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Educator

Tom Stones – Grade 8 Teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Alberta

Tom Stones - Grade 8 Teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Alberta
About Tom Stones

Tom Stones (@tstonesteacher) is a grade 8 teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Innisfail, Alberta. In 24 years, he has taught all core subjects and dozens of option courses in grades 4-8. When asked which is his favourite grade to teach, he struggles to choose one. There are amazing and challenging things about all grades. In all grades, his core belief is that relationship is the key component of working with middle years students. Tom has found that all students want a relationship with teachers, and making this a focus has been an emphasis of his career.  

Another role Tom is proud of is his work as a member of the Middle Years Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. He has helped plan numerous yearly conferences, which have provided quality professional development to many teachers from all over Canada.  

Tom is passionate about promoting wellness in teachers and himself. He has found that any success that we help students to achieve is largely contingent upon our own well-being. His advice to others (and himself) is to look after yourself first and find ways to help others.

Connect with Tom: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Innisfail Middle School

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

Middle Years Council – ATA

Conferences and Events – ATA

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 to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Tom Stones (00:10):

My name is Tom Stones. I’m a teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Innisfail, Alberta. And this is, it’s on our last day of school here, so we’re it’s, this year is just about wrapped up. And I teach grade eight mostly science, a little bit of social studies, a little bit of health. And I’ve taught all kinds of different grades in from four to eight, I guess, so.

Sam Demma (00:33):

That’s awesome. When did you know growing up that you wanted to work in education? Like at what point did you make the decision and start moving that direction?

Tom Stones (00:45):

So, I got a funny pathway. I, I’d always kind of thought that was something I wanted to do but then when I graduated high school, didn’t feel super confident about going to university, so I didn’t, And then I got a job and it was, you know, got, kind of got too good of a job that I was getting paid decently to do it. And so stayed working. I was working in a warehouse running a warehouse for a printing company for about 12 years. And then my, that, that job was ending the, the, the business was shutting down. So I had to decide what I wanted to do. And I, I, you know, vividly recall my wife, one, I was married, had two, two kids at the time and my wife saying, Well, if you had to do something else, what would you really want to do? And I said, Well, I probably would wanna be a teacher. They, why don’t you just go to university and be a teacher? So, so I did

Sam Demma (01:34):

<Laugh>. That’s awesome. So you, you came from like a business that kinda like a business background, like you entered the world of work right after high school with the printing company and stayed with them?

Tom Stones (01:44):

Yeah. Yes. Yeah, I mean I think it was 12 or or so year or something like that that I worked for them. That’s all. A few different spots, but mostly ran the warehouse most of the time.

Sam Demma (01:54):

Yeah. Very cool. And so you made the decision to go to school, you know, back to school to work on the teacher credentials. And then what did the journey look like from that day forward to where you are now? Give us a little summary of all the different places you’ve worked positioned and what brought you here.

Tom Stones (02:14):

Yeah, so I was the sort university. I had to do a, I did two years at a, a college, which was in the town in the city we were living in, which was Red Deer. So I did two years there. Nice. And then took two years, went to University of Calgary and sort of drove back and forth, which is about an hour away from where I lived. And, and I obviously that wasn’t real easy cuz I was, had a family and, and my wife had to do a lot of extra things during those two years. And then got a job shortly after graduating, but a year after, graduated a couple other things first and then got a job at an elementary school and then in a town real close by. And then so we moved to that town to Ink, which is where I teach now. And so taught the elementary school there for about six years, I think taught grade four and four and six. And then a, a new school opened up next door and I came over here to teach grade five at the school I’m at now. And I’ve taught grade five and then grade six and then moved up to grade seven and then moved up to grade eight. I’ve been here for three or four years, I think.

Sam Demma (03:16):

How, how did you get voluntold to go and help out with nyc? And for those folks who don’t know what that is, give us a little explanation. <Laugh>

Tom Stones (03:26):

Yeah, that’s Voluntold is a good good <laugh>. The Middle Years Council is the, the association is the Alberta Teachers Association. It’s a specialist council within the Alberta Teachers Association. And there’s, there’s various ones. There’s that language arts ones, there’s math ones, there’s religious education. And this one happens to be about middle years school schools or teachers, which is from grade, about grade four to grade nine is sort of our, our target people. And I had, I’d gone to a few of the conferences, knew a few of the people, but then had kind of gotten away from it. And then one of my colleagues at the school was, was helping when she was pretty involved in it and they were having some struggles and, and needed some help. And she said, Well, would you come and help us? And I went, I don’t know, I don’t know if I can be any help or not, but sure I’ll come for a free conference.

Tom Stones (04:17):

So I, so I went and, and then just started helping out wherever I could. And then one, one year they said, Hey, you wanna run the conference? So I was, okay, sure. I had no idea what I was doing, but what we were, we just made it up, was who went along. But and then, you know, got to meet lots of really good people. And since then there’s been a few of us who’ve been on that committee for, I don’t know, about seven or eight years I guess. And so it’s, it’s now, it’s a whole lot easier than it was that first couple of years when we did what we were doing. But, and then we’ve been very fortunate to get some, you know, amazing people coming in to talk, including you and it’s just, it’s been a real great conference. And of course we had to shut down for two years and during pandemic and that was really disappointing. I remember that being one of the worst days of the early pandemic was when we had to make the decision. We, we just can’t go to ban this year. Cuz nobody could go anywhere, obviously. And then the next year we had to cancel as well, and then last year was our big return.

Sam Demma (05:16):

Yeah. You know, c has been a challenge for many people, many Ed especially people in education. I know personally you had some significant challenges as well. You know, what are some of the challenges that you face personally that maybe shifted your perspective a little bit and then also some of the opportunities that you think came out of it? Yeah,

Tom Stones (05:39):

That’s a really big question, Sam. So break

Sam Demma (05:42):

It down.

Tom Stones (05:43):

<Laugh>. Yeah, <laugh> early on in the, the pandemic, I, I don’t think we can, we can talk about it enough, what, what educators had to do. Like, we were March the 20th, I think was the day in Alberta here when they, with the Sunday afternoon we got a call or on email saying, Yeah, we’re not going to school tomorrow, we’re gonna be shut down for two weeks. And of course that was, I mean, nobody had any idea what that meant and then said, Oh, and by the way, we really want you to start teaching. Oh, we want you to come back to school. So we all went back to school and we all sort of hung around and cleaned out lockers and did report cards and all that stuff. And then there was a, a, the Wednesday afternoon we had a staff meeting and I remember the principal looking at his phone and he goes, Okay, it’s one o’clock.

Tom Stones (06:26):

I can tell you we start teaching on Monday morning online, but you can’t be in the school right now. You’ve got five minutes to get outta here. And we’re just like, what <laugh> and <laugh>. So we, well, and I think we end uping, you know, 15, 20 minutes. We just kind of sat down with the group of us that had to teach together and sat down for, what are we gonna do on Monday morning? Yeah, yeah. And of course there was a lot of, lot of Google meets in the next three days there. But, but we started teaching on Monday morning. So we, we had no idea what we were doing. Kids had no idea what we were doing. The parents had zero idea what we were doing. And, but we made it work. And then it turned into three and a half months in Alberta.

Tom Stones (07:04):

We spent the whole rest of the year online. And then the next year came back, started out back and then did the same thing again. We, in November we were told we had two days prepare to be online and we wrote did the same thing, you know, pulled it off again. And then that was right around Christmas time and just before Christmas, and this is a personal part you’re alluding to, just before Christmas, I ended up in the hospital with a heart attack, which had nothing to do with the, the stress, I don’t think. It was a, some genetic things, but, but I ended up with a heart attack and so I missed about two months of school. We kind of recovering from that and getting over all that stuff. But and it, you know, I told, I talked to the, the students who were in that class who were a very special group of kids, but and I, I just said, when I was laying in the hospital, I thought, I don’t wanna quit.

Tom Stones (08:00):

I want, I don’t want to be done cuz I wanna go back from work with these kids more. And so that really put a, a different spin on I guess some of that for me. But what really, what really you think affected me at that point was how, what, what that group of kids did. Like they were mean there 13 and 14 year olds and that they get a, that group of kids get a real bad rap, like 13 and 14 year olds, Aren be the best people in the world usually. But they, they, you know, they looked after me, they protected me, they supported me. And even now they’re into school next door and they, you know, I think I saw all of them all year long. They all come over and talk and, and we, they’re so we’ve got a, a connection that will not ever go away, I don’t think. But just that to me, just that, you know, when you ask kids to step up and do something amazing, they can do some, they can do amazing stuff. And I mean, they, they didn’t volunteer for this. They didn’t volunteer to <laugh> to get themselves involved in that, but they they were amazing. So

Sam Demma (09:04):

Yeah. Continue.

Tom Stones (09:06):

Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s all just that they were like, it was pretty cool what they did.

Sam Demma (09:12):

Do you remember some of the specific things they did that you think made a really big impact on you when you think back to some of the, those challenging moments?

Tom Stones (09:24):

I guess even just the, when I was getting, when I was recovering, the kids would send emails like, Hey, we’re really hope you’re right. Can’t wait for you to be back. That kind of thing. And there was actually, there was one day I don’t know if I can need to talk about this. One day we had an author visit Eric Walters, who’s an amazing author from Ontario was doing an author visit. And I had arranged that visit before I went, went off six. So I, and it was done all virtually, of course, at that time. And so I came on and the kids didn’t know that I was listening to the, the visit, like it was the whole school, but they didn’t realize that I was on there. You were there.

Tom Stones (10:07):

And, and I was in the background listening to it. And then when they, it was all over and that the teacher who realized that I was on there flipped the, the camera so they could see me and I could see them and that they just went wild. It was, it was pretty cool. I remember my wife texted me from work and she said, So how’s your day? And I said, I just, my kids just made me cry. Yeah. And yeah. So that was pretty cool. Just that. And that was about three weeks, I guess, before I went back Yeah. To school.

Sam Demma (10:41):

I can feel the emotion while you talk about it. Yeah.

Tom Stones (10:44):

<Laugh>, I know it, it’s, it that just comes back at me right now. It was crazy. And just others, just stuff like when I got back and the one, it was one day somebody said something about somebody having a heart attack and it was, he was just saying it as a throw away thing, Right. He wasn’t meaning anything. And this one girl just wheeled on says, We do not say as shit <laugh>. Mm. And the kids going, Oh, sorry. Didn’t think about it. And she’s going, Dad, you do not do that here. <Laugh>.

Sam Demma (11:11):

Yeah.

Tom Stones (11:12):

So, yeah. That’s cool. That’s

Sam Demma (11:14):

Awesome. That’s awesome man. Well, it, it sounds like you build such a great relationship with the students, which I think is the goal of every person in education to build relationships, to make an impact on the young minds that are sitting in front of them. How do you think we build relationships with the students in our classrooms? Like what are some of the things you try and do as teacher, teacher to ensure that we, you know, we build strong relationships.

Tom Stones (11:40):

There’s lots of stuff. Part of it I think is, is just getting to know them right. Or early, early on in the year, getting to know as much as you possibly can. Now I’m, I’m fortunate here, the school that I’m in, the grade seven wing is right beside the grade eight wing. We’re actually in the same hallway. Mm. So, so I can start to build some relationships with kids, you know, from April Mayon kind of thing, start to get them so that they’re, they, they know who I am even, you know, obviously they know my face, but they don’t know anything about me. Yeah. And I don’t know anything about them really, but start to build it just early on and, and just mostly I think just show them respect. That’s really all anybody wants is just to get respected. And if you show it to them and, and they, they, they’ll almost always give it back to you.

Tom Stones (12:32):

Now there’s always ones who don’t, obviously then, and those are ones that there’s other things going on in their world and that that’s something else to work with. But for, you know, the 99% of the kids, you give them some respect, they’ll give you respect back. And, and, and just showing interest in their lives, like what, what they’re doing, whether it’s hockey or dance or, you know, whatever. Or, or nothing. So I’m just like playing video games and I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, but if I look like I do there,

Sam Demma (13:01):

<Laugh>, <laugh>,

Tom Stones (13:03):

I found my computer breaks down, I give it to them fix. And so yeah, just, yeah.

Sam Demma (13:09):

That’s cool. Yeah, I like that. When you, when you think about your journey in becoming the educator you are today with the beliefs you have, like, are there any resources that you have found helpful? And, you know, obviously the Middle Years Council has been a big source of per, you know, PD and professional development and maybe you can even recall some of the speakers that you think had a significant impact on you or some of the books or courses as a result of some of those speakers that you looked into. I’m curious if anything comes to mind that you think was helpful.

Tom Stones (13:43):

Yeah, there, there’s lots. And we’ve, we’ve had over the years, have had lots and lots of really, like I said, really good speakers. And that’s, that’s kind of one of the things, one of the places that I get that from. Yeah. Also, just because of my role in that committee, going to some conferences and trying to, to connect with some people so that you can, you know, as potential speakers

Sam Demma (14:04):

Bring them back or whatever.

Tom Stones (14:05):

Yeah. Bring them back home. There’s, and has lots is it a psychologist from Alberta here at Dr. Jody Carrington? Like, she, we’ve had her a number a couple of times and she’s pretty in way. She’s taught me a lot about sticking up for kids and, and being, you know, an advocate for kids. So like Dave Burgess is the, the teach like a pirate you know, corporation basically now from San Diego. We’ve had him up and, and just, just doing crazy stuff with kids and just, yeah, doing whatever it takes to reach him. You know, wherever it takes to way outta your comfort zone kind of thing. So lots of people like that. And books, I’ve, you know, then tried to read books by different people and, and get ideas and just, I, I think on my Twitter account it says something like, I’m always looking for ideas to engage kids and just taking that from anywhere. And some of them, like there’s some people I would never do what they do. Ron Clark from Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta went, went to see him once, like, he stands up on the table and yells at people. Well that’s, that’s not my personality. I would never do that, but, but I’ve, you know, done some crazy things too, <laugh> with, with kids that are, that are at least I think crazy, But yeah. That’s awesome. Little bit from anybody, like really just taking stuff from everybody and building it.

Sam Demma (15:34):

I once heard a quote from Tony Robbins and he said, Approach every conversation as if you could learn something from the other person and you, you probably will. And yeah, the way he explained it is that you might be better at gardening, but they’re problem, They might be better at cooking. And so, you know, you could learn something from that person in relation to cooking. They could learn something from you about gardening. And if you kind of go into every situation trying to learn from other people’s strengths I think it, it just leads to a better conversation. And you walk away with new information, you know.

Tom Stones (16:08):

Yeah, Yeah. And, and I think being in the school, and I’ve been at the same school now for, I don’t know how many years, quite a few 15 or something, but just the people who have come through and, and just every one of those people, whether they’ve been here for a year or for 15 years you pick up something from those people you know, something that person does and you know, new person comes from another school or a new person just new to teaching and be, go, that’s something I can use right there. And or that’s something, you know, you think, well, I’m not sure that’s in my personality, but it can be, you know, I can use something like that. I appreciate it. Yeah. Yeah. And just yeah, even from the kids, like, this is something that I, I don’t understand, but let’s, let’s go from there. Yeah.

Sam Demma (16:57):

Nice man. Nice, nice. When, when you think about students that you’ve worked with over the past 15 years it’s obvious that they’ve made an impact on you. And I appreciate you sharing those stories earlier of what they’ve done did for you, even during some of your challenging times to make you feel special and appreciated. I’m curious to know if you can think of a story where due to education, you saw a student transform, meaning maybe they started in your class one way and by the end they were totally different and they had different characteristics and built confidence. And if it’s, it’s a, if it’s a very serious story, you could also change their name just for privacy reasons. But I’m wondering if any story comes to mind that you wanna share

Tom Stones (17:37):

There. There is, and I’ve told this story quite a few times and I’ve actually talked to the, the student and he knows that I use his name. He’s okay with it. Okay. It’s a pretty common name. It’s Braden, so it’s not like there’s <laugh>,

Tom Stones (17:49):

50 million of them <laugh>. But he he was the toughest challenging kid that I’ve ever taught. And it wasn’t his, you know, his behavior wasn’t so extreme, but it was just every day. And like he, he pushed some button for somebody every single day of grade. I think I taught in grade six. And it was just like endless, endless, endless, endless. Mm. And I remember saying to the principal at the end of the year, not, not one of my better moments. So just saying that I don’t think I made any difference to that kid. Like he’s exactly the same, walking out the door in June as he walked in September. And and the principal didn’t really say anything. Jay didn’t really say anything to me, but then he moved, like, he moved up the upgrades and then went to another school that, and he eventually was doing some alternative school cause he was gonna fit into school. But then he started coming back and it was one day he I was walking down the hall and one of the teachers says Tom turn around.

Tom Stones (18:51):

And this kid was running down the hall, wanted to talk to me, coming from the high school, wanted to talk to me. And I, so we, we chatted for a second and he says, I like to come be a work experience student in your room. Wow. And that’s what that’s kinda weird cuz you spend a lot of time trying to get outta my room in grade six. And he goes, Yeah, I know, but I wanna come be work in your room. And so he did. For semester, that was kind the thing we have at the high school beside is cause they come and do some work experience. And then I sort of lost track of, and I think it was last year or the year before last year, I think he came back he had just graduated from a computer animation program in Toronto was ready to start a job and he just wanted to come back and say hi.

Tom Stones (19:33):

And so we chatted a little bit and I said, and he says, I know I was tough. And I said, Yeah, you were really tough <laugh>. And he goes, you know, he had done everything online. It was during the pandemic, everything, his whole program was online. He said, when we got into when we did, did did the lesson, then we would go work with other students. And it was on Zoom I think he said. But they would put us in, they would call breakout rooms and he says, every single time I got put in a breakout room, I remember I thought of you because you put me in a breakout room every day in case was a physical breakout room. So we had a little room beside there, which the other kid basically called the Braden’s office cuz he was in there almost the whole day anyway, so it was like, that was pretty funny. But he says Andy, he’s successful, he’s gonna do really well. And I thought that’s now you’re playing a long game there cuz that’s about seven or eight years in between those two conversations, but Wow. But yeah, pretty cool to have that come and there’s lots of kids that come back like that, but he’s pretty, he’s pretty dramatic one, so.

Sam Demma (20:36):

Well, what do you think you did, like, you know, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint like exactly why, but like what do you think if you reflect back on it that you did that had such a significant impact on him that he did feel the need to come back, even though in the present moment you thought you were, maybe you weren’t getting through to him. It sounds like you obviously were, you just didn’t realize it.

Tom Stones (20:54):

Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know. But I think most of it is consistency. Cause he knew he knew what he could do and he knew he was gonna cross the line every single day, but he knew where the line was. Yes. And lots of people, lots of kids, but don’t have, they’re not not sure where the line is. They’re not sure what, what the consist he is. And I, I think that’s it. And, and not just writing him off, like when he come back, when he came back in high school, you know, accepting him for where he was at in high school, even though he was still way off the charts. But yeah, it, it’s, it’s hard to know. Cause if you certainly, if you could, if you could do it, you could

Sam Demma (21:42):

Replicate

Tom Stones (21:43):

It’s a lot of money marketing that Yeah. <Laugh>.

Sam Demma (21:46):

Yeah. Just

Tom Stones (21:47):

Curious

Sam Demma (21:47):

More than anything. So I appreciate you sharing,

Tom Stones (21:50):

Asking. Yeah. I think just the consistency. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:52):

Yeah. I like it. I love it. When, when you think about your journey throughout education and the lessons you’ve learned if you could go back in time but retain all of the experiences you’ve had and tap yourself on the shoulder in your first year of teaching, knowing what you know now, what would you have told yourself in the form of advice? Not because you wanted to change anything about the path you’ve taken or what you’re doing today, but because you thought it might have been helpful to hear certain things when you were just getting started.

Tom Stones (22:26):

Yeah, you know, I, I kind of thought that was a question you might ask. Just having listen to other podcasts, the ones I I’ve started cheating and trying to get some Yeah, yeah. Lines there. I think that I’d look after myself better. Hmm. Now early on you just, you just go and you go as hard as you possibly can. And sometimes that, you know, I, I was pretty careful not to let that get in the way of being, having a family on that, but, but just you know, put, don’t push quite so hard. The, the kids will be fine if you like, the students will be fine if you didn’t stay up till 11 o’clock. They’re probably better if you get, if you’re well rested and went for a walk. <Laugh> mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And just the, yeah, just looking after yourself.

Tom Stones (23:19):

Our actually our superintendents talked about this a bit and he says like, there’s three pieces to self the wellness and one of ’em is the division has a little bit of input into it. Like, we can put some things in to help you. The school has a little bit, but the, the biggest pieces yourself and you’ve gotta decide how to look after yourself. And that’s since, since I’ve been sick that that’s become, you know, pretty important to me. Obviously just looking after in my own boundaries. Even just thinking, No, I’m not doing that tonight. I’m going to play with my grandchildren and instead, or, you know and I don’t think that young teachers that they think they have to push real hard and then they do better if they didn’t.

Sam Demma (24:00):

Hmm. That’s a great piece of advice. And I think it’s not only for young educators, but young professionals in general, I think,

Tom Stones (24:06):

You know. Yeah, I think so. Like

Sam Demma (24:08):

You, I sound, it feels like you’re talking to me sometimes because I, sometimes I’m doing that and then I don’t get good sleep and then I don’t show up too well the next morning. And it’s a really great piece of advice. You know, so often after people have experiences that are traumatic and sometimes even challenging just like you did with the, with the heart attack sometimes. And oftentimes they have this big realization that maybe they weren’t doing the thing that they wanted to do and they make this grand life change and they’re like, I’m now gonna chart my path in the direction that I really wanted to go in because life is fragile and I’m getting goosebumps just hearing you speak. Because I think what’s so amazing is that when you were in the hospital on the bed, the thought running through your mind was, how can I get myself healthy enough to get back in the classroom?

Sam Demma (25:00):

And that to me is a signal and a symbol that you’re doing the work that you should be doing. And it’s so obvious that you’re passionate about this work and that it’s making a difference. And I just wanted to say, keep doing it because it’s so important that we have people who on their deathbed will say, I did the work that I wanted to do that I loved doing. And if, you know, if education, if you’re in it right now and you’re not enjoying it, that’s okay too. May, you know, maybe it’s time to change, but it’s really refreshing to speak to you today and hear from someone who wouldn’t change a thing about the path you’ve taken. And

Tom Stones (25:39):

Yeah, I a year ago today, basically when I said goodbye to that group of kids Yep. I said that, that you were, like I said, I could’ve walked away. Nobody would’ve said a word. I could’ve quit. And I said, but I didn’t want to. Like, I thought I was, I I wanted to come back and work with you some more and then, and continue to this year and my plan is to continue for next year. But, but yeah. And I, if it’s, I guess maybe just to follow up what you said there, if you don’t have that, then you, you should quit. You should get out. But if you’ve got that, that don’t do what you’re supposed to do. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve seen seen lots of people hang on too long cuz they, they should quit. For lots of reasons. I don’t, I don’t wanna do that, but I also want don’t wanna quit too early either, so.

Sam Demma (26:40):

Yeah. No, and I, we appreciate it and I think if you haven’t found the thing that gets you super excited as well yet, keep searching, you know, it’s out there. I’m glad that you found it in education and teaching and really enjoy it every day. Tom, this has been a phenomenal conversation. I just wanna say thank you so much for spending, you know, 30 minutes on the show, talking about your experiences, talking about how your students have made a difference in your life and how you strive to make a difference in theirs. Talking about Braden yeah. Really has been a really impactful conversation. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Tom Stones (27:19):

By email, its tstones@cesd73.ca and I, I have a Twitter account, but I don’t actually avoid is <laugh>, it’s @tstonesteacher I think on, on Twitter.

Sam Demma (27:35):

Awesome. Perfect. Perfect. Tom, thank you again for coming on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work, and we’ll, we’ll talk soon.

Tom Stones (27:43):

Yeah. I think, are we planning to see you in September? Has that got set up yet? Or is it

Sam Demma (27:48):

I hope so. It hasn’t happened yet, but if fingers crossed I’ll hear, I’ll hear from them and we’ll, we’ll make it happen.

Tom Stones (27:55):

Okay. Awesome. Sounds great.

Sam Demma (27:56):

Awesome.

Sam Demma (27:56):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tom Stones

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.

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma – TEDxYouth@Toronto

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma - TEDxYouth@Toronto
About Sam Demma

Sam Demma (@Sam_Demma) is the youngest board director of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. A highly requested keynote speaker in the education space, Demma has delivered over three hundred presentations for clients who want to create a culture of hope, service, and self-belief. He is routinely invited for interviews on national media outlets and has been featured on the TEDx platform twice.

As a high school student, he co-founded PickWaste, a grassroots initiative that mobilized youth to pick up garbage in their communities. Within five years, the organization filled more than three thousand trash bags and provided students with six thousand meaningful volunteer hours. The initiative’s success confirmed for Demma how small, consistent actions could have a significant impact, and he lives that message in all he does.

Following his keynote presentations, students and educators often commit to performing more acts of kindness, taking small, consistent actions toward their personal goals, and proactively looking for ways to serve others. In his spare time, Demma dances the bachata, eats handfuls of tacos, and works to convince people that pineapples do not belong on pizza. For more information and booking inquiries, please visit www.samdemma.com.

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

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers

TEDx

TEDx Talk, “Small, Consistent Actions”

PickWaste

Top 25 under 25 Environmentalists

www.samdemma.com

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 (00:13):

When I was in grade 12, my teacher told me three words that totally changed my life; small, consistent actions. It was April, 2017, and I was seated in his world issues class. Growing up, I have to admit, I wasn’t the brightest student and I didn’t like school all that much, but for some reason, every time I was in his class, I always felt engaged. And on this particular day, he was not talking about any ordinary topic. Instead, he was speaking about figures in history who have massively changed this world. People like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinham, Gandhi. The list went on and on, and he took these figures and he wrote their names on the board. This was the only teacher I ever had who still used the blackboard.

Sam Demma (01:21):

But then he began breaking down their lives, trying to figure out what common characteristics they all shared that enabled them to make a massive change in the world. We found they had many distinct traits that made them each different and unique. But there was this one thing, this one thing that was common among them all, they all took small, consistent actions that led to their global massive changes. You see, that day in class, my teacher proved to me and all of my classmates that if we wanted to make a massive change in the world, we could, and all we had to do was commit to a small, consistent action. I left class that day with a burning desire within my chest to try and make a change within my community. But like many of you, at the age of 17 years old, I had absolutely no idea how I was gonna do this. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even know where I wanted to go to university, let alone talk about something like changing the world, right? Well, like many students, every day after school, I would walk home and my walk was about 30 to 40 minutes. I would take my headphones out, pop in my ears, listen to some music and podcasts. But after that day in class, I decided to change my routine. I took my headphones out, I put them in my pockets, and I began asking myself the questions,

Sam Demma (03:03):

Sam, how are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? Now, before I continue with the rest of that story, I need you to understand where I was personally at that point in my life, or else the story won’t make that much sense. Because two years ago, if you told me that I would be standing on this stage here today talking about a lesson that changed my life, I would’ve told you that you’re insane. In fact, I probably would’ve told you that I will be in the United States on a full ride scholarship playing division one soccer. Like many of you, I had a dream for my life from a very young age, and my dream was to play professional soccer. At the age of 13, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and live by myself for six months and experienced the professional culture. And when I came back to Canada, I came back with a new passion for the sport. And throughout my four years of high school, I sacrificed everything to pursue my dream of playing professional soccer. But in grade 12, at the age of 17, everything changed. It was mid-November, maybe one week before the biggest opportunity in my soccer career, and I was playing in a friendly match with my team. It was just before half time, maybe five minutes before the whistle when I went shoulder to shoulder with this 250 pound beast.

Sam Demma (04:48):

And after our initial contact, I caught myself, but very quickly I realized that something felt a little funny in my left knee. And for the next five minutes, I ran around with some pain in my calf before deciding to put my ego aside and get off the field. And as I crossed the line, I immediately burst in the tears because deep down I knew that something was terribly wrong. And the worst part about it is that my parents weren’t even there, and I had to hit your ride home with my teammate. And for the whole 40 minute drive home, I pted in the backseat like a little child. Fast forward one month, I ended up getting the results from my mri, and it turned out I had torn the meniscus in my left knee. I felt absolutely defeated mentally and physically because I just missed the opportunity I had been training for so emphatically.

Sam Demma (05:50):

But you see, I wanted this dream so badly, so I would not give up. I got the surgery done and I got back onto the field. And just as things began to improve, I ended up tearing the meniscus in my left knee a second time. And this time around, looking back, I realized I broke down uncontrollably crying in front of my family, my friends, and my teammates. I couldn’t understand why life seemed to be beating me to the ground for no reason. I then had a second surgery, and I even took a fifth year of high school or grade 13 for you old folks back here to try and keep that dream alive. And just when I thought things could not get any worse, it happened again a third time this time in my other knee, which forced me to quit and give up the sport that I loved. It was at that point in my life that I realized I had so deeply attached my personal identity and self-worth to the sport I played. I mean, raise your hand if you have an email address here. I’m pretty sure we all do. Just to put it in perspective, it was so bad that my email was soccer, Sam 99, soccer was all I knew, and I feared that I would be worth nothing without it.

Sam Demma (07:16):

So that’s where I was at this point in my life when my teacher taught me this lesson about small, consistent actions. The reason I shared with you my soccer story is because I want you to understand you do not need to go through extreme adversity to knee surgeries and give up a lifelong dream only to realize that doing good things that benefit others also fulfills yourself. And my teacher proved that to me through his personal passion for solving world issues. And so while walking home from school, after that day in class, when I was asking myself the questions, How are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I now see that I was taking the first small step towards building some serious momentum. And it took me 14 days to finally come up with an answer to those questions.

Sam Demma (08:21):

I was walking home when a coffee cup blew across the sidewalk, and I still can’t explain this portion of the story, but for some reason on an impulse decision, I decide to put my teacher’s theory to the ultimate test. I walked up to the cup, I bent down, and I picked it up. And for the next four months, I made my small consistent action picking up litter while walking home from school. I had no intentions of building something outta this, but to, to my surprise, my teacher was correct. And that small consistent action would soon thereafter grow into a citywide initiative. Because five days before summer break, my good friend Dylan saw me driving home and like any teenager, he pulled over, he rolled down his window, and he looked at me like this.

Sam Demma (09:17):

And then he said, Sam, what the heck are you doing? Why are you picking up garbage? And when I explained to him the theory that small actions lead to a massive change, he absolutely loved it. And then he made this statement that changed my future forever. He said, Sam, let’s do something with this. And that was the day that Pick Waste was born. Pick Waste is a community initiative that was started outta the necessity to play our small part in solving a global issue, while at the same time inspiring individuals like yourselves to realize the potential you have on this planet. It began on July 1st, 2017, and since that day, we have kickstarted four different cleanup crews in four different cities, completed over 80 cleanups, filled over 850 bags of garbage and picked up over 21,000 cigarette butts. It has also given me the opportunity to speak in front of over 8,000 individuals just like yourself, to spread this message and to raise awareness.

Sam Demma (10:29):

You see, our movement exemplifies the power of consistency. It was one small action, one small idea that led to this citywide initiative. But please do not get me wrong. The reason I told you about pick waste is not because I want you to go and start picking up litter, although if you do see it, please do pick it up <laugh>. But the reason I told you about pick waste is because I wanted to give you a real life example about how this theory of small, consistent actions played out in my personal life. But what is 10 times or even a thousand times more important is how this theory could play out in your life. Because there are thousands of social issues facing the world today that need courageous leaders like yourselves to step up and face these problems. The biggest lie we have ever been taught, told, or heard, is that one person is too insignificant, that one person is irrelevant in the bigger picture or on the global scale.

Sam Demma (11:36):

And I am here today to tell you that that is absolutely false, and I can even prove it to you in less than 10 seconds. Are you ready? Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Stein, and Lewis Tapp in Salman north of Will and Will before is Gandhi, Bill Dre and Forres, Nan, Gail, Fabio Rosa. The list goes on and on of people no different than you and I. You see, they’re just human beings who decide to commit to small, consistent actions, and it allowed them to change this world. What is stopping you from being the next person that I count on my fingertips? Tips Because my teacher told me that those figures in history are not anomalies. We can all change the world. Never underestimate the power of small actions executed consistently. Never underestimate the power of momentum because things in motion tend to stay in motion and never underestimate yourself because you are no different than any other change maker who has ever walked on this earth.

Sam Demma (12:47):

Now, before I wrap this up, I have one piece of homework that I wanna leave you with. As you leave this conference here today, I want you to think about one problem that you are passionate about, one problem that you wanna start solving. And over the next two weeks, the next 14 days, I want you to come up with some small, consistent actions that you can begin implementing in your personal life to start solving this problem. And I promise you, you’ll begin taking these actions, and it will start gaining momentum, and you will build a little initiative. And as you start to have an impact, people will begin asking you the question, “How do you plan on changing the world?” And when I was 17, in grade 12, I did not have ‘an answer to that question. But I hope that after hearing this presentation here today, if anyone ever asked you, how do you plan on changing the world,” you would take a little step back, put a big smile on your face, and respond with those three, simple but extremely powerful words; small, consistent actions. Thank you.

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.

Char Andrew – Health & Wellness Coordinator at Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools

Char Andrew - Health & Wellness Coordinator at Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools
About Char Andrew

Char’s first job is being a mother and wife. She married Chris for 30 years and has 3 amazing children. Her second job is working as the Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division.

Her role with the division is to create healthy school communities for staff and students. Her school division is passionate about bringing awareness to the relationship between physical health and mental health.

Her 3rd job is as a fitness instructor with Studio Pilates in Red Deer. She has been in the fitness industry for over 32 years. Her fitness journey has been one of learning, passion and fun. 

Connect with Char: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division

Studio Pilates

Char Andrew Youtube Channel

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.

Sam Demma (00:58):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Char Andrew. Char is the Health and Wellness Coordinator at Red Deer Catholic Schools. Char’s first job is being a mother and wife. She married Chris for 30 years and has three amazing children. Her second job is working as the Health and Wellness coordinator for the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division. Her role with the division is to create healthy school communities for staff and students. Her school division is passionate about bringing awareness to the relationship of physical health, and mental health. Her third job is as a fitness instructor with Studio Pilates and Red Deer. She has been in the fitness industry for over 32 years. Her fitness journey has been one of learning, passion, and fun. I hope you enjoy this energizing conversation with Char Andrew, and I will see you on the other side. Char, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Char Andrew (01:56):

Hey. Hi Sam. Thanks for having me. My name is Char Andrew, and I am the health and Wellness coordinator for Red Deer Catholic Regional schools.

Sam Demma (02:06):

When did you become passionate about your own personal wellness and have that personal passion pour into helping others?

Char Andrew (02:15):

You know what, I think it was about 20 when I needed to take control of my health and wellness. It was kind of those late teens, early 20 years that I’m like, eh, I need to make, make a change. So I started going to a local fitness center and I literally fell in love with my aerobics teacher. She was like the high energy, high kicker type instructor. And she came up to me and she said, You know what? Have you ever thought about becoming an instructor? And that’s all it took. I had a background in figure skating growing up, and I, I had a little bit of rhythm going on. So I became an instructor and I’ve been teaching fitness for over 32 years now.

Sam Demma (02:58):

And you live it running triathlons and marathons, <laugh>.

Char Andrew (03:04):

I try to make sure it is part of my lifestyle. Absolutely. Yep.

Sam Demma (03:09):

What took you down an educational journey? Like when did you have the realization that you might want to help staff and students with their wellness and what actually brought you to where you are today?

Char Andrew (03:22):

Well, when I finished high school, I, I wanted to work in the education sector. I wasn’t really confident about going to school. So I, I started off my journey at, in early childhood development and I took a diploma program here in my, actually where I’m living currently in Red Deer. And I just knew I wanted to help students along with their education and their wellness. And then I ended up marrying my husband, who is a teacher and sort of immersed myself in that education world. I love watching him coach basketball. I love going to conferences with him. And then the opportunity came up for my, my role that I’m in right now. So it was kind of a good marriage of both where I was working in the school’s division and I was able to share my passion about wellness and how important it is for overall wellness, whether it’s your mental wellness, physical wellness, all of it.

Sam Demma (04:19):

That’s such a unique journey or introduction to Ed, you know, education. It sounds like you were able to bring two passions that you had together, which I think is a really meaningful way to pursue a, a pathway or a future. What does your role look like day to day in the school board for someone who might not be familiar with, you know, what you do?

Char Andrew (04:42):

Yeah, for sure. You know what? I think I have to give a shout out to our division first and foremost because they came up with this concept of a wellness coordinator. Knowing that what can we do to help our staff become healthier? Yeah. So that they take less sick days, right? So that it’s more consistent for kids in the classroom and ultimately it will save the division money if they’re paying for less sick time. So when they came up with this concept it was mostly to focus on, on staff wellness. And when I saw the job posting, I was like, Whoa, this is, this is a dream job for me because of the bringing the two of them together. So I think, you know, the focus of wraparound supports of wellness for students and teachers and all staff, bus drivers, whoever it might be, when people are physically well and there’s sleeping well and they’re drinking water and they’re out in the sunshine, have positive social relationships that makes us mentally well.

Char Andrew (05:48):

So I think my scope is definitely not mental wellness. I’m not a mental health practitioner. It’s not, that isn’t my, my skillset. My skillset is that that fitness and not part of the wellness, but we know that those are all the things that will support kids in their mental wellness. And when we, not even kids, staff, everybody in the group. Yeah. So when everybody’s well that way, it just makes us better teachers, It makes us better students, it makes us better bus drivers or s or cafeteria workers, whoever we are in the school division. So, okay, I’m gonna get really excited because I’m really passionate about it.

Sam Demma (06:25):

I love it. I can feel it. You can tell that this is work that you’re excited about doing every single day. And I think that in education it’s so important that every person in every role is excited about what they’re doing because that passion pours through and results and, and impact and, and actually making sure the job they’re supposed to do is getting ju getting done as best as it possibly can. I know that what you’ve done and what the division has done in the wellness sector is now sort of an example for other school boards as well. What are some of the initiatives or projects that you have worked on with your team and with the school division that you’re personally really proud of, but also excited about?

Char Andrew (07:11):

Yeah, I think the thing that we started about 10 years ago is we created this comprehensive school health model, which lots of divisions are very familiar with. But one of the things that we did in every one of our schools is we asked someone to be a wellness champion. It could have been an ea, it could have been a teacher. We, so now we actually have one or two, some schools have six cuz they’re pretty excited about it. But we are wellness champions in every school. And then they will take, I’ll do PD with them. I’ll bring them in the division office, you know, three or four times a year and we’ll talk about, Hey, what are some of the wellness initiatives that you wanna do in your school? How can I support you? And so that’s sort of where they build an action plan for the school year.

Char Andrew (07:57):

Now, in turn, those wellness champions will bring student wellness action teams together. So those, they bring students who are passionate about wellness and, and how can we support everybody in our school when it comes to anything from healthy eating bingo when you’re in elementary school to maybe bringing in someone in the high school to talk about, you know, mental wellness, those types of things. The one thing I love about our little action teams is that student Wellness Action teams, which the acronym is swapped, so they call ’em their SWAT teams, <laugh>, We have our little SWAT teams in the school helping the, the adults with their, with their wellness initiatives. So I think other divisions have really looked at that model of going, Hey, that’s a great idea. Let’s bring, bring in someone that will take that role and that leadership role in the school and then create these, these student action teams.

Char Andrew (08:49):

So I talk a lot about that with other school divisions. The other thing we did was we created a staff wellness assurance plan so that our division will follow through this over the next three years of what are an actual assurance plan that our HR team and myself will follow through with over the next three years. So it kind of gives us a path, the goal the strategic plan of what we’re gonna do over the next three years. So we talk about our, our assurance plan. There’s so many things that we’ve done. I really do get excited. I got to speak to the Zone four committee last year of all superintendent. Actually it was not even zone four, it was all a superintendents in the province about what we’re doing as far as wellness. So, ah, I’m pretty proud of what we’ve built here.

Sam Demma (09:37):

That’s so amazing. It, it sounds phenomenal. Outside of your, your role with the school division, how do you keep your wellness in check so that when you show up to work, you’re filled with energy, super excited and ready to go <laugh>?

Char Andrew (09:54):

So that’s a good question. I I actually teach fitness classes. Like I said, I’ve been in the fitness industry for 32 years. So I work my, my fun, my other fun job is working at a place called Studio Pilates where I teach everything from spin to TRX to Pilates. And I think one of the secrets for me is just doing different things. One day I, I’m gonna teach spin, but the next day I’m gonna go for a walk and then I’ll teach a TRX class and then I’m gonna go for a swim. So I think to keep me motivated, it is mixing things up. But other other piece of it for me is I know how good I feel mentally. Yeah. When I’ve done something physical that works for me. That’s my, my self care and, and self care and wellness means something different to other people. But that’s definitely the piece that motivates me is I have, I have to be moving.

Sam Demma (10:51):

It sounds like moving is the constant, but the way you move or why you’re moving in terms of the game you’re playing, the sport you’re engaged in changes that mixing things up is a part of your philosophy. Things got really mixed up over the past two years with Covid <laugh>. Yeah. When it comes to that mix up what was your focus or the school division’s focus on wellness during that time and maybe what are some of the initiatives or things that went on over the past two years to try and support the wellbeing of staff and students?

Char Andrew (11:26):

Well, you know, it was really challenging because part of what I love about my job was being able to go into the schools and work with the students and work with the teachers. So like everybody else, we had to figure out ways that we can make this work. So of course I did lots of virtual things and that’s, that was a big learning curve for me because yeah, not really technically savvy, but we managed to do a lot of sort of guest presentations for whether it’s PHED classes or the com classes in the high school. And then the teacher wellness piece, I started YouTube called Wellness Wednesdays, <laugh> Nice.

Char Andrew (12:09):

We would focus on, I would try and alternate, you know, one week would be something physical, whether it’s a five minute energy break at your desk because a lot of us were sitting at home at our desks or the next week would be nutrition. And then the following week I would do something that would help support our mental wellness. So my wellness Wednesday <laugh> little YouTuber videos became pretty popular. So, you know, we did what we could to make sure people knew we were still here and we cared about them and we cared about their wellness within the division.

Sam Demma (12:42):

That’s awesome. I’m gonna have to check out some of your YouTube videos. Are they still up there, <laugh>?

Char Andrew (12:48):

Yes, they are. In fact, I did a presentation for the bus drivers last week just to kick off the school year and a couple people put up their hands and said, Hey, are you still doing your Wellness Wednesday videos <laugh>? So, hey,

Sam Demma (13:01):

That’s awesome. We gotta

Char Andrew (13:01):

Continue with them now.

Sam Demma (13:03):

So aside from supporting the divisions as a whole, do you ever get emails or phone calls from individual staff members saying, Sure, I’m super burnt out right now, like I just need some support. Like, is that something that also happens and if so what is kind of your focus when someone reaches out like that who might be a little bit burnt out?

Char Andrew (13:26):

Yeah, that’s, that’s really great question. In fact, during the pandemic, one of the things I thought I wanted to do was how do I work with people a little bit more on an individual basis? Mm. So I took a wellness coaching course to the Spencer Institute in California and it was an online course and it now gave me the opportunity to, in the skill set to really meet with people individually, not, not really prescribing to them, You need to do this, you need to do that. It was more like, what are some of the barriers? You know, I know this is what you wanna accomplish, how can we talk you through it? And it’s really giving them strategies that it’s really them figuring out the strategies that work best for them when it comes to wellness. So I am now through the division, they said, Yeah, let’s, let’s, let’s use this as one of the supports for our staff when it comes to their benefits. So I now meet with people individually. I have about 13 staff right now that I meet with on an ongoing basis. And hopefully that’ll grow this year. But I do, I’m really enjoying that one-on-one meeting with people cuz it’s, wellness can be a really personal and private thing. Yeah.

Sam Demma (14:37):

But

Char Andrew (14:37):

It’s so important. They want, they wanna continue to be the best teachers or eaas or whatever cafeteria workers that they can be. So how can I support them on that one-on-one journey?

Sam Demma (14:48):

That’s really helpful because I feel like so many people in education over the past two years have needed a support like that. And maybe not had access to it. Prior to meeting you at the middle years’, you know council conference. I didn’t, I didn’t ever speak to a wellness coordinator before. So I think it’s really cool to see you doing the work you’re doing and that you’ve been doing it for a while now, which is exciting for education as a whole. What, like what personally keeps you motivated to do this sort of work?

Char Andrew (15:27):

Well, you know, I, I do it because I know how it makes me feel. But the other things that motivate me are just little, little comments or an email that I get, even if it’s my Wellness Wednesday video. If I get one email a week for someone saying, Hey Char, I really needed to hear that today. That really helped me get through my day. Or I went out to visit a school last week and one of the ladies had taped to her desk. The little five minute desk workout goes, I still do this every day, char. So those, that type of feedback does kind of fill my bucket and feed my soul. And I, I do know, I truly, truly, truly believe that when we incorporate wellness into our everyday life, how, how much better our life, the quality of our life can be. And I just wanna teach people that I want them to experience that same feeling that, that I get when I’m really taking care of my wellness. So I, I think that that passion that I have keeps me motivated cuz I know it’s, I know it’s making a difference even if it’s one person a week.

Sam Demma (16:34):

I was just having a phone call with a coach of mine and a mentor, his name’s Chris. And he told me that two weekends ago he was sitting on dock at a cottage. First time he had ever taken a few minutes to meditate in complete silence, where you literally sit and he crossed his legs and just focused on his breathing. And he noticed far in the distance a boat going by and could barely hear it. But the engine was loud enough that, you know, he, he understood that there was a boat somewhere, but it was at nighttime, so it was complete darkness. And within 10 minutes of this boat passing behind in the distance, he started hearing waves hitting the shore of his cottage. And at first he was thinking like, Why are there waves hitting my cottage? Just makes no sense. It’s, it’s dark outside, it’s nighttime, everything’s calm and silent.

Sam Demma (17:28):

And then he thought, oh yeah, it was from the boat. And what it made me think of just now while you were talking was the work we do in wellness, like you don’t know it or sometimes people don’t realize it, but you’re like, that boat that’s making a ripple. And it might not affect somebody instantly, but 10 years from now they’ll think back and go, Damn, I’m so glad that I did the five minute desk workout every single day. And I really took a lot from those, you know, Wellness Wednesday YouTube videos. Speaking of what is the five minute desk workout, if you don’t mind me asking <laugh> this sounds awesome.

Char Andrew (18:10):

Well, it’s things like pushing yourself away from your desk and doing a few squats and then putting your hands on the desk and doing some desk pushups. Just little things that you can incorporate onto your desk or in your chair. And now you’ve got me stumped. I’m gonna have to send you the video.

Sam Demma (18:27):

No, that’s okay. I’m gonna link it in the podcast show notes. So if anyone wants to check out Sure. Not only your YouTube channel, but the specific five minute workout, I’m gonna make it available to all the listeners. Okay. But yeah, the the work you do is, is so important. Tell me about a story of an educator or a student who reached out to you and shared with you the impact that wellness had on on them. Maybe they were going through a difficult time and five months later found themselves in a bit of a better place cuz they decide to finally focus on their wellness. I’m curious if you have any stories like that or people who have sent emails along those lines.

Char Andrew (19:09):

Yeah, you know, I, there’s always the, the little ones that you know, really have an impact on me. But it was funny, I was at a, the pool this weekend. I was swimming and I was talking to a teacher who had been part of my triathlon training cuz nice three pandemic. I would organize a group of teachers doing triathlons. She wasn’t a really strong athletic person, she didn’t love swimming. And we just had a little conversation in the change room and I’m walking out and she stopped me in the parking lot and said, Char, I just wanna tell you what a huge difference you made on my life when it comes to my, my overall fitness journey. She said, If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have tried that triathlon. And that was probably nine years ago. And to this day she continues to doing triathlon. So I’m walking to my vehicle going, You just don’t know the impact that you have on people. And when you hear them nine years later telling me that, yeah, he made a difference, that’s, you know, pumps up my drove home with my chest pumped up and I was very happy and then phone my husband to say, You won’t believe this

Sam Demma (20:23):

<Laugh>. It gives you purpose knowing that you made a difference. Totally.

Char Andrew (20:26):

Yeah. Yeah.

Sam Demma (20:28):

So bus drivers in the board find your wellness Wednesday video is super helpful. I’m curious to know if there are any resources that you listen to or watch or have experienced or been exposed to that have been really helpful in your own personal development journey and wellness journey?

Char Andrew (20:48):

Oh yes. There’s been lots of people. I’m kind of a little fitness groupie. I follow <laugh>, I follow all these you know, I go to lots of fitness conferences and I’ve been really fortunate. The division has supported me in going to conferences. But there’s a few presenters that have really sparked my flame when it comes to fitness. And one’s Helen Vandenberg and she’s from Calgary. Todd Durkin is one out of San Diego who he’s got a podcast. It, it’s all about get Mind, right. He’s always like, get your mind right

Sam Demma (21:24):

<Laugh>. Yeah. Nice.

Char Andrew (21:26):

In fact, and I wear his t-shirt proudly and nice. And another one is Peter Twist and he’s out of Vancouver who went on quite the journey of himself huge trainer for the Connects the Vancouver Connects and then ended up getting a brain tumor. And, you know, he feels truly, truly deep down that his health and wellness and being as strong as he was, helped him get through that. Wow. so following his journey is really inspiring. But yeah, I, there are people that I consistently go to or talk to or email or follow that keep me inspired. Right.

Sam Demma (22:05):

Yeah. That’s awesome. I’m gonna have to check out Twist and these other two people. Yeah. Get your mind. Right. <laugh>

Char Andrew (22:14):

Such a groupie with Todd Derkin. <Laugh>,

Sam Demma (22:16):

Hey, we all have our idols. You know, people we look up to and people that we learn from as well. Yeah. what are you looking forward to about this fresh new school year?

Char Andrew (22:30):

Yeah, you know what I, we just got some word that we have some funding for some mental wellness initiatives within our, within every school division within the province. So even though mental wellness is not my, my skillset or my lane, I know that that funding will help our, our students. So it’s all about student wellness which of course you are definitely passionate about. And, and part of, and I think I’m excited that they are starting to see that wellness should be at the forefront of, of the education system. I mean, we’ve got funding. Yes, I agree. The grades and, and statistics, all of those things. The data is really important, but I think that we’re finally starting to see that if people aren’t well, how will everything else be in place? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I think we need to have healthy students, healthy staff, everybody wrap around supports like I talked about before. Cuz if we, because if we don’t have those, we’re not gonna have good grades. Right. You have to have the other things in place because kids can’t learn if they’re hungry, kids can’t learn if they’re not sleeping well, kids can’t. Right. There’s all of those things, those messages that we have to get out and I think people are really starting to believe and, and our education system’s starting to believe that you’re right, those things are really important.

Sam Demma (23:50):

What an exciting time for a very positive change, <laugh> and development in education, which I think is so exciting. If you could, you know, travel back in time to the first year you were working in this position in education and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Char, this is what you don’t need. This is what you don’t think you need to hear, but you really need to hear. What would you have like told you younger self as advice or as encouragement when you were just getting started?

Char Andrew (24:27):

Hmm. You know, I I I think probably don’t give up because I felt like I was beating my head against the wall a little bit when it came to wellness and, and having people realize how important it is. So there are many days that I had administrators say, <laugh>, this isn’t really important.

Sam Demma (24:48):

Mm.

Char Andrew (24:48):

Right. It’s all about the marks and it’s all about scores and, and that type of thing. And some of those administrators that I was like, I think I’m afraid of you. No <laugh>. Yeah. Those people are now on board with me. There are in Char and they’re like, Okay, I get it now. Like, this is super important. I understand what you’re saying, but don’t give up and I have a little bit of fight to me so I I didn’t give up and finally got true to some of those people. Yeah. Probably not give up.

Sam Demma (25:24):

And what’s so awesome about not giving up is that because you decide to keep going, it’s having a positive impact on so many people. If, you know, if you gave up, you not only would’ve let your own passion down, but you would’ve let all the people down who are now on board who totally see how important it is. So thank you for persisting. If another educator is listening to this and is fueling your palpable energy through their earphones and wants to connect with you and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch?

Char Andrew (25:58):

Yeah, you can certainly send me an email. It’s char.andrew@rdcrs.ca.

Sam Demma (26:14):

And if they wanna subscribe to your YouTube channel, Wellness Wednesdays?

Char Andrew (26:19):

Yeah. Char Andrew Wellness Wednesday. Let’s, let’s make a YouTube sensation.

Sam Demma (26:27):

I love it. Awesome. Char, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast, share a little bit about your journey, your passion for wellness. I really appreciated the conversation.

Char Andrew (26:38):

Well, I appreciate you, Sam, and everything that you’re doing for mental wellness, for kids and your message is so important. So thanks for all the work that you’re doing and thanks for having me on.

Sam Demma (26:48):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Char Andrew

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.

Richard Karikari – Former CFL Athlete and Co-Founder of Complete Performance Centre

Richard Karikari - Former CFL Athlete and Co-Founder of Complete Performance Centre
About Richard Karikari

As a proven leader in the domestic and international sports industries, Richard is known for his skills and experience in sports business operations, training and conditioning, minor association team management and his professional football career. He is passionate about promoting health and fitness for people of all ages.

Reputed for being self-motivated, over the past six years, he has founded and grown The Physio Studio. Currently operating at three permanent locations and various pop-up locations throughout the Durham region, he is excited to be working on getting a fourth location ready to open.

Other ventures include:
• Co-founding the Complete Performance Centre.
• President of the Durham Dolphins minor football club.
• President of the Ajax United Soccer Club, a black-focused club to get underprivileged kids back into sports.
• General Manager for the Ajax Soccer Club.

Prior to these endeavours, he was a professional football player in the Canadian Football League (CFL), giving him a unique perspective and first-hand understanding of sports from an athlete’s point of view.

Richard is a motivated and determined leader with strong managerial abilities in building, mentoring, and leading large, dynamic teams. He believes in displaying hands-on leadership in delivering activities and programs and supporting employees through first-rate employee development, performance management, and an environment where employees can strive for improvement in all areas.

Karikari works hard to build trust and respect with clients, colleagues, teams, and management and collaboratively develops strategic goals that drive organizations forward. Clients and business professionals enjoy working with him because he leverages his extensive experience to help them achieve business results diplomatically, responding to challenging situations with creativity, diffusing conflict, and upholding a high level of professionalism in all interactions.

He is a well-known community leader in the city of Ajax, and this fall, he is running for the position of school board trustee within the Durham Catholic District School Board

Connect with Richard: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Physio Studio

Complete Performance Centre

Ajax United Soccer Club

Canadian Football League (CFL)

Durham Catholic District School Board

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:58):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is someone who had a huge impact on me growing up as a young athlete and young man. His name is Richard Karikari. He is the proud owner and co-founder of the Complete Performance Center for Athletic Training. He trained me as the young man when I was pursuing my dream to play professional soccer. He is the president of the Durham Dolphins Minor Football Club, the President of the Ajax United Soccer Club; a black focused club to get underprivileged kids back into sports, and the general manager for the Ajax Soccer Club. Prior to these endeavors, Richard was a professional football player in the Canadian Football League, the CFL, giving him a unique perspective and firsthand understanding of sports from an athlete’s point of view. Today, he is also running for one of the positions as a school board trustee, which we’ll talk a little bit about today in this interview, along with his entire journey. I hope you enjoyed this conversation, 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 have a very special guest. This individual played a big role in my life as the development of an athlete, but more importantly, a young man. Richard, welcome to the show. Please introduce yourself.

Richard KariKari (02:20):

How you do it, man. Thanks, Sam. You know, I appreciate it. You know, I have been doing a lot of work with different groups in the community, so you’re one of them, and I appreciate you guys reaching back out.

Sam Demma (02:30):

Absolutely. for those of you who don’t know much about your journey and also your impact, can you please just talk a little bit about yourself, your, your story and what brought you to where you are today?

Richard KariKari (02:42):

You know, it’s, it’s first and foremost I’m from Ajax Pickering area. I grew up here. I came here in grade four. Most like, just like everybody else that came from the Toronto area. And you know, just, just went through the system, went through the whole Catholic system, went through St. Mary’s. I ended up going to university and I’m, I’m right back here as a small business owner, just like my dad was in this community. So, you know, my impact, I feel that I’ve been able to give is, is to the youth. Right now, currently the president of the Durham Dolphins as well as a gm Hja Soccer Club. So these are two things that, these are two platforms. I’m allow myself to speak with kids, parents. I let them know about my journey. So it wasn’t an easy journey.

Richard KariKari (03:23):

Everybody expects you just to go to school, get a scholarship, come back, and everything is gonna work out. It’s complete opposite. You know, the scholarship means the university has taken control of your life in some capacity. And I know a lot of athletes come back and tell me that, but for me, I try to guide them as best I can. Work with the schools, the guidance counselors, let them know that, you know, there is opportunities outside sports to, to make an impact and look just like yourself. You’re doing a lot, and I do appreciate what you’ve been doing for the community. But you, sports is a foundation of just getting kids to understand everything works off a team, right? Takes a village to raise a community, and that’s kind of mindset I have.

Sam Demma (04:00):

What sport did you play growing up and tell us a little bit about your journey through your athletic career,

Richard KariKari (04:05):

<Laugh>. So, I, I’ve got a couple interviews and people always say he must have played football his whole life. So I ended up playing in a professional football, but that was not my first love. My first love was baseball. I grew up in an era where the Blue Jays were the number one thing in town. You, if you didn’t wanna play baseball, actually something was wrong with you. I know that the main fans would probably think I’m crazy, but the B Chases was, was defined. Tron went one era. And growing up I played baseball. I played baseball, started in age H eight went through the system, did the house league select rap, Played on the one, probably the best travel teams where we had four or five guys drafted. And, and you know, it, it just, it just, it, you know, it’s full circle how things work out.

Richard KariKari (04:46):

And I tell parents this all the time. I was a small kid, You know, I remember your meeting your parents and, you know, you were a smaller, at a younger age when I started working with you and you will grow. I tell parents, Relax, just take a breather. And I think for myself, being a baseball be my first sport, which I loved tennis. I joined the tennis academy at age 13 and 14. Loved this sport. It wasn’t affordable at the time for my parents. I appreciate my parents given the effort that they did at that time to try to accommodate it, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t feasible. And then I kind of just started to play football a lot with my friends outside. And I think that’s the things that’s missing these days. Just the, the ability to just play the sport.

Richard KariKari (05:24):

And yeah, it just, it just worked out. And I, there is a teacher or two at St. Mary’s that kind of guided me, and I, and I, and I shout out to those teachers, Mr. Sheridan, who ended up being the, the headmaster at St. Michael’s College in Toronto who wanted me to actually transfer from St. Mary’s, go to St. Mike’s at that time, which was a dominate football program. And he said, I suddenly, he said, Rich, you got talent. I was only in grade 10, 11. I was like, We just played flag football. And he was like, Yeah, flag football, but you’re pretty damn good <laugh>. So, so I, you know, I took that with my mindset, came home and one of my friends who was a wrestler was playing for the Durham Dolphins. It was actually called Ajax Picker And Dolphins at that time, AP Dolphins played out the old Kingsman Field there. And he told me to come out. And that changed my life. I came out and because of my baseball arm being a pitcher, third baseman, I ended up being the quarterback for the team. And, you know, the rest is kinda history now.

Sam Demma (06:20):

That’s awesome. You’ve done so much for so many young people in the community. Why do you think sports are such a great foundation to anyone’s future success?

Richard KariKari (06:33):

You know, I can look at multiple ways. You know, I, I was what we call an average student. You know, my mom told me to get an 80, I to get a 75. You know, I don’t wanna push envelope too much. But sports allowed me to, to know that first of all, the friends around you is what keeps you in sports, right? There’s not a lot of sports nowadays that you’re, you’re an individual. There is a rare, you know, golf and, and other sports like that. But I always played on team sports where the friends were crucial, right? You go out with them, your social is a environment is around them goods and bads. You know, you have bad days. They raise you. You know, they’re the people that tell you it’s okay. I think sports is important for that. I think sports is also important just for the parents.

Richard KariKari (07:15):

Parents want their kids out active fit. You know, we, we talked about the obesity levels. That wouldn’t be the case. Know kids are active, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> screens were not an issue. You know, we had a, I don’t wanna age myself. We hadn’t attend on Nten was at its prime. You know, Super Nintendo came out that was at its prime, right? But screen time was not an issue for, for kids at my time. It was, it was literally get outside and played a sport. And I, and I think truly, you know, becoming to Durham, when I came to Picker in moved here, it saved me. It saved me. Cause I could’ve got caught up, you know, being a guy that just hung up the mall, right? No, I ended up being a guy that played road hockey at a street in Pickering called Pebble Court pretty much every day. <Laugh>, you know, so, you know, made that, that attribute to just being Okta, being around my friends, keeping me in a straighten narrow. We all know kids like to follow their friends. That’s why parents always say, you know, who you hang out with will sometimes be who you are. Mm. Well, my friends are guys who just love to play sports, you know, stay active after school. So I am what I am. I I wanted to be like that. And, you know, that’s what kept me outta trouble.

Sam Demma (08:18):

And it sounds like sports and just team activities is what introduced you to some caring adults in your life that guided you and really had a big impact. You know, being the headmaster at St. Mike’s and even other teachers that you had growing up I know personally from experience that when I was a student in school my parents actually came to you as like a caring adult figure and we’re like, Can you help guide our son? Like what are some of the conversations that you have with parents even that have kids that aren’t in sports and some that aren’t in sports? What are some of the conversations that you have or what do they reach out to you to ask?

Richard KariKari (08:56):

Well, you know, I, I think a lot of parents, and I do appreciate the parents do come and reaching out to me. I’m, I’m from this area, and I feel they can just relate. I think first and foremost will relate. I don’t have a doctor beside my name. I further my education end up with my masters, but that’s irrelevant to the parents. Yeah. They just see Richard as a guy who’s coaching kids, who trains kids. So there’s a mental and physical component to that. And they see me as somebody who, if you can get into my son or daughter’s head athletically, physically emotionally, when you’re training athletes, then you can also talk to them about their behaviors, good or bad. And that trust is what I’m, and I, and I all sneaky, I’m not gonna lie to you, I knew a lot about kids, you know, if their grades were slipping, but the parents are still bringing them to me to work with them.

Richard KariKari (09:39):

Parents will kind of slide that information in there, and as I’m training the clients or training the athlete, I’d leak it in there. Hey, Sam, you know, how you doing, Sam? You know, just wanna get an idea. You know, you gotta, you got an 81 in your English, you know, but you know, you usually get 88, so what’s going on? And, you know, sometimes you’re truthful with me. You’ll just say, Coach, you know what’s going on? I met this wonderful girl, and I think she’s distracted me or coach, I’m doing some projects that my parents don’t know about which is a great, a project you’re doing right now. And it’s kind of distracting me. I’m really trying to change Durham. I’m trying to be a more impactful to just being a regular student in an English class. Those are things you may divulge to me, but you may not divulge to your parents. And then, you know, that gives me an opportunity to kind of give you my advice on how to either A, be more open with your parents, or b to continue on your journey, but not, and not suffer the, you know, the outcome of maybe a great job. And in the long term.

Sam Demma (10:29):

Hmm. Richard Carri Carri, the trusted parent advisor of the Durham region, <laugh>, you know what? Like,

Richard KariKari (10:37):

Don’t give away my seat now. My secret’s gonna be up now. No kids are gonna be, I’m very transparent with me. So, no, no.

Sam Demma (10:42):

You know, it is funny, when I stopped playing soccer and I’m, you know, I’m, I was, I was still in my late teens, I still found it difficult to kind of rebuild my image. You know, everyone looked at me as the soccer guy. And, you know, similarly to yourself, you’ve been so involved with sports your whole life. And some people might think your current interests, they don’t really relate exactly. But I would argue the opposite that, you know, if you’re able to pursue something and achieve greatness in one area, those same, you know, skills and attributes can be applicable elsewhere. Tell me about the other personas of Richard that no one really sees about.

Richard KariKari (11:19):

You know, something, I’m, I’m a quiet person and, and everybody, and here’s a key thing about me, and I say this for anything I do, everybody knows where to find me. Mm, right? I’m always at the same location here. I’m always working with athletes where, if not the general public, and, and I strive to focus on what’s in front of me and not about anything, what I call distracting me, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. And I think the, from when parents really do come to me, I, I find the time and I will get an answer. It’s sometimes not an answer they want to hear. And I know some of the tough ones I’ve, I’ve dealt with is, you know, my kids started to, you know, smoke. Those are one of the toughest ones. Cause I’ve never smoked before. Mm. So it’s really hard for me to relate and, and I try to talk to the athlete or the, or the individual.

Richard KariKari (12:04):

And, you know, sometimes I have to be very honest, the parents, if you have a relative around you that smokes, maybe that’s what’s happened. Maybe they’re seeing it, maybe they’re witnessing it, you know, so it’s very hard for them. Maybe they have to take some responsibility for it. So I, I have to be honest, like, it’s, it’s really more of me trying to just put myself in both shoes, but at the same time, be honest, just be honest with either side, who I’m dealing with. And that I think parents that have come to me and athletes have come to and will probably recognize that I’m just, I’m very thorough in my decision making. Mm.

Sam Demma (12:35):

You, your, you know, you also have your own kids, and I’m sure there are people in your life who, when you can’t get through to yours, you lean on <laugh>. But you’re starting to gain a big interest in, you know, being a part of the community in these school space, in the education world. And I would assume an aspect of that is because your own kids are in it. Tell us, tell me more about that interest and that passion and why you wanna pursue being one of the counselors.

Richard KariKari (13:04):

Yeah, so, or

Sam Demma (13:05):

Trustees,

Richard KariKari (13:05):

I should say. Trustee. Yeah. So a lot of parents have come to me for, again, various issues. And I’m so happy, thankful for that. And, and ultimately for me, I have to start making some decisions because I’m starting to see a reoccurring trend. And it’s, it’s truly a trend. And you start looking at the research and data, same way you have done in your field, you start to say, Oh, hold one second, man, this is, this is not just a, a simple one off. This is not just a, a seasonal thing. This is actually something that potentially could be a change from, you know, policy, curriculum, you know, mental health could be anything. It could be anything above the, that you could start to say, How can I make a change in that direction or change in that for, for kids in the future.

Richard KariKari (13:48):

And that’s why ultimately started looking at the role of trust. And it took me about a year to decide that, you know, everybody pushes you towards me, a counselor, a mayor, I’ll, and I’ve said this and I’ll say it again. My, my, I don’t have interest in that at the moment. My interest right now is in continue to work with athletes, continue work with youth, Okay. Continue to guide people. And I think this is why it was the best fit for me to, to run as Ajax Catholic board trustee. It, it, it just fit well and well. I know have some public, have some public school people. Really ho why didn’t you go for public? I’m like, I understand, but my faith is Catholic. I went to St. Mary’s. you know, my kids are baptized in St. Francis. So I, I, I, you know, I mean, for me, I, I’m Catholic, right? But I continue to help, regardless of what board you come from I’ll continue to help, but for me, from a formality point, I, I fail those best for me to put my hand, my head my name in for Ajax Catholic trustee.

Sam Demma (14:39):

What has been the response from all your friends, family, the community at large? <Laugh>,

Richard KariKari (14:46):

It’s it’s exactly what you started by saying it’s Richard, well, the CPC guy, or Richard, the HX picker and Dolphins guy, or Richard, the HX soccer guy. It’s really breaking the the, the stereotype of who I am, right? Or the ex professional football player guy. You know, I have so many hats and I’m, I’m thankful that I have these hats to wear because when you have a lot of hats, good or bad, you’re making an impact in different areas. So I feel that the people around me, I’ve seen the social media thanking me, saying finally, I, I did get a lot of personal emails saying, finally <laugh>. And I, and I rep, I did reply all of them. I’m like, I, I understand. And I also get people saying, same thing I said before, I, I hope that I was wishing you could do the other board. I’m like, No. My focus again is just working with as a, as a Catholic trustee. And that’s what I, I’m aiming for. So it’s been amazing, all the support out there. It’s been amazing. And I’m hoping everybody can go out and vote the week of the 17th to 24th, and hopefully we can make change within the Durham region.

Sam Demma (15:48):

That’s awesome. What are the things that you’re hoping to support with in schools or like maybe for the parents who are curious, like what exactly is your role, you know, as a, as a trustee, if they’re not too involved in the system? <Laugh>

Richard KariKari (16:03):

Trustee, again, a trustee. You’re, you’re there for the parents, okay? You’re there for the youth. You’re there to be in an ear. It’s not always about the bad issues, it’s also the good issues. You’re there to support the schools. There’s gonna be different events that, you know, involve the youth, that you wanna make sure that you’re present, you’re there to continue to build the faith. We are in the Catholic faith, right? So you wanna make sure our kids, our kids are, our youth, are continuing to, to understand the Catholic faith. These are all different things that, you know, I my, I want to be a part of, right? But the most important thing is wanna build community. I think that’s ultimately the biggest thing. It’s too diverse here in Ajax that we do not wanna get caught in a situation that all this diversity will turn into everybody being separate, whereas the whole is to build.

Richard KariKari (16:49):

And I, and I’ve started that mindset at Aja Soccer. It’s our model. It’s our diversity inclusion model, which we brought in three years ago. And I’m, I’m pushing hard. We are a melting pot at a, a soccer, we are a melting pot that Durham dolphins. I want more and more kids to be involved in sports that they may not be a part, a part of their cultural background, which is a better way of saying, you know, there’s always a, and I can make this statement, there’s always been a stigma that if you’re Italian, you must be great at soccer <laugh>. You know, that’s, that’s a stigma, but you know something, why can’t semi dema play, you know, football? Why can’t stand semi dema play, you know, badminton? So these are all different things. We wanna build that community. I played tennis, I played badminton, I played, you know, volleyball in school.

Richard KariKari (17:34):

I think everybody took an attempt at that. We wanna build that in other ways outside just athletics. Build that in, in, in realms of our stem. Build that in realms above getting our kids and our high school students into job opportunities co-op, which you did co-op in, in, in this building here, which we work out of, you had an opportunity. Now see the different side at that time, at that time was called cpc. Yeah, you got a chance to see different side. So I think those are things that I wanna make sure that we continue to build on.

Sam Demma (18:02):

If a parent is listening to this right now or anyone in the education community and they wanna reach out and just like ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Richard KariKari (18:13):

I have cards going all through the, the Ajax area. They can contact me. I do have a number. It’s 289-201-0497. Give me a call. I’m always available. You know, I do coach sports programs. If I get a call while I’m coaching, don’t worry. I’ll pick up and I’ll make sure, I’ll give you a call right back. My email is richard@completecentre.com. You can give a call, sorry, an email there. Ask me any questions as well as my social platforms. You can ig me or if not, send a message to Facebook. Either way you’ll get a response back, probably.

Sam Demma (18:45):

Awesome. Rich, thank you so much for taking the time to chat, share a little bit about your future pursuits and what you’re hoping to do in the community, and it was really inspiring just to catch up and chat, and I wish you all the best.

Richard KariKari (18:56):

Appreciate it. Thanks, Sam.

Sam Demma (18:58):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Richard Karikari

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.

Eric Keunne – Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board

Eric Keunne - Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board
About Eric Keunne

Eric Keunne (@EricKeunne) is an Educator and Instructional Program Leader for Youth Settlement (K-12). He is also a Research Assistant for the Camerise Project (FSL hub) and a Ph.D. student in Francophone Studies at York University.

Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon.

Connect with Eric: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Camerise Project (FSL hub)

Francophone Studies at York University

Newcastle University

University of Yaoundé1

Ontario College of Teachers

Choq-FM 105.1

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.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. We have a very special guest with us today. His name is Eric Keunne. Eric is an educator and instructional program leader for youth settlement, K to 12. He is also a research assistant for the Camerise Project, also known as the FSL Hub and a PhD student in Francophone studies at York University. Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French Department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Eric, and I will see you on the other side. Eric, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Eric Keunne (01:55):

Well, thank you so very much Sam. It’s really a pleasure to be on your show today. My name is Eric Keunne. I speak many languages. I speak Aghem the from the west region of Cameroon but my official language is French because Cameroon, where I come from is a bilingual language country, just like Canada. And my, the language I grew up speaking and studying in is French so you will realize that very often in this interview that I will use on French expressions. And you can also derive from there that as I’m a French language teacher, right. So I’m very happy to be here. I’m going to certainly have the opportunity to talk about my journey as an educator all the way from Cameroon and here in Canada, in Ontario now today. So, aside from that, I’m also a dad married to a wonderful wife. So, and my lovely two kids Michelle ve <inaudible>. So yeah. And pretty much also working towards bringing the Cameroon community together. As always, I’ve been very invested in, into that vain. And but what is very important is certainly to sheathe the path for the future of our kids. Rightm and the next generation. as an educator.

Sam Demma (03:10):

When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education? Was it something you always knew or something you stumbled into?

Eric Keunne (03:18):

That’s a wonderful question, Sam. I, well, it really gives me the opportunity to visit back against some sweet memories. Like I said, I was born and raised in Cameroon and Cameroon’s, a very beautiful country’s actually located in Central Africa. For those who you who are so wondering, Cameroon is the home to Toronto Rap NBA champion, Pascals, of course, yes. <Laugh> and also Ronald Soccer players like Samuel Ato and Roja mil. Yeah. So just like I indicated, Camon it’s a very, I’d say Sweden, blessed country in a sense that the dynamics of the population living in Cameroon is such a unique one, and I would love everyone to experience that. However as you know, Cameroon is also today, Cameroon as we know it today, is not only a result of colonization, but it’s also had to go through so many iterations as a country itself.

Eric Keunne (04:17):

So many changes actually happen in there. And that has also influenced my path. I grew up in a very, very modest family. My dad and Ream was a business man, and he was very, very invested into bringing up his children in such a way that they were not experience the same challenges just like he grew up experiencing. He, he was not fortunate enough to pursue his education on after elementary school. So one of the things that always prompted him to motivate his kids to go beyond his level where he dropped, was to ensure that, you know, they’ll be able to embrace the future. And for me, particularly he absolutely wanted me to hold a key position in the family, being that person who always trying to not only help others to navigate around the challenges that they were facing, because apparently, I, I had that gift, that talent of being able to, to communicate eloquently in French and also, but in a very respectful way.

Eric Keunne (05:27):

And for him, that was a sign that I would be an amazing educator in the future. So somehow he, he pushed me in this, into this profession. He pushed me to embrace and to love this profession. So I grew up with that in mind knowing that I had a huge responsibility, not only towards my family towards my community, but people that I, I meet with every single day. Mm. And I, you know, I grew up with that love and passion for, for education, for, for helping others people to grow and try. Right. And I ended up at a teacher’s college in, in Cameroon, and here I am today.

Sam Demma (06:03):

You mentioned Samuel Etto. Is, is football a big part of your childhood,

Eric Keunne (06:07):

<Laugh>? Absolutely, absolutely. I grew up playing football, we call it in Canada soccer, but I grew up playing football and enjoying it, just like every, every young man of my generation in Cameroon. And even now. And you know, when I actually started teaching, one of the things that I also dedicated my time doing, Sam, was to to coach, right? So I used to be a soccer coach when, in high school, when I was working in a high school.

Sam Demma (06:32):

So you mentioned the passion, where it came from. What did the journey look like from the different roles you worked in education and then the transition from Cameroon to Canada?

Eric Keunne (06:45):

Well, it wasn’t an easy transition all the time. So I, like I said, I I, I did my teacher’s education in Cameroon at Eco Hill, the Bomb, and next to bomb Bili. So ENS bomb, that’s in northwest region of Cameroon. And my training was in bilingual letters, bilingual education. So I was trained as a FSL teacher, but also as an English language as a English as a second language teacher. Nice. And when I finished my, my teacher’s education in Cameroon, I was actually assigned to my first high school in Cameroon government high school, je, where I spent almost two years. Ah, and I, I, I, I ended up being a department head for French in, in that high school. Then at some point my dad, who was very, very very motivated in seeing me exploring and exploiting all my full potential, he encouraged me to go beyond the level of being a teacher at the high school level.

Eric Keunne (07:48):

So he really encouraged me to pursue my, my post-secondary education. So I started looking for opportunities to doing a master’s degree. And I, so I started that in Cameroon, and I eventually got the chance to go study abroad in the uk. But before the uk I made a stop in Belgium in Brick. So where I studied for one year. Then I eventually ended up at the University of Newcastle where I did study in a Master’s of education program in international developmental education. So in the uk what was very fascinating about my, my journey there was the fact that I was able to not only match part of my experience with, you know, the reality of teaching and learning in the uk, but I was also able to share this experiences with so many learners around me. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I was a unique opportunity in that specific program.

Eric Keunne (08:38):

And I, you know, I want to take this opportunity to give a, you shout out to Professor Pauline Dixon, who will be probably listening from the uk. She was my professor in that program. And she, she really invested in, in a platform where all the scholars in this program would be able to come and share experiences, because of course, we were talking about international development, and it was also a unique platform to talk about some best practices and things challenges that we were actually able to identify in specific countries, especially in developing countries. Right. And how we could actually work towards fixing that mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And back then we were talking about the, the, the development goals for the future. So it was very interesting. Right. And and back then, I also had a chance to do some supply job teaching in the uk some of the schools.

Eric Keunne (09:31):

So it gave me a unique perspective, right, to compare my experience from Cameroon and of course, in the uk. Then of course, eventually after that I moved to Canada here in Canada when I actually arrived in 2009, I didn’t write away get an opportunity to teach because the process was quite tedious and challenging. So I did apply to the College of Teachers. It took me about two to three years to get my OCC license, as you would imagine, Very, very stressful. But in the meantime, I was very lucky to to be invited to teach at a private school in Maka, Ontario. That’s why started my first teaching experience in Canada. Truly was at Town Center private high school. That’s why I started teaching in 2000 and, and 12. Nice. And it, it was good because I was working in a small school and it was really the firsthand experience for me working in Canada for the first time as a teacher, Right.

Eric Keunne (10:25):

Mm. And getting ready as my p my papers were being processed. And so it was really at that moment, and I, I really always thank the principal back then, Patrick McCarthy, who hired me and all the staff at thousand High School for all the support that they provided me with. And today I’m very, very pleased with where I am, because after Town Central High School I eventually had a chance to also teach at Seneca College in the nice living program where I was teaching French language as well. And after that I think in 2014 there was a, a position at Qua High School here in Halton, Hal, Industry School Board, for which I applied. And and I got a job in 2014. I’ve been really enjoying my journey so far since 2014 with Halton Industry School Board.

Sam Demma (11:14):

I love that your journey pursuing education has quite literally brought you around the globe, <laugh>, like

Eric Keunne (11:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sam Demma (11:22):

It’s so exciting to hear about the diverse perspectives you have and have picked up from teaching in such different places. What are some of the stark differences or, and similarities that you’ve noticed teaching in Cameroon versus teaching in UK and then versus both teaching in Canada, like <laugh>? I’m curious what kind of comes to mind when you think about those experiences and the similarities and differences?

Eric Keunne (11:48):

Well, the first thing that comes into my mind what I, in terms of, you know, comparing my teaching experience in these three countries is, is the fact that, you know, it’s actually provided me with a unique, unique facet of, you know, understanding the needs of the student and, and of course the families, right? Cause in Cameroon, one thing that is very interesting for you to know is that we do have very large class sizes, okay. And, and there’s that desire for every single students to to be knowledgeable. So they’re really, really looking into embracing every single word that comes out of the mouth of the teacher. So, to that is, to that regard, I think the position that you hold as a teach in Cameroon is quite different from how you position position here in Canada or somewhere else.

Eric Keunne (12:45):

Got it. Because you do have that you know, unique position as a, in Cameroon to secondly bring all the students towards a direction, the direction that you think it’s good for them, because they look up to you as not only teacher, but as a leader. I’m not saying it’s not the case here, is it still the case here? However, the dynamics in terms of the relationship is quite different. Right. And here, and, and that’s why I say I’m very grateful because I’ve had a chance to teach in Africa, in Europe, and now here in North America. So I, I, you know, I’m very blessed in that sense because throughout my journey, specifically here in Canada, I have come to the realization that, you know, beyond the fact that as a teacher, you are a leader, you are also there to facilitate the knowledge, not necessarily to give the knowledge to students, not only to provide them with everything that they need to swallow and digest now.

Eric Keunne (13:44):

Yeah. Right. You broaden the perspective, You open their avenue to students so that they can actually grow up with some critical thinking, Right. And be able to co-plan with you. Right. And that’s really what is amazing. You know, when I think about the experience here but again, you, you have to also understand that, you know, the, the, the way education is shipped around the world, it’s specifically tied to all the, the economic of that country as well. Because resources is very important when you think of planning in education. So for countries who have limited resources, financial resources I’m talking about here, and of course technological resources, it will be very, very difficult to apply the same system that we have here in Canada, everywhere. And, and to that, I think when you have the opportunity to move around a little bit, you get to appreciate every single country with what they actually bring forward in this uniqueness.

Eric Keunne (14:46):

So every country has a unique approach, which I like. So everywhere I’ve been to and here in Canada particularly I, I think one of the things that really makes me always enjoy my, my role as a teacher is really the passion that I see in every class that I go into, especially when it comes to the learning of French as a second language. Mm. As a French language teacher, I’m always, always very fascinated, but by the desire of students to wanting to learn an additional language. And that makes me feel happy because it really indicates the fact that beyond the, the, the, the noble desire to utilize that language, they want to learn the culture of a different country. And as you know as a francophone, I always try to promote all French countries, not just France and Quebec as we know, but try to open the horizons to my students in such a way that they can learn from all the French countries and including your history, right? Because yeah, no, the fact that this country speak French is a result of colonization, right? So it’s important that we bring that in perspective so that, you know, the kids that we actually teaching here can grow up learning, right? And visiting history, and be able to position themselves as citizens of the world. That the way I see,

Sam Demma (16:13):

I’m getting so much energy just speaking to you, <laugh>, I, I feel like educators listening will hopefully absorb some of this energy and remember why they got into education in the first place. What, what about teaching keeps you coming back every single day? Excited, Of course there’s challenges and difficult times, but what about the opportunity gets you excited to get outta bed every single day and teach and help in education?

Eric Keunne (16:41):

But I, I think what really gets me motivated every single day is the transformational aspect of our job as teachers, as educators. Not only do we provide in classroom space and time and platform for kids to be be able to express themselves, but we also help them to break down some barriers that they actually facing in their day to day life. I’ll tell you a little bit about my experience as an international student in the uk and you suddenly understand why I’m so motivated every single day going out and doing my job as a teacher. You know, when I actually landed in the uk back in two and eight and I think that was one of the most challenging moments of my life. Just now, one thing that I fail to, I forgot to mention, is that right now I’m, I’m actually working at my board’s welcome center.

Eric Keunne (17:41):

I’m in charge of the Youth Settlement Program, so helping and facilitating the transition of newcomer students and families in our, and in our schools, right? And that it’s really, it’s closely tied to my experience as an international students back in the uk. Cause like I said, it was one of the challenging moments of my life cuz I wish you know, I had something called the welcome center back then. Yeah. That was solely designed for newcomers and international students like myself, Right? I’m talking about the structure that is actually working towards supporting students every single. And I’m so happy to be working with this amazing team at the welcome Center Hall, District School of Welcome Center because as you know, newcomer students, and when they arrive in a place a new place like Canada or, or in Ontario or in Halton, they do have so many challenges that they’re going through.

Eric Keunne (18:34):

That was me back, back then. Yeah. I, I was struggling with language because like I said, I, I grew up speaking French, studying in French, so I had zero mastery of English language per se. Right. And in addition to that, I was trying to get used to my new environment, and I was far away from home, right? Yeah. So I had no place that I could go to or nobody that I could call a family member. Right? And, and with my, my being a francophone with little knowledge and master of English language I was required to to attend classes, graduate courses, for that matter. I was actually required to complete assignments in English. And, and, you know, it was very difficult. And I see that every single day for our newcomer students and, and families that come here, Right. The struggle with the language, but yet they actually exposed to the learning in English every single day.

Eric Keunne (19:29):

So, for me, particularly, I developed back then what I called my personal technical dictionary, and I still have it here in my shelves, I promise you that. <Laugh> <laugh>. So what, what was that is actually some a notebook that I, I, I actually designed for myself in which I would write down all the comments, expressions that I would hear people use every single day around the classroom in, in the articles that I was reading. Right? And I would, when I go home, I would translate those into French Mm. So that I could comprehend and understand these expressions. And then now in return, try to use them in sentences. This is simply to tell you how much time it takes for a newcomer students in a country like this, Right. To be able to understand the concept that are taught in a classroom and be able to utilize them.

Eric Keunne (20:20):

You see what I mean? Yeah. So it takes at least two, three or four double the amount of time for them to be able to develop the communication skills, the writing skills. And so language was a huge barrier, and language is a huge barrier for many newcomer students and families when they actually arrive here. Right. And for me, it’s very important when I wake up every single morning, is to think about every single student in the classrooms, Do they have all the tools? What am I doing as an educator to ensure that in our system, in our board, in our pro, every single student is equipped right. With the support that they need in order to try and succeed, Right? Mm. So, and beyond the language barrier, one thing that was very interesting to for me as well, and I really want to point this out I was a computer illiterate. Mm.

Eric Keunne (21:11):

As a matter of fact, I have learned how to use a computer for the first time in 2008, believe me or not. Right? Mm. And, and it would take me so many hours to type a single paragraph, this is the challenges that newcomer students and family’s experience because maybe they’ve not been exposed to technology from where they come from, Right? So, and I had to rely, rely on the support of my classmates and my professor, right? To get my work submitted online. So in thinking of that experience, I was trying to ask myself, what are we doing differently today in 2022, in such a way that students will not be experiencing the same challenges, right? So I’m not talking about financial challenges because that’s also something that every family and newcomer families actually go through. So, and it’s important for me when I wake up in the morning, to always ask myself this question, What am I going to do differently today?

Eric Keunne (22:09):

What am I going to add to what I did yesterday to put a smile on the face of every single student I encounter? And also, how do I actually foster collaboration with my team, with my staff, with the teachers that I work with to make the difference in the life of our students? Because every single student in our classroom, every single student is a success story waiting to be told. And we have a role to play into that. We have to be able to not only of God put forward our motivation, but also look for the resources that would help us as educators, as teachers, to transform the life of these individuals. Because this is the future of Canada. We’re talking about because 10, 10 years, 20 years down the road, the same student that we do have in our classroom today are the one who are going to help us navigate around our society. Are ha are those who are going to help shape the future of our country. So we need to continue to invest in education. We need to continue to embrace our job with all the energy and enthusiasm that is possible. But at the same time, I think a while ago I was talking about resources. I think the government needs also to continue to provide enough support Yeah. And financial resources for educators to be able to do the job efficiently. Mm.

Sam Demma (23:35):

You, you mentioned a few minutes ago when you were talking about your experiences overseas, that one of the things that was a little bit different was the way student and teacher relationships are built. I think what’s calming, calming common amongst here, Cameroon, Europe and the uk, is that one of the main goals of the educator, despite how the relationship is built, despite how the classroom is set up, is to help young people become their own success stories. As you just mentioned, that every student is a success story waiting to happen, and that educators play a part in it. I believe that that idea is one of the main reasons why people actually get into education. Because they wanna help people. They wanna serve young minds. They wanna make a difference. Sometimes we forget, sometimes educators forget why they started. And I think sharing an example of one of those success stories can help rekindle that fire. And I’m curious to know, in all year years teaching, if there are any success stories of students that come to mind that you might be willing to share. And it could be a very serious story of transformation, and if it is, you can change their name for privacy reasons. But I’m hoping you’ll, you’ll, you’ll be willing to maybe share one or two that that come to mind.

Eric Keunne (24:57):

Well, you know what? There’s so many success stories that I, you know, I could actually share with you. And I, I’m not just sure where to start, but I, I would love to, if you are okay, to probably read this letter that I received from one of my students. And she actually graduated I believe a few years ago no. Last year from Iru High School. Yes. And I, I, when she was about to graduate she actually sent me a very, very lovely letter, which to me kind of sum up the, the role and and, and I think the, the, not only the, the influence that we have on our students every single day, and, and for me it was at the same time also an appeal, right? Mm. And an invitation to even do better every single day. Because to me, when you have a student writing, you emailing you to share with you all these details and be able to tell you how transformative you’ve been in their lives, I think it’s just amazing as a staff, right? So for me, this is something that I want to share. Okay. Please, are

Sam Demma (26:15):

You ready for it, please? Yeah, I am. I’m patiently waiting. Ready? Excited. <Laugh>.

Eric Keunne (26:19):

Okay, so I, I’m, I’m really exactly what is, I’m not changing anything. Comment on this. Okay. Okay. And this student would, when, if she listens to me, shell recognize herself. S so the title of the email is La De So the End of Secondary School, High School S let me translate that because this is my bilingual mindset, Okay? It’s been long since the last emailed you, but now, you know, in the good of I, this is already end of, end of the school year, and she goes now in English. Okay? I would normally insist on sending you a French email, but since these words are so hard to say, I thought English might be better, they always say, High school goes by so quickly. And I didn’t believe it until now. Nothing could have prepared me for the memories I would make at ioi.

Eric Keunne (27:22):

But memories are only as good as the people who contain them. Mr. Kearney, you have taught me for more than three years. Oh, you have taught me in three years. Sorry, let me repeat that. That’s okay. You have taught me more in three years that I would’ve learned from anyone else. You brought a smile on my face on my worst days. Mm. And made me laugh at times. I didn’t expect. Without a doubt, you have been one of the most important role models in my life, and that is something I will never forget. Learning French for 12 years was a trial, but learning French with you was a joy. Selfishly, I wish you would have stayed at ioi, but even though you are not here physically, your memory leave in the praise of my peers. And I now, I have reached the end of high school, and I’m sad to live behind all the wonderful people who built me up these last four years.

Eric Keunne (28:27):

Mr. Kaney, without you, I don’t think I would be more, I will be where I am In another circumstance, I would’ve been pleased to see you watch me graduate. Although that isn’t an option. I will carry you in my heart today as I received my diploma. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, All the lesson you have taught me, and all the lifelong memories I will carry onto university. Being your student was a privilege and owner, and I will be grateful for the rest of my life. Please send my best to your family. Don’t your friend forever. And I’m not reading this just because I want to sing my own praises. Okay? I’m, I’m sharing this because when I read this email, some, you know, I shared some tears. Mm. Because this is a student I taught for two years, and I left to take another role, but yet we kept in contact.

Eric Keunne (29:22):

So many of them, actually, this is just one of them, okay? And, and up to now, she’s at, in, she’s going to her second years at the university. And she recently emailed me just to ask for advice and to share with me where she’s up to many. This is really what I call the reward for teachers. This is how impactful we are. It’s shaping the lives of main students in this country, and of course, in the world. So to me, when I actually reach something like this, it gives me the motivation to go out there every single day. And of course, and to double my efforts to ensure that, you know, 2, 3, 4 years from now, we have people who be doing the same thing no matter what direction they decide to pick in life, whether they’re in finance, whether they actually become lawyers, whether they become anything. The most important is to plant the seed for all these students. You understand that all together, we’re walking towards the better tomorrow, right? This is the essence of this message. Mm.

Sam Demma (30:24):

What a beautiful letter. It’s so cool to see the seed planted, harvest, and see the impact, but I’m sure there’s also been situations where you’ve given your best foot forward, your best effort, and maybe you haven’t heard from a student until 10 years later or 15 years later. And maybe you wonder for a while, did I make a difference in that young person’s life? And even if they don’t, you know, send you a letter like that I think the impact is felt, you know, it’s a blessing to receive it, but sometimes they’re a little shy and they don’t share. Right?

Eric Keunne (30:57):

I agree with you. And that’s totally okay. Right. Because every single person is different, right?

Eric Keunne (31:02):

Yeah. So for me, the most supporting as an educator is to ensure that I do my job, you know, with all my passion and energy, and ensuring that the students in my classroom are safe, That the student in my classroom are able to recognize themselves in the curriculum that I’m using, that the student in my classroom are able to actually identify themself in the material that I’m using. It’s so important that way we are actually helping our students to feel included, but also to feel valued Yes. As individuals. So for me, it’s important to to point that out. Absolutely. Because as you know we’ve had so many instances in our schools where, you know, kids go through so many challenges. And I think our role as educators is also to be able to identify those students who are lacking behind, who are experiencing difficulties, who are actually feeling rejected for one reason or the other. Yeah. And being able to bridge the gap. Right. And I think the Covid 19 pandemic has created also more gaps, right? For, for these students. And it’s important that as educators we’re able to recognize that and identify the resources that are going to help them, that are going to really help to protect and uphold the right and dignity of all the students and families that we actually work with every single day.

Sam Demma (32:34):

I was gonna ask you what you believe some of the challenges are, but you just had some light on them, them. What do you believe are also some of the opportunities? I think as a result of covid 19, we’re spending more time focused on some of these things, whereas in the past, maybe we brush them by without giving them the time, attention, and energy they deserved.

Eric Keunne (32:54):

And I think one thing that I absolutely want to share is that, you know, as educators and, and teachers, it’s, it’s our responsibility. Yeah. Truly. and it, I think it’s really an imperative that, you know, we acknowledge and we embrace our responsibility to, to build, to buildable and inclusive classrooms and school communities. That is so crucial, right? So to me, I, one of the things that I always try to bring forward in, in my mind, and that’s one of my belief, is that, you know, as educators, we, we need to build a community in which every single learner, all the children can succeed. All the children can achieve success. And, and for me, I begin that through my, my enion lens, right? Which really seeks to engage and challenge my colleagues to recognize and disrupt the inequities that have actually impacted historical marginalized students in our, in our society and our schools. And we, we, we, that’s the reason I was talking about the curriculum a while ago. We must think about the curriculum as an instrument tool of learn a learning material through which we can actually infuse some inclusive perspective, Right? This way we can always make sure that the student voices are put forward, right. Especially for those who have been historically marginalized. So it’s important that as educators, we build that solid community in which every single learner can drive and succeed.

Sam Demma (34:29):

Mm. I love it. If you were to somehow snap your fingers and travel back in time to the first year you taught in the classroom, but with the experience and the knowledge that you carry now, what would you have told you younger self in the form of advice when you were just starting? And not that you would share something in the hope that you would change, the path you take, you took, but something that you thought maybe would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation of teaching?

Eric Keunne (35:02):

I, I would certainly tell myself one single thing. Use the classroom opportunity to help the student understand their past and help them to shape the future. Because when I grew up, Sam, as a, as a student in Cameroon, I didn’t learn about the, the history of my own country in classroom. Oh, wow. It’s when I grew up that I learn about the history of colonization in Cameroon that is not taught in classrooms. So for me as a French language teacher, Cameroon, I would’ve loved to start talking about that within the, the classroom context and bringing that into perspective when I’m church, selecting my material. So it’s the same thing that, you know, I try to do today. Helping the students to understand the history of our country, Canada, the impact that, you know, there, residential schools I’ve actually had on you know, our population, our indigenous population, and how together we can actually work, right?

Eric Keunne (36:05):

To ensure that nothing like that ever happens again. Mm. Because if we fail to talk about what happens in the past, our kids will never understand, and it will be so difficult. And 20 years down the road, we will still be here experiencing the same challenges. I’m not saying that we should always dwell in the past and talk about everything in the that, but again, talking the perspective of bringing change, making some significant change for, for the current generation and for the future generation. So for me as a teacher, when I started back in 2005 in Camero, it would’ve been very interesting for me to bring that perspectives in the context of teaching a language like French, because I was so focused on grammar, like grammar and LA zone, because that was the curriculum. Of course. Yeah. But now having that critical lens, I think it’s important that every single language teacher, every single teacher is able to bring forward in all the current reality that we’re experiencing. Actually looking into what happens a few years ago and shipping the path for a better tomorrow for every single student.

Sam Demma (37:15):

I feel so energized. I have so much energy just hearing and, and listening to you speak. I know for a fact that the educators listening feel the same way. If one of them wants to reach out to you, share an idea, ask a question, collaborate on something, what would be the best way for an educator tuning in to reach out and connect?

Eric Keunne (37:36):

I think, the best way to reach, I will be through my Twitter @erickeunne Eric, as you already know, but also they, they can actually email me. My, my school board email is keunne@hdsb.ca, so that you can share with whoever wants to collaborate, because it’s, I believe in the power of collaboration. As educators, we can always come together to do some critical thinking on how, around how we can make things better for every single studen in our classes. And also, I believe in sharing, sharing experiences is what really help us to move forward as a community of learners. Sharing and sharing best practices, sharing some of the resources is what helps us to really bring the world into our classrooms because I usually tell my students one thing, which very crucial in, in a classroom, in the language classrooms particularly, it’s important that we bring the world to our kids.

Eric Keunne (38:37):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> because if our students don’t have the opportunity to travel, just like I did back in, in a few years ago, as a language teachers, through the resources that we are using, we can actually help the students to travel, to travel without taking a flight. Yeah. To camon. We can bring in novels from Kaon, we can bring in novels from every single country around the world and be able to discuss that in a unique way. And that will help the student have a broader perspective around the world. And of course, provide them with the tools to be able to navigate after high school and traveling around the world to become that global citizen ambassador that we want our students to become.

Sam Demma (39:21):

You. I was about to end and then you sparked my interest in another area. So I’m gonna ask you one final question before we wrap up. You mentioned the importance of bringing the world into the classroom in the form of resources. And I’m curious to know, are there anything, are there any resources that you personally have brought into the classroom or your classroom spaces that you felt have helped bring the world into your classroom or help students see themselves in the curriculum? Are there any things that come to mind or things that you’ve used in the past that you think other educators might benefit from looking into?

Eric Keunne (39:55):

Absolutely. in terms of language teaching, you can always bring so many resources in your classroom. So what I’ve done in the past when I started teaching in Ontario is really to broaden the horizon by actually selecting and identify different resources from different countries around Lahan, Kaho around French countries in the world, right? And helping the kids to understand how language and culture are so intertwined, are so related, right? And helping them to understand, of course, the vq the experience vq of this, of people population in these different countries. One of the things that I’ve also done, I’m so connected to, I, I love communication by the way, and, and I always try to bring into my classes the opportunity for students to learn through news report from different countries over the world. So I, I bring the news reports so that we can listen to the news and talk about and be able to learn about experiences that are happening around, and of course in French, because we have so many varieties of French, so beautiful varieties of French that needs to be put forward when it comes to teaching and learning French, a language like French.

Eric Keunne (41:07):

Also, I had a few years ago the opportunity to take the students from my French club, a French club that I started at the college high school. So one of the French community radios in Toronto, Shock fm, where we had a debate. And it was a unique opportunity for my students to be able to do the learning outside of the classroom in a different setting, in a different context in the media, right? And I think that’s something that we failed to always think about. It’s learning is not just within the classroom context. The resources could be outside the classroom. And one, most importantly it’s also thinking about some resource people that you can always invite into your classrooms to talk about things that are crucial key to the students development. So thinking about who you can bring in your classroom or where you can take your students to so that they can learn from. It’s so important. So beyond the textbook, beyond the material that if you be using, it’s important that you brought in the horizon for the students so that they can actually, at the end of the day, have a rich experience. And I promise you, if you do that, every single student will be so pleased to come to school every single day and be able to be in your classroom and be so engaged. And that’s the essence of our job, right?

Sam Demma (42:23):

It’s so clear you’re doing work that you are meant to be doing every, Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. It means the world to me, and I know everyone tuning in is gonna feel energized and motivated after listening to our conversation. I can’t wait to continue to witness the things that you do and the impact you have. Keep doing the amazing work. And I, I look forward to staying in touch

Eric Keunne (42:50):

That I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you in French. Cuz like I said it’s my first language, official first language. Don wish you all the best as well, and I’m looking forward to to listening to more podcasts from you.

Sam Demma (43:07):

Awesome. Thank you so much. Talk soon.

Eric Keunne (43:10):

My pleasure.

Sam Demma (43:11):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jesse Macdonald

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.

Lorne “ABE” Abramson – Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and Historian

Lorne “ABE” Abramson - Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and and Historian
About Lorne “ABE” Abramson

Lorne has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his team supporting dozens of youth programs, camps and positive character-building experiences for students. 

He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University Coaching Award, for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth and the Frederick Banting Award, from the Canadian Diabetes Association, for significant contributions to the mission of the Association in the areas of education and service.

Connect with Lorne: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association

Dalhousie University

Canadian Diabetes Association

Mount Saint Vincent University

Diabetes Education and Camping Association

Before the Parade by Rebecca Rose

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 (00:58):

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 Lorne Abramson. Lauren has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes, as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his time supporting dozens of youth programs, camps, and positive character building experiences for students. He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University coaching award for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth, and the Frederick Banting award from the Canadian Diabetes Association for significant contribution to the mission of the association in the areas of education and service. Lauren has so much expertise in the area of youth empowerment and so much energy and wisdom to share, so I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. I met this guest in Nova Scotia at a conference and I’m so glad that we crossed paths. Some people know him as Lorne. Most people know him as Abe. Some people know him as Coach Abe. Abe, I would love for you to introduce yourself and let everyone listening know who you are.

Lorne Abramson (02:22):

Sure. Thanks Sam. Yeah, I’m, I’m my claim to fame was probably as a you know, as a person who started getting into teaching. So I was a math, a math teacher, how I became that is a, an extremely long story <laugh> which I will probably not get into, unless you ask me the appropriate questions. <Laugh> but I ended up becoming a math teacher, which my high school math teacher from Montreal who I, who I loved dearly. He was the one that said to me when I graduated, he said to me, you know, Lauren, he said, “everybody in those days called you by your last name.” You know, you know, I, I think you should consider becoming a math teacher. And I, and I I’ve made the stupidest comment I have ever made in my entire life.

Lorne Abramson (03:26):

And that was, who would wanna be a math teacher? <Laugh> that was like, it was one of those, this is to the guy that I had total respect for. And what I meant was in those days, math teachers, like teachers in general got no pay. It was like, it was crappy, you know, and and I wanted to be a dentist anyway, <laugh> so, so anyway to say the least over a period of years, I changed careers a couple of times and and then became a math teacher and eventually a math department head. And I always felt like I don’t know. I, I always felt that I needed to be more involved with community. And, and so for me the, the extracurricular stuff became almost more, this got kind of weird, but, but almost more important in some ways because I was a very accomplished math person.

Lorne Abramson (04:35):

So it was I went to McGill and did my joint honors in math and chemistry. And that was not a, that was not an issue. So I never had to work hard at, at the math part, but I really wanted to work hard at getting to know kids really well. And, and so I got involved in coaching volleyball, which I knew nothing about, except for the fact there were six on the side that was the limit of it. And and that became a big part of my life. And you know, and then I got involved in theater and, you know, and we did a lot of musicals and, you know, anyway, I it’s it’s and eventually in 1991, I got involved with the starting of the intro Lasse, which which, where, where we met the, you know not in 1991, but <laugh> sorry, Sam, but

Sam Demma (05:43):

I have to ask you though, because when people think about extracurriculars student leadership, typically I’ve heard people talk about the antithesis of it being math and science, and like these super academic courses that happen in schools. And usually those individuals are the ones who want their kids in their classroom, not going to conferences and not getting involved. So like, how the heck did you like have these two seemingly opposite things be so intertwined in your experience? Like what changed you or were you always of that mindset and you just also loved math?

Lorne Abramson (06:25):

The heck, it’s a good question. So I right from the get go I became the student council advisor at the, at Ellsley I at the J Oley high school was the school I taught in. And it’s obviously it’s a school in Halifax and it’s, it had this kind of funny deserved rep reputation of being a, kind of in a tough area. But in actual fact it was ridiculous. It didn’t make sense at all. That being said being the student council advisor I got to meet people like Andy Tido, who you might know and and St. Saunders and Tyler Hayden. And look, there were, there were so many people because of my connection as student council advisor eventually in 1992, mark Fraser who was he? He had been the student council president at Halifax west high school and Andrew Demond, who was the student council president at Parkview education center in, in Bridgewater, in Nova Scotia.

Lorne Abramson (07:53):

They met at a a CSLC or Canadian student leadership conference. They met at that, and they met also at the same time at that a whole bunch of kids from remember, this is 90, 91, I think was when it happened. But, but they met a whole bunch of kids from Ontario who were part and parcel of the O essay. So the Ontario secondary school students association, and and I heard the two of them said we could do this <laugh> it was kinda like, that was kinda like that. And I, I, I had the guy who was my who was the student council, president of Illsley was a guy who now is one of my neighbors. Oh, wow. Is Paul and Paul. He was just a great guy. And Paul said to me, I got this letter from this guy, Andy Kibito and a couple other people.

Lorne Abramson (09:03):

And he said they were there. Apparently they’re having some event at I think it was, it was being held at St. Pat’s high school, which, which now is underground somewhere <laugh> wow. It doesn’t exist anymore. And he said would you, would you be willing to come as our advisor? And I said, well, I am your advisor. What the hell matter with you? And he was really, he, it was kind of like, I think he, he really wasn’t quite sure what anybody’s role was gonna be. We had no idea. This was like, this is so new that nobody really knew. Yeah. And so we went to the conference and I can’t remember, there was probably about, I don’t know, 60 or 70 people at the conference. Nice. It was over a weekend. We held, we all slept on the stage of St.

Lorne Abramson (09:55):

Pat’s <laugh> being a camper that didn’t bother me. Yeah. You know, but and Paul, Paul was the one that, you know, he was the one that got me involved in the first place. And then I don’t know. And then it kind of just, I don’t, it kind of just took over, you know, and, and eventually, I think the next year I became the, the advisor for the Metro region, how that happened. I, I honestly got, I wish I could remember all that, but I think, I, I’m not sure that’s okay. How that exactly happened. But I know that I knew a lot of the people in, in the other schools in Metro.

Sam Demma (10:41):

Gotcha.

Lorne Abramson (10:41):

You know, cause I, I knew a lot of teachers, you know, and so on. And the guy who was the provincial advisor was a guy named cam Morrison. And he was also from Halifax west of course. And he was quite close with mark Fraser. And so at time we, and hi, his wife and my wife worked in nursing together. Ah, and, and so anyway, we, we knew each other outside of school as well. And I think, I think that what happened was he ended up staying as provincial advisor for, I think, I can’t remember it was two or three years. Then another guy took over from SAC high and, and then in 1990 I took over as provincial advisor and right till this year, so. Wow. Yeah.

Sam Demma (11:41):

Oh, that’s awesome. You mentioned earlier that like one of the things you think are so important in connection with student activities and extracurricular activities is building strong relationships with the students, the kids. How do you build a strong relationship with young people in your experience?

Lorne Abramson (12:01):

Well, I think first of all, it’s a matter of building trust. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> with all the nasty stuff that you hear about things that are going on in schools drives me nuts. I, I just can’t that part of it is just see, seems like, I don’t know, I never had, let me put it this way. I never had that, that issue. Whether it was personality or what part of it had to do with the fact that I think was that you know, I had a family my, we had, we had two daughters. My wife was always understanding about why I was going away that weekend <laugh> and and then I, I don’t know. I, I, I remember a couple, I, I eventually ended up being a Canada games coach for, for guys.

Sam Demma (13:00):

What haven’t you done?

Lorne Abramson (13:04):

I always say in the, I, you, if you live long enough, you’ll do a lot of stuff. Yeah. You know, like when, if you didn’t, if, if that didn’t happen to you, what’s wrong with you <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (13:22):

No, I, I, I, I get the question. I I’m gonna say trust was a big thing building that it takes, that takes a lot of, a lot of, I don’t know, desire to, to build that. I had, you know, the alumni of the organization played a big role in that cuz you know, people like, like Tyler Hayden and I used to have this, this very funny competition. And it was just that the competition was how many conferences have you been to? You know, and I, and at some point we were tied, you know, cause he used to come to, he used to come to everything and and he would speak at a lot, a lot of stuff. And I don’t know. And then one day he, I knew he was going away. I think it was one of the provincial conferences and I knew that this is gonna be it.

Lorne Abramson (14:31):

I got him, he was gonna be able to be there. And and so I, I made sure that I called him from wherever hell I was. And I said, okay here’s the deal. So now, now that you’ve been defeated, <laugh> this is it Tyler. And he said, okay. I COE. So ever, ever since then it was kind of, I just built more and more anyway, he, and he would not go to a lot of the regional conferences, but I don’t know. I think, I think people like him and people like, like Andy and, and Stu and, and Phil what was Phil’s last name? He was from Winnipeg. Oh God, he was, he’s also a keynote speaker.

Sam Demma (15:28):

Is it Phil Boyd?

Lorne Abramson (15:30):

Phil Boyd. Yeah. Yeah. And and I, I, you know, there were a lot of people like that that were around Mark Sharon Brock who I haven’t seen forever, like a long time. But there were people that were, there were people in the plus a who became keynote speakers like Paul, Paul Devo and Jeff Bri, they spoke together and we became very, the two of them, we were, we were still very close. Nice. They, they both got married. We went to the weddings, we went to it’s like, yeah. And, and I really like Paul’s wife Mor I like him <laugh> and if he sees this too bad, Paul okay. <Laugh> but I think he likes my wife more. He likes me anyway. I think a lot of it, you know, again, aside from just the trust issue, there’s a lot of testing that goes on, you know, like you can’t like, you know, you can’t develop the trust without some risk associated with that.

Lorne Abramson (16:53):

I think, I think once people who are involved in anything see other people that have faith in their relationship with you, that can’t help, but build, you know, for them, you know a good relationship. So I, I, it’s probably not a very good way of putting it, but you know, over the years, geez. I, I mean, I, all I can say is that it got easier and easier. Let me put it that way. There was expectations that I would always be there. That’s another thing, you know, that you’re, you make yourself available and accessibility

Sam Demma (17:46):

Being accessible to the

Lorne Abramson (17:48):

Students and yeah, so that, that’s, that’s a big deal. And I, I knew that, well, that, that, that was, that was a big deal in good times and bad times. And, and you, and there, there’s always gonna be both, you know, that happen, you know, in a, in an organization like this. And I, I, you know, I don’t know. So for, from that point of view, it got, like I said, it got easier and easier. I, I can’t say it any easier than that, but yeah. But the fact of the matter is, is that you know, there was, there was always someone in the organization or some buddies who who come outta the blue and, and will represent the people that you think that you wanna deal with. You know, like, and I, I don’t mean that to become your, your chosen ones, but, but it look, you can’t help.

Lorne Abramson (19:00):

Sometimes you can’t help that, you know? And so I, I, I guess that’s happened sometimes you, sometimes you think, how the hell did I ever get to know this person? Like, I don’t even know why, and, you know, and, and I, and, and you want, you wanna spend time with them somehow to change in some ways, this is probably totally off the wall, but change the way that they operate. Mm. And you re you realize that something about that is, is you, you, you see something in them. Mm. That, and it’s not just being a teacher all over again, but it’s, it, it has some part in that that you realize that you’re, you’re see an opportunity. Like, I’ll give you example of number of years ago, there was a guy who got elected president. He made a terrible mistake.

Lorne Abramson (20:15):

And that is he, he he just jumped into a situation where he, where, where it was just a bad choice. And I, I was sort of stuck with trying to figure out, well, how, you know, how do I, and I, I, you know, what, what do we do about this? And cuz he really, what he really needed to do is resign. And I didn’t know. That was the first time that happened. I think if I remember right. And I, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that. And it wasn’t like I have control over that. I’ve never had control of the organization. But I wanted something else to happen and nothing happened with that guy until years and years later. And he, he went off and became a teacher in Korea. Wow. And and he ended up marrying a Korean girl and they have a wonderful family and I met him.

Lorne Abramson (21:25):

I think they were, they were living in, I think they’s probably gonna know this, but they were living in in Vancouver. I think if I remember right. They moved back to Canada anyway. And I had a conversation with him and he said, and he said to me, I don’t know what was going on in my head in those days. And I thought to myself, oh my God, you know, like, this is, this is a good thing to say to me, it was good. Like it was like, and I, and I remember thinking he’s a really nice guy, you know, that’s like, it was kind like, like all of a sudden there was this, this change of, of, you know, of looking at him and thinking, oh no, he’s not just some jerk. You know, that that’s, that made, that just happened to make a mistake, but it’s also, he actually is a really nice person.

Lorne Abramson (22:22):

And, and somehow this all came out now, you know, like, and it took, it probably took his family in, in being a, being a parent. And, you know, I dunno, like, it just seemed like that was it. So, yeah, I know. I sometimes you’ll, you’ll, you’ll meet people like that. Who’s a girl Rebecca Rose, who was on the conference committee, she, I don’t think she ever became her and I were very close and she she came out of the closet at some point and she wrote a a book last year and the book is called oh shit. Was it before the parade? Hmm. I can’t, I’ve never remember it’s before the parade or after the parade. Anyway, it was a book about the gay community or the development of the gay community in Halifax in. And I went to her book launch. Oh my God. It was lovely. It was just like, it was like one of those. And I, and I was always close with her. She’s just, she’s just dynamite, you know? And, and like I, and her and I, and she ended up speaking, oh, well you, well, you met,

Sam Demma (23:45):

Yeah. I know her, listen to speech. I attended her. It was awesome.

Lorne Abramson (23:51):

Yeah. And she, there’s a person that got badly treated by a couple of people within the inter plus a, I think it was probably had something to do with the time of what was going on in, in, in the area that, you know, there were people that didn’t didn’t have a how to describe it. I was, it was from a, from a, a sociological point of view, you know, the relationship with the gay community was crappy. You know, it was just shitty, you know, and yet she had a lot of friends and, and she’s, Ugh, I love that girl. Yeah. She’s just, she’s fantastic. So when we met at her book launch, I hadn’t seen her for quite a while. <Laugh> and it was really funny. She’s like, like was really, you can imagine this, okay, she’s up there talking about her book, I’m sitting in the audience, which was packed at the Halifax library. And and she looks up and sees me standing like in the back, you know, I’m standing there and she stops what she was doing in the middle of all this. And she waves, hi, you know, like that. Right. It was like in the middle of, so everybody’s now turning around, you know, <laugh>,

Sam Demma (25:28):

Who’s a <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (25:31):

And every was turning around, you know, you know, and I, I threw a kiss, you know, and, and she went, she was great. So it was really funny. So afterwards, we went out for coffee and I mean, she’s, you know, again, she’s just one of those, she’s a, she’s a survivor in some ways. Yeah. I, I think, but also a survivor with a great attitude, you know, as you could tell that so it sounds like I know, I, I feel, I always feel very fortunate, maybe the smart and parcel of this. I always feel very fortunate to have met a lot of the people that I have met through the interse and, and in other, other things that I’ve done I mean, I’ve always been able to stay, I dunno, fairly close with, with people that I was close with and, you know, and just because they graduate and wherever go on, you know? Yeah. It’s, it’s like, it’s like Paul, Gule my, my neighbor, you know, <laugh> yeah. I, now I wave him when he walks by with his dog, you know? <Laugh> yeah. Anyway.

Sam Demma (26:42):

Okay. Yeah. Sounds like trust is a big one accessibility, and then just the general desire of wanting to make a change in other people’s lives. Like it, it sounds like that those are some of the, the big ones. When, when did you start getting involved in camps and on camps and being around camps and involved in camps have been a big part of your, your life as well?

Lorne Abramson (27:04):

Yeah. my camp story is it started in, in Montreal.

Sam Demma (27:13):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:15):

And I was 16 and I had, somehow I had I had my nationals in swimming and I had my my instructors for canoeing.

Sam Demma (27:30):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:30):

And, and I had never gone to camp. It was like, my parents could never afford to send me to camp who was expensive. And so a friend of mine said to me, you know, we were all looking for jobs, you know, I was 16 years old, you know, like, and and I, and this friend of mine says to me, you know, you got swimming and you got canoeing. Why don’t you go to camp? You know, like, and I said, camp, <laugh> like, don’t, they pay nothing at camp. And he said, no. He said, for people that have those, those specialties, you get well paid, you know, you’re okay. So I applied to camp Milwaukee, which was in Northern Quebec and it was a, a tripping camp if you know what that is. And it’s a camp that, that has kids that go and they go out on, on canoe trips.

Lorne Abramson (28:29):

Oh, cool. Yep. They’re there, they’re there for eight weeks. Wow. It’s not just a one week camp. And and so I, I went there and I had a great time and I had five to eight year olds <laugh> you can imagine, wow. I never, in a million years ever dreamed that I’d be working with teenagers. I mean, who the hell would wanna do that? You know, <laugh> and so I, I ended up going there and then the next year I got an offer from a local camp, which was called camp nominating and in a similar job, bigger camp. And I went there and I had a great time. And and then I, the next year I got offered a big job at pine valley camp, which was in the IANS. And I was at pine valley camp.

Lorne Abramson (29:26):

I worked my way up and eventually became the director. Ah, and and I was there for a long time. And then, and eventually I ended up, you know, moving to Nova Scotia, met my wife, and she was a nurse at, at camp. And and I and so I ended up moving to Nova Scotia. And like I said, you know, when I got involved in, in camp camp always played a role for me because I, when I eventually, when I got, got involved I started getting involved with volleyball and, and volleyball became a big deal. And as, as my own skills, as a coach got bigger, got better. There was a volleyball Nova Scotia camp, oh, that had started. And and, and my lady who was the, there were two, two women aside from my wife, but two women in my life that, that were both volleyball coaches.

Lorne Abramson (30:35):

One was Lois McGregor from hou. And she, she’s a very accomplished coach. And and, and Eva Justins who became the technical director for volleyball, Nova Scotia. Ah, and they, they took me little Abe. They took me under their wing and they, they just treated me like their kid, brother. It was just great. And they, they took me to everything. I was like, their, their here, here, go, go get Lauren. He’ll be fine. <Laugh>. And so I ended up with the two of them. We ended up running the volleyball Nova Scotia camps. Wow. For, for, for volleyball. And and then I don’t know, I, you know, as I, and then, then what happened was like, like I said, my wife and I got married and we had our daughter LA was born in 1989. And we had an older daughter is three years young, three years older than that.

Lorne Abramson (31:45):

But Lara was born in 89 and she, when she turned six in 1985, I had been doing all these camps all this time. And she ended up developing type one diabetes. So her doctor just happened at her doctor came to me and said, I heard that you this is the part that’s, that’s kind of a little weird, but he said, I heard you’ve been involved with camp. And I said, how do you know that? And I said, he said, turns out that Lois who I mentioned was one of his patients, <laugh> you, you, she must have said something about me in camp, you know, but that’s the only thing I can think of. Yeah. and so he ended up saying, look, are you you might be interested in getting involved in the diabetes camp. Cause he’s the one that started the camps.

Lorne Abramson (32:40):

Oh, wow. Back in 1961. And so I said, yeah, I might be, but I’m going away with my family to a, a one year program with to teach in, in England with the Commonwealth teachers Federation. And so I’ll be away for a year. And I said, I remember saying him said, do you think we should go, like, we’ll spend our first year with diabetes with, you know, at some, some place in another country. And he said, well, if you don’t go, I’ll take her, you know, <laugh> so, and he, he became very, he and I became very close. Ah, and that when I got back cuz I did, I did a couple of camps in, in England, like volleyball camps. And and then when I got back, he called and said, so cap starts tomorrow.

Lorne Abramson (33:40):

Want to come? You know, <laugh> I said, OK, what would you like me to do? And he said, I want you to, he said, I’ve been doing these caps for a lot forever. And I want you to take a look with your experience, want you to let me know whether you think that something needs to be changed. Mm. Which was a gutsy gutsy thing for someone who was initiator. Yeah. You know, to actually say, yeah, if you think about that. Yeah. And that, that was a big deal for me. Cause I, I thought what a, what a gutsy guy, you know, like, like, and I thought, and I knew him, I didn’t know him that well, you know? Anyway he and I became very close and and of course he was Lara’s doctor and you know, and so on and everybody loved this guy.

Lorne Abramson (34:30):

He was the quintessential camp doctor. He was it, you know? And so that’s got me started in the diabetes camps, which and then eventually when we, when we came back from England Laura had gotten involved in, in writing, in equestrian writing. Wow. So she went, so we got her involved with the Halifax junior Bengal answers and I got, I ended up, God knows how you end up with the Sam. You know, I ended up on the board of directors for the, you know, junior Bengal answers, like knowing absolutely zero, except for the fact that I’d go and watch my daughter ride, you know, that was yeah. And and myself and the writing instructor ended up starting a, an equestrian camp wow. For kids. And mostly it was for the horses, which was <laugh>, which I never, whichever I think back on it that holy crap, what did we do anyway, I did that for a couple of years and also did the diabetes camps. And I don’t know. And then I, I just kept going. And as you know, when we talked, I I’ve been doing it ever since. So I’ve doing the diabetes camps now. I think it’s been 35 years. Wow.

Lorne Abramson (35:53):

All over the world. It’s been, it’s been a, really, a really nice ride. Nice. Like it’s not over, but I had a great time two weeks ago being at the the camp at Kera national park. Nice. And you know, being the head chef

Sam Demma (36:14):

Nice.

Lorne Abramson (36:15):

Which is another thing, you know, I can do with you know, and I, like I said, you know, when inter plus a kids ask me, so, okay. How do you know all these people <laugh> and I, and I said, as I said to you earlier, I said, well, you

Sam Demma (36:32):

Live long enough.

Lorne Abramson (36:33):

Yeah. Live long enough or something might be wrong with you. Yeah. <laugh>. So

Sam Demma (36:41):

If you could, if you could, you know, take the experience and the, the wisdom that you have now, based on all the different experiences you’ve been through over so many years, and you could travel back in time and tap Abe on the shoulder when he was starting his first year of teaching. And first year of being a student, you know, council advisor, knowing what, you know, now, what advice would you, would you give your younger self

Lorne Abramson (37:09):

Just follow your dreams and just I can’t, I can’t say that anything that happened over the years had negative impact, but I just, I don’t, I mean, I, I don’t mean that everything was fantastic, you know? Yeah. But I don’t know, you know, like, like, I, I, I’ve always, like, you know, when I got involved in the diabetes camps, I loved the fact that my daughter who was seven years old at the time that she developed, I don’t know what would happen if we, if she had not developed really good relationships with the, with her friends that went, that were at camp, all who had diabetes and those kids today are 43. Wow. And they’re really good friends. And like, they still are like, it’s mind boggling, you know, like when you think about it. So I feel from on a personal level, you know, I feel like that was a big achievement, you know?

Lorne Abramson (38:21):

And I, I, I, I don’t think, I don’t know. It’s not that I, I did anything extraordinary in that sense. I just feel like though that, that there was a lot there was a, a lot of the things just happened to fall into place. And, you know, and I, I, if I, if to answer your question I don’t know what, I, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me had I not left the whole dentistry dream. Mm. You know there was a, there were a couple of people that, you know, cause I always wanted to be a dentist. I wanted to be an orthodontist. I had a, a cousin of mine who was, who was a dentist and he and I were quite close. And so I, that, that was the reason it wasn’t nothing to do with being a dentist actually.

Lorne Abramson (39:24):

But I, I can’t, I, I if I think back on it, I, when I don’t know, when I made a decision, I was the end of my second year of dentistry at university of Montreal. And I, I think part of me, I loved, I loved being at university of Montreal. I I’m bilingual. And, and for me, I dunno, that was, that was a, a perfect place for me. So I guess when I, when I’m thinking about this, when I made the decision to leave dentistry, people around me were totally in a state of shock. They thought, are you outta your mind? Like, you know, you’re leaving behind the million dollar paycheck, you know, like, what are you crazy? And, and I, and that was everybody. That was my girlfriend, my parents, every everyone that I ever had any contact with, except for one guy, one single guy.

Lorne Abramson (40:42):

And that was the guy who was the, he was the chair of the dental faculty at university of Montreal. And I went to see him, had to go see him, you know, tell I wanted, I wanted to leave or a leave of absence, I guess. And I had, fortunately I had done very well in, in the academic side. So for me, it was, I, it’s still, it’s still a hard thing for me to talk about because I, I know that in today’s world, what I’ve learned from people from younger people is that it’s a different world now. People are changing their, their choices, like all the time. Like it’s like, I, I, I’m always amazed at that. And I, I, I, I’m proud of the fact that they could do that and not fault to pieces. Now I’m sure there are people fault to pieces, but, you know, but then again, you see it a lot, you know, and for me at, at that time, it was such a mind boggling you know, choice that, cause in those days, you know, you, you made a choice in career, you stuck and you, and you stuck with it, you know?

Lorne Abramson (42:21):

And that, that was it. So for me, I, but anyway, at that time, I, I remember thinking, what am I gonna do? And, and I went to see my Dr. Ju his name was and sat in.

Lorne Abramson (42:55):

Don’t do anything that you think that you possibly might not be happy with. And I remember thinking that, I think, well, geez, you know, nobody’s ever told me that before nobody ever said those words, you know? And so I, I said to him, so what, what, what choice he said to me, look, he said, I I’m gonna give you a leave of absence. That’s unlimited. He said, you’ve done. Well. He said, what I’ll do for you is this every five years, I’ll send you to stay in touch with me every five years. I’ll send you a little note saying that if you haven’t made a choice to come back yet, then that’s fine. <Laugh> so I like, this is, this is what went on. This went on Sam, this went on for 20 years. <Laugh> now just think about that. I was a teacher, I, I only became a teacher in 1972.

Lorne Abramson (44:00):

And you know, really, I had no goals of being a T teacher, you know, that was not in my life choice. But I did. And and that’s a whole other conversation, but, but it was, again, a decision that totally made sense, you know, in this, in the sense of what, what kinds of things I was involved in and also, you know, becoming in, in the extracurricular world, it was perfect, cuz I not only did it fit with my going to camp, but also, you know, it had all kinds of other re repercussions. Yeah. And so he and I, Dr. Bushier and I, he was my saving grace. He was at the, there was nobody and, and there’s never been anybody else that that, and from those days, I don’t even know any of the people that I, I, I totally, I, it’s funny cuz my, I think that that time my girlfriend got married and she lives in now.

Lorne Abramson (45:12):

She lives in Florida, I think somewhere. And she and I kind of, you know, we talk once in blue moon and but you know, when I think about it, I dunno, you know, he was it. Yeah. And so, and of course the, the choice for me, I remember about 10 years after I’d been a teacher <laugh> I went to visit my old math teacher from high school who at that point had become the human resources head of human resources for the Montreal Protestant school board. Okay. And so I, I went to see him and he, he, he immediately said, hi Abrams an hour. You know, I was like, you know, that, that gravelly voice. And and I said, look, you know, you were right. I, I went back, made the choice to be a teacher and I’m very happy.

Lorne Abramson (46:17):

So he was really funny. He, I don’t know whether I have this here. Oh, it’s downstairs. He, he turned around and in his shelf he had a bookshelf and his bookshelf, he pulls out this red algebra book. Okay. And he said, I’ve been wondering if you were ever gonna come back and get this book. And he pulls it out and he opens it up and it’s, you know, how they used to have that stamp in the books that you’d have your name and all that, and what grade you were in and all that. And he pulls this thing out and it’s my algebra book, like my algebra book from grade 11 and issues you and I’m thinking yeah, there was all kinds of things like that that happened in my life. That was one of them. I I dunno. I, I can’t, you know, it’s funny cuz part of me, I, those were kind of funny days, you know, where I was making all these choices and and but that being said, it seems to have worked out.

Lorne Abramson (47:41):

<Laugh> just, you know, and I, if I talk to like a lot of times the inter plus eight kids, a lot of them will, you know, will will again ask me about choices. And you know, I said, it doesn’t matter. You know, like you, you can make a choice that you think is not gonna work out for you, but you, you can’t tell, you know, you, you don’t know. I mean, geez, my, my choice of being a teacher was insane. I was working for the department of health and welfare in Halifax for federal government, for family allowance. <Laugh> like, I, cuz I had become, I had become a Stu a social worker. Yeah. Essentially. And and I, I ended up I walked into work one day and here’s this poster on the wall. This is so ridiculous. This post big poster. And it says, do you work for, you know the federal government, do you have an undergraduate degree?

Lorne Abramson (48:54):

Are you interested? And, and, and then tells me that if, if I decide I can, I could go into they’ll, they’ll give me a full scholarship, not gonna cost me anything the full scholarship to do a bachelor of education. And then and then you could become a teacher and, or you could you oh. And by the way, and you’d get, you’d continue to get your full salary <laugh> for the whole year. Right? Oh my gosh. Okay. So I’m thinking to myself, what idiot wouldn’t do this. <Laugh> like, I was just thinking why, why and what it was about was I, later on I realized that the people that, you know, the, the government at the time in Nova Scotia were having a really hard time getting qualified teachers and that they were, they were ending up with teachers who this is not, not really saying anything, but the, the, the fact of the matter is they had a lot of people coming from other countries like India, Pakistan, China the west Indies, you know, a lot who, who didn’t necessarily speak English that well mm.

Lorne Abramson (50:16):

That being said, but they were, they probably had really good math skills. Mm. And but they really needed was a challenge local. Yeah. Yeah. They needed people who were local. And so they were offering this program. <Laugh> God just like, I think, I thought, really this is a program. And so I jumped at it and, oh, and, and then the other thing was when you were finished the year and you became your cuz it was a one year program. When you finished the year, you had the option of not going to become a teacher, but you could just take over your, your old job again.

Sam Demma (50:55):

Oh, wow.

Lorne Abramson (50:56):

I mean, it was, it was, it was such a ridiculous choice that like I thought, like really who, who wouldn’t do this? Yeah. So so I ended up God so I ended up doing that. I went to Mount St. Vincent university in Halifax, which at that time had 10 guys and 1500 girls.

Sam Demma (51:19):

Wow. <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (51:20):

And all 10 of the guys, except for, I think one were all married, had just recently got married. So not, not a good choice, but anyway, at that time and so I had a lot of, of friends that were girls anyway. And a lot of them ended up also at the end of the year, they ended up teaching. Wow. Got jobs at jail mostly. And, you know, so we, we became, we stayed friends for a long, long time. So I, I, and that, that was beginning of my teaching career, you know, and go figure on the first day of, of school, the principal at the time, who was a bit of a jerk, but he, he he actually went thing he was good at was hiring staff. And he, he said first day we had a meeting and he said, okay here’s the things that are available for you to volunteer for <laugh>, you know, was like, you know, everybody in the school was expected to volunteer for something. Mm. And so CA volleyball came up cuz the two volleyball coaches had left the school and they went to teach in the valley somewhere. Okay. In Annapolis valley. And I thought about it. I thought, well, I don’t know anything about volleyball, what the hell? <Laugh> nice. That’s helpful. So that was one of the great choices I ever made. But you know,

Sam Demma (52:56):

I don’t know, it sounds like trusting in your choices is a, sounds like that would be like a piece of advice that you might not know what the end result looks like, but still act confidently now and things will unfold as time passes. It sounds like all of your stories, they often involve other people. So it’s, you know, it sounds like building deep relationships, not only with students, but also with your colleagues and just human beings in general. Sounds like it’s been a big piece of your journey. <Laugh> whether it’s, you know, the doctor of your daughter or, you know the President elect of an association in Scotland. So <laugh> yeah, it’s it’s really cool to kind of hear your stories and, and your pathways and what we could take away from it. If, if there’s a teacher or someone, even if it’s not a teacher listening to this and they wanna connect with you or ask you some questions, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out?

Lorne Abramson (54:00):

Probably just the easiest thing in today’s world would either be by message or, or by email.

Sam Demma (54:06):

Sure.

Lorne Abramson (54:07):

Do you, you, can, you, you can, my email is labramson@eastlink.ca and I don’t mind, millions of people have that email anyway. And so it’s labramson@eastlink.ca. And either that, or if they just looked up the NSSSA or Diabetes Camps, all my information is on there. Okay. So, yeah.

Sam Demma (54:44):

Perfect. Awesome. Hey, thank you so much for taking the time to share some stories. It was really fun and exciting to chat with you, and I appreciate you, you making the time, especially during a very busy time in your own personal life.

Lorne Abramson (54:57):

Ah, well, I’ll come. You can come visit us in our apartment. <Laugh> yeah.

Sam Demma (55:02):

Sounds good. So that’s good.

Lorne Abramson (55:04):

Okay, Sam, thanks very much.

Sam Demma (55:07):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lorne Abramson

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.

Atul Temurnikar – Co-Founder and Chairman, Global Schools Foundation (Singapore)

Atul Temurnikar - Co-Founder and Chairman, Global Schools Foundation (Singapore)
About Atul Temurnikar

Atul Temurnikar (@atultemurnikar) is a prominent member of the education industry in ASEAN, North & South Asia & Middle East. Now he serves as co-founding trustee and Executive Chairman of Singapore-based Global Schools Foundation (GSF), a not-for-profit organisation.

Mr Temurnikar is a staunch advocate of high-quality education that transcends socio-economic boundaries from Korea to Japan in the East, to Singapore to Malaysia in ASEAN and India and Middle East. His significant efforts in the education sector include as a member of the Schools Sub-committee of the National Integration Committee (NIC) set up by the Government of Singapore.

Mr Atul participated in recommendation of changes to the Indian Foreign Direct Investment’s (FDI) policies for India’s education sector, which were then implemented in 2013 with special cabinet approval. Many of other suggestions given to India’s former MHRD Minister were seen to have been implemented in the NEP 2020.

On the business community front, Mr Temurnikar is instrumental in bringing big ideas and big minds together from Singapore and India, and serves as the Patron of the Singapore chapter of the Institute of Directors (IOD India).

In the past two decades, Mr Temurnikar has been invited by several forum such as Institute of Directors, Horasis, Expert Guest on XL Podcast with Graham Brown on Leadership and Agile Thinking in Education
Expert Guest on MoneyFM 89.3, a Singapore based radio on the topic of mental health issues.

Achievements : Some of Mr Temurnikar’s key accolades include:

Distinguished Fellow award from the Institute of Directors, India;
The Walter L. Hurd Executive Medal, awarded by the Walter Hurd Foundation USA for demonstrating exceptional adherence to quality within and outside an organization;

Award of social recognition for contribution to SINDA in 2006 by then Dy Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, for outstanding efforts in social services for the underprivileged in Singapore.

An eloquent speaker, Mr Temurnikar has delivered motivational speeches on leadership, entrepreneurship, life choices and the importance of education including at the Global Convention of the Institute of Directors in London, among others.

He ventured into the education sector after a 16-year technology stint with highly reputable global organisations such as IBM ASEAN South Asia and HCL Technologies.

Growing up in a middle-class family, Atul was among the top 3 students and ranked 3rd Merit among a million students who attended the Grade 12 exams in 1979 in Maharashtra (India) state board examinations.

Connect with Atul: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

ASEAN, North & South Asia & Middle East

Global Schools Foundation (GSF)

National Integration Committee (NIC)

Indian Foreign Direct Investment’s (FDI)

Institute of Directors (IOD India)

XL Podcast

MoneyFM 89.3

Distinguished Fellow award of the from the IOD India

The Walter L. Hurd Executive Medal

SINDA

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 Dducator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Atul Temurnikar. Atul is a prominent member of the educational industry in ASEAN, North and South Asia and the Middle East. Now he serves as co-founding trustee and Executive Chairman of Singapore-based Global Schools Foundation (GSF), a not-for-profit organisation. Atul is a staunch advocate of high quality education that transcends socioeconomic boundaries from Korea to Japan in the east to Singapore, to Malaysia and Asia and India, and the middle east. His significant efforts in the education sector include as a member of the Schools Sub-committee of the National Integration Committee (NIC) set up by the Government of Singapore. His accolades and achievements could be listed for the next 10 minutes. He has done so much for so many young people in the world of education, and I’m so grateful and honored to have him on the podcast here today. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Atul and I look forward to seeing 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 I’m joined by a very special guest, Atul. He is situated all the way across the world. <Laugh> We’re recording this before he goes to bed and right after I am waking up. Atul, please introduce yourself and tell the audience a little bit about yourself.

Atul Temurnikar (02:34):

So good morning everyone listening on this podcast, my name is Atul Temurnikar, and I’m a co-founder and chairman of a school network based all the way in Singapore.

Sam Demma (02:48):

Tell me a little bit about this school network. What inspired you to start it roughly I believe 20 years ago now, or become a part of it. And what does this network aim to do?

Atul Temurnikar (03:00):

So the school network, when we say we are looking at you know, a combination of a preschool primary school, high schools, and and, and these schools are almost like all in one in one location. And we’ve got about 35 schools in a network. These are spread across 10 countries. We are educating about 70 nationalities of students across our schools. It’s a huge diversity, right? So the schools are essentially providing education to all the expats, as well as local citizens of various countries. And the schools aim to be the, the substantially higher quality education providers in their, in their countries and geographies. And we, we are basically using these as community schools to be able to provide a great value proposition to our stakeholders, meaning our students and parents, so that they can get the highest quality of education at the prices that they’re paying so that they can get much better education for their children. And they can go to wonderful and beautiful universities, including the Ivy league universities and the us and UK and all over the world.

Sam Demma (04:13):

What, what inspires you to work on this project? Like tell me a little bit about your journey from, you know a student yourself to where you are today.

Atul Temurnikar (04:25):

So let me take you back. I would say roughly about 35 years back, you know, I was just, just coming out of my high school and and one of my colleagues and me, we kind of decided that we got a summer break. We had, you know, weeks to go for our results to come in. And we said, why don’t we do some activity? You know, like taking some home Touche tuition for students who are aspiring to be, you know, great students in the, in the high level exams. And we kind of gave a small ad in our, in the local city newspaper. And we say, Hey, we are tutors. And we wanna give you some sort of at institutions during this summer break. And unfortunately nobody turned up, maybe the, the ads are not really visible to anyone, or secondly, could be a possibility that we were not seen very credible and very genuine in our approach.

Atul Temurnikar (05:15):

So that was my first with education. When I had just enrolled myself into an engineering, it’s a very prestigious engineering institution in India, in south Asia. And so I began my journey with education with that first point of failure, where I was willing to offer my tuition services. And incidentally, I scored very high, extremely good performance in my high school. I was ranked fourth in the entire state of Matra. And that helped me kind of build my confidence that, you know, academics is something that, you know, you really have to work hard at it, but at the same time, if you get it right, you can really, really score very big in that, that, so with that kind of a background and fast forward to 20 years back I used to work in a very cozy job in IBM, Singapore based out of Singapore covering the whole of Asia region.

Atul Temurnikar (06:10):

And we were able to primarily provide a, a sort of a feedback from the community to try and understand what issues were going on. So when we were looking at it, we realized that there’s a possibility of providing a affordable education for expats who were relocating around the countries who may be not paid by their MMC companies or organizations for their school fees of their children. And so they used to kind of struggle with the budgets. And so we said, Hey, why don’t we look at something like, which is more affordable and we take it to the community and see how, how, how good it goes. And interestingly, very surprisingly to all of us, we realized that when I say we have a couple of friends, you know, just kind of having coffee together and trying with this idea. And so when I announced this particular school in Singapore, right next to the presidential palace of Singapore, and when we got thousands of people turning up to kind of know more about the school and they came to the open house and they said, well, we really like something, which is great value proposition.

Atul Temurnikar (07:21):

We think you guys can do it, but we don’t see anything here. Right? So they had, we had to build confidence. We had to build track record, and that’s how it got started. It, it was mainly a trigger from the community of what they were asking for. And we said, can we package a product together that meets the requirements with the community, rather than saying, Hey, here’s our school. You gotta pay 50 grand a year and, you know, take it or leave it. So we, we kind of did a reverse approach and we said, let’s price the product first and then go back and construct the cost structures so we can make a successful enterprise out of it. And that’s how it got started.

Sam Demma (07:57):

I love the story. Tell me a little bit more about how they, these schools differ from other schools in the area or, or, or, or what makes them from your perspective and the boards and teams perspective, a higher level of education.

Atul Temurnikar (08:14):

So one of the things that really differentiate us, I mean, there are, there are many things that really add to the whole outcomes driven game as we call it performance driven game. One of the basic things that really works for us is we have created a very strong, fundamental tech layer. I would call it the learning technology layer, which is allowing us to kind of bring all schools into one system, be able to have all systems and procedures automated, the workflow’s automated. So in a way, if I were to give you an example of what that tech layer does, it improves the learning for a child by almost 20 to 25% in terms of how we bring and deliver the education to them, and in terms of how they would’ve got it in other schools. And this is based on some primary statistics that we got from benchmarking institutions.

Atul Temurnikar (09:05):

The second thing we have done is really to make sure that teachers are very efficient so that, you know, they don’t really spend too many hours and minutes in trying to do the same redundant jobs, getting piece of information from one place to the other. So the entire teacher’s communication was actually automated. And the third thing we did was really to look at the quality of our academic excellence, you know, how are we delivering this academic lectures and, you know, the whole program and how do we benchmark with respect to top leading world institutions? And so we initiated the benchmarks. And from there, we realized that our education excellence that we were providing was actually really on par with some of the world’s best educational institutions. And as a result of that one of the benchmarks, very popular one, it’s called the Malcolm ball Ridge benchmark from the us, it’s managed by the ball Ridge foundation and the benchmarks are literally universal in the world.

Atul Temurnikar (10:07):

So we started benchmarking each of a campus with that, and it’s a nine parameter benchmark it’s done by independent assessors. And you got no say no control of what they’re gonna see. They basically evaluate the entire campus based on the academic excellence that we are able to offer on evidence basis. And then they come and do a physical inspection of this. And then they finally say, well, are you world class compliant and watch your score? And if not, then where do you stand? So I think this process of vibration really helps all our school stakeholders to be able to understand where do they stand with respect to a world class institution, like out of a score of let’s say 1000, are they in the band of 800 to 900, or are they below 500 that really gives them a great way of measuring their own academic excellence.

Atul Temurnikar (11:00):

And this is done at a process level system level institution level, and then they can really take the, what we call as opportunities for improvements or offi to be able to take back and then kind of create an action plan and improve your educational services. So it’s, it is bits and pieces of each of these things that we’ve been able to put together. So today, if we go to any country, any new markets, we are able to literally get all these things together and bring in a huge amount of synergy and integration with our school system, through the tech layers and through the various systems and excellence models that we’ve created.

Sam Demma (11:38):

That’s amazing. It sounds like this is something you’re extremely passionate about. What, what is the, the hope, the hope or the goal over the next 20 years with the, with the foundation.

Atul Temurnikar (11:52):

So if I were to simplify the hopes and goals, I would say number one, we would like to expand geographically to new markets. We’ve been predominantly in Asia, Southeast Asia, particularly. So the countries like Korea, Japan which part, which are part of north Asia, we have got Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and middle east United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. And and you know, so these are the countries that, where we are already in, but I think education is pretty universal in nature, right? Every country’s got schools and private schools and public schools and they have their own unique character. So our intention is really to expand to markets such as the west European markets of Spain, Portugal, Italy you know, the France and Switzerland. And, and then of course the UK markets and the north American markets of Canada and north America and USA. So idea is that, you know, now that we’ve got a technology driven educational product, can we take this to these markets? And, or can we work with the schools over there? And can we, how can we bring in the synergy so that those schools can really fire their optimum efficiencies, whether it’s a student or teacher or parents, they can really get the best benefits they can. And, and that was, that is one of the major hopes and aspirations that we have to really take this world class education into the different new markets.

Sam Demma (13:25):

It sounds like education has been a big pursuit for yourself in terms of the engineering background and you know, doing really well in high school, ranking forth in your whole region. What resources have you found or courses have you been through or books, have you read that you found were foundational in your own self education?

Atul Temurnikar (13:51):

So, you know it’s very interesting because, you know, engineering is a stream that really gets your thinking and acting very analytically. Yep. And second thing is I had a, you know, the privilege of doing my master’s in business administration from university of east London. So when you combine the principles of management with the engineering aspects, you can create a very different perspective of an educator because when you start understanding education, exactly what are the underlying layers, what are the challenges and how do we put it together and put the entire learning stack together. Then this is where the engineering and the, the principles of management really come in, principles of management, allow you to really apply the aspects of scale and enterprise growth into the entire ecosystem so that you can look at it more like a independently, you know, self-sustaining organization financially prudent complying with all the best practices in finance.

Atul Temurnikar (14:51):

And at the same time apply the aspects of principles of management for talent development, for leadership, scalability and, and also applying the aspects of engineering to the composition of products. I mean in one of our campuses in Singapore, which is going to be featured very soon on a, one of the, as a documentary on one of the most prestigious channels there is a very, very integrated school bus terminal that deals with 600 vehicles at any point in time. And, and, you know, you talk about 120 buses close to 500 cars and taxis, and it’s almost like a school bus terminal upon which school campuses is situated. And this entire technology that we were able to use to make it simplified so that it doesn’t cause and spill our traffic jams into the neighborhoods. And it was able to bring in efficiencies and transport for our own people, our stakeholders.

Atul Temurnikar (15:50):

So we use the simple concepts of engineering for delivering education within the campus through smart learning ways delivering various aspects of learning again, using technology. And then more importantly to make sure that the whole organization as a campus really functions very efficiently and, and, and something that the people look forward to every day is not a place where you can actually, you feel that, oh, it, it is gonna be a liability for us to kind of go there a difficult day already. I’m getting fatigued in, in the learning aspect and then things don’t work. Right. And imagine going to a school where you feel every day, you are more energetic to get up from your bed and go to the schools instead of, you know, staying back at home. And, and we’ve seen that evidence in our students when they come back, when they were coming back slowly from the post COVID stage, and they were coming to the physical schools and they said, we don’t wanna stay at home.

Atul Temurnikar (16:45):

It’s been too much. We would like to come back to school because that’s where we got friends. That’s where we have all our you know, ecosystems of learning. And we can learn better in schools rather than sitting at home and signing in, into a zoom session. So I think that’s really a testimonial coming in from various students and parents that the technologies that are being used in the schools are working and the school systems, which are being designed not to tax them or burden them. You know, there’s sometimes what happens is schools in their enthusiasm start putting too much of tech layers onto the students. So you got like 10 different systems that you need to log in, something for career, something for lessons and homework, something else to talk to the teacher there, you’ve got WhatsApp channels going on, you know, social media fees going on ly, or Instagram’s coming in, you know kind of disturbing all the students.

Atul Temurnikar (17:36):

But I think that’s what we are trying to do, simplify the entire effort in, in the ecosystem of communications, in, in what you’re trying to learn and make it very easy for, for students to kind of, you know, seamlessly move from one place to the other place, be it virtual, be it offline education. And this is where an institution’s tech background really makes a big difference in the way it can be put together. And this is not available of the shelf. Mind you, we’ve got our own technology company which has close to about 80 software developers working for us fulltime, and they build up bridges and they build the technologies for us so that everything can be managed very coherently seamlessly across and the information and the services cetera can be provided to students in a much more efficient way.

Sam Demma (18:26):

That’s awesome. How did your school’s transition during the COVID 19 pandemic when that all unfolded what, what shifted or had to happen or change in your schools?

Atul Temurnikar (18:39):

So we had a very unique experience in, in case of just when the COVID was about to happen, or let me take you to 2018. So during 2018, we actually implemented a new brand new campus called a smart campus in Singapore. And essentially what it does is it has all elements of technology in the classroom, meaning that you can have hybrid lessons in the classroom. Now, people asked us, why did you do it? Were you like, you know, sounded off that COVID is gonna come. And obviously nobody knew COVID is gonna come, but we implemented those technologies to bring in the, what we call as a student exchange programs so that students can sit in their classrooms exchange a, a sort of a lecture, or, you know, have a joint lecture on some topic with any other classrooms of any other campuses. And when they, with this technology was implemented.

Atul Temurnikar (19:31):

And just about when the COVID happened in the Jan of Feb of 2020, we already had the underlying technology in place. All we had to do was just roll it out to all the users. It was probably pre COVID rolled out to about 20% of the users. And then we overnight within a week I think Japan was the first country that immediately applied to lockdowns. And as soon as we got a lockdown message and we said, everything is closed down, we took just seven days. Our tech team was fabulous. It took seven days implemented the zoom, what we call the zoom webinar sessions across all campuses. And everybody was on virtual, just a maximum a week of kind of interruption. And, and that really gave a huge head start because it meant that the students that did not have any negative impact of the COVID, especially during when many countries were under lockdown and, you know, like every country due to regulations and how the things were evolving were actually bringing in the reversals and lockdowns at a different rate and a different pace. So that helped us. And we were able to make sure that every single student was on virtual, every single teacher was able to provide those tutorials and hold the classrooms without actually missing out on any single period. I think that’s how it really helped us. And the parents did recognize that we were very quick to come back with this virtual concept, and that was very helpful to everyone and highly appreciate it across the communities.

Sam Demma (21:12):

This is amazing roughly how many students are across all the different campuses. Like, do you know some of the numbers around, you know, how many students are involved? I think you said there’s roughly 30 fives, 35 campuses or schools now.

Atul Temurnikar (21:27):

Yeah. 35 campuses. And we’ve got close to about 31,500 students.

Sam Demma (21:33):

Wow. That’s this is awesome. Take me back to year one of, of starting this, did it start with one campus and like, how has the growth continued over the past 20 years?

Atul Temurnikar (21:49):

So when we started with the first campus I think on day one, we probably had just about under 50 students. And, but by the end of first year, we were almost like three 50 to 400 students in the first campus. And at the word of mouth really was extremely beneficial to us because the value proposition was so similarly compelling that the word of mouth really was like a typical social media wildfire. You know, it, it just went around everywhere and we didn’t have to do any marketing. In fact, the first five years of us campus, we were with zero marketing costs and a hundred percent word of mouth. And, and of course, when we started expanding to other countries, again, it was a action of border mouth, as we were being invited to Japan and Malaysia to come and set up campuses because they said, this is great.

Atul Temurnikar (22:38):

You know, we would love to have international education, but we’d love to kind of, you know, get it at the right, right price point. And that was what we were able to deliver. So in a way it was a great experiment that we started and we were able to make sure that it was sustainable. It was not something like a fly by night kind of operator idea that, you know, after two years, just, you just raise your hands and say, sorry, but my idea was different. You know, we can’t run the schools this way. <Laugh> so I think that way it was extremely you know, well planned and well executed. And we had a fantastic team that was doing work on the job on the ground, making sure that, you know, every aspect of these infant stages of every school, you know, the early years of every school, the first two to four years were taken care of with all diligence, as well as making sure that everybody was pretty satisfied with it.

Sam Demma (23:32):

What does a day in the life of a student, on one of these campuses look like, and does it differ at all from other schools? Like I know here in Canada, you know, our schools are quad master based, meaning students will, you know, do four classes per semester. And it, the school is broken down into the school year is broken down into two, like two sections of, of four classes each. Some schools here even do eight courses per semester. I’m curious to know what does the average day look like for a student in one of your school campuses?

Atul Temurnikar (24:12):

So you know, in as opposed to four quads, we have three terms in a year and these are organized obviously by four months each and we offer multiple curriculums. So each curriculum has a different start timing for it. For example, IB starts somewhere around July or August, depending on which country, which campus, and the, the way, if you look at it as a, a day in life of a student is, is basically trying to the students would be basically coming to the schools. And you know, they have these terms and within each terms, they have the monthly units. And then within each monthly units, they have the weekly units. So in a way it would be, you know, the minimum unit would be like a week and during a week, then they would have their plans and academy calendars.

Atul Temurnikar (25:04):

They need to finish up those classes periods. They need to be able to achieve a certain predefined learning outcomes. And then they proceed onto the next week. So it’s almost like a week by week scheduling that goes on, but it takes sure that the students have enough bandwidth and enough kind of know buffer time for them to be able to complete that week’s period and then be able to take off to the next week. So to the students, it is pretty seamless, but actually when the teachers are looking at it, it’s pretty much week by week. And making sure that, you know, you might have some sudden changes and sudden closure of schools because of maybe COVID issues or whatever it is, but then they wanna make sure that, you know, you are completely following the calendar all the way to make sure that you end it on the right times within that month and within those terms.

Atul Temurnikar (25:56):

And, and so there’s a discipline involved to make sure that it works. And also from a student point of view, it’s kind of, I would say a bit more structured in a much more peaceful way so that the students don’t really get P down by too much of workloads. You know, there are different learning spaces that every student has, their speed varies from student to student. So the system allows for everybody to kind of, and we are not a selective school in many of the campuses, or in fact, in all of the campuses, we are not a selective school. So we, we take in students who overcome to us and we make sure that they get the best out of this education and, and they, they can learn incrementally much more than that, what they would’ve learned in any other school in the neighborhood. So that’s one of value prop is to the students and that’s how they experience it.

Sam Demma (26:49):

That’s awesome. It, yeah, it’s, it’s so fascinating and cool to hear about this network of schools, and I hope it continues to expand and ma makes a significant impact, not only in, in Asia, but, you know, con continues the branch into Europe and hopefully in, in north America. It’s yeah, I think it’s really needed. It’s something that’s that that’s making a difference right now. You mentioned one of the schools that will be featured in a little documentary as well. I’m curious to know a little bit more about that.

Atul Temurnikar (27:22):

Yeah. So, you know, we, we operate out of the main headquarters are based out of Singapore and Singapore, as you know, in Asia and in the world, it’s called a smart nation, right? It’s one of those most happening countries in the world you know, great living indexes the best business environments, you know, it’s been tops in many, many areas. And I think one of the things that we think is to really create schools, which are marque schools in terms of the smart aspect of it, and that’s how we created the smart campus. And we took about two years to design it in about three years to construct it. And, and so we completed that in 2018. So the one of the TV channels came to know about this smart campus. And probably they read about it, or they were interested in how smart campuses or some people may call it digital campuses.

Atul Temurnikar (28:23):

But I I’m, I’m referring to smart because use the right amount of technology to deliver the right amount of learning outcomes. And so they picked it up and they reached out to us and they said, well, you have a smart campus in a country called Singapore and your country is known as the smart nation. Would you like to feature your campus on our channel? And we said, yes. Now we had agreed to that pre COVID and fortunately COVID happened. So they let the COVID pass. And then they came back to the post COVID period, and now they will be showing that documentary on the net geo channel, the national geo channel, sometime it would be scheduled from August mid August onwards.

Sam Demma (29:06):

Wow. That’s awesome. It’s that, that’s very exciting when, when you say smart campus and then you use the word digital, is it, is it all a digital experience or do students actually go to this campus?

Atul Temurnikar (29:21):

Yeah. So a simple definition between what a smart is and digital is everything that is smart has to be digital about it. Cool. right now that’s one second thing is why it is smart and not just digital is because it carries a huge amount of analytics mm-hmm <affirmative> and today’s context. You could call it artificial collisions, you could call it you know, data analytics, or we call it simply data analytics, everything that we do, we measure everything that we measure. We know what we are doing, good, what we are doing bad, or what we are doing average. We pick up all the averages and all the things, which we are not doing good, pick it up, feed it back into the system and let everybody improve on it. And that includes student teachers, everybody, including us and me. And that is how we make the system smart.

Atul Temurnikar (30:07):

Every aspect of the functionality of this goal becomes a measurable with performance analytics and to be able to, you know, craft out the necessary strategies to make that whole thing work. So that way it is a smart campus. And when, when this documentary comes out, you will see how every technology has been used in a particular way, whether it is a sports basketball game, right? We use the same technology that NBA Lakers and many of the NBA teams use whether it is soccer. You know, when you are playing games on the court, actually it’s recording the whole game via tokens and via technologies onto computers and servers. And you can play back, replay back the games, and you can see the player performances. Now that is the analytical aspect of the game. And that is extremely important to a child or student, the moment they played a game. So these analytics were not available. If you just play a normal game with the coaches giving you instructions

Atul Temurnikar (31:10):

That would actually mean that the coaches will be, you’ll be relying on the aspect of what the coaches are gonna tell you, but here not only coaches are able to tell you more pinpointed data, but they’re able to tell you, these are your strengths. These are your weaknesses. These are your improvement areas, come and prepare for it. So the next game you can do better than this. So there’s a very clear measurement. So I think not just sports and fine arts in, in academic aspects of the learning everywhere, we use smart technologies and in our technologies really measure everything student wise and make sure that the data we can give it to them is in a performance improvement more. And so therefore every child is more excited to see, okay, tell me, what else can I do teach? Can I, can I do something else different? Tell me where I can improve. So it becomes very, self-driven motivated kind of exercise rather than somebody come and, you know, knocks on your head and says, you know, you’re not good in this. You’re not good in that. And, and probably you’re good for nothing. And then you start this negative aspects of, you know, demotivational theory and, and really that’s not required. So student can see what they need to do. And, and, and these analytical tools are very, very effective in, in making sure it’s a self-motivated improvement.

Sam Demma (32:24):

You’ll have to share the documentary with me when it comes out. I can put a link to it in the featured article that we do on this podcast interview. Cause I, I would love to watch it and I’m sure other educators would as well. If, if someone is listening to this and wants to reach out, ask you a question, connect and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Atul Temurnikar (32:46):

I think they can get in touch with us on LinkedIn and they can also get in touch with us through our websites or they can email it to me at atul@myglobalschool.org.

Sam Demma (33:00):

Awesome. Atul, thank you so much for taking the time this evening for you to come on the podcast. It means the world to me. The, the work you’re doing is amazing. It’s phenomenal, and I hope it continues to spread. Please keep doing the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Atul Temurnikar (33:16):

Thank you so much. And thanks for having me. It was wonderful talking to you.

Sam Demma (33:21):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Atul Temurnikar

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.

Dan Wolfe – Assistant Principal at Sunray Elementary School in Pasco County, Florida

Dan Wolfe – Assistant Principal at at Sunray Elementary School in Pasco County, Florida
About Dan Wolfe

Dan Wolfe has served in Pasco County, Florida for more than 20 years. During this time, he has held roles as a teacher, instructional coach and administrator. He is currently an Assistant Principal at Sunray Elementary. He was selected as Pasco County’s District Teacher of the Year in 2011-2012 school year. He is a part of the district’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee that recently established Pre-K through Grade 12 SEL standards.

For the past two years Dan has written a blog and recorded a podcast called Becoming The Change (formerly Our Moral Compass) which focuses on a different quote each day and how we can best apply it towards becoming the change through our own moral compass and the five areas in SEL. 

Connect with Dan: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sunray Elementary Elementary School

Pasco County Schools

Pasco County Schools Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee

Becoming The Change Podcast

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.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Dan Wolfe. Dan has served in Pasco County, Florida for more than 20 years. During this time, he has held roles as a teacher, instructional coach, and administrator. He is currently an assistant principal at Sunray elementary. He was selected as Pasco County’s district teacher of the year in the 2011/2012 school year. He is a part of the district’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee that recently established Pre-K through Grade 12 SEL standards. For the past two years, Dan has written a blog and recorded a podcast called becoming the change, which focuses on a different quote each day, and how we can best apply it towards becoming the change through our own moral compass in the five areas in social/emotional learning. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dan Wolfe and I will see you on the other side. Dan, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dan Wolfe (02:00):

All right. Thank you so much for having me on Sam. I really appreciate it. My name is Dan Wolfe and I’m assistant principal at Sunray elementary in Pasco County, Florida. I just completed my 25th year in education where I have held multiple roles as a classroom teacher, instructional math coach, district math specialist, where I supported 18 title one schools kindergarten through 12th grade, and then also as an administrator. And my next step after assistant principal is hopefully to be a principal within the next year or so.

Sam Demma (02:32):

That’s awesome, man. When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education?

Dan Wolfe (02:38):

Well it started actually in high school, we actually, in my, in my high school, we had a child development course where three days a week we had pre-K students that would come visit and we got to teach lessons and things that we had planned out for learning how to do all that from, from our teachers and interact with the kids and work with them. And it just, it was just kind of like a bug that just kind of bit me and just that it was something I knew I wanted to do. And then in the summers I would go ahead and be a camp counselor, like a sports camp counselor and just enjoyed educating the kids, even in sports. And I said, this is, this is definitely my calling. So

Sam Demma (03:14):

That’s awesome. From, from the moments you realize it was your calling, what did the journey look like that brought you to where you are today?

Dan Wolfe (03:23):

Well, at the time it was kind of unclear. I, I, you know, I just took, you know, one step at a time. I mean, once I, I was blessed enough once I, I interned in a kindergarten classroom, which is, is kind of weird having a male and a kindergarten class, cuz a lot of the kids didn’t speak to me for the first couple weeks. They’re like, what’s this guy doing in here, but then they really warmed up towards the end of my, you know, middle and end of my internship and just really enjoyed it. And I was blessed to actually be hired at that school too. Mid-Year so I got a, a mini contract to finish out the year and then was able to be a part of the staff for the the next few years. And then that’s when I, I kind of got was interested in the leadership aspect.

Dan Wolfe (04:06):

I had been team leader, things like that. So that’s where you know, the, the administrative act aspect really came into focus. And one of the you know, after I had become a coach for a while and things like that, what I always wanted to promise myself was never to forget what it was like to be in the classroom. So when I became an administrator, cuz I feel like sometimes not, not all administrators, but there’s some that do forget and they don’t look at it through that lens anymore of what it’s like to be in the classroom. And I always had told my staff and I tell my staff to this day, if I ever forget or anything like that, please remind me because that’s, I, I wanna keep myself in check too, because it it’s very important for me to have that.

Dan Wolfe (04:49):

We ask the teachers to have that vividness in the classroom. I think as an administrator, you’ve gotta have that vividness with your staff and your students as well. So but yeah, so it just, you know, and it’s just as, you know, leaving no stone unturned I think is, is just very important in the field of education is just finding out cuz you, you only go through this life once mm-hmm <affirmative> and you don’t wanna have any regrets. And you just wanna it’s kind of like the saying go big or go home and that’s what you wanna do in, in this life and in this field of education, cuz there’s so many opportunities out there,

Sam Demma (05:24):

Most people on their 25th anniversary of anything probably cut a cake and have a party. And maybe you did that, but you’re you also wrote a book <laugh> so can we talk about it for a second? What inspired you to write the book and, and what is it all about?

Dan Wolfe (05:42):

Sure. so yes. Yeah. So I just recently had a book called becoming the change five essential elements for being your best self. And it’s it came out June 1st and it’s it’s available on Amazon and how it all came to be was our, our county was really big into social, emotional learning otherwise known as SEL since we have a million different acronyms, but just in case for listeners that did know what SEL was, that’s what it stands for. And what we decided to do as a district was develop pre-K through 12 SDL standards. So we could have that continuum just like we do for the academics. We wanna do it for the social emotional part because it’s like that Maslow before bloom philosophy, you can’t get to that bloom part. And so you have the Maslow mm.

Dan Wolfe (06:31):

You have to Maslow before you bloom is what they say. So so what we did is we developed standards in the there’s five elements or areas there’s self-awareness self-management social awareness relationship skills and responsible decision making. And while I was interacting with the group and everything, I I’m a big fan of quotes. And I came across a quote by Michelle Obama. And she referred to things as you know always reflecting on your own moral compass. And I just had this visual of that, those five elements are like our, our own moral compass within each of us. You might not even even know you’ve had it, you’ve always had it within you. They’ve kind of guided you through life cert during certain things, you know, whether it’s making responsible decisions or enhancing those relationships or, you know, or, or just knowing where you stand in the world, that self-awareness piece.

Dan Wolfe (07:26):

So what I decided to do is I decided to write a daily blog. I originally titled it, our moral compass, which eventually got changed to becoming the change just cuz it just, it kind of fit better into, you know, we were talking about that trajectory in life and things. So that was kind of like one of these things, you start off one thing, but that’s, you’re always open the change. So so I, I, what I did with the blog is I went ahead and took different quotes by different famous people. And then I would analyze them how it, how what it meant to me. Mm. And then I would go ahead and write about it and then ask the, the the reader, what it meant to them. Because when you look at a quote that you might have read 10 years ago, and then you read it again today, I’m sure it probably means something different, entirely different than it did back then because of your experiences, you know, and whatever you do, not just education, but just in life in general, you you’ve grown that much more.

Dan Wolfe (08:19):

So it’s gonna mean something different to you. So that’s what I started with and then decided, you know, why don’t I turn that into a podcast? So all was all I did was just re you know, record previous readings that I had done. And then just put it out there for the, you know, social media for the listeners, just, just for fun, just, you know, people listen to it. Great. If they didn’t that’s okay, too, if it, if it had some kind of impact on somebody that’s all that mattered. Hmm. And then all of a sudden the pandemic hit as it did for everybody <laugh>. And, and so I wanted to do something, you know, once I was done with my school day, I said, you know, know, I feel like I need to do something more, a way to kind of give back.

Dan Wolfe (08:58):

So I decided then to go ahead and write this book called becoming the change. And what it essentially has is it has a self-assessment within there where you go ahead and a, it has questions that, or statements that you go ahead and answer based on the five elements of where you are currently. And you’ve gotta be, this is where you have to be vulnerable. You know, we ask our students in education to be vulnerable. We, as educators are just, as people have to be vulnerable too. And the only way it change is ever gonna happen is if we’re honest with ourselves. So you have to be honest when you answer these questions within there. And then it’s gonna show you your strengths and it’s gonna show you your limitations. I don’t like to use the word weaknesses because I feel like it has a negative connotation where limit limitations, you know, you still have that area for, for, for growth.

Dan Wolfe (09:49):

And sometimes the limits we have are the ones that we put on ourselves. So you know, so within that what you’re able to go ahead and do is you go ahead and read it. Each chapter is broken down for each of the different elements. And what I have at the end of each chapter is if there, if your listeners remember in the seventies, eighties and nineties, there was a choose your own adventure book where you’d get to certain pages in the book. And then you, if you flip to this page, you know, there could have been a fire breathing dragon, or you, you know, went to another page. It was like treasure. Well, I don’t have any of that in my book, but what, what you’re able to go ahead and do is it’s your life, it’s your own adventure.

Dan Wolfe (10:30):

You get to choose a pathway. So if you’re strong and let’s say self-management, and you want to deepen, you know yourself in that area, you would read that chapter and then you get to choose what next, you can choose another strength, or you could choose a limitation and then eventually be able to read the whole book, but again, in the order that you want and I’ve throughout the book, I’ve got a lot of I have what are called compass checks along the way. And they’re basically things I, I pulled some of my blogs that I’d written from a couple years ago and put those throughout for each of the different areas. You know, so, so it’s got different facets, and then I have an image of that compass, just like you have a compass when you if you get lost in the woods, you, you look at that compass, it’s got the north south, east and west.

Dan Wolfe (11:17):

Well, that’s how the moral compass is set up with the five elements in the center at, at the epicenter is self-awareness. And then at each of the other four Cardinal directions are the other four elements. Mm. So it all comes back to self-awareness and some, and some days you lean on other elements more than than others. And but it, the one thing that’s good about the self-assessment is you can take it multiple times after you’ve, you know, focused on some different strategies that are within the book and everything, and then see if you’ve grown in those areas and, you know so it’s, it, it’s something you can use time and time again.

Sam Demma (11:54):

That’s awesome, man. How long did it take you to pull this resource together? Was it something you worked on throughout the entire pandemic? I’m just curious to hear a little bit about the process.

Dan Wolfe (12:03):

Yeah. Yeah. So it it went ahead and since, like I said, I had a lot of time on my hands when I wasn’t, you know, at school, I, I was just, I, I just had something, you know, just it’s, it’s just like anything else when you get really passionate about something and you just can’t stop, you know, there were times that kind of felt like I was back in college, again, pulling all nighters or whatever, trying to, because I just had to get these thoughts out. Yeah. And then probably, you know it I’d say it took a good, you know, five or six months to go ahead and, and write it and, you know, edit, and, and then it was just trying to learn the process. I mean, I had no idea once I thought that part was hard, just writing the book itself, which it was don’t don’t don’t get me wrong.

Dan Wolfe (12:44):

It definitely was. But then trying to have someone take a chance on you and wanna publish it cuz you know, you know, if you don’t have a lot big social media following or, you know, whatever it is, you’re just not that famous person. You know, they’re not always apt to go ahead and, you know, take a chance on you. I had over 40 rejections it wasn’t until ID finished the book probably in, you know, close to the summer of 2020. And I didn’t get have an interest in it until probably the fall of 2021. And that is when rode awesome, who I’m forever grateful and blessed to, to have taken a chance on me went ahead and showed some interest and we met and everything and you know I got to learn so much within the process.

Dan Wolfe (13:36):

Just even self-promoting and doing, which is not something I normally do. I’m very, I like to keep to myself and everything, but I said, you only go, this might be my only time I ever get the chance to go through something like this. So just pull out all the stops. But this, this was just important to me also to also not only prove to myself, but prove to my students and to prove to my daughter too, you know, about never giving up perseverance and just being able to overcome. And though though, I wasn’t, you know, I was confident that it was, it was gonna happen one day. I just didn’t know when, but I’m just glad I I’m glad I didn’t give up. And yeah,

Sam Demma (14:14):

That’s awesome, man. I love it. When you’re not working on the book or working at school, how do you fill up your own cup? What are some of the things that you do to ensure that you’re showing up to the best of your abilities at work?

Dan Wolfe (14:29):

Well, I think first and foremost, I, I wouldn’t be here without my family love and support of my wife and, and my daughter. And just having that time with them being able to, you know we live down here in Florida, so we’ve got the advantage of going to Disney world or, or things like that, cuz we’re pretty close to it. So that’s kind of like our vice as a family and we’ve done that, that always since she was little. So it’s just, it’s, that’s just, that’s just our thing and being able to do that. And I think it’s just important to always stay grounded to, they talk about work life balance, which is it’s very hard to do. And I don’t know if you can ever really, truly find that balance, but you can definitely put in the effort to make sure.

Dan Wolfe (15:10):

I, I, I think that that’s very important and also just the self care. I, I think, you know taking time, whether it’s, you know, you know, going to the gym, exercising, listening, the podcasts, reading just some of meditating, whatever else, you know, just some of those kinds of things, because if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of others in the field of education. And that, that’s a, that’s a huge thing. Otherwise, cuz if you’re burning the bridge at both ends you’re not, you’re not being a benefit to anybody. So that, that’s huge.

Sam Demma (15:42):

When you think about the field of education, who are some individuals in your life personally, who have had a significant impact on you? Obviously your family you’ve mentioned them, but when you think about work, have you had, you know, mentors or people who have changed your beliefs helped you identified your blind spots and limiting beliefs and helped you grow into the school leader you are today?

Dan Wolfe (16:04):

Yeah. So one of ’em was definitely one of my college professors actually in graduate school Dr. Clint Wright he just, he just said it like it was and just told the importance of it. Wasn’t all just about what was in the textbook or anything else like that. He just, he just spoke to you as you would hope an administrator would and you could kind of look at it through the lens of what he was talking about. There are two quotes. Actually, yeah, there’s two quotes that he, that really stood out to me from him. One of ’em was if it’s to be it’s up to me that anything you want in life you’ve gotta go out and get it life. Isn’t gonna give you, gonna put it out on, on a silver platter for you.

Dan Wolfe (16:47):

You need to go out and get it. In my 25 years most of my time has been spent at title one schools, which are the lower socioeconomic status. And I, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. Because just being able to tell the students there, the potentials that they have, that their, their life script has not been written yet. They get to write it themselves and being able to tell them if it’s to be it’s up to them, I’ll be there as that guide on the side, but in kind of giving them that push, but they’re the ones that can really make it to that next level. And then he said another quote as an administrator that I ha I try to always remember it’s a poor frog that doesn’t praise its own pond and it’s always letting others know how grateful you are for them.

Dan Wolfe (17:36):

And again, showing ’em, you know, telling ’em specifically, not just saying thank you, but thank you for what, what is it that, you know, to let them know that they matter? And again, it, it doesn’t matter what the position teacher, custodian, food and nutrition, office staff, whoever they’re everybody’s of value and they’re of equal value. And I always look at titles as just titles. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s what you do behind the title. That is what that is, what truly means something so that Dr. Clint Wright was for one thing a big mentor in my life. And then another one is Todd Cluff. He just recently retired from our county. He’s still doing consulting for leadership and everything else like that. But he really showed me what it’s all about to be that servant leader.

Dan Wolfe (18:25):

I had mentioned earlier in, in the podcast that I was part of like I did, I was a curriculum specialist where I supported 18 different schools, kindergarten through 12th grade that we had at one time in our county, what were called regional teams. We were the Northwest regional team and we all 18 schools were title one. And what we were able to do is kind of flip the script as far as showing schools that we were supporting them, that we were all family, that it wasn’t like uhoh, district’s coming out, cuz we’re all part of the same district. It was never, and he led the charge and all of that, just to show that grace that compassion it just, it, it was all about those relationships because that’s, what’s really gonna push you through any any challenges or obstacles that are in the way it’s the, it’s the trust and everything.

Dan Wolfe (19:15):

And, and he was able to show that and serve first and lead second and just, just his teachings and just watching him do what he, what he did just always amazed me and I did. And he was always still positive. And just try to it, it was, it went beyond data scores and things like that. It was about the people, it was about the kids. It was about the culture E each school. There’s no title one school, just like there’s no, non-Title one school, that’s the same. You can cross the street and you’re gonna have a different kind of culture, a different dynamic, a different need. And we were able to differentiate between those 18 schools over, you know, the, the time that we were a regional team and it’s definitely memories. I’d never, you know, trade for the world and it just, it made he made me a better leader because of it. So I’m a forever grateful to him.

Sam Demma (20:09):

Hmm. It sounds like they both had a significant impact on you. And I think having a significant impact on others is really one of the main reasons why people get into education. Everyone hopes they can help inspire young minds and guide them on their path and be a resource. I’m curious if there are any stories that come to mind of students who have been impacted by, you know, your leadership or the leadership of the staff around you that you have watched kind of soar. And the reason I ask is because sometimes educators forget why they started teaching, especially during very difficult moments. And I think at the heart of it sometimes the heart of the reason why they get into education is because they wanna make a positive change. So these stories of transformation in the student might help rekindle that fire in their, in their heart to keep going. Do you have any stories that come to mind of, of students or

Dan Wolfe (21:06):

Yes, I actually have. I have two, one as a teacher and then one as an administrator. Cool. And what’s interesting is, you know, both had a significant impact, but it’s from a different lens. And I think that that’s the and with the teacher one, it was early on in my educational career. It was a a girl in my class that could not read. Her mom had said her last couple of teachers that she’s had told her, told her already your, your daughter’s probably never going to read. So basically, you know, kind of like, I mean, again, I wasn’t there to hear it, but she basically told me it was like, kind of like the throw in towel. And she was like third grade. And that wasn’t, you know, again, I was in my second or third year.

Dan Wolfe (21:49):

I mean, something like that, throwing in the towel was not in my vocabulary to go ahead and do that. And I said, we’re, I’m gonna do all that I can. So what I even did is I went ahead and tutored her after school as well. And we continued to work on, we did site words. We did a lot with phonics and things like that, all those things to go ahead and build up her confidence within there. And I just told her I would be there every step of the way. And long story short, she was able to read. And she even, we had, we had a state test that year, where in Florida, if they don’t pass the state test and reading they’re automatically retained in third grade. So, but she passed. Mm. So she was able to, and the mom just was so thrilled, not because of the passing part, but the fact that her child could sit with her now and read and everything.

Dan Wolfe (22:40):

And I mean, I, and again, I don’t, I don’t ever take the credit for those kinds of things. I, I, that’s just, cuz it’s a team effort and you know, she put as much work into it as well. But it was just showing her that never quit attitude. And you know, I, I’m not sure what ha you know, it is been quite some time now, so I’m hoping she’s doing quite well, but I mean, just that, that right there, that that’s your why to be able to do that. Now from an administrator lens, it was a little bit different. Of course, fast forward, you know, quite a few years and a lot of things that as you know, across across the world, the nation, everything like that is a lot with mental health and the importance behind that. And we have within our district like threat assessments and things like that that we have to do, whether it’s threat to others or threat to themselves.

Dan Wolfe (23:31):

I had a student that was in fourth grade just a few years ago. He just had a lot of just threats to self and I mean, it never only, you know, once or twice did they have to, you know, you know be baker acted or things like that to be able to get the help, but there was a program called safe and home that, that is within our county and within our state where they have intensive services, where they even the counselors push into the home, help with coping skills and strategies. And you have to put in a lot of, you know, it’s not, you have to put in a lot of paperwork and requests to kind of get to that point and be able to, but I, I just knew that we needed to do all we could as a school to get him on cuz he had, so he had so much potential and, you know, just, just because of whether it was home life or whatever else or just his own self-esteem was suffering because of all this.

Dan Wolfe (24:29):

And you know, like I said, counselors would push in, they would go ahead and show skills self coping skills for the students they’d even work with the, the family as well of how the, you know, best help, you know, parenting strategies, cuz again, they don’t have those handbooks or things just to hand to the parents to say, here he goes, this is how you raise your child or anything like that. But fast forward a year later in fifth grade we have turnaround student awards and he was a turnaround student in his class and just the confidence in things like that. And you know, he was very closed off and everything. And one of the things that he even did when he, when he saw me recently is even just, he gave me a hug, he just came right up and I mean, I never would’ve expected that or anything else like that, but it’s just, I saw such a side to him that I always knew was there, but I was just, I would just hope that I just was able to help be that glimmer, that flicker of hope in his life to, you know, to, to show him that that, that things are possible.

Dan Wolfe (25:32):

You know, so those are two examples, you know, you know, of the kind of impact and it just kind of always rekindles that why, and, you know, just, just to be there and just just one of the sayings that we have at our school is my job is to keep you safe and your job is to help keep it safe and that’s not just physically safe, but that’s socially and emotionally safe. And I think one of the biggest things is educators out of the five elements is that social awareness piece where you try to look at it through the lens of others and it’s not just for the kids, but for your staff or whatever. It’s more about empathizing more than sympathizing within there. And it’s just, I, I think that’s just an attribute or an element that I think needs to be more pervasive as a society now more than ever with all that’s going on in the world right now is that social awareness piece. But yeah, so,

Sam Demma (26:26):

Ah, I love it, man. Thank you for sharing those stories. I know that whoever is listening is definitely feeling inspired or reminded about the impact education can have when you lead with self-awareness and as a servant leader, like your mentor, would’ve taught you and, and you know Clint yeah, your professor. When you think about your experiences in education, if you could bundle them all up, travel back in time to the first year, you stepped into a classroom to teach knowing what you know now, what advice would you have, you know, shared with you younger self, not because you wanted to change something about your path or journey, but because you thought it might have been helpful to hear at the start of your career

Dan Wolfe (27:10):

Perfectionism is a myth and it it’s important to be vulnerable. I think those are, I mean, it it’s something that you, you think that everything has, has to go a certain way. And you you’ve got your, your, your script or whatever your lesson plans in front of you, but they never go according to plan. And if they, you know, and you know, sometimes they go better than expected and then other times you think it was gonna be an awesome lesson and then it crashes and burns and that’s okay. The way that I look at it is in, in our county, we are, you know, in our state we have 180 school days. So I look at it and I tell a lot of today’s younger teachers too. It’s weird to me to say younger teachers now because I used to be one of ’em and <laugh>, I remember I had veteran teachers saying, Dan, you’ll be there one day soon.

Dan Wolfe (28:01):

And they were right. But I look at it there’s 180 or like 180 performances kind of like on stage, you know, not, you, you think of it as actors and actresses, not every play or performance goes well, but if one doesn’t go, well, you got 179 more to, to do better and you always try to, you know, you’re never gonna have that perfect one and that’s okay, but that’s what strives you to try to get to that. But when I, and that vulnerability that’s something not only as a beginning teacher, but even as a veteran teacher, it’s okay to have that. I, I even have it as an administrator, if I don’t know the answer to something or I make a mistake in something I’ll either, you know, I’m definitely gonna own up to it. If it’s a mistake or whatever, and say, I’ll fix that.

Dan Wolfe (28:48):

And I’m sorry that, you know, whatever it was, didn’t turn out the way that, whether it was a decision I made or, or anything else like that, that I thought would’ve turned out better. And it didn’t, or if I didn’t know the answer to something, I will go ahead and ask somebody that does, cuz I won’t have all the answers and I’m not gonna pretend like I do because you give the wrong answer, you get into a, a deeper hole than you started and, and you might as well just come out and say, okay, I don’t really know, but let me find out. I, I think as, as my advice to, you know my younger self would just be, you know trust the process and just be vulnerable.

Sam Demma (29:23):

Love that. It’s awesome. Thank you so much Dan for taking the time to come on the show and share a little bit about your book and your beliefs around education. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, get in touch, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?

Dan Wolfe (29:39):

So probably the best way, I’m definitely Twitter is definitely my social media jam or whatever in regards to it. So my Twitter handle is @servleadinspire. So it doesn’t have the “e” on “serve” and it’s not that I can’t spell. It’s just that it won’t allow that many characters within the handle. So I said, so I do know how to spell serve. I just can’t spell it the way I want to on Twitter, but anyways <laugh>, but that’s, that’s probably the best way to definitely feel free to follow you know, or, you know, send me a DM, whatever, you know, anything I can do to help, you know we’re all, we’re all in this together.

Sam Demma (30:23):

Awesome. Dan, thank you again. Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon my friend.

Dan Wolfe (30:28):

All right, thanks so much, Sam.

Sam Demma (30:29):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dan Wolfe

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.

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School
About Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson (@ScottJohnsonP) is the principal at Bowmanville High School. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario and after a 2 year move to Alberta, returned home to a variety of teaching roles.

He has taught every grade other than Kindergarten and Grade 5 and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in Special Education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at BHS as principal. 

Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school.

Connect with Scott: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bowmanville High School

Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

Cult of Pedagogy

Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell

Wikis, Blogs, and Podcasts: A New Generation of Web-based Tools for Virtual Collaborative Clinical Practice and Education by Applied Research Press

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.

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Scott Johnson. Scott Johnson is the principal at Bowmanville high school. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario, and after a two year move to Alberta returned home to a variety of teaching roles. He has taught every grade other than kindergarten and grade five and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in special education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at Bowmanville high school as the principal. Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching, and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success, and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school. I hope you enjoy this interview and I will see you on the other side. Scott, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Scott Johnson (01:58):

Thanks Sam, and, and thank you very much for for having me on the podcast. My name is Scott Johnson. I am currently the principal of Bowmanville high school in Bowmanville, Ontario. We are a 9-12 school with approximately a thousand students located right in central Bowmanville.

Sam Demma (02:18):

When did you realize in your career journey growing up that education was the field you wanted to pursue and work in?

Scott Johnson (02:26):

Well, to be honest with you, I, I would be, I, I think I’m fairly late to the game in terms of determining what I I wanted to do. I was a PHS ed student at the university of Toronto and had the opportunity towards the end of my degree to do some work in some local high schools in downtown Toronto. And really, really enjoyed the experience I got to work with. I actually played hockey at the university of Toronto and I got to work with a, a former teammate of mine who had moved on to become a teacher. And I just really enjoyed the experience and thought to myself, this might be a, a, a good career move for me. I, I really enjoyed Fette as a, as a student and played all kinds of sports growing up and thought, you know, maybe I could join the ranks of the PHED teachers of the world.

Scott Johnson (03:19):

And so that’s sort of what got me into education and lots happened between then and now sort of over the last 17 years to get me you know, into the role of principal. And I, I, I’ll be honest, I’ve, I’ve enjoyed every, every step along the way. So I think the goal was to be a PhysEd teacher. I’m not sure if I ever actually realized that because I, I was his ed teacher for a very brief period of time, but I’ve got to do a lot of interesting things in a lot of interesting places and yeah, I’ve really enjoyed all, all the steps along the way.

Sam Demma (03:52):

Let’s unpack some of that journey, the 17 year journey from the start to where you are now, what was the start? What role were you in? What school take us through the journey from then to where you are today?

Scott Johnson (04:06):

Well, it was an interesting journey. I actually went to teachers college directly after university and then took a year off after university to go play hockey over in Germany for a year. Wow. Which was a great experience. It was tons of fun. But probably three quarters of the way through that hockey season. I, I kind of got the itch to, you know, I wanted to get started on this career in teaching. And so made the decision, you know, towards the end of the hockey season that I was gonna try and pursue this, this teaching career more seriously and ended up <laugh> I ended up actually accepting, I was so excited to be a full-time PHED teacher that I applied for and took a job at a school that I, I didn’t know really what the school was. And it turned out that it was a PHED teacher job in a youth correctional facility where I worked for a year.

Scott Johnson (05:03):

And, and I, I, I, it was a, a very bizarre way to start my career in terms of just not being something that I would’ve expected, but it, it couldn’t have been a better start to my career. I learned a ton working in that setting and working with those students and that I, you know, can say quite clearly, that, that had a significant impact on helping me get to where I I am today. You know, just, just dealing with students who had obviously been in conflict with the law and, and had lots going on in all assets or all aspects of their lives and, and seeing how school could, could be a, a positive influence on their life, really, you know, set me on a, a, a, I think a good track teacher wise after that. My, my now wife and I decided to move out to Alberta for a couple of years.

Scott Johnson (05:56):

And so we moved to a very, very rural community in, in Alberta. And I actually ended up teaching at a, at a incredibly small school, K to nine 160 students in a town that didn’t have a single stoplight. And it was just another great experience, just great kids, great families got the opportunity to teach a whole bunch of different grades. And again, really enjoyed the experience after a couple years, my wife and I decided to come back and I ended up teaching grade seven, and then I taught a little bit of special education in high school. And then I taught at an alternative education school. Then I moved to a, a lead teacher of special education role, and then moved into being a vice principal at an ed school, and then vice principal at a large rural school. And then at a small rural school. And now principal here at, at one of the larger urban schools and in our school board. So it kind of bounced around a lot, a lot of it by choice, but I, I think having that varied experience has been very helpful in the role that I’m in today.

Sam Demma (07:08):

What do you think you took away from your time working at the correctional facility with students who might have been in trouble with the law? What are some of the things you learned from those experiences that maybe informed the way that you show up today and in, in the high school you work in now

Scott Johnson (07:26):

To put it in its simplest terms? I learned very clearly that every student has a story, and I can’t tell you how much that has impacted me in my teaching career. It, it, it, I just working with those students, learning, you know, you work very closely with them, you work with them every single day. And you just, you learn so much about their story and you start to understand that there’s so much more to a student than what you, you may see, or what they may present, you know, in, in a 75 minute class. And, you know, now in my role as a principal, every single student, or every single issue that that comes across my desk, I, I get, get taken right back to that sort of touch point. That is, what’s the story here there, you know, you talk about, you know, you might hear things that for every misbehavior, there’s a reason, or, or, you know, if a student’s not being successful, as we think they could be there’s, you know, peeling back the layers of the onion kind of thing, to, to try and sort out why.

Scott Johnson (08:39):

And I go back to that very first year, really starting to recognize there is a story here for every student and it’s our job to try and work with them on, on all levels to try and help them be as successful as they can. And, and that, that lesson, like I said, you know, for, for, to get that as a first year teacher, I think was, it was difficult in the moment but has served me well over the last 17 years and, and will continue to serve me well for the rest of my career.

Sam Demma (09:09):

What resources, including people have been very instrumental or helpful in your own development, professional development in this career and job, maybe it’s some people you can think of who have mentored you along the way, some books you’ve read or courses you’ve been a part of, like, what has helped you show up at your best every day at work. And obviously you’re a human being. So there’s days where you don’t feel your best, but what do you think helps you show up to the best of your ability every day?

Scott Johnson (09:39):

Well, I, I think there’s a lot of things. And, and you mentioned, you know, the human aspect of it. The one great part about teaching is that you get to see a lot of people every day. And I mean, you know, we’ve dealt with this, the COVID pandemic over the last couple of years. And I think if you talk to, to any student, any educator, anybody involved in education, or even outside of it, the thing that they miss is that human interaction. Mm. So, you know, as a principal, I love being out in the halls. I love chatting with kids. I love chatting with teachers. I love you know, having conversations with parents, sometimes those conversations with any of those groups are not the easiest conversations, but they’re, you know, we’re all working in the best interest of students. And that’s, that’s kind of what gets me to work with a smile on my face every day.

Scott Johnson (10:31):

In terms of, of long term impact. I mean, I’ll go right back. They, they, they make you do a cheesy kind of assignment back when you were in teacher’s college, talking about your, you know, the favorite teacher or the teacher that, that inspired you. And I, I can think of a couple of teachers that I had along the way, you know, my grade two teacher, Mr. Jameson, my grade six teacher, Mr. Black, just people that had significant impacts on me growing up and, and, you know, having the hope that maybe I could replicate that experience for, you know, a young person growing up was certainly part of my motivation in terms of getting to where I am today, I’ve had all kinds of people who have been incredibly helpful. I, I, from principals to teachers just people and, and I think this goes back to you, you really can’t underestimate the impact that your words can have on another person.

Scott Johnson (11:29):

You know, I can think back to one of my principals who encouraged me to be a vice principal back when I had never really thought about being a vice principal. And, and she put that in my head and I was just like, oh, and I, I just got a sense of her belief in me and, you know, the, a small conversation on her part at a, you know, a lasting and, and significant impact on my life. So those are things that, that I try and pay it forward for lack of a better term, but there’s definitely been, been tons of people along the way, who, who just through their, their words and conversations have a, have had a big impact.

Sam Demma (12:04):

You’re one of the only guests we’ve had on who pulled out a blue ye USB microphone, and sounds like a radio host. <Laugh> gonna,

Scott Johnson (12:13):

I have been told that I have a face and a voice for radio. So I’m I’m good with that.

Sam Demma (12:18):

It leads me to believe that you might listen to a few other podcasts. Is there any educational podcasts that you’ve tuned into, or people that you’ve listened to that have helped as well as a resource?

Scott Johnson (12:30):

Well, to be honest, Sam, if, if you knew me as an educator one of the things that I like to draw upon is other other areas and bring those into education. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>, I like that you know, I’ve listened to lots of, of great educational podcasts. I mean, I started, I think my first educational podcast was the cults of pedagogy which is a, you know, a wonderful series, but what I’ve really, what I’ve really tried to bring in is some more, some different parts of, of the world and how they relate to education. So you talk about a guy like Simon Sinek you know, and, and his start with why book and, and, you know, he has a podcast. Seth golden, I think has a, a lot to say about leadership that is applicable across disciplines. I mean, a lot of it’s into business and marketing, but you take that and apply some of it to a school setting.

Scott Johnson (13:34):

Those are a couple of the podcasts. I’m sure you’ve heard of revisionist history with Malcolm Gladwell in the way that he, he can look at a seemingly straightforward issue and sort of flip it on its ear and, and you kind of, wow, I never looked at it from that perspective. And those are the kinds of things that I think are important in education. I mean, we’re faced with some fairly unique problems in this day and age. And if you’ve just, you know, that old saying, if you always do what you always done, you’ll always get what you always got, sort of thing. And, and, you know, trying to do things differently, cuz these kids are growing up in a different world in a, in a world that we really haven’t seen before. And I like to, to bring those other discipline in, in just to, to try and get a fresh perspective on some of the issues that we’re facing. And, and I find those people have, have some really quality ideas that can be translated directly to the work we do each day.

Sam Demma (14:36):

I love that if you could travel back in time to your first instance of teaching in a classroom, in a school setting and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Scott, not that you need any advice right now. Not that you wanna change anything about what’s gonna happen in your future, but this is what I think would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just beginning your career in teaching, what advice would you have given to your younger self or another educator listening who might be just starting this work?

Scott Johnson (15:09):

Well, I’ll tell you, I, I, I don’t have to necessarily go back in time because I got that, that the piece of advice that was critical to me. Mm. I got that from another person. And the lady’s name is Dr. Kathy Bruce. And she is I don’t know her exact role at Trent university right now, but she was the Dean of education. And I had the very fortunate opportunity at my old grade eight school to be her final teacher’s college associate teacher before she ended her teaching career and moved on to the world of teacher’s college at university. And I remember Kathy is a bit of a math guru, not a bit. She is a, a definitely a math guru and, and has done lots in the, the world of mathematics. But she had tasked me with teaching a math lesson to her grade seven class.

Scott Johnson (16:03):

And the question I asked her was, okay, where’s the textbook that you use? And she said, we don’t use a textbook. And that to me, that moment, and I’ve used that moment over and over again, over, over the last couple of decades was the, the first, the, the seed that was planted that said the education for these students does not have to look the same as your education. And I think that is the piece of advice. We, most people that go into teaching go into it because they love school and they had a, a great positive experience at school. And so oftentimes we will default to the experience that we had at school and that moment, which terrified me and sent waves of anxiety through my body saying, how am I ever going to teach math to grade sevens without a textbook? Because that’s what I was used to.

Scott Johnson (17:00):

And that’s what I was comfortable with. That is the piece of advice that I needed to say. We can do things differently. And I remember, you know, I use that again, when, when will Richardson I don’t know if you know, will Richardson, but he wrote a book in the mid two thousands called Wiki’s blogs and podcasts. You know, you, you, you mentioned the microphone. And I was, I was presented that by a teacher here at the school and I immediately was like, I’m gonna do a podcast. And I, I look back to that, you know, with my students and we’re gonna start a podcast and we’re going to do those things. And we’re talking, this is back in, you know, 2008, 2009. But it was that moment with Kathy Bruce that said do things differently. It’s okay to do things differently.

Scott Johnson (17:52):

So not only did she challenge me, but it was almost like she gave me permission. It was like, oh, okay. We can bring some of these innovative ideas, you know, into the classroom. And so, you know, I don’t know, going back to my former self, listen to your elders, listen to those people who have experience. I mean, you know, they’re the people who are doing it. And there’s lots of great stuff out there. And, and I, you know, I think of if I was a new teacher starting in 2022, you know, between Twitter accounts and podcasts and you know, other social media groups and websites, there’s tons of great resources to draw on. It’s just trying to find your niche in finding those people that that can help you. And, and I was fortunate to have a couple of those people really early on in my career.

Sam Demma (18:36):

One of the things that I believe is attractive about education is impact on young minds, shaping future change makers and seeing a student progress from potentially struggling to success or some form of clarity where they have this aha moment and a breakthrough because of years of help and support from caring adults in their lives. Could you think of a moment in one of your schools that you’ve worked in, or maybe even when you were teaching where you saw a student go from serious struggle to some clarity and some success that really brought a smile to your face, and if it’s a serious story you can change their name just for the sake of privacy. And the reason I ask you to share is because I think it will remind other educators listening, why this work is so important and inspire those who haven’t got into this work yet to seriously consider it as a pot, a potential career path in the future.

Scott Johnson (19:33):

Yeah, well, I can, I can, I can share an example of one that just happened recently. And as I, I think I started off saying that my dream was to, to be a, a PhysEd teacher and, and, you know, I, I didn’t really elaborate, but I, I, I never really made it as a PhysEd teacher because I think that first experience in the, in the correctional facility led me down a path towards special education which turned into student success, where you’re often dealing with students who have stories and those stories are often, you know, incredibly challenging. They have led incredibly difficult lives and, and have overcome so much just to even be with you in front of you know, in the classroom with you each day. And so I can think of a student and I won’t mention their name, but very difficult life history.

Scott Johnson (20:36):

Very challenging. I met this student back in, I believe their grade nine year obviously had difficulties in school, but again, having that ability to recognize the story there is more to this than what you are seeing each day, and just working with that student day by day getting to know them, working with some community agencies, just reaching out and trying to be that person. And it wasn’t certainly just me. There was a whole team of people that, that got to impact this student over the course of their high school career. And I, I ended up switching schools and, and we ended up reconnecting at, at the, the new school. And again, just continuing to be patient and working with that person. And I, I actually got news just a little while ago that they had graduated high school and were starting college in January.

Scott Johnson (21:40):

And, you know, if you, that, would’ve been a tough picture to imagine way back when we met in grade nine. And I think that’s the power of education. It’s the power of you know, in, in, in my context high school is we, we get four years to work with someone and we can do a lot in those four years. It doesn’t have to all be accomplished right away. But if you look at the, the growth that all students experience, you know, coming in at grade nine at 13, 14 years old and, and leaving high school at, at 1718 we, we have the opportunity to make a significant impact and, and in a lot of cases you know, I, I think we’re able to really help students get on the trajectory that they want to get on. And, and hopefully we, we do our best to, to bring the best out of them. And again, that’s, that’s kind of why we’re here and if you’re interested in helping people out with that, then education is definitely a career that will, you’ll find very fulfilling.

Sam Demma (22:46):

If someone is listening to this inspired, wants to reach out, ask you a question, or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Scott Johnson (22:58):

Just send me an email. I’m on Twitter @ScottJohnsonP, not as active as I once was as, as other things have, have caught up and we’ll see where things go with Twitter, given the, the recent, the news of recently, but yeah. You, you know, my email address is, is checkout Bowmanville high school. My email address is, is there along with my picture and I’d be happy to chat. You know, one of the things that got me involved in education was some chats with some people who were in the business. At the time I was fortunate to go to the University of Toronto and be close to OISE and, and know lots of people that were in education so if anyone’s interested, I’d be, be, I’d be happy to chat. It’s a, it’s a great career. It’s got its ups and downs as all careers do, but at the end of the day, I’m, I, I, couldn’t be more happy with the decision that I made way back when

Sam Demma (23:55):

Scott, it’s a pleasure to bring you on the show here today, to talk about the journey, some of the ups and downs, some of the learnings and philosophies you hold about teaching. I cannot wait to see where the next five years of your career take you and, and what you’ll be working on and doing. Keep up the great work and don’t ever hesitate to reach out again in the future and thanks again for coming on, coming on the show.

Scott Johnson (24:19):

No problem Sam. Thanks for having me and thanks for doing what you’re doing. It’s, it’s a pleasure listening to your show and, and I appreciate the opportunity.

Sam Demma (24:27):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Scott Johnson

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.

Jennifer Meeker – Principal of Special Education K-12 at the Upper Grand District School Board

Jennifer Meeker – Principal of Special Education K-12 at the Upper Grand District School Board
About Jennifer Meeker

Jennifer Meeker (@jennmeeker), is the Principal of Special Education K-12 at the Upper Grand District School Board. Starting as an elementary teacher turned secondary Administrator she has embraced the power of Ross Greene’s mantra, “Kids do well if they can”. She believes it is the adults job to figure out the barriers and to work alongside the student to dismantle those barriers. She has been an Administrator for 13 years and has learned a lot from the youth and families she has served.

In her new role as a system Principal she is supporting students with special education needs from a system perspective. She tries to understand the many reasons why students might be challenging. She works with specialized teams within the UGDSB to make sure that supports are in place so that schools can help students reach their true potential. In the role of highschool Principal she supported having all voices at the table when decisions were being made or programming considered for a student(s). She would tell you that her best learning came from the challenging students who became her teachers.

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Upper Grand District School Board

Who is Ross Greene?

Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman

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.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the show is Jennifer Meeker. Jennifer is the Principal of special education, K through 12 at the Upper Grand District School board. Starting as an elementary teacher, turned secondary administrator, she has embraced the power of Ross Greene’s mantra. Kids do well if they can. She believes it is the adults’ job to figure out the barriers and to work alongside the student to dismantle those barriers. She has been an administrator for 13 years and has learned a lot from the youth and families she has served. In her new role as a system principal, she is supporting students with special education needs from a system perspective. She tries to understand the many reasons why students might be challenging. She works with specialized teams within the Upper Grand District School Board to make sure that supports are in place so that schools can help students reach their true potential. In the role of high school Principal, she supported having all voices at the table when decisions were being made on programming considered for students. She would tell you that her best learning came from the challenging students who became her teachers. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Jenn, and I will see you on the other side, Jen, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Jennifer Meeker (02:20):

Great. Thanks Sam. I really appreciate being here. My name is Jen Meeker. I’m the Principal of special education, K to 12 for the Upper Grand District School board.

Sam Demma (02:28):

If you traveled back in time to when you were just a student yourself, at what moment, if you can recall, do you remember making the decision and knowing that you were gonna pursue education in your future

Jennifer Meeker (02:43):

Education as teaching, as in, yeah, my teacher two years, three years out of university.

Sam Demma (02:52):

Mm. So what was your path?

Jennifer Meeker (02:54):

<Laugh>? my path was actually polys, sci and economics. Okay. Wanting to be in I don’t know, in training, definitely doing training of some sort. I was always coaching. I was always involved in, in athletics and working with people and I really enjoyed that part. But I always enjoyed the coaching aspect of everything that I ever did. So all through my life, whether it was riding, skiing, rowing, whatever, it was always something, there was always a coaching element to it.

Jennifer Meeker (03:28):

Hmm. I think that’s where it took me, but definitely it was someone that I worked with. I wasn’t in education, but I was working alongside educa education in a nonprofit role. And the person that I worked with was in education. And at one, one day she just said, when are you gonna become a teacher? And I was like, really thrown back and you talking about, she goes, you need to be a teacher. And so it was a time of my life where there was probably some need to be changed, things needed to change. And I was like, Hmm. So I applied to one school U of T at the time to OISE and thought if it was meant to be, it’ll be. And I guess it was <laugh> so, and I went and haven’t looked back. I’ve left once. I should say I have left teaching once.

Sam Demma (04:16):

Okay. Well talk about that in just a second. Tell me a little bit more about this nonprofit. So you graduate and start working in the nonprofit sector.

Jennifer Meeker (04:24):

Yes. well, no, I, I <laugh>. I started with an airline first. I worked for Alaska airlines. Nice. then I was working for an entertainment insurance broker. Okay. And circumstances ended up that I didn’t have a job and I ended up on unemployment actually at one point. And I should never have received unemployment, but when they called my boss, who, the company that I had left for good reasons she, the woman from unemployment called me and said, oh my God, we’re starting your unemployment today. You could never, I would never wanna work for that, man.

Sam Demma (04:59):

Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (04:59):

So it was it was actually a great opportunity for me. And then she gave me some, there was a couple programs where you worked for a nonprofit who received funds to be able to employ you on a sort of a contract basis. And this one just happened to be, it was the career education council at a Guelph and the person in charge that hired me was awesome. She was a great, a great mentor in the beginning in terms of developing the program. And it was a real, it was a, a, something that was very much in its infancy at the time. So I developed partnerships between businesses and schools to offer opportunities of, you know, realistic experiences for students around what was, what careers could be in the future. What was going on? You gotta take this back.

Jennifer Meeker (05:47):

This was 19 90, 2 93 91, something like that. And so things were very different then. But we, we had these great partnerships between, I, I remember Linemar was partnered with, I believe it was gateway, like drive public school in Guelph. And some of the things that they did was just, was just incredible. We had, I developed a teacher internship program where teachers went out into businesses in the summer and learned skills to see what pathways career pathways were out there. And I remember a tech teacher who wanted to go in and see what it would be like to be a first year apprentice. So we set that up. And within, I think it was day three, maybe he called and said, this is garbage. I know I don’t wanna do this anymore. You know, all they’ve got me doing is sweeping floors. And so we sat down and met with the, the plant manager and talked about it. And he said, you wanted to see what a, an apprentice might start at. Mm. And this might be something until I know who you are and your responsibilities, ability to do skills and things like that. Then I have to make that decision as to when you’re ready. And so once the teacher had learned that it was like, okay, I’m gonna ride this out. And he did. So I gave him full credit.

Sam Demma (07:00):

Wow. You’ve had such a diverse experience. What, what drew you towards entertainment when you were working in that position as well?

Jennifer Meeker (07:11):

Sadly, that was just a job. <Laugh> it was an opportunity. I needed to pay bills and I, I took it not an interest at all. I don’t think at the time because it was inter insurance, it was a lot of paper, paper pushing a lot of reading of contracts and things like that. Not, not what I wanted to do for sure. Not, not really working with people. And that’s always been my I would say that’s always where I’ve been drawn to is working with people working on teams.

Sam Demma (07:41):

Hmm. You mentioned that there was one occasion where you did step away from education before obviously returning, cuz you’re here again now. <Laugh> yeah. Bring me back to that moment. What, what was going on in your life during that period of time and what prompted you to step away?

Jennifer Meeker (07:58):

So it was probably the birth of my second son. And you know, I took the maternity leave, which had just become the year long maternity leave. Nice. And my husband is self-employed so we were, you know, the company was doing well and we as a family, it was a good decision. I, I still, I shouldn’t say that I totally took leave because I left education, but probably month eight of my maturity leave. I started working for a friend nice some basically being a, was an accounts manager for a company. And I was enjoying that because again, it was that working with people and got me out, but it was part-time and I could, you know, make, sort of make my own hours, which was great for my family. And then we had some life circumstances that, that said, you know what?

Jennifer Meeker (08:51):

You need a job that’s stable because you never know what’s gonna come down down the pipe. And, and I had never left touch with teaching for sure. I was still coaching different things. So I was always still doing that role and said, you know, it was time to go back. So I took a three year hiatus but I went back and went into a role. I had been teaching mostly grade 8, 7, 8 for the most part and really, really enjoyed that age level and really got along with with those students. And then when I went back, cause I’ve been gone so long, new principal, new school, well school wasn’t new, but a lot of staff had changed. Yep. And no one thought I was coming back. So they shoved me in a portable teaching grade, two, three split. And I took all the kids and nobody else wanted to teach, I guess, because my class list was quite quite an interesting group. But you know what, probably one of my best years of teaching, mm. I went back in going home, you know, oh my God, <laugh> what do I do? And partnered up with my ESL teacher at the time. And he and I had a great year. And in fact the following year we took that group forward and taught them again and took in another group as well. So we actually, he and I became team teachers. It was a something the principal decided she let us try. And it worked really, really well and definitely a highlight of my career for sure.

Sam Demma (10:18):

Tell me more about that. You said it was one of your best years in teaching from your perspective. Why is that?

Jennifer Meeker (10:26):

I think because it wasn’t easy. I think that I, I had to struggle. I had to figure it out. I felt that those students probably taught me more than I taught them in that year, for sure. Just about being, you know, I hadn’t taught that age group. I hadn’t taught students how to read before I hadn’t worked with ESL students before. And I had parent volunteers coming into my classroom, which didn’t happen in grade seven and eight <laugh>. I had an amazing apparent volunteer who came into my classroom and she was just amazing with the kids. And it just, I don’t know, I think, and I was out in a portable, so I was kind of out on my own. But I was, I was left be to, it was the, I think it was the only two, three split as well. So I was sort of on my own for everything. And that really just really have to struggle. And I, I spent a lot of hours doing that, but I actually would tell you that I grew a lot as a, as a teacher. I grew a lot as a human, but I definitely grew a lot as a teacher, too.

Sam Demma (11:31):

Most people would say it was their best experience because it was fun, enjoyable, and easy. And you’re telling me it was your best year because you struggled. Where does that mindset of yours come from? That struggle is something that, you know, leads to growth. And although difficult is a necessary step in the process of life. Is that from sports or like, like where do you think that comes from?

Jennifer Meeker (11:55):

Yeah, I think that’s, I, I think it’s from sports. I also think it’s how I was, you know, how my parents raised me too and everything. I mean, I never wanted for anything necessarily. I, I definitely lived a white privilege life. There’s no question about that. And I acknowledged that, but I also know that my parents didn’t hand me things. And I started working, you know I grew up in the country, so I started working very early on. We had a farm. I worked for a couple of big horse farms and so I was always pushed to work. So I, I have a, I think I have a strong work ethic. I, when I look back and it’s just, I’m just, that’s just daunting to on me, as you asked the question, when I look back over my life so far, all of my experiences that have been the best experience in my life have been because of challenge.

Jennifer Meeker (12:44):

Mm. So maybe I seek that out. I don’t know. You know, these sports that I chose to be involved in are not typical sports that everybody gets involved in. They’re, they’re tough. They’re, you know there’s always a challenge there and always an element of danger, well, not danger, but Del element of pushing yourself beyond your, your limits for sure. I would say that this, my jobs as I’ve chosen, you know, I never wanted to be a teacher thought got in, did it, whatever it was a challenge. Definitely. It challenged me for sure in the beginning. And then when I became a principal or when I became a vice principal, first of all, I mean, I had no intentions of going that route either. And it was someone who tapped me on the shoulder and said, it’s time you need to do this.

Jennifer Meeker (13:32):

And so I did it and you know, those are, those are life experiences where you’re not sure what it’s gonna be like on the other side. Exactly. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you’re comfortable where you are and comfort is a nice place sometimes. And then someone taps you on that shoulder and says, you should, you need to do this and including this most recent job. So I’m, I’m close to my retirement time. And I’ve taken on a whole new role, which again, first three weeks, first month and a half of the job, I was like, why did I do this? <Laugh> you know, I had to, but I love it. I love my job now. Yeah. And you know, I learning every day, I think learning for me is always, my, my husband would tell you I could be a professional student. I’m always wanting to learn more. So

Sam Demma (14:20):

Let’s talk about your current role right now. What are you doing day to day? What were those first two months like, and what do you love so much about it now?

Jennifer Meeker (14:31):

Again, I think it’s challenge for sure. There’s there’s new challenges every day is something new coming at me. Yeah. Because of the job. So I work with as the principal of special education, I work with teams, multidisciplinary teams across our board to support students in need. So whether it be students who are in a life skills program to students who are in a regular class placement, but have large learning challenges ahead of them. I work with families. I work with an amazing team of special education consultants including we call them team. Awesome. And I work with mental health with our psychologists and that department and our speech and language department. So we work as a team again. So I’m, I’m always attracted to teamwork for sure. And we try to, to support schools in providing the supports that students need in their building.

Jennifer Meeker (15:30):

So it’s a lot of it’s a lot of meetings. That’s, that’s one of the downfalls for me. I’d rather be on the, on the ground, but it is a lot of meetings, but I do get to work with some amazing people. And I, I don’t necessarily always see the successes at the end, but I hear about them. And I hear from the schools when you know, when the student is really, really struggling and we have some really high need struggling students and families. And I hear that, you know, something was got a little bit better. That’s, that’s just makes my day,

Sam Demma (16:07):

Let’s bring your brain back to one of those moments. When you think about certain emails like that of school or calls of schools reaching out and telling you, Jen, we had this student that was really struggling and we had this little win today. Are there any of those examples that come to mind that you’d like to share? I think stories of, of growth in young people is one of the main reasons why adults work in education. It’s like we wanna, you know, provide a positive impact on the lives of a young person. So if someone’s burnt out right now, it’s stories like that, that I think will really reunite their fire if teaching is what they should be doing.

Jennifer Meeker (16:46):

Yeah. And not in this, I mean, I have had current role too, but I’ll take back to when I was a vice principal I had a student who wasn’t on the radar at all completely not on the radar in in terms of the office was a, you know, a, B plus student never missed a day of classes, never missed a class, was easy to get along with you know, like not a, not an issue at all. That student had some struggles in her own life. And the student checked herself into care, basically put, he put her herself to the family children’s services who then placed her in foster care. And that was a sadness story. And I met with her and her worker and we talked about you know, her strengths and her needs.

Jennifer Meeker (17:40):

And, you know, we got to know her. She happened to have a love of courses as do I. So the two of us bonded in that moment. And and then I sort of became that her person for a while. And she struggled and it, what really, what she taught me was that even when we give students everything or when we give people everything that they, we think they need or we think is going to make their life better, it doesn’t always work that way. Mm. So I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden she became a behavior issue in class. She wasn’t attending school on, you know, regularly. She wasn’t getting the work done. And she was in on the radar of the office all the time. And I said to her, her worker, one day, I said, I don’t understand she has safety. She has a roof over her head. She has food on the table. She doesn’t have to worry about those things anymore. So while all of a sudden is she not succeeding. And she said, because now she’s being a teenager.

Sam Demma (18:45):

Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (18:46):

And she has the ability to do that. And that really, that really shot a light for me on on taking each case differently that each student that I, that I met and that I dealt with and understanding what their real needs are before I assume what their real needs are, I guess. So we then backtracked and then she had a job later on, this is, so this is a couple of years later, she had a job first job, you know, and the, I happened to know the employer and she wasn’t showing up for work regularly. And they were about to fire her. And I said to the employer, you can’t, here’s why you can’t because she needs you, you can’t because she doesn’t have someone there who is saying, you know, what, if you don’t show up to work today, you might get fired.

Jennifer Meeker (19:43):

Cuz she’s on her own. She’s making these decisions for herself. There’s nobody telling her that on a regular basis that really, really cares about her. And I said, so you need to be that person. So they didn’t fire her. And eventually she left on her own. But in a good way. And yeah, so, and she, and I had many, many conversations about that, but she’s remained in contact. I’ve lost track of her in the last year or so, but she had remained in contact up till then has a family of her own and ah, yeah. And, you know, and is in a good place from what I, from what I know. So yeah.

Sam Demma (20:20):

That’s awesome. I, I think it’s

Jennifer Meeker (20:22):

On this shoulder all the time, just telling me

Sam Demma (20:24):

<Laugh> yeah. What I need to do. It’s just a really cool reminder to realize you can have such a massive impact working in education, whether you’re on the front line or not like every single person plays a significant role in making sure a student feels safe and has an opportunity to learn and grow. How do, do you think we ask students what their needs are? Is it as simple as asking them, like how did you uncover her needs when you realized that what you wanted for her, maybe wasn’t what she thought she needed.

Jennifer Meeker (21:01):

That’s a good, that’s a good question. I mean, I think that I’ve always Ross green who wrote a book called kids do well, if they can is probably one of my biggest mentors in terms of thinking about students. And so I always look at, and, and this is one of the things she taught me, you know, she could do well when she could. And when there was a barrier that she couldn’t get through, that’s when things fell apart. And so as the adult, I needed to, to be able to be alongside her in that journey. And when she came up against a barrier that she couldn’t remove, I need to figure out how to help remove that if I could so that we could learn from it and then move forward until she hit the next barrier. And I think, I mean, I think that’s how we, we all do life. We just don’t realize it. But when we’re watching, as adults, as parents, we, you know, we look at our children and we try to remove all of those barriers for them. We never wanna see our children hit barriers, right. Because that’s, that, that means that they would experience hurt and they would experience failure or whatever. But in my life, failure has taught me probably more than success.

Sam Demma (22:11):

Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (22:12):

And again, I go back to those challenges. Right. I think I have to fail before I, before I succeed often.

Sam Demma (22:20):

Yeah. And you could even just swap the word failure with learn because every, you know, failure is just feedback from whatever event you were trying to accomplish or, you know, achieve. Yeah. So I think that’s a really great perspective. You mentioned this book. Are there any other books or resources that you found really helpful that have informed the way that you teach your professional development? It could even be courses or people I’m just curious to know. Yeah. Some of the things that kind of shaped your belief system.

Jennifer Meeker (22:53):

Well, definitely the work that I did with Ross green and I’m still following has been really important for me to take a look at, especially in special education, because we, we label students with a, with a disability, a learning disability or an intellectual disability and sometimes people get stuck on those labels. And he and another Dr. Mel Levine, who’s no longer around. They didn’t, they don’t look at students that way. They look at students from a whole, the whole student perspective. They get to know the student. And one of the, the questions I always say when there’s challenge, when a student, when I was a principal and a student was having difficulty and they’d come into my office rather than I may know a whole bunch already, but rather than assuming that I know what’s going on and what the issue is, I would ask I hear you having some difficulty what’s up with that. Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (23:54):

And they might not go right to it immediately, but we would dance around that for a long time if we had to. But I would just keep coming back and say, tell me more about that. What’s up with that. You know, and I’m not gonna say that I was, I’m always perfect in the moment because sometimes you get caught emotion. We gotta, yeah, we got the motion or we gotta get this done. Or, you know, I’ve got four other people waiting outside there to talk to me, whatever. But I try to stay present in that moment with whomever. It is that I’m, that I’m working with, whether it’s a staff member, another colleague, or with a student or a family or with my own family to say, what’s up, what’s up with that? How can I help? And they may not want my help. So just, you know, sort of getting the idea of that. So that came a lot from, from raw screen, I would say. I’ve done a lot of work with oh, I’m having a, a brain pause here.

Sam Demma (24:57):

I like that you used the word pause. <Laugh> strategic. I like it. <Laugh>

Jennifer Meeker (25:03):

You can give another one, but <laugh> yeah, I guess I’ll leave it at Ross because he is the, so, oh, the other, I guess the other book that I’ve been reading most recently is grading for equity. And it’s a resource that has really had me look, I, I never, I was always the teacher that thought that report cards were, were ridiculous that we should be having conversations cuz I’m more of a talker probably than a writer. Mm. And to have conversations with people about where they are with my students, I used to do that, to talk with them about know where you’re at, here’s where we need to go next. What do you think? What do you, how are you how are you gonna achieve this? How, how am I gonna help you achieve this? And when I look at the book grading for equity, you know, marks are often subjective. I can’t tell you that we all grade the same. So when I look at that and I look at you know, people coming from diverse backgrounds and who cultural upbringings, that, that don’t value, the same things that I might it’s, it’s a problem. So I’m just, I’m partway through that book and I’m really learning a lot again about, and I think about <laugh>, oh boy, 20 years ago, I wish I could go back and teach differently and great differently. And but you know,

Sam Demma (26:30):

Everything happens for a reason, you know, and at the time it’s supposed to happen. But speaking about traveling back in time, if you could take like the wisdom and experience that you have now, you know, close to the end of your career and go back in time and tap young, you know, younger Jen, you’re still very young, but younger Jen on the shoulder. <Laugh> and you know, you say, Jen, this is what you needed to hear when you were just getting started. Not that you would share any advice to change your path or the way you’ve taught, but what advice would you have given yourself that you thought would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation?

Jennifer Meeker (27:07):

So it’s interesting that say that because I just I had a teacher that I hired at the beginning of the pandemic and she’s just starting her career. Got to know her, got to be in her class and see what she was doing. And I was so impressed with how her maturity for the beginning of her career come from. And I think that a lot of our new graduates are coming out with a different outlook than I had when I graduated. Right. and so I find, I found that she seemed to be so much further ahead than I was in my first year, my career. And so I actually gave her the two books that I just talked to you about and said, if I knew this, when I started my career, I think my career would’ve been different in many ways.

Jennifer Meeker (27:55):

I think I would’ve been a more effective teacher. I think I would’ve been a more effective administrator along the way. So if this helps you, if you can connect with it in any way, you know, this is what I leave you with. And so she’s, I’ve given her both those books and we’ll we’ll chat cuz I’m not going away and she goes and you know, she could, I think she’s got a great career ahead of her. So I think that’s what I would, I, and, and people did. I, I shouldn’t say that people didn’t do that cause I definitely, I mean the whole reason I’m in teaching is because of one, one woman who Deb McGaha, I’ll never forget her who did tap me on the shoulder and who did give me that sort of advice here and there.

Jennifer Meeker (28:38):

And there were other people along the way that that did in moments, you know? But that would be someone who definitely got me into the area of teaching. And then it’s the people that I work with now that, you know, keep me asking those questions and keep me you know, looking for, for differences, for different ways to support family, different ways to converse with kids, different ways to make things, programs better for students who struggle. And I think I, I, I look to those people all the time, cause I certainly don’t have all the answers.

Sam Demma (29:12):

It sounds like a through line of your advice would be building strong relationships with others, right? Like reading books written by other people, like learning from others. You know, you mentioned how much you look forward to working on teams a few times throughout this interview, and then again, referencing the people around you and how they question you and challenge you. So it sounds like, you know, making sure you’re not working in a silo is something that’s really important in education.

Jennifer Meeker (29:40):

Absolutely. We learn so much from each other. And why would you, why would you reinvent the wheel when you can take the wheel and just make it smoother?

Sam Demma (29:49):

Mm smart. I like it. Jen. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. If someone’s listening right now, inspired by it, wants to bounce some ideas around or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Jennifer Meeker (30:02):

They can reach out to me via email at jennifer.meeker@ugdsb.on.ca.

Sam Demma (30:08):

Awesome. Jenn, thank you so much. This was phenomenal. I appreciate you making the time, enjoy the rest of the year and we’ll talk soon.

Jennifer Meeker (30:15):

Thanks Sam. Take care. Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (30:19):

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

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The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.