leadership class

Sweet Caroline on a Gondola – an unexpected Leadership lesson (From Brent Dickson)

I am on a Gondola full of people ready to descend.  It is dark and we can see so many beautiful lights in the valley below.  Unexpectedly, Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond starts to play, and everyone sings along… 

You never know when a Leadership lesson presents itself. My family was visiting Palm Springs and decided to take a Gondola ride.  It was 30C in the valley.  The top of the mountain is 8500 feet and only 12C.  A sudden change in temperature for us vulnerable Canadians.  On the way up the gondola driver pointed out interesting sights and fun facts about the area. Up top we had a beautiful hike with many amazing views. I recommend the trip if you are in Palm Springs.  It was getting dark and colder so we boarded the gondola to head down.  I expected that the driver would share more fun facts on the way down.  I noticed him logging into his phone that was connected to a console.  I thought that was a really weird way to signal the tower below it was time to go.  Then he pressed play. 

What an unexpected surprise. Sweet Caroline!!! Everyone started singing along.  People were laughing and talking excitedly when the song finished.  Then came ABC by the Jackson 5.  Everyone was still singing and dancing (safely of course in a gondola). I had just had a great experience at the top of the mountain, was now seeing the beautiful lights in the valley, and had the fun of sharing the music with many others.  I had a bounce in my step coming off the gondola and good vibes for the rest of the night. 

I just finished the excellent book The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. My Gondola experience illustrated their idea of Breaking The Script.  Something unexpected happens that creates a wonderful memory.  I had no expectation of music on the ride down.  It is a great memory that will stick with me for a long time. 

I highly recommend The Power of Moments.  It speaks to so many things we do and aspire to in Student Leadership.  It confirmed me beliefs I hold, gave me ideas to think about, and a plan for how to create memorable moments.  I encourage you to give it a read. 

Activity Idea – The Golden Ticket 

The best part of this activity is it was completely created and run by students.  It was also simple and effective.  The goal was to give a boost to students who could use one.  My class created a google form which was sent to staff asking them to recommend someone who deserved a Golden Ticket.  They were also asked to say why they were recommending that student.  My class was added to the list students they also felt could use a boost.  Students were given a Golden Ticket, which told them to report to the Leadership room.  There they got a treat bag with a card attached that told them why they were recommended.  It was fun to hand a student their bag and say, “Read why someone thinks you are awesome.” 

Looking for a speaker? 

As things hopefully keep opening up, please consider having me come to your school or conference to work with students and/or teachers.  Click here https://brentdickson.net/speaker-presentations/ to see what presentations I offer.  Or if you are looking for something different or more specific, let me know.  I’m flexible like Gumby.  

Antonio Morra – Leadership Teacher at All Saints Catholic Secondary School

Antonio Morra - Leadership Teacher at All Saints Catholic Secondary School
About Antonio Morra

Antonio Morra is the Leadership Teacher at All Saints Catholic Secondary School and he is always looking for unique ways to provide his students with experiences that will shift their perspectives, challenge their beliefs and ultimately help them grow into better people. 

Connect with Antonio: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

All Saints Catholic Secondary School

What is a GSA club?

City of Vaughan Recreation Camps

What is a Social Media Detox and how to take it

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Antonio Morra. Tony is someone who taught at St. Mary when I was also a high school student. He was someone who a lot of the kids enjoyed being taught by. He was a teacher who was well liked, was respected and did amazing work with students.

Sam Demma (00:59):
Unfortunately, he wasn’t my teacher but I’m so glad that we got a chance to talk today because he has such important, such important life experiences that will help you reshape and re rethink about the things that are going on in the world right now and the struggles you might be facing. He is now a grade 11 leadership teacher at a school in Whitby known as all saints, and he is striving every single day to give his students unforgettable experiences. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I enjoyed having it. I’ll see you on the other side. Tony, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you. You taught at the school that I grew up in, and it’s nice to, to see you a couple years later again, why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about the work you do and why you got into this work with young people today?

Antonio Morra (01:50):
Okay. Thank you very much, Sam. It’s a pleasure to be on. I’ve been inspired by my family for the most part, as far as why I got into education. I was a first born child in my family, not only in my own household, but also within my own extended family by a few years. I kind of grew up with a lot of young kids around all the time and my family; parents, the adults, they were, they were always busy, kind of chatting and, and having fun and eating and preparing. And I was always left with the responsibility of looking after the young ones. And I kind of really enjoyed that. I, I always felt kind of responsible to nurture, to protect, to mentor, to inspire. So I’ve kind of grown into that by, you know fulfilling that role for my family and I kind of extended that out with that lending hand to my, you know, family and neighbors. It kind of has always been a, you know, a part of me as far as, you know, helping others fixing problem solving. You know, I’m always there to kind of lend a hand and I always feel kind of restless when I’m, when I’m not needed. I, I really don’t know what to do with myself. So I find a lot of purpose in serving others and, and working with others.

Sam Demma (03:05):
No, that’s awesome. What, what part, or what moment in your journey did you know, ah, I’m gonna be working in a school, like I know you nurtured and you grew up in a family where you took care of a lot of the younger cousins and kids. At what moment did that experience translate into I’m gonna be a teacher.

Antonio Morra (03:24):
Yeah, well, it, it, it was born out of failure to be honest with you, Sam. I, I really had a lot of struggle back in high school and you know, I wasn’t connected academically to my to my experience. I was more there for social experience, but it was actually more or less a a, a response to how I did not feel like I belonged. I, I didn’t feel as if I belonged in my classes because I struggled with learning difficulties that at the time were undiagnosed. And my parents usually he chalked up to me being lazy or not working hard enough. Only now as an adult, I kind of am able to look back through my life and, you know, as a father with, with daughters and looking at them as learners, I see a lot of myself in them.

Antonio Morra (04:14):
So I, I struggled quite a bit and I, I really didn’t have a place or feel like I had a place. I gravitated to the social circles. But I didn’t even belong within them. I felt like I was always kind of on the fringes. And so breaking through into those social circles was more of a priority to me at that point than breaking through academically. It was more of an attainable goal at the time. So I skipped a lot of class and I screwed round and I didn’t hang hand in much work. And the result was I failed my entire grade 11 year all eight courses. And you know, as you would probably anticipate my parents were pretty off and they, they were pretty much ready to disown me at that point.

Antonio Morra (04:59):
Luckily I had an aunt which were, was nine years older than me, my, my, you know, my closest as far as relative to my own age. She really advocated for me. She saw a lot of herself in me. She spoke with my parents, she took me under her wing that summer. You know, she said, you know, it’s probably time away from home and, and kind of stayed with me. And so I stayed with her and my grand parents. But it wasn’t a free ride I had to work. During that time of screwing around, I, I also found out that I had a bank account and I started drawing money out of an account. So I had to pay my parents back for all the money I took out. So that summer my, my aunt got me a job with VA with the city of VA summer camps.

Antonio Morra (05:43):
She was a director there and she was able to get me a job as a camp counselor. And, and it was because of what she recognized in me and what I, what I was to my, my younger cousins, as far as a good influence and a nurturer that she thought I’d be really good at doing this. And that was my first real experience in a paid kind of position in a professional in a professional sense working with kids and, and I really loved it. It, it, it gave me, you know a sense of purpose again you know, working with people, giving of myself helping them develop. And also knowing that I had a lot of struggles connecting with individuals, had me or was gave me an ability to see that in others. So, you know, helping people working with their own struggles socially and academically was always something that I, you know, was committed to, to so essentially it was because of my own my own failures that had me want to get into education, to help people like myself who were confused, who were alone, who were scared, who were unsure to give them a sense of, you know of purpose to also will give them a sense that they are worthy, that they do have the ability that they do have the capability not to give up, to keep working in themselves.

Antonio Morra (07:06):
And and, and basically that our life journeys are, are, are not always marked by the same successes in the same order as everybody else. You know, one thing that always stuck with me was my aunt telling me, you know, Tony, did you start talking at the same time as all the other kids? Did you start walking at the same time as everyone else? So why, why do you think that you are gonna, you know, read and, and graduate and, and, you know, meet these other hurdles at the same time as everyone else, we all develop in our own time based our own maturity and our maturity level. And so that’s kind of the message I take with my students today. I kind of just really want them to understand that I’m here for them. I understand them. I, I wanna support them. And I recognize that we all develop at our own at our own pace and our own journey.

Sam Demma (07:55):
I absolutely love the story. It’s so refreshing. And I know that educator listening to this right now is thinking like, wow, this is such a touching story. And some of them might be even having the same feelings, which is usually the case when people get vulnerable and share stories. So I really appreciate you sharing, and it’s really cool how your life has come full circle. And now you are the person believing in young people. And I’m curious to know during this tough time, school is very different these years. How are you able or striving to make your students feel heard and make them feel appreciated and make sure they know you believe in them, despite the fact that education is a little different this year.

Antonio Morra (08:33):
Yeah. Thanks. That’s a really good question. I believe relationship building is, is key for that. If if you take to time in your day put aside the curriculum just for a bit and get to know your kids and more importantly, allow them an opportunity to get to know you personally. I, I really think all of those other barriers, those fears the the unwillingness to become vulnerable and share kind of melts away. I, I was able to in a new environment, I, I moved from my old school of 16 years of St. Mary I’m in a new community now. And so trying to develop those relationships was my key goal during this one quad master these are kids that I’ve never met before. And to be honest with you after two months of spending time with them it feels like I’ve known them since they were in grade nine.

Antonio Morra (09:26):
So, you know, taking the time to develop those relationships, be vulnerable share your own personal struggles, your own personal, your own personal successes with your students and provide them with an opportunity to kind of share with you what’s going on in their life, their celebrations, their failures, their struggles so that you come to know them on a, on a deeper level. And so that they can trust you to speak to you about their concerns. We’ve also created a lot of student groups here. We started to develop a LGBTQ GT GSA Alliance group cuz we felt that that was something that was necessary. We also are in the process of creating a girls and boys empowerment group. They’re going to be known as the unity group they’re gonna work to together, but separately kind of tackle the same issues, but within their own within their own groups.

Antonio Morra (10:22):
So that’s another way of kind of, you know, building up students to communicate with each other, but also we’ll have teacher moderators so that we’re there to ensure that the space is safe, caring, and inclusive. The last group that we’re working towards is a a black indigenous and people of color group. So basically a group of racialized students and allies to combat the you know, the second pandemic that we’re living in today and that’s of racial inequality. So just to kind of work towards racial justice.

Sam Demma (10:55):
That’s awesome. And on those topic of sharing with your students and allowing them to share all the struggles, but also the, the joyful moments, what makes, what gives you joy and what keeps you motivated to keep doing what you’re doing despite the challenges.

Antonio Morra (11:10):
Yeah. You know, what really gives me joy and keeps you motivated is hearing from people like you, Sam for us in our profession, we, we don’t really see the fruits mature, we plant seeds and, and we hope that those fruits ma front, we see glimmers of it. We see glimmers of the, you know, the plants starting to come out of the, of the ground, but we never see it fully becoming what it will be. And it’s when we encounter our students many years later and seeing what they’re doing and seeing how our ideas, these, these seeds that we planted start to mature in what they do in their actions in their lives and how their lives kind of are directed through those conversations we had. So seeing the, the great works of our students like yourself really gives me inspiration to continue to do what I’m doing to know that what we do has long lasting positive effects on our students.

Sam Demma (12:06):
I love that. That’s a great piece of advice, and I think I get the same feeling when I see a kid that I’ve spoken to or something I haven’t had much time as you have to watch them grow, but it’s a really, it’s a really cool feeling. If you could go back in time to your first year in education and give your younger self advice the same way you would’ve give yourself advice, looking back at when you were in school, I want you to think back to right when you started teaching, you know, after all the ways you’ve gained so far, what pieces of advice would you give to yourself before starting again?

Antonio Morra (12:37):
You know, that’s, that’s a really good question because I’m kind of there right now. Mm-Hmm, , I, I feel like I’m right back to the, to the beginning point. First of all, like I said, I’m in a new community, but more than just that I, I I’m dealing with a new way of educating within the COVID reality that we’re facing. A lot of what I did in the past just doesn’t fit this model. There’s online learning that I need to kinda attack and, and try to, you know, devise a, a plan that it would be meaningful. And again, someone who really focuses on relat building, it’s so hard to do this through a screen. Now I do see my students every other day when they are in class, but when they’re not in class I see them online for a week straight to go through all of my curriculum, everything I’ve developed and try to kind of piece it all out again, mm-hmm, you know, and take out, what’s not going to work, take out maybe what may have been used as, as you know, filler and really try to rethink my, my, my strategy with a lens of equity of inclusivity leveraging the stories of the minorities in, in our school, so that their voice and their images being reflected in my curriculum to remove a more colonialist history or perspective in the curriculum and, and to create a more inclusive curriculum has been my, my real focus this year.

Antonio Morra (14:13):
So I, I I’m really am reinventing my curriculum. And so as far as advice, advice, I, I feel the same anxiety, Sam. I I’m up late at night. I don’t sleep because I’m constantly wrestling with ideas and not sure of, you know, of myself. And, and so I’m, I’m walking with ease, I’m walking uneasy. But one thing that I have now that I didn’t have then is is my practice in, in meditation. My practice in mindfulness my practice in connecting with breath movement in yoga just to kinda help me when I’m feeling anxious. So I, I kind of return to my breath every time I feel that that kind of bubbling and building and, and I, and I have this new kind of way of, of talking to myself, not out of you know, fear of, so you can’t do it.

Antonio Morra (15:11):
What, what do you think you’re doing? You know, you can’t do this. Yeah. And, and I, and I just tell myself, you know, you can do this and, and just do your best and whatever your best is, that will be good enough. You know, knowing that it’s not all going to happen all at once, knowing that it’s a pro build on it, and this is just, you know, the first run through it and, and my next run will get better and just, just kind of survive. It just survive it, man, you can do it do your best and whatever it is, if it’s good enough, great. And if it’s not good enough, we’ll so be it, there’s nothing I can change. You know, this is what I can offer and, and I, I’m just gonna have to be okay with that.

Sam Demma (15:50):
That’s awesome. And Antonio, if someone wants to reach out, maybe they have some ideas for your fillers that might be useful based off anything you said in this episode, or if they just wanna bounce ideas around and share some good energy, what would be the best way for an educator listening to reach out and chat with you?

Antonio Morra (16:05):
Yeah. So my email’s probably the best way. It’s what I use. The most one thing that I’ve been feeling is, is just, there’s been a lot of information right now being shared. And that’s great, but one thing that I don’t have much of is time. So trying to, you know, manage my time and, and read through all of this information that’s being you know, is being sent my way is, is, is very challenging. I, I feel like I’m constantly responding to dings and buzzes and chimes. My cell phone, it, it doesn’t help. Social media doesn’t help, you know, we try to connect with people, so we’re using social media to do so, but it’s also pulling me away from the people in front of me. So I, I think the best way, and, and the one platform that I do check often is my email. So if you were to email me at Antonio.Morra@dcdsb.ca, I would be able to best respond that way.

Sam Demma (17:15):
Awesome. That, that sounds great. And you know, it’s funny, you mentioned social media. I actually decided to take a year off and it’s been almost two months now and there’s a lot less dings and buzzes, I can tell you that

Antonio Morra (17:26):
Yeah, I, I can’t wait to do the same. I’ve committed to two, two months a leadership course in the first quad mess. So I had to kinda be engaged in it. But now I I’m, I’ve just delete them off my, my phone and I’m really looking forward to some head space. Nice.

Sam Demma (17:43):
Just like the app. awesome. And Antonio, Tony, thank you so much for taking some time today. Really, really appreciate it. And keep up with the amazing work.

Antonio Morra (17:52):
Thanks Sam, for thinking of me and God bless you to continue doing your amazing work as well.

Sam Demma (17:58):
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 Antonio Morra

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.