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Mental Health

Arielle Ben-Zaken – Clinical Social Worker at CIUSSS

Arielle Ben-Zaken - Clinical Social Worker at CIUSSS
About Arielle Ben-Zaken

Arielle has worked with youth her entire professional career.  Whether in summer camps, high schools, and hospitals, Arielle has committed her life to becoming a source of hope and support for young people.  

Connect with Arielle: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal (CIUSSS)

BBYO Passport Summer Programs

West Island Therapy and Wellness Centre

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Arielle Ben-Zaken. She is a clinical social worker. She has worked in summer camps with students. She has worked as a school counselor in a high school. A lot of her work stems around the idea of helping young people. I mean, she’s been surrounded by youth in all of her different roles and responsibilities, and she also works with an amazing organization called Cell 360 to promote social, emotional learning in high schools and across North America. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Arielle. It was very insightful and enjoyable, and I will see you on the other side. Arielle, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of your journey that brought you to where you are today working with young people?


Arielle Ben-Zaken (01:31):
Totally. Firstly, Sam, super, super excited to be here. I’ve always wanted to be on a podcast, so this is great. So I am a social worker here in Montreal. I’ve been a social worker for the last five years and I’ve been working with teens from, since I can remember. I did a lot of summer camp work where I was staffed with teens and my most amazing job that I loved so much other than the one I do currently was a, like I took kids on trips around the world. So I was like a teen tour guide, but I wasn’t actually a tour guide. I just took kids really you know, en engaged with them; I was their counselor kind of like overseas, and it was such an amazing experience. I think that for me was the eye opening experience that made me wanna come into social work.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (02:16):
I had had a kid on the trip. This was before I wasn’t even considering social work who opened up to me about struggles that she had gone through. And I thought to myself like, this is the type of population I wanna work with. They are malleable, impressionable. They’re a really wonderful population to work with. I have a lot to learn from them. They have a lot to learn from me. And so that really opened up my eyes to kind of how this whole thing started. So now I’m a social worker here. I work for the government, so I work like I do public job and then I also work for found medicine clinic. And then I also do some part-time therapy through a therapy clinic called the west island therapy center.


Sam Demma (02:54):
Oh, that’s awesome. And let’s go back to the beginning. Yeah. So the, the first way that you started teaching and engaging with youth was through summer camps.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (03:04):
Yeah, exactly.


Sam Demma (03:05):
So what got you into that and what was that experience like?


Arielle Ben-Zaken (03:08):
So it, first of all, it was amazing. I reminisce about that every day. It was like my favorite times of my life. I started going to summer camp at a young age. So at the age of eight I was at sleepaway camp from eight till 22. And so for me being a camper, there was really like a, a wonderful experience where I met a lot of staff that really had an impact on me. And then when it was my turn to become a staff, I was not gonna pass up the chance cuz I wanted to be the person who can have an impact on someone else as well. So I started there and that was my journey at summer camp.


Sam Demma (03:40):
Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. And then the next role was in a school.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (03:45):
Yeah. So exactly. So, well actually not, no. So the next role after that I went on to get my master’s, my master’s in social work. Nice. Then I worked in youth protection, so child protective services. Okay. For a couple years. Yeah. Which was also a really interesting experience, both personal and professional. I learned a ton about myself difficult job obviously. You know, seeing kids going through situations of abuse and neglect is really tough. Yeah. But rewarding because of the role that I had, which was really working with the families to to, to, to help them out and really bring them back together. And then after that I went to the school, which was also super cool because it was a different way of working with teens. So again, I did like some of the counseling, so they came into my office and we had some conversation and I helped them with things they were struggling with, but I also just got to interact with the kids in a different way. You know, taught them I did like the drug and alcohol program where I went into the classes and I with, with the other social worker and we taught them about drugs and alcohol and healthy use and did some sex ed stuff too. Like it was just a really interesting way of, of engaging them. And it was so much fun.


Sam Demma (04:51):
What brought you into the classroom? Like the, the work that you do could take you in so many directions and it, it seems like you so many tried a bunch of different avenues, which is awesome. It gives you a diverse perspective, but what brought you into a school setting as opposed to just going to like working at a hospital or at a social work clinic, you know?


Arielle Ben-Zaken (05:08):
Yeah, yeah, totally. I think for me it was really engaging one on one with the teens. Whereas like in a hospital setting, you’re kind of you’re you, there’s not necessarily one specific role. Sometimes you could switch around departments. You’re not necessarily only working with teens. Like I knew if I got myself into a high school, I’d be working specifically with teens and youth. And that for me was, was important. Because like I said, they’re, they’re really fun, fun crowd to work with at the same time. They’re also struggling a lot. There’s a lot of issues there with like mental health. Especially now with the pandemic, things are like on, on a rise. And I really felt like it was, you know, again, like I’m not a superwoman or a superhuman and I can’t just like help everybody, like I want to, but I felt like I could at least have an impact on them and really create relationships with the students that I worked with and have them sort of like, like look up to me in a way and really be able to impart knowledge on them, which was important to me.


Sam Demma (06:00):
And have you, have you heard different things due to the pandemic this year from the students you interact with and engage with and what is like the number one thing students you think, and everyone has a diverse challenge and they might all be, not all be the same, but what is something that you hear coming up very often among lots of different teens?


Arielle Ben-Zaken (06:19):
Yeah, so I no longer, I no longer work at the school, but I do do like private clinical work with teens. Got it. But we’re seeing a lot of issues with body image self-esteem eating disorders. I was actually just part of a really amazing sort of work workshop with an NEB, which is like a, an organization that works with eating disorders. And I had it last night and they’re, I mean, the numbers are on a rise, like really, really completely on a rise. Kids are at home doing nothing but scrolling through social media. And you know, I I’ve, I’ve said this before that they’re they’re positives and negatives to social media and the positives are that there’s a lot of kids that are having kids, teens, whatever it is, adults that are having a voice now and, and a platform to use their voice, but on the other end there’s a lot of comparison and, and, and this is what my life looks like and all these, like what I eat in a day videos that are coming up now that kids are watching, teens are watching.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (07:15):
So lots of body image issues. Like I, I just read yesterday in the, in the top that we had, they spoke about I actually wrote it down if you don’t mind me reading it. Cause I thought it was, it was a oh yeah, 80. It was a statistic that 80% of Canadian girls ages, 10 to 17 downloaded a filter or used an application to change the way they look in pictures by the age of 13. Wow. Like it’s. Yeah. Yeah. So for me, like in what I do right now is I work a lot with body image and self-esteem, and it’s sort of like where I wanna continue going. Because as a woman who lives in society where these like there’s these beauty standards and all these things, it’s so important for me to help girls understand that it’s, this is not the only way to be the only way to go. Yeah. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (08:01):
Yeah. It’s so true. I’m actually working on a spoken word album called dear high school. Me and one of the poems is all about the pressure that society puts on us and how it can make life feel like an uphill battle. And it’s like, it’s crazy companies, large companies, and, you know, big corporations don’t sell us clothes and, you know, filters, they sell us the fact that we’re flawed quote unquote, and that we need these things to be perfect. And it’s so false, but it’s like, I deal with it. Everyone deals with it and it’s yeah, it gets exhausting, you know?


Arielle Ben-Zaken (08:31):
Yeah, totally. And it’s almost, it’s, it’s, it’s all we know, right? Yeah. Like it’s all we, we have grown up in this society where it’s, it’s really, we’re, we’re someone once said this it’s like we’re coming into a disordered society. Like society itself is really messed up. And so how can we be okay. Coming into a society? That’s not okay.


Sam Demma (08:48):
Yeah. I, I feel that a hundred percent I want to go back for a second. See your trips. Yeah. Around the world. Yeah. Where did this come from? What are these, can you tell, tell me more about it and an impact it had on you and also the students.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (09:01):
Totally. again, like I said earlier, like one of the best jobs I’ve ever had and I’m so grateful to have done it. It was with the company called B B Y O passport. I literally, it was like, I don’t know, six years ago I had no summer job didn’t know what to do. So my mom, and she’ll be very happy that, you know, she’ll hear me say this looked upon the internet for me to see like what, you know, I don’t know, like summer jobs and this popped up. And it was really, it’s a Jewish organization. B B Y O is an, is a, like a youth group, like a teen youth group. And so this is like their passport division. And really like, I started, I think the first trip I ever did, they got trips that go like all over the world.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (09:38):
They go to Eastern Europe, they go to the UK, they go a lot to Israel because of the, there’s a Jewish component to it. And I did my first trip to the west coast of the us, which was a three week trip. And I saw the entire west coast of the us. And then every other year after that, I went to Israel. A bunch of times I went to Italy, I went to Eastern Europe. Am I missing anywhere? I went, yeah, no. And that’s where I went. And it was just such an amazing opportunity. Like, firstly for me, it was a very different job compared to being a camp counselor because now you’re a counselor overseas. So at camp you’re their, you’re their parents, sister, brother, whatever it is, 24 7 here. You’re that also, but you’re really their only connection because they can’t turn around and go home as easily as they could up north here in Montreal.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (10:24):
So that was, that was a really interesting added experience of, or added part to the whole thing as well. And really like, again, there was like that Jewish component too. And I really like, I, I did not go to like Jewish, private school when I was growing up. I went to public school, so I didn’t really have a lot of Jewish knowledge. So I learned it a lot at camp. And then on these trips too, I was learning while also trying to help the kids learn as well. And I think for me, like you know, I love Israel. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. I’m, I’m part, I’m half Israeli, so it makes sense. Nice. And so for me, watching them fall in love with Israel was also amazing cuz I remember the time that I fell in love with it.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (11:00):
So there was like all those kind of added components. And then as I got older, right, as, as I sort of became more, I guess you can say like, like a senior staff in these trips there was a lot more of a mental health component that became obvious. Like when I started there was no mental health issue. I mean there were kids had mental health issues. Don’t get me wrong, but my last time working with the voo passport, my role was very different. So I went to Israel for six weeks. I was sort of like the mental health professional that ran around from trip to trip to deal with these issues. When I started, we didn’t have that, that wasn’t known to us as staff. And it just goes to show that mental health issues are increasing amongst teens like exponentially. So yeah.


Sam Demma (11:43):
And what do you think is the big life learnings that students took away from those experiences? I think that travel is such a transformative experience and curious to know what the students were saying after those or what you think they took away from that experience.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (11:59):
Yeah. I think, I think travel was obviously, you know, a big, a big part of it because that’s the reason they came on the trip. I think also though there was a sense of community that we created. We really worked hard to create. I think it’s easy for kids to be at school be impacted by those around them and then come on these trips and meet people. They may not necessarily be friends with at school and get to know people in a different way. It was a really intimate setting, right. I think like the biggest trip I was on at 40 fourteens, but I remember one year when I went, I had like 20 cuz I was the first trip going out. Wow. And so we’re like a little family and you could really get to know each other as you, as you go on these trips.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (12:34):
And there’s a lot of like personal learning, right? Like traveling for the first time away from mom and dad you know, seeing certain sites and learning history about, about wherever it was that we were that was also really, really big for the teens. And just a lot of fun, you know, like I think, I think for me the biggest thing when I worked on these trips was that I wanted to make sure that they walked away saying that was an amazing summer. I had such a great time. Can’t wait to do it again. Or now, nowadays when I see like on Facebook, my kids hanging out with each other from like previous trips years ago, I feel, I feel so. So like my, my heart is so warm because I see that they’re still connected. So it’s that sense of connection and community that was created that lasts quite a, quite a long time


Sam Demma (13:13):
And on the topic of mental health being on the rise and students, you know, it’s always been there, but students openly talking about it more and reducing the stigma, you know, you’re a board director, I believe of SEL 360. Can you tell us more about that initiative, why it started and you know, what you’re hoping to accomplish with it


Arielle Ben-Zaken (13:31):
Of of course. So cell 360 is an in initiative that was created to work on reducing the stigma, mental health in teens in the youth population. I jumped on board about a year ago now. We’re really like, everything’s starting to kind of get going now, which is super, super exciting. We’ve done a lot of Facebook live events to really get topics out there that are not discussed normally. Like, like normally I guess you know, in like that are not really discussed, I guess is what I’m trying to say. And, and just really getting people awareness, really creating awareness around, like we just had a, a few videos go out about ed disorders and exercise addiction. Things like that that are sort of, we, we hear the term, but nobody maybe sits down to have these types of conversations, at least not the way we do.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (14:17):
You know, we interview professionals, we interview people that are struggling’re in their own way. And I think that, I think ending the stigma for mental health for, for teens is so important. Because you’re right. Like you said, things are, you know, people are talking about it more now, so it’s really, they’re lucky to be part of a generation or, or of a generation where these conversations are happening. But I remember when I, when I was growing up, like I never had these, these conversations didn’t happen. People were really hush hush about them. It was embarrassing. You know, a lot of people didn’t even know what anxiety was or what depression was, but they knew they felt something different, but we didn’t talk about it. Right. so that’s really what, what cell 360 does and really tries to work on, on ending that stigma. We’re a board of wonderful people and I’m so honored to be a part of it, like really, really it’s super cool. And, and we’re just, we’re just growing and we’re, we’re starting to kind of really things are taking off right now, which is really exciting.


Sam Demma (15:12):
Where do you and the team see the organization or the work in like five years?


Arielle Ben-Zaken (15:18):
Yeah. Ooh, that’s a good question. I guess for, for me I’d really love to get into schools and start like a type of a workshop, like a cell 360 workshop program where we’re really getting into schools and really working with the, with teens and with youth on, on mental health. And yeah, like that’s where I see it going. I’ve always said this though. Like I think it’s super important that kids in high school, somewhere along the line have a class on psychology, have a class on mental health. Because if we can start it young, it will only get better as we get older. People will feel more comfortable talking about it as they get older. And I think that that is so, so, so important, like on, on top of math and English and French and Quebec and all those kinds of things that are super important. So is mental health and really getting teen to understand what they’re feeling, you know there’s nothing worse than feeling something different and not knowing what it is and kind of walking around feeling that whatever let’s say, depressive symptoms or anxiety symptoms and having no label or nothing to connect it with. Yeah. So I think that would be really important.


Sam Demma (16:19):
Yeah. As a student myself, I always found it weird that we learned so much about other things except for ourselves, you know, like totally the one thing that is that is with us our entire life we don’t learn much about. And you know, even now as I’ve grown up and I’m grown up, I’m 21, you still pretty young. But even now I’ve started to realize like your mind is the most powerful thing that you have that anyone has, right. Like everything that’s around us in our reality was once started and crafted in someone’s mind before they brought it to life. And we learned nothing about it and it’s like, we need to know more about this and feelings and emotional intelligence and there’s so many awesome topics. So I can’t wait to see that come to life because it surely will in the next couple years. So, oh, that’s amazing. And when a student approaches you as a social worker or somebody approaches you as a social worker, mm-hmm what do those initial reactions look like? Or sorry, interactions look like, is it a very open conversation? Do you encourage sharing? Like what does that look like? Yeah,


Arielle Ben-Zaken (17:19):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, no. So totally encouraged sharing. Something I think that’s really important about my job is that we, you know, I have to respect confidentiality. So yeah, I really let them know that everything that, that this person and I speak about is kept confidential. I can’t tell anyone about it. I think that initial understanding creates comfort already by just knowing that no one else will know about this kind of thing. And, and that I have no, I’m like legally bound. And can’t talk about these things openly. Yeah. I know for me, like my, my most important thing when I work with a client is I really work to create a safe space. It’s been a little awkward on zoom because I’ve do been doing a lot of my work on zoom, but I’ve been successful. And I feel like I’ve really created a safe space and, and really provided this, the, the support for the client to be able to share.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (18:03):
And yeah, I encourage sharing. I always say, like, I tell clients, you wanna cry, cry, don’t stop yourself from crying. Crying’s an emotion you need to let it out. I really try and make them feel comfortable. For some it’s really awkward and, and, and, you know, I’ve had clients say to me, like, this is really uncomfortable. And so take the first couple of sessions, just get to know them. Yeah. Like let’s chit chat about what music you listen to and what shows you watch and really try and get to know them that way. Because at the end of the day, I’m human too. And so if I can, if I can show them that I’m human and they can understand that about me as well, that I’m not just like this robotic, like social worker they may open up a little bit more to me.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (18:39):
So it’s, it’s, it’s a really interesting experience too. Like I’ve, I’ve been lucky in my jobs to be able to watch people progress from the moment I meet them to sort of like when our work ends together. And I find that the most rewarding and I tell clients all the time, like sitting from where I am, and I only see these people on our sessions, let’s say I’ve been able to see their progress. And they’re always like super they’re really, you, you really think that about me. It’s like, I’ve seen it. I don’t need to think about it. I’ve been able to watch that progress. And I think, yeah, it’s, it’s a lot of sharing. I, I really encourage that, cuz there’s no other way to know about someone than if they don’t share.


Sam Demma (19:14):
And some schools are blessed to have a social worker mm-hmm , but a lot of them don’t, you know, and a lot of local high schools that might not have the budgets or might not have the resource available. They don’t have a social worker in place. Yeah. In those situations, typically a student might actually go to their teacher and a teacher might be unsure how to handle the situation. You know, if you have to give some advice to a teacher, you know, they realize that a student in their class is struggling, don’t know how to approach the student. Like how would you advise them to go about starting that conversation or doing that?


Arielle Ben-Zaken (19:49):
Yeah. I think the, the biggest thing for a teacher let’s say is just to listen. I think that we forget that listening is one of our greatest skills. And that sometimes for someone listening is really all that they need. Mm-Hmm, a lot of people don’t listen to teens. And so it’s like, you know I’ve, I’ve read articles and read things and have conversations about when teens say to their parents, like you know I need to talk or something or they kind of give them an in about a conversation. Sometimes parents don’t listen. Sometimes parents are really easy to say, yeah, I’m busy. I can’t talk right now. But when the kid comes to you, that’s like a very important thing that they’re doing, cuz they’re ready to talk about something. Yeah. I think the same goes with teachers. Like just be, just listen, be open-minded.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (20:28):
There is obviously an, you know, sometimes situations where the teacher like is their hands are tied. Like they really can’t help. So I would always, you know, suggest to seek additional support either from the principal of the school or, you know, maybe look on the internet. There’s tons of really amazing. Especially here in Quebec, I’m only familiar with the resources here, lots of really awesome hotlines and you know, like team texting, they can text numbers now that they’ve opened up so that it’s not just on the phone cause some feel uncomfortable. So maybe even like reaching out to those to those types of, of help lines would be really helpful for teachers too. And yeah, I really think like I’m repeating myself like a broken record, but listening is so important, like such an important tool. Because when, when a Tina’s given time to talk and someone’s listening, let me tell you, they will, if they’re comfortable, they will talk. So it’s, it’s good to sort of make that connection.


Sam Demma (21:23):
Oh, I love that. I, yeah, it’s so funny. I once had a mentor tell me, you know, listening super important and you know, it’s, it’s the most underrated skill. And I didn’t know at the time that he was gonna test me on my own listening skills, but he’s like, Sam, I’m gonna read out some information for you. And he just told me this out of the blue and he’s a lot older and it was his, it was his professional bio and it had a set number of pieces of information in it. And after he finished reading, he just asked me, he’s like, Hey, can you recite however many pieces of information you can remember? And there was like 60 or 80 something pieces. And I, I recited like eight or nine. Yeah. And, and he was like, you failed miserably. And I was like, well, you didn’t, you know, you didn’t tell me it was a test. Yeah. And he said this sentence, I’ll never forget. He said, every time someone else opens their mouth, it is a test. Wow. And it was just like, I was like, whoa, like listening so important. And I can’t think that I’m listening. Good enough. I need to always try and be more present and turn off my phone and make sure I’m fully engaged in the conversation and not thinking about something else while the person’s speaking. So yeah. I just wanted to share that as well. I think you’re absolutely listening is like such a important thing to do. Not only in, you know, scenarios where you’re with a student, but overall just in life in general


Arielle Ben-Zaken (22:40):
Overall. Yeah. Like you just said, the thing to me that, that that is so important is that listening makes you be in the present. I think we live a lot of our lives in the past, in the future. And we rarely, rarely remember that the present is the most important. We’re never gonna get these moments back. So if we’re always living, trying to do something or, or wishing we did something different, we forget about what’s going on in, in, in, in this moment right now. And when you listen, you’re like you said, you’re off your phone, you’re connected, you’re engaged. You’re there. You’re like, it’s such an important thing. And we are like, I feel like sometimes we live life on autopilot, so we’re always going, going, going, going. And we rarely remember, like you said, listening will make you be in the present moment, just, you know, sit down and, and, and use your ears and hear what someone’s saying is so, so, so important.


Sam Demma (23:25):
I hear you there you go. I love that. No pun intended. Speaking about important things, if you could give your younger self advice, like if you could go back in time to the first year you got into social work and working with young people, knowing what you know now and having the experiences you’ve had, what advice would you give your younger self?


Arielle Ben-Zaken (23:45):
I love this question cuz I think about it a lot. I think I would tell my younger self that it’s gonna be okay, don’t worry. You’re gonna get this done. Or things are gonna pan out the way you want them to, but like, don’t rush anything. I was a very rushy like student. I remember I just wanted to get good grades, get outta school. And now I look back and it’s like, I wish I would’ve known that. And really to don’t sweat the small stuff, like a lot of stuff that I worried about back then, didn’t matter. Like I got to where I am now just because life happened and opportunities are arose and I was able to take them. Yeah. And just like go with the flow.


Sam Demma (24:19):
Love it. And if someone’s listening to this and they enjoyed the conversation and wanna reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Arielle Ben-Zaken (24:28):
That’s a great question. I’d be more than happy to connect with anyone that wants to reach out. If people are on LinkedIn, you can find me on LinkedIn as well. Yeah. Anyway.


Sam Demma (24:39):
Awesome. Ariel, thank you so much again for coming on the podcast. This has been awesome.


Arielle Ben-Zaken (24:43):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (24:45):
You’re welcome. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Arielle Ben-Zaken

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.

Joyce Sunada – Wellness Speaker, Coach and Facilitator

Joyce Sunada – Wellness Speaker, Coach and Facilitator
About Joyce Sunada

Joyce Sunada (@JoyceSunada) has over 30 years of experience as an educator. During that time she was a teacher, an administrator and provincial leader who helped create and support healthy school communities. 

During the pandemic, Joyce stepped away from presenting workshops for a few months to identify what was truly important to her. This allowed her to establish the Joyful Collective, a collaborative group of women who work together to positively impact the wellness of educators through virtual workshops. And this time away also provided an opportunity to create sustainable lifestyle practices so she can better walk her talk and support others.  

If Joyce could give educators only one piece of advice she’d say, “Take time for your wellness, so you won’t be forced to take time for your illness.”  

Connect with Joyce: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Joyful Endeavours

Joyful Collective

Joyful Reflections Blog

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS)

Lethbridge College – Broadcast Programming and Production

Mount Royal University – Integrative Health Coach Extension Certificate

University of Lethbridge – Bachelors of Education

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited about today’s interview. I am having a conversation with my good friend, Joyce Sunada. Joyce has over 30 years of experience as an educator and during that time she was a teacher, an administrator, and provincial leader who helped create and support healthy school communities.


Sam Demma (01:00):
During the pandemic, Joyce stepped away from presenting workshops for a few months to identify what was truly important to her. This allowed her to establish the joyful collective; a collaborative group of women who work together to positively impact the wellness of educators through virtual workshops. And this time away has provided an opportunity to create sustainable lifestyle practices so she can better walk and she can better walk her talk and support others. If Joyce could give educators one piece of advice, she would say take time for your wellness so you won’t be forced to take time for your illness. Professional bio aside, Joyce is a wonderful human being. She happens to be a colleague of mine at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and that’s how we crossed paths. And I’m so grateful we had a chance to chat. So here’s the interview with Joyce, I will see you on the other side. Joyce, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We’ve crossed paths many times, although you know, just recently at CAPS Calgary’s event we made a more deeper connection and I’m so glad we did. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do today?


Joyce Sunada (02:12):
Well, thank you so much for having me Sam and I just wanna back up and say, you know, us reconnecting at the Calgary CAPS session was really cool. Like just you sharing your story and you being you; that’s an inspiration for me and I believe in inspiration for young people as well as educators. So first of all, thank you. Alright, so a little bit about me, as a kid, I have five, there’s six kids in my family, and as we were growing up, I’m a middle child. And I remember we had the wooden desks and I would always play teacher. It’s like, okay, you know, the little, little ones line up, do the work. I think I really enjoyed doing check marks. You know, it’s like, okay, this is great. And so I actually out of high school, I went into broadcasting and did a couple, I have a diploma in radio arts and thought I wanted to be a radio announcer and after much consideration and some late night news work, I decided to go into education.


Joyce Sunada (03:12):
Mm. I always, I would watch movies that, you know, where the teacher would the underdogs and bring them to life and make everybody successful. And I just loved that. And so that was my dream is how could I reach out and touch students in a way that could empower them to be the best version of themselves or to reach higher than they anticipated? So my journey went from rural Alberta, one who split up to Calgary teaching health and physical education, which is really my passion some classroom teaching. And then at a point I decided to become an administrator and I just dived full in. And at the same time, our three daughters were growing up in, you know, junior high and high school and I burned myself out. Mm. And so it caused me to take a step back and go, you know, what, what, you know, what am I doing?


Joyce Sunada (04:10):
And I believe in hindsight, like hindsight is 2020. You can take that from us, elderly people, Sam is I really just feel that in the place, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I wanted to be an administrator. Like I love the hands on with the students. And that’s where, you know, I, I got my juice from, but I think I just gave so much. And I tried to please, so many people almost altering myself. I had this vision of what an administrator I thought should be. And so it didn’t fit with who I was now. I know I could be who I am and be an administrator, whoever, whatever I wanna be after the burnout. I, I was sent on a medical leave, which lasted over a year. And during that time had a chance to, you know, ground regroup reassess. And so then I would it back teaching part-time elementary F ed again, my sweet spot.


Joyce Sunada (05:05):
And so was part-time. Mm. Upon getting better, I was approached or had an interview with a provincial organization here in Alberta ever active schools and got a full-time position as a, I guess it’s like a provincial consultant. And then I got an to teach teachers about how to teach. And that was really exciting because now it’s actually probably the first time I really understood the curriculum because now I had to teach the curriculum who are gonna teach it. So it’s interesting how we learn what we most need to, we teach what we most need to learn. And after being with that organization for about four or five years, I started to feel that same kind of trepidation or, you know, the anxiety came back. And, and so I consciously made a decision to leave. I gave a year’s notice, took some coaching courses and then really started to get into the, the professional speaking.


Joyce Sunada (06:04):
When I joined caps, the Canadian association of professional speakers and learned how to build a business and become a better speaker. And the impetus for that was to help educators realize that it’s no important for them to take care of their own wellness because, you know, healthy educators help to educate healthy students. Yes. And we know from research that healthy students are better learners. And if we can ensure that the teachers, the assistants, the administrators, the students, that everybody is healthy, then we have a better impact on our future generations. So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to be a grandma. And so it’s exciting to go, okay, what will that world look like for him? And, and how can I support people to again, create that better future for our little guys,


Sam Demma (06:53):
First of all round applause for the future grandma moment. I’m curious to know, like, what does healthy look like? Does this, is there, like, how can we define healthy? Is it a certain amount of exercise that they should be doing? Is it taking care of mental health? Like, what does that look like?


Joyce Sunada (07:16):
That’s an excellent question, Sam, and I’m just gonna kind of dig in and go, I believe being healthy is being able to really live the life that you desire so that you’re able to move the way that you want so that your, your mental focus and your mental capacity is healthy. That you have a bigger belief than yourself. Some sort of spirituality doesn’t matter what it is, but for me, if we can take a look at all aspects of our life and I’ve just narrowed it down to those three and go, okay, I’m feeling good about who I am and how I’m showing up in the world. So it’s, it’s not a prescription. And when we talk about how much exercise and how much this and that I’ve, I’ve experienced and experimented life is an experiment and different stages. Like I love how, you know, at a time you were that high level soccer player and, and that’s what you, you loved. And that’s, that’s what you, my girls were high level soccer players too, which is so cool. And so at that time, you know, you require more activity. Maybe you need to more work on your mental game in order to get to that higher level that you want. So for me being held, I think at the core is really loving yourself too. Mm. And I know that that has been a journey for me. Yeah. And I’m going to venture to say that it’s a journey for a lot of people.


Sam Demma (08:48):
Yeah. I agree. I agree. And in that journey, you also discovered cycling. Is that something that you enjoy?


Joyce Sunada (08:55):
Cycling?


Sam Demma (08:56):
Yeah. am I correcting that?


Joyce Sunada (08:59):
I do. I do cycle outside. I mean, I’m not passionate about it. Yeah. And I do cycle, but


Sam Demma (09:05):
Okay.


Joyce Sunada (09:05):
I like to experiment. I like to do different activities and I like to, I like to dance too. There’s not much opportunity to dance, dance, you know, at dances. Yeah. But just, I I’m finding joy in moving and just for the sake of moving one of my colleagues, Doug, glad out of Edmonton, he says, you know, kids, don’t go up to the playground and go, I’m gonna do the monkey bars to improve my upper body strengths. And I’m gonna race you to increase my you know, my lung capacity. They do it cuz they love it. Fun, fun. It’s joyful.


Sam Demma (09:37):
It’s like, it’s a reminder to get back to being a child a little bit. Right. Yeah. When we bury all those things under responsibilities and expectations. I’m curious though, so someone comes to you as an educator, completely burnt out. What is the first thing you, you kind of teach them or help them with or ask I’m, I’m assuming it’s a bunch of questions, but like what would, what would you do with them? At the beginning,


Joyce Sunada (10:02):
Listen, the first and foremost is, is to really listen cause that’s their reality. And I remember being in that burnt out stage and it didn’t matter what anybody said there was just dark. Yeah. And so first of all, to wholehearted, listen, and then just watch, you know, where listen, where do they want to go? And how can I walk beside them? And everybody’s journey is different. And some of it might be the burnout often is not necessarily a direct result of the teaching. I I’m kind of going out on a limb, but burnout in my experience is more that there’s a lot going on and I’m making a circle with my hand because I do have them fill out a wellness wheel to just go, what areas of your life are kind of crashing down. So it might be spiritual or physical or financial or relational.


Joyce Sunada (11:01):
Right. And so we have to take a look at what they feel is kind of the weak spot and then go, okay, how can we step into that? Mm. And really focusing on, at some point when they’re ready is how can they love themselves? You know, we have, we all have really good friends. You, you talk about your good friends in, in your golfing adventures, in your podcast. And there are things that you would not say to your good friends that we say to ourselves. Mm. You know, maybe we did 50 great lessons and one was, you know, a disaster. And it’s like how that it was so stupid or what, you know, we go off on ourselves when I taught at the university of Calgary, some of my students would be like, like they were so afraid to make a mistake. Mm. And so I reassured them, you know, whether the lesson is awesome or whether the lesson lesson is, you know, a disaster you’re successful because you’ve learned something. Yeah. You’ve learned, this is great. And it’s like, this is how can I improve? Mm. And so back to the original question is just, is really listening, tuning into what they need and walking with them to where they wanna go.


Sam Demma (12:14):
Hmm. And you just brought up a great point, you know, and I think that every human being defines success differently. Right. And you know, sometimes we define success based on end results. Some other people define success based on what their capabilities are, what they’re doing in any given moment. How do you define success now? And if you could think back to when you were an educator and maybe even burnt out, how did you define success then? And are there shifts in those definitions?


Joyce Sunada (12:43):
Absolutely. Shifts. So I’ll just tell you a funny story. So I, I knew I was kind of going down. I had left administration and I was teaching grade five. And so I took the 30 kids out. We were gonna draw clouds for art. Nice. Now the purpose of drawing, the clouds for me was so I could go and lay on mother earth and just chill out cause I needed some TLC. Yeah. And so I tell the story, as I got 30 kids out, they had squiggles on their paper and they got, I got 30 kids back in that was success. Yeah. And people were like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe you did that. I can’t believe I did that. So, you know, in those lowest points, maybe success looks drastically different. Mm. Yeah. And, and with regards to success, we don’t always know.


Joyce Sunada (13:29):
I taught a one, two split here in Calgary. Oh my goodness. Probably to 20, some years ago, over 20, some years ago. And the kids live in my neighborhood and I happened to meet up with a mom one day we crossed paths and she was so grateful that I had her son because that was the early stages of identifying ADHD. And so I learned, you know, what his challenge as were, and I applied some of the skills to the whole class and it seemed like a lot of the children thrived. And so I didn’t know that was successful until 20 years later, but I would consider that a mark of success.


Sam Demma (14:09):
Got it.


Joyce Sunada (14:10):
Now success is, it’s really about owning who I am and, and I guess loving who I am and when I do a presentation or I, I coach people, it’s just knowing that I’ve done the best that I can do. And other people will have the experience that they have. And I, I can’t control that. So if I can go away and go, okay, you know, I, I did my research. I’ve prepared as best I can and put forward who I really am and then walk away. Not easy, not easy all the time. Yeah. But that would be my, my new definition of success and just that ability to live, how I really want to live and do I every day, absolutely not. You know, there’s days where I drag myself outta bed. And then there’s other days like today, I’m gonna talk to Sam. I better get, you know, I workout in and everything ready. Okay. Here we go. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (15:06):
Yeah. I I’m with you. I, I think that every person has those days. And if you don’t say it verbally, you’re lying. So it’s it’s true. I’m curious your coaching and your work has obviously shifted due to COVID and it’s definitely different navigating a world virtually than it is in person. Like, do you have any wellness tips or tricks for, you know, balancing life and work? It all feels like it’s one and the same. Like you, you leave your kitchen and you go to your office and it’s in the same, you just switch seats. Like it’s it’s kinda, it’s kind of bizarre a little bit, you know,


Joyce Sunada (15:44):
It is, well, you’ll notice I put on my bright pink top. Yep. Just for you, cuz this is an important meeting, right? Yeah. So little pieces like that separating, you know, work from home is like, this is my designated office and I do, I’ve got, you know, I’ve got some makeup on and I’ve got, you know, work clothes on during the day. I make sure that I get outside at least for a short time, I do have a, a small dog. And so if it’s a slow walk with my dog or it is a longer walk with a neighbor to make sure that there is some outside time and then too I’ve started if I it’s uncomfortable sitting for me for a long time. And so sometimes I will just go take my novel lay on my bed. It’s a, it’s just like, okay, so my body can totally relax, read a novel, you know, set a timer, maybe 15, 20 minutes. And that’s like, okay, back at, if there’s something else that I, I need to accomplish that day.


Sam Demma (16:44):
Hmm. Yeah. I love that. And you know, there’s numerous studies that show that walking for just 20 minutes a day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. And I think those are pretty convincing odds to take a short walk. So yeah, I love that. I think that those are all so important and you’re, you know, thank you for, for dressing up and showing up professionally. I appreciate you’re making me feel flattered. It’s it’s cool. So what does work for you look like now, are you doing a lot of presentations virtually if they’re educators listening to this thinking, man, my teachers are extremely burnt out. My staff are beyond exhausted. What does your work look like? For those you know, clients who might be interested maybe listening to this right now?


Joyce Sunada (17:30):
My work has morphed Sam. I came off of, well, okay. My work has morphed. I actually, before COVID hit was considering kind of maybe retiring, you know? Mm. And so when March, you know, everything fell off the plate, probably like a lot of things did for you. Yeah. and I did have a couple sessions in the spring, April, and then in the fall, educators were really trying to figure out, okay, what’s next? So, Nope. We don’t wanna hear from anybody at this time. And then November started to pick up. And so I actually reached out to a group of other wellness. I’ll call them wellness educators. Yes. So we created what we call a joyful collective, the joyful collective, one of the, one of the gals, she named it, the joyful collective. And so what we do is we come together, put our expertise together and offer that to schools or school divisions or jurisdictions the, that want to know more about how to be well.


Joyce Sunada (18:31):
And the, the really fun thing is that there are, I think the four out of the six of us are practicing educators nice. And the other two women, they help to support of course, with, you know, research and you know, tried and true strategies. So it looks more like a collaboration so that we can better support and serve the clients. And because I’m about to be at grandma. And right now my mom’s having some health issues that I’m supporting her with is I’m trying to walk my talk and go, this is what’s important right now. There’s a fear that, oh my gosh, you know, everything will dry up and go away. And people will forget about me and I’m trusting. I’m gonna feed trust instead of fear here that it’s gonna unfold, how it needs to. And so maybe it’s a, maybe it’s a bit of a break. Maybe I come back stronger in this moment, Sam, I really am not too sure, but I’m open to the possibilities.


Sam Demma (19:33):
I love it. And I love that you said you’re feeding trust because it is an option. And yeah, that’s something that is sometimes hard to realize, especially when you’re going through a tough situation, that we still have a choice. Right. you know, people always say it’s hard to see the frame when you’re in the picture. And I think that’s true specifically now more than ever as we all face various challenges and problems. This has been a fun conversation. Joyce, I really appreciate you sharing your stories and coming on the show. If someone wants to get in touch with you and maybe even just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and do so.


Joyce Sunada (20:11):
It would be to email me jklmsunada@shaw.ca.


Sam Demma (20:29):
Awesome. Joyce, thank you so much. This has been fun. Keep up the great work and I’ll talk to you soon.


Joyce Sunada (20:34):
Thank you so much Sam for having me. All the best with your work too.


Sam Demma (20:38):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Joyce Sunada

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.

Dov Shapiro – CEO of ConnectU Program Inc.

Dov Shapiro – CEO of ConnectU Program Inc.
About Dov Shapiro

Dov is an Experiential Educator and Business owner with over 30 years of experience working with students. His commitment to improving their well-being, regardless of the challenges they may be facing, is a life-long journey.

Today, more than ever, students are facing stress, anxiety and depression. There are solutions to reversing this trend. As Founder and CEO of ConnectU Program Inc. Dov is responsible for leading the vision to ensure the CU Program positively impacts as many students as possible. His business mindset has allowed him to scale the program in order to benefit all users: from administrators to teachers, to parents alike.

He has over 3 decades of North American education and outdoor recreation industry experience.  His previous roles as Director of Westcoast Connection Travel Camp (NY), Owner/Director of Camp Chateaugay (NY) and Mad Science Director and Science Teacher (FL) have brought a wealth of knowledge to the team about the academic industry. Dov has had the opportunity to empower over 15,000 students, in 4 countries and 3 continents over the last 3 decades.

Connect with Dov: Email | Linkedin | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

ConnectU Program

ConnectU Program Youtube Channel

Westcoast Connection Travel Camp

Camp Chateaugay

Mad Science Group

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dov Shapiro. Dov and I were connected about five or six months ago, and we postponed the podcast because he was working on this program called ConnectU, and it’s a very cool technology that they’ve been building that supports students. I won’t get into it because he talks about it a lot during today’s episode, but here’s a little bit about Dov.


Sam Demma (01:06):
He’s an experiential educator; experiential educator and business owner with over 30 years experience working with students. He has three decades of experience in the outdoor recreation industry. He has been directors of camps, owned his own camp, been the mad science director, and a science teacher in Florida. He has worked with over 15,000 students in four countries and three continents over the last three years. His business mindset also has allowed him to scale his program; ConnectU program in order to benefit all users from administrators to teachers and parents alike. Dov is a trail blazer in the education industry, and I hope you learn something from today’s interview and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed interviewing him. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Dov, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. A huge pleasure to have you on the show. I mean we talked months ago and here we are talking again, and between those two points in time, you know, some exciting things have happened in your life, which we’ll dive into in a minute, but why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do with young people today.


Dov Shapiro (02:16):
Thanks for having me on the show Sam. My name is Dov Shapiro, and I’ve been working with children for over 30 years between mad science, west coast connection, former owner of Camp Chateauguay in New York state. So my passion has always been working with kids and making an impact inspiring youth. And so about a year and a half ago, we noticed that there’s been a massive dip in the mental health and wellbeing of our adolescents and teens and youth; not just in north America, but across the globe. And then as a result of the pandemic, we’ve seen an incredible spike in the rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation. So even prior to COVID, we decided that we wanted to impact mental health and wellbeing of students. And that’s why we decided to do some research and develop our new software program called ConnectU or the ConnectU program.


Sam Demma (03:24):
That’s amazing. And I mean, you got me curious now and I’m sure the listeners are too, what is this software? What prompted you, you know, to, to create a software as opposed to a different tool and, and you know, how can you know, how, how can we learn more about it?


Dov Shapiro (03:41):
So the connect U program is specifically designed to improve student wellbeing, excuse me. And we use a platform, a web app, if you will, to first do an assessment of the student. So we create a profile of each student whereby teachers and principals can learn about each student at a really deep level, because right now it’s really hard to know your students. And even before COVID, it was challenging at times, but now with distance learning hybrid, learning, whatever learning you’re doing, it’s really hard to understand the characteristics and traits of all of your students. So by doing this assessment in real time, you get results, learn about students and their core, you know, kind of personality and where there might be students that could benefit from more teacher based support. Then what we do is we have an intervention model or a means of helping to improve those construct scores.


Dov Shapiro (04:41):
Those assessment scores called smart goals creation. So that’s the name of it is called CU you smart or connect you smart and smart is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. And it’s a widely used acronym in pedagogy throughout the globe to help help students learn how to create and achieve their goals. So we developed a web app that helps students go through a curriculum, teaching them about how to create goals using the smart method. And we have a six week curriculum that is teacher led and supported with 2d animated videos. So we run this program in schools from majors 12 to 18, and we start actually in the sixth grade level. So some 11 year olds are using this as well.


Sam Demma (05:34):
That’s amazing. Why, like what prompted you to create this? Like there’s, you know, anyone could have made this software, you know, why you, what, what, what inspired you to to do this?


Dov Shapiro (05:48):
So I know that in my life it’s always been a challenge to attain the goals that I wanted to achieve. But when I started using smart and started following a formula and being really diligent about it, I started to see some results. I started to change my programming and started to develop healthier habits. And so I did a lot of research, looked into the, you know, the educational systems that are mandating standards. They call in education to teach goals. And there’s very limited standards requiring smart goal methodology to be taught to students. And it’s through research, we’ve studied several old different papers and, and researchers who have shown that by using smart and more importantly, by using goals or teaching students, how to create goals, they’re more likely to achieve better GPA. They’re more likely to stay in school. It as well even has shown to reduce signs of bolding and incidents.


Dov Shapiro (07:05):
So we decided we were gonna hire an educational psychologist, a child psychologist, public teachers, principals, and bring them on the board to put this together in a manner that really made sense. And the reason why we did this is because again, through all the research papers that we’ve been studying, we can see that students are improving their wellbeing by simply creating and achieving their goals. When students create and achieve, they build resilience. Now the whole concept of goal setting falls right in line with what we call social, emotional learning. So social, emotional learning is the process where young people and adults develop healthy identities. They learn how to manage their emotions. They achieve personal and collaborative goals and they learn how to feel and show empathy for others. So it’s really an important element for students to establish and maintain supportive relationships in, you know, in these kinds of processes. So long story short, you know, students who go through this program are hypothesis, is that they’re going to improve their assessment scores and to improve their GPA.


Sam Demma (08:23):
Hmm. Love that. And you mentioned the focus on giving also educators, a way to learn more about each student. And I think that’s an amazing tool because right now, like you mentioned, it’s very hard for you to build personal relationships, especially right now when every kid is stuck at home and who knows how long the learning thing is gonna continue, but why do you, why do you think it’s, it’s important that every educator and principal in a school knows a lot about each individual student.


Dov Shapiro (08:53):
So as a former educator, myself science teacher, director of mad science, I know how important it is to understand your students character and really what makes them ticked. That’s how we connect with our kids. That’s how we connect with students as an owner and director of a summer camp in New York for 15 years. If I knew my, my campers really well, I could connect with them. Mm. And so learning about them, getting to know their family, getting to know their names, getting to know what their passions are, and even where they have room for improvement was a way for me to connect with my campers and a way for me to connect with my students. And now teachers, I believe find it harder than ever to make that kind of connection, to understand their students at that level. They don’t see the kids walking in the classes with a tennis racket or a book or a football or a basketball. It’s not the same experience. So getting to know your kids, getting to know your students is a real challenge. And now more than ever, we really need to, we need to know where our students can benefit from more intentional learning environments. When we understand our kids and what they need, we can really support them.


Sam Demma (10:12):
And you know, you’ve been an educator you’ve been around student in forever. I’m curious to know what got you into education. You know, your interest in science, it sounds like could have taken you down many different avenues, why teaching?


Dov Shapiro (10:27):
So my father always taught me that if you’re really passionate about something, you should teach it. Mm. So I love to ski. I became a ski instructor. I love to work with kids. So I wanted to teach children. I wanted to inspire children. And I love kids because kids really are the essence of what is possible. I mean, they inspire me because of the fact that they’re so enlightened and infused by the smallest things, they get excited about, you know, fun activities and, and in summer camp, they get, you know, inspired by any kind of music and song and dance and the spirit of what a camp is like. I mean, that environment is absolutely incredible. So when I think about the fact that in 2020 kids, mostly didn’t go to camp. That was a huge blow for kids. So my experience working with kids, whether as an educator or sorry, or working in summer camps has always been about inspiring youth because they are, I hate to say it, they are our future. And I know that saying is often used. Yeah. But that’s what drives me because I know that kids have so much opportunity. And so if we can empower them and if we can create an environment that feels very safe for them, or they can grow and develop, who knows what they can do.


Sam Demma (12:07):
Mm. I totally agree. I, I think it’s, it makes sense to me, you know why you’re so passionate about it. Was there any teachers or educators who along your own journey, you know, poured back into you and inspired you to get into teaching? It sounds like your, your dad played a huge role, but did you have any educational mentors as well?


Dov Shapiro (12:28):
I had a few actually. I had one principal and two teachers who really impacted my life, especially when I went to a military academy. Mm. In just outside of Toronto. That was an incredible experience for me. And definitely had a very positive impact. I’m still in touch with some of those faculty members to date, in fact, doing some work with them for another initiative that I’ve developed for student mental wellbeing. Nice. And so, yeah, teachers have always been a big part of, of, of my life in terms of, you know, inspiration, support, even me the idea that anything is possible, but really what it boils down to. I would have to say my late father, he was definitely my hero. And he definitely was the one who inspired me to, to continue this work.


Sam Demma (13:22):
Ah, I love that. Thanks for sharing. And if you don’t mind me asking, what, what did he do? Was he a teacher as well? Or


Dov Shapiro (13:28):
He was a ski instructor, but no, he actually he was a luggage luggage manufacturer And I did not wanna, did not wanna get into that industry. And he actually encouraged me not to,


Sam Demma (13:41):
So that’s awesome. But, but it sounds like his entrepreneurial spirit kind of was, was, was handed down to you in some way, shape or form.


Dov Shapiro (13:51):
It was definitely, he, he definitely was an influence and a very, very positive man, always, always looking at the bright side and always had a very, you know, open mind and a growth mindset. He was definitely an inspiration.


Sam Demma (14:10):
Cool. I love that. Very awesome. Okay. So I wanna go back to the, the software for a second school interested wants to learn more about it, wants to understand what this actually looks like. Could you gimme a breakdown of how it would look if a school wanted to use this and get in touch? Like what would the actual program itself look like?


Dov Shapiro (14:30):
Sure. So right now we’re actually at beta testing the software with several schools in the Montreal area, like ECS, sacred heart, the primary school LIC, and a few others. And we’re also beta testing with schools across the globe. So at this point, if schools are interested, we’re running a summer pilot program that begins in June. So if they’re interested, they can always go to connect U program.com and they can reach us that way through requesting a demo, or they can call our toll three number, which is 807 0 6, 8 8, 7, 6.


Sam Demma (15:10):
Perfect. That’s amazing. And if a school did want to get involved, like and wanted to pilot it, like how much of a time commitment would they be looking at for something like that?


Dov Shapiro (15:19):
That’s a great question. It’s about eight weeks total, which includes the six week curriculum to get everything on board and get all the consent forms arranged with parents because every parent and child who’s 14 or older plus faculty have to sign electronic consent forms through our app.


Sam Demma (15:41):
Perfect. Awesome.


Dov Shapiro (15:42):
But we need about, we need about two months.


Sam Demma (15:44):
No, that sounds great. And if, if a teacher’s listening right now and wants to just get in touch with you personally, what would be the best way for them to, to reach out, would it be email or, or what could you share for an educator listening?


Dov Shapiro (15:55):
Yeah. best way is just info@connectuprogram.com. Awesome. And we’re happy to share information. There’s also a fall pilot project, which launches in September. So for anyone who’s interested in is not running a summer school this year. Of course we have those programs available, we have a few spots open for those as well.


Sam Demma (16:17):
Amazing. And one last question for you, I see over your left shoulder rack of dumbbells, and I’m curious to know if personal fitness plays a huge role in your own life.


Dov Shapiro (16:28):
Absolutely, very physically active. I’m a rock climber, skier, water skier, and physical fitness. More importantly, strength training is what I’m doing these days, just so I can do the sports that I love aAnd it’s always been a big part of my life.


Sam Demma (16:44):
Cool. Love that. Dov, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it and keep up with the awesome work. I can’t wait to see the impact you make in these schools.


Dov Shapiro (16:52):
Yeah, thanks. I really appreciate having me on board and I hope you have a very safe and healthy rest of your week and the rest of your year. Good luck to you guys.


Sam Demma (17:02):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dov Shapiro

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.

Christine Bays – Executive Director at the Unsinkable Organization

Christine Bays – Executive Director at the Unsinkable Organization
About Christine Bays

Christine Bays (@ChrisMBays) is the Executive Director at the Unsinkable Organization. After a 10-year career in Communications, Christine worked alongside Silken Laumann on the build and launch of Unsinkable in 2019. Since, the organization has reached 40 million people across the globe with their stories, resources, and events. 

Christine is passionate about knowledge mobilization, making a social impact, leadership, building community, and disrupting the mental health industry. When she’s not celebrating and supporting the humans of Unsinkable, you can find her navigating the messy and beautiful life of parenthood.

Connect with Christine: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Unsinkable Organization

Unsinkable Youth Student Event

Psychology 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. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is the executive director at the Unsinkable organization; Christine Bays. After a 10 year career in communications, Christine worked alongside Silken Laumann on the build and launch of unsinkable in 2019. Since, the organization has reached 40 million people across the globe with their stories, resources, and events. Christine is passionate about knowledge mobilization, making social impact, leadership, building community, and disrupting the mental health industry.


Sam Demma (01:12):
When she’s not celebrating or supporting the humans of Unsinkable, you can find her navigating the messy and beautiful life of parenthood. Christine is a genuine, kind human being. We had a phenomenal conversation and she shares so much important and interesting knowledge on today’s episode. I hope you enjoy this, and I will see you on the other side. Christine, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what you do and why you do it?


Christine Bays (01:48):
Yeah, for sure. Sam, thank you so much for having me on today. As you said, my name’s Christine Bays, not Miss Bays; do not call me Miss.Bays. I am a 30 something Mama with a very busy career. I’m executive director for the Unsinkable organization, which is a nonprofit founded by Silken Laumann, and I do it because I love it so much. I, I really started my career in public relations and communications, and found myself in a place where I loved the work that I was doing, but didn’t love the purpose of why I was doing it. So I really wasn’t pumped to kinda like jump outta bed every morning and promote software. So, you know, when I had an opportunity to meet Silken and work with her in the capacity that I was in mental health, and kind of helping people reach their full potential and talking about wellbeing, I just fell in love with it. And I knew that I needed to make a life shift and I took a chance and I did it. And here we are almost three years later.


Sam Demma (02:57):
I, I noticed you also studied psychology and I’m, I’m curious to know where your, where your interest in it came from.


Christine Bays (03:04):
Yeah. Oh my goodness. You vetted me. Awesome. Yeah, so I did, I did my undergrad in psychology for me. I think I’ve, I’ve always just had an interest in human beings. I had a difficult childhood and, and I really just wanted to understand myself and my surroundings better. I think I felt like you know, for the first chunk of years of my life, or really didn’t have a lot of control over my environment. And I think for me going into psychology, it felt like I could learn and kind of like take back some of that power and, and potentially help people. So the goal was always to be a psychologist. However, I could not pass statistics to save my imortal soul. So I switched, I switched gears there, but yeah, that was always the goal to help people.


Sam Demma (03:53):
I love that. And having personal challenges is something that is extremely relatable. We all have them like every human being does. We all face them in very different capacities. You don’t have to get into details, but do you wanna share a little bit of your personal story?


Christine Bays (04:09):
Sure. Yeah. So, so I grew up I had a single mom growing up. She was a teenager when she had me, so there’s like first layer of difficulty along our Merry way. And then she met a man who was my stepfather who was like really quite abusive. So for the first seven years of my life, it was pretty scary and pretty unpredictable. And, you know, it took me a really long time to like, come to terms with that, that, that was actually like true trauma and like truly difficult. I just normalized it and pretended that it didn’t happen. And it wasn’t really until I started working with silk and for the organization and like hearing other people’s stories that I was able to say like, aha, like that actually wasn’t normal. Yeah. And that was hard. And that was hard. Right.


Sam Demma (04:59):
That makes a lot of sense. And no, I appreciate you sharing that. And through that journey, like what prompted you down a different path? Like I know you’ve met silken and, and, you know, started doing unable work now, but were there any lighthouses in the darkness that helped you along the way when you were struggling that you think might help others?


Christine Bays (05:18):
Oh my goodness. Yeah. So definitely like you make the decision early on. It doesn’t happen in your thirties after you’ve. I mean, some people do, but I think for me, I made a decision very early on that I didn’t want to be a product of my environment. I wanted better for myself. And so like the first thing really, and truly that I did was surround myself with good people. So I grew up in a small town, north bay, Ontario. Nice. And I, yeah, love it. So I surrounded myself with good human beings and good solid friendships and just kind of like stayed on that path. And, and, and I guess like really did choose a path of, of love and healing without even realizing it. And, and I really didn’t start struggling until about eight years ago when I had my first panic attack.


Christine Bays (06:10):
And so I, I was kind of going along pretty well and like was running, I think in a lot of ways and not realizing like I probably had like low grade anxiety that I was like partying away or drinking away or, you know, doing like low level destructive stuff to like, not deal with what was going on. And then it wasn’t until I became an adult. So to speak that I, you know, had to pause for a moment and everything kind of caught up to me. So then it was like, then the, the journey really started for me then


Sam Demma (06:39):
It was when you transition from Christine to miss in this band. And for literally,


Christine Bays (06:45):
Literally yes.


Sam Demma (06:47):
And for everyone, who’s wondering why we rented that twice. Do you wanna explain,


Christine Bays (06:53):
Oh my God, this poor girl. Yeah. So I, I spoke at a university event I guess a month ago. And one of the young women had tried, was connecting with me on LinkedIn about an internship opportunity. And she addressed me as miss FA, which is lovely and respectful, but I, I tweeted and say, I already made fun of me that I was like, I read it. And then I was like, excuse me, while I go ugly cry to an old cassette tape and really hunt for my blockbuster card, because just threw me back. I was like, oh, I’m like a real blown adult lady. I’m a misses.


Sam Demma (07:24):
That’s so awesome. In the spirit of going back, I want you to take me back to the moment you met silken and sure. And like, where did your vision, where did your vision come from to work with her and, and to do all this amazing work together? Like what, what, tell me this initial experience.


Christine Bays (07:43):
Okay. So I was on mat leave number two loving my children, but bored out of my brain. And someone that I went to my public relations course with had posted in our Facebook group at Olympian silk. And Laman was looking for someone to work with in like a social media capacity. And so I commented, we were introduced really, really headed off. And so initially it was really only supposed to be this like position that I would do a few hours a week. I would help silk in with her advocacy work. And it was just really cool opportunity. Let me first just say she was like, I’m at this place in my life where I wanna give back. I don’t want anything from it in terms of like monetary gains, I just wanna make a difference. So I was like, well, this is really cool because I’d mentioned before where I was like, not pumped to like jump outta bed to sell software, but this, I was like, okay, this is something I can use my for and really try and make a difference with this person who has like incredible vision and like just really, really beautiful stuff to say.


Christine Bays (08:48):
And so we started working together and, you know, she’d mentioned that she had this idea for something, but wasn’t really sure what it was. And it kind of just organically grew into this idea where it was like, okay, Silicon you know, she’s writing all these pieces for different organizations and third parties and getting in newspapers. And I was like, what, you know, you have the voice and the profile and the platform like to create your own, like why have you never created your own? And, and so it kind of just like started that conversation and, you know, she’s like, I’ve always wanted to, because for silken, you know, she had tons of adversity, tons, you know, this amazing story and went her whole life, hearing other people’s stories and, you know, wasn’t sharing them in a larger scale. And so that’s really like where unthinkable started with this, this, you know, want for people to hear these incredible stories.


Christine Bays (09:42):
And so it, it really just started off with like the two of us being like, okay, are we gonna go for this? Okay, we’re gonna go for this. And, and it was like, do we have a business plan? Okay. We’ve got this business plan. And like, I remember so many people being like, okay, so like what, what’s your target demographic? And, you know, we’re like humans and they’re like, it can’t be humans. Like it needs to be like women ages, like 20 to 25. And we’re like, no, no, no, we’re just gonna go for this thing. So we went for it and it it’s definitely blown up and, and grown from there.


Sam Demma (10:13):
So how did you meet her though? Was it at a conference? Like were, how did you cross, how did you cross paths?


Christine Bays (10:19):
So it was, it was through that, that friend who had worked with Silken at an agency. So she’d worked on I believe it was like a Samsung app. And so he introduced us, we spoke on the phone really hit off and like, I didn’t even meet her for such a long time. Like that just goes to show like the powers of tech ’cause she lives in Victoria. So we were just working on the phone like every day, just talking to each other and zooming and FaceTiming. And then yeah, when I met her, finally, it was like, I feel like it was like at least six months into us working together. Yeah.


Sam Demma (10:49):
And what makes you personally passionate about the work? Like I would suppose that now you wake up and you jump out of bed and you’re excited. What’s the difference?


Christine Bays (10:58):
Yeah, no, totally. I think it’s like, it starts off with like where we started, I think today, which was me wanting to better myself, but also like this need to help other people. And, and then me being like, okay, I’m probably not cut out to be a psychologist and actually, so looking joked about it, she’s like you would be the worst counselor ever. She’s like, you’re so a type and aggressive and I’m like, OK. But I think it’s like, I’m, I’m meant to be in the role that I’m in, like in terms of like, you know, who I am as a person and what I bring to an organization. But like now I kind of get to do both right where it’s like, I get to help people, but do it from a place of like leadership and business. And so yeah, for me, it’s like every day I get up knowing that you know, it sounds corny, but like I’m gonna help someone today or I’m gonna create a plan.


Christine Bays (11:53):
That’s gonna help 10 people down the road. And I feel like it just, it comes from like a really honest and natural place for me. So even like in the beginning, when I was just writing social content before we had a social person, like it came from me. So it was like, you know, if I’m writing content on like how to battle anxiety and like how to be okay with the darkness or a feeling like that’s not coming from like psychology articles, I read like that’s coming from me and that’s coming from silken. So I think like, it really is just like, it’s been almost like a pulse for what’s going on in my own personal life.


Sam Demma (12:26):
That’s amazing. And what does the work look like now? I’m sure it’s like shifted a little bit. Like what do you, what do focused on? Yeah.


Christine Bays (12:35):
Yeah. Okay. I laugh because, so like initially it was like writing, writing’s my passion. I love like I’m a creative. I love doing all of that stuff, but as my role has shifted, like it’s a lot of like liability and lawyers and accountants and like the stuff that like, oh, I don’t really wanna do, but silicon’s like, but you’re so good at it. And I’m like, yes, I am good at it. So I think it’s like, I try to make sure that I pull myself back into, like I said, the pulse of the organization. So I still work closely with, you know, program managers and our social media manager and like, you know, I’m starting to do live. So I’m kind of speaking to our community champions and getting involved in like the humans of the organization. So it’s not just involved in like, you know, the workings of running the organization. And of course, because we’re a startup and a very small team, like it really is all hands on deck for a lot of it. Like I do get pulled into a lot of different things, but you know, as it stands right now, I think it’s, it’s really just like a balancing act of like there’s 12 different things going on and I’m kind of doing a lot of all of them. So I get to do a lot of things, I guess, really to answer.


Sam Demma (13:46):
That’s amazing. And what are the different vessels or the different ways that unsinkable has an impact on the community on young people, your target market of humans.


Christine Bays (13:57):
Target market of humans? Yeah, totally. So the way that I like to describe it is the storytelling platform really is like the core, the nucleus, the catalyst for everything else that we do. So for people listening that aren’t familiar with the organization, we started off as a storytelling platform. So we managed to convince 60 said humans to share their most vulnerable stories with us. And it really was initially just Canada, but it ended up being global. So 60 amazing people came forward, shared their stories. And now it’s grown and more people are doing that. So as I say, like, are the catalysts, so it’s the catalyst for everything else that we do in terms of like creating events, creating community, creating programming, creating resources. So I think it’s really a catalyst for both sides when you’re looking at people coming to the organization.


Christine Bays (14:51):
So people coming, they’re engaging with a story, they read a story and then they’re like, oh yeah, actually like this like anger, irritation I’m feeling is anxiety and they have this aha moment. And then they realize they need some help with anxiety. And so we like to say like, okay, we have resources for you. We have a community of people who are also struggling with the same thing. Hey, like there’s some programming coming up or have you thought about this different events? So it’s the catalyst in that way. And then on the internal side, which is like where my heart and soul sings is working with the storyteller. So when they share their story, they’re in like they’re part of the family. So it’s not like a newspaper where like, Hey, can you share your amazing story? We’re gonna blast it all over the internet for a week and then never talk to you again.


Christine Bays (15:36):
It’s like, no, like these are people that it’s true, right? Like these are, we care. It’s not just the story that we want. We want that relationship with the person and we keep them and we do call it a family and, and we, you know, continue to help each other and take care of each other. And a lot of those people, and I would say actually, most people that come in and share their stories, they leave advocates, they leave advocates either for themselves or for other people who haven’t yet found their voices. And so I think like, that’s the beauty for me. That’s why I love it so much because you watch people just grow through telling their stories and then, you know, we keep those relationships.


Sam Demma (16:14):
And is there work with schools as well? Like I, I think a few months ago, maybe five months ago there was like a, a huge email blast about programming in schools. And I’m curious to know if that’s a, something that the organization is still looking to do or if, if it happened or tell me more about that.


Christine Bays (16:30):
So we haven’t like in any real way broken into schools. Right. So the email blast you might be thinking about was probably the CTV show that we put on in support of kids’ health phones. So we were email blasting, like all the schools in Canada, basically to be like, your kid needs to watch this because it was like this incredible production that our tiny team put on with the help of like a whole bunch of other people, of course, to pull that off. So that’s probably what that was. We we’ve also had in September we had a university event, so that might have been something as well where it was for first year university students, basically just to like adjust to the mayhem of attending first year in a pandemic. Yeah. Which nobody could say they’ve experienced. So but yeah, it’s, it’s definitely on the radar. But again, because the size of our team and the different, you know, magnitude of things we’re trying to do, there’s really no timeline on that right now.


Sam Demma (17:27):
Yeah. It makes total sense. How, how do you personally manage the amount of work and passion you have for unsinkable with raising your kid and staying healthy?


Christine Bays (17:37):
I drive my family insane really is like the short answer to that. Yeah, no, it’s, it’s a balancing act and, and I do struggle with it. I think it’s like my number one struggle because it’s like, I wake up thinking about it and I’m also like equally as passionate as of a mom. And so I think like, as a woman, I really struggle with like wanting to be that mom. That’s like, I’m gonna sew up your costumes and we’re gonna bake cookies and we’re gonna put on a magic show and we’re gonna run around the yard. But then also I’m gonna take over the world with this organization as well. And then also try not to die in the middle of that from like really like not taking care of myself. So I think like, what I will say is, and what I’ve come to is like, as a woman, like you can, or anybody really, like, you can have everything just not at the exact same time. So I think it’s like, sometimes I’ll find like I’m really killing it at work, but then like, my kids are like, mommy, like I, you know, I haven’t heard from you in a while. And then like, if I’m doing both of those, then I start to not feel so well. So it really is just trying to like, make sure that I haven’t left any of those three pockets for too long.


Sam Demma (18:43):
Hmm. I love that. That’s a, that’s a great explanation.


Christine Bays (18:47):
I don’t know if it’s, I don’t even know. Like, I don’t even know if it’s actually going to work out. Like, certainly sometimes I feel like the balls are going to fall. Like yesterday. I, you probably saw my tweet, but I drove my kids to school and no backpacks and you know, that’s, that’s just me, like as a mom, a few weeks before that I locked both my kids in the car at school. I had no phone, I had nothing. I was just like standing out in my sweatshirt and then I had to go ask people to like, help me break my kids outta the car. And it’s, you know what it’s just like, but they love me for it. Like they think I’m hilarious, you know? Like, and so I just need to be like, okay, this is who I am.


Sam Demma (19:22):
What do you, that’s so funny, first of all I’ve locked my keys in cars multiple times and it’s an old their car. So there’s no like, you know, because your keys are in the car, there’s a special feature where the doors don’t lock. And I have call CA it’s like private, the doors open kind of a similar experience. Yeah.


Christine Bays (19:40):
Yep.


Sam Demma (19:41):
What do you think though is the biggest opportunity that exists in the space of education and with young people today? You know, I know there’s challenges and everyone talks about them all the time. What do you think are some of the opportunities though that exist,


Christine Bays (19:58):
Like in terms of like where one could go with their career


Sam Demma (20:02):
Or how we can impact young people as teachers, educators as an organization?


Christine Bays (20:08):
Yeah. Yeah. So I think like, so also just so I will preface this with, before I started before we launched UNS sinkable youth, I was actually quite uncomfortable with the idea of working with youth because I’m at this age where like 50 year olds understand youth because they have them and I’m at this sweet spot of like being so far away from my youth that I’m actually like feeling quite disconnected from youth. But so it’s been a great experience relearning, but I will say like the, most of what I’ve heard is like, we just need to listen to listen to what’s going on more and like less of like, okay, we’ve been through this, we know better. And like, this is the way it is. It really is just about like understanding what their experience is. And for a lot of times, like they just wanna be heard. And, and even like in some of the university events where it’s like, just giving them an opportunity to be heard and, and, you know, just be able to answer their questions based on like what they’re really saying, not based on like what I think they need to hear and what they need to know.


Sam Demma (21:13):
Ah, that’s awesome. I love that. That’s, it’s great advice because I think a lot of the times I’m not a parent, but I think a lot of the times as parents are as superior, you know, superior people to a young person in age, they try and, you know, in part their wisdom on, yeah, this is what you should do. And this is what I would do. And I think sometimes young people just don’t wanna hear that, you know?


Christine Bays (21:34):
No, I know I didn’t. And, and I think like that’s like, I, I really actually, I love working with young people and I’m, I’m so energized by them. Like every time that I’ve spoken, like, I, I did a humble thing a couple weeks ago and I’m just blown away by the young people right now. I don’t think I had anywhere near the level of self-awareness that young people have now. Like when I was 20, I, you know, I really, really didn’t. So I think like giving them so much more credit than, than people do, you know, where it’s just like, I was inspired by them. I learned from them. And I think like, like I show up not feeling superior more. So feeling like I, I can learn from them as well, where it’s like, you know, it’s an experience for me in the same


Sam Demma (22:19):
Tony Robbins used to say, or probably still says it to be honest, but I’m pretty sure he said one time that you can learn something from every person you meet and, you know, maybe your, you know, maybe they’re not gonna be better at PR than you are. But maybe they’re better at dancing and you could learn something about dancing from them and every single person because of their unique makeup, they have specific passions, right. Yeah, they’re probably well more well versed in than we are. And so if you approach every totally without open mind, you end up learning something very unique from each person. Curious to know, like, what is next for you? What is next for unsinkable? Like where do I see Christine in five years?


Christine Bays (23:03):
Okay. So definitely, definitely still an unsinkable. There’s no question about that. I’m not going anywhere. But for UN in syncable specifically, we are in grow mode right now. And like, I think our, my biggest challenge right now is trying to build capacity on our organization for all these incredible opportunities that come up. Like, it’s, it’s a great problem to have, but it’s a problem, nonetheless. So I think like in five years from now, I know that we will be doing exactly what we’re doing right now, but we’ll be doing more of it. We’ll be doing it better. We’ll be stronger, we’ll be faster. We will be more efficient. And, you know, I think, yes, we’ll be helping more people, but I I’d like to see us helping more people on a deeper level. So I think like one thing that’s, that’s new this year, that’s on our strategic plan is is that we really wanna be more program focused.


Christine Bays (24:00):
Whereas we, you know, we started out as like that, not a blog, but people would call it a, we call it a platform. And so now we really wanna make sure that we have program offerings for people. And so we’re piloting two right now, one for kids, one for adults really focused around general emotional health. And we’ve got some really exciting things coming up that are a little bit more specific in terms of, of topics. So one for bipo youth and one for youth with disordered eating. And so, yeah, there’s, there’s a lot coming up for us for sure.


Sam Demma (24:30):
Ah, that’s awesome. And if someone listened to this conversation, and is excited or loves your energy what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and have a conversation?


Christine Bays (24:41):
Yeah, social media probably. So Twitter, I am the stacked on. Okay. So I would say yeah, on Twitter.


Sam Demma (24:49):
And your handle, is it just Christine underscore?


Christine Bays (24:52):
@ChrisMBays


Sam Demma (24:54):
Okay, perfect.


Christine Bays (24:55):
Yep. Yep.


Sam Demma (24:56):
Awesome. Christine, thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really appreciate it. I look forward to staying in touch and seeing all the amazing work that happens behind the scenes and we’ll talk soon.


Christine Bays (25:07):
All right, sounds good. Thank you.


Sam Demma (25:08):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Christine Bays

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.

Lori Wagner – Coordinator of Student Support at Myrnam Outreach and Homeschool Centre

Lori Wagner – Coordinator of Student Supports
About Lori Wagner

Lori Wagner is the Myrnam Outreach and Homeschool Centre (MOHC) Coordinator. She was born feeling the need to make connections and to help others. The passion to teach was in her blood.  She has always looked at learners from an individualized lens; a perspective that was different from how others looked at the teaching profession over twenty years ago.

Her path through life has been filled with twists and turns, which has deepened her compassion for others, and has allowed her to approach times of change and struggle with a perspective that has helped her live every day to the fullest. 

Connect with Lori: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Myrnam Outreach and Homeschool Centre (MOHC)

Camp Widow

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Lori Wagner. Lori actually saw me speak at a teacher convention about two and a half months ago, and we connected right afterwards and it was obvious that she would be a great fit for a podcast interview; so we brought her on. Lori was born with the feeling that she needed to make connections and to help others.


Sam Demma (01:03):
The passion to teach was in her blood. She always looked at learners from the individualized lenses; a perspective that was different from how others looked at the teaching profession over 20 years ago. Her path through life has been filled with twist and turns, which has deepened her compassion for others and allowed her to approach times of change and struggle with the perspective which has helped her live every day to the fullest. And she vulnerably shares some of those challenges during this interview today and it’s actually an anniversary of a huge challenge that she went through years ago. But that’s what really has boughten out her light and her compassion and I think you’ll get so much out of today’s interview. So I’ll hear you. I’ll hear from you on the other side; enjoy today’s episode. Lori, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show after meeting at the teachers convention briefly. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what led you to working with young people?


Lori Wagner (02:02):
Well, it was, well only the thing that I ever wanted to do. My dad was a teacher for 40 years, probably at the same school. He was a junior high science, which did not interest me at all. I, no offense to those teenagers. I love coaching them. I love teasing them, in the hallways and walking down, getting like blown away by their acts, the body after street. But I do not like teaching them and the reason is I am kind of a five year old at heart. So where can you be goofy and like sing in front of a class and do weird accents and just make kids like super engaged? Elementary! So that was my route. And then I chose special ed because I just have a passion for finding the, like that student who is struggling. You see them so frustrated and when you get to that point that you can see you’ve like figured out how they learn and that spark goes in their eye,


Lori Wagner (02:56):
It’s like the best thing ever. Mm. So that’s why I went this special ed route. And it’s still a passion of mine to figure out kids with learning disabilities, ’cause you really see them kind of get lost in the regular classroom. And if you don’t have that sped eye that I feel like I do have and really know how to get to them and do those diagnostic testings and make a difference, like in my first practicum there was a boy and he was like a non-reader non-writer by the end of my practicum, he wrote a creative writing story that was two pages long. ‘Cause I made this cool project. It was like create a creature and the news came and it was just like that. So that was not even teaching. That was my practicum. It impacted me to then carry that on to the next years ahead.


Sam Demma (03:40):
I love that something interesting is you mentioned, you know, when you, you really feel for them when you see the struggle and you know, you’ve been through an instrumentable amount of struggle and I’m curious to know what your perspective on struggle is. Like how do you view struggle?


Lori Wagner (03:57):
Sometimes you have to view a sense of humor. Yep. Sometimes you have, you have to view it with the silver lining. Sometimes you have to view it that we are all struggling in some way. So it was really interesting to me. So the backstory about what Sam is talking about, the struggle is today it’s a 12th anniversary. My husband’s death. It was a sudden death in the avalanche. I was, was pregnant at the time, six months pregnant with my second child. And that was really one of the, well, that was the hardest thing that I had to do in the months ahead and deliver by myself and crazy two little babies, but the connections and the compassion that I felt from the people of BC and also of Alberta who supported me, like it filled my heart. It made me feel like I wanted to do that for other people in any way. So on this day, like if my voice shakes a little bit, you’re just gonna have to ignore it.


Sam Demma (04:54):
But no it’s just feels


Lori Wagner (04:55):
Passionate about it. Like it’s my, it makes me smile. When I think back to that feeling because he had died on a, in a mountain called McBride in the Rocky mountains, which funny and left, I ended up moving there and changing my life and new perspectives were, were changed there. But I just remember going to view his body, which my parents thought I was pretty. He is either like, you’re gonna you’re pregnant. This is gonna be bad for the baby. And I was like, no, this is what I have to do. And the whole town of 500 people just rallied around us, the victim service worker, which is now one of my best friends. She stayed us with us the whole time. The corner was like, if you need to see him at two in the morning, again, you just call me, I’ll come pick you up.


Lori Wagner (05:41):
We’ll take you to the hospital. The hotel put us up, everyone at the, the hospital and restaurants were just feeding us and taking care of us. And I was just like, wow, these people don’t even know me or my family. And they’re crying for me. Like this is made me feel like this connection to strangers that I now like, especially on this day, I love connecting to people. I don’t know because everyone has a story. And if I can make them smile sometimes like that taxi driver that I’m like reaching out, not treating ’em my keys, a second class per, or that Pelman that I’m like, how’s your day going? And like, what’s new with you. And those people that don’t get talked to in my travels, which I usually somewhere amazing on March 24th. Cause I’m determined to make this day the complete opposite of what it was.


Lori Wagner (06:33):
So I’ve always like gotta go to Vancouver. We’ve gone to the states a couple times last year, we’re supposed to go to Texas. And so the pandemic hit last year and it, it gutted me because March back to the perspective of how people are feeling right now, I really feel like now people all understand what March brings me because there is, we’ve been getting emails about that unresolved trauma that many people feel from last year that their world was falling apart. And how now they’re reacting, not by like a cognitive way, but it’s hitting them like with anxiety or just this feeling of unsettling and, or just they’re crying for no reason, nobody because of what happened last year. So every month I go through this process and I never know when it’s gonna hit me. I’m usually a little bit anxious, but last year it felt like our world was falling apart.


Lori Wagner (07:28):
So that’s how it brought me back to a PTSD feeling of 11 years ago from last year, my world fell apart. So it tanked and it put a, and not a great place, which I’m now with the help of some therapists and getting back on meds and being pro mental health, no stigma talking about it. But people now understand that that is not something you think about the whole world feels this trauma right now. And so it was hard for me to talk about this to other people. Well, cuz they would say, oh, March 24th is, that’s gotta be such a hard day. I’ve got all these text that are saying big hugs to you. And, but they don’t know that I actually broke down last weekend for no reason. I don’t know because I just felt like I got hit with a truck. Mm.


Lori Wagner (08:14):
I dug my husband’s ashes out and like feeling them. I don’t know if you know anything about ashes, but there’s bone bin in there. There’s teeth and crying. And my present partner who he’s been with me for six years is super supportive about me crying over my dead husband, which is like not really that common. So I’ve gone on now, a mini tangent from the con connecting with compassion and then kind of back how trauma has made me feel. But I’ve had hard days, but I’ve also had a lot of times that I really just had to laugh at what was going on. So I can give you an example of that time


Sam Demma (08:53):
Please. And before you continue, before you continue, I just wanna say thank you so much for being so vulnerable and sharing this part of yourself. It will relate to some people listening and, and they’ll find some strength in your sharing. So thank you so much.


Lori Wagner (09:08):
Yeah, no, Sam, I really think that being young widow, I was 32 at the time. So I went out to, because I, I don’t know how to be a widow. I’ve got two little kids and a section on grief in chapters had like seven books in it. And the one that I picked up and looked at was about finding a new golf partner one year 65. And it was so unrelatable that I’ve like since reached out, there’s a camp down the states called camp widow, which now they operate them Ontario. There’s an amazing camp called camp care, which is a grief family trauma camp. Oh wow.


Sam Demma (09:40):
It’s,


Lori Wagner (09:41):
It’s just that connecting with other widows that know what’s happening and how it feels to have two little kids that feel like you wanna crawl up in or how many kids crawl up in a corner and cry, but you can’t because you have to keep goings. So anyhow, there was one time, couple, it was probably, I don’t know, six years in and I kind gone through some ups and downs with my in-law family because death brings out hard feelings in people. And sometimes there’s times that we weren’t talking and we got back on track and my mother-in-law and father-in-law were always amazing. So I decided to do something important for them and take some, I’ve always offered the ashes to them and they said, no, no, no, that’s fine. You don’t have to. So I looked into it and there was this place in the states that you could get ashes like blown, like glass into this orb.


Lori Wagner (10:33):
And then it made like a beautiful little ornament. So I contacted them down there and they said, this is what you have to do. You need so much ashes and we’re gonna, you can ship it down and then we’ll send you the ornaments back. So I’m at the kitchen table having a beer with my, my dead husband’s ashes and kind of looking at it like, this is the most ridiculous thing. Like this is ridiculous. So I’m, I’m scooping it out and I’m like, I wonder what, part’s going down the state SCO be your arm, proving your, I don’t know, but you’re going, this is a man who never went on a flight to the states. I was like your first vacation. Hey congratulations. So I go to the post office and funny enough, the lady at the counter was also a bit of, and she was, but she not a looking at the dark side of humor kind of person than I am, like kind of laughing about the crazy stuff.


Lori Wagner (11:25):
So yeah, she goes, what’s in the package. And I said, and I was like, it’s ashes, my, my dead husband’s ashes. She was like, well, how much would you think this, this would be worth? Cuz you have to put that a on there when you have the item that you’re shipping down. And I was like, what do I say? Priceless? Like nothing like it’s ashes in the metal container. Like I don’t know what to tell you. And my friend was there and she kind of understands my sense of humor and we’re trying not to laugh because this is so crazy. I’m shipping my husband off and trying to put a price tag on his, his, his worth. But that there’s no sense in that to me. So anyhow, it was just one of the stories I had shared with my widow group because they got it and thought it was very humorous and yeah, it was just one of times, like my kids had asked many times actually when they’re little, can we pull out daddy? And I was like, okay, here we go. Like bring up, open the box up. And I have to remind my two year old, like daddy’s not a sandbox. Let’s get the cars out of there and yeah, shut ’em up and put them to bed. And then I have a little moment of like, wow, that was hard, but also crazy. And this life is so weird, but also amazing.


Sam Demma (12:41):
Hmm. And you said when you, you moved to where the accident happened in your life, you know, changed, like what changed for you? How did you approach life differently? Like, I’m curious to know what minds said shifts happened after the experience


Lori Wagner (12:56):
That life is too short and we can, and there’s really bad things that happen that we shouldn’t worry about the little things. So especially during this pandemic time in teaching, there’s been a lot of people worrying about what I call the small stuff like and worrying about. I’m not talking about getting sick, but just worry about those little details. And my perspective now is like, whoa, I don’t care. Like pretty pandemic or whatever about chewing gumming class. Or if you have a hat on let’s, I’m not arguing about those details. I cannot do it or worrying about. So my social online kids that I have in grade eight that are also struggling with theirs, some health problems going on, there’s some family stuff, Hey, guess what? Grade eight, you’re gonna still be a good person. If you don’t remember 18, whatever, whatever. So what we’re gonna do is just do the review. I’ll help you through the test and we’re getting you through grade eight social cause this will not matter in five years. Like I cannot deal with the silly details when there’s bigger things in life. So what had happened was I was starting to go visit my, the victim service lady that we got to be connected with. She was about my age and I would use it kind of as mistakes. So my perspective also was I’m just a swearing podcast or not,


Sam Demma (14:14):
It’s just fellow educators. So it’s okay.


Lori Wagner (14:17):
I’m gonna make this life the same way I would’ve done with my husband. So that means I’m gonna learn how to drive a fifth wheel. I’m gonna get myself a big one ton to pull it around. And I’m fricking doing it with a eight month old and a two almost three year old and it’s happening. So I learned how to pull a fifth wheel all that thing to through the mountain passes all the way up. It’s like, I don’t know if you know where prince George is, but anyhow, you go through Jasper and then you go, instead of going down Camelot and Vancouver, you take it up to like halfway to it’s 45 minutes from Mount Watson. Okay. If that gives you some sort perspective on perspective again, on where I’m at. So I’m parked in our backyard and I’m thinking, okay, instead of parking in our backyard, maybe I should look for some investment land.


Lori Wagner (15:02):
There’s another backstory about why I had some money for investment land because I had these bring me back to this, but I had some thoughts three months before he died about him dying. And I kept, it was a gut intuition that I could not fight and we just had sign life insurance. So, oh wow. Bring me that if you’d like. Okay. So anyhow, I’m connected with this real estate lady who we had got to be good friends, cause everyone in this town is like a personal connection. It’s such a cute little small town. And she said to me, so too bad, you weren’t like looking at buying a business because you’d be so good. You’re really sociable. And I, and I said, what kind of business? She said, it’s a trading company, kind of those like small town, bulk health food jars on the wall, little cafe that, that, so I said, well, I love baking that that would be like, take me to see it.


Lori Wagner (15:52):
And it was just this place. You ever walk into a place and you feel like it’s home. Like, wow, this feels amazing. So I said, well, what’s the catch on this? She goes, well, there’s a couple there that would like to go in with a partner. They don’t wanna do it on their own. So I asked my friend if she knew them. And of course she does cuz you know, everyone in this town. And so I cold called this guy. He was a retired banker and just had a conversation. We went to go see the building again. And he goes, okay, well think about it. I’m in, if you’re in. And I was sitting outside, looking at the mountains and put my kids to bed in the trailer and I thought, this is crazy if I walked away for like, I was on math leave.


Lori Wagner (16:33):
But if I left my teaching career, which I do love, but would I regret not trying when I’m 85? And my answer in my heart was like, this would be something I would regret, not throwing all, just all caution to the wind and taking this huge leap by myself and just doing it. And my thought was always like, what’s the worst that could happen. Mm. The worst that could happen, it would go south. And I could move back to Alberta. What’s the best that could happen. I can change up my life a little bit. Get myself out of that. Like whenever I’d go to the local grocery store or see someone in town, I’d get that pity widow look like, how’s it going? Worry. Yeah. And then you’d have to kind of like console other people, even though they’re trying to be very compassionate, but it was a hard space to be.


Lori Wagner (17:23):
And it was also a small town that people knew me. I’d taught in for 10 years. So I made the decision like within minutes, I’m gonna buy this business and we’re moving. I had three apartments above this to go building. Like we can live up there. So I call my parents from, from the backyard. I was like, so, and they were worried about me living on an acreage Alberta by myself. Mm. Like they were that concerned like Lori, you’re gonna have to sell your house just after Luke was born. That’s my son. You can’t handle it all acreage by yourself. You’re a single mom. Now you’ve got two little kids and they made me move into town to be closer to them right after he died. So anyway, I called about, I was like, mom, dad, I have something to tell you. He might wanna sit down.


Lori Wagner (18:04):
I bought a business to McBride and I’m moving there next month. And what are you like, are you actually insane? And I was like, it’s happening? So anyhow, I move up there. We had a couple years we lived in and then I ended up finding the most amazing soul healing place up on the mountain road, just by chance through my friend up there. That was in the same en road that my husband died at the top of that mountain. And that house was, I’ll send you pictures after like you, people from out where you live will not believe that some people are that lucky to live in such a magical mountainous valley. Like it was just gorgeous. And I lived there for about eight years and then circumstances kind of, I don’t know if you believe in the universe and like putting things out there, but I always wanted to live in the mountain.


Lori Wagner (18:55):
I always wanted to own a bakery. And this is like, when I’m a teenager, I did that. I did that. I wanted to get back to teaching and I kind of felt a little bit stuck in that mountain town. The schools, people were moving out, the schools were like 50 kids. There was a, and any opportunity for me after I’d worked in a few different places. So I thought I love this place, but I’ve also dated the men in this town. So I’m not gonna find any new ones. I also do want a partner that is going to be like my chapter two partner, which I did meet up there who coincidentally his birthday’s today. So now always celebrate.


Sam Demma (19:31):
Wow.


Lori Wagner (19:32):
Yeah, it was the universe saying to me, here you go, Laurie, like my, my best friend. And I looked at each other when we were talking about this and I met him up on a, a Memorial ride for their friend. And I said, so how old are you? And he said, 40. And last month, when’s your birthday? March 24th. And my girlfriend and I looked at each other like, is this, is this a screen Still around years later? And, and it’s brought me back to, Alberta’s the most amazing school my kids are doing well, and we’re all doing well. And we just appreciate what we have.


Sam Demma (20:08):
Wow. It’s such a good reminder to cherish the small and big things in life, you know? Your story’s amazing. And if you had advice for young teachers or, you know, teachers that are just getting into the profession, what would you share with them?


Lori Wagner (20:23):
Well, I do have a new teacher in here that I apparently I’m mentoring. Nice. So I, yeah, I, I did see her come in and get, she kinda get overwhelmed, which is normal. But I, so the new position I came into was a position that kind of fell into my lap last year. And it was the facilitator of the home learning outreach program. And it had no structure. It was like a, just a program. They thought they would get up and running to increase enrollment. And when I got hired or offered the position, they said, I said to them, so what does this look like? And they said, whatever, you’d like it to be. So every day was a learning process last year. And every day was scary until I learned something and could apply it the next time. And so I, in that, by from it, and then by the end of the year, I could see how far I’d come.


Lori Wagner (21:12):
So this new teacher came in and then also we revamped the program twice this year and the other teacher’s like, oh my goodness, what are we doing? I’m like, everyone just stop. Let’s take it day by day. This will all work out. I’ve been through this before we will learn. We will grow. We will tweak. And that’s part of even teaching, right. Or being a human, like we’re supposed to make mistakes. We’re supposed to be scared. We’re supposed to be uncomfortable or else we wouldn’t be growing. So when I was, had no idea what I was doing last year, I learned even more like when I moved to BC, scary, uncomfortable, but worth all those magical years I had with the people that lived in that town and what memories we collected. So we’ll, we’ll collect memories by being stressed out and anxious and taking that step.


Lori Wagner (22:01):
I know, I feel like a lot of the teaching community, I’m not type a, but I feel like there’s a lot of type a out there and that’s hard to deal with change, but I think we need to force ourselves to deal with change. And I could not live with not changing because I would get more quickly. Yeah. Frankly. And before, before Cory died, I was thinking, oh, this life’s kind of boring. And then it got really boring, but you know what? My daughter, when she was eight said to me, dad didn’t die. We would never have met all these people and had these experiences. She’s kind of an old soul. And I was like, you’re right. Like, good for you seeing this over lining in this. Cuz we, we lived in an amazing life in the mountains. Like we quad to the top of the mountains and a, you go up for snowmobile to the cabin to have a hot dog grow river boating on the river.


Lori Wagner (22:53):
Whenever we’d want to like doing all these crazy things that people who live in Alberta or who live in the city. My kids experience so much because of the steps that we went through. And so now, okay. Back to the teacher, the first year teacher thing. Yeah. Change and being scared is good. I just do just do it. Put, take your steps forward, build the plane as you’re flying it. And that’s fine because that’s how even I’m 44, this little young thing is 22 coming in and I can tell her it’s okay. I still sometimes don’t know what I’m doing, which is what I tell of kids. Cause kids, since we’ve got like, oh, you’re an adult, you’ve got it all together. I’m like, guess what? No, we don’t. And that’s okay. Cause we’re, if we figured it all out, we might as well be dead, be honest.


Lori Wagner (23:43):
So I also look at kids and young people that are just coming into their own well, I’m thinking like teenagers and kids too. I think we have too much, too many high expectations for kids and how they behave in their emotions and what they’re dealing with because I kids live in like the red or green zone and we kind of operate the yellow zone. And when we like, we can be okay, but when we get mad, we’re mad or sad. We get sad where kids just go from one extreme to the other and I can have a crying fit, but it could be in my own space cause I can regulate myself. But when kids are overwhelmed or their parents are overwhelmed because of what’s going, how they’re feeling. I really think that we need to take the behaviors as something behind it and recognize that adults have temper tantrums. So how can we expect our kids to walk into the door? Having good days all the time. Yeah. So I guess that comes like from a first year teacher, how we’re feel about things to how you’re recognizing the emotions in our fellow staff members and just trying to be compassionate about where everyone’s at and sharing that with them. Cause then you don’t feel like you’re alone. Same with like the sharing with the widows. You don’t feel like you’re alone anymore.


Sam Demma (25:01):
I love it and thank you so much for taking the time again today to chat about all this. I really appreciate it. If another educator is, is tuning in right now and wants to reach out to you and have a conversation about anything we just shared, like what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and have a conversation?


Lori Wagner (25:22):
My email would be fine. I would, could would share out to them if anyone reached out to you. I don’t know any other technology.


Sam Demma (25:30):
Email is perfect. Yeah. Just spell it out.


Lori Wagner (25:36):
Oh, it’s loriwagner44@gmail.com. Perfect.


Lori Wagner (25:45):
So what was I to say with oh, sharing with people? I, yeah, I’ve also like cold reached out. Like when people, the avalanche victims really get me those news stories. If you Google my name, Lori Wagner, avalanche McBride, that story went national because it was at the end of the very bad avalanche here. Wow. So now when I hear about these like credit mess, I will reach out to those widows or widowers, or whether I know them or not. And just say, Hey, I’ve been through what you’ve been through. If you’d like to reach out, I totally help walk you through how you’re feeling and it’s okay to feel that and validate that for you because, and some of them have come back to me and we’ve had that kind of conversation. And on those that also were a little bit lost, like I was lost. So I’ve often thought about a podcast about widows ’cause I don’t know if there’s a lot out there, but it might be an interesting topic.


Sam Demma (26:40):
I think that’s a great idea. An amazing idea. And if you do start it, let me know. But again, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today and honoring the, you know, the Memorial, today’s 12 years. I really appreciate it. Keep doing awesome work and stay in touch. I would love to stay in touch, whether it’s over email or whatever and keep doing great stuff and, and I’ll talk to you soon.


Lori Wagner (27:07):
Okay. Thanks a lot, Sam.


Sam Demma (27:09):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lori Wagner

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.

Ash Baer – Mental Health Advocate and speaker

Ash Baer - Mental Health Advocate and speaker
About Ash Baer

Ash Baer (@ashbear_) is a mental health advocate and speaker who has been facilitating leadership programs for the past nine years. She’s travelled across Canada and to Europe, working with the coolest student leaders and sharing her passion for authentic, positive, and fun leadership experiences.

Ash is a Summer Camp enthusiast and spends her summers at Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC) as the Summer Camp Director. For the remainder of the year Ash is planning for the summer ahead as well as supporting student leadership conferences across Canada, empowering youth to reach their full potential to make their own positive impact!

Ash’s passion is to create safe and positive spaces for the youth she has the opportunity to work with. She incorporates important leadership lessons into fun and interactive activities, and works hard to be a strong mental health advocate.

Ash is excited to learn and grow with you through her two workshop opportunities; Mental Health Awareness and Leadership Team Building.

Connect with Ash: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Baer Leadership

Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC)

Global Student Leadership Summit (GSLS)

Ontario Student Leadership Conference (OSLC)

Canadian Youth Speakers Bureau

Mental Health Awareness Workshop

Leadership Team Building Workshop

Nipissing University

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Ash, Ash Baer has been facilitating leadership programs for the past nine years. She’s traveled across Canada and to Europe working with the coolest student leaders and sharing her passion for authentic, positive, and fun leadership experiences. Ash is a summer camp enthusiast and spends her summers at YLCC as the summer camp director.


Sam Demma (01:02):
She now does mental health programs across the nation and today she talks a little bit about those presentations, managing student mental health and your own mental health and how her journey in education has shifted due to the recent challenges. This is a very awesome conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Take lots of notes. I will see you on the other side, Ash, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself, who you are, and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Ash Baer (01:33):
Yeah, perfect. Well, it’s a pleasure to be here so thank you so much for the opportunity. So, I currently work with youth in a couple different capacities. The one that I’ve worked in the longest is through youth leadership camps, Canada (YLCC) and in their summer camp program, I am the summer camp director. I also help out with, we also run the Ontario student leadership conference, the global student leadership summit and events like that. So I’m also helping out with that with the student volunteers there. And then another thing with youth leadership stuff is I do Baer Leadership. So my last name’s bear. So that’s where the bear comes from. And I’ve been doing programs along the lines of mental health and team building.


Sam Demma (02:24):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And what got you into the work that you’re doing with young people? Why did you decide to join Y L C C? Was there a teacher that pushed you in that direction or was student leadership a big part of your life? What led you down this path? Totally.


Ash Baer (02:39):
So definitely was really involved in high school leadership. I went to Waterloo, Oxford and Jeff Gerber was my advisor. And he really created an environment where there was no limits to what we could do. So I really enjoyed that sort of environment in the, the environment of student leadership where you can think big and do big things. And there were the only barrier was your own perspective. So I was really into that. And then from that involvement, I got involved with OS L C and then got to know Stu Saunders who owns Y L C C in the camping world. And I haven’t left since, so it’s all kind of merged together into a beautiful timeline of what I’ve done.


Sam Demma (03:33):
That’s awesome. And you went to school in Waterloo. Did you also go to university in Waterloo or what you do?


Ash Baer (03:40):
No, I did university in north bay at Ning.


Sam Demma (03:43):
Nice. That’s awesome. Did you study something along the lines of social work or teaching or working with young people or was it something totally unrelated? Unrelated? nice. No, I love that. Yeah. Yeah. Me too. Right. Like I was studying environmental stuff before getting into this work. And like now doing totally different things. So there’s no, there’s no one right path to any destination. Right, exactly. So you do a lot of presentations now and programs in schools what kind of led you down that path? So you took a step towards doing your own thing on the side, where did that all stem from?


Ash Baer (04:19):
Yeah, for sure. So, so for the last 10 years I’ve worked with Y L C C. And like I said, I’m the camp director there for our summer programs. And with that, I really fell in love with the concept of being able to have a lot of fun. So that’s what we do at camp have tons of fun, but there’s also always messages embedded in everything that we do and leadership opportunities and growth there. So I fell in love with the team building aspect of that got to travel a lot with Y L C C been to Europe and all across Canada running programs and then started to develop some things on my own. And then also from the mental health perspective of it, I started to recognize in youth that mental health was something that was widely talked about and people were aware of what mental health was and stigma is going away, which is awesome.


Ash Baer (05:14):
But I also recognize that even though that stigma’s going away the language of how to talk about it, isn’t really there. So there’s not that toolbox of what is the definition of depression? Am I depressed or am I feeling sad? Is this anxiety, or am I just like worried at this exact moment? So I wanted to kind of take my own journey and learn a little bit more about my own mental health and got educated in courses like mental health, first aid and some living works courses as well to better facilitate and create safer environments for the students that I was working with. And then from that, I was like, if I have the opportunity to speak to more students. Awesome. actually one thing that I really push for in the student leadership conference world was I was like, I wanna see more women on stage because there’s lots of student leaders who are identify as women. And I want them to see themselves on stage too. And whenever I would go to even myself or other conference coordinators, I’d be like, Hey, get some more women on stage. And they were like, well, why don’t you just do it? And I was like, well, okay, fine. I feel comfy with a mic , I’ll learn some stuff and I will also share some messages there that way too.


Sam Demma (06:32):
Awesome. No, that’s amazing. And what challenges are you currently face with right now? Because of the current state of the world?


Ash Baer (06:40):
Yeah, for sure. Obviously there’s ton . And I think for me specifically if I look at our programs that we traditionally run in a year through conferences and camp camp specifically was shut down with no other option for the summer. So we kind of adapted in a way that we brought everything online conferences obviously in person were canceled. It was great to see you at O S L C you got to come into the first hybrid of a sort of event where you were on stage in front of a green screen. So obviously the challenges of just kind of figuring out how we keep leadership alive in these programs alive when we can’t be literally sitting beside each other or interacting in the way that we typically would.


Sam Demma (07:30):
Amazing. And if an educator’s listening and is thinking the exact same thoughts, what advice do you have to share, or what could you share with them that might be, do you have any ideas that have worked so far during COVID or things that you’ve tried that you think are worth sharing?


Ash Baer (07:44):
Yeah, for sure. So I think first of all, I wanna say to all educators listening, like you’re all amazing and adapting to such different times and I’m sure one day is completely different than the next day. I I’m a lot, I have a lot of close friends who are educators and I just have so much respect for them right now. And I’m wishing them in a couple weeks, two weeks of just the ability to sleep over the holidays. But some things that are tangible that I have seen happening specific with us, we the moment that things shut down, back in March, we opened an online camp on zoom. The schools shut down on Thursday and the next Monday I was like, yeah, we gotta do it. It’s like a March break zoom camp. And I honestly expected, it would be like a two week thing.


Ash Baer (08:39):
We do some crafts of the materials that I have in my home, which is like paper and Q-tips and we bring it to life, but we ended up running it for 30 weeks on zoom. And obviously this is lasting a little bit longer than anyone would’ve been anticipated. But I think the overall for adapting to the challenges that are happening right now, it’s important to not cut anything out that you think is important. Right. So if you run an event at your school that is so important for your school culture don’t say like, well, COVID canceled that. I think it’s important to bring it to life in some capacity, obviously there’s barriers. And obviously it’s not gonna be the exact same, but how can you still bring that to life via something virtual or maybe going super old school and doing a snail mail, like stuff like that. Like there’s ways to like, still build that community, but it might not be the exact same, but like thinking outside of the box. And I think the students that we’re all working with have the answers, right? Like, they’re, they’re so creative, they’re so smart. They want it to happen. So if they want it to happen, they’ll find a way.


Sam Demma (09:56):
That’s awesome. And with your, with regards to your own presentations, how are you delivering them right now? I know things are a little bit different.


Ash Baer (10:03):
Yeah, for sure. So whatever sort of online platform via zoom or Google room sort of thing, I’ve been delivering speeches that way. and just, I’ve done a couple throughout the summer that were in person and distanced, but I, I really am craving the opportunity when we can all just be in one room together.


Sam Demma (10:31):
yeah, me too. And, you know, you spend a lot of time hanging around with students. You understand there’s struggles, you’re not far removed as well. What do you think would be the best way to support our youth, like right now through this challenging time?


Ash Baer (10:45):
Totally. I think the best way would, and I think this is the way, no matter if there’s COVID or not COVID is to meet people where they’re at. And I think ESP with youth meeting them where they’re at is, is where you’re going to have the most success. And I think there’s so much authenticity that comes from that. So, you know, I don’t think there’s a cookie cutter answer to that of being like, well, this will work for all students, cuz I know everybody listening knows that that’s not the case either. Like for some students social media is, is a great way to connect with them and get on their level for some people that’s not. And I think it’s just on a very individual meet people where they’re at sort of vibe.


Sam Demma (11:36):
Awesome. Sounds good. And that makes a lot of sense and I totally agree. I think you can approach every kid with the same plan because they all learn different. It’s like trying to teach your curriculum the same to every single student. You can’t support every single student the same either. That’s awesome. I cannot wait to see you back on a stage or at camp or in a classroom doing a speech. If an educator is listening right now, wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around, maybe have a conversation about your programs or anything that they, that they heard today on today’s episode, what would be the best way for them to get into touch?


Ash Baer (12:13):
For sure. So a couple different ways. Email is ash@baerleadership.ca and Baer is spelled “baer”. And then Instagram or Twitter @ashbaer_ because somebody already took my name so.


Sam Demma (12:33):
All right. Awesome. Thanks so much for coming on the show, Ash. Really appreciate it. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ash Baer

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.

Jason Eduful – Teacher, Basketball Coach, Youth Minister and Mental Health Advocate

Jason Eduful - Teacher, Basketball Coach, Youth Minister and Mental Health Advocate
About Jason Eduful

Jason (@__MrE) is an educator, basketball coach, youth minister and advocate for mental health.  His goal is to bridge the gap between marginalized youth and extraordinary education. 

He is also the youngest guest that we’ve had on this podcast! 

Connect with Jason: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School Website

Equity Studies at York University

Coach Carter Movie

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest, his name is Jason Eduful. He goes by Mr. Eduful for his students. He is an educator, a basketball coach, a minister, and an advocate for mental health and his goal is to bridge the gap between marginalized youth and extraordinary education. Jason is one of the youngest educators.


Sam Demma (01:06):
I’ve had the chance to bring on the show and you can tell by our very energetic conversation. He’s super excited about the work that he’s doing. Although there are challenges, he’s seeing them as opportunities because he knows like Malcolm X said without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed it. See you on the other side. Jason, thank you so much for coming onto the High Performing Educators podcast. You play the perfect role visually. I know no one can really see you right now, but you got those beautiful glasses on and can you please tell the audience who you are, why you got into teaching and the work that you do with young people today?


Jason Eduful (01:46):
Yeah, no problem. First of all, thank you so much for having me, Sam. I’ve heard so many great things about you, had an opportunity to listen to some of your work and it truly is inspiring. So keep doing what you’re doing. My name is Jason Eduful. I’ve been teaching for about, this will be year number eight. I currently teach at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School in the Peel region. You know, I really started with studying equity and racial studies at York University. That was like my passion and then I took that and kind of switched gears a little bit and started studying philosophy and theology. And so that’s really what I’m teaching now. I’m teaching theology at the grade 12 level, for the most part, they kind of throw me everywhere other than math and science, ’cause we don’t get along, but usually anywhere else , I’m usually free to go. Married for a year and a half now a year and a bit.


Jason Eduful (02:43):
So yeah. She’s also a teacher normally grade five, but due to the whole pandemic situation, she’s online kind of teaching kindergarten. Nice. but yeah, I’m usually I’m a coach, I’m a mentor. I guess I’m a best friend at some point but , but normally that’s what I do. I usually love working with kids just mainly because you know, I, I just remember being a high school student. And I remember really that lead up into high school. I hated school so much. And I hated it mainly because I felt like nobody number one could relate to me. I grew up kind of Weston and Lawrence ish back in the day. It wasn’t the nicest neighborhood I’ll leave it at that. But we had a lot of outreach in the community specifically Weston park, Baptist church and front lines with a special woman, who’s kind of like my mentor still Bonnie Parsons.


Jason Eduful (03:41):
Mm. She kind of took us under her wing and made sure that we were, you know, not only getting that educational side of things, learning how to become men in a really rough neighborhood, but also kind of connecting that spirituality to it. Hmm. And so I still partner with front lines when I can, but for the most part you, yeah, that’s really where I started things. And then grade 10, I believe, I wanna say I started or something piqued my interest in school, you know? My grade 10 teacher, Diana Espanza, who also is ironically my vice principal right now. , she I don’t remember what the assignment was. I’m not gonna lie to you sound, but I remember the response, like the response was huge. I, I handed in an assignment and she tore it apart.


Jason Eduful (04:31):
Like just, if I could say like red ink on a paper, there was no white spots. Like just ripped it up and gave it back to me and said, this is not acceptable. Like, this is not who you are. It’s not a reflection of what you’re capable of. And it was the first time that somebody ever really said that to me. So in my mind, you know, you’re in grade tenure. You’re like, okay, lady, whatever. Like , I’m with the next, let’s gone with this. But she, she just kept pushing me. She kept pushing me. She kept pushing me. She kept pushing me. I, I, and it was the first time I resubmitted an assignment. Like I wasn’t like an, a put less student, but I was a pretty solid kid. Like you don’t talk to me, I’ll do the work. We’re good. And so when she ripped that apart and she gave me the opportunity to redo it, and then we connected again.


Jason Eduful (05:11):
And from that time I remember ironically, I had her every other year till I graduated. And so I was kind of stuck with it. There was no getting around it, but she really, she really inspired people and challenged them to really think about, not only like you could have your own opinion, but she was gonna challenge that opinion. And you had to make sure that you were able to back it up, you know? It’s funny, cuz my cousin Reggie sent me a video yesterday two days ago and it was about either, it was a youth you video just about something saying who’s your worst or your best teacher. And it was, it was hilarious because most of it was all like negative things, but like the passion that these people had for the teachers that they hated like full names, like Jason Eduful, grade six.


Jason Eduful (06:00):
And I’m thinking, I think that we forget as teachers, how powerful of an impact that we can have on kids either positively or negatively. Mm you know what I mean? So that’s kinda a little bit above my background where I jumped into it. And then from there obviously she inspired me to really become a leader in the community because it was more like one learning can be fun. Mm. Right. and number two, if you really put enough time into any student and in all like now times like people are like, well, how much time can we really put in versus press for time? But if you just take that time to build those connections, you can literally inspire anybody. And so that’s what really got me jumping into why I wanted to become a teacher and why I’m still doing it now.


Sam Demma (06:47):
So you’re telling me, your teacher gave you nightmares about red pens. So you touched, you touched on something really cool. You mentioned the fact that she gave you a second chance to resubmit the assignment. How do we give students that feeling? Like, what did you feel like when she gave you a second chance? If you could go back to grade 10, Jason or grade six, Jason, I can’t remember which one it was. What was going through your, on your mind when she gave you that second chance and how can we give kids today that similar, similar feeling?


Jason Eduful (07:25):
Grade 10, Jason would probably immediately be like, what is wrong with this woman? Like, you’re not my mom, like, get outta here. We don’t need any, this, I was very confrontational. And now in the, that I’m in now after obviously years of mentoring people and doing things like that and coaching, you can tell when somebody standoffish, there’s a reason, you know? And so I think from the teacher perspective, giving kids an opportunity to resubmit, isn’t gonna kill you. You know what I mean? I know we’re crunched for time, but if our goal is to make these students and these pupils into better human beings, right. Especially I’m in a Catholic school. So we kind of have our own little virtues that we’re kind of going off of. So we want them to be it’s called Catholic graduate expectations. So what do we want them to look like when they graduate?


Jason Eduful (08:14):
If we can focus on those and just put the curriculum to the side for a second, if we can focus on the making kids better people, we’re doing way better of a job than just, Hey, you deserve a 90 on this paper. Hey, you deserve a 50 on this paper. But from the student perspective, I remember thinking, number one, why won’t you leave me alone? Like I don’t get a number two. Wow. Like once, once it kicked in and it didn’t kick until grade 11, I won’t even lie to you. Mm. But grade 11, when I had her again, I was like, oh my God, here we go again. This lady is gonna rip everything up. And then just gimme a, like, she would write paragraphs of like, you should improve in this. Why don’t you think about this? Why don’t you? And I’m like that now, unfortunately, but for my students that have me my bad, you know, where it comes from now.


Jason Eduful (08:59):
But as the student, I think it wasn’t until grade 11, like I said, but in grade 11, I really thought, man, she actually wants us to succeed. Like, it’s not about like, here’s the mark that you got. Thanks for doing the assignment. It was really, yeah. You did this assignment, but dig deeper. Like why, why did you, why do you think I made you do this? You know what I mean? Why do you think I made you redo this so many times because you’re just hitting the crust, like jump in there. And so yeah, like I think we should all give second chance again. Second chances. Isn’t gonna kill anybody, man. I know we make it a big thing, but it’s we can do it every day.


Sam Demma (09:37):
Yeah. It’s so true. I’m curious to know, you mentioned that now that’s your teaching style which is, which is awesome. Is there, is there a story that comes to mind and you can change the student’s name for the sake of privacy, but I want a story where you believed in a kid where they didn’t believe even themselves and you know, you push them past the threshold and maybe they even broke down and told you how big of an impact it had on them. I feel like a story like that told right now from a place of vulnerability, but also to remind another educator that the work we do is so important, cuz it can transform a student’s life and their whole future can really re spark and reignite a passion in another educator. Do you have any of those stories that come to mind when I ask you that question?


Jason Eduful (10:22):
Yeah, I got a couple I’ll just use my cousin’s name that way. It’s not keep privacy there. So Reggie graduated. Oh man. How many years ago now? Maybe three and a half. Three and a bit years ago. Mm. And at that time I was teaching at a different school in Brampton. Reggie was how would I describe Reggie? Reggie was a ball of energy that couldn’t sit still only cared about girls. Like that was, that was Reggie’s by like the only thing that mattered to him was girls. Didn’t really care about school was on the basketball team, not the best point guard out there but you know, you tried, you tried. And so I, I started this kind of mentor, mentor mentor relationship with the student. And Reggie really started to open up and really talk about, you know, his upbringing, his life.


Jason Eduful (11:25):
And I remember one of the assignments that I got Reggie to do at the time. I don’t know if you’re a DC Marvel kind of guy, but at the time arrow was like number one on every list. And so he had to do a CPT and I, I, I, he handed it his CPT and it was, it was, it was done. do that. It was done but just didn’t meet any of the expectations, you know? And so as opposed to me just ripping it apart I, I said to him, I’m like, listen, and, and again, we talk about like building those relationships with students, getting to know the learner. Right. All that’s very important because every day he would come in, we’d have a conversation, honestly, about the episode of the, like that week, that Wednesday we would talk about it.


Jason Eduful (12:15):
And I had said to him, why don’t you just rewrite the ending? He said, he didn’t like this season finale rewrite the ending. The curriculum is so huge, right? When we’re thinking about curriculum documents and what we have to accomplish in the semester and blah, blah, blah, you can tweak it to be whatever you want it to be. Essentially, as a teacher, a teacher knows that. So why not get him to do something that he’s interested in? Right. get him to reevaluate what he’s doing, still hit the major learning goals, overall specific, whatever. And then go from there. And so I got him to do it. He killed that script. It was amazing. And then the second half of that was with all the personal, what that was going on, he needed like a big brother. And I didn’t realize that I was doing that for him at the time.


Jason Eduful (13:00):
Cuz you know, guys, guys come in, you talk whatever. When, when you know, everybody’s out of the doors is a different type of conversation. Right. And so coaching him, teaching him really got us, I guess, a lot closer than I even thought. And so he was sharing things with me and we were building and we were teaching like, what is the correct as a man? You know what I mean? What’s the proper response that you should be having in certain situations. And so I told you that he was a a point guard. I didn’t tell you he was good, but he was a point guard and I remember we were up in a very important semifinal gay and I called him and I was like, yo, Reggie, you’re going in? And he’s like, what? like, the game is close.


Jason Eduful (13:44):
What do you mean? And so, you know, he did shoot like, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t, there wasn’t that much faith, but I was like drop on the blade, kick it to the corner, our shooters shoot, you know? And I remember him doing exactly what I said, do it to the corner, hit a shot rimed in and out. And then he got the rebound and I was not expecting that at all. Hit the got the basket, got an N one missed the free throw. So we lost, but he came me at this a coach, you have no idea how much that meant to me, blah, blah, blah. And I was just like, we lost is the only thing that through mind, I like, yeah, we lost, what are you talking about? But anyways, fast forward, three years later he came to visit me at the school that I’m at now.


Jason Eduful (14:34):
And we just had great conversation about life, man. And I didn’t realize in the moment I was just being me, you know? And I didn’t realize how much I impacted him. So now he’s in university, he’s studying to become a teacher. I don’t think he’s gonna be as a crazy mark as I am, but he is definitely loving his experience and he credits me for most of it. And I just say like, honestly, all the glory to God, cause like I didn’t even in that moment, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just being me. You know what I mean? So that’s one story. I’ve had tons, but I won’t kill you with them. But that was one, one story of Reggie,


Sam Demma (15:11):
Reggie, the point card, Reggie,


Jason Eduful (15:14):
The point card that cost to speak.


Sam Demma (15:17):
That’s amazing. You mentioned, you know, you transitioned from teaching to mentoring, you know, you have a different conversation when it’s one student in the classroom, teachers that are listening, educators that are listening. Could you give them any advice on what the difference is? Like if you had to explain what the difference is between teaching and mentoring, a young person, you do a lot of, you know, sports, coaching, mentoring, young people and teaching, mentoring and teaching are a little different. What’s the difference? And how can a teacher also be a mentor to some of their students who need it most?


Jason Eduful (15:48):
Yeah. I think the biggest one is, is confidential and, and privacy. I think that’s one of the biggest ones. Obviously as a teacher, you have certain obligations that you have to fulfill, right? So if you hear something or you’re alerted to something, then you have out that obligation to report if you’re mentoring somebody, you still have that same obligation, but your scope needs to be widen a little bit. Right. And so when you’re thinking about, because mentoring can vary, right. It doesn’t have to always be something negative. Right. and so when we’re thinking about mentoring, especially mentorship, every coach, if you’re coaching properly, you’re a mentor mm-hmm right. And I think people forget that. So like I, even on the basic level, like I mentor, I, I always call them my sons. Like I have 15 sons a year, not this year, cuz we don’t have any season, but I have literally 15 sons every year.


Jason Eduful (16:38):
And what mentoring looks like to me and how I do it is 6:00 AM. We’re in the gym, right. We’re teaching them not only time management, but how to be productive. Right. We’re teach them how to do everything else. Are you in uniform? We go to a I’m at a uniform school. So like upholding yourself etiquette. Right? Respect. You can’t respect yourself. If you’re not dressing properly, you can’t respect administration if you’re not following rules. Right. So again, making sure that each of them are in uniform moving on to like they’re not allowed to cuz they know all it’s not gonna fly, but you’re not allowed to skip class. Mm-Hmm you’re not allowed to get caught cheating on a test. Not that anybody cheats on tests or anything like that. and again, then we have study hall like before we actually have practice, we have a study hall and that’s usually because the gyms used and we’re waiting, but still we have a study hall and myself being an educator, I should be able to, I’m not saying if you’re an educator, you should know every single subject for the most part.


Jason Eduful (17:39):
I know most of them, so there should be no kid. And if I don’t know anything, I know colleagues that do you know? And that’s when you start calling in favors, mm-hmm, my mentorship. Doesn’t just stop at, you know, the 30 people, unfortunately that are in my class. You know what I mean? That goes beyond that. So anytime there’s a situation, whether they’re in trouble with administration, whether they’re in trouble with their teacher, I try to make it a point that their teacher should contact me. Right. Mm-hmm I wanna know what’s going on with my boys. And I want make sure that they’re in the best position to not get I at of whatever situation, but the best outcome could that could possibly be obviously displayed is the one that we’re gonna choose. So yeah, there is a difference between teaching and mentoring, but I feel like every coach and every teacher should know that at very most they’re a role model. And if you’re a role model, whether you like it or not, unfortunately we sign up for this gig and that’s what it is. You are quote unquote, a mentor, right? In any way, shape or form. So, but again, coaching any, any coach out there will tell you the same thing. Like you, you can’t coach and not be a mentor like it doesn’t that’s just


Sam Demma (18:42):
Go and just go watch coach Carter and you get it. Exactly.


Sam Demma (18:50):
Coach Eduful I love it. That’s awesome. And you know, right now is a time that’s very difficult, very different. If you signed up for teaching and this was your first year, you would be thinking, wow, what is going on? This is so different. While some educators that are listening are in that boat. And so you being someone who’s been in the assistant teaching for, you know, over seven years, eight years now, you said, what advice could you give that person who’s just starting and maybe has a weird perspective on what this job looks like?


Jason Eduful (19:22):
The first thing I would say is it, it, it gets better. this is not the norm. This is not the norm. I know everybody’s calling this the new norm, but this is about the norm. It’s really hard for me right now, just because of my personality and the way that I teach. Right. So when I really started teaching my philosophy, everybody has to make like a philosophy of as a philosophy of education. And that philosophy as of education, for me, was bridging at between marginalized youth and extraordinary education. And so for how I did that was being a relational based teacher. Right. And so what that looks like on paper is, you know, starting to getting to know your kids, right? Whether it is their needs specific, right. And every kid has needs, man, whether it’s an IEP, whatever, like everybody has, you needs what are their skills?


Jason Eduful (20:13):
What are their interests? What are their likes? What are their dislikes? And then I would say once you have that, understand that, man, I know we preach this all the time of this thing called like backwards design, right? Where it’s like find what’s the most important or start from your end goal and work backwards. We really need to jump back to that. But in that we really need to talk about rationale. And I think that for me is the most important, especially if you’re a new teacher coming in, or even if you’re a teacher that’s been in here, why do they need to know this? I’m so sick of kids graduating and be like, sir, I learned nothing. Like I went to university and like, this was like, why am I starting from scratch? You know what I mean? And I get that, that’s true, but we should be teaching.


Jason Eduful (20:55):
‘Em Critical thinking. We should be teaching them things that they can use in the future. You know, like kids shouldn’t be coming back now they’re buying ready to buy a home and they have no idea what a mortgage is. Hmm. You know what I mean? And so certain and things like that in terms of life skills, life lessons, we should be teaching them straight from the jump. You know? Another thing that I really, really love doing and anybody that knows me will tell you, this is I’m, I’m an advocate for experiential learning. Mm. And so that’s literally just like a, a process of learning that really involves you kind of getting in like getting in their, your hands on. And it always has to come with a rationale. And so again, why are we learning this? So in, in ethics or philosophy or great 12 religion, we learn about ethics and morality.


Jason Eduful (21:39):
Okay. Why do I need to know about ethics and morality? Because we live in a society, right? Yeah. You might have your own principles, your own moral compass, but what does society deem to correct. Based on the job that you’re in. Right. And we have those type of conversations. It’s difficult, especially in COVID obviously, cause I’m the type of teacher. I don’t know. Maybe you have a teacher like this, that would you remember? I would just, I usually sit at my desk, like on my desk. I have like the concepts on the board. And then we have conversations. We have just have a, like a big discussion. Yeah. And as kids are talking and as I’m facilitating that dis discussion, I might bring up, okay, well, that’s a key word that we need to learn and that’s on the board, let’s copy this down.


Jason Eduful (22:16):
And then we fill and we learn like that. And so obviously on a computer I might be a little bit difficult. Right. I I’m just thinking of like Dr. Christopher Edmond, who I, who I’m a big fan of. And he talks about, he’s really like a stem advocate who speaks on issues of race and culture, but mainly known, he’s known for his like hiphop education where he takes hiphop and rap and he makes it, and he interviews it with, you know, science, technology, engineering, and math. I really love the backbone of that. Like get back to the roots of things that kids wanted to you, if you know what your kid wants to do and you know how your kid can thrive, you can have four or five different assignments in your classroom. Yeah. We’re so stuck and rigid on this. Well, this is my rubric, so how am I supposed to, well, yeah, your rubric is made to be changed.


Jason Eduful (23:02):
You typed it at one point. So we type it , you know what I mean? But yeah, like I, I would honestly tell that first year, if it, if it is a first year teacher, I’d be like, man, it, it gets better. It definitely gets better. This is different. It is challenging. But again, we just have to find ways to get around these barriers. And we’re like, we, every teacher’s had that day where they’ve gone up to the front of the class, had no lesson plan and just swing it. Like you guys, you know, we, we know how to do this. So it’s just about adapting, you know? Yeah.


Sam Demma (23:31):
Jason, you’ve had a smile on your face, this whole interview. and I wanna know what gives you hope personally and what motivates you personally to show up to work despite the challenges optimistic, enthusiastic, and ready to serve.


Jason Eduful (23:44):
Right. I gotta say faith. Faith is number one. My faith keeps me grounded. My faith keeps me going. I know that I’m doing some sort of vocation, at least I believe so. And, and I’m hoping that that transfers are manifests to the kids and they know that I’m not here just to get a paycheck, but I I’m here to see each and every one of them succeed. I think that’s number one, student success is a huge motivator. Hopefully one day a championship for a school would be a great motivator, but yeah, no, just seeing the kids just be themselves and grow. And, you know, I’ve had kids from grade nine and I’ve had the pleasure of being at this school long enough to be, and see them in grade 12. And it’s like, when they see me, like we, they still remember the handshake that we had in grade nine. You know what I mean? They still remember the nickname that I gave them. You know, I like, I don’t even remember these things and just to keep them grow and just become men and women and mature. That’s one thing that gives me hope because I know that something’s working so things changing, you know what I mean? But again, that all jumps back to faith. The thing that keeps me grounded and motivated. So I think that’s one of the biggest factors that gives me hope.


Sam Demma (24:20):
That’s awesome. I love that so much. And, you know, especially during a time, like COVID when we have so many challenges, faith is a huge thing that keeps you grounded. I, some, some of the challenges you already mentioned with COVID were teaching online. Were there any other challenges you’ve currently been faced with and have you had any unique ideas to overcome any of them that you think might be helpful to other educators?


Jason Eduful (25:20):
I think again, the biggest one for me, challenges would like not being able to just interact with the kids on a, on a more personal level. Yeah. Like some kids don’t want it to run the cameras and that’s totally cool. And I don’t push anybody to do anything like that, but just in general, like that face to face interaction, like we crave that we miss that for a lot of people that what builds them up. That’s what keeps them going. Some of the things that I’ve tried to do, especially since we shut down in March and then kind of reopened now I’ve really tried to start doing assignments and tasks that have everything to do with allowing students to really dig deep and critically think in terms of how to overcome whatever it is. Right. So I’ve literally, I’m done with tests for now.


Jason Eduful (26:08):
I don’t do any tests, all assignments like, Hey, there’s no exam anymore. So your CPT is another assignment I’ve changed and revamped all my stuff. So that it’s really not only engaging for them but relevant. And I think that’s the most important thing. If it can’t be relevant, if it’s, I usually ask myself, if I wouldn’t do the, is I’m not gonna make them do it. Hmm. Right. It might be better because I’m a little bit inclusive to age. I kind know what they like, you know what I mean? Like that might be a factor, but if I’m not feeling this, if I’m not vibing with it, then I’m not going to give it out to my students. Right. and so I think, especially on a time where, you know, they, half of them don’t want to be on the screen.


Jason Eduful (26:48):
Half of them don’t want to be, they rather be playing video games. They’d rather be with their friends. They can’t do that. Mental health is a really big factor right now that I think a lot of us are forgetting to acknowledge. So why give them stuff that you wouldn’t even want to do? Mm. You know what I mean? So I, I, I would go back to rationale, why are we giving this to them? Right. I think people forget that we’re honestly living through history right now. like and we can accomplish so much more if we just take the time to slow down and give out relevant assignments, relevant topics, relevant lessons. And I think that will help people in terms of what we’re struggling with, you know, and gotten some of the mistakes that we’re seeing.


Sam Demma (27:32):
Yeah. I love that. That’s awesome. Jason, I could talk to you for an hour, man. This has been an amazing conversation and will definitely do a part two part three. If any educator right now is listening into this, maybe from another province or country and thinks this guy has some cool ideas. This guy’s unique, this guy’s out the box. I wanna talk to him and just bounce some ideas around, how can another educator reach out and have that conversation?


Jason Eduful (27:56):
Yeah, for sure. I would say thank you please, please do reach out. they can find me on Twitter @__MrE. Also, if you wanna shoot me an email Jason.Eduful@dpcdsb.org. Cool. Those are my two main platforms.


Sam Demma (28:16):
Yeah. Awesome. Jason, I’ll be staying in touch and this has been phenomenal. So thank you so much for taking the time to chat.


Jason Eduful (28:23):
Thank you so much Sam. Have a good one.


Sam Demma (28:26):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Eduful

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 Windeler – Founder & Executive Director of Jack.org

Eric Windeler Founder and Executive Director of Jack.org
About Eric Windeler

Eric (@EricWindeler) started Jack.org with his wife Sandra Hanington and their closest friends in May 2010 after losing their son Jack to suicide. Since then, Eric has put aside his business interests and leads Jack.org full-time. Eric works tirelessly to inspire discussion about mental health, especially among young people. In 2013, Eric received the Champion of Mental Health award from CAMIMH and the QE Diamond Jubilee Medal.

In 2015, Eric was honoured by Queen’s University, receiving an honorary degree (LLD) recognizing his work in the field of mental health. In 2017, Eric and Sandra Hanington received the Meritorious Service Cross (Civil Division) from the office of the Governor-General. Most recently, Eric was selected as one of the 150 CAMH Difference Makers for mental health in Canada. Eric is also the recipient of the 2018 Queen’s Alumni Humanitarian of the Year Award and the 2020 Ontario Psychiatric Association’s Mental Health Advocate of the Year Award. Eric sits on the board of Frayme, a youth mental health best practices charity.

Connect with Eric: Email | Twitter | Linkedin | Website | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.bethere.org

Jack Chapters

Jack Talks

Jack Summits

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www dot high-performing educator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Eric Windeler. Eric started jack.org with his wife, Sandra Hanington and their closest friends in May, 2010 after losing their son Jack to suicide. Since then, Eric has put aside his business interests and leads jack.org. Full-Time. Eric works tirelessly to inspire discussions about mental health, especially among young people.


Sam Demma (01:10):
In 2013, Eric received the champion of mental health award from CAMH and the QE diamond Jubilee medal. In 2015, Eric was honored by Queens university receiving an honorary degree, recognizing his work in the field of mental health. Eric and his wife, Sandra have been acknowledged and recognized by the office of the governor general. Eric was selected as one of the 150 CAMH different makers in mental health in all throughout Canada. He was the recipient of the 2018 Queens alumni, humanitarian of the year award and the 2020 Ontario psychiatric associations, mental health advocate of the year award. Everything that Eric and his wife, Sandra and the entire team at jack.org do is helping to create the future of mental health in Canada. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Eric. It’s filled with actionable ideas and resources to start mental health conversations in your schools. We’ll see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (02:11):
Eric, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today.


Eric Windeler (02:18):
Yeah, it’s my honor, Sam, to have talked with you before and seen you in action and just a real pleasure to be here and represent our work at checkout over. So thank you.


Sam Demma (02:28):
Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and maybe sharing a little bit about your upbringing and what brought you to where you are today?


Eric Windeler (02:34):
Sure. So you know, I’m an old guy, not like you Sam. Ive been around for awhile. I often say, you know, kind of start with humble beginnings to come from a large family. My dad was from a very rural part of Nova Scotia. My mom was from Cape Breton and my dad had six brothers and sisters and I have five brothers and said, I’m sorry, he had five brothers and sisters. I do too. So so grew up with a big family. I was the second youngest and we were at Halifax when I was born, but we, we did move all over the country. So live for Halifax for a while. Then in Calgary then just outside of Ottawa, you probably have heard of Canasta. It was just a, you know, just a little tiny suburb, but those times it’s grown now.


Eric Windeler (03:23):
And then back to Halifax for high school. And then I went on to Queens university. That was, that was in the time that was sort of a little bit you know reaching because you may not remember this, but Ontario used to have grade 13, but most of the rest of the country didn’t sound. So you know, I arrived having you know, gone through grade 12 and I did fine. And but everybody else sort of had one more year and they had, some of them had taken pre-calculus and things like that. But so first year it was a little challenging for me at university, but I caught up and then I went on to I did business school eCommerce at Queens, and then I always had the desire to be an entrepreneur.


Eric Windeler (04:10):
My dad always told me about how he wished he had tried to start something. And so I had a paper route when I was like 11 years old. And then I started a little paint contracting company when I was in high school. And so I worked in consulting for four years, right out of university. But then I got involved and started up an automotive firm with, with another fellow. And then we brought in a junior partner and kind of a firm that backed us. And that from that, that that company grew rather large. And that kept me busy until 2003. We sold the business at that point and then got into the software space and that really taught me a lot about that aspect of it. And I mentioned that in particular, because the, the entrepreneurial background, but also the business, you know, getting involved in software and internet related things has really helped our work at jack.org. But I was about seven years into into the software business when we lost my son, Jack, and that really, you know, appended and changed my, my life that was in March of 2010.


Sam Demma (05:24):
Wow. Let’s, let’s, let’s explore the startup jack.org for a second. So, you know, Jack passes away, what did the weeks, months, years, you know, immediately after the event, like, like how did that all lead up to jack.org starting?


Eric Windeler (05:40):
Yeah. Well, thanks for asking that. And it’s, it’s heavy. Obviously we, we didn’t even know my son Jack was struggling. I often say, you know, intellectually, it took after my, my wife, because he did great in school. He actually streamed gifted no trouble getting into his university of choice, which happened to be Queens university. And and yet you may know this, but these transition years, age 15 to 24, roughly where jack.org focuses that’s the time of about 75% of the onset of mental illness. So, you know, back in 2010 people, weren’t really weren’t really talking too much about mental health. It was just getting going. And frankly, we weren’t talking about it as a family and we didn’t even know he was struggling. And I’m assuming he was feeling very bad about the fact that he couldn’t go to class class and, and was probably going to lose this year, et cetera.


Eric Windeler (06:35):
And, you know, then we got a call from a police officer. So unfortunately you know, our tragic story is they found him in his residence room. He had died by suicide and it’s devastating for any family as you can appreciate and you know, to lose, to lose a young person in any way, shape or form, but, but straight out of the blue like that. But, you know, I often say as we, as we started to pick ourselves up, we started to look into it. And I feel very fortunate that my co-founder Sandra Hannington, my wife, and a really close family, friends were kind of behind me to kind of look into it. And Sandra and I made a significant Memorial donation to kids help phone in Jack’s memory, you know, just thinking that would do some good, but that led to me not going back to my business career.


Eric Windeler (07:32):
But I actually you know, every day I went to the kids help phone office as a volunteer and we, we decided, and they were really, really helpful in guiding me to think through this, to not just plunge in and do something, but to really do a landscape scan and see what was going on out there and find out where we could really make a difference. And so that pilot study led to what has become the jack.org model. We found out that young people were both at the highest risk, but really being left out of this mental health conversation. So that has led to so for two years of our kids help phone, we, at that time, we were called the Jack project at kids help phone. Cause we were technically a project we weren’t a charity.


Eric Windeler (08:21):
And then we tested our model by shifting our funds and our initiative to Queens university. And the young leaders there supported our work to reach out to young people all across the country. And then we said, no, we’ve got something here. So and we had raised quite a bit of money by then. So we we started we did the application process. You, you actually incorporate, and then you apply to be a chair of a charity. And because we had done all that, pre-work with kids help phone and Queens, we got our charitable status literally in less than 60 days, which is a is a bit of a record. And and we’ve been growing ever since. So it was very, very critical and we still work closely with kids help phone, but to get the guidance of that organization.


Eric Windeler (09:10):
And then the support at Queens to help us launch as an independent charity and you know, fast forward to today, we have over 60 staff and there’s about 3000 young people who volunteer in our programs because we are all about engaging young people and using what we call a peer to peer model of it, upstream education of young people to really help them you know learn about the mental health situation that they may face, or one of their friends or family, you know, brothers and sister may face you know, learn about resources. And it has the effect of both reducing stigma and increasing help seeking, you know, so to, to make it personal again for a moment you know, Jack received none of that type of training, nor did the residents dawns or the students on his floor.


Eric Windeler (10:03):
So they didn’t know how to reach out to support, nor did he know how to reach out for, for assistance. And you know, it, it kind of reminds me of a study that was done I think about 2016. And at that time 53% of young people were having their first interaction with the mental health system when they were in crisis. And so they were taken to an emergency room and, you know, probably, you know, or having suicidal thoughts, et cetera, and you don’t want to, you know, you don’t want to have your first interaction in that kind of situation you want to you wanna, you know, learn about mental health, learn how to build your own coping mechanisms and figure out where you can get more of what we call community care. That is more appropriate because we also have learned that if you get help early the outcomes are very good.


Eric Windeler (10:57):
So we feel that if we had, if we had known enough to talk to Jack about it, if those around him who were at, you know, seeing his change in behavior had known we more, more than likely would have had a much different outcome. Yes, he may have lost a year of school, but we would have figured out a way to get him some support and, and you know, once a year in a long lifetime, right. You know, it’s almost just like taking a gap year. So unfortunately that didn’t happen for us, but we’re committed to, to helping other young people and communities all over Canada with our work and happy to explain more, if you’d like to know more about about the work we do.


Sam Demma (11:37):
Absolutely. this is phenomenal. I was actually going to start by asking you, can you clarify for everyone listening, what mental health actually is? Because I feel like sometimes there is still this idea that it’s, you know, mental health is having a, a challenge or a mental problem. And it’s like, no, I think mental health is something we all experience. So what is like the jack.org view on mental health?


Eric Windeler (12:00):
I will, I’ll, I’ll just qualify that by saying, you know, I am an advocate okay. With a business background and yes, I’ve been in the space for 11 years, but I’m not a trained psychiatrist, but what I have learned is we all have mental health, just like you alluded to, you know, we all can have good days and bad days. But at least one in five of us will live with a mental illness and people often, you know, conflate or confuse those terms. You know, like someone will say, oh, that person has a mental health. I mean, it’s just wrong. And that person may live with a mental illness. So it’s really on a spectrum and this actually happens in our Jack talks. We teach the youth audience about the spectrum of, of, you know, from healthy to struggling from you know, all and all about how you may be in, in, you’re not in one place all the time.


Eric Windeler (12:59):
And what’s really interesting about mental health and mental illness is you can actually live with a mental illness, a diagnosable mental illness, but you, if you have the right care and that may, in some cases be talk therapy, it may be your own you know toolkit that you’ve built to take care of your own mental health and maybe medication, et cetera. But you can, you can actually thrive. And the flip side of that is you can really struggle if you, if you’re not taking care of your mental health appropriately, even though you might not have a diagnosable mental illness. And you know, I’ve come across so many young people in our, in our journey that have, have learned how to take care of their mental health. And they may have even been in a place previously where they were actually hospitalized, but they’ve learned how to take care of their mental health if got the appropriate care.


Eric Windeler (13:53):
And now they’re doing just great. And many of our young leaders in our network are amongst them because they, they also get a benefit of giving back. And that really, you know, I’ll say it’s really helped me in our family to be open about this and to help others. It, it, it has a payback in, I always see the same thing with our young leaders that when they’re helping their peers it really also helps them you know, in their journey as well. I don’t know if that totally answers your question, Sam, but, but people should really understand we all have mental health and some of us live with a mental illness that is at a diagnosable level, but in any event, we all should be learning how to recognize those signs and symptoms and learn how to take care of our own mental health and do our best to support those around us ourselves, but also to help them navigate to to the appropriate care. Should they need it?


Sam Demma (14:51):
You alluded to a couple of things I want to go a little deeper on. You talked about Jack talks. So what is a, or what is it, what is Jack toxin? Yeah. Tell, tell me more about that. Why you think it’s so important and how it’s been going so far in the schools that you’re affected.


Eric Windeler (15:06):
So as an authentic youth engagement youth leadership charity, we have always developed our programmatic work by listening to young people and and incorporating, you know, what they what they wanted to see and bringing their voice to the table. So very early on in the process, it was actually in March, 2013, we had our first national what we call Jack summit. So it was a national conference where we had at that time 200 youth speakers or not youth speakers, young people from every province and territory brought them to Toronto for a conference. And I distinctly remember two things that I’ll share with you. One was that a lovely young person who was giving a speech and sharing her story on stage was actually telling her story in a way that triggered the audience. And it was in such a way that several of the audience members left the room.


Eric Windeler (16:05):
They were, it, it was upsetting to them. And so we learned from that experience, but a lot of the youth started telling us, we’d like to learn how to share our story, but I’m not trying to blame that young woman, but not like that. We want to do it in a safe and appropriate way. So we did the research and have followed the evidence and ever since then, our Jack talks program has existed in evolve each year. So in short, a Jack talk is a peer to peer mental health education. Each, each summer, we train about 150 young people who volunteer to go through about 50 hours of public speaking training. And remember Sam, not, not all young people are naturals like yourself.


Eric Windeler (16:53):
I didn’t know you had that technology, but I’m serious about that. You know, I happen to be fairly comfortable with public speaking when I was your age. And, you know did, did some talks and that sort of thing, but not everybody is, but we take them through public speaking and teach them how to learn how to safely and in a hopeful way share their mental health story. So a typical Jack talk is delivered by two of these trained and certified youth speakers. They each share their story, which is a small part of this hour long presentation, but they also educate youth all about mental health and how to recognize those signs and symptoms and how to support people. And overall, it’s just a very engaging way. You can imagine. In typical times, two youth speakers up on the stage of a high school auditorium.


Eric Windeler (17:49):
It’s very engaging for those youth to, to, to to learn about mental health from their peers. It’s way more impactful than, you know, an old guy like me preaching at them, or even a physician preaching at them that peer-to-peer is known to be a very effective way to transfer that information. So this year actually starting last year, we had to pivot our JAG talks and now we do them in digital format. And soon we hope we’ll be returning to both in-person talks and we’ll continue the digital format. So we actually provide schools and school boards with options. They can either share like a personal Jack talk, which a young person could watch on their own time. We also have a classroom addition that the teacher can take their classroom through. And we also offer livestream Jack talks.


Eric Windeler (18:44):
So some schools or communities might prefer them to be delivered in this format over, over zoom or another platform where they, they are alive. And we do a whole number of other things related to that other workshops, et cetera. And we’re continually evolving the program because we evaluated each year and we evolve at each year to, to be that much better. But you know, it’s, it’s an incredible way to, and it’s just one of, one of our key programs that really kind of opens the door and gets a young people, more aware of mental health and and, you know, starts them on that journey of learning. We have lots of ambitions about how we’ll get into things like curriculum development and so on, but, but that was the very first program that started.


Sam Demma (19:34):
That’s amazing. And, you know, you mentioned the impact of peer to peer, and when you’re in high school, a lot of interactions with mental health and mental illness, hopefully, you know, are seen between friends and groups of friends, and maybe you have a friend that’s struggling. I remember when I was in high school, we had one friend who’s struggled a lot, and we all tried to be there for that person. And sometimes you’re not sure, you know, how to be there for the person. What the correct thing to do is you don’t want to do the wrong thing. And I know that, you know, jack.org and you and the team have put together an incredible resource that not only teaches you how to be there, but it takes you through, you know, what you need to do and how to identify, you know, the situation. And can you talk a little bit about that resource and share what inspired the creation of it and the impact it’s having today?


Eric Windeler (20:20):
Yeah. And that’s, that’s one of our four key programmatic pillars. And you use the words be there. That’s exactly what young people started saying to us. And again, it was back about four years ago as, as their audiences of the, of the JAG chapters and the JAG talks you know, it was making young people more comfortable disclosing what they’re going through to each other. So many of our young leaders started saying we need some additional training for how to be there for, for our peers. And so again, we started with, you know, like we were taught back in the early day, we started with a landscape scan to see what was out there. And we couldn’t find either nationally or globally anything that was really engaging and also relevant for young people. There’s other good programs. I’m not trying to discredit them, but there was a real opportunity for us to make a contribution here.


Eric Windeler (21:18):
So we put out a request to our funders and literally in about three months raised about 600,000. And I only mentioned that because we didn’t sort of build this off the side of our desk in 15 minutes. It was a very thoughtful process to see what was out there, do the evidence. And we landed on something, we call the five golden rules, which, which help you learn about mental health recognize signs and symptoms, and, and learn how to kind of weigh into these difficult conversations and to do so in a way that also protects your own mental health on the way. So that digital resource, which is called, be there, and it’s at our, we only have two websites, jack.org, and be there.org. It’s a free available website. It’s been, it’s been used by over 800,000 young people to date in just over two years.


Eric Windeler (22:13):
And we’re really excited about the next phase of be there because it’s a, it’s a resource and that you can go and check out, but a lot of young people frankly, would go and quickly check it out, might spend five or 10 minutes on the site, but to learn all the content you need several hours. And so we’re developing what we’re calling a B their certificate program. And this is really for people like residents dawns. So they, you know, that their employer, the university could say, you know, we don’t want you to just check out that site. We want you to learn all this content. And we’re partnered with a us foundation. I think I told you on our warmup call, it’s their founders, a little better known than me lady Gaga and her mother founded born this way foundation.


Eric Windeler (23:02):
And they reached out to us when the pandemic hit and asked if they could get involved with the meta resource. And at that time it was just the regular, resouce. bethere.org. But they’re helping us fund, we’re doing the development work, but they’re helping us fund and they will be spreading the, be their certificate program across the U S while we’re doing it here across Canada. And we’re really excited about that. And looking forward to launch that in early 20, 22, so another, you know, five or six months. So that’s the resource and it’s, it’s not just for young people to help other young people. It’s really for anybody who wants to learn how to support a young person in their life. And you know, not everybody is as passionate about mental health as our young leaders. And I know you have a big passion for it, Sam, but if they know about it and they see one of their friends struggling, it’s a place they can go and learn how to, you know, weigh into those difficult conversations. So it’s made up of a bunch of engaging videos of really storytelling of how one, you know maybe one friend was there for his or her friend how a parent was there for their or their child. You know, how you know how one, one peer can support another. So, thanks for asking about that.


Sam Demma (24:26):
It’s a phenomenal resource. And I enjoyed hearing about it the first time we chatted and I thought it would be something worth highlighting and sharing as well. Those were, those were the two of the four pillars. So now we’ve talked about Jack talks, we’ve talked about be there, you mentioned there being four key pillars. What are the other two? And can you speak on those very briefly as well?


Eric Windeler (24:45):
Absolutely. So the, the next program after Jack talks is something called Jack chapters. So these are youth led groups at high schools, colleges, universities, and in community settings. And now they exist all over the country and every province and territory. And you know, it probably makes sense to you that if you just do one Jack talk and then the school does nothing else, period, things just sort of settle back to normal. And that’s why, you know you know, we have the vision of creating more content and more curriculum down the road. And we’re in the early stages of planning that, but chapters are a way that a youth led group conform at one of these schools or in one of these communities and kind of keep that conversation going all year long. So a typical job chapter, and there’s, there’s about 250 of them.


Eric Windeler (25:41):
It has been the most difficult program to operate during the pandemic. So a little under 200 of them have been very active during the pandemic, but at a lot of schools and some of the harder hit areas extracurricular activities have just been put on hold. But they’re really trying to share share resources, share engagements in a typical time, they’ll get together with, with peers, you know, and it could be a sporting based event. It could be an art based event. We try to reach out to different parts of the community, and then we’ve the importance of mental health into those conversations. So it’s we’re, it often call it the real core because yes, it’s great that we have, you know, 250 chapters, but there’s over 3000 high schools in Canada, Sam. So we really need to expand that program. And it is so fantastic to see what many of these chapters have done.


Eric Windeler (26:38):
And we now are evolving the program so we can have what we call sort of low and high engagement chapters. So some of the chapters do just fun little initiatives to kind of get the awareness going lower stigma. Some of the more advanced, mainly post-secondary chapters are doing some very sophisticated things. We have now a youth informed campus assessment tool, for example. So they actually learn how to partner with our administration, do a landscape scan on their campus and really interview students about the resources that are on campus. Do you know about it? Does it work for you what could what’s missing, et cetera, and that underpinned some of their advocacy work to have a kind of an evidence-based informed way of, of advocating for, you know, better services you know, in their, their school or in their community.


Eric Windeler (27:32):
So that’s the Jack chapters program the file program actually maybe I should have started with that because it actually came first and that’s called the Jack’s summit program. So these are you know, we’re trying to reach a very broad audience, but we do have these young leaders in our network and the Jack summits are a way to bring together these young leaders to train them really connect them to one another, let them learn from one another, have collaboration sessions, bring in expert speakers, et cetera. And this year there’s about I think about 25 of these summits across the country. Obviously sadly, they all had to be virtual this year, but that program has worked very well virtually. So we have the national Jack summit, as I alluded to earlier, we have six large regional Jack summits one in BC, one in the far north with students from all three territories involved one in the Prairie’s one in Ontario, one a Francophone one that I used to say was based in Quebec, but it’s really just for any Francophone students, cause there’s many Francophone students outside of Quebec.


Eric Windeler (28:43):
And then there’s one in Atlantic, Canada, and then the local Jackson mitts are smaller events where like one high school may invite the student leaders from the neighboring high schools. And they’ll have a smaller event really focused on their, their community, wherever that might be. So that’s the four programs talks chapter summits, and then the digital resource be there. We do a lot of other things, but I think that’s you know, that that will be the, a good summary for your amazing audience.


Sam Demma (29:13):
I never forget after we first connected and I asked you for more information and you sent me over the email with documentaries and videos and programs, and it was like a never ending resource. That’s what it felt like when I opened it. And it just so cool to see how many things are getting done behind the scenes that soon will no longer be behind the scenes. And yeah, I, I just, I can’t wait to see the continued impact. What personally keeps you motivated? Like what personally keeps you motivated and hopeful to continue doing this work?


Eric Windeler (29:48):
Well, it’s you know, often put it in another way. I’d say I’m incredibly, obviously we had a tragedy which got this all started, but I’m incredibly fortunate. And I, I, I would wish for others who are in the later stages of their career to have an opportunity to give back. So just giving back period is a very motivating thing. But you know, I had a successful business career and all I could really say was, well, we created lots of jobs and that is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong. But this is truly helping people and, and in many respects changing the trajectory of their life. And in some cases, you know, we don’t have, I can’t point to exact evidence, but, but you know, it is a public health initiative and we kind of think, you know, if you, I may have used this analogy when we spoke earlier, but if you can help somebody learn not to start smoking you can probably have an impact on the health of them, their physical health later in life.


Eric Windeler (30:51):
And it’s the same with mental health. If you can provide that knowledge upstream, you will change the trajectory. And yes, suicide remains the the leading health-related cause of death of young people, which is completely unacceptable. But it’s still a fairly you know, it’s not happening it’s happening far too often, but it’s, it’s fairly infrequent, but it’s just a marker for the amount of struggle that is out there. And if you think about, you know, living with a mental illness and, you know, you’re having trouble getting out of bed, you can’t go to class, you can’t maintain employment, you can’t do relationships. There’s also a huge payback to, to the economy by, by letting young people sort of perform at their best. Because then they’re going to be gainfully employed. They’re going to be paying taxes, all those sorts of things, their, their relationships will be better. Their schooling will be better. So it’s tremendously satisfying. I’ve frankly never worked harder, but never never also wanted to work harder than this it’s, it’s, it’s been very gratifying to be involved in. And we’re so grateful for the supportive community that we’ve created not only of young people, but of, you know, donors and sponsors and volunteers who support that work that we do to allow it to happen.


Sam Demma (32:18):
Amazing. That’s awesome. And I can’t, yeah, I can’t wait for the future and to continue to see the impact and the implementation of the pillars and the curriculum as well. I think it’d be so cool if there was a mental health class in every high school, maybe that’s something that you guys are working with.


Eric Windeler (32:33):
It’s kind of hard to believe that there isn’t, when you thinkbout it, it doesn’t make sense. You know, it’s interesting, we’ve started discussing things cause there are curriculum organizations. And so we’re, we’re thinking about how we might, we’ve been in touch with a few of them, how we might either partner with those kinds of organizations, because frankly they don’t have much expertise in mental health. And we think we would be very well positioned to you know, I have a bit of a vision. I’m probably talking a little out of turn, but to pilot that with a school board or ideally a provincial ministry and really test it. But, but you know, definitely, there should be, there should be some mental health basics even before high school, but by the time you get to high school, there should be a content because we’re reaching lots of young people, hundreds of thousands of young people, but we’re not reaching every school in every community. And you should learn about something this important to your life, just like you should learn how to read and write and do arithmetic, you know, and it will be there. It will, it will happen. And we’ve got a lot of the content that will help inform that and be part of it. So that’s part of the big plans that are out there. It’s just a matter of when, right? It’s not what just as a one. But this has been a great conversation, Eric, thank you so much for taking some time to chat about jack.org, the pillars, what you’re working on. You know, the view on mental health, how it differs from mental illness and just the whole conversation.

Sam Demma (33:19):
I hope that now you listening right now, taking something valuable away from this. And if you want to get in touch with Eric, Eric, please share how an educator can reach out or get ahold of you guys.


Eric Windeler (34:18):
Well, I mentioned earlier, obviously, we have two websites to check out, jack.org, and bethere.org. There’s, there’s a way you can reach out generically to the organization. And we monitor that, that it’s, it’s we call it the whole inbox. It’s just hello@jack.org. But you can also, for example, a great way for schools or educators to start is with a Jack talk. And, you know, you can just go to jack.org/talks and it lays out, you know, if you’d like to arrange a talk, there’s a way you can get in touch with us there. We, we are on socials quite active and I would say disproportionately active for a mental health organization. We have bigger followings than most. We’re at, we’re at jack.org, but it’s spelled out its jackdotorg on most platforms, but probably most active on, on Instagram because that’s where a lot of young people are.


Eric Windeler (35:17):
One of our interns this summer got us just barely kicked off on TikTok. We’ve always been active obviously on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn. But Instagram is probably the quick way to start. I’m at Eric Windeler. But so if people wanted to reach out by socials, they could do that. I’m easy to find online eric@jack.org. So you know, obviously I don’t necessarily, can’t keep up with a thousand emails, but I’d love to hear from educators and I would guide them to the right person on the team, for more information. So thanks, for offering that up to Sam.


Sam Demma (35:55):
Again, Eric, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you, keep up the great work it’s very needed. And I look forward to talking to you again soon.


Eric Windeler (36:02):
Absolutely. Sam, just a pleasure and thanks again and congrats again for the amazing grad talk you gave, I really found that incredible.


Sam Demma (36:13):
And there you have it, another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoyed these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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