Leadership Advisor

Catherine Hogan – English teacher and Student Leadership Advisor

Catherine Hogan – English teacher and Student Leadership Advisor
About Catherine Hogan

Catherine (@CatherineJHogan) is an English teacher and student leadership advisor at Westwood Senior High School. She is a high energy educator that consistently looks for new and exciting ways to give her students amazing opportunities. Enjoy this conversation with her.


Connect with Catherine: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Westwood Senior High School

Canadian Student Leadership Conference

Canadian Student Leadership Association

Ontario Student Leadership Conference

Global Student Leadership Summit

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. Today’s guest is Catherine Hogan. Catherine is someone I was introduced to by my other good friend; Dave Conlin. She is a student leadership advisor and she teaches grade 11 English with the English department at Westwood Senior High School. Catherine has incredibly high energy. We had to, to reschedule our podcast a few times before we got the chance to record it, but I’m so happy we did because there’s so much value you can take away from this interview. I hope you enjoy this. I’ll see you on the other side. Catherine, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast, huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about who you are, and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?

Catherine Hogan (01:26):
Okay, well, so my name’s Catherine Hogan, and I’m a teacher here at Westwood Senior High School in Hudson Quebec, and that’s just right outside Montreal. We’re kind of in the country a little bit. It’s a regional high school so we have 36 buses that come from a really huge district all around the outside of the island of Montreal and they all get shipped here to my school. This is my 21st year teaching and it’s about my ninth year now doing leadership. So I spent most of my early career teaching English at Lindsay Place High School. That’s where I spent my first 16 years of my career. And I got really interested in student life and started working on student life there with the advisor who was already there and he was really familiar with CSLC and he would do all of that, but he was sort of thinking that he was ready to kind of start to move out of leadership, and he was hoping that somebody else would come in. And so we worked together at Lindsay place for the first couple of years, and then I took over student life from there and that’s how I really started working with young people in leadership capacity. And then I was really lucky to be able to participate in CSLC and then the global student leadership conference and OSLC. And that’s really where I found, I found my passion. I found my people and that’s where I’ve been. That’s how I’ve been involved ever since.

Sam Demma (02:55):
Why teaching? You said you spent your early career teaching English, but did you get into teaching as your first profession and did you know from a young age you wanted to be a teacher or what led you to this calling?

Catherine Hogan (03:05):
Oh, well, that’s actually an interesting question. So both of my parents were teachers. My mom was a high school teacher. My dad was a university professor, but I didn’t get to teaching right away. So my first degree I was actually working as a parliamentary page in Ottawa and I did my first degree in political science and planning on going to law school. And that was always sort of my plan. And then I began to think a little bit about social work. I thought between the two avenues, that’s the way that I would be going. But I decided in between my two degrees, I decided to take one year off just to make money, to pay for my second degree. And I started doing a bunch of jobs working. I had always worked at a summer camp and by then I was working as the coordinator and then a strange opportunity came available to teach a science class to elementary students.

Catherine Hogan (04:01):
So I said, okay, I could do that. And it came through the same it was a municipal camp that I worked for and they were having municipal classes for their elementary students during the school year. So I did a little elementary science class once a week, every day after school. And I really started to really enjoy it and kind of find my stride and find my pace. And I loved the vibe with the kids and the energy that they brought every single week. And then I decided, and this was a huge change in a decision. I thought, well, I’m gonna apply into education instead. And then funnily enough I, I, I spent all this time sort of soul searching and deciding, okay, no, I’m gonna choose education over law. And I had a philosophy where I told myself that the world does need good lawyers, but they need smart teachers as well.

Catherine Hogan (04:56):
And so I thought, Nope, you know what, I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna become a teacher. And know that when I went to my interview for teachers college, they, they were very kind and they were looking through my portfolio and they looked through all my grades and everything and my letter of intent and they put it down and they said, no, we just have really one question, why are you going to law school? And I said, no, you’re not supposed to ask me that. Cause I made this soul searching decision. And because I’ve made this choice and I want to go into teaching because we need dedicated and exciting teachers, and this is what I wanna do. And actually I ended up sort of selling them on that. And they were really happy that I had changed my mind and made that decision. So it turned in out great.

Sam Demma (05:43):
That’s cool. My, my ex-girlfriend was going to go into law. And then she did some soul searching and now she’s in English and it’s like, she did three careers of law and switched over. So I think it’s never too late, which is awesome. It’s

Catherine Hogan (05:58):
Never too late. Great philosophy,21 years. You’ve been teaching as long as I’ve been alive. And I’m sure not to make you sound old at all, cuz you’re not. But that’s a long time with that amount of teaching comes a lot of wisdom and experience and I’m sure, you know, this year specifically has been very different than the first 20.

Sam Demma (06:02):
Yes. What sort of challenges are you and your school uniquely faced with during this time?

Catherine Hogan (06:30):
So one of the things I think that we’re finding the hardest is the changes that are coming continuously and we, without warning. So that’s been really hard. Teachers tend to be of a type personalities. We like to plan everything out. We like to make sure everything is perfectly organized and perfectly or orchestrated every single day for our little standup show each day. Right? But now we have this, this wrenched thrown into our plan where, where, where things change every single day. So we are teaching in person, then we’re teaching online. Now we’re teaching both a combination. We have an AB schedule now where we see the kids only one day. And then we see the other cohort on the opposite days. We also were just told by the minister that we need out communicate daily with all of our students who are out in quarantine.

Catherine Hogan (07:22):
We’re not entirely sure how we’re supposed to do this yet or how we’re supposed to communicate. What, what is our purpose? Are we reaching out for their mental health? Are we reaching out for their pedagogy? All of these things are really changing so quickly and without warning and, and teachers are really thinking on their feet every single minute of the day and trying to adapt. And, and this year, course, we just have so many challenges with, with just dealing with, with, with the kids themselves and how they’re doing and how they’re faring. And at my particular school, we are having a lot of challenges with mental health issues. By the middle of November, we had already had four students who had been admitted to the hospital for extreme mental health issues. And, and that usually we would have only four in an entire school year and we had four before October.

Catherine Hogan (08:18):
So, wow. We’re really at my school in particular, we’re trying to ease the anxiety and ease the stress of the kids and really focus on the day to day teaching and making sure that they are okay and faring well in, in such a difficult situation. They’re receiving really only half of the pedagogy time that they would’ve had, but yet they still have the same demands. They still have CJE applications waiting for them. They still have provincial exams at the end of the year. It’s a lot for them to manage. It’s a lot of stress. And sometimes I really think of that analogy of on planes. You know, when the plane’s going down, we’re supposed to put our mask on before we put on our children’s mask so we can help them. But teachers are also struggling in a lot of the same areas that the kids are. We’re also struggling with maintaining the balance of everything that’s changing and the health of our own families and the health of our own students and children and all of that. It just feels like we can’t quite put on our mask before we can put the masks on the kids to make sure they’re all doing okay as well. So that’s been, I think our biggest challenge here at my school this year,

Sam Demma (09:31):
And you’re not alone. I’ve reached out to dozens of educator who have responded back saying, Sam, this is a great opportunity, but usually I’d say yes right now I have to pass because I can’t even get my head above water. And yeah, one of the questions I wanted to ask you was how are you keeping your glass full? Cause you know, when your glass isn’t full, it’s hard to pour into others. And what have you been doing to cope that might be of value for another educator to, to hear about

Catherine Hogan (09:57):
We’re really, you know, I think here this year, I’m really relying on my colleagues quite a lot to pull me through the day. We have one pod group that really has a lot of both academic needs, but also a lot of emotional needs as well. So what we’ve done is the core teachers for that particular group this year, we’ve kind of made a little team of our own. We’ve made a little pod team of our own. So the core subjects being English, French, and math, those are the, the core for their group this year. We meet all the time just to make sure that we’re sharing our, our, our, or help stories for each other. We’re sharing like all of our information about each one of our child’s need children’s needs so that we can make sure that we’re on top of all of their needs, both, both academically and emotionally.

Catherine Hogan (10:50):
And, and then at the same time, we are there for each other. Each time we have a setback in that group come together, the three of us and we try to make a plan together. And I think that this is one of the nice changes this year about the fact that we don’t have our own classrooms this year. So our, we had to sort of give up our, our classes. And my principal told, it, told us that it was as though we were putting our classes on Airbnb this year, we were sort of, we are moving out and everybody else was moving in. And then we moved class to class because of that this year, we’re not staying just in our own classrooms. We are congregating together as teachers and we’ve, we’re really standing by each other and we’re working through these, these issues as a real good team.

Catherine Hogan (11:36):
And sometimes it’s a full school team. And sometimes it’s just, as I said, our little pod team, just to make sure that our individual class is still feeling successful and St their needs are being met. And I think that even though we have COVID this year, it’s brought us a lot closer because we really are working together for these kids this year. And I, I feel, I feel a great sense of community. That’s, that’s developing in my school this year. And I think we’re actually becoming a lot closer as a team. And for me that has saved my mental health. That is what is doing it for me every day. I know I can come in and even though it might be a hard day, I know that that the other teachers here have really kind of got, got my back and they’ll work through things with me this year. And it it’s been so helpful, even as somebody who is experienced. I have a lot of years, you know, sometimes I need just the ed energy from the new young teachers to get me through the day. So,

Sam Demma (12:36):
Well, your passion. Yeah. Your passion and energy is, is evident even now through this podcast, as I’m sure you’re listening, you can feel it too. What keeps you motivated and hopeful personally? Like you, you sound like you’re a teacher who’s just started teaching and is SOS excited to teach. Like, it seems like your passion has never left you. Where does that motivation, inspiration and hope come from?

Catherine Hogan (12:59):
Oh, well, thank you. That’s such a nice compliment, Sam. Thank you. Do you know what I, I really find teach teenagers to be so incredibly fascinating and so much fun. I love the way we get to see them begin to emerge into these young adults. And we get to see how they navigate or begin to navigate the world. And that really, it energizes me. I love the language of teenagers. I love to be around them for their energy, their curiosity, their ex excitement for the next stages of their life. I find that I can feed off that All day long, and I always Still kinda

Catherine Hogan (14:02):
Working ourselves like a herd of animals. And I find the teenagers they’re so interesting because they want to be adult and they want to go off on their own way and their own path, but they’re not secure yet these tiny little herds. And, and as they become more comfortable they’ll as a herd, they’ll try out new things and they’ll go and try different things, different challenges together. And I, I kind of love watching how they begin to navigate the world around them as little young adults and how they, how they grow and change from the time that they come in as seventh graders, the way up until the time that they graduate, when they are really ready to kind of leave the herd a little bit and become kind of the independent zebra, right. The one that can go off to the watering hole all by himself.

Catherine Hogan (14:50):
And I just, I just love it. I love watching them take those steps. It’s like watching, I think little children take toddler steps for the first time. It’s really quite the same when they come in from at grade seven and then they leave as seniors. And they’ve done all of these little steps by themselves. And I think that’s really where I, a lot of energy when people say, oh, you teach seniors in high school. Oh, that must be terrible. I think, no, that’s the best time to teach them because they’re really just on the cusp of becoming these amazing adults themselves. And I get to witness that and I get to witness all the little steps that got them there. And, you know, those are really special little moments, their first, their first heartbreaks their first talking about prom and what they’re gonna wear, and who’s who they’re gonna go with and, you know, all of the activities and all of the things that they go through. And they’re applying to these programs that so exciting. And I think, you know, all these steps that I get to witness and see happen every single day. It it’s like it’s like living all of these careers myself. It’s really fun. It’s, it’s really energizing for me.

Sam Demma (16:05):
And you took a pivotable pivotal step nine years ago when you decided to start teaching leadership, how did that decision fall onto your lap and unfold in your journey?

Catherine Hogan (16:17):
Well, it has unfolded in such a monumental way. I really think that I always love to be part of extracurricular activities and to be able to to lead activities that I know that the kids are going to remember. I loved high school. I think a lot of people that do go into teaching, they themselves really liked high school. And I really did too. And I think back to all of the memories that I had, that I made of being on school teams or being in the school play or being on student council, and I just really wanted to recreate those exact same feelings for students today. And I wanted to provide those kind of activities for them because I wanted them to be able to know that, you know, school is part academics, but I think it’s also part arts and part athletics and part activities.

Catherine Hogan (17:09):
I, I just love that for A’s because I think that’s what makes school a great school. And so I thought this is exactly what I wanna be part of. And I remember the first year that I went to CSLC I was new. I was nervous. I didn’t know anyone it’s really overwhelming your first few years at, at CSLC, but I remember like this amazing sense of comfort and acceptance feeling like I had met people that had the same feelings as me and people who understood that they like the same things that I did. They wanted to be part of those activities too. They, they wanted to bring enthusiasm to their school and you don’t find that those people, those people exist at every school, but they’re not your entire staff. Right. But when you get to go to CSLC or to OSLC or some of these big conferences, it’s, every teacher are there.

Catherine Hogan (18:09):
And it’s just so motivating to hear the ideas that they’re doing at their schools, and to learn how different schools across the country manage their activities, or manage their student life and, and, and what they bring to their schools, and then try to replicate those same amazing ideas in your own way at your own school. And, and I really feel like I’m so lucky to have met some of these people who are so inspiring to me as educators, and to feel that I’m a little bit a part of their world and, and share that with them has honestly changed my life. And I really feel like in my own, out, outside life, I’m so happy that I have these leadership advisors in my life because they’ve, they’ve tr they’ve taught me as well, how to deal with things in my own life and how to, you know, like bring, bring the best to every single day. I really feel lucky for that.

Sam Demma (19:07):
No, that’s amazing. And that’s the main reason I started this podcast. So we could continue building community for educators that are doing unique things in their school, or are throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks and on the topic of running your school and student life and leadership events, what’s going on this year, how are you and your team managing to do things? What have you ride what’s working? What’s not tell me more about the experiment.

Catherine Hogan (19:35):
Okay. Well, yeah, we are trying like all schools, we are trying desperately to keep any sort of student life activities working that we can, but also staying within a little bit of the parameters and framework and protocols of COVID. So we’re, we’re thinking out of the box this year, one of the things that I decided this year was okay, I’m gonna learn the language of my students. And that I have realized is TikTok. Now as somebody, my age TikTok makes zero sense. I have tried everything to try to figure out and understand TikTok, but my kids, my students have, have to me, they, we have TikTok challenges between our classes and our pods. And so a lot of the teachers, we started getting into it as well, and filming talks as well. And the minute the kids saw our tos, because of course we said, okay, we’re gonna bring this.

Catherine Hogan (20:30):
They just thought this was, is amazing. And then they would challenge us further. And so that is one way we, that we are definitely bringing spirit here this year. We’re trying to use some of the online platforms and social media in a way that can, can be engaging and fun for the kids. So that’s one thing that we’ve really tried to do this year. We are trying to do well, we have brought back our big morning announcements and we’ve made it into sort of like a little radio show in the morning to showcase all of our students because we don’t get to see their games. So we don’t have, you know, we don’t have, or Scholastic sports now. So we’re still highlighting some of our athletes each day. We’re doing shoutouts for them. We do our birthday shoutouts every day to make sure everybody’s feeling good about that.

Catherine Hogan (21:17):
And then we started incorporating sort of just fun ways to start the day. So we did a dad joke challenge for two weeks where the kids could submit their best and most cringeworthy dad jokes. And then the winners would get to come on to the morning show and tell their jokes to the whole school. And we would figure out who was the funniest student at Westwood. And so that made everybody laugh. Just simple, simple pleasures. We’re trying to bring back again, a lot of, sort of the simple, fun that we’d sort of forgotten and, and try to bring it back in such a way that we can do it safely and, and do it where we can get as much student involvement as we can. So we’re trying to do as much as we can virtually. We’ve done full game challenges.

Catherine Hogan (22:03):
So we’re, we’re start, we’re gonna have a full school bingo that we’re gonna to run through zoom. And I know lots of the other schools have tried that as well. We used to have it at my other school and a teacher, Alex, Kate, and she used to do it, and she did such a great job. She inspired me to try that here. So I thought, all right, we’re gonna give that a go here. And it it’s really, really been, it’s fun for us, a staff to see because the kids are really able to guide us through a lot of these online activities, cuz they’re so much more familiar with the platforms than we are. And so they’ll set it all up. Oh, we got a hashtag for our new, our new TikTok challenge and this is how we’re gonna roll it out to the student body. And

Catherine Hogan (22:49):
They’re really tech savvy. So that’s been one area that we’re really able to kind of develop a little bit this year during COVID is to run as much as we can virtually. And to just try to think out of the box as much as we can think out of the ordinary and, and be open to trying it, try it, we’ll just see it might work. It might not. And, and I’ve always had a philosophy that if we try it and, and I, I try to make, take away the hard part sometimes for the kids. I’ll try to take away the embarrassing part so they don’t feel embarrassed. So in the morning if the Anthem, cuz we listen to the Anthem at our school in the morning, but sometimes is so old school. The CD tends to break in the middle of the Anthem.

Catherine Hogan (23:36):
So now I’ve just taken to like hitting onto the morning announcements and I’ll sing the rest of the Anthem for the kids. And, and so I do it to just show them like, just don’t be embarrassed, be you, do you. And, and don’t worry about feeling embarrassed about these things. So I try to kind of put myself out in embarrassing situations as much as possible so that they don’t feel intimidated or embarrassed. I kind of call it. I always, and Justin Timberlake saying, he always said he was bringing sexy back. I say that I’m bringing nerdy back. I’m making it cool to be kind of nerdy around my school and, and the kids kind of, they embrace it. They’re like miss you own that. You own that. You’re not afraid to be like nerdy or whatever. And I’m like, no, I’m not.

Catherine Hogan (24:24):
And so it makes them also feel comfortable because then they don’t feel that when they do something that feels out of their comfort zone, they don’t worry as much. Cuz they sort of feel like, oh, well we can laugh at ourselves and we can have some fun and we don’t always have to be like super cool or like super popular. Like, you know, sometimes I I to just take that edge off so they don’t have to worry about those things so that they can just have fun and feel comfortable being themselves. And, and I really try to just be me at school and that’s just who I am. And I, I tell the kids, I am nerdy, man. I am gonna own that. I’m owning that. And, and I think they kind of appreciate that.

Sam Demma (25:09):
Yeah. I think they would too. If, if you were my teacher, I definitely would. Every single one of us has our own insecurities and yes. Funky traits. And if someone’s embracing theirs, it gives everyone else permission to do the same. Yeah.

Catherine Hogan (25:22):
That’s what I’m

Sam Demma (25:23):
Hoping. Yeah. Keep doing that. Over the 21 years of embarrassing moments and funky experiences and embracing nerdiness, what have you learned as an educator for yourself that if you could go back in time and speak to younger Catherine, when she just started teaching, what would you tell her? What would you share? There might be an educator listening who could benefit from hearing that.

Catherine Hogan (25:47):
Yeah. You know I think that the single most pivotal thing that has changed me as a teacher was when I did have children of my own. Mm. I, my expectations changed. My understanding of children changed a little bit. I, I have a daughter who has special needs and it’s really allowed me to see from an inside perspective how these kids function in a classroom. And I feel that I’m able to be honest with them. And I tell them all the time, you know, if you have trouble reading, cuz I teach English, I tell them a right away. I’m one person you don’t have to be embarrassed about cuz you know what, my daughter, I’m just gonna be honest. She’s about five grades behind in reading because she’s severely dyslexic and you know what I’m used to, people stumbling over words when they read to me and you don’t have to be shy about that.

Catherine Hogan (26:47):
And I really try to kind of let them know like I, I hear you. I get you. And, and I wanna make this experience not difficult for you, but comfortable for you. I, I want them to know that I understand them. I think that it, it, to me also become more flexible into understanding that there can’t be a one size fits all for education. Even if it’s a whole grade level, every kid is so incredibly different and their needs coming into classrooms are so incredibly different. And, and as a mom, I, I really try sometimes to, to teach them as though they were my own kids and how I would try to deal with things in my, with my own kids. And that’s helped me so much during COVID because I’m just gonna be honest. Like a lot of teachers, I’m an a type personality. So it’s like we have gotta cover this much curriculum on before the provincial exam and

Catherine Hogan (27:48):
Has to work hard, cuz everybody, I want you all getting into exactly the programs you wanna be in next year for CJ. But this year I’ve really learned that for some, sometimes in your life, mental health has to come first and, and other are things can wait and they’re not as critical. And it’s allowed me to step back and say, okay, I may not be able to teach all of a fellow this year because it is just too long. And I don’t see the kids every single day and where every other year I might have said, but a fellow is the best play I have to teach it. I’m realizing that it’s better to be a little bit flexible sometimes. And to make sure that what I am doing is fully effective and I can get the most out of my kids when they feel safe and secure.

Catherine Hogan (28:36):
And I’m really, I, I think almost in a way I have COVID to thank for that because it’s allowed me to step down a little and, and change, not drop down my expectations, but change my expectations. And also this was the first year I ended up just by accident of the way that our classes were scheduled this year. I was put teaching the alt class. So the alternative education class now I would’ve said from the, on, from the outset, like, wow, I, I am not gonna be good at this because of course I’m like super like organized and demanding. And I had to learn from them. And I learned from them on how to work in a way that worked for them. And, and they have showed me that they’ve so load me down. And they’ve, they’ve said we need more steps.

Catherine Hogan (29:30):
We need more time. And I’ve really through teaching this class, something that I thought would be so incredibly challenging. And it has been in a lot of ways, but I, I have seen a whole other side of what being successful means, teaching these guys and sometimes being successful isn’t that we got a great mark or we got into our university program that we wanted to get into sometimes being successful is we, we wrote a, an essay like we did that. We did that step by step and we were successful. And, and that has really taught me a lot that I’m gonna carry through my education career. And, and I have, I have my alternative students to thank for that. They’ve taught me this year and I bet they would never in a million years think that they were teaching their teacher, but they are, they really are.

Catherine Hogan (30:26):
And, and I tell them that, I tell them that all the time that I’m learning from them, I learn from them every day. And, and my first goal in there, I said, okay, my first goal is to learn. I’m gonna just learn how to love these guys before I can learn how to teach these guys. And, and that was the best thing that I think I’ve ever tried to do because man, I miss them every day when I’m not teaching that all class and every day there’s turmoil and every day there’s some kind of explosion of some sort, but we’re a team. We are a team in there and, and we are all going to through together. And I really feel like they’ve, they’ve shown me how to do that. Cuz they’re used to working in a team they’re used to being together all day, the same class. I’m not used to that. And they’ve really shown me how, how to teach in that environment and how to be a different teacher, a different teacher. And I, I appreciate that.

Sam Demma (31:21):
I love that. That’s a, it’s such a great response and you know, if you’re not in a place right now where you’re about to have kids, you can still take that advice by loving your students before teaching them. And I think that’s a beautiful way to put it. If someone’s listening to this and wants to reach out and bounce ideas around, share some of your energy, talk about TikTok or the other funky things going on, what would be the best way for another educator to reach out to you?

Catherine Hogan (31:46):
Ooh. They could reach out to me a whole bunch of different ways. They could definitely always email me and that’s easy. I always tell the students it’s easy to remember my email because it’s just C Hogan, which becomes Chogan. So I just tell them it’s chogan@lbpearson.ca. So just like Lester B Pearson. So chogan@lbpearson.ca; that’s my email. And absolutely, I, because I’m old, of course I’m a Facebooker. So absolutely add me on Facebook; it’s captain Hogan and it’s a picture of me riding my horse so you can find me that way, and they can always private message me as well through Facebook as well. And always reach out anytime, anytime. I’m happy to reach out with other educators for sure.

Sam Demma (32:32):
Awesome. Katherine, thank you so much for making some time to do this. I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom, your insights, and above all your energy with all of your colleagues on this show. I, I really do appreciate it.

Catherine Hogan (32:43):
Oh my gosh. I feel like I should be thanking you Sam. This has given me a great opportunity to think about some of the things that we’re doing this year and, and challenge myself to think a little bit differently and you know, just think out of the box. So I, I feel like I should be thanking you because I, it, this has given me really an opportunity to kind of stop and think over some of the things that we’ve been through this year going forward and how to use them better going into the next phase of this pandemic at schools. It’s, it’s a challenging one. So I’m hoping to learn new things each day.

Sam Demma (33:18):
No, cool. The feelings mutual and I’ll make sure to stay in touch and keep watching all the things that you’re working on. Yeah. 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 Catherine Hogan

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.

Jackie Groat – Student Leadership Advisor, Teacher & Basketball Coach

Jackie Groat – Student Leadership Advisor, Teacher & Basketball Coach
About Jackie Groat

Jackie (@JackieGroat) is a Teacher, Coach, Sports Fan, and Outdoor Enthusiast who loves inspiring Leadership through action.  Jackie is also involved in the Alberta Association of Students’ Councils and Advisors as the Social Media Director. 

Connect with Jackie: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Henry Wise Wood High School

Calgary Board of Education

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisors (AASCA)

Alberta Student Leadership Summit (ASLS)

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

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. I am super excited about today’s guest. We have on the special Jackie Groat. She’s a good friend of mine. I met her over a year ago now. Back when COVID initially started, I spoke to one of her classrooms and we became friends.

Sam Demma (00:58):
We stayed in touch. Now I have the pleasure of interviewing on the podcast. Jackie is a teacher, a coach, a sports fan. She loves basketball and she’s an outdoor enthusiast. More formally, he works at Henry Wisewood high school with the Calgary Board of Education. She’s a basketball coach when we’re not in C technology teacher and student leadership advisor. Fun fact. She is also the social media director of the Alberta association of student councils and advisors. And she is one of the reasons why myself and two other young powerhouses are a part of their student leadership conference this year. It is my honor and pleasure to interview Jackie today. We touch on so many awesome ideas and topics, and I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. And I will see you on the other side. Jackie, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing the reason behind why you got into education?

Jackie Groat (02:00):
Hi Sam, thanks for inviting me. This is a great opportunity to come join you. So yeah, my name’s Jackie Groat. I’m a teacher in Calgary, Alberta, and I have been teaching for, let me think here, I guess it’s been eight years now. I, I started out in Kelowna, BC, and then I was in a private system there for a couple years and had a lot of opportunities to explore different things. I didn’t have to teach any one subject and so I, I built quite the, quite the laundry list of experience and was invited to come to Calgary. And so when I came here, I started out as a math teacher and that’s kind of where I am by trade. My degree is in mathematics and biology. And from there, kind of some, some knowledge that kind of hit the ground saying, oh, you did robotics.

Jackie Groat (02:54):
Oh, you did this. Oh, you did that. And so I’ve kind of bounced around a little bit; whether it’s been mathematics, science, like I said, robotics and engineering to teaching architecture and 3D design and computer science. So all over the map. But my heart and soul lands with leadership. It really, really is my heart and soul. It’s it’s the thing that I’m the most passionate about and that kind of stems from even being a teenager. And I was on student council in high school. And at that time I was aware of the Canadian student leadership conferences. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to, to make it in my grade 12 year, but I, since then had an opportunity when I started my education career to get involved with the Canadian Student Leadership Conference that was held in Kelowna so that was my first experience. And yeah, and I just, those experiences have really shaped where I am and who I am and so my passion is about teaching others. Not just a content subject area, but just to be better humans; to be empowered and driven. That’s kind of where I’m at.

Sam Demma (04:06):
Where does the, where does the passion come from, did when you were growing up and when you were in student council, did you have a teacher that pushed you in this direction? Your, your passion for mathematics and science could have led you down so many different, why education? Like, did you just want to be a teacher? Did you, did you know it from a young age or like what led you down that path?

Jackie Groat (04:30):
I’m gonna say life led me down that path being resilient. So when I was starting grade 10, I was in a car accident that put me in a coma for a short, a period of time. Oh, wow. Coming into my grade tenure, it was a huge challenge. It was if it wasn’t for my teachers that I had in, in my grade 10 year I don’t know where I, you know, how I would’ve gone through my education, but yeah, I, I had to learn how to study. I had like a five minute memory for a short period of time. I was going to school half days alternating days for the first few months. And it was just teachers that really, really took a care and an interest that I, people I had made connections with in high school that, that checked in on me that made sure I had what I needed.

Jackie Groat (05:20):
And so of course through my grade 11 and 12 years there were friends of course, but you know, just that, that passion to like, keep, keep going. And of course some of that comes intrinsically, right? Yeah. but I was a basketball player and that was a hard thing for me because in that year I couldn’t play basketball. Hmm. And my coach was really, really great when I was alone out to physically get back on the court. He, he basically said to me, he’s like, look, you’ve lost a whole year of skills. He’s like, you’re gonna come. You’re gonna manage all my team. You’re gonna get back into the swing of things. He’s like, you’re not even gonna worry about tryouts. He’s like, you just, you have a spot on the team. And so from there getting to build those leadership skills there, having them mimicked working with coaches in grade 12 and getting connected, like I said, on, on student council and being able to help others kind of just started that journey.

Jackie Groat (06:16):
And ironically, when I went to university was not an intention to be an educator. Mm. I went in thinking I’m gonna go into engineering. That was my plan engineering. And clearly that’s not where I am. Just kind of didn’t play out in, in my cards for what I wanted, but I learned a lot. And you know, just thinking about the people that how were most impactful for me and the, the experiences that I had. And then of course, the people that were telling me, man, you’re really good at like sharing information. You’re really good at teaching this skill. You’d be great at this. And I started helping coach little kids, and again, same thing was said to me. So I started on the education path later in my life and here I am and loving it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

Sam Demma (07:06):
Ah, that’s amazing. And when you think back to those teachers you had, when you were in grade 10 that really supported you and helped you along the way, like, what was it exactly that they did if you had to pinpoint some things that had a huge impact on you that you think other teachers or educators listening could learn from? Is there anything that kind of comes to mind when you think about that year?

Jackie Groat (07:31):
Probably just conversation, just the willingness and the openness to just say, Hey, how are you doing today? You know, where, you know, what is it that you need today? What is gonna make your day just a little bit brighter? And it didn’t necessarily have to be about that partic particular subject. But just, just genuinely seeing me for, for where I was at and wanting to connect and, and how, of course I’m sure that these are not teachers for me in high school, started in grade nine in Saskatchewan. So I did know these teachers a little bit beforehand. Wasn’t like I was a brand new face to the school. Yeah. And so that, that was good, right. Because I, you know, they knew me as a student in classes or on the basketball or on the track and, you know, on the track and field team. So knowing that I had what potential I did in interests, they met me, you know, where I was at. Nice. So conversation just opened the conversation.

Sam Demma (08:35):
Ah, I like that. It’s a good, it’s a good piece of feedback. And fast forward, you know, it’s a to right now as you’re a teacher, I’m sure those are things that you strive to do. How do you think during this crazy time that we can still make students feel, you know, heard and appreciated? Is it about conversation? Is it about maybe if it’s not face to face, like sending them an email, like how do you ensure that your kids still feel seen, heard and appreciated during a tough time? Like, like COVID,

Jackie Groat (09:03):
Yeah, that’s a big one right now, Sam, for sure. And we know that mental health is a challenge. I think it’s about recognizing that there are a lot of pressures and we’re used to do dealing with the academic pressure that, you know, I have so many assignments to get done. I have these due dates. I’m expected to meet certain grades and while the pressure is coming at them from their teacher, they’re also getting those pressures at home different home dynamics, different expectations. And then those students also have their own personal pressures that they put on themselves. And then we blanket all of this right now with the pandemic that we’re in and you know, that adds anxiety and, and all so much unknown. And so I think it’s about again, same thing checking in and having that conversation and you see that kid walking down the hall or they walk into your classroom and just genuinely saying, hi, you know, tell me, tell me a story.

Jackie Groat (10:01):
What, what happened in your day yesterday? What was your win yesterday? You know, what are you looking forward to in this week? And sometimes you might get that response back. That’s like, I have nothing to look forward to or, you know, it’s kind of, it’s kind of jury. And, and so then you open that conversation to, okay. Why do you feel that way, you know, is, is there something that we could pick out that maybe do you have a goal that you wanna work on? Or, you know, how, how can I help, help you turn that around knowing that, you know, we can’t take on our students all of their problems for those educators that are out out there. We, you know, that’s a, that’s a fine line. We have to be careful that we’re not taking that to too much to heart and home with us because it can, can happen. But what can you do when you’re in those walls together and how can you give them that motivating message to go? Okay, all we have to do is find one thing that you can look forward to one thing that you’re gonna work on, or it’s celebrating those, those wins and going, you know what, we’re, we’re just gonna take one day at a time.

Sam Demma (11:08):
Hmm. No, I love that. And at what point in your journey did you decide to get involved in the Canadian student leadership association with and with the student leadership association association?

Jackie Groat (11:21):
Yeah, you’re right on both of them. I’m not gonna lie. I’m a little ambitious and people who know me will laugh. They feel like, oh, yeah. But when I, when I started on my journey into the education world, when I was at university and doing my practical I had an, an opportunity to connect with norm Bradley, who many people across Canada will recognize that name in leadership. And I got the opportunity to sit on the committee and, and help out where I could. And so I started out with the social media side of things when we were putting together that conference and going, okay, how are we gonna connect? And of course it, it, I just remember leadership being such a huge part of my life in school. And like I said, on the student council helping bring spirit week to our school motivating my graduating class to put together not just a, a regular yearbook, but to put, put together a video yearbook on a compact disc.

Sam Demma (12:27):
Oh my goodness. What is that?

Jackie Groat (12:28):
Yeah, that’s okay. I’m giving away my age. Am I no seriously though, but just those things. And I thought, you know, this is an opportunity where I can get involved and do those things for our future generations. And so I, I got on there with the social media side instead of compact discs and helped out there. And so that was that, that opportunity. And I’ve continued with social media in the high schools that I’m at or have been at both past and present. And I guess I’m gonna say how long ago, maybe a couple years ago it was, I was approached by a member of the Alberta student leadership association or council said, yeah, Hey, you know, we need to have a director for our social media side for our province. And I heard you’d be great at it. And so I said, sure, pick me, pick me and hopped on board there and, and I’m enjoying it. So we’re getting that up and running and it’s, it’s going okay. It’s going. Alright.

Sam Demma (13:31):
That’s awesome. If you were forced to convince another teacher, why leadership is so important, what would you tell them like for maybe there’s someone listening, who knows that leadership is great and impactful, but hasn’t fully bought into the idea that it’s very important for students growth and their learning. Like, what would you say to convince them?

Jackie Groat (13:52):
Oh, wow. You know, the irony of this conversation is I, I actually just had a conversation with a dear friend and colleague on the weekend saying to me exactly that Hey, I’m considering, you know, taking on the leadership program at my school, tell me more. And of course, I’m, I like lit up and I was super excited because I’m like, yes, more people in leadership, more people to run this program. Yeah, it’s important because it’s what drives the culture at your school. It’s what makes your students want to be there. So you can have those students and maybe they’re not the strongest academically or maybe they’re your top straight a students, but they’re, they’re those kids that you wanna, you, you wanna grab and pull into the school and say, Hey, you know, we can make this, this place, our own, we can make this place somewhere where we almost don’t wanna go home from, because we love our school that much. And so leadership is wanting that they’re the home of the warriors or they’re the home of the Trojans or whatever, whatever their, their home motto is. Awesome. And so to be a part of that is huge.

Sam Demma (15:05):
Sorry. I’m so sorry. I think my wifi cut out right after you said the leadership is, is,

Jackie Groat (15:11):

Sam Demma (15:11):
It’s okay. I’m gonna edit this part. But if you wanna, just about today, continue.

Jackie Groat (15:16):
Yeah. Oh, just being a part of leadership is huge. Like just that connection and helping, helping those students to learn those skills where they can motivate others and take those skills off into you life in, whether it be their, their job their family life, their friendships and just, yeah. Growing as citizens. It’s awesome.

Sam Demma (15:43):
I love that. That’s so good. And when you think about the years that you’ve been teaching teaching, I’m sure there’s been student transfer, whether you’ve seen it first, like firsthand firsthand, or you’ve seen it 20 years later, maybe you haven’t yet, but students maybe come back and share notes and tell their teachers how big of an impact they’ve had in those stories of those stories, which ones of them stick out to you. And if there’s any personal ones you can change the name just to keep the kids private.

Jackie Groat (16:19):
Yeah. I had one student who she was really, really a strong leader and you know, being in leadership in school really empowered her to learn, to stretch outside. And she got involved. She was always involved in different clubs or different activities throughout her, throughout the city, but she you know, she decided that she could take on more. And so in those groups and, and committees, she kind of took on a lead, were role in a community practice and they, they put together a thing, a proposal on food securities, and she’s managed to go from, you know, just kind of being the participant to helping lead other students her age, maybe slightly older, maybe slightly younger, but develop a charter, a food at securities charter within the city. She worked together with a number of students to, to write a book promoting, you know, what it is to, to, to do with food security.

Jackie Groat (17:26):
And it was really cool because then I got a email and then invite to her book launch. So that was kind of a really warm, inviting experience. And it’s, you know, it’s not something that we get a lot of as educators, those, those thank yous. And sometimes we’ll get that student that comes back to us years later and says, Hey, you know, I, you know, I really learned a lot in your class and I really appreciate, you know, what you did for me. And when those happen, we have to cherish those moments. And I had another student this year reach out to me who graduated, Hmm. About three years ago, I guess it would be. And they’re pursuing their, they’re finally choosing to pursue their post-secondary education and kind of reached out and said, Hey, you know my time in your class meant a lot.

Jackie Groat (18:18):
I got a lot of experiences out of it. I actually took this particular student on a field trip and it was a small group. There’s only four students that were able to go on this field trip. And that student reached out and said, can you write a letter of reference for me, I’m applying for this scholarship. And it had to do with humanitarian work and what they had done. And so, yeah, it’s kind of an honor for, for when that happens, students reach out and they remember who you are and, you know, especially it’s two and three years later. Right.

Sam Demma (18:52):
So true. And if you could, could speak to first year educator, Jackie, and give your younger self advice, what would you, what would you tell yourself?

Jackie Groat (19:04):
Oh, what would I tell myself? There’s lots of time. You don’t have to do everything the first year. You don’t have to take on everything in the first year. Yeah. it comes one step at a time and the idea is sometimes you can be overflowing with ideas and you see so much of what you wanna do, and it feels daunting and overwhelming. But I’ve learned to make lists and write them down. And, and not, I guess I shouldn’t even say it as so much as to do lists, but goal lists. And like, as those ideas come or there’s things that you wanna work on it can feel overwhelming to try and tackle everything at once, but it’s, it’s, it’s gratifying to look back at that list that you’ve made and go, Hey, look at all the things I have done over this time. And just go, you know what? I’m gonna work on it. You know, one thing at a time

Sam Demma (20:01):
You made it

Jackie Groat (20:02):
I’ll get to the end.

Sam Demma (20:03):
No, it makes sense. You made it sound like there’s a distinction between a goal list and a to-do list. I’m curious to know in your mind, what is that? What is the difference?

Jackie Groat (20:14):
I think with the goal list, it’s more about, it’s something that’s, you know, going to, it takes some layers of work.

Sam Demma (20:21):
Got it

Jackie Groat (20:21):
Got, right. There’s some revisions that are gonna go in there. A to-do list is, I think of more as like, you know, your

Sam Demma (20:28):
Quick laundry. Oh

Jackie Groat (20:30):
Yeah. The laundry list, like, oh, got, do laundry tomorrow or yeah. Better get those Simon’s marked by tomorrow or whatever. Right. Whereas like, you know, that goal is things it’s like for example, right now I’m working on wanting to put together a social media calendar so that I have this calendar each year that I can take a look at and I know, okay, in October, these are the things that I wanna hit. This is, these are the major events. These are the, the things that we celebrate in October what happens in November. So putting those things together, because not only is that helpful from me, right. But it’s something that I can leave as a a legacy or a pass on and share to other educators, which is a huge thing in our world. We do a lot of sharing of resources don’t ever reinvent the wheel.

Sam Demma (21:21):
It’s already there. Just ask it’s

Jackie Groat (21:23):
Already there. Just make it better, just make it better and share.

Sam Demma (21:26):
Okay. And if someone does wanna share with you or take from you, what would be the best way for them to reach out?

Jackie Groat (21:32):
Best way would be through email, you can find me through the Calgary board of education at jrgroat@cbe.ab.ca. You can also find me through the Alberta association of Student Councils and Advisors or AASCA, and we’re on the web as well at www.aasca.org and you can find me there as well.

Sam Demma (21:59):
Awesome. Awesome. Jackie, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to looking at all the different things you complete on your goal list.

Jackie Groat (22:08):
Thanks Sam. Oh, my goal is it’s. It’s constantly, constantly going right. You tick one off and you add two more. Yeah.

Sam Demma (22:15):
Sounds good. Sounds good. All right. See you, Jackie.

Jackie Groat (22:18):
Take care Sam.

Sam Demma (22:19):
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 Jackie Groat

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.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. – Past School District Superintendent, Speaker, Author, and Leadership Consultant

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. – School District Superintendent, Speaker, Author, and Leadership Consultant
About Darrin M Peppard Ed.D.

Darrin Peppard (@DarrinMPeppard) is an author, publisher, speaker, and consultant focused on what matters most in leadership and education. Darrin is an expert in school culture and climate, as well as coaching and growing emerging leaders, and is the author of the best-selling book Road to Awesome: Empower, Lead, Change the Game.

Darrin was named the 2016 Wyoming Secondary School Principal of the Year by WASSP/NASSP and was the 2015 Jostens Renaissance Educator of the Year. In 2017, Darrin earned his Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Wyoming. Darrin was inducted into the Jostens Renaissance Hall of Fame in 2019. 

Darrin now shares his experiences from over 25 years in education, specifically those learned as an education leader during the past 13 years. As a ‘recovering’ high school principal, Darrin shares lessons learned and effective strategies from over 25 years in public education to help leaders (both adults and students) to become more effective and positively impact the world around them.

Connect with Dr. Peppard: Website | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Road To Awesome

Jostens Renaissance

Bradley Skinner

Kid President

Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Rock Springs High School

Dr. Ivan Joseph, The skill of self confidence – TEDxRyersonU

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. I’m super excited to share with you today’s interview. Darrin is someone that I was introduced to by another High Performing Educator, as someone they thought I should interview on the show. And after having the some conversation with him, I can wholeheartedly and honestly tell you, Darrin is one of the most kindhearted, most influential and most open people that I’ve ever had the chance to speak to and interview on this show. His stories are amazing. His passion, his energy, his lessons, his advice. There’s just so much wisdom packed in this man. I would say he’s made a dent in education, but I don’t think a dent is a big enough representation of the impact he’s made. Darrin Peppard is a school district superintendent, a speaker and author, and a consultant who focuses on what matters most in leadership.

Sam Demma (01:00):
Darrin’s an expert in school, culture and climate, as well as coaching and growing emerging leaders. He is known for his keen insight culture. First leadership style and dynamic personality. He’s won numerous awards, been named principle of the year. He’s been added into the Johnson’s Renaissance educator of the year, and then the hall of fame. There’s so many accolades this man has collected and achieved and accomplished over the years, but on all honesty, all those things aside, Darrin’s just an amazing human being who has a lot of great stories to share. And I hope you get just a peak into some of those stories listening to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. I’ll see you on the other side, Darrin, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a huge honor to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and your recovering principle mindset and how you got into this work you’re doing in education today?

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (01:57):

Yeah, absolutely. Sam, thanks so much for having me on this is this is really a treat. So, so yeah, I, I consider myself a recovering high school principal you know like you and I were talking before we came on. It’s a, it’s a winding journey. And you know, certainly an interesting road that has led me to where I am now and, you know, being being through being a coach being a, a principal and now superintendent that principal role, I is still the role that I look at. And you know, it’s, it’s the time that I probably cherish the most in my professional career. Certainly a great opportunity to impact kids, a great opportunity to, to impact adults. But then also to work, you know around systems and being able to work, you know, work in and affect systems.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (02:49):

You know, we were talking a again right before we started, you know, I go back to what really got me into education was when somebody asked me to help ’em coach a, a basketball team and I’m like, yeah, absolutely let’s do this. And it was a fifth grade girls basketball team. And so, you know, that is not a lot of high level in depth basketball, but it’s more, it’s just relationships and, and having some fun and, and, you know, just getting to be kids and work with kids. And that’s what hooked me to ultimately become, to become an educator. And so yeah, that’s, that’s I guess a little bit about me.

Sam Demma (03:28):

No, that’s awesome. And before your friend asked you to help coach the basketball team, where were you headed in life and was there anything else aside from that ask that he gave you that directed you in that direction?

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (03:42):

Ah, man, that’s a great question. So, so, you know, when I when I started college you know, I, I, I played tennis and basketball in high school. I was a, I was a really good tennis player. I was a basketball player. I was not, I wasn’t a very good player. I was just on the team, but you know then I had some injuries and, and some of those kinds of things. And I honestly, I was a little bit lost when I got into college, you know the person I probably connected with the most, at my high school. At, at a point I’m gonna talk about staff I’m sure. And, and how everybody has an impact on kids, not just teachers. And , this actually even is, is true of my life. Our high school athletic trainer was the person who had the most profound impact on me.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (04:29):

I unfortunately during basketball, I spent more time in the training room than I did actually on the floor in games. I just was, you know, I just had the bad luck of getting injured a lot. And trainer John was, was somebody who really kind of inspired me. And so that’s where I thought I wanted to go. I wanted to be an athletic trainer and I don’t know, somewhere along the line, I kind of lost, lost my path. And, and to be honest with you, I, I actually dropped outta college and I got into the private sector. I was, I was working in retail sales. And yeah, fortunately when when my friend reached out to me and said, you know, Hey, I need somebody to help me coach this team. I don’t know what you know, it was it was a heck of an opportunity to inadvertently you know, or, or maybe there was some kind of destiny there to, to help me find that path. And know he, even after that, it was, you know, Hey, let’s, you know, notice this other team. And, and it really gave me a chance to connect with a passion. I didn’t know I had, and that was working with kids and supporting kids and helping kids as they, as they grow through life.

Sam Demma (05:40):

You’ve been able to experience some multiple roles, principal teacher now, superintendent as well. You just mentioned all staff have the ability to make a difference for educators listening, who might question that, that they have the power to also play a huge impact. What would you have to say? You alluded to the fact that you really believe that every member of staff can make a change.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (06:01):

Absolutely. I, I think every single member of of every staff, or again, like I say, staff, you know, staff plus faculty we don’t, we don’t separate ’em in our district. We, we make sure that everybody understands that we’re all in this together and we’re all part of something special. I just, you know, through the course of my career, I, and, and again, I even go back to, to when I was a student, you know, I’ve seen those moments where it’s the coach that is impacting a kid more than the classroom teacher. Certainly they’re classroom teachers that make profound, profound impacts on kids. I absolutely don’t want to downplay that, but I think about man, when, when I was a high school principal, one of the people in my building who was probably as impactful as anybody else was a guy named Cleve and Cleve was our maintenance guy.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (06:53):

Cleve was a retired engineer and just came to work at the, because he just wanted to make an impact to be around kids. And you know, so the role we gave him was in addition to just some general maintenance, he was our guy who set up for all of our athletic contests. And he was the guy who was there to, you know, make sure the water jugs were filled. And, and yeah, he did all of that, but man, that, that guy just, he just cheered his face off for every single one of our kids and our kids knew him and they loved him. He knew every kid by name. And then every one of our schools, there’s a Cleve, whether it’s a maintenance person or it’s somebody who’s working in food service, or it’s a bus driver we don’t, we don’t realize sometimes just because we get into routines and we get into our day to day, you know, I, I drive my bus and this is my route, or you know, I, I’m a special education para and these are the kids I go and work with.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (07:51):

And this is my schedule. We don’t realize just how many eyes are on us and how much the things that we do every day impact, impact kids. And, and you don’t know until, until years later I I’ll share a quick story with you that here probably I’m gonna say six months ago, I got a message on Facebook from a former student. And I mean, it’s a kid that I had as a high school student. I, I had him from one year. He was part of a group of kids that I actually had at both junior high. And then when I moved to high school, those kids then were there a year later, but I only had this student one year and I never really thought that we built much of a relationship. I mean, we knew each other, but you know, it wasn’t like some of the other kids in that group because I’d only once, but he reached out to me and it was a really profound thing that, that he said to me, he, he shared with me that he felt he owed me an apology over.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (08:55):

Just the way he had been as a student. He said, you know, I didn’t tell a lot of people this he said, in fact, you probably don’t remember me, but you’ll remember my girlfriend. And I, I mean, I remembered him instantly, but he said, what you don’t know is I was homeless. What you don’t know is I lived in a car and I was embarrassed. And, and so I acted out so that people didn’t know those other things about me. And I mean, this is, you know, I don’t know, 15 years later. And he felt compelled to reach out and tell me the story. Wow. And, you know, to know, to know that I had an impact on, on that young. And and for that matter that I still have an opportunity too. You know, we’re still, we’re still in contact. Yeah. What I, I guess I tell that story for this reason, whether you’re a teacher or in any other role office, secretary, principal, you don’t know the impact you have on kids until much, much later. And sometimes you never know, there’s so many hundreds and thousands of kids that every educator touches every day. And you’re making a difference and you know, right now it’s hard. Holy cow, is it hard right now, but you’re making a difference and you’re changing lives one kid at a time.

Sam Demma (10:20):

What a powerful story. Tell me how you felt when you read that message in your inbox.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (10:29):

Well, I mean, as we’re talking about it, six months later, I’m tearing up about it. So, I mean, you can probably imagine you know, first we’re and I saw his name, I thought, no way wow. I haven’t heard from him in forever. And and then as I started reading that, I, I just, you know, I had to sit down. I was like, oh my goodness. And certainly, you know, I was, I was grateful that he reached out to me is filled with a little bit of pride, you know, certainly that, that I had made an impact with him. But then I also, I guess, as I reflected through the, through the course of the next few days, I also kind of was maybe a little bit upset with myself or disappointed in myself because why didn’t I know, is it possible that I didn’t take the time?

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (11:28):

I should have to maybe get to know him better? And I don’t know, maybe I could have helped him that because, you know, as he went forward in his life, there were some struggles with substance. There was some struggles with other things. And, and I don’t know, maybe I could have made a difference, maybe I could of to help him in that regard. But I don’t know. I guess I would say it was mixed emotions. But, but ultimately, you know, I still go back to what what I, what I cling to with that story is whether I realized it or not, I was making an impact on that kid.

Sam Demma (12:03):

Yeah. And sometimes we’re a harshest critic, so mm-hmm, , don’t be too critical on yourself. Yeah. How do we make sure as educators, we can be that cleave, we can be that Darrin for our students, especially in a time like COVID 19, how do we ensure our youth feel appreciated, cared for and heard?

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (12:24):

Man, that’s a really good question because, you know, one of the most difficult things, I think all of us face right now is it’s really, it’s challenging, I guess, to fill the cups of others when your cup is empty. And so one of the most important things I would say, and, and I’m probably, I’m gonna say something and I’m not doing a good job of right now. And so I’m gonna challenge myself to, to, to refocus on this, but we’ve gotta take care of ourselves. If we want to continue to make a difference in this super challenging time, we have to take care of ourselves whether that’s, you know good eating habits or, you know, getting some exercise, getting enough, sleep, drinking enough water drinking enough water. So one, I’m not doing a good job with probably not getting enough exercise, but we have to be able to make sure that that physically and mentally we’re ready to answer the bell every morning.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (13:23):

And if we’re able to do that, then I would say the next thing is, you know, focus on relationships. You know, the academic piece doesn’t work without the relation anyway. And right now we probably need to put twice as much time into relationships. I mean, we, we hear the phrase, social, emotional learning right now. A lot. It is very much an in Vogue term. It’s an appropriate term but really at its core, it’s about having those relationships in place. So we recognize those challenges kids are going through. And so that kids feel comfortable reached out saying something, you know, or asking a question. I think that’s, that’s just the biggest, biggest things we can be doing for ourselves right now. You know, there’s, there’s all kinds of training and all kinds of, you know, other things we can do books we can read, but if we don’t number one, take care of ourselves and number two, build those relationships. None of that other stuff matters.

Sam Demma (14:23):

It’s foundational. It’s definitely foundational. Speaking of books, what is the Road to Awesome? What does, what does that mean to you and explain why you are compelled to write a book with that title?

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (14:36):

Yeah. So Road to Awesome. And there’s, there is, there’s definitely a story behind that. So and it’s like, like the road awesome itself, it’s long and winding, but so I’ll tell you when, when I go back to my first year as a as an assistant principal, so my first administrative job we, we had a pretty challenging culture in, in our school. We really had well, I’ll just put it this way. The, the philosophy in our school was catch, ’em doing it wrong. And that might be kids and it might be adults. You know, we even as a leadership team and I don’t think we were intentional with this, but this is just how it worked. I mean, the phrase that the other administrators used and, and I, I know I picked up on it very quickly and fell right into the culture.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (15:30):

I’m not saying I, I stepped away from it. I fell right into it too, you know, was, I’m gonna ding that kid. I’m gonna ding that teacher. You know, it, it was all about catching people, doing things wrong. And we were in this staff meeting middle part of my first year. And this particular part of the meeting was mine to facilitate cuz we were talking about, you know, what are we gonna do about hats and cell phones? You know, really, you know, important stuff used foundational. So yeah, that’s yeah, facetiously that’s, it’s not foundational that’s, those are things we really should be wasting time on, but that’s, that’s what we were focused on. You know, kids have their cellphones out and you know, they’re wearing hats, what are we gonna do about it? So somewhere between, you know, if we start hanging ’em up on the little on the wall and those little calculator holders, or I don’t know, suspending kids or wherever, you know, people were chasing this, somebody raised their hand and just said, why does it always have to be about what they do wrong?

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (16:28):

And I had it be about what they do. Right. and, and I looked back at that now in time and, and I can tell you, the lady’s name is spring. She’s a school social worker, a brilliant young lady. It was like, bang, you know, the, the road splitting two for me right there. You know, we, I can keep going down this path. You know, we, we focus on what people are doing wrong. You know, maybe, maybe we can, we can exit this path and try another one. And let’s, let’s try to focus on what they do. Right. it led me to the Josten’s Renaissance program and, you know, I mean that, that’s a philosophy of recognizing rewarding and reinforcing the things that you respect. And we put that in place and we started working really hard around that and changing the way we did our work and changing the way we focused on things.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (17:23):

And you know, it’s amazing how, you know, people will rise or fold whatever level of expectation you’re willing to hold them to. And if you’re using that recognition and reinforcement at a high level of expectation, they’re gonna meet that level of expectation. They’re gonna come right up to it. I mean adversity for stuff like that, you know? And I mean, let’s, let’s make it about, let’s make it about kids who are doing a great job in the classroom. Let’s make it about kids doing a great job in, in athletics or in activities or whatever, you know, in community service. You know, I mean, we shouldn’t just be focused on, you know, our football team or whatever, you know, know, I mean, we had one of the greatest bands I’ve ever been around as, as a high school principal. And I know a lot of that was we hired a great person for it, but he took that same philosophy.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (18:19):

And, you know, he went from like 60 kids to 130 kids in the band and, you know, superior ratings all the time. And so, so fast forward just a little bit. And I’m at a Josten’s Renaissance Conference and I’m presenting with somebody who at the time was was a teacher I had hired now just genuinely a, a, a true friend of mine a guy named Bradley Skinner. And we showed this little video clip Kid President, who everybody loves Kid President. And he said something along the lines of using the the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” you know, what, what if there are two roads I want to be on the one that leads to awesome . And even though I’d been on this road for a long time, I’d never had a, I’d never had a phrase for it.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (19:06):

And Road to Awesome was born. And we, and we still are using that as a hashtag. It became a hashtag at our school. We had to paint it on our walls. I mean, it just like grew and grew and grew to where everybody knew, you know, Rock Spring High School is we’re all about the Road to Awesome. And when it came to west grand, it brought that with me and we’re on the road to, and so over the last year or two, I, I really had started thinking, thinking, and I really wanna write a book. And I, I wanted to write a book about leadership and about, about what the things that I think, not, not that everybody should follow, but just, I think these are the six things that truly make a difference in leadership. And, and that doesn’t mean being a principal leader.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (19:52):

I mean, that’s any leader that I’m a classroom teacher, teacher leader, I’m in the business world, I’m a leader, I’m whatever. So six things in the book really that I focused on you know, leading with a clear vision building positive culture and climate empowering your student, empowering your adults, telling your story as educators, man, we stink at that. We are not good at telling our story. You know, unfortunately it’s, it’s standardized test scores or, you know, things that people say on Facebook that determine story of our schools. And it shouldn’t, you know, we have great things happening in every school across not only the United States through Canada. I mean, everywhere, there are great things happening in schools and we just have to do a better job of telling them. And then the last one is, is coaching. And, and, and by that, I mean, everybody, everybody can benefit from a coach as a leader. I can benefit from another leader as a, as a principal, as a teacher, whatever I can benefit from an outside perspective supporting me and, and helping me to, to see things differently. So as we’re working through the book it only made sense that the book had to have the title Road to Awesome.

Sam Demma (21:13):

Awesome. No pun intended. Yeah, there you go. I was, I was really, I was really enjoying when you were speaking about the difference between pointing out what the students were doing wrong versus what they were doing. Right. I was actually watching a Ted talk yesterday by someone by the name of Dr. Ivan Joseph. Who’s a self confidence expert and he’s his talk has over 20 million views. It’s a great one. He took on two soccer teams to coach at Ryerson, which is a university here that were both on a five year losing streak. No one wanted the job. He stepped up and took it it and used basically what you just told me to create two winning teams that both won the national championship over the next five years. And what he said was so often coaches, and we can replace that for any human being points out what the athlete does wrong.

Sam Demma (22:04):

You know, you’re not kicking in the ball, right? Get your knee over the ball and lean, you know, lean back and stare down before you kick the ball, or it’s always gonna go too high. And he’s like, instead of doing that, you can point out what someone else on the team did really well. So John goes and does a terrible job, but then, you know, Stacy goes and scores and, you know, beautiful form. He can say, Stacy, well done. Your, you kept your head down. Your knee was over the ball and the student or the soccer player, John who didn’t kick it well is taking in what he’s saying, but not having his ego hurt or feeling bad about himself. And that hit me so hard because, you know, even with pick the, the volunteer initiative, I run, we manage six or seven people. And sometimes we, we don’t think before we SP be to that degree and we can be critical to too hard sometimes on the people we manage or even ourselves.

Sam Demma (22:55):

And I just wanted to highlight that. Cause I think the point you raised is so, so important. I can even pinpoint as a young person when my coach spoke negatively to me and how it affected me personally which is, which is really, really powerful. Anyways, Darrin, this has been a very fruitful conversation. There’s so many nuggets and things that are coming out of this. If you could sum up your entire brain, all the wisdom that you’ve gained over the past, I think you said 26 years teaching and give advice to your younger self when you were just starting in education, what, you know, couple points of advice would you give yourself that you think would be helpful along the journey?

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (23:37):

Well, you know, not, not to keep hammering on the same thing, but I go right back to what you were just talking about. I know there were times where as a classroom teacher or, or as a coach where yeah, I probably focused more on, you know, what we were doing wrong. Mm-Hmm and you know, I think I would, I would remind myself or tell myself that don’t take yourself so seriously, you know, take, take a breath, remember that it’s about relationships. And at the end, at the end of the day, when you’re, when the students that you have in the classroom now, or the kids that you’re coaching on the court are 30 years old. They’re not gonna remember whether or not we won this game or that game. They’re gonna remember how you made ’em feel. Mm they’re gonna remember.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (24:27):

And they’re gonna reach out to you because of the relationships that you built with them. And I mean, I, I know that I did that well, but I know there’s always, you know, I look back there’s ones. I know I could have done better. And so that would be one of them would be to, to just, you know, Don worry about the wins and losses, worry about the relationships because that’s, that’s what it’s really all about. And I don’t know, maybe I would tell myself, maybe you should journal what you’re doing because, because I was writing this book, I know there were stories that slowly came back to me, but I know there’s just hundreds and hundreds and more stories that you know, both good and bad, you know, one’s where I certainly don’t look very good because of, because of what I did, but there’s a lesson that came from it. Mm-Hmm and you know, I, I wish that you know, I would’ve written all that stuff down, you know, but I guess those are probably the two things I would, I would go back and tell myself.

Sam Demma (25:25):

Cool. I love that. That’s so awesome. And I’m guessing you journal every day now.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (25:29):

I do as much as I can. Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s, it’s mostly, it’s mostly the old you know voice journal nice as, as much as it is writing.

Sam Demma (25:39):

Awesome. Well, Darrin, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. If another educator listening wants to reach out, talk, talk about your book, talk about idea is, and what’s working in your schools right now. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (25:53):

So I would say there’s two different ways you know, any and all social media, I’m Darrin M Peppard just write like that, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, that’s, that’s how you can find me. The other thing too, is, is on my a website. I mean, there’s a way to contract me through the website, which is shockingly roadtoawesome.net. So absolutely those are, those are two great ways to get in touch with me. And by all means, if there’s anything I could do, somebody needs somebody to vent to talk to. If I can share a little bit of advice or wisdom or, you know, even if somebody’s just got a great where they wanna share with me, I’d love to hear it.

Sam Demma (26:30):

Awesome. Darrin, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (26:33):

Yeah. Thank you, Sam. I really appreciate it.

Sam Demma (26:36):

Such impactful stories. I don’t know if your eyes like mine almost leaked while listening to this episode, but if it touched you, if it moved you, if it inspired you in any way, shape or form, please consider reaching out to Darrin. He’s someone who would love to connect to you. He’s someone who would love to have a conversation. He’s someone who would love to share ideas with and bounce things around and be a soundboard for you. And if you found this valuable considered leaving a rating and review on the podcast, it will help more educators. Like you find these episodes during these times, so they can benefit from the content and the inspiration in the stories. And if you personally have something you, you think should be shared with other educators around the world, please reach out at info@samdemma.com and will get you a spot on the, a podcast. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Darrin M Peppard Ed.D.

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.

Merle Gonsalvez – TCDSB Teacher and Dancer

Merle Gonsalvez - TCDSB Teacher and Dancer
About Merle Gonsalvez

Merle(@MamaGLeadership) has been teaching with the Toronto Catholic District School Board for 16 years and in the dance studio for 25 years.  She has taught kindergarten to grade 8.

Merle is very active in the TCDSB elementary leadership program. She is always looking to bring new skills to the classroom by taking courses, such as Dr. Bradley Nelson’s Emotion Code and Jim Kwik’s Superbrain.

Connect with Merle: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

E-CSLIT – Elementary Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team

Dr. Bradley Nelson’s Emotion Code

Jim Kwik’s Superbrain

Pixton Software

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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Merle Gonsalvez. I met her over a year ago at a conference called the E-CSLIT the elementary Catholic student leadership impact team. It’s a group of elementary students from grade six, seven and eight from all across the Toronto Catholic district school board who meet once a month to network, share ideas, work on their leadership skills and learn about topics that will impact their fellow students. And of course, have fun. Now, she is someone who is very involved in all of the extracurricular activities in her board, and she has super high energy. I noticed it from the first time I met her and I’m sure you’ll feel it again through her ideas and insights that she shares today in this interview. You don’t really know this because it’s only audio that you’re listening to, but on the video, Merle showed up with this crazy hairdo, which we’ll talk about as well in today’s episode. She’s also a dancer and a super awesome human being. I really enjoyed our conversation and I think you will too. Without further ado, here’s the interview with Merle. I’ll see you on the other side. Merle, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. You look great. I wish the audience can see your crazy hair day. Can you share with the audience, you know, who you are, why you got into the work you do with young people today?

Merle Gonsalvez (01:28):
Yeah, for sure. So thank you for having me. My name is Merle Gonsalvez. I am a Ontario certified teacher and I have been teaching for 16 years with a few mat leaves in between that. And why do I do it? I do it because I think at the ripe age of 16, when I started teaching dance, I discovered that I got more out of teaching than I did out of performing. So I love to see a child pick up a skill or say, or, you know, when they say I really, I can’t do it. And then they learn the step and they’d be like, oh, I can do it. Like, that was just heartwarming for me. So that was just my passion since a young age.

Sam Demma (02:15):
That’s amazing. And it seems like it’s carrying you because, you know, we had a quick conversation before the podcast started recording and you were laughing and you have some great ideas to share about making young people feel appreciated and valued during these crazy times. What, what motivates you to keep going though when things get tough? Cause I’m sure there are moments where you to feel burnt out from the work you’re doing. How do you just motivate yourself to keep moving forward?

Merle Gonsalvez (02:44):
Yeah, for sure. There’s definitely a lot of teacher burnout, especially now during this time. But I think, and I’ve definitely lost my spark once or twice in my career. And with that, I just had, I just chose to like change grades. So one year I was teaching grade eight and I was like taught it for like two or three years. And I was like, man, I’m just losing my spark. I’m losing my patience with these older kids. And I switched to kindergarten and it was so refreshing. And after a year of kindergarten I was like, I need more stimulation. And I went back to the older grades. So, but it just allowed me to bounce right back. So, I mean, yeah, there’s definitely like lots of times where we’re teachers. I mean, some of them for their whole career they’re struggling. Right. so just, you gotta find change your grade change look for a position outside of schools. There’s lots at the school boards. So that’s just something that you can do in order to get that spark back.

Sam Demma (03:56):
That’s awesome. And from the students’ perspective, they’re also human beings, right? They also experienced burnout. Some of the things we can do during this crazy time to make them feel more appreciated and motivated to show up, maybe virtually to class, you’ve been doing some great things that I’ve been hearing. And I saw the pictures of Pixton and the software you use to kind of create a virtual classroom. Can you share a handful of ideas that you’ve tried and maybe have been successful or have tried and have failed, but you’ve learned from them? I’m sure the audience would love to hear it.

Merle Gonsalvez (04:29):
Yeah. So a lot of the things that I’m doing right, obviously virtual teaching is, is new to people. But I think that it’s important to like, just keep up with technology. I could go either way I could learn to be a dinosaur and never learn how to use these programs and just become obsolete or I can just jump right in and make mistakes and, you know, do exactly what students are doing on a daily basis learning. So that’s, that’s kind of what I’m doing for my class. I like to do a one theme day a week. So the first week was twin day. So they paired up with someone in the class and dressed alike. The next week was facial hair day. So we, I had a unibrow and a mustache and a beard with some sideburns and as I’m, I’m delivering from school, right.

Merle Gonsalvez (05:24):
So as I’m going to the bathroom, or if I’m in the hallways, in the school, I’m in a portable, but when I go inside, like the students just give me, these looks like, what is she doing? So today when I went to the washroom with my crazy hair and you know, for the audience, it’s in kind of two ponytails and then I interweaved some pipe cleaners. Yeah. I tried to give myself some bangs here with these green and orange ones. But yeah, and some feathers too. So yeah. So just steam days I do with them every morning, there’s an ice that we do together. It could either be trivia or scavenger hunt. They love the scavenger hunt where they have to bring the object back to their screen. So you know, my rules are no running over grandma or grandpa or your little siblings and to make sure that you’re safe and you have to bring the object back to the screen.

Merle Gonsalvez (06:20):
So the funniest one, I think was when I said, you have to, your next object is something alive. And this kid went like this and grabbed his mother and dragged her. He pulled her arm out of her socket, but she was like, what are you doing? He just grabbed her. I mean, he won. And so when, even when they win, I will create a little package of candy and send it to their, to their house. Either mail it if they’re far away or if they’re close, like one of my schools all like hand deliver that no contact, but hint, but deliver that. So those are fun things. And I just, the Pixton thing, I just learned about it yesterday. So I saw it yesterday on a Facebook post is there’s like a teacher group. And I was like, oh, that’s really cool. So I looked it up and then I paid for it for my whole class because it just unlocks everything. And it’s basically a site where you have your own avatar, but then you can also create

Merle Gonsalvez (07:26):
Comic this historical figures. There are different costumes, so the students can use it for language. They can use it for science, they can use it for history or geography or social studies. They can use it for religion. So it’s great in terms of, if you don’t want your students to be sitting there taking notes all day, don’t get me wrong. They need to be writing and taking notes because taking notes is great, you know, for them to learn how to write properly, they’re actually like writing proper sentences. But I remember when I was in elementary school getting callouses on my fingers and that wasn’t fun. So this is something where they can be creative have different backgrounds and be funny too. A lot of kids are really funny and they never get to express that or they’re too shy to express it. Right? So that’s something that I thought would be beneficial to my class.

Sam Demma (08:16):
That’s awesome. So many ideas, just to recap for anyone listening, have a theme for each week, play scavenger hunt on zoom, where you ask your class to go run through their house and find things and bring them back in front of the screen. You can do crazy hair days, pajama days on, on zoom as well. And then Pixton is the software that allows you to create a virtual avatar for each of your students or allow or allow them to log in and create their own. Which is really, really cool. I’m curious to know, it seems like the state of education right now is almost like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Merle Gonsalvez (08:55):
A really good analogy. I like that.

Sam Demma (08:58):
Well, I’m Italian, right? So

Merle Gonsalvez (09:02):
For me it would be like Biryani throwing against cause I’m Pakistani. So it would be like throwing biryani.

Sam Demma (09:10):
And whoever’s listening. Just take your own cultural food as well. Yeah. Biryani is delicious side note. Have you thrown any Biryani against the wall and it hasn’t sticked and have you learned anything from it?

Merle Gonsalvez (09:28):
You know what, actually this morning so tech is so hard to work with, especially considering like my students are in a very there, my area is socioeconomically. Like, it’s tough for these kids. This one kid today said, miss I’m using my phone because my iPad the charger isn’t working, so he couldn’t present today. His work a lot of kids are just using iPads and some of the stuff isn’t compatible with iPads, I’m not too sure why. But yeah, it’s tough. So we had presentations this morning and the first one was amazing and she presented and it was like, she like kind of went above and beyond. And then from there it kind of like all unraveled and it went all downhill and there were kids who didn’t know how to present. And there were kids who didn’t know how to share their screen.

Merle Gonsalvez (10:20):
And there were kids who just one kid came on and he said, miss, I didn’t do it. And I said, are you ready to present? And he was like, yep. And then he came along. Me said, bits, I didn’t do it. And I was like, all right. So it’s, so it’s difficult. Like there’s always navigational issues, but you know, I have to take some responsibility in that because I need to know, I know now that I need to show them how to present their screen. So I actually just got two co-op students yesterday. So they’re in high school. So I asked one of them. I said, it would be amazing if you could look for a video because everything is pretty much on YouTube already. You don’t have to, you know, create that yourself, look for a video where it shows students how they can present and students how they can turn in their work. Because a lot of students aren’t, they don’t, they’re not sure how to attach documents and stuff like that. So that’s what my co-op student is doing right now. But there’s, I mean, you’re always learning, right. So, and that’s okay. And that’s great for students to see that you’re always learning.

Sam Demma (11:27):
Yeah, no, it’s so true. And with every challenge offers an ability to come up with a solution that is not only needed for yourself, but also for others, which is the beauty of this podcast. You’re probably blowing the minds of some other educators right now who are having similar issues and needed to hear this today. So I appreciate you sharing with, with COVID. There is a lot of burnout and one quick way to the teacher, why this work is so important, you know, why teaching is so important is to share a story of a student who has been impacted in your journey of education. And I’m sure you have one of those files on your desk called the bad day file, where you keep all the notes. Students have sent you over the years and you flip through them and you pull them out when you’re just not feeling the best. Is there any story that comes to mind and it could be a very serious one that really touches your heart and you can change their name for privacy reasons. Is there any story that comes to mind that you might want to share in the hope that it rekindles some inspiration and another educator to keep doing what they’re doing?

Merle Gonsalvez (12:34):
I think for, I just got actually I just got a letter from a parent, like a card from a parent in the mail and I taught her daughter in grade eight and they were, she was having like marital financial issues had pulled her kids like, and, you know, got another apartment and she was having issues and she came to, to interviews and she just started crying. And then of course I’m, I’m the type of person that cries. If, if you cry, I will cry too. So I’m just, and then she, you know, they didn’t have, didn’t have beds for these kids for kids and didn’t have you know, food for these four kids. So, I mean, just teachers, aren’t just there to educate we’re. I think the first thing you have to tend to is a person’s soul, like curriculum doesn’t really matter.

Merle Gonsalvez (13:31):
So unless you’re, unless the person’s soul is, is, you know, healthy, then it doesn’t really matter what you teach them. Cause it’s not going to stick. So I remember we had our Christmas food drive and I spoke to my principal and said, can we give this food to this family that needs it? And she was like, yeah, absolutely. And I talked to the staff and the staff brought in blankets and they brought, they gave mattresses. And so we just went and delivered it to their house. So teaching is not it’s about relationships. It’s not just about, you know, it’s not just about curriculum. I know, so I got it. So I just, that was, oh man, that was over 10 years ago that that happened. That that child is my class. And I just got a letter like in September from this mother, just a thank you.

Merle Gonsalvez (14:23):
Like I’m still thinking about you. Thank you so much. Wow. I that’s so heartwarming. Right. But there’s also teachers affect students, but teachers affect other teachers. And I think this is really important. If you could help another teacher, it’s kinda like you’re multiplying, you know, one charity say you multiply your gift multiplies. Right? It’s like, you’re multiplying that then that teacher is going to be healthy and that teacher is going to be helping their students. Right. so they’re touching so many more people. So there was a teacher who I met. She asked a question on Facebook and she was like, I’m really struggling. Can anyone help me? And I said, sure. A message like personal message me. So I was chatting with her and stuff and I gave her some resources and, and she’s in Erie, she’s in the Erie board. I don’t that’s far.

Merle Gonsalvez (15:16):
So she, after the first day of school, I messaged her at like four o’clock o’clock and I was like, Hey, how’s it going? Just checking in and stuff like that. She’s like, actually I’m not doing really well. And I was like, oh, well, do you want to you want to like FaceTime or something? And she’s like, sure. So I FaceTime and she’s crying and I’m like, oh great, here we go on down. Am I going to cry? I’m such a, I’m such a wuss when it comes to crying. So she’s crying, she’s sitting in her classroom and she’s literally crying. And I was like, okay, time to take some action. Look, let’s do this. And instead of like dwelling on it, like sure, she got things out. And we talked about it. She was teaching the grade for the first time. She was actually not a teacher.

Merle Gonsalvez (16:01):
In her first career, she was coming into the profession and she’s kind of got thrown into it with nothing. So we did her schedule. I’m like, this is what, and once your schedule is done and you kind of feel like a lot more organized, I was like, you need a mentor in your school, find a mentor tomorrow, that’s your job. Ask them to be your mentor, bring them a coffee the next day, you know, like ask them to show you around the school and where the resources are. And so I just kind of like guided her and she was so thankful and you know, she was good. She was like, honestly, I’m great. I have my mentor. And there’s, I’m like, there’s going to be struggles. Trust me. I’m teaching for 16 years. There’s still going to be struggles. But just helping that teacher and just, it’s going to now go into her class, like she’s going to now touch her students. Right. And she’s not going to be frazzled and like stressed and not be able to teach.

Sam Demma (16:55):
And that’s a piece of advice that could apply to everyone. Even if you’re not a first-time teacher, it’s always important to have a mentor or someone that you can lean on and cry with. If you both started crying.

Merle Gonsalvez (17:07):
Teach and teachers, teachers cry a lot. Parents, you need to get them a lot of tissues.

Sam Demma (17:16):
I’m just wondering if you were in your first year of education and you could speak to your younger self, what other pieces of advice would you give yourself? I know getting a mentor is obviously one of them. What else would you say?

Merle Gonsalvez (17:32):
I mean, mentor for sure. I think I would say don’t don’t judge yourself. You really can’t be so judged. Like we’re the hardest critic on ourselves, right? Where the, like the, the toughest critic. But you can’t, you have to be gentle with yourself and you just have to keep it simple. Honestly, you can’t like, you can’t be like, oh, that teacher’s doing this, that teach you pick and choose what works for you and keep it simple because if you don’t keep it simple, you know what Mike console does this. He does this really, really well. He he gives the kids like a little quiz and he makes class so fun. And that’s where I learned a lot of my stuff from I’m like, you did that. And you know, the kids think, oh, this is a really easy class, but they’re learning so much.

Merle Gonsalvez (18:20):
And he’s doing it in a way where the kids are just having fun, you know, having trivia questions about what you just taught and, you know, having, you know, games in class and stuff like that. So I think just keep it fun, keep it simple. And remember, it’s all about relationships because they’re not necessarily going to remember what you teach them. Hopefully they do. And I know I’ve had students come back and say, miss, when you did the, like, when you like told us, like, if they come in late to my class, they have to come right up to me and they have to say, sorry, miss for being late. And then I say, okay, thank you for your late sip. And then they go to their desk because that’s polite and that’s respectful. That’s not in the curriculum. Right. But I remember one student came back and said, miss in high school, I was me.

Merle Gonsalvez (19:06):
And a bunch of other people were late for class and this teacher was mad and I went up to her and I said, sorry, miss, for being late, I was late because of this, it won’t happen again. And she said, okay, thank you. Go to your class. And the other people just went and sat, go your desk. And the other people just went and sat at their desk. And she said, all of you get up and go to the office. Like she was because you’re, you’re teaching about relationships. That’s so important. Teaching kids, manners, teaching kids, how to be respectful and stuff like that. And it translates into when they get jobs. Right? Yeah.

Sam Demma (19:34):
That’s so cool. No, that’s perfect. I love that advice. And I think in the virtual world, it’s a little more difficult to foster and build those relationships, but you already gave us a ton of ideas on how to do that. Do you have any advice for a teacher who’s struggling to get their kids to turn the camera on? I know you mentioned hand delivering candy, but I know that’s also a challenge people are faced with right now. And I’m wondering if you’ve experimented with anything.

Merle Gonsalvez (19:59):
So some students are able to opt out of that and that’s okay if their parents are okay with that. But for the rest of them, I always say, so one time, a couple of times in the first weeks of school, the kids would turn their camera on and they’re like lying down in bed like that. And I’m like, okay, let’s talk about being professional. Now I have to be professional in my hair and I’ll be professional right now. But I have to be professional when I come to work. And so I’m sitting at a desk, I have a little chair in the side, like a lounge chair in the side, but I’m not teaching from there. Right. That’s for me to take my coffee breaks. I’m sitting at my desk and I’m here and I’m present, I’m dressed. I brushed my teeth and I’m ready to be on screen.

Merle Gonsalvez (20:46):
And that is how you have to come to school everyday, because that is your job. Your parents have their jobs and it pays the bills. Your job is to come to school and be a good student. So that means getting dressed being presentable and getting, and being ready to be on camera at any moment. So every morning I have them alternate or cameras on and say, hello, just a quick, hello. Like, so they either wave or they turn their mic on and they say, hi, I want to see their faces. And then if I’m doing like tasks where I need someone to present and they don’t always like volunteer right. To turn their camera on, but I always kind of say, okay, who’s the brave soul. Who’s really gonna, you know, be a leader and, and, and show their face and present it. And then after they do it, then I’ll give them like, you know, the, the compliments you know, thanks so much for doing that. I know that was tough and stuff like that. And if you say, you know, it was tough and they’re like, oh, that wasn’t so bad, then they’ll do it again. So yeah, it’s if you make it fun too, they want to turn the cameras on. Like a lot of kids wanted to show their hair. Yeah.

Sam Demma (22:03):
Yeah. That’s cool. I think making them proud of something that they want to show is like a ninja trick. And it’s a, it’s a good one. That’s a good one.

Merle Gonsalvez (22:12):
We all, we also like at the end of the day, a couple of kids taught me some tic talks and now, listen, I’m a trained dancer. I have a degree in dance and fine arts. Right. And some of these pictures I can not get right away. I’m like, wait, show me again. So at the end of the day, that’s what we do. We do something where they share. Or like we do like a little show and tell, or, you know, they’re teaching me how to do something. That’s really cool because you know, I’m old. So they’re like, miss, we’re gonna make you cool. Show this to your daughters.

Sam Demma (22:48):
Yeah. Cool. Old boat wise. And you shared a lot of the wisdom today on the,

Merle Gonsalvez (22:52):
On the flat

Sam Demma (22:56):
If another educator wants to reach out, bounce, some ideas around, have some conversations, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Merle Gonsalvez (23:03):
To me? Oh well, I’m, let’s see. I mean, they could email me if you want to put my email in the comments or whatever. They can definitely email me and reach out. I’m on Twitter @MamaGLeadership because my students the guidance counselor runtime and my class was like, you know, you spend more time here at school than you do at home. So like, I mean, technically Ms.Gonsalvez is your mama. And then one kid was like, well, Mama G. And then from there it just stuck. And my students just call me mama G. So @MamaGLeadership, that’s my Twitter, my friend and I are actually starting a new Instagram. We haven’t, you know, maybe by the time this is off, it’ll be up and ready, but it’s @teach.me.tips. So we’re just going to put all of our teacher tips right on that Instagram and share those with everyone. So if anyone wants to follow that.

Sam Demma (24:08):
Awesome. Well, thanks so much again for coming on. This has been a fantastic conversation and I really appreciate it.

Merle Gonsalvez (24:14):
Thank you so much for having me.

Sam Demma (24:17):
And there you have it, another full interview on the high-performing educator podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Merle and took some actionable ideas away, whether it was crazy hair day or little ways to make virtual teaching more effective and engaging for your students. As always, please consider leaving a rating and review so that more educators, just like you can find this content and benefit from the ideas and the network. And if you are someone who has ideas, if you have stories and insights that you want to share, shoot us an email at info@samdemma.com. So we can get you on the show and share those ideas. Anyways, I will see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melissa Wright

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.

Lenora Poulin – English teacher, Librarian and Student Leadership Advisor

Lenora Poulin - English teacher, Librarian and Student Leadership Advisor
About Lenora Poulin

Lenora (@LenoraPoulin) has been teaching for 29 years in the Fraser-Cascade School District in Hope, British Columbia. She began her career as an English and Social Studies teacher but after an inspiring professional development conference about student leadership, she changed her path.

She and her husband began the student leadership program at Hope Secondary in 1997 and she hasn’t looked back since. Lenora is a mother to two incredible girls and is also now the Teacher-Librarian at HSS. She believes in encouraging her students to be “good people” and the rest of what they need for life will follow.

Connect with Lenora: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Hope Secondary School

Lean in – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Brené Brown – Daring Greatly

Angela Duckworth – Grit

Mitch Albom – Tuesdays with Morrie

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 another amazing guest Lenora Poulin, she’s an English teacher. She’s also a teacher librarian and the student leadership advisor at Hope Secondary School. Its 180 kilometers, just north of Vancouver, at a small school of 350 kids. She’s been teaching at this school since she was 23 years old. You’re going to hear all of this and a lot more in the interview. Leanora is someone who has high energy. She’s someone who strives to give her students amazing experiences that will boost their hope, right? Hope secondary school, doing things that boost their hope, it’s really what’s needed right now in education. I hope you enjoy this conversation. I’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy. Lenora, thank you so much for joining the high performing educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. I know we’re separated physically and by distance, but thanks to technology, we can connect. Dave, someone who we both mutually know introduced me to you. And just briefly talking to you before this interview, I can tell you have super high energy. I’m super excited to have you, can you just share with the audience, you know, what work you do with young people and why you actually got into this work in the first place?

Lenora Poulin (01:18):
Awesome. Well, I’m really excited to be here and I’m honored that Dave mentioned me. It’s awesome. So I’ve been a teacher for 29 years in the Fraser cascade school district, which I teach in the town called hope, which is about 180 kilometers east of Vancouver, small town, small school. We have 350 kids. But I have taught here since I was like 23 years old. You can do the math. And yeah, I, you know, in the beginning, when I first became a teacher, it was for all of the really cliched reasons. Right. I wanted to make a difference. You know when I first got the job here at Hope Secondary School, I was the first new teacher in about five years. And so it was kind of exciting. The school was growing and we’ve declined now, but it was, it was amazing.

Lenora Poulin (02:12):
And then in about 1997, my husband whom I met here we got married and we decided we wanted to take over the student council and turn it into a leadership class. And that’s what we did that summer of 1997. And we haven’t looked back since, although he doesn’t teach here any longer, he teaches at a different school and I have a different teaching partner, but getting to teach leadership students is I think Dave said that he feels like he has the best job. And I think I actually have the best job. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I teach English as well. And I’m also the school librarian. So you can tell we’re a really small school cause I wear lots of hats, but it’s, it’s amazing. It’s amazing work.

Sam Demma (02:55):
Hope secondary. I think the name of your school is what’s needed now more than ever in education.

Lenora Poulin (03:02):
We can play with that name a lot. It’s awesome.

Sam Demma (03:05):
That’s really, really cool. And you sound like someone who’s full of hope and I’m curious to know what makes you a hopeful, what, what keeps you going during tough times? Like the challenges we’re facing right now with COVID?

Lenora Poulin (03:18):
Oh, you know, it’s funny because even without COVID we get asked this question a lot, like, why do you keep doing what you’re doing? And you know, it, honestly it takes just one kid and it can just be a one thing that they said you know, you can be having the worst year and believe me in my 29 years of teaching, I’ve had years where I did not want to be a teacher very much. But then you have that one kid who lets you know, that, you know, your class was their favorite or for me coming to the library, these kids that come in here every single day to sign out a book or to just read and hear and or the leadership kids who are excited about an event that they’re trying to do. And that’s, that’s what gives me hope. Right? That’s what keeps it going every single year. Why I keep coming back because they make it worth it. For sure.

Sam Demma (04:14):
I love that. And you’re right. What the statement of putting on many hats that you mentioned earlier that you run the role of a teacher, you run the role of a library and you’re on the role of the head of the leadership class. One of the things that changed my life when I was a student and brought me a lot of hope again, playing on that hope theme was reading books. I started reading books when I was 16 and it’s changed my life ever since. And I’m sure you can attest to the same thing. Do you have any books? This is off topic question, but do you have any books that you think are worth reading for other educators and other students?

Lenora Poulin (04:52):
Oh, there are so many. Currently for me it changes all the time, right? Depending on people that I’ve heard speak or other books that I’ve read. One of the ones that’s impacted me the most, probably in the last 10 years is Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean in” which she’s the COO of Facebook. And it spoke to me because it’s about women in the workplace and I recommend it to so many young female leadership students and people that I work with because it reminds me that as women, we need to lean into the table. So often because we have these other roles as women in society to take care of our families and have the baby back the day, we back away from these positions because, oh, I’m going to have a baby in the next couple of years. So I shouldn’t take this job or you know, I’m going to be going on maternity leave or, you know, my family is doing this and, and we, we back away from the table instead of leaning in.

Lenora Poulin (05:57):
So that’s one of my favorites to recommend to young women. Bernay, Brown’s, didn’t daring greatly as, you know, a phenomenal read for anyone. And I also really like Angela Duckworth’s grit. There are some things in there that I don’t totally agree with, but our school is really trying to work on our students’ resilience and their grit. So we read it as a staff and that was really important because it gave us some common vocabulary and it was really cool. And it’s awesome because any of these books that I read for my own professional development just instantly become lessons for us to use in our leadership class, which is great.

Sam Demma (06:31):
Th that’s what I was going to ask you. When you mentioned all the staff, reading those books, did you spearhead that initiative after reading that book?

Lenora Poulin (06:39):
A little bit. The grit one came from my principal. It was funny because she came with it and I was literally holding the book in my hand and I’m like this one, which was awesome. And last year we actually got to hear Angela Duckworth speak at the California convention which was really cool. Unfortunate. It was virtually, but not because of COVID just because she couldn’t be there. But I try to give, actually every summer I get the start of the summer. I give every staff member, a book to read over the summer, sometimes it’s fiction. Sometimes it’s nonfiction, some of them might read them and some of them don’t, but I just think it’s just such an amazing way to be constantly learning and growing. And I think that that’s what makes me happy and satisfied in my job is because I’m always looking for ways to be better.

Sam Demma (07:30):
I love that so much. And I think it’s important in education. That’s a needed, that’s a needed feeling and I applaud you for that. And teachers that have impacted my life embody the same philosophy. And this conversation has reminded me of a book. I read one time called Tuesdays with Morrie. I don’t know.

Lenora Poulin (07:46):
That’s a favorite.

Sam Demma (07:47):
Ah, okay. That’s so cool. So I had an educator tell me to read it. And I think the actual storyline of the book with the student visiting you tell us every Tuesday, before he passes away and I’m not going to spoil it too much. I guess I just gave away the

Lenora Poulin (08:05):
It’s been around for a long for a while now. And I think that it’s just, it sings to so many people. It’s awesome.

Sam Demma (08:12):
And it’s so I think it’s so applicable to any teacher, whether you work in a school outside of school, you teach people something it’s, it’s so cool to see the relationship between an educator and a student. And you get to, you get to drive those relationships every day. And like you mentioned earlier, sometimes you don’t see the impact, but maybe 10 years down the road, someone tells you something or in the middle of a terrible year, one kid says something that just makes the whole year worthwhile. Yeah. Those moments are so important for educators to remind them why they do what they do. And there’s so many educators listening to this inspired by you already. And I want you to sh I want you to share one of those stories in as much detail as you can, except you can change the student’s name. You can replace the name so you can keep it private, but the more open and vulnerable we share it, the more able it will be an impact and influence someone else. So I’m curious to know you have a story where something you’ve done is it’s had a huge impact on a student and would you be willing to share it.

Lenora Poulin (09:09):
As story

Lenora Poulin (09:16):
To favorites? Okay. The first one, I’m not going to change their names because they’re amazing. So the first one with was with a student named Jessica a few years ago. One of the perks of being a leadership teacher is we often get to travel with students. We take them to conferences all over the country. And our favorite obviously is the Canadian student leadership conference. And a few years ago the conference was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which for us VC girls, that’s an amazing experience. And my teaching partner and I took three young women that year to Halifax. And we always go early because we think if we’re going to travel all that way, we need to get the most out of this experience. And the interesting thing that students on the west coast don’t experience in the same way as the east coast is the actual history of our country starts on that east coast.

Lenora Poulin (10:10):
And so there’s so much for them to learn back there. So we arrived in Halifax on the Saturday and the conference started on the Tuesday and on, I believe it was the Sunday. We decided we were going to do three provinces in one day. So we were going to drive all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia to prince Edward island. And we’re like, we can do this. It’ll be awesome. And D people think nothing of driving, like it’s two hours for us to drive to Vancouver. That’s a day trip. Like we don’t think anything about that. Yeah. So we drove, it was awesome. We got lost a couple of times. This is before GPS was as good as it is now. I don’t think our data plans included the east coast, so we might not have had our phones. Anyways, we made it to prince Edward island is about two o’clock in the afternoon.

Lenora Poulin (10:56):
We’re having lunch on the water on this dock and we’re eating mussels. And Jessica says there are kids back at school right now in a math class that they will never remember. And I am sitting here having a day. I will never forget. And like, I just get goosebumps every time I think about her saying it. I tell everybody that I know about that experience because it truly captures what is so amazing about leadership class and about the stuff that we do at our school, because we’re always telling kids that we get to create the stuff that kids remember about high school. You don’t remember a math lesson. I teach Shakespeare, no one is ever going to remember my McBath lesson. You know, maybe the time I wear a goofy hat and dressed as a witch, I don’t know, but they will remember those experiences. Right? Remember the time we participate in the pumpkin pie, eating contest, remember the time we went to Halifax and everyone else was in school and we were together learning about our history and having this great experience. And that is, that’s just, that’s my favorite story to tell about how important it is, what we do in connecting with kids. So, wow.

Sam Demma (12:16):
Absolutely love that I might be wrong. So correct me if I’m wrong. You mentioned there’s two stories and that one was phenomenal. I’m curious to know about the other one. Now

Lenora Poulin (12:26):
I’ll call you the other one too, cause it’s really so in, in my teaching career, unfortunately, because I’ve been teaching for 29 years, we’ve had some tumultuous political times and I have been on strike a few times in the last time was in 2014 when it was really bad. And we were on strike from the beginning of June until the end of September. It was, it was a terrible time. And I received a letter from a former leadership student who was just finishing up her teaching program at that time. And it was, I started this hashtag at that time on my social media called this is why. And it was exactly why she just talked about how, and I didn’t know this about her when she was in my class. And she was just this really cool person, super smart, very, very focused and driven goal oriented.

Lenora Poulin (13:24):
You never had to remind her about anything. But she was quirky funny and just really quick witted. And I loved being around her. And I loved watching her from grade eight, till grade 12, growing as a leader, you know, she never would have held a microphone or spoken in front of the school and those earlier days, and by the end of it, you know, you could just hand it and walk away. And she wrote me this letter about, and she talked about how her parents had these really high expectations for her at home. And she felt a lot of pressure. And she came from a great family. It wasn’t like that, but they just had really, really super high expectations. But that she was thanking us for bringing out these qualities in her that she didn’t know she had, that were more about, more than about the academics.

Lenora Poulin (14:12):
And it’s led her in this amazing career that she has now, and she’s actually not even teaching anymore. She’s doing she has her own private practice in counseling, which is really super amazing. And, but it was just so nice of her to just to get that acknowledgement and remind you that, you know, even when you’re in these terrible times that there are lots of people out there who you impacted. And for every Jessica and Sierra, there are hundreds more who just, you know, maybe don’t have the courage to let you know or think about you often, but they just haven’t reached out yet. And I just remind myself of that all the time, because I think about the teachers that I have, that I have never contacted and there have been some that I have. But I just had such positive school experiences. And I think about those people all the time. So I remind myself of that.

Sam Demma (15:04):
And now you have an excuse to reach out to those educators that were in your life. You can say, I was, I was talking on this podcast and you know what, you’re someone who changed my life. And I want you, I want you to know that now this is what I’m doing. And I’m sure it would bring a huge smile to their faces. You mentioned, you know, Sarah and Jessica at the beginning of their leadership journey would not in a million years, grab a mic and speak in front of the room or speak in front of the school. I’m sure now things are totally different. And I’m curious to know, you’ve actually, you’ve been doing this for longer than I’m alive, which is pretty cool. You, you know, you’ve definitely worked with dozens of speakers. You mentioned going to California, maybe it was CATA. I’m assuming maybe I can call you. I know you go to CSLC, you’ve probably been to OSSE before and all the other leadership conferences, and you’ve probably brought speakers into your school as well. I’m curious to know other educators that are listening are wondering how do you choose someone to bring into your school in front of young people?

Lenora Poulin (16:08):
Can I say the cost for a small school actually, unfortunately, that is a huge part of it, but I, you know, I, I listened to what Dave said about this and, and it really rings true for me as well. I really want an authentic message and it’s interesting because I’ve been doing this for so long and we have had, so we’ve had amazing speakers at our school and seeing some incredible speakers at national and provincial conferences. But it’s interesting when you get to see a speaker 2, 3, 4 times, and you start to realize that it’s a script, and I do understand that that is necessary in, in public speaking, for sure. You have your talking points, you have your things that you want to say, but I want to feel like that moment where you teared up is genuine. Not that it’s part of what you’re saying.

Lenora Poulin (17:08):
And so I really rely on the other people that I trust as leadership advisors in the province and in the country. And I trust my own instincts as well. And, you know, sometimes they’re not always right down. I do have to remember that because I’ve seen a speaker three or four times, they’re kind of stale to me, but for our kids that have seen them the first time it’s powerful. And it only has to, you know, the speaker only has to really connect with a couple of kids and I’m happy, right. Because they’ve made a difference, which is really cool. But yeah, I do really look for that authentic piece. And that when they’re talking to me as the person that’s looking to hire them that they’re going to work with our small school situation within our parameters, you know, especially, you know, when I, I mentioned cost, but that is a real factor for small schools and so many of us, and we often try to double up together and, you know, piggyback, okay, this person’s coming out here. Where else can we get them to come in? Even for horizons for CSLA right. Trying to work geographically with that, because there isn’t another high school close to us to, you know, that you could get to in the afternoon. And so, you know, those kinds of things are important, but yeah, I really liked that authentic story.

Sam Demma (18:29):
Hmm. I love that. I think authenticity is so important in anything that you choose to do, right? Not only speaking, but whatever your work is, whatever your project is, be authentic with it. Have you experimented with trying virtual stuff? I know a lot of educators are scrambling, not, not only with bringing in speakers, but just teaching online. I know you’re a smaller school. I talked to Jenna Fisher, who’s an advisor out in Saskatchewan and they’re doing a hybrid model in school, out of school. What are some things you’ve noticed that help your students participate in engage virtually.

Lenora Poulin (19:00):
The virtual thing? I mean, personally, that’s actually a real struggle for me. I, one of the things I learned the most in the spring is that I am an in-person teacher. I need to see people’s faces. And now we’re, we are actually back in person here. But we’re all wearing masks. So I’m really learning to look into people’s eyes. But the, like some of the speakers have really adapted well to the the virtual platform. And I really appreciate that. One of the things that’s the hardest is learning to look into the camera on your face and not at the picture in the zoom or whatever. And I, again, got to participate in the virtual global conference that Stu Saunders did. And it was really interesting to, to watch the different speakers and see, and that was right at the early beginnings of us, all kind of transitioning, watching the speakers who were quite gifted at looking at the camera.

Lenora Poulin (20:03):
And you felt like you were actually there while they were talking and maybe just looking at a screen off to the side, but then there were the other people who obviously had another screen next to them and were kind of just reading off that screen. So those are the kinds of things. We, we haven’t taken advantage too much of the virtual presentations yet. It’s actually one of my, I don’t know one of the things that’s bothering me about this, there’s this sense of urgency that we, we are all bored and we all need to be super engaged during this time instead of just letting people kind of figure it out. And I, I don’t want more meetings and virtual and, you know, I don’t want pro D virtually. So I need to figure out other ways to adopt and what work.

Sam Demma (20:52):
Yeah, no, I love that. That’s an awesome point. And if, if you’re listening right now and I mean, if you hear me say that you are, that one tip is, is gold to make sure you’re saying it the camera, and it’s a, it’s a constant struggle. Something you can do to help is get a sticky note and draw a smiley face on it and stick it above the camera. And

Lenora Poulin (21:16):
He’s very good out of it.

Sam Demma (21:17):
Oh, cool. I love that because it does make the world of a difference. If your audience feels like you are staring, whether it’s a whole auditorium or a classroom, it doesn’t make a difference. It feels more personal, which is, which is a great point. So thank you for sharing. This has been a great conversation. You’ve shared stories. You’ve shared tips. You shared why you got into education. I’m curious to know a little bit more about your decision to get into teaching. I know we talked about it briefly at the beginning, but was there a moment when you were in school? I know you mentioned that there was educators that had an impact on your life. Was your decision to get into teaching made at a young age when you were still a student, or was it something that happened after?

Lenora Poulin (22:01):
Actually I probably right from the very beginning of school my mom was a school secretary and so it was school was glamorous to me. Like it was just this awesome place. My mom loved her job and she was very good at it. And so I was always surrounded by this positive experiences of school, which is interesting because like my father didn’t graduate from high school. My mom did, but had no post-secondary different generations. Right. my grandparents didn’t graduate. And so all through school, I I’m the oldest of the children as well. So I like to boss people around. And so, you know, I just, I wanted, I liked school so much. I always wanted to please, my teachers, their jobs seemed so cool. And then I got to high school and same thing I did well you know, had a really positive high school experience.

Lenora Poulin (22:55):
But by about grade 11 or 12 my dad was, you know, you talk so much, you should be a lawyer. And my grades were great. Not as like, oh yeah, I should be a lawyer. And so I got into UBC and I was like, I’m going to be a lawyer. And then I took stuff that I had to take to be a lawyer. And I did not like that. All I can Nomex and yeah, I actually failed out my first year of university, which is always a good story for me to tell my grade 12 students I failed economics, I failed math and I failed French. I know it’s terrible. I should have taken French 12. That’s always my advice. I didn’t take it in high school, so I take it in university. And so I sat back and so I didn’t give up, I didn’t quit school.

Lenora Poulin (23:39):
I, I was, it says on my transcript forever failed year retreat required to, so I went to, at that time was community college. There weren’t as many universities then. So I went to community college and I was like, what are you doing? What do you like? And I love to read, I love English and I loved history. And so I started taking English classes and I’m like, Hey, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be a teacher. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. So I had to write a letter to get back to UBC and I did, and it turned out for the best and I just never looked back. Like it was what I was supposed to do. And I remember when I was student teaching in Burnaby, which is a very large district here in British Columbia.

Lenora Poulin (24:22):
And there were actually 13 student teachers at the high school that I was at at the same time, which is a lot. And this were sitting in the staff room and this girl looked at me and she said, you really love this, don’t you? And I’m like, oh yeah. I said, I never want it to be anything else. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. And it’s really sad. But the next day she wasn’t there. She actually quit. But but it was good because, you know, she realized that she didn’t love it. And it’s one of the keys. Teaching’s not a job. It’s not something that just pays the bills. And, and I am not somebody who like, I am so happy with the money that I make and what I can provide for my family. I’m so fortunate. My husband’s a teacher as well. So of course our lifestyle just goes together so well. But this is a passion. This is, this is a lifestyle there. Isn’t a moment in the year that I do not think about school even, you know, in the summer, you know, I’m out with my friends, we’re talking about school. We, you know, I’m in a bookstore. I see us, I see advertising signs that I take pictures of. Cause I think that will be great for leadership. So yeah, like that, that’s why I do it. It’s, it’s what I’m supposed to do.

Sam Demma (25:40):
I love that. So so much. And this is actually really crazy. And as you were speaking, it kind of was coming together in my mind, my girlfriend, her name’s Nikki. And if she listens to this and I tell her, I’ll tell her to shout out to Nicki, Nicki. She went to LA pre-loss school at Carlton U for two years before I met her. And then she basically decided to take a break because she was following her parents’ passion for her. And the reason that the reason we got in touch is because she watched my TEDx talk on YouTube and she reached out to saying, Hey, can we chat? Because I think a very informal route after post-secondary or sorry, after secondary. And she ended up talking to me and I dunno, one coffee chat led to the next. Then we started dating. And now she’s in school for English. Like, I don’t know when he told me the story, I was like, wow, this is so aligned. And she doesn’t know what she wants to do with it yet. And she’s doing English and power of politics, which is close to history. It’s like, you know, kind of but after I saw, I saw the resemblance when you explain that, which is.

Lenora Poulin (26:45):
And often people think, you know, oh, what am I going to do with an English degree? But just like I say to the kids today, you know, like sure, I went a traditional way and became a teacher, but there are really cool jobs out there. Heck you should just be an editor on social media and correct. Everyone’s grammar. That would be awesome. But you know, there are so many jobs and careers and passions that you don’t even know yet. Like they don’t even exist yet. So why not study what you want to study? And then, you know, look out there and say, well, where could I use this? And, and, and, you know, like I have a student who, you know, works for a very large company, but she does their social media and she has English and history degree. Right. But she understands how people think and how they want their information. And she’s a strong communicator. And, you know, there’s so many different ways that, that, that can go.

Sam Demma (27:41):
I once had a mentor who was an educator, tell me that there’s opportunities in every field. You don’t find them, you create them. And I think it’s, it’s so true. Lenora, this has been an amazing conversation. I could talk to you for hours and I’m sure everyone listening, can say the same. And I’m curious to know if an educator wants to bounce some ideas around with you have a cool energetic conversation and maybe from even another country or another province how can they reach out to you?

Lenora Poulin (28:10):
Well, the great thing about having an uncommon name is I’m actually fairly easy to find. Because I didn’t have to have weird email addresses and things like that. So even Twitter, I’m just, @LenoraPoulin. Facebook is the same, although I probably wouldn’t add you as a friend, because I only have friends on Facebook that I actually know. And young people don’t use Facebook anymore. Same with my Insta, my Instagram, but Instagram is mostly books for me. But also my email is lenora.poulin@sd78.bc.ca. Or you can just Google my high school and the Hope Secondary School website and all of our contact information is there as well.

Sam Demma (28:53):
Awesome. Laura, this has been awesome. Thank you so so much. And I would love to know, you know, you can shoot me an email afterwards about some books to read cause it would be, it would be cool.

Lenora Poulin (29:03):
That’d be great, Sam. I love that.

Sam Demma (29:06):
Okay. I’ll talk to you soon.

Lenora Poulin (29:08):
Thank you.

Sam Demma (29:09):
Another episode of the high-performing educator and the books. I hope you enjoyed this fruitful conversation with Lenora, So much amazing insights. She had to share so much inspiration in her own journey into education. I hope you really took something away from this and took notes. And as always, if you are enjoying these interviews, please consider leaving a rating and review. It helps more high-performing educators, just like you find these, this content, and benefit from it. And of course, if you are someone who has ideas and insights to share, send me an email at info@samdema.com and we’ll get you on the show as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Greg Firth

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.

Marc England – Teacher and Leadership Advisor at Fleetwood Park Secondary School

Marc England
About Marc England

Marc England (@mreteacher) is a teacher and Leadership Advisor at Fleetwood Park Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He is now in his 23rd year of teaching. For 20 years, he has been involved in Student Leadership as a Student Council Advisor and leadership educator. He is a strong believer of “people first” in schools, and that if we have strong school cultures, the rest will look after itself.  

Marc has presented for many years across Canada at various Student Leadership events. He has worked with the BC Association of Activity Advisors and worked with his students to host a BC Student Leadership Conference in 2017. Since 2008 he has been involved with the Canadian Student Leadership Association in various capacities and helped develop their Leadership Advisor Certification Program. 

He is a husband, an uncle to his amazing nephews and nieces, a sports nut, and still thinks he has the best job in the world. 

Connect with Marc: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian student leadership website
Fleetwood park secondary
Canadian student leadership conference (CSLC)

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 student podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Marc England. Marc is a teacher as well as a student leadership advisor and a director for the Canadian student leadership association. He teaches out in Surrey, BC. In this episode, he talks a lot about school culture and a dozen actionable ideas that you can take with your students in your school to boost student morale, to increase engagement, and bring everyone together to build some real community during this tough, challenging time professional life aside, marc loves hockey, specifically the New York Rangers, his grandfather played in the league and he even draws some parallels along the lines of hockey and student leadership. In this episode. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this episode. It’s packed with nuggets and gems. Get a pen and a sheet of paper and enjoy the interview. I’ll see you on the other side, marc. Thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. We just chatted a little bit about your family lineage with the New York Rangers. Please let everyone know who you are, where you teach and why you got into the work you do with young people today.

Marc England (01:16):
Awesome. Well, first of all, thanks for having me on, this is a great opportunity and you know, to give you a little bit of a shadow before we even start, you were part of the global loose to the global student leadership day therein may, that Stu put on. And when I asked her my kids’ reflections, you were on more than a few about what they had to say about the day. So something about what you said is surely identifying with our kids and that’s important. So a little tip of the hat to you, my friend. So yeah, my name’s Marc England and I work in Surrey, British Columbia at Fleetwood park secondary, and I started out as a humanities and social studies teacher and evolved into student leadership. And right now that’s kind of the hat I wear is teach a little bit of humanities, but run our student leadership program and teach a couple of blocks to that and leadership department head and, and work with some other things around here too.

Marc England (02:06):
So yeah, that’s, that’s my job. And as far as why I do what I do, you know, Conlon always says it best Dave Conlin, a fellow I work with with the Canadian student leadership association says we have the best job in the world. So why would, why would you not want to do and not do the work when you have the best job in the world? I think like most teachers were really in this to see and help kids succeed and to really see their journey. And for our case in BC, at least in Surrey, we don’t have a middle school model. So for five years, we get to see that evolution and see that success grow including the bumps in the road sometimes, but that makes it rewarding at the end. So whatever that might be most for some, it might be graduation and some of it might be a full-ride scholarship to uni.

Marc England (02:51):
Whatever that success is when they leave, that’s what we want. And that’s why we love what we do. I love working with student leaders. It’s honestly, that’s, that’s the part of the job that keeps me going every day still. I mean, I love teaching and teaching humanities and social studies, but 23 years in, I’ve been doing that. And student leadership is different every day and it’s a different group of kids all the time. Those are the kids that are engaged. Those are the kids that are, that want to contribute to their community, contribute to their schools. I mean, who would want to work with those kids? And you know, to be honest with you, I’ve always kind of asked for, for us, we started at eight and go to 12 and I’ve always wanted to have great 8, 10, 12’s, because I, I don’t like just teaching seniors. I want to have the newbies, cause I want to try and get them excited about our school and make them feel, feel belong. So those are a whole bunch of reasons, kind of why I do what I do.

Sam Demma (03:44):
At what point in your life did you make the decision I’m going to be a teacher? Was it because someone else tapped you on the shoulder? Was it because your parents told you to, or was there just an innate feeling that you wanted to teach? One day?

Marc England (03:59):
It’s funny. I didn’t really set out to be a teacher. I went to school, my mom was an instructor in the psychiatric nursing department at a local college university. And so she was fairly academic and there was that pressure to go to school. But I didn’t really set out to be an educator. I kind of was working in the business for a buddy who had his own business. And I pretty soon realized that that wasn’t really something that I wanted to do. Not because I didn’t enjoy the work and being part of a business, but I just didn’t really find it that rewarding profession. Like, you know, you go to work, you kind of go do the grind and, and it just, wasn’t what I kind of was looking for. And I could feel that in my soul. But I had been working, I, part of my youth was working at, with softball, Canada.

Marc England (04:46):
I played ball and then I started umpiring at the age of 11. And as I kind of got older, I got, we got to climb the ranks of the empire world. And I got to work with kids as I got older in a mentor capacity and a local kind of park empire and chief. And so part of that was teaching the clinics. And part of that was working with kids and something with that, just kind of jived with me and being able to see them learn and then see them apply skills. I thought you know what? This is kind of cool. Maybe this is something that I want to do. And a lot of the guys that I kind of hung out with within that world were educators, or either already established, dedicated educators or going in to be educators. And so I thought, well, you know what, this, this might be cool.

Marc England (05:26):

So I reached out to a, to a local, to one of my favorite teachers. And I mean, I think we all have those people in our school lives that really kind of pushed us and drove us and got us and, and really inspired us to do what we do with kids. And for me, the first guy like that was Mr. Jamison in grade five, you know, the brand new kid from Winnipeg just made me feel welcome and was, probably one of the best teachers that I’ve ever seen in my life. And then my 10 English teacher grade eight and 10 English teacher, Mrs. Hilman. I approached her and she was hard. Oh, she was hard, but she was good. And talk about keeping kids at the center of what she did. And I think that’s why I reached out to her and said, you know, I’d like to maybe think about this. She said, come on in. We did some volunteer work. And from then I was hooked. It was, it was, that’s what I wanted to do. So it wasn’t necessarily that I’ve always felt this string, but there is no doubt in my mind that I have ended up doing what I was meant to do.

Sam Demma (06:28):
What did those teachers in your life do for you that made all the difference? Jamison and the teacher you just alluded to?

Marc England (06:35):
Oh, man. Mrs. Hellman. Both of them I’ll tell you the one thing, and this is what I draw. This is what this is at the center is, is relating to kids and keeping it’s the relationships piece, right? Like everything on, you know, Phil boy talks about the relationship pyramid or the leadership pyramid. And at the bottom of it is this is the relationships, it’s the foundation of everything we do. So there was never any, like the first day I walked into school. It wasn’t like, you know, I remember as the new kid from, from December too wasn’t, even in September, I remember he’s like, Hey, how are you? Tell me about yourself. Who are you? Where do you come from? What’s your story? So that was huge, right? What’s your story? Who are the, who are you coming into my room here? And it wasn’t a bad thing.

Marc England (07:13):
It was like, I just want to know you and the other stuff took a back seat. And then the other Mrs. Hilman same thing. But boy, like I said, she was tough. She was firm, she was a hard teacher, a hard marker, but at the center of it was relationships. And you talk to, you know, she sadly passed away a few years ago, but you talk to anybody who went through that school. And some people, you know, didn’t like her class because it was hard, but I don’t think you’d find too many people that didn’t love her. Right. And that’s the key is that you know, it, if you keep the kids at the center of what we do and every kid at the center of what we do, it’s that it’s the success. That’s awesome. That’s the common denominator between those two. I like that.

Sam Demma (08:01):
And during COVID it’s a challenging time. How do we still keep students at the center? There are so many things to worry about. There are some challenges you’ve been faced with, how do we make sure students still stay at the center of our focus during these tough times?

Marc England (08:15):
You know, it’s an interesting calm kind of question because we’ve talked about this. One of my hats that I wear is I work with the Canadian student leadership association. I’m part of their board of directors, but you know, really I’ve been working with them for 15 years on, at the board level anyway. And, and, and I’ve been, you know, to go back to your, how did I get into this work question? Can I go back and answer something on that? Of course I just, you know, that I F I feel like there are things in our lives and in our, in our careers, that when they happen, they happen for a reason. And I was in about 2001 as a brand new, not brand new teacher, but new to a school teacher who, and they, the principal said, you know, what would you mind taking over student council?

Marc England (09:07):
And I had never been, I was a wannabe student leader in, in high school. And I, you know, my best friend, she was on student council and I always kind of admired it from afar. And I thought you know what? That would be cool. I would really, that that’s something that I would like to do. And I liked all the events that we were running at the school. I liked the planning stuff. I thought it would be just something that would be right up my alley little did I know that I would be still doing it this many years later? The thing is too, is that the average leadership life teacher’s lifespan is about what Dave says. It’s about three to five years, just simply because it’s all-encompassing, right. And you’re running events all the time and doing all these things, but it’s so amazing.

Marc England (09:51):
And I fluently kind of fell into what I do. So this one principal just kind of said, Hey, do you wanna? I said, sure. And then what, like go back to the empire thing. One of the guys that I was umpiring with when we were kids, he was doing a leadership program in hope, British Columbia, and he and his wife were planning a national conference or part of a committee. And they said, do you want to join us here? And that was, that was how I got hooked into CSLC and the Canadian conference, and the Canadian student leadership association. And that was 2002. So here we are in 2020. And, and it’s something that still is amazing. So, you know, sometimes it’s people that tap you on the shoulder, and sometimes it’s people that you have things in common and, you know, some things just happen at the right time in your life and really guide you in what your path might be.

Marc England (10:37):
So going back to your COVID question. Yeah. You’re the COVID question, you know, it’s I think the struggle question is, is the hardest piece. And the biggest piece that in schools is culture. School culture right now is really, really suffering during COVID-19 and it’s nobody’s fault. Honestly, everybody’s doing the very best that they can, but most events in schools that bring people, kids, staff together are not happening. Yeah. So you have some instances of a little bit of student culture where the kids are interacting and, you know, there may be hanging out at lunch and this kind of thing, and you have some instances of staff culture where the adults in the building might be hanging out, but there’s very little beyond the actual dynamics of the classroom. There’s very little activity between staff and students in those events that really form the basis of school culture. So I think that’s probably our biggest struggle within the school system right now.

Sam Demma (11:38):
Great point. And not that I was going to ask if the school has done anything or had any unique ideas that they’ve tried, maybe you’ve tried something, it hasn’t worked out. Maybe it’s been a home run. I’m just curious to know if you had any ideas that you thought were good or that tried so far.

Marc England (11:53):
Well, you know, it’s interesting. We I have to backtrack and we have to kind of figure out where people are at and now we’re, we’re kind of almost, we’re a month into school out here. We’re in Surrey, we’re three weeks into full-time. This is week four of like full-time classes. We’re on a quarter system. So we’re basically, we switched over and kids are taking two classes at a time for basically two and a half, three hours a day. And one in the morning, one in the afternoon, seniors are remote in the afternoon, except for one day. So, you know, kids are overwhelmed a little bit it’s nobody’s fault. Like I said, it’s kind of the only system that we can make work. And so I think anything that we plan has to work around that, and, you know, the kids we forget about the kids that might have algebra, or, you know, they might have pre-calculus 12 and chemistry 12 in the same quarter and or English 12.

Marc England (12:49):
You know, I have one of my leadership kids has chemistry 12 and English 12, and that’s hard. She’s going home and doing a lot of work right now. So kids are overwhelmed a little bit and especially the seniors. And, you know, the one thing that we have to have to look at when we’re starting to plan how we can make this work is how do we build collegiality? How do we build back that collegiality with kids that collegiality with our colleagues in the building, we have, you know, a hundred plus adults in this building? How do we build that collegiality back? How do we get out of our isolation? Cause it’s easy to stay in, want to be safe in your classroom and close the door and do those kinds of things. And again, Phil boy talks about silos, but how do we do that?

Marc England (13:31):
We don’t have big lunches. You know our PE department, you know, I give them credit. Our PE office was always kind of a magnet for lunch. People went down there and ate lunch. So what they’ve done is, you know, spread some tables out in the small gym so that adults can come and eat lunch together. Our library and our teacher-librarian said you know what, I’ll open up the library. So rather than small prep rooms, people can space out and start to have that collegiality. Because I think by week two, we recognized that it was missing in building our staff culture. So I think in terms of how do we overcome things and creative ideas? I’m lucky that I work in a district with a director of instruction who, I don’t know whether a principal tapped her on the shoulder or somebody that she knew, but she is such a phenomenal educator herself.

Marc England (14:23):

And she you know, Gloria is, was beloved as a principal and now she’s working in the district office and she just said, you know what? I’m going to gather as many people as I can safely together at the district center. And let’s have a brainstorm as to how we can run events safely. So last week, in fact, she held two days where she brought together elementary schools and secondary schools, one administrator and perhaps a leadership teacher, but two people from each school. And she had a list of kind of the main events that would happen. So starting with the Terry Fox run right through to Halloween, right through to Christmas, right through to Valentine’s day. And we kind of the whole year, and you could, it was, she ran it almost like a speed dating thing where you could sit six feet apart and talk safely, but from other schools.

Marc England (15:08):
And then she kept a live document as to how, you know when you get a hundred people brainstorming, how we could do these things safely. And man, some of the ideas that came out of there, you know, Terry Fox run, for example. So rather than having somebody, having the whole school out on the field and say, go and collecting coins that are, you know, we can’t do so how can we do that safely? Well, most schools now have an online payment system. So encouraging your kids to, if the, if they can make a donation through the online payment system, let’s do that. So that’s safe. And then some schools ran staggered walks where the different cohorts were going off at different areas. And they were going at different times and they were starting at different places and they were ending at different places and the teachers were walking with them.

Marc England (15:52):
But they were all in the community and there was kind of marker posts around and it was all done with that Terry Fox run mentality in mind. So it wouldn’t be lost. Hope secondary did something I just found out about yesterday called T Terry Fox 40, this being the 40th year, of course, rather than, you know, they didn’t do their run, but what they had was they contributed each kind of classroom contributed something around 40. So the woodshop made 40 pieces of, you know, their project, the cooking class made 40 cookies. And so they did whatever their kind of curriculum area was, you know, the French class conjugated, 40 verbs, whatever it was, they were doing things around 40. And they made that their number for the day that they were, they were honoring Terry Fox’s purpose.

Marc England (16:43):
And so all sorts of creative ideas that you, you may not be able to do the event that you’ve way you’ve done it. But if there’s a purpose to the event, is there a way that we can do the event and still honor that purpose? So I think that’s kind of the nugget that I took away from last week and through conversations with people and, you know I think I give all the credit in our world to ours, my staff that I work with. I’m fortunate to work with some amazing people. Our biggest event here at the fluid park is something we have run for our grade eight. It’s called the grade eight retreat. And essentially every year we take 250 or 300-grade eights away to camp. And so half of them go have one night and half of them go the next night.

Marc England (17:26):
And it’s just a day of activities, fun team building activities and what it means to be a dragon, and how they give back to their school. Here are the clubs, but it’s all run by our student leaders and they run the sessions. They do the, they do the breakout things. They run the games, you know, teachers, are there, basically to serve lasagna and kind of supervise. It’s awesome. So you talk to any kids when they graduate. What do you remember about the fluid park? It’s always, you know, I wish I may be gotten involved more, but man graded retreat that’s and the kids, the amount of kids that want to sign up when they’re grade 10, 11, 12 to be mentors is incredible. So it truly is one of, it’s probably our secret event. It’s our traditional it’s, it’s rooted in our, in our traditions. And it is part of our culture.

Marc England (18:12):
So obviously we can’t go to camp. We can’t put kids on buses, we can’t do things like trust falls. We can’t do things that are, you know even, even team-building hot potato games where they’re touching the same thing, we can’t do that. How do we, so we asked ourselves, how can we take the mentorship piece? Because when we looked, I said to the colleagues that I was working with on this what’s our purpose with this? What, what purpose does this serve? Well, it really came down to mentorship and it came down to basically having our grades have something coming into our school. So we decided the purpose has to be well, let’s still have them. They’re Fleetwood park shirts that they’re going to wear with pride, and let’s try and do something where we can still have that mentorship piece. So through some creativity our team sat down and they hammered out.

Marc England (18:59):
Basically, each graded cohort of 30 kids is going to have two hours with senior leadership kids this week in, and it’s not retreat at camp, but it’s retreat activities outside on one of our fields. Cause the weather is supposed to be nice. So every grade eight is still going to get two hours of team building and what it means to be a dragon, but it’s going to be done safely. It’s going to be done at a distance. It’s going to be done, but we haven’t lost our purpose. So when I think when you step back and ask you that what’s the purpose of the event, I think that’s, that’s something that you can sometimes overcome.

Sam Demma (19:30):
Tony, Tony Robbins always says the quality of our life is determined by the questions we ask. And when you ask yourself those questions that leads to a positive outcome. If you have enough brains in a room like you did with your brainstorm with your school board and Gloria, of course, you’re going to have some amazing ideas. I think this is a great takeaway for any educator listening, who might be out of province, struggling to come up with ideas. The classic mastermind principle is so key and your school is evident of that. Marc, you’ve obviously built over the past dozen years, an amazing school culture at Fleetwood. I’m sure there’s been dozens of stories of students when they graduate writing you letters and reaching out that you didn’t even know you impacted, but telling you how big of an impact that you had on their life.

Sam Demma (20:16):
Can you think of a story, maybe the first story that pops into your mind of a student who’s been deeply impacted by student leadership work by your work, by your colleagues work. And can you share that student’s story? You can change their name for privacy reasons. If it’s a very deep story, the purpose of sharing, this is in the hope that another educator might be inspired to remember why the work that you do, that we do is so important, especially if this is their first year in education and they’re thinking, oh my goodness, what did I sign up for? So what stories come to mind?

Marc England (20:47):
Oh, Man! You know, so student leadership, like I said, that I keep you’re right. I have, I mean, I hate talking about myself, Sam, I’m not going to lie, but I sometimes show my kids this, when we get too stressful points, I keep what I call my bad day file. And it’s literally, it’s probably too big for one file now, but it’s every card, every note, every piece of every letter that I’ve ever gotten, I just keep it in the file. And then that’s 20 years now of, of stuff. I keep a wall of fame in my classroom with kids that have graduated from various things that we do as far as specific kids there, there’s a few I think, let me, let me answer your question through a little bit of a different lens if that’s okay. Of course.

Marc England (21:40):
Let me tell you about why student leadership’s rewarding for me. And it, it is, it is along the same lines of your question, but here. So I had a kid Brittany that came into my classroom in grade eight and you know, she was like any other grade eight and nervous and self-conscious and all of those things that go along with your first year in high school. And, you know, I think it was grade nine. We tapped her on the shoulder to get involved with the student council and she just started her journey. And, you know, she came from a family of four kids with a single mom. I taught, attended up. I taught all the kids, the whole family, and she, her mom was such a hard worker. Oh, just worked so hard for those kids. And she was always at school doing what she needed to do. A good student.

Marc England (22:30):
You know, she was a good academic student, but just jived on the student council stuff, grade 12, we can, she came to PEI with us, for Canadian student leadership conference. And for her, I could just see the light bulb go off for her. And that was something that she loved. So she’s a great example of, you know, sometimes all it takes is to ask that kid to alter or find a way to get them involved. And it takes them through four or five years of their high school journey. And the reason Brittany’s story is special to me is that, you know, she was one that wrote me this beautiful letter upon her graduation that I put into my bad day file. And it sat there for 5, 6, 7 years and last year or two years ago, I guess it was because she wasn’t here last year.

Marc England (23:21):
Brittany ended up as a colleague at my school and she’s become a teacher. And so here we were from mentor and teacher and student relationship to now colleagues. And, you know, she’s still a pretty special person. She came to my wedding last year. But you know, I showed her, I said, you know, when you’re doubting your purpose as a teacher, don’t forget that you never know what somebody’s journey is. And I pulled that out and I showed her, and I think that reaffirmed for her that because she’s with the student council here and working on some things here in student leadership. So for me, that was a special moment. That’s a special kid that, that I was able to see, go and end up, you know, doing something similar, but just she’s similar to me. And she just loves what she does and keeps kids at the center.

Marc England (24:13):
So there’s been others, there’s been other kids that I’ve seen. You know, I have a student who was with me and was my student council president. Who’s now, you know, one of the local managers, team management, a high up management team with one of the most successful restaurant chains locally. And she’s doing well and succeeding and you know, and those are skills that she learned through student leadership. So whether it’s a kind of personal story and you see the personal growth or whether it’s a professional story and you see the professional growth of these kids, to me, that’s worth everything.

Sam Demma (24:46):
That’s awesome. So cool, marc. I absolutely love the story. And again, I wanted to ask because there might be a teacher who’s starting their first year thinking, what the heck did I sign up for here? And if you could travel back in time to when you were starting your first year, what would you have told your younger self? What pieces of advice would you give your younger self?

Marc England (25:09):
I would say don’t get frustrated by policy and don’t get frustrated by people or things that seem to be in your way. You know, they’re there for a reason I would say, keep working at finding solutions. And I think that’s something that I’ve always pushed for. You know, if something I find, if something frustrates me, I just ask my principal, how can we make this work? What can we do? And nine times out of 10, we find a way to make it work. You know, it may not look as exactly as it is in my brain, but I think, honestly, your question, if I were to go back, I would tell myself, you know, don’t ever stop keeping kids in the center of what you do. When I first started, I was young I was easily relatable to kids and it was easy to kind of get them, right?

Marc England (26:05):
And I got kids, kids got me. And, but now, you know, here we are 23 years later and I still find it relatively easy to relate to kids. And so why is that? Well, I think it’s because kids are the purpose of what we do and it doesn’t necessarily matter that I’m going to get through a, to Z of the curriculum. I’m going to teach all the skills and I’m going to do as much as I can, but some days, some days it’s more important to just ask kids how they’re doing rather than teach that one lesson.

Sam Demma (26:37):
That’s Awesome. I love that so much. And as an off-topic question to wrap this up, your grandfather, New York Rangers mentioned at the beginning, it looks like you’re also wearing a hockey Jersey. First of all, do you see any connection between hockey and student leadership? Could you draw any connections between the sport and the game and two, what makes you so passionate about hockey?

Marc England (27:00):
Well, I grew up, I grew up partly in Winnipeg so, you know, there’s not much else to do besides the sports there, but, yeah, you know what I was, my grandfather played in the New York Rangers, he’s in the hockey hall of fame and, you know, it’s always been, it’s something that as a kid, we took for granted, I won’t make any bones about it. He’s my hero. And my role model. I was lucky to grow up with three incredible male role models in my life. My grandfather and my stepdad and my dad, all three of them had such a profound impact on where I am in life. But for my grandfather, though, hockey player, what, what I learned from him is how to treat people. And he, we would be with him and he would stop. And whether it was somebody that wanted an autograph or somebody that just wanted to chat, he made time for everybody.

Marc England (27:45):
And he was never in a rush, drove my grandmother nuts, but he made time for people. And I think that’s the lesson learned is that I might need to get out the door, but there’s a kid standing at my door that wants to talk, and I need to give that kid that time. Right. And make time for people. And people will make time for you. The other thing I learned about that is his teamwork. You know he was a goaltender, he was kind of the backstop of that team, but it really took, you know, five other guys on the ice at the time or 15 other guys on the bench at the time to find any kind of level of success. And always said that he said, you know what, we, we did, we had didn’t have the greatest the clubs as he would say, but he said, we really got along and we worked hard and we did well together that year.

Marc England (28:31):
And they made it to the Stanley cup final game seven-double overtime. And so he, that’s something that I even take to education is that I’m, you know, I’m part of a team, I’m part of a team of adults in this building. I’m part of a team with our student leadership family around the country. I’m part of a team with my kids. I always say to my kids in class, I’m like, listen, what I do reflects you, what you do reflects me. And so, we’re in this journey together. It’s not me, the teacher, it’s us as this group. And I think the final piece around what I would say from hockey to, and sports to this is that nobody’s bigger than a game and, you know great hockey players retire, and yeah, they’ve made an impact and they’ve done some things, but there’s always somebody else that’s going to move into that position.

Marc England (29:24):
And I’ve learned that I’ve learned that, you know, in my young days I thought, oh, I’m, I’m good at what I do. And, and there was some swagger, but there’s always somebody that’s going to, if I were to be gone tomorrow, somebody would roll into my chair and do a good job and make it different and make it better. And nobody’s bigger than the game. And so sometimes we need to check ourselves as teachers and revisit that relationship piece and revisit that purpose piece. And what drives us. We were talking about this with you know, part of the thing that kind of pushes me as I move forward. And it’s not just kid’s success, but seeing all of our leadership friends, we didn’t get to go to the CSLC this year with Canadian leadership conference. But seeing people post about how special our jobs are and how, how awesome it is to work with kids and, but work with each other and get ideas from all around the country. So, yeah, it’s pretty, pretty awesome.

Sam Demma (30:21):
I think what you said about nobody’s bigger than the game, not only applies to the teacher, but about anyone in life, and it’s a beautiful analogy and I’m glad you pulled it from the sport. And I love the Jersey. I love the backdrop. It’s cool to see the passion for it. Anyways, this has been an incredible interview. The audio sounds great. Shout out to your headphones that no one can see right now, but those are awesome.

Marc England (30:44):
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And you know, oh, sorry. Go ahead, Sam.

Sam Demma (30:48):
I was going to ask you if an educator from around the country wants to reach out and bounce some ideas around what would be the best way for them to do so.

Marc England (30:56):
Oh, probably email. It can be reached at, if you go to the Canadian student leadership website: student leadership.ca under the contact, the team I’m there, or just, my email is england_m@surreyschools.ca that’s, that’s easy as well or DM through Twitter at @mreteacher or Instagram mreteacher27.

Sam Demma (31:19):
Awesome. And any last thoughts? Any last thoughts to share?

Marc England (31:23):
Yeah. You know what I do I’ll share a story a little bit about the struggles that we’re kind of working on. And, and as we kind of, I, you know, this isn’t going away, Sam COVID is not going away anytime soon. And so when I started this, this year, coming back to school, there was a lot of uncertainty, myself included. I was anxious. Like everybody else, there’s a lot of anxiety in our buildings. There’s a lot of anxiety amongst staff. There’s a lot of anxiety amongst kids. My advice and what I, my, I think as we navigate this together, as we are, we are in together. Stu likes to say, we’re all in the same ocean, different boats, which is a good analogy, but we all are on our journey. Kind of experiencing different things in the same way, like the same ocean as he says.

Marc England (32:10):
So, you know, I think for me, it’s about helping colleagues and just say, let’s, let’s not give up. Let’s focus on the, let’s revisit the purpose. When we were in the spring, we had a kid, and again, you kind of your COVID question. You know, we had an email from a dad and this is a shout-out to my colleagues at our school here. We had an email from a dad that said, thank you. And the reason he was saying, thank you was that there was a lot of discussion as to whether you do a synchronous session or an asynchronous session for your academic classes. And the dad simply said you know what, thank you for not making everything synchronous because I have four kids. I’m a single dad. I got four kids in one laptop. And that to me, he really made me step back and say, okay, you know what? Everybody’s circumstances are different, but when we truly are appreciative and we understand, and we help each other through their journey through this, I think we can overcome what we need to overcome. Right? School’s not going to be the same, but let’s revisit our purpose, our events, our culture, and find ways that we can try to make things happen as best we can. If it’s virtual, it’s virtual, if it’s six feet apart is six feet apart, but let’s always kind of keep that purpose at the root of what we do.

Sam Demma (33:29):
Awesome. Thanks so much, marc. This has been a phenomenal interview. I really appreciate you taking some time to share some ideas on the show.

Marc England (33:36):
Oh, thank you. Thanks for having me, Sam, I look forward to, I’ve been listening to some of your work with the student podcasts. So you know, keep doing what you do as well. It’s, it’s inspirational to the kids. And like I said, you’ve made an impact even on my kids, just through your work with the global student leadership day.

Sam Demma (33:52):
Appreciate It, marc. I’ll talk to you soon.

Marc England (33:53):
Okay. Thanks, man.

Sam Demma (33:56):
Wow. What a jam-packed interview with Marc England. He has so much to offer and so much to provide. I’m sure you took so many notes away from this episode. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope it was valuable and worth the investment of the time you put in to listen to it. And if you did enjoy it, consider leaving a rating and review on the show. So more educators like yourself, find this. And as always, if you have something to share, please reach out to us at info@samdemma.com so we can get your stories and actionable ideas on the podcast for your colleagues around the world to hear, learn from and implement and as always, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

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