About Brandi Rai
Brandi Rai (@rai_brandi) has a passion for public education – to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world.
Married, with five children in grades 5 through 10, and many pets, Brandi lives in Edmonton. She has served as an executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer, with a lifelong goal of serving others.
She is drawn to ASCA’s support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities.
Parent voice in education is crucial to student success. Education is a foundational pillar in society and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans.
Brandi attended her first ASCA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2014 and was elected as a Board Director at the 2016 AGM. She was elected Vice President at the 2018 AGM, and elected President at the 2020 AGM.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview. Our guest, our special guest is Brandi Rai. Brandi has a passion for public education to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world. She is married with five children in grade five through 10, and has many pets.
Sam Demma (00:58):
She is also from Edmonton and she has served as executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer with a lifelong goal of serving others, and it’s very evident that that’s something that is very close to her heart as you will learn in today’s interview. She is drawn to ASCA; the Alberta School Council Association support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability, the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities. Being that she is a parent of five kids, she definitely wants to make sure that her schools are being run as effective as possible. She believes that parent voice and education is crucial to student success and at the heart of everything she believes is that education is a foundational pillar in society, and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans, but for everyone in the world. I hope you enjoy today’s interview. Brandy Rai is a phenomenal human being doing such amazing work in education. I will see you on the others side, enjoy. Brandi, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today.
Brandi Rai (02:22):
Thank you so much for having me. And so I am the mother of five children who are neurodiverse, they are biracial, and they are queer. And so having, having a family that is full of diversity and full of wonderful young souls who are trying to navigate a world that is not always made for them has really inspired me to lean in and to volunteer and to actively work, to create an education system that is equitable and meant for all children. And then additionally, I am married to a teacher, and so education is in every aspect of our life, whether we’re volunteering or we’re working or we’re trying to help our children through their, through their lessons. So I’m very involved because I need to be involved. These are my people and I want to do good for them.
Sam Demma (03:09):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned your kids, all five of them that you have. Are they a big motivator and driver behind the work that you do and, and why? Like if you had to give me some, some reasons?
Brandi Rai (03:23):
Well, I think that, I think that most parents are engaged and involved in their children’s education. And I know that it looks very different depending on what families, what their work schedule looks like or what their culture looks like. And also what experiences they’ve had in education a four, because they, they may not have always been positive for that family and the generations before them. And so for, for me, it has been, you know, my children are going away from me and they’re learning and they’re navigating their life and their relationships in, in, in school and class. And I think that what the, the light bulb moment that happened for me is my children are spending more time away from me during a school year than they are with me. Yeah. And so those people and those interactions are really shaping the young citizens that my babies are going to be.
Brandi Rai (04:10):
And so I am, of course I am their parent and I am an expert in my child, but schools are the resources that I am using to help them educate and navigate the world. And so it is very important that I remain connected to those schools that I volunteer in those schools and that I have a voice in the education system in terms of advising you know, my principal and my school board, even the education minister. So I show up because my kids matter to me and all children matter to me. And so, because I have the time and the, and the ability to do these things at this season of my life, that’s why I’m doing what I do.
Sam Demma (04:47):
Ah, that’s so cool. And when did you start getting involved? Like was your whole career in education or when you started having kids, you decided to get involved? Like what, tell me a little bit about how it actually manifested in your life.
Brandi Rai (05:01):
Yeah, so I actually, so I had children young, so my first child was born when I was 20. Yes. And so then whenever they went into kindergarten you know, just volunteering in the classroom, it just looks like, you know, going and helping cut things and do things with art and then it really morphed into yes, parents are important volunteers, but did you also know that they have a role in advising principal? Did you know that they have a role in understanding board policy and influencing board policy? And I didn’t know those things until I knew those things. And so once I got a taste of it’s really important that I’m, you know, reading with the, with the students or I’m you know, helping fundraise for, you know, more technology that, you know, because education is vastly underfunded in our province. So whether I’m doing those things or I’m sitting down with a principal and, and looking at time tables and saying, yeah, this would really work for junior high and this is how families feel about this. When those things came into focus for me and I realized I could have a piece of that voice I lit up and I leaned in. Mm.
Sam Demma (06:04):
Ah, so that’s so awesome. And what did your initial involvement look like? I know now, you know, you have a huge role with the all of Alberta, but when you first started, what was the, what, what did the initial role role look like?
Brandi Rai (06:17):
Well, I, so initially I started as a volunteering classrooms, you know, going on field trips in the classroom fundraising, and then for school council, I went and I was a, I was a school council member who attended and listened to the meeting, participated when needed. And then when we had our elections, I became secretary. And so you take the minutes for the school council and used, send out the agenda, you do the things that your chair would need you to do. And that’s how I started. And then it, it, you know, I became vice chair and, you know, at one point I had four children. I had five children in four different schools. And so I was on the executive of each school council and I might have been in different roles, but I was active in all those. And, and, and so there was a huge time commitment right.
Brandi Rai (07:02):
To doing that. And then eventually my school council, we, we went to the Alberta school council’s association conference and AGM. And so a trustee had talked to me about that. And a principal had talked to me about that and a fellow council member had talked to me about that. And, and I went, and I was amazed at the professional development opportunities that were available for parents to be engaged partners in education. And that was the next step that I took. I said, okay, this is how I’m impacting change locally. This is how I’m making my school community a more vibrant, inclusive space. And now I can lend my voice to a provincial landscape. And so that was the next step that I decided to take.
Sam Demma (07:40):
And as the parent of five kids yourself, who obviously you were super engaged in all of their, you know, student activities and within all of their schools, why do you believe that parent engagement is so essential and important in relation to student success? And how do we engage more parent during this interesting, crazy time?
Brandi Rai (08:03):
So that’s a, that’s a wonderful question. Thank you. And I think that so studies have shown that parents who are engaged and involved in their education, those students have higher success rates. And sometimes that can be defined as completion of high school or, you know, higher on standardized tests, those sorts of things. But what I really look for is that parent engagement that helps students become global citizens who are well regulated and can co-regulate their peers. And, and it’s that success that I believe that parents have a wonderful hand in because the school is helping with curricular outcomes. The school is helping with, you know, basic behavioral standards, but it’s the parents who re enforce that whenever those children come home, it’s the parents who, who say, oh, tell me more. They lean in and they nurture their children. And then they nurture their school communities whenever they volunteer and they help shape the culture at those schools.
Brandi Rai (08:52):
So I think that it’s, it’s the parents that solidify the learning that happens at school. And that’s why that relationship is so important. And then additionally, I think that it’s important that systems recognize that parents are partners in education. And so they do more than just inform inform the parents about decisions that are being made because and I think that we can all recognize this when you take the time to engage and consult with stakeholders and parents are a major stakeholder in education, they have more buy-in to whatever decisions are being made. So if you tell me that something is happening, but you don’t include me in any of the process, I may, I may not agree with it. I may revolt against it. I may not be an active participant in making sure that it becomes meaningful meaningfully implemented. But if you engage me the whole time, if you consult with me the whole time, then I have buy-in. I see my voice, I see the, I see the, the need for these changes to happen, and then I help with implementation. And so I think that from a system perspective, student success is impacted when parents are brought a lot on the journey rather than being told what the journey is.
Sam Demma (09:58):
Mm oh, I love that. That’s awesome. And how do we bring more parents into the journey right now? So like, I know I would assume, and I could be wrong yeah. That with COVID maybe parents feel a little more disconnected to their students and their school activities. Maybe it’s the reverse. Maybe, maybe you can tell me what you guys have been seeing in the province of Alberta and how can we still get parents involved and engaged during this crazy time?
Brandi Rai (10:24):
So I think that, yeah, so this, so the last year and a half has been, you know, obviously an anomaly. And so there is a huge disconnect that’s happening for many parents across Alberta, because we are not physically able to go volunteer in the schools. There is different communications that are happening because most of our communication is now based on emails. Or we hold our school council meetings virtually to, you know, in order to be able to respect health protocols. And so you don’t have the support of your parent community. You’re not talking to each other at pickup or after, you know, a dance performance or those sorts of things. You are extremely disconnected from your parent community. You’re additionally disconnected from your admin because all communication comes in either black and white or through a virtual platform. And so you, you’re not having the same opportunities, which means that you also don’t feel connected or, and you also don’t wanna step on toast.
Brandi Rai (11:15):
So you don’t wanna say, well, I don’t really sense some of the things that are happening, but you don’t wanna be a burden in asking for clarification or, or the ability to give your input, because you already know that the system is stressed, the adminis stress, right? So there has been, this has been a huge year of disconnect across our province in many ways. And then the flip side of that is when there’s disconnect, we are, we are wired for connection. Yeah. So when there is disconnect, we will actively seek solutions to fill in those gaps. And so we’re having council meetings virtually we’re, we’re increasing, you know, school councils and parents are increasing sharing things on social media. And that is why that, that is the, there has been an uptake in the things that are happening in education in a different way this year, partially because everybody’s getting a lot of information on social media, because that is the only connection point that they might have.
Brandi Rai (12:06):
And so, and we know how that, that can be good and bad, but we know how easy that is. So maybe I, you know, maybe I’m at the end of the day and I don’t have time to go through, you know, on my school zone or, or my power school and like read all the things. But if I connect to my school council Facebook page, or if I’m on Twitter and I see some things that are coming out around the new curriculum that might peak my interest, that’s an engagement point. That’s a touch point that lights a fire in me to do more in education. So there are some positive, even though we have been extremely disconnected this year.
Sam Demma (12:37):
I love that. And I think there’s always positives, even in every negative situation. It’s just up to us to go ahead and look for them. Right. without darkness, you can’t have a bonfire. Bonfires are beautiful. Right?
Brandi Rai (12:50):
I love that. Yes.
Sam Demma (12:51):
Right. Question for you, you, what exactly is a school council, I would consider you and your association like the experts of school councils what exactly is a school council and why are they so important and essential to schools?
Brandi Rai (13:08):
Well, no pressure to get that question. Right. Thank you for that. So, so yeah, so a school council and, and it might look different across the province, depending on that school community, but a school council. They have members parents or community members that would like to be part of the school council. The principal is also a member of the school council and a teacher designation, and then a, a teacher designated representative. And then additionally, if you’re in older grades, you might have a student representative attends. And so basically it’s, it’s parents and community members and possibly students who come and they, they work with admin on issues related to the school. And so a school council’s job is to advise the principal on any issue relating to the school. So maybe that’s the school’s plan. Maybe that’s the, like the, the school’s, you know, in, and some of the districts, they schools have three year plans.
Brandi Rai (13:57):
And so maybe you’re advising towards that. Maybe you’re maybe you’re advising towards the budget, you know, schools get budgets. And what are the priorities that parents also identify are really important places to spend that money knowing that the principal has final decision making in any decision related to a school then additionally school councils also in buys to their school boards. And so their school board might be engaging them on any changes that are happening within the district, you know, related to transportation or fees, or scheduling those sorts of things. And then higher, higher things such as right now, you know, the new curriculum draft, those are things that boards would be engaging with school councils around. And then additionally the Alberta school council’s association is the provincial voice for school councils in our province. And so school councils, can we, we have a variety of resources that help school councils understand their role.
Brandi Rai (14:49):
And so we believe that the empowerment and the respect and engagement of school councils is important for student success. And the way that we help that happen is we empower schools to learn how to be active in their own communities and to be local advocates, to, to affect change in their communities as needed or to support the culture as it is. And then we have we have an upcoming conference in AGM where we provide professional development for school council members. And then additionally, we have our AGM where members themselves have put. And so when we say members, we actually mean the school council as a whole, so not individual parents, but those school council members have put forward resolutions that then become advocacy policies that we advocate for. So for example, you know, years ago, there was a resolution that came forward related to class size and the importance of there being lower class size numbers for supporting student success.
Brandi Rai (15:41):
And so that then became an advocacy policy that we then advocate for. And it can be utilized in a variety of ways, not just in standard years, but specifically in a year where there has been COVID the importance of having smaller class sizes to mitigate the risk of spread. So that was a really long answer to say lots of things. But the, the main thing that I think that is important is that their, you know, school captures school councils are captured in legislation and regulations, and they have a role. They have a legitimate role in education. Parent voice is, is locally important. And then it goes all the way up to every table that we can carry that voice to through ASCA, as we talk with like trustees, superintendents, secretary treasurers the teachers association, any other major stakeholder group in education the Alberta school, council’s Associa this caring parent voice through school councils to that table.
Sam Demma (16:35):
And if you could speak to, you know, educators and principals outside of even Alberta and everywhere and be the bridge between, you know, a student and what they need to know about students right now, because you’re a, you’re a parent of five kids who are all in school. Like what could you share with a, you know, a principal or an educator who might not have kids that are in school right now and say, Hey, like, this is what kids or my kids are struggling with, which probably is the same struggles for most kids in certain ways and shapes like what could you relate to them to kind of say like, this is what you’re not seeing or not hearing right now.
Brandi Rai (17:10):
So I think that it’s, I think that right now what most parents and school counselors are talking about is mental health. And so they’re saying that, you know, my child’s mental health has been severely impacted and there is no support system readily available that my child can access in a timely or affordable manner to, to help with these, these issues that are happening. So that’s one thing that I know right now that parents on school councils are bringing up. The other thing is that through the years, we have really talked about the importance of, of school community. So teachers and admin, you know, relating to their students in ways that let the students give feedback and the students own the culture. And that’s really important because I can say, well, this is what my child is, is experiencing, and this is what they need.
Brandi Rai (17:54):
But as a parent, I believe that it is, it is actually more important that the teachers in the admin listen to my babies, they need to be talking to my babies about what the culture looks like in a school at their level, because we can have policies place. We can have wonderful conversations and metrics that we measure things by. But if the lived experience of those students does not reflect those policies and the intent of those policies, then it’s all for not. And so that is why it’s important that that educators be looping back to students and then be including parents in that dialogue as well.
Sam Demma (18:26):
And you started this interview by talking about the important of, you know, equity in equality in schools. What does an equitable school in your eyes look like? And, you know, how can we strive towards creating more equity within our schools?
Brandi Rai (18:41):
That is the, that is the universal question of, of how to how to solve all the problems in education. So just so, so no pressure, I guess, no pressure. So I think whenever I try to just collapse it down to the core of what it is that I’m asking for, I’m saying that equity and education and equitable access means that students in rural locations have the same opportunity and quality of education that students in metros would have. And I think that that is, and also the same inclusivity and the same opportunities. So, so I think that there is, there are definitely barriers when you travel across Alberta in terms of location and funding. And, and I think that equitable to me means that there is consistent quality and standards that are applied across education so that all, all students have access to the same opportunities within education that, that we know are meaningful for them.
Brandi Rai (19:37):
And for, for so long, I think that we’ve talked about you know, we’ve, we’ve boiled it down to, to funding and all of these different pieces. And one of the conversations I think that needs to be had as a collective with an education and is what do we identify as a basic quality education? So if we’re saying we’re providing a basic education to every student in Alberta, what does that basic education look like? How are we informing that? And then how are we measuring that to make sure that it is equitably applied and also inclusivity? So how are students with learning needs? How are they being in, into their school communities, all across the province? And, and what does that look like and what are the resources being given to make sure that it’s equitable inclusion? And then additionally, how are student, how are minorities, how are they, how is their lived experience being positively impacted across the province?
Brandi Rai (20:28):
And, and what about our queer kids? You know, how, how are they living this? And so when every student irrespective of their learning needs or their, or their racial composition or their you know, gender identity or sexual orientation, when I can say that every baby has a quality education where they felt loved and valued and seen in their community and in their curriculum, then that to me is actually equitable education. And I know it’s gonna take a long time, but I’m here for a long time. So I’m willing to keep doing this work
Sam Demma (21:03):
Awesome brand. This has been a, such a passionate conversation. Like it’s so clear that this is something so close to your heart, which is amazing because we need empathetic and heartfelt leaders. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice when it comes to fighting this good fight to end off this interview here today, like, what would you tell younger Brandy to know?
Brandi Rai (21:26):
Oh, that’s a really good question. I would just say to her oh it’s this metric that I now have that I wish I had learned a long time ago is will it matter in five minutes? Will it matter in five months? Will it matter in five years? Mm, because I think that lots of times we put our energy to putting out small fires right now. And I have learned to measure for myself if it’s going to matter five months from now, I need to give this a significant amount of energy. If I need this to look drastically different five years from now, I need to make a roadmap to make that happen. And, and that is a hard learn lesson that I have learned in my own life and in my own children’s life that if I could have given myself that 16 years ago, oh goodness, how much more could I have done with my time?
Sam Demma (22:18):
Hmm. Love that. And if an educator is listening right now and enjoying this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Brandi Rai (22:27):
So they can go to the Alberta School Council’s website and then go if they go there, we have our contact information there so they can get in contact with me directly through our executive director or our communications coordinator. And I am always willing to have a chat to help in any way that I can to get, to get the spark going, because I know that if I can help just make a tiny spark, everybody else in that community can continue to fan it into the flame that will, as you said, create a bonfire in the darkness and I’m willing to do that so thank you for that.
Sam Demma (23:01):
Oh, I love that. Awesome. This has been a great conversation, Brandi. I appreciate you taking the time to come on here and share some of your perspectives and philosophies around education. Keep, keep up the amazing work and I hope to meet you one day in person soon.
Brandi Rai (23:14):
Thank you so much.
Sam Demma (23:16):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
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