fbpx

experiential learning

Laura Briscoe – Learning Coordinator of Innovation at the Thames Valley District School Board

Laura Briscoe - Learning Coordinator of Innovation at the Thames Valley District School Board
About Laura Briscoe

Innovation, experiential learning, and global citizenship are at the heart of Laura Briscoe’s teaching philosophy. Laura is a forward-thinking educator who collaborates with teachers and community to build learning environments that exude energy, ignite critical thinking, and embrace risk taking to create spaces that are inclusive, relevant, and innovative. Laura is currently the Coordinator of Innovation for Thames Valley District School Board.

Previously, Laura was a Global Competencies Facilitator for the board, and Visual Arts Department Head of Oakridge Secondary School in London, Ontario.  Laura has been recognized as a leader in education locally, provincially, and nationally. In 2015 Briscoe was awarded the Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award, 2016 the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Government Award, the national Classroom of the Future Spirit Award, 2014 the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award by the Ontario Business Educators’ Association, and 2016 Bishop Townshend Thames Valley Award. 

Laura Briscoe stimulates imagination and empowers people to make relevant connections through building relationships, interdisciplinary approaches, and community partnerships.

Connect with Laura: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Thames Valley District School Board

Oakridge Secondary School

Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award

Ontario Business Educators’ Association

XR Studios

Art of Math Education by Laura Briscoe and Jeni Van Kesteren

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Laura Briscoe. Innovation, experiential learning, and global citizenship are at the heart of Laura Briscoe’s teaching philosophy. Laura is a forward thinking educator who collaborates with teachers and community to build learning environments that exude energy, ignite critical thinking, and embrace risk taking to create spaces that are inclusive, relevant, and innovative. Laura is currently the coordinator of innovation for Thanes Valley District School Board. Previously, Laura was a global competencies facilitator for the board and visual arts department head for Oak Ridge secondary school in London, Ontario. Laura has been recognized as a leader in education locally, provincially, and nationally. In 2015 Briscoe was awarded the Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award, 2016 the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Government Award, the national Classroom of the Future Spirit Award, 2014 the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award by the Ontario Business Educators’ Association, and 2016 Bishop Townshend Thames Valley Award. Laura Briscoe stimulates imagination and empowers people to make relevant connections through building relationships, interdisciplinary approaches, and community partnerships. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Laura, and I will see you on the other side. Laura, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Laura Briscoe (02:25):
Thank you for having me. I’m really excited for this conversation. Yes, so I’m Laura Briscoe. I’m currently working in Thames Valley District School Board as a innovation coordinator; Kindergarten-Grade 12. So it’s a big loaded title to me what innovation is, but yes, that is kind of who I am and the role I’m currently in.


Sam Demma (02:45):
What the heck is innovation?


Laura Briscoe (02:49):
So I’m, I’m starting to feel like it’s an incubator, cause I’m, I’m finding lots of connections with all different portfolios for innovation, but specifically interdisciplinary connections. So all subjects, all grades partnerships with community to encourage student engagement and, and make learning relevant and with big connections as the world that we’re living in to technology. And so there’s lots of those aspects of how we can support personalized learning with technology and experiences. So that’s kind of a description of, of what it is, but it changes to me every day, depending on the initiative I’m working with,


Sam Demma (03:25):
growing up in school were always asked, what do you wanna be when you grow up? Did, would you write down innovation coordinator or like when did you realize that working in education was for you and how did you also from that point forward end up in this role?


Laura Briscoe (03:43):
So my, my answer to the innovation question was, no, I wouldn’t know that I feel like we’re always creating in these roles opportunities for students to be prepared parent for jobs that don’t exist yet. And I, I don’t know if this job existed when I was in school. But I did know that I love, I love change and I love ex experimentation and new ideas. So I could see myself going in that direction. But when I was younger my mom was a teacher. And so I, I appreciated how she really connected with interest students. I like, I, I looked up to her as a role model. But for my own personal experience as a teacher, I was in high school and I was teaching gymnastics and I had a student who was deaf and, and trying to find ways to create an equitable approach in, in the gymnastics experience was so rewarding with where that relationship went.


Laura Briscoe (04:38):
And it, it really touched my heart and inspired me to wanna go into education. But then as many youth will say, you never really know what you wanna do when you grow up. I feel like that that’s a question that’s always changing because when I went to university, I did not go in for education. I was interested in experiential marketing and, and that had to do with creating memorable experiences. And, and that kind of led me into, if we can do this for marketing, what does this look like for school? And so it kind of, I went through this roller coaster of pathways before I got here, but I I’m so excited to be in the role that I am.


Sam Demma (05:17):
What does a, what does a project in experiential marketing look like? that sounds so cool.


Laura Briscoe (05:23):
Well, well, you know, when we think of our traditional, like marketing old I don’t wanna traditional marketing would be like a commercial or an ad, and it’s kind of like a sit and get experience where as, when you look at experiential you’re, you’re, you’re involved and you’re an active participant in engaging with something. And, and that experience triggers something that becomes memorable, that you associate it with maybe a product mm-hmm . And so if we look at something like that for education instead of our students sitting in classes and, and just being like offloaded information from their teacher is how do we get them to learn and, and retain that information because of the experience they associate with it. So that that’s kind of what, what it would be for marketing or in this role for education.


Sam Demma (06:13):
Is innovation coordinator your first role in education or


Laura Briscoe (06:18):
No. Okay. What did the


Sam Demma (06:19):
Journey


Laura Briscoe (06:19):
Look like? Oh my gosh, my journey, I was some teachers might call it a backpack teacher because when you, when I first started jobs were not necessarily readily available, so I was willing to teach anything. I’ve taught in seven different subject areas running from one class to the next and then moved into visual arts department head specifically with connections again, to technology and business as well. And then from that, I was a global competency facilitator. So I was teaching part-time and then going to different schools, supporting educators on how do we integrate the core global competencies? So these are like the skills we want kids to have in the real world beyond just curriculum specifics like critical thinking and problem solving and, and global awareness and creativity, all of those other skills. So I had that role prior to innovation as well.


Laura Briscoe (07:18):
And then the last piece that I just add to that my classroom teaching experience was in high school. So grade nine through 12 in art, as I mentioned, but I was noticing a lot of students with anxiety and struggling in math. And so the, I got to be part of this pilot project where we partnered art and math together. So, so team teaching and students were getting math credits and art to be responsive to that the need for us to kind of de silo and make connections to the real world and different subjects. So that kind of a as, from that own experience, it’s like, how can, we’re doing this at one school and how can we do this bigger and how can we connect more educators? And so this was kind of a system initiative and I’m very passionate about supporting that and the educators who are involved in, in that type of thinking,


Sam Demma (08:11):
When you talk about system level programs or board wide programs, I’m sure how many years have, well help. Let me ask, how many years have you worked in the innovation role?


Laura Briscoe (08:21):
So this is my third year in the innovation role. But it’s been very different because I transitioned into it during COVID in full remote. I had previously just been on Matt leave when the role first started. And then it’s been interesting to, to look at how we create these experiences and collaborative opportunities when many of us are in full remote situations and, and going back between school and it’s been, I know we hear all of the, the challenges and hardships that so many educators have overcome. It was, it’s been really exciting to be in this portfolio during that time for change in ways that we could bring in industry and community experts at the push of a button and everyone has access. So it, it was interesting to be in this role at the timing that I have been in opening, even more opportunities.


Sam Demma (09:16):
What are some of those opportunities? what are some of those programs that you are passionate about that you’ve worked on over the past three years?


Laura Briscoe (09:23):
So I can give you they’re, they’re very, there’s there there’s a lot of different ranges of experiences. One that I’m super pumped about where it’s going right now is aviation school. So students throughout our board can go for a semester and we have an air hanger where they’re getting five credits instead of four, the teachers are team teaching. So interdisciplinary learning, supported by our industry leaders in aviation. And so the, the subject areas have a focus on aviation and it’s out near the airport. So that’s one example of kind of like rethinking how we have a, how we’re doing education. So it’s like a bundled program with industry. And then there’s the ones where the students can’t just leave their homeschool and go to these types of experiences. So, most recently we’ve brought about 22 classes together in a virtual conversation with a panel of community partners.


Laura Briscoe (10:19):
And we talked about how can we form human connections and how do students wanna see themselves represented in the community directly sharing this? And, and we had grades seven to 12 from all different subjects, because what it looks like in construction class versus what it looks like in English or drama might be different. But the idea is that this community project is like the vehicle for connecting everyone together with different entry points. So my job would be to kind of connect with community, facilitate those conversations, and then the edge educators take it with whatever entry points that they each have. So that’s a, like two different examples. One we’re going to an actual changed environment. And the other is where we’re bringing people together towards a common goal. And often it’s a community impact project that I’m doing that with.


Sam Demma (11:14):
Very cool. The team. Yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. That program sounds amazing. Aviation one. when you think about the programs you’ve run, I know you mentioned the first two years, it looked a little different because things were, you know, COVID and pandemic times what did you try and pull together, or what was the focus during the first two years when leaving the classroom or even doing things together in public? Was it, was it challenge?


Laura Briscoe (11:42):
So the one that I just ex shared was an ex a recent example. But it was similar to what we were doing in full remote, because we could bring everybody together. We had classes that were talking about, you know, what is community when we’re all isolated. And we were working with professional artists, for example, and students wanted to have a more inclusive representation of themselves in, in a smaller town. And they weren’t seeing that diversity represented. So we talked about with several different classes, what a mural could look like, and because we couldn’t get together in person, the artists could go and create that mural. But the students from different subject areas were able to contribute and research and give ideas about what that could be. So there’s an example of, we can physically see it in action, but at that time, because we were virtual, we were able to do like digital collaborative boards and planning all online.


Laura Briscoe (12:42):
And then we had a community person that could bring it to life. And so that’s one example. We, we have some exciting events coming up may where schools that we’re doing things virtually were finally starting to open things up, which is amazing. So some stuff with augmented reality where the kids were working with industry virtually again, but now all of the city of London will be able to go to the coven garden market and see what these kids had created with, with our XR studios, industry partner, for example to create the augmented reality experiences. So a lot of it was virtual and we are trying to find ways to make it come to life. And oftentimes that was with community partnerships.


Sam Demma (13:26):
That’s awesome. Very cool. Throughout your journey in education, have you had mentors people who kind of tapped you on the shoulder and said, Hey, Laura, you should explore X or consider looking at this slightly differently. And if so, who are some of those individuals, if they come to mind and what are some of the things you kind of take away from them or learn from them?


Laura Briscoe (13:51):
Yes. So absolutely. I have mentors. I feel like every time you make a new connection, you learn something and take away from it. Like right now, I feel like I’m, I’m just so inspired by what you’re doing. And, and so I, I could speak about so many people because none of this work can happen on your own. Yeah. A first person that comes to mind was my principal, Tracy Langland when I was an art teacher, because she was somebody who was willing to challenge traditional structures in order to allow some exploration opportunities and risk taking to happen. And I feel like sometimes when we hear no, especially in education because of bureaucracy and, and, and just like the, the world that we’re trying to work within and be innovative, can be very challenging. And so when you find people who are willing to take that journey and, and challenge your thinking and help you break down some of the barriers to make it possible that is so that would be what makes me think of when I think of Tracy.


Laura Briscoe (15:04):
And also when I’m thinking of students students are often the ones that are bringing new ideas of what they’d like to see happen. And then all the educators who are wanting to be responsive to those ideas, that’s kind of who I try to align myself with, because I, I feel like when you work together on some of those the students bring the heart and the motivation to make something happen. And, and then the educators who are working with them can make it possible. So, yeah, I have, I have a lot of people I could list. I don’t know how much time we have or how specific you want me to get with name, name dropping, but one more person I’m gonna have to mention sure. Is cause I mentioned team teaching art of math, and that was as an educator when you’re used to kind of running your classroom and you know, how you, how you work basically to team teach was a very eye opening experience for me, especially as an art person teaching with math. And so when I started team teaching with Jenny van Kerin we didn’t really even know each other that well. And I feel like she’s become such a mentor and almost best friend to me for, through the journeys that we’ve taken and our abilities to challenge each other and learn from each other through that whole experience. So that’s another person. Yeah.


Sam Demma (16:31):
That’s amazing. You, you mentioned art a few times. You mentioned that you love change. No one can see this, but there’s like a picture of the globe behind you. are you someone that travels a lot or do you have an itch for travel?


Laura Briscoe (16:45):
I do have an itch for travel and, and you know, when I think of travel of education too, I I used to always take students on March break to, to different trips. So I’ve, I’ve done a bunch of those like Italy and Greece and England and and myself like backpacking type of travel and adventure is definitely my personality to immerse myself in different cultures in a different way. So yes, I would say travel is definitely a passion of mine.


Sam Demma (17:15):
The reason I bring it up is because like travel and even art or artistic expressions, whether it’s making music, art, all these things, some part of society still views it as a hobby and like not a, a, a field or a thing you can pursue. And I totally, this disagree strongly , I think there’s so many benefits to art and also travel and like exposing yourself to new perspectives and ideas. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is on the importance of artistic expression and travel when it comes to like educating a human being.


Laura Briscoe (17:54):
Wow. That’s a big question. OK. So I think, you know what, I, I, I, there’s so many, you’re gonna have to, like, if I miss anything in my answer here, you have to re repeat the question for me. But one thing I do know about like travel and experiences and the arts is there’s not one right answer mm-hmm . And when we look at things like we can go to the world economic forum of what do students need to be successful in the future. And we look at those skill and we think about how do you develop those skill? I would go back, okay. We have math that could have one right answer that you’re working toward. Yeah. Whereas art it’s, it’s very arts in general exploratory and, and, and you develop that innovative creative mindset and, and where we need those types of thinkers.


Laura Briscoe (18:45):
So I feel like when you’re, when you’re traveling or when you’re creating, you’re ending up in places that you don’t expect. Mm. And that is when true innovation can happen. When you, when you take all of these different experiences and come up with something to enhance them, or a new idea or approach to something. So I feel like that exposure is something that is very powerful and, and really important to education. I also think it, it puts people in like a little bit of discomfort, like to get you out of your comfort zone. It’s interesting because when you’re a personality that needs to work towards the right answer and there really isn’t one, it can create a different type of challenge for you. Yeah. And I, and I really do see that when the more we do things in an interdisciplinary way, specifically with the arts, you start to see that little bit of discomfort of uncertainty, but then the best results afterwards. Hmm. So that’s kind of where I would make those connections to education and how valuable it’s.


Sam Demma (19:52):
I love the perspective and I mean, I also love traveling, so


Laura Briscoe (19:57):
Okay. Well, where, where’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled?


Sam Demma (20:00):
Yeah. Good question. Probably Costa Rica. I have this music a few years ago, me and my family, we went this is before COVID and I fell in love with like BHA and salsa and the Latin culture. So yeah, that was a eye opening trip for me. I, I haven’t traveled too, too much outside of that and also just driving places, but I’m super excited to, to continue traveling once COVID is fully gone. I mean, it’s, we’re pretty much there now, but yeah. Yeah. That’s so cool.


Laura Briscoe (20:35):
My connection. Yes, I have spent some time in backpacking in Costa Rica. I, I did surfing lessons there actually. So I feel like trying to learn something new, but I also think when, like going back to travel experiences, what technology has allowed us to do the, the virtual experiences now an augmented reality. Yeah. So when we can’t physically get to certain places, it’s way better than a textbook to actually go through like a virtual guided tour with a real live person and, and looking at how we can create those travel experiences, obviously going to the place is the ideal. Yeah. But looking at different opportunities wherever they are. I think that, that is interesting too, to explore.


Sam Demma (21:21):
You mentioned that when you lean into arts and go on experiences where you’re not sure where they’ll bring you, it exposes you to new things and it, it, I would argue it like, it makes you curious because you come somewhere or you end up somewhere where you didn’t expect, and maybe now you have a new question or a new perspective. Which makes me wonder, like, is the beginning of innovation, like a question, like what starts an innovation cycle, or like, what, what starts changes in education,


Laura Briscoe (21:57):
Like the two things that really stood out to be in that question that you just asked isuriosity and fostering curiosity, and, and you also mentioned questions and asking questions, and there’s a technique called the question formulation technique. Cool. Where when you’re teaching something, you’re, you’re presenting an idea, a challenge or a problem, and just asking questions about it and where those questions might lead. You will be different for every person that might be introduced that problem or challenge. Hmm. And I think that that is really where you get that intrinsic motivation where you’re doing something because you’re you’re passionate and you’re working towards something that you’re curious about. So for innovation, that’s also why I have a really hard time describing what the portfolio is, because every time there’s a new connection, it’s different for each group of educators and students. Ah but one thing is often like a prompt of a community challenge or looking at the UN sustainable goals or looking at something, and then just asking questions about it and figuring out what, like really strikes you personally to pursue.


Sam Demma (23:13):
Yeah. Got it. Yeah. I love it. Cool. this has been an interesting conversation, travel innovation, art experiential marketing. yeah. If you could, actually, before I ask that over the past three years, you, you mentioned some of the programs you’ve run. I think one of the coolest things about education is you get to, you know, organize programs and facilitate learning for students that has an impact on the end user. And most of the time you can see the impact of a student or you, or at least you hear it. And I’m curious to know if any of the programs you’ve run, if there’s any stories of students. And I know you’re at the system level, so it might be harder to name like a specific individual, but if there is a story of a program that really transformed or changed the student’s life or experience, I would love for you to share it. I, I think an educator listening, considering getting into this field or one who’s already in education and burnt out those sorts of stories really reinforce the idea that this work is important. You know,


Laura Briscoe (24:14):
So this is a great question, and I think it’s so important. And I don’t know how well we are at like, tracking where student impacts have gone. And I personally have now so many former students on LinkedIn because I feel like they have lived experiences to advise us back in, in their own educational journeys and where they are now. So I can give you a story of student who wasn’t actually a student that I taught in my class. It, when we talk about like system initiatives. Yeah. So when I was teaching visual arts, we started a video pilot program where every student had a community client, it turned into a film festival. And then I was part of COFA, a co-founder for the forest city youth film festival that has now gone, is going all Ontario for, to basically empower student voices through film.


Laura Briscoe (25:09):
Wow. And, and that could be connected to any different subject area based on the type of film they’re creating, whether it’s documentary or experimental or, or like fiction or nonfiction. But there was a student who had had an interest in film and, but didn’t have experience in it and then ended up winning so many awards at our, our film festival, the, for Southwestern Ontario, and now he’s going off to make larger pictures. And I, I just think about in a very short amount of time from being exposed to industry supports and being part of something beyond the walls of the school, it kind of amplified his own experiences. So that example would be Ethan Hickey. And he was from a school in London. And I just am so excited to see where his career goes, because when, when we have these industry supports championing students early on, it really creates more pathway opportunities. And I find as educators, we can intentionally find out what kids love, connect them with the people that they need to know who are doing that in the real world and, and support them to build those connections. So that’s one example of kind of a huge long winded story of, of how I, I connected with that student, but it was through the film festival and I’m just excited to see his career take off,


Sam Demma (26:38):
Shout out Ethan Hickey


Laura Briscoe (26:40):
yeah. Shout out, Ethan HIE.


Sam Demma (26:42):
Are you still involved in the film festival?


Laura Briscoe (26:45):
I, I do support that, so yes, I am still involved. I’m not technically on the board or anything cuz of my role now. It started as a volunteer bunch of passionate educators, all working together as a committee and it’s because it’s grown so much. I now work with them in support and supporting educators and students to be involved, but I’m not an active director anymore because of too many balls in the air at once. But I, so yes. So yes, I’m still supportive and working with them, but not directly every day.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Awesome. when you’re not working and Mo probably spend like every second of the day thinking about work and innovation, cuz you’re passionate about it, but when you’re not physically working or answering emails or focused on school work, where do you get your own inspiration? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up with a full cup and attack these challenges and opportunities?


Laura Briscoe (27:49):
Hmm. Friends and family. I love like for a passion. I love the outdoors and being active. But I also look at, you know, needs of friends and their children and, and family and being in this role when I hear of different needs or gaps in those experiences, it’s always like, well and what are we gonna do about it? Like, why don’t we try something if this is something that I’m hearing. So that’s kind of where some of that passion comes from is just in, in local networks and hearing different challenges and trying to be a solutions person of what we can do with that. But yes, like in my free time I have two young children. And just, you mentioned that word earlier. Curiosity. I feel like when you’re two and five years old, you’re asking a lot of questions. Yeah. And that definitely keeps me motivated and on my toes. And then that probably trickles into my role as well.


Sam Demma (28:51):
Cool. that’s awesome.


Laura Briscoe (28:54):
I can give you a question actually. I like my son asked me how come as we all get bigger? How come adults, when you’re big, you don’t get bigger every year. Cuz every time we have a birthday, we’re bigger. Why do we stop growing? And if we kept growing every year, would we be extinct like dinosaurs so there you go. When you ask about questions, like now we need to look up, why do we stop growing and what happens?


Sam Demma (29:21):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Well,


Laura Briscoe (29:23):
Yeah, things like that. How can we keep that and adults, how do we get better at that as adults to, to be asking questions?


Sam Demma (29:30):
It’s so funny. Not only asking questions, but using the imagination to full ability, right? Because he tied your, is it, was it your son or daughter or


Laura Briscoe (29:39):
Son? My son. Yeah,


Sam Demma (29:40):
He’s fine. Like he tied together like five different things. Like the fact that we stopped growing and if we did, we would turn into dinosaurs. Like, you know, there’s like things, so many different things tied together in that question. And it’s funny, I was talking recently with my own friends about this idea that when we were young, we would get back from school, go into our forest and pretend we were fighting some imaginary army and we’d be like kicking the air. And like, you know, there’s no one there and we were having the funnest experience ever. And then my dad would whistle really loud and we’d all know to run back for dinner. And that child like curiosity and imagination at some point, like gets buried. So I think it’s so cool to kind of even get inspiration from that, that experience and, and younger people, you


Laura Briscoe (30:27):
Know? And, and you know what I appreciate about that story too, like not just that you’re outside in nature. But I feel like with this constant over stimulation that we all experience, it’s really hard to be. I wanna, I don’t wanna say bored, but it’s really hard to just pause everything and turn off everything. And what I’ll realize that some of the best ideas happen when you do are able to do that and you need to do that for certain amounts of time for that to happen. Some people will say their best ideas come to them when they’re driving and that’s that, you know, your logic brain is turned on cause you’re focused on the rules of the road, but it allows your mind to get in your head if you turn off the radio and you’re just alone without your phone on or Bluetooth or whatever it is. So try to find moments to pause in order to use your imagination, whether it’s fighting an invisible person or thinking about missed my exit once on the 4 0 1 when I was driving, cuz I was so in my head D which is different. I think it’s really hard to, to force ourselves to do that because it seems like a never end of list of things that you have to do.


Sam Demma (31:41):
Yeah. So I agree. I couldn’t agree more and thanks for sharing that little story and the questions. What if you were just starting your first role in education again, with the experience you have now and the knowledge you have, not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice would you have given your younger self that you think another person getting into education could benefit from hearing?


Laura Briscoe (32:05):
Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t need to doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be done that way. And I feel like that advice is so empowering because as a new teacher you want to be almost like a people pleaser, cuz you’re trying to prove yourself in a new role and keep up with what everyone else is doing. And, and there’s a lot to be learned from people with experience, but there’s also a lot to be learned from people who are, are new to the system because they’re coming from a whole different experience. So I would tell myself to not be intimidated to share ideas and explore ideas that I felt would have a positive student impact. And the best people to ask those questions to are often the students themselves, about what they’re interested in and then, and then connect with the educators who also are interested in that type of approach.


Sam Demma (33:02):
I love it. Cool. that’s not only great advice for education. I feel like anyone can take that advice, especially if you’re pursuing a path where the entire industry seems dominated by one demographic. , you know, film art. My sister works on film sets and it’s, it seems like, and it’s changing now and thank, thank goodness it’s changing. They seemed like it was a male dominated industry and it’s like, no, it shouldn’t be. And doesn’t, you know, just cuz it was like that in the past doesn’t mean that has to be like that now. So I feel like that advice can be so reassuring, no matter what path you’re choosing to take.


Laura Briscoe (33:43):
I, I, you know, it’s funny I didn’t today when we planned this meeting and I know, I don’t know, it’ll be shared later, but it’s international day of the women. And, and so I didn’t, I didn’t realize that, but I thought, oh, what a great day to, to do our, our podcast. When we talk about different careers and, and different experiences recently it’s funny that you mentioned that I was in a conference on stem and education and all the presenters were women and somebody commented on social media. I see a lot of gender inequity in here because it’s all women. And when we look at the need and the detriment in our society, not as many women in stem, of course we have a conference with women presenting stem because in everything that we do, we want everyone to see themselves in something, if they care about it and something else in innovation that I’ve really championed and worked and collaborated with is supporting newcomers. And when you mention travel, you don’t have to necessarily go somewhere when you have people with lived experiences right. In our own worlds that we have a lot to learn from and to support. So I know I’m going off onto another conversation. I feel like I can keep talking to you, but yeah. Yeah. So I, I just making that connection to looking at opportunities for all students specifically, for me, I’ve worked very closely with newcomers and indigenous students and, and creating opportunities that connect with them personally.


Sam Demma (35:17):
I promise you, this interview is gonna end at 1245 and we’re 10 minutes over


Laura Briscoe (35:21):
I know, sorry.


Sam Demma (35:23):
No, you don’t have to apologize. I’m asking the questions. You did ask a question though that we didn’t have the answer to, and the question is you know, why do we stop growing when we get older? If someone out, out there is listening to this and , they love the conversation and wanna provide you with a brilliant answer, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Laura Briscoe (35:43):
okay. So if they’re on, the easy way is how we found each other, on social media @Briscoeclass is my Twitter. If people follow me, I always follow them back ’cause I hope for those deeper conversations or my email’s l.briscoe@tvdsb.ca is another way to, to find me. And in my role @tvinnovates is a Twitter account that celebrates what all these amazing passionate educators throughout our system are doing.


Sam Demma (36:14):
Awesome. Laura, thank you so much for taking the time today. It’s been a pleasure. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Laura Briscoe (36:21):
Thank you. Nice to, nice to meet you in real life.


Sam Demma (36:25):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Laura Briscoe

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.

Chris St. Amand – Leader of Experiential Learning at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board

Chris St. Amand - Leader of Experiential Learning at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board
About Chris St. Amand

Chris (@MrStAmand) was born and raised in beautiful Sarnia, Ontario. He left to attend University in London. He enjoyed four great years at King’s University College and completed his Teacher’s College at Western’s Faculty of Education. When he finished, he took the opportunity to travel to South Korea to teach English to Kindergarten students for a year and a half before taking time to backpack through Southeast Asia. 

When Chris returned in 2009, he began teaching with the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, first as an Occasional Teacher before being hired as a Grade 6/7 teacher. About 5 years into his career, an opportunity arose for him to work in curriculum, and he has enjoyed working as a Student Work Study Teacher (a classroom-based instructional research position), Intermediate Numeracy Lead, and now as Leader of Experiential Learning, a position he’s held since 2018 (with a brief detour teaching Grade 6 in his Virtual Elementary School this past year). Chris is very passionate about education and is so fortunate that he’s been afforded so many different opportunities throughout his career.

Chris is married to a wonderful partner who is better than him in almost every way, and together they have been blessed with two beautiful children who are his what, how, and why every day. Coffee keeps him going, reading keeps him learning, and people keep him happy!

Connect with Chris: Email | Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Clair Catholic District School Board

The suite of Reflection Strategies (Free resource)

Matt Sanders – Experiential Lead Learner at the Lambton Kent District School Board

The Transcript

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

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


Chris St. Amand (00:08):
Thanks Sam. Glad to be here. My name is Chris St. Amand. I am the leader of experiential learning at the St. Clair Catholic district school board, which encompasses the beautiful Chatham Kent area.


Sam Demma (00:22):
When did you realize in your own career journey and growing up as a student, that education was the field for you?


Chris St. Amand (00:30):
Well, I kind of, I kind of came into it pretty naturally to be honest. My parents were both retired educators and they truly loved their jobs. Now. They, they were terrific educators as well. Mm I know this because I still have, when people hear my last name, I live in the same town still that I grew up in. Oh, was your, was your mom or your dad teacher? They taught me. Oh, it was great. You know, I, I know they were good. They were good teachers and it, it, it showed through at home how much they enjoyed it. So that’s not a reason why you go into something, but it’s a good reason not to rule something out. We’ll put it that way. Yep. And I, I have always been a people person. I enjoy working with people talking with people.


Chris St. Amand (01:11):
So it’s a good fit there. But honestly it just, it, it just sort of happened. I, I became a lifeguard when I was 16 years old and I worked at a, a pool where part of the time was instruction. Part of the time was doing the lifeguarding pool stuff. And I loved it. I loved, I loved teaching. I got the same opportunity university to teach again at a higher level there students thoroughly enjoyed it, connecting with people. And then I thought, well, this, you know, why not teachers college? And every everything I’ve done since I taught for a year and a half in South Korea internationally, I’ve been an occasional teacher, a classroom teacher, summer learning teacher, a virtual teacher, a curriculum leader. And I’ve, I’ve, co-taught with some incredible colleagues and everything I do kind of reaffirms that this is the right profession for me. So I guess, I guess what I said is, is all the reasons I’ll stay in the job as, as much as why I got into it. It really is. It really is the right career for me.


Sam Demma (02:16):
You said something so quickly that it’s such a significant experience that I want to jump back and touch on for a second. And that’s teaching in South Korea. What brought you out there? And what was that experience like for you?


Chris St. Amand (02:31):
Yeah, so I, I finished teachers college in spring of 2007. So a while ago now , so the world was a little bit of a different place but there was just sort of a burgeoning overseas sort of teaching presence, you know, go teach in Japan, go teach in South Korea, go teach in India. There were a lot of opportunities and there have to be a lot of recruiters that are teachers college. And it wasn’t something I initially was drawn to. But a we sort of finished up and my roommate, one of my best friends and I, we finished each calls together, driving back. We kind of looked at each other and said, okay, you know what, we maybe need to do something before we started our career. So I ended up going to South Korea. He ended up teaching in Sweden.


Chris St. Amand (03:15):
But that, that’s how I got there. And it was uhcredible. I was teaching, I was high school qualified originally. I ended up teaching up a kindergarten immersion. Why not? seems like the next natural thing to do. But it was, it was great. It was the first time I got to live alone to understand myself. It was the first time. I really had sort of a program of my own and I’m grateful for that. And to be able to South Korea is a beautiful country and, and be able to explore that and use it as a travel point for all of Asia was just an, an incredible year and a half that I, I wouldn’t wouldn’t trade for anything.


Sam Demma (03:59):
And you’ve, you’ve, it sounds like you’ve done so many different roles in education now, you know, you can add to the list international teaching and yeah. Experiential learning. And you know, you said virtual teacher and kindergarten teacher and high school teacher and support teacher, and the list goes on and on out of all of the roles you’ve done, there’s no better roles in education, but for you personally, what has enabled you from your perspective to one have the most fulfillment and two feel the most meaningful meaning you’re making the biggest contribution or difference?


Chris St. Amand (04:36):
I, I like how you gave a preamble to that question, because I feel like every role I’ve had the opportunity to do that. Yeah. So I’m a little cautious to elevate one over the other. Yep. Although I will say the work I’m doing right now is experiential learning lead is affording me a lot of opportunities to reach a lot of students and and educators and, and sort of bring, bring programming to schools in a ways that you can’t do as a classroom teacher. You get your, your own kids and you control that ship. Yeah. But I get to work K to 12 I’ve got outdoor education in my portfolio. I’ve got all sorts of connecting with community partners. And, and I, I connect with a tremendous team of colleagues where we get to work on secondary and elementary programming, where I get to work on indigenous programming, ready to work on pathways programming for seven to 12, where I get to you know sit down with senior admin and think about what do we want to do for system level pieces. It it’s really, and, and then get a chance to connect with the community partners who I can help bring to schools. Yeah. Virtually in person, whatever that looks like. It’s, it’s, it’s sort of and I I’m sure we’ll talk about this later, but this year, especially has been challenging, but also has been full of opportunities in a way I wasn’t expecting when I return to the role. Yeah. And it’s been, it’s been pretty wild. Yeah.


Sam Demma (06:18):
Well, let’s jump right in. What, what are some of the challenges that you think I’m sure there’s some obvious ones that all schools are facing, but what are some of the challenges you think the school and yourself have been facing and to dovetail with that, some of the opportunities that have come along or come to life because of the challenges?


Chris St. Amand (06:35):
Yeah. I mean, I’m not unique in this and yeah. And I know this cause I talked to, to my colleagues who do the same job I do in other boards and it’s no secret you know, COVID is the elephant in every room. Whether, whether you’re saying it or not, it’s there. But other things are exhaust. That’s sort of exacerbating some other things like you know, a shortage of occasional teachers. So it’s difficult to release people sometimes. Or if people are sick and jobs, can’t be filled, that’s a challenge too, right. That’s structurally that needs to be addressed. There’s difficulty running extracurricular programming right now, be that club sports or things with community partners where we want to get an awesome learning engagement, but we can’t get a bus there or they won’t let us in because of their policies.


Chris St. Amand (07:19):
And of course, family like educators, student staff, and family wellbeing has been stretched really thin for a lot of people. So everyone’s kind of in a different place with that. And I mean, all those challenges, I’m, I’m certainly not immune to, and, you know, been, been in different places in the last couple years as we all I, I guess, but to tie that all together in a bow, the biggest challenge I think that that sort of pulls all that together is we can’t as an education system, I think eventually. And certainly I’ll speak for our board. Yeah. We can’t do things the way we did them before. We can’t, the, the mechanisms may not work or other doors have been opened that are leading some really interesting ways of doing things. And, and for some, for some stuff, the, you know, the genie out of the bottle or the toothpaste is out of the tube, or, you know, you can choose whatever you you’re a metaphor is. We just can’t necessarily go back to the way we did things pre C for, for all those reasons. So that, that I guess is probably the biggest challenge is trying to figure out what is, what does it look like? What does good quality education look like with all these challenges and a new changing landscape?


Sam Demma (08:40):
And that question sounds like it’s the opportunity as well. And I’m, I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities have been along with those challenges and why it’s also been exciting in this role during this time.


Chris St. Amand (08:53):
Yeah. well, I mean, there are some, there are some serious opportunities right now and I’ve been able to kind of get creative with, with what I do. So I’ll, for example, outdoor education, I’ll put it this way. Traditionally our outdoor ed model was we would carve up our budget equitably among our schools by size population, socioeconomic needs, et cetera, and say, here’s your budget, go ahead and, and do something with it. And, you know, book, book, and trip, bring your kids to conservation area or you know except something like that, right? Yeah. Your classic like field trip. Right. but now I have this budget this year that I’m, I’m helping to kind of try and bring opportunities to teachers, but we haven’t really been able to leave schools and a lot of vendors won’t let us go there if we can.


Chris St. Amand (09:57):
So what we’ve tried to do is flip it and identify ways, opportunities to bring things to schools. And what we’ve found is that systemically people are loving it because there’s no travel, the costs are less and we can engage a number of classes in good experiential, outdoor education opportunities, whether that’s you know, someone from and it could be virtual as well. We’ve done a lot of virtual outdoor ed programming, like a local conservation area does a great live streaming where you connect to the class for an hour and they take you through the pond or biodiversity or something like that. Right. Yeah. It’s, it’s really cool. But they’ll also come and do nature in your backyard. Lots of sports opportunities under the outdoor ed piece, lots of lots of stuff like that. It’s been, it’s been pretty neat to, to do that.


Chris St. Amand (10:57):
So you know, another challenge too, is that people returning this year after last year, which was so disruptive, a lot of virtual or, or whatever trying to create opportunities that are seen as just that an opportunity, not an imposition. Mm. So here’s this opportunity, give it a, give it a try. And we’ve done with my colleague at, at our co-term board, Matt Sanders, we’ve done a lot of virtual programming. That’s been very successful where we put up a calendar for February most recently, and booked a lot of community partners. Some we paid for some were free and said, it’s free to schools drop in. If you can make it, if it works for you, that’s great. And they were live and interactive. And the feedback was tremendous between our two boards, we reached, we figure about 14,000 students over the course of the month.


Chris St. Amand (11:56):
Wow. which we would’ve had a fraction of. We were trying to bring those in person. Yep. You know, we just, first time we’ve done this too, we’re we hired a dance, a dance instructor, professional dance instructor. Oh, cool. To bring virtual dance instruction to our K eight schools. And we just wrapped up today with our 5, 6, 7, 8 classes. And over the course of the week, we had 7,000 students doing dance instruction. Wow. which again is just so, like she said, that’s how many, I, I wouldn’t see that many in a year and I saw that in a week. So when I say there’s opportunities, you know, if it can be a good quality thing that teachers can then take and supplement support or bring these opportunities to people again, as an opportunity, not an imposition, you don’t have to do this. No one said that it was free for them. Cuz you know, we, we paid for it centrally. Yeah. It seems to be what’s working for the class and you know, it, it, it’s an interesting model. We wouldn’t have been able to do pre pandemic cuz people weren’t there, the technology wasn’t there, the virtual comfort level, wasn’t there. That’s now there cuz it had to be


Sam Demma (13:05):
Talk about an opportunity for impact with mm-hmm such large groups. You’re right. If you brought a dance instructor into the school, max, they’re gonna be able to do two or three classrooms max 80, 90 students, not 7,000. Yeah. Which is amazing. I’m curious out of the programs, the school board has been running and you’ve, you know, you’ve been in so many various roles. You’ve definitely been a part of programs in many capacities. Do you have any stories of how a program has impacted a student that kind of come to mind? Then? The reason I ask is because I think one of the and it’s hard to quantify of course, like or, you know, narrow it down to one story. But one of the things that I think is really helpful in education is reminding educators that the work they’re doing is changing lives and like everyone plays a role and sometimes hearing about how a young person was changed or transformed is a reminder as to why they’re doing the work they’re doing.


Chris St. Amand (14:01):
Yeah. And I, I appreciate the question. And every time I get an email from a former student saying, how you doing, thank you for this. You know, it, it makes my, it makes my day, if not my week. Yeah. Cause it’s not prompted and it’s especially the farther way I am from teaching them. Yeah. It’s, it’s even nicer. Right. but yeah, I’ll share, I’ll share two stories if that’s okay. Sure. one is, one is sort of more technical and one’s, one’s more personal. Yeah. So, but, and both involved summer learning. So I was with the team that was able in a, in a previous role, I was a numeracy support teacher and I worked with my superintendent and some other, other people on our secondary team to bring in some summer learning to support grade nine, applied math, which spoiler is no longer a thing in 2022 that we’ve de streamed it.


Chris St. Amand (15:04):
But back in 2017/2018, it was, it was a big deal. And there were some serious equity pieces we were worried about with graduation rates with pass rates for grade nine applied. It was, you know, it was, it was considerable. So we built a program which we called head start and we, we put the mascot of our, our school in front of it. So St Sarnia high school St. Pat’s fighting Irish. So the Irish head start program and we invited grade eight students who had chosen grade nine, applied math to join us for a three day camp. And it was three half days. And part of it was not an oxymoron, fun math, where you get to meet your teacher. We had the grade nine applied teachers there just do some get used to the school.


Chris St. Amand (16:00):
And then we had some of the elective teachers tech, they made bottle rockets, music. They did some drum circles and some percussion stuff. Art, they did a project like that, you know, drama stuff, you know, those, those elective courses to Z, they got a chance to show off to the students like, Hey, maybe you didn’t take it for grade nine, but we’re here. And I’m a friendly face. Yeah. Well, we got guidance to meet them principals to meet them secretary staff, anyone who they’d be potentially chaplaincy, anyone who they’d be interacting with in grade nine. And the feedback was good. The, you know, the couple years we did it and I mean, the kind of stuff you’d expect, oh, this was great. I feel much more comfortable coming to school. And oh, you know, I liked, I liked, I like Jim and you know, like, you know, Mr.


Chris St. Amand (16:49):
San, get us better snacks, please. That sort of stuff was, was a food comment. Yeah. But here’s, here’s why I tell this story. It’s not something anyone said to me, but every single student, except for one past grade nine applied math. Wow. Compared to 70% of the rest of the population who passed. So it could be, you know, you could say, oh, causation is not correlation. I, I, I know that, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we had that first year was 65 kids between our two high schools, all but one, and that was an attendance shift you passed, like that tells me we were on the right track. And even if it gets them in the right head space to do well and connects them with their teachers ahead gives them that head. Start. That to me is, is something that I’m really proud of the impact we had.


Chris St. Amand (17:41):
The other one is I had the opportunity to teach summer learning to elementary age students. So students who were going to grade three who were, who were needing a, maybe a bit of a bit extra math and literacy. So again, it was a, it was a whole day camp. The morning was math and literacy, the afternoon, some sort of experiential learning offsite or on we, we had fun with it. And the first time I did it was with a great great teacher, Erin leach, she and I kind of co-taught it nice compliment each other very well. And the kids went off and honestly, I didn’t, I didn’t see them again until this past fall. When I walked into a classroom at a high school, I was dropping something off for the Cosmo teacher. And I heard, Hey, and I’m wearing a mask too.


Chris St. Amand (18:28):
Keep in mind, I’m wearing a mask. I turned around and saying, hi, they’re like you taught a summer learning. Or a couple of ’em there said I did. They’re like, we loved that. We were so sad when it was over. We wanted to go back and like, again, I’m getting, you know, kind of chills just saying it again. It was just so unexpected. And I mean, you know, when you’re seven or eight years old to then be 14 years old to then number one, say that to a teacher, most, most kids don’t wanna talk to people they who previously taught them. But then to, to go out of their way to say that, cause I wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have said anything. They were just kind of sitting in the back of the class. Right. It was, it was awesome. So, you know, those, those two stories about our extra summer programming are two I’m really proud of and had a, you know, a hand in, in planning and implementing.


Sam Demma (19:18):
It says a lot about the, the way you made them feel like sometimes some something that a lot of educators always tell me when I ask them some of their advice and we’ll get there soon for younger educators is, you know, sometimes students will forget what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel like the whole Maya Angelou idea and quote. Yes. And you know, they might not have remembered all of the content. You taught them in summer school, but they obviously remembered the environment and how it made them feel. And so, yeah, it’s really, it’s really cool to hear and reflect on that. And it, it goes to show you listening, you know, as a potential future educator that that’s the impact that you can kind of have on kids, hopefully one that lasts a lifetime. It, I’m curious to know some of the resources that you found helpful throughout your journey and all the various roles you’ve been in. Have you, have you created a dashboard of resources? and have you also, what have you also found helpful just personally for your own development?


Chris St. Amand (20:23):
Yeah. well, I’ll answer that backwards. The, the most helpful resource I found bar none is, is people fellow educators. And if I could say nothing else, it’s that it can be difficult, especially in your career to figure out, you know, what’s what, but if you can, if you can find one or two people who you click with and, and you agree with, and, and can have been doing it longer than you, and can maybe show you, show you some stuff or tell you some stuff or, or give you advice or point you in the right direction, it, it goes, it goes farther than any blog or book you could read. It goes farther than any, any lesson you could possibly teach in a classroom by itself is a one off it’s it’s integrated those, those friendships and partnerships are, are invaluable.


Chris St. Amand (21:22):
And teaching teaching, even though, you know, you think of the teacher teacher, class’s their own thing. It is a very collaborative profession. Mm we’re. Often we’re often collaborating with each other, sharing ideas, sharing resources, professional development is that collaboration model and teaching itself is moving more collaboratively teacher and student in a lot of, in a lot of circumstances where it’s appropriate kindergarten, right through grade 12. So I would say that is that, is it but I mean, there are some go-tos that said depending on, depending on the role. Yeah. So I’ll maybe it’s best to speak to the role I’m in now. I, again, working with Matt Sanders and this is why I say again, people is your resource, cuz they can push you and, and, and bring you places you didn’t, you couldn’t get by yourself.


Chris St. Amand (22:22):
We’ve, we’ve created a number of pieces to support ourselves as well as support educators. Not to get too into the weed, Sam, but when you think experiential learning there’s three pieces participate, reflect, apply, that’s sort of the cycle and it doesn’t have to go in that order, but you know, you do something reflect on it to, to learn something, to glean something from it and then apply it in some new context or to your life or whatever that is. Right. as, as educators, we’re really good to participate, pretty good at apply. The reflect is where it’s tough and what makes it even more tough is that if you look in any curriculum document or anything supported by the ministry of education there, it says dozens of times you need to reflect it. Doesn’t say how to reflect. Ah, that’s, that’s the challenge.


Chris St. Amand (23:17):
So, and that’s when I started in this role found very challenging. People would say like, what do you mean by reflect and be like, oh, I don’t know. So , that’s a great question. Let me, let me get back to you. So I said, I thought I need to have something to give people or have myself if they’re saying, what do you think I should do here? So I built with Matt, a database of reflection strategies pulled from tons of sources, nothing particularly original. It just sort of, it was a, it was just a Google sheet. It still exists. It’s a library and we use it regularly. It’s a library that is sorted by grade time resources needed. When, you know, when you do, before you do something during, after, or all three and it’s ways just to pull some of that reflection out it’s not exhaustive, but it it’s something that teachers have appreciated and we’ve been we use again quite, quite regularly. So, you know, again, nothing, nothing particularly original, but yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:22):
Well, the


Chris St. Amand (24:23):
It’s


Sam Demma (24:23):
Accessible, I guess that’s, what’s more important is that it’s accessible. Right? mm-hmm, , I mean, there’s ideas everywhere, but some people that don’t have access to them or know where to find them, you guys have created this super rich database. Where can someone go check that out if they’re interested in, in looking at it?


Chris St. Amand (24:40):
Yeah. It’s the it’s just, it’s free. It’s open access. It’s just bit.ly/reflectionstrategies. And that will take you right there. And yeah, you can, you can check it out. It’s open to everyone in the world. Anyone who wants to kind of check it out that it’s, you know, again, it’s not, not exhaustive and it’s grown since we we’ve, we, it started as reflection strategies, then we said, okay, how do you reflect using the curriculum? How do you reflect? You have to do something to reflect. So if you’re interested in a strategy, here’s some, you know, activities that you can do that are team building with your, your class.


Chris St. Amand (25:33):
Not put together a really nice piece about reflection question a day that gets your class talking. I used a lot of ’em when I was teaching last year, it was nice to have that resource. You know, if you could if you could, you know, not be one thing when you grow up, what would it be? Why like flip that question, stuff like that, right? Yeah. And it, that often leads to a very rich pathways discussion too. So, you know, it’s something that people can explore if they’re interested, but it’s, you know, it, it does, it does, it is aimed at that experiential learning and good activity beyond the four walls of your classroom.


Sam Demma (26:10):
Very cool. You mentioned human resources, people Bitly strategies or Bitly forward slash reflection strategies.


Chris St. Amand (26:20):
Yep.


Sam Demma (26:21):
If you could take your experiences in education, bundle them all up, travel back in time, top yourself on the shoulder when you were just starting your first job in education. What advice would you have given yourself, knowing what, you know now and gone through all these various experiences? Or what, what do you think you would’ve have liked to have heard at the start of your career or understood more at the start of your career?


Chris St. Amand (26:47):
Mm-Hmm yeah. I mean, God knows I’ve, I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.


Sam Demma (26:59):
You’re human congrats.


Chris St. Amand (27:00):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s an interesting question because it, it is one, it’s one. I have trouble answering Sam because it, what I’ve done has gotten me to this place. And I feel like if I could tell myself any differently, it might be would


Sam Demma (27:22):
Change.


Chris St. Amand (27:23):
Let, let me rephrase. I’m so sorry. I’m gonna be that guy. Who’s gonna pick up our question. So like, I can’t think it through.


Sam Demma (27:30):
No that’s okay. Well, what if we looked at it from the aspect of there’s someone listening, who is just about to get into this profession yeah. And is super excited about it, but also extremely nervous. Like what, what, what would you tell someone who’s just getting into education? Who might need a little bit of encouragement or some insight?


Chris St. Amand (27:52):
Yeah. I’d, I’d say don’t fool yourself. It’s hard. Like it is, it is a it’s hard work and maybe something I wasn’t prepared for and nothing can really prepare you for it is that when you go out a classroom, your own and you don’t really you’re new, like, like anything, you don’t really know what you’re doing. I mean, you’ve been prepared in some ways, but nothing really prepares you for that. For that first class you have that first day you have, when you’ve got people looking at you expecting you to, to be there, to, to steer the ship. Right. Yeah. So I think, I think what I would say is connect with, connect with kids and make sure they’re taken care of and show them that you care, you know, and, and take the time to listen. And if you do that, it goes farther than anything.


Chris St. Amand (28:46):
The some of the best, best advice I ever, ever heard was five words. Tell me your future story. Mm. And I learned this at a bridges outta poverty workshop, which I had the privilege of attending twice. And a former principal of mine actually. He’s, he’s now the director when I worked for him had Scott Johnson. He had those words on his door and everyone, you know, has a future, but not everyone has a future story. And what does that mean? Some people can’t see themselves in the future. Some people are beholden to their circumstances or whatever. So having those conversations, showing that you, you care asking them, well, what, you know, what’s your, what are you gonna do? Like who, who are you? Who do you wanna be? What are your opportunities? Let’s help. Let’s find those out together. Whether that’s little, little, three year old kindergarteners who just starting, or, or a 17 or 18 year old, who’s just graduating.


Chris St. Amand (29:49):
It’s it doesn’t, it doesn’t change. I, I think, I think that’s it. And, and truly, I mean, it’s so cliche, but showing that you care, if, if you, you can’t fake that you have to actually care. And if you do you will have fewer, fewer issues across the board in terms of planning, in terms of student relationships and student of parent relationships and all that one other thing I’ll, I’ll say, and it kind of fits with it is don’t be, don’t be shy contacting parents, especially in the first week of school. Hmm. And don’t, don’t be shy to contact them for good things as well, share the successes that they don’t get to see let them know how, how beautiful their child is and, and what they’re doing so well, not just the bad news, because if you get ahead of it with the good news, it makes those, those more challenging phone calls or, or, you know, communications much, much smoother. And I, I don’t always practice when I preach. Cause cause life gets busy, but that’s something I kind of always, always strive for. And have, when I’ve been teaching,


Sam Demma (31:06):
I love it. Those are great pieces of advice and I appreciate you, you, you sharing, if someone wanted to reach out, ask you a question, bounce an idea off you what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Chris St. Amand (31:21):
Yeah. So, I mean email, email is always good. I, I live on email, chris.stamand@sccdsb.net Also on Twitter at @MrStAmand. Good to connect there as well. And yeah, I I’m always open to an email and if someone wants to collaborate or ask questions, I, I love it. I think it’s, I think it’s how you get better.


Sam Demma (31:55):
Awesome. Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Chris St. Amand (32:01):
Thanks for the opportunity, Sam. Cheers.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chris St. Amand

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.

Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams – Consultants at the Ottawa Catholic School Board

Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams - Consultants at the Ottawa Catholic School Board
About Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams

Katie Lewis-Prieur (@klewis_prieur) has been in education for more than 25 years, many of it in the classroom teaching English and Drama before working in system-level positions at the Ottawa Catholic School Board.  She is blessed to be part of the Specialized Pathways team as the Experiential Learning consultant for K-12.

Sarah Abrams(@SarahMAbrams) has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for the past 22 years.  She spent the first 20 years of her career as a high school teacher and Guidance Counsellor and is currently the Guidance and Pathways Consultant for the board.  Sarah is passionate about helping students discover their pathway and supporting guidance teams in breaking down barriers for students to access whatever post-secondary path they wish to take.   

Connect with Katie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Connect with Sarah: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB)

Specialized Programs – OCSB

New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP)

Carleton University – BA in Journalism

Brock University – BA in English Language and Literature

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have on a pair of guests, not just one person, but two people, two very incredible influential people that I’ve done a ton of work with, but are also just phenomenal human beings that I call two of my friends now. We have on Katie and Sarah.


Sam Demma (00:59):
Katie has been in education for more than 25 years. Many of it in the classroom, teaching English and drama before working in system level positions with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is blessed to be part of the specialized pathways program team as an experiential learning consultant through K-12. But the reality is she’s actually moving on to a new position. So stay tuned because maybe we’ll do a follow up episode with her next year and her partner in crime Sarah is also on the show today who has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for the past 22 years. She spent the first 20 years of her career as a high school teacher and guidance counselor, and is currently the guidance and pathways consultant for the school board. She is passionate about helping students discover their pathway and supporting guidance teams in breaking down barriers for students to access whatever post-secondary path they wish to take.


Sam Demma (01:49):
The two of them bring together a wealth of knowledge. I was a part of one of their career fairs about six months ago now, or maybe four, three months ago and they do such amazing work. So I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoy chatting with them, and I will see you on the other side. Katie, Sarah, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you both together on the show. This is the second time only that we’ve had a group of three on the show. So I’m, I’m super excited about it. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today. And Sarah, feel free to kick this one off.


Sarah Abrams (02:29):
Well, hi Sam. I’m Sarah Abrams. I work at the Ottawa Catholic School Board and I am the guidance and pathways consultant. So I work with the guidance departments across our school board. And I’ve always loved teaching. I love working in a dynamic environment like a school where every day is different. You never know what, what is gonna come at you that day. There’s not too many jobs where you can participate in dressup days and spirit weeks and, you know, take kids on field trips and watch watch them learn new things and get excited about things they didn’t know. And so, and also building the relationships with those young people and with my colleagues has inspired me. So, you know, for me, education has always been my passion and I love everything about it.


Sam Demma (03:15):
Love that. Awesome, Katie what about yourself?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (03:19):
Well, thanks for having us on today. I’m Katie Lewis-Prieu and I’m the experiential learning consultant for K-12 for the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and I get to work every day with people like Sarah. The reason I’m doing this job is because I think kids getting their hands in and doing practical work and exploring careers is something that’s gonna change their life, and I’m just privileged to be a part of it.


Sam Demma (03:44):
Mm love that. And when you guys both come together, you create a power house of a team and I I’ve seen the impact firsthand. What are some of the projects that you’ve run this year? Things you’ve put on and worked together and, and created that been really passionate about, or, or that went well, I know this year has been challenging. We’ve, we’ve been limited in many ways, but I feel like there was also some opportunities and you’ve taken advantage of those. And Katie, maybe you can answer this question first.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (04:12):
I think this has been an incredible year for us in spite of the pandemic. It’s my first year working as a team mate with and so it’s been incredible just to build that relationship and to see what we can do. And we usually start with what we’re trying to accomplish before we set out what our goals are. And so this year we had a nice kickoff at the beginning of the year with OCSP career week. And it was one of those weeks that had been doing well and things were happening in schools, but when the pandemic hit a huge challenge, right, because you can’t have all these presenters coming into your school to talk about their post-secondary programs or entry into the world of work. And so that was our, our first major challenge that we hit this year because we knew it was still really important for students to be able to explore these careers. So we decided to, to tackle it head on and to create a really dynamic week where teachers and students could access all sorts of activities career panels really great resources for them to leverage. And so that was, I think, our first success.


Sam Demma (05:25):
Awesome. Yeah. That’s great. And Sarah, maybe you can touch on some of the other things that have happened this year. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other things happening behind the scenes every day, each and every day


Sarah Abrams (05:35):
There absolutely was. And, and a big part of what we wanted to do was figure out how we could bring this rich experience, financial learning, and, and also one of our goals is to, to bust pathway myths. So we also, we want students to know that college and university, aren’t the only options for them that some students will go directly to the world of work. And some students will go into apprenticeship program. Some will take a gap year and, and that’s one of our big missions is to bust those pathway myths. So one of the things we did was we have created with a community partner on fee career panels. And we’ve had several of those throughout the year, this year. And the pandemic has actually opened our eyes to the possibilities with this. So in prior years you would have this career panel at one school, you’d only be able to reach a few students, but because we were in the pandemic, we had to reach rethink things. And we were able to do them virtually and bring in hundreds of students. So hundreds of students have been able to learn about careers in manufacturing and the arts in English in all kinds of areas that maybe they wouldn’t have done before. So that’s been an excellent opportunity for us.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (06:49):
And if I can just add on if, if you are not aware of the careers that are out there, how can you possibly know that this is something that you want to explore? And I know your messaging, Sam has always been go out there and taste things like it’s a, a banquet or a buffet. And that’s definitely our message as well.


Sam Demma (07:07):
I love that. And I was gonna say, you know, Sarah, you mentioned fifth years and, you know, MIS myth busting, well, if your name’s Sam DEMA, you would take a fifth year of high school, a gap year after the a fifth year go to college for two years, drop outta college and then get into the world of work after, you know, three years of trying to find things and, and figure things out. So it’s, the work you’re doing is so important and I think it needs to happen in, in every board and hopefully it is happening in every board and keep doing it because we need it. I’m curious though, we start this conversation and asking both of you, you know, why are you passionate about this work? What led you down the path of education? Like, did you have teachers in your life who deeply inspired you to, you know, take on this path or did you just stumble into it by a mistake and have been here since, like, I’m curious to know why you’re working in education today and, and Katie, maybe you can kick this one off.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (07:59):
Well, when I was little, I used to parade around in my backyard pretending I was ginger from Gillin island. So I knew that I wanted something that was engaging. I thought I was gonna be an actress when I was really little and there just weren’t the, the career classes to support that there was no ran a class in my high school when I went to school. So I had to look for something else. And being an actress just didn’t seem reasonable at the time. So I thought I want to work with people. It was just a part of who I was that I, I definitely not a solitary person. I, I like to collaborate. And so teaching in journalism were the, the two things that really grabbed me with the limited, you know, exposure to career exploration that we had at the time.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (08:48):
So I ended up actually doing a journalism degree at Carleton university. And then just as I was about to graduate from that, we were in the middle of a recession and I thought, well, I’m just not the type of person to sit back and do nothing. And I thought, well, I’m gonna go in and I’m gonna finish my English degree. And while I was doing that, I thought, you know what? I actually really like how much more collaborative being a teacher was. Cause there were a lot of people trying to scoop each other in the journalism program. And I thought I’d rather work with people as opposed to trying to top them. So that’s definitely how I started heading into teaching and was a high school teacher and taught English and civics and drama for many years before I started working at the school board. And did two terms as the arts and indigenous studies consultant. And last year had the great opportunity to sit in a leadership role for a year while my colleague was on leave. And then this opportunity opened up for experiential learning and I jumped right at it, cuz I thought this is exciting.


Sam Demma (09:54):
Cool, awesome. That, that, you know, I was gonna ask you, but I didn’t want to age you there. Let’s What’s Gilligan’s island ,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (10:03):
You’ve got to be kidding me. Gilligan’s island was the bomb. When I was a little kid, it was a little show and Gilligan was stranded on an island with six castaways. And one of them was bombshell actress who walked around everywhere in an evening gown on this deserted island. And so she was just it for me when I was a little


Sam Demma (10:25):
Kid, I love that. I’m gonna, I’m gonna go earn some brownie points with my parents with that one later


Sarah Abrams (10:30):
And


Sarah Abrams (10:32):
Sometimes we still have to tell Katie not to wear her ball gowns to work, but


Katie Lewis-Prieu (10:38):
You can’t see what I’m wearing down below. It could be, you know, heels in a full skirt.


Sam Demma (10:43):
I don’t know if you can hear it, but the whole crowd’s laughing. it’s awesome. Sarah, you know, what did your journey into education look like?


Sarah Abrams (10:55):
Mine was similar in some ways to Katie, but, but also a little bit different. I always have wanted to be a teacher, so I did follow a very linear pathway, which is something I’ve, I’m trying to bust for a lot of students. But I think part of that was because I was number one, a bossy older sister, and I had a much younger brother and he was my first student. So when I, I was about 10 and he was four, I was making him sit down and listen to me and I was teaching him to read and teaching him everything I wanted to teach him. And then the other thing was that I had a lot of family members who were in education, so that influenced me greatly. And, and I probably can remember every teacher I’ve ever had. So I really, for some, and it just, it just called to me from a young age.


Sarah Abrams (11:42):
But throughout my career, I’ve really realized that within teaching you can do so many different things. So I have, have not been static. I started out teaching history and English in high school and, and I was very much a yes person. So I was tapped on the shoulder and they’d say, we need someone to teach parenting. And I would say, okay, we need someone to teach hair styling. Okay. and so I’ve done a lot of different things within my school which culminated in a position as a guidance counselor, which I absolutely loved. I would, I could do that forever. I loved working with kids in student services, but that also then led me to this position at the board, working with the guidance teams from all of the schools. So I think education is a nice career because there are so many different things you can do. You don’t have to just stay in one path. There are a lot, there’s lots of opportunity for growth and for learning. And that’s been great for me.


Sam Demma (12:38):
I love that. And one of the most pivotal people in my high school career was my guidance counselor. She had countless conversations with me and my parents miss Diana. Yeah, Diane, her last name’s escaping me right now, but she, she would help me because my pathway was, I was trying to go to the us for soccer. And like, I can’t remember. I had probably, probably at least two dozen meetings with her in my last year of high school to try and figure things out for NCAA. So it just goes to show that every role in a school, whether it’s in the physical school or as a consultant, plays a huge role on impacting young people. And I’m curious to know, because I know you’ve, you’re not directly in touch with students, but you probably hear a lot from the schools and the principals. What do you think some of the challenges that schools and students are facing right now? And we won’t stick on this question too long because I don’t wanna get negative, but what are some of the challenges you think we’re facing and maybe Sarah, you can kick it off and then I’ll pass it back on to Katie.


Sarah Abrams (13:40):
Well, for me, and I think this would be similar for guidance folks. I can speak sort of for them a little bit. It’s the building relationships piece. I’m all about building relationships. I like building relationships with the counselors that I work with and the teachers that I work with. And as a counselor, I L loved being able to call a student into my office and have a chat and, and you build relationships with those students and that’s what, where you build the trust as well. And so with COVID and having to shut down and then start and shut down, and then we have some students going completely virtual. It is very, very hard to kind of keep those relat ships going and build new ones. So for me, that’s probably the biggest challenge, I think right now, due to COVID. I mean, lots of people are, are facing lots of personal challenges in lots of different ways, but in terms of my career, I think that has been something that I’ve really had to be conscious of and figure out how to build relationships in different ways. And I think teachers and counselors, schools are doing the same thing.


Sam Demma (14:38):
Yeah, no, I agree. Yeah. Katie, what, what do you think?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (14:42):
Well, my job is experiential learning consultant and challenge. It’s pretty hard when you’re on lockdown to, you know, when you, you start thinking about, well, what can I do? So for sure, there’s been a lot of pivoting and it’s hard. I think of just our, our theater students alone, because it’s something I’m very passionate about. And those students aren’t in most cases, not getting the opportunity to have that full theat or experience where you’re under the spotlights you’re you know, in scenes with other people, even just the, the, the acting piece where you can’t even make physical contact with someone to, you know, if you’re seen as telling, you’re trying to get somebody to snap out of it and the scene, you would normally be shaking them. You can’t do anything like that. So that was a huge challenge coming in. And I do worry about the mental health of our students as well, cause we’re social beings. But I think what Sarah was describing with those relationships is just the, the key to everything and, and still trying to give students opportunities to connect with the outside work world through things like learning partnerships has become crucial this year.


Sam Demma (15:58):
Hmm. And along with each challenge comes some form of an opportunity. I would, I would suppose that one of them is technology. You’ve probably learned a dozen new skills and tools. I mean, you’re wearing, very, no one can see it, but yeah, it looks like a pair of gaming headphones and I wouldn’t say you’re a huge gamer or who knows, you know,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (16:22):
You’d be right Sam when I play Mario Cartt my children laugh at me.


Sam Demma (16:28):
Yeah. So what are some of the opportunities you think have arise from the situation this year are some of the things you’ve learned that have been really helpful and we’ll start with Katie.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (16:41):
Well, I think Sarah alluded it to it earlier. Just the opportunity for the reach, like, you know, whereas you might have had an individual teacher setting up a session in their class where they had a guest speaker coming in, we’ve had these opportunities to do things like career panels where, you know, if we had I think one of the ones we ran for one of our other initiatives OCS B steam week, I think one of our career panels, we had over a hundred classes that’s classes wow. On the call. So in that one, I think we had three different panelists. So students were hearing from three people quick, 45 minute meet where the teacher is, you know, getting a chance to engage in that career exploration with their students. And then all sorts of crazy fun stuff have, has come out of those calls as well.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (17:37):
And I think it’s opened up our students and teachers to further inquiry. Us doing OCSP steam week actually came from the challenges that we faced with OCSP career week. And it grew into something huge. And there were a lot of teachers, I think, who, because they had opened themselves up to technology, also opened themselves up to new things like learning about stem or steam subjects. And so I think there’s just been enormous growth for everyone throughout the process and technology is allowed it, I mean, it can be so frustrating at times when things aren’t working out, but what an opportunity to reach so many more people. And also to have fun, we set up all these challenges as well. For OCS B steam weeks is stem challenges where students were doing these rub Goldberg machines. And I don’t know if you know what they are, but they’re like a chain reaction thing where they’re, you know, setting up slides, like, you know, maybe a ruler in a marbles going down there and it’s gonna hit something else and pop into something else. And we just loved seeing these students with that whole perseverance piece where they were setting up their systems and it didn’t work the first time, but they kept going. And then when you see those videos and you see their face and they are so proud of themselves, that they got it to work. That’s a huge thing.


Sam Demma (19:09):
Yeah. Oh, I, I agree. I totally agree. It’s funny, those, those contraptions, I think they happen in physics class. I might be wrong, but


Katie Lewis-Prieu (19:19):
, we had kindergartners doing it as well. Wow.


Sam Demma (19:22):
yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. So cool. Yeah, I remember it feels like yesterday I was in grade 12 and my buddy was making one for his grade physics assignment. Sarah, what do you think? Like what, what are some of the opportunities that you’ve seen arise outta this crazy situation?


Sarah Abrams (19:38):
I think I, I think Katie’s answer was bang on, but, and just to add, you know, or to, to echo what she’s saying. I think the challenge of as a history teacher, too, I think of challenges in the past, the great, the world wars with any big challenge that a society faces comes the opportunity for growth and creativity and some of our, our most amazing achievements and accomplishments come out of those tough times that we face as a, as a, as humanity. And like the, the growth in technology, especially among educate, I think is something that I have never seen before in my whole career. It’s and it’s because it was necessary, right. It was something that teachers had to do and, and we had to do as well. I’ve never learned so much about technology as I have in the last year.


Sarah Abrams (20:26):
And so I think that’s just opened up the doors to so many different things. One of the things Katie and I are involved in right now is providing, working with our partner, Algonquin college, providing our students with different virtual workshops on coding and using laser cutters and a 3d printing. And it’s all virtual, but the kids are able to learn how to do this stuff on their computers. And then at Algonquin, something will actually be 3d printed or laser cut or, or whatever. And the teachers are learning this too, and it’s making teachers more comfortable with all of the new technology that is up and coming. So I think if you look at it with a positive spin, there are a lot of challenges, but a lot of growth has come out of it.


Sam Demma (21:13):
Yeah, no, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s, it’s great growth. Like it forced, it’s forced growth almost like you grow up as a kid and you hit your growth spurt and then you stop growing. It’s almost like we’ve been to grow more at past that point. And it’s painful. You have aching pains from the new growth spur. And not to say that the challenges aren’t there, cuz they are like, it’s a crazy time and people are struggling, but it’s cool to focus on the positives for a second. You know,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (21:42):
And neuroscience tells us that we need to be lifelong learners. We need to keep bill holding those neuro connectors. So as, as tough as it has been, and it has been tough for some people like just the new skills that we are picking up this year are definitely something to be applauded.


Sam Demma (22:02):
Yeah. No, I agree. Totally agree. And you know, I’m curious to know when you were both students, so think back what are some things that educators in your life did for you that had a huge impact? And I’m, I’m curious to know, maybe you can pinpoint one teacher in something they shared or did. Because I think educators sometimes underplay the impact they have because they don’t see it sometimes. And with this story you can share about how they’ve impacted you it’ll remind educators that they’re having an impact on their own students and also give them some ideas on what’s important in the classroom. And Katie, you seem like you had an aha moment. So oh,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (22:43):
A hundred, a hundred percent. I had an incredible English teacher when I was at St. Joseph’s high school called Mary Lynn Oche. And I had her for a bunch of years at a time cuz it was when Catholic education was just starting to get the funding. And I remember we were studying Hamlet and she would not give us her opinion on whether Hamlet was mad or whether he was putting it on. And I remember being so upset at the time that she wouldn’t tell us her opinion, cause I really did value her opinion, but it was so smart of her because it forced us to use our own critical thinking skills and to make our own mind. And that has stuck with me. And she’s also one of the people who let me teach a class about journal is one of my independent study projects. And that certainly was one of those key things that made me think, okay, do I wanna go into journalism or teaching and gave me a sense of confidence that you know, I could be engaging in front of a class and, and it was just a little thing that she did by letting me try something out that had a major impact on me.


Sam Demma (23:55):
Wow. Love that. I love that it’s like giving you a responsibility almost absolutely. To succeed or fail and either, or it would’ve been a success,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (24:03):
But with support, with support, you know, we talked about what it would look like and it wasn’t something so hugely overwhelming that I couldn’t be successful at it, but I also got good feedback. And to me, that’s, that’s an enriching, deep learning opportunity.


Sam Demma (24:19):
Love that. Love that. Sarah, how about yourself?


Sarah Abrams (24:23):
When I think back, I, like I said earlier, I can remember every teacher I had and I think each of those people had an impact on me at some point, but I do remember in particular, a grade eight math teacher and I, I wasn’t the best math student. But she always took the time with students at lunch or after school. And she was very friendly and really encouraging. And her name was Phyllis Perry. And I still think about her sometimes. And I think I wrote her a letter actually, when I became a teacher thanking her for what she did. But one of the things I think back at is I don’t remember the lessons I learned. I don’t remember the curriculum from each of those teachers that I had. I remember other things remember, you know, what they talked about or how they made me feel mm-hmm or you know, those kinds of things. And I think sometimes as teachers, we forget that it’s not all about the curriculum. It’s about that relationship building and it’s about the impact of caring adult can have on a student. And for me, those are the, when I think about the teachers I had, it was it’s really the ones who were the most caring adults in my life that, that really stick out.


Sam Demma (25:31):
Yeah. So true. So, so true. And it’s funny cuz I’m reflecting now asking this question on my own experience and teachers who change my life, did the same thing that you’re sharing now. Like they, they took the content and personalized it for every student in the class. They knew what we liked. They knew our hobbies. They, they took the time to get to know us. So I think it’s great. Yeah. It’s such a, those are all great examples. And if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, you know, the first year you got into education, what advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now and yeah, Katie, you can,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (26:08):
You can


Sam Demma (26:08):
Go first.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (26:10):
Well, I remember being terrified, absolutely terrified when I, I started teaching, I didn’t have the educators in my family like Sarah did. So I really leaned on the colleagues who were at school with me. One practical piece would be not to pick up every single thing I assigned because I remember hitting Christmas and just being in tears because I had a stack of paper this high that I had to get through. And mark and I, I had gotten so busy that I wasn’t keeping up with it and it was overwhelming at the time. And I remember just being in the laundry room and crying. Aw. But it was, you know I look back and I got through it and you, you really do lean on people to give advice to you. And we’re a learning community mean if you know, a school is working well and functioning well, you’re not teaching in isolation, you’re teaching as part of a team and that collaborative piece.


Sam Demma (27:11):
Yeah. Love that. Love that great advice. Sarah, how about yourself?


Sarah Abrams (27:18):
I think for me too, it’s, it’s probably a little bit about, you know, do don’t, don’t worry as much about the curriculum. The curriculum is super important, but be yourself. I, I remember when I first started teaching, I thought, okay, I’m, I’m young. I need to go in and I need to be, you know, a mean teacher. I need to lay down the law and I need these kids to know that, I mean business and, you know, that’s the only way that they’re gonna pay attention and learn. And, and I learned very quickly that if you try to be something you’re not, students will pick up on that very quickly. And when I actually was comfortable enough just to be myself and to, you know, I’m, I’m naturally sort of a caring, motherly kind of a teacher and, and every teacher has their own style and, and every style is good. But that was my style. My style was not to be the hard nose, you know, strict disciplinarian and it worked better for me. I found my students responded better to me when I was authentic. And and when I just, just went in there as, as myself and that has worked really well for me.


Sam Demma (28:23):
Hmm. Love that, love that. Those are, I get a different answer every time I ask an educator so thank you for sharing. It is cool to see the different, you know, the different answers and examples and I appreciate you sharing. This has been a great conversation. It’s already been almost 40 minutes, so thank you both for being here and sharing in this conversation. If a teacher or an educator wants to connect with you, like what would be the best way to reach out and Sarah, maybe you can share first, you can share maybe a Twitter or an email address, whatever you prefer.


Sarah Abrams (28:52):
Well on Twitter, I’m @SarahMAbrams. So that’s definitely a way that people can connect with me, Sarah with an H and Abrams with no H and we can, we can share that with you later. And my email, absolutely. I’m happy to answer emails and it’s sarah.abrams@ocsb.ca.


Sam Demma (29:13):
Awesome. Katie, how about you?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (29:15):
And it would be the same two ways for me also on Twitter. I’m @klewis_prieur. And my school board email is katie.lewis-prieur@ocsb.ca.


Sam Demma (29:41):
Awesome, love it. Well, Katie, Sarah, thank you both for coming on the show. It’s been a great conversation. Keep up the amazing work and I will talk to you soon.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (29:50):
Thanks so much for having us; this is an honor.


Sam Demma (29:53):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams

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.

Sean Ruddy – Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at Near North District School Board

Sean Ruddy - Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at Near North District School Board
About Sean Ruddy

Sean Ruddy (@SeanRuddy14), is the Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at the Near North District School Board. He started his career teaching in the Rainbow District School Board and for the last 17 years has been a Vice Principal, Principal, and System Principal with the Near North District School Board.   

Sean has his Masters of Education from Nipissing University where his focus was on Safe Schools and using Restorative Practices to build relationships in schools. Sean has presented his work at the International Institute of Restorative Practices World Conference and the International Confederation of Principals Convention.

He has a strong belief that all students can learn.  Sean believes that finding creative ways to engage and support students will lead to an increase in student achievement and well-being.

Connect with Sean: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Near North District School Board

Rainbow District School Board

Masters of Education – Nipissing University

International Institute of Restorative Practices

International Confederation of Principals Convention

Specialist High Skills Major Program (SHSM)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:02):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Sean Ruddy. Sean is the Principal of student success and specialized programs at the Near North District School Board. He started his career teaching in the Rainbow District School Board and for the past 17 years has been a Vice-Principal, Principal and System-Principal with the Near North District School Board. Sean has his masters of education from Nippissing University where his focus was on safe schools and using restorative practices to build relationships in schools. Sean has presented his work at the International Institute of Restorative Practices world conference and the International Confederation of Principals convention. He has a strong belief that all students can learn. Sean believes that finding creative ways to engage and support students will lead to an increase in student achievement and overall wellbeing. I hope you enjoy this enlightening conversation with Sean. I will see you on the other side, all the best. Sean, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, please start by introducing yourself.


Sean Ruddy (02:07):
Yeah, thanks Sam. My name’s Sean Ruddy and I work for the Near North District School Board. Currently, my role is the Principal of student success and specialized programs. And the board office is located in North Bay, and we cover roughly about 17,000 square feet. So geographically we’re a fairly large board, and it stretches kind of from Perry Sound in the west, to Sturgeon Falls and in North Bay; in that that basic geographic area there.


Sam Demma (02:42):
At what point during your own career exploration phase of life, did you realize that as you is where you want it to work?


Sean Ruddy (02:50):
Yeah, it’s funny. Everybody seems to have a different story about how they end up in, in this in this spot. Graduating from from secondary school, I went on to post-secondary school. I, I was going into business, so I had no intention of, of getting into education at all. I was really fortunate enough to volunteer coach at a, as my, my high school that I graduated up and and, and got to work with some, some students and, and coaching them hockey. And for me, I really used the word coaching and, and teaching kind of interchangeably because they’re essentially, in my view, they’re, they’re the same thing. Really got to, to see that I was making a difference and, and that you know, you know, you knew it was as a your experience with soccer. You know, when you, you have, you have some success as a team and, and you, you know, as a leader of that particular team it certainly gives you that that thrive to, to want to do more. So I quickly figured out that that, you know, impacting students was something that I wanted to do for a living and then applied for teachers college and, and kind of the rest is, is history.


Sam Demma (04:05):
You mentioned coaching, how has athletics played a big role in your involvement at school and also outside of school?


Sean Ruddy (04:12):
Yeah. Athletics is huge. And you know, speaking of athletics, I know you’re a soccer guy. Yeah. Is there, is it a better timing camp, Canada to be a soccer fan right now? You know, like it’s,


Sam Demma (04:23):
Especially for me, because two of the guys who play on the Canadian men’s national team used to be teammates. So not only are they winning, but I’m able to personally cheer them on.


Sean Ruddy (04:33):
Yeah. That that’s incredible. Yeah. No sports sports has had a huge impact on, on my life as I believe it has on, on, on yours. The, you know, all of those lifelong skills that you learn in terms of you know, collaboration and you know, and teamwork and you know, putting the the common goals of the groups ahead of your individual interests, all of those are, are foundational leadership philosophy that, that I’ve taken from my years of playing sports and and try and implement it to you know, everything that I do here at the, at the schoolwork.


Sam Demma (05:11):
Awesome. you mentioned that the, the word coach and, and the word teacher could be kinda used interchangeably, what do you mean by that? And where do you see the striking similarities?


Sean Ruddy (05:21):
Well, I see, you know, you, you know, if we go back to using the, the coaching analogy, right, if you, you, you replace the team with your class and those are all interchangeable. And the, the really neat thing, and as you would know, is that every, every person is different. So every player that you have on your soccer team is different. Every kid in your class that you have is different. They all come from varying backgrounds and, and are motivated in, in different ways. And you know, you, the way I see it, the role as you’re as the leader or the coach, or the teacher, you have to figure out how each individual student learns and how to get the best out of that individual kit. And you know, it’s, and it’s no different on the, on the quarter on the field. And you know, the best best coaches are able to maximize the potential in each of their individual players, you know, and all going towards the you know, a common goal. So that’s where I see it. They’re, they’re, they’re really interchangeable from, from my point of view.


Sam Demma (06:22):
So you started teaching tell me a little bit about your first role and then bring us through the progression to what brought you to where you are right now.


Sean Ruddy (06:31):
Yeah, so I, I was fortunate enough out of teachers college to get hired in a, in a little small, a small town notes side, February called lava. And it was with the rainbow district school board, and I’m from north bay. So it was, it was outta town. So I spent one year there really immersed in teaching pretty much everything you can think of because when you’re in these small communities, there’s no such thing as specialized teachers. So you, you have to everything. So it was, it was great to, to live and learn there. I was able to eventually get back to the north district school board and taught for a number of years and then became a, a vice principal. And now I think I’m about 17 years into administration, a a on, through a few different secondary schools. And and this is my second year in the central position at, at the board office. So I I’ve really kind of been in, in every area of the board.


Sam Demma (07:31):
That’s amazing. You’ve played every position on the field.


Sean Ruddy (07:34):
Yes. Yeah.


Sam Demma (07:37):
Central role. Tell me a little bit more about what it entails and what your roles and responsibilities are, and some of the projects maybe that you’re focused on bringing in or running.


Sean Ruddy (07:48):
Yeah. So, so for me, you know, my focus is on student success and, and any of those specialized programs that we can put in place to, to help impact student achievement and our wellbeing within our board. Some of the, some of the ones that we’re really proud of is all of our secondary schools have specialist high skills, major programs. I and those were a variety of different programs from hospitality to construction, to business and arts. Students are, are very fortunate now where they have a number of options that they can focus based on their interests. So, so that’s one that certainly falls within my portfolio. Another one that we’re re we’re really excited about is we have a dual credit program with Canada or college here in north bay. So they’re a partner with us, and we offer a variety of, of dual credits where a student can actually go to college and get a, from the college and a credit from high school. So it’s you know, if you think of some of those the shortages that we have in the skills trades this is a great program to encourage our youth to get in there and and, and really get involved in a, you know, a career that would be very beneficial to them. And then we’re also lucky we’re, we’re launching a couple of new things for September we’re, we’re launching a, a dual credit and video game design.


Sam Demma (09:10):
Oh, nice.


Sean Ruddy (09:10):
So you know, some, some unique things like that, so that’s going on. And then, and then one other one that will likely be announced probably when the podcast airs is that our school board is partnering with Everest academy hockey academy. Wow. And we’re gonna have a, we’re gonna offer a high performance hockey academy combined with an academic program with the near us district school board, which will be unique in, in one of its kind. And again, trying to you know, find the interest of students to engage them in their academic career.


Sam Demma (09:47):
That’s amazing. I think the high performance program sounds like something I would’ve loved to be involved in for soccer when I was growing up in the school. So sounds like a final opportunity for students. What, what keeps you hopeful personally about this work on the days when you show up and there’s global pandemics or on the days you show up and things are a little bit difficult.


Sean Ruddy (10:10):
Yeah. You know, you know, Sam as, as an education and a, a leader I think your only option is to Mo model hope for your your, your teachers and students. Like, yeah. These last two years have been challenging for everybody, not just in, in education as we you know, continually pivot between timetable structures and in school and outta school. And you know, the people that are looking up to you, your, your teacher or your, or your students, they’re looking for that calm, steady beacon of hope. And you have to be the model for them especially during times of crisis and chaos. So I mean, the, there are going to be some lasting things out of this this pandemic, one of them we’re doing right now, we’re, we’re able to connect from, you know, hundreds of kilometers away in real time in, in video. So there’s all kinds of opportunities where we can get students in front of experts from literally around the world you know, through zoom or teams or, or those types of things. But yeah, no, there’s we’re gonna get through the other side that we, we always do. And again, as a leader, I think all you can do is, is to be that model of hope and, and optimism, and and continue to find ways to make things work even in, in times where it it’s very difficult.


Sam Demma (11:35):
I couldn’t agree more. I think you’re absolutely right. Being hopeful. Yourself definitely rubs off on those, around you, especially in the leadership position. So that’s awesome. When you think about programs that have happened in the past can you remember the transformation of a student who went through a program or was ever a part of a, of a class or a team that you’ve coached, who, when they started were very different than when they, you know, completed it or came out the other end? And if it’s a serious story, you know, you can change their name just to keep it a private


Sean Ruddy (12:11):
Yeah, no, there’s, there’s so many Sam having been around you know, I think this is here 22 for me in education. There’s so many stories. You know, if you just think of your own experience going through high school, when you, when you entered grade nine and you know, the maturity level of, of grade nines that were in your class, and then you, the, that same group walking across the stage four or five years later there’s, there’s just a massive change just in maturity. And, and, you know, as educators, we’re, you know, we’re proud of the accomplishments and seeing that transformation for sure. And certainly I know your your educators would be certainly proud with the, that you’re doing not only with, with this podcast, but also the work that you’ve done in your community.


Sean Ruddy (12:58):
So, so thank you for doing that. Just, you know, there’s so many individual stories. It’s hard to, to pick out one, but I can give you like, just a general just a, just a general basis on, in terms of kind of my involvement in, in terms of impacting students. It’s so difficult in the education businesses, because you don’t have that instant feedback. And it’s so hard to you know, I like, I think of one of my colleagues who’s a principal out in sturgeon falls. He also runs a, a wood business. And if you think of something simpler like that, and you, you compare it to education. So not to say that the wood business is simple, but a pile of logs get dropped off. And he goes out there and he works all day on a Saturday, the logs get cut up and they get stacked nicely in court.


Sean Ruddy (13:46):
So he can look back at the end of the day and all that hard painstaking work he’s done. You can see that it’s made a difference in education. We’re, we’re doing that pain making work day in and day out. And, and it’s really hard to see that until there are times like graduation. There’s one, one example. I met a, a former student in the grocery store and he came up to me and he said, you know, he’s told me about how successful he’s been, told me about an interaction that I had with him in the hall one day now, to be honest them, I had no it’s one of a hundred interactions we’d have with students in the day. So I had no recollection of this interaction. He said, he said, you know what? You really made a difference with what you said to me that day.


Sean Ruddy (14:27):
And I stayed at school and I, I continued to go on. So if I have any advice around that for our educational colleague out there is to not underestimate any interaction that you have with a student, no matter how small you think it is, because you know, depending on that particular student, it, it makes a huge difference. And I also equate you know, the work we do in education to my golf game, going back to the sports analogy again, right? So, you know, I’ll go out. I don’t play as often as I’d like to, but I’d go out and shoot 85 or 190 shots, 85, 90, 95 shots. And many of those are frustrating shots and they don’t go where you want them to go, but without fail, there’s one or two that you hit, whether that’s that nice long drive, or you drained a long pot that goes in and you get that satisfaction of doing something that makes you wanna play again. So when we get that feedback from students, oftentimes it’s not until they’re long graduated and you meet them at somewhere in the community you really realize the difference that you make and it makes you want to keep keep going back.


Sam Demma (15:34):
That’s a beautiful analogy. I’ve played golf for one summer, and I don’t have many of those moments yet, but they’re coming.


Sean Ruddy (15:43):
You got it. They’ll come.


Sam Demma (15:45):
Yep. I go, I do a lot of swimming, actually. It’s a dual sport athlete when I golf. Yeah. Yeah, that’s amazing. And if you could, and you may be echoing some of the things you just shared now, but if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education this far bundle it all up, go back in time and tap yourself on the shoulder. And your first, second, third year of education, knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given to your younger self?


Sean Ruddy (16:13):
Well, I think we all all, all of us that are in education are, are fairly driven to be successful. And, and to get to that point, you have been successful. You’re going to fail. You’re, you’re gonna try things and you’re gonna fail. And as frustrating as that is, you know, looking back now, that’s exactly how we learn. Yeah. Like we try things and we fail and, and we reflect on it and do it again. The most powerful lesson that I learned really early on is that I, I ended up working at a school that was about 45 minute drive away from, from my house. So at the end of the day, I had 45 minutes of, of kind of quiet reflection to think of about what happened during the day and reflect on how I can, you know, do it better.


Sean Ruddy (16:58):
So you know, make those mistakes, think outside the box, make connections with kids. You know, kids are the variable, right? Like they, they change, they, you, you, what you did five years ago, won’t necessarily work this year. You’re gonna have change. The kids are the, are the variable. So you know, continue to adapt and and reflect and, and make mistakes. And that, and that’s how we learn. And you know, what, El Sam, I think it’s also fair to show that vulnerability, even as a, as a leader right now, show that vulnerability. Yeah. We continue to make mistakes and that’s okay. And that’s how we learn, but you reflect on them and, and you keep moving on. And you know, as a leader, I think it’s important to, to show that you know, that, that vulnerability.


Sam Demma (17:46):
Finally, before we wrap up here today have you found any specific resources helpful for your own development and education and coaching? Maybe the resource is actually even a person. So, you know, you can mention a mentor or even something you’ve read, watched or been a part of that’s had an impact on you.


Sean Ruddy (18:05):
Yeah. There’s, you know, nobody gets a this far in their career without help from, from people along the way. And there’s many, many people that had a, a big impact on, on my career in particular, the, the first principal that hired me in the rainbow board, Fred law took me right under his wing and, and gave me that permission to make mistakes and, and, and learn. So that was great, but you know what, to be honest, the, and I’m not a, a huge social media presence or, or person. Yeah. But the the best PD that I’m I’m getting right now is you know, following a variety of people on Twitter. Like there’s so much positive PD that that’s out there again, right. So, and it connects people from all areas and all boards and you know, where you can collaborate on, on pretty much any topic you want. So it, it really kind of shrinks the the world. And and basically any topic that you, you want, you can find somebody all else that’s either tried that, or would like to try that with you. Cool. And you can go from there.


Sam Demma (19:16):
If someone wants to reach out to you, ask a question, bounce some ideas around or collaborate after listening to this podcast, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Sean Ruddy (19:24):
Yeah, probably the best place is they email Sam. So it’s sean.ruddy@Nearnorthschools.ca. And I do have Twitter, although I’m not, I use it more for PD than being active and it’s @SeanRuddy14.


Sam Demma (19:39):
Awesome. Sean, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up with the great work, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.


Sean Ruddy (19:45):
Awesome. Thanks Sam, I really appreciate the opportunity.


Sam Demma (19:49):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sean Ruddy

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

Sarah Caldwell-Bennett – Leader of Experiential Learning for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB)

Sarah Caldwell-Bennett - Leader of Experiential Learning for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB)
About Sarah Caldwell-Bennett

Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (@SarahCalBen), is the Leader of Experiential Learning for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB) in Treaty #3, the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe and Métis Peoples. 

She has taught nearly every grade from K-12, in just about every subject, but eventually settled into teaching Core, Extended and Immersion French programming before moving into a central role.  She holds an HBSc, BEd and has a Master of Education.  Sarah is an AQ course designer and instructor within the key areas of outdoor, environmental, and experiential learning.

Sarah believes that communities play an important role in partnership with educators by providing experiences for students that “stick”.  As a proud Northwestern Ontario person, she has embedded environmentalism, equity, stewardship and love for land and water in all of her courses and passes these lessons on to her own children as well. Undoubtedly, lifelong learning and moving education forward are true passions of hers.

Connect with Sarah-Caldwell-Bennett: Website | Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Keewatin-Patricia District School Board

Bruce-Grey 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 (00:02):
Sarah welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (00:09):
Hi Sam. Thanks for having me. My name is Sarah Caldwell-Bennett. And I work for the KP DSB and I am the leader of experiential learning for my board.


Sam Demma (00:20):
What the heck is the leader of experiential of learning? What is experiential learning and what do you do?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (00:26):
That’s a very fair question. So the leader of experiential learning takes on quite a few things and it, and the flavor of the role can depend on the school board. So for my school board, I have a focus on experiential learning that connects to outdoor education. Land-Based learning environmental education, as well as pathways and transitions. So thinking about the future and, and for me, and how I approach this role, I really look at it as an opportunity to connect with community organizations, community members and expanding kids networks so that when they leave high school they have the biggest network they can, which really leads to that idea of being a com a responsible community member, as well as an employed community member.


Sam Demma (01:18):
How did you get into this role? What has your journey been like throughout education as a whole?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (01:24):
So, so, so that’s kind of a fun question because this is something that comes up when we talk about pathways. And my, my pathway here has not been a straight line from a to B, like with most of us. So in my first year of teaching, I thought, you know, like I wanna make, I wanna make this fun. I wanna engage kids. I want, I, I wanna be the favorite teacher. I, I wanna make this fun every day. And if it’s fun for me, it’s gonna be fun for kids. And that’s kind of how I looked at it. And plus you, you know, you’re a young, a young adult coming out of university. You think you kind of have all the answers, but I, I really had a great principal that supported me in this. And so when I went with, to him with these ideas, I, I initially thought he say no, but he just kept saying yes, and that led to the next thing and the next thing, and the next thing.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (02:10):
And although your first year is probably your most challenging year or maybe a pandemic year it made it made teaching bearable in that first year and it made it fun. And so I’ve carried on with that throughout all the different roles that I I’ve held. And even in my teaching capacities over the years, my roles have changed. So last year when this role came up a little bit different than it had been seen, it was a little more focused on skilled trades, which isn’t, it’s not really my jam. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues that work in those, in those fields, but it’s not something that drives the fire in my belly when it became more focused on outdoor education, land based learning and environmental issues. I had to jump on it. Mm.


Sam Demma (02:55):
Tell me more about that passion and where it comes from for you personally.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (03:00):
Yeah, so I, so I live in treaty number three, which is in Northwestern, Ontario, the traditional lens of the M a T people. And I think just being in this world where we’re blessed with, with lots of green space, lots of forests, lots of nature, lakes, rivers, you name it, and growing up in this area. I, I just think it becomes a part of your, your fiber and your being to be connected to the land and to the environment. And so I went to university at the university of Toronto and I learned quickly that I was not a city girl very, very quickly. It was actually a struggle to get through four years. But I did. And then when I did my B, I went to Lakehead university because late thunder bay is, you know, in Northwestern, Ontario as well, but I had that connection. So I could go to the land when I needed to, and I couldn’t do that in Toronto. So, but I think it’s just who I am and, and who I raising my kids to be. And thinking about that legacy.


Sam Demma (04:00):
When you say go to the land, how do you feel when you’re out in nature or what, what aspect of nature really calls out to you?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (04:11):
Well, I think normal’s the word that I, that pops in, right? Yeah. So I, I feel more so I start my day outside every day. Mostly cuz my dogs make meat, but nice. I don’t have that cup of coffee in the morning. Like a lot of people have, I have my cup of nature. And even on today, today we had a a little bit of an Alberta clipper pass through through the night. And as I’m out there shoveling snow, whether I realize it or not, I’m connecting with land. Right. And even if it’s a little bit of an days, cuz it’s in the dark and at this time of year, it’s a really important part of how I start my day.


Sam Demma (04:48):
There was an educator I interviewed from the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And he runs a program called the Genesis program, which is an outdoor education program where he brings students into nature for like four weeks. And it’s this huge expedition and him and a colleague created the program. And I think it’d really cool for you to connect with them. There might be some stuff you can bring or, or, or take from that into your own practice. I think learning outside and utilizing nature is so important. I’m like you and love absolutely love getting outside. We back onto a forest and I routinely forest bath or like not actually take a bath in the river, but I do a lot of like walking and, and meditative walking through the forest and find it. Awesome. tell me a little bit about your first year in experiential learning. This is your first year. How has it gone for you and what are some programs and things that you you’ve been able to spearhead within the school board?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (05:46):
So I, I don’t know if my head ever went to thinking about a central role like this because I really did love my role. Every role I’ve had up in the 15 years of my career. So this was never really actually felt very torn about applying that’s how much I loved my classroom position. But you know, there’s been a lot of change in the last couple years and the pandemic has really altered our thinking about how we do things that on and so forth. So last year I made a commitment to get outside as much as possible with my class. And I always had by the way, but this was like next level commitment because now I’m starting to think about the physical and mental health of our students. We, we had students come back to the school, not comfortable being in a classroom with, with, with other, with other students because we had been in isolation for so long.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (06:34):
So I made a commitment. I had grade nine extended French geography at that time. And I, we went outside every single day for class for an entire quad something that started off with, well, let’s try that first week or, oh, well we did last week. Let’s try a couple more days. And, and before you, you knew it, we had done the nine and a half weeks outside. Wow. So seeing that impact on had an impact on kids, but it had a, an impact on me too. So when this position came up, that was something that was kind of driving driving our work. So I don’t, we have, unlike a lot of other boards, our board is spread out into various communities. We even have two time zones in our school boards. So I don’t have, I don’t have a, a prefab cookie cutter program that I lay out in every community.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (07:21):
We want it to be as, as contextual and as community based as possible, but there are some commonalities. So a like with the other LS in the province most are giving a call for proposals. So I I’ve done that. And I’ve actually just put one out because this week marks the, the new the new term for elementary and the new quad for high school. Nice. And so we give them the opportunity to say, Hey, what do you need to make experiential learning happen? Hmm. And by the way, I’ll pay for it. Okay. I’ll pay for it. I’ll coach you through it. I’ll brainstorm with you. I’ll help you facilitate it. And I will, it’s tough to say that’s probably the most empowering thing that we do through my position and the board is, was we, we, sometimes we hand it to them on a silver platter.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (08:09):
Sometimes we’re going, Hey, I can learn from you, show me what you’re doing. Let’s elevate this. Let’s continue with it, whatever it is, but we make it as community and school specific as possible. And also looking at who their kids are. Right. And I don’t know their kids, they know their kids. So they’re, they’re the drivers of that work. But I’m always impressed about what programs are already happening, but I’m also impressed with, who’s willing to take a few more risks and try something new. And that’s what this does. Right? You, you, you know, you dangle some carrot at, in front of them and they go, Hey, maybe I’m willing to make that jump now. Mm


Sam Demma (08:44):
That’s awesome. What are some of the carrots that got danged or some of the programs that are going on in school, right? Yeah.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (08:52):
So this, this fall we, you know, we had a sustainable sewing project, so that was connecting environmental education, connecting with race waste reduction week. Also connecting with community. They brought a seamstress in to teach kids. They reached out to families to get some of that material because we were, we were trying to follow some of those sustainable S and just talking about like fast fashion and things like that. But we also on another extreme end probably one of my highlights of the year, although there have been several was the day I, I reached out to an and teacher and said, Hey, I get a deer. Can I bring a deer into your class? And meaning we are in the hunting season, right? Yeah. So a harvested deer. And, and sometimes I poke the bear a little bit and hope that they, they bite.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (09:50):
And this teacher did, and I ended up coming up with a deer and brought in I’m a I’m a gentleman to come and walk us through it. And we had just like the best slash weirdest school day of the year. And lots of classes were already doing it in other communities, but this one hadn’t. So I thought I would bring it in. And the guest speaker was amazing. The the tea did a lesson in and about my safety and how you respect the animal and, and talking about you know, like tobacco and that kind of thing. But the highlight actually were the students, and like with a lot of the, the experiential learning work that we do, this student becomes the star, not just the star of the moment, but the star of their learning story. So we were hearing kids speak that we’d never heard, like speak before in class, engage, tell the story, tell us how their families do it, tell us how that was the third deer that they’ve cleaned this year. In those moments, it’s almost like we sink back and just let them be in that spotlight and think about how, how that’s gonna stick with them for a long time. So, although it might have been a nontraditional lesson for the day, it’s not one that they’re gonna forget.


Sam Demma (11:12):
This idea of nontraditional is so important because education doesn’t only have to happen in one particular format or setting that would’ve been an amazing experience for all students. I never had an experience like that when I was in high school or elementary school, that would’ve been amazing. I would’ve loved to go through that.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (11:32):
Sam you’re stealing my line. My line is that learning doesn’t just happen in the four walls of your classroom.


Sam Demma (11:38):
Mhm.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (11:39):
Right. And it doesn’t just happen from the teacher. It can be from student to student, student, to teacher, teacher, to student, community member. And it most certainly does not have to happen inside all the time. And that word traditional is, is sometimes a great word. And sometimes it’s a scary word because our school system actually hasn’t changed a whole lot since like, like post contact, right? Yeah. Like the Western ways of, of how the education system has been organized. And so we have to look for opportunities to change forward.


Sam Demma (12:16):
Learning doesn’t even have to happen sometimes face to face, I think, physically face to face. And COVID kind of proved that one a little bit for some school boards. What are some of the, I don’t wanna focus on the challenges cuz those are obvious and we know we all have them due to COVID, but what do you think some of the opportunities are that have arisen because of COVID 19 and the pandemic that all these different school boards are going through.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (12:42):
And I really appreciate that because I think, although I think it’s important to identify those challenges. And I think certainly like one big that March, that spring, March, 2020 to June, 2020 wow. Like how about an next equity check for school boards? Right. And teachers. And I was like, how did I not think of some of this stuff before? And I’ve kind of really gone down deep into learning and exploring that stuff. So we do have to identify those challenges, but I think our willingness to connect and our willingness to overcome some of these barriers and find solutions has been probably, and I’m gonna say one of the best parts of the pandemic. And I, you know, I kind of feel bad saying it that way, but we’ve been given an opportunity and a responsibility to make some change. And I think that that’s really important.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (13:31):
So one thing I’d like to say is, is that educators around the world, not just here in Ontario or in my school board have become really good at sharing the good and sharing sharing in particular. Mm. So I can say, man, I, I saw this, this person out on the east coast and they’re doing this, this fied that’s, you know, like this, I’m gonna bring an idea back from that and bring it into my school board and see if anybody bites and, and go from there. So, and then the others thing is all those opportunities. So we talked about, you know, I live in Northwestern, Ontario, we have a small population, but we have a geographical size of the country of France that we have to, to negotiate. So, you know, like when I go up to pick a lake in a couple weeks, I’m gonna be driving my, you know, seven plus hours up north and, and that’s how I’m gonna reach that school. Right. But it’s also brought us closer together. So now we’re seeing not just like cross like between class collaboration or in interschool, but we’re seeing Intercommunity within our board and beyond. Right. So connected north actually has been a really great partner for us for bringing in yes, speakers and people we may not normally have access to or programming that we may not normally have access to.


Sam Demma (14:43):
Nice. And tell me more about connect, connect to north. Is that the name


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (14:48):
Connect to connect to north? Yeah. So they provide programming we, where we work with it, we’re a Northern board. Right. So, but they can bring in speakers from all over the place. So for instance, one of the call for proposals was looking this fall, one of the classes was looking at special. So, but not just special effects like technology, but also like makeup.


Sam Demma (15:14):
Ah,


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (15:15):
Right. So they brought in they had a guest who was actually based outta Saskatoon, was their kind of teacher for the day for this work. So they’re sitting there getting a makeup lesson on how to do like theatrical makeup. Wow. from Saskatoon in a class in air falls, Ontario. And so the opportunities that come up because of that, right. They wouldn’t get that out of their small town.


Sam Demma (15:40):
That’s awesome. I love that. You know, you mentioned, and, and shed light a little bit on the, the DEI issues that came to light as well. What are some of the thing that you individually have done and also that you see the school board starting to pay attention to, or change that you think is a positive step in the right direction.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (16:01):
Yeah. so that March, 2020 when we first started thinking, oh my goodness, you know, like we’re gonna have to do this virtually, how do we do this? Brought a lot of things to light that maybe, maybe we were weren’t maybe we knew maybe we, we probably knew all along. Like we knew kids that weren’t that were reliant on school food. We knew about these things. We knew kids who didn’t you know, have internet at home. We knew about those things, but it wasn’t a focus and it, all of a sudden we brought it to light. Yeah. and, and I’ve been really privileged to work with a lot of great people, but also some really smart people. And one of the principles that I’ve worked with always says, if you not, you’re not sure where to start, start with yourself.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (16:45):
Hmm. And so I, I really took that to heart. And so that spring, I really started diving into, I attended every workshop. I could, I read every book that I, I could about equity. I started thinking critically about my own actions, what I did in the classroom reflecting on those pieces. And our, our board was as well. It wasn’t just me as an individual. I had lots of colleagues that were thinking along the same lines. And if you look at board improvement plans now almost two years later, you will you that there is one of the main, main roots or goals is based around equity.


Sam Demma (17:21):
That’s awesome. Very cool.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (17:23):
So we have we have several, we have an equity committee at the board level. We also have a culturally, a C R P culture relevant and excuse me, responsive practices group. And we try to embed that work into all of our schools. So there’s just, and at times it feels like, yeah, I made some growth in this area. And then I realized that end line is still far, further and further away. And not because I’m not trying, but it’s an everyday thing. And like you mentioned earlier, like it’s about those small changes, right. Because several small changes can add up to that big one. And that’s the work that we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to make like a wholesale massive change because it won’t stick, it won’t be embedded into the culture. It won’t be embedded into the practice.


Sam Demma (18:16):
And sometimes a, you know, small action is a little less overwhelming which encourages you to continue taking them. So yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Well, what have you found helpful in terms like resources or things that you have went through or read through yourself? Not just for DEI, but just in general for your, your career in education.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (18:39):
Oh man, that’s a tough one. That’s a big one. Yeah, so I, I think you just need to get started. So find someone who who’s you know, willing to maybe walk this path through with you. Cuz they’re, I’m a hundred percent sure there are good people within, within the circle within the network you already have, but I have to say, and I, and I, this isn’t gonna work for everyone, but I’ve made my Twitter account is only professional. It is focused on, on education is focused on learning. I’m very critical about who I follow, what I share, who I post that holy man what I’ve taken away for, for personal learning from those networks and those brilliant people that I’ve added has challenged. My thinking has, you know, hopefully shaped me into, you know, the right, the right person that I wanna be as an educator, as a parent, as just a community member. Yeah. But also, you know, keeps challenging me to think, and that’s the big thing. As soon as you stop doing that stuff, that’s when you’re gonna get stagnant. And that’s actually, one of my biggest fears in education is getting interrupt mm. Staying the same and not being willing to, to change.


Sam Demma (19:49):
Awesome. I love that. I, I think that’s a fear for a lot of people. You get so comfortable doing one thing and you know, maybe you teach the, you know, when you’re in a classroom, you teach the same subject sometimes for 15 years and it’s the same lecture and it’s the same discussion. And being willing to challenge yourself every single day is I think so important. A quote from a book I read or actually the title was what got you here, won’t get you there. And it’s just this idea of always having a beginner mindset, an open mind and understanding that there’s different ways to climb the mountain. And there’s also other mountains that you could climb. And I think it’s just super, super important to remember that. So I appreciate you sharing. If you could take your experiences all throughout education, bundle it up, travel back in time to the first class you taught in, you know, tap younger, Sarah, cuz you’re not, you’re not old, but tap younger Sarah on the shoulder and say, you know, Sarah, this is what I wish you heard when you were just starting.


Sam Demma (20:50):
What advice would you have given yourself?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (20:55):
That’s a tough question.


Sam Demma (20:56):
Oh, that’s a big one.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (20:57):
I’ve actually had, I’ve actually had quite a bit of reflective moments this year because in addition to my L L role I’ve taken on three NTIP teach years we call ’em. So the new teacher induction program. Oh nice. And so I have been thinking about my first year of teaching more and more and more and more than I ever have in any other year. And so, so this is a good question. I don’t know if I have a brilliant answer for you, but I would go back. I would definitely go back in time and share the importance. I knew my kids. I, I did. I knew my kids. I, I, and I was doing some good work. There are some moments that I wish I could delete from memory, obviously because you’re a new teacher and you’re fumbling a little bit, you’re trying to survive to the next day or the next week.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (21:44):
But one thing that I would go back and I would really highlight is the importance to families. And although, although that might not you know, seem directly connected to curriculum or anything like that, but the importance of getting to know your families, their, their parents, their situations and their context, because I, I can tell you, I was not thinking about equity then the way I’m thinking about I wasn’t thinking about home dynamics, then the way I’m thinking about home dynamics now, and that influence that it has on the day to day action and possibilities for kids. And, and also, I, I can’t remember if I said this to you before, but my, my that idea of connection to community is big to me. Those fan family members are part of the community and you have no idea what they could offer you for your learning, for your context and how that’s gonna make it kid feel or another kid feel how that validates what they’re doing for and with their communities. So they really are. They’re a big part of your team. They’re not just someone who you report to three times a year on report card it’s for elementary or, or, or to pay me on quads or semesters for high school, you know they’re a part of your team and, and fuse that relationship as tightly and strongly as you can.


Sam Demma (23:02):
I love that. That’s such a good reminder that yeah, a parent is not just the caretaker of their child. They’re a part of the community that can have something to add in terms of value and yeah. Heightening the experience for everyone involved. If someone is listening to this conversation, Sarah, and liked something that was shared or, or wants to reach out and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (23:27):
Sure. So they can email me, (email). Or you can find me on Twitter @(twitter)


Sam Demma (23:41):
Awesome. Sarah, this has been such a fun conversation. It’s already been over 30 minutes. I appreciate you taking the time to chat here. Keep up the great work and we’ll, we’ll talk soon.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (23:51):
Thanks for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sarah Caldwell-Bennett

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.

Tina Noel – Experiential Learning Coordinator Renfrew County Catholic DSB

Tina Noel - Experiential Learning Coordinator Renfrew County Catholic DSB
About Tina Noel

Tina Noel (@tlnoel) is the Experiential Learning Coordinator at the Renfrew County Catholic DSB. She is responsible for providing the students on her board with learning opportunities and hands-on experiences that will help them develop the skills they need to create the futures they desire.

She is also the board lead for the OYAP program – Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program – and spent many years working in the co-op department. Throughout her career, Tina developed three guiding principles that she believes are the cornerstones to a successful Career / Coop Placement.

One – Integrity

  • In simplest terms – Integrity means doing the right thing even if nobody is watching.
  • Do what you say and say what you do – your integrity and reputation are at stake!!!

Two – Own It!

  • What went wrong, how can you fix it and what will you do to not let it happen again.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. Do not cover up repetitive, bad behaviours with excuses. Understand the difference between excuses and reasons.
  • Remember – mistakes are a part of life and are necessary for us to improve and change behaviours. If you keep making the same mistake – it is no longer a mistake rather it becomes a habit.
  • Try to understand that parents, friends, teachers, supervisors and co-workers see through excuses!

Three – Choices

  • Every choice has a consequence – can be good, bad or even ugly!
  • Remember – only you know whether or not you can live with your choices. Some choices are very, very small but others can be life-altering. Take the time to make choices that you can live with.
  • Begin to back away from peer pressure in making some choices that might negatively affect your success in your job or career.

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM)

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP)

Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC)

12 steps of rehabilitation

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):
Tina welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Tina Noel (00:10):
Hi and thank you for having me. I’m Tina Noel, the experiential learning coordinator, OYAP and SHSM lead with the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board in the beautiful Ottawa valley situated between North Bay and Ottawa.


Sam Demma (00:25):
What got you into education at what point in your career did you realize this was the vocation and calling for you?


Tina Noel (00:34):
Interesting enough. The fact that my career ended up bringing me into guidance. I, in while I was in a high school, I had a guidance counselor as they did back then tell me that I, well, I did well in math and I did well in business course as well clearly means that I should become an accountant. Well, I never put anything any thought into it. And so I thought I pursued that and clearly recognized that I did not wanna sit behind a desk with numbers and started looking at where I, where my strengths were. And it started leading towards working with youth, not necessarily children, but so that I worked my way towards high school. And yeah, that’s kind of, it


Sam Demma (01:24):
Was guidance the first position you worked in a school building and what was that experience like?


Tina Noel (01:31):
No guidance guidance tends to be that old idea that you have to have worked in schools then you kind of work your way up into guidance, but no, my, my actual first job that I graduated 1993 from teachers college. Lakehead and I, it was very difficult to get into teachers college back then. And it was the year of the social contract which means I was hired by Duff appeal, Catholic board, but they basically released the bottom, like 10% of their staff and put them on supply teaching and then I couldn’t move to Toronto. So I moved back home and started looking for work. And I was given a half position at an all school to start the alternative program. And we had nothing of that. So now I’m a young teacher and I built it from the ground up and it became, it’s still a viable program now.


Tina Noel (02:30):
And I did a lot of outreach with Ontario, which is now currently Ontario works, probation, drug, rehab, incarceration. I worked with a OCDC, and I basically reintegrated a whole bunch of students back in to regular school. And it was the most rewarding job and highly, highly recommend that for any teacher in that you, before you, you think about subject matter, you think about relationships with students and there’s always a pushback and most at risk youth have a huge guard up and you struggle to break down that wall. And the only way that you ever break it down is with trust and teenagers. See through people that, that are not sincere very, very quickly. And it was, it gave me the ability to then become a student success teacher and then moving into guidance. And I did co-op. And so all of that takes that extra, really getting to understand your student.


Sam Demma (03:39):
And somewhere along the line, you also shook the hand of Oprah. Oh, is, is this a true story? And can you please explain why, where that tweet came from?


Tina Noel (03:52):
Well, somebody posted who was the most famous person yeah, I’m a, I, I follow politics quite a bit and I was a, a huge follower of Oprah. And then she was talking about this young Chicago politician by the name of Barack Obama. And so I was kind of intend on just completely following it. And she was having him on as his political career was going. I thought, oh, I need tickets. If I ever get tickets to Oprah, maybe I will be able to, to hear him speak and whatnot. But anyway so it was 2001 and my girlfriends and I we just, I was homesick one day and I kept going and phoning and I sure enough got through for tickets. And they said, we’re putting on a special show on a Monday. And that would’ve been a travel day for me to go to a conference that it needs to be at for the ministry on the Tuesday in Toronto. So my, my superintendent said, you know, like whatever, then you can just travel from there into Toronto. And it’s exact you what I did. And we went down there and where she comes out on her previous show she comes out behind the doors. Our seats were right there at the top, right by the doors she came through and I shook her hand and we were able to, so it was pretty, pretty neat.


Sam Demma (05:18):
That’s awesome. I had to ask you that question, but yeah, right before I did, you mentioned the importance of building trust with students as someone who has worked with so many students over the years, what do you think is the best way to build trust with a young person?


Tina Noel (05:42):
Sorry about the announcements. Listening to students they, they really, truly want to be heard. And from that, and I’m not saying that we all should just stop what we’re doing to listen to them, but like don’t offer, like, don’t try to fix it without listening to them. Mm. And once you do that and you can, you can pick out what they’re trying to say, and then you kind of break down all of the, the kind of rhetoric, and then you kind of get to the core and you, you pick up things that resonate with them, or you pick up things that are interest to them, and then you try to make a shared conversation. And and don’t, don’t forget about yourself being vulnerable. They often think that, you know, as children in elementary school will look at their teachers as having everything together. And, oh my God, they know, you know, we can’t, we can’t be that for everybody. And we have to make sure that students see us as humans first and that we care and then we’re able to educate.


Sam Demma (06:57):
Hmm. That’s just a good philosophy. It’s like coaching, you would learn in coaching that the most powerful tool you have is the questions you ask, which is not giving advice. It’s asking questions to listen more. And I think it’s the same in, in teaching and guidance. At some point in your career, you also transition to experiential learning. How did that occur? And for someone who has never worked as a experiential experiential lead learner, can you explain a little bit about the role?


Tina Noel (07:29):
Well, I co-op is your basic experiential learning activity. That’s been in high school. So I, I was asked to move into co-op very quickly one year, and then I started assuming the role of the OYAP lead, but our board is so small. So I was both I was a systems person being OYAP, but still a classroom teacher doing the OYAP sorry, the co-op portfolio. And co-op so you to have a little bit more flexi flexibility that you’re not in the school every day and set times and running the BES. So you basically have am PM call for full day. And a lot of the OYAP students obviously are in co-op. So I started doing that. And then the SHSM program came about in the province month. And so I was working with our then student success principal, and they started expanding my portfolio to take on SHSM.


Tina Noel (08:31):
And so I I’ve been in SHSM from the very, very beginning meeting. So I’ve been with the program and understand how it’s grown in and the importance of it. And so now I had OYAP now I had SHSM and I was still trying to do then student success and overseeing guidance. I was a guidance department at, and it just got to be a lot. So the board then created a systems program with all of those portfolios at, at the exact same time that the ministry brought out an El position. So our board truly did create that umbrella system where all exponential learning and all support programs for in school. We were under one umbrella.


Sam Demma (09:17):
That’s awesome. For someone who doesn’t know too much about SHSM, can you explain a little bit behind its program and purpose?


Tina Noel (09:27):
Yes. SHSM program, the specialist high skills major basically was born out of other boards doing these meat programs. And so, oh, look what they do. And I remember one of the Kingston boards did guitar building, and then they would and then they kind of moved it into the music program. So it was kind of a whole follow through, but the ministry knew the, the importance of that, but they needed to create curriculum around it and, and a system, so it fit into for funding. And so then they started looking at, so the Kingston board, limestone board used to have what was called focus programs and around an idea. So then the ministry came up with specialist high skills majors. And from that it’s grown and they started looking at general program names specific. And then what courses would be the majors and the minors and, and setting up kind of the funding parameter in the scale of the funding.


Tina Noel (10:34):
And we’ve had great ministry people. And the neat thing with the SHSM program is the people at the ministry who are, are the contacts for all the SHSM leads are as passionate about SHSM as the, the people at the grassroots. And that includes our classroom teachers because our programs each have a program lead. And if it wasn’t for them, our programs wouldn’t work. We can do all what we want at the, the board level. And the ministry can all do what they want. But I’ve often said if it’s not the grassroots, if the teachers are not there and passionate about it, the programs are not viable.


Sam Demma (11:16):
Chisholm specialists, high skills major was an option in my high school as well. And one of my biggest regrets was being so focused on sports that I didn’t get involved.


Tina Noel (11:28):
Yeah. And they do have they do have health and wellness with a sports focus. So yeah, but you might not be sitting here if you did that, cuz you might have gone into some medical.


Sam Demma (11:39):
Yeah, you’re totally correct. One thing I really enjoyed chatting with you about were your three, three principles towards having a successful co-op placement that you share with all the students you help place in co-ops over the years. Can you share a little bit about those three principles and why you think they’re so important.


Tina Noel (12:01):
As I, as I have come coming near the end of my career, I go back to this lesson and this lesson is my favorite because it holds so much of what I feel has resonated with me in my career in working with youth that I can pass on for the students themselves to take on. So the three guiding principles, number one is integrity. Number two is own it. And number three is choices. So number one, integrity in simplest terms, integrity means doing the right thing. Even if nobody is watching do what you say you are going to do, your integrity and reputation are at stake. And we often say in the OWA valley, because it’s such a small town and, and we have a lot of small towns instead of one major center. Yeah. And there’s not one degree of separation. Mm. And people know in high school, if you do something, you, you often get labeled with it and we can break down labels, but you don’t want it to be at your own doing.


Tina Noel (13:07):
And you, you, you try to mitigate risk through integrity and, and setting up, not often said to the students, nobody ever came to their co-op interview or a job interview and said, okay, I’m gonna start to be late. I’m gonna not really care. And and then I’m gonna just be absent. So can I still get the job? And I often said, everybody comes in there on their best behavior. We’ll stay at that best behavior. That’s integrity number or two is my, my favorite and the students kind of I’ve used it so often. And I always hold up. My two fingers like own it. Number two. And in the yearbook one year they often put quotes beside what the teachers often said. And of course, right beside my picture and the yearbook is own it. And so it basic take responsibility for your actions do not cover up repetitive, bad behaviors with lame excuses, understand the difference between excuses and reasons.


Tina Noel (14:04):
Remember mistakes are part of life and are necessary for us to improve and change behaviors. If you keep making the same mistake, it is no longer a mistake rather becomes a habit. Try that, understand that parents, friends, teacher, supervisors, and coworkers see through excuses. And I often said, I have to give the, the respect to one of my colleagues. He met the students at the door and always greeted his students fantastic math teacher. And when the students came in, he would mention, Hey, you haven’t handed in this assignment or whatnot. They would begin with these great big long as they often do. They go rambling on as if they’re writing a novel and he would just look at them and goes, oh, that sounds like an excuse, not a reason.


Sam Demma (14:49):
Mm.


Tina Noel (14:50):
And it just, and so then for me, I often held up my hands and said own it. And then we kind of, we got to it. And number three is choices. And this is the science based kind of understanding. And I often say, and as every choice has a consequence, it can be good, bad, even ugly, just like inside every action has a counter reaction and only we can control what that is. In most cases, when it comes to our own behavior, remember only, you know, whether you can live with your choices. Some choices are very, very small, but others can be life altering, take the time to make choices that you can live with begin and to back away from pre peer pressure in making some choices that might negatively affect your success in your job or career. And it’s the choices can change the trajectory of some child’s life instantly.


Tina Noel (15:48):
And we often sit back and read the very difficult stories. And over my 30 years in education, sadly, I’ve, we’ve gone to too many of those. And I’ve often said to the students, let’s, let’s control what that is. And it’s not about bubble wrapping them. That’s not where I’m at, but cuz I’m totally about living and the students. And we often say about success comes with risk, but risk doesn’t have to be dangerous risk. Doesn’t have to be behavior altering or reputation altering risk. You can, you can mitigate risk, instant making good choices anyway. It’s. Yeah. And I, I often said, and there’s one really neat example of the choices a student showed up at my door for coop and I turned around and looked at him. I go, what are you doing here? And he goes, I, because he should have been at co-op and his co-op was at a manufacturing place and it was a far piece wait.


Tina Noel (16:55):
And he goes, well, I’m here. I need to go to the JP. I go, what for? And he goes, well, I might need a letter from you to say that I need my license to drive to co-op. And he goes, I got another speeding ticket. I went, what you should have only ever gotten one. Mm. He said, what do you mean? I said, if you, you can afford to pay the one or you can afford, then you change your behavior. We’ve talked about this. And he goes, well, it’s my third one. And I think I’m gonna lose my license. I said, well, I can’t do anything about that. And I get up and I, he handed me his ticket at that time and I get up and he goes, well, where are you going? I go, well, I’m gonna go to the photocopier goes, what are you doing with that for I, cuz I’m gonna photocopy and I’m gonna do you a favor. I’m gonna laminate it and I’m gonna attach it to your visor. And every time that you wanna put your foot on the gas, over the speed limit, you’re gonna look up and you’re gonna see that. And you’re gonna realize, can I afford that? And Kim, do I need my license? And that’s, what’s gonna alter your behavior.


Tina Noel (17:57):
I can’t afford a ticket or I don’t wanna spend my money in ticket. So I don’t. Yes. Have I gone over the speed limit? Yes. But I’m not going to go that far over the speed limit. Yeah. Or whatever. Yeah. So


Sam Demma (18:10):
These are awesome principles. I really resonated with all three of them. When you think about the own it phrase do you have any examples or stories you can remember of students who have done a great job owning it? Meaning they walked in, knew that they didn’t really meet a recommend didn’t really meet a requirement and they said, miss I’m gonna own it. Here’s the truth.


Tina Noel (18:38):
Well, they, there was one student. I, I was dealing with one student in my classroom and then he had come down, sorry. I met him outside my office in the hallway and I’m talking to him and he was going on and on. And there was a doorway just to my left. And two students were coming through and as he was going on and I just lifted the two fingers up and I just went rule number two. And he goes, what’s that? And I, you couldn’t have time to perfectly a, a student that had just finished quote with me. And the first semester was walking by and I, I did the two fingers up and he goes, well, what’s rule number two. And the student turned around and he goes own it. And, and the student other looked at ’em and the two of them start to laugh because it’s just, and the student turns around.


Tina Noel (19:28):
He goes and he goes, just own it now. And it was just, and he just looks at me and I go, the only way we’re gonna get your problem solved is what did you do wrong? How can you fix it? And how is it never gonna happen again? And in the own, it, those are the three questions that allow that gives students the kind of the framework to help own it and, and owning it is something we need to teach. And because as students develop their well, their, their life experiences, they need to try to categorize them. And we just don’t, they just don’t wake up and own it by giving them the framework. They have to tell me what went wrong. So by, by admitting it, and it’s the first thing in the 12 step of any rehabilitation for, for for drugs or alcohol that the, any, any of the 12 step programs go with.


Tina Noel (20:33):
So we need to own it. And by stating what the problem was, and by seeing what we can do to fix it helps us say, we’re sorry, and realizing how it can never happen again. That changes behaviors. Mm. So the framework in the own, it gives teachers an explanation, sorry, the framework to help that, that line of communication. So it’s not me always fixing it for them. They have to fix it themselves. Mm. So, so it’s that gradual release of responsibility. And they always, they always want, they’re always a big, tough grade, 11 and 12 students until they’ve done something wrong. Yeah. And then they ask for help, but my help always came with helping them, not the situation. Yeah. I always said, I wanna help you fix it. And that helped create trust.


Sam Demma (21:34):
It reminds me of the phrase, teach a person to fish, not give them a fish. You know, not that you’re teaching people fishing, but the general principle is the same. You’re giving them a skill and that they could use long after they leave your classroom.


Tina Noel (21:53):
Or, yeah, exactly. And I had one student who came in and often students get released from co-op and the balance of a co-op teacher is providing credits and graduation opportunities and skills with protecting the employers and future opportunities for other students. So if the employers then get tired of the co-op students. So I often say to the students, before you get another co-op placement, we’re gonna do the own. It we’re gonna go through the framework because I can’t give away these co-op. And of course the students started saying, well, I was late. And then they often said, it’s surprising. It’s such, well, they don’t like me. I’m like, what? Mm, no, no, no. Let’s no, no, let’s back this up. And even kids that, that have problems with classroom teachers when they, they’re not handing in assignments or they’re not doing well on tests or whatnot. Well, they don’t like me. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And so I used the own it when I was student success teacher as well.


Sam Demma (22:58):
Ah,


Tina Noel (22:59):
And it worked in there as well because that emotional guard, it’s always easy to blame everybody else. So how do we take our actions back? And I’m not sitting here talking as if I’ve done that completely in my life because I have not. So I often do it to myself and my poor child, my own. I only have one child, my son, and it’s hard as a parent and you’re taken off multiple hats and I’ve used the own it with him. And he goes, and he would remind, I’m not one of your co-op students, mom.


Sam Demma (23:36):
Well, one of the things I was gonna say was these three principles, one beautiful thing about them is they apply to any situation in everyone. Not only co-op students, although definitely you’d have some challenges trying to share with your kids, but I appreciate you sharing.


Tina Noel (23:53):
And it interesting enough in, in, in the whole narrative of what’s happening in society today with these bipolar things and in, and rule number two, kind of goes for that as well. And, and, and by doing it, it actually will help the divide in society.


Sam Demma (24:13):
Yeah.


Tina Noel (24:14):
Anyway,


Sam Demma (24:15):
I agree. And rule touch on rule number one quickly as well. Integrity is so important. I also look at integrity as a way to build self-esteem because integrity is not only, you know, committing and promising to doing what other people, what you promise to others, but it’s also committing and, and following through on doing what you promise to yourself, the promises you make that no one else knows about. For example, if I tell myself I’m gonna exercise or I’m going to do my home work tonight at 4:00 PM and I follow through, I slowly start building self-esteem and confidence. So I think your rule, your, your first rule here of integrity is one important for your reputation and future careers. And secondly, and arguably even more importantly for your own self-confidence and self theme. So I think these three rules are extremely helpful, and I appreciate you bringing them together to share them today on the show. If you could kind of take your experience throughout education over the past 30 years, go back in time, tap Tina on the shoulder, in her first or second year of education and say, Tina, this is the advice that I wish you heard when you were just getting started. What would you have told your younger self?


Tina Noel (25:37):
Balance, the focus of your job to understand first and foremost, students come first? Mm. And nothing has at greater than the current pandemic we’re in.


Tina Noel (25:54):
I I’ve had a very difficult time with, with integrity of, of some teachers when their statements during a pandemic start with the pronoun. I, and I, I have a hard time understanding that because I spent 30 years making sure that students were number one and people often said, you know, you you’ve worked nights, you’ve worked weekends. And people said, well, how did you become a, a coordinator? And I, I often said, I just, every time they gave me a job to do, I, I kind of went there and beyond, because it was always the nice thing about all these programs that I’ve worked with. They’re, they’re completely student focused. I brought in the new curriculum in 99 to 2003. And I, I was on the sit team and then I worked for the board and then I came out and so they knew that I had integrity. They knew that I would work hard and do that, but in all of it in especially assessment inal, which is my favorite part of the new curriculum.


Tina Noel (27:21):
I, yes. So with these teachers, with the, starting with the eye, not having students as their focus has been really upsetting because in all the jobs that I’ve done, the students were, oh yeah, the assessment in the valve, part of it, the new curriculum allowed us to make sure that there was room for success. Mm. And that a, a mark given or attendance that, that the teachers had to work. And yes, they have, please. I, I have so much respect for teachers that teachers have worked so hard to try to figure out where the marks are coming from. And there’s been huge debates over, you know, the, the watering down of assessment eval, but ultimately the teachers that really, really care and have that integrity to the profession underneath see the value of students being successful. Mm. And no, a 60 for one student doesn’t mean the same as a 60 for another, but it might have altered their life or might have given them that, that glimmer of hope.


Tina Noel (28:30):
And that’s where we’ve done it. So we’re starting to teach the whole child, not just the brain of the child. And that’s all what integrity is about. And sadly, the pandemic in peeling back the onion has, has made me recognize that I, I don’t like seeing teachers that don’t put the student first and it’s been difficult because people have struggled with the pandemic and I have as well. And my whole, I never wanted to come outta my career with a dip. I, that I wanted to come out straight on working hard, wanted to be around the province, bringing back all these need ideas to my board and working really hard. And of course this has slowed everything, but in it all, I still, we still are getting students in level ones. I’m still working hard for my board. I’m gonna work hard right. To the end.


Tina Noel (29:27):
And, and that’s an integrity and the integrity to always put students first. And that’s what I would say to my younger self don’t ever, ever lose focus of that on your most difficult day, when you’re trying to plan that lesson on Sunday night, when your young children are sick, or you’re doing all of that, just imagine what it’s like for a child who’s trying to learn and what you mean for them as a teacher and that, that relationship and that integrity of you tell, saying that you were going to be there to change these lives of these children will let stay focused on that. And, and the respect that you have for your employer. And they’re not, there’s not a they, and oftentimes in any organization, people will say, well, they, they, they, well, there isn’t a, they like we’re in this collectively together. They have to make choices. What’s best for an organization. And, and, but ultimately as a classroom teacher and as a teacher, your, the integrity that you have to your profession is student focus.


Sam Demma (30:36):
Hmm. I love it. Tina, thank you so much for again, coming on the show, you could feel your care and passion for this work, and it really shines through, I appreciate you coming on here to talk and share if an educator is listening and, and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you?


Tina Noel (30:55):
They can they can reach me through my email and then we’ll take it from there to see a, their lines of communication. And my email is tina.noel@rccdsb.ca, Renfrew County Catholic District School Board.


Sam Demma (31:19):
I will make sure to include it on the article as well. Just so there’s some easy access. Thank you again for doing this. Keep up the amazing work. And I look forward to working with you and talking soon.


Tina Noel (31:31):
Thank you so much, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tina Noel

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.

Martin Tshibwabwa – Resource teacher from grade 9 to 12 at Notre Dame

Martin Tshibwabwa – Resource teacher from grade 9 to 12 at Notre Dame
About Martin Tshibwabwa

Martin is the resource teacher at École secondaire Notre Dame in Woodstock.  He is extremely passionate about special education, student success and gardening.  If you get a chance to speak with him, definitely ask him about the peppers he’s growing 🙂 

In this episode, Martin shares a little bit about his own journey into education and why he walked away from a career in medicine to do what he is doing today. 

Connect with Martin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

École secondaire Notre Dame

Specialist High Skills Major

Specialist High Skills Major in Health and Wellness

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest on the podcast is Martin Tshibwabwa . Martin is the, he’s a grade 9-12 resource teacher for École Secondaire Notre Dame, a secondary school named Notre Dame in Woodstock, Ontario. He speaks French as well. I met Martin after he reached out to do a SHSM (specialist high skills major) presentation for a group of students at his high school.


Sam Demma (01:09):
And since then we’ve worked together twice, but we’ve had many of conversations about his farm, about his his upbringing in a different country, about him studying medicine and walking away from medicine. And you’ll hear a lot about a bunch of those things in today’s podcast interview; but all in all, Martin is a very heart centered educator. He’s someone who really cares about his work and the students he’s working with. And I know you’ll feel that in today’s conversation. Enjoy it, and I will see you on the other side. Martin, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. First of all, huge pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do with young people today.


Martin Tshibwabwa (01:54):
Perfect. Thank you for having me here on the show, Sam Demma. I appreciate the time and the opportunity to be on the platform. So a little bit about myself, a little history about my journey to education is first of all, I just have under seven years in the education field. And for me, learning and teaching is about inspiring the next generation. Passing on what I’ve learned, and passing it on to the next generation for them to take my craft and knowledge and build something out of it. Doesn’t replicate the exact same way, but they can inspire themselves from me, or surrounding staff members around me, and take that as a measuring stick to help them guide them through the education path. And prior to coming to education, actually my first role path to a profession was medical school.


Martin Tshibwabwa (02:47):
So I did two years of medical school down in the Caribbean, in the Antigo. So I did two years there and my second year out of burnout and I decided to a time out, come back home and reset the batteries. And during that time, when I was at home, it was a four month break, but that four month felt long, cuz I wasn’t doing nothing. I really told myself, you want mind, you go home. You shut down. Don’t think about nothing. So while I was at home, I became bored and I started looking at what are other options that I out there because while in undergrad, my mind was so settle med school. I had attention to other areas. So while at home, during those four months, I looked at different areas and education came about and I looked into it. I said, you know what?


Martin Tshibwabwa (03:33):
It was in December of 20 12th. I said, I’m gonna apply. I had missed. But I said, I’m going to apply. As I shot in the dark and I applied for September, 2014, I told myself, I get in, I’m returning. I’m gonna go to education and I’m not gonna go back to med school. I’m gonna take a break from med school. And then if I have education down, I’ll probably be considered med school. So I went to education. I got in for September surprising. So I put in my time in the education program, I did the practicums and I loved it. Cuz when I went to Medco, I actually wanted to become a pediatrician. Hmm. So when I finished my first term of teachers college, I told ’em you can place me anywhere for a practicum from kindergarten old, grade 12. I don’t mind. Surprisingly, the first posting that comes up to me is kindergarten.


Martin Tshibwabwa (04:28):
It works out well, cause I always wanted to be a pre yeah. So I went in there, took it. It was, it was a big challenge. Like I, I really respect teachers that teach kindergarten because we, we tend to overlook it. We think that it’s more play. They’re not learning. But one thing I’ve noticed is actually even us, we learn by play career plays different. For example, we have group work, which is still a kind of play, but there’s a theory behind it. And when you compare to kindergarten, yeah, there’s a different, there’s different type of learning centers, but yeah, the kids are learning through play. For example, the learning, how to share without knowing that they’re actually learning something life skill. And that’s pretty much my journey. So once I was in after completing my degree in education, I look back at the scale.


Martin Tshibwabwa (05:16):
Is it worth going back to, to med school or did I continue education? I evaluated the two and I told myself, you know what, going back, it’s true. My passion was med school, but this new passion has become my new career plan. So I told myself, you know what, plan B actually better the plan a and I stuck it out and up to now, I’m still in contact with guys and girls that I was in med school with. And I spoke with them the upon graduation. So let’s say two years after I left the island of vent, a few of my folks that I spoke to, they actually told me all money. You actually did a good decision to lead med school and go to teachers college because we’re still a here grinding in your career. Mm, same time I was happy for them because they toughed it out for the ups and downs in med school. And they’re still going. And every time that we sit back and we look back and we talk to each other, we’re both, we’re all always happy for each other. Although I was able to start my career world ahead of them, they started late. Although they still trenches. Yeah. Now playing the encouraging role when I’m telling you guys keep going, keep going. So it’s pretty good.


Sam Demma (06:22):
That’s awesome. I, I re resonate with you on such a deep level because what I’m living right now is my plan B. I thought amazing. Sam’s gonna be a professional soccer player. And that was the thing until the injuries came. And I kind of like, you went on this discovery of a journey, try and figure out, you know, what the heck is Sam gonna give a value to the world? And yes, now I think I’m living that out through the work I do with, with students and young people. I’m curious, where was home for you? Was the, was Antigua home or did you just decide to do your, your work there?


Martin Tshibwabwa (06:55):
So my parents are from the Dr. Democratic Republic of Congo, nice


Martin Tshibwabwa (07:00):
Myself. I was born in Zambia and as Zambia, my parents moved to Canada or went to Europe and Canada. And ever since we moved to Canada, home has been Hamilton comes in home for me. And now I recently relocated back. I live in Branford. So Branford is my new home and way Howt came about was in my third of undergrad, I applied for med school in Canada. I applied at mass university where I did my undergrad nothing on Ontario, school of medicine and then bury and also U of T. And I told myself, switch out in the dark. If I don’t get in, I’m gonna go to on the islands. Nice. I didn’t get into Canada. Then I looked on the map at different schools. I evaluated the pros and cons. And the reason why I picked Antigo was because it was a direct flight versus flight. So that was the reason why I ended up in Antigua. And honestly, I spent two years there in I only have good things to say about the islands, honestly, of course there’s ups and downs, but everywhere you go as a foreigner, you gotta face those obstacles, which is part of the journey


Martin Tshibwabwa (08:07):
That you embrace it.


Sam Demma (08:08):
Yeah, that’s awesome. And right before we started recording today, you, you told me that you spend your summers farming, where did your love and passion for farming come from and how does this play into the picture?


Martin Tshibwabwa (08:20):
Once again? So being in Antigua, everything’s important from Miami, from the United States or to the island. So produce fruits are expensive. If you want to live, like we live here in Canada or in the United States, you gotta go on the height and for marketplace, like if you wanna live as a local, you go to the market, you get your goods. Then what I noticed was one of the stands where I used to go all the time was actually a couple. So the wife worked at the market and the husband worked on the field. He’d bring the goods all the time and I’m regular there. So she told me if you ever want a deal on produce, come help us on the farms. And I said, Hey, sure. On my days off I can come. I usually took Sundays off from studying. So studying over there is usually a beach day. It was early Sunday morning. I go would help out of the farm. And then while being there, it became therapeutic because I did enjoy gardening, but I didn’t take it as seriously as like I wouldn’t put the entire day’s worth of gardening. Got


Sam Demma (09:27):
Got it.


Martin Tshibwabwa (09:28):
Being over there on the island and working on the garden, seeing what goes into the labor. And that goes into the dedication and the discipline. I had a big admiration for it. So what happened is in returned instead of buying produce, my labor was giving me free produce. I didn’t have to buy no more produce. I see.


Sam Demma (09:51):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (09:52):
Then when I shut down on the island, when I came back home, I have access to a garden community garden. So I got involved into it. And what I was doing is I was growing these vegetables that we don’t find in Canada. For example, the scotch buned hot pepper. It’s pretty much a delicacy in every Caribbean dish, especially vegans like it’s the too hot pepper. It has a strong aura, which if you put it in a stew, your whole house will smell like it.


Sam Demma (10:24):
Nice.


Martin Tshibwabwa (10:25):
I was lucky enough that when I was in anti brought back, some of those seeds seeds are authentic. They’re not something that’ll tell you SCO button, but then when you grow, you realize that the, so I was growing it when I first got, when I first finished teacher’s college, my first year of the teacher’s college, I had a summer off. So that’s what I started doing. And a few of my friends came over and then they realized that the scent in my food was different. Told them no, I grow my own peppers. And Hey, mark, we buy some off from there. They’re the ones that actually encouraged me to get into bigger, large a larger plot. So I spoke to a farmer here in town, in flame, bro. And they allowed me to get some space. So I’m leasing space right now. That’s what I do during the summer. Just growing D crops that I brought back the seed from the Caribbean.


Sam Demma (11:16):
That’s awesome. That’s such a cool, yeah. It’s such a cool passion project to have.


Martin Tshibwabwa (11:20):
Yeah. So it’s amazing how things worked out. Like I was an anti for one thing, but then I picked up something else into farming. Then when I came back home, got into teaching, had the summers off. But during my summers off, I had this new passion that I do active, which is farming.


Sam Demma (11:35):
That’s awesome. Love it. And yes, I think what’s so cool about that is that you went to Antigua for one reason, which was education. And you came back with this hobby, which is now a part of your life every summer, and exactly, you know, sometimes we’re close minded and we don’t see these other opportunities or hobbies. But when we’re open-minded in every experience, we find these things that we, we might love and enjoy that we didn’t even expect would happen or, or we would develop. And now what’s your role today? So explain a little bit about what you do right now with your school. So tell, tell me a little bit about the journey about it went from kindergarten class to working in the role you’re in right now.


Martin Tshibwabwa (12:17):
Yeah, so kind as I said, now, I’m in I’m a high school teacher. I teach life skills nutrition, human development. And I’m also in, in charge of the specialist high skills major here. And we specialize in excuse me, I’m figuring French. We specialize in health and wellness. Nice. And as I did mention earlier, I am in a French high school. So when I first started was in kindergarten, I enjoyed it. And then my second intern, my second practicum was on the high school side. And once I got into high school, I loved it because I could be bolder with the students versus kindergarten. You can’t be bold, but you can’t be too bold on the kids either. So I found that I was having a challenge fighting in the middle between when you become bold and too bold for the kids.


Martin Tshibwabwa (13:09):
But when I high school, the switch was quick to be done. And one thing that I, I do find on the high school side is I’m able to create opportunities and experience for a life skills for the kids, by providing them life skills, help them character build through and Chisholm. It’s, I’m able to invite people like yourself, sorry, speakers like yourself. Like early, when we did in January, the students were able to speak to student that they could relate to. And speaking with you, you’re able to show students that, yes, you’re a public speaker, but there’s work that goes into it. Mm you’re. Able to show them the truth behind the grind. And that’s why I do admire a lot about the Chisholm program. Yes. As a teacher in front of the classroom, I can explain to them how it takes time to accomplish great things.


Martin Tshibwabwa (14:03):
Mention yourself a small, progressive step that bring you toward success. Yeah. When students can see that coming from somebody else outside from the education world, they see the truth beyond the grind is very appreciate. So being on the high school side, especially in grade 11 and grade 12, they had a crossroads where they don’t know where they want to go. And then that brings me back to my, where I was so centered on med school and focused on something else. And then being able to withdraw and shut down and gave opportunity to look at now with the program, bringing guests like yourself, it’s opening the eyes to students of what else is out there. Whereas they can also explore in order to be successful or whatever craft they want to take. And the other thing that I also do notices attitude. Attitude is important. Yes. You can have hard work. You can be dedicated, but if your attitude and approach is not right, you can achieve anything.


Sam Demma (15:04):
Yeah. I love that. And why are you personally so passionate about life skills? Like you could, you could be teaching farming, you know, like you could be teaching courses, anything. Why, why life skills?


Martin Tshibwabwa (15:17):
Well, life skills first would, it helps to build confidence. Mm. Have life skills. In my opinion, you cannot accomplish much. Cause life skills goes from just starting with body language, your body language, where you are, but on people, the way you have a conversation with people, if you do not express yourself properly. Yeah. For example, like there’s some kids especially when I start my first lesson, like to tell students to find five artifacts that represent themselves so I can get to know them and five things that mean something to the so five things or five artifacts. So I get to know who they are, where they come from. And the reason why I do that is just to create a sense of community. Just, just like yourself. I want to get to know you, you know, just a student in my classroom. I want, I want you to be a buddy of mine. But at the same time we still have that student teacher relationship.


Sam Demma (16:09):
Accountability. Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (16:10):
I wanna show them that I’m a co-owner with you. Yes. I’m your teacher, but I’m a co-owner with you. And it goes back and gets my point of attitude because I, I see a lot of students when you talk to them, they don’t have respect for authority. And that’s why I show them that life skill comes in. For example, I also remind, although my colleagues, especially teachers that enter and tell ’em one thing to realize, first, when you do talk to students is you don’t know what the kid went through the morning when they woke up. Mm. You might see some students that don’t respect authority, but you don’t know maybe the way you, you elevated your tone or might of them suddenly happened back home. So one thing I try to explain to other professors, I mean, other teachers and remind myself also when it comes to life skills is to approach students from a calm tone. Yes, we want authority, but we have to remind them, I understand that something might be going on. But one thing that I wanna do is to IM empower you. And by IM empowering you, I want to teach your life skills and also put character build in you.


Sam Demma (17:21):
I love it. And something that goes hand in hand with teaching a subject like life skills and sharing these things with young people is growth and transformation. And right now there might be an listening. You might be listening right now you know, addressing the listener. They might be listening right now thinking, I don’t know if I’m gonna teach next year. Like this, this new virtual reality is, is difficult and it’s different and I’m not sure about it. Can you share a story of student transformation that you have seen? That’s been really impactful and it could be a student that was in your class or a student that you know of. And if it’s a very serious story with tons of adversity you can change the student’s name. So it remains, it remains totally private.


Martin Tshibwabwa (18:06):
Sure. Well, it’s, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when we had to T into e-learning yep. A challenge for everybody. I bet within yourself as a speaker virtual was it brought it on ups and downs, but that’s where you you really go back to the drawing board. You review the board drawing board and you see what adjustments can be done. You execute new task and new challenges. So to my other fellow teachers that are listening, what I would do is what I did personally was I told the students right away, Hey guys, you know what? This is new territory for me. I have no clue what’s going on. If some of you have skills, when it comes to manipulating computer software, let me know. So them that, Hey, I am human. I don’t know either. And you’ll see. It’s like, so they’re shocked. Another thing that I enjoy doing too, is when I tell ’em, I don’t know, I show them, teach me, show me how to show me how it’s done, what I’m showing them that, Hey, I’m becoming with you something as well. And another success story that I have with my students, what I did in the course in the human development was


Sam Demma (19:19):
I have to interrupt you for one second. No worries. Hold that thought. When you said, teach me. I think it’s the most, I think those are the two most powerful words you can ever use because when you, someone, and you say, teach me, you’re humbling yourself. Right? And, and you’re showing them like, you have some information that may be superior to what I have, and I would love to learn from you. And, and that gives a young person, empowers them to, to want to learn deeper, to share those things with you. And I just wanted to highlight that because I think, you know that sometimes the teacher learns just as much or even more than the student. And exactly. I just, I wanted to share that, but continue what’s that second example.


Martin Tshibwabwa (20:00):
Exactly. And so the other example I was gonna bring up to you is when we started e-learning, a lot of them were not turning on their cameras, and I never told them once to turn on their cameras. But then when I started to show them, I was getting more comfortable with the platform and I was showing them that, Hey, I understand that your priorities right now, being able to be virtual gives you priorities to go to work. I don’t mind, but as long as you logged on, have no problems. So I had some students who would start taking their during works hours. Mm. I never questioned them. But one thing that I always did with my students was I asked them at the end of every lesson, what can I do better? Mm. And when I asked them that they all say, no, you’re a great teacher. I’m like, okay, I’m a great teacher, but what can I improve better in my lesson? How can I address the topics better? And I find that asking them that feedback, it catches them off guard and they, they get more involved in the topic.


Sam Demma (21:00):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (21:01):
Teach, asking them to teach me something and asking them for feedback versus giving them feedback all the time or after a test. What I can, after reviewing a test of answers with them, I ask them were the questions fair? Did you find any trick questions? If those tricks, tell me, what do I have to change? Or just, and you can just see, like the light bulb just lights up, like, whoa, what’s going on here? Like this doesn’t usually happen. You


Sam Demma (21:27):
Mm. That’s such a, that’s such an important that’s such an important question to ask. I remember being in high school and sometimes getting some tests and getting questions and thinking we never, like, we never even talked about this. We didn’t learn about it. Like, how am I supposed to answer this? And, you know, most of the times we bring it up to our teacher, but it’s, it’s past the, to test now and he’d say, oh, well, you know, we covered that. And you know, that goes to show that, you know, the, the teacher and, and some of those experiences, you know, didn’t prioritize the learning of the student. They just prioritized the questions on the test. And so I think that practice of, of asking you know, for feedback, but also were there any trick questions? It allows you as an educator to ask yourself, how can I improve the teaching aspects of this, this specific topic. So it lands next time and they’re, they feel more capable to answer those questions. Exactly. That’s such a good philosophy. I love that. And did you develop these kind of concepts yourself, or you inspired by other educators? Where did your philosophies on doing these things come from?


Martin Tshibwabwa (22:29):
Honestly, I was inspired just from as you said, being a student in the classroom and just, it seems like it’s just a one way conversation where the teacher is in the magistrate position. Yeah. Bring information to you and you almost feel like you’re just a an empty vessel, just waiting to be filled.


Sam Demma (22:48):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (22:48):
Information. And then that information get tested on the paper. And there’s no feedback from your part. You know what I mean? So it’s like, if that’s the case, just gimme something to memorize at the begin the semester and tell me I’m gonna quiz you on it. Versus when you get your, your, your your classroom or even your panel, even yourself, when you do a presentation, you like to get your crowd involved in the presentation. It’s not, you’re filling them with information. And then at the end, that’s it, that’s all questions answers, that’s it? That’s all. But no, when you get them involved, implicated, you’re building confidence in them and instilling them the fundamentals and also reinforcing confidence for them to just be more vocal versus being expecting.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Yeah, I agree. I totally agree. On the topic of, you know, educational education philosophies that you have and principles that you, you know, you live by, if you could give your younger self advice, meaning you could talk to year one, you know, the year, the first year that you started teaching, knowing what you know now, you know, and being a student for the past seven or eight years that you’ve been teaching, what advice would you give your younger self?


Martin Tshibwabwa (23:59):
Wow. I’d tell myself the younger self ask a lot of questions. Hmm. Just say, you don’t know. Don’t don’t improvise right away. Just say, Hey, you know what? I don’t know. I need help.


Sam Demma (24:15):
Mm.


Martin Tshibwabwa (24:16):
And just to ask a question to be a sponge and to take in all information that you can, and when you know something share. Cause that’s one thing I did realize in educat. I always tell myself, I write a thesis today. My thesis type would be teachers who bully other teachers.


Sam Demma (24:32):
I don’t,


Martin Tshibwabwa (24:34):
Yes. We do point the student to point. We do point out fingers to the students a lot because we are around them a lot. But we tend to forget ourselves teachers as do feel. We bully ourselves a lot. For example, my first year for education, I could ask somebody for a resource asking a resource. You almost feel afraid because you don’t know what answers you’ll get. Some teachers will tell you. Yeah. You know what? I’ll email it to you later on you go check your email, but it’s still nothing. You check your email and hour later, still nothing. I’m just asking for help. For me. Anybody asks me for something I’m giving you. And I even tell that, Hey, if you can make it better, please do. And if you find to teach, please let me know. So that’s one thing I would tell my younger self. Don’t be afraid to say, you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to get your work criticized because critical thinking is important. If someone can be critical about your work, it shows that, Hey, you do have room to proving. You’re not just at a dead end, cuz if you just at a dead end, then why education’s about learning every day, constant marathon, it doesn’t stop. So that’s one thing I’ll talk myself. Don’t be afraid to ask, share, and be a sponge.


Sam Demma (25:45):
I just want to take a second to applaud and appreciate you for your open-minded philosophies. Like I think that these apply not only to education, but in any profession someone might be in and they’re beautiful things to impart in the minds of young people. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. And it, it’s also interesting that like ancient philosophers, like Socrates and stuff, they used to say things like I know that I know nothing. And you know, people who assume that they know everything, you know, eliminate themselves from new learning. And so I, I love these philosophies and thank you so much for sharing. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out to you and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Martin Tshibwabwa (26:32):
Email, I’m always on email. Email is the quickest way to get to me.


Sam Demma (26:36):
Perfect. Can you just spell it out for anyone who’s listening?


Martin Tshibwabwa (26:41):
So my email; I shall give my personal email. My personal email is tshimart@cscprovidence.ca. So I repeat it again; that’s tshimart@cscprovidence.ca.


Sam Demma (26:59):
Awesome. Martin, thank you so much for calling on the podcast here today. Really appreciate it and look forward to the next time we get to see each other on a zoom call.


Martin Tshibwabwa (27:07):
Definitely, I’m looking forward to it.


Sam Demma (27:10):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Martin Tshibwabwa

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.

Lisa Spencer – Student Success, Gap-Closing and Experiential Learning

Lisa Spencer – Student Success, Gap-Closing and Experiential Learning
About Lisa Spencer

Lisa Spencer was born and raised in North Bay Ontario. Inspired by amazing educators, she dreamt of one day having the chance to teach. Early entry to Nipissing University’s Orientation to Teaching Program, she was able to start her undergraduate degree in Environmental Geography learning through the lens of an educator.

Following passion for Special Education, alternative and experiential learning, Lisa found her place teaching youth identified as “at-risk” of leaving before graduating. Teaching in multiple schools, in multiple roles, she turned her focus to Special Education, gap-closing initiatives and the integration of experiential learning to enhance engagement and build relationships.

Now serving the Near North District School Board in a central role, Lisa supports Student Success, Gap-Closing and Experiential Learning initiatives as the Secondary Program Coordinator.

Connect with Lisa: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Nipissing University’s Orientation to Teaching Program

Near North District School Board

Okta Master Schedule

Simon Sinek, “Start With Why”

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Lisa Spencer. She was born and raised in north bay, Ontario inspired by amazing educator. She dreamt of one day being a teacher herself. Early entry to Nipissing University’s Orientation to Teaching Program, she was able to start her undergraduate degree in Environmental Geography learning through the lens of an educator.


Sam Demma (01:00):

Following she, she developed a passion for special education and alternative and experiential learning, and she found her place of teaching youth identified as at risk of leaving before graduating. She taught in multiple schools in multiple roles, and she was able to certain her focus to special education gap, closing initiatives and the integration of experiential learning to enhance engagement and build relationships. And today she serves as the near north district school board and she supports student success gap closing and experiential learning initiatives. A as the secondary program coordinator, Lisa has a ton of wisdom. I hope you enjoy this episode. I will see you on the other side, Lisa, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to, to have you on the show. We had an awesome conversation a few weeks ago, so much so that I thought we needed to share a little bit of it on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you got involved in education?


Lisa Spencer (01:58):

Sure. Good morning. And thank you so much for having me. So my role this year is a program coordinator for Near North District School Board. My official title is secondary program coordinator, gap, closing student success and HSM. So it’s a very wide portfolio. And I think that that kind of touches on part of why I, I involve of myself in education to begin with. I feel like public education is a very holistic process. I was moved by a teacher when I was 14, which may seem like a fairly cliche story, but I was on a journey to learn. And I love information and I love systems and I love natural systems and observing them. And I had a, a very involved science teacher in grade nine who not only was able to help students connect information in a meaningful way, but really worked to develop community and how community impacts learning.


Lisa Spencer (03:02):

So she very much inspired me and inspired me to follow education in the sense that you can appreciate it, not just for being a, an objective learning adventure, but more so that the more you sub immerse yourself in it and find value in it, the, the more it pays you back. So my first teaching experience was eight and a half years of, of contract work working with at risk youth specifically have a knack for developing rapport and relationship, but by showing and helping students find the relevant, see, and what they’re learning and attaching it to everyday experience. So my journey led me to experiential learning, which is a method by which we help students understand the context of their learning through hands on activity and linking it to everyday everyday activity, seeing it in the world around us and being able to draw connection between theory and application and, and derive meaning from that process. And it’s super inspiring. And the reason I get up and go to work every day is to watch the light bulbs come on for other individuals. And that doesn’t just limit itself to students, but also to adults too, because adults have just as much fun learning as, as students do.


Sam Demma (04:19):

I love that. That’s so awesome.


Lisa Spencer (04:22):

Relates what you’re looking for, but yeah.


Sam Demma (04:24):

Yeah, absolutely. I’m actually curious to know more about what your teacher did back in school that really inspired you. Like what, like what specifically did she do that made you so inspired that, you know, you decide that one day you wanted to be an educator?


Lisa Spencer (04:41):

Well, there’s a number of things. She and I actually continue to have a friendship past my high school experience. Nice. I had her three times. I come from a small community and at the high school I attended, there was only a few hundred students when I attended there. And so you end up having the same teacher more than once. So I was able to, to see her teaching practice in grade nine, and then again, repeat itself in my senior years. But the, the one story that comes to mind most easily is they’re talking about particle theory as you heat a substance, the molecules and, and particles inside substances spread apart. And we know that when a, it becomes a liquid and then a vapor, those particles become chaotic in their movements, inspired by the energy around them and how they, and she was able to liken that to things that we would see in her everyday life.


Lisa Spencer (05:33):

And I can remember being 14 years old and her talking about how the electricity and the summer heat passing through the power lines on the power poles, outside the wires would, would stretch and you would see them lengthen in the summer and they would dip and, and to have someone bring something so real to the table. And then that really made a difference for me. And it’s not something that I would’ve observed or made sense of without someone having pointed that out, but it really did build a firm foundation for, oh yeah, that’s really, that’s really cool. And I mean, watching the, the processes that go on in the world around you, without context, you just kind of take them at face value, but to have someone explain to you at a science, atomic particle level, why something is happening and that you’re able to take that away.


Lisa Spencer (06:26):

And that’s just the learning inspiration. I mean, personally, she developed a rapport with students in our class and maybe students that other teachers might not necessarily always make time for, but she’s sought them out. And she pulled them in and she made sure that they knew they were cared about and that they mattered to that learning. And and to watch that objectively was a, was a very moving thing for me to connect to an adult who valued you as a person. Who’s not related to you and not maybe a friend to you. That was a very moving thing to see meaning not just in learning and progress, but also to see meaning in the development of individuals who eventually will, will contribute to society. That, that to me was a very, very wraparound as we call an education, a wraparound process that affected all of the parts.


Sam Demma (07:15):

Awesome. That’s so cool. I love that because when I look at the teachers that had the biggest impact on me, it was also teachers who connected the dots. Like my one teacher that I always talk about Mike loud foot, who like totally inspired me and changed my life. He would take his lessons and then try and apply it specifically to every student’s interest. So he knew us, he knew us so much. So on a personal level that he could had teach a lesson. And then after teaching, it’d say, Sam, for you, this means X and Koon for you. This means X. And for Julia, for you, this means X. And he would take the lesson and give his best attempt to apply it to all of our personal situations and the things that he knew we were passionate about. And like you, like, I still remember the lessons that he taught due to that reason. And I think it’s so powerful. I’m curious to know though, you’ve piqued my interest in relation to your interest in experiential learning. What does that look like right now? I know things are a little odd and funky. But what does, what does hands on learning look like during this crazy time?


Lisa Spencer (08:18):

Oh my goodness. What agree? A question hands on learning has been impacted in, in the sense that in, in the educational community right now, it’s a, it’s a huge challenge to bring in community partners who, who we very much appreciate because they are that real world context. And so we have a, a, a huge palette of community partners who we so very much, and we’ve developed great relationships where they can come in and help us to, to bring the relevancy to the table in the sense that like, here’s the real world connect. Here’s how hands on learning looks in the work field. In this climate, we have been able to activate a lot of outdoor learning, and we’ve really stretched ourselves to engage with partners who can meet us outside and help our teachers scaffold the work of teachers to bring the learning outside shared manipulatives off the table.


Lisa Spencer (09:13):

It’s looking around the, to see how we can engage students with that hands on aspect. And again, it’s a, it’s about bringing that relevancy and that skillset because experiential learning really is about skillset. It’s about critical learning critical thinking, problem, solving, teamwork, collaboration, you being frustrated and moving through that frustration. And there are a lot of applications that we can still access. Yeah. Despite the restrictions of, of the climate that we’re living in many teachers especially at the secondary level, because here in, in in north bay at the near north district school board, we’re working within an Okta master schedule. So teachers have those 25 days in class with those students all day for 25 days, while that sounds stressful, it really does silver lining allow teachers to develop really rich tasks with their secondary learners. So the labs that we may not have been able to fit into a 50 year, a 60 minute period for chemistry or biology or physics or mathematics, because we know that there are labs, many labs that we could be using for, for mathematics and, and other abstract concepts and ideas.


Lisa Spencer (10:30):

The 25 day opt master schedule really does allow teachers again, to develop those relationships in and use those timetables to their advantage, to expand the learning, to reach those experiential learning goals that they may not have been able to reach in different constraints. So I guess the, the, the, to sum it up, it’s been impacted in the sense that we’re moving from a more traditional model where we would have someone come in, show us the relevancy and participate in an activity to a more teacher driven teacher custody of that, of that learning where we’re doing it in class, we’re doing it outside, but we’re doing it as a group and as a collective and we’re moving through it. So I really do think that there’s a lot of positives to that process, but we do need to support our educators and feeling confident to do that. And so that’s kind of how the, a role has shifted this year.


Sam Demma (11:19):

That’s awesome. And your interest in education started with at risk youth. I wanna dive into that a little more. Tell me more about that. And what do you think is the most important thing when it comes to building a relationship or connection with a student that might be just a little more difficult to get through to?


Lisa Spencer (11:38):

Sure. So when, when working with, at risk youth, we recognize that they’re coming to school every day with a different need set. Hmm. Their goals aren’t necessarily to get an, a plus with R O S S D graduate and, and look at post-secondary. A lot of students come to school with a mindset and I have to be here till I’m 16, and they don’t really necessarily engage with the learning in the same way. So as a classroom teacher, the most important thing is to try and show students how, what you’re offering to them can open up the possibilities for them in the future, but more so to express to them that they mean something to you. They mean something to the educational community, and they mean something to the community outside of the classroom and developing that report. And it was interesting as you were, you were expressing your story from the teacher that meant so much to you taking the time to know what’s gonna make the difference to know that, you know, so, and so’s father owns a garage, and that’s how you spend your weekends to know that, you know, you have a, a person in your life who’s experiencing X, Y, Z to get to know those students.


Lisa Spencer (12:52):

And , again, these are things that in education we say over and over, but being in the hall when they arrive to class and, and welcoming them, but being genuine about it and really taking a notice about what’s happening. And if, if you take the time to, to set that groundwork and to build a community in your classroom, not only does your attendance go up, but the engagement, it goes up, the respect is there mutual respect between you and between the student. And then you can meet in the middle to kind of Fasten that, that learning. The most important thing I think is, is to understand why learning is important to that individual and making sure that you’re gearing and planning your activities and learning to meet their needs. And while that sounds like a, a self-service, is, is that not what learning is anyways, because if we don’t, if we can’t show students why it’s important, then why are we teaching it? Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:47):

Love that. So, so true. I, I, I remember there was a few situations where I was sitting in a math class and asking myself, why are we doing this? And have had teachers that didn’t connect the dots and you get disengaged. Like if the dots aren’t connected, you, you get disengaged. You forget why you’re doing it. And frankly, you don’t really wanna do it. But if someone makes that, why clear the how and what fall in place, very easy. There’s, there’s an awesome book called Start With Why by this guy named Simon Sinek. And he talks about the importance of, you know, figuring out why you’re doing something before you figure out how you’re gonna do it, or what you’re gonna do, or when you’re gonna do it. He’s like those all come after you figure out why. And I think it’s just a great reminder because at every point we should be asking ourselves, why am I teaching this?


Sam Demma (14:31):

And if you can’t come up with a clear reason, you know, you better find one or change what you’re teaching which is a great reminder for every educator when it comes to students and learning, you know, something that also happens sometimes is transformation. You know, a student could, you know, come into a classroom at the beginning of the year and be totally upset and, and a totally different person than the person when they leave the classroom. And those stories happen. Sometimes we see them. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we hear about them 25 years in the future. When a student writes a handwritten note or sends you a random email, but I’m curious to know in your years of education, have, have you seen a student transformation and of the of the many of them can you actually share one of them in detail, but you can change their name so that, you know, they, they can remain private. The reason I’m asking is because it will help another teacher remember why they teach and that that reason could re spark and, and Repar their passion for teaching. And despite the challenges they’re facing this year, remind them why, what they do is so important. So do any stories come to mind that you wanna share?


Lisa Spencer (15:45):

So many so many, I think if I could start maybe with a broader concept here. Yeah. The students. So in, at risk programming the students that, that present themselves at my door and so when they were 14, we’ll say, and I was, you know, a young go-getter teacher, those students were coming with a parcel of I’m gonna call it additional baggage whereby they come from houses with addiction or incarceration histories, or involvement in social services and things like that. So the students who come don’t trust the system, they don’t trust adults. And so the number one thing is we had just discussed is developing that rapport, but they frequently come to their, so your classroom and think like this isn’t for me, this is not how I’m going to survive in life is by doing well at school. I have other means by which to be successful outside of this place.


Lisa Spencer (16:44):

And so the number one thing is to show them that they have so much potential and to find their diamond and kind of help them dust it off and find out what that it is. Mm. And I find that if, if we can really help individuals or show individuals or enlighten individuals to find out and embrace what their, what their diamond is, that’s when we see that transformation that you’re discussing, and you might not be the cause of it, you can surely help them on that journey. I’m still quite good friends with the graduate who’s 27 now, which makes me feel very old, but , and so he’s 27, but he came from a very difficult home and he was, you know, I would be teaching him environmental science. I also taught him English. And he would show up to class. And the entire time I would teaching, he would be drawing and sketching and distracted and whereby in many classes you would get in trouble for that disengagement where teachers would redirect him to task, which is absolutely something that we’re taught to do. This was something that I knew that he had to do in order to focus. And so watching this person really struggle through school but recognize that he had so much talent in specific areas. I nourished that. And so and other teachers did too, not just me, but that was a, a thing that, that we nourished and him and encouraged him to do. He’s now a very, very successful tattoo artist. He graduated from school.


Lisa Spencer (18:17):

And, and he did at one point in his life have a very difficult time with addiction. But we stayed in touch. He found it within himself to overcome that. And he’s a very successful tattoo artists. He’s moved to Cochran and he he’s doing wonderfully. He visits anytime he is in town, but to see his reflection on education and recognize that he just wasn’t ready because of the things that were going on in his life, but to still feel welcome every day. Like to me, that’s a huge success us. I could talk about students who I’ve connected with as well, who, you know, they’re, they’re shy and awkward in high school and they graduate and find themselves and their doctors and lawyers and obstetricians. I, my sister, when she had her son, I was in with her during labor. And there’s one of my former students coming in to do, you know, wow, the OB Y N check in.


Lisa Spencer (19:11):

And, and so there’s a lot of in a very small community, especially too, you get to see those students who decide to stay in the region, you get to see them blossom and flourish and be successful. And those students who maybe aren’t, you know, as successful, they still see you in public and they’re kind and friendly, and they have children of their own and they’re being successful. So I feel like pretty much every student I’ve ever worked with has a success story. It’s just that you have to be the type of person that helps people see their own success.


Sam Demma (19:44):

That’s so cool. It would be such a round circle moment to go get a tattoo from that student. that’s yeah, that’s an awesome, that’s an awesome story. And I love that. What personally drives you? Like if I had to ask you what your, why was like, why you mentioned it briefly, but I’m curious to dig into it. Like, why do you get up every day? Why do you teach, why do you love doing this work? Like what’s the reason behind it for you?


Lisa Spencer (20:10):

Very philoso. So off of a question, I, I would have to answer that by saying that all things are connected, all human beings are connected. And I think it’s our job as human beings to find that humanity and that kindness to support others. And I’d rather be an optimist who’s disappointed every day than a pessimist. Who’s always a right. Mm. So I think that it’s really important to look for the best in, in the world, around us and to make change when we can, right. If you want better do better. And I think that, like for me, getting up every day is, is maybe I’ll be able to help a situation or solve a problem that makes the world better, easier, smoother for someone and and show someone the value in learning and progress.


Sam Demma (21:03):

Oh, cool. I love that. And if you could go back to I, the first year that you taught the first year that you worked, what advice, knowing what, you know now, would you give your younger self?


Lisa Spencer (21:18):

You have to focus on the good that’s happened in the day. Hmm. And learn from the things that you’re very self critical about, and you’re always your own toughest credit. You’re always. And so the things that you see about yourself that you’ve done wrong will not be the things that others focus on. Hmm.


Sam Demma (21:39):

That’s great. Now that’s great advice.


Lisa Spencer (21:41):

And don’t teach kindergarten, haha. I’m just thinking it’s very overwhelming. Kindergarten kids are very overwhelming and it’s when you speak to elementary teachers, they would say the opposite that teenagers are terrifying. Whereas I find that those adolescents are just so much more open and honest. They’ll tell you exactly what you need to know. We four year old child, like, I, why are we crying? Cuz we can’t find our myth and I would cry with them. So so I guess the, the short story is know, like know where, know where you wanna be and invest in that. Hmm. With all you got.


Sam Demma (22:19):

Cool. No, I love that. And if someone listened to this and was inspired at all by the conversation, what would be the best way for them, another educator to reach out to you and just have a conversation?


Lisa Spencer (22:29):

Sure. I would love to have a conversation with anybody that would like to chat. My email address is lisa.spencer@nearnorthschools.ca. They can email me anytime.


Sam Demma (22:42):

Lisa, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Keep up with the awesome work and we’ll talk soon.


Lisa Spencer (22:47):

Lovely chatting with you, Sam. Thank you so very much and have a great Tuesday.


Sam Demma (22:50):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lisa Spencer

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.

Michael Kelly – Catholic Educator, Coach, World Traveller, Hockey Fan and Student Leadership Advisor

Michael Kelly – Catholic Educator, Coach, World Traveller, Hockey Fan and Student Leadership Advisor
About Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly (@729Kelly) currently teaches at Michael Power St. Joseph at the TCDSB. Michael is a highly motivated, passionate, inclusive Catholic educator, coach, world traveller, hockey fan and student leadership advisor interested in expanding his professional network and collaborating with like-minded teachers.

He is a passionate and dynamic young educator and life-long learner who works in west end of Toronto. He is very interested in issues of special education, history, politics, experiential learning, community service and civic engagement.

Michael is an Ontario Certified teacher who works for the Toronto Catholic District School Board in the secondary panel. He is a proud graduate of the University of Toronto – St. Michaels College and OISE.

Michael has worked in several placements in both elementary and secondary school settings, and community service organizations in local communities as well as overseas. Experiential learning, inclusivity and community service form his core beliefs and philosophy on education.

Michael is also a dedicated volunteer and board member of a number of community organizations serving in a variety of roles and capacities, and he has played a key role in recruiting young people to vote and become engaged in the democratic process in Toronto.

He is a passionate advocate for Catholic education, Special Education, Cooperative education, athletics and creating inclusive high-quality learning environments and experiences for his students.

He is involved as a Student Council Teacher Moderator, Coach, and Chaplaincy team member at every school community he has the opportunity to serve. He believes in the tremendous potential educators have to shape and mold the minds and character of the next generation of young leaders.

Michael also collaborates and supports English teacher and podcast host, Adrian Del Monte on The Whole Hearted Teaching Podcast.

Follow on Twitter at @podcastforheart.

Connect with Michael: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Michael Power St. Joseph

Adrian Del Monte

Gen School Italian Heritage Foundation

Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead

Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Dr. Tim Elmore

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other spec opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Michael Kelly. Michael is someone who reached out to me after listening to another podcast and inquired about coming on the show. And he’s a very passionate educator. Michael Kelly, currently teachers at Michael power St. Joseph at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He is highly motivated, passionate, and in an inclusive Catholic educator coach, world traveler hockey fan and student leadership advisor, interested in expanding his professional network and collaborating with like-minded individuals.


Sam Demma (01:13):

He is passionate and dynamic and a lifelong learner who works in the west and of Toronto. He’s very interested in issues of special education, history, politics, experiential learning, community service, and civic engagement. He is also involved in as a student council teacher, moderator coach and chaplaincy team member at every school community. He has the opportunity to serve. He believes in the tremendous potential educators have to shape and mold the minds and character of the next generation of young leaders. He also supports his good friend and a past guest on this show, Adrian Del-Monte with the whole hearted teaching podcast. I’m super excited for you to hear today’s interview with Michael. It was packed with so much great information enjoy. I will see you on the other side, Michael, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the, the show after we connected a few months ago. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the story about why you got into education.


Michael Kelly (02:14):

Okay. Well thank you. Thanks Sam, for having me on the show, big fan of your podcast. You’ve got some great, great interviews, great educators, so really happy to be here. So I will work for the Toronto Catholic district school board. Currently I teach on a contract right now at Michael power St. Joseph teaching history and religion. So I’m teaching grade 10 right now. And yeah, I’m, I’m really interested in kind of moving into this this space of podcasts. I think it’s a great kind of professional development resource for teachers and I think it’s a great opportunity to share ideas, share resources. So why I was interested in coming on the podcast and kind of sharing a little bit of my own, my own story. So I, I studied undergrad at the university of Toronto and graduated from and I was actually in the concurrent education program at the time at St. Mike’s college. So you know, we, we did kind of a very like he program where you’re taking undergrad courses at the same time as as your teacher’s college. So it was kind of for folks who knew that they wanted to go into teaching and it was a great, great, great experience. And the last couple years working for the TCDSB has been fantastic, some really great personal and professional highlights which I’m sure we’ll yeah, we’ll get into.


Sam Demma (03:45):

That’s awesome. And how did you actually find the podcast? I know there’s a, it came through an interesting turn of events. I’m curious to know how you landed on it, cuz you, you know, you sent me an email and I was like, oh, this is so cool. And we connected whereabouts to, did you find it?


Michael Kelly (04:01):

So I there were actually two kind of sources initially, I believe it was Mike Michael con who’s the student leadership coordinator and teacher at the board level does tremendous work. And I think he was featured on one of your earlier shows and he’s shares a lot and I connect with him online and on social media, on Twitter. And I believe I saw it there as well as a colleague and friend of mine, Adrian Delmonte, who you may know who we partner with on the wholehearted teaching podcast. He kind of mentioned that he was in conversation with you. So that’s kind of how I more checked out a few episodes on the podcast, really like the kind of theme and direction. So yeah, that’s how I found found the podcast.


Sam Demma (04:50):

So cool. Shout out to both Mike and Adrian. Yeah. If, if you’re tuning in, they have their own episodes as well. You can check ’em out.


Michael Kelly (04:57):

Oh, they’re great guys. Great teachers.


Sam Demma (04:59):

Cool. You mentioned that had some serious highlights in education. Why don’t we just dive into those right now? I’m assuming you’re gonna talk about the Coliseum and Rome and taking some experiential learning trips abroad. And, and you know, when we talked before this podcast, you mentioned that those experience really reignited your passion for learning and teaching. And I’m curious to know more about how those impacted you and why you think it’s important to learn also experientially.


Michael Kelly (05:26):

Well, I think the, yeah, that’s a great point. Like I think my initial kind of connection I, I made between kind of teaching and experiential learning came through my own travel. So when I was in university, I actually you know, taught or actually had a chance to volunteer in a couple of different placements in my program through going over to places like South Africa and Bosnia actually to do some volunteer work. So that’s really where kind of the, the seed was planted. So to speak in terms of connecting how powerful service learning and experiential learning can be for, for myself as an undergrad student. And then by extension, a couple years later, I had the opportunity to, as you mentioned, go, go over to Italy in for a few summers in a row to go to labia and Naru. So the Northern and Southern regions of IItaly with groups, hundreds of students big stellar staff team.


Michael Kelly (06:29):

And we essentially spent the summer teaching grade 12 ancient Civ course. The kids got a credit. They were able to obviously experience the culture, the partnership between our board and the York Catholic Board and the Gen School Italian Heritage Organization. So I had initially connected with that organization through an my own high school trip when I was at student at the Asia Bowen. And yeah, years later I was invited to go on as a staff member. It was a tremendous experience, right? The, the students had, you know, besides the academic immersion and, you know you know, being able to go out to the PIAs and the markets and the restaurants and the site seeing and all the historical sites, they also got some life skill training, which I thought was really like an added bonus to the program where for many of the students on the trip, it was their first time, you know, away from mom and dad away from their family.


Michael Kelly (07:32):

And it was also kind of a, a test run to see whether, you know, they were thinking at applying a post-secondary, they could see whether they could handle the dorm life, so to speak, right? Like they, they had a chance to kind of see whether that was something that was well suited to them or not. And you know, they had to do, you know, in some cases do their own laundry, like, you know, kind of keep track of their assignments on their own right time management you know, learning direction, right. Trying to navigate around places like Rome and Pompe and Florence Positano the multi coast. Right. So it was a really, really great immersive experience. And I think for, for a lot of the students, they found that they actually grew over the course of that trip, even though it was like 3, 3, 4 weeks or so, they actually grew a lot after the experience.


Sam Demma (08:31):

And I’m sure going from traveling through Europe to coming back and hoping to go this summer again, and COVID hitting, you know, every thing kinda, you know, blew up and it, it sucks to a degree, but what does education look like now for you? I know, you know, unfortunately you can’t go back to Rome, but what does it, what does it look like now and what do you think are the opportunities just like they existed in Rome? What do you think are the opportunities that exist today now in this environment for young people?


Michael Kelly (09:05):

Okay. So I think it’s a great question. So the first part, in terms of the challenges, I think that you’re, you’re asking about the major challenge, one of the major challenges I’m finding is just us student engagement and definitely concerns about student mental health would be kind of first and foremost and at the forefront of my mind. And I think I can speak for a lot of colleagues as well to say that they, they would probably say the same thing. You know, there’s a little bit of a learning for even as a younger teacher, there’s a little bit of warning curve adapting to the new technology, getting used to, you know, being on zoom and Google meets all the time and, you know, really multitasking on, on a regular basis. For example, like right now we, we have some students who in the morning we’re are teaching in person in the building, but we’re also live streaming our classes simultaneously at the same time that that has been definitely a new experience in the last few months.


Michael Kelly (10:11):

And you know, just, you know, trying to form those positive student relationships can be a little bit challenging when everyone’s covered with a mask. And you’re, you know, you’re trying to teach, you’re trying to tell a joke, a story to your class, and you’re looking for some kind of facial recognition for them to actually, you know, affirm what you’re saying or, you know whatever it might be. So I think those are some of the challenges that teachers are facing right now. Now I know some, those are some that have come to mind and just the workload. I think definitely teachers find that they’re spending more time trying to convert their lessons into an online format because remote learning is so, so different. And the hybrid learning we’re doing is so different from a traditional classroom model. So being able to adapt and be flexible has been really key.


Michael Kelly (11:07):

But the great to get to your next point about like, what are some of the opportunities? I think one of the kind of silver linings or opportunities here has been the great degree of just like innovation that you see your teacher colleagues are doing, whether it’s in your department or in your school. And we actually had a staff meeting a couple weeks ago where it was great to, you know, see and hear teachers sharing what they’re doing in their virtual learning environments. And it just blows my mind some of the, the innovative practices. Like we didn’t even know that some of these techniques were possible a year ago. Right. so I, I do think, you know, obviously there’s a lot of realistic challenges but then there’s also the opportunities to innovate and use things like Google Jam board or for myself, I’ve been trying to utilize a lot of virtual guest speakers and partner with other outside organizations like that.


Michael Kelly (12:07):

That has been tremendous. Like just one example was when I was teaching my a 10 history course for Canadian history, I was able to bring in a world war II veteran who was living in BC. And we were able to have kind of a live interactive discussion with him and just to enrich the curriculum, enrich the learning experience for the students. So I think that there, you know, there are kind of some, and, you know, as we always tell our own students, we kinda have to take our own advice and adopt a bit of a growth mindset in this environment. For sure.


Sam Demma (12:47):

I think that’s so true now more than it ever has been, you mentioned before we started recording that right before the school board tried transitioned back into in person, it seemed like teachers and yourself were just getting the hang of teaching online and teaching virtually. And I’m curious to know when you say getting the hang of it, what did that look like? Like what did your average day look like? What do you think was helping you teach virtually if someone else is listening right now and still teaching in a, a virtual scenario?


Michael Kelly (13:19):

That’s a great question. So in terms of some of the tips that helped kind of teaching from home and being fully virtual all day, I think, you know, scheduling your day almost to the hour to the minute is extremely important. I think in an online environment, even more so than I would say in person you know, just scheduling your breaks, making sure that you’re, you know, you, you can never pour from an empty cup, right? So taking care of your own your own wellbeing as the teacher in the class is obviously paramount to your student success and to their own health and wellbeing, but making sure that you’re pacing things for yourself and your students. You know, in terms of we had a great teacher on staff at the beginning of the year, and he’s been providing support Jeff bobs here at Michael power, great guy, great teacher who gave us some great tips in terms of scheduling, giving our students an activity in the morning, let’s say in our morning online class, and then giving them time to sit with that, with that virtual work, using Google or zoom breakout rooms to give the kids some time to interact and make sure that you’re not lecturing them for three hours straight or, you know, in the morning in the afternoon.


Michael Kelly (14:42):

So definitely breaking up the variety of activities is really important and provide that kind of differentiated instruction. And that just helps with the general classroom management. I found that you’re not gonna have kids goofing off as much if they know what the schedule is in advance, they know the exact time that they’re gonna be doing certain activities or tests. I found that that was really helpful. And then for sure, like just once again, some personal self care, like going for a run, right. Going for walks hikes you know, during the spring last year, I had a chance to get back more into mountain biking, which I had in cycling, like, which I hadn’t done in years. And that really helped. I, I, I felt with my own productivity right in the downtime and, and then reading and you know podcasts and a big film B and always checking out new things on Netflix and Amazon. So kind of tho those things really helped to kind of refuel the tank so to speak once, once the day was over cuz you know, burnout and kind of taking care of your own wellbeing is definitely critical in, in, in this environment more than ever.


Sam Demma (15:58):

There’s a new movie that just came out and Denzel Washington plays one of the main characters and he’s cracking, he’s cracking a criminal and trying to figure out what this guy did and the movie’s titled the little things. And there’s multiple times throughout the movie where Denzel stops and looks at his co police officer investigator and says, it’s the little things that gets you caught. And I, I made the connection between education and thought, you know, from a teacher’s perspective, it’s also the little things, not that you catch your kids doing, it’s the little things you do that make the biggest difference. And I’m so glad you mentioned being a perpetual learner because I think it’s so important leading by example, and showing your students that you’re doing everything in your power to educate yourself, encourages them to have a desire, to continue learning and, and want to read books. I mean, people can’t see this, but while we’re filming this behind you on your ledge of your chalkboard is a dozen books there. And I’m curious to know what, what are some of the books that you have read, or maybe some of the podcasts you tune into, give yourself a shout out and that you think teachers could check out and, and benefit from, from consuming. I I’d love to, I’d, I’d love for you to share.


Michael Kelly (17:11):

Sure. So some of the content I’ve been consuming lately, that’s been helpful. I, I would say would be first and foremost Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead her audio book. That, that was really helpful for me back in the spring and even teaching summer summer school over the summer that was really instructive, really great book. And she has kind of accompanying podcast that goes along with it, which she’s continually updating with great guests. And it talks a lot about leadership. It talks a lot about kind of organizational culture talks about resilience and empathy and vulnerability. I was introduced Brene Brown initially through her Ted talk on the power of vulnerability, which is also really worth checking out. And you know, a lot of the messages she has doesn’t necessarily speak directly to education, but it speaks to the workplace.


Michael Kelly (18:13):

And I found that her, her writing her books, her podcast were really instructive as well as gentleman from the United States named Tim Elmore, Dr. Tim Elmore. He’s done some work with John Maxwell. Who’s kind of a leadership expert and Tim Elmore has a podcast in an organization called growing leaders. And he talks a lot about different issues that are going on in the education world and that podcast, you know, during my runs or hikes or bike rides, that’s, that’s been a really great resource for me in terms of just giving me some in additional creativity and inspiration. And then, yeah, a, as you mentioned bit of a plug here, but I have to give credit where it’s due. I’ve been working with Adrian Del Monte an English teacher from Bishop Allen.


Michael Kelly (19:15):

We used to work together more directly, but yeah, he started a podcast earlier in the in the fall around November called the wholehearted teaching podcast, which a lot of the inspiration for, from that came from Brianne brown and her kind of discussion of wholehearted living. So the idea of the podcast on wholehearted teaching is really we invite educators people in the education space, whether they be teachers principals people in administration, directors writers, authors we’ve had on people in the educational psychology space different topics to talk about the current issues in education. And I, we have a really great podcast coming out new episode on this Tuesday, March 2nd with an individual named Desante hotten, and he’s gonna be talking all about mental health as well as how that affects black mental health in, in particular and how that connects to our role as educators, as we focus on combating racism in, in our society. So really kind of top of mind since we’ve just finished black history month and, you know, engaging in that kind of work along with Adrian and collaborating and helping out in any way I can and promoting has been really helpful for me, you know, just learning about the stories and the different personal journeys and narratives of other teachers who’ve come come before you has been really inspiring for me and has helped kind of push me along through the challenges of this pandemic.


Sam Demma (21:04):

I love that. That’s so awesome. And I’ve tuned into a couple of the episodes, and I know you’ve been, you and Adrian have been doing a anti-racism like series. I would say there’s a ton of great info on the podcast and the Twitter, by the way, shout out at wholehearted teaching podcast. That that’s awesome. So, so good. If you could go back to your first year as an educator and give yourself feedback like, and, and give yourself advice, what is the main thing you would, what is the main sort of things you would say to yourself, or tell yourself to almost get started in this profession again? If, if you could go back and feel free to just unmute yourself as well.


Michael Kelly (21:49):

Yeah, it’s a good question. So in terms of the advice I would give to kind of a first year educator right now would be really to, you know, first and foremost, just be humble and understand that there’s a lot to learn. And you know, you’re going to need in, in my experience, learn how to identify support systems, identify colleagues who, you know, are gonna be supportive, who are gonna act as mentors to you. Because I think that’s what initially for me anyways, that got me into teaching in the first place is having those really great high school teachers. You back at Bishop Allen, who tacked you on the shoulder and realized, you know, okay recognize there was a talent or an interest or a passion. And that was really for me, what was helpful. So for a first year educator, I would see be, be humble try to be resourceful spend time listening.


Michael Kelly (22:50):

Right. we often listen in order to respond you know, rather than listening to really just understand. And I think that that’s a really important concept to understand as you enter into a new profession. And just be very curious in quiz, ask a lot of questions, right? There’s no such thing as, as a dumb question and really seek out the support from your mentors. And I think that that, that will serve a first year educator. Well, whether it’s in this environment or any other environment and allowing yourself to, you know, understand that it’s a long journey in education and you don’t have to expect to be perfect or have all the answers right out of the gate. Right. and, you know, just pursue an attitude of lifelong learning, I think is really, really, really, really important. Your education doesn’t end after teachers college or after graduation. It actually, for me, it just, it just began like it’s just getting started. Right. And even a couple years in now, like, I feel like I’m just learning so much, so yeah. Just stay curious, stay stay humble and ask a lot of questions.


Sam Demma (24:14):

That’s such good advice. That is awesome. And if, if an educator listened to this interview today and is inspired by anything that you shared or just wants to have a conversation with you, be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Michael Kelly (24:26):

So best way would be, you can connect with me. I’m on Twitter at @729Kelly. I’m on LinkedIn as Michael, just Michael Kelly, and then by email michael.kelly@tsdsb.org, always looking to connect with like-minded educators and people in the education space and always looking for another, another interesting guest to bring onto the podcast with Adrian. So always looking to learn more. So that’s, that’s where you can reach me.


Sam Demma (25:12):

Mike. Awesome. Thank you so much for taking time outta your day to come on the show. I really appreciate it. I look forward to listening to your future episodes as well. Keep doing awesome work and, and I’ll talk to you soon.


Michael Kelly (25:22):

Thank you, Sam, for this opportunity and keep up the great work you’re doing a you’re doing such great work and I really admire and respect it. So thank you.


Sam Demma (25:31):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Kelly

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.

Alina Deja-Grygierczyk – Founder and Executive Director of Polish Academy of Canada, Educator and Passionate Canadianist

Alina Deja-Grygierczyk – Founder and Executive Director of Polish Academy of Canada, Educator and Passionate Canadianist
About Alina Deja-Grygierczyk

Alina is a passionate Canadianist, energetic English Coach Confidence, Positivity Purveyor, and Passionate Home Cook. She has Silesian-Polish roots, fell in love with Canada, and currently, lives in Berlin with her husband where they enjoy the German cultural diversity and share Canadian values.

Her mission is to inspire and empower today’s young Europeans to leave a positive impact on our world through their involvement in leadership exchanges. She also dedicates herself to strengthening EU-Canada bilateral relations, by developing multilateral applied educational projects in areas of common interest for both Europe and Canada.

She studied English philology at the University of Silesia, Poland, and also finished there my doctorate studies in Canadian Literature and Cultures. She is the recipient of the Competitive Government of Canada Program Grant and EU-Canada Study Tour Thinking Tour. She studied the EU – Canada bilateral relations in such prominent institutions as the European Parliament, European Council, European Commission, European Court of Justice, and the Canadian Mission to the European Union, as well as many think tanks and NGOs.

In 2012 she undertook an internship at the Polish Consulate in Toronto where she was responsible for the promotion of Poland in Canada. After a few years of working as an academic teacher and English coach confidence, she decided to pursue my passion for promoting EU-Canada bilateral relations and founded the Polish Academy of Canada to create excellent international leaders.

Connect with Alina: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Silesia

Polish Academy of Canada

Dave Conlon

Ian Tyson

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Alina Deja is the founder and executive director of the Polish Academy of Canada. She’s also an educator and a passionate Canadianist. If that’s even a word she fell in love with Canada when she traveled here years ago on an exchange and her passion for the opportunities that exist to here and the people she met pushed her to start the Polish Academy of Canada, where she brings students from Poland and other areas in the European union over in Europe to bring them here on exchange, to provide them with co-op and internship opportunities, or even just, you know, work opportunities or exposure and trips.


Sam Demma (01:23):

So kids have access to different experiences and options. Now she is someone who is extremely passionate. She, after a few years of working as an academic teacher in English confidence coach, she decided to pursue her passion for promoting EU Canada bilateral relations, which led to her founding the Polish academy to create this excellent international leadership opportunities. She has huge energy. She is working on so many different projects. I hope you enjoy our conversation today. I will see you on the other side, Alina, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to, to have you on the show all the way from Berlin. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what makes you passionate about the work you do in education today?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (02:15):

Yeah. Well, that’s a great question. I have to tell you. And I love the word passion cuz I’m really passionate about all the work that I do and with the young people here and what makes me so passionate you know, it’s a very long story when it comes to me. The first thing that really I love when, when it comes to young people is just like a love giving them something, you know, to believe in. I mean like Simons, you know, the leader always said that we should always like give people, you, you know, something that they keep going in life. They, they believe in something. So I think that we as educators which we are really highly responsible for the youth right now, especially the times right now, you know, we have COVID 19 race, you know, democracy is falling and we have got, you know, technology and instead of humanology and that sometimes techn management, it comes to technology.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (03:09):

So I think that they really need our help and my experience that educators and the people that we surround ourself with most important for the youth. So we should really like try to navigate them help them to navigate their life, you know, their emotions and and just help them to be happy. So what I do with the young people I do create exchange programs between Europe, between Canada. And so I bring both, you know, like Canadians to Europe as well. Like Europeans, it’s mostly like Polish students to Canada and they just came both, both students, they just come, come back very, very happy. So the thing that also got, got me to work with the young people, it’s probably, I would say I was also very lucky. Since I remember to have a good family, he was always motivating me, my uncle through the United States.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (04:10):

He always likes, he was like charging my Barry when he was like visiting me in Europe. And as I, since I remembered, yeah, it’s funny. I know. So as I remember it, I’ve been always very ambitious. I’ve always been a dreamer, a dreamer, and I had my own visions and I always wanted to create something unique and something that’s gonna give back to the community, something that’s gonna like, you know, like make other people happy because I got a lot, I’ve been traveling around the world as I was working with you as well as Canada, when it comes to international exchanges of students, I mean also university lecture. So I’ve made a lot of contacts and as my uncle said you know, I think that it’s very important. The people that we surround ourself with. So thanks so much trouble.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (04:59):

I’ve managed to build a huge network of leaders around the world. And as I know that it’s very important. The people that we surround ourself with are very important. I just wanted to that the youth that I know they’re gonna get the same so that they’re gonna be able to navigate their lives and just be happy and to are positive emotions with others. So what is more those travels and those positive experience that I got both in Canada and somewhere else. They brought me also to the idea of Canada study tours. So we bring young people from Europe to Canada and we do a tour so that there’s universities, high schools, they go to institutions governmental institutions. So we try to get them familiar with Canada as you know, like most Europeans, I don’t know if that, if you’re aware of that, but probably maybe yes. They just think that Canada is like Netflix.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (06:04):

So it’s like, so they always have the feeling that whatever, wherever they are in Canada, join us in the Netflix. So we are trying to help them to follow their dreams. And just to help them also, you know, to, to make their careers, to set up their lives in Canada a little bit. Of course we work with them when it comes to work and and balance because, you know, they, sometimes they dream about, and they let’s say they imagine Canada or north America in a different mind that it really is right. So we try to help them to follow their dreams, but also in a reasonable way, I guess. So, so just to sum up I think that I’ve become very, very passionate about working with the youth. So all the positive emotion that I got from the people like who were showing me the way, and there should be. So, you know, and so energetic, I just wanna like give back on how to tell you just to make them happy, make all the possible for them. I couldn’t live in Canada. I was living in Canada for a while, but right now I live in Berlin. So I just want them to be happy, let’s say. Hmm,


Sam Demma (07:16):

No, I absolutely love that. I’m actually curious to know more about your uncle, who you mentioned. Did he play a huge role in inspiring you to start this work? Like where I understand what makes you passionate about it today, but what drove you to start your own organization and to start doing these tours with European students and to give them the opportunities they might not have elsewhere?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (07:37):

Yeah. Well, I it’s always been my dream. I mean, like, it’s funny when I was driving the car, I was going to a conference in Brussels. So I was driving the car between Brussels and Berlin. I’ve asked myself a question, what you really like doing. So at that time I was working with the university students, you know, so like being an academic teacher, and I just said to myself, what you like really doing? You just like flying to America. So I think that this it’s funny, but this brought me to the idea of Canada study tour and my uncle. He’s been the only my motivator. So I mean, like as, as, since I was little, I mean, doesn’t remember him coming back, you know, to Europe reading books, to me talking about like life and you know, like making choices in life.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (08:21):

So he was really like a good educator. So I was pretty lucky let’s say that he was like my innate leader, like, so and what brought me to outside of my company well, my company has been at the very beginning language school, and then I just wanna something more for the kids. So it was not only about the language, but I just wanted that they gonna start grow mentally when it comes to English, as well as to help them to change their, let’s say, fixed mindset into the growth mindset. Yes. Which is a huge work and introduce to them how they can work on themselves.


Sam Demma (09:03):

No, that’s awesome. And what led you to meeting Dave Conlan and all these amazing people that work in student leadership here in Canada? I’m curious to know.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (09:14):

Well, in 2016, I went to Canada with two girls. They were private students and I was on my own academics doing my own academic research. And those girls, they wanna study in Canada and this is so they we contacted Ian Tyson, the motivational speaker, right? So Ian Tyson, he invite me to come to, to London for the global leadership conference. First of all, I was just like, I thought, he’s crazy said, I’m not gonna be, you know, like a part of kids, you know, to Canada who are like 18, you know, and 17, you know, said like, no. And but then I started really to work on thats and the kids that I talk with them, they really wanna go. Hmm. So and that’s how it all started. So, you know, I’m a person who is very energetic and also very communicative.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (10:07):

And I’ve always had a kind of, you know, like vision. I mean, like something, you know, that you believe in, you go there, you just believe that you wanna do it sometimes are not sure about your vision yet, but when, when you meet and communicate with people and you know, your vision is just like, it’s just more clear to you. Hmm. And so Dave conman from the leadership Ken leadership association I contacted him because well, Canada study tour has become very famous here in Europe and all the schools, they were just impressed with the that the kids are so happy and they, the attitudes they changed because they contact, you know, the leaders the best. Yeah. And they speak with them. And so they just wanted that we gotta create a program which is gonna be online for the kids here so that the kids there are more kids engage into like into some positive action. So, so I just thought about that. I’ve met the treasurer of Canadian association ones. Nice. And I said like, okay, so why not contact, you know, like Dave conman, who is, let’s say hat and is kind of important when it comes to leadership in Canada and to learn more from them even from him. Yes.


Sam Demma (11:28):

Ah, that’s awesome. That’s so cool. And what is coming up soon? Things that you’re working on that you’re very excited about and that you have poured lots of your energies into?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (11:39):

So right now, well, first of all, it’s I’m kind of a positive about that. I mean, like managing that, you know, yeah. I cannot fly right now, international, like flights are very difficult to manage but I’m very positive about, you know, the new opportunities for me. So saying that, having said that so we develop right now a course for the schools. And so we just wanna, let’s say, create a movement in Europe and as well as to bring some changes when it comes to education here. Hmm. So that might be might be, let’s say both challenging for us as a very positive, I mean, like when it comes to young people so that they gonna start thinking about, you know, like, like things like like about their life in a different way. Hmm. So, I mean, like in Europe, the education is more academic, so we just focus, you know, like on studying on cramming reading like books. And so there are not many schools who offer like courses or help students to human up or to just grow mentally. Mm. So this is what we wanna change right now. So I’ve already contacted some people like from media and some journalists from some like super Hebrew educators. And then we were just planning, you know, to let’s say kind of a movement to, to bring some positive changes right now.


Sam Demma (13:12):

Hmm. Oh, that’s awesome. I absolutely love the at and when, what, what inspired you to get involved in education? So bring me all the way back to when you were a student yourself, there’s, you know, thousands of careers you can get into, you chose to get into working with young people. Why at that point in your life, when you were so young, did you decide this was the thing you wanted to do or did, did you work a different job at first and transition? Like I’m, I’m curious to know about your own path?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (13:40):

No, I mean, like never, it’s, it’s funny because since I remember I was, I, well, I think that I’m just lucky I’ve been, I was always playing you know, like the school. I mean, I was always a teacher as a kid. Yep. So I had my own like register and over was putting some marks. So my mom, she’s also a teacher. So I think that I, maybe I took after her a little bit and she she’s she’s still teaching right now. I mean, she lost her job. She doesn’t wanna give it up, although she could already get retired. And and so I think that family as I said, I mean like family that was always supporting me when it comes to education. So I can see the differences sometimes when we teach some parents, you know, there’s a lack of I don’t wanna say like, but it’s true sometimes of lack of good parenting at home, a good leadership. So I’ve been lucky to grew up in a family which gave me a lot. And my mom, she’s a teacher, my uncle, I mean, like for United States, he’s also a university teacher. So I think that I had a kind of a, let’s say have had always like, kind of a natural gift of just working with the youth.


Sam Demma (14:55):

Oh, that’s awesome. I love that. And if you could go back and speak to your younger self, when you just started working in education, what would you tell yourself? What pieces of advice, knowing what, you know now, would you impart on your younger self?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (15:10):

It’s just like, what do you mean? Like younger self? When I was like 15, I was 25 or two.


Sam Demma (15:17):

When you started working. So like the first year you started working with young people?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (15:24):

I think that, you know what it’s about the fear, I guess. So a lot of people and me too, I was always very shy. Mm. And this is the same thing happens when I come with young people to Canada or anywhere else, they’re very shy. They’re afraid to act. They’re afraid to be themselves and be authentic at that time. I would like to hear our voice, that be yourself, be authentic. You should follow your intuitions. You should follow your dreams. I mean, like you should do what you like and don’t be afraid. So, I mean, like, I’ve been always like growing up in a kind of environment that was trying you let’s say to act against me a little bit. And so I’ve, you know, I wanted to do stuff. I was always different. I was always more ambitious than the others or had just different to dreams.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (16:13):

And so there were voices who were trying to suppress me. So I think that I would just tell myself, like, keep going that way, keep being yourself, because this is important. Stop pretending a different person, because this is also, I mean, like something that I can see, but a lot of students, they pretend to be somebody else that they really are. And, and I guess this is, and what I have learned more, I guess, so like be more patient. Hmm. Oh, that’s awesome. Because I mean, like, yeah. I mean, I think that being, being patient is also very important. I mean, like a lot of kids and me too, I’ve always wanted everything very fast though. I don’t belong to the generation that, you know, like, like clicks all the time. Yeah. And but but yeah, I have it too. I mean, like sometimes, you know, you wanna get to the end of the movie very fast. Yeah. But I think that patience is is very important. So I’m like no fear, you just be authentic and don’t be scared to be yourself.


Sam Demma (17:11):

Ah, I love that. That’s awesome. And I know that you’re someone who is a lifelong learner. Can you tell me why you think that’s important and what are some of your favorite books that you have read? I know the last time I spoke to you, you showed me your wonderful bookshelf. And tell me, what do you think it means to be a lifelong learner? Why is it important and what are some of your favorite books?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (17:32):

Well it’s very important the first, like what you said it’s like, it’s very important. I mean, there is a coach in Europe who says that when you just don’t grow and you don’t learn all the time, you just go back. And this is the feeling that I sometimes also got, you know, that there was a time when I was busy without a project and I, you know, stopped like learning or reading and I really felt bad. So the more you contact people, the more you read, you just grow, you just feel more happy. You just have the feeling of being, let’s say of doing something, right? Yes. So I’m a person like that. I am, I, I’m not able to imagine myself being a vegetable. Mm. And so that’s, that’s what is important because if you just stop learning reading you know, you are just, you just gonna start, stop being, let’s say.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (18:28):

Right. Because I, I mean, like we don’t know our potential. I mean, like we can have a great potential. I mean, like, so the more we read, the more people we meet, we just grow and we can be really happy because I mean, like we never know our final destination. Right. Hmm. And my favorite book well, it’s a good question. I have to tell you that I have it even like here on my desk, in my Canada room I got it from my husband, honestly, I’ve, I’ve read a lot of books, like canal, literature, I mean, European literatures, et cetera. But the thing that right now, I have a new, like new new poet. I really like though, I’m not like into poetry so much. Her name is, I mean, like homebody she’s right now a Canadian poet, she’s Indian. And she’s writing for women about buddy about leadership, about heart and about rest and away. So I think that my that’s my favorite book right now. Oh, that’s awesome. So she’s, she’s she’s really, I mean, like her poetry is very simple and it just picks your mind and it’s about, you know, all the problems that sometimes, you know, like we as human, we we, well we go through.


Sam Demma (19:45):

Love that in a very simple way. Yeah. That’s, that’s amazing. And the next time you come to, can you better let me know. Definitely. Yeah. So we can do some stuff together.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (19:56):

It’s gonna be 2022.


Sam Demma (19:58):

Well, hopefully it comes, comes, comes here sooner. But in the meantime, if someone is inspired by anything you’ve shared today on this interview whether it’s a little bit about your personal story or they love the work you’re doing, what would be the best way another educator or somebody listening to reach out to you and have a conversation?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (20:16):
Definitely, I mean, like I check emails all day. So it’s alina@polish-academy-canada.com. I’m on Facebook and Instagram too.


Sam Demma (20:33):

Yeah. Perfect. No, that sounds, that sounds great. Alena, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. I, I really appreciate it and keep up the awesome work. I hope to work with you in the future and keep doing great things. I’ll stay in touch. Thank you. And I’ll talk to you soon. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like your, of find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 21 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alina Deja-Grygierczyk

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.