suzanne Imhoff

Suzanne Imhoff, is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School in St. Croix Falls Wisconsin. She is a Nationally Board Certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after 4 years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Council, CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club), basketball and softball coach.

Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journey. She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people.

She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweets Creative Confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically, inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be.

Connect with Suzanne: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Croix Falls High School

Siren Schools

Wisconsin Association of School Councils

It’s All in Your Head: Get Out of Your Way by Russ

CADA State Convention

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):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Suzanne Imhoff. She is a 7-12 Art Teacher at St. Croix Falls High School, and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. She’s a nationally board certified teacher with 27 years of teaching, coaching and advising experience. She started her career at Siren Schools and then moved to St. Croix Falls High School after four years and has been there since working as an advisor for the SCFHS Student Councul, the CLOWNS(elementary student with high school student mentoring club) basketball and softball coach. Her work with student leaders began back in 1995 with the Wisconsin Association of School Councils and has developed into a passion for helping student leaders reach their full potential. She guides students in her own school and throughout the state of Wisconsin on their own leadership journeys.

Sam Demma (00:57):

She truly enjoys seeing students move out of their comfort zone and seeing them grow as people. She keeps her personal creativity going by creating edible cake masterpieces, which you’ll hear about on the show today, breaking from that only to make decorated sugar cookies at Christmas time. Sweet’s creative confections is an ode to her mentor and father who, even though gone physically inspires her every day to be the best educator and person she can be. I hope you enjoy this energizing conversation with Suzanne and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are a joined by a very special guest that I met when I was in Turtle Lake, not in Canada, but in the US of A <laugh>, and her name is Suzanne Moff. She was a part of a, a conference that I was a part of and she came up to me after the presentation and showed me a picture of a beautiful cake she designed <laugh> along with letting me know that she was involved with state leadership and her school’s leadership. And it got me really excited to, to invite her on the show and she’s here with us today. So, Suzanne, please introduce yourself and let everyone know a little bit about what it is that you do.

Suzanne Imhoff (02:16):

Hi. Yeah. I met Sam first virtually a couple years ago when the pandemic happened, and then in person. I’ve been teaching for 27 years now and been with student leadership for that long. Started out in Siren, Wisconsin, but stayed there for four years and I’ve been with my current district for the next 24. I, well, truth be told, was never going into education and was never going to deal with students, with kids ’cause that’s what my parents told me I was gonna do <laugh> and so I was gonna do something completely different. Yes. And then I found myself and everything I was doing for fun outside of what I had to do and going to school was teaching, and so finally I got on my own way and went into education and I, I’d love it.

Suzanne Imhoff (03:11):

There’s just nothing else I’d rather do. I, I think about it and with everything that’s gone on in Wisconsin with education and I guess the United States for that matter I like, oh, I could open, like key said, open my own bakery, and then I’m like, oh yeah. And then I could have a side room where I could have people come in and I could teach ’em how to do things. Oh, so you’re back to teaching. So why get out of teaching to go back into teaching <laugh>? so it’s just in my blood. It’s just what I love to do. I, I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I, I love coaching, I love teaching art. I love the student leadership portion of it, which I’ve been doing since 1995. Probably Sammy weren’t even born, but you know, there’s that

Sam Demma (03:54):

<laugh> you mentioned you’ve been teaching for 27 years and in, you know, in student leadership for that long as well. Does that mean year one you started with student council and helping out with extra cooker activities where you could

Suzanne Imhoff (04:09):

Actually I was involved with the state student council organization that I belonged to Scott Association of School Councils even before I got my first job. Oh, wow. I graduated in May and got a call and said, Hey, we need some help at this leadership camp. I’m like okay. Don’t know what that is. They’re like, okay, we’ll be in Stevens point at one o’clock on a Friday. And I’m like, okay. And I did, and I was hooked saw what it did for kids in one week. the difference that that camp made, I thought, oh, this is something I need to be involved with. And so when I got my first teaching job, I coached basketball. I had been coaching basketball all through high school and through in college, played basketball in college. And then I, I just knew that the classroom isn’t where everything is learned.

Suzanne Imhoff (04:59):

And to me, you can learn just as much on the sports field or in a club if not more of what you need to take out of, you can teach the X’s and o’s you know, addition, subtraction and all that kind of stuff. But truly a student, a kid learns, develops, becomes who they are in these other things. And that’s why I feel it’s so important that they are happening and that I’m able to guide students with that, I guess. Hmm. I, I feel like I do more of my teaching outside of my actual classroom than I do within my classroom.

Sam Demma (05:34):

Hmm. You mentioned that that first, you know, student leadership camp that you went to, it just really opened your eyes to how important those types of activities were because it has the potential to change a young person’s life. You’ve been involved in teaching for 27 years and student leadership, and I’m sure you’ve seen so many like student transformations. can you think of a student who at the start of a new year was really timid and shy or was struggling and by the end of a leadership experience or just, you know, a full year of school really butterflied and just really grew per personally as a, as a, as a human being? And if so, what was that story like? Share it with us. And the reason I ask is because I think educators, that’s why they got into teaching in the first place cuz they wanted to make a difference, you know?

Suzanne Imhoff (06:26):

Yeah. it’s, it’s funny the two stories come to mind. well the first one was a girl who Shai wouldn’t say anything. She was actually she would in small groups would be fine, but was never, she’s like, I’m gonna lead behind the scenes. I’m gonna do this. We had an assembly. I knew she could be that person and I knew she could go out but would never put herself out there. had an assembly. All the kids are in a homecoming assembly needs to start. And I handed the microphone. She’s like, what am I supposed to do with us, Michael? We gotta get this party started. And she’s like, yeah, but, but I go, they’re all way to go. She’s like, what? What? And she stuttered and she, but she went out and she did it. And to this day she will still come back and say, I will never forget that day.

Suzanne Imhoff (07:12):

I didn’t think I could do it, but I knew that you would never tell, put me in a situation cuz it’s something I’ve always told my students, but that you would never put me in a situation that you didn’t think I could do. Mm-hmm. I would never, I, and I, I tell ’em, I’m not gonna ask you to, you may not think you could do it, but I’m gonna put you out there cuz I think you could do it. And she’s like, I, I knew I could do that. Wasn’t comfortable with it, didn’t wanna continue to do it, but I did it and I lived and was able to take that experience and into her adult life. And now she’s married and has her own children and she still comes back and tells that story. The other one I have it was a of a, a boy who as a freshman you couldn’t get two words out of him. Mm-hmm. His end result was becoming the state student council president and then going on to Yale University and graduating from there.

Sam Demma (08:09):

Damn.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:11):

I never thought anything of it other than I was doing my job. I’m like, I saw something in him. And again, I, like I said, I’ve always told the kids, I’m not gonna put you in a situation that I don’t think you can do. And I had him doing things. I’m like, oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Oh, Matt, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you do this here, go do this. I need you to do this. And each year I just pushed him a little farther. He was my student council president and had him run for the regional officer and then as the regional president, he ran for the state president and became that. And I, and it never really dawned on me, I guess and thought about it until his graduation party and his parents came up to me and they’re like, thank you.

Suzanne Imhoff (08:53):

I’m like, for what? And they’re like Matt’s going to Yale because of you. And I’m like, no, he’s not. Matt’s going to Yale because Matt’s smart. Matt’s got a lot going for him. He’s done a lot of great things. They’re like, no, you put him in situations where he could be successful and make himself better and that we thank you for that. And I never looked at it like that. I just looked at it like, oh, I need to help this kid get to his full potential. I need to get him into positions. Putting him, taking him places, taking him to those, you know, leadership things that where we met. and that’s why I do what I do. And that to me is that’s the pinnacle. That’s, that’s my driving force behind things is, oh, that made, you know, those are like what I call my career makers <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (09:42):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> sometimes I’m just like, why am I doing this job? And then I’ll get a text or I’ll get an email or I’ll get, you know thank you from a parent. And I was like, oh, okay. Well that’s why, that’s why cuz I touched that person’s life and I was able to help them move forward in a positive direction. So Yep. Okay. Worth it. Check. And then I can con that fills my bucket and I can continue to move on. And if it’s only one student a year, that’s one more student than I would’ve done had I not been in that position or not kids in those positions. So, Hmm. That’s why I do it. But those are two of the stories that really come to mind when I think about did it work? Do am I doing the right thing? And so, yeah.

Sam Demma (10:21):

Did did you have an educator in your life when you were growing up, tap you on the shoulder and help you try and reach your full potential? Like it was, is there a full circle story

Suzanne Imhoff (10:31):

<laugh>? There is. Well, it’s kind of funny because I just didn’t realize it until after the fact, but my dad was an educator. Mm. well he was a teacher and then became a business manager and then became a superintendent. I hated every minute of that <laugh> thought, oh God, never would I ever do that to my children. I will never be an educator, they’ll never go to school with in the same school. They’re like, I’ll never do that. Both my children will graduate from the same high school I teaching. So never say and ever. but I did have a a teacher who I’m still in contact with that is the person that I could go to for whatever. And she taught health class of all things. and, but she was just somebody I could talk to. And I look back at having that one person made a huge difference in my life.

Suzanne Imhoff (11:23):

And if I’m that one person, whether I have ’em as a student or not, meaning if they’re come to my art class and wanna take art class, they’re all my students. They’re all my kids. I really call ’em my kids. but having that means that I’m there for that person and didn’t realize how much the mental health part of it was a big deal back then that I needed, that isn’t, you know, it wasn’t put out there as mental health like it is today, thank goodness. but yeah, so I’m still, still in contact with that person. Still have a great relationship with them and see him all the time when I can when I go back to the hometown. And so yeah, I guess I did. But my dad was also that person that, you know, he saw it, he knew it, he told me wish he wouldn’t have, would’ve saved me a lot of time in college, but I had to figure it out for myself. I might have that little stubborn streak in me. I like to call it determined streak. I like it. <laugh>, <laugh>. But I did, I had to get outta my own way and see it for myself before I could actually achieve it. So I loved that my students to see that as well.

Sam Demma (12:33):

The, there’s a book I really love called it’s All in Your Head and the subtitle, the book is Get Out of your Way and the Every Time You Say It, that Book’s Confidence in my Mind. <laugh> one of the things I admire about you is that you’ve continuously pursued your other passions along with your teaching and your education work. And sometimes people that get involved in education get so consumed by it that the things that they also love doing. Take a backseat. One of the things I know you love doing is designing cakes and <laugh>, not only maybe baking in general, but not only do you like designing cakes, but you’re pretty damn good at it. <laugh>, <laugh>. The cakes are freaking awesome. thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about how you manage the time? Like, of balancing both losing yourself in education and service of, of young people, but also making sure that you, you spend some time on things that bring you joy personally as well?

Suzanne Imhoff (13:34):

Well, yeah, it’s, there’s times where I’m like, oh, why did I say yes to make this cake? Cause you have a full-time job, do that. And then I start making it and it’s creativity and that it, as much as it, I’m like, oh, I don’t really have time, but it de-stresses me. So I actually doing that forces me to do something that makes me happy. I working with fondant or modeling clay or gum paste, it’s just edible clay, it’s what I do. It’s, you know, people like, oh, did you, you know, go to a class? I’m like, no. Well, maybe I guess college when I worked with clay, but that’s all it was. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s edible clay. People are like, oh, it’s too pretty to eat. I’m like, well eat it because it’s cake. And if you don’t eat cake, that’s just dumb <laugh> cake.

Suzanne Imhoff (14:20):

I mean, so yeah, it’s, you know, I, I like the sculpting aspect of it. I, and it’s my release and I work late at night. I’m a night owl. Yeah, I’d like to be able to sleep. I’m not a morning person. I get up when I do it and I, for myself that extra cup of coffee the next day sometimes. And and obviously more you practice the, the better you get. I am by no means a perfect cake decorator or sculptor, but it’s gotten easier. I’m able to do things faster, so that helps. and it’s funny cuz I do involve my family cause they’re my daughter, she’s an artist, but my husband and my son, no, not at all. <laugh>. I love them dearly, but it’s just not their thing. Yeah. But I ask them, what do you think of this? And they’ll be like, you know, if they’re like, here’s something or if there’s like something they have something’s off on it then I know that the person, cuz I’ve been staring at it for so long that, you know, can’t see.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:19):

If they see it, then there is something that needs to be, or if I’m just being over critical of myself. but it really is a stress really for me. I can actually physically feel myself less stressed after making something, creating something, be it out of cake or decorating cookies or whatever it is. so it might be more time. I might get a little less sleep, but in the end it’s worth the de-stressing that it does for me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the family doesn’t mind cake scraps that I cut off to level the cake or sculpting <laugh>. That’s never an issue. Always having frosting in the fridge, never an issue

Sam Demma (15:58):

<laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (15:59):

So it, it benefits them as well sometimes.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Just to give context to the listener, this is not a box of cake you buy from the grocery store mix with eggs and 30 minutes later, voila. this is a cake that you would buy at a charity event for $2,800 <laugh>. These are cakes that look identical to a dinosaur. Cakes that have Rapunzel with her hair coming down the cake and going all the way around the base. how long does it take to bake one of these and design one of these cakes?

Suzanne Imhoff (16:39):

Roughly takes, well it depends upon how, you know, if I’m sculpting or whatever on average I would say the least amount of time I’d spend on a cake would be seven hours. And I have spent probably 24 to 30 hours on cakes. It depends upon what the amount of sculpting that I’m doing. and if like for a wedding cake you know, if I’m making cupcakes then I’m at it. I’m making the toppers that go along with all of those those kinds of things. So it all depends upon the amount of sculpting that I’m doing with it. I absolutely love making sugar roses. Those are very time consuming, but they’re so therapeutic. I absolutely love, love, love making them and that my goal is always to make them look as realistic as possible. People are like, oh my gosh, that was made outta sugar. So yeah. But you can eat it

Sam Demma (17:28):

<laugh>. What, what was your introduction to baking? Was it something that you were introduced to in school or how did you get into it?

Suzanne Imhoff (17:37):

Really, I had seen stuff on TV and my son was having a jungle birthday party. cuz I’m that mom who goes overboard on birthday parties. <laugh> always have it’s hard baby. And so I decided, oh well you know what? Let’s just try this. And that was my first cake and he was eight, he’s now 18, so 10 years ago I guess. and I’m like, oh well that wasn’t too bad. And then my daughter had her birthday, well his was in November and hers was in February. So then I’m like, oh, let’s try her. So she had a pink poodle. So I just started sculpting out of the spawn stuff and just kind of blossomed from there. I didn’t, I didn’t really have a, I dunno, I’ve always lud to bake, so that was never an issue. but the whole cake part of it was, oh well I used to watch Cake Boss a lot and then Ace of Cakes. I absolutely love the fact that he would be like, wow the wack and do different things and try different things and stuff. So I haven’t convinced my husband that I need a wood shop in my son’s spare bedroom when he leaves and goes to college next year. So I’m working on that. But

Sam Demma (18:44):

<laugh> That’s awesome. baking teaching, you mentioned that coaching has also been a part of your educational journey in your life. Tell me a little bit about that.

Suzanne Imhoff (18:55):

Yeah, I coaching is just to me is an extension of the classroom. it’s just another place to teach students how to be them, be their best selves and it takes it one step farther because they have to do that and also be a teammate and help others be their best selves. so I find that as a challenge in a different level of it’s a different level of commitment. it’s not necessarily, yes, you have your exes and nos and you’ve got your plays and you’ve gotta do all that stuff, but I’ve always taught, taught my student, my student athletes that you guys have to work as one. Cuz I coach basketball and softball. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, those are the two sports that I have coached. and you have to work as one and you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Suzanne Imhoff (19:48):

Not Michael, but it’s something that I, I think is true because you can have all parts going and one part doesn’t go it, the play’s not gonna work. And then what are you gonna do? I mean, there’s a lot to be said with that. So either you’re gonna just fall apart or you’re gonna adapt and figure out how to make that part work. Or you’re gonna figure out, okay, if this isn’t gonna work with that part of that’s not, that teammate’s not gonna do what we’re gonna ask him to do, then how are we gonna work around that? How are we gonna adapt to the situation? How are we gonna, you know, basketball, you adapt to the defense and all of a sudden one time down on the floor, they’re playing zone. The next time they’re playing, man, you gotta change your def your offense.

Suzanne Imhoff (20:26):

And can you react to that? How do you react to that? Do you just give up? Do you just panic? Do you, you know, so there’s just so many life lessons that can happen on the court and getting to know kids on a different level. it’s a win-win because then it comes back to my classroom and they see me in a different light and I see them in a different light. you know, sometimes they come in and they’re like, you can just tell that they need some space. It’s like, okay, you’re gonna take this, we gotta come back to it. But, you know, take this time, take the same thing on the court. You know, they can come into practice and I coach girls and there’s drama, always drama hate. It drives me crazy. What are my girls? You have to be the best teammates when you are on this court.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:12):

I don’t care if if your teammate just kissed your boyfriend right before you walked into practice. It’s doesn’t matter on this court. Yeah. Because on this court, you guys are the best friends, you’re the best teammates. Now when you go outta here, you have to sell that whatever way. But when you’re on this court, you are together as one and outside of here has to go away. So you have to kind of separate that and how it’s just like going to a job. You know, there’s people you, you have to deal with at your job that you don’t have to deal with outside. And you have to figure out how you’re gonna manage that within that timeframe and make things successful for you and your teammates. And how are you gonna build them up even if it’s somebody you don’t like that happens. That’s life.

Suzanne Imhoff (21:53):

So, and that’s the one thing about it. I just love that you’re able to, to teach them the life skills that they can have going forward and translate that into every other part of their lives. and getting to know them. Just some of my, the students that I come back in I see all the time are the ones that not necessarily were in my classroom, they were on my court or they were in my student council, or they were in our clowns mentoring group. I mean, those are the ones that you kinda get to know at a different level versus here’s my subject matter, learn that and then we’ll, I’ll give you a grade and then we’ll move forward. So it’s learning and meeting kids where they are and meeting ’em on a different level. and being a human to ’em, you know, it’s like, it’s kinda like being their friend but not, but it’s a respect, like, I’m still your teacher, I’m still your coach.

Suzanne Imhoff (22:43):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I’m here for you. But we aren’t gonna cross, you know, there’s that line of respect of I’m gonna respect you, you have to respect me, there’s boundaries. but I’ve, I’ve got you, you know, I’m here for you. I will do what I can to help you get through whatever it is you need to get through or meet the needs, your needs at that at that moment. And coaching allows me to do that, which I really, really enjoy. It’s tough this year cause I’m not coaching cause my son’s a senior. so I’m missing that. And I’ve had some of the middle school kids who I coached last year. They’re like, what do you mean you’re not coaching? I’m like, I can’t give you everything that I need to give you because I want to be able to be there for my son and I don’t think it’s fair. Let’s just leave practice early. I’m like, well that doesn’t put you as a priority and as a coach, if I’m coaching you, you are a priority to me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And if I can’t give you that full priority, then it’s then I’m not going to be that person there for you. So I just love the relationships. I, I, I kind of thrive on those relationships. I guess they mean a lot to me.

Sam Demma (23:49):

What is the clowns mentoring program? The name caught my attention, but I’m sure it’s amazing. <laugh>.

Suzanne Imhoff (23:56):

Well, I have 35 high school students who choose to dress up as different clowns. scary. And what they do is, I know four times, it’s four times a year. We go here at the high school. We will plan they get, they have the, they have their their rings is what we call them. We have a ring leader and then there’s three or four column to work together. They plan a half hour lesson that they’re going to teach elementary students in grades 4K through fourth grade. Nice. they had to come up with their icebreakers, the activities, the, how are they gonna wrap it up. they give ’em a treat, but they plan the lesson, they execute the lesson. They just happen to dress up as clowns. a different persona for them to, it helps the high school student kind of release like, oh, I have this call makeup of and I look like this.

Suzanne Imhoff (24:50):

So, and then they’re going in front of these elementary kids who just absolutely adore them. And anything that they say comes out of them, you know, is, is golden. but I do see the high school students learn just as much as these elementary kids. They the lessons are all based on, we have a program called Saints Cares for St. Falls Saints. so each month has a different target. one is manners or gratitude or empathy. And so the students will base their lessons that they’re gonna teach the kids on whatever month it is that we are going to, to make the visit. each group visits two to three different classes through that day. We get, we hit every classroom in those grade 4K through fourth grade. and we have four classrooms per grade level. So it’s, it’s, it’s something that, it’s funny cause I don’t really have to work hard to get kids to wanna do it.

Suzanne Imhoff (25:42):

Cause these kids had the clowns come and visit them. And every time I ask ’em, why do you guys wanna be a com? They’re like, oh, it was so, it was awesome when they came, they taught us so much. And I wanna give that back to, I wanna give that experience to these kids right there as a, as a mom, as a teacher, as an advisor. That’s why we do what we do. If we can teach our children to want to give back for what they got out of something, that to me is makes it all worth it.

Sam Demma (26:13):

That’s so, cause

Suzanne Imhoff (26:14):

It was a program that was, yeah, it was a program that was gonna die. And I’m like, no, this can’t die. I have had my children go through it and I see what it does for these kids. So I took it on because I had nothing else to do, which is not true. But

Sam Demma (26:27):

<laugh> you know, earlier, a couple minutes ago you said that you turned down coaching because you knew that you wouldn’t be able to give it the time it deserves. You wouldn’t be able to prioritize the students, the athletes. And then you’re just telling me now that you said yes to doing the clown thing and, and you were busy like you already had other things going on. I think it’s so rare to have an educator that like truly wants to say yes and finds it very hard to say no. Because I think there’s also the reverse that want to say no and try and avoid saying yes to things. And yeah, I just think it’s really cool to hear your perspectives and, and to have you on the show. the clown program. My follow up question was gonna be, have you had a student who was impacted by the clowns and then became one? but you answered that, that that’s so cool that it’s, it’s been around for that long and the impact is now transforming into the teachers of the program. You said it was about to die. How did, how did you resuscitate it? <laugh> the, the program.

Suzanne Imhoff (27:30):

Nobody wanted to do it. And so I’m just like, Nope, I’m gonna do it and we’re gonna kind of restructure it and we’re gonna make it. It kind of was starting to get be the, the previous advisor wasn’t really having the kids stay focused. They were kind of just the high school kids, not Mm. it and wasn’t really putting the effort was kind of just there to, to do it and was like, yeah, I’m done and nobody was gonna step up. I’m like, they’re like, well if nobody’s gonna do it, then we’re not gonna have the program anymore. And I’m like, this just means too much for both the elementary kids and the high school kids. Like I said, I see these high school kids, they’re putting themselves out there. Yeah. I got kids who don’t say boo to high schoolers, don’t say anything and they’re willing to go and stand in, in front of a room of 20 little kids, elementary kids and teach them about good morals and values.

Suzanne Imhoff (28:27):

I mean, if we don’t want that as a program, I don’t know what we want <laugh>. I mean, if we would and to have high school students want to teach that and model that. I mean, it’s a mentoring group. We call it that because they have to follow the behavior that they’re teaching. And I have to turn kids away cuz I can only take so many. and they know that there’s, there’s high expectations and if they don’t follow, I’ve had to head kids, you know, I’m like, guys, your grades matter. You have to be a student first. you have to carry a c or above. It’s, you have, these are expectations. These kids they may not know of, but they know how you are behaving and acting. And you have to be that role model with or without the kind of, the story behind it is they’re like, so for some of the kids are like, we know who you are.

Suzanne Imhoff (29:20):

You’re a high school student. They’re like, no, every clown has a doppel, ganger human <laugh>. So they have a twin in the human world. <laugh>. So anytime a human is born, a clown is born as well. And the clowns are like 472 years old and they’re their age is their, their lunch number actually <laugh>. and so that’s how they get it. And they’re like, well why aren’t you? Why is it just your face that’s white? So they paint their face white and, and a symbol on there because the older they get the more the whiteness spreads as a clown. And they’re pretty young so they’re not, they’re not old enough to have their whole body coming in. White makeup <laugh>, there’s a whole story behind it. You know, it goes with that whole Santa Claus Easter bunny, that kinda thing. And

Sam Demma (30:09):

Is this totally created, like the whole story is created by you and and the group of people. That’s so cool. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (30:16):

Yeah. And they, like I say, the kids, the, all of my clowns, I have all but two cuz two have moved in and our clowns have gone through it. They saw them, they and they’re like, we totally thought that was, they were, that was a real, real thing. <laugh>. and, and like I said, but they’re like, it was so cool that would, they would come and that they would spend time with us cuz they go out to recess with them. So they teach ’em these lessons. They eat lunch with them, they go out to recess, they play games with them. and there are, you know, they just remember that again, it goes back to that time outside the classroom that makes a difference in a kid’s life that I, I have had a student tell me, they’re like, you know, the clowns cup came and that was the only day I felt special.

Suzanne Imhoff (31:05):

Mm-hmm. Because they would sit with me and they would talk with me and they would play with me. And I really truly felt special on the days that clown came to visit. So that’s why I wanna do this. I want, if I can help one person, so what I do and the reason I do it is the same reasons they do it. And so that to me is why I’m like, oh yeah, can’t, and we don’t, we’re self-funded. The kids have a a fee. They buy their own makeup, they come up with their own costumes. They’re all themed costumes. It’s not like your traditional clowns. like my, my daughter is currently one and she’s strawberry shark cake. She doesn’t like you call, she just like calling strawberry. So she wears course,

Sam Demma (31:46):

Of course. The

Suzanne Imhoff (31:46):

Strawberry sweater. Yeah. No, I’m like, ah, strawberry shortcake.

Sam Demma (31:49):

Of course there’s a cake in there. Strawberry

Suzanne Imhoff (31:51):

Leggings, strawberry earrings. She puts the white makeup and then puts strawberries on her face. Strawberry headband. So they’re kind of, each one has a theme. Mitz he’s a baseball clone. and then we have qb, he’s the football clown. Yes. So yeah, they’re all different kind of themes and the kids love getting dressed up. I mean, who doesn’t? Cause I do

Sam Demma (32:14):

<laugh>. This is, this, this program sounds amazing. <laugh>. it’s funny, I was talking to an educator the other day from, it would’ve been British Columbia, one of the provinces like far far west in Canada. And he was like, every year I go to California to this conference called Kata. And it’s like the, it’s a big leadership conference in California. And have you been before by any chance?

Suzanne Imhoff (32:37):

I’ve heard of it. I’ve wanted to go. Go. I’ve heard of it.

Sam Demma (32:39):

Yeah. So, so ba basically what he told me was like, leadership in Canada is like a cookie leadership in the US is like, Suzanne m h’s $2,800 cake <laugh>. He’s like, he’s like, it’s a, it’s just a different, it’s just a different experience. Like it’s so, it’s such a big part of the culture and such a big part of the education system. And for someone who’s not familiar with like a statewide conference, like what does that look like? What does a statewide leadership conference look like?

Suzanne Imhoff (33:12):

It’s funny you asked because I’m hosting the one our school is hosting, the one we’re having this year. so you’ll have kids from all over the state come in. We have a keynote speaker. It’s a two day conference, usually a Sunday, Monday. they come in and we have a keynote speaker and then we have regional business meetings where we elect officers, state officers. Nice. talk about things that hit on the regional levels. The state of Wisconsin’s divided into six regions. and then opposite that they have what we call super sectionals cuz they’re a little bit longer. So they’re our sectionals where we have presenters who will present on anything from mental health to how to lead after high school, how to lead in high school, how to any aspect, servant leadership fundraising, I mean, you name it, we, any topic that the kids would want to potentially hear about.

Suzanne Imhoff (34:15):

So we have those. we have banquet, we award like regional administrators of the year, state administrators of the year. Oh wow. also advisors give different leadership roles. And then we have some entertainment of course dances and fun things like that. And then on Monday we have another keynote speaker, but then we have other sectional breakouts as well. The ones on Sunday are typically led by adults, but the ones on Monday are led by students. Oh, wow. So different groups will put together some, like maybe presenting on a service project that they do or different organizations that they work with or different ways that they lead in their school or how they can get students involved. how do they run their homecomings? How do they run different community service opportunities different things. So whatever they want to, how to run a meeting, how to I know this year we’re gonna be bringing in some kids who have graduated.

Suzanne Imhoff (35:21):

Matt, the student I talked to you about earlier, he’s gonna come back and, and sit on the panel and say, okay, how did you take your leadership from high school level to the college level? Mm. And then from college, how do you take it beyond there? So there’s gonna be sectionals based for like freshman and sophomores and then once for juniors and seniors. Like, how can I continue this? I’m here, I’m in this small and a fishbowl of my school. How do I take it to the next level of college if I’m going to, you know, say UW Madison or a big school or even if I’m going to a private school, how do I stay involved and how do I use what I’ve learned going forward? So those will be there’ll be four, three different opportunities, but there’ll be probably 15 to 1220 different sessions.

Suzanne Imhoff (36:04):

Wow. And then we have a closing thing and they, then they go home. So that’s our, the state cover. So it’s a, we have big speakers come in, but then we also, I like the breakout sessions where students can go and, and learn different things that maybe interest them. So, nice. But that’s, yeah, on Sunday it’s usually adults. It doesn’t have to be. but then student led breakouts, which again, it’s putting kids in leadership situations, they have to lead the group, they have to lead these, you know, presentations. So they’re learning skills just as much as the person attending the students that are attending. So

Sam Demma (36:40):

That’s awesome. Yeah, I was gonna say, when you mentioned awards for administrators of the year and stuff like that, that’s, that’s really cool because it’s part, it’s partly for the educators and the adults as well, not just the, not just the students. So, oh yeah. That’s cool. I’m, I’m assuming there’s a big community around it, like each, each year is it held at a different school and all of you come together and it’s like, oh my gosh, Jane, I haven’t seen you since last year. Yeah.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:06):

<laugh>. Yep. Oh yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s kinda like old home week whenever we get together and be able to, you feel like you just pick up where you left off the last time. You know, it’s a nice network. it that you can build as an advisor. I’ve, you know, I’ve relied on these people, some of these other advisors that I’ve met through this, you know, and through the state conference and through other activities that we’ve done that I’m like, oh, guy sitting on the email, okay, this is my situation. Have you guys ever experienced this? Some have, some haven’t. Hey, gimme some tips. Check. I mean, you, you can’t, can’t live in a bubble and think you’re going to, you know, get it all solved yourself. Learn from others’ experiences, steal ideas, you know, share what you’ve done with, you know, oh yeah, you’re gonna run this at homecoming.

Suzanne Imhoff (37:52):

Oh, we did that. Just know that, you know, this is the issues that we ran into or this is what was so successful. You know, why reinvent the wheel? Let’s take it and make it better. And sharing, I, I think you have to know, you have to work together. You have to give ownership to, you know, or give away the ownership. It’s not mine, it’s ours. Let’s make it all better and let me learn from you and you learn from me. And again, the end result is making students better and whether up here in northern Wisconsin or they’re in the southern part of the state. So that’s the important part.

Sam Demma (38:25):

Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. I was recently at a professional development conference to learn in Calgary, which is about a four hour flight from where I am now. and while I was sitting in the crowd, there was a slide that came up on one of the presenter’s presentations and the slide said something along the lines of, when a group of people get lost together in developing and building a worthy cause and none of them care about who gets the credit for it, that’s when real change gets made. And it sounds like this statewide type of a conference is, is similar. It’s like everyone’s coming together with the goal of hoping to make students’ lives better and help them reach their full potential. And to also help, you know, appreciate some of the staff that played a role in their lives. I just think it’s a really beautiful thing.

Sam Demma (39:11):

It, switching gears for a second, if you could travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder the first year you started teaching, but maintain all of the experiences you had now, kind of like getting in the back to the future car, but not going to the future. But going back if you could like walk into that first classroom you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Suzanne, this is the advice I think you need to hear. not because you would change anything about your path, but knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had, what would you have told your younger self?

Suzanne Imhoff (39:44):

I guess the one thing I would say would be it’s okay to the, to let my students fail. Hmm. I know that, and we’ve always said it, but to truly let them fail in what is happening. and not worry if it is a reflection on whether I failed or not. Hmm. and that’s, that was, that’s probably been the hardest lesson for me to learn. Cuz I’m like, okay, so alright, you’ve gotta do this. Oh, they’re not doing it, I’ll just do it. Hmm. No, I need to like let them not do it. if they were supposed to have a poster out and advertise it and then we don’t get as many people, well guys, we didn’t get as many people why what the reflection and evaluation of anything that I’ve done. That would be the one thing is looking at, you know, the failure as okay.

Suzanne Imhoff (40:40):

And it’s kind of cliche, but it’s a learning experience and I didn’t truly embrace that until I was into, well into my teaching and advising. And that would be the one thing that would be like, okay, no, you need to truly realize that it doesn’t make you a bad person because the event wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped. Mm. Or the lesson didn’t quite go as you had planned. That’s okay. What are you gonna do next time? What are we gonna, where, how are we gonna move forward from it? and know that it’s okay, that’s gonna happen. And if it doesn’t happen, that’s when you aren’t moving anybody forward because you don’t really truly learn or get better. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> if you don’t go outta your comfort zone. Hmm. And I, that was, I knew it. I’ve had had people tell me that, but I didn’t truly embrace it. And that would be the one thing I would go back and cuz there’s like times where I’m like, you know, if you had to let that kind of not go and not have done all the things for the kids, we would’ve gotten to the better place that we are now sooner. Hmm.

Suzanne Imhoff (41:52):

If that makes sense. It does. This took a little longer, kind of like when my parents, if I were to <laugh> listen to them going out, out of the box, I would’ve gotten into education a little sooner. But

Sam Demma (42:03):

Yeah. Hindsight’s 2020, right. <laugh> right

Suzanne Imhoff (42:06):

Own way. That’s what I I i that you just need to get outta your own and realize that you can do this and you will make mistakes, but you’ll get there and you’ll get there sooner if you stop telling yourself that you can’t do it.

Sam Demma (42:22):

Hmm. I love that. I think it applies for educators as well. You know, you’ll become the educator you always want to be when you stop telling yourself that you can’t or that that you don’t have the skills required or whatever the story might be. But yeah, I appreciate you for sharing a lot of your wisdom and insights today on the show. If someone’s, it’s already been almost like 45 minutes. If, if someone I know we, it’s a great episode. If someone wants to reach out, ask you questions, buy cake <laugh> <laugh>, well, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Suzanne Imhoff (42:55):

Oh yeah, sure. Emailing me is probably the, the, the best way that I check that constantly, but that’s imhofsu@scfschools.com

Sam Demma (43:14):

Awesome. Suzanne, thank you again for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, and keep baking those cakes and we’ll talk soon.

Suzanne Imhoff (43:20):

Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. It was great. It was fun.

Sam Demma (43:24):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Suzanne Imhoff

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.

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert

Dr. Ivan Joseph – TED talk (21 million views), Speaker, Author and Self-Confidence Expert
About Dr. Ivan Joseph

Dr. Ivan Joseph (@DrIvanJoseph) is a six-time Coach of the Year recipient and Director of Athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought-after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has a BA in Physical Education and Health, an MS in Higher Education Administration and a Ph.D. in Sports Psychology. His popular Tedx talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. For more information on Dr. Joseph, please visit, www.drivanjoseph.com

Connect with Ivan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.drivanjoseph.com

Ryerson University

BA in Physical Education and Health – Graceland University

Graduate Programs – Drake University

PhD in Psychology – Capella University

You Got This: Mastering the Skill of Self-Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

Positive Affirmations

Expert Secrets by Russel Brunson

Workshops by Dr. Ivan Joseph

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):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is someone I have really wanted to interview on my podcast for a very long time. His name is Dr.Ivan Joseph. Dr.Ivan Joseph is a sixth time Coach of the year recipient and Director of athletics at Ryerson University. He is a sought after speaker on developing personal and organizational leadership. He has his BA in Physical Education and Health, and Masters in Higher Education Administration, and a PhD in Sports Psychology. His popular TEDex talk on the skill of self-confidence has garnered over 21 million views. Dr. Ivan Joseph is also an actor, a father, and a very amazing human being. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ivan, and I will see you on the other side. Ivan, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (01:02):

Huge pleasure to have you on the show after reading your book, watching your, your TEDx talk that has over 21 million views, I want to start this off in a different fashion. I’ve, I’ve listened to a lot of your interviews. I want to get vulnerable right from the start so you can have the chance to introduce yourself, but I want to ask you personally, what is an aspect of your life where you lacked personal confidence and you followed your own tactics and tools, systems and strategies, to change that situation and, and, and let us know how that happened?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (01:35):

Well, well, thank you for having me first of all, Sam, and, and I’ll say this, your question I can answer it at 10, 12, 15 different ways. You know, the, the situation with confidence is, is that you, you acquire it, but then once you achieve success, you move on or you get promoted that struggle comes back because you’ll feel imposter syndrome seep in, and then you’ll manage it, you’ll master it, because we’re hard workers. Then you’ll get to the next level, and again, you’ll feel like you don’t belong. You’ll feel like, oh my goodness, they’re gonna, they’re gonna catch me. And, and so there’s not one situation, I’ll give you one situation, but recognize that this is one of many. So I’ll give you the first example. When I became the Director of Athletics at Ryerson University, recognize that I came from a town of 1200 students from a school that only had 1200 people in it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (02:29):

So to combine the school and the town, you had 2,500 people, no Walmart, no McDonald’s, no stop signs, no stop lights. And they plumped me into this director of athletics job where I went from managing one person and a budget of 30,000 to bud, to managing a budget that ended in millions, and having to wor work an administrative assistant, lead people, manage people. I didn’t know how to do any of that. And so here I was in this big city of Toronto, millions of people in charge of a budget rebuilding a hundred million maple leaf gardens, and I felt like I was an imposter. And so I did what I know and what I know worked well as a soccer coach, really, which was, I was first there, I was last to leave. Mm. I read everything I could. I found myself a mentor when I didn’t know. I didn’t pretend. I didn’t know, which is that instead of fake it till you make it, I said, I don’t know. Let me get back to you. I asked for help. And most importantly, and this is the criti critical piece, is when I, when I wanted to run away and push the easy button and quit, I just talked to myself out of it. Hmm. And that allowed me to grow into the job.

Sam Demma (03:47):

What did that self-talk look like? When, when we’re in situations where there’s a negative voice, one, how do you create that space to realize, like snap out of the initial moment and realize I’m having negative thoughts right now? And then what course of action do you take to reverse that?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:05):

Well, I’ll tell you, I remember it as Claire as day, right? Seeing myself walking down young street off the go train, and here I am, like in my briefcase, in my suit, a guy who never ever wore a suit. I was a tra, I was a soccer coach. I wore, I wore track pants and shorts, and I’m like, who is that guy? That’s not me seeing the reflection off the building. And I was like, stop it. Right? Stop it. I remember sitting in meetings and people are like, oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing. Stop it. Stop it. And so, I d I use what athletes use what I teach my students, which is sports psychology techniques, physical actions, right? These are called thought stopping or centering actions. You use those actions to say, stop.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (04:50):

Right, stop the negative thought and then replace it with the positive affirmation. And you’ll hear me talk about that later on. But with, you can’t stop that negative thinking. What had happens is it influences your beliefs. And soon when you start to believe something about yourself, then it influences your actions. And soon as your actions start acting out, then people, your peers, your bosses, your friends, they will start seeing you and treating you differently based on those actions. And when they see and treat you differently, Sam, it starts that cycle over again. Well, they don’t think I’m good enough. Well, I mustn’t be good enough. Oh, man, I made a mistake. Why is that guy making so many mistakes? I’m not gonna put him in that position. And this vicious self-defeating cycle starts over and over again that it’s hard to break out of.

Sam Demma (05:40):

And when you realize you’re having a negative belief, I understand the physical action, the changing of the rubber band onto your other wrist was something that you read about, you wrote about in your book for your athletes on the soccer pitch or any pitch. Once you realize it and you stop it, how do you replace it? do you use affirmations? Like what’s the next step to build the new confidence that should take that negative beliefs place?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (06:04):

Yeah. And you have to replace it with something, right? You, you can’t just say, stop. And that’s when these automatic affirmations need to come like that. Mm. And so the time isn’t when you’re having a negative thought to think about your affirmation. You prepare your affirmation, so it’s ready to go, and it comes just like that. And so my three are, nobody outworks me. I can learn anything. And I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. I use that one. I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate. When I feel overwhelmed, when I’m like, I’m not in control. I use, nobody outworks me. When things don’t come easy, I’m like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna show up first. I’m gonna, it doesn’t matter how long it takes and when it’s, things are hard when I’m not getting it, oh my gosh, this is complicated. I can learn anything. These are reminders for me that just say, okay, get me in the right spot again. Recognize that my affirmation isn’t I’m gonna make a million dollars. Maybe some people wanna do that, but I subscribe to genuine, authentic affirmations that are about behavior.

Sam Demma (07:11):

I love that. I’ve been walking every morning after my buddy Nick comes over and works out in our backyard, you know, trying to stay covid friendly. So we do it outside on a little bar gym that I built, and I walk after he leaves every morning, and I listen to a three minute YouTube video. And I know you’re a big fan of Muhammad Ali. Oh, yes. And there’s a whole section in the video, and every time I hear it, I just get goosebumps. and it puts me in this mindset that just, it just forces me to take a hold of my day. And when he’s saying, you know, I am the greatest in this YouTube video, and he’s talking about how all these people are gonna doubt him you know, I’m trying to think of the exact words that he uses in the video. He goes, all you chumps are gonna bow when I whoop him, all of you, I know you got him. I know you got him picked. I’m gonna show you how great I am. And every time I hear it, I just imagine myself in that moment. And so I’m curious to know, in your own personal development of self-confidence in studying, does visualization play a huge part in this process as well? Affirmations are awesome and amazing. Do you also visualize

Dr. Ivan Joseph (08:17):

A hundred percent? I’m a, as a sports psychologist, I’m a big believer in visualization. Hmm. Let me teach you, let me talk to you a little bit about a study that what I teach my students. They, they went in and they tested downhill skiers. They put these electrodes onto their busts so that they could see when they were going through the gates and down a mountain, how would the muscles fire? And they were in their lab, and they could see, okay, the, this one fires at this amplitude. Oh, when he’s turning this quad fires, this arm goes, here’s where they relax when they go on the straightaway. And it was amazing, right? This was like, wow. Then they said, okay. Then they took those same skiers, and they said, now, just watch yourself going down. Right? And as they were watching themselves going down, they hooked up their muscles, and they found that their muscles still fired.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (09:01):

Not at the same level, of course mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they were still firing significantly less, but in the same pattern, in the same racial as they were watching themselves go down that mountain. Then they said, close your eyes and imagine yourself going down the mountain as they close their eyes and imagine themselves going down the mountain again, their muscles still fired in that same pattern, that same frequency, not the same level of amplitude as when they were watching it, but in the same place. So what that was saying is that we are rehearsing that our mind could transfer that energy and that pattern of learning to our muscles, even just by imagining it. The power of visualization is a strong piece. I like to visualize, visualize everything that I’m doing, every little scenario, what I’m coaching, when I’m teaching, when I’m leading, I want to know what I’m going to do. I want to imagine what success looks like. I also wanna imagine what an adversity or a roadblock would look like, so that I have my plan in place so that I’m ready. And I’m not, I’m not panicked. I’m not frozen. Right? I don’t imagine just the great things. I do try to spend some time not imagining when things go wrong, but imagining what my plan of action will be in case things go wrong, so that I can see my way still to victory.

Sam Demma (10:17):

So powerful. When I think back to my own soccer days and the athletes that I had four of my teammates now play in the mls mm-hmm. <affirmative>, the ones who succeeded all had a, a super drive. Like they just all wanted to, you know, play soccer every single day. But I found really interesting was they all watched hours upon hours of soccer. They were obsessed with following every different league that exists in Europe and in Canada and the us. Does watching somebody else kick a ball also fire the same pathways in your brain that you would fire if you were kicking a ball? Like, does visualization also work when you watch somebody else do it?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (10:58):

I will say this the psychology behind is what you’re asking is the social learning theory by a gentleman by the name of Bandura. Right? And so what they will say is that you can learn through observation. This is what, like, you think about this whole YouTube world. Everybody watches YouTube and they learn how to do things before, back in the day. You have to go and watch somebody apprentice with them, learn all those things. So for sure, I, I can’t speak to whether the muscles are firing the same way, but I can say that you can learn through observation, especially if somebody is telling you what to look for. Look at the angle of the leg, look at the, look at the way the angle is locked. Look at how they land on their plant foot. And so you’re saying now you’re watching the things to look for, and now you can go back and mimic those same behaviors and model them in a way that will ensure success.

Sam Demma (11:48):

Hmm. No, I like that. And you just even alluded to some points in your TED talk, by the way, when you talked about planting the foot and leaning forward knee over the ankle, you talk about the importance of catching people while they’re good. This can be used from a management perspective. It can be used from a coaching perspective. You know, the importance of encouraging someone’s positive actions instead of coaching their negative ones. Yeah. That idea. Do you also use it for yourself? So in moments where you maybe didn’t have the performance that you expected, instead of focusing on all the things that went wrong, you focus on the one or two things that went right. Is that something you could also use personally?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (12:25):

Absolutely. I, I think it’s really important. What I use even more than that though, is about focusing on the positives, which is nice. I also say, what am I here to learn? Hmm. When things go south, when they don’t go where I want them to do, I wanna focus on what did it teach me? What are the teachable moments? Because as well as focusing on what went wrong, right? Or what went right, that’s great. Okay, what went right? I also need to think about the gap. Hmm. And, and that gap is, okay, what am I here to learn? And I’m not focusing on the negatives. I’m focusing on the teachable moments when I’m looking at myself. And if I can think of everything as a learning opportunity that prepares me for the next one, and that prepares me for the next one, then I don’t get caught up on the negativity. I get caught up on the teachable moments of that failure. And that’s, for me, key to moving forward.

Sam Demma (13:14):

And you have to stay open-minded, right? Yeah. That op, being someone who’s open-minded will give you opportunity to look at yourself objectively and take that feedback and use it to, to grow. Sometimes we get feedback and it, it, it hurts our ego because, you know, everyone has an ego. They care what people think. is there a difference between ego and confidence? Can you explain the difference? and especially for like young people that use a ton of social media and feel the need to validate themselves. Like, I just wanna know if there’s a bit a difference between ego and, and real confidence.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (13:52):

For sure. And let me go back, because the piece that will feed this is that feedback part when you said, sometimes we get negative feedback and it impacts our, our ego. So recognize that there’s two types of feedback. One is negative and one is critical. Hmm. Negative feedback. What’s wrong? Why it didn’t work? This idea is not good. You didn’t do this, you didn’t do this. You need to come back. Negative critical feedback. Here’s why I don’t think it’s gonna work. have you tried this? This is not good. Have you tried this, this, and this? Hey, I think you missed it. Here’s what I was looking for. Hmm. And so the difference is what’s wrong, but opportunities or avenues for you to go in a different direction. They’re giving you advice. And so that’s really, that’s really key for you to recognize that if somebody’s giving you critical feedback, they’re invested in you.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (14:41):

As I used to tell all my people when I’m coaching you and I’m giving you critical feedback, the willingness of me to expend energy on you means that I believe that, that you can deliver more, and that you’re capable and you have the potential to excel. When I’m not giving you any feedback, you should be worried because I don’t think you’ve got any more to give, and you’ve reached your ceiling. So that’s the first part. The second part is how does it not affect your ego? And when, what’s the difference between ego and confidence? Ego? Is this me telling everybody else how great I am? Mm-hmm. Look at me, look at me, folks. I’m a champion. I’m good. Think about it. When you’re in grade school, Sam, and you’re in the playground, or, or it was that track and field day, and you gotta do the three-legged race or the ball toss or high jump, or the hundred meter sprint.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (15:28):

And you win your first, your second, your third, whatever your ribbons are they used to give you. And do you put them on? And do you walk around the schools like, look at me. Look, I won the first place in the ball toss. I’m a three-legged race champion. Yeah. Ooh, no. The confident person doesn’t need anybody to know how good they are. All right. You put those ribbons in your bag and you go home at night, you put ’em on and in front of the mirror, you say, yes, I’m awesome. That is okay. Cuz you still should tell yourself you’re awesome. You should still remind yourself of how great you are, just egotistically. You don’t need to shout it to everybody else.

Sam Demma (16:06):

Sometimes you’ll have a belief in yourself that other people don’t see. And I know you’ve had firsthand experience with this, with a player on your team when you were coaching, who at first it seemed like this player was not gonna fit in and not going to excel, but that person’s self-belief propelled them forward. And if I’m not mistaken, became the captain of your team and went to a national championship with you guys. Yes. Yes. how do you cultivate that amount of belief in yourself when other people might not agree with you?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (16:40):

That’s a really good piece. So part of it is you’ve gotta make sure when other people don’t believe in you. And so you’re getting it from the left on all, you know, you gotta make sure you’re having other places where you’re getting the opposite, right? Because if you’re bombarded with your mom telling you you’re no good, and your brother and sister telling you’re no good, and at work they’re telling you no good and your boyfriend or girlfriend are telling you good, no good and all the media’s telling, then it’s gonna beat you up. And so you’ve gotta make sure that, let’s say it’s the coach, then you’re surrounding yourself with other people who are able to counter that voice, that you’re also making sure that you’ve written your letter to yourself, where you’re reading your confident thoughts, that you’re also using your affirmations, but most importantly, that you’re also working towards the goal diligently with great effort to close the gap.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (17:31):

Cuz it’s no magic button. You can’t just show up. A coach says I’m no good, and then the next day I just show up and expect a different result. He also gotta put in the work. And if you’ve put in the work and the repetition and the effort, good things will happen. They always do. But at the same time, Sam, you never know, just like you just didn’t make it as a professional athlete because of injury or whatever. Hopefully you’ve got the right people around you that will tell you when it’s the opportunity is right for you to pivot and go in a different direction.

Sam Demma (18:02):

No, I love that. And I think it’s so important. Who we surround ourselves with matters greatly. I think it was Jim Rowan who said, you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Yes.

Sam Demma (18:12):

Why is that important? You know, I remember when I was a soccer player, my coach always used to tell me before I asked for the ball, Sam, make sure you check your shoulders <laugh>. And I remember in the middle of the game, and you probably preach this to your players all the time, I played in the midfield. And so I’m looking behind me to check my shoulders and I don’t check. And as I turn around, someone comes and sly tackles me and my left leg. And that’s when I tore my meniscus in my left knee the second time. And I remember after, you know, years went by, I realized what a great analogy check your shoulders is for life. You know, how often do we turn around and say, who am I surrounding myself with? and if you don’t do it, you know, in life, just like in sports, if you don’t check and you turn around randomly one day, there’s, there might be some people there that shouldn’t be there and it might be causing you problems. So why do you think it’s so important to be aware of who we surround ourselves with?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:01):

Well, we know that in sport and in psychology, that emotion is contagious. Hmm. And so think about that. When you’re in a, when you’re in a dressing room, I could walk into a dressing room and I know when a team is on, you could feel it in the air. Hmm. You can feel it, you can cut it with a knife. Also, I can tell when one person gets angry, how that can just run through the entire room or panic or whatever that might be, or excitement or energy. We don’t know. Whatever that’s pheros, whether that’s hormones, what that is. But this science is, is irrefutable that, that we can catch the mood of other people. Hmm. And so when I think about that, I think about the group that I’m speaking with or hanging out with. Do they push me? Are they good for me?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (19:46):

Are they good to me? Are they drivers? Are they, are they ones? Like, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what? You’re right. When somebody comes and gives you hard news, yeah, I can’t believe that coach doesn’t believe in me. I can’t that believe that boss didn’t gimme the opportunity. And they’ll say, yeah, you’re right Sam, you deserve it. I can’t believe it. You were robbed. Or do they say, Sam, you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. You know what? You should have delivered it like this. You need to go back. Do they push you up or do they tear you down? Hmm. Do they allow you to live in that self-belief of I’m a victim? Or do they say, no, we could do better? And you think about those kinds of people and how do you separate the weak from the chaff?

Sam Demma (20:28):

I think, I think catching other people’s emotions could be even more dangerous than catching the flu

Dr. Ivan Joseph (20:35):

<laugh>. Oh, a hundred percent. They will, it will limit you

Sam Demma (20:39):

And it holds you back because like you explained, you know, your beliefs lead to your emotions, emotions to actions, actions to results. And if those, if those beliefs change because of the people you’re hanging out with, it changes literally everything else. It’s like a domino effect. Yes. I spend a lot of time hanging around people who don’t take no for an answer. <laugh>. And I know you’re one of those people and I remember you watching your TED talk as well, and you know, you asked out your, your wife for the first time you know, and she said no. And then her friend came back and told you, you know, there’s a small chance that if the world was falling apart and <laugh> and you know, we need to recreate to save humanity, then, then, you know, maybe we could, you know, maybe it would work. And, and you said, well, there’s a chance <laugh> and you kept going. Right. now maybe you could, you could share a little bit about where that beliefs was built for you. Cause I believe all of our beliefs come from past experiences, like where that belief came from that you didn’t take no for an answer. and maybe even how I reached out to you and what you thought

Dr. Ivan Joseph (21:44):

<laugh>. Oh my gosh. You know, it’s interesting. You know, first off, I’m an immigrant, right? I was born in, in Guyana, south America. My parents came to Canada when they’re 27 years old. Hmm. And so, you know, and immigrants have a very common theme that run through them, meaning work twice as hard, be twice as good. Yeah. Right. You know, like that, that your parents have drilled that into you, your grandparents have drilled that into you. And so you know that the opportunities that you have that will come your way, you gotta fight for. And I saw it in my mother and I saw it in my father. And so those were two, two role models for me that really helped put that behavior of twice as hard, twice as good, twice as like always mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, you know, after a while people are gonna say no.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (22:28):

And so you gotta just decide what are you gonna do. You can either feel sorry for yourself or you can try again. You can try. And then when you get a little bit of success, then it creates this pattern of belief in yourself that allows you to keep going. Right. And again, I wasn’t stalking my wife, so I don’t want anybody out there to think, oh my gosh, this guy’s a creepy old man. Right? Yeah. It’s like, oh, let me try again. Right. She, you know, if she let me see. Right. And there’s nothing wrong with thinking that there’s another opportunity to try something different perhaps, whatever that might look like. You know, I, you know, you are a perfect example, Sam. I was not, you know, there’s a certain level of podcast that my partner sends me on Sonny’s like, okay, how many followers do they have?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (23:05):

Will it elevate the brand? All these things? Is this the message they want to go on? Right. And here you are a young whipper snipper, and you were persistent, right? You were, you didn’t take no financial, you came back and you didn’t come back the same way, which is an important piece. You came back with some, you did your homework, you were creative, you sent this message, this video that you were compelling. How could we not say yes to somebody who cared and was so intentional and put so much effort and time into preparing his pitch? We had no intention of saying yes, but you compelled us so that we could not say, no,

Sam Demma (23:45):

I’m writing a chapter in a book right now, it’s gonna be called Dear High School Me. And it’s like, it’s like lessons from my younger self from someone not far removed from high school. And your reach out is gonna be one of the chapters <laugh>. And you know, the whole lesson is that when we’re all little kids, I think it was before the age of four, we hear the word no a couple thousand times and it gets ingrained in our body. You know, we, we fall off the counter and you know, or hopefully you don’t fall off the counter, but <laugh>, you know, something happens and your parents say, oh no, don’t do that. And we associate no with never again. Yeah. No means never. And I’m trying to help people understand that. No, doesn’t mean never when you hear the word no. Although, like you said, there are some situations where no means no and don’t cross that boundary. Yes.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (24:31):

Thank you. Thank

Sam Demma (24:32):

You. Outside of those situations, <laugh> no, doesn’t mean never. It actually means how can you show this person that you care, build trust, and be more creative in your reach out? Yes. And every time that I’ve changed my approach whether it’s with you or other situations I’ve gotten, you know, great responses and, and great results. do you have any examples in your life aside from, from the relationship that you discuss in your TEDx talk where someone initially told you no and things thereafter maybe slightly changed?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:05):

Yeah, I think, and I think your point is really strong and make sure your audience knows we’re not talking about consent. Yeah. So let’s put that over there. Yeah. We’re talking in the business world that there’s always an opportunity to get your foot in the door. And so when I was, when I wanted to be a coach, I didn’t get the job. They said no a bunch of times. So you know what I did? I volunteered, I worked for free. And a month before or two weeks before the season started, the coach left and they were stuck. They didn’t have anybody else. They paid me less than the scholarship of my athletes. So as the head coach, I was the lowest paid person on that team, but I didn’t care. Yeah. All I wanted was an opportunity. And when I got the opportunity, I took the most of it.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (25:51):

I worked like a dog. We won the conference championship that year. We were 13 and one first ever championship they ever won. I was the conference coach of the year. Right. So recognized that, you know, no meant not yet. But what did I do while they said no? I went and got the coaching courses, I went and got the coaching license. I read this book about coaching. I spent an and learned this about coaching. I watched games on TV to learn and do everything I could. So when the opportunity gave me a small crack, I was ready to take advantage of it.

Sam Demma (26:25):

I love that. So powerful. And you talk about this in your summit, the speech you did, I think it was for jack.org back in May 5th, 2020. A young lady asked you the question, you know, how do you, how do you find what you love doing? There’s so many different, you know, opportunities available and there’s so many different options and you gave some awesome advice about, you know, maybe you volunteer and you know, that’s how it started. For you, what is your advice around helping, you know, maybe students or young people find what they’re good at or what they love doing?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (26:56):

I say we all know what we love because it’s the thing that we do. And all of a sudden time flies. Mm. In sports psychology, we call it flow. When have you ever done something, it’s like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe that. Like, where did the hour go? Yeah. Whether that’s reading a book, whether that’s playing your hockey, playing your game, like, my gosh, what are those activities that put you in the state of flow that you look forward to doing and you can’t wait? You know what they are? Put a make a list of them. When I, when that was asked for me, what do I volunteer to do? And I couldn’t believe it was soccer. You can’t make a living as a soccer coach. This is 25 years ago. I tell you that, that soccer coach led to me being and making a ton of money, which I never wanted to do. That wasn’t the reason I was driven towards it. But what happens is, when you do what you love, excellence happens. And when you become the best at what you do, people are willing to pay for the, for that service. And so, I I just remind you that even though you think, well, I can’t make a living doing what you love, there’s always a way.

Sam Demma (28:03):

I think it’s Russell Brunson, this guy who does a lot of internet marketing, he started a company called ClickFunnels. He, he started a business teaching people how to make potato launchers <laugh>. And this is the first thing he did. And, and I remember just reading it in one of his books, expert Secrets, him talking about there’s almost some market or an opportunity in every single field. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> what matters is how much you’re willing to give of your time, your effort, your energy towards becoming a master in that thing. Because there’s no, there’s no, there’s no job position just waiting for you. Sure there’s jobs out there, but I think you create it through your actions that you take every single day, day in and day out. Yes. and you’ve created a wonderful career for yourself. And I want to take this interview down a professional route for a second.

Sam Demma (28:53):

Yeah. Over the, over the past four years, I’ve been obsessed with helping students become real world ready, trying to figure out what makes a high performing young person. And based on my own personal success and conversations that I’m having with, you know, phenomenal humans like yourself, I’m taking this assumption and I’m putting it to the test. and so I wanna test this assumption here with you today. There’s six characteristics. All I wanna know is, do you think this thing was foundational to your success? And how did you develop it over the past couple of years? so here’s the first one, and you’re already someone who does this day in and day out for your job, but it’s professional and persuasive communication. So I believe that a high performing student, performer, athlete, whoever it is, has to have the ability to effectively share ideas with others that not only inform them, but inspire them to move into action. And you speak all around the world. So is professional communication something that has been foundational to your success? And how did you develop it as a skill?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (29:52):

A hundred percent. Right. Persuasive communication. And I will say it this way, I would put the other side of that as well. And maybe you have it in one of your six. It’s not just persuasive communication, it’s also empathetic communication. Hmm. Persuasive and empathetic because empathetic in insinuates that I’m listening and I’m hearing and I’m able to speak to the things that matter and resonate with the people. Hmm. And that is really key. Right. Because you can’t be persuasive if you don’t know what matters to the other person. I love that. Okay. So how did I put, how did I get when I was a teacher, when I was a professor, I probably did four or five different one hour lectures a day for 10 years.

Sam Demma (30:34):

Yep.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:35):

So I got to be really good repetition, repetition, repetition, <affirmative> repetition.

Sam Demma (30:40):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and variation. I’m sure you’re giving different lectures all the time, which helps you

Dr. Ivan Joseph (30:45):

All the time. All the time. And I never wrote ’em down. I’ve studied them, but I wanted them to be authentic and novel. And so, and I evaluated that didn’t work. That was no good. Okay. This was really good. Let me, let me do this part again.

Sam Demma (30:59):

Love that. Okay. That’s phenomenal. And thank you for the the additional feedback. If anything that I mentioned sparks a new idea or an extended version of the principle, please share. the second assumption is that these people have the trait of taking care of their mental and physical health, meaning they exercise their mind and their body. Yeah. Has that been something that’s been foundational to your success? And how did you develop the habit of exercising, meditating, and all these amazing actions that we should all take?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (31:29):

Yeah, and I like that you said meditating because that’s that mental, that’s the physical, it’s the spiritual. And so work-life balance is really important. I think that we recognize that, you know, we must work hard, we must work hard. That’s the only way to get ahead. But if you don’t shut it down, if you don’t restore, you don’t get the great ideas. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so that’s a really important piece. And so I haven’t gone out to say, I love to exercise. I don’t work out for the sake of working out. I play, I get my workout through play. Love it. Whether that’s playing on a soccer league, whether that’s whitewater canoeing, that’s, whether that’s playing squash, that’s my jam. But that’s my space for flow. Recognize that your workout might be something completely different. Don’t think that if you’re not doing physical exercise, you’re not good. Your workout might be mental. Just you’re the puzzle person. You’re the crossword person. What it is, is a thing that allows you to get to that stage where you restore and regenerate your soul and your spirit. So I really believe that’s a key principle.

Sam Demma (32:26):

I love that. I love that analogy too, that everyone gets it a little bit differently from different sources. One of the criticisms I had of a lot of self-help books were that they tell you that you have to wake up at a specific hour in the morning and do these three specific exercises in this row, and you’ll have a successful life. And I think it’s so false, right? We all have a goal in a morning routine to feel a specific type of emotion Yeah. Or to cultivate a specific type of belief. And there’s so many different activities that you could do to help you attain that goal. and I think it also applies like you’re saying to mental and physical wellbeing. So I love that. The third the third assumption is emotional intelligence. So these are, these are performers. These are people who are aware of how they feel and can give themselves a little bit of space to recognize the emotion and take action to support that emotion or despite the emotion. So you know how to say no properly, how to say yes. how to understand how other people are feeling in relation to a situation. I think there’s a ton of different definitions of emotional intelligence, but we’ll just define it as being self-aware. has that been foundational? And how did you develop that awareness?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (33:38):

Well, that’s a, you know, I don’t know how I developed it, but I, I think what I call is emotional awareness or intelligence. I call it insights. Mm. right. The ability to read the room, the ability to pick up when you’re being too much or too little, or when to walk away, when to push, when to just let this person have their moment because it’ll avoid a conflict. And that’s time for another conversation. You know, I think one of the things is in order to have insight, you have to be reflective. You have to really evaluate, well, that went wrong, or, I did really well there, what happened? Because I don’t know if you can read a book and say, this is who I am. But I think if you’re really insightful, you start to reflect on where you screwed up, where you hit it out of the park, ah, I didn’t get what I needed. Let me try it this way next time. And that’s how you acquire that level of emotional intelligence.

Sam Demma (34:30):

Hmm. I love that you talk about it in your book, or was it the interview with Louis? Hows the, the gut feelings, right? Yes. and you mentioned that when you shy away from those or act despite those little, you know, those little voices in your head or those gut feelings, that things typically go wrong

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:48):

Every time,

Sam Demma (34:49):

Still holds true.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (34:50):

Every, every single time. It usually ends up costing me more money. Makes me unhappier gives me great frustration. Yeah.

Sam Demma (34:58):

Cool. Very cool. <laugh> love that. fourth assumption is that these, these students are grounded in the present moment, meaning they take lots of action daily mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but they do have goals and a vision that they’re working towards. So they have a future focus. I’m, I’m assuming from day one you wrote things down on paper and, you know, had goals and visions for yourself before anyone else even believed in you. but is that something that you think has been foundational to your progress and success And, and what, what made you from day one, grab a pen and paper and start writing things down that you wanted to happen in the future, if you can remember?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (35:33):

Well, yeah, I’ll say it wasn’t from day one. It was after I flunked out and was embarrassed and was ashamed and he was humiliated and I needed to start over. And when I needed to start over, I said, well, what am I gonna change? What am I gonna move and how am I gonna respond and react to this? So hitting rock bottom and reacting to failure, put me in this path. And then I started writing one year goals, three to five year goals and 10 year goals. I always do my, my goals in those three buckets, right. Because I want to have a long-term plan so I know where I’m going. You know, if I want to be a college university president, I better sit on a university panel that searches what they look like now. So in 10 years I can see what they’re looking for. I have time to start prepping myself. Mm. When I wanted to be a L’Oreal vice president, you know what I needed to get certain skills, I better start getting those skills now. So three years from now, I’m ready for when the opportunity comes. And so I’m a big believer in writing down your goals and not just your long-term ones and, but your short-term ones, but here’s the key, Sam, not too many. Mm-hmm. Because then you won’t become an expert in anything.

Sam Demma (36:41):

Yeah. It’s like the whole idea of don’t go a mile wide. Go a mile deep. Yes. and ah, it’s so true. And I hear it so much over and over again, and I love it. It’s such an important thing to remind yourself of. perfect. The fifth characteristic is building strong habits. Right? Excellence comes not from what we do once, but what we do day in and day out, even when we don’t feel like it. Do you think that habits have played a huge part in your life? Or do you act more sporadically? and has that been foundational to your success?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (37:15):

Well, I’ll say it this way, I wouldn’t say it’s habits. Okay. Right. I would say it’s values. Hmm. The values drive my consistent response and behavior to things. Cool. And so, because you know how they, I’ve tried 30 days to find a habit, 30 days to be, I like I, I tried to work out or be a vegetarian for 30 days. They’re they 31, thank God that’s over. Yeah. Right. I work out, I work out, I work out. I did 30 days of pushup, 40 days of pushup. Soon as I missed three days in a row, that habit’s gone. Yeah. Right. And so that is the one I’ll say that I struggle with. And it doesn’t mean it’s right, but I will say that habits are typically something that are about behavior. Mm. And what drives behavior for me isn’t habits, it’s values. Mm. And that is the key. And what I mean by values is you’re the core beliefs about who I am, what I’m about.

Sam Demma (38:06):

I love that. So key, so important. And I think, I think back to a situation that didn’t align with my values, that forced me to make a decision out of a couple things. I think of a relationship that I had that I, that I recently ended. I think about a speaker agent who, a speaker agency who at first I had written down, you know, I’m gonna be represented by these people and I’m super excited. And then they approached me with the contract and the terms totally did not, not align with my values or the vision I created for myself. And there was this internal conflict that just stirred up in me. And right away I was questioning everything <laugh>. And I had everyone in my life telling me, you have to do this and you have to do that, and you should do this. And then I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that it, I was about to go against that gut voice that I had. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. so I think knowing what your values are and taking actions based on those and in alignment with those is what’s really important. Is what you’re saying. Yeah.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:04):

For

Sam Demma (39:05):

Me. Okay. Yeah. No, I totally agree. I love that the, the fifth, the fifth, the sixth, the sixth characteristic that I believe is super important is being a perpetual learner. So someone who is one, always open to feedback, cuz you’re gonna learn from feedback, but two, reading consuming information, whether it’s podcasts, books, speeches you know, even something like this kind of sparked the idea at the, at the end of your book, you have a list of your favorite reads, and I think there’s six or seven books listed there. I think perpetual learners are people who read one book and then have six more that get added to their list, <laugh> Yes. That they wanna read in the future. do you think that that’s been foundational in your success? And how did you cultivate that desire to want to learn? It’s a lot easier to grab a b a bag of Lay’s chips and watch Netflix all day. <laugh>

Dr. Ivan Joseph (39:54):

No, you’re still, I, I’m glad this one is last because this is the one that needs to stick. Hmm. Right. you, I say often when I coach soccer, sometimes I win. Most times I learn. Hmm. Right. And, and this is the key, right? Learning helps sets you up for success if you’re willing to approach it really in a student-centric perspective. Meaning I’m here to learn not just from reading a book, not just from watching a podcast, but in every single aspect and interaction that you have. I remember watching a Disney movie, oh, I love the way he said this about Simba and leadership. How can I employ that to my soccer game? I remember watching and reading Graham Henry’s book on legacy from the New Zealand, all Blacks. How am I gonna use this about how I build culture? We can’t learn enough and learning should never stop. I think about all my great mentors, some of them are 70, 80 years old and all the work they’re doing, and you know, in the old days it used to be just reading books. But in today’s world, it’s YouTube, it’s podcast, it’s Instagram, wherever it is. But make it an f make it a a thing for you to do and make it a part of your routine.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Hmm. I love that. And was that desire cultivated in you because you came to a realization that you wanted to know more, you wanted to learn more. Was it, was it a teacher that prompted you to it or was it because you failed? Like, because like, I tell students this all the time, but sometimes the switch doesn’t go off. And I’m curious to know what the trigger is to help someone understand like, learning is, is, is necessary <laugh>, you know, it’s needed.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (41:32):

Well, I’ve got intrinsic motivation, meaning I always want to be the best. Cool. And in order to be the best, I I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Yeah. Who else has done this and what can I learn in order to expedite my learning, my advancement, my progress? Because I could still do it, but what might take 10 years of me trial and error. I could shorten the one year by somebody’s teachable moments. And I think that’s really important. And if you’re not a book reader, then find a mentor and apprentice because that learning can happen the same way, maybe even better.

Sam Demma (42:06):

I often say mentorship is probably the, the lost form of teaching. Maybe watch it in movies, whether it’s Star Wars with OB one Kenobi or the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi. Right. so that’s awesome that you’re, you’re enthusiastic about that. Yeah. Those are the six As, those are my six principles, six assumptions. I’m curious to know, and I’m not gonna put you on the spot if one doesn’t come to mind, but is there anything that you would instantly add to that list?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (42:32):

Yeah, I think the, for me it’s that whole thing about you are steeped in grit and resilience. Hmm. Meaning how you respond to f failure setbacks, you know, that’s my jam. Whether you call it confidence, whether you call it mental toughness, resiliency, grit, hardiness. But that is a key piece that should be part of your mantra because whether you like it or not, you could be as, as insightful and as persuasive as you want. You will experience failure as you progress through life. And your response to that, your coping mechanism will really determine whether you continue on your path or you jump off and you give up.

Sam Demma (43:11):

I love it. No, that’s awesome. And you have a course coming out for students? I think, I believe it’s coming out in the spring or sometime in the future. Yeah. what, what is it all about? Tell us more. if you’re listening, tell the listener where they could find it as well.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (43:26):

Sure. the Skill of Self-Confidence masterclass, if you go on my website, dr ivan joseph.com, you can go ahead and there’ll be a time where you’ll sign up for that. And I think it’s coming out this spring, I should know that sort of stuff. <laugh> or you, if you were just saying, you know what, I’d just rather learn about this confidence. I don’t wanna join and pay money for a class go to dr ivan joseph.com front slash confidence and you could download a a workbook, 15 steps to self-confidence free workbook for you.

Sam Demma (43:54):

And if you’re wondering, I’ve downloaded it as well for the, for the listener, and it’s phenomenal. So definitely check it out. Ton of great gold in there. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s good stuff. And if someone just wants to connect with you or maybe even ask a question what would be the best way for them to do so?

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:09):

You know, you can find me in all the socials. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Instagram. @DrIvanJoseph is my handle on Twitter, so I’m out there LinkedIn, anyone. And I’m happy to respond and, and give any feedback that you folks might want.

Sam Demma (44:24):

You talk about an Apple video that was featured, I believe it was 1966 and 97 97. That’s my, that’s my dad’s birthday. I shouldn’t forget that one. <laugh>. <laugh>, you know, here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the troublemakers. I just wanna say I hold you to that regard and yeah. This was phenomenal. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, and I look forward to continue reading your books as you publish them and taking some of your courses in the future.

Dr. Ivan Joseph (44:52):

Thanks, Sam, appreciate it. You did a great job. Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (44:55):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Ivan Joseph

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.

Sarah Wells – Olympic Athlete, Speaker and Founder of the Believe Initiative

Sarah Wells - Olympic Athlete, Speaker and Founder of the Believe Initiative
About Sarah Wells

Obstacles don’t scare Sarah Wells (@SarahWells400mh). As a 400m hurdler, this Olympian’s reputation was forged through overcoming challenges and achieving the incredible. Take her debut at the London Olympics in 2012, which came despite an injury that had her sidelined her for months just the year before.

Outside of competitive sports, this athlete is coaching people to pursue excellence through the Believe Initiative, an organization founded on—fittingly—a message of resilience. Most recently you would have seen Sarah pushing her limits on the latest season of The Amazing Race Canada.

Evidently someone who understands the importance of building resilience and self-belief, along with the power of purpose, you’ll want to listen-up when this Olympic semi-finalist and Pan Am Games silver medallist takes the stage.

Connect with Sarah: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

sarahwells.ca

London Olympics

The Believe Initiative

Become a Chapter Head – Believe Initiative

The Amazing Race Canada

Pan Am Games

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 is a very special interview with a very special educator. She is not one that works directly in the classroom every day as a teacher or a principal or support staff, but she works with thousands of young people every single year with an amazing program called The Believe Initiative. I’m so honored to call this individual a very close friend of mine. Her name is Sarah Wells; might ring a bell. Obstacles don’t scare Sarah Wells. As a 400 meter hurdler, this Olympian’s reputation was forged through overcoming challenges and achieving the incredible. She debuted at the London Olympics in 2012, which happened despite an injury that had her sidelined for months, just the year before. Outside of competitive sports, she’s coaching people to pursue excellence through the Believe initiative, which you’ll hear about today. An organization founded on a message of resilience. Most recently, you would’ve seen Sarah pushing her limits on the latest season of the Amazing Race Canada. She is a phenomenal speaker to youth and organizations and has so many amazing stories to share. I hope you enjoy this conversation with my good friend Sarah, and I will see you on the other side. Sarah, why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what it is that you do.

Sarah Wells (01:32):

So, my name is Sarah Wells. I am an Olympic 400 meter hurdler. I am a adoring fan of Mr. Sam Demma <laugh>. No, I’m honored to be here really. Excited to share a bit of my story, who, where I got started, honestly, in track and field. I wasn’t good at any sports and I had a high school teacher see me in gym class and he was like, you need to do track and field. And at that point, it was early into my high school experience, like it was like near the end of grade nine. And I had already been cut from every single high school team, like basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, cut from every team. So when the teacher is like, you should, you should come to the track team, I was like, no dude, I already got cut from every team at this school. <laugh>

Sarah Wells (02:16):

Like, you don’t want me on your team. And he was like, no, no, no. I just saw you run to the ball, do nothing with it, <laugh>, but then run away like really fast again so you can accelerate. I I wanna teach you how to hurdle. Hmm. And so I was like, okay, sure. So I go out and I end up finding hurdles and falling in love with the sport and end up setting my sights eventually on the Olympic games. And that high school teacher and I, we stayed coach athlete for the next nine years until we made the Olympics together, which is pretty unheard of and not, you know, your classic story. But yeah, it was a wild ride. I was convinced I wasn’t athletic and then suddenly I was <laugh>.

Sam Demma (02:56):

And at what point did you turn back and decide it’s time for, for me to share these experiences and stories with other people? You speak for clients like r BBC and huge schools and you start your own initiatives that we’ll talk about later as well. At what point did you turn back around and say it’s time to share and give back in speaking?

Sarah Wells (03:12):

So I was kind of head down into sport once I realized that I had some potential. But once I made the Olympics, I had a story to tell of what had gone on. And you know, the <laugh> short form of that is really, I had an injury. I sat out for what was supposed to be three months and turned into nine months. Wow. And I had never touched Olympic standard before. And so everyone was telling me like, you’ve just sat out for nearly a whole year, like you’re not gonna make it. And on my first day back to training, I got the word believe tattooed on my wrist. And I said, when I make the Olympic Games, I’m gonna put the Olympic rings underneath here. And six months later, <laugh> you know, shockingly even to myself, I make the Olympic games. And I finished that tattoo and I put the Olympic rings underneath exactly where I said I would.

Sarah Wells (03:59):

And so I’m like, holy mo, believing in yourself works. And my parents, they were really proud and so they were te telling their friends what I had done. And my parents’ friends were like, come talk to my kids’ school. And so I was like, okay. And so I walk into a gymnasium, I’m like, this is what happened. And like, I got a tattoo. Don’t get a tattoo though. Don’t tell your parents. I told you that <laugh> and like, just believe in yourself because if you believe in yourself, you achieve your goals. Look, I did it and I started sharing that story. And for four years while I was still training cuz I wanted to make a second Olympic games I was getting to speak and share that and inspire others and realize, you know, how powerful this what had happened to me could be used for good to help inspire other people. And so it was so exciting and it helped me fund my training and training camps and, and competitions and helped me continue to develop and get faster and stronger. And, you know, right before my next Olympics at it was the 2015 PanAm games, I ended up winning a silver medal and only losing to the number one ranker in the world. And so it really set me up to be like, okay, the next Olympics, 2016 Rio Olympics, I plan to go win a medal and call it a career and speak all I can <laugh>.

Sam Demma (05:12):

That’s so cool. I gotta be honest with you, when I think about any running athlete, like the first thing that comes to mind is like, fors, Gump, <laugh>. I’m just like running for hours. And I’m curious to know because as a soccer player myself, like training is fundamental to the game. Like, if you don’t train, if you don’t go to a track and you don’t run, you don’t become a faster sprinter. You know, you have to go to the track and you have to run. But I have to imagine that there’s, there’s certain days where like the running just became so melodic and you just, you know, it was like, it was like you didn’t wanna do it. Like I have to imagine there was times where you just didn’t wanna do it. And how did you get yourself through those moments and continue to push yourself past your limits every training session to get to where you were when you competed in the games?

Sarah Wells (05:55):

Oh yeah. There was a thousand moments I could probably think of, of days. I was just like, dang, why do I do this? Like this sucks. Like I laugh at the shirt that one like Nike made that shirt for runners that said, running sucks. <laugh>, <laugh>. Cause it does, it sucks. It’s so hard. Like, and it’s like a bunch of other teachers that say like, my sport is your sports punishment. Like that is what track and field is. Yeah. And even though I just joked about how I wasn’t good at sports and then I just said like, eventually I found track and field, it’s like I wasn’t good at sports, I was good at exercising <laugh>, I was good at just running, you know, and being able to put in work. And it wasn’t always fun. Like you said, there was many days I wanted to give up and just say like, ugh.

Sarah Wells (06:36):

So it’d be so much better if I could just like stretch for the whole practice, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, I don’t wanna push my body hard. But the ways I was able to rise above that in moments you just really didn’t want to was I think kind of twofold. Like one, there’s a little bit a around the like remembering your goal and like picturing yourself, like vividly picturing yourself what it’s gonna feel like and look like when you do get that goal. Mm-hmm. And there was moments in workouts where like I would show up kind of like a soggy cracker, like, ugh, am my coach, I wanna cracker <laugh>. Yeah. That’s saving a lot. and I would just be like, I don’t wanna be here today. Like I’d be cranky for whatever reason, maybe I had a bad work at the previous day or I didn’t get a good sleep and my coach would be like, you know what?

Sarah Wells (07:28):

Like get to it. Like I don’t care. Like this is what it’s gonna take. And what he would do sometimes is mid interval, like we’re approaching the end, this is where I’m, I’m wearing thin on grit and motivation and energy and I remember specifically this one workout we were doing hills and you are basically walking by the time you get to the top of this hill, like it is so challenging. We had done a bunch of figure eights, like you run diagonally all the way across and all the way up and then you jog down and you run diagonally all the way across and all the way up to draw figure eight. And we had to do like six sets of this and it was terrible. And I had already thrown up, I think at this point once <laugh>. And so I had to keep going.

Sarah Wells (08:06):

And my coach, I remember this like second last interval, which is one of the hardest intervals because you’re not done, you still have one more, but you’re so beat by that point. And so it’s like one of, it’s the second last interval, I’m running up this hill and as I like am getting to the top, I wanna give up, he can see I’m slowing down and he just yells to me 55 seconds, which is the time I needed to run in order to make the Olympic games. And it’s just like, just hearing him yell that in the moment, I was like, I’m tired, I’m exhausted, I don’t wanna keep going. But the second he yelled 55 seconds, it just anchored it all back to like, why am I doing this? What is this gonna help me? What brick does this help lay? And finished that workout and was like so pleased with myself of like, because he said that I didn’t give up because he said that I crushed the last workout or the last run.

Sarah Wells (08:56):

And like, I think a big part of how you push forward on any day, you don’t feel like doing your homework. You don’t feel like going to school, you don’t feel like doing the job that you signed up to do, you know, is by remembering like vividly what is the thing that this lays a brick for, whether it’s in a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, whatever that is. so that’s one thing. The, the second thing is a bit more anchored, less big picture and long term and more tangible on like a daily, weekly practice is I would keep a workout journal that would have, what was my workout? What times did I run, how was I feeling during the workout? And what I could do is every training season is cyclical. Like you have a base season where you do a long, like a bunch of hard long intervals.

Sarah Wells (09:44):

Then you have specific season where you’re doing, it’s kind of long and it’s really fast. And then you have kind of race season where you’re doing less volume but really high intensity and you follow these cycles every year. And so the workouts might be mildly different, but they’re a little bit the same at each time of year. And so I would keep a log and I could look back years and years worth of my, of my log and say, look, at this time of year last year I was only at this point and I don’t feel like running today, but look how much further ahead I am. Where else can I go? What other new heights can I reach? Or it holds you accountable of like, ugh, I was faster at this point last year. I need to keep going as much as I don’t wanna work out today.

Sarah Wells (10:25):

If I have this big goal then I, I need to push today. Like regardless of whether I wanna be here or not. And it just is a little bit of an accountability partner being held to that log. And you know, it might not be a daily practice for you if you’re doing this like with school or anything like that, but I would encourage you to keep a log of like things you were working on, what went well, what were the practices you were doing like character building practices, not like athletic sport practices that were enabling you to become the best version of yourself that were enabling you to take a step forward in your goals. And when you can see that and look back of like, oh, last fall in September I was so organized and I was committed to blocking time to work on school and I was committed to networking and reaching out to organizations I could volunteer at so that I was building my brand and my volunteer opportunities, then you can suddenly motivate yourself to be like, shoot, I better be doing that again. And you can push on the days you don’t want to because you’re held accountable to what you know works cuz you have tangible qualitative science to show that it does. So that’s really the kind of the two ways I would push beyond motivation is one remembering and anchoring to that big goal vividly. And the second thing would be keeping a log so you can hold yourself accountable to things that work and things that don’t.

Sam Demma (11:43):

Sorry. Do you have a second tattoo that says 55 seconds somewhere <laugh>?

Sarah Wells (11:49):

No, not yet. Not

Sam Demma (11:50):

Yet. That’s awesome. So cool. I love that.

Sarah Wells (11:52):

Love my believe tattoo. I’ll share this like quick story by I got the tattoo and I had been injured and my parents knew I wanted to make the Olympic games, but they really didn’t believe it was possible. They really didn’t like, not that they don’t love me, but I don’t really don’t think that they believed that it was possible. And I, I got the tattoo secretly. I finished my very first after the doctor cleared me to run, I finished my first workout and I was like, you know what I’m doing? I took my friend and I was like, let’s go. And I walked right from the practice to the tattoo parlor. I didn’t have an appointment. I literally walked in and I’m like, I need a tattoo blue, I believe on my wrist. So I get it. I didn’t tell anyone. And then I was at school so my parents didn’t see me. And I went home at Thanksgiving and I showed my dad and I got this believed tattoo and my dad said, you ruined Thanksgiving. <laugh> <laugh>. It was amazing. It was like kind of hilarious because yeah, he did not believe that was necessary. No pun fan. He’s a fan of the tattoo. Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah. He’s a big fan now though. He’s like, that’s awesome. Great job. Love that. You made the Olympics good work.

Sam Demma (12:56):

Yeah. Now, now it all makes sense, right? It’s funny, I, when I was 18 after my first knee surgery, I got this tattoo and it’s a, it’s a Latin phrase. Yeah. and it says Vinke keur, which means he who endures, conquers, you know, if you can endure pain, suffering, hardship training, now you can conquer and <laugh>. Well, did I know that I was gonna stop playing soccer after two more injuries, but <laugh> But I applied to all areas in life. Like I think it’s a, it’s a mindset Yeah. More than anything. Totally. But I’m curious, like from your perspective, what do you think makes up the mindset of an Olympic athlete? Like if I was to take some surgical equipment and like poke your brain and like figure out like what makes up Sarah’s mindset what do you think, what do you think the things are that would be included?

Sarah Wells (13:42):

So I think there’s, there’s people really put Olympic athletes on a pedestal Yeah. And think that they’re these like special humans that they must ha like you just ask me, can you get into my brain and look around and say our brains are gonna look very similar. Yeah. Like anyone, like while Olympic athletes, yes, it is a, is a unique thing that we are one of the best in the world at one specific thing. But so many of us, we had opportunities presented to us that we were able to, to take advantage of. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And there’s a professor, a Canadian professor that studies resilience that talks about how we admire the rugged individual, but we should be admiring the resourced individual. And really it’s about resilience and grit and all of that. Like there there’s some nature aspect of it of like, yes, someone might be willing to to harness or take advantage of an opportunity that’s presented them.

Sarah Wells (14:45):

They might be more inclined to do so. But it’s more about are those resources presented to the person? Like that’s how you can be resilient is when you have more opportunity, when you have resources in front of you. Now someone might say then, okay, so am I screwed? I’m in an underprivileged neighborhood and my school system doesn’t have a lot of things in front of me. Like, am I screwed? Then it’s like, well no, because there are, there are resources that like now it’s just like unfortunate that you have to take more of a role in choosing to go find those resources. Mm. But don’t blame yourself of like, I’m not resilient because like clearly I don’t know how to push past challenges clearly I don’t know what to do. Like, instead it’s like, okay, get, just acknowledge that it’s not, it’s not you, you’re not the person who’s not resilient.

Sarah Wells (15:35):

You’re not the person that’s not rugged, you’re not the person that’s not gritty. There’s not enough resources. And so ask for help in that moment. Like, I had a year where after having a very successful high school career, when I went to university, I got hurt right away. Like within the first few months I got injured and it was one of my first like really big injuries and I didn’t perform provincial on that provincial level. I like barely performed well on the national level. And I was so convinced, like, okay, it was the end of the road. I was a good high school athlete, this is it for me. And I had coaching staff and in a support system around me that never stopped believing in me. Mm-hmm. And they kept pouring resources into me. They kept providing the opportunities, they kept putting me on the track because one of my coaches said, talent doesn’t go away.

Sarah Wells (16:27):

And he said that to me. Did I believe it in that moment? No way. If you looked in my brain then, oh, let’s look for the grit in here. It wasn’t there. <laugh>. Yeah. It wasn’t there. What I had was, I had this amazing coach around me that said, talent doesn’t go away, Sarah, go get back on the track, try again, do it again. Do it again. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> until suddenly I realized myself like, oh shoot, he’s right. <laugh>, here it is. I found it. It took a while though. And so I think asking for help, like I I, when my coach said, look, what do you need? When I said I I just don’t know if I can make it. And he was like, Sarah, tell lets go away. What do you need? I said, I just need reminders. I just need you to keep telling me that this is possible then.

Sarah Wells (17:07):

And by doing that, I was able to open a door to find, to have him understand what I needed and then I got the resources I needed to then be resilient and be gritty and become an Olympic athlete. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so as we are all struggling with how do we be gritty? How do we become more resilient? How do we become more resourced? It’s like ask for help. And it, you know, ask for help has become quite trend right now on, on the like mental health space. And, and I think it’s so important there, but it doesn’t have to be like asking for help. Cuz I’m like, I’m so struggling that I’m like in the deep end over here, but asking for help for like literally simple things like, oh, you know what? I ha you, I could come into practice one day and be like, I’m having a rough day today.

Sarah Wells (17:49):

So in the last interval, remind me my big goal mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because you know what? I’m gonna start to let go of it then I’m just gonna, it’s gonna start slipping. And so I could at the beginning of practice, just tell my coach, Hey, I’m gonna need you to remind me why we’re here today. And because having him there, because he would remind me of that, like those external resources is like really what helped me get to the place I’m in. And even what I’m doing now, and I know we’re gonna get to that in a bit. Like, I’ve now built a youth organization and we help others build resilience and self-belief. Even what I’m doing now and how I’ve been able to build this organization and impact 120,000 youth and get on stages and do all these incredible things, it’s not because of me, it’s because of amazing people.

Sarah Wells (18:32):

I’ve like said, Hey, this is the mission I’m on. This is what I’d like to do. I don’t know how I’m gonna get there. But just so you know, <laugh>, that’s what I’m planning on doing <laugh>. And because I say that out loud because I’m brave enough to believe in myself and just put it out there, even though it might not come true, well suddenly that person who hears it is like, oh, I know someone you should talk to that might be able to help you with X. Oh, actually you wanna do that? I specialize in that. No way. Crazy. Yeah. And then I’m like, leapfrogging forward has nothing to do. Like, I won’t say nothing. My mom would be so mad at me, Sarah, you should be more. She would be like, want to. Yeah, exactly. You gotta believe in yourself isn’t your whole thing. Yeah, exactly. and I do like, I do believe in myself. I, I constantly say like, I believe I, if anyone can do this, I believe it’s me, but I believe I can do it because I’m willing to put the goal out there to ask for help and find the resources necessary. And I think, you know, if you looked inside of the, the mindset of an Olympic athlete, I think you would find an incredible incredible ability to ask and receive help.

Sam Demma (19:41):

Hmm. That’s such an interesting play on the idea. And I, I love that you went that way with it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it, it even got me thinking about this idea that like, you could be so prepared, right? Like the fastest runner in the world may have never mm-hmm. <affirmative> ran on a track and we just don’t know it yet. Like there could be someone who’s faster than Ussein Bolt who is better at swimming than Michael Phelps and Yeah. And, and we just don’t know it. Why? Because maybe they’ve never been presented with the opportunity to swim or run or mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they didn’t even know it was a thing and they haven’t asked for help. Right. You know what I mean? Like, I think it’s oh hundred percent. That’s such an interesting perspective. So asking for help and the mindset piece aside, what does your schedule look like back when you’re like full out training for the Olympics? Like, what does the work look like? Because I’m, I wanna make sure everyone listening knows, like despite the fact that you asked for help when you had opportunities, you still had to show up and like give your heart out to the training process every day.

Sarah Wells (20:40):

Yeah, absolutely. It was a ton of work and, and you have to be putting in, you have to be willing to put in that work. and I certainly was, my coach would probably tell you that there was workouts. I would come cause I would be so like if I had a bad workout the previous day or I had a bad race, then to me, like the only way to get better is like, you just push your body like crazy. Like I just wanna give it everything tomorrow, <laugh>. And so like there was days I showed up to the track and I would be like, I wanna run today till I throw up. I was just so committed to the thing. He’s like, okay, you crazy person. and of course we had a program and the way that program was lined out is we trained like five or six days of, of the week depending on time of year.

Sarah Wells (21:20):

So if it was base training season, we might, we trained six days a week with one day off. If it was closer to race time, we would, we would take two days off because you wanna have even more recovery to be ready for your race. So in, in the fall, I’ll paint, I’ll paint you kind of that picture, but so Mondays would be like speed. We would be doing like fast, like 60 meter sprints, 40 meter sprints, like block starts, like super, super speed. and that’s really about pushing the glass ceiling of your ability to go fast. You’re recruiting more muscles. you’re learning how to connect your nervous system to develop power and be like quick outta the blocks, kind of that stuff. So that day is speed and it includes weights and stuff. Tuesday would be lactic threshold. So if you’ve ever tried to run as hard as you can and your muscles start feeling like goopy full of like a burning sensation that’s lactic acid <laugh>.

Sarah Wells (22:15):

It’s like a milky kind of substance that goes all over your muscles that prevents oxygen from being able to like get inside of the muscles. And so as you run your hardest and fastest, your body develops, lactic it, it produces lactic acid, it starts making your muscles kind of milky and you have to train the system to then say, as it gets milky, take that milk and then turn it into energy. <laugh> learning that system is a it, you have to train your body to learn how to do that. So Tuesdays are brutal because all I’m trying to do is teach my body how to deal with that misery and pain and uncomfort and like discomfort. And like, my goodness, it’s a rough day tho those days I would hang out in your garbage cans over top of ’em a lot. So Tuesdays was terrible. Wednesdays would be like weights, like it would be pretty light, really focused on strength.

Sarah Wells (23:01):

Thursdays would be speed based, but this time it would be long speed. And so it wouldn’t be about 60 meters. It wouldn’t be about 40 meters, it would be about 220 meters. So it would be half my race, but all out. And so, you know, it would be a a rough, you’d, like, you’d still be put in a lot of work. You’d, your nervous system would be exhausted by the end. Friday, again a very like kind of light day because we wanna prepare for Saturday, which is another day, like Tuesday, which is the muscle milky, get to a garbage can and throw up at the end like, and not <laugh>. Now I’m making a picture like as if like two times a week I’m constantly running, but like certain times of the season that was the case. but yeah, you followed this, this and then Sunday off recover.

Sarah Wells (23:48):

You know, and for me, anyone who knows me knows I’m a treats fanatic and so I’d be like eating chocolate chip pancakes or breakfast on Sunday and <laugh>, you know, eating dessert at dinner and like ice cream galore and you know, it wasn’t the best fuel ever, but I, I couldn’t eat garbage on the day I had to do a workout because I would feel worse and, or I would throw it up <laugh> and so it would be Sunday I was like a yeah sleep, do schoolwork and try to like eat the food that I wanted. so that’s what a, a overarching week would look like. Now in a four hour practice, five hour practice, it would be my warmup alone takes like an hour where you’re doing jogging and drills and ankle mobility stuff and just getting ready, primed to go. And then once you’ve done that hour long warmup, well now you do a few biometrics to work on recruiting muscles and, and fast off the ground kind of stuff.

Sarah Wells (24:46):

Then you would do sprint drills so that you start training your body because when you’re running really fast, it’s hard to rewire the way you move your body. So we’d do sprint drills before we’d even sprint to try to like anchor in the way you should be sprinting. And then I would do hurdle technique drills because I’m a hurdler, so there’s a whole technique side around that. And so then I would have to do those drills. Then I might start doing reaction time stuff out of the blocks. I’ve just done my plyometrics. I’ve just rewired my brain of like, this is how you should be sprinting so that I do my out of the block stuff. Now I might actually start my runs. And so I would do things that we call strides, which would be at a certain pace. Cause whatever workout we’re about to do, we wanna start priming our body to prepare to run at a certain pace.

Sarah Wells (25:29):

So we do strides at a certain, like, okay, if I wanna be running 13 second one hundreds or cuz I’m about to run a 300 that I, I wanna be able to run 42, 41 seconds with like, and I need to be doing that. So I would do strides. Then we’d take like five to eight minutes recovery to like, almost just reset that your heart rate kind of come back to normal. And then after that five to eight minutes, now you start the actual interval training. And now the interval training is the like, you know, run milky body, you wanna die curl up in a corner. So like, depending on what the workout is like that can take, it could take an hour, take an hour and a half, like who knows how long that ends up taking depending on what the workout is. and you’re not running for the whole hour, an hour and a half, but the faster you run, the more recovery time you need.

Sarah Wells (26:17):

But that recovery time isn’t spent like just chilling on the sidelines because if you ran really fast, you’re, you’re in cheetah mode, right? So you run super hard, you throw up, you curl up in a corner, you feel like you’re gonna die, you’re waiting for your heart rate to come down before you have to walk to the start line and do it again. And I’m painting a very like dr. Dramatic picture and it’s not like that all the time, but I wanted to like give you the, the a day that we would go through more than one time a week.

Sam Demma (26:41):

I love that. It’s awesome.

Sarah Wells (26:43):

<laugh>. Then we’d finish the intervals and now we would do our like cool down jogs. We’d do med ball circuits. You’re throwing around that really heavy medicine ball. And then you go down to the weight room, finish your weights, then you get into a cold tub where you go above your belly button, full tub of like ice, icy covered water. Stay in there for 10 minutes and then you try to warm up, like get back, get your muscles back to like normal temperature and go fuel protein, carbohydrates. Like get ready for your next session.

Sam Demma (27:14):

<laugh>.

Sarah Wells (27:14):

That’s crazy.

Sam Demma (27:16):

<laugh>. You can write a whole book on it <laugh>. That’s so cool. what would you tell someone listening right now who has been told that what they wanna do with their life isn’t possible? Like I’m sure that, you know, when you don’t believe in yourself, you have little chance but mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, when you don’t believe in yourself and other people are telling you it’s not possible, but you know, there’s a student listening who still wants to do something. Like what, what would you tell them? What pieces of advice could you share?

Sarah Wells (27:44):

I would say find someone to show you what’s possible. Hmm. And what I say, what I mean by that is I had this perception in my brain. I wasn’t good at sports, right? I wasn’t good at sports. So how am I ever gonna be an Olympian? Like Olympians, they’re superheroes, they’re people that have perfect seasons and they never get injured and they’re, they win every race and they’re the best in the world. You know, they, they can’t have a bad day. They’re the best in the world. If you’re the best in the world, you don’t lose to Sally on your team because Sally on your team isn’t making the Olympics. And if you lose to Sally, you’re not going to the Olympics. And guess what, Sarah, you’ve been sitting out for a year so there’s no way you’re going to the Olympics and all of that.

Sarah Wells (28:24):

I believed all of that had to be perfect, had to be flawless Olympians pedestal. And then in 2008, four years before I made the Olympics, I had a teammate who I trained with day in, day out. I saw him get injured, I saw him miss training. Sometimes I saw him lose races. Guess what happened? He made the Beijing Olympics on a not flawless season on a you know, moments of defeat, moments of whatever. And he still made it. And he showed me what’s possible. Hmm. He helped me realize that you don’t have to be perfect and it’s, you have to work hard. You have to like want it, you have to do the thing, the things that you can do, but doesn’t have to be perfect. And as impossible as it may seem, cuz halfway through the season, I don’t think people thought he was gonna make it either.

Sarah Wells (29:13):

And then he did. And so it was like he showed me what’s possible. And so the next four years it was like, head down, let’s do this. And then when I got rocked <laugh> the year before, it was like absolutely. People told me it was impossible. I thought it was impossible at times. But I also just like tried to keep reminding myself of this thing of like, what he had shown me, how much like you did not have to be flawless. And of course like that, that sense of self-belief, like, okay, and mom, I don’t need you to believe in me. I believe in myself right now, you know, <laugh>. Yeah. And so while it’s hard to see and people are telling you it’s impossible and you yourself might feel it’s impossible, I would encourage you to just like, you know, we, we have such privilege and opportunity to have access to so many resources online through social media like YouTube, like podcasts that show you what’s possible. And so if you feel right now your goal is impossible, like go research someone who’s done what you wanna do, because I bet you there’s someone out there that maybe hasn’t done the exact thing you wanna do, but has done something in that ballpark, has done something in that arena or has reached the same height in a different industry or capacity in some way. And it’s just like by, by fostering a bit of that, that spark, you remind yourself what’s possible.

Sam Demma (30:30):

Hmm. I think what’s so unique is that you’ve now created an entire organization that gives that feeling to thousands of young people like <laugh>, like if they don’t believe in themselves, like you come in and you like, you like shove the belief in them <laugh> if that’s the right way to put it. But like, tell me about the Belief Initiative and what it looked like when it started, what it looks like, what it looks like right now mm-hmm. <affirmative> and why you’re super passionate about it.

Sarah Wells (30:59):

Cool. So I mean, yeah, the Believe Initiative came about for, for a few reasons. Like one I, that high school teacher that saw me in gym Classon told me to do track and field. That teacher believed in me before I ever believed in myself. And so the Believe Initiative can really play a role in being that coach for as many people as possible because of what we talked about. Resources are important, having access to opportunities are important and not everyone’s gonna have that coach or teacher in their high school. So how can I come into as many high schools as possible and be that teacher for them and say, Hey, try out for that thing. Go do that thing, pursue that passion. Show yourself what’s possible kind of thing. So it, it really, it has like an spark in an essence way back from the first time I ever even explored the support of check meal.

Sarah Wells (31:44):

It also comes from, I told you the story here and now about how I made the Olympics. but there’s another story of how I, four years later don’t make the Olympics. Hmm. And it was shocking to me because I was in the best shape of my life and as I had mentioned previously, I had just come off winning a PanAm game silver medal. And so I was supposed to, and I’m using air quotes right now for the audio listeners, I was supposed to win a medal. And so when I didn’t even make the Olympics <laugh>, it was, it was I don’t know, like I felt completely defeated and I felt I had failed and I thought I had lied to people because previously I had been telling people, if you believe in yourself, you achieve your goals. Hmm. And now I believed in myself and I did not achieve my goal.

Sarah Wells (32:27):

And so when this happened, I actually took a whole year off sport. I quit sport for a year. And in that year off I did a ton of reflection and thinking and I realized you don’t build self-belief through achievements. You build self-belief through action. Mm. Because I actually believed myself more strongly after not making the Olympics even more so than when I did <laugh>. And I think that’s cuz you build it through, you build self-belief through action. And I was willing to go to the Olympic trials a like in the 2016 year when I ended up not qualifying. I was willing to not let my circumstances define my outcome to go for it anyways. And so I was like, oh, okay, like you build self-belief through action. How can I help other people build self-belief through action? And that’s when the Belief Initiative was founded and I was like, I wanna help students connect a passion they have and a problem they wanna solve and they can use that passion to solve that problem and build self-belief through action.

Sarah Wells (33:23):

Hmm. And so we started this out by just going into schools and doing like one-off assemblies. Like, okay, this is how I believed in myself, this is how you can believe in yourself here. Let’s talk about ideas that you have that how you can build self-belief through action. And it started like that and then it grew and it grew and we signed a corporate partner that allowed us to do cross country tours. And we’ve been in like most provinces in Canada and a handful of states. And we went way up in Northwest Territories in like, you know, 40 degrees north of the Arctic Circle. We did authentic Dogsledding. It was so cool <laugh>. but you know, it’s been so, I’ve been so fortunate to travel all over and get to inspire young people everywhere. And when Covid hit, we couldn’t go into schools and we couldn’t do what I had been doing, which was more of these like tour based summit experiences.

Sarah Wells (34:13):

And teachers were also completely overwhelmed and did not want to, nothing did not have time or energy or resources to be able to deliver this program with their students. And so I totally get that <laugh>, I completely understand. It’s like been a wonky year. And so what we’ve decided to do is actually say, okay, if teachers are overwhelmed, well there’s some pretty awesome students out there that they can, they can lead this. Like why do we need the teachers? We don’t need them. And so, you know, if you’re listening to this and you are a student and you are a student leader looking for a leadership opportunity, like we want you, because the way that this works now is we have students apply to become a Believe chapter head. And you lead that chapter and we give you the training and resources and everything you possibly need to run a successful chapter.

Sarah Wells (35:03):

You have other peers, you get access to chapter heads from all across the country, actually all across North America. Cause we have some US chapters as well. Nice. And you can run this belief chapter at your school, you get a leadership opportunity. We actually provide you different training and access to mentors and things like that. And then you get to empower your chapter members to build these believe passion projects, which helps them connect that passion. They have problem they wanna solve and they use the passion to solve the problem. So the chapter heads, they really become the champions because while we enable them and equip them, they really are the the ones that help gather these members and then empower them to do really great things in the community. And it’s a great story for them to tell as a leader to say, Hey, university applicant application.

Sarah Wells (35:48):

Like, here’s what I’ve done and here’s how many students I’ve inspired as a young person. And it’s been so cool to see on my end because I used to be limited by how many planes I could get on and days I could be in a school and how many, you know, days I could spend overnight in an airport. But now it’s like with being able to empower these other, these amazing student leaders and I’ve no doubt, whoever you are listening on the other end of this you student leader. Yes. You, I would like you to apply <laugh> to become a chapter head because it’s this incredible group and it’s been so cool to watch the chapter Heads from All Over, connect and support each other and share best practices. And so you know, personal plug here, you can go to believe in aship.com and if you hit the Believe leadership tab, you’ll find where you can apply and become a belief chapter at your school or in your community.

Sam Demma (36:40):

I love that. And I just wanna plug you times too <laugh> you know, not only will you be able to have awesome stuff on your resume and you know, build an awesome initiative in your school, but like your peers will look at you like a freaking hero for <laugh> for bringing something together during a time where everyone is so far apart, you know Right. Physically and emotionally. yeah. So I feel like this is needed now more than ever. And so if you’re listening to this, like take it as a sign, take it as a signal to go to Believe initiative.com, sign up become a chapter ahead, spearhead an initiative at your school and also meet Sarah Wells, the freaking Olympian <laugh>, you know, it’d be pretty cool. so I love that. That’s amazing. And you’ve impacted 120,000 students so far, is that, is that right?

Sarah Wells (37:32):

Yeah, 120,000 students. we’ve had like approaching 10,000 students who have initiated projects. Yes. we haven’t been able to track impact of projects on everything, but we just started tracking it in the fall. And so just, you know, 2020 fall we had projects that impacted 19,000 people. And so that’s, that’s only tracking the projects we had in the fall <laugh>. And so I know it’s gonna go far and wide from there and we’re gonna start tracking and reporting that more so bigger numbers to come

Sam Demma (38:03):

<laugh>. All right, cool. Sounds good. Believe initiative.com Leadership tab?

Sarah Wells (38:07):

Yep. The Believe leadership tab.

Sam Demma (38:09):

Okay, cool. Sounds good. And if anyone wants to reach out to you, send you a, a note or a comment or a message, what would be the best way for them to do so as well?

Sarah Wells (38:18):

So I’m on Instagram and Twitter @SarahWells400mh, which is like Sarah Well’s 400 meter hurdles, which is a really big regret and I really should just change my social media handle, but I don’t think is that bad, like <laugh>, will you change your social media handles? Does everyone just be like you’re gone? But yeah, @SarahWells400mh on Instagram and Twitter and then you, you can contact me through the website as well, so.

Sam Demma (38:42):

All right. Awesome. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to come on here and share a little bit behind the scenes about yourself, your story, your initiative. I really appreciate it and I wish you all the best in the future.

Sarah Wells (38:53):

Thanks, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sarah Wells

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.

Chapter One: Empty Your Backpack (Read Along)

Sam Demma: Global Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author
About Empty Your Backpack

In Empty Your Backpack, Sam Demma demonstrates that your dreams are within reach, and it’s the beliefs you carry and the actions you take that determine whether you will achieve them.

Demma guides how to move closer to your dreams faster than you ever imagined. He shows that by cultivating empowering beliefs while committing to consistent actions that fuel your creativity and growth, you can make things happen in your life the way you envision.

Are you weighed down by people dismissing your dreams as unrealistic? You have big dreams. There are things you want to accomplish, but maybe they feel out of reach-especially when people tell you they’re impossible. That heavy feeling of doubt is your backpack. It’s full of limiting beliefs and dreams crushed by the opinions of others. It’s time to empty your backpack and release that weight from your shoulders.

Demma’s guide offers actionable ideas to help young people keep faith in their dreams even when those around them lose theirs. He reveals pathways that can help bring dreams to life and empower you to be the best version of yourself.

Empty Your Backpack is an easy-to-follow guide filled with tried-and-tested principles and inspiring stories from Demma’s remarkable life that will help you optimize your beliefs and actions to get you where you want to be.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empty Your Backpack on Amazon

Empty Your Backpack (Signed by Sam Demma)

Empty Your Backpack Animation

Empty Your Backpack Project

The Story that Inspired the Project

The Backpack of Beliefs

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 episode is a special one. It is not a normal interview. It is a read along from my most recently debut published book; “Empty Your Backpack.” It was released on November 18th with an in-person book launch in Pickering, Ontario. There was just under 300 people in attendance and the book has started to make its way into classrooms. We had our first class set ordered from a school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and have sold just over 400 copies. If you enjoy reading along with me in this chapter, number one, Empty Your Backpack, please reach out and we’ll make sure to get you some books as well. Without further ado, I’m gonna go ahead and read to you chapter one, Empty Your Backpack, Belief: You Define You.

Sam Demma (00:59):

It was an ordinary evening and I wasn’t prepared for what was about to unfold. After eating supper with my family, I returned to my office in the basement to prepare for an Instagram live. That night I was being interviewed by a young leader and we’d be talking about leadership, the importance of service, and helpful ideas for young dreamers. In the first 40 minutes of the interview, there was great conversation and lots of laughs. Then we invited viewers to ask questions or share a little bit about themselves. One viewer jumped on and explained that they had two goals in life to become an actor and to get 50,000 followers on social media. I politely challenged the person to explain what gaining followers would help them accomplish. What they shared blew me away. If I became an actor and had thousands of followers on social media, people at school would stop bullying me and calling me a loser.

Sam Demma (01:55):

This person explained that their life was filled with bullies, that they spent most of their time crying and that they had considered ending their life on many occasions. They then turned off their camera and went silent. The hairs on my arms stood tall. I could feel their pain through my screen and my eyes welled with tears. I found myself at a loss for words. This bright young individual had considered ending their life because of other people’s hurtful words. Those words repeated over and over became personal beliefs, beliefs that they carried with them. The interviewer and I reassured this individual that everyone watching loved them and wanted to see them do well, and then we shared some resources that would allow them to find the help they needed that was beyond what we could provide. After the call ended, I couldn’t get this situation outta my mind.

Sam Demma (02:47):

I felt compelled to reflect on my experiences dealing with words that other people used to define me. What I wish I could have helped that viewer believe in that moment is that other people’s words don’t define your worth. Words are meaningless jumbles of letters until you the person hearing them give them power. Often the negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little or nothing to do with you. How would your life change if you truly believe that and allowed others words to slip off your back like books in an open upside down backpack, your invisible backpack? Each of us walk around with an invisible backpack strapped to our shoulders. In this bag, we carry our experiences which inform our beliefs. We also carry the beliefs, expectations, and opinions that other people give to us, some good and some bad.

Sam Demma (03:45):

These also inform our own beliefs. Other people’s words can hold real weight. If you let them, they can become bricks that you carry on your back and they can occupy space in your mind. They can stop you from acting or they can propel you forward. Words can unify a divided nation or cause mass destruction. Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to give more energy and attention to the negative things people say about us rather than the positive things. This is the negativity bias. It explains why you can forget hundreds of compliments but not the one terrible thing someone said about you. Like most humans, you probably spend a disproportionate amount of time focused on the one negative comment wondering what’s wrong with you, rather than feeling grateful for all the positive ones. After I speak at conferences in schools, attendees often fill out feedback forms to rate my performance.

Sam Demma (04:40):

I’ll never forget the feedback from one event I did in Alberta. It was all extremely positive except for one comment, typical motivational speaker. The last thing I aim to be is typical, so I took this comment to heart. It made me feel sad and frustrated. It wasn’t extremely negative and the event organizer still hired me to speak the following year, but I spent over an hour thinking about that comment and allowing it to bother me before I shifted my focus. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you got a fantastic grade on a test but couldn’t get over that one stupid mistake you made. Maybe you’ve allowed the negativity in your life to overshadow all the spectacular things that make you you. Maybe you’ve been carrying around hurtful words in your invisible backpack and they’re weighing you down. Can you recall something negative someone said to you that had a lasting impact on your confidence and self-belief?

Sam Demma (05:38):

If you’re like me, you not only remember what the person said, but you can rebuild the entire situation in your mind. You remember the name of the person where and when it happened, and most importantly, how it made you feel. Left unaddressed. Thoughtless comments from careless people can take root your mind and over time become your limiting beliefs. Imagine that a belief that was never yours to begin with ends up being the thing holding you back and weighing you down. Even a comment someone made to you when you were a child can inform the decisions you make for the rest of your life. You might believe you’re not good at music because your parents told you that at the dinner table. You might believe you can’t play basketball because your high school coach said you are too short. You might believe you can’t build a new skill after the university because someone told you it’s too late and you should stick to what you know.

Sam Demma (06:34):

Over time, your backpack fills up and if you don’t stop to remove the beliefs that aren’t yours, you may end up living a life that’s not yours and fall short of your true potential. Shortly after my second knee surgery, my soccer coach jokingly yelled at me from the sideline in front of the entire team. Hey bud, are you going to get up off the bench and play or are you going to retire soon? At that point in my athletic career, I was routinely breaking down in tears in front of my family and friends. I’d limp around school on crutches with a bag of frozen peas strapped to my swollen knee at home, I’d perform every exercise possible to speed up my recovery so I could get back on the field to play the game. I loved the mental and physical stress of rehab. Doing an internship at a gym and driving an hour and a half to attend practice only to sit on the bench and spectate was overwhelming to say the least while on earth with the coach, the person I’m supposed to look up to and learn from, say something so needlessly hurtful.

Sam Demma (07:40):

It was comments like this along with my own mental battles that created my resentment toward the sport. My backpack became so heavy that after I decided to stop playing soccer, I unfollowed all of my former teammates on social media and block the coach. Seeing or hearing anything about that part of my life stirred up deep sadness and anger. I hope that some of my teammates read this book and realize it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with my insecurities and internal battles. It took me over two years to find my peace and rebuild myself. My grandma was the one who taught me that if you have nothing nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. Now I understand what she meant. Words cut like knives when they’re aimed at insecurities and you never know what someone is going through. Just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying it.

Sam Demma (08:33):

It’s obvious that my coach didn’t understand the impact of his words, but the negative thoughts they created stuck with me for a long time. There are still nights when I wake up in a panic from a dream about playing professional soccer. My coach’s comment isn’t the only one I’ve needed to remove from my backpack. Teachers who never taught me approached me at school reunions to offer unsolicited lectures on why I should be in school because they want what’s best for me. Relatives at picnics have tried to convince my father to encourage me back into formal education suggesting that I’m wasting my time in life. Luckily, I regularly take the time to empty my backpack and my parents continue to witness the 10 to 12 hour days that I work in my basement studio and support me without hesitation. Find peace knowing that people rarely see the full picture of your life. Let everyone share their thoughts and nod vaguely If you don’t feel like arguing, but don’t internalize or hold onto the things that stop you from following your path. It’s important to respect others, but you don’t need to consume their beliefs and opinions. You are your own best advisor. No person on this planet has gone through.

Sam Demma (09:59):

No person on this planet has gone through and experienced exactly what you have. Your experience matters. Don’t buy into the limiting belief. That experience comes from age. That’s probably a message someone put in your backpack a long time ago. Sure, time gives you an advantage because it gives you the chance to try different things, but time can also be wasted. I know 20 year olds who have had more experiences than some adults in their forties or fifties experience comes from experience, so be confident in your decisions and stop discounting the power of your beliefs and choices. Whose beliefs are you carrying? Your backpack accumulates beliefs from many sources including family, friends, school, media, religion, and most importantly, past experiences. The latter includes others’. Past experiences, often close family and friends will project their beliefs onto you, so be careful which beliefs you place in your backpack.

Sam Demma (11:00):

Let’s say your dream is to open a restaurant and you have a cousin who failed attempting something similar. Ask them if you should open a a restaurant and they’ll tell you absolutely not simply because their past experience involved failure. Find someone who runs a successful restaurant and they’ll likely tell you it’s the best business in the world. In both cases, the other people are projecting their past experiences on you in the form of their positive or limiting beliefs. Be aware that you may also come across successful people who will tell you not to pursue the thing they’re doing carefully consider their opinions as they may help you avoid a future disaster, but ultimately make your own choice. Even if they seem successful, they may not find the life they’re living meaningful. Remember, your definition of success is personal and someone else’s dissatisfaction with their work has nothing to do with you.

Sam Demma (11:54):

In this example, however, you should give the successful restaurant owner’s perspective and advice more attention than your cousins because the restaurant owner is currently doing what you wanna do. Fill in your backpack with the thoughts of people who’ve never done what you wanna do is pointless. A pilot would never ask a passenger how to fly the plane. When someone gives you unsolicited advice or tells you why you can’t do something, ask yourself, what past experience did this person have that resulted in this belief? And remember, people who are hurting often hurt others. Someone you know might be trying to tell you how to live your life because they’re dissatisfied with their own. Sometimes when a person can’t do something themself, their ego wants to believe that you can’t do it either. Don’t listen to their words or place them in your backpack. Instead, find someone successful who is doing exactly what you wanna do and ask for their advice.

Sam Demma (12:50):

The rapper La Russel said it best during our interview. Impossible is the opinion of the incapable. Start repacking. After taking other people’s negative beliefs, comments, and opinions out of your backpack, it’s time to fill it with things that will support you along your journey. The first things to repack are people who push you to grow personally and professionally. As a soccer player, I was a midfielder. My main responsibility was to receive the ball from the defense and successfully pass it forward to the offensive player so we could score goals. My coach would always yell at me, Sam, check your shoulders. He wanted to ensure I was aware of who was around me so I wouldn’t receive the ball and then turn toward an opposing player. Similarly, it’s important to constantly evaluate who’s surrounding you in your life. The people you invest time in will rub off on you whether you like it or not.

Sam Demma (13:47):

You’ll assume some of their beliefs and habits. This doesn’t mean you need to cut off all of your friends and become a lone wolf. Just take note of how your friends’ actions influence you. You want friends who will keep it real with you while also being your biggest supporters. My best friend Lucas is one of those people for me. When I decided to drop outta university, he consistently reminded me to bet on myself. He believed in my abilities more than I believed in myself, and we would make time to meet up and talk about our dreams. I’m so grateful for our friendship. You don’t need a large circle, but you need at least one person who will hold you accountable and believe in you. Next, fill your backpack with the beliefs and opinions of people who’ve achieved greatness. Their beliefs are the blueprint for success.

Sam Demma (14:36):

These can be individuals who inspire you even if you’ve never met them. Weeks after I got my driver’s license, I started driving to and from soccer practice on my own. The drive was 45 minutes each way, so every day I spent an extra hour and a half in the car. That quiet time alone inspired me to begin listening to podcasts. One of my favorites was the Sports Motivation Podcast, hosted by a former professional football player, Niho Bo. In each episode, he’d break down the mindset and habits you need to dominate your sport and reach high level performance. I made a habit of arriving at practice 15 to 30 minutes early so I could jot down notes from the podcast in a Dollar store notebook. I still have those notes and eventually Nee became a personal mentor. He’s responsible for a large part of my belief system in early business success.

Sam Demma (15:26):

On average, I consumed two to three hours of music and interviews daily, and I encourage you to listen to and watch content that reinforces powerful thoughts and helps you dream bigger, find role models you relate to, and listen to their content on repeat. Emptying and refilling your backpack starts with awareness over the next few days, weeks and months, try to catch yourself. When a negative belief enters your mind, write it down and spend some time figuring out where it came from. Once you see that it’s not yours, let it go. Remove it from your backpack. Set aside time to do this again and again until you reach your goals and find peace of mind, life becomes more meaningful when you stop carrying around and acting on other people’s thoughts and opinions. The fact is, no one cares about your life as much as you do, and along your journey people will say negative things.

Sam Demma (16:20):

People might tell you that your dreams are stupid. They might call you ugly or a loser. What you do with their words is up to you. Be selective about which ones go into your backpack. Their words do not and never will. Define your worth. From this day forward, whenever you feel your backpack getting heavy, flip it upside down, allowing the unsupportive words and beliefs to quickly slide out and onto the pavement behind you. Emptying your backpack is a lifelong process. Chapter one, takeaways other people’s words, don’t define your worth. The negative things people say about you are a reflection of their own internal battles and have little to do with you. You have an invisible backpack strapped to your shoulders. Check it often to see what beliefs you’re carrying along your journey. Take out the ones that are weighing you down. Other people’s beliefs are often a projection of their own past experiences. Not all opinions are equal. Repack your backpack with supportive friends, inspiring media, and the beliefs and opinions of people who are currently living your definition of success. In the next chapter, we’ll explore a belief that will help you navigate another reality that can be very uncomfortable. Your journey will look different from everyone else’s

Sam Demma (17:46):

<laugh>. I did not just clap for myself on my own podcast <laugh>. I hope you enjoyed listening to me read chapter one of Empty Your Backpack. Feel free to share this episode with your class to listen to it all together to have a meaningful discussion about what it means to empty your backpack and what it actually means to have a backpack at all strapped to your shoulders in the first place. If you’re looking for some follow up activities that can go along with this audio recording, please send me a message, and if you’re at all interested in buying some copies of the book, you can do so on Amazon and by searching Empty Your Backpack, or if you’d like a class set or signed versions, you can go to shop.samdemma.com. Again, that’s shop.samdemma.com and buy them directly from me or send me an email at sam@samdemma.com. Have an amazing rest of your day. I hope it’s a very productive one, and wherever your journey in life takes you next, make sure that your backpack remains empty. I will see you next week on another episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.

Hoi Leung – Principal of Pickering High School

Hoi Leung – Principal of Pickering High School
About Hoi Leung

Hoi Leung is the principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. While helping to tutor his friends at University, Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest is history.

Connect with Hoi: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Pickering High School

Durham District School Board

Science and Business – University of Waterloo

Faculty of Education – Queens University

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 special guest is Hoi Leung. Hoi is the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. He has a background in engineering before in his second year, switching into a slightly different career path which brought him to where he is today in education. It started while tutoring and helping to tutor his friends in University where Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest became his history. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Hoi, and I will see you on the other side. Hoi, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Hoi Leung (00:51):

Hi, my name is Hoi Leung. I am the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. I’ve been teaching for about 25 years, and yeah, that’s about, that’s about it.

Sam Demma (01:02):

When did you realize growing up as a student yourself, that education was the, the career for you, the thing you wanted to pursue?

Hoi Leung (01:10):

Well, actually I didn’t realize education as a career until going into my last year of university. So my university journey was actually, I started with engineering, mechanical engineering at Waterloo. And it didn’t really play out for me. I guess it didn’t like me as opposed to me not liking it. And I switched programs after second year into a program called Science of Business. And so when I was in science of business, I was, I guess trained to become a, either a laboratory manager or a pharmaceutical rep. And then going into my last year my friends asked me if I ever thought of teacher’s college, and I said, no, I didn’t. And then, so I looked into it and took a few courses and, and got into a program at Queens University. And then, and then the rest is history. I became a teacher.

Sam Demma (01:58):

Take me back to the moment you decided in fourth year university, this is something I wanna pursue wherever you at, at that stage in your life. what helped you make that decision? And then also what did the journey look like that brought you to where you are today?

Hoi Leung (02:14):

Yeah, so when I was in going to fourth year, I obviously I set switch programs already and and a lot of friends what was happening was I was helping a lot of friends out in terms of tutoring them in terms of the program that we’re in. And then I looked back into my in my childhood and what happened was, in high school I was actually tutoring a lot of friends in math and sciences and didn’t realize I was just pretty much doing what I was doing in, in in teaching. And so when somebody said to said to me, well, what, what about teachers college? I never thought about it as a profession. And and then went into it and just decided that’s where I was gonna go. And and ever since then I started coaching. I coach a lot of volleyball. I’ve been coaching volleyball since 1996. Oh, and and so coaching and teaching are pretty much the same, same type of style in terms of, of of a career.

Sam Demma (03:08):

Tell me about the similarities. When you think about coaching and you think about teaching, what are the similarities you draw from the two? And how has sport kind of impacted your educational journey as well?

Hoi Leung (03:20):

Well the similarities are actually very much the same. Not even similar, they’re the same. you know, you, you have to assess the students to see where they, they start from. I mean, so when I coach volleyball you know, everybody starts at a different level. it is just like in a classroom. There, there, there, there’s students that are, are high achievers students that are starting at a, at a beginning point. So when I, when I do practices, I have to obviously tailor to different entry points for everybody. So somebody to like may, may not even know how to handle volleyball versus somebody that knows how to handle volleyball. So I have to do the drills where everybody’s successful. And then of course from there we, we try to make everybody successful and not bored.

Hoi Leung (04:00):

And then always active. teaching’s pretty much the same. in terms of when I first started my career, I was in elementary school. now I’m in high school, but I, I’m one of the few teachers that have done elementary and high school. So I’ve taught both. And elementary school is I’d be honest, is a lot tougher because again, when the students are coming in, they’re all at different levels or different ranges. high school is a bit more I guess more I guess they’re more, they’re different levels in high school, you know, grade nine, there is a grade nine level, there’s a grade. Well, in elementary school there’s a, a varied level in terms of things. So, so elementary school, you, you have to, like I said do a diagnostic. I mean, I’m using terms obviously, sorry, but it’s, you kinda assess students where they are, and then hopefully you challenge the ones that are, that get it.

Hoi Leung (04:51):

And you, you, you help the ones that don’t get it and, and then get ’em to a medium point. A high school, a high school level is a bit easier because you, if you take grade nine math, you know, everybody, there’s a curriculum that everybody has to maintain in order to get a credit. So it’s credit based in high school while elementary school it isn’t credit based. So, so that’s the difference I find. And with coaching, it’s the same thing. You, you find you know, you’ve got house league volleyball, you got rep volleyball you’ve got club volleyball, you’ve got regional program, provincial program, university program. So, so I tailor, I guess my teaching, my coaching based on what level I’m, I’m I’m, I’m at. So I’ve I’ve done all that. I’ve, I’ve done university, I was a university level coach provincial level coach, regional level coach, club level coach. And even I, I even coach elementary school, which is kind of funny, <laugh>. So I’ve done the whole gamut from grade four to university level.

Sam Demma (05:43):

Did you also play volleyball growing up? Was that a sport that you loved or what got you into volleyball?

Hoi Leung (05:48):

Yes. so volleyball was one of the first sports that I played. so going way back I wasn’t born in Canada. I was born in Hong Kong. Okay. so I, I came to Canada in 1976. I was about six years old. And you know, back then, you know, my family was a typical immigrant family. my, my parents worked long hours, 12 hours a day. you know, I used to come home I used to call the latchkey kid if, if you, I don’t know if you know that term Sam, but it’s called Latch Key Kid, where we’d get a key, my brothers and I would go home on our own. And I mean, obviously back then it was accepted. Nowadays I’m, I’m sure you know, it’s not accepted in terms of having kids under 12, going home by themselves and starting all that.

Hoi Leung (06:29):

So, so I’m sure, I mean, you ask your parents, I don’t know what your background is, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same kind of routine. But so I was a latchkey kid. I used to come home and and my parents made sure that we came home right away. So so starting with sports I have to give credit to my older brother who, who did a lot of sports but wasn’t allowed to participate in any teams. Cause again, back in those days, you know the family rules where you come home right after school, you don’t, you don’t go, you don’t stick, stick around after school. So, so really, I had to, to figure out a way to, to join a team. And with my parents, I had to flip it where instead of telling them that I was trying to join a team, I had to tell them that the school had chosen me to be on this team <laugh>.

Hoi Leung (07:14):

So as soon as they were like, oh, well, the school chose to be on this team, then you better go and go for this team. Cause they don’t realize I had to volunteer to be chosen. But <laugh> was when I started in elementary school grade seven, eight. And then after that I played in high school and I played a lot in high school. And then and then during high school, I also played rugby. And so those were my, my two main sports was volleyball and rugby. And then when I went to Waterloo the joke I have is when I went to Waterloo, I was too small to play volleyball, but I was big enough to play varsity rugby. Ah. So I switched sports and I, and I played varsity rugby back in the early nineties when rugby wasn’t very popular. Now it’s now as popular as you know, a lot.

Hoi Leung (07:54):

But, so when I came outta university, I was a teacher. And and then back then in 95, 96, there was very little, very few jobs and we had to supply, and I started coaching volleyball and rugby at different schools. And and then then I went to a volleyball camp, started coaching there, and then pretty much it just went off from there from 96 onwards. And found early success in terms of coaching, club volleyball, you know, won won a national title then went on to provincial team won Canada Games went to University of Toronto, became assistant coach to Women’s Women’s Program, and won four Oua championships in a row as an assistant coach with that program. And then yeah, so that’s pretty much my journey with volleyball.

Sam Demma (08:39):

That’s amazing. And tell me more about the journey from where you started in education to where you are today. What are the different schools you worked in, school boards, positions? Give us a little insight into that journey as well.

Hoi Leung (08:52):

So I grew up in Toronto downtown Toronto, around Paper Danforth. So a lot of my friends were immigrants Greeks, Italians you name it. It was all a big mix back then. And so when I went to University, I went to a school called Danforth Tech, which is by Dan and Greenwood Avenue. So when I got outta university I decided to go to Durham believe it or not. so I went to Durham and started supplying there. And back in 95, 96 in Durham there was very, there was very little diversity in, in the, in the area. So I was one of the few teachers that were non-white. And, and it was a bit of a challenge for me. I mean, a lot of people, you know, you know, here, here I am, you know, my, my background is Chinese and they, they, you know, I, I was supplying down in South Oua, never seen a Chinese person before, kind of thing.

Hoi Leung (09:46):

It, it was kind rare. And so my journey was I started teaching there, supplying the people around me liked me. I started applying for jobs. unfortunately I wasn’t getting interviews, and I was getting very frustrated. And and I went back to my old high school, Danforth, and I was helping out coaching rugby there. And one of my coaches his name is John Juga. He, he said to me, have you ever thought of changing your name? And I thought to myself, I don’t understand what you mean by changing my name. I mean, it’s ho right? And they said, well, you know so my, my my, my teacher friend John Juga, his, his, he said, when he first started back in the eighties, his name was Giovanni, so his name was Giovanni. So he actually changed to John, and once he changed it to John, he started getting more interviews.

Hoi Leung (10:33):

So he said to me, have you ever thought of changing a name to like or adding a name like Henry or something like that? So instead of ho because unfortunately when people aren’t used to ethnic names, they, they look at the name Ho Liang, and they’re thinking, does, does he speak English? Does he not speak English? my my younger brother who’s born here, his name is Kevin Leon. So when you look at a resume you know, look at Hoy Young, Kevin Young, who would you, who would you interview, right? So, so he said that to me, and I said, you know, I, I thought to myself, no, I don’t wanna go down that road. So I, I stuck with, with Hoi Young, because I started supplying people obviously start to know who I was. And but unfortunately with, with, with teaching there is a lot of nepotism in teaching where, you know people, you know, hire their own cousins and their own siblings and all that kinda stuff.

Hoi Leung (11:22):

And with my background, my, you know, obviously my parents were, were blue, blue collar workers. They, they, they, we had no background. I have no friends or, or family that were teaching back then. So it took me quite a few, few years in order to get onto the board. And luckily what happened was you know, one of my principals, his name is Mel Barkwell, and he was a great guy. He took a chance on me and said, you know what, you know, he asked me what high school I looked up a resume. He goes, he goes for, yes. And he goes, goes, goes, you have two degrees. I go, go, yes. And he goes, wow, if you went to Dan for tech and you have two degrees, you can teach out here. No, no problem. Because cause he knew the school and he knew pretty tough school.

Hoi Leung (12:01):

And yeah. So that’s how I got started. And and then since then I was I went through the ranks and then, and then as I went through teaching, I I went to the board office as a, as a facilitator helping out other teachers in math programs. And then somebody asked, you know, are you, you have you looking into administration? I said, no, I haven’t. Didn’t they go, do you wanna try it? It was the same same principal that hired me Mel, he said to me you should look into it. So I went into it in 2008, became a vice principal. And even that journey was pretty tough because at that time, I was only, the only, I guess the only East Asian administrator in the board. Wow. For high school. actually, sorry, there was two others.

Hoi Leung (12:45):

There was Phil Massada and Keong Cho, there was three of us. but back in 2008, they, they talked about equity and, and they wanted to do a lot of equity hiring because the diversity became the board became more diverse. So I thought, okay, well, no problem. I should be at the cusp of it. And so 2008 I was a vice vice principal, and then after five years, I, I applied to be principalship in 2013. didn’t get on, you know, it wasn’t you know, wasn’t two disappointing. Cause my first try and I, I kept on trying and then, and then it became apparent that there was obviously a lot of political in, in any job. There’s a lot of politics involved. And and I didn’t get to become principal until 2019 when, I mean, 2019 that was when I put, was put on a short list. And then then I got, finally got placed at Pickton High School in thousand 20, 20 21. So it took me 13 years from VP to to principal, which is quite a long time because usually most people get, get on after five or six years. And and so I persevered, I got continued doing my job, and and now I’m the first and only Chinese high school principal in Durham District School Board. So that’s my

Hoi Leung (14:07):

<laugh>.

Sam Demma (14:08):

I, I’m, so, I’m so happy here that you didn’t use a different name. and I, I could only imagine how difficult it would’ve been when you were going through that situation, just personally thinking that you have to even change something about yourself to be accepted or given a better opportunity. And it’s so true that being a white person with a common name gives you this privilege or has in the past, and hopefully things are starting to change and shift with all the movements that are going on. but I’m so happy to hear that you didn’t change for anybody. And you, you remained who you were and pursued and are now here. And although it’s taken a long time, your, your, your story is hopefully one that’s gonna inspire more change and inspire other people to stand firm in who they are. thinking about diversity and inclusion and all the movements that are going on right now, how do you kind of see that changing the culture of the school you are in, or, you know, education as a whole? Are you, are you seeing a shift and what are your thoughts on

Hoi Leung (15:10):

Yeah, yeah, I do see a shift. I mean, the, the issue with education is once you get hired, pretty much, most teachers stay for about 30 years. So, so that’s why the change is very slow. So ah, I, I know as a principal, I am the position of hiring now. So I, I do recognize that when you’re looking at resumes, you’re looking at at different names and, and different backgrounds, and you’re looking at the resume. And I think when I first started teaching, a lot of people use the name as a, as a, as a, as a gatekeeper, the name, right? So, so for me, when I grew up, I grew up with a lot of people with different names in terms of Greek names, Italian names, you name it Indian names. So, so I look at resumes, the names don’t really scare me off.

Hoi Leung (15:56):

So, so I look at in fact, I just hired a teacher and and she went by the name of, of Jenna, which is kind of, so I looked at Jenna and I, and I try to look, and I looked at her I went to O C T, which is the Ontario College of Teachers, looked her up for qualifications just to double check, to verify. But her name wasn’t Jenna on the system, it was her name, the name was Janani. And I said to her, why did you put Jenna? And she goes, well, you know, people, you know, Janani. And so she pretty much, even to this day, I mean, she’s a young teacher probably around your age, she did the same thing. She, instead of janani, she, she changed the Jenna. I said, oh, no, just, just go by Janani.

Hoi Leung (16:32):

Don’t, don’t go by Jenna. I mean, this is, do that, right? And and I think it, it’s, it’s still pervasive where people are still doing that to try to Anglo size their names that were, were that were given to them. And but for me, like I said, when I look at resumes and so my hiring, I, I, I hired about 10 teachers last summer, and I would honestly say at least five of them with not more, were visible minorities. Mm. So, so the lens i I come with is, is different from from a, from a person that is not I guess that is, is considered white. Yeah. So my lens is different. So when I look at qualifications and names, the names don’t scare me or look at qualifications, look at background, and look at you know, where they taught, you know, that, that sort of thing. So, so I think with me in my position, I, I do have as a, as a duty bearer, I do have responsibilities in trying to diversify the teaching staff, because at, in high school, we do have a very diverse student population. And and so I can start off by hiring people that are more like the, the students. And, and I think students appreciate that.

Sam Demma (17:39):

Not to mention

Hoi Leung (17:40):

So does community too. Sorry.

Sam Demma (17:41):

Yeah. Not to mention the fact that you have a diverse staff gives you more diverse perspectives, makes the learning more rich for the students. Like you’re not just hearing one side of history, <laugh>. I think it’s so important that you have a diverse staff, not only for representation, but for authentic learning purposes. and I, it’s so cool to hear that you’re looking at it from that lens as well. I think it’s amazing. when you think about your journey throughout education, what are some resources that you personally found helpful? Maybe it’s people that have had a massive impact on you or books or courses or programs, things that maybe you experience that you think inform the beliefs you have around education and the way that you try and show up and teach and make a difference?

Hoi Leung (18:27):

I think the resources I have, and believe it or not, it’s, it’s interesting how some of the mentors I’ve had, and when I call them mentors, they’re, they’re, they’re older, obviously older educators, they were, they were actually older white men that you would think that were not as diverse in thinking, but they actually were. And I think, I think they were more instrumental because although they were older white men, they were actually more forward thinking than some, some teachers that are are, or some administrators that talk about you know, diversity and all these programs, they were actually doers as opposed to just talking about it. So for example you know, the, the principal that first hired me, Mel Barkwell, he hired a, a whole bunch of diverse staff just because he felt that’s the way he was going.

Hoi Leung (19:16):

And but when you look at him, you would think that he was some kind of, you know, old old hick kinda, kinda guy. But, but one mentor that that that, that spoke to me that was very clear was the fact that I think some, some people are going into, into the teaching profession as a job and not a career. And what I mean by a job, I mean, teaching is more than just, you know, just teaching. I mean he actually made it a situa, he actually called it a calling. And I, and when I said, of calling, what does that mean? He says, it’s almost like going into the priesthood. He goes, or, or the convent, right? Like, you know, when you go to the priesthood or the convent, it’s a calling. You don’t just go into it just because you know it’s a job, right?

Hoi Leung (19:58):

So he did say that teaching is, is like a calling where people coming into teaching should look into it like a, a as like more than just a job, a career. So, for example, social workers don’t go into it just like a job. Social workers care about the stu or care about the, the people they work for, and they try to help the society. And I think some teachers, not all, I mean, most teachers are, are great, let, lemme get through that. But some teachers come into it and I see that where they come in and it’s like nine to nine to five job. They don’t coach, they don’t do anything with the school, and they just kind of you know, they expect students to be perfectly sitting, still putting up their hand, yes, sir. No, sir. And they don’t realize that nowadays, as, as teachers, we are social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists we even considered medical staff because we have to, you know, help students with medication sometimes.

Hoi Leung (20:49):

And so there’s a lot more to the job than just teaching. And I think some, I, I think with, with that in mind, if people are going to teaching, they have to realize it’s just more than just trying to impart knowledge to students. It’s actually all those things because in the education Act, we are actually, it’s actually, there’s a line that says we’re, we’re considered local parentis, which means in Latin we act as parents. And so as teachers, we act as parents at the school in, in lieu of the parents. So, so that’s something that we have to keep in mind as teachers.

Sam Demma (21:22):

I love that. When, when you think about the, you know, the roles that you’ve played and all the experience you’ve gained from them, if you could bundle it all up, you know, go back in time, speak to ho in his first year of teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice. Knowing what you know now and with the experiences you have had, what would you have told your younger self that you thought would’ve been helpful to hear early on in your career? Or should I say calling

Hoi Leung (21:50):

<laugh>? Yeah, it’s a calling. I, I think, I mean, I think the advice I give to any teacher, including myself, would be to have open mindedness growth mindset, a growth mindset, meaning you know, that people are coming from, from different experiences, lived experiences. I mean, I mean, my lived experience, I, I, I guess, is different from somebody else’s, and we have to be be cognizant of that and be open-minded of that. when you come with open mind, I mean, I’ll be honest with you, when I first started teaching, I mean, I used to be the, the teacher that used to give zeros. You didn’t hand in stuff on time or, or late marks and all that kind. And as, as the years go by, I mean, you understand why, you know, some people are, are not handing in stuff or are not doing well, and you have to look into that and, and try to help those students.

Hoi Leung (22:36):

I mean, 90% of the students are gonna do well, regardless of what you do, doesn’t matter who’s in, it’s the 10% or, or five or 10% of the students that you need to work on. So as a teacher, if there’s 30 students in my class, you know, I do a lesson, you know, I mean, you know, 27, those kids will get it. It’s those three kids that you have to look at and try to help them directly to, to help them through. Because the other 27 don’t, they don’t really need your help. They’ll, they’ll do fine no matter what. And I think I think when I first started, I didn’t tell you this background. So when I first started, I taught for 10 years in a program called Section 19. section 19 is is a program. Every board has it.

Hoi Leung (23:14):

And what it is, is non-mainstream students. So for example, I taught group home kids, foster home kids, and young offenders. So tho that’s my first experience as, as a teacher. So, so so I know you’re from the Pickering area, so I used to teach a lot of students that were in group homes in the curriculum area, and my job was to reintegrate them back into the, into the mainstream system. So, so I think with that background, I, I was helping a lot of at risk students already. And when I talked I guess quote unquote regular students, it was easy. I mean, obviously when you teach at-risk students you know, and you teach ’em something teaching regular students is easy because, you know, the, the behaviors are, are not there anymore. Yeah. You know, they have good solid families, you know, family background supports and, and, and those things are easy.

Hoi Leung (24:00):

But you know, one of the, the things I, I tell students a lot when they’re when they’re struggling, I say, you know, education is something that can’t be taken away from you. So once you get that diploma, that degree, they can’t take that away from you no matter what you do. So, for example, a driver’s license, so you get a driver’s license, you don’t, you know, you do, you don’t do well, they’ll, they’ll take that away from you. You get caught for drunk driving in education, no matter what you do, you can’t, they can’t be taken away from you. I mean, not, not to say I want, I wanna tell people to do, do criminal acts, but you know, even if you do something criminal, yeah. I mean, you go to jail, you still have your education behind with you, right? They can’t take that degree away from you. So that’s something I always tell students. Once you get, once you earn that degree or the diploma nobody can take that away from you.

Sam Demma (24:46):

I love it. If someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce an idea around, or was inspired in any way and just wants to send you a note, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Hoi Leung (24:59):

Oh, through the board. My email is hoi.leung@ddsb.ca, and you know, you can always find me at the board. I’m, like I said, I mean, I’m the <laugh>. I’m one of the few principals. There’s only 20 principals, so I, you can definitely find me at the board or google me. I’m, you google my name, I’m, I’m there for, for volleyball coaching and for, for Principal.

Sam Demma (25:26):

Awesome. Hoi, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It means the world to me and lots of other people in education. Keep doing the great work you’re doing, and we’ll talk soon.

Hoi Leung (25:35):

Thank you.

Sam Demma (25:37):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Hoi Leung

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.

Jeremy and Lynn Hayes – Two Incredible Humans Pioneering the Allie Sunshine Project

Jeremy and Lynn Hayes - Two Incredible Humans Pioneering the Allie Sunshine Project
About the Allie Sunshine Project

The Allie Sunshine Project is a not-for-profit organization, and its core purpose is to ignite learning and wellness. They create events and initiatives within Windsor-Essex County that provide a nurturing and educational experience for the body, mind, and spirit, within the self and with others. Their organization is energized by the living legacies of every one of our Rays of Sunshine, who are dedicated volunteers. They make their work possible and embody the spirit of our organization’s core values as wellness explorers. For more information: https://thealliesunshineproject.com/ 

Connect with Jeremy and Lynn: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Habitat for Humanity Windsor-Essex

How to Build a Healing Garden – PennState Extension

SelfDesign Learning Foundation

Brent Cameron’s “WonderTree” and Virtual High

Margaret J. Wheatley Books

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

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 interview is a very special one because it is the first time, the first time ever that I’m interviewing a mom and a son on the podcast at the same time. Jeremy Hayes and Lynn Hayes are two of the amazing humans, two of the visionaries behind the Allie Sunshine Project. The Allie Sunshine Project is inspired by educator and wellness pioneer Allison Hayes, known as Allie Sunshine, for her unique ability to share her light and positive energy with everyone she met while she was still on this planet. The Allie Sunshine Project is a not-for-profit organization, and their core purpose is to ignite learning and wellness. They do this by creating events and initiatives within the Windsor Essex County that provide a nurturing and educational experience for the body, mind, and spirit within the self, and with others.

Sam Demma (01:09):

Their goal, their mission statement, is to inspire a network of wellness explorers through creating and participating in projects in the community that nurture self-healing and capture learning opportunities again, for the body, mind, and spirit. They do this through nature, shared wisdom, and living legacies. Three things which we’ll talk about today. And through those three things, they empower humanity to choose personal wellness. I was so inspired after my conversation with Jeremy and Lynn that I put on my boots and I went for a hike through the forest. I hope and know that you will have a similar experience after listening to this amazing conversation. I will see you on the other side. Put on some headphones and enjoy. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today we have two very special guests that were recommended by a past guest; Anita Bondi. Their names are Jeremy Hayes and Lynn Hayes. Jeremy, Lynn, please introduce yourselves and share a little bit about the work that you do with your amazing organization.

Jeremy Hayes (02:18):

Awesome. Thank you so much, Sam. Thanks for having us. And thanks to Anita for recognizing us as educators. We’re not traditional educators currently, but yeah, we’re definitely working in education and it’s great to be recognized. My name’s Jeremy Hayes and I’m the visionary Director of the Allie Sunshine Project, and by day I’m a salesperson in the greenhouse industry out in Lemington. So to introduce myself and how I got into education, I, after high school, I was working as a machinery operator and not really feeling it, and I was facing winter layoffs and decided to go back to school, and I went to St.Clair College and really caught the bug. I, as, as soon as I sat in those classes where, you know, I was able to choose my own major, I, I just felt a vibe and knew that I wanted to teach at the post-secondary level or some, in some applied way in the future.

Jeremy Hayes (03:30):

and so fast forward from 1999 to 2013, and my great-aunt who is a enthusiastic educator and lifelong learner, she she had always been coaching me, kind of prodding me, grooming me for something something that she saw in me. And so she had recently started on the board of the Self Design Graduate Institute, which was founded based on the principles of Brent Cameron’s Wonder Tree and Virtual High, which were learner directed K to eight and nine to 12 bricks and mortar schools that he founded in Vancouver, British Columbia. And they realized that those learners, after finishing their undergrad, wouldn’t have anywhere to go that was learner directed. So they said, let’s set up a, a graduate institute that is completely learner directed. And so she said, Jeremy, I think you’d be perfect for this. And that was in 2013 at the time.

Jeremy Hayes (04:41):

so I had completed a college diploma and a, and an undergrad, so it was kind of perfect timing for me. I was, I was married Toran at the time, who was a educator. And so we looked at doing that doing that together mm-hmm. <affirmative>. but she you know, she had been living really vibrantly with an ongoing illness for a number of years, for almost a decade at that point. but it progressed. And in 2015, she passed away and almost immediately after she passed the family flanged up, and her brother said, you know, what are we gonna do? are we gonna collect donations at the funeral and give them to a charity? Or he, he suggested that we actually start an organization. And so, at that, at that time, in that moment the Ali Sunshine Project was born and it was born largely because we had been the family and the friends had been so impacted by Allison and her spirit and energy that she, she brought to every situation that she was in and the way that she educated in the classroom and beyond in all of her relationships.

Jeremy Hayes (06:06):

She really had a vested interest in, in everybody that she connected with. And it was as her husband, I got to see her do that over and over and over again. And she just really believed in, people believed in their goals, and she would, you know, ask you what, what your dreams were, and she’d follow up with you. And so that was where the Ali Sunshine Project was born. And in the days and months following, as we were trying to figure out what to do I decided to enroll in the Self Design Graduate Institute and dedicate my Masters of Arts in Education to exploring how we built the Sunshine Project and what that meant. And so it wasn’t long after that I got role in my great Aunt Flore and I cooked up a plan to rope my mom into the mix <laugh>. Cause she, being, she being a retired grade school teacher, was perfect for some continuing education. And I knew that she would love it. And so I put the full court press on and had aunt Flore worked the back channels. And I’ll hand it, I’ll hand it over to Lynn to, to talk a little bit about her experience.

Lynn Hayes (07:25):

Hi. Well, teaching for me is a lifelong calling. I loved school as a child, and role played my favorite teachers at every opportunity I had. Right out of high school I went to teachers college and became an elementary school teacher, and worked in that field for 40 years. During that time, I taught all ages from kindergarten through to grade seven, and were also worked in adult education through our local University, teaching a program called Education Through Music, which really explored how children learn in a dynamic, vibrant way. In retirement, I continue this journey of learning and teaching in all my relationships, and especially as grandmother of my four grandsons. And in my role, my current role as the education team lead of the Allie Sunshine Project. When Jeremy suggested I join him in this Self Design Graduate Institute program, it was the perfect opportunity to fulfill my goal of completing a master’s degree, and to explore what would be next in my learning journey. The research question that motivated our study was how have we inspired a community of explorers to choose wellness with nature, emergent learning, shared wisdom, and living legacy. Today, we will share with you some highlights of how we answered this and continue how we continue to explore the answers to our questions along the way. I think I could go on, I don’t know what we want. I can do talk about learning what a learning community is, or Jeremy,

Sam Demma (08:58):

That’s, that’s a perfect introduction to yourself and your background, and I appreciate you sharing that. one, you mentioned four things there that kind of peak my interests. can you both speak maybe a little bit on the importance of nature and how that has become one of the big pillars of your research question? And maybe we can go through all four of them very, very briefly.

Jeremy Hayes (09:22):

Perfect. Yeah, for sure. I’ll, I’ll I’ll jump in and, and tackle that one. nature was something that we were personally, personally I was always kind of interested in, but never never had a a really close relationship with nature. And so it was something that I wanted to develop, you know, a little bit more personally. And I had an interest in agriculture. I was interested in agriculture from an early age. And so, but I, I was coming at nature from more of a scientific understanding rather than more of a spiritual connection. And so that was something that I was trying to develop for myself at the same time as sharing that passion with the, the rest of the team in the Ali Sunshine Project and the people, our, you know, our, our members and anybody that we engaged with patrons that came to our events or participated in our projects.

Jeremy Hayes (10:27):

One of our first one of our first events that we put together was called The Planting Wellness. we, we initially called it the, the plant giveaway, and be that I had some connections in Lemington. we rounded up some some seeds and got some plants growing. And we were yeah, just set up an event kind of like a nursery style with tomatoes, carrots, peppers, everything under the sun. different stuff that we had never seen or grown before. to give people an experience that they could take home with them and and, and start that relationship with nature on their own to, you know, just break down those walls of our, our Western perception in nature is so, it’s so, so sterile, and it’s so mechanistic, and it’s black and white, and we really objectify nature the way that our language you know, names all of the, the different animals, like they’re a thing.

Jeremy Hayes (11:37):

where what we’ve come to learn is that some, some other cultures, they, they don’t objectify. those they treat them as sentient beings, and they, they, they treat them as an equal and opposite other the tree has a life. the, the plant is, is alive and is a living, being a creature, not a thing. and so we’ve, we’ve come to understand some of the barriers to developing that relationship. And then along that path, we’re we’re doing through our events and our projects we’re looking to break down those barriers. And one of the experiences that really punctuated that for me was you know, this was largely a, a grieving journey, was a grief project. Not that it’s come to be so much more than that. But in the beginning, we were you know, building a community and largely sharing in the grief of missing Allison in the garden.

Jeremy Hayes (12:47):

you know, as the, as the leader of the organization we were planting a vegetable garden and had been doing this for a number of years. When I just realized there was a lot of stress, the plants would all come in, we’d distribute them at the event, and then we would try and plant, you know, as many of ’em as we could before they died. And whatever didn’t make it, we’d throw on the compost pile. And that particular spring our kale plants were having a rough go. And they were malnourished and eaten the bits by the, by by some bugs. And so we had to take the kale plants outta the garden and throw ’em on the compost heap. And I, I really took that on the chin because I felt like it was a bit of my disorganization that maybe planted a month too late and didn’t water ’em on time.

Jeremy Hayes (13:40):

so I was a little saddened by that. But then I took ’em over to the compost pile, and their growing wonderfully fruitfully was kale plant that we had thrown away a month earlier and not even looked at and didn’t water. It didn’t fertilize, it didn’t do anything to it, but nature had shown us the way that nature provides everything that we need if we’re if the conditions are perfect. And for me, it was such a metaphor that I don’t need to be scared of nature, nature’s not the boogeyman. Everything that we need is there, not just for our sustenance, but for our, for our spiritual growth and for our inspiration. there are so many lessons that were there for me in that compost pile because it’s, it’s ironic that it’s a pile of dead bodies. It’s a pile of dead plants, Sam, and it’s being decomposed actively by bugs and microbes that are transforming that death into new life, and providing the nutrients that were those old bodies of those plants in an available form to that new kale plant.

Jeremy Hayes (14:58):

And that was all happening and has been happening for millennia on this planet without me and my watering can, and all my wishes and hopes and dreams. So I’ve just, I’ve really come to, it was like a, a breakthrough moment for me to be able to relax into my relationship with nature and trust that I am a part of nature. And that you know, this life is so much, so much of this life. The Art of living is about knowing what to conserve and what to release to the compost heap. And so I was able to really process a lot of my grief in that moment. And nature helped me with that. And I was also able to gain a lot of insights about just, you know, loosening up on how hard I press to control things in the garden and in my life in general, that everything’s gonna, everything’s gonna work out.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Wow. Who knew a ka plant in the compost bin could bring so much thoughts. <laugh>, it’s such a cool reflection, and I’m so grateful that you shared that. Lynn, what about yourself with, with, with the connection to nature? Has that been something that you’ve had your whole life, or did you find it

Lynn Hayes (16:20):

Recently? Well, it, it is something I had as a child. I think children do that naturally. Yeah. But over the years, it got pushed aside. And, you know, I wasn’t outside that much. My job was indoors. You come home, you work in your house. and part of our studies, we took a eco psychology course with Hillary Layton, and that experience brought us to a deeper connection with nature and experience ourselves. one of her requirements, part of the course was to do site sitting. We had to choose a spot in nature and sit there for 30 minutes a day, every day, no matter what the weather for 30 days in a row, and just be there and see what happens. So for me, this was when the importance of being connected to nature moved from my head to my heart. I chose a spot on the bank of a creek that’s in my backyard, and I had lived there for 25 years, but had probably never done this. Never sat. So I sat on the ground with my back against the trunk of a tree, and the tree that beck and me come sit here. And it was so powerful. I was overcome with a deep sadness as all that surrounded me in that space, whispered to my soul, welcome back. We missed you.

Sam Demma (17:41):

Mm, there’s a continue.

Lynn Hayes (17:46):

 so that was just where it, it I understood it at a deep level that it wasn’t, we, I didn’t feel it was lip surface. It was a deep conviction to the power, the healing power of nature, nature, what it has to teach us. And now this awareness allowed us to be different in how we were leading our organization.

Sam Demma (18:10):

That’s awesome. There’s a really beautiful, yeah, there’s a, a really great book called The Seasons by a man named Jim Roan, and he talks about how the changing of the seasons is such a big analogy for life as well. And what you plant in the spring or in the, in the fall, you harvest in the spring. And anyway, there’s just so many cool little things that you can learn from nature, and both of you are really highlighting that right now we back onto a little ravine. And this conversation has inspired me to put my boots on afterwards and go for a walk, because I used to do it all the time, <laugh>. And I, I hope it’s inspiring the listeners as well, because for me, whenever I’d walk through nature, my nostrils would clear up. And I, I’m not, I don’t have allergies or anything, but the moment I get in there and start walking, it’s like, my body just feels alive.

Sam Demma (19:04):

 so I, yeah, I appreciate this reminder, and I think so many educators will also, the last point you raised was, and you, you said it, living, living legacy. and it immediately brought to mind a friend of mine named Cody Sheen, who wrote a book called Everyday Legacy. He worked in the funeral industry, and for years would listen to people talk about the regrets at the table after their loved ones had passed away, and they would write their eulogies and be, their eulogies would be read. And his whole philosophy after hearing this so many times was, why do we wait to create a legacy instead of living it right now? And that’s what his book is all about. And when you said Living your legacy, I immediately thought of that, but I’m curious to know what, what drove that section to be a part of your research question and how does it relate to the whole project?

Jeremy Hayes (20:00):

Yeah, Sam, thanks for asking. And I think we’re on the same wave there with Cody. I was always of the same frame of mind that it’s interesting to see how we reflect on the lives of people after they’re gone, rather than celebrate them while they’re here. And, you know, this was something that I witnessed often doing. she had yeah, she had a real gift in that way to be able to celebrate and bring her awareness to her own life as she lived it, and and live in a real conscious way. And, you know, I, I, I knew that all along, but then after she passed away, I read some of her journals and I’m like, man, this, this woman was really reflecting consciously on her day to day and and crafting her, her legacy as it unfolded.

Jeremy Hayes (21:12):

 so I, I didn’t realize at the time but well, I guess I intuitively I realized it, but it, it really sunk in once I had a chance to, to see how deeply she was reflecting. And so we, we took that we took that tip from, from Ally and wanted to make that central to the central theme in our organization and the education that we bring to our, to our members, and to the people we engage with that you have legacy that you are living currently mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And given the chance to bring your awareness to that and shape it it can be very powerful. And so we’ve also twisted that a little bit because you know, keeping in line with the, the funment of our organization, we we are a wellness organization, and so we are encouraging people to live their wellness legacy. Nice. And so we’ve, we’ve sprinkled that wellness component in there to say, you know, you know, you can develop a self-awareness that encourages yourself to have greater self worth and to continue to do that work in developing your legacy and living it on the daily.

Sam Demma (22:41):

Nice. Love that. Lynn, any additional thoughts or you think, Jim?

Lynn Hayes (22:46):

I actually, I think we, we coined a phrase called the Ripple effect because there were so many people that had been touched by Allison’s life, and it, it helped us to realize we all have a ripple effect. It’s impossible to throw a stone in a pond without seeing a ripple. And we’re, we’re a stone dropped into our spot on Earth, and just by being here, we, we are creating a legacy, and we have a ripple effect. And yeah. So

Sam Demma (23:16):

I love that. That’s such a cool idea. And sometimes, sometimes you, you know, you actually don’t see who your ripple is impacting, and it gets a little overwhelming because sometimes you might wonder, well, are the actions I’m taking right now making a difference? I, I, I think about this one time I was sitting at our family cottage on the dock, and it was pitch black outside. It was nighttime. You could see the stars and the moon, and you could hear in the distance a boat just like zooming across the lake, and the all you could hear was the boat faintly, but nothing else. And everything else was super calm. And like five minutes later, all these waves start to hit the shore. And it was just this really cool realization to me that this boat has no idea. His waves are hitting my shore while I’m sitting on the edge of my dock 10 minutes after his boat’s gone.

Sam Demma (24:15):

And it’s a cool reflection to think about how our actions every day are affecting people that we may never meet, we may never touch. And it sounds so clear that Allison did that, and I love that that’s a really central theme of your work and your organization. Jeremy, you mentioned that you slightly modified it for the organization, the phrase living your everyday wellness legacy. What does it mean to live with wellness? Or like, how do, how do we ensure we’re taking care of our wellness? are there things that you kind of recommend people do or explore? I’m just curious.

Jeremy Hayes (24:54):

Yeah, I’m gonna back that up a little bit. I appreciate the question. And it actually sparks some work that we’ve done which is, you know, really central to my passion of organizational development. And so I’ll get, I’ll get your, I’ll get your question about how we came to how, how we came to that term wellness. But one of the first courses that Mom and I co-created in exploring the Masters together was a course in conscious business. And we had been operating for almost two years at that point. And we had a mission statement right away, but we really didn’t have the essence of the organization distilled. And so we reached out to so Renee Poindexter, who is an author and educator, and she is just a, a, a dynamic educator.

Jeremy Hayes (26:00):

And so she was our faculty advisor in that exploration and conscious business. And so we, as for that course, we designed and implemented three workshop style meetings with our, with our leadership team to do that work of closely observing what we had, the projects and the events that we had undertaken to date, and how we had shown up in in doing that work to distill who we were as an organization, what it was that we were really focused on doing, and where we would end up when it all came to fruition. And it was some very careful work that that we, I mean, we had a lot of fun with it. And we put our, we put our team through some real fun paces. We did some great team building exercises along the way, and we had a lot of laughs.

Jeremy Hayes (27:01):

We had some tears and in the end, we got real clear on who we are as an organization. And we took our pretty wordy beautiful, but pretty wordy mission statement and distilled it into our core purpose to ignite learning and wellness. And to get to your question, like we debated on whether that word should be wellness or should it be wellbeing or should it be health? And we looked at all those definitions. We looked at different definitions for each word, and we put it to consensus. because in that, in that same in that same timeframe, we were developing how we communicate as well as getting clear on, on who we’re as an organization. And so we chose that word wellness very specifically because of the of the underpinning of that word to be well, and to promote greater wellness, and so that we interpret to be a wellness of body, mind, and spirit.

Jeremy Hayes (28:12):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so in order to, you know, to answer your question to, to move down that path you know, we are I think that the biggest component of wellness is that self-awareness and self-worth. And when you can bring your awareness to yourself and your choices and your habits, and you can pay careful attention to how you feel in relation to your habits and your choices, and what makes you feel good and what doesn’t make you feel good. When do you have more, more energy? When do you feel like your mind is sharp? When do you feel like your head and your heart are connected? you know, what relationships in your life give you energy and what relationships drain you? Just that simple just that simple act of caring for yourself enough to be self-aware and to encourage yourself to make choices that lead to you increasing your wellness is is the work that we’re doing in this organization.

Jeremy Hayes (29:27):

that’s to answer your question, but I, I’m on a roll here because that work that we did we didn’t just distill our core purpose to ignite learning and wellness. we took that one step further. And in one of our fi in our, in our third workshop, we we bought a bunch of crazy big sunglasses, and we had our whole leadership team put on, put on the big, and we called them Glasses of Possibilities, <laugh>. one of the, one of the things that our team was having a challenge with was because we weren’t, we, we weren’t skilled leaders none of us had previous board of director’s experience mm-hmm. <affirmative> this was, this was more than we had bargained for. And for a lot of us we were bringing a lot of fears into this conversation.

Jeremy Hayes (30:21):

And so with Renee’s guidance, mom and I put this exercise together and we prefaced it with, you know, we need to really put our individual fears and hesitations to the side, and we need to ground ourselves as you know, what is best for this organization, because we may not be here tomorrow, and we need to leave this organization as a, as a gift for, for those who come in the future to lead it. And so we had our team put under glass of possibility and with eyes to the future of 30 years and beyond write down what they felt we could accomplish if everything that we were doing and had planned came to fruition. And so that that led to us distilling a vision statement that through nature, shared wisdom and living legacies, we empower humanity to choose personal wellness.

Sam Demma (31:26):

Mm.

Sam Demma (31:27):

I love it. We, we talked about the living legacy. We talked about the connection to nature. We didn’t touch on the shared wisdom piece, but before we do I loved that you put on these massive glasses during your meeting. <laugh>, I, there’s something about oversized objects I <laugh> like, it’s just, it catches the attention and it becomes like a fun thing. There’s I have a new speech that I do for students in schools, and it’s called Empty Your Backpack. And it’s a challenge to have students reflect on the beliefs they’re caring about themselves, their potential, what’s possible for them, where some of those beliefs came from. And if it’s time to let go, and I have a giant four foot red backpack that’s like the backpack of beliefs. So I resonate with like the visual and calling it the glasses of possibility, because you see through them and there’s so many bright things in the future. And I just thought that was really cool. So I wanted to make a, a note to mention that. tell me a little bit about Shared wisdom. how do we tap into that and, and what is it exactly?

Lynn Hayes (32:39):

You

Jeremy Hayes (32:40):

Jump in on that, mom? Because I remember when you didn’t even think you had wisdom <laugh>.

Lynn Hayes (32:44):

That’s, that’s right. Early on in our, our course I had submitted this reflection and the, the mentor who read it, his comments were, oh, lots of wisdom. Your wisdom is duh, da, da da. And I, I came to realize that, yeah, I’ve lived 60 some years. I do have, I’ve learned some stuff and found my voice to be able to share it. So that was, you know, when you are aware of it yourself, then you know how to lead others to find it and or to be aware of it also. So and it, it just is woven through by our studies and what we were doing, and they just came together in this beautiful affirmation of, of what we had to offer and that we were doing important work here. a couple of the things that came out of our conscious business was a quote from Fred Kaufman, that, right, right.

Lynn Hayes (33:41):

Leadership is how being rather than doing is the ultimate source of excellence. Mm. And so we, we let go of that. Like, oh, did we do enough? Did we accomplish enough the checklist thing to how are we being Mm, how are we being? And we came to understand more duly what we mean by a learning community. in the words of Margaret Mead, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. And in developing how we would be together, we decided to do a all our decisions by consensus. I see. And this consensus decision process is powerful. And to have new people who joined us to understand the benefit of consensus, rather than taking a vote in a vote, there’s always some losers who didn’t get heard. Because the majority, it makes the decision.

Lynn Hayes (34:39):

So we believe that we are truly stronger together, and we’ll not process progress over the learning that takes place during the process of coming to deci consensus decisions. It’s really our forum to draw out the wisdom of each person around that table. So cool, because it’s like, there’s no, being silent at a meeting leaves a big gap. It it, it disconnects the group. And so consensus decision, every voice is heard. It’s a requirement of consensus decision to say where you’re at with it and to understand, I’ve been present where the whole decision switched by one voice saying, but I’m not sure I see this. I wonder this. And it’s comes to a better spot. And we’ve operated on if you can live with it, if it makes sense to you, it goes on. If not, the decision isn’t made that day. That’s, that’s wisdom in action to like, let’s wait.

Lynn Hayes (35:37):

Let’s gather more, let’s grow in this. Let’s sit with it for a while. and in understanding the depth of what we mean by learning in community and allowing that emergent learning to happen, like emergent learning and doing it together is really, really brings out that, that wisdom. we followed the work of Margaret Wheatley who asked a really important question, how do we persevere in creating the changes we want to see in the world? And her, she offered a couple of guideposts, and the one guidepost was, learn from what you do after everything you do. Ask yourself, what did we learn? What worked, what didn’t work? Live life as a sci scientist, learning from the data that evolves. And we realized that is really what we had been doing. We cause we, we had freed ourselves to not have to have the answers, but just to be open hearted to asking the questions that were arising and doing it together just is a form for sharing your wisdom.

Sam Demma (36:45):

And I think even if you’re not a part of a organization that’s making consensus decisions and being able to put that reflection instantly into practice in a business sense, the idea you mentioned earlier, Jeremy, of journaling, like there’s one way to start collecting your wisdom or reflecting on your own experiences, even if you don’t have a board of directors. I think every educator could benefit from keeping a journal and writing down their reflections. I think about how cool it would’ve been if my grandfather kept a journal and, you know, was able to hand me 50 books and say, this is my life. If you’re interested, <laugh>. you know, not, I mean, that’s selfishly from my curiosity, but how cool it would’ve been for himself as well to just constantly reflect and tap into the wisdom of his experiences and those around him. this has been such a insightful conversation from a bird’s eye view, what are the ways in which the Ali Sun, the Ali Sunshine Project helps to ignite wellness? like is it event, is it events mainly fundraisers? Like what are the things that you guys do? Do you run programs? Like just give people an idea of the couple different things that you do?

Jeremy Hayes (38:10):

For sure. projects and events are the ones, everything that we do. we’ve got our central project is healing Garden, a one acre space on West Pike Creek Road in Lake Shore that we’ve converted into a healing garden under the guidance of Dan Binet at Windsor Essex Habitat Naturalization Network. Yes. he led a course in Build A Healing Gardens, and that’s been our home base, our outdoor classroom, our community hub. and we continue to gather there on Saturday mornings. and we connect as a, as a community. And we garden, we grow flowers, we grow plant we grow veggie plants. The veggie plants are donated to the Windsor Youth Center. and yeah, we’re market gardening, selling the, selling the flowers, and just really enjoying the space. So we’ve got a whole bunch of different garden installs and we’ve been exploring there together for years.

Jeremy Hayes (39:18):

We’re putting in an outdoor kitchen, so that’s a big one for us. Lots of fun. Nice. and then we have a, a long list of events that we host in the Healing Garden and throughout the community, we have a blood drive coming up November 26th. so if you’re interested in donating blood look us up. You can email us through the website, the ali sunshine project.com. And we have an education team, which Lin leads, and they put together a series of wellness events that have been hosted in the Healing Garden. So more to come on that front. we have a a school outreach team and they install Buddy benches at local schools. I think we’ve got seven Buddy benches installed. And those are a nonverbal bridge to Friendship for children that don’t have the social skills as developed as they need to, to be able to reach out when they are in search of belongingness. so they can sit on the bench and it’s they, the children in school know that if somebody’s sitting on the bench, they’re looking for a friend. So that’s a program that Terry and Sue Sharan have been pioneering. And they host a trivia event every fall at fo or fur in order to raise funds for that for thees. and

Sam Demma (40:55):

Yeah’s a lot. Yeah.

Lynn Hayes (40:57):

<laugh>, I, I

Jeremy Hayes (40:58):

Can, I also, I, I mentioned our planting wellness event. What, what else

Lynn Hayes (41:01):

Mom? I’d like to add to that, that along with our planting wellness, we have had a wellness fair Okay. Which invited local health practitioners and wellness people who have, some are, and people can come in and experience a mini reiki a minute, many just to know what’s available for wellness. Like, cause it’s fine to say, I wanna explore wellness, but where do I go? Who do I choose? So we bring together the local practitioners and our, our community is invited to come and see if something fits for them, give something a try. chair yoga as opposed to yoga. We offered connecting to Nature is a Garden wondering program, which was a really key thing for we felt it was parents and children coming together to explore and to answer their, their questions of wonderment and to have them do it together. so that, that is an ongoing thing. And it has life. It has changed some people’s way of parenting by seeing how what nature has to offer and to step back into your own natural learning through the eyes of your child and the wonder they explore the world with. yeah. So

Jeremy Hayes (42:13):

That’s, so you tell ’em not to get, not to get dirty. Yeah. <laugh> outta the mud.

Sam Demma (42:18):

That’s

Lynn Hayes (42:18):

Awesome. And, and you, you know, you start out thinking you’re going teach the children things, and they teach us so much, and that’s just opening that forum is is a whole world of wellness potential, right? In your own low family,

Sam Demma (42:33):

The, the work you’re doing is so important, and I hope you continue it forever, even when you guys are no longer running it and somebody else is. I’ve been inspired by this conversation so thank you so much for your time. I’m gonna put my boots on, like I said, and go for a hike. <laugh>. If someone wants to reach out, ask a question, share an idea, collaborate, what would be the email address they could send a message to?

Jeremy Hayes (43:02):

I’ve got a, one closing comment here. One of the things that really stuck with me from our, from our research and our thesis was Author and Educator Sam Crowley. He said he’s a teacher and in his Earth Day address in 2020 he said “when my students come to me and ask what can I as one person do to change the world,” he tells them, you as one person can’t not make a difference. What you think, and even the energy that flows through you is always making an impact on the world around you. And so our call to action for anybody listening is to be that change. And this is the essence of what it means to be a rare sunshine, and it’s simple to join us in being a ray of sunshine. As much as it’s powerful to do this work as an individual, it’s much more powerful when we connect as community to do this work of harnessing that positive energy and sending out those, those positive actions into the world.

Jeremy Hayes (44:18):

And so you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram. Go to the website at the alliesunshineproject.com. Sign up to be a member, sign up to donate your time to be an occasional volunteer or a dedicated volunteer. We’re currently looking for people to assist with fundraising human resources on our recruitment team. We also are looking for somebody to lead our events team, and a number of other fun and vibrant opportunities in an organization, which really is the central project. Like building this team has gone from being overwhelming to a source of great enjoyment in my life because we actually have a really well-rounded group of people that are supporting each other and doing this work, and we’re putting people in positions where we’re leveraging their unique ability and we’re giving them an experience that’s challenging and, and fulfilling. And this is it’s a, it’s a real opportunity for growth. So if anybody’s looking for volunteering experience, by all means you can reach out to me personally. My email is visionarydirector@thealliesunshineproject.com. Thanks for your time, Sam. It’s been great conversation.

Sam Demma (45:49):

Yeah. Jeremy Lynn, thank you both again for the work you’re doing. Keep it up. If I’m in the Windsor area, I will definitely be giving you a call and would love to connect. I look forward to continuing to watch the journey unfold and hopefully eating some food from the outdoor kitchen next spring. <laugh>,

Lynn Hayes (46:08):

That was wonderful, Sam. Thank you so much for having us today.

Sam Demma (46:11):

Awesome. Thank you both.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeremy and Lynn Hayes

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 Kupery – Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division

Jason Kupery - Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division
About Jason Kupery

Jason Kupery (@jkupery) is a Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division which serves students and families in both Southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, vice principal, principal and director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching, both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions.

Jason believes strongly that a strengths based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their “deep joy and the world’s deep need meet.”

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

Palliser School Division (PSD)

University of Victoria – Teacher Education Programs

University of Calgary

Mentorship for New Teachers – PSD

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 (00:03):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Jason Kupery. Jason is the Director of learning for the Palliser School Division, which serves students and families in both southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, Vice Principal, Principal and Director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching; both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions. Jason believes strongly that a strength based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their deep joy and the world’s deep need meet and intersect. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Jason and I will see you on the other side. Today we are joined by a very special guest virtually, who was recommended by another past guest; Joyce Sonata. Today’s special guest is Jason Kupery. Jason, thank you so much for coming on the show. Please start by introducing yourself and telling everyone a little bit about who you are.

Jason Kupery (01:22):

Hey Sam. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Happy to be here. Yeah, so as Sam said, my name is Jason Kupery and I’m a director of learning with the Palliser school division in southern Alberta. We have some schools in Calgary, and we have lots of schools in southern Alberta as well. And yeah, I just, I’ve been an educator for 23 years now. All of my time has been spent in high school. In high schools I was a teacher. I’ve been a Vice Principal, Principal, and now a director. And a large part of my responsibility is looking after high school programming, and another big rock in my portfolio would be health and wellness as well. I shared that responsibility with another colleague in my school division. And so it’s inspiring young people and seeing them grow and seeing them do that in a healthy way is definitely a passion of mine.

Sam Demma (02:20):

What got you interested in education? Did you know when you were a student, when your teachers would ask you, what do you wanna be when you grew up that you wanted to work in education?

Jason Kupery (02:32):

Yeah, that’s a good question. I always knew that I wanted to be I’m one of those weird people that is <laugh>, identifies as introverted. Okay. do like the, do like the idea of being around people and being of influence. And so when I went to school I was big into sports like yourself. and I went to, I, I grew up in Ontario and so I went to university to play football. Nice. and essentially that’s the only reason I went to university. other than, you know, there wasn’t a real academic pursuit at that time in my life. and I heard somebody else the other day say you know, I wasn’t always the greatest student and I did get myself into a bit of trouble. and, you know, those, those skills I honed around that sort of shenanigans in my life certainly made me a better educator cuz, you know, down the line you’d have kids trying to use things on you. I’m like,

Sam Demma (03:23):

I know this <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (03:24):

I don’t think, I’m not sure that’s original. I know you’re, and here’s how I know. Cause I used that once. Yeah. and so, yeah, I think it did prepare me to be a better educator. So I went, played football didn’t get a whole didn’t get a far away with that. cuz I wasn’t going for the right reasons. and so I sort of hunkered down and went to transferred schools. I stopped playing football and I got a little more serious about my my studies. I actually became a financial advisor for a while given an opportunity I had at the time of my life. But again, still knowing that I wanted to do something different. And I eventually moved to Victoria and the University of Victoria had an awesome teaching program, and I knew at that point that I needed to apply, and I was lucky enough to get into the program and had a wonderful experience there. And the rest, as I say, is history the last 23 years, I guess, have been going, going well ups and downs. And but I do love the idea, or sorry. I love being an educator and the idea of speaking to kids lives.

Sam Demma (04:38):

Victoria’s a beautiful place. I, I was there in August and behind one of the residents buildings at Vancouver Island University. There’s a bunch of wild black berries that grow. I don’t know if it was the same at Victoria University, like near or around campus, but I was just losing my mind. You can go to school and then fill a bucket of blackberries for free <laugh>, it’s,

Jason Kupery (05:02):

Yeah. No, they’re everywhere on the island for sure. Yeah. It’s a, it’s a beautiful place. I, I met my wife there and she grew up there her entire life, and she wanted to get off the island. So that was I’m, I’m now in southern Alberta in the beautiful rock. So no complaints.

Sam Demma (05:18):

So from your transition from Victoria to here, tell me about the different roles you’ve worked in education at different stages of your careers.

Jason Kupery (05:28):

Yeah, so I started out as a, as a junior teacher of course. And my first job in teaching, I had you know, you have eight blocks in a four by four traditional schedule. Nice. I had seven different preps, so I taught everything from English 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 to and so it was it was a good year. it was a busy year but it helped refine me because you have to you have to learn how to multitask no question when you’re in the classroom, of course. and it keeps you on your toes when you’re preparing for so many different subjects and things like that. So it was a wonderful time in terms of the education that I received and, and the lifelong learning that it instilled in me. but it was a lot. And of course, I also coached volleyball, basketball they had a, they had a, a floor hockey team I coached there you know, led some trips and, and those kinds of things.

Jason Kupery (06:23):

And it was wonderful because again, it’s one of those things you mentioned earlier about, you know, your vocation and your passion and that coming together. And I, that certainly solidified that. And I know for a lot of teachers it has a high turnover rate in the first few years because again, that’s a lot of work. And if you’re not totally committed it it may knock you right out of the, out of teaching altogether. Right. Mm. and I found, for me, that was refining that for me, that was, yes, this is where I need to be. this is a great deal of fun and it’s amazing interacting with young people who are learning and they’re awkward and they’re silly, and they do some really dumb things, to be honest. And you get to be Yeah, I, I can help you with that because I did those exact same things. So it’s kind a neat thing for sure.

Sam Demma (07:11):

What is, sorry, continue.

Jason Kupery (07:14):

Oh, I was just gonna say, and then after that, I, I, we moved here to I, I’m in Calgary. we moved here and just progressing through the you know, continuing to do that. You, you find a new space, you’ve grown more, you’ve teach different subjects. And I just always had it in my heart that I wanted to lead. Yeah. and I had I, that, those giftings were identified in me. I was very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors and people in my life who identified those gifts and said, Hey, you need to think about this. and so I went into to administration and then eventually to a principal role. I completed my masters at the University of Calgary, I think in 2012. I was finished. and then was, was administrator in high school. And then of course, now I’m director of learning for last seven years. So that is my progression.

Sam Demma (08:03):

When you think about the mentors in your life, I’m sure there’s so many, but are there any that had a really significant impact on you that you still stay in touch with and are in communication with? And if so, what did some of those mentors in your life do for you that had a big difference?

Jason Kupery (08:21):

Yeah. So for me that, that goes quite quite a ways back. And so I was raised in a single parent home with my mother and we didn’t have a whole lot and I didn’t have a lot of positive male influence my life at the time. And so somebody my mother worked with one of her friends at work was, she was just mentioning that to her at work, and she said, oh, my husband can come by and, and take him out and, you know, hang out with him for a bit. That’d be, and, and so that was arranged, and I think that was back in, I’m dating myself here, but that was probably back in 1986, 87, oh, sooner three maybe. anyways. And so he, that mentor is still in my life. He is grandpa to my kids.

Jason Kupery (09:04):

 he helped he helped me along the way. and so that was a very significant obviously mentor in my life and now like a father. so that was the real blessing. And along the way he’s helped me on a number of occasions. so that’s the major one. But in terms of my, my career there have been so many people that have just been, you know, when you, when you see people that have something you don’t whether that be wow. Wisdom when you’re young, right? yeah, yeah. Or just the way of dealing with people or like a, like a sober second thought, like, hang on a second, have you thought about this? Because my personality is one that, hey, we gotta get this done and I’m just gonna, you know, put my head down and charge through the plate glass window kind of deal.

Jason Kupery (09:50):

Right? And we’re gonna get it done. and there’s been so many wise people in my life that have said, hang on a sec, what if, what if we did this way? Or, or, why don’t you try and just slow this thing down a little bit so that you can help other people catch up? Right? Mm. or, you know, you proceeded too quickly and now look at what happened. You created a massive mess, and now we’ve gotta go clean it up. So what did you learn from that? Right. Which is the big thing. And so the most, the most positive people in my life have, have been the ones that, cuz I’ve made plenty of mistakes haven’t, you know, pointed a finger and screamed and, or shouted or abandoned me or whatever. They’ve said, Hey, look, that didn’t go well. So what did you learn from that? And if there’s anything that I can try and help other people with in that regard, it’s that same thing. It’s like let’s get out of the guilt and shame kind of cycles here and say, yeah, everybody screws up and it’s an important lesson for you to learn, whether you’re one of my students or whether you’re a colleague or whether you’re a friend yeah. That, that didn’t go well. So what can we learn from it and how can we how can we move on in a positive way? So,

Sam Demma (10:49):

Hmm. That’s such a good reminder. I feel like sometimes when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves up for it for way too long. I, as you were explaining, that situation reflected back on one of the biggest mistakes I made in my career, speaking <laugh>. And it was when I was just starting, I was 17, and at the time, I wasn’t using a calendar to keep track of what I had committed to. And you might be able to guess her, this is going, but I basically booked a presentation with about 300 people. Some of them were in the school board that I grew up in, and it, it was at a local, a local arena. And they called me the day of the event, Sam, we’re so excited. We know that you’re starting in about 10 minutes. we just wanted to make sure that you’re nearby.

Sam Demma (11:39):

And I had totally forgot six months ago that I had booked this engagement. I didn’t put it on my calendar. And I was like, an hour and a half drive away. I instantly started bawling my eyes out, and for about two months I would walk down from my bedroom in the morning and look at my parents and go, I can’t believe I did that. And it got to the point where my parents were like, Sam, shut up. Like, you know, we’ve heard about this 60 times now, you’re not gonna make the mistake again. And it took me so long to get out of the guilt and shame period, and into the, let me learn from this, reflect on it, and build new systems so it doesn’t happen again. And I don’t think, there was like a defining moment for me where I was like, I’m gonna stop thinking about this. And I’m curious to know, like when you’ve made a mistake or when someone that you know, in the education world’s made a mistake, how do you quickly, or maybe not quickly, but how do you transition from the beating myself up to the, let’s now learn from this and move on?

Jason Kupery (12:39):

Yeah, that’s a good question. And I’ll tell you, I wish I could tell you no, none of the, I, you know, when I make a mistake, I just let it go and I, it’s gone.

Sam Demma (12:46):

Yeah. <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (12:47):

I dwell, I’m a dweller for sure. And and everybody close to me knows that you don’t have to worry about beating up on me because I’m gonna do a better job than anybody else can, right? Yeah. and so what I do, my strategy for it is to talk to people that I trust and love, right? So that’s, that’s the biggest thing. I I, yeah, it, it’s, it’s important to have people in your life that you can, that you can chat with that you can speak openly to and transparently with. and you know, it’s super important because they understand you. And, and, and none of those people say, well, here’s what you need to do, right? Mm. that’s the biggest thing. it’s not about advice. It just, it, it’s that they understand me, they know who I am.

Jason Kupery (13:28):

So, yeah. Oh, yeah, Cooper’s gonna beat himself to death on this one, so we’re just gonna stand, we’re gonna walk beside him, we’re gonna chat with ’em, we’re gonna let ’em talk. Right? And a lot of times that’s cathartic enough to be able to just to talk to somebody, talk it through, and then real, eventually when you talk it through either with the same person or with enough people, you eventually draw your own conclusions, right? Yeah. You know what, I am being kind of silly. This is, this is not as big a deal as I think it’s right. and, you know, even when it’s a big deal, you have people that you know you can love and trust that will stand beside you and, and help you through it and just, and just be there. I mean, you can use the example, your parents. I have an incredibly supportive spouse. I have some awesome kids. I have some really, really, really close friends. and I’m, so, I’m very blessed that I have that network of people in my life that I can you know, talk to when I screw up. So

Sam Demma (14:18):

I love that. And in the school building, I’m assuming that would be other people in the office as well. If you’re a teacher in, in a school, it’d be other teachers kinda leaning on your supports.

Jason Kupery (14:32):

Yeah, a hundred percent. a lot of times that’s what really makes a really tight knit school community. Like I’ve had the privilege of working on some wonderful steps where it’s just people get along they can trust each other, they can, they got each other’s backs. you know, principals got teachers backs, and we’ll help you even when you make mistakes. I’m not gonna totally, you know, I can’t defend some of those things, but I can certainly walk beside you and help you out with those kinds of things, right? you know, and, and for people who, who go into administration, those gaps tend to widen a little bit and it becomes a little bit lonelier. So finding those external sources that you can talk to and you can trust, right, is very important. And yes, of course, in the role I’m in now, you know, you have to have the right colleagues and, and they’re not all in the same school division, right? You have some great colleagues in other school divisions that can relate and empathize with some of the things that happen and, and just great people to be able to share with, and chat with and, and may have advice because they’ve been through it themselves, right? So those are important things

Sam Demma (15:28):

You, you can tell, just listening to you speak and share your ideas that you really care about this and you care about education. what about education makes you excited? Like, what gets you outta bed every single day to show up to work and put your best foot forward and try to do meaningful things?

Jason Kupery (15:47):

Yes, Tim, I’ll tell you, there’s not many careers, and I know there’s, there’s a lot of great careers and there’s a lot of great people doing a lot of wonderful things, but there are not many careers that you can actually speak directly into the lives of a lot of young people, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as, as challenging and as tiring as it can be, it can also be super inspiring and super wonderful. And it’s not that you know, the times that I’ve had in my career that I’ve found the most inspiration hasn’t been drummed up by me, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s been drummed up by amazing young people that have incredible ideas and that are thinking about the future as opposed to what was, what’s happened in the past and those types of things, right? and to see people grow and to see people learn is just an incredible gift.

Jason Kupery (16:38):

 and so what excites me now in this current role, because there are some degrees of separation for me is providing the structures for students to succeed, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So my job now is to develop programming and develop programs and systems and things like that, that will either help students find their passion and ignite that spark through different kinds of programs or leadership kinds of opportunities we offer. or it’s ways of finding that sort of self-actualization ways for them to you know find the rhythm be mentally well understand what it is to be healthy. These are difficult times, right? I mean, I know I’m getting old now, so it’s been a long time. But I have had, I do have teenage children, and I do, I can understand and empathize with, with what it means to grow up in those worlds, those, those vicious middle school years and the tough high school years, and you’re trying to figure out your life.

Jason Kupery (17:38):

You’re trying to figure out where you fit, who you fit in with what your future may hold. Those are extremely formative but stressful times for students. And to be able to do everything from helping somebody read and learn how to arithmetic and to make sense of the world at a young age, to guide them all the way up through adolescence and into their, you know, adulthood you know, that transition into post-secondary life. it’s such a massive undertaking and what a privilege to be able to be a part of that. so that’s what gets me up in the morning.

Sam Demma (18:14):

You mention, you mentioned at such a cool perspective. Thanks for sharing. You mentioned that some of the coolest experiences, things that got you the most excited were not drummed up by yourself, but by students. And I’m curious, can you give us some insight into what some of those things might be? On our last call, we talked a little bit about an event that you would host and that was created and co-created with kids, and I would love to hear about that, or any other ideas that come to mind.

Jason Kupery (18:44):

Yeah, there, there’s just so much inspiration out there, but we’ve, we’ve had, you know the one we were speaking about, Sam was we had a young a student in our school community that sadly passed away the year after she graduated this from some complications with the medication. and one of her big things when she was in high school, and one of the things she advocated for was organ donation. and she donated all our organs, which was an incredible gift to a bunch of different families. And, you know, we you know, sat as a staff and as administration afterwards, brokenhearted trying to figure out how to make sense of this. and you know, the one thing that I, I mentioned my affinity for sports, and some other people had some affinity for sports too. So we decided let’s do a, like a charity hockey game, and we’re gonna raise some money and give it away to the to the organ foundation around here.

Jason Kupery (19:39):

 and also raise awareness. I mean, I think that’s a big deal. And we mobilized the troops. We were really inspired by this young lady and by honoring her. and so, you know, we had some professional landing McDonald came out and played with us, and, and, you know, it was just great. We had the whole school come. We had, we raised all kinds of money. It was a wonderful event. and over the years and, and we raised a lot of awareness around organ donation and those kinds of things. And over the years we started getting letters from people. And one we had I think the next year we had somebody that had this young lady’s kidneys. Oh. And he was alive and he was thriving because he had her kidneys. So he played with us in the hockey game, which was

Sam Demma (20:23):

Super cool, crazy.

Jason Kupery (20:24):

And then the year after that, a young man from Newfoundland received her heart. Wow. And he, he reached out to us. He reached out through through the David Foster Foundation and he reached out to us and said, Hey, I’d like to come. I’m a golia. I’d like to come play. and in the mean, in, in the meanwhile, he also got to meet this young lady’s family. And I mean, it was a very emotional, you can imagine what a gift. And, and so what a gift both ways. Obviously this young lady’s heart is literally in somebody else. And is, is helping somebody live to a point where he can come out and play a game of hockey with us. and of course, the gift that he brought to the family by saying, I’m alive and well because of your daughter’s sacrifice.

Jason Kupery (21:10):

What, like, incredible. So that was, you know, those moments are are something that helped you as an adult. It puts you in awe of what young people are capable of. and again, as a teacher and as an administrator, and as a director, my, my modus operandi was always put kids in those positions to succeed. They’re not always gonna do it. They’re not always gonna take it up. Some are just gonna go through and that’s fine, and they’ll live their lives. But some really just need that extra little push or that extra little program or that extra little spark to ignite something in a passion in them. And when those types of things happen it’s just incredible what students are capable of.

Sam Demma (21:54):

You told me the same story last time, which is why I was teasing it out of you. It gave me goosebumps, and it’s given me goosebumps again. What a remarkable story of impact and what a great reminder to check the box on the paper we get in the mail when we pass away, if that’s a decision we wanna make, knowing that it could save so many people’s lives.

Jason Kupery (22:14):

And I’m sure that decision she made has. and I just wanna, I, I just wanna share one more with you. yeah, please. We can talk about for sure. But we had a young man whose whose father passed away from cancer. unfortunately, and these guys for some reason were super into unicycles, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, who, like how many people are <laugh>? There was like four of them. And they all just, they rode around, they ate their sandwiches at lunch in the parking lot, and they would try little jumps and things like that. and so this young man was, was sharing a story about his father passed away from cancer, and these guys come up with this brilliant idea, and I say brilliant sort of sarcastically, but it was brilliant to unicycle from B to Calgary, which is about 130, maybe 125 on a unicycle, <laugh> and to raise money.

Jason Kupery (23:01):

So they raised money for cancer research and those kinds of things. I think they raised something like 15 or $18,000. Like it was a lot. But these poor guy, they did it two days cuz it was way too much during a day. But these poor guys, and I, I drove the van behind them with the blinkers on <laugh> Road, and they rode their unicycles from BMP all the way to Calgary. and it was kind of cool in Calgary for anybody’s around here. Edward Worthy Park is just down the road. so they rode in Deady Park and their parents and their families that all had this huge celebration in the park, and they had a check presentation. you know, stuff like that. It just, like, that stuff happens more routinely than you think because young people have such inspiration and such drive, and they don’t understand quite yet what no means.

Jason Kupery (23:44):

You know what I mean? Because we, we, we get a little beaten down over the years about, oh, that can’t happen and that can’t happen. And young people just, they have great ideas. And so again, I’ve tried to be very cognizant of the fact that it’s not about saying, well, here’s what’s gonna go wrong, or here’s what could happen, or here’s this or that, or it’s, Hey, there might be some barriers. How can I help you remove those? and how can we help them? It might, it might happen differently because of certain things that we can’t do, but I’m sure we can, if we just think creatively and, and my job as a, as an trusted adult in their life would be, okay, let’s get rid of those things so you can succeed.

Sam Demma (24:16):

That’s awesome. I’m sure when you were in the schools, you dealt with a lot of those on a face to face basis because they would walk up to you and say, Hey, hey sir, I have an idea. Can I tell you about it? and now from a systems perspective, you probably hear about a lot of those things. One of the things that I think is really special about education, and you alluded to it earlier, you said, there are so many careers, but there aren’t many where you can speak directly into the lives of young people. I think one of the coolest things about education that lures most educators is the idea that they can make a positive difference in the life of a young person. What’s funny is that everything you’ve shared with me makes me believe that the young people have all made a massive difference in your life.

Sam Demma (25:03):

And I don’t think that aspect of it is, is talked about enough. and, and you just shared two inspiring stories and how it had a big impact on you. But I am curious to know in all your years working in a school, working in a classroom, has there been students who, when they first walked through your door or into the school, were really struggling and by the end of the couple years, or by the end of this semester had a real big breakthrough or transformation and yeah. Are there any stories like that that come to mind?

Jason Kupery (25:39):

Yeah, well, there’s, there, there’s plenty for sure. I think that helping students <affirmative> you know, I’m not a big fan of the idea of streaming, like saying, you know, you’re not, you’re not smart enough to do this, so don’t, don’t try. Yeah. and I’ve seen a, I’ve seen a lot and, and sometimes, you know, it is, some things are, are a deep enough level. You don’t wanna set kids up for failure, but you certainly don’t wanna say, well, don’t bother trying, because then, you know, you’re just gonna, you’re gonna end up failing, right? Yeah. So it’s a, it’s a distinction, if you will. and I’ve seen so many kids over the years flourish because you know, well, I can’t do that. I’m no good at math. That’s, that’s the easiest thing to say in, in education is I suck at math, right?

Jason Kupery (26:21):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then, okay, well, okay, I guess that’s it for you then, then we’ll, we’ll put you into something else. and I’ve always tried, I’ve used this match with my own kids too, but it’s just, no, you don’t suck at it. You just haven’t done it enough. You just have to, you need more practice, right? and, you know, trying to sort of present that mindset to students to say, try it. If it doesn’t work out, what’s the biggest, you know, fail forward, what’s the biggest thing that can happen? Right? and, you know, you gotta convince students of that, but you also have to convince their parents of course, too, right? Like, we’re gonna do this. It may not go super well, but that’s okay, right? We’ve got other room, we’ve got other spaces, we can, we, there’s other pathways. and so I’ve seen a lot of students succeed because they under, either they’ve, they’ve gone way beyond what they thought they could which is a wonderful thing.

Jason Kupery (27:08):

And we’ve also seen kids succeed because they’ve made a wise choice, I need to go on a different direction. And there’s another path, right? And one of the things I’ve seen you know, that even, even the most driven of students and the straight A students don’t realize is there are so many different paths in life, and there are so many different ways you can take. but I think that young people and families and, you know, people in general just think that there’s a linear straight, like, I have to get here, I have to get that 95, or I’m not getting into this program. And so part of, part of what I’ve tried to do is in helping people through that journey is to say, look, there’s, there’s a ton of paths, and just because you can’t take this math or take this biology or take this whatever there are other ways to do it, and we can get you there.

Jason Kupery (27:51):

And, you know, in, in a, in a world of instant gratification, it’s hard to understand, Hey, maybe you should take another year of high school, or maybe you need to take another course. Well, and I need this to happen now. It, it doesn’t need to happen now. But I know that’s a hard message for some people to hear. But in order to succeed, you may need to try a little bit, you know, a different way or, or it may take a little bit longer, but that there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no shame in that, right? to be able to take a different path in life to succeed. and the other piece is helping students identify you know, the traditional classroom or the book learning or the, those kinds of things aren’t what I love to do. That doesn’t mean you’re not smart, it means you’re brilliant in other ways.

Jason Kupery (28:30):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so trying to provide students an opportunity to, whether it’s work with their hands or build something or problem solve in a different way you know, helping students understand their own aptitudes and their own, you know, brilliance is, it’s one thing to tell them, it’s another for them to discover for themselves, right? And so, again, as educators we try to create the conditions for students to do that. You know, if you, if you allow for different modalities of teaching in your classroom, and the student says, ah, I, now I can see because I, because I made it up with my hands, now I can see why it’s important, or now I can make the connection with the learning. quite often education is learn this regurgitate it, and now you know it without that real life connection and without that, without that sort of cementing or anchoring the learning it’s very difficult.

Jason Kupery (29:21):

It’s why most times when you, I mean, you’ve done it, I’ve done it a thousand times, where you, you, you study you and then you, you drill everything into your head for eight hours before the test or whatever, and then you forget 60% of it by the time you walk out the door, right? Because it’s like, I got what I needed to do, I accomplished, I got the mark. and so I’ve accomplished that. but have I really learned, so anyways, sorry, I’m rambling. I’m just saying that allowing students different ways to learn helps ’em flourish. And I’ve seen that so many times where students have had that aha moment, like, ah, now I know this is what I’m good at. and I mentioned to you earlier as well, the idea of post-secondary is frightening to a lot of people. It was frightening for you.

Jason Kupery (29:58):

It was frightening for me. Yeah. it’s a huge transition. And so I just had this conversation earlier today with some, some educators around students feel too much pressure. We have to stop asking them what they’re going to do. And I a hundred percent agree what I, what we need to ask. And the question I’m trying to change within our school division here is what do you love to do? Yeah. Because if we, if you can tell me what you love to do or what really gets what gets you up in the morning, you asked me that question earlier, what gets you up in the morning? And then we could connect it to a different career. but if you think that you can only be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or whatever, then those opportunities don’t blossom for you because, oh, I’m not good at that, so I’m never gonna be an engineer, and I just, I can’t do this kind of math, so I won’t go on to do sciences. Well, there’s a thousand other things you could do out there that would bring you joy and would meet the world’s needs. So we just have to figure out what that is for you.

Sam Demma (30:47):

I got goosebumps like five times while you were just, just sharing those ideas because one, I was the student who took the fifth year and the gap year and thought I was falling behind. And I was, I was interviewing another educator Sarah daddario from a school in California, and I try and talk to diverse, you know, amount of educators, and she was sharing something similar that her students were going through, putting so much expectations on pressure on themselves to start the next step right when they finished high school, even though they weren’t sure what they were doing. And she shared this beautiful analogy about going to parties, and she said, this is the analogy that I give my students. She and she, she asked me a question, if you were going to one of your friend’s parties, what are all the different ways you could get there?

Sam Demma (31:36):

And I started listing off all these random ideas, ride my bike, ask my mom for a drive, hit your ride with the, with the taxi guy, called a pizza delivery person and ask him to pick me up. I could walk there, I could roller blade, I could scooter, I could get a helicopter and fly. Like I started giving some funny answers. And she’s like, well, all of those are valid options and they’ll all get you to the final destination, but every single one of them takes a different amount of time and a different set of steps. And that’s how I try and encourage, she, she was explaining that’s how she encourages their students to think about their pathways. That you will all end up at a party. It might not be the same party based on your different interests, but you’ll all end up somewhere.

Sam Demma (32:16):

Your choice of transportation is what will make your life unique and interesting. And I just keep thinking about that whenever I think about pathways and adding so much pressure on ourselves. and then the other thing you mentioned in your second point was this idea that students have five options, an engineer, doctor, lawyer, you know, what we think we, we wanna do. and what we really should try and do is figure out what they love. And I, I thought about an artist who I really look up to, his name’s Russ, and he makes music, and he grew up thinking that he lacked discipline and wasn’t a hard worker, but later in life realized that it was actually the work that made him not very disciplined and not work hard because he just didn’t enjoy it. But when he found the thing that he loved, he was in the studio every day making music, and now he’s one of the largest independent artists on, on the planet.

Sam Demma (33:12):

And I think it’s really important that we don’t judge students based off of the things they don’t like doing. And I’m sure there’s a lot of things that we have to do, even if we don’t like it, and that’s a part of the journey as well. But I really like that you’re trying to help students figure out what they love and then craft the pathway from there. do you have any examples of and I’m putting it on the spot here, but of like a student who came to you and said this is what we’re, we’re, we’re passionate about and you helped kind of create a different pathway or brainstormed ideas around it?

Jason Kupery (33:49):

Yeah. well, I think that the most, when I, when I, I don’t about a specific example per se of one that’s jumping in my head and right at this moment, I’m, I’m, I’m sure I’ll think about 20 when I get, when I, that’s

Sam Demma (34:01):

OK <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (34:05):

 but I think that it’s, it’s more around helping students understand there’s a stigma that exists with certain careers, right? Mm-hmm. and, and so, you know, the trades are things that people that, that aren’t good at school do, which is ah which is seriously flawed. Obviously. I don’t want somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing, building my house or <laugh>

Sam Demma (34:28):

Putting,

Jason Kupery (34:29):

Renovating my kitchen or whatever, right? and you know, there’s that, that sort of, these are lesser than skills, which is so not true. you know you know, the saying is, I’m educated, but I’m all that smart. And and that’s the same, goes like, I have a master’s degree, but you put a hammer in my hand, I’m gonna end up hurting somebody, right? <laugh>, most <inaudible>, I’m sure before anybody else <laugh>. and, and so I really wish, that was one thing that I developed more as a skill, right? Yeah. so just, just helping students understand that, that their gifts are extremely valuable no matter what they are, and they can be used for something. Again, it’s that the biggest thing was is that, that the world’s deep need and, and your deep joy intersecting, right? That’s where it’s at. Like Russ, you know, Hey, I found a medium that I am passionate about and that I want to pursue.

Jason Kupery (35:24):

So I’ve seen more of, of that I should say, in in, you know, where kids are so driven to, to get onto this, and they’ve fallen out of that, and really, and then they’ve come to me later and said, Hey, I’m doing this now I’m, I’m working my hands, or I’m, you know, a paramedic or I’m this or that. And, you know, it changed my life just thinking about, you know, how to you know, striving so much for something that was almost unattainable and, and, you know, at the expense of my mental health and other things in my life. and then when I realized that this was actually my gifting I was able to succeed. So

Sam Demma (36:00):

I love it.

Jason Kupery (36:01):

As we talk, I’ll think of a, of an example. I just didn’t expect to come up with that, but I should have that off the top of my head for

Sam Demma (36:08):

Sure. No, I’m putting you on the spot here. And it’s funny, it makes me think about situations where I have a conversation with someone and then five minutes after the conversation ends, I’m like, God damn, that’s, that’s what I wanted to say. You know? But you, you did a perfect job answering that, and I appreciate it. It’s really apparent that at the core of a lot of your thinking and decisions is the end user, which is the student. and I’m sure there’s ways that the the staff are a part of your, your planning as well because you’re at the, I guess, overarching level now. I’m curious, like for all the educators that are listening to this who are starting their first year of teaching, if you could bundle up your wisdom and experiences and go back in time and tap Jason on the shoulder when he was just starting and say, Jason, this is what you need to hear. What would you have told your younger self? Not because you would’ve changed your path, but because you thought it’s helpful advice to hear at the start of a career in education?

Jason Kupery (37:09):

Yeah, great question. I would say, you know, first and foremost and, and to, to, to sort of connect it to the last question you know, when it’s not so much that people have re retooled and done something and now ta-da, I’m happy. Yeah. it’s more about the kids that had a really, really, really hard time with a, because of circumstances in their life growing up unstable families drugs, alcohol, poor decisions and those are the ones that are, that are throwing things at you or telling F off or, and I just, young teachers and, and people in education, I mean, the one thing I would say is, please look past that. I mean, there is trauma in those kids’ lives, and that trauma-informed practice is really, really important because while it is that person standing in front of you, that young person standing in front of you screaming or throwing a fit or punching a snot at somebody else or whatever it’s not to see that that student or I is a terrible person or deserves some kind of punitive justice or those types of things that, that that young person needs some love in their life and needs somebody to look past that.

Jason Kupery (38:23):

And so when I’ve had people come back to me and say, Hey, thanks for, you know, because you, you because you intervened and because you had enough patience and because you didn’t kick me out and because you didn’t make my life harder, I look at I’m now a success and I wanna come back and say thank you. Those things mean a lot to me, obviously. I mean, they mean a lot to a lot of educators, right? But we tend to, and I’m no different, we tend to look at that and say, oh, that kid’s driving me crazy. I just want ’em outta here. Right? Just get out. and it takes far more patience and understanding to sort of try and look through that and try to reason and try to understand where that young person’s coming from to be able to speak into their lives.

Jason Kupery (39:08):

And it’s not like you have to, okay, now I’m gonna tell you everything you need to know, and I’m the best just, Hey, I’m here to listen and I’m, I’m going to be a safe place for you to come and, and be yourself. that changes lives. There’s no question. and so my encouragement would be, a lot of these people have a lot of people that, that give you a hard time or will give you a hard time in your career, are carrying a lot of, they’re carrying a pretty heavy backpack, if I can use your

Sam Demma (39:34):

Analogy. <laugh>

Jason Kupery (39:35):

<laugh>. and, and that’s, and that’s something that’s so extremely important to understand and to try to speak to them in a way that they can hear and know that they’re safe and cared for, because they’ll still make dumb decisions, but they’ll, they’ll always thank you because you stay, you stay beside steadfast. so I guess please don’t give up too easily on, on people that give you a hard time because they got a lot going on. The other thing I would say to young educators, and I do, and I do say that now because we do have what’s called the teacher induction program here. So it’s called Tip for

Sam Demma (40:11):

Sure. Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:12):

 is don’t let the, the jaded, angry nature of the profession seep into your brain. And I’m not suggesting that’s pervasive, but it, it can happen. All you need is one teacher that, you know, is jaded or disaffected or, you know, kids are lazy or yeah. Whatever. And that sort of can flavor the water and it can get inside your head because that was my experience, right? You know, I had some, some teacher sponsors or whatever that the people that helped evaluate me and helped me through in my early years you know, weren’t always the most possible profession, <laugh> and, you know the, the 40 kids or the 35 kids and, you know, the half of them are criminals and those kinds of things. Right? those are the kinds of things you’re here as a young teacher and you just don’t start believing that.

Sam Demma (40:57):

Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:58):

Cause it really does impact your ability to speak into people’s lives when you start to see them differently as opposed to who they really are beneath that tough exterior.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Mm. I love it. It’s like the advice don’t judge a book by its cover. And I think it applies so deeply in education, especially with young people, and you’re speaking from experience because you started it at the beginning of this podcast saying that you did some silly stuff as a student <laugh>. So I and we all did, you know, I think back to when I was grade seven and got suspended and we don’t have to get into the details of the silly incident, but I remember coming home and uncontrolled be crying and my dad not, you know, scolding me, but saying, let’s go talk to your principal. And bringing me back to school and sitting in the office and my principal at the time instead of seriously punishing me, he asked me a lot of questions and kind of forced me to reflect on the choice I made and why maybe it wasn’t a good choice and what I learned from the experience.

Sam Demma (42:02):

And I ended up having a two day suspension but it was a it was a very kind gesture, and I learned so much from it. So I’ve had personal experiences and I think a lot of students do. So I appreciate you sharing that, and I appreciate you coming on the podcast and talking about your experiences and beliefs around education. And if there’s an educator who listens to this and wants to ask you a question or send you a message, what would be the most effective way for them to reach out and get in touch? Not that we’re gonna fill your inbox, <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (42:33):

Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, I’m, I’m always willing to, to share and collaborate with others. I think it’s awesome. Yeah, email’s the best way and I can certainly share that with you if you wanna attach it somehow or whatever.

Sam Demma (42:43):

Sure. Awesome. Sounds good. Jason, thanks again for, for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate your time and energy. Keep up the great work, and I’ll see you soon.

Jason Kupery (42:52):

Okay. Thanks, Sam. Appreciate it.

Sam Demma (42:55):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Kupery

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.

Paolo Morrone – Principal at St Andrew Catholic School

Paolo Morrone - Principal at St Andrew Catholic School
About Paolo Morrone

Paolo Morrone (@StAndrewStormP) is currently the Principal at St Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a Physical Education and Social Science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the TCDSB and has had the pleasure and honour to have served eight schools as both a vice principal and principal. During his career, he has been also been able to serve as both a teacher and administrator in both elementary panels.

He cares deeply for and works with ALL students in the school. Paolo enjoys all aspects of school life but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well-rounded students and individuals but responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school intermediate boys’ basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extra-curricular events at his school. Paolo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports and always seeks to be a servant leader. He is always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect.

Connect with Paolo: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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Resources Mentioned

St Andrew Catholic School

St. Jude Catholic School

Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB)

Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA)

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 (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Today’s special guest is Paulo Morrone. Paolo is currently the Principal at St. Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a physical education and social science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and has had the pleasure and honor to have served eight schools as both a Vice Principal and Principal. During his career, he has also been able to serve as both a teacher and an administrator in both elementary panels. He cares deeply for and works with all students in the school.

Sam Demma (01:51):

Paulo enjoys all aspects of school life, but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well rounded students and individuals, but more importantly, responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school Intermediate Boys basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extracurricular events at his school. Paulo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views, and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports, which you’ll hear about in our podcast, and always seeks to be that servant leader. He’s also always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Paulo and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Today’s special guest is Paulo Paulo. I’m gonna allow you to introduce yourself and please share a little bit about your journey through education.

Paolo Morrone (03:08):

Hey, Sam, first of all, thanks for having me. well, as you said, my name’s Paulo Morone. I’m currently the principal at St. Andrew Catholic School in Rexdale Ontario, or proud at Togo North at Togo, as we say. my journey, my journey is an interesting one, but I started actually in the secondary panel and in high school actually I lied. Excuse me. I came out, this is what’s what’s interesting when it comes to me with education was I started in elementary. I got a little call right outta teacher’s college. Nice. saying, Hey, do you are you interested in a grade six position as a teacher? right outta teacher’s college, just as well, <laugh>. Yeah. I don’t really have the, the experience to teach grades. I don’t even have the qualifications. I didn’t have my junior, it doesn’t matter.

Paolo Morrone (04:02):

We need, they, they were in a, in a, in a bind and they needed somebody quick. And it was quite the experience that I never thought I would end up back in elementary. Nice. it was you know, you look at experiences good and bad, but that was one at the time that probably scarred me from the elementary panel in general. And then I, I, you kind of, when I got, when I got into education or the way I feel is that you’re either one or the other elementary or high school. And I was always geared more towards the high school secondary. I just loved to coach and I just found that I always related better with, with the older kids. Nice. so I spent the first what, 10 years roughly of my my educational career in secondary.

Paolo Morrone (04:50):

And then I made a jump to elementary again, which was quite shocking for me. it was a lot of personal reflection and, and discernment in terms of making that move. and I made the move. And at first it was quite the challenge for me mentally and not physically of course, but mentally it was a, it was, it was quite a change. And now six years later three schools in three schools of under my belt in elementary between a vice principal and principal role. And here we we’re. And I’m enjoy enjoying it much more than I thought I would you know, almost 20 years ago when I stepped in fresh faced and, you know, green under the ears into into that little elementary school.

Sam Demma (05:33):

That’s awesome. Did you know growing up as a student yourself that you really wanted to work in education? Or how did you find this pathway in the first place?

Paolo Morrone (05:43):

 I always tell people this. It was I can date my, my, my realm or my, sorry, my my wish to be an education back to grade eight. Wow. I can, yeah. I had a, I can tie actually being a principal back to being great. I always said I wanted to be a teacher and coach. I kind of started, I volunteered from grade nine in my, at my old elementary school. Okay. Nice. As much as I could, of course. and I kind of did that all throughout high school to get as much experience as I could, knowing that I was gonna get into teaching or that’s where I wanted to land, wanted to go. Yeah. And thankfully it worked out for me.

Sam Demma (06:22):

And tell me more about the coaching aspect of your role. Are you still coaching now? And what are you, what are you

Paolo Morrone (06:28):

Coaching? No, I, I, you know what, I don’t, but I I’m gonna be helping out with the basketball team this year a bit just cause the coach is one of my younger teachers and he found out that I coached back in the day, so he kind of approached me and said, Hey, would you be willing to help? And I said, absolutely. Like it’s actually a big passion of mine. I loved it when I did it. Nice. coaching, coaching was, they say kids kids sports gets kids to school in many cases. And coaching got me to school, not that I didn’t wanna work, but coaching was a, was a big part of the early, early part of my career. I really, really loved connecting with kids inside and outside the classroom. The outside piece, people don’t give it enough credit.

Paolo Morrone (07:09):

People don’t understand that building relationships in that capacity, like outside of the traditional classroom walls it can, it, it does amazing things for you as an educator in a school. Students you just build that trust. You can’t, I can’t put a, I can’t really articulate it, but when you build that relationship and trust with them outside of, you know, the book, the books and the pens and the papers and the iPads, it, it’s another layer. it’s another layer that if you haven’t been in education or you don’t do it while you’re an educator, you don’t really understand it. Sometimes people didn’t, even, colleagues didn’t understand like, why are you doing so much coaching? So first off, I was in, partially in PhysEd as a phed teacher, and I always felt that that was part of what we should do realistically, why else are you in a physical education program?

Paolo Morrone (08:00):

Right? Yeah. and the other part was just, I love working with kids in that capacity period, and I love sports. So you put all that together and I had the dream job. That’s awesome. and here I am sitting as a principal and I always say like, how did I give that up? Yeah. So did I, did I like the coaching? What was the, it was the huge part of my, the early part of my career, and I do miss it. I’m gonna be helping out with the ball team this year. Nice. And last year I ran a little bit of intramurals for the kids when things opened up after a lot of the, the restrictions were laid or taken off. we got some awesome intramurals for the kids at lunch, which kept them engaged. We were having a lot of issues at lunch as well. So that really helped turn things around.

Sam Demma (08:45):

It sounds like relationship building has been a key part of your belief around education, and you’ve done it a lot through extracurricular activities like coaching and sports. Can you think of a a student who maybe was struggling with school that you were able to build a relationship with through sport that had a positive impact on their, I guess, their school experience? Or maybe even maybe it’s not a, a student that you specifically coach, but a story you’ve heard before? I’m just curious.

Paolo Morrone (09:14):

Yeah. I mean I, I can honestly say that I’ve, I, I think I’ve had quite a bit of an impact, or I had quite a bit of an impact in my early, the earlier part of my career with that. I would coach about six teams a year. Wow. Either in a, either, not just in a head coaching, like I would either help as an assistant Yeah. Or I was the head coach, but basketball sort of was my thing. which it wasn’t. I didn’t, didn’t even, basketball was one of the only sports I did to play. I didn’t play as a kid growing up in terms of any type of, you know, you play a little, a little bit on the street or at the park or whatever, but not in a league in any way. So I kind of got thrown into it and fell in love with it. And along the way there was a lot of, there’s a lot of kids. I mean basketball, it can be a challenging sport to coach in many ways. just the game itself is, is fantastic and, and it comes with some challenges in that sense. But the school that I was at at the time where I was really into the, the basketball coaching, there were a lot of kids. They needed a little bit of direction and guidance and one particular kid stood out. obviously I’ll, I’ll name,

Sam Demma (10:27):

You don’t have to say his name. Yeah.

Paolo Morrone (10:28):

But it he was almost your storybook kind of story. It was his, he came from a single pa single family, sorry, single parent family. there was a lot of social issues that he was dealing with and family issues. and that translated onto what basketball was his outlet, first of all, however, this is a kid that would light up the scoreboard. You’re talking 30 points, 35 points without blinking. And I, he was a, he, I still believe to this day, this boy should have been in the NCAA at minimum. Wow. But Canada as you may know, firsthand you know, you don’t get the same type of exposure here. And at that time for basketball, it wasn’t as big as now. Now it’s exploded. Had that exposure been around back then I, I still feel he would’ve, he would’ve had a better opportunity to get a, a free education in the us.

Paolo Morrone (11:25):

 but anyway, the boy, the boy had some issues with anger at times. And with that translated onto the court, off the court there was a lot of friction off them with colleagues that would say, you know, why is this kid playing? And they didn’t understand that if you didn’t have that kid playing, it wasn’t, you know, I needed the superstar on the court is I needed, I did. Yeah. Obviously you wanted the, the, the kid to play basketball. Yeah. But that was his outlet. You take that away from the, the kid. Yeah. Yeah. Did I take him off? Did I suspend him a game or two if the behavior wasn’t appropriate? Absolutely. If it was necessary academically that he wasn’t meeting his, you know, his goals, we would sit down and talk about it. It wasn’t just, you know, arbitrarily, you know, you were coming off the team because you just can’t do that and

Sam Demma (12:11):

Solve anything.

Paolo Morrone (12:12):

Yeah. No you can do that and you have a responsibility as a coach and an educator, but and there’s more to it. You gotta be able to talk to these kids and, and peel the layers off. And this is a guy that mom would call me when he had a little bit of a, an anger episode and would she would take off like she didn’t know. He didn’t know where he was. So mom would call me and say, Hey, can you, I would be drive over to the, the local mall and kind of take a loop around looking for him to find out what was going on. Cause I knew at that point he had a he had an episode, he was angry and something had upset him. And, you know, kind of talk him, talk him back into a proper mindset.

Paolo Morrone (12:56):

 he, I’ve lost touch with him more recently, but last I had heard he was doing really well. He ended up at the University of Windsor. Wow. He did continue to play university ball, but at a Canadian level at CS or U Sport now, whatever they call it. and at the college and at the OCAA, the Ontario College ranks Nice. and he was doing accounting last I heard. But this is a kid that honestly a lot of people had written off. And I had a great relationship with him and a good belief in him, not just as a ball player, but as a student and as a person. He just needed that guidance. He needed a little bit more that, that fatherly character as well because he had some tragedy with his father passing at a young age.

Paolo Morrone (13:40):

Ah, and, and the stepfather actually. So it was you know, that’s a lot of trauma for a young kid at 16, 17 years old to have dealt with prior to even that, you know, as he was a little guy. so yeah, I, I take great pride in that cuz you know, I, I, I wish I, I’m sure I will connect with him again soon, but that was that was one, that one that really stands out for me. But there’s, there’s quite a few stories in my, in my own head that I, I like to think I made quite a bit of a difference at that time. Nice. and it all came down to the relationships truthfully. That’s the truth between, you know, how you, how you treat the kids and they see you here as human. Yeah. Right. Yeah. You don’t wanna be, it’s funny, in an elementary school, the kids think you go home when you plug yourself into a closet. So when they see you out in like the real world, they’re like, totally get out. You’re alive. You’re alive. You know, like, you don’t go home. You don’t just stay in the school all night.

Sam Demma (14:35):

Yeah. They have your top, their purse on the shoulder and they’re like, it’s Mr. Moroni, he’s over there. You see him like <laugh>, he’s in the grocery store buying vegetables,

Paolo Morrone (14:44):

<laugh>, why is he buying food? <laugh>? Yeah. It’s that kind of it’s, it’s funny. It’s a great it’s a great line of work, I tell you. It’s a great revocation.

Sam Demma (14:55):

That’s awesome. So what do you think allows you to build the relationships with young people? Is it like time spent? Is it being curious about their lives? Like what do you think it is about the interaction that allows you to build the relationship and build the trust?

Paolo Morrone (15:12):

 honestly, it’s always hard to talk about yourself. Cause I’m finding it like difficult to say things. Oh yeah. Maybe I wanna come across like from

Sam Demma (15:20):

The, from the perspective of like teachers and students in general. How do you think

Paolo Morrone (15:24):

You gotta have heart man? You gotta have heart and you gotta care about who’s in front of you. And it’s not just, you know it’s not about the summers. It’s not, you sure not you sure as how ain’t getting rich in this, in this job. And it’s not about the money. And you hear that a thousand times, and obviously in the current climate you hear that even more so in the news more recently. you gotta come in with the right mindset and heart. And if you are going to do this, you gotta put the kids first. But you gotta find a healthy balance between building that relationship, the academic side of what as well. And, and the people side, people, young teachers have a difficulty, difficulty like that sometimes lines get blurred. they’re nervous, they don’t know how to interact. They’re, they’re focused more just simply on curriculum. I’m of the belief that curriculum of course is important, but it’s not about just curriculum. It’s about the whole person and educating the whole person, meeting the character of the person. you know, the math lessons will come not for me, but they will come. and you got, you gotta educate the whole, the whole mind, body and soul. That’s, that’s my feeling on it.

Sam Demma (16:36):

That’s awesome. I think back to my experiences as a student in school and I had some amazing experiences with extracurricular activities. Soccer was a big part of my life. Spent almost every minute outside of a classroom on a soccer field or in a gym, working and training and getting, getting better. I was, yeah. Were were you a soccer player as well?

Paolo Morrone (16:56):

 not soccer. Well, I did play, I was a goalie. but I was kinda one of those kids that played a little bit of everything. I played soccer, I played hockey, I played football in high school softball, baseball. But I wouldn’t say I was a a rock star in any one, any one particular sport. I just loved sports. Yeah. And that’s really what drew me. Probably what drew you, you know, in the realm of education as well, is I had that one connection, not one connection I have. I still go out with some of the teachers that, going back to the relationship piece. Oh

Sam Demma (17:25):

No way. That

Paolo Morrone (17:26):

Impact on you. Right. I still talk to you know, one of my good, one of my, one of my good friends lives down the street from here. He was my teacher in high school. No way. I ended up becoming his vice principal down the road and my first placement. So it, it is about that. and connecting, right. yeah, prime example. And sports. So he was my coach and my teacher. So it’s, you know, pay it forward kind of thing. And you see things come full circle and you have that good, those good people in front of you. Like I’m sure you had some good coaches and some mentors along the way in high school and maybe in elementary or high school. I don’t know that set you a foot in the right direction or if you had a setback you know, they kind of picked you up. That’s what I always strive to be when I was teaching. That’s the biggest part of, I miss that con that connection piece in the classroom. But I try to do that as much as I can as a principal by being visible and being active with the kids at recess or whatever I can, wherever I can. Just, you know, even if that means a high five in the hallway.

Sam Demma (18:28):

Yeah. Let’s talk about that for a second. Visibility in your role as a principal now how do you try and make sure that, that you still have that type of contribution? Of course, it’s a different role with different responsibilities, but what are, what are some of the things that you practice or try and do to, to not just be visible but be impactful?

Paolo Morrone (18:47):

It’s a fine balance between the paper, paper aspect and being visible. you can very easily get wrapped up being, I can get trapped in my office all day and there are days that I am. Yep. Those are the days I feel guilty. but my, my general rule of thumb for me is I try to get out at least two recesses a day, whether it’s lunch or at the end of the day. Cuz the kids need to see you out there. not just from a, you know, you know, here’s the big bad principal disciplinarian. No. Like, they, you know, you walk out and you’re, it’s a, it’s awesome. you’re getting tackled. You got, I got one on each, one kid on each limb. they’re, they’re elementary is a, it’s an awesome experience. The kids they really, they need to see you.

Paolo Morrone (19:31):

They need to see you out there. I’m a big sort of burly guy, so they they come running up and <laugh> literally like, you know, two or three of them. They’re tackling Yeah, they’re tackling you out there. But I think the important thing as a, as an administrator is in any school, elementary, secondary, whatever the case may be, you gotta be visible. You gotta be visible, you gotta be accessible. my office happens to be literally in the middle of the hallway, so I am accessible. I get kids knocking on my door all day every day. a little difficult when you’re trying to get something done or you’re in a room meeting or a, a podcast or whatever it is that you’re doing. But you you gotta be there. That’s the bottom line. You gotta be out there and be visible.

Paolo Morrone (20:16):

And again, if that means just, you know, a little dab in the hallway, say, Hey, hey buddy, how you doing today? that’s how I try to be impactful. And then the other piece is when there are activities, when there are things happening in, in the school, again, it’s don’t just be there, be part of it. you know, we did the Terry Fox run a couple weeks ago within the school. You know, the, if we hit our goal, we had a jello weeding contest. I, I, for the first time, I, I kind of felt what a rockstar was like. It was, it was crazy being on top of that, on top of the stage. And just the kids were the, the energy and the vibe coming off just being not having that stuff for the last couple years. It was awesome to see the kids just enjoying it. And again, it goes back to, you know, you’re not plugging yourself in a closet. Yep. And they see you as real. I was on the stage with four other teachers full of whipped cream and jello all over my face. And they, they loved every of it. Right. And I make the the the kids love my I call it bad jokes, but my hair jokes or my lack there of,

Paolo Morrone (21:25):

I think it, I think it just comes down to honestly just being, just being real with them. And they, they know that, they know that you’re, you know, you’re the principal. You’re you’re the disciplinarian in the school. You run the school in that sense, but at the same time, they wanna know that you’re real and you’ve got a big heart and you’re there for them. That’s what I think

Sam Demma (21:46):

I try to do that. It sounds like it. And I think that’s really, it’s really awesome. I think there are also like everything, there’s people who work in different industries that their heart’s not in it. And you can tell right away the, the difference, you know? and I think the students can tell right away too. Like they can sense it sometimes.

Paolo Morrone (22:08):

Not sometimes all the time. they, they, they can pick off a fraud from a mile away. They really can. it’s the energy and the vibe that you give off. Honestly, sometimes it’s not even anything that you say or do, it’s just how you, how you carry yourself in the school. again, I I honestly everything, I relate everything back to building relationships with people, relational leadership, relational educat. Like just being that educator that can connect with people. Right?

Sam Demma (22:37):

Yeah. So how if you don’t have energy and if you don’t have your own your hell health, you know, it’s hard to, you know, try and be the best you can be. Especially at work. One of my one of my cousins she just started teaching and they don’t have kids. And she says to me one time at dinner, I spend, I spend eight hours with kids at school. There’s no way I’m coming home and raising kids of my own <laugh>. I don’t know how people do this. <laugh> and you know, parenting, having a family, beautiful thing. you have kids of your own little ones mm-hmm. <affirmative> among balancing, raising your kids, helping other, you know, people’s kids all day. How do you fill up your own cup so that you can show up and give a hundred percent of your efforts?

Paolo Morrone (23:31):

 I always, I, I, I laugh cuz you say this. I always say I split my day in two. my energy, I try to give the same energy to both. Nice. but it’s a, I psych myself up on the way home in the car because, you know, I do have two little ones. I kind of did things a little different or backwards as I say in my career path where I kind of got into being an administrator very young into my career. you know, I’m, we’re, I’m in year 13 here. Nice. As an administrator. Nice As an administrator. So I, when I started as a vice principal, I didn’t have kids. so it was a totally different <laugh>, totally different experience, totally different energy level. And now I’ve got two little ones under five, five and under.

Paolo Morrone (24:21):

so when I come home, I gotta be on my a game. Nice. I gotta be on ma game in the morning and I gotta be on ma game in the afternoon. How do I do it? I don’t know how I do it, but I do it. you just kind of you know, you’ve gotta be there. And the other piece is health. From a health perspective, that’s hard balance. Finding a good balance and I’m one that I’ve always thought, you know, working out and, and sports in general is important. so, you know, we, I don’t do the gym anymore, but I’ve set up a gym at home. So that, that was the trade off, you know, losing up. I don’t have that extra hour to go back and forth from the gym, but you know, what if I cut off that hour and I got half an hour, I can do that at home. And that’s how I keep my own sort of mental sanity between both both rolls and hats that I, I have on all every day between my personal and family life. It’s, it’s a, it’s a tough balance sometimes, especially as a, a principal these days, there’s a lot of different you know, this, these disconnect policies don’t often work as well for us <laugh> when we come home and you gotta answer, you’re get, you know, you’re

Sam Demma (25:28):

Looking your life right center

Paolo Morrone (25:30):

<laugh>. Yeah. Do I answer this email or do I wait till the morning and then, you know, no, I’m gonna cut. I’m gonna cut it off, but then still gonna be there in the morning. So its it’s tough. It is a fine balance between between home life and, and work life. and a lot of people, it’s, it’s not hard to get totally overwhelmed with work where you, you start letting the other stuff slip a bit. So you gotta bring yourself back to reality and get a reality check and say no. Like, my priority is my family. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I love my job and my vocation, but my number one priority is my family. but I’ve gotta also be able to be there for, for the school, for the kids. They know when you’re not, when you’re not. And I don’t mean just physic, they actually do know. Cause I’m not on the, if I’m not on the pa, they know I’m not there <laugh>. but they know, they know if you’re off, they sense it, they can feel it.

Sam Demma (26:19):

Ah, cool. that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing some of the behind the scenes. When, when you think of your different roles, if you could take the experience you have now, travel back in time and speak to Apollo in his first year of teaching, knowing what you know now with the experiences you’ve had, like what would you have told your younger self? Not because you wanted to change your pathway, but you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation?

Paolo Morrone (26:46):

 truthfully, I probably would have gone into administration a little bit later on in my career. I don’t regret it. I joke around with people and say like, you know, I gave up the dream job as a, as a PhysEd teacher. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> which is something, again, going back to I can trace back to grade eight in terms of me. That’s what I wanted to do. but as I told you, I also said that I wanted to be a principal. I just, I got in a little early and you know out of potentially a 30 year career, 20, 20 plus years of it will be an administration that’s a long time to be a principal and vice principal. I look, I take the positive in it and say, you know what? That that’ll by the time I’m, I’m done and ready to move on to the next stage of my life, I’m hoping that I’ve made quite a bit of an impact in all the schools I’ve, I’ve been at in some way, shape or form.

Paolo Morrone (27:38):

 in terms of my career trajectory, that would be the only thing. I’m not saying I regretted in any way, but I probably would’ve done it a little bit later. so when you get, when you get the tap on the shoulder, you get the tap. And as my mentor at the time said you know, if you got the, if you get the tap on the shoulder now there’s a reason for it and, and you don’t know if it’s gonna come afterwards. So you’re, you’re lined up. There’s a reason for it and, you know, take, take the leap and go kind of thing.

Sam Demma (28:05):

Oh, awesome. I appreciate that advice because I’m sure there’s some people on the edge with that decision who might be listening right now. So, yeah. Thanks for sharing and Paulo, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate your time and energy. I hope you have an amazing rest of the school year. If, if another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Paolo Morrone (28:28):

They can reach out to me either through LinkedIn, email through my board email’s fine. LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn quite a bit or even Twitter. I’m not as active as I was on Twitter, but I do I do check it.

Sam Demma (28:41):

Perfect. Awesome. Thank you so much for again coming on the show. Enjoy the rest of your.I’m glad you enjoyed it And keep up with the great work.

Paolo Morrone (28:50):

<laugh>. Thanks man.

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A Powerful Idea for the Start of a New Semester
About Mr.Loudfoot

Mr. Loudfoot is a teacher that changed my life. He is retired now, although his practices and philosophies live on. In today’s episode, I share an idea he used at the beginning of our semester/term that enabled him to make students feel seen, heard, valued and appreciated. It’s a simple idea, yet when executed, very powerful.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Mike Loudfoot – Former Educator with over 30 years of experience

Small Consistent Actions | Sam Demma | TEDxYouth@Toronto

The Backpack of Beliefs

Empty Your Backpack: Unpack Your Beliefs, Take Consistent Action, and Create a Life of Meaning

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):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today I wanna talk a little bit about a powerful idea you can use to start a new semester, or when you get a new group of students and you want to build a strong connection and relationship to them. Here is a very simple idea you can use to accomplish that, and it’s not mine. It’s something a teacher did to me in my life when I was in their classroom. If you’ve heard my keynote speech before at your school or at an educational conference, you know that I spend a significant amount of time talking about Mr. Loudfoot. Mike, my grade 12 world issues teacher who changed my life when I was so uncertain about my future. He provided certainty when I stopped believing in myself.

Sam Demma (00:56):

He provided that belief, but there was so many things that he did in the classroom aside from the way that he helped me, that I observed that I think are so valuable for you. For other teachers and people working in the education space. One of the things he did at the beginning of the new semester is he shared a Google form that he wanted every single student to fill out. It was like an intake form at a dentist’s office, <laugh>, but instead all about the student’s personal interests, hobbies, the snacks they like, the favorite candies they would eat. It was a very basic form to fill out, but he was super strategic with the way in which he used it. For example, after receiving 40 Google forms that tell Mike what all of his students are passionate about, after each lesson, he would say things like, Sam, because I know you’re passionate about soccer, for you, this lesson means X and Emily, because I know you’re passionate about movies and art for you, today’s lesson is gonna mean X and Kaon because you’re passionate about clothing and design for you, today’s lesson means X.

Sam Demma (02:16):

And he would customize the learnings, the takeaways in the exact same way that I explained it to you right now on the podcast, live in class. And it made me, as a student feel as though my teacher knew me. It made me feel like he cared about me, like he understood why I went to school. Because for me personally, one of my goals was to play pro soccer and school was an avenue that was gonna help me get there. Mr. Loudfoot recognized that because I filled it out on his intake form <laugh> at the beginning of the school year. That was the first way in which he used the information. He used it to customize the content, to

Sam Demma (02:58):

Tailor the takeaways to each of the students. Now, he wouldn’t stand in front of the classroom and do it for all 30 kids after every lesson. He would just pick two or three people per day and make sure they felt seen, heard, valued, and appreciated. The second way, and I would argue sometimes the even more powerful way, he used the information on his little intake form, was he would bring people their favorite snacks. If he noticed that someone was struggling a few days in a row, not doing so well, coming to class, and they seemed slightly off, he would go look through the intake forms, find what that person’s favorite candy was, and the next day drop off it on their, drop it off on their desk. What a way to make a student feel appreciated and a part of the community, and who doesn’t want their favorite chocolate.

Sam Demma (03:55):

Not to mention buying a mini Kit Kat is only gonna cost a couple cents, 50 cents a dollar, and it’s such a powerful way to make a student feel appreciated. And so he would routinely drop off little candies on people’s desks when he thought they weren’t feeling the best or when he wanted to. Just make them feel great. And I think this little idea is so small that it seems insignificant, but it’s actually the little things that we do that make sometimes the biggest difference. We, we sometimes buy into this belief that we have to do something massive to make a change, when in reality it’s tiny little decisions. It’s being more intentional about the, about the everyday actions already taking that enables them to make such an impact, such a change. So maybe as you start a new semester, as you begin a new term, welcoming new students into your classroom, maybe one of your new practices can be creating your own intake form, having students answer some questions totally unrelated to class and school.

Sam Demma (05:08):

What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not inside the classroom? Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years? What’s your favorite thing to buy from Tim Horton’s or Starbucks? What’s your favorite candy? What’s your favorite music? What’s your favorite movie? These things might seem silly, uh, but it will help you connect to your students on a much deeper level, especially when it’s a surprise when they see their favorite chocolate bar sitting on the corner of their desk. Mr. Loud Foot impacted me and impacted many others in my classroom. Recently, I launched a book titled, empty Your Backpack. Him and his wife Joan were at the event,

Sam Demma (05:56):

And there was probably 5 or 10 other people from the community that walked up to Mr. Loudfoot after the speech, gave him a big hug and thanked him for the impact that he had on them. And I think it’s these little things that enabled him to make such a big impact on so many people. He, he worked in education for about 30 years, so hopefully this little idea is something that you can put to use. Hopefully it’s something that will help you have a deeper impact with your students. If you do try this with your class, I would love to hear about it, so please send me an email. Have an amazing week, and I will see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.

Tracy Beaulieu – Administrative Support Leader

Tracy Beaulieu - Administrative Support Leader
About Tracy Beaulieu

Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.

In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.

Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students.

Connect with Tracy: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Public Schools Branch – Prince Edward Island

Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award

Dr. Seuss Books

Who was Terry Fox?

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

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 (00:54):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast.

Sam Demma (00:58):

Today’s special guest is Tracy Beaulieu. Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She truly believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Tracy and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (02:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m here with a very special guest today. She was introduced to me by a past guest. Her name is Tracy Beaulieu. I’m gonna give her an opportunity to introduce herself as well. Tracy, welcome to the show. Please, share a little bit about your yourself.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:23):

Hi. Thank you Sam. I appreciate you having me. As you said, my name is Tracy Beaulieu and my role is an admin support leader on Prince Edward Island. So basically what I do is I’m the contact for a number of schools. I have 20 of them. Typically the elementary schools. The contact for any of the administrators if they have any questions or need support helping their teachers or helping students, I’m kind of their go-to person.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:55):

That is a very special role. <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:00):

Interesting.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:01):

It’s a lot of support. What got you into education? Did you know growing up that you wanted to work in this industry?

Tracy Beaulieu (03:09):

Absolutely. I actually knew since I was a little kid, that was kind of the same, the thing that was in the books that your parents keep that say, What do you wanna be when you’re in grade one and two? And teacher was always it for me. Ironically, I never wanted to be an administrator and I found myself in that role at a fairly young age. I was only 27 when I became a vice principal. And really only then did I become a vice principal because I had the administrator’s course as part of my upgrading my education. And I was in a small rural school and they needed help and I was asked, I didn’t want to take it on because that would mean that I would be the vice principal of some of the teachers who had actually taught me when I was in school.

Tracy Beaulieu (04:03):

So it was a little awkward, but they were fantastic and gave me a lot of support. So then I never wanted to be a principal. And ironically people then started reaching out and encouraging me to take on the role, but it was actually a student that made me finally make the decision to become a principal. It’s a neat little story. I was just driving down the road, I was going to pick up a sub for my kids and I saw a sign and it basically had said, the signs are there, you just need to listen. And I was like, Oh yeah, sure. And then I get to the place where the sub is and it’s a student and he came over and was happy to see me and said, Are you gonna be the new principal? And I said, No, I don’t think so. I love teaching kids too much. And he said, But you still teach me. You teach me when I’m in the office to make better choices. And I thought, Wow, okay, there’s a bit of a sign. So that’s how I got into administration. But basically my journey has been because other people were tapping me on the shoulder and saw something in me that I may not have seen in myself. And I’m grateful for them for doing that and I hope that I can do that for others as well.

Sam Demma (05:28):

Did you say your first role in admin was at 27?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:31):

Yes.

Sam Demma (05:32):

What was that experience like? Did you ever find it as a young person? I’m 23 and sometimes I have these situations where I’m dealing with individuals who are older than me twice my age. <laugh>, yes, have. How was that experience? Did you ever have any weird situations being so young in that role or what was it like for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:54):

Do you know? I anticipated that it would be really awkward for me. I honestly did the first staff meeting where I knew it was gonna be announced that I was the vice principal. I was quite nervous because as I said, I had a couple of people on staff. It wasn’t a very big staff either who had taught me, but they were actually quite remarkable. They were happy for me and I was very lucky because as awkward as it was for me, they made it easy, impossible for me. They were my support and they all shaped me into who I was as an administrator and I was very grateful. The biggest challenge I think for me sometimes would’ve been with the parents, if there was an issue with that, with a student, they would look at me and think, Well, I’m older than her and what does she know?

Tracy Beaulieu (06:55):

Kind of thing. But I’ve always been about making connections with kids. I preached from that time on that it’s okay to make mistakes. That’s part of our learning. And just because you’ve made a mistake doesn’t mean you’re a bad kid. And that’s what some of them would take it as. So I was lucky that I had a lot of the parent support with that as well. But I think it’s a lot because you start off telling them that their kid’s a good kid and that you actually really like their kid. We’re just gonna work together to help them make better choices next time.

Tracy Beaulieu (07:32):

Let’s talk about making connections with kids. When you were in the classroom and even in the administration roles and even in the roles you’re in today, how do you make and build a connection with a young person? How do you think that actually happens?

Tracy Beaulieu (07:48):

Well, first off, I think they have to know that you like them and it has to be genuine. Kids are very good at a very young age at picking up if you don’t really mean it. And kids are really good at knowing how they can control you if you let them <laugh>, ask a two year old as well. So it’s about giving them some of those boundaries that they do need, but having fun with them, it’s about being interested in them beyond the classroom as well. So I would go to some of their sporting events and watch them there and they would be excited to see you at their sporting events. I would go to their music festivals when I was able to and just being part of their life beyond the school. And then to laugh and joke with them as well and to have fun, then they want to do good for you.

Tracy Beaulieu (08:50):

And that’s the biggest thing. Kids, I guess I’ll say that I was at a conference and it was out at B and Chief Cadmus had actually made this comment and it resonated me because I believe it so heartedly it’s show people your heart before you expect their hand. And that really resonated with me and it’s about the connection piece. Kids won’t learn unless they know you like them. So making those relationships is so, so important and letting them know that they are valued and they mean something and they have all kinds of potential. And part of that learning is it’s about making mistakes because you want them to know that they can trust you and they can be safe to make some mistakes with you and you’ll guide them through.

Tracy Beaulieu (09:47):

I think in education, our mistakes are amazing learning opportunities and in life in general, if we choose to reflect on them and learn from them, they can be these amazing professional development moments in our professional journeys and also in our personal lives. And I’m wondering, in your journey throughout education, if there are any mistakes, but we’ll call them learning lessons that you found really impactful personally that you think other educators could benefit from hearing cuz they might be going through something similar.

Tracy Beaulieu (10:22):

I think one of the ones that kinda stands out for me, as I mentioned, I was in a small rural school when I first started and the school was actually in the community I grew up in. So that was my kind of discourse. And then I went to another school eventually that was a larger school and it had more complex needs in that school and those students and that environment actually kind of awakened me to a mistake that I was holding in my head and that’s that everybody kind of had a similar background and experience to myself. We talk a lot about diversity, but I think to that point, my mind on diversity was more about okay, if it’s a different culture, a different language or that type of thing. But they taught me that we are diverse even with the same socioeconomic background, even the same gender and race.

Tracy Beaulieu (11:28):

So that was a big learning for me and it was kind of an eye opening thing. So I learned that I had to talk to even my whole staff about the fact that we have these invisible backpacks that we carry and we don’t hang those up on a hook when we get into this school. They stay with us all day long and it’s not to make assumptions that people’s stories and what they’ve been through based on what you have experienced and been through. So that was a big kind of mistake or learning for me is and making assumptions that really weren’t accurate.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:08):

I often tell people just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying something that nothing about.

Sam Demma (12:16):

Absolutely.

Sam Demma (12:17):

It’s funny, I actually, I just wrote a book called Your Backpack <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:23):

That is so cool.

Sam Demma (12:25):

So the connection is so immediate and visceral for me with that in mind that every student and every human being walks through life with these invisible backpacks. How do we get to know what’s in a student’s backpack? Is it by asking them questions or how have you got to know what your students were carrying when you were in their classrooms?

Tracy Beaulieu (12:51):

Yeah, it was about asking questions. I was usually at the elementary level, so sometimes it was making connections actually with their parents as well. So many people find it difficult to come into a school environment if they didn’t have a positive experience growing up. So it it’s about making your building a welcoming and safe place for parents as well as students and really listening to their story. So we can always ask questions, but if we’re not genuinely listening, it’s not going to amount to any sort of understanding of what they’re bringing with them. And it’s about building that trust and letting them know that they can come and talk to you and share things with you. It’s the basis of everything. And then it’s starting to really understand for me, if kids were making choices that weren’t the right choices, it was really staying in tune to the fact that there’s an underlying reason why this is happening right now and they deserve to have me help them get through that in any way that I can.

Tracy Beaulieu (14:11):

So it is about building the trust and making connections and making a safe environment and then truly listening to what their story is because those little ones may not even know what is beneath that emotion that they’re feeling. And it’s our job to help them support that growth in learning because they’re not gonna learn, they won’t learn the ABC’s if they can’t control those emotions that they have. If they’re worried about what’s happening at home, if they’re coming to school with some sort of trauma that’s going to trump all of their ability to learn. So we are educators, It’s our job to unpack that backpack with them and with their families the best that we can so that we can help them become the best that they can be because that’s the end goal, making them be the best version of themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (15:09):

It sounds like listening has been a really impactful aspect of your journey as an educator, but I would assume that it’s just a big part of living life. It becomes more interesting when we listen genuinely and be curious about other people’s journeys. When you transition from teaching to administration, who are you listening to or who was in your life in your corner helping you and showing you the ropes and mentoring you? Did you have some other educators who played a big role and if so, who were they and what did they teach you or do for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (15:42):

Yes, I always had, I was very fortunate to have the support, not just in the school but in my family as well. So I was lucky there, but in school I would’ve had different teachers and on my staff as I mentioned, who were kind of aware that they saw something in me, they saw the potential and they were willing to help nurture that potential as I was learning, which I think makes great teachers in general. And then as I got going through, actually there was one gentleman who probably had the biggest impact for me and his name was Doug McDougal. And Doug had this ability to make everybody feel that they were valued and that they were worth something. And Doug would take the time to write little cards and send them to people telling them what he thought was great about either their style or about themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (16:47):

So it could be the educational style or them personally. And he had that ability to laugh and have fun with you as well. Oh wow. So he was probably my biggest inspiration. He was the person that I thought, if I can be like you, I want to be like you. And he set the bar high for a lot of us and I actually, unfortunately a year ago, a little over a year ago, he passed suddenly. And to see the impact he had on so many people was so heartwarming and I felt I needed to keep his memory alive. So I created the Doug McDougal Inspire Award and just presented that to administrators last weekend, I believe it was, or two weeks ago. And it’s my way of keeping his legacy alive. And we’re going to have that award be presented to anybody in the education system that is making school better for staff and students. So it could be a custodian, it could be the bus driver, it could be a teacher, it could be anybody that is making life better for kids. And that award will travel from school to school just like Doug did. So he was probably my biggest inspiration and motivator.

Sam Demma (18:22):

That’s awesome. I love that you pinpointed some of the actions he took that made a big difference, like the writing of cards, I think that’s sometimes a lost art. I’m 23. I learned how to send a handwritten note in the mail at 18 <laugh> because there was no real reason to send a handwritten note at growing up cuz we had emails and all these. That’s right. Donald mentioned Doug as well on the island. Is Doug very well known as a impactful educator?

Tracy Beaulieu (18:58):

Yes, yes. Impactful educator and impactful community member as well. Interesting story that someone had shared because with his passing you got to hear stories, but he was the type of person that they needed a hockey coach in his community and nobody was able or volunteered to do it and Doug did and Doug couldn’t even skate, but he knew those kids needed somebody and he didn’t look at his inability to skate as a barrier. He still took the opportunity because he wanted those kids to have something and he continued to demonstrate that a lot. He didn’t let his quote limitations that some people would say prevent him from doing something that would help others. So he was quite a remarkable person.

Sam Demma (19:57):

Yeah, that’s so cool. I think what’s also amazing about the story is that you mentioned how after his passing you heard about all these stories of impact and sometimes in education we don’t know the impact that our actions are having. Sometimes we have to wait, sometimes we never know and other people get to see it, which is really, really cool. In terms of impact, are there any stories that come to mind for you of students who you’ve seen transformed due to education? And it could be as a direct result of your activities or someone in your school or the community as a whole helping a young person. And the reason I ask is because I think the reason most people get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference in the lives of young people. And when they get burnt out or overwhelmed, I think it’s these stories of impact that really remind them why the work they’re doing is so important. So do any of those stories come to mind? And if it’s a serious one, you could definitely change the name of the student if you’d like <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (21:05):

A couple of things come to mind. One is when I did first start in my administrative role, there was a student and it was, as I said, a small rural school. So there was one grade per grade level and there was one particular student who his choices weren’t always seen as very positive and made other staff members sometimes struggle when this child would be exhibiting some of the behaviors I guess. And I believed in him and I started listening again when he was acting out he would be getting into other people’s business so to speak. But I started realizing, wow, this boy is actually being an advocate for other people, other students, but he’s just not doing it appropriately. His way of doing it is very disrespectful and kind of clouding people’s opinions. So I started working with him a lot and letting him know that, you know, are a good kid, you are making a good choice.

Tracy Beaulieu (22:23):

Even when he was up in junior high, I would take him to work with some of my grade three students and he was quite remarkable at that. And he was a student who we all worried about would he get through school. And he did. He graduated and he actually became a bodybuilder and was on the cover of one of the, I don’t know if it’s a Canadian magazine or whatever, but he made the cover of a magazine and this is a kid that even in high school we stayed connected and I got an invitation to his wedding this summer and he’s a dad, he has two kids, he’s successful and he actually found his way. And I think that just comes from people believing in him. So he actually had a big impact on me because he showed me that it is true that if we just work, if you get past those challenging behaviors and try to see the person within, they can teach us a lot.

Tracy Beaulieu (23:32):

And so he shaped me to always let kids know that again, it’s okay to make mistakes. So I started a program when I was at the other school that I went to and it was really around Carol Wes work with growth Mindset. Nice. And I had a book and it was called Not Yet. And I went to each class and I read it and it was talking about the fact that Terry Fox may not have actually finished his journey. He would’ve had a difficult time even when he was doing his run. He saw challenges, but he didn’t give up and he just kept saying, I’m not done, not yet. And share with them of all the successful people who tried to do things and failed but didn’t give up and they looked at the mistakes that they had and they turned them into opportunities to dig deeper and find more.

Tracy Beaulieu (24:31):

Dr. Suess was always a big person that I would have his quotes around. Kids knew that I loved him, but I shared that he was rejected 27 times before he got to actually write his book. So it was sharing that those mistakes are part of it. And with the not yet I started, I had little neck laces and bracelets that teachers would be able to give to kids whenever they saw them trying things, but not yet succeeding, but given them praise and highlighting the power of them trying to persevere and get through. So that was a way that we were trying to motivate kids. But when I knew it was working is when I was in walking in the hallways or on the playground and I would hear kids talking to each other and saying, No, you don’t have that yet, but you will <affirmative>. And I thought that’s that seemingly small action of repeating with kids that it’s okay to make mistakes, you just don’t have it yet to keep trying. It will sink in. And that’s what I want for all students is to have that ability to believe in themselves that even when you try and you don’t succeed, there’s still opportunities there for success if you just keep trying.

Tracy Beaulieu (25:56):

I love the idea of not yet, I think so often we hit barriers and it ultimately is up to us to decide when we continue pushing forward or when we stop. There’s no such thing as a failure if you don’t quit <laugh>. Exactly. You never reach that point. So that’s such a powerful thing to remind young people, and again, not just students but human beings, we all face challenges, not just the kids. So I love that analogy and I appreciate you sharing it. When you field phone calls from the principals and the administration of the 20 different elementary schools in PEI that you help and support, what is the most common thing they’re reaching out about? I’m sure every school is very different and unique, but are there any commonalities or things that you think a lot of them need support with right now?

Tracy Beaulieu (26:47):

Right now, I believe the biggest commonality that comes from schools is the kind of challenges that kids are experiencing right now with regulating their emotions, <affirmative>, and also some of them just not having the skills that they may have had in the past coming into school. So we’re already starting behind that benchmark and trying to meet their needs. One of the things, and the other layer is those high conflict personalities of people calling and trying to figure out how do we navigate through this kind of tumultuous time where people are wanting things and they’re wanting it now and they don’t see the challenges beyond their own challenges and it is their story and that’s all they know. So you don’t expect them to always understand that there’s a whole lot of other things that are limiting. I think that’s the biggest challenge and the biggest underlying common theme that is coming with all of the phone calls is how can I help this student? My teachers are burning out because of the needs and this parent is upset and I don’t know how to calm them and help them understand. And yeah, those would be the two main things. Right now

Tracy Beaulieu (28:28):

It sounds like the students are at the forefront of some of the best things that happen in the school and then some of the learning moments. <laugh>. Yes. So true. The center of education. And what do you think for those educators that are burning out, because I think it’s a common theme, especially before the pandemic, it was starting a little bit and then the pandemic just exasperated it and it became a real big challenge. What do you think the teachers who are a little bit burnt out need to hear right now? If you could say something out of your window and it would just reach the ear of every educator across pei, what would you tell <laugh>

Tracy Beaulieu (29:11):

That they are making a difference <affirmative>. And they may not always feel it. They see sometimes the challenges that they’re ahead of them and they feel like they’re not meeting the needs of the kids, but they absolutely are. And really trying to help them understand that it may be five to 10% of your class or of the school community that are struggling and don’t lose sight of the 90 to 95% of the amazing things that are done all the time. And it’s really, again, trying to shift our mindset to acknowledging the positives. If we only talk about the challenges and if we only look at the challenges, that’s all we are going to see. And that begins to shape what we believe the reality is in our building where when I get to go to schools, I get to see all of the amazing things that are happening. So it’s to try to always take time to focus on what went well, what is going well, what are the successes and what are we accomplishing to make these kids be the best that they can be and not only talk about what I can’t do and what I can’t get at. So I think that would be my biggest message. You’re doing a great job. Just try to remember to think of the positives.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:47):

We gotta empty our backpacks of those negative beliefs.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:50):

<laugh>. Yes. Yes. They’re there. If you wanna look for them, they’re there, but so are the positives, so

Tracy Beaulieu (30:56):

That’s awesome. Tracy, if someone wants to have a conversation with you or reach out, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch with you?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:06):

Probably email would be the easiest way for them to connect with me and you have my email address. Do you want me to say it?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:18):

Yeah, you can say it out loud right now and I’ll also put it in the show notes of the episode so people can find it.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:23):

Okay. So it’s txbeaulieu@edu.pe.ca.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:33):

Awesome. Tracy, this has been such an insightful conversation. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your morning to come on the podcast and share some of your insights and experiences in education. I really appreciate your efforts and if anyone hasn’t told you recently, just know that you’re making a massive difference as well in so many educators lives and which are ultimately affecting the lives of so many families and students. So keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:02):

Thank you so much Sam for having me, and thank you for all you’re doing as well. That’s pretty remarkable what you’re taking on and it’s very appreciated. So thank you.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:11):

You’re welcome.

Sam Demma (32:13):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tracy Beaulieu

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.