About Julie Champagne
Prior to settling in Toronto, Julie (@TheEngTutor1), an Ottawa native, studied at The University of Ottawa and Queen’s University. She is the Co-founder of the English Tutor as well as a teacher. In her ten years of teaching, Julie has taught everything (except math!) to a variety of age groups in a variety of locations including Kanata, Bradford West Yorkshire, and now at an independent school in midtown Toronto.
A proud Hufflepuff, Julie is an avid Harry Potter fan and has lost count of the number of times she’s read all seven books. Julie lives with her husband, young daughter, and dog named Pepper Potts. She eagerly shares her love of reading with her whole family.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Julie Champagne. Prior to her settling in Toronto, she was from Ottawa. She studied at the University of Ottawa and Queens university and in her 10 years of teaching, she has taught everything except for math to a variety of age groups in a variety of locations, including Kanata, Bradford West Yorkshire, and now in an independent school in Midtown, Toronto. Julie and I met when she taught at Blyth academy, which is the private school in Midtown Toronto.
Sam Demma (01:20):
And now because of COVID, she took an entrepreneurial path into teaching, virtually, students from all around the world. She has a company with her business partner, Sam, and they have an amazing venture called the English Tutor. It’s a really interesting idea. They are very energized about the work they’re doing and having a huge impact. She has a ton of wisdom and ideas to share, and I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed recording it. I’ll see you on the other side. Julie, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. I know we worked together. I, I wanna say over a year and a half ago now, and it’s really cool to connect with you virtually again. Share with the audience a little bit about who you are and why you initially got into the work you do with young people today.
Julie Champagne (02:07):
Sure. Yeah. Thanks so much. And I I’m so excited to be here. You’re right. It was about a year and a half ago with my foundation’s kids. So I mean, obviously I’m a teacher. I I teach high school primarily and you know, when the world changed, we had to all adapt very, very quickly. So I, I have my own tutoring business now that I own with my co-founder Sam, it’s called the English tutor and we teach kids all over the world, guided reading. And then I also am a middle school teacher with another school called park street. And I guess, you know, why do I do what I do? I, I honestly, I don’t think I could do anything else. I absolutely love my job. There are people let’s say there are jobs and vocations, and I truly feel that teaching for me is a vocation.
Julie Champagne (02:57):
You know, the, the joy I get from planning lessons that really get kids, right. Get them engaged, get them excited about something, especially if they’ve never been excited about something before. I mean, that is such an amazing moment. It’s so wonderful to be there, to be there supporting and talking them through the challenges too. Right. I mean, I do it because the kid like the kids, I not to sound cliche, but the kids are amazing. Right. They’re they’re the future and what they’re doing and who they’re becoming. I love that I can play a small part in that with them.
Sam Demma (03:36):
Yeah, no, it’s so true. And for, for some clarification, I’m not the Sam that she started the English tutor with. If anyone’s wondering no, it’s, it is a different Sam. That being said, you mentioned, you know, getting into teaching, being a V a vocation, and I’m curious to know, at what point in your journey did you decide teaching I’m gonna be a teacher was there a defining moment, a person who pushed you in that direction or when did you know?
Julie Champagne (04:03):
I mean, I think, I think there’s probably a few different things. I don’t know that I necessarily believe in one sort of sign that led me, led me down the path. And I think I probably took a few wrong turns along the way. Yeah. Before I, before I landed you know, but I think one of the primary ones that comes to mind for me is, is my brother mm-hmm . So my brother has what’s called Asperger’s and that’s it’s high functioning autism essentially. And so we’re going back 20 years now. Right? He, he hasn’t been in the school system in, in 10, 15 years. And as a kid I’m older than him and, and as kid, I just watched the school system, let him down. They just didn’t know how to reach him, you know? And to me that meant that the box of education, the box that I had somehow managed to make work for me, you know, I fit that mold somehow some way it wasn’t working for somebody else in my family.
Julie Champagne (05:02):
So it must not be working for everybody. Yeah. And, and I just, I was determined, especially when I got on the path to teachers college and, and my sort of first view teaching posts, I was determined to be the teacher that took the chance. Mm. Right. The teacher that, that said, okay, this box, doesn’t, it doesn’t have to be a box. We can push this. We can push against the constraints that the education field is, is throwing at us. You know, I think we’ve all got one or two teachers in our history that we remember. And if we’re lucky, one of the, one of the ones we remember is because they, they made a difference. Right. They, they pushed us in a really fantastic way. My brother doesn’t have that, you know, like he doesn’t have a teacher like that. And, and I do, I’ve got a couple like that. I’ve got teachers that took the time. And so that’s how I approach my own teaching. And, and it’s certainly when I look back at, you know, how did I get into this? Those are, those are the reasons that come up for me, for sure.
Sam Demma (06:04):
Yeah. That’s awesome. My teacher was Mike Lafa who changed my life, inspired me to go into the community and take his theory of small actions and put it to the test and totally change my life. And fact, I still stay in touch with him, him today. And he was a very principled man very alike, my own grandfather who taught me that if there’s a will, there’s a way. And you know, you are a perfect example of that. You were just telling me how as school was reopening. You made the decision, you know, I’m gonna fill a need here and make this work. And you were teaching at late hours. Can you share a little more about the English tutor and how it actually got formed and what it is today?
Julie Champagne (06:43):
Sure. Yeah. So my co-founder Sam when the school systems shut down all over the world, I mean, just absolutely wild. We started teaching these guided reading English courses to students in China. Mm. So we would be up at just ungodly hours, you know, five, six in the morning. And then again at eight o’clock or nine o’clock at night teaching these kids English and in a way it was, it was just so amazing and so wonderful to be doing this, but then we thought, how do we take this further? How do we really make this meaningful for the kids? So it’s not just a, it’s not just a bandaid for COVID, but legitimately something that they’re gonna get out of it. And we decided why not just read them books that are in their age level. Right. And, and not necessarily comprehension wise, you know, like they’re gonna struggle a little bit with a Royal doll text, but let’s break it down for them.
Julie Champagne (07:43):
Let’s create these beautiful resources that lead them through reading these books with us. Mm. You know, and so we’ve done all kinds. We’ve done Royal doll, we’ve done Charlotte’s web. Sam’s working her way through Harry Potter right now with her kids done nonfiction units and poetry units. I’m doing a nonfiction course at the moment with kids in Shanghai. Nice. so it’s been really, really incredible. And it’s been such an amazing thing for Sam and I to witness the equalizer that is a child. Mm. Right. All kids, it doesn’t matter. Culture, language, kids are kids. And, and they find the same things funny, and they they’re challenged by the same things. And so reaching a whole new set of kids has been super, super amazing and definitely a silver lining to COVID because it led us to form our, our business. And then when the school shut down here in, in Ontario, you know, we, we had, I think something like 200 hours worth of content worth of teaching content.
Julie Champagne (08:52):
And I happened to I happened to teach one of my grade 11 students. His mom is the CEO of the big brothers, big sisters organization in Toronto. Oh, cool. And so I reached out to her and I said, listen, like we have, we have all these teaching resources, we’ve got hours and hours of programming. We’d love to volunteer for your littles virtually. Mm. And so they created this amazing partnership with Rogers where Rogers dropped off all these devices to these kids. Holy and so since April Sam and I, five days a week have been doing these courses with the big brothers, big sister students ha. And it’s awesome again, like what an equalizer, right? Like kids are, the equalizer happens in China in the morning, happens again at 4:00 PM with kids in Toronto. You know, they’re laughing at the same joke from Willy Wonka, which is so cool.
Sam Demma (09:44):
That’s so awesome. And I just want to shed light on it because whether it’s facing a challenge with, you know, engaging students online or facing a challenge with hybrid learning where you have to go in class or room and back online, if there’s a will, there’s a way, and I just wanted you to showcase that story because I think it’s a great example. You know, you really pivoted and you’re teaching kids not only virtually, but across the freaking world. Like that is so cool. And I’m glad you, you got a chance to share it. I’m curious to know someone recently described education to me as the own spaghetti on the wall calculatedly and seeing what sticks is there any mistakes you’ve personally made or great successes you’ve had that you think are worth sharing with other educators who might be listening?
Julie Champagne (10:28):
Absolutely. I think that’s such a great analogy. I think one of the big mistakes I made when I first started teaching was being a little bit of a slave to the curriculum and overplanning, right. Just creating these absolutely gorgeous lesson plan and I recognize, I just said, I talked about how with the English tutor, we make these great lessons and these great resources and you need that. But you have to have some flexibility. You have to allow the classroom to derail sometimes and, and go off in these weird, fantastic sidebar conversations. Kids have so much to share if we let them. And it’s in those moments, it’s when you, when you pull back from the very regimented lesson that the real magic happens, but between a teacher and, and their PE and their students and, and the classroom community. So yeah, absolutely. The, the flexibility in the classroom is, is so important. It’s, it’s how you’re gonna build relationships with kids.
Sam Demma (11:32):
No, that’s awesome. I think that’s an amazing piece of advice even in life, you know, I have this weekly planner and no one can see this, cuz it’s not , it’s not, there’s no video here, but it just gives me a high level outline of the week. And so often I find myself not beating myself up, but realizing I didn’t complete everything I said I was gonna do, but then reminding myself that’s okay. And I, I think it’s the same for teaching. I’ve never actually taught, you know, for nine hours a day or eight hours a day for a whole year. But even with speaking, sometimes things don’t go as planned the person before you, you know, cuts you short 20 minutes and you gotta adjust on the fly and figure out how to fill the gaps. And it’s, I think it’s really cool. It’s a like painting, you know, I just gotta take the colors as they come and figure out how to paint the picture. And regardless of what you plan to, you know, create before you started painting.
Julie Champagne (12:21):
Absolutely. And I think more than ever this year, that holds true. Right. Mm-hmm and, and, and just being ready to meet kids where they’re at this year, you know, like you’re saying with your, your agenda, like feeling bad that I didn’t get through everything at the end of the week, you can feel like that teaching all the time. Right. Because, oh, I’ve gotta get to this piece of curriculum. Yeah. They need to learn how to write an essay and sure. They absolutely do. I’m not saying they don’t, but if it derails, because you know, there was a playground fight or some, some, one of your students saw something really spectacular on the news and they wanna talk through it. You have to allow space for that. You have to allow the air to come into your classroom. And, and this year, especially, right. We’re seeing kids who are, they’re just at varying degrees of readiness to learn. Yeah. Right. They are where, what they’ve experienced this year, what we’ve all experienced, the collective experience adults are going through. So we certainly can’t expect kids to, we certainly have to be ready to say, learning’s not happening today. Cuz they’re just not, they’re not ready for it. You know, and being okay with that being okay with saying, okay, but we’re gonna make some progress elsewhere. Mm-Hmm .
Sam Demma (13:40):
And that progress elsewhere is sometimes just showing kids you’re there to hear them and that you care and you’re paying attention. And I’m curious to know, how do teachers do that in a virtual scenario? You’ve done, it seems excellently with kids across the world. If an educator’s listening and you know, maybe the day comes where they decide today’s not gonna be a teaching day. It’s gonna be a, let me show you a care day. What does that day look like for a teacher?
Julie Champagne (14:05):
Yeah. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It is not without its challenges. This world, you know, student isolation is, it’s a big challenge this year. Isn’t it like it’s and, and teacher isolation. Right? Our, our we’ve all lost our communities. There’s, there’s no lunchroom to say, Hey, you know what, this wasn’t working for me today. What worked for you? Yeah. I think one of the ways that we’re doing it, so I, you know, I mentioned, I teach at a school called park street. It’s a grade four to grade eight school. So the kids are pretty little. And I think one of the ways that we’re addressing that and, and showing levels of care is, is recognizing that we have to treat the school day as though we were in person. Mm. And we have to be willing to work on the relationship and work on, on building the trust between teacher and student and, and student and student.
Julie Champagne (14:57):
Right. So all of our lessons are live. The kids are in zoom together, nice learning together, interacting. Right. So as much as we can taking that, that physical space and putting it virtually really helps to lay the groundwork for creating that level of care for kids. And, and then beyond that offering opportunities in class, right. You know, like next Friday, we’re gonna do we’re gonna do a Halloween costume and pumpkin carving contest over zoom, the whole gonna get together. You know, we’ll play, we’ll play the Halloween haunt music and nice. And we’ll all carve great photo, great pumpkins and, and just have some fun. Right. And that’s certainly what’s missing from the virtual space right now, right. Is the fun that comes with school. So we’re trying to find ways that you can inject that in. And that’s when the conversations where it’s let their guard down and, and tell you what’s really going on with them and tell you where they’re at and what they need from you. Right. Their hands are busy or having some fun. And then just all of a sudden that little, that little Mor, so is something that you wanna tease out of them a little bit more shows up, you know? But it doesn’t even have to be as big of an event as that. Right. What Sam’s last fry? She did feel good Friday in her class and all she had them do. I’m not kidding. All she had them do was change their zoom screen name to something that they love about themselves.
Sam Demma (16:23):
Oh, that’s a great idea.
Julie Champagne (16:24):
Right. And so this group of great eight boys, they’re all these great eight boys who are all very different person. And they’re reading about the hound of basketballs. They all, they all took it so seriously and really thought about what they were gonna put out. And we saw some just spectacular answers. That’s amazing, you know, like things like, I’m so glad I have courage or I really love that I can be the calm voice in the room. Mm. Like just what a reflective moment for these kids, but also allows the teacher to just get to know them really quite well and so simple to do. Right. It took two minutes. It didn’t detract from the lesson and the kids leave feeling pretty, pretty good about themselves.
Sam Demma (17:05):
Yeah. That’s so true. That’s an amazing idea. And like, I hope people listening right now are writing down in their own, you know, planner for the next day at class, because that’s an amazing idea. Not only does it encourage self-reflection, but it also allows you to honor your gifts and talents and maybe give you that feel good moment that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Yeah. Which is phenomenal. And on the topic of student transformation or students being impacted as a direct result of over your dozens of years, you know, working as a teacher and teaching, I’m sure, you know, you’ve had students reach out and tell you, you know, Ms. Champagne, you made a huge impact on my life. And thank you so much for what you’ve done with me. And, you know, it’s really helped. Maybe some of your kids even stay in touch with you today and they’re older and you go out to the bar and have some food and catch up and talk life.
Sam Demma (17:53):
I’m curious to know if there’s any stories of transformation that stick out in your mind and you can change your name. If it’s a very profound story. The reason I’m asking is because a lot of teachers are burnt out. Some teachers are just getting into teaching some teachers plant, but don’t see them. They don’t see the, they don’t see the efforts or the sewing of that seed for 10 years down the road. And especially right now when that network of teachers is gone, I think it’s even more harder to stay motivated and hopeful. And a story of transformation might just be the thing to remind an educator, listening that you know, what they’re doing is important and they should keep pushing forward.
Julie Champagne (18:29):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think, I think those sort of impactful moments, they, you can have one really great one and then two, three weeks later, maybe that student takes a backside. Right. I, I, I really feel for new teachers this year. Mm-Hmm I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in a silo. Right. Just without that sort of support without the sounding board. And to feel like you’re not making a difference, but honestly, any programming, I just, I will answer the question, but I just wanna say any programming that a teacher is providing right now, whether it’s a worksheet that they got up onto Google classroom, or they were hoarded a quick lesson for 10 minutes, or they threw up a cool video that they found on YouTube that is reaching kids. Yeah. And it’s making a difference and it’s, and it’s more than they’re getting otherwise.
Julie Champagne (19:22):
Yeah. Right. And so we just have to be okay with that and we have to celebrate that and recognize we’re all just doing our best, not just teachers, teacher of students, we’re all just doing our best this year. And, and muddling our way through it. Right. So if you know, any new teachers that are feeling that way, I, I, I think they, I, I hope that they just take a pause and realize this is quite honestly the hardest year they will ever teach. Yeah. Right. It’s it’s only gonna get easier from here. Yeah. But not for one second to think that they’re not having an impact. Yeah. Cause they are, even if they have to wait 10 years to get the email from, from the kid, I love it. I think for me, I mean, you, you met some of these kids.
Julie Champagne (20:06):
I, I taught the foundations program at, at my old school. It’s grade nine and 10, and you knew a little bit about them, their, their students who, for whatever reason, the, the mainstream wasn’t working out for them. And so a lot of them arrive with some pretty icy chips on their shoulder. Mm-Hmm . And I can think of one student in particular and, and you know, this student, we had lots of ups and, and downs. This was not, this was not a, a fixed by October. It was a, it wasn’t even a fixed by the time he graduated. Mm. You know? So he arrived in, in grade nine just all over the place, all over the place. He couldn’t predict his actions. You couldn’t, you couldn’t predict if he was gonna listen to your lesson that day or not, or if he was gonna show up or not, and wicked smart, wicked, wicked smart.
Julie Champagne (21:03):
And, you know, I just remember pulling my, a hair out in the staff room. Like, how am I gonna get through to this kid? How am I gonna reach him? He’s more than capable. He can do this. And then we’d have these breakthrough moments where he’d come in and be like, miss, I just read Richard the third, last night for fun. You’re like, wait, sorry. So you won’t read to kill a Mockingbird, but you’ll read Richard the third, your, okay. All right, well, let’s talk Richard III. I’ve read Richard. The third. Let’s do it. Let’s have that conversation. Right. And, and those little moments, I think go a really long way in helping that kid see that I believed in him and that I knew he was capable and I knew he could do it. And I think the real turning point was, was a, was a trip that we took.
Julie Champagne (21:50):
I took the foundation students on a Portage trip to Algonquin. Mm. And I saw a different side of all the students, but this student in particular, there was a confidence and a surety of himself in this environment that I’d not seen in the classroom walls. Mm. You know, the not tying ability, the fire building skills, naming of trees, the all get outta the canoe first to see if there’s any, any bear sightings on, on the site before we pitch our texts, right? Like this is, this was real roughen at camping. There was no glamping about it. And, and it really changed something in me for him. I came back to the classroom and, and just equipped him with so many more hands on things and told him, you know, okay, this is your seat, but this is your squad. Like, this is, you know, if you can’t sit in your seat, the whole class cool.
Julie Champagne (22:42):
But stay within the, stay within this squad that we’ve created. Mm-Hmm right. And, and he did it and, and, you know, to your, yeah, he is, he is a student that I stay in touch with that, you know, sent me a Christmas card last year, who, when he found out I was moving to Ottawa, asked if he could take me out for, for a, a goodbye drink and, and just wanted to say, thank you. And it’s incredible, like what a moment. Right. But at the end of it, like, he taught me so much about my teaching practice. Do you know what I mean? Like yeah, sure. I made an impact in his life. He’s off at Guelph. I mean, he’s home, but he’s not Guelph. Yeah. And, and he’s lighting it up and that’s a, my own practice because of what I went through with this student. Right. So he he’s, I he’s gonna go down in the history books for sure. That’s awesome. So cool. I think if he’s listen, if he listens, he’ll know it’s him too. That’s the funny thing, like he will know
Sam Demma (23:38):
, that’s awesome. I love that. Maybe you just send it to him. yeah, I will. There’s something about you in here, you know, we have to catch up and get a drink and it’s an excuse to have another conversation with a person. Exactly. in the, in the effort of making sure that we try and support teachers and educators, as much as we can and give them opportunities to connect and move away from the silos that they might be in right now, how could someone reach out to you if they wanna bounce ideas around, have cool conversations and just yeah. Talk and connect.
Julie Champagne (24:09):
Yeah, absolutely. I love, I love that. I love sharing resources. I love getting new resources and, and supporting each other. I think that’s the best. So you can find the English tutor on Instagram, just @theenglishtutoronline. You can email me at it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can email me at park street, email@example.com. Awesome. Would really welcome any anybody that wants to reach out and have a, have a chat I’d love to, I’d love to learn more. Cool,
Sam Demma (24:39):
Julie, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and I can’t wait to see all the students you keep to mentor and teach and read to is really exciting.
Julie Champagne (24:48):
Thank you so much.
Sam Demma (24:49):
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.
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