About Hoi Leung
Hoi Leung is the principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. While helping to tutor his friends at University, Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest is history.
Connect with Hoi: Email
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Science and Business – University of Waterloo
Faculty of Education – Queens University
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Hoi Leung. Hoi is the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. He has a background in engineering before in his second year, switching into a slightly different career path which brought him to where he is today in education. It started while tutoring and helping to tutor his friends in University where Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest became his history. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Hoi, and I will see you on the other side. Hoi, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.
Hoi Leung (00:51):
Hi, my name is Hoi Leung. I am the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. I’ve been teaching for about 25 years, and yeah, that’s about, that’s about it.
Sam Demma (01:02):
When did you realize growing up as a student yourself, that education was the, the career for you, the thing you wanted to pursue?
Hoi Leung (01:10):
Well, actually I didn’t realize education as a career until going into my last year of university. So my university journey was actually, I started with engineering, mechanical engineering at Waterloo. And it didn’t really play out for me. I guess it didn’t like me as opposed to me not liking it. And I switched programs after second year into a program called Science of Business. And so when I was in science of business, I was, I guess trained to become a, either a laboratory manager or a pharmaceutical rep. And then going into my last year my friends asked me if I ever thought of teacher’s college, and I said, no, I didn’t. And then, so I looked into it and took a few courses and, and got into a program at Queens University. And then, and then the rest is history. I became a teacher.
Sam Demma (01:58):
Take me back to the moment you decided in fourth year university, this is something I wanna pursue wherever you at, at that stage in your life. what helped you make that decision? And then also what did the journey look like that brought you to where you are today?
Hoi Leung (02:14):
Yeah, so when I was in going to fourth year, I obviously I set switch programs already and and a lot of friends what was happening was I was helping a lot of friends out in terms of tutoring them in terms of the program that we’re in. And then I looked back into my in my childhood and what happened was, in high school I was actually tutoring a lot of friends in math and sciences and didn’t realize I was just pretty much doing what I was doing in, in in teaching. And so when somebody said to said to me, well, what, what about teachers college? I never thought about it as a profession. And and then went into it and just decided that’s where I was gonna go. And and ever since then I started coaching. I coach a lot of volleyball. I’ve been coaching volleyball since 1996. Oh, and and so coaching and teaching are pretty much the same, same type of style in terms of, of of a career.
Sam Demma (03:08):
Tell me about the similarities. When you think about coaching and you think about teaching, what are the similarities you draw from the two? And how has sport kind of impacted your educational journey as well?
Hoi Leung (03:20):
Well the similarities are actually very much the same. Not even similar, they’re the same. you know, you, you have to assess the students to see where they, they start from. I mean, so when I coach volleyball you know, everybody starts at a different level. it is just like in a classroom. There, there, there, there’s students that are, are high achievers students that are starting at a, at a beginning point. So when I, when I do practices, I have to obviously tailor to different entry points for everybody. So somebody to like may, may not even know how to handle volleyball versus somebody that knows how to handle volleyball. So I have to do the drills where everybody’s successful. And then of course from there we, we try to make everybody successful and not bored.
Hoi Leung (04:00):
And then always active. teaching’s pretty much the same. in terms of when I first started my career, I was in elementary school. now I’m in high school, but I, I’m one of the few teachers that have done elementary and high school. So I’ve taught both. And elementary school is I’d be honest, is a lot tougher because again, when the students are coming in, they’re all at different levels or different ranges. high school is a bit more I guess more I guess they’re more, they’re different levels in high school, you know, grade nine, there is a grade nine level, there’s a grade. Well, in elementary school there’s a, a varied level in terms of things. So, so elementary school, you, you have to, like I said do a diagnostic. I mean, I’m using terms obviously, sorry, but it’s, you kinda assess students where they are, and then hopefully you challenge the ones that are, that get it.
Hoi Leung (04:51):
And you, you, you help the ones that don’t get it and, and then get ’em to a medium point. A high school, a high school level is a bit easier because you, if you take grade nine math, you know, everybody, there’s a curriculum that everybody has to maintain in order to get a credit. So it’s credit based in high school while elementary school it isn’t credit based. So, so that’s the difference I find. And with coaching, it’s the same thing. You, you find you know, you’ve got house league volleyball, you got rep volleyball you’ve got club volleyball, you’ve got regional program, provincial program, university program. So, so I tailor, I guess my teaching, my coaching based on what level I’m, I’m I’m, I’m at. So I’ve I’ve done all that. I’ve, I’ve done university, I was a university level coach provincial level coach, regional level coach, club level coach. And even I, I even coach elementary school, which is kind of funny, <laugh>. So I’ve done the whole gamut from grade four to university level.
Sam Demma (05:43):
Did you also play volleyball growing up? Was that a sport that you loved or what got you into volleyball?
Hoi Leung (05:48):
Yes. so volleyball was one of the first sports that I played. so going way back I wasn’t born in Canada. I was born in Hong Kong. Okay. so I, I came to Canada in 1976. I was about six years old. And you know, back then, you know, my family was a typical immigrant family. my, my parents worked long hours, 12 hours a day. you know, I used to come home I used to call the latchkey kid if, if you, I don’t know if you know that term Sam, but it’s called Latch Key Kid, where we’d get a key, my brothers and I would go home on our own. And I mean, obviously back then it was accepted. Nowadays I’m, I’m sure you know, it’s not accepted in terms of having kids under 12, going home by themselves and starting all that.
Hoi Leung (06:29):
So, so I’m sure, I mean, you ask your parents, I don’t know what your background is, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same kind of routine. But so I was a latchkey kid. I used to come home and and my parents made sure that we came home right away. So so starting with sports I have to give credit to my older brother who, who did a lot of sports but wasn’t allowed to participate in any teams. Cause again, back in those days, you know the family rules where you come home right after school, you don’t, you don’t go, you don’t stick, stick around after school. So, so really, I had to, to figure out a way to, to join a team. And with my parents, I had to flip it where instead of telling them that I was trying to join a team, I had to tell them that the school had chosen me to be on this team <laugh>.
Hoi Leung (07:14):
So as soon as they were like, oh, well, the school chose to be on this team, then you better go and go for this team. Cause they don’t realize I had to volunteer to be chosen. But <laugh> was when I started in elementary school grade seven, eight. And then after that I played in high school and I played a lot in high school. And then and then during high school, I also played rugby. And so those were my, my two main sports was volleyball and rugby. And then when I went to Waterloo the joke I have is when I went to Waterloo, I was too small to play volleyball, but I was big enough to play varsity rugby. Ah. So I switched sports and I, and I played varsity rugby back in the early nineties when rugby wasn’t very popular. Now it’s now as popular as you know, a lot.
Hoi Leung (07:54):
But, so when I came outta university, I was a teacher. And and then back then in 95, 96, there was very little, very few jobs and we had to supply, and I started coaching volleyball and rugby at different schools. And and then then I went to a volleyball camp, started coaching there, and then pretty much it just went off from there from 96 onwards. And found early success in terms of coaching, club volleyball, you know, won won a national title then went on to provincial team won Canada Games went to University of Toronto, became assistant coach to Women’s Women’s Program, and won four Oua championships in a row as an assistant coach with that program. And then yeah, so that’s pretty much my journey with volleyball.
Sam Demma (08:39):
That’s amazing. And tell me more about the journey from where you started in education to where you are today. What are the different schools you worked in, school boards, positions? Give us a little insight into that journey as well.
Hoi Leung (08:52):
So I grew up in Toronto downtown Toronto, around Paper Danforth. So a lot of my friends were immigrants Greeks, Italians you name it. It was all a big mix back then. And so when I went to University, I went to a school called Danforth Tech, which is by Dan and Greenwood Avenue. So when I got outta university I decided to go to Durham believe it or not. so I went to Durham and started supplying there. And back in 95, 96 in Durham there was very, there was very little diversity in, in the, in the area. So I was one of the few teachers that were non-white. And, and it was a bit of a challenge for me. I mean, a lot of people, you know, you know, here, here I am, you know, my, my background is Chinese and they, they, you know, I, I was supplying down in South Oua, never seen a Chinese person before, kind of thing.
Hoi Leung (09:46):
It, it was kind rare. And so my journey was I started teaching there, supplying the people around me liked me. I started applying for jobs. unfortunately I wasn’t getting interviews, and I was getting very frustrated. And and I went back to my old high school, Danforth, and I was helping out coaching rugby there. And one of my coaches his name is John Juga. He, he said to me, have you ever thought of changing your name? And I thought to myself, I don’t understand what you mean by changing my name. I mean, it’s ho right? And they said, well, you know so my, my my, my teacher friend John Juga, his, his, he said, when he first started back in the eighties, his name was Giovanni, so his name was Giovanni. So he actually changed to John, and once he changed it to John, he started getting more interviews.
Hoi Leung (10:33):
So he said to me, have you ever thought of changing a name to like or adding a name like Henry or something like that? So instead of ho because unfortunately when people aren’t used to ethnic names, they, they look at the name Ho Liang, and they’re thinking, does, does he speak English? Does he not speak English? my my younger brother who’s born here, his name is Kevin Leon. So when you look at a resume you know, look at Hoy Young, Kevin Young, who would you, who would you interview, right? So, so he said that to me, and I said, you know, I, I thought to myself, no, I don’t wanna go down that road. So I, I stuck with, with Hoi Young, because I started supplying people obviously start to know who I was. And but unfortunately with, with, with teaching there is a lot of nepotism in teaching where, you know people, you know, hire their own cousins and their own siblings and all that kinda stuff.
Hoi Leung (11:22):
And with my background, my, you know, obviously my parents were, were blue, blue collar workers. They, they, they, we had no background. I have no friends or, or family that were teaching back then. So it took me quite a few, few years in order to get onto the board. And luckily what happened was you know, one of my principals, his name is Mel Barkwell, and he was a great guy. He took a chance on me and said, you know what, you know, he asked me what high school I looked up a resume. He goes, he goes for, yes. And he goes, goes, goes, you have two degrees. I go, go, yes. And he goes, wow, if you went to Dan for tech and you have two degrees, you can teach out here. No, no problem. Because cause he knew the school and he knew pretty tough school.
Hoi Leung (12:01):
And yeah. So that’s how I got started. And and then since then I was I went through the ranks and then, and then as I went through teaching, I I went to the board office as a, as a facilitator helping out other teachers in math programs. And then somebody asked, you know, are you, you have you looking into administration? I said, no, I haven’t. Didn’t they go, do you wanna try it? It was the same same principal that hired me Mel, he said to me you should look into it. So I went into it in 2008, became a vice principal. And even that journey was pretty tough because at that time, I was only, the only, I guess the only East Asian administrator in the board. Wow. For high school. actually, sorry, there was two others.
Hoi Leung (12:45):
There was Phil Massada and Keong Cho, there was three of us. but back in 2008, they, they talked about equity and, and they wanted to do a lot of equity hiring because the diversity became the board became more diverse. So I thought, okay, well, no problem. I should be at the cusp of it. And so 2008 I was a vice vice principal, and then after five years, I, I applied to be principalship in 2013. didn’t get on, you know, it wasn’t you know, wasn’t two disappointing. Cause my first try and I, I kept on trying and then, and then it became apparent that there was obviously a lot of political in, in any job. There’s a lot of politics involved. And and I didn’t get to become principal until 2019 when, I mean, 2019 that was when I put, was put on a short list. And then then I got, finally got placed at Pickton High School in thousand 20, 20 21. So it took me 13 years from VP to to principal, which is quite a long time because usually most people get, get on after five or six years. And and so I persevered, I got continued doing my job, and and now I’m the first and only Chinese high school principal in Durham District School Board. So that’s my
Hoi Leung (14:07):
Sam Demma (14:08):
I, I’m, so, I’m so happy here that you didn’t use a different name. and I, I could only imagine how difficult it would’ve been when you were going through that situation, just personally thinking that you have to even change something about yourself to be accepted or given a better opportunity. And it’s so true that being a white person with a common name gives you this privilege or has in the past, and hopefully things are starting to change and shift with all the movements that are going on. but I’m so happy to hear that you didn’t change for anybody. And you, you remained who you were and pursued and are now here. And although it’s taken a long time, your, your, your story is hopefully one that’s gonna inspire more change and inspire other people to stand firm in who they are. thinking about diversity and inclusion and all the movements that are going on right now, how do you kind of see that changing the culture of the school you are in, or, you know, education as a whole? Are you, are you seeing a shift and what are your thoughts on
Hoi Leung (15:10):
Yeah, yeah, I do see a shift. I mean, the, the issue with education is once you get hired, pretty much, most teachers stay for about 30 years. So, so that’s why the change is very slow. So ah, I, I know as a principal, I am the position of hiring now. So I, I do recognize that when you’re looking at resumes, you’re looking at at different names and, and different backgrounds, and you’re looking at the resume. And I think when I first started teaching, a lot of people use the name as a, as a, as a, as a gatekeeper, the name, right? So, so for me, when I grew up, I grew up with a lot of people with different names in terms of Greek names, Italian names, you name it Indian names. So, so I look at resumes, the names don’t really scare me off.
Hoi Leung (15:56):
So, so I look at in fact, I just hired a teacher and and she went by the name of, of Jenna, which is kind of, so I looked at Jenna and I, and I try to look, and I looked at her I went to O C T, which is the Ontario College of Teachers, looked her up for qualifications just to double check, to verify. But her name wasn’t Jenna on the system, it was her name, the name was Janani. And I said to her, why did you put Jenna? And she goes, well, you know, people, you know, Janani. And so she pretty much, even to this day, I mean, she’s a young teacher probably around your age, she did the same thing. She, instead of janani, she, she changed the Jenna. I said, oh, no, just, just go by Janani.
Hoi Leung (16:32):
Don’t, don’t go by Jenna. I mean, this is, do that, right? And and I think it, it’s, it’s still pervasive where people are still doing that to try to Anglo size their names that were, were that were given to them. And but for me, like I said, when I look at resumes and so my hiring, I, I, I hired about 10 teachers last summer, and I would honestly say at least five of them with not more, were visible minorities. Mm. So, so the lens i I come with is, is different from from a, from a person that is not I guess that is, is considered white. Yeah. So my lens is different. So when I look at qualifications and names, the names don’t scare me or look at qualifications, look at background, and look at you know, where they taught, you know, that, that sort of thing. So, so I think with me in my position, I, I do have as a, as a duty bearer, I do have responsibilities in trying to diversify the teaching staff, because at, in high school, we do have a very diverse student population. And and so I can start off by hiring people that are more like the, the students. And, and I think students appreciate that.
Sam Demma (17:39):
Not to mention
Hoi Leung (17:40):
So does community too. Sorry.
Sam Demma (17:41):
Yeah. Not to mention the fact that you have a diverse staff gives you more diverse perspectives, makes the learning more rich for the students. Like you’re not just hearing one side of history, <laugh>. I think it’s so important that you have a diverse staff, not only for representation, but for authentic learning purposes. and I, it’s so cool to hear that you’re looking at it from that lens as well. I think it’s amazing. when you think about your journey throughout education, what are some resources that you personally found helpful? Maybe it’s people that have had a massive impact on you or books or courses or programs, things that maybe you experience that you think inform the beliefs you have around education and the way that you try and show up and teach and make a difference?
Hoi Leung (18:27):
I think the resources I have, and believe it or not, it’s, it’s interesting how some of the mentors I’ve had, and when I call them mentors, they’re, they’re, they’re older, obviously older educators, they were, they were actually older white men that you would think that were not as diverse in thinking, but they actually were. And I think, I think they were more instrumental because although they were older white men, they were actually more forward thinking than some, some teachers that are are, or some administrators that talk about you know, diversity and all these programs, they were actually doers as opposed to just talking about it. So for example you know, the, the principal that first hired me, Mel Barkwell, he hired a, a whole bunch of diverse staff just because he felt that’s the way he was going.
Hoi Leung (19:16):
And but when you look at him, you would think that he was some kind of, you know, old old hick kinda, kinda guy. But, but one mentor that that that, that spoke to me that was very clear was the fact that I think some, some people are going into, into the teaching profession as a job and not a career. And what I mean by a job, I mean, teaching is more than just, you know, just teaching. I mean he actually made it a situa, he actually called it a calling. And I, and when I said, of calling, what does that mean? He says, it’s almost like going into the priesthood. He goes, or, or the convent, right? Like, you know, when you go to the priesthood or the convent, it’s a calling. You don’t just go into it just because you know it’s a job, right?
Hoi Leung (19:58):
So he did say that teaching is, is like a calling where people coming into teaching should look into it like a, a as like more than just a job, a career. So, for example, social workers don’t go into it just like a job. Social workers care about the stu or care about the, the people they work for, and they try to help the society. And I think some teachers, not all, I mean, most teachers are, are great, let, lemme get through that. But some teachers come into it and I see that where they come in and it’s like nine to nine to five job. They don’t coach, they don’t do anything with the school, and they just kind of you know, they expect students to be perfectly sitting, still putting up their hand, yes, sir. No, sir. And they don’t realize that nowadays, as, as teachers, we are social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists we even considered medical staff because we have to, you know, help students with medication sometimes.
Hoi Leung (20:49):
And so there’s a lot more to the job than just teaching. And I think some, I, I think with, with that in mind, if people are going to teaching, they have to realize it’s just more than just trying to impart knowledge to students. It’s actually all those things because in the education Act, we are actually, it’s actually, there’s a line that says we’re, we’re considered local parentis, which means in Latin we act as parents. And so as teachers, we act as parents at the school in, in lieu of the parents. So, so that’s something that we have to keep in mind as teachers.
Sam Demma (21:22):
I love that. When, when you think about the, you know, the roles that you’ve played and all the experience you’ve gained from them, if you could bundle it all up, you know, go back in time, speak to ho in his first year of teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice. Knowing what you know now and with the experiences you have had, what would you have told your younger self that you thought would’ve been helpful to hear early on in your career? Or should I say calling
Hoi Leung (21:50):
<laugh>? Yeah, it’s a calling. I, I think, I mean, I think the advice I give to any teacher, including myself, would be to have open mindedness growth mindset, a growth mindset, meaning you know, that people are coming from, from different experiences, lived experiences. I mean, I mean, my lived experience, I, I, I guess, is different from somebody else’s, and we have to be be cognizant of that and be open-minded of that. when you come with open mind, I mean, I’ll be honest with you, when I first started teaching, I mean, I used to be the, the teacher that used to give zeros. You didn’t hand in stuff on time or, or late marks and all that kind. And as, as the years go by, I mean, you understand why, you know, some people are, are not handing in stuff or are not doing well, and you have to look into that and, and try to help those students.
Hoi Leung (22:36):
I mean, 90% of the students are gonna do well, regardless of what you do, doesn’t matter who’s in, it’s the 10% or, or five or 10% of the students that you need to work on. So as a teacher, if there’s 30 students in my class, you know, I do a lesson, you know, I mean, you know, 27, those kids will get it. It’s those three kids that you have to look at and try to help them directly to, to help them through. Because the other 27 don’t, they don’t really need your help. They’ll, they’ll do fine no matter what. And I think I think when I first started, I didn’t tell you this background. So when I first started, I taught for 10 years in a program called Section 19. section 19 is is a program. Every board has it.
Hoi Leung (23:14):
And what it is, is non-mainstream students. So for example, I taught group home kids, foster home kids, and young offenders. So tho that’s my first experience as, as a teacher. So, so so I know you’re from the Pickering area, so I used to teach a lot of students that were in group homes in the curriculum area, and my job was to reintegrate them back into the, into the mainstream system. So, so I think with that background, I, I was helping a lot of at risk students already. And when I talked I guess quote unquote regular students, it was easy. I mean, obviously when you teach at-risk students you know, and you teach ’em something teaching regular students is easy because, you know, the, the behaviors are, are not there anymore. Yeah. You know, they have good solid families, you know, family background supports and, and, and those things are easy.
Hoi Leung (24:00):
But you know, one of the, the things I, I tell students a lot when they’re when they’re struggling, I say, you know, education is something that can’t be taken away from you. So once you get that diploma, that degree, they can’t take that away from you no matter what you do. So, for example, a driver’s license, so you get a driver’s license, you don’t, you know, you do, you don’t do well, they’ll, they’ll take that away from you. You get caught for drunk driving in education, no matter what you do, you can’t, they can’t be taken away from you. I mean, not, not to say I want, I wanna tell people to do, do criminal acts, but you know, even if you do something criminal, yeah. I mean, you go to jail, you still have your education behind with you, right? They can’t take that degree away from you. So that’s something I always tell students. Once you get, once you earn that degree or the diploma nobody can take that away from you.
Sam Demma (24:46):
I love it. If someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce an idea around, or was inspired in any way and just wants to send you a note, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Hoi Leung (24:59):
Oh, through the board. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you know, you can always find me at the board. I’m, like I said, I mean, I’m the <laugh>. I’m one of the few principals. There’s only 20 principals, so I, you can definitely find me at the board or google me. I’m, you google my name, I’m, I’m there for, for volleyball coaching and for, for Principal.
Sam Demma (25:26):
Awesome. Hoi, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It means the world to me and lots of other people in education. Keep doing the great work you’re doing, and we’ll talk soon.
Hoi Leung (25:35):
Sam Demma (25:37):
I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.
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