fbpx

leadership

Paolo Morrone – Principal at St Andrew Catholic School

Paolo Morrone - Principal at St Andrew Catholic School
About Paolo Morrone

Paolo Morrone (@StAndrewStormP) is currently the Principal at St Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a Physical Education and Social Science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the TCDSB and has had the pleasure and honour to have served eight schools as both a vice principal and principal. During his career, he has been also been able to serve as both a teacher and administrator in both elementary panels.

He cares deeply for and works with ALL students in the school. Paolo enjoys all aspects of school life but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well-rounded students and individuals but responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school intermediate boys’ basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extra-curricular events at his school. Paolo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports and always seeks to be a servant leader. He is always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect.

Connect with Paolo: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St Andrew Catholic School

St. Jude Catholic School

Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB)

Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA)

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 (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Today’s special guest is Paulo Morrone. Paolo is currently the Principal at St. Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a physical education and social science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and has had the pleasure and honor to have served eight schools as both a Vice Principal and Principal. During his career, he has also been able to serve as both a teacher and an administrator in both elementary panels. He cares deeply for and works with all students in the school.

Sam Demma (01:51):

Paulo enjoys all aspects of school life, but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well rounded students and individuals, but more importantly, responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school Intermediate Boys basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extracurricular events at his school. Paulo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views, and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports, which you’ll hear about in our podcast, and always seeks to be that servant leader. He’s also always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Paulo and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Today’s special guest is Paulo Paulo. I’m gonna allow you to introduce yourself and please share a little bit about your journey through education.

Paolo Morrone (03:08):

Hey, Sam, first of all, thanks for having me. well, as you said, my name’s Paulo Morone. I’m currently the principal at St. Andrew Catholic School in Rexdale Ontario, or proud at Togo North at Togo, as we say. my journey, my journey is an interesting one, but I started actually in the secondary panel and in high school actually I lied. Excuse me. I came out, this is what’s what’s interesting when it comes to me with education was I started in elementary. I got a little call right outta teacher’s college. Nice. saying, Hey, do you are you interested in a grade six position as a teacher? right outta teacher’s college, just as well, <laugh>. Yeah. I don’t really have the, the experience to teach grades. I don’t even have the qualifications. I didn’t have my junior, it doesn’t matter.

Paolo Morrone (04:02):

We need, they, they were in a, in a, in a bind and they needed somebody quick. And it was quite the experience that I never thought I would end up back in elementary. Nice. it was you know, you look at experiences good and bad, but that was one at the time that probably scarred me from the elementary panel in general. And then I, I, you kind of, when I got, when I got into education or the way I feel is that you’re either one or the other elementary or high school. And I was always geared more towards the high school secondary. I just loved to coach and I just found that I always related better with, with the older kids. Nice. so I spent the first what, 10 years roughly of my my educational career in secondary.

Paolo Morrone (04:50):

And then I made a jump to elementary again, which was quite shocking for me. it was a lot of personal reflection and, and discernment in terms of making that move. and I made the move. And at first it was quite the challenge for me mentally and not physically of course, but mentally it was a, it was, it was quite a change. And now six years later three schools in three schools of under my belt in elementary between a vice principal and principal role. And here we we’re. And I’m enjoy enjoying it much more than I thought I would you know, almost 20 years ago when I stepped in fresh faced and, you know, green under the ears into into that little elementary school.

Sam Demma (05:33):

That’s awesome. Did you know growing up as a student yourself that you really wanted to work in education? Or how did you find this pathway in the first place?

Paolo Morrone (05:43):

 I always tell people this. It was I can date my, my, my realm or my, sorry, my my wish to be an education back to grade eight. Wow. I can, yeah. I had a, I can tie actually being a principal back to being great. I always said I wanted to be a teacher and coach. I kind of started, I volunteered from grade nine in my, at my old elementary school. Okay. Nice. As much as I could, of course. and I kind of did that all throughout high school to get as much experience as I could, knowing that I was gonna get into teaching or that’s where I wanted to land, wanted to go. Yeah. And thankfully it worked out for me.

Sam Demma (06:22):

And tell me more about the coaching aspect of your role. Are you still coaching now? And what are you, what are you

Paolo Morrone (06:28):

Coaching? No, I, I, you know what, I don’t, but I I’m gonna be helping out with the basketball team this year a bit just cause the coach is one of my younger teachers and he found out that I coached back in the day, so he kind of approached me and said, Hey, would you be willing to help? And I said, absolutely. Like it’s actually a big passion of mine. I loved it when I did it. Nice. coaching, coaching was, they say kids kids sports gets kids to school in many cases. And coaching got me to school, not that I didn’t wanna work, but coaching was a, was a big part of the early, early part of my career. I really, really loved connecting with kids inside and outside the classroom. The outside piece, people don’t give it enough credit.

Paolo Morrone (07:09):

People don’t understand that building relationships in that capacity, like outside of the traditional classroom walls it can, it, it does amazing things for you as an educator in a school. Students you just build that trust. You can’t, I can’t put a, I can’t really articulate it, but when you build that relationship and trust with them outside of, you know, the book, the books and the pens and the papers and the iPads, it, it’s another layer. it’s another layer that if you haven’t been in education or you don’t do it while you’re an educator, you don’t really understand it. Sometimes people didn’t, even, colleagues didn’t understand like, why are you doing so much coaching? So first off, I was in, partially in PhysEd as a phed teacher, and I always felt that that was part of what we should do realistically, why else are you in a physical education program?

Paolo Morrone (08:00):

Right? Yeah. and the other part was just, I love working with kids in that capacity period, and I love sports. So you put all that together and I had the dream job. That’s awesome. and here I am sitting as a principal and I always say like, how did I give that up? Yeah. So did I, did I like the coaching? What was the, it was the huge part of my, the early part of my career, and I do miss it. I’m gonna be helping out with the ball team this year. Nice. And last year I ran a little bit of intramurals for the kids when things opened up after a lot of the, the restrictions were laid or taken off. we got some awesome intramurals for the kids at lunch, which kept them engaged. We were having a lot of issues at lunch as well. So that really helped turn things around.

Sam Demma (08:45):

It sounds like relationship building has been a key part of your belief around education, and you’ve done it a lot through extracurricular activities like coaching and sports. Can you think of a a student who maybe was struggling with school that you were able to build a relationship with through sport that had a positive impact on their, I guess, their school experience? Or maybe even maybe it’s not a, a student that you specifically coach, but a story you’ve heard before? I’m just curious.

Paolo Morrone (09:14):

Yeah. I mean I, I can honestly say that I’ve, I, I think I’ve had quite a bit of an impact, or I had quite a bit of an impact in my early, the earlier part of my career with that. I would coach about six teams a year. Wow. Either in a, either, not just in a head coaching, like I would either help as an assistant Yeah. Or I was the head coach, but basketball sort of was my thing. which it wasn’t. I didn’t, didn’t even, basketball was one of the only sports I did to play. I didn’t play as a kid growing up in terms of any type of, you know, you play a little, a little bit on the street or at the park or whatever, but not in a league in any way. So I kind of got thrown into it and fell in love with it. And along the way there was a lot of, there’s a lot of kids. I mean basketball, it can be a challenging sport to coach in many ways. just the game itself is, is fantastic and, and it comes with some challenges in that sense. But the school that I was at at the time where I was really into the, the basketball coaching, there were a lot of kids. They needed a little bit of direction and guidance and one particular kid stood out. obviously I’ll, I’ll name,

Sam Demma (10:27):

You don’t have to say his name. Yeah.

Paolo Morrone (10:28):

But it he was almost your storybook kind of story. It was his, he came from a single pa single family, sorry, single parent family. there was a lot of social issues that he was dealing with and family issues. and that translated onto what basketball was his outlet, first of all, however, this is a kid that would light up the scoreboard. You’re talking 30 points, 35 points without blinking. And I, he was a, he, I still believe to this day, this boy should have been in the NCAA at minimum. Wow. But Canada as you may know, firsthand you know, you don’t get the same type of exposure here. And at that time for basketball, it wasn’t as big as now. Now it’s exploded. Had that exposure been around back then I, I still feel he would’ve, he would’ve had a better opportunity to get a, a free education in the us.

Paolo Morrone (11:25):

 but anyway, the boy, the boy had some issues with anger at times. And with that translated onto the court, off the court there was a lot of friction off them with colleagues that would say, you know, why is this kid playing? And they didn’t understand that if you didn’t have that kid playing, it wasn’t, you know, I needed the superstar on the court is I needed, I did. Yeah. Obviously you wanted the, the, the kid to play basketball. Yeah. But that was his outlet. You take that away from the, the kid. Yeah. Yeah. Did I take him off? Did I suspend him a game or two if the behavior wasn’t appropriate? Absolutely. If it was necessary academically that he wasn’t meeting his, you know, his goals, we would sit down and talk about it. It wasn’t just, you know, arbitrarily, you know, you were coming off the team because you just can’t do that and

Sam Demma (12:11):

Solve anything.

Paolo Morrone (12:12):

Yeah. No you can do that and you have a responsibility as a coach and an educator, but and there’s more to it. You gotta be able to talk to these kids and, and peel the layers off. And this is a guy that mom would call me when he had a little bit of a, an anger episode and would she would take off like she didn’t know. He didn’t know where he was. So mom would call me and say, Hey, can you, I would be drive over to the, the local mall and kind of take a loop around looking for him to find out what was going on. Cause I knew at that point he had a he had an episode, he was angry and something had upset him. And, you know, kind of talk him, talk him back into a proper mindset.

Paolo Morrone (12:56):

 he, I’ve lost touch with him more recently, but last I had heard he was doing really well. He ended up at the University of Windsor. Wow. He did continue to play university ball, but at a Canadian level at CS or U Sport now, whatever they call it. and at the college and at the OCAA, the Ontario College ranks Nice. and he was doing accounting last I heard. But this is a kid that honestly a lot of people had written off. And I had a great relationship with him and a good belief in him, not just as a ball player, but as a student and as a person. He just needed that guidance. He needed a little bit more that, that fatherly character as well because he had some tragedy with his father passing at a young age.

Paolo Morrone (13:40):

Ah, and, and the stepfather actually. So it was you know, that’s a lot of trauma for a young kid at 16, 17 years old to have dealt with prior to even that, you know, as he was a little guy. so yeah, I, I take great pride in that cuz you know, I, I, I wish I, I’m sure I will connect with him again soon, but that was that was one, that one that really stands out for me. But there’s, there’s quite a few stories in my, in my own head that I, I like to think I made quite a bit of a difference at that time. Nice. and it all came down to the relationships truthfully. That’s the truth between, you know, how you, how you treat the kids and they see you here as human. Yeah. Right. Yeah. You don’t wanna be, it’s funny, in an elementary school, the kids think you go home when you plug yourself into a closet. So when they see you out in like the real world, they’re like, totally get out. You’re alive. You’re alive. You know, like, you don’t go home. You don’t just stay in the school all night.

Sam Demma (14:35):

Yeah. They have your top, their purse on the shoulder and they’re like, it’s Mr. Moroni, he’s over there. You see him like <laugh>, he’s in the grocery store buying vegetables,

Paolo Morrone (14:44):

<laugh>, why is he buying food? <laugh>? Yeah. It’s that kind of it’s, it’s funny. It’s a great it’s a great line of work, I tell you. It’s a great revocation.

Sam Demma (14:55):

That’s awesome. So what do you think allows you to build the relationships with young people? Is it like time spent? Is it being curious about their lives? Like what do you think it is about the interaction that allows you to build the relationship and build the trust?

Paolo Morrone (15:12):

 honestly, it’s always hard to talk about yourself. Cause I’m finding it like difficult to say things. Oh yeah. Maybe I wanna come across like from

Sam Demma (15:20):

The, from the perspective of like teachers and students in general. How do you think

Paolo Morrone (15:24):

You gotta have heart man? You gotta have heart and you gotta care about who’s in front of you. And it’s not just, you know it’s not about the summers. It’s not, you sure not you sure as how ain’t getting rich in this, in this job. And it’s not about the money. And you hear that a thousand times, and obviously in the current climate you hear that even more so in the news more recently. you gotta come in with the right mindset and heart. And if you are going to do this, you gotta put the kids first. But you gotta find a healthy balance between building that relationship, the academic side of what as well. And, and the people side, people, young teachers have a difficulty, difficulty like that sometimes lines get blurred. they’re nervous, they don’t know how to interact. They’re, they’re focused more just simply on curriculum. I’m of the belief that curriculum of course is important, but it’s not about just curriculum. It’s about the whole person and educating the whole person, meeting the character of the person. you know, the math lessons will come not for me, but they will come. and you got, you gotta educate the whole, the whole mind, body and soul. That’s, that’s my feeling on it.

Sam Demma (16:36):

That’s awesome. I think back to my experiences as a student in school and I had some amazing experiences with extracurricular activities. Soccer was a big part of my life. Spent almost every minute outside of a classroom on a soccer field or in a gym, working and training and getting, getting better. I was, yeah. Were were you a soccer player as well?

Paolo Morrone (16:56):

 not soccer. Well, I did play, I was a goalie. but I was kinda one of those kids that played a little bit of everything. I played soccer, I played hockey, I played football in high school softball, baseball. But I wouldn’t say I was a a rock star in any one, any one particular sport. I just loved sports. Yeah. And that’s really what drew me. Probably what drew you, you know, in the realm of education as well, is I had that one connection, not one connection I have. I still go out with some of the teachers that, going back to the relationship piece. Oh

Sam Demma (17:25):

No way. That

Paolo Morrone (17:26):

Impact on you. Right. I still talk to you know, one of my good, one of my, one of my good friends lives down the street from here. He was my teacher in high school. No way. I ended up becoming his vice principal down the road and my first placement. So it, it is about that. and connecting, right. yeah, prime example. And sports. So he was my coach and my teacher. So it’s, you know, pay it forward kind of thing. And you see things come full circle and you have that good, those good people in front of you. Like I’m sure you had some good coaches and some mentors along the way in high school and maybe in elementary or high school. I don’t know that set you a foot in the right direction or if you had a setback you know, they kind of picked you up. That’s what I always strive to be when I was teaching. That’s the biggest part of, I miss that con that connection piece in the classroom. But I try to do that as much as I can as a principal by being visible and being active with the kids at recess or whatever I can, wherever I can. Just, you know, even if that means a high five in the hallway.

Sam Demma (18:28):

Yeah. Let’s talk about that for a second. Visibility in your role as a principal now how do you try and make sure that, that you still have that type of contribution? Of course, it’s a different role with different responsibilities, but what are, what are some of the things that you practice or try and do to, to not just be visible but be impactful?

Paolo Morrone (18:47):

It’s a fine balance between the paper, paper aspect and being visible. you can very easily get wrapped up being, I can get trapped in my office all day and there are days that I am. Yep. Those are the days I feel guilty. but my, my general rule of thumb for me is I try to get out at least two recesses a day, whether it’s lunch or at the end of the day. Cuz the kids need to see you out there. not just from a, you know, you know, here’s the big bad principal disciplinarian. No. Like, they, you know, you walk out and you’re, it’s a, it’s awesome. you’re getting tackled. You got, I got one on each, one kid on each limb. they’re, they’re elementary is a, it’s an awesome experience. The kids they really, they need to see you.

Paolo Morrone (19:31):

They need to see you out there. I’m a big sort of burly guy, so they they come running up and <laugh> literally like, you know, two or three of them. They’re tackling Yeah, they’re tackling you out there. But I think the important thing as a, as an administrator is in any school, elementary, secondary, whatever the case may be, you gotta be visible. You gotta be visible, you gotta be accessible. my office happens to be literally in the middle of the hallway, so I am accessible. I get kids knocking on my door all day every day. a little difficult when you’re trying to get something done or you’re in a room meeting or a, a podcast or whatever it is that you’re doing. But you you gotta be there. That’s the bottom line. You gotta be out there and be visible.

Paolo Morrone (20:16):

And again, if that means just, you know, a little dab in the hallway, say, Hey, hey buddy, how you doing today? that’s how I try to be impactful. And then the other piece is when there are activities, when there are things happening in, in the school, again, it’s don’t just be there, be part of it. you know, we did the Terry Fox run a couple weeks ago within the school. You know, the, if we hit our goal, we had a jello weeding contest. I, I, for the first time, I, I kind of felt what a rockstar was like. It was, it was crazy being on top of that, on top of the stage. And just the kids were the, the energy and the vibe coming off just being not having that stuff for the last couple years. It was awesome to see the kids just enjoying it. And again, it goes back to, you know, you’re not plugging yourself in a closet. Yep. And they see you as real. I was on the stage with four other teachers full of whipped cream and jello all over my face. And they, they loved every of it. Right. And I make the the the kids love my I call it bad jokes, but my hair jokes or my lack there of,

Paolo Morrone (21:25):

I think it, I think it just comes down to honestly just being, just being real with them. And they, they know that, they know that you’re, you know, you’re the principal. You’re you’re the disciplinarian in the school. You run the school in that sense, but at the same time, they wanna know that you’re real and you’ve got a big heart and you’re there for them. That’s what I think

Sam Demma (21:46):

I try to do that. It sounds like it. And I think that’s really, it’s really awesome. I think there are also like everything, there’s people who work in different industries that their heart’s not in it. And you can tell right away the, the difference, you know? and I think the students can tell right away too. Like they can sense it sometimes.

Paolo Morrone (22:08):

Not sometimes all the time. they, they, they can pick off a fraud from a mile away. They really can. it’s the energy and the vibe that you give off. Honestly, sometimes it’s not even anything that you say or do, it’s just how you, how you carry yourself in the school. again, I I honestly everything, I relate everything back to building relationships with people, relational leadership, relational educat. Like just being that educator that can connect with people. Right?

Sam Demma (22:37):

Yeah. So how if you don’t have energy and if you don’t have your own your hell health, you know, it’s hard to, you know, try and be the best you can be. Especially at work. One of my one of my cousins she just started teaching and they don’t have kids. And she says to me one time at dinner, I spend, I spend eight hours with kids at school. There’s no way I’m coming home and raising kids of my own <laugh>. I don’t know how people do this. <laugh> and you know, parenting, having a family, beautiful thing. you have kids of your own little ones mm-hmm. <affirmative> among balancing, raising your kids, helping other, you know, people’s kids all day. How do you fill up your own cup so that you can show up and give a hundred percent of your efforts?

Paolo Morrone (23:31):

 I always, I, I, I laugh cuz you say this. I always say I split my day in two. my energy, I try to give the same energy to both. Nice. but it’s a, I psych myself up on the way home in the car because, you know, I do have two little ones. I kind of did things a little different or backwards as I say in my career path where I kind of got into being an administrator very young into my career. you know, I’m, we’re, I’m in year 13 here. Nice. As an administrator. Nice As an administrator. So I, when I started as a vice principal, I didn’t have kids. so it was a totally different <laugh>, totally different experience, totally different energy level. And now I’ve got two little ones under five, five and under.

Paolo Morrone (24:21):

so when I come home, I gotta be on my a game. Nice. I gotta be on ma game in the morning and I gotta be on ma game in the afternoon. How do I do it? I don’t know how I do it, but I do it. you just kind of you know, you’ve gotta be there. And the other piece is health. From a health perspective, that’s hard balance. Finding a good balance and I’m one that I’ve always thought, you know, working out and, and sports in general is important. so, you know, we, I don’t do the gym anymore, but I’ve set up a gym at home. So that, that was the trade off, you know, losing up. I don’t have that extra hour to go back and forth from the gym, but you know, what if I cut off that hour and I got half an hour, I can do that at home. And that’s how I keep my own sort of mental sanity between both both rolls and hats that I, I have on all every day between my personal and family life. It’s, it’s a, it’s a tough balance sometimes, especially as a, a principal these days, there’s a lot of different you know, this, these disconnect policies don’t often work as well for us <laugh> when we come home and you gotta answer, you’re get, you know, you’re

Sam Demma (25:28):

Looking your life right center

Paolo Morrone (25:30):

<laugh>. Yeah. Do I answer this email or do I wait till the morning and then, you know, no, I’m gonna cut. I’m gonna cut it off, but then still gonna be there in the morning. So its it’s tough. It is a fine balance between between home life and, and work life. and a lot of people, it’s, it’s not hard to get totally overwhelmed with work where you, you start letting the other stuff slip a bit. So you gotta bring yourself back to reality and get a reality check and say no. Like, my priority is my family. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I love my job and my vocation, but my number one priority is my family. but I’ve gotta also be able to be there for, for the school, for the kids. They know when you’re not, when you’re not. And I don’t mean just physic, they actually do know. Cause I’m not on the, if I’m not on the pa, they know I’m not there <laugh>. but they know, they know if you’re off, they sense it, they can feel it.

Sam Demma (26:19):

Ah, cool. that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing some of the behind the scenes. When, when you think of your different roles, if you could take the experience you have now, travel back in time and speak to Apollo in his first year of teaching, knowing what you know now with the experiences you’ve had, like what would you have told your younger self? Not because you wanted to change your pathway, but you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation?

Paolo Morrone (26:46):

 truthfully, I probably would have gone into administration a little bit later on in my career. I don’t regret it. I joke around with people and say like, you know, I gave up the dream job as a, as a PhysEd teacher. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> which is something, again, going back to I can trace back to grade eight in terms of me. That’s what I wanted to do. but as I told you, I also said that I wanted to be a principal. I just, I got in a little early and you know out of potentially a 30 year career, 20, 20 plus years of it will be an administration that’s a long time to be a principal and vice principal. I look, I take the positive in it and say, you know what? That that’ll by the time I’m, I’m done and ready to move on to the next stage of my life, I’m hoping that I’ve made quite a bit of an impact in all the schools I’ve, I’ve been at in some way, shape or form.

Paolo Morrone (27:38):

 in terms of my career trajectory, that would be the only thing. I’m not saying I regretted in any way, but I probably would’ve done it a little bit later. so when you get, when you get the tap on the shoulder, you get the tap. And as my mentor at the time said you know, if you got the, if you get the tap on the shoulder now there’s a reason for it and, and you don’t know if it’s gonna come afterwards. So you’re, you’re lined up. There’s a reason for it and, you know, take, take the leap and go kind of thing.

Sam Demma (28:05):

Oh, awesome. I appreciate that advice because I’m sure there’s some people on the edge with that decision who might be listening right now. So, yeah. Thanks for sharing and Paulo, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate your time and energy. I hope you have an amazing rest of the school year. If, if another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Paolo Morrone (28:28):

They can reach out to me either through LinkedIn, email through my board email’s fine. LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn quite a bit or even Twitter. I’m not as active as I was on Twitter, but I do I do check it.

Sam Demma (28:41):

Perfect. Awesome. Thank you so much for again coming on the show. Enjoy the rest of your.I’m glad you enjoyed it And keep up with the great work.

Paolo Morrone (28:50):

<laugh>. Thanks man.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paolo Morrone

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.

Tracy Beaulieu – Administrative Support Leader

Tracy Beaulieu - Administrative Support Leader
About Tracy Beaulieu

Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.

In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.

Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students.

Connect with Tracy: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Public Schools Branch – Prince Edward Island

Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award

Dr. Seuss Books

Who was Terry Fox?

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

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 (00:54):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast.

Sam Demma (00:58):

Today’s special guest is Tracy Beaulieu. Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She truly believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Tracy and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (02:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m here with a very special guest today. She was introduced to me by a past guest. Her name is Tracy Beaulieu. I’m gonna give her an opportunity to introduce herself as well. Tracy, welcome to the show. Please, share a little bit about your yourself.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:23):

Hi. Thank you Sam. I appreciate you having me. As you said, my name is Tracy Beaulieu and my role is an admin support leader on Prince Edward Island. So basically what I do is I’m the contact for a number of schools. I have 20 of them. Typically the elementary schools. The contact for any of the administrators if they have any questions or need support helping their teachers or helping students, I’m kind of their go-to person.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:55):

That is a very special role. <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:00):

Interesting.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:01):

It’s a lot of support. What got you into education? Did you know growing up that you wanted to work in this industry?

Tracy Beaulieu (03:09):

Absolutely. I actually knew since I was a little kid, that was kind of the same, the thing that was in the books that your parents keep that say, What do you wanna be when you’re in grade one and two? And teacher was always it for me. Ironically, I never wanted to be an administrator and I found myself in that role at a fairly young age. I was only 27 when I became a vice principal. And really only then did I become a vice principal because I had the administrator’s course as part of my upgrading my education. And I was in a small rural school and they needed help and I was asked, I didn’t want to take it on because that would mean that I would be the vice principal of some of the teachers who had actually taught me when I was in school.

Tracy Beaulieu (04:03):

So it was a little awkward, but they were fantastic and gave me a lot of support. So then I never wanted to be a principal. And ironically people then started reaching out and encouraging me to take on the role, but it was actually a student that made me finally make the decision to become a principal. It’s a neat little story. I was just driving down the road, I was going to pick up a sub for my kids and I saw a sign and it basically had said, the signs are there, you just need to listen. And I was like, Oh yeah, sure. And then I get to the place where the sub is and it’s a student and he came over and was happy to see me and said, Are you gonna be the new principal? And I said, No, I don’t think so. I love teaching kids too much. And he said, But you still teach me. You teach me when I’m in the office to make better choices. And I thought, Wow, okay, there’s a bit of a sign. So that’s how I got into administration. But basically my journey has been because other people were tapping me on the shoulder and saw something in me that I may not have seen in myself. And I’m grateful for them for doing that and I hope that I can do that for others as well.

Sam Demma (05:28):

Did you say your first role in admin was at 27?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:31):

Yes.

Sam Demma (05:32):

What was that experience like? Did you ever find it as a young person? I’m 23 and sometimes I have these situations where I’m dealing with individuals who are older than me twice my age. <laugh>, yes, have. How was that experience? Did you ever have any weird situations being so young in that role or what was it like for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:54):

Do you know? I anticipated that it would be really awkward for me. I honestly did the first staff meeting where I knew it was gonna be announced that I was the vice principal. I was quite nervous because as I said, I had a couple of people on staff. It wasn’t a very big staff either who had taught me, but they were actually quite remarkable. They were happy for me and I was very lucky because as awkward as it was for me, they made it easy, impossible for me. They were my support and they all shaped me into who I was as an administrator and I was very grateful. The biggest challenge I think for me sometimes would’ve been with the parents, if there was an issue with that, with a student, they would look at me and think, Well, I’m older than her and what does she know?

Tracy Beaulieu (06:55):

Kind of thing. But I’ve always been about making connections with kids. I preached from that time on that it’s okay to make mistakes. That’s part of our learning. And just because you’ve made a mistake doesn’t mean you’re a bad kid. And that’s what some of them would take it as. So I was lucky that I had a lot of the parent support with that as well. But I think it’s a lot because you start off telling them that their kid’s a good kid and that you actually really like their kid. We’re just gonna work together to help them make better choices next time.

Tracy Beaulieu (07:32):

Let’s talk about making connections with kids. When you were in the classroom and even in the administration roles and even in the roles you’re in today, how do you make and build a connection with a young person? How do you think that actually happens?

Tracy Beaulieu (07:48):

Well, first off, I think they have to know that you like them and it has to be genuine. Kids are very good at a very young age at picking up if you don’t really mean it. And kids are really good at knowing how they can control you if you let them <laugh>, ask a two year old as well. So it’s about giving them some of those boundaries that they do need, but having fun with them, it’s about being interested in them beyond the classroom as well. So I would go to some of their sporting events and watch them there and they would be excited to see you at their sporting events. I would go to their music festivals when I was able to and just being part of their life beyond the school. And then to laugh and joke with them as well and to have fun, then they want to do good for you.

Tracy Beaulieu (08:50):

And that’s the biggest thing. Kids, I guess I’ll say that I was at a conference and it was out at B and Chief Cadmus had actually made this comment and it resonated me because I believe it so heartedly it’s show people your heart before you expect their hand. And that really resonated with me and it’s about the connection piece. Kids won’t learn unless they know you like them. So making those relationships is so, so important and letting them know that they are valued and they mean something and they have all kinds of potential. And part of that learning is it’s about making mistakes because you want them to know that they can trust you and they can be safe to make some mistakes with you and you’ll guide them through.

Tracy Beaulieu (09:47):

I think in education, our mistakes are amazing learning opportunities and in life in general, if we choose to reflect on them and learn from them, they can be these amazing professional development moments in our professional journeys and also in our personal lives. And I’m wondering, in your journey throughout education, if there are any mistakes, but we’ll call them learning lessons that you found really impactful personally that you think other educators could benefit from hearing cuz they might be going through something similar.

Tracy Beaulieu (10:22):

I think one of the ones that kinda stands out for me, as I mentioned, I was in a small rural school when I first started and the school was actually in the community I grew up in. So that was my kind of discourse. And then I went to another school eventually that was a larger school and it had more complex needs in that school and those students and that environment actually kind of awakened me to a mistake that I was holding in my head and that’s that everybody kind of had a similar background and experience to myself. We talk a lot about diversity, but I think to that point, my mind on diversity was more about okay, if it’s a different culture, a different language or that type of thing. But they taught me that we are diverse even with the same socioeconomic background, even the same gender and race.

Tracy Beaulieu (11:28):

So that was a big learning for me and it was kind of an eye opening thing. So I learned that I had to talk to even my whole staff about the fact that we have these invisible backpacks that we carry and we don’t hang those up on a hook when we get into this school. They stay with us all day long and it’s not to make assumptions that people’s stories and what they’ve been through based on what you have experienced and been through. So that was a big kind of mistake or learning for me is and making assumptions that really weren’t accurate.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:08):

I often tell people just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying something that nothing about.

Sam Demma (12:16):

Absolutely.

Sam Demma (12:17):

It’s funny, I actually, I just wrote a book called Your Backpack <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:23):

That is so cool.

Sam Demma (12:25):

So the connection is so immediate and visceral for me with that in mind that every student and every human being walks through life with these invisible backpacks. How do we get to know what’s in a student’s backpack? Is it by asking them questions or how have you got to know what your students were carrying when you were in their classrooms?

Tracy Beaulieu (12:51):

Yeah, it was about asking questions. I was usually at the elementary level, so sometimes it was making connections actually with their parents as well. So many people find it difficult to come into a school environment if they didn’t have a positive experience growing up. So it it’s about making your building a welcoming and safe place for parents as well as students and really listening to their story. So we can always ask questions, but if we’re not genuinely listening, it’s not going to amount to any sort of understanding of what they’re bringing with them. And it’s about building that trust and letting them know that they can come and talk to you and share things with you. It’s the basis of everything. And then it’s starting to really understand for me, if kids were making choices that weren’t the right choices, it was really staying in tune to the fact that there’s an underlying reason why this is happening right now and they deserve to have me help them get through that in any way that I can.

Tracy Beaulieu (14:11):

So it is about building the trust and making connections and making a safe environment and then truly listening to what their story is because those little ones may not even know what is beneath that emotion that they’re feeling. And it’s our job to help them support that growth in learning because they’re not gonna learn, they won’t learn the ABC’s if they can’t control those emotions that they have. If they’re worried about what’s happening at home, if they’re coming to school with some sort of trauma that’s going to trump all of their ability to learn. So we are educators, It’s our job to unpack that backpack with them and with their families the best that we can so that we can help them become the best that they can be because that’s the end goal, making them be the best version of themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (15:09):

It sounds like listening has been a really impactful aspect of your journey as an educator, but I would assume that it’s just a big part of living life. It becomes more interesting when we listen genuinely and be curious about other people’s journeys. When you transition from teaching to administration, who are you listening to or who was in your life in your corner helping you and showing you the ropes and mentoring you? Did you have some other educators who played a big role and if so, who were they and what did they teach you or do for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (15:42):

Yes, I always had, I was very fortunate to have the support, not just in the school but in my family as well. So I was lucky there, but in school I would’ve had different teachers and on my staff as I mentioned, who were kind of aware that they saw something in me, they saw the potential and they were willing to help nurture that potential as I was learning, which I think makes great teachers in general. And then as I got going through, actually there was one gentleman who probably had the biggest impact for me and his name was Doug McDougal. And Doug had this ability to make everybody feel that they were valued and that they were worth something. And Doug would take the time to write little cards and send them to people telling them what he thought was great about either their style or about themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (16:47):

So it could be the educational style or them personally. And he had that ability to laugh and have fun with you as well. Oh wow. So he was probably my biggest inspiration. He was the person that I thought, if I can be like you, I want to be like you. And he set the bar high for a lot of us and I actually, unfortunately a year ago, a little over a year ago, he passed suddenly. And to see the impact he had on so many people was so heartwarming and I felt I needed to keep his memory alive. So I created the Doug McDougal Inspire Award and just presented that to administrators last weekend, I believe it was, or two weeks ago. And it’s my way of keeping his legacy alive. And we’re going to have that award be presented to anybody in the education system that is making school better for staff and students. So it could be a custodian, it could be the bus driver, it could be a teacher, it could be anybody that is making life better for kids. And that award will travel from school to school just like Doug did. So he was probably my biggest inspiration and motivator.

Sam Demma (18:22):

That’s awesome. I love that you pinpointed some of the actions he took that made a big difference, like the writing of cards, I think that’s sometimes a lost art. I’m 23. I learned how to send a handwritten note in the mail at 18 <laugh> because there was no real reason to send a handwritten note at growing up cuz we had emails and all these. That’s right. Donald mentioned Doug as well on the island. Is Doug very well known as a impactful educator?

Tracy Beaulieu (18:58):

Yes, yes. Impactful educator and impactful community member as well. Interesting story that someone had shared because with his passing you got to hear stories, but he was the type of person that they needed a hockey coach in his community and nobody was able or volunteered to do it and Doug did and Doug couldn’t even skate, but he knew those kids needed somebody and he didn’t look at his inability to skate as a barrier. He still took the opportunity because he wanted those kids to have something and he continued to demonstrate that a lot. He didn’t let his quote limitations that some people would say prevent him from doing something that would help others. So he was quite a remarkable person.

Sam Demma (19:57):

Yeah, that’s so cool. I think what’s also amazing about the story is that you mentioned how after his passing you heard about all these stories of impact and sometimes in education we don’t know the impact that our actions are having. Sometimes we have to wait, sometimes we never know and other people get to see it, which is really, really cool. In terms of impact, are there any stories that come to mind for you of students who you’ve seen transformed due to education? And it could be as a direct result of your activities or someone in your school or the community as a whole helping a young person. And the reason I ask is because I think the reason most people get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference in the lives of young people. And when they get burnt out or overwhelmed, I think it’s these stories of impact that really remind them why the work they’re doing is so important. So do any of those stories come to mind? And if it’s a serious one, you could definitely change the name of the student if you’d like <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (21:05):

A couple of things come to mind. One is when I did first start in my administrative role, there was a student and it was, as I said, a small rural school. So there was one grade per grade level and there was one particular student who his choices weren’t always seen as very positive and made other staff members sometimes struggle when this child would be exhibiting some of the behaviors I guess. And I believed in him and I started listening again when he was acting out he would be getting into other people’s business so to speak. But I started realizing, wow, this boy is actually being an advocate for other people, other students, but he’s just not doing it appropriately. His way of doing it is very disrespectful and kind of clouding people’s opinions. So I started working with him a lot and letting him know that, you know, are a good kid, you are making a good choice.

Tracy Beaulieu (22:23):

Even when he was up in junior high, I would take him to work with some of my grade three students and he was quite remarkable at that. And he was a student who we all worried about would he get through school. And he did. He graduated and he actually became a bodybuilder and was on the cover of one of the, I don’t know if it’s a Canadian magazine or whatever, but he made the cover of a magazine and this is a kid that even in high school we stayed connected and I got an invitation to his wedding this summer and he’s a dad, he has two kids, he’s successful and he actually found his way. And I think that just comes from people believing in him. So he actually had a big impact on me because he showed me that it is true that if we just work, if you get past those challenging behaviors and try to see the person within, they can teach us a lot.

Tracy Beaulieu (23:32):

And so he shaped me to always let kids know that again, it’s okay to make mistakes. So I started a program when I was at the other school that I went to and it was really around Carol Wes work with growth Mindset. Nice. And I had a book and it was called Not Yet. And I went to each class and I read it and it was talking about the fact that Terry Fox may not have actually finished his journey. He would’ve had a difficult time even when he was doing his run. He saw challenges, but he didn’t give up and he just kept saying, I’m not done, not yet. And share with them of all the successful people who tried to do things and failed but didn’t give up and they looked at the mistakes that they had and they turned them into opportunities to dig deeper and find more.

Tracy Beaulieu (24:31):

Dr. Suess was always a big person that I would have his quotes around. Kids knew that I loved him, but I shared that he was rejected 27 times before he got to actually write his book. So it was sharing that those mistakes are part of it. And with the not yet I started, I had little neck laces and bracelets that teachers would be able to give to kids whenever they saw them trying things, but not yet succeeding, but given them praise and highlighting the power of them trying to persevere and get through. So that was a way that we were trying to motivate kids. But when I knew it was working is when I was in walking in the hallways or on the playground and I would hear kids talking to each other and saying, No, you don’t have that yet, but you will <affirmative>. And I thought that’s that seemingly small action of repeating with kids that it’s okay to make mistakes, you just don’t have it yet to keep trying. It will sink in. And that’s what I want for all students is to have that ability to believe in themselves that even when you try and you don’t succeed, there’s still opportunities there for success if you just keep trying.

Tracy Beaulieu (25:56):

I love the idea of not yet, I think so often we hit barriers and it ultimately is up to us to decide when we continue pushing forward or when we stop. There’s no such thing as a failure if you don’t quit <laugh>. Exactly. You never reach that point. So that’s such a powerful thing to remind young people, and again, not just students but human beings, we all face challenges, not just the kids. So I love that analogy and I appreciate you sharing it. When you field phone calls from the principals and the administration of the 20 different elementary schools in PEI that you help and support, what is the most common thing they’re reaching out about? I’m sure every school is very different and unique, but are there any commonalities or things that you think a lot of them need support with right now?

Tracy Beaulieu (26:47):

Right now, I believe the biggest commonality that comes from schools is the kind of challenges that kids are experiencing right now with regulating their emotions, <affirmative>, and also some of them just not having the skills that they may have had in the past coming into school. So we’re already starting behind that benchmark and trying to meet their needs. One of the things, and the other layer is those high conflict personalities of people calling and trying to figure out how do we navigate through this kind of tumultuous time where people are wanting things and they’re wanting it now and they don’t see the challenges beyond their own challenges and it is their story and that’s all they know. So you don’t expect them to always understand that there’s a whole lot of other things that are limiting. I think that’s the biggest challenge and the biggest underlying common theme that is coming with all of the phone calls is how can I help this student? My teachers are burning out because of the needs and this parent is upset and I don’t know how to calm them and help them understand. And yeah, those would be the two main things. Right now

Tracy Beaulieu (28:28):

It sounds like the students are at the forefront of some of the best things that happen in the school and then some of the learning moments. <laugh>. Yes. So true. The center of education. And what do you think for those educators that are burning out, because I think it’s a common theme, especially before the pandemic, it was starting a little bit and then the pandemic just exasperated it and it became a real big challenge. What do you think the teachers who are a little bit burnt out need to hear right now? If you could say something out of your window and it would just reach the ear of every educator across pei, what would you tell <laugh>

Tracy Beaulieu (29:11):

That they are making a difference <affirmative>. And they may not always feel it. They see sometimes the challenges that they’re ahead of them and they feel like they’re not meeting the needs of the kids, but they absolutely are. And really trying to help them understand that it may be five to 10% of your class or of the school community that are struggling and don’t lose sight of the 90 to 95% of the amazing things that are done all the time. And it’s really, again, trying to shift our mindset to acknowledging the positives. If we only talk about the challenges and if we only look at the challenges, that’s all we are going to see. And that begins to shape what we believe the reality is in our building where when I get to go to schools, I get to see all of the amazing things that are happening. So it’s to try to always take time to focus on what went well, what is going well, what are the successes and what are we accomplishing to make these kids be the best that they can be and not only talk about what I can’t do and what I can’t get at. So I think that would be my biggest message. You’re doing a great job. Just try to remember to think of the positives.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:47):

We gotta empty our backpacks of those negative beliefs.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:50):

<laugh>. Yes. Yes. They’re there. If you wanna look for them, they’re there, but so are the positives, so

Tracy Beaulieu (30:56):

That’s awesome. Tracy, if someone wants to have a conversation with you or reach out, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch with you?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:06):

Probably email would be the easiest way for them to connect with me and you have my email address. Do you want me to say it?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:18):

Yeah, you can say it out loud right now and I’ll also put it in the show notes of the episode so people can find it.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:23):

Okay. So it’s txbeaulieu@edu.pe.ca.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:33):

Awesome. Tracy, this has been such an insightful conversation. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your morning to come on the podcast and share some of your insights and experiences in education. I really appreciate your efforts and if anyone hasn’t told you recently, just know that you’re making a massive difference as well in so many educators lives and which are ultimately affecting the lives of so many families and students. So keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:02):

Thank you so much Sam for having me, and thank you for all you’re doing as well. That’s pretty remarkable what you’re taking on and it’s very appreciated. So thank you.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:11):

You’re welcome.

Sam Demma (32:13):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tracy Beaulieu

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

Chris Andrew – Teacher, Administrator and Coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for Over 30 years

Chris Andrew - Teacher, Administrator and Coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for Over 30 years
About Chris Andrew

Chris has been a teacher/administrator/coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for over 30 years. He began his career as an High School English teacher in 1988. Since then, he went on to teach at middle school and elementary. In his teaching career he has taught every grade from Pre-KIndergarten to Grade 12. He began his administrative career as a Curriculum Coordinator in the areas of Language Arts, Social Studies, and Early Education. He has been Vice Principal at the Middle and High School level and a Principal at the Elementary, Middle and High School levels.

Chris obtained his Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Saskatchewan majoring in HIstory and English and received a Master of Arts Degree Majoring in Special Education from San Diego State University. He is a proud parent of three children Jack (15), Geordan (24), and Amy (27) and is happily married to his wife, Charlene for over 30 years.

Connect with Chris: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division

Bachelor of Education – University of Saskatchewan

Master of Arts Degree Majoring in Special Education – San Diego State University

Understanding Response to Intervention

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 (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Chris Andrew. Chris has been a teacher, administrator, and coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for over 30 years. He began his career as a high school English teacher in 1988. Since then, he went on to teach at middle school and elementary. In his teaching career, he has taught every grade from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. He began his administrative career as a curriculum coordinator in the areas of language arts, social studies, and early education. He has been vice principal at the middle and high school level, and a principal at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Chris obtained his Bachelor of education degree from the University of Saskatchewan, majoring in history and English, and received a masters of Arts degree majoring in special education from San Diego State University. He is a proud parent of three children, Jack 15, Jordan 34, and Amy 27, and is happily married to his wife, Charlene for over 30 years. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. Today we have a very special guest. His name is Chris Andrew. Chris, please start by introducing yourself.

Chris Andrew (02:20):

Well, hi Sam. Thanks very much for having me on the show. I am a administrator in the Red Year Catholic School Division. I’ve been teaching and administration for 34 years. This is my 35th year, and I’ve been in every level of school from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. So both as an administrator, and as a teacher.

Sam Demma (02:45):

Did as a student growing up that you wanted to work in education, did anyone in your family work in education? What directed you down this path?

Chris Andrew (02:54):

No, no one worked in education. My family, I grew up on a small family farm but I had a pretty great educational experience In grade 10, I left home to attend a boarding school and met some incredible teachers there that were big influences in my life. They had fun every day. They joked around and had fun every day and they made the learning fun for us. And so we’d come to tests and I’m having a test on what and all the information there and just going like, Man, I know all this stuff. And it was hard to like we were learning. So a lot of great mentors at that school.

Sam Demma (03:36):

You mentioned you had a lot of great teachers. What is it, I guess having fun was one aspect of it, but what is it that they did in your life as a teacher and you being a student that really inspired you and uplifted you?

Chris Andrew (03:52):

The relationship that they had with the students, they knew us well actually one of the tricks that they used or that they did to learn about us, I used in my classes, and that was because I became a high school English teacher to start with. One of my favorite teachers was a as English teacher, and they gave us these autobiographies to write every year. Well, because kids at a boarding school come from a lot of different communities, a lot of different places. In order to connect your lessons to them, they had to find out where people were from. And I took that lesson from them so that I knew what my students were about. And when they taught their lessons, just like I taught mine, it was all about relationships. Who had pats? What was their biggest life experience so far? What kinds of things did they enjoy? And so when they thought about structuring the lessons that they had, they keyed in on the things that would make people excuse the

Chris Andrew (04:56):

Interruption.

Sam Demma (04:59):

It’s part of the everyday life of an educator. It makes it more real <laugh>.

Chris Andrew (05:05):

They connected things in their lessons to the things that were important to the people in their class. And I did exactly the same thing in mind.

Sam Demma (05:15):

Would you finish the day of school, go home and work on the farm?

Chris Andrew (05:20):

If you can come to you said to

Chris Andrew (05:23):

The office When I was living at home, for sure. Yeah, we had chores every night. The boarding school that I went to though I actually stayed over. We went on that Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, so we became super independent and then also to our teachers were our dorm teachers, so they would actually supervise us at night too. So we got to see all sides of them. We got to see them in their classroom and we got to see them personally as well.

Sam Demma (05:52):

Oh, that’s amazing. Did you finish your high school experience in the boarding school or was it just for one or two years?

Chris Andrew (06:00):

No, I went from grade 10 to grade 12, so I had all kinds of rules. I was a senior student my second year, meaning that I had new students to the school, kind of guiding them through the different things of would happen, answering questions as roommates. And then in my senior year, I was a house leader, so I was in charge of an entire floor with another teacher, which meant we made schedules for jobs and supervised, making sure that everybody was in bed at night and those kinds of things, making sure that students were in bed and lights out at a certain time. So it was kind of a military style school at night, so it was kind of fun.

Sam Demma (06:42):

When you finished high school what did the rest of your journey look like and was there a defining moment as a high school student where you decided, Wow, this teacher had such an impact on me, I want to do this when I grow up, or did you still go to university or college and we’re still exploring your options at that point?

Chris Andrew (07:00):

Yeah, yeah, for sure. My high school teachers that I was speaking about earlier really set a great example for me. I came from a small community school. Teachers changed every year, so bar as far as teachers and their experience was pretty low before I went to this school. Then I saw these outstanding high connection teachers and I said, Man, that’s what I want to be. And so when I went to university, I went to the University of Saskatchewan and combined my education degree with three years of cis or university level football at the same time. So they were all super athletic. It was an athletic school that I went to. So it was a natural transition both to go into education and also to continue as a student athlete at university.

Sam Demma (07:56):

Do you think you pulled any principles from athletics or just disciplines from sport that have really helped you as a teacher and generally in life?

Chris Andrew (08:08):

Yeah, for sure. Always taking a look at your class as your team. These are the people on my team and looking at their skills. I taught with another teacher by the name of Lee Kane when I was at school and we had a cooperative learning class and we would divide the students into groupings for a unit and we would divide them based on different skills that they had so that each person relied on the other for their skills, just kind of like a team. And then taking it into about year 2000 or so, I started to get into administration. I started looking at the teachers in my school as my team and then looking at their individual skills and how they could help one another grow it to be effective teachers in their classroom.

Sam Demma (08:59):

That’s awesome. I think sport teaches so much and especially when you have a coach that unifies the team, aka a really great teacher in a classroom, <laugh> some of my coaches had really big impacts on my development as a young person and taught me principals as well. That stuck with me for a long time. So you finish high school. Tell me about the next steps in your journey that brought you to your first role in education. As I think you said, an English teacher.

Chris Andrew (09:27):

That’s right. If I first job interview with Red Deer Catholic they were actually looking for a high school football coach. Oh wow. They could teach. So I remember sitting in the interview room beforehand and the guy before me or a guy after me was an offensive lineman. I could tell for sure <laugh> and the guy coming out he definitely was something to do with defense cause guy too. And I went in, I remembered that the interview they asked me to, What was wrong with this sentence and a tragedy is when the character falls down. And I said, Well, there’s two things wrong with that sentence. First of all, that’s not the definition of a tragedy. And the one guy set up really quickly and he’s said, Okay, well is there anything else Ronen? I said, That’s not proper English. Should never have his. And when in a sentence together, <laugh> said, ok, we’re gonna go on question number two now. And they started looking at other characteristics, more traditional interview, but it was pretty fun to send in that interview and go, Oh my gosh, I definitely, they’re looking for an offense line coach. I’m definitely out.

Sam Demma (10:38):

That’s awesome. <laugh>. So you became an English teacher. How many years did you stay in that role and what were the different roles in education you worked until you moved into administration and even into the role you’re in today?

Chris Andrew (10:54):

For sure. It was probably about my first five years I was in that role. I went from a high school English teacher to an elementary generalist for a year. And it was at that time I said, Wow, you know what? I can see the impact I have in a class. If I could possibly get into administration or somebody felt I had the skills to be a decent administrator, I wonder what kind of impact I could have on a school community. So at that point I kind of started to look at different opportunities that would help me grow my experience. So I spent a year in elementary as an elementary general teacher at grade five level then transferred back to high school. I spent two years as a special education teacher in a program called Integration Occupation program for students that weren’t able to get a high school diploma through kind of traditional routes but needed some academic support and as well as some job experience.

Chris Andrew (11:56):

And that’s how they got their certificate of completion. From there, I went to a junior high At the time, we now have middle schools, but it was a junior high to try all those things out. And it was at that point I started to go into my master’s work. So I studied at San Diego State University, a cohort that was centered out of Central Alberta, and we did summer classes in different places. One summer it was in ASFA with a whole group from across the province. Our second year was actually down at San Diego State where we spent a month with classes down there and we graduated in 2001 with my master’s from San Diego State University.

Sam Demma (12:38):

I’m sure you didn’t mind the warm weather down there, did you? <laugh>

Chris Andrew (12:41):

Beautiful weather, same weather every day. Crazy how great it is there.

Sam Demma (12:46):

That’s awesome. Well, did you have some mentors or administrators in your life to tap you on the shoulder and said, Hey Chris, you should consider administration or what did your journey into administration look like?

Chris Andrew (12:58):

Yeah, yeah, for sure. There were some key people. My first principal was really a very organized guy and I learned a lot about organization from that particular person. Our superintendent at the time I made that transition from high school to junior high was a guy by the name of Don Dolan and he was super influential in saying what, you’ve got a lot of different experience, you’ve got lots to offer our school division, we like how you are so student centered in your classes and if you could convert that into being teacher centered as administrator we would really like to see you grow in that direction. So those were two big influences for

Sam Demma (13:53):

At what point in your educational career did you start getting involved in helping out with extracurricular activities?

Chris Andrew (14:02):

From the very beginning, Sam I remember in my first year of teaching, I was as a first year teacher, head coach of a football team. And my roommate at the time became the head coach of the senior basketball team. So I went from being really involved in the football program to going to every basketball game. And then in the spring one of the teachers at the school convinced me to be his assistant rugby coach. So I enjoyed it so much that watching basketball and I had some back background in basketball the next year I coached football in the fall and then as soon as that was over, he had about two weeks off and then the basketball program started and then about three weeks off and then it was right into rugby. So the relationships we formed with kids in the classroom were great but the ones we formed with them after school as school, at school coaches, and in school sports really carried us. I think that young teacher, when we started out, it really carried us in the classroom because kids just had us so much respect for us and they also were so gracious to us when we made mistakes too. They just said, It’s okay, just like we did in practice, they just do better tomorrow Mr. Andrew. It’s okay.

Chris Andrew (15:32):

It was fantastic. Sports are a big part of our teaching.

Sam Demma (15:38):

How do you think it allows you to build such a deep relationship? Is it the extended amount of time spent with the young person or what do you think about sports and those extra cookers? What is it about them that allows you to build these super deep relationships with the students?

Chris Andrew (15:56):

They get a chance to see a different side of you. You’re spend that extra time with them. It gives them that opportunity to ask you those one-on-one questions, whether they be school related or not school related. If they guide and make sure that they go in the right direction, that they’re not going too far into your personal life <laugh>. But also too, if you just take that opportunity to listen to what’s going on in their lives and ask them questions back. Or even better yet when you’re driving home from a late night game, just listen to the conversations. You really get an idea what’s topical with the kids and what’s important in their life. And I love the relationships that I made with all my students in the class. Any of the conversations that you had but you just got on such a deeper level with the kids that you worked with from four o’clock to six o’clock or four o’clock to 11 o’clock when you’re on a road trip with them or on a weekend with them. It’s a special relationship you have as a coach and it’s truly one of the benefits of being a teacher.

Sam Demma (17:10):

You also volunteer and help out with the Middle Years Council conference. Was that an event that you also began attending almost the moment you started teaching or when did you start attending conferences for your own professional development and relationship building amongst other colleagues?

Chris Andrew (17:27):

Yeah, that that’s been all along. That’s attending conferences. It’s really a matter of good, better, best, never let it rest until your good becomes better and your better becomes best. And conferences, those sessions are great and you get some great ideas and definitely help you grow. But even more so after the session or the person that you’re sitting beside at the session saying, How do you do this? And what are some great ideas that you have? I’ve learned a ton from conferences and other professionals. The milli years conference that you’re talking about, that’s an interesting one. <laugh> I was actually, a couple of my friends are high up in the leadership of that and convinced me to join it. And really we organize a great conference, but it’s a great group of people to organize a conference with. So we have a lot of fun doing it. And as a result, the conference is a lot of fun and we advanced the education of the middle years teachers in the prophets of Alberta through the Middle Years conference.

Sam Demma (18:34):

Word on the street is that you had a different name at that conference. Is that true?

Chris Andrew (18:39):

There is a rumor going around that I might have a name when I go in I I’m thinking of we get special clothing each year with our names on the back that signify that we’re helpers at the conference and if you have any questions. So they always put our names on the back so people can feel like they can connect with us. And my name will be Jamar next year. We’ll see how that goes.

Sam Demma (19:05):

That’s awesome, man. What resources, if any, in specific or particular have you found really helpful in developing your mindset around education and the importance of relationships? It could be specific individuals, it could be books, courses you mentioned a conference already, but maybe there’s some other ones that you’ve attended that you found really helpful. It could be certain people you follow. Yeah. Is there anything in specific that has been foundational in your creation around your educational beliefs?

Chris Andrew (19:38):

Yeah, probably one of the most fundamental experiences I had as a leader in a school was to take a group of teachers to a solution tree conference around response to intervention and just the Cole’s notes on response to intervention it. It’s the ability to have either a group of teachers through several grades concentrating on the same outcomes so that students are, if we concentrate on all the outcomes in our curriculum with the same amount, everything if everything gets the same amount of emphasis, nothing’s important. So I took this group of teachers to this conference. They weren’t very sure about what their goal or their role was but when we listened to it, it made so much sense to where our school was at. It was about teaching a small number of outcomes so that every kid could do the most important outcomes. Teachers were still responsible for the entire curriculum, but emphasizing that the same time.

Chris Andrew (20:50):

And when students didn’t get the material, that opportunity for a individual teacher to go back and reteach it to a group of students that didn’t get that content because this is fundamental for a student to be successful in high school and beyond. So we were super successful. I took this group and they weren’t sure and by the end of the first morning they were saying, How do we do this in our school? And I said, Chris, you have to bring this back and you have to do this in our school. And I said it, it’s not the power of me, it’s the power of, I said, I can’t introduce this as a school leader. You’re the authentic people. And they brought it back and did all the in servicing at teachers and sold the teachers on our staff. And I said, The only thing I wanna do is I want to be able to, they just do the question session at the end.

Chris Andrew (21:47):

And they did such a great job of selling it and I rolling it out so teachers could understand it and believe it and our school went to it. But we got to the question session and one teacher asked, they said, Yeah, that’s great. This is your new idea. You’re gonna break it to school. What’s gonna say as soon as you leave, this doesn’t die. And I said to them, I just said like, You know what you guys, I’ll tell you from my aspect as a leader, if I came to a school and I saw something that’s as good as what this could be and how passionate you guys are about it my job as a leader is to be able to fuel that fire in the people that are running it. It’s not the power of me, it’s the power of we will do a great job on this.

Chris Andrew (22:37):

And if I came in and you guys were doing a great job on something, all I tried to do is just get outta your way so you could do a great job and learn as much as I could so that I could help support you with whatever challenges came in year two, year three, year four, whatever year you are in with this. So if I’m thinking of one conference that changed my career, it would absolutely be that. It would because I learned a lot about teaching and instruction. Nice. But I learned an awful lot about leadership and it’s about what make it the teacher’s decision to do something, point them in the right direction, make it their decision, help them support them, and you have a much stronger product when you’re done and when people believe in it it will happen.

Sam Demma (23:22):

What was the resulting impact on the school community? It sounds like the teachers really bought into this, which probably had a big impact on all the classrooms and the students, but what did you see going on in the school?

Chris Andrew (23:35):

We created this program, it was called deal. It was called Drop Everything and Learn. And two time we changed our schedules on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that we had a 25 minute block of time where students could be assigned to a reteach, which would be, here’s a concept that we’re not sure you’ve got, but it’s an opportunity for you to go to. Again, they could either be assigned to it or students could sign them up themselves up for it. I’d just some more practice at it. They could go to an enrichment session, which would be taking that concept a little higher. And we would challenge students to be involved in that. If they got that information, they could sign up for a homework working session. So basically it would just be an opportunity where they could do homework. We created a lunchroom will hour. It was something that I ran and basically it was a homework room where kids could come and do homework.

Chris Andrew (24:30):

They had a practice, they had a game they wouldn’t have time to do their homework at night. They could get their morning homework done or we said, We gave you time to do it in class. You chose to do it at home so you didn’t get it done at home. You will get it done and you’ll get it done with Mr. Andrew at will hour. So we’d give ’em time to eat and then they would have time so they could get assignments done, change. It changed the mentality of the school kids at first thought it was punitive. Then kids were starting to go like, No, I need extra time to work on this. So I’m gonna go into Mr. Andrew’s Willow and do, I’d have 50 kids in a classroom working. I go, You guys, it’s gotta be quiet. If you’re working with a group, it’s gotta be quiet.

Chris Andrew (25:12):

If it’s not what we’ll find a spot for you outside to work. And assignments were coming in, teachers were like, they were getting to teach the stuff they had to teach or was most important. They recognized the next year that the skills that the students brought forward to the next class, they were so much better prepared for their next year of what they were supposed to learn. Teachers were on board teaching the same thing at the same time. So if we go back to that conference conversation we had, they were talking about the same topics at the same time and they were using the energy of the ideas that we’re getting to really build great and engaging lessons. Kids were comfortable going to other teachers and saying, You know what? I like the way you taught this. Could you please reteach it to me? Because I heard from my friend who’s learning at the same time as me that you did a really great job.

Chris Andrew (26:09):

I’d like to hear how it was everybody learning together and moving together. And teachers went. They couldn’t believe the difference. Not only in the student’s attitude towards learning, but also towards their knowledge that they brought forward the hooks that they could, if they said certain words, kids would go, I remember this from last year. And they were ready to learn. And other students would say, Remember when we did this in Mr. So-and-so’s class? And then automatically everybody was ready to learn and then they could put that new information on top and we could struggle with it for a while. We could get some help with it. And then we moved on and it was truly amazing to watch teachers say, I can’t believe how good these students are at these particular skills. This is the best group of students I’ve ever had. And the best thing I could say as administrator was, this is now the worst group that you’re gonna have because the other group’s gonna have this for two years. This other group gonna have it for three years. And it was unbelievable. I mean it’s one tool for measuring it but our provincial achievement test scores went crazy. They were the best they ever were under this. That was the third reason for doing it. <affirmative>, the first reason for doing it was kids were so much more confident. And the second reason was teachers were just so much more enthusiastic about the topics they were teaching because the students were so much ready, more ready and engaged to learn.

Sam Demma (27:41):

That sounds amazing. It sounds like it had a significant impact and the students and staff loved it. And it sounds like you were passionate about it. So the whole school sounds like metaphorically it was on fire, everyone wanted to be there, everyone is super excited. Can you think of a story maybe even during that time or any time throughout your educational journey where an individual student was really struggling and was supported by an adult and even just through education and had a serious transformation? And the reason I ask is because I think most adults and most people get into education because they wanna help and impact young minds and help change their lives or help them make better decisions. And sometimes when things get difficult, educators might forget their personal reason why they started or why they even got into education in the first place. And I think it’s stories of transformation and change in young people that remind them that the work they’re doing matters and is really important. So do you have any stories that come to mind of students who you’ve seen transform

Chris Andrew (28:52):

<laugh>? Yeah, yeah, for sure. I had this student, I learned a little bit more about his story by being his coach. He came from a small northern community to move to Red Deer, which is a little bit larger community. It was a big change for him. He moved from a farm into the city and he had, basketball was his big hook and he made a lot of friends through basketball and that certainly helped in his transition. It was pretty difficult though because one of his parents that was a teacher in our school division and really had high expectations. So he was trying his hardest and doing his best and he was one of my basketball players and he was gaining in confidence and his mom came in for parent-teacher interviews and I just finished marking one of his assignments and I brought it out and I showed it to to her and I just said, You gotta know that he is really working hard and he’s had all this growth.

Chris Andrew (29:55):

And it was a great interview. The mom was really super happy and I remember this student’s name, his name, staff staff He comes in the next day and he just gives me high five. He goes, You know what? Thank you Mr. Andrew. He goes, That helped a ton. My mom, mom’s been on my case and saying, Basketball’s taking too much of my time and thanks for acknowledging the hard work I did on this. And while what I’m totally your fan, whatever you ask, I’m gonna totally do. Steph went in to become a teacher. Steph taught in the same integrated occupation program that I had once taught in. So he really worked with some challenging learners. Went on to get his doctorate. He studied at Goza and finished his doctorate. And last year Steph got his first principalship.

Sam Demma (30:54):

Wow. A cool full, Are you still in touch with Steph?

Chris Andrew (30:59):

Steph? Yeah. Steph’s principal in my school division. So really, really excited. I sent him an email right away. I said, Welcome to a place at the table, brother. Great job, great journey. He’s in his home community now. It’s a smaller community outside of ours, but I just can’t wait to watch that school explode cuz it’s just gonna be an awesome experience having him as their school leader.

Sam Demma (31:21):

That’s an amazing story. What a cool full circle moment. If you could take your experiences in education, travel back in time to your first teaching role in that English class knowing what now, what advice would you have given your younger self or any other people who are just starting their first year as an educator?

Chris Andrew (31:45):

You know what I mean? I really think it’s important that you take that time regardless of what role you’re in, education to listen. You listen to what your, learn as much as you can about your students so that you can relate the content back to them in a form that means something to them. And I think that they really appreciate it. And I would go back and say, Just learn even more than you already are trying to learn about your kids because they are not only going to be the best way that you can teach them, but they will help you become the best teacher you can be.

Sam Demma (32:29):

That’s awesome. I love it. Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show, man. I really appreciate you and your insights and ideas. If an educator or anyone’s listening to this interview wants to reach out to you, ask a question, send you an email, what would be the most efficient way for them to reach out?

Chris Andrew (32:47):

What, if any educator has any in any way I could help ’em out, please don’t hesitate to send me an email. You can send it to my school email address. I check that one every day. It’s chris.andrew@rdcrs.ca.

Sam Demma (33:14):

Awesome. Chris, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Chris Andrew (33:19):

Same to you, Sam. Take care.

Sam Demma (33:21):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chris Andrew

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.

Empty Your Backpack (Spoken Word Poem)

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma - TEDxYouth@Toronto
About Empty Your Backpack

Here is the link to watch the animation on Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwlHs-Mkvnc

Empty Your Backpack is a spoken word poem created by Sam Demma that encourages you to realize that people’s words don’t define your self-worth. It is a video filled with emotion, hope and perseverance. It was directed and animated by Ben Clarkson, a Juno-nominated illustrator, artist and animator.

If you enjoyed this poem, you can check out the entire project, book and poem at www.emptyyourbackpack.ca

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empty Your Backpack Animation

Empty Your Backpack Project

The Story that Inspired the Project

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 a different type of podcast interview, one that will leave you feeling very emotional in a very hopeful and inspiring way. Over a year ago now, I hosted an Instagram live call with a student. If you don’t know what that means, think of a video call, but with a live audience with 50-100 students watching on Instagram who can comment live while you have a video call and bring individuals up on screen to have a conversation. A student joined who I had never spoken to before and after we started talking, he told me very quickly that his biggest goal in life was to be an actor, and his second goal was to have 50,000 followers on social media. Slightly confused, I challenged this young man who we’re gonna call Josh for the sake of today’s podcast, to explain to me what in his life would change if I snapped my fingers and instantly he had 50,000 followers.

Sam Demma (01:10):

What this young student said, I will never forget. “Sam, if I had 50,000 followers, kids at school would stop bullying me and calling me a loser. My life is filled with bullies. I hate myself. I hate going to school, and I’m turning off the camera on my phone because I’m ugly.” Josh remained silent for a few moments while every student watching started filling the chat box with the most positive stuff, the most amazing comments. We connected him with his guidance counselors to make sure he felt supported, sent him merch in the mail to make sure he felt like he was a part of a community. But after the call ended, I couldn’t get this question outta my mind. How is it that this young man who has such a bright future is allowing the words and opinions of a select few individuals who don’t even care about him to affect the way that he sees himself every single day and the choices he’s making?

Sam Demma (02:14):

You know when you have a conversation and five minutes after it ends, you remember what you were really trying to say? I was sitting in my basement at my office desk on my rolling chair. When the call ended, I got up. I started walking to the first floor of my house up the staircase, and as I got midway, halfway up the staircase, what I was really trying to say to this young man, Josh finally came to mind. What I wished I could have helped him realize live on that call is that people’s words don’t define your self worth, that you don’t have to carry around the thoughts, expectations, and opinions that other people or society, places on your shoulders. What I wished I could have helped Josh realize was that he had the possibility, the potential to empty his backpack. I believe every one of us, yourself included, carry a giant invisible backpack on your shoulders and in your backpack.

Sam Demma (03:18):

You have your own personal beliefs that you have built and picked up based on your unique life experiences. But as you went through life, you also started picking up the thoughts, expectations, and opinions that other people gave to you, whether you asked for them or not. Things like, you’re not good enough, you’re too fat. Who do you think you are? What makes you believe you’re credible for this? This is never gonna work. Any of these sound familiar? If you and I never take the time to empty our backpacks of these lies, these negative beliefs that other people have given to us, we end up starting to believe them and we tell ourselves these lies, which become our internal dialogue and stories and ends up holding us back.

Sam Demma (04:12):

Imagine that the one thing holding you back is a belief that was never even yours to begin with. After the call with Josh, I started reflecting on my own experience, dealing with the words and opinions that other people placed on me. Growing up, I got extremely emotional and I started working on something minutes after that call that has finally come to life and I am so excited to share it with you right now on this podcast. It’s something I have quietly worked with Ben Clarkson, a Juno nominated illustrator, artist and designer. He took a spoken word poem that I put together titled Empty Your Backpack and turned it into a beautiful animated video. Here on the podcast, I’m going to play the audio portion of that three minute spoken word poem, and if you enjoy it, there’s going to be a link to the YouTube video where you can watch the animation and hopefully share it with the young people in your life who might benefit from hearing a message just like this one. Okay, here it is. Grab some popcorn and enjoy.

Sam Demma (05:31):

Yo, you gotta stop carrying around the thoughts and opinions of everyone else. You gotta stop. They put the world on my shoulders. I couldn’t carry it. With each appointment, doctors words getting scarier, those walls became my second home. I mean a barrier that put my heart in my hands where they were tearing it. They say, you gotta love the game. That’s why I married it. But by 17 divorced a dream and buried it six feet underneath my skin. I was embarrassed that life was black and white when I didn’t wear my jersey. Words cut like knives when they’re aimed at insecurities. Yeah, thank you, coach. I’ll never forget what you said. Your words still went through my mind while I try to make amend, I wish someone would’ve told me that my words define my journey, not the name on my back or the number on my jersey. So hear me out people’s words. Don’t define your route. You bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your backpack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your backpack and let it all out. This is your life. Ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (06:41):

It’s been five years since I stopped playing, but someone grabbed the piper cuz I’m still paying. I passed gold 22 times that I was collecting, but my boardwalk is not what you’re expecting. You see my mind is like a broken record. It keeps repeating. I mean, why do I still dream about when he was speaking? I feel five years of new journals. I feel five years with new hurdles, but this one I can’t seem to jump. Call me Jeffrey Drum swear you could search it up. This is nonfiction and whoever said words will never hurt me must have been burdened by insecurity. Cuz I can tell you firsthand that sometimes people’s words can feel like quick sand that gets you stuck. So when you find yourself sink, and let me lift you up cause people’s words don’t define your route, you bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your backpack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your backpack and let it all out. This is your life. Ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (07:43):

It’s time someone gave you your permission to forget what they said and focus on your vision. You only got one life to make it happen. So quit carrying the comments and all their reactions. You see, people are gonna say what they say, but unlike Nintendo life is a game that you can’t replace. So stop searching for the button, and I know it’s hard when their words put you outside and people these days seem to speak more boldy when they’re on line. That’s why I’m taking this moment to rewind and remind you that what matters most is how you see yourself in your mind. You see people’s words. Were never define your route. You bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your back pack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your back pack and let it all out. This is your life, ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (08:42):

If you enjoyed the poem, it would mean the world to me if you sent me a message at sam@samdemma.com via email, I would love to hear from you. There is also a book titled Empty or or Backpack that goes along with this project. And April 3rd, we will be traveling across Canada with the giant four foot backpack of beliefs bringing these messages into schools in front of students all around the country. If any of this sounds interesting, send me an email or check out the official tour website that includes the book, the Backpack, and all the information. emptyyourbackpack.ca. Again, that’s emptyyourbackpack.ca. I will see you very soon for the next episode and I hope you have a fantastic week ahead.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma – Program Leader at the Halton District School Board & Practicum Advisor at Brock University

Dr. Sunaina Sharma - Program Leader at the Halton District School Board and Practicum Advisor at Brock University
About Dr. Sunaina Sharma

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (@DrSunainaSharma) is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over twenty years of experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, ON. She strives to put the learner’s needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning so that students participate in authentic and relevant knowledge construction.

Her doctoral research centred on understanding how to leverage digital technology in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at a Bachelor of Education program, she uses her knowledge, skills and experience to guide future educators.

Connect with Sunaina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board – HDSB

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Dr. Susaina Sharma’s Personal Website

Google Workplace

Ted.com

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. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over 20 years experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, Ontario. She strives to put the learners needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning, so that students are participating in authentic and relevant knowledge construction. Her doctoral research is centered on understanding how to leverage digital technologies in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at Brock University at a Bachelor of Education program, she is using her knowledge, skills, and experience to guide future educators. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Sunania Sharma and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. And today we are joined with a very special guest, Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma actually uses one of my TED talks in her classroom, <laugh> which prompted her to reach out, and I’m so excited to have her on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:18):

Hi, I’m Sunaina Sharma and I have been an educator for over 20 years, and despite all the challenges, it is still my passion.

Sam Demma (02:30):

What made it your passion over, or I guess 20 years ago, what started this journey for you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:36):

It’s an interesting story because I never intended to become a teacher. My path was set. I was going to go to law school and I was going to be a family lawyer. upon graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree, I walked down the street from where I lived to the local high school and asked if anyone needed a volunteer because I graduated and I wanted to have more experience working with youth. And an English teacher at that school, Mo leaking, said, Oh, I’d love to have you join my class. My grade elevens are writing essays and they could use some help. So I started by going in twice a week. And what Mr. Leaking did with his students in that classroom was magic. His students were excitedly engaged and I wanted to be a magician like him. So I actually rescinded my acceptance to law school and set up on the path to attain my Bachelor of education.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned Mr. Leaking was a magician of sorts. What exactly did you witness in his class that got you so excited about doing something similar with your own group of students?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (03:47):

So what he was doing with his students in his classroom was completely different from what I experienced in high school. My high school experience wasn’t very positive and I just remember copying notes and wrote memorization and weekly quizzes and monthly tests. And what he was doing was there was such an energy and excitement in the classroom. There was so much noise and movement, but it was all very planned and calculated. So if you looked through the window of his classroom, it looked chaotic, but it was all like organized chaos. It was so much fun to be in that room. I went from volunteering twice a week to four or five times a week. I just wanted to be in that room.

Sam Demma (04:31):

Oh, that’s so awesome. And what took you from that room to where you are today? Tell me a little bit about your journey through education.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (04:39):

Okay. So I completed my Bachelor of Education in 2001 and immediately got hired by the Halton District School Board at the school that I volunteered at No Way <laugh>. So that, that opportunity allowed me to build connections, real connections with students, but also other educators in the building. So I ended up working for that school until it closed in 2018. And that school was amalgamated into the school that I am currently at, which is mm, Robinson in Burlington. Nice. And I’ve been at that, I’ve been at that school for four years along the way. I do love learning and figuring out how to be a better teacher. That’s always at the root of all of my learning and experiences that I seek out. So along the way, I ended up attaining my master’s degree, my master’s of education, and then I thought I was done, but then I wasn’t and ended up completing my PhD in 2018. So I have my PhD in education. Nice. So with that opportunity, it’s allowed me, I am a department head or program leader in my school. It’s allowed me to not only inspire and engage the people I work with, but it’s also allowed me to work in a Bachelor of education program in mentoring and guiding our future teachers,

Sam Demma (06:03):

Which is such an important role. I think teachers when performing very well and making genuine connections with their classrooms have a very big impact on the future being the kids that are gonna be running the future and being a part of it. I think back to an educator I had in my life who, like Mr. Leaking for you created an environment that all the students in his class wanted to be in. you know, over the past couple of years things have been quite different and a little bit challenging. I’m curious in your roles, what are some of the challenges you’re faced with right now and, and kind of how are you coming, coming, getting out of or getting over some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (06:43):

Yeah, definitely the current challenges that students are struggling in the classroom after two years of disruptive learning, they do have gaps. And as such, when they encounter difficulty, they get frustrated and the outcome is they’re giving up, they’re struggling to persevere, to overcome the challenges and the obstacles.

Sam Demma (07:03):

Gotcha. H how as as an educator do you kind of support or help a student get over that or get through it? <laugh>

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (07:12):

It’s, it’s offering care and support. We always have to remember that our students are children. Mm. Although they like to present themselves as adults, they are children and we as educators are in a position to teach them we need to reestablish or reteach them. That learning involves failing. Mm. Somehow they’ve learned along the way that failing is bad or wrong and that’s where the unlearning needs to come. And we really need to reinforce that failing is part of learning and they have to fail forward.

Sam Demma (07:46):

I love that. I think back to soccer, growing up as an athlete, our coach would always sit us down after a terrible performance and instead of scolding us, would provide us with the opportunity to chat about it with all of our teammates to try and identify what went wrong and what we could learn from so that, you know, in the future, similar situations wouldn’t unfold again. And it felt like he helped us look at failure as a stepping stone rather than a, you know, an a dead end. So I think that’s a really important lesson to share with young people. what gives you hope? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up to work every single day and put your best foot forward?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (08:25):

Students and my colleagues give me hope. Students since 2020 actually have gone through four different modes of learning and they continue to still come to school every day and try their best and engage My colleagues give me hope because they’re always reflecting and learning. My department does not have the course binder that we keep reusing every semester or every year. We’re constantly revisiting our courses to make them better. Our courses never remain static. And the fact that my colleagues are willing to put in the work every summer to make the courses better for the upcoming year is inspiring.

Sam Demma (09:06):

I love that. you mentioned thinking about failure not as a challenge, but it’s something to learn from. I’m curious, among your own journey, if there are certain mistakes you’ve made or certain situations that have happened in your career that you’ve learned from that you think are worth sharing with other educators who might be listening?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (09:25):

Yeah, that’s a great question cuz it actually is gonna allow me to talk about my PhD research. I used to think technology engages students and over the years I would encounter various professional development opportunities that introduced me to new technology and that would peak my interest. And I would go home and spend the whole evening planning this amazing lesson for the next day. And the next day as the students would walk into class, I would be excited because I thought I had this amazing lesson planned. And on a number of occasions there was detachment, disinterest, and complete disengagement. The students were not compelled with this lesson that I spent hours the night before planning. So that would have to result in me going to my teacher’s toolbox to just come up with something different for the day. But this happened a number of times and it led me to want to explore the relationship between digital technology and student engagement.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (10:28):

I have seen the power of technology to engage students who have previously been disengaged, but I’ve also seen that sometimes they, the technology itself is what causes them to disconnect. So that actually is what inspired my PhD research because I couldn’t figure out why does technology work sometimes and why doesn’t it work other times? And I learned it’s not the technology that actually engages them, it’s what the technology allows them to do. It’s the outcome. Mm. So if the technology allows students to collaborate, connect, and construct their own knowledge, then it will engage them. So if you’re using technology in a different way than you should dump the use of the technology.

Sam Demma (11:16):

Tell me more about some of the tech tools that you have come across in your journey that you often go back to and consistently use because you think they allow students and teachers to have those three types of interactions.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (11:32):

It’s nothing new. Often I think as teachers we’re looking for the new thing, but it’s often going back to the tools that we have and using them in a different way. Hmm. So for example if you attempt to have a class discussion, you’re always gonna have these few students that are participating in the class discussion. Often all your other students in the classroom have a lot to say, but for whatever reason they’re not raising their hands. Sometimes they just need more time to process to articulate their ideas or they feel like they’re being dominated by this other strong voices in the classroom. So one thing that I do is I’ll have a class discussion on a Google doc. We all use Google Docs, but to suddenly use a Google Doc for a class discussion allows students to carefully read each other’s thoughts process and then thoughtfully share their ideas. When I post a Google Doc as a class discussion, I will typically get 100% participation on that Google Doc. So again, it’s not a brand new tech tool, it’s using the tools that we already have at our fingertips in a different way so that students are able to collaborate and connect and construct their own knowledge.

Sam Demma (12:47):

And if working in groups, each of the groups could have a different color font selected so you could very quickly and live see the edits happening on the document, which is really, really awesome. I think that’s a, that’s so cool that you use Google Docs. I had never have used in a classroom Google Docs live with my classmates and my teacher. I think that’s a really cool idea. So thanks for sharing. you know, we talked a little bit about the learning around technology. what are some things that keep you motivated personally outside of technology? Cuz it seems like it’s a big part of your career. <laugh>,

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (13:29):

The people who I surround myself with are always the ones that are motivating me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we all have our days where it’s just, it’s not a good day, but suddenly you’ll enter a building and the people around you inspire you. I think educators are incredible people and we are resilient and never give up and that’s what we want to inspire in our students. I’m always working to try and build that self-efficacy and capacity in other educators around me. And this year I’ve actually received a great opportunity. I’m actually on a leave from my teaching position for one year. So I can take on this opportunity as a instructor and practicum advisor in a Bachelor of education program. That way I’m working with our future educators to motivate and inspire them. And it’s really interesting. I entered the program to motivate and inspire them and it has been so motivating for me to see our future educators. They are lifelong learners, they are dedicated to making school positive and they’re dedicated to making positive change in the schools.

Sam Demma (14:43):

Hmm. That must be a pretty cool experience working with the future educators of tomorrow. Right now. I’m curious maybe this, you’ve been in that role for a short period of time so it won’t be as applicable, but tell me about a story or a situation where a program that you ran or maybe you in a program you were a part of had a big impact on a student, whether that’s an educator as a student or an actual student in a high school or middle school.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (15:11):

Yeah. I’ll tell you about our English program at our high school and then I can kind of share a little nugget of information on how that impacted my Bachelor of education program. Sure. But I don’t have a single story cuz how do you capture an amazing program? In, in one story, while I’ll give you a little snapshot, our entire English program focuses on the overarching umbrella of equity. So in our Grade 10 program, our students choose a graphic novel from a selection of nine. And one of the students chose to read a graphic novel and she said, I’ve never read a book for school that had a Muslim character. She’s wearing a hijab. And for me that was impactful because she saw herself in something that she was reading for school. our English program in grade 11 has students identifying what they see as a problem that is impacting equity or is creating an equity.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:12):

And they work to identify a solution and try to inspire a larger audience through media to tackle that problem. And that allowed, so one of the grade 11 students actually took on a project to advocate for change. It took her to our school principal, it took her to the parent council, it took her, took her to our school board, and the result was change. she advocated for menstrual products in all hdsp bathrooms regardless of the fact that they were male bathrooms or female bathrooms. And now Htsp has implemented that across the board and that came from a grade 11 students English project.

Sam Demma (16:53):

Wow. So

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:55):

The impact of our program is that students are seeing themselves, seeing our community, seeing their global world, and they’re inspired to use their voice for positive change. So I was sharing a little bit of our program with my Bachelor of Education program students and one of my students started to get emotional. So I, I went over and said, Is everything okay? Cuz regardless of the fact that they’re adults, they’re still my students. Yeah. And they’re all humans. And she said, and she began to share a hurtful comment that a teacher had made about her eyes because she’s of Asian descent. And she said, What you are doing in your school with your English program is what I want to do, and now I realize it can be done. Mm. So I think the, when students see themselves in the curriculum, it is so powerful not only for those students, but for us as educators to see that positive impact.

Sam Demma (17:58):

Those nine books, it sounds like, you know, those resources had a big impact on that one student who saw herself in the material shared. I’m wondering for your own personal and professional development, if you have come across any resources throughout your own learning journey that you found really helpful. And this could also be peers but if there’s any books or courses or videos or people you follow that you found helpful what are some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (18:30):

I don’t like to say this is the golden title. Yeah. This is the Golden Book. As I mentioned, we’re constantly changing our program. We’re on a four year cycle, so every four years we kind of revisit and say, Okay, is this outdated? Should we keep this or should we remove it? So I’m reluctant to name a title, but the news, we’re constantly using the news and having students look at the news. It’s so important. They’re aware of what’s happening in our world. We like to live in this little, I call it the Burlington bubble, but we need to be aware of what’s going on around us. The news is a great resource for me. Also, Ted, that’s how I stumbled across your TED Talk. We use your TED Talk. I think Ted Talk is the platform that we’re trying to create in our students. We want our students to know that their voice matters. Sometimes they say, Why does anyone wanna hear about this? And you go to TED Talk and you hear these amazing pitches or speeches or presentations on topics that you would think maybe wouldn’t have a large audience, but they do. So TED Talk and the news for me are great resources and tools, also documentaries. Hmm.

Sam Demma (19:49):

Awesome. I love that. I, I would love for you to send me <laugh> outside of this podcast, a list of awesome documentaries for my own pleasure watching <laugh>. So please do. is there anything that you would share or say to an educator right now who is feeling a little bit burnt out, a little uninspired and needing not a full pep talk, but maybe some words of advice? and if that person walked into your office at Brock and told you that, what would you kind of share with them?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (20:22):

I would tell them to just take a deep breath and you’re not the only one. Lots of fe people are feeling burnt out and tired. with the ch with the changes in our students and their own self-efficacy they are needing our care and support more so than before the pandemic. I would continue to affirm to them that they are amazing and they’re great. Keep doing your best. If you are doing your best, that’s what matters. And if you’re feeling like you need some support, you really need to count on the people around you. Everyone’s a team and we’re all working together. That’s the case in my department, in the school that I work at, but also in the Bachelor of Education program with the other instructors in the cohort. We’re always leaning on each other for care and support. So I would tell that burnt out teacher, you’re doing great. Take a deep breath. Is there anything that people around you can help support you through?

Sam Demma (21:28):

Mm. Love that. That’s awesome. Well keep up the amazing work that you’re doing with educators. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:44):

The best way to find me is on twitter. I think twitter is such a great way to connect with others from around the world to engage in professional dialogue.

Sam Demma (21:53):

Awesome. What would your Twitter handle be?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:56):

@drsunainasharma

Sam Demma (21:58):

Okay. Awesome. Sunaina thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast here today. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk to you soon.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (22:06):

Thank you so much Sam.

Sam Demma (22:08):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Sunaina Sharma

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.

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma – TEDxYouth@Toronto

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma - TEDxYouth@Toronto
About Sam Demma

Sam Demma (@Sam_Demma) is the youngest board director of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. A highly requested keynote speaker in the education space, Demma has delivered over three hundred presentations for clients who want to create a culture of hope, service, and self-belief. He is routinely invited for interviews on national media outlets and has been featured on the TEDx platform twice.

As a high school student, he co-founded PickWaste, a grassroots initiative that mobilized youth to pick up garbage in their communities. Within five years, the organization filled more than three thousand trash bags and provided students with six thousand meaningful volunteer hours. The initiative’s success confirmed for Demma how small, consistent actions could have a significant impact, and he lives that message in all he does.

Following his keynote presentations, students and educators often commit to performing more acts of kindness, taking small, consistent actions toward their personal goals, and proactively looking for ways to serve others. In his spare time, Demma dances the bachata, eats handfuls of tacos, and works to convince people that pineapples do not belong on pizza. For more information and booking inquiries, please visit www.samdemma.com.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers

TEDx

TEDx Talk, “Small, Consistent Actions”

PickWaste

Top 25 under 25 Environmentalists

www.samdemma.com

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 (00:13):

When I was in grade 12, my teacher told me three words that totally changed my life; small, consistent actions. It was April, 2017, and I was seated in his world issues class. Growing up, I have to admit, I wasn’t the brightest student and I didn’t like school all that much, but for some reason, every time I was in his class, I always felt engaged. And on this particular day, he was not talking about any ordinary topic. Instead, he was speaking about figures in history who have massively changed this world. People like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinham, Gandhi. The list went on and on, and he took these figures and he wrote their names on the board. This was the only teacher I ever had who still used the blackboard.

Sam Demma (01:21):

But then he began breaking down their lives, trying to figure out what common characteristics they all shared that enabled them to make a massive change in the world. We found they had many distinct traits that made them each different and unique. But there was this one thing, this one thing that was common among them all, they all took small, consistent actions that led to their global massive changes. You see, that day in class, my teacher proved to me and all of my classmates that if we wanted to make a massive change in the world, we could, and all we had to do was commit to a small, consistent action. I left class that day with a burning desire within my chest to try and make a change within my community. But like many of you, at the age of 17 years old, I had absolutely no idea how I was gonna do this. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even know where I wanted to go to university, let alone talk about something like changing the world, right? Well, like many students, every day after school, I would walk home and my walk was about 30 to 40 minutes. I would take my headphones out, pop in my ears, listen to some music and podcasts. But after that day in class, I decided to change my routine. I took my headphones out, I put them in my pockets, and I began asking myself the questions,

Sam Demma (03:03):

Sam, how are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? Now, before I continue with the rest of that story, I need you to understand where I was personally at that point in my life, or else the story won’t make that much sense. Because two years ago, if you told me that I would be standing on this stage here today talking about a lesson that changed my life, I would’ve told you that you’re insane. In fact, I probably would’ve told you that I will be in the United States on a full ride scholarship playing division one soccer. Like many of you, I had a dream for my life from a very young age, and my dream was to play professional soccer. At the age of 13, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and live by myself for six months and experienced the professional culture. And when I came back to Canada, I came back with a new passion for the sport. And throughout my four years of high school, I sacrificed everything to pursue my dream of playing professional soccer. But in grade 12, at the age of 17, everything changed. It was mid-November, maybe one week before the biggest opportunity in my soccer career, and I was playing in a friendly match with my team. It was just before half time, maybe five minutes before the whistle when I went shoulder to shoulder with this 250 pound beast.

Sam Demma (04:48):

And after our initial contact, I caught myself, but very quickly I realized that something felt a little funny in my left knee. And for the next five minutes, I ran around with some pain in my calf before deciding to put my ego aside and get off the field. And as I crossed the line, I immediately burst in the tears because deep down I knew that something was terribly wrong. And the worst part about it is that my parents weren’t even there, and I had to hit your ride home with my teammate. And for the whole 40 minute drive home, I pted in the backseat like a little child. Fast forward one month, I ended up getting the results from my mri, and it turned out I had torn the meniscus in my left knee. I felt absolutely defeated mentally and physically because I just missed the opportunity I had been training for so emphatically.

Sam Demma (05:50):

But you see, I wanted this dream so badly, so I would not give up. I got the surgery done and I got back onto the field. And just as things began to improve, I ended up tearing the meniscus in my left knee a second time. And this time around, looking back, I realized I broke down uncontrollably crying in front of my family, my friends, and my teammates. I couldn’t understand why life seemed to be beating me to the ground for no reason. I then had a second surgery, and I even took a fifth year of high school or grade 13 for you old folks back here to try and keep that dream alive. And just when I thought things could not get any worse, it happened again a third time this time in my other knee, which forced me to quit and give up the sport that I loved. It was at that point in my life that I realized I had so deeply attached my personal identity and self-worth to the sport I played. I mean, raise your hand if you have an email address here. I’m pretty sure we all do. Just to put it in perspective, it was so bad that my email was soccer, Sam 99, soccer was all I knew, and I feared that I would be worth nothing without it.

Sam Demma (07:16):

So that’s where I was at this point in my life when my teacher taught me this lesson about small, consistent actions. The reason I shared with you my soccer story is because I want you to understand you do not need to go through extreme adversity to knee surgeries and give up a lifelong dream only to realize that doing good things that benefit others also fulfills yourself. And my teacher proved that to me through his personal passion for solving world issues. And so while walking home from school, after that day in class, when I was asking myself the questions, How are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I now see that I was taking the first small step towards building some serious momentum. And it took me 14 days to finally come up with an answer to those questions.

Sam Demma (08:21):

I was walking home when a coffee cup blew across the sidewalk, and I still can’t explain this portion of the story, but for some reason on an impulse decision, I decide to put my teacher’s theory to the ultimate test. I walked up to the cup, I bent down, and I picked it up. And for the next four months, I made my small consistent action picking up litter while walking home from school. I had no intentions of building something outta this, but to, to my surprise, my teacher was correct. And that small consistent action would soon thereafter grow into a citywide initiative. Because five days before summer break, my good friend Dylan saw me driving home and like any teenager, he pulled over, he rolled down his window, and he looked at me like this.

Sam Demma (09:17):

And then he said, Sam, what the heck are you doing? Why are you picking up garbage? And when I explained to him the theory that small actions lead to a massive change, he absolutely loved it. And then he made this statement that changed my future forever. He said, Sam, let’s do something with this. And that was the day that Pick Waste was born. Pick Waste is a community initiative that was started outta the necessity to play our small part in solving a global issue, while at the same time inspiring individuals like yourselves to realize the potential you have on this planet. It began on July 1st, 2017, and since that day, we have kickstarted four different cleanup crews in four different cities, completed over 80 cleanups, filled over 850 bags of garbage and picked up over 21,000 cigarette butts. It has also given me the opportunity to speak in front of over 8,000 individuals just like yourself, to spread this message and to raise awareness.

Sam Demma (10:29):

You see, our movement exemplifies the power of consistency. It was one small action, one small idea that led to this citywide initiative. But please do not get me wrong. The reason I told you about pick waste is not because I want you to go and start picking up litter, although if you do see it, please do pick it up <laugh>. But the reason I told you about pick waste is because I wanted to give you a real life example about how this theory of small, consistent actions played out in my personal life. But what is 10 times or even a thousand times more important is how this theory could play out in your life. Because there are thousands of social issues facing the world today that need courageous leaders like yourselves to step up and face these problems. The biggest lie we have ever been taught, told, or heard, is that one person is too insignificant, that one person is irrelevant in the bigger picture or on the global scale.

Sam Demma (11:36):

And I am here today to tell you that that is absolutely false, and I can even prove it to you in less than 10 seconds. Are you ready? Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Stein, and Lewis Tapp in Salman north of Will and Will before is Gandhi, Bill Dre and Forres, Nan, Gail, Fabio Rosa. The list goes on and on of people no different than you and I. You see, they’re just human beings who decide to commit to small, consistent actions, and it allowed them to change this world. What is stopping you from being the next person that I count on my fingertips? Tips Because my teacher told me that those figures in history are not anomalies. We can all change the world. Never underestimate the power of small actions executed consistently. Never underestimate the power of momentum because things in motion tend to stay in motion and never underestimate yourself because you are no different than any other change maker who has ever walked on this earth.

Sam Demma (12:47):

Now, before I wrap this up, I have one piece of homework that I wanna leave you with. As you leave this conference here today, I want you to think about one problem that you are passionate about, one problem that you wanna start solving. And over the next two weeks, the next 14 days, I want you to come up with some small, consistent actions that you can begin implementing in your personal life to start solving this problem. And I promise you, you’ll begin taking these actions, and it will start gaining momentum, and you will build a little initiative. And as you start to have an impact, people will begin asking you the question, “How do you plan on changing the world?” And when I was 17, in grade 12, I did not have ‘an answer to that question. But I hope that after hearing this presentation here today, if anyone ever asked you, how do you plan on changing the world,” you would take a little step back, put a big smile on your face, and respond with those three, simple but extremely powerful words; small, consistent actions. Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.

Eric Keunne – Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board

Eric Keunne - Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board
About Eric Keunne

Eric Keunne (@EricKeunne) is an Educator and Instructional Program Leader for Youth Settlement (K-12). He is also a Research Assistant for the Camerise Project (FSL hub) and a Ph.D. student in Francophone Studies at York University.

Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon.

Connect with Eric: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Camerise Project (FSL hub)

Francophone Studies at York University

Newcastle University

University of Yaoundé1

Ontario College of Teachers

Choq-FM 105.1

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.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. We have a very special guest with us today. His name is Eric Keunne. Eric is an educator and instructional program leader for youth settlement, K to 12. He is also a research assistant for the Camerise Project, also known as the FSL Hub and a PhD student in Francophone studies at York University. Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French Department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Eric, and I will see you on the other side. Eric, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Eric Keunne (01:55):

Well, thank you so very much Sam. It’s really a pleasure to be on your show today. My name is Eric Keunne. I speak many languages. I speak Aghem the from the west region of Cameroon but my official language is French because Cameroon, where I come from is a bilingual language country, just like Canada. And my, the language I grew up speaking and studying in is French so you will realize that very often in this interview that I will use on French expressions. And you can also derive from there that as I’m a French language teacher, right. So I’m very happy to be here. I’m going to certainly have the opportunity to talk about my journey as an educator all the way from Cameroon and here in Canada, in Ontario now today. So, aside from that, I’m also a dad married to a wonderful wife. So, and my lovely two kids Michelle ve <inaudible>. So yeah. And pretty much also working towards bringing the Cameroon community together. As always, I’ve been very invested in, into that vain. And but what is very important is certainly to sheathe the path for the future of our kids. Rightm and the next generation. as an educator.

Sam Demma (03:10):

When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education? Was it something you always knew or something you stumbled into?

Eric Keunne (03:18):

That’s a wonderful question, Sam. I, well, it really gives me the opportunity to visit back against some sweet memories. Like I said, I was born and raised in Cameroon and Cameroon’s, a very beautiful country’s actually located in Central Africa. For those who you who are so wondering, Cameroon is the home to Toronto Rap NBA champion, Pascals, of course, yes. <Laugh> and also Ronald Soccer players like Samuel Ato and Roja mil. Yeah. So just like I indicated, Camon it’s a very, I’d say Sweden, blessed country in a sense that the dynamics of the population living in Cameroon is such a unique one, and I would love everyone to experience that. However as you know, Cameroon is also today, Cameroon as we know it today, is not only a result of colonization, but it’s also had to go through so many iterations as a country itself.

Eric Keunne (04:17):

So many changes actually happen in there. And that has also influenced my path. I grew up in a very, very modest family. My dad and Ream was a business man, and he was very, very invested into bringing up his children in such a way that they were not experience the same challenges just like he grew up experiencing. He, he was not fortunate enough to pursue his education on after elementary school. So one of the things that always prompted him to motivate his kids to go beyond his level where he dropped, was to ensure that, you know, they’ll be able to embrace the future. And for me, particularly he absolutely wanted me to hold a key position in the family, being that person who always trying to not only help others to navigate around the challenges that they were facing, because apparently, I, I had that gift, that talent of being able to, to communicate eloquently in French and also, but in a very respectful way.

Eric Keunne (05:27):

And for him, that was a sign that I would be an amazing educator in the future. So somehow he, he pushed me in this, into this profession. He pushed me to embrace and to love this profession. So I grew up with that in mind knowing that I had a huge responsibility, not only towards my family towards my community, but people that I, I meet with every single day. Mm. And I, you know, I grew up with that love and passion for, for education, for, for helping others people to grow and try. Right. And I ended up at a teacher’s college in, in Cameroon, and here I am today.

Sam Demma (06:03):

You mentioned Samuel Etto. Is, is football a big part of your childhood,

Eric Keunne (06:07):

<Laugh>? Absolutely, absolutely. I grew up playing football, we call it in Canada soccer, but I grew up playing football and enjoying it, just like every, every young man of my generation in Cameroon. And even now. And you know, when I actually started teaching, one of the things that I also dedicated my time doing, Sam, was to to coach, right? So I used to be a soccer coach when, in high school, when I was working in a high school.

Sam Demma (06:32):

So you mentioned the passion, where it came from. What did the journey look like from the different roles you worked in education and then the transition from Cameroon to Canada?

Eric Keunne (06:45):

Well, it wasn’t an easy transition all the time. So I, like I said, I I, I did my teacher’s education in Cameroon at Eco Hill, the Bomb, and next to bomb Bili. So ENS bomb, that’s in northwest region of Cameroon. And my training was in bilingual letters, bilingual education. So I was trained as a FSL teacher, but also as an English language as a English as a second language teacher. Nice. And when I finished my, my teacher’s education in Cameroon, I was actually assigned to my first high school in Cameroon government high school, je, where I spent almost two years. Ah, and I, I, I, I ended up being a department head for French in, in that high school. Then at some point my dad, who was very, very very motivated in seeing me exploring and exploiting all my full potential, he encouraged me to go beyond the level of being a teacher at the high school level.

Eric Keunne (07:48):

So he really encouraged me to pursue my, my post-secondary education. So I started looking for opportunities to doing a master’s degree. And I, so I started that in Cameroon, and I eventually got the chance to go study abroad in the uk. But before the uk I made a stop in Belgium in Brick. So where I studied for one year. Then I eventually ended up at the University of Newcastle where I did study in a Master’s of education program in international developmental education. So in the uk what was very fascinating about my, my journey there was the fact that I was able to not only match part of my experience with, you know, the reality of teaching and learning in the uk, but I was also able to share this experiences with so many learners around me. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I was a unique opportunity in that specific program.

Eric Keunne (08:38):

And I, you know, I want to take this opportunity to give a, you shout out to Professor Pauline Dixon, who will be probably listening from the uk. She was my professor in that program. And she, she really invested in, in a platform where all the scholars in this program would be able to come and share experiences, because of course, we were talking about international development, and it was also a unique platform to talk about some best practices and things challenges that we were actually able to identify in specific countries, especially in developing countries. Right. And how we could actually work towards fixing that mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And back then we were talking about the, the, the development goals for the future. So it was very interesting. Right. And and back then, I also had a chance to do some supply job teaching in the uk some of the schools.

Eric Keunne (09:31):

So it gave me a unique perspective, right, to compare my experience from Cameroon and of course, in the uk. Then of course, eventually after that I moved to Canada here in Canada when I actually arrived in 2009, I didn’t write away get an opportunity to teach because the process was quite tedious and challenging. So I did apply to the College of Teachers. It took me about two to three years to get my OCC license, as you would imagine, Very, very stressful. But in the meantime, I was very lucky to to be invited to teach at a private school in Maka, Ontario. That’s why started my first teaching experience in Canada. Truly was at Town Center private high school. That’s why I started teaching in 2000 and, and 12. Nice. And it, it was good because I was working in a small school and it was really the firsthand experience for me working in Canada for the first time as a teacher, Right.

Eric Keunne (10:25):

Mm. And getting ready as my p my papers were being processed. And so it was really at that moment, and I, I really always thank the principal back then, Patrick McCarthy, who hired me and all the staff at thousand High School for all the support that they provided me with. And today I’m very, very pleased with where I am, because after Town Central High School I eventually had a chance to also teach at Seneca College in the nice living program where I was teaching French language as well. And after that I think in 2014 there was a, a position at Qua High School here in Halton, Hal, Industry School Board, for which I applied. And and I got a job in 2014. I’ve been really enjoying my journey so far since 2014 with Halton Industry School Board.

Sam Demma (11:14):

I love that your journey pursuing education has quite literally brought you around the globe, <laugh>, like

Eric Keunne (11:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sam Demma (11:22):

It’s so exciting to hear about the diverse perspectives you have and have picked up from teaching in such different places. What are some of the stark differences or, and similarities that you’ve noticed teaching in Cameroon versus teaching in UK and then versus both teaching in Canada, like <laugh>? I’m curious what kind of comes to mind when you think about those experiences and the similarities and differences?

Eric Keunne (11:48):

Well, the first thing that comes into my mind what I, in terms of, you know, comparing my teaching experience in these three countries is, is the fact that, you know, it’s actually provided me with a unique, unique facet of, you know, understanding the needs of the student and, and of course the families, right? Cause in Cameroon, one thing that is very interesting for you to know is that we do have very large class sizes, okay. And, and there’s that desire for every single students to to be knowledgeable. So they’re really, really looking into embracing every single word that comes out of the mouth of the teacher. So, to that is, to that regard, I think the position that you hold as a teach in Cameroon is quite different from how you position position here in Canada or somewhere else.

Eric Keunne (12:45):

Got it. Because you do have that you know, unique position as a, in Cameroon to secondly bring all the students towards a direction, the direction that you think it’s good for them, because they look up to you as not only teacher, but as a leader. I’m not saying it’s not the case here, is it still the case here? However, the dynamics in terms of the relationship is quite different. Right. And here, and, and that’s why I say I’m very grateful because I’ve had a chance to teach in Africa, in Europe, and now here in North America. So I, I, you know, I’m very blessed in that sense because throughout my journey, specifically here in Canada, I have come to the realization that, you know, beyond the fact that as a teacher, you are a leader, you are also there to facilitate the knowledge, not necessarily to give the knowledge to students, not only to provide them with everything that they need to swallow and digest now.

Eric Keunne (13:44):

Yeah. Right. You broaden the perspective, You open their avenue to students so that they can actually grow up with some critical thinking, Right. And be able to co-plan with you. Right. And that’s really what is amazing. You know, when I think about the experience here but again, you, you have to also understand that, you know, the, the, the way education is shipped around the world, it’s specifically tied to all the, the economic of that country as well. Because resources is very important when you think of planning in education. So for countries who have limited resources, financial resources I’m talking about here, and of course technological resources, it will be very, very difficult to apply the same system that we have here in Canada, everywhere. And, and to that, I think when you have the opportunity to move around a little bit, you get to appreciate every single country with what they actually bring forward in this uniqueness.

Eric Keunne (14:46):

So every country has a unique approach, which I like. So everywhere I’ve been to and here in Canada particularly I, I think one of the things that really makes me always enjoy my, my role as a teacher is really the passion that I see in every class that I go into, especially when it comes to the learning of French as a second language. Mm. As a French language teacher, I’m always, always very fascinated, but by the desire of students to wanting to learn an additional language. And that makes me feel happy because it really indicates the fact that beyond the, the, the, the noble desire to utilize that language, they want to learn the culture of a different country. And as you know as a francophone, I always try to promote all French countries, not just France and Quebec as we know, but try to open the horizons to my students in such a way that they can learn from all the French countries and including your history, right? Because yeah, no, the fact that this country speak French is a result of colonization, right? So it’s important that we bring that in perspective so that, you know, the kids that we actually teaching here can grow up learning, right? And visiting history, and be able to position themselves as citizens of the world. That the way I see,

Sam Demma (16:13):

I’m getting so much energy just speaking to you, <laugh>, I, I feel like educators listening will hopefully absorb some of this energy and remember why they got into education in the first place. What, what about teaching keeps you coming back every single day? Excited, Of course there’s challenges and difficult times, but what about the opportunity gets you excited to get outta bed every single day and teach and help in education?

Eric Keunne (16:41):

But I, I think what really gets me motivated every single day is the transformational aspect of our job as teachers, as educators. Not only do we provide in classroom space and time and platform for kids to be be able to express themselves, but we also help them to break down some barriers that they actually facing in their day to day life. I’ll tell you a little bit about my experience as an international student in the uk and you suddenly understand why I’m so motivated every single day going out and doing my job as a teacher. You know, when I actually landed in the uk back in two and eight and I think that was one of the most challenging moments of my life. Just now, one thing that I fail to, I forgot to mention, is that right now I’m, I’m actually working at my board’s welcome center.

Eric Keunne (17:41):

I’m in charge of the Youth Settlement Program, so helping and facilitating the transition of newcomer students and families in our, and in our schools, right? And that it’s really, it’s closely tied to my experience as an international students back in the uk. Cause like I said, it was one of the challenging moments of my life cuz I wish you know, I had something called the welcome center back then. Yeah. That was solely designed for newcomers and international students like myself, Right? I’m talking about the structure that is actually working towards supporting students every single. And I’m so happy to be working with this amazing team at the welcome Center Hall, District School of Welcome Center because as you know, newcomer students, and when they arrive in a place a new place like Canada or, or in Ontario or in Halton, they do have so many challenges that they’re going through.

Eric Keunne (18:34):

That was me back, back then. Yeah. I, I was struggling with language because like I said, I, I grew up speaking French, studying in French, so I had zero mastery of English language per se. Right. And in addition to that, I was trying to get used to my new environment, and I was far away from home, right? Yeah. So I had no place that I could go to or nobody that I could call a family member. Right? And, and with my, my being a francophone with little knowledge and master of English language I was required to to attend classes, graduate courses, for that matter. I was actually required to complete assignments in English. And, and, you know, it was very difficult. And I see that every single day for our newcomer students and, and families that come here, Right. The struggle with the language, but yet they actually exposed to the learning in English every single day.

Eric Keunne (19:29):

So, for me, particularly, I developed back then what I called my personal technical dictionary, and I still have it here in my shelves, I promise you that. <Laugh> <laugh>. So what, what was that is actually some a notebook that I, I, I actually designed for myself in which I would write down all the comments, expressions that I would hear people use every single day around the classroom in, in the articles that I was reading. Right? And I would, when I go home, I would translate those into French Mm. So that I could comprehend and understand these expressions. And then now in return, try to use them in sentences. This is simply to tell you how much time it takes for a newcomer students in a country like this, Right. To be able to understand the concept that are taught in a classroom and be able to utilize them.

Eric Keunne (20:20):

You see what I mean? Yeah. So it takes at least two, three or four double the amount of time for them to be able to develop the communication skills, the writing skills. And so language was a huge barrier, and language is a huge barrier for many newcomer students and families when they actually arrive here. Right. And for me, it’s very important when I wake up every single morning, is to think about every single student in the classrooms, Do they have all the tools? What am I doing as an educator to ensure that in our system, in our board, in our pro, every single student is equipped right. With the support that they need in order to try and succeed, Right? Mm. So, and beyond the language barrier, one thing that was very interesting to for me as well, and I really want to point this out I was a computer illiterate. Mm.

Eric Keunne (21:11):

As a matter of fact, I have learned how to use a computer for the first time in 2008, believe me or not. Right? Mm. And, and it would take me so many hours to type a single paragraph, this is the challenges that newcomer students and family’s experience because maybe they’ve not been exposed to technology from where they come from, Right? So, and I had to rely, rely on the support of my classmates and my professor, right? To get my work submitted online. So in thinking of that experience, I was trying to ask myself, what are we doing differently today in 2022, in such a way that students will not be experiencing the same challenges, right? So I’m not talking about financial challenges because that’s also something that every family and newcomer families actually go through. So, and it’s important for me when I wake up in the morning, to always ask myself this question, What am I going to do differently today?

Eric Keunne (22:09):

What am I going to add to what I did yesterday to put a smile on the face of every single student I encounter? And also, how do I actually foster collaboration with my team, with my staff, with the teachers that I work with to make the difference in the life of our students? Because every single student in our classroom, every single student is a success story waiting to be told. And we have a role to play into that. We have to be able to not only of God put forward our motivation, but also look for the resources that would help us as educators, as teachers, to transform the life of these individuals. Because this is the future of Canada. We’re talking about because 10, 10 years, 20 years down the road, the same student that we do have in our classroom today are the one who are going to help us navigate around our society. Are ha are those who are going to help shape the future of our country. So we need to continue to invest in education. We need to continue to embrace our job with all the energy and enthusiasm that is possible. But at the same time, I think a while ago I was talking about resources. I think the government needs also to continue to provide enough support Yeah. And financial resources for educators to be able to do the job efficiently. Mm.

Sam Demma (23:35):

You, you mentioned a few minutes ago when you were talking about your experiences overseas, that one of the things that was a little bit different was the way student and teacher relationships are built. I think what’s calming, calming common amongst here, Cameroon, Europe and the uk, is that one of the main goals of the educator, despite how the relationship is built, despite how the classroom is set up, is to help young people become their own success stories. As you just mentioned, that every student is a success story waiting to happen, and that educators play a part in it. I believe that that idea is one of the main reasons why people actually get into education. Because they wanna help people. They wanna serve young minds. They wanna make a difference. Sometimes we forget, sometimes educators forget why they started. And I think sharing an example of one of those success stories can help rekindle that fire. And I’m curious to know, in all year years teaching, if there are any success stories of students that come to mind that you might be willing to share. And it could be a very serious story of transformation, and if it is, you can change their name for privacy reasons. But I’m hoping you’ll, you’ll, you’ll be willing to maybe share one or two that that come to mind.

Eric Keunne (24:57):

Well, you know what? There’s so many success stories that I, you know, I could actually share with you. And I, I’m not just sure where to start, but I, I would love to, if you are okay, to probably read this letter that I received from one of my students. And she actually graduated I believe a few years ago no. Last year from Iru High School. Yes. And I, I, when she was about to graduate she actually sent me a very, very lovely letter, which to me kind of sum up the, the role and and, and I think the, the, not only the, the influence that we have on our students every single day, and, and for me it was at the same time also an appeal, right? Mm. And an invitation to even do better every single day. Because to me, when you have a student writing, you emailing you to share with you all these details and be able to tell you how transformative you’ve been in their lives, I think it’s just amazing as a staff, right? So for me, this is something that I want to share. Okay. Please, are

Sam Demma (26:15):

You ready for it, please? Yeah, I am. I’m patiently waiting. Ready? Excited. <Laugh>.

Eric Keunne (26:19):

Okay, so I, I’m, I’m really exactly what is, I’m not changing anything. Comment on this. Okay. Okay. And this student would, when, if she listens to me, shell recognize herself. S so the title of the email is La De So the End of Secondary School, High School S let me translate that because this is my bilingual mindset, Okay? It’s been long since the last emailed you, but now, you know, in the good of I, this is already end of, end of the school year, and she goes now in English. Okay? I would normally insist on sending you a French email, but since these words are so hard to say, I thought English might be better, they always say, High school goes by so quickly. And I didn’t believe it until now. Nothing could have prepared me for the memories I would make at ioi.

Eric Keunne (27:22):

But memories are only as good as the people who contain them. Mr. Kearney, you have taught me for more than three years. Oh, you have taught me in three years. Sorry, let me repeat that. That’s okay. You have taught me more in three years that I would’ve learned from anyone else. You brought a smile on my face on my worst days. Mm. And made me laugh at times. I didn’t expect. Without a doubt, you have been one of the most important role models in my life, and that is something I will never forget. Learning French for 12 years was a trial, but learning French with you was a joy. Selfishly, I wish you would have stayed at ioi, but even though you are not here physically, your memory leave in the praise of my peers. And I now, I have reached the end of high school, and I’m sad to live behind all the wonderful people who built me up these last four years.

Eric Keunne (28:27):

Mr. Kaney, without you, I don’t think I would be more, I will be where I am In another circumstance, I would’ve been pleased to see you watch me graduate. Although that isn’t an option. I will carry you in my heart today as I received my diploma. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, All the lesson you have taught me, and all the lifelong memories I will carry onto university. Being your student was a privilege and owner, and I will be grateful for the rest of my life. Please send my best to your family. Don’t your friend forever. And I’m not reading this just because I want to sing my own praises. Okay? I’m, I’m sharing this because when I read this email, some, you know, I shared some tears. Mm. Because this is a student I taught for two years, and I left to take another role, but yet we kept in contact.

Eric Keunne (29:22):

So many of them, actually, this is just one of them, okay? And, and up to now, she’s at, in, she’s going to her second years at the university. And she recently emailed me just to ask for advice and to share with me where she’s up to many. This is really what I call the reward for teachers. This is how impactful we are. It’s shaping the lives of main students in this country, and of course, in the world. So to me, when I actually reach something like this, it gives me the motivation to go out there every single day. And of course, and to double my efforts to ensure that, you know, 2, 3, 4 years from now, we have people who be doing the same thing no matter what direction they decide to pick in life, whether they’re in finance, whether they actually become lawyers, whether they become anything. The most important is to plant the seed for all these students. You understand that all together, we’re walking towards the better tomorrow, right? This is the essence of this message. Mm.

Sam Demma (30:24):

What a beautiful letter. It’s so cool to see the seed planted, harvest, and see the impact, but I’m sure there’s also been situations where you’ve given your best foot forward, your best effort, and maybe you haven’t heard from a student until 10 years later or 15 years later. And maybe you wonder for a while, did I make a difference in that young person’s life? And even if they don’t, you know, send you a letter like that I think the impact is felt, you know, it’s a blessing to receive it, but sometimes they’re a little shy and they don’t share. Right?

Eric Keunne (30:57):

I agree with you. And that’s totally okay. Right. Because every single person is different, right?

Eric Keunne (31:02):

Yeah. So for me, the most supporting as an educator is to ensure that I do my job, you know, with all my passion and energy, and ensuring that the students in my classroom are safe, That the student in my classroom are able to recognize themselves in the curriculum that I’m using, that the student in my classroom are able to actually identify themself in the material that I’m using. It’s so important that way we are actually helping our students to feel included, but also to feel valued Yes. As individuals. So for me, it’s important to to point that out. Absolutely. Because as you know we’ve had so many instances in our schools where, you know, kids go through so many challenges. And I think our role as educators is also to be able to identify those students who are lacking behind, who are experiencing difficulties, who are actually feeling rejected for one reason or the other. Yeah. And being able to bridge the gap. Right. And I think the Covid 19 pandemic has created also more gaps, right? For, for these students. And it’s important that as educators we’re able to recognize that and identify the resources that are going to help them, that are going to really help to protect and uphold the right and dignity of all the students and families that we actually work with every single day.

Sam Demma (32:34):

I was gonna ask you what you believe some of the challenges are, but you just had some light on them, them. What do you believe are also some of the opportunities? I think as a result of covid 19, we’re spending more time focused on some of these things, whereas in the past, maybe we brush them by without giving them the time, attention, and energy they deserved.

Eric Keunne (32:54):

And I think one thing that I absolutely want to share is that, you know, as educators and, and teachers, it’s, it’s our responsibility. Yeah. Truly. and it, I think it’s really an imperative that, you know, we acknowledge and we embrace our responsibility to, to build, to buildable and inclusive classrooms and school communities. That is so crucial, right? So to me, I, one of the things that I always try to bring forward in, in my mind, and that’s one of my belief, is that, you know, as educators, we, we need to build a community in which every single learner, all the children can succeed. All the children can achieve success. And, and for me, I begin that through my, my enion lens, right? Which really seeks to engage and challenge my colleagues to recognize and disrupt the inequities that have actually impacted historical marginalized students in our, in our society and our schools. And we, we, we, that’s the reason I was talking about the curriculum a while ago. We must think about the curriculum as an instrument tool of learn a learning material through which we can actually infuse some inclusive perspective, Right? This way we can always make sure that the student voices are put forward, right. Especially for those who have been historically marginalized. So it’s important that as educators, we build that solid community in which every single learner can drive and succeed.

Sam Demma (34:29):

Mm. I love it. If you were to somehow snap your fingers and travel back in time to the first year you taught in the classroom, but with the experience and the knowledge that you carry now, what would you have told you younger self in the form of advice when you were just starting? And not that you would share something in the hope that you would change, the path you take, you took, but something that you thought maybe would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation of teaching?

Eric Keunne (35:02):

I, I would certainly tell myself one single thing. Use the classroom opportunity to help the student understand their past and help them to shape the future. Because when I grew up, Sam, as a, as a student in Cameroon, I didn’t learn about the, the history of my own country in classroom. Oh, wow. It’s when I grew up that I learn about the history of colonization in Cameroon that is not taught in classrooms. So for me as a French language teacher, Cameroon, I would’ve loved to start talking about that within the, the classroom context and bringing that into perspective when I’m church, selecting my material. So it’s the same thing that, you know, I try to do today. Helping the students to understand the history of our country, Canada, the impact that, you know, there, residential schools I’ve actually had on you know, our population, our indigenous population, and how together we can actually work, right?

Eric Keunne (36:05):

To ensure that nothing like that ever happens again. Mm. Because if we fail to talk about what happens in the past, our kids will never understand, and it will be so difficult. And 20 years down the road, we will still be here experiencing the same challenges. I’m not saying that we should always dwell in the past and talk about everything in the that, but again, talking the perspective of bringing change, making some significant change for, for the current generation and for the future generation. So for me as a teacher, when I started back in 2005 in Camero, it would’ve been very interesting for me to bring that perspectives in the context of teaching a language like French, because I was so focused on grammar, like grammar and LA zone, because that was the curriculum. Of course. Yeah. But now having that critical lens, I think it’s important that every single language teacher, every single teacher is able to bring forward in all the current reality that we’re experiencing. Actually looking into what happens a few years ago and shipping the path for a better tomorrow for every single student.

Sam Demma (37:15):

I feel so energized. I have so much energy just hearing and, and listening to you speak. I know for a fact that the educators listening feel the same way. If one of them wants to reach out to you, share an idea, ask a question, collaborate on something, what would be the best way for an educator tuning in to reach out and connect?

Eric Keunne (37:36):

I think, the best way to reach, I will be through my Twitter @erickeunne Eric, as you already know, but also they, they can actually email me. My, my school board email is keunne@hdsb.ca, so that you can share with whoever wants to collaborate, because it’s, I believe in the power of collaboration. As educators, we can always come together to do some critical thinking on how, around how we can make things better for every single studen in our classes. And also, I believe in sharing, sharing experiences is what really help us to move forward as a community of learners. Sharing and sharing best practices, sharing some of the resources is what helps us to really bring the world into our classrooms because I usually tell my students one thing, which very crucial in, in a classroom, in the language classrooms particularly, it’s important that we bring the world to our kids.

Eric Keunne (38:37):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> because if our students don’t have the opportunity to travel, just like I did back in, in a few years ago, as a language teachers, through the resources that we are using, we can actually help the students to travel, to travel without taking a flight. Yeah. To camon. We can bring in novels from Kaon, we can bring in novels from every single country around the world and be able to discuss that in a unique way. And that will help the student have a broader perspective around the world. And of course, provide them with the tools to be able to navigate after high school and traveling around the world to become that global citizen ambassador that we want our students to become.

Sam Demma (39:21):

You. I was about to end and then you sparked my interest in another area. So I’m gonna ask you one final question before we wrap up. You mentioned the importance of bringing the world into the classroom in the form of resources. And I’m curious to know, are there anything, are there any resources that you personally have brought into the classroom or your classroom spaces that you felt have helped bring the world into your classroom or help students see themselves in the curriculum? Are there any things that come to mind or things that you’ve used in the past that you think other educators might benefit from looking into?

Eric Keunne (39:55):

Absolutely. in terms of language teaching, you can always bring so many resources in your classroom. So what I’ve done in the past when I started teaching in Ontario is really to broaden the horizon by actually selecting and identify different resources from different countries around Lahan, Kaho around French countries in the world, right? And helping the kids to understand how language and culture are so intertwined, are so related, right? And helping them to understand, of course, the vq the experience vq of this, of people population in these different countries. One of the things that I’ve also done, I’m so connected to, I, I love communication by the way, and, and I always try to bring into my classes the opportunity for students to learn through news report from different countries over the world. So I, I bring the news reports so that we can listen to the news and talk about and be able to learn about experiences that are happening around, and of course in French, because we have so many varieties of French, so beautiful varieties of French that needs to be put forward when it comes to teaching and learning French, a language like French.

Eric Keunne (41:07):

Also, I had a few years ago the opportunity to take the students from my French club, a French club that I started at the college high school. So one of the French community radios in Toronto, Shock fm, where we had a debate. And it was a unique opportunity for my students to be able to do the learning outside of the classroom in a different setting, in a different context in the media, right? And I think that’s something that we failed to always think about. It’s learning is not just within the classroom context. The resources could be outside the classroom. And one, most importantly it’s also thinking about some resource people that you can always invite into your classrooms to talk about things that are crucial key to the students development. So thinking about who you can bring in your classroom or where you can take your students to so that they can learn from. It’s so important. So beyond the textbook, beyond the material that if you be using, it’s important that you brought in the horizon for the students so that they can actually, at the end of the day, have a rich experience. And I promise you, if you do that, every single student will be so pleased to come to school every single day and be able to be in your classroom and be so engaged. And that’s the essence of our job, right?

Sam Demma (42:23):

It’s so clear you’re doing work that you are meant to be doing every, Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. It means the world to me, and I know everyone tuning in is gonna feel energized and motivated after listening to our conversation. I can’t wait to continue to witness the things that you do and the impact you have. Keep doing the amazing work. And I, I look forward to staying in touch

Eric Keunne (42:50):

That I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you in French. Cuz like I said it’s my first language, official first language. Don wish you all the best as well, and I’m looking forward to to listening to more podcasts from you.

Sam Demma (43:07):

Awesome. Thank you so much. Talk soon.

Eric Keunne (43:10):

My pleasure.

Sam Demma (43:11):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jesse Macdonald

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.

Lorne “ABE” Abramson – Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and Historian

Lorne “ABE” Abramson - Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and and Historian
About Lorne “ABE” Abramson

Lorne has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his team supporting dozens of youth programs, camps and positive character-building experiences for students. 

He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University Coaching Award, for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth and the Frederick Banting Award, from the Canadian Diabetes Association, for significant contributions to the mission of the Association in the areas of education and service.

Connect with Lorne: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association

Dalhousie University

Canadian Diabetes Association

Mount Saint Vincent University

Diabetes Education and Camping Association

Before the Parade by Rebecca Rose

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 (00:58):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Lorne Abramson. Lauren has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes, as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his time supporting dozens of youth programs, camps, and positive character building experiences for students. He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University coaching award for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth, and the Frederick Banting award from the Canadian Diabetes Association for significant contribution to the mission of the association in the areas of education and service. Lauren has so much expertise in the area of youth empowerment and so much energy and wisdom to share, so I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. I met this guest in Nova Scotia at a conference and I’m so glad that we crossed paths. Some people know him as Lorne. Most people know him as Abe. Some people know him as Coach Abe. Abe, I would love for you to introduce yourself and let everyone listening know who you are.

Lorne Abramson (02:22):

Sure. Thanks Sam. Yeah, I’m, I’m my claim to fame was probably as a you know, as a person who started getting into teaching. So I was a math, a math teacher, how I became that is a, an extremely long story <laugh> which I will probably not get into, unless you ask me the appropriate questions. <Laugh> but I ended up becoming a math teacher, which my high school math teacher from Montreal who I, who I loved dearly. He was the one that said to me when I graduated, he said to me, you know, Lauren, he said, “everybody in those days called you by your last name.” You know, you know, I, I think you should consider becoming a math teacher. And I, and I I’ve made the stupidest comment I have ever made in my entire life.

Lorne Abramson (03:26):

And that was, who would wanna be a math teacher? <Laugh> that was like, it was one of those, this is to the guy that I had total respect for. And what I meant was in those days, math teachers, like teachers in general got no pay. It was like, it was crappy, you know, and and I wanted to be a dentist anyway, <laugh> so, so anyway to say the least over a period of years, I changed careers a couple of times and and then became a math teacher and eventually a math department head. And I always felt like I don’t know. I, I always felt that I needed to be more involved with community. And, and so for me the, the extracurricular stuff became almost more, this got kind of weird, but, but almost more important in some ways because I was a very accomplished math person.

Lorne Abramson (04:35):

So it was I went to McGill and did my joint honors in math and chemistry. And that was not a, that was not an issue. So I never had to work hard at, at the math part, but I really wanted to work hard at getting to know kids really well. And, and so I got involved in coaching volleyball, which I knew nothing about, except for the fact there were six on the side that was the limit of it. And and that became a big part of my life. And you know, and then I got involved in theater and, you know, and we did a lot of musicals and, you know, anyway, I it’s it’s and eventually in 1991, I got involved with the starting of the intro Lasse, which which, where, where we met the, you know not in 1991, but <laugh> sorry, Sam, but

Sam Demma (05:43):

I have to ask you though, because when people think about extracurriculars student leadership, typically I’ve heard people talk about the antithesis of it being math and science, and like these super academic courses that happen in schools. And usually those individuals are the ones who want their kids in their classroom, not going to conferences and not getting involved. So like, how the heck did you like have these two seemingly opposite things be so intertwined in your experience? Like what changed you or were you always of that mindset and you just also loved math?

Lorne Abramson (06:25):

The heck, it’s a good question. So I right from the get go I became the student council advisor at the, at Ellsley I at the J Oley high school was the school I taught in. And it’s obviously it’s a school in Halifax and it’s, it had this kind of funny deserved rep reputation of being a, kind of in a tough area. But in actual fact it was ridiculous. It didn’t make sense at all. That being said being the student council advisor I got to meet people like Andy Tido, who you might know and and St. Saunders and Tyler Hayden. And look, there were, there were so many people because of my connection as student council advisor eventually in 1992, mark Fraser who was he? He had been the student council president at Halifax west high school and Andrew Demond, who was the student council president at Parkview education center in, in Bridgewater, in Nova Scotia.

Lorne Abramson (07:53):

They met at a a CSLC or Canadian student leadership conference. They met at that, and they met also at the same time at that a whole bunch of kids from remember, this is 90, 91, I think was when it happened. But, but they met a whole bunch of kids from Ontario who were part and parcel of the O essay. So the Ontario secondary school students association, and and I heard the two of them said we could do this <laugh> it was kinda like, that was kinda like that. And I, I, I had the guy who was my who was the student council, president of Illsley was a guy who now is one of my neighbors. Oh, wow. Is Paul and Paul. He was just a great guy. And Paul said to me, I got this letter from this guy, Andy Kibito and a couple other people.

Lorne Abramson (09:03):

And he said they were there. Apparently they’re having some event at I think it was, it was being held at St. Pat’s high school, which, which now is underground somewhere <laugh> wow. It doesn’t exist anymore. And he said would you, would you be willing to come as our advisor? And I said, well, I am your advisor. What the hell matter with you? And he was really, he, it was kind of like, I think he, he really wasn’t quite sure what anybody’s role was gonna be. We had no idea. This was like, this is so new that nobody really knew. Yeah. And so we went to the conference and I can’t remember, there was probably about, I don’t know, 60 or 70 people at the conference. Nice. It was over a weekend. We held, we all slept on the stage of St.

Lorne Abramson (09:55):

Pat’s <laugh> being a camper that didn’t bother me. Yeah. You know, but and Paul, Paul was the one that, you know, he was the one that got me involved in the first place. And then I don’t know. And then it kind of just, I don’t, it kind of just took over, you know, and, and eventually, I think the next year I became the, the advisor for the Metro region, how that happened. I, I honestly got, I wish I could remember all that, but I think, I, I’m not sure that’s okay. How that exactly happened. But I know that I knew a lot of the people in, in the other schools in Metro.

Sam Demma (10:41):

Gotcha.

Lorne Abramson (10:41):

You know, cause I, I knew a lot of teachers, you know, and so on. And the guy who was the provincial advisor was a guy named cam Morrison. And he was also from Halifax west of course. And he was quite close with mark Fraser. And so at time we, and hi, his wife and my wife worked in nursing together. Ah, and, and so anyway, we, we knew each other outside of school as well. And I think, I think that what happened was he ended up staying as provincial advisor for, I think, I can’t remember it was two or three years. Then another guy took over from SAC high and, and then in 1990 I took over as provincial advisor and right till this year, so. Wow. Yeah.

Sam Demma (11:41):

Oh, that’s awesome. You mentioned earlier that like one of the things you think are so important in connection with student activities and extracurricular activities is building strong relationships with the students, the kids. How do you build a strong relationship with young people in your experience?

Lorne Abramson (12:01):

Well, I think first of all, it’s a matter of building trust. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> with all the nasty stuff that you hear about things that are going on in schools drives me nuts. I, I just can’t that part of it is just see, seems like, I don’t know, I never had, let me put it this way. I never had that, that issue. Whether it was personality or what part of it had to do with the fact that I think was that you know, I had a family my, we had, we had two daughters. My wife was always understanding about why I was going away that weekend <laugh> and and then I, I don’t know. I, I, I remember a couple, I, I eventually ended up being a Canada games coach for, for guys.

Sam Demma (13:00):

What haven’t you done?

Lorne Abramson (13:04):

I always say in the, I, you, if you live long enough, you’ll do a lot of stuff. Yeah. You know, like when, if you didn’t, if, if that didn’t happen to you, what’s wrong with you <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (13:22):

No, I, I, I, I get the question. I I’m gonna say trust was a big thing building that it takes, that takes a lot of, a lot of, I don’t know, desire to, to build that. I had, you know, the alumni of the organization played a big role in that cuz you know, people like, like Tyler Hayden and I used to have this, this very funny competition. And it was just that the competition was how many conferences have you been to? You know, and I, and at some point we were tied, you know, cause he used to come to, he used to come to everything and and he would speak at a lot, a lot of stuff. And I don’t know. And then one day he, I knew he was going away. I think it was one of the provincial conferences and I knew that this is gonna be it.

Lorne Abramson (14:31):

I got him, he was gonna be able to be there. And and so I, I made sure that I called him from wherever hell I was. And I said, okay here’s the deal. So now, now that you’ve been defeated, <laugh> this is it Tyler. And he said, okay. I COE. So ever, ever since then it was kind of, I just built more and more anyway, he, and he would not go to a lot of the regional conferences, but I don’t know. I think, I think people like him and people like, like Andy and, and Stu and, and Phil what was Phil’s last name? He was from Winnipeg. Oh God, he was, he’s also a keynote speaker.

Sam Demma (15:28):

Is it Phil Boyd?

Lorne Abramson (15:30):

Phil Boyd. Yeah. Yeah. And and I, I, you know, there were a lot of people like that that were around Mark Sharon Brock who I haven’t seen forever, like a long time. But there were people that were, there were people in the plus a who became keynote speakers like Paul, Paul Devo and Jeff Bri, they spoke together and we became very, the two of them, we were, we were still very close. Nice. They, they both got married. We went to the weddings, we went to it’s like, yeah. And, and I really like Paul’s wife Mor I like him <laugh> and if he sees this too bad, Paul okay. <Laugh> but I think he likes my wife more. He likes me anyway. I think a lot of it, you know, again, aside from just the trust issue, there’s a lot of testing that goes on, you know, like you can’t like, you know, you can’t develop the trust without some risk associated with that.

Lorne Abramson (16:53):

I think, I think once people who are involved in anything see other people that have faith in their relationship with you, that can’t help, but build, you know, for them, you know a good relationship. So I, I, it’s probably not a very good way of putting it, but you know, over the years, geez. I, I mean, I, all I can say is that it got easier and easier. Let me put it that way. There was expectations that I would always be there. That’s another thing, you know, that you’re, you make yourself available and accessibility

Sam Demma (17:46):

Being accessible to the

Lorne Abramson (17:48):

Students and yeah, so that, that’s, that’s a big deal. And I, I knew that, well, that, that, that was, that was a big deal in good times and bad times. And, and you, and there, there’s always gonna be both, you know, that happen, you know, in a, in an organization like this. And I, I, you know, I don’t know. So for, from that point of view, it got, like I said, it got easier and easier. I, I can’t say it any easier than that, but yeah. But the fact of the matter is, is that you know, there was, there was always someone in the organization or some buddies who who come outta the blue and, and will represent the people that you think that you wanna deal with. You know, like, and I, I don’t mean that to become your, your chosen ones, but, but it look, you can’t help.

Lorne Abramson (19:00):

Sometimes you can’t help that, you know? And so I, I, I guess that’s happened sometimes you, sometimes you think, how the hell did I ever get to know this person? Like, I don’t even know why, and, you know, and, and I, and, and you want, you wanna spend time with them somehow to change in some ways, this is probably totally off the wall, but change the way that they operate. Mm. And you re you realize that something about that is, is you, you, you see something in them. Mm. That, and it’s not just being a teacher all over again, but it’s, it, it has some part in that that you realize that you’re, you’re see an opportunity. Like, I’ll give you example of number of years ago, there was a guy who got elected president. He made a terrible mistake.

Lorne Abramson (20:15):

And that is he, he he just jumped into a situation where he, where, where it was just a bad choice. And I, I was sort of stuck with trying to figure out, well, how, you know, how do I, and I, I, you know, what, what do we do about this? And cuz he really, what he really needed to do is resign. And I didn’t know. That was the first time that happened. I think if I remember right. And I, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that. And it wasn’t like I have control over that. I’ve never had control of the organization. But I wanted something else to happen and nothing happened with that guy until years and years later. And he, he went off and became a teacher in Korea. Wow. And and he ended up marrying a Korean girl and they have a wonderful family and I met him.

Lorne Abramson (21:25):

I think they were, they were living in, I think they’s probably gonna know this, but they were living in in Vancouver. I think if I remember right. They moved back to Canada anyway. And I had a conversation with him and he said, and he said to me, I don’t know what was going on in my head in those days. And I thought to myself, oh my God, you know, like, this is, this is a good thing to say to me, it was good. Like it was like, and I, and I remember thinking he’s a really nice guy, you know, that’s like, it was kind like, like all of a sudden there was this, this change of, of, you know, of looking at him and thinking, oh no, he’s not just some jerk. You know, that that’s, that made, that just happened to make a mistake, but it’s also, he actually is a really nice person.

Lorne Abramson (22:22):

And, and somehow this all came out now, you know, like, and it took, it probably took his family in, in being a, being a parent. And, you know, I dunno, like, it just seemed like that was it. So, yeah, I know. I sometimes you’ll, you’ll, you’ll meet people like that. Who’s a girl Rebecca Rose, who was on the conference committee, she, I don’t think she ever became her and I were very close and she she came out of the closet at some point and she wrote a a book last year and the book is called oh shit. Was it before the parade? Hmm. I can’t, I’ve never remember it’s before the parade or after the parade. Anyway, it was a book about the gay community or the development of the gay community in Halifax in. And I went to her book launch. Oh my God. It was lovely. It was just like, it was like one of those. And I, and I was always close with her. She’s just, she’s just dynamite, you know? And, and like I, and her and I, and she ended up speaking, oh, well you, well, you met,

Sam Demma (23:45):

Yeah. I know her, listen to speech. I attended her. It was awesome.

Lorne Abramson (23:51):

Yeah. And she, there’s a person that got badly treated by a couple of people within the inter plus a, I think it was probably had something to do with the time of what was going on in, in, in the area that, you know, there were people that didn’t didn’t have a how to describe it. I was, it was from a, from a, a sociological point of view, you know, the relationship with the gay community was crappy. You know, it was just shitty, you know, and yet she had a lot of friends and, and she’s, Ugh, I love that girl. Yeah. She’s just, she’s fantastic. So when we met at her book launch, I hadn’t seen her for quite a while. <Laugh> and it was really funny. She’s like, like was really, you can imagine this, okay, she’s up there talking about her book, I’m sitting in the audience, which was packed at the Halifax library. And and she looks up and sees me standing like in the back, you know, I’m standing there and she stops what she was doing in the middle of all this. And she waves, hi, you know, like that. Right. It was like in the middle of, so everybody’s now turning around, you know, <laugh>,

Sam Demma (25:28):

Who’s a <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (25:31):

And every was turning around, you know, you know, and I, I threw a kiss, you know, and, and she went, she was great. So it was really funny. So afterwards, we went out for coffee and I mean, she’s, you know, again, she’s just one of those, she’s a, she’s a survivor in some ways. Yeah. I, I think, but also a survivor with a great attitude, you know, as you could tell that so it sounds like I know, I, I feel, I always feel very fortunate, maybe the smart and parcel of this. I always feel very fortunate to have met a lot of the people that I have met through the interse and, and in other, other things that I’ve done I mean, I’ve always been able to stay, I dunno, fairly close with, with people that I was close with and, you know, and just because they graduate and wherever go on, you know? Yeah. It’s, it’s like, it’s like Paul, Gule my, my neighbor, you know, <laugh> yeah. I, now I wave him when he walks by with his dog, you know? <Laugh> yeah. Anyway.

Sam Demma (26:42):

Okay. Yeah. Sounds like trust is a big one accessibility, and then just the general desire of wanting to make a change in other people’s lives. Like it, it sounds like that those are some of the, the big ones. When, when did you start getting involved in camps and on camps and being around camps and involved in camps have been a big part of your, your life as well?

Lorne Abramson (27:04):

Yeah. my camp story is it started in, in Montreal.

Sam Demma (27:13):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:15):

And I was 16 and I had, somehow I had I had my nationals in swimming and I had my my instructors for canoeing.

Sam Demma (27:30):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:30):

And, and I had never gone to camp. It was like, my parents could never afford to send me to camp who was expensive. And so a friend of mine said to me, you know, we were all looking for jobs, you know, I was 16 years old, you know, like, and and I, and this friend of mine says to me, you know, you got swimming and you got canoeing. Why don’t you go to camp? You know, like, and I said, camp, <laugh> like, don’t, they pay nothing at camp. And he said, no. He said, for people that have those, those specialties, you get well paid, you know, you’re okay. So I applied to camp Milwaukee, which was in Northern Quebec and it was a, a tripping camp if you know what that is. And it’s a camp that, that has kids that go and they go out on, on canoe trips.

Lorne Abramson (28:29):

Oh, cool. Yep. They’re there, they’re there for eight weeks. Wow. It’s not just a one week camp. And and so I, I went there and I had a great time and I had five to eight year olds <laugh> you can imagine, wow. I never, in a million years ever dreamed that I’d be working with teenagers. I mean, who the hell would wanna do that? You know, <laugh> and so I, I ended up going there and then the next year I got an offer from a local camp, which was called camp nominating and in a similar job, bigger camp. And I went there and I had a great time. And and then I, the next year I got offered a big job at pine valley camp, which was in the IANS. And I was at pine valley camp.

Lorne Abramson (29:26):

I worked my way up and eventually became the director. Ah, and and I was there for a long time. And then, and eventually I ended up, you know, moving to Nova Scotia, met my wife, and she was a nurse at, at camp. And and I and so I ended up moving to Nova Scotia. And like I said, you know, when I got involved in, in camp camp always played a role for me because I, when I eventually, when I got, got involved I started getting involved with volleyball and, and volleyball became a big deal. And as, as my own skills, as a coach got bigger, got better. There was a volleyball Nova Scotia camp, oh, that had started. And and, and my lady who was the, there were two, two women aside from my wife, but two women in my life that, that were both volleyball coaches.

Lorne Abramson (30:35):

One was Lois McGregor from hou. And she, she’s a very accomplished coach. And and, and Eva Justins who became the technical director for volleyball, Nova Scotia. Ah, and they, they took me little Abe. They took me under their wing and they, they just treated me like their kid, brother. It was just great. And they, they took me to everything. I was like, their, their here, here, go, go get Lauren. He’ll be fine. <Laugh>. And so I ended up with the two of them. We ended up running the volleyball Nova Scotia camps. Wow. For, for, for volleyball. And and then I don’t know, I, you know, as I, and then, then what happened was like, like I said, my wife and I got married and we had our daughter LA was born in 1989. And we had an older daughter is three years young, three years older than that.

Lorne Abramson (31:45):

But Lara was born in 89 and she, when she turned six in 1985, I had been doing all these camps all this time. And she ended up developing type one diabetes. So her doctor just happened at her doctor came to me and said, I heard that you this is the part that’s, that’s kind of a little weird, but he said, I heard you’ve been involved with camp. And I said, how do you know that? And I said, he said, turns out that Lois who I mentioned was one of his patients, <laugh> you, you, she must have said something about me in camp, you know, but that’s the only thing I can think of. Yeah. and so he ended up saying, look, are you you might be interested in getting involved in the diabetes camp. Cause he’s the one that started the camps.

Lorne Abramson (32:40):

Oh, wow. Back in 1961. And so I said, yeah, I might be, but I’m going away with my family to a, a one year program with to teach in, in England with the Commonwealth teachers Federation. And so I’ll be away for a year. And I said, I remember saying him said, do you think we should go, like, we’ll spend our first year with diabetes with, you know, at some, some place in another country. And he said, well, if you don’t go, I’ll take her, you know, <laugh> so, and he, he became very, he and I became very close. Ah, and that when I got back cuz I did, I did a couple of camps in, in England, like volleyball camps. And and then when I got back, he called and said, so cap starts tomorrow.

Lorne Abramson (33:40):

Want to come? You know, <laugh> I said, OK, what would you like me to do? And he said, I want you to, he said, I’ve been doing these caps for a lot forever. And I want you to take a look with your experience, want you to let me know whether you think that something needs to be changed. Mm. Which was a gutsy gutsy thing for someone who was initiator. Yeah. You know, to actually say, yeah, if you think about that. Yeah. And that, that was a big deal for me. Cause I, I thought what a, what a gutsy guy, you know, like, like, and I thought, and I knew him, I didn’t know him that well, you know? Anyway he and I became very close and and of course he was Lara’s doctor and you know, and so on and everybody loved this guy.

Lorne Abramson (34:30):

He was the quintessential camp doctor. He was it, you know? And so that’s got me started in the diabetes camps, which and then eventually when we, when we came back from England Laura had gotten involved in, in writing, in equestrian writing. Wow. So she went, so we got her involved with the Halifax junior Bengal answers and I got, I ended up, God knows how you end up with the Sam. You know, I ended up on the board of directors for the, you know, junior Bengal answers, like knowing absolutely zero, except for the fact that I’d go and watch my daughter ride, you know, that was yeah. And and myself and the writing instructor ended up starting a, an equestrian camp wow. For kids. And mostly it was for the horses, which was <laugh>, which I never, whichever I think back on it that holy crap, what did we do anyway, I did that for a couple of years and also did the diabetes camps. And I don’t know. And then I, I just kept going. And as you know, when we talked, I I’ve been doing it ever since. So I’ve doing the diabetes camps now. I think it’s been 35 years. Wow.

Lorne Abramson (35:53):

All over the world. It’s been, it’s been a, really, a really nice ride. Nice. Like it’s not over, but I had a great time two weeks ago being at the the camp at Kera national park. Nice. And you know, being the head chef

Sam Demma (36:14):

Nice.

Lorne Abramson (36:15):

Which is another thing, you know, I can do with you know, and I, like I said, you know, when inter plus a kids ask me, so, okay. How do you know all these people <laugh> and I, and I said, as I said to you earlier, I said, well, you

Sam Demma (36:32):

Live long enough.

Lorne Abramson (36:33):

Yeah. Live long enough or something might be wrong with you. Yeah. <laugh>. So

Sam Demma (36:41):

If you could, if you could, you know, take the experience and the, the wisdom that you have now, based on all the different experiences you’ve been through over so many years, and you could travel back in time and tap Abe on the shoulder when he was starting his first year of teaching. And first year of being a student, you know, council advisor, knowing what, you know, now, what advice would you, would you give your younger self

Lorne Abramson (37:09):

Just follow your dreams and just I can’t, I can’t say that anything that happened over the years had negative impact, but I just, I don’t, I mean, I, I don’t mean that everything was fantastic, you know? Yeah. But I don’t know, you know, like, like, I, I, I’ve always, like, you know, when I got involved in the diabetes camps, I loved the fact that my daughter who was seven years old at the time that she developed, I don’t know what would happen if we, if she had not developed really good relationships with the, with her friends that went, that were at camp, all who had diabetes and those kids today are 43. Wow. And they’re really good friends. And like, they still are like, it’s mind boggling, you know, like when you think about it. So I feel from on a personal level, you know, I feel like that was a big achievement, you know?

Lorne Abramson (38:21):

And I, I, I, I don’t think, I don’t know. It’s not that I, I did anything extraordinary in that sense. I just feel like though that, that there was a lot there was a, a lot of the things just happened to fall into place. And, you know, and I, I, if I, if to answer your question I don’t know what, I, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me had I not left the whole dentistry dream. Mm. You know there was a, there were a couple of people that, you know, cause I always wanted to be a dentist. I wanted to be an orthodontist. I had a, a cousin of mine who was, who was a dentist and he and I were quite close. And so I, that, that was the reason it wasn’t nothing to do with being a dentist actually.

Lorne Abramson (39:24):

But I, I can’t, I, I if I think back on it, I, when I don’t know, when I made a decision, I was the end of my second year of dentistry at university of Montreal. And I, I think part of me, I loved, I loved being at university of Montreal. I I’m bilingual. And, and for me, I dunno, that was, that was a, a perfect place for me. So I guess when I, when I’m thinking about this, when I made the decision to leave dentistry, people around me were totally in a state of shock. They thought, are you outta your mind? Like, you know, you’re leaving behind the million dollar paycheck, you know, like, what are you crazy? And, and I, and that was everybody. That was my girlfriend, my parents, every everyone that I ever had any contact with, except for one guy, one single guy.

Lorne Abramson (40:42):

And that was the guy who was the, he was the chair of the dental faculty at university of Montreal. And I went to see him, had to go see him, you know, tell I wanted, I wanted to leave or a leave of absence, I guess. And I had, fortunately I had done very well in, in the academic side. So for me, it was, I, it’s still, it’s still a hard thing for me to talk about because I, I know that in today’s world, what I’ve learned from people from younger people is that it’s a different world now. People are changing their, their choices, like all the time. Like it’s like, I, I, I’m always amazed at that. And I, I, I, I’m proud of the fact that they could do that and not fault to pieces. Now I’m sure there are people fault to pieces, but, you know, but then again, you see it a lot, you know, and for me at, at that time, it was such a mind boggling you know, choice that, cause in those days, you know, you, you made a choice in career, you stuck and you, and you stuck with it, you know?

Lorne Abramson (42:21):

And that, that was it. So for me, I, but anyway, at that time, I, I remember thinking, what am I gonna do? And, and I went to see my Dr. Ju his name was and sat in.

Lorne Abramson (42:55):

Don’t do anything that you think that you possibly might not be happy with. And I remember thinking that, I think, well, geez, you know, nobody’s ever told me that before nobody ever said those words, you know? And so I, I said to him, so what, what, what choice he said to me, look, he said, I I’m gonna give you a leave of absence. That’s unlimited. He said, you’ve done. Well. He said, what I’ll do for you is this every five years, I’ll send you to stay in touch with me every five years. I’ll send you a little note saying that if you haven’t made a choice to come back yet, then that’s fine. <Laugh> so I like, this is, this is what went on. This went on Sam, this went on for 20 years. <Laugh> now just think about that. I was a teacher, I, I only became a teacher in 1972.

Lorne Abramson (44:00):

And you know, really, I had no goals of being a T teacher, you know, that was not in my life choice. But I did. And and that’s a whole other conversation, but, but it was, again, a decision that totally made sense, you know, in this, in the sense of what, what kinds of things I was involved in and also, you know, becoming in, in the extracurricular world, it was perfect, cuz I not only did it fit with my going to camp, but also, you know, it had all kinds of other re repercussions. Yeah. And so he and I, Dr. Bushier and I, he was my saving grace. He was at the, there was nobody and, and there’s never been anybody else that that, and from those days, I don’t even know any of the people that I, I, I totally, I, it’s funny cuz my, I think that that time my girlfriend got married and she lives in now.

Lorne Abramson (45:12):

She lives in Florida, I think somewhere. And she and I kind of, you know, we talk once in blue moon and but you know, when I think about it, I dunno, you know, he was it. Yeah. And so, and of course the, the choice for me, I remember about 10 years after I’d been a teacher <laugh> I went to visit my old math teacher from high school who at that point had become the human resources head of human resources for the Montreal Protestant school board. Okay. And so I, I went to see him and he, he, he immediately said, hi Abrams an hour. You know, I was like, you know, that, that gravelly voice. And and I said, look, you know, you were right. I, I went back, made the choice to be a teacher and I’m very happy.

Lorne Abramson (46:17):

So he was really funny. He, I don’t know whether I have this here. Oh, it’s downstairs. He, he turned around and in his shelf he had a bookshelf and his bookshelf, he pulls out this red algebra book. Okay. And he said, I’ve been wondering if you were ever gonna come back and get this book. And he pulls it out and he opens it up and it’s, you know, how they used to have that stamp in the books that you’d have your name and all that, and what grade you were in and all that. And he pulls this thing out and it’s my algebra book, like my algebra book from grade 11 and issues you and I’m thinking yeah, there was all kinds of things like that that happened in my life. That was one of them. I I dunno. I, I can’t, you know, it’s funny cuz part of me, I, those were kind of funny days, you know, where I was making all these choices and and but that being said, it seems to have worked out.

Lorne Abramson (47:41):

<Laugh> just, you know, and I, if I talk to like a lot of times the inter plus eight kids, a lot of them will, you know, will will again ask me about choices. And you know, I said, it doesn’t matter. You know, like you, you can make a choice that you think is not gonna work out for you, but you, you can’t tell, you know, you, you don’t know. I mean, geez, my, my choice of being a teacher was insane. I was working for the department of health and welfare in Halifax for federal government, for family allowance. <Laugh> like, I, cuz I had become, I had become a Stu a social worker. Yeah. Essentially. And and I, I ended up I walked into work one day and here’s this poster on the wall. This is so ridiculous. This post big poster. And it says, do you work for, you know the federal government, do you have an undergraduate degree?

Lorne Abramson (48:54):

Are you interested? And, and, and then tells me that if, if I decide I can, I could go into they’ll, they’ll give me a full scholarship, not gonna cost me anything the full scholarship to do a bachelor of education. And then and then you could become a teacher and, or you could you oh. And by the way, and you’d get, you’d continue to get your full salary <laugh> for the whole year. Right? Oh my gosh. Okay. So I’m thinking to myself, what idiot wouldn’t do this. <Laugh> like, I was just thinking why, why and what it was about was I, later on I realized that the people that, you know, the, the government at the time in Nova Scotia were having a really hard time getting qualified teachers and that they were, they were ending up with teachers who this is not, not really saying anything, but the, the, the fact of the matter is they had a lot of people coming from other countries like India, Pakistan, China the west Indies, you know, a lot who, who didn’t necessarily speak English that well mm.

Lorne Abramson (50:16):

That being said, but they were, they probably had really good math skills. Mm. And but they really needed was a challenge local. Yeah. Yeah. They needed people who were local. And so they were offering this program. <Laugh> God just like, I think, I thought, really this is a program. And so I jumped at it and, oh, and, and then the other thing was when you were finished the year and you became your cuz it was a one year program. When you finished the year, you had the option of not going to become a teacher, but you could just take over your, your old job again.

Sam Demma (50:55):

Oh, wow.

Lorne Abramson (50:56):

I mean, it was, it was, it was such a ridiculous choice that like I thought, like really who, who wouldn’t do this? Yeah. So so I ended up God so I ended up doing that. I went to Mount St. Vincent university in Halifax, which at that time had 10 guys and 1500 girls.

Sam Demma (51:19):

Wow. <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (51:20):

And all 10 of the guys, except for, I think one were all married, had just recently got married. So not, not a good choice, but anyway, at that time and so I had a lot of, of friends that were girls anyway. And a lot of them ended up also at the end of the year, they ended up teaching. Wow. Got jobs at jail mostly. And, you know, so we, we became, we stayed friends for a long, long time. So I, I, and that, that was beginning of my teaching career, you know, and go figure on the first day of, of school, the principal at the time, who was a bit of a jerk, but he, he he actually went thing he was good at was hiring staff. And he, he said first day we had a meeting and he said, okay here’s the things that are available for you to volunteer for <laugh>, you know, was like, you know, everybody in the school was expected to volunteer for something. Mm. And so CA volleyball came up cuz the two volleyball coaches had left the school and they went to teach in the valley somewhere. Okay. In Annapolis valley. And I thought about it. I thought, well, I don’t know anything about volleyball, what the hell? <Laugh> nice. That’s helpful. So that was one of the great choices I ever made. But you know,

Sam Demma (52:56):

I don’t know, it sounds like trusting in your choices is a, sounds like that would be like a piece of advice that you might not know what the end result looks like, but still act confidently now and things will unfold as time passes. It sounds like all of your stories, they often involve other people. So it’s, you know, it sounds like building deep relationships, not only with students, but also with your colleagues and just human beings in general. Sounds like it’s been a big piece of your journey. <Laugh> whether it’s, you know, the doctor of your daughter or, you know the President elect of an association in Scotland. So <laugh> yeah, it’s it’s really cool to kind of hear your stories and, and your pathways and what we could take away from it. If, if there’s a teacher or someone, even if it’s not a teacher listening to this and they wanna connect with you or ask you some questions, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out?

Lorne Abramson (54:00):

Probably just the easiest thing in today’s world would either be by message or, or by email.

Sam Demma (54:06):

Sure.

Lorne Abramson (54:07):

Do you, you, can, you, you can, my email is labramson@eastlink.ca and I don’t mind, millions of people have that email anyway. And so it’s labramson@eastlink.ca. And either that, or if they just looked up the NSSSA or Diabetes Camps, all my information is on there. Okay. So, yeah.

Sam Demma (54:44):

Perfect. Awesome. Hey, thank you so much for taking the time to share some stories. It was really fun and exciting to chat with you, and I appreciate you, you making the time, especially during a very busy time in your own personal life.

Lorne Abramson (54:57):

Ah, well, I’ll come. You can come visit us in our apartment. <Laugh> yeah.

Sam Demma (55:02):

Sounds good. So that’s good.

Lorne Abramson (55:04):

Okay, Sam, thanks very much.

Sam Demma (55:07):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lorne Abramson

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.

Peter Sovran – Director of Education at the Upper Grand District School Board

Peter Sovran – Director of Education at the Upper Grand District School Board
About Peter Sovran

Peter Sovran’s career portfolio over the past twenty-seven years has included a variety of high profile, extensive and demanding senior leadership positions with the Hamilton-Wentworth, York Region and Toronto District School Boards and the Ontario Ministry of Education.

He has a proven track record of strategic, transformative leadership that has resulted in impactful changes to public education in Ontario, with a particular focus on improving
student achievement, well-being and equity of outcomes. His commitment to addressing the gaps in student learning that exist due to systemic and historic barriers was further cemented during his two years working with the Anishinaabeg of Kabapikotawangag Resource Council First Nations School in north-western Ontario.

Peter is currently one of the longest serving Associate Directors of Education in the province. Prior to this role Peter was an Executive Superintendent and a Superintendent of Student Achievement. He has served as a Senior Manager and Senior Policy Advisor with the Ministry of Education, leading the provincial eLearning program and Early Reading/Early Math initiatives.

Peter has been an elementary school principal and vice-principal and has taught in all grade divisions, elementary and secondary, including adult education. A lifelong learner, Peter is pursuing his doctorate in educational leadership and policy at OISE/UofT. He holds a Master of Science in Behavioural Neuroscience from McGill University, a Bachelor of Education (Science and Math) and Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Biomedical Ethics from the University of Toronto.

An avid runner and cyclist, Peter has completed several races including seven marathons. He and his wife carve out time from their busy schedules to enjoy tennis, hikes and finding new local artisan shops. They have two adult children.

“I am very humbled and excited about the opportunity to work with the dedicated trustees, staff, and community partners that serve the students of the Upper Grand District School Board. Together, we will ensure that UGDSB continues its well-established position as a leader in learning, service excellence, and environmental literacy and is proudly reflective of the distinct communities within its boundaries.”

Peter officially commences in the role of Director of Education and Secretary-Treasurer on September 1, 2021. He will begin his transition process over the coming months.

Connect with Peter: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB)

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB)

York Region District School Board (YRDSB)

Toronto District School Board (TDSB)

Ontario Ministry of Education

Anishinaabeg of Kabapikotawangag Resource Council First Nations School (AKRC)

Ontario Provincial eLearning program

Doctorate in educational leadership and policy at OISE/UofT

Behavioural Neuroscience at McGill University

Bachelor of Education at University of Toronto

Bachelor of Science in Psychology at University of Toronto

Biomedical Ethics at the University of Toronto

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.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Peter Sovran. Peter Sovran’s career portfolio over the past 27 years has included a variety of high profile, extensive, and demanding senior leadership positions with the Hamilton Wentworth York region and Toronto district school boards, and the Ontario ministry of education. He has a proven track record of strategic transformative leadership that has resulted in impactful changes to public education in Ontario, with a particular focus on improving student achievement, wellbeing and equity of outcomes. His commitment to addressing the gaps in student learning that exist due to systemic and historic barriers was further cemented during his two years, working with the Anishinaabeg of Kabapikotawangag Resource Council First Nations School in north-western Ontario. Peter is currently one of the longest serving associate directors of education in the province. Prior to his role, Peter was an executive superintendent and a superintendent of student achievement.

Sam Demma (01:58):

He has served as a senior manager and senior policy advisor with the ministry of education, leading the provincial eLearning program in early reading, early math initiatives. Peter has been an elementary school principal and vice principal, and is taught in all grade divisions,; elementary and secondary, including adult education. A lifelong learner. Peter is pursuing his doctorate in educational leadership and policy at OISE, University of Toronto. He holds a master of science and behavioral neuroscience from McGill University, a bachelor of education, science and math, and a bachelor of science in psychology and biomedical ethics from the University of Toronto. An avid runner and cyclist, Peter has completed several races, including seven marathons. He and his wife carve out time for their busy schedule to enjoy tennis, hikes, and finding new local artesian shops. They also have two adult children. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Peter. It was a pleasure to speak with him and I will see you on the other side. Peter, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Peter Sovran (03:01):

Well, hi Sam. So pleased to be here. So I’m Peter Sovran. I’m the director of education for the Upper Grand District School Board.

Sam Demma (03:10):

When did you realize as a young professional, or even as a student that you wanted to work in education when you grew up?

Peter Sovran (03:19):

Huh? That’s right. That is a great question. My my career and and career aspirations have taken many, many turns. I think I started off wanted to be a professional baseball player. So that was that didn’t happen. And so then I then I pursued you know my postsecondary education and thought I’d be a, a neuroscientist. Wow. Went, went off to to do my graduate work. And and then I, I realized a couple of things. One was sort of a force of nature and that is that I’m severely, severely allergic to the particular animals that I was working with when I was doing experiments. Wow. <laugh> and so I got to thinking, do I wanna do this for the rest of my life? And while I was in graduate school, I really enjoyed you know, the teaching side of things. And so I started looking into that and talked to a bunch of people and started doing some some volunteering in schools. And, you know, as they say, kind of the rest is history,

Sam Demma (04:39):

Take me back for a moment to the baseball days. When did that dream become something you chased and at what time in your life did you put it on the shelf in terms of the aspiration to one day play professionally?

Peter Sovran (04:55):

Oh, I think pretty quickly. I think I was you know, sort of a young teenager and realized that while I was a pretty good pitcher I was a pretty good pitcher for, you know, my local league had a tryout with the under 18 team Canada. Didn’t make it. And I thought, well, if I didn’t make it past the preliminary stages of that triad camp, then I’m not sure I wanted to spend my entire early twenties traveling in minor league ballparks.

Sam Demma (05:32):

Nice. I love it. You mentioned severe allergies as well to the animals. Was this a physical response that you would experience or what was the paint, the picture? What did it look like?

Peter Sovran (05:43):

<Laugh> it, it was, yeah, I I had packed my bags. I had moved to, to Montreal to attend McGill university deliberately picked it because, you know, it’s one of our great Canadian postsecondary institutions, particularly in the area of neuroscience. And as I began working with the rats that I was gonna be doing experiments with, cuz they’re great at running around mazes and you know as you’re studying learning and memory systems, which is what I was really interested in in, in looking at I had a severe allergic reaction and so had a hard time breathing and spent the next couple of years running the experiments with you know, seems like people would be so used to it today, but I had to wear an industrial mask. And and so it wasn’t, it wasn’t all that pleasant. And as I said, it was probably a sign that I wasn’t meant to do this.

Sam Demma (06:49):

So you made the decision to get the teaching degree because you enjoyed the teaching aspect of the job. What did the journey look like from that moment forward that brought you to where you are today?

Peter Sovran (07:01):

Yeah, so began my teaching career and I began in high schools and I was math science teacher, which sort of goes hand in hand with studying neuroscience. Weren’t too many jobs at that time. So my first job I took was actually in an elementary school, my former elementary school to be precise. And I started working alongside some teachers who had taught me. So that was that was pretty interesting. <Laugh> and and back then whenever you had the lowest seniority in a school, you were let go from that school and you were let go from the school board. And so that happened year after year. And even though that seems like a horrible way to start off your career, it provided opportunities, provided opportunities to go to different schools and teach in different grades, meet different people.

Peter Sovran (08:02):

And I think that that also helped you know, develop my my real interest for not only teaching in high schools and in elementary schools, but all grades. So by the time I moved in to becoming a principal, I had pretty well taught every grade or experienced every grade. And as I look back now, that was just a, a great opportunity. So I did that. And and then I had this unique opportunity to go work on a project with the ministry of education. And that connected me back to, you know, my science roots. I went there and I stayed for about six and a half years. Wow. Took on a whole bunch of different jobs there became a senior policy advisor. So I learned that side of things as well as education, I learned all of the, the policy side of the work.

Peter Sovran (09:01):

And then became a principal went back to the ministry of education and ran e-learning Ontario, which is sort of the online learning for the for the province. That was really cool. And and then I became a superintendent of education. Did that for a number of years became an associate director. And and then this past September became the director here on the upper grant district school board. So as I said, lots of twists and turns, but each one of them was a learning opportunity. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about is continuously learning.

Sam Demma (09:40):

What, first of all, remarkable pathway, everyone I ask has a totally different journey to where they are today. It sounds like you’ve had your interests and curiosity pull you in so many different directions, which gives you such a broad perspective and diverse set of skills. What though keeps you curious and motivated to get up every day and continuously pursue new knowledge and do this work?

Peter Sovran (10:07):

Yeah, it’s that’s a great question. And it’s you know, that’ss, that’s the key, right? Is why, why do we get up each day and wanna keep doing what we’re doing? And so you’ll see from from my background, this is my office. You know, my office has a nice a chalkboard. If you were to see my desk, it’s it’s an old wooden teacher’s desk and I’ve got all the modern features there as well, but the reason why I’ve, I’ve, I’ve always wanted to set up my office in this way, is that each and every day, I need to be reminded the reason I come to work, the reason why the so-called corner office exists is to make sure that the decisions that we make help students with their pathways. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, that’s the passion, that’s the drive and sort of the blend of the, the modern and, you know, some of the traditional is also one of those things that drives me.

Peter Sovran (11:07):

What, what else can we do? That’s, that’s different, that’s new, that’s exciting, like doing a podcast with you you know, over zoom, right. We wouldn’t have done this a couple of years ago. Yeah. But you know, so that to me is still super exciting. Until every student can fulfill their own pathway, their own desires, then there’s work to do mm-hmm, <affirmative>, there’s something interesting to pursue, and it doesn’t have to be, you know, graduating from, from high school. But you know I had, I had a group of students a couple weekends ago, I went out to a performance that three of our high school bands had gone together and, and were doing this charity event. And so I had the opportunity to to speak with them as they were rehearsing in the afternoon.

Peter Sovran (12:01):

And you know, one of them asked me a question and they said, if you had a magic button, you could press and change things, you know, for the better what would you do? And I thought that was a great question. And, you know, my answer was I would press that button and enable every student to pursue what they wanted to learn and how they wanted to learn it. Mm. That would be one magic button. So that, but that, that’s what keeps it coming every day to to the job, because it’s the pursuit of that magic button. Really.

Sam Demma (12:39):

I love that perspective as someone who spent most of their life, chasing a dream that other people happen to deem as unrealistic. I, I will, I grew up on to play professional soccer. And by the age of 17, after three career ending, knee injuries realized it wasn’t gonna happen. Found myself lost. And I valued school very high up until that point, because it was a means to me getting a better soccer scholarship. If I had higher grades and the athletics, I could get a full ride scholarship to a school in the states. And after it fell apart, I felt a little lost and didn’t know what I wanted to pursue and ended up taking a fifth year of high school and then a gap year both of which made me feel like maybe I was following behind or making the wrong choice. And I think it was so important that I had people in my life who during those moments reminded me that every pathway is a valid option, you know, in every learner, it takes a slightly different path. And if every student could be encouraged to pursue their path and help help to realize that there is no correct or right or wrong choice, I think that would take a lot of weight off their shoulders.

Peter Sovran (13:52):

Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, that, that’s that’s, the goal is you know, find what your passion is, what your interest is, and that can change, you know, you don’t have to set your course and, and have your learning driven that way. And through that passion and that interest, as opposed to it’s Tuesday, you know, so we have to learn this.

Sam Demma (14:15):

Mm, got it. When you think about educators who have been impactful in your life, who comes to mind and maybe it’s, it could be a formal classroom teacher, but it could also be anyone you’ve crossed path with who has had a significant impact on who you are and the way you see the world today.

Peter Sovran (14:34):

Yeah. It’s I, I think about that a lot. I had I had a great teacher grade seven and eight. Mm. And music teacher. And and while I don’t consider myself a musician that was a turning point in my life. It was an opportunity to be part of something bigger, which was a band and to, to play in a band. And and this teacher, you know saw something in me that suggested that I had some leadership qualities. And so I became the band leader in, in grade eight after spending grade seven, you know, really studying and learning the instrument for the very first time. And you know, I look back and that was one of those turning points. You know, this this belief that you could be a leader and someone who not only said it, but then, you know, work to develop some of those leadership skills.

Peter Sovran (15:34):

So I think of I think of that teacher, I think of you know, some some principles who I had both as a student but then also as a, as a teacher and then as a principal, myself, you know, colleagues who were just great listeners. Mm. And and you know, when I look back, I always think of the people who made the most impact on me were the ones who you know, let me take a chance, let me, they, they actually allowed me to, to fail, but with kinda a safety net. Hmm. And you know, and that’s something I, I always wanna carry with me and, and hope to, you know, inspire others with as well that you learn, you learn so much from taking a risk and taking a chance and sometimes yeah. Making mistakes.

Sam Demma (16:37):

You mentioned listening as one of the qualities of a leader, you know, people in your life that listened really intently, left an impact on you. What are some of the other qualities you think make up a great school leader, whether it be a principal or a superintendent or a teacher. Cause I think everyone in the school is a leader in some way, shape or form whether it’s leading colleagues or leading students. Yeah. I’m curious to know your thoughts on, on some of the qualities.

Peter Sovran (17:08):

Yeah. and again, your, your point around everyone’s a leader in, in one way or another. And so leadership qualities aren’t reserved just for those formal leadership positions. Yep. And so definitely listening is a real key. But also, you know making sure that as you listen, and as you, as you gather, people’s voice that your decisions are informed decisions that people are involved in decisions that you make together. Mm. And I think that that is such an important quality for, for anyone in a leadership position is that you know, you involve people not, not at the end, but at the beginning. And then, you know, I, I would say strong leaders also need to be decisive. Strong leaders need to be accountable. And you know, in, in a lot of the reading that I, I do about leadership some of the the things that would always stand out would be that you know, great leaders are the ones who take the responsibility when things don’t go well, always, always, and they always keep the praise on everyone else when things go well, because inevitably it’s the team effort that gets you, you know your results.

Peter Sovran (18:37):

So take the responsibility when it doesn’t go well and give credit when it does to the others.

Sam Demma (18:44):

Ah, I love that. You mentioned reading when in your life did reading nonfiction books become, and maybe it’s your whole life, but what, was there a tipping point where you fell in love with books on a continuous pursuit of knowledge? And if, if there was, I’m curious to know along the journey, what, what are some books that have stood out to you if you can recall some of them?

Peter Sovran (19:05):

Yeah, absolutely. So the one that I would just referenced would be Jim Collins. Good to great. You would come into my office, you would see it prominently displayed in my office. I refer back to it a whole lot. And I’m

Sam Demma (19:20):

Surprised you don’t have some fly wheels on your board back there. <Laugh> yeah,

Peter Sovran (19:26):

I I’ve always preferred nonfiction. I’ve really thoroughly enjoy reading biographies. Yes. About about politicians, about athletes, about, you know, inspirational leaders about people in general you know, people’s lives are fascinating. And I think as you, as you dig in whether it’s an autobiography or a biography and, and you learn about you know, people’s journeys there’s so much to glean from that. And for me, it, it’s just a reminder that nobody does anything on their own. It’s all in a context, it’s a context of, you know, whether it’s your family, whether it’s your friends, whether it’s your colleagues, whether it’s your, you know people that surround you, then nobody, nobody ever does anything on their own. And and so as I read these nonfiction and particularly these biographies, I’m always intrigued by, you know, what people have had to overcome and how they’ve you know, relied on others or as you described, you know, some of these important people in your life that you just go to and you think, wow, see, I always thought that person just was completely self made and became this instant, you know, in inspirational leader and successful person.

Peter Sovran (20:52):

And yet even they had that turning point or they had that person that they lean on.

Sam Demma (20:58):

Hmm. Yeah. I, I think you’re absolutely correct. Every, even the ones that appear like an overnight success often have so many things to share in interviews and that can disprove those assumptions about the people that helped them, how long it took for them to build what they did build. There’s a book called principles by Ray Dalio. And he has this one, maybe have you read it.

Peter Sovran (21:23):

I know it. Yep.

Sam Demma (21:24):

Yeah. So there’s one chapter and the title is, you know, you can have anything, but you can’t have everything. And I think this same applies to whatever you choose to pursue in life, but there should be an ad that you can have anything but not alone. <Laugh> yeah. Good point. Yeah. Because I think you’re absolutely right in saying it’s always the result of a collective effort or in some way, the influence of other people that you’ve met along your own journey. When you think about the people that impacted you you know, your grade seven teacher the colleagues and principals you have ha have had along the way, are there any that you still stay in touch with closely to this day?

Peter Sovran (22:09):

Well, that, that great seven teacher, I still stay connected with him. Nice. And still have a friendship after all of these years. And it’s been many, many years. Wow. I would say pretty well, everyone who I would describe as having had an impact if they’re if they’re still with us I make an effort to to stay connected with them. And and, and also, you know whether it’s this new role that I took on last September. And perhaps I had, you know, connected with someone for a little while I’d reach out and say you know, I’m doing what I’m doing right now, largely because of the impact you had on my life. And I think it’s so important to remind people of that.

Sam Demma (22:58):

I, I love it. I try and stay in touch with my grade 12 world issues teacher who had a big impact on me. And I can tell that every time I reach out to him, he has this sense of gratitude because maybe sometimes educators don’t hear it often enough from their students or their colleagues, the difference that their actions and choices make in the lives of others. Books have been a big part of your life. How else do you fill your own cup when you’re not working in the office?

Peter Sovran (23:27):

Hmm. So a couple of things. I for my own self care, I I run and I try and run usually four or five times a week with that comes the other setbacks with injuries which I’m dealing with right now. Oh, no. And you know, and so, and, and I run both for my mental wellbeing and for my physical wellbeing. But when it comes to the work I deliberately don’t spend a whole lot of time in my physical office. I spend time in different places within our school board. And I make a point there’s one day a week that I spend in schools and in classrooms. And sometimes it’s two days a week. And I always say the reason I have to be in schools and in classrooms to interact with students and with teachers and, you know, office administrators and caretakers is that that’s where the rubber hits the road. That’s where the action happens. That’s where the impact is. And as the leader of the organization, I need to be right there and see it and, and hear it. And so that absolutely fills my cup. I will say to people best part of my week is always when I’m in schools.

Sam Demma (24:58):

Hmm. There’s so many amazing things happening in schools. I’m sure you’re quite inspired by walking through the hallways, stopping in classrooms, hearing the discussions, but over the past two years, there’s also been an equal affair of challenges with shifts. And, you know, I shouldn’t say the word cuz they’re moving out of it now, but COVID, <laugh> I’m sure there’s been moments where teachers have maybe even reached out to you burnt out people that you’ve inspired looking for some advice or insights. If you were to paint a hypothetical situation of a teacher walking into your, your office, which you’re very rarely in any ways, which makes us more hypothetical and they sat down and tears in their eyes telling you, you know, this has been one of the hardest years of my life. I’m feeling burnt out. I’m not feeling inspired. You know, do you have any words of advice for me, if you could kind of share a quick little blurb for teachers who might be feeling this way right now, what would you share or tell them?

Peter Sovran (25:59):

Yeah. so it, it’s not even a hypothetical Sam it’s it’s, it’s the reality that you know, going back to, you know, the context everybody’s lived in the context of of COVID and the global pandemic for you know, since March of 2020, I remember that day leaving March 20, 20 thinking okay. A couple of weeks we’ll, we’ll be back, we’ll be back. And we’ll just pick things up. And here we are June of two and you know, the, as difficult as it’s been for students the absolute champions of education have been all of the educators, you know, the teachers, the educational assistants, everybody that works in the system they managed to leave in March of 2020, and within two weeks went from, you know, a physical classroom to, to this, to, you know, a laptop, maybe a camera and all of a sudden they had to take their craft and completely reinvent how they engage with students.

Peter Sovran (27:19):

So I’d say, you know, what you’ve done over the last two years has made a difference. It’s made a huge difference, you know? Yeah. I, when I was a principal, I used to always end my, the, the staff meetings with this one slide, what you do matters. And it’s so true what you do in a school, connecting with a student, listening, teaching it matters and it’s mattered more so in the last two years than probably ever before, because teachers and everyone that works with students, they’ve not only been able to connect with them, but they’ve also shown them that despite a global pandemic, despite the biggest curve ball, if I could use a, a baseball analogy that was that was thrown at you you know, we persevere, we, we pick ourselves up, we dust ourselves off and we focus on what matters the most, which is that human connection.

Peter Sovran (28:33):

And so, yeah, it’s been incredibly tough. There is no question about it. And you know, the other reminder is that, you know, our, our leaders in our schools, our teachers or principals, and, you know, again, our caretakers are off staff. They also have lives outside of school. Yeah. That have been, that have been impacted, you know, they’re caring for other people. They’re worried about other people they’re, they’re worried about themselves. And so, yeah, it’s, it’s been so incredibly difficult, but I would say that, you know our sector in education, I mean, you know, our, our healthcare workers have been heroes through this, but I would put our educators, you know, right up there. You’ve made the difference. You’ve been the ones who have been on the other side of the screen for your students who have otherwise felt, you know, disconnected and lost. So I’m just like everyone, you know, planning for a return in September that will not go back to the way things work. Cause I think we shouldn’t do that. We should never try and go back. We should always, you know, learn from the situations that we’re in take, what’s worked and, and keep moving forward. But I really do hope that September and the fall looks different than it has these last two falls.

Sam Demma (30:08):

You positioned it perfectly. <Laugh> different is a good, good way to put it. I know it’s been a challenge, not only for staff in schools, but for superintendents like yourself, anyone who worked in education. And in fact, I would say humanity as a whole has had a challenge, no matter what industry or, you know, vocation, you worked in. The challenge that I sometimes think about often is those educators that just began teaching and their first year was in the middle of the pandemic who didn’t have, you know, 10 years of previous teaching experience to compare it to, and maybe had been thinking to themselves, what the heck did I sign up for? I, I’m curious to know if you could go back in time to your first few years working in education with the experience you have now, what advice would you have given to your younger self when you were just starting that you think may have been helpful to hear, and maybe it’s something we’ve already chatted about that you can reiterate or some new thoughts?

Peter Sovran (31:14):

Hmm. Yeah. I I would definitely say to myself, you don’t have all the answers, so look to others <laugh> mm. Number one, number two it, it’s okay to, to make a mistake and to take a risk and you know, within, within reason. Right. and and if it’s because you’re, you’re trying to do something to, you know, I improve the lives of others then you’re always on the right side of that. And and so I, I would, I would definitely say that, you know, those who have come into the profession during the pandemic or into a new position and, you know, I include myself as one of those people. You know, I became the director of education here in the upper grand district school board on September, the first of, in the midst of a pandemic.

Peter Sovran (32:19):

You realized though that even though you were teaching or leading, you know, with a mask on perhaps and sanitizing your hands more than you’ve probably ever done in your life <laugh> and that you were, you know, shifting from being in person to then being back in lockdown to doing things virtually that fundamentally one thing has not changed. And that connecting with people has always number one, the number was that teacher that I was, you know, almost 30 years ago to someone who’s just now started just remember that whether you’re connecting through zoom or teams or in person always keep those connections open, build those networks you know talk to talk to others who, you know, have, have walked in your path before I’ll share this story. When I first started this job you know, I I, I took over for Dr.

Peter Sovran (33:30):

Martha Rogers, who had been the director of education, the only director of education that the upper district school board had ever had. Wow. She had been, she had been in the role for 26 and a years. She was the founding director of education, you know, the, the first and only ever CEO that the organization had. And you know, sadly we lost DRS in December. So I had a really short period of time where I had that opportunity to connect with her. And every two weeks we would have coffee together and and conversation and lots of conversation. And it was my chance to, you know, pick her brain about you know, her 26 and a half years of, of running the organization. And it was also her opportunity to pick my brain about what’s this guy gonna be doing now that I’ve handed over this organization after 26 and a half years.

Peter Sovran (34:33):

And what it speaks to is, you know, that human connection and realizing that we can all learn from each other all the time. And as long as you’re open to that, you have to be open to that. You’ll keep moving forward. Once you start thinking you have all the answers that nobody can tell you how might be able so or different then it’s, then it’s time to take a really hard look at am I, am I really coming into the job each and every day, because I love doing it still or is it time to do something else? And it doesn’t matter what profession or what job you’re in. Everybody gets to that point

Sam Demma (35:18):

What a great piece of advice, especially towards the start or end of a new academic year to reflect on, I think to set our sales in the correct direction and be honest, if it’s not something that lights your soul then it’s okay to shift your sail as well. We need people who really want to be in education to be in education and it sounds like your conversations with Martha had a significant impact on you and testament to her and the human connection that I hope everyone strives to have with their colleagues and their students. This has been an awesome conversation Peter. Thank you so much for taking the time to call on the podcast. If someone wants to reach out to you, ask a question pick your brain, <laugh> absorb some of your genius, what would be the best way for them to reach out or get in touch?

Peter Sovran (36:11):

You know we’re always available at the Upper Grand District School Board. You just drop a line to our general inquiry. Give us a phone call you know, we’re, we’re on the web at ugdsb.on.ca. You’ll able to find you know, our contact information. And I love working with people who who are interested in, in leadership in, in any capacity and it doesn’t have to be just in education. And of course I will shamelessly say, I’m always, always looking for people who are, are passionate about working with students. And you know, this school board is an amazing place to work. So if you want reach out and you know, share your, share your passion for for working with students and making their lives better because that’s what it’s all about.

Sam Demma (37:13):

Awesome. Peter, thanks again for doing this. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Keep up the amazing work and I look forward to chatting with you soon.

Peter Sovran (37:21):

My pleasure.

Sam Demma (37:23):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter Sovran

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.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd – Superintendent of the Victoria Independent School District and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria

Dr. Quintin Shepherd - Superintendent of the Victoria Independent School District and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria
About Dr. Quintin Shepherd

Dr. Shepherd (@QShepherd) is in his fourth year as Superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District. When he came to Victoria, his first priority was to listen to the voice of the community, parents, staff, and students.

From that, he invited those stakeholders to be a part of shaping the future of the District. Members of those groups have been, and continue to, work collaboratively with District leadership to make recommendations as we build that future to meet the current and future needs of Victoria students and the community.

Dr. Shepherd also serves as Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria. Recently, Dr. Shepherd published the popular “The Secret to Transformational Leadership.”

Connect with Quintin: Email | LinkedIn | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Victoria Independent School District

University of Houston

The Secret to Transformational Leadership Book

P-Tech Schools

Advanced Placement

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 the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. The High Performing Educator was created to provide you with opportunities for personal development directly from your colleagues and peers. Each episode is like sitting face to face with a colleague in education at an amazing conference and chatting about their best practices, their learnings, their philosophies, and the mindset shifts that allow them to be successful in education today. If you enjoy these episodes that air Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each week, please consider leaving a rating on the show on iTunes, so more educators can find it. And if you would like to receive emails that include inspiring videos for your students and actionable ideas for yourself and your staff, please visit www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up, join the network, and I will see you on the other side of this conversation. Welcome back to the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Quintin Shepherd.. Dr. Shepherd is in his fourth year as superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District. When he came to Victoria, his first priority was to listen to the voice of the community, parents, staff, and students. From that, he invited those stakeholders to be part of shaping the future of the district, which you’ll hear all about in today’s interview. Members of those groups have been and continue to work collaboratively with district leadership to make recommendations as we begin building that future to meet the current and future needs of Victoria students and the community. Dr. Shepherd also serves as adjunct faculty at University of Houston, Victoria. And recently, Dr. Shepherd published the popular book, the secret to transformational leadership, which we will talk a lot about today. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Shepherd and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Dr. Quintin Shepherd from San Antonio, Texas,. Quintin, please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (02:12):

<Laugh> my name is Quintin Shepherd. I’m currently in San Antonio by I, I, I reside in Victoria, which is a few hours east of here, southeast of here. I’ve been a superintendent for 18 years in three different states. Prior to that, I was a high school principal. Before that I was an elementary principal and, and what seems like almost a lifetime ago, I got to teach pre-K through 12th grade music every day, and it was awesome. Seeing the three year olds all the way up through the 18 year olds. I guess the other thing that’s that’s relevant is in my spare time, I, I teach at the University and I get to teach ed leadership for folks who are aspiring to be principals or, or superintendents and I also get to teach school law.

Sam Demma (02:53):

When did you realize growing up as a youngster, that education was gonna be the pathway you would take in the future?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (03:01):

One of my, one of my favorite sayings of all time is that little boys grow up to do what their mothers want them to do, but they do it in a way that their fathers would’ve done it <laugh>, which I think is like appropriate for a lot of men that I know. My mom was a school teacher. My grandfather actually her, her, her dad, he had an eighth grade education and lived on a farm, a working farm, and he was a school custodian. So he would get up at four o’clock in the morning and do chores, and then he’d go off and be a school custodian all day and then come home in the evening and do chores. And so I guess education is sort of in my blood. And like I said, my mom was a teacher taught kindergarten for a number of years, almost her entire career.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (03:42):

And I sort of resisted the call into education, but I think it was a foregone conclusion that I was gonna get into education. And shortly after I started as a teacher, I came to realize that there’s really only two groups of people who work in schools. There are those who teach, and there are those who support teachers. And I was a pretty good teacher. I think I was a pretty good teacher, but I wasn’t my mom, like my mom was an amazing teacher. She was one of these walk on water teachers. And I recognized that my calling and education was to be the number one chief supporter of teachers, and to try to make their job as easy as possible, try to keep the, you know, the, the politics away from the classroom and the, and, you know, do what I could to support, support what needs to happen in the classroom. And that’s where I found my calling.

Sam Demma (04:29):

You realize education is gonna be your pathway. What did the journey look like from that moment forward?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (04:37):

It was when you’re first outta college, it’s you know, you, you’re, you’re trying to sort out what direction is, is, is your life gonna take? And at the time applied for just about every job you could, you could imagine. And I landed in a small country school in rural Illinois, and it was, it was from there it’s, it’s a matter of one foot in front of the other, every step along the way. It’s, it’s recognizing that, you know, you, you have this dream and you have this vision and you want things to go a certain way, but sometimes life doesn’t see it that way. And sometimes life throws the opportunities that you didn’t see coming curve balls, for instance. And so you, you take a swing at every one of those and you miss some, you miss a lot of them, but then some of them you hit and it’s, it’s things like that.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (05:19):

That’s, that’s how I ended up at Victoria, Texas. Quite frankly, I was a superintendent in Illinois for a number of years. And then I moved to Iowa and, you know, things were going along splendidly and, and this opportunity came up to come down and meet the school board in Victoria, Texas. And you swing it, you swing at the pictures that are thrown at you. And it, it was the best move I could have possibly made. I’m doing some of the best work of my life and, and, and really feeling great about, you know, the work that’s happening.

Sam Demma (05:47):

Tell, tell us a little bit about why you’re in San Antonio, Texas right now. I know we talked about it before the podcast started, but what’s going on?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (05:55):

Yeah, so summer for for school administrators, a and for school board members, we try to focus on some pretty deep learning. So right now what’s going on in San Antonio is a statewide Texas conference for school board members. It’s designed for school board members, TAs V, Texas association of school boards. And it’s called the summer summer leadership Institute. And so school board members from all over the state of Texas come together for this conference and do some pretty intense learning for, for three days, which seems kind of unremarkable because educators do it all the time. Right. But you have to remember, these are volunteers. Yeah. These are people who have real jobs that pay real money, that they need to support their families. And they choose to come here for three days during the summer to keep up their learning. And that’s just a Testament to, you know, how, how committed they are to making sure that we have great public schools. And I just, so, so for a superintendent to be here and support their board, it’s just, it’s, it’s an awesome experience.

Sam Demma (06:49):

You mentioned that you realized shortly into your journey in education, that leadership was going to be your calling, or should I say supporting teachers and being the chief supporting officer <laugh>. I love that phrase. Yeah. When you realized that, what transition did you make and what started your deep interest and passion for leadership itself?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (07:13):

So my passion for leadership was, was really just this recognition that pretty, pretty soon after I started as a principal. I mean, when you’re doing the job as a principal, essentially, there’s a couple of things I’m gonna say. The first part is it’s a performance, just like when you first started as a teacher, like the first day in the classroom in front of kids, <laugh>, you’re performing a role in your mind, you know, what a teacher should be doing and what they should look like and how they should dress and so on and so forth. And you’re performing and you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just doing the best you can. And and I recognize that the same is true for principles that when you start as a principal, there’s no, you’re, you’re playing by the rules as they’re handed to you.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (07:54):

Right. And so you do what your principal did or what the principal before you did. And that’s how a lot of leadership training takes place is by mimicry. Frankly. And then I, I became a superintendent and same thing, same exact thing. And after a year or two of figuring out how to play the game by the rules, as they’re handed to you, then you come to realize this, the same thing as a teacher, it’s true for a superintendent that maybe these rules aren’t right for me. Mm. Like they’re not the way that I’m supposed to be doing it. And the best way to describe it is, is it was like a suit that didn’t fit. Mm. And so start to change rules a little bit and say, look, we can do this thing differently. And when I started to do that, I, I came up on this, this recognition that I think a lot of how we’re doing public school leadership were just doing it wrong, quite frankly, mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (08:46):

And I couldn’t articulate it any better than that at the time. But I just felt like when I was reaching out to my community or when I was reaching out to my teachers, it just wasn’t working. I didn’t feel like I was connected to them because we’re gonna adopt a new curriculum here. We went out and did all this research. Here’s a curriculum, and we need you to do the summer professional development or training or whatever. And it’s like, it falls flat on its face. And you start to hear that the, you know, district office is disconnected from what’s happening in the classroom. And like all these things that, you know, it’s, it’s happens everywhere in education, and this is fairly, fairly commonplace. And so I started to flip the paradigm on its head as far as how I do leadership. And when I, when I came to recognize that is as a superintendent, there’s only two types of decisions that ever come to my desk. They’re either complicated or they’re complex. Now, if they’re complicated, there’s just one right. Answer. There’s one way to do it. So like a math problem, they’re complicated, right? Disassembling an aircraft engine and putting it back together. That’s complicated. Like, I’m not gonna ask you do that. Right. I’m guessing you, you’re not an aerospace engineer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (09:53):

Complex is inherently unknowable complex. Doesn’t have one right answer. Mm. So what’s the best way to educate kids during a pandemic? Well, that’s a complex question. So what I committed to in my leadership is that anytime I’m faced with a complex issue, I will go to the people who are gonna be most impacted by that decision and give them the greatest voice. Mm. So for instance, with the pandemic, for a pandemic response plan, we went to the teachers first and we said, what would you do? How would you address this problem? And so we had about 700 teachers help us write our pandemic response plan had about 500 kids had over a thousand community members. So imagine this over 2000 people, co-authored this document. And we literally took their language and put it into the document. And then when we represented it to the community, the community’s response isn’t to judge the superintendent on his ability to write a pandemic response plan. Cause I didn’t write it. Yeah. The community says, we wrote this and this is pretty freaking awesome. Let’s get the work. And so really the, the leadership journey for me has been around. That’s how you support teachers, you support teachers by giving ’em a bigger voice in the complex issues that are facing education.

Sam Demma (11:03):

What an awesome way to craft a response plan. I would assume other districts heard about the success and maybe ask, how the heck did you facilitate this? Like, can you give me an, an idea of how long it took to craft that or how quick the turnaround was? And were there any challenges through the process?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (11:23):

It was couple, two or three weeks, at least from start to finish, which seems remarkably fast, but essentially, and we were doing it during the pandemic, which remember that meant that we were having these mega zoom meetings of 5, 6, 700 people at a time. Wow. And when we went to the students, that was crazy. I mean, imagine putting 500 middle school students in one zoom <laugh> and we did crazy, right. I mean, but we, we did it. And part of what we, part of what we did was not just let somebody come off mute that wouldn’t make any sense at all. What we wanted to do was crowdsource good ideas. So we’re, we worked with a company called thought exchange and we pitched the question to our kids and to our teachers. And, and there were lots of different questions, but as an example, what things should we focus on?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (12:06):

So that students have access to technology or what are biggest barriers to technology. And then every single teacher of the 700 who logged on, had a chance to respond. And then they had a chance to read the other 699 teachers. Wow. And what they said, and they could give them stars. So they were like, oh, that’s really, really smart. I didn’t think about that. Or no, that’s kind of dumb. We don’t need you to think about that. And it doesn’t matter because the whole thing’s anonymous. But by doing that then of 700 people who shared over a thousand thoughts, the, the smartest in the room go to the top, the stuff we should most focus on because they got the most stars. So that’s literally crowdsourcing great ideas. And so that was the language say top 15, 20%. That was the language that we then put in the pandemic response plan.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (12:51):

And then when we went to their students, we started with that and said, okay, students, this is what the teachers have said, what are your thoughts and questions about that? And then we crowdsourced that, right. And made the document that much more robust. So it took on like almost this three dimensional that shape. And then when we had done that, since we knew the kids were gonna be probably second most impacted by its decisions, parents would be third, most impacted. So then we went to the parents’ third and said, okay, now we’ve had teachers and students, what are your thoughts and questions? Mm, well then it turned into a whole other conversation about what needs to happen at home to support learning. So Sam, it was just this really interesting, fast and iterative process where we were constantly adapting and evolving in a, in a really rapid cycle. And we do that for any, anything that’s complex, which could be bonds or redistricting or closing schools. I mean, we’ve tackled some things that typically get lots of people fired and communities in an uproar and in our community largely says, Hey, thanks for giving me a voice in the process. This has been awesome.

Sam Demma (13:52):

I’m thinking it would’ve been really nice if I interviewed you two years ago. <Laugh> <laugh> because this, I mean, the cool thing is that this process is something that could be repeated with tons of complex issues. But I know being in Canada, there were so many school districts and superintendents struggling to find a way to create a really great response to the COVID pandemic. And in Canada, it was really bad. Like we, you know, everything shut down and stayed, shut down for a very long time. Students fell behind on learning. You know,

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (14:27):

Well, but even, even now though, I mean, we’re, as we’re coming out of the pandemic, this is still like, we’re doing the exact same thing now. But the new question is what things should we do to post the learning gap for those students who are behind more importantly, like there’s, there’s so many iterations on this. We’re also talking about what sorts of things should we focus on when it comes to student wellbeing and mental health and we were, we’re going directly to the kids. Nice. And so, so I’m, we’re actually kicking off. I’ve been told that we’re kicking off the largest participatory budgeting experiment in the history of the United States. Wow. We set aside 5 million of our Sr funding and we’re, we’re literally gonna go to each of our high schools and say here’s $500,000. And we want it to focus on student mental wellness and mental health.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (15:12):

And 250,000 is carved out for the kids themselves. So we’re basically gonna take this pile of cash to our high school students and say, how would you spend this money in a way that helps us solve the mental health crisis? So like the timing couldn’t even be better to share ideas like this, because I think this idea about mental health or closing achievement gaps or learning gaps, or what students are worried about as they transition into college or on and on and on the number of questions out there is endless. And what, what better time to just tackle them

Sam Demma (15:42):

Tackling tough questions over the past two years sounds like something you’ve done a lot of, and I’m sure it consumes a ton of your time. You also found the time to write a book <laugh> like, tell me, tell me about it, what inspired it? And what’s it all about?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (15:57):

I think the, the book had been on my mind for about a decade, as I said previously, I I’ve just, you know, been doing D leadership differently and, and seeing others, I’m not the only one doing it this way. Yeah. But seeing others do leadership differently, but that we lack maybe a common language around what it is that we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And so I’d been kicking around this idea of, of writing a book for several years, the pandemic just presented itself as a great opportunity to sit down and actually get my thoughts down on paper and or digitally, I guess <laugh> dating myself a bit. But, but essentially I wanted to make it very approachable. Like I tried to make this because if, if you’re steeped in leadership theory, then you can, you can, you know, see transactional versus transformational leadership in this book.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (16:42):

Or you can see technical versus adaptive, the work of Hz and Linsky, or you can see elements of power. I talk about power and Ross’s notion of power and so on, so forth, but that’s all the theory. That’s all the stuff that leaders learn, you know, as they go through university, I wanted to just make this approachable by saying, well, what’s common language. That’s that differentiates complicated versus complex. And it’s interesting because they’re almost two completely different. They’re two completely different languages. And the one that I like to use to explain it is so applicable at the classroom level, but it’s also about the leadership level. Is that a complicated way to look at your classroom is to tell the students, this is what I want from you because it assumes there’s one right answer, right? Mm. Or there’s a way to do this, and this is what I want from you.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (17:27):

And so we tell them, and when you’re in complicated, it’s all about judgment. So this is what I want from you. And if you don’t deliver it for me, I’m gonna judge you and you’re gonna be strong, or you’re gonna be weak, but either way, you’re fragile because it’s always complicated. And that’s how this works. And that’s what I, if a stands up in front of group of students and resists the urge to say, this is what I want want from you. And then they can focus on this is what I want for you. Mm

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (17:54):

Oh. Now that’s a conversation. What I want for you is to have a sense of autonomy. I want for you to have a sense that you’ve mastered the content I want for you, the opportunity to have worked in the best team that you’ve ever worked on to create this project. Well, that’s complex. There’s not one right answer. There’s not one way to do it. And the nice part about that is it resists judgment. I want these things for you. How can we make that happen? And so what I’m asking you to do is to suffer. I’m asking you to share your suffering. Like, I don’t know how to approach this project. I don’t know if I can work with this team. Awesome. So now what we’re doing is we’re in compassionate versus competent, right? And the, and that’s the juxtaposition because compassion, if you break that word down, passion is to suffer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (18:37):

Compassion is to suffer with mm it’s. Empathy plus action. And so I, I try to create the language that says, look, you get whatever you’re asking for. Based on the language you use and too many leaders stand up and they use complicated language when they’re actually trying to do transformative and complex work. And as a result of that, the community has been trained to recognize complicated language to mean, oh, you want us to judge you <laugh> oh, so you wrote your pandemic response plan. Well, I think it sucks. I went to Google and this is like some other school district that did something. And so I’m like, well, use the right language, use the right language.

Sam Demma (19:10):

How long did it take to crystallize the ideas and get the book on paper? What was the start to finish process like?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (19:18):

It was just about a year start to finish. It was, I had taken a couple of false starts before, and then I met Sarah who helped me with the book, pulling it together and doing some of the vignettes. And what have you, Sarah Williamson. And she just helped me put together a structure. What I really needed is as I, as I shared sort of my background as a superintendent and I’m teaching university and so on and so forth, I, I, I stay sort of busy, I think is the word for it. And she, she helped me set up a timeline to say, no, you’re gonna sit down. You’re gonna, you’re gonna write, and you’re gonna turn these in. And these you deadlines and so and so forth. And so having an accountability partner really helped me. And I think the other thing that helped me, and this was a, this was a light bulb moment for me, I’ve, you know, over 40 years old and have had a pretty successful life, but just had this amazing light, light bulb moment that will transform every decision in every goal that I make for the rest of my life, which is the recognition that all of us have been taught to set goals.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (20:12):

Right. And so we try to create these goal habits, but the truth is that most of us truthfully fail at most of our goals. Like I would say the failure rate is probably close to 90, 95%. And it makes sense because we’ve designed our entire lives around the life that we’re living right now this very second. And if you set a goal that’s outside of that life, that you’re living a hundred percent of your life is working against that goal. Right? And so you’re, you’re destined to fail when you have goal based habits. And if on my goal based habit was to write, I was probably gonna fail. And then if you flip that goal based habit with something that’s completely different. So I’m gonna take a quick aside to prove a point here. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, I’m guessing that every day when you wake up, you brush your teeth.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (20:59):

I do. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the road. It doesn’t matter if you go visit your parents’ house, it doesn’t matter if you’re visiting a friend. It doesn’t matter if you’re home, you brush your teeth every day, right? You take a shower every day. Mm. And this is not a goal based habit. This is an identity based habit. Like, I don’t wanna have the identity of someone who has a bad breath or who stinks, right? Yeah. So I have an identity based habit. And the aha for me was, oh, no, no, no. I want to set my identity as someone who is a writer. So what does a writer do? Oh, well, a writer would get up every morning and they would write because they’re a writer and they would set aside a place in their house where they’re gonna do their writing and they’re gonna do this.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (21:38):

And all of a sudden these identity based habits. And then I never had to create a goal. I never had to carve out space. I never had to make the effort because I was living the identity of being a writer. And it, it kind of just took care of itself. And so like now I’m like, why have we not talked about this for fitness or health or nutrition or yeah. Getting a doctorate or just about anything goal or even teaching. If we try to have students have goal based behaviors to study versus identity based behaviors of, I am a scholar and a learner,

Sam Demma (22:07):

It sounds like you identify as a reader as well. I first learned about identity based goal setting in James Clear’s book, atomic habits. Yeah. It really resonated with me and changed the way that I think about things. I actually use a similar analogy. When I talk about brushing your teeth as a way to prove that we are never too busy when someone gives me the objection that I’m sorry, I can’t take this or do this. It’s because I’m too busy. What I actually start to understand is that even if I have the most busy day of my life, I still brush my teeth before I go to bed one, because it’s a part of my identity, but two, because it’s something that I prioritize right. It’s a priority. So if someone tells me they’re too busy, it just means that the thing that I’m asking them for is not of the similar priority as a task they’re already doing, or even more priority that they would switch their schedule for it.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (22:58):

That’s, that’s a very polite way of saying it. I think a little bit more harshly, they would say it is when somebody says I don’t have time valuable is I don’t care <laugh>

Sam Demma (23:09):

Yeah. Just of no value to me. <Laugh> that’s right.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:12):

That’s

Sam Demma (23:12):

Right. So am I correct in assuming that you like reading and like constant learning?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:20):

Yeah. I’m a, I’m a fairly voracious reader. I work with an executive coach and I, I didn’t realize this, but she had been in our conversations over the course of this past year. Just every time I referenced the book, kinda kicking it off or so, and I I’ve come to the I’ve come to the assumption that I read between 40 and 60 books a year on average. So yeah, pretty, pretty avid reader.

Sam Demma (23:39):

What are some of the resources that, of course your own book is gonna be a, an amazing one and teachers should consider picking it up, which books have you consumed or resources in general that have helped you develop yourself, turn into the leader you are today that you think other educators would benefit from consuming.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:57):

So for me on my leadership journey, lots of leadership biography, I take, I take great inspiration from leadership biography. So I read a lot of leadership biography. I also read a great deal of innovation work on innovation, anybody who’s writing about adaptive innovation and creativity, but specifically I stay away from education. Believe it or not, because I think that we, I think we understand creativity or entrepreneurship or innovation, but we have a, a somewhat slanted view of it. I think there’s a much better view view of innovation and creativity that comes from the business world. So I’m always kind of scouring for what’s out there in the business world, in that area. And I’ve learned a ton and I brought to, to education specifically in our space as we, when I got to Victoria, we didn’t have a department of innovation. We now have a department of innovation with the whole we’ve written, you know, approximately 15 million in grant funding every year. Wow. Just from the department of innovation alone. And it’s transformed the way we, you know, work with some of our schools, but virtually everything I learned about innovation, I learned outside of education and just applied to education.

Sam Demma (25:02):

Very cool. Speaking of innovation, creativity moving forward, what are some of the things you are working on right now with your school board school districts, superintendents that you’re excited about in the coming years or next next fall?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (25:20):

So, so I think that some of the stuff that I’m working on is obviously getting the message of this book out. Like, and that’s actually, I’m focused on that and getting this message out there because I think I have something that people can understand and I love to do it in medium size groups or even large group formats. Where, where we create, I create this space called house of genius. And I just, it rather than tell people about it, we actually do it like whatever group I happen to be in front of. We just solve a massively complex issue for that group right there in the room, and then we solve it and we go through it and it only takes, you know, 40, 45 minutes, depending on what we’re talking about. And then I back away from that and I talk through, well, this is how we did it.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (25:58):

This was the language. And this was the framework, and this is all the stuff from the book, but you just experienced it. You just lived it and you can live it, you know, any way you want to. So that’s, that’s kind of fun. And I’m excited about doing that in, in our district. We’ve launched a number of pathways. So for instance, our kids essentially we’re transforming the, the simple way of talking about it is that we’re trying to walk away from this notion of elementary, middle, and high school. Now let’s still have elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Everybody’s gonna have elementary, middle, and high school. That’s not gonna change because that’s the way education works. But let’s just talk about what elementary school really should be right now. Elementary school. If you think about it is all about exposure. Mm.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (26:38):

Exposing kids to different learning pathways, different learning styles, different interests, trying to find their genius all about exposing, exposing, exposing, and then middle school. Once kids start to figure out what they’re good at and what they like and how they like to learn you move from exposure to experience that’s middle school. So how do you experience things like internships or job shadows, or how do you experience a, a profession or a unique way of learning? We, we just launched one of our stem middle schools just this last year. So we have a stem based middle school. That’s open enrollment for any kid that wants to go there. We have a project based learning school as well, but it’s all about exposure experience and then rethinking high school as pursuit. So pursuit means like I know I’m college or university bound, so this is the courses I need to take and so on and so forth.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (27:23):

So for our district, but that means more kids taking AP than ever in the history of the district. And the scores are higher, more kids taking dual credit than ever in the history of the district than their scores are higher. But we also have more kids doing CTE coursework, cuz they want to go right into the world of work. Nice. And so we’re trying to create pursuit opportunities and we’ve launched several Ptech high schools so that kids can their associates degree as, as they, as they move forward on their launch, which is pretty cool. And we’re all about this one simple, simple, simple concept, and that’s the concept of the, and the Amper sign, right? And so when you think about the Amper sand and it’s become a sign for our district, we even have it on shirts and stuff, all kinds of stuff. But essentially our goal is that every student finds their and which is a way of saying, we want you to find your genius, right? And we also want to guarantee that every single student who walks across the graduation stage has a high school diploma and university acceptance letter, military recruitment letter, or industry certification. So that on Monday morning they have work, they have work waiting for him. And we’re just over 92% right now of our high school, graduating seniors who graduate with their aunt. I’m not gonna quit until a hundred percent. I’m not gonna quit until I can guarantee parents a hundred percent successful launch rate.

Sam Demma (28:36):

Wow. That’s awesome. How many students are there in the district or the, I guess the area in total?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (28:41):

Just under 14,000.

Sam Demma (28:43):

Wow. That’s a, that’s a success story in itself. Yeah, on a large scale, it seems like the programs, ideas that are being implemented are having massive success. I want to talk about for just a moment a story of how something someone did in a school, maybe yourself or someone, you know, had a serious impact on one individual. And the reason I know sometimes it’s hard to remember these stories, but there’s probably hundreds on them. Oh, I’ve got one. Yeah. the reason I ask you to share it is because when teachers are feeling burnt out, sometimes it’s because they’ve forgotten why they even started this work in the first place. And I think stories of genuine impact relight that fire and helped them remember why they got into this profession anyway. So please feel free to share. You can change your name if it’s a serious story. Just for privacy.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (29:31):

I love, I love the story. It gives me cause sometimes when I tell it I get goosebumps and sometimes when I tell I can’t help, but cry. So in the, in the, at the start of this last school year, one of our middle schools was invested with mold and we didn’t have an extra facility. So we had to pull every one of our middle schools out of this kids out of this campus. And we needed to put ’em somewhere. And the only facility that we had available was all our alternative high school, which is a smaller, much smaller campus, but we just had to have a place to put the kids, but that displaced the alternative high school. So alternative high school, these are kids who are in credit recovery. These are kids who are disciplined placement. So they’re, they’re essentially on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (30:10):

Mm. These are students who failed out of traditional high school. They have very little credits or no credits and they’re in a dropout track and we’re just trying to get ’em to the graduation stage. And so we, we went to our, some of our community partners and we said, look, what if we could give these kids the golden ticket of a lifetime and a fresh start? Hmm. And if we can help these kids in a way that we’ve never helped them before, by giving them unprecedented levels of support, giving every one of them, an academic and life success coach. And could we put 120 of these students on the community college campus? Can we rent rooms from you? And so the community college president said, sure, this is interesting. I’m, I’m, I’m up for this so that they’re going to community college. Now these are kids on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (30:56):

These are, these are kids who failed out of traditional high school with zero credits. And so then our next wonder question, cuz I love wonder questions is I wonder what would happen if we help these kids apply for college? And I wonder what would happen if we gave ’em a success coach and you know what, I wonder what would happen if we we went ahead and enrolled them in a class just to see what happens. And so we we were very slow and deliberate and thoughtful and all the great things to happen. But outta the hundred 20 students who were on that dropout track 120 of them, a hundred percent successfully enrolled in college and passed their first collegiate course. Wow. And they’re all gonna graduate high school and they’re all college bound, 100% of kids who were on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (31:40):

And so we got to take them to a school board thing in February, which for the entire state of Texas. And so we took seven of the kids from that group to give a presentation. And there was one gal who stood up in front of that group. And she said, when I was a sophomore, I had a baby out of wedlock. So I was a single mother and I had approximately zero credits in high school. And she said, and I am now a college student. Wow. That’s amazing. Our success rate with our kids is so great. This is a, a great statistic. I’ll leave you with a statistic and it’s connected to dropouts, but it’s with homeless students. So we have hundreds of homeless students in Victoria Texas. And if you happen to be a homeless student and unhoused student in Victoria and you go to our schools, your chances of graduating high school are actually better than if you went to any school, anywhere else in the entire state of Texas, our homeless, our homeless student graduation rate is higher than the average for the state of Texas.

Sam Demma (32:42):

Wow. I I’m wondering, you mentioned success. Coaches who are the people that would be paired up with a student in that program to help them apply for college and you know, pass.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (32:54):

So we actually went to the community college counselor structure. So they, they already have academic coaches and support and so on and so forth. You know how community college works. Like there’s all this support structure in place. Yeah. Yeah. We’re like, let’s fold that over to the high school and pull kids up rather than push them.

Sam Demma (33:10):

Cool.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:12):

It worked like, who knew, we didn’t know it was gonna work, but that’s what innovation’s all about. Like try crazy stuff. And so we tried it and it worked,

Sam Demma (33:20):

It sounds like innovations in your experience. Start with the, I wonder questions. Is that something you explore a lot?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:27):

Yeah. We talk about it all the time. It’s either I wonder. Or what if those are the two best sentence starters.

Sam Demma (33:32):

Lovely, cool, cool. Well, we’re getting close to the end of the podcast here. This has been a phenomenal conversation because we’re close to game seven and the NBA finals. I wanted to play some throwback music. <Laugh> what we’re about to do is do a quick five rapid questions. Are you ready?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:56):

I’m ready?

Sam Demma (33:58):

Question number one. <Laugh> question number one is what is the best advice you’ve ever personally received?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:07):

Oh, wow. Best advice. Yeah. It’s it’s so cliche never give up,

Sam Demma (34:12):

Love it. What is the I’m putting you on the spot here? What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:20):

Worst. <Laugh> the worst advice I forgot was go to medical school. <Laugh>

Sam Demma (34:25):

<Laugh> Hey, you have to, you have to know your path, right?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:28):

That’s right.

Sam Demma (34:29):

<Laugh> I like that. If you could have everyone on the planet have to follow this one rule the way they live their life, what would the one rule be that everyone would have to follow? Non-Negotiable

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:45):

Start with vulnerability.

Sam Demma (34:47):

Mm, love it. If you could travel back in time and speak to Quentin, when he was just starting in education, what would you have told your younger self that you thought would’ve been helpful?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:01):

Don’t don’t lose hope.

Sam Demma (35:04):

Final question. If someone wants to buy your book, reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:11):

So they can buy the book through amazon. Easily found, it’s the secret for secret to transformational leadership, or they can go to our website; compassionate leadership. And I’m sure you can put that in the, in the talking notes for sure. Yep. That’s and that’s the best way to reach out to us.

Sam Demma (35:27):

Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast today. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you and meet you. I don’t think this will be our last conversation. Keep doing amazing work and have an amazing summer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:40):

Thank you, sir. Great to talk with you. Thanks Sam.

Sam Demma (35:43):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Quintin Shepherd

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.