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principal

Donald Mulligan – Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School and President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

About Donald Mulligan

Donald Mulligan (@donaldmulligan2) is principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously work as Principal at Kinkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the Chair of PEI  Teachers’ Federation Group Insurance Committee.

Donald believes in making K.I.S.H. a safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior women’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators here on P.E.I. He is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society.

Donald realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team can schools become successful.

Connect with Donald: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kensington Intermediate Senior High School

Kinkora Regional High School

Amherst Cove Consolidated School

Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

Canadian Association of Principals

PEI Administrative Leadership Program

Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation Special Associations

Leadership Through the Ages: A Collection of Favorite Quotations by Rudy Giuliani

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Hey, welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Donald Mulligan. Donald is Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously worked as Principal at Kenkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the chair of the PEI Teachers Federation Group Insurance Committee. Donald believes in making KISH safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior woman’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing of the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators on the island of PEI. Donald is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society and he realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team that schools can become successful. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Donald and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. His name is Donald Milligan. Donald, please start by introducing yourself.

Donald Mulligan (02:20):

Well, I’m Donald Mulligan and I’m Principal right now Kensington and Intermediate Senior High here in Prince Edward Island. This is my 10th year here and I’ve previously been at four other schools. Three as Principal over my career. So I still coach, still coach, a girl’s soccer team. I’ve coached many of the sports and enjoy being involved with student life. So yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.

Sam Demma (02:45):

When did you realize growing up as a young person, that one day you wanted to work in education?

Donald Mulligan (02:52):

It took me a while. I grew up on a family firm potato firm and as years went along I realized I was really much better dealing with the staff and the employees than I was actually fixing the equipment and operating the equipment. So probably when I was in university, because I went to agriculture college for a bit and then I came back, took a bachelor of Arts, realized I enjoyed writing and took, got my ba, b e d decided to become a teacher. And in hindsight, I shouldn’t been shocked because my mom was a teacher for 35 years and I have an aunt that was a teacher for 35 years. So that’s in the family genes for sure. My sister’s a teacher but it wasn’t something I planned to do my whole life. And even at that point I was taking courses after university and I was amazed when I would take courses with a couple of guys or friends of mine from the first year teacher. They wanted to become an administrator and that was not something I had planned on either. It just sort of evolved as time went on.

Sam Demma (04:01):

Oh, that’s awesome. Did you realize when you were going through university okay, this is the path I’m pursuing was there a defining moment? Did your parents sit you down and Donald, you should be a teacher <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (04:17):

No. Well, as I mentioned, I went to agriculture college, but I get there for two weeks. I was taking chemistry and biology and calculus and physics and I realized pretty early on that two weeks that I don’t think I’m gonna be overly successful in these courses. So I get out when I could still get my money back. So what happened was though I went home and I firmed that fall. And so it was interesting because I enjoyed working on the firm, but we got to operate the tractors. The harvest is sort of a fun time when you’re harvesting the potatoes cuz you’re in tractors and trucks and it’s good. But after that it was into a warehouse. So I worked at the neighbors from 8:00 AM to five at PM every day. And then many days our own family farm wheat graded in the evenings from six 30 to nine 30.

Donald Mulligan (05:10):

So I went days without seeing the sun. So it was like, I don’t see this being a career for me right now. So that few months when I took a semester off at that point in those few months, it’s like, okay, I think I need to go in a different direction. And then the next semester I took an education 1 0 1 or something along those lines and we had to do a little practicum. So an hour in the classroom a week and when I still remember some of the kids that I was in with that. So that one course was the one that really hooked me. It’s like, okay, I enjoy the kids and I sort of feel I’m good at it.

Sam Demma (05:46):

That’s awesome. You mentioned you still coach. Is coaching a big part of your life? When did you start coaching athletics?

Donald Mulligan (05:55):

When I started my career, well, I couldn’t get a job, ironically, yeah, head of university, I had a job, I worked as an employment counselor with Canadian Mental Health Association. Oh cool. And I really enjoyed that, helping individuals mental illness get back into the workforce. But it was a tough time to get a teaching job in our province. So I had many interviews and the first position that I could get was at the alternative education program. So I worked there for four years and I really enjoyed it. But to answer your question my first year in the regular system when I got the school called Somerset Elementary in my community, I helped coach the soccer team. So I helped coach that for a couple years with a friend who grew up my commu in our community. He was a volunteer, I learned some tricks from him. And then I started coaching on my own. So that was probably 1999. And I’d been coaching guys soccer and then girls soccer. Once my daughter started coming through the system, I switched over and coached the girls. And I, I’m still doing it to this day, but I’m lucky because I’ve always had great people with me that can look after the practices when I can’t get outta the school to go to practice after school during the day. But I’m more of a game coach now. The teachers here to tease me kinda

Sam Demma (07:15):

Shows up when it matters

Donald Mulligan (07:16):

<laugh>. Exactly. But when my kids were growing up, same as many adults. I coached them in soccer, I coached them in baseball. I’ve coached hockey. So just whoever needed to coach, I enjoy doing that and I feel that keeps me young.

Sam Demma (07:33):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that some of your buddies who were also in education at the time wanted and had this ambition and goal to become administrators right away and you know, weren’t dead set on that you just wanted to enjoy the journey and see where it takes you. What did your journey actually look like? What was your first role in education outside of the mental health job that you just mentioned to me in a formal school setting? What was your first role and take me through the journey that brought you to where you are right now.

Donald Mulligan (08:04):

Well, we did alternative education and it was only with junior high students and we were an off campus, an offsite building. And our classroom was in part of an old hanger at the CFB summer side where we were housed. And so doing that, there was 24 kids and two teachers. And so we essentially were our own administrators as well. We had to decide what the discipline was going to be. We had decide the rules or regulations, how to get kids to buy in. So right from my first year, there was a lot of administrivia that we had to do and we also had to learn that you need a backbone if you’re gonna survive doing that particular job. And then when I moved to my first school, I was only there a year when our vice principal left and I applied, ended up getting that job and been in administration ever since. I think I was a VP for five years at that particular school with a colleague who’s still a principal in the system now. She’s still someone that I work with. We’re on committees together still. And our neighboring school down the road, Amherst Cove Consolidated, had an opening as a principal and I decided I’m ready to take the leap. And so that was 18 years ago I think now. So took the leap down the road and it worked out pretty well.

Sam Demma (09:36):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that you’re on some committees. What does your involvement look like when you’re not in the principal’s office? <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (09:47):

Well one of my mom, as I said, was a teacher and her best friend growing up became the, as a teacher as well. And Joyce Mcar, she taught me and she’s a great teacher, great person. She became the president of the P E I Teachers Federation just in my first couple of years. So I had a bit of an at the Teacher’s Federation, so she nominated me for took one, the pension committee, which is a little ironic when you’re in your first year or two of schooling, they’d be on the pension committee. But it was a foot in the door and I really learned the value of meeting people and from different parts of the island on these committees. I also you know, learn a great deal about our pension. And then eventually that led to being involved in other committees negotiating committee with the government doing that, you need to memorize basically the memorandum of agreement that we have and that helps you immensely as an administrator if you know all of the memorandum of agreement, what we can all do and what we should not be doing.

Donald Mulligan (10:56):

So that helped. And presently I’m president of the group Insurance trustees, so we look after our group insurance for all the teachers from Prince Edward Island. So I have that. And so that’s through our union. But then as part of the administrator’s association, I’ve been on the Canadian Association of Principals for the last four years. My term’s just about up here in a couple weeks time. So I’ve been vice president of the Canadian Association Principal. So I look after the CAP Journal. It’s lots of articles mid three times a year in that. And so my term is President’s, p e i, School of Association of School Administrators. And as part of that we’re hosting the Canadian Association of Principals Conference. Nice. So we have a big conference coming down the road here in May of 2023. So I’m with KJ White, so we’re actually looking for some keynote speakers for that right now and some speakers for the conference. So I’ve been pretty involved, but it’s been a great learning experience and it’s a great way to meet people throughout your province.

Sam Demma (12:10):

That’s awesome. It sounds like you’ve been very involved <laugh> in many different ways, which is great. You mentioned your mom’s best friend was a great teacher who also taught you, I’m curious to know, what do you think makes a great teacher? What is it that a great teacher does in the life of a young person that from your perspective growing up, your mom’s friend obviously had an impact on you. What do you think that she did that made you believe she made a big impact?

Donald Mulligan (12:39):

For me, I think the biggest thing is they have to show that they care In education, we have to show the students that we care about them and that we want to help them. We want to teach them, but we want them to be good down good people as well. And as an administrator, I think it’s exactly same with the staff that I’m dealing with. I have to show them that I care and follow through ’em in those steps that I do care and support them. So in my role now, I support teachers, support students, and I feel the way we show them that we care is doing the extra things. Because I personally, I can’t remember too many life changing moments in the classroom. I hate to say that, but I do remember lots of memories of extracurricular activities and sports teams and groups that I’ve been on over the years that have made a change in my life. So I think if we show we care, kids are gonna learn.

Sam Demma (13:37):

How do you show that you care? Is it through listening, getting to know the students on a personal level? Yeah, I’m just curious.

Donald Mulligan (13:47):

Well, for me, throughout my career, I’ve always tried to do outdoor duty in the morning. So I greet kids coming in off of the bus. I’m a pretty laid back guy though, so I’m not high fiving and fist pumping everybody. But I make my point of saying hello, trying to say their name, everybody coming in, ask them how the sport event went the night before. Or try and make some connection with kids every day in the morning before 8 25. Our school starts early, so they get off the bus between 8 25, 8 0 5, and 8 25. So touch base with the kids. And I touch base with teachers too, cuz you see many of them walking in at that during that time. So that’s one way and another way, as any administrator I’m in and of the classes trying to ask them how they’re getting along, what do they need help with?

Donald Mulligan (14:40):

But the student council, I’m meeting with them saying, How can we be better? What can the school do to make things better? What are some of your opinions? And we’ve had students on representatives of our district advisory councils that we’ve had in PEI the last few years. So they’re offering information that hopefully make positive changes in the school as well. But as we already talked about, you really make connections when you either teach them A or B, you’re volunteering and you’re working with them after school. So when you’re giving up your own time, you show them that you really do care. And so I find that’s the key as well. I still teach 25% of the day, so those kids that I teach, I really get to know those kids on a personal level. So by the time they get through grade 10, I’ve pretty much had half of the school pretty much that I’ve taught. So that makes an enormous difference I feel, for me anyway.

Sam Demma (15:36):

So you teach right now? Actually

Donald Mulligan (15:38):

At one 15 here I’m gonna be going, I’m teaching for the first time, math four two K. So this has been a learning curve this semester for me as well. But it’s been great. I mean, I’ve been learning, September was a learning curve for me for sure, but I feel I’m fine in my groove and I think the students that I have are starting to enjoy it as well. I’ve always been an English guy, but the last year I hired a teacher from the Department of Education who is an all star. She’s a superstar. Nice. She created the program that I was teaching, so it was pretty hard for me to continue teaching it when she created it. So she requested, can I take this course style? And I said, certainly you can have it because she’s a rockstar and we’re lucky to have her.

Sam Demma (16:24):

That’s awesome. I haven’t met many administrators that also teach. Is that something that’s common in PEI or is it something that you are trying to do because it’s something that you love?

Donald Mulligan (16:38):

Well, I’ve always been in midsize schools. We have today 357 kids in our school, so it’s not a huge school. So we we’re given an allocation to make our schedule work nice. And I find it certainly for some years it’s only manageable if I’m teaching and some years depending on how it looks like it’s a benefit if I’m teaching. But I’ve always taught, so I’m gonna keep on teaching because it’s usually the best 75 minutes of my day because I get to interact with the kids and the only thing I have to do is teach for that 75 minutes. So it’s awesome.

Sam Demma (17:14):

That’s amazing. I heard one time someone told me the best administrators are the ones that don’t wanna leave the classroom and the best superintendents are those that don’t wanna leave the school building. And it’s really cool that you’ve taught every single year, even though you’re in administration. I think that’s really unique and yeah, it’s really cool. I would’ve loved to have my principal teach me a class <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (17:39):

Well Sam, it’s difficult to go and have a meeting and go over learning strategies or talking. I mean, we had the big three for a few years learning strategy. So if I can’t tell ’em and share what I’m doing in my classroom, it’s hard for them to take me seriously when I’m standing in front of the school or the staff, I feel personally and I’m able to do that because I’m not a huge school so I can do that. So I feel like it gives me a little more street cred that they know I’m in it with them. The same last year, my geography 4 21 class, we had 32 kids. So nobody was claim complaining about having too many kids in their classroom when they knew I had more than they had. So in some ways it makes it easier.

Sam Demma (18:23):

Your boots are on the ground, you’re planting the seeds with them in the farm <laugh>. So when you think about all the different transformations that you’ve seen happen in the lives of students, and one of the reasons educators get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference. And I feel like if you’ve been in the industry or the industry’s wrong word about the, you’ve been in the vocation long enough, you’ve seen certain students come through it, maybe struggling and then had some sort of personal transformation because of a caring adult or because of the way their teacher taught them. I’m curious if there are any stories that come to mind of students that you’ve worked with who were really struggling and had a breakthrough or a transformation.

Donald Mulligan (19:12):

Well, we have lots of students probably over the years that have had that.

Donald Mulligan (19:21):

I think probably there’s one kid in particular that I was thinking about and I taught him in our Bridging English program, which you may call a general English program. We have a bridging program that allows them to go to a academic if they’re, they’re successful student in there who he was with us for the full six years, we’re seven to 12 schools. So again, we’re unique and we’re the only one in the province that’s just seven to 12. He struggled in junior high. We actually referred him to the alternative education program in junior high and he come back and I taught him each year of high school and school really wasn’t for him, but through many of our programs like the English program. But the co-op program especially helped him so much cuz he got to a business in our community and the employer really took him under his wing.

Donald Mulligan (20:17):

And so he offered him, he was successful, the kid was a great worker, great worker, and he was a great kid. He just needed someone to give him a little bit of a chance. And then this employer did, and he hired him for the summer that particular summer. And he came back to school and got his grade 12. But he is more engaged because he could see he had a goal in mind then. And now he graduated from us still working with the same company. And he would be a real success story I think for all of us in the school that were involved while working with him.

Sam Demma (20:51):

That sounds like a phenomenal story. And is he working now? Is he graduating? He’s moved on.

Donald Mulligan (20:58):

He graduated probably three years ago now. And yeah, he’s been working full time with this company now. They put steel roofs on, so after the hurricane he’s working video. He’ll be working time solid for the next couple years

Sam Demma (21:09):

<laugh>. Awesome. Very cool. When you think about your experiences in education, all the different places, yeah, you’ve worked to the different roles. If you could travel back in time, tap Donald on the shoulder in his first year of teaching, not because you would change anything about your path, but if you could go back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice, what would you say to your younger self?

Donald Mulligan (21:37):

Yeah, that’s a difficult question. I guess when I think about that, I think about my first year that I was here at Kensington. So I was pretty well into my career when I came here nine years ago. And I already had eight years experience as a principal. But when I came here, what maybe took me back a little bit is that the first couple schools I went to, I felt the teachers appreciated just my leadership style. They appreciated that I supported them, but at the same time also made people accountable because we all have to teach to the outcomes, we have to follow the pacing guides. And I did that in my class and I expected others to do that. And when I came here this school’s in a little, I dunno if disarray would be the right thing, but the principal here got dismissed, which has never really happened that I can remember.

Donald Mulligan (22:34):

And so there was some controversy before I came and I came in assuming that everyone would appreciate having my form of leadership. And I learned over time that I really had to work. It took me a couple years to really get people to buy in because what I learned is some people, I guess all of us enjoy doing what you wanna do and instead of what you’re supposed to do. And when I started putting pressure on that, we all had to follow the curriculum, follow the outcomes, we all had to row in the same direction and it didn’t take quite as easily as I thought it would. And I think I probably could did a better job relating to the folks that weren’t on board at that particular time. And it was probably just more listening, maybe a little more talk. I felt that time I was doing enough, but you can really never communicate enough. And I think I learned that I needed to listen to their side and I probably needed to do a little more homework on what went on before I stepped in the door here because there was a lot of, well, I don’t know what the best word, but there was still some controversy and some friction among staff at that time. So there’s a lot of healing that had to go on and probably more communication should’ve happened. So that’s probably what I would say

Sam Demma (23:59):

To communicate more, to do a little bit more research before entering a new space. Listen, I think listening’s a big one. Sometimes we listen in an effort to respond right away instead of trying to understand <laugh> what the person’s saying. Right,

Donald Mulligan (24:18):

Exactly. It’s difficult to, because as an administrator, we all have so many things to do each and every day, but we have to remember that the teacher comes through our door. They probably worked up the courage for probably days. For some of them, it’d be days and maybe more that they came to us with a problem and they wanna be heard and usually they have the correct answer. They just need someone to listen to them, encouraging them, encourag them and reinforcing them that they’re doing the right thing.

Sam Demma (24:50):

Yeah. Oh, that’s so great. Well, throughout your whole journey have there been any resources groups committees, books, courses, anything at all that you found really helpful in your own professional development as a teacher? And that again, could also be conferences and things of this nature, but is there anything that you’ve returned to that’s given you a lot of insight into how to teach or just building your own professional practice?

Donald Mulligan (25:20):

Well, I think the same with any administrator. We all have mentors, we all have role models. And I have a couple that a lot of their courses, a lot of their leadership style I tried to take a little bit from, and in our system, we were very lucky. We had the gentleman by the name of Doug McDougal and Doug was just so positive. He was positive with all of us, but he all always made us accountable. So I remember my very first year as principal before I started, after I got hired, he said, We’re gonna talk in September and I wanna know, we’re gonna talk about the leadership books that you’ve read over the summer. And it was like, Oh, okay. Leadership books over the summer. So he gave me my homework assignment in a gentle way. And for that first year we talked about how the school was going, but b, more importantly what I was learning from the readings that I did.

Donald Mulligan (26:17):

And so one of the books that I read was from Rudy Juliana. He was mayor of New York at the time. Nice. And when he became mayor, New York was not a safe city to be in. And so one of the things that sort stuck with me was they started cleaning up graffiti as soon as it happened. And over time, graffiti stopped being a thing. But more importantly, or just as importantly, they started enforcing all of the laws. So jaywalking, which is a pretty minuscule offense I guess. But they really cracked down on that. And what they learned was many of the people at Jaywalk and they started to ticket them, also had many other offenses they were, and they were wanted some of them. So just by following through on all of the little tiny things, they were able to manage the get a hold of quite a few of the people that were causing the city to not be safe and make it a better city and cleaner city and a safe city.

Donald Mulligan (27:25):

And it, New York City’s amazing. We were down five years ago and my wife and I got off the subway and people could tell we weren’t sure we were going and we had four or five people offer to help us and put us in the right direction. We couldn’t have felt any safer or welcome than we were. So he did a good job. And so from that, I took, okay, in school I’m gonna focus on the little things as well. And we did, we started doing a discipline system back and we enforced the rules that we had set each and every day. And by doing that, we really didn’t have too many of the big issues. Very rarely, if ever, would you have a fight in the schools because we enforce the little things. So that stuck with me for sure. And one of the other things like that, Doug McDougal, Doug always was writing a positive note, thank you. Note he was giving a teachers giving it to administrators. So that’s something that not just me, but my whole peer group that grew up together, we all do that because we know it made us feel good. So we wanna make our staff feel appreciated as well. So we write little notes, put our teacher’s mailbox or give them them personally, and it makes you feel good when you win the classroom and see them up on a bulletin board on the wall so they feel appreciated as well.

Sam Demma (28:48):

That’s awesome. It sounds like Doug’s made an impact on you. Do you stay in touch? Is he still someone that you chat with?

Donald Mulligan (28:56):

Well he made an impact on a lot of us. And actually we just said an administrator’s retreat this past Thursday and Friday, and they unveiled a memorial award because unfortunately a couple years ago during Covid Doug had a sudden heart attack and passed away. So yeah, it was a tragedy for all of us, but now we still remembering I am and there’s going to be an award in his memory. But even when he did retire, I’d call him, I’d text him and get some advice from him or give him a hard time and go to Toronto Maple Leafs because he’s a huge Leaf fan.

Sam Demma (29:35):

<laugh>. Hey, me too. <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:38):

Sorry to hear

Sam Demma (29:38):

That. Does that mean we’re not friends? No more <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:41):

We can be good. That’s awesome. I’m a Montreal Canadians fan. I don’t know if you can see, I got some paraphernalia behind me here a little bit, but it’s gonna be a couple painful years for us, so I can’t really say too much right now, but I like the journey we’re on anyway.

Sam Demma (29:56):

It can’t be any worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs, so enjoy <laugh>. That’s awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that story about Doug. I love the analogy with the graffiti. That’s a great way to position the importance of the little things, not only in school but also in life. I think once you let one thing slip, it’s a lot easier for 10 other things to slip. But if you crack down on all the small things, you can manage the big things as well. If someone wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, send you an email about this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Donald Mulligan (30:31):

Well, my email address is damulligan@edu.pe.ca. Or you can just go to our school website and our email contact lists are there as well at Kensington intermediate Senior High.

Sam Demma (30:47):

Awesome. Donald, thank you so much for taking the time to call on the podcast. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and I’ll see you in a few weeks.

Donald Mulligan (30:54):

Thanks, Sam. Can’t wait to see you. Take care. Best of luck.

Sam Demma (30:59):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Donald Mulligan

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.

Dan Wolfe – Assistant Principal at Sunray Elementary School in Pasco County, Florida

Dan Wolfe – Assistant Principal at at Sunray Elementary School in Pasco County, Florida
About Dan Wolfe

Dan Wolfe has served in Pasco County, Florida for more than 20 years. During this time, he has held roles as a teacher, instructional coach and administrator. He is currently an Assistant Principal at Sunray Elementary. He was selected as Pasco County’s District Teacher of the Year in 2011-2012 school year. He is a part of the district’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee that recently established Pre-K through Grade 12 SEL standards.

For the past two years Dan has written a blog and recorded a podcast called Becoming The Change (formerly Our Moral Compass) which focuses on a different quote each day and how we can best apply it towards becoming the change through our own moral compass and the five areas in SEL. 

Connect with Dan: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sunray Elementary Elementary School

Pasco County Schools

Pasco County Schools Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee

Becoming The Change Podcast

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Dan Wolfe. Dan has served in Pasco County, Florida for more than 20 years. During this time, he has held roles as a teacher, instructional coach, and administrator. He is currently an assistant principal at Sunray elementary. He was selected as Pasco County’s district teacher of the year in the 2011/2012 school year. He is a part of the district’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee that recently established Pre-K through Grade 12 SEL standards. For the past two years, Dan has written a blog and recorded a podcast called becoming the change, which focuses on a different quote each day, and how we can best apply it towards becoming the change through our own moral compass in the five areas in social/emotional learning. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dan Wolfe and I will see you on the other side. Dan, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dan Wolfe (02:00):

All right. Thank you so much for having me on Sam. I really appreciate it. My name is Dan Wolfe and I’m assistant principal at Sunray elementary in Pasco County, Florida. I just completed my 25th year in education where I have held multiple roles as a classroom teacher, instructional math coach, district math specialist, where I supported 18 title one schools kindergarten through 12th grade, and then also as an administrator. And my next step after assistant principal is hopefully to be a principal within the next year or so.

Sam Demma (02:32):

That’s awesome, man. When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education?

Dan Wolfe (02:38):

Well it started actually in high school, we actually, in my, in my high school, we had a child development course where three days a week we had pre-K students that would come visit and we got to teach lessons and things that we had planned out for learning how to do all that from, from our teachers and interact with the kids and work with them. And it just, it was just kind of like a bug that just kind of bit me and just that it was something I knew I wanted to do. And then in the summers I would go ahead and be a camp counselor, like a sports camp counselor and just enjoyed educating the kids, even in sports. And I said, this is, this is definitely my calling. So

Sam Demma (03:14):

That’s awesome. From, from the moments you realize it was your calling, what did the journey look like that brought you to where you are today?

Dan Wolfe (03:23):

Well, at the time it was kind of unclear. I, I, you know, I just took, you know, one step at a time. I mean, once I, I was blessed enough once I, I interned in a kindergarten classroom, which is, is kind of weird having a male and a kindergarten class, cuz a lot of the kids didn’t speak to me for the first couple weeks. They’re like, what’s this guy doing in here, but then they really warmed up towards the end of my, you know, middle and end of my internship and just really enjoyed it. And I was blessed to actually be hired at that school too. Mid-Year so I got a, a mini contract to finish out the year and then was able to be a part of the staff for the the next few years. And then that’s when I, I kind of got was interested in the leadership aspect.

Dan Wolfe (04:06):

I had been team leader, things like that. So that’s where you know, the, the administrative act aspect really came into focus. And one of the you know, after I had become a coach for a while and things like that, what I always wanted to promise myself was never to forget what it was like to be in the classroom. So when I became an administrator, cuz I feel like sometimes not, not all administrators, but there’s some that do forget and they don’t look at it through that lens anymore of what it’s like to be in the classroom. And I always had told my staff and I tell my staff to this day, if I ever forget or anything like that, please remind me because that’s, I, I wanna keep myself in check too, because it it’s very important for me to have that.

Dan Wolfe (04:49):

We ask the teachers to have that vividness in the classroom. I think as an administrator, you’ve gotta have that vividness with your staff and your students as well. So but yeah, so it just, you know, and it’s just as, you know, leaving no stone unturned I think is, is just very important in the field of education is just finding out cuz you, you only go through this life once mm-hmm <affirmative> and you don’t wanna have any regrets. And you just wanna it’s kind of like the saying go big or go home and that’s what you wanna do in, in this life and in this field of education, cuz there’s so many opportunities out there,

Sam Demma (05:24):

Most people on their 25th anniversary of anything probably cut a cake and have a party. And maybe you did that, but you’re you also wrote a book <laugh> so can we talk about it for a second? What inspired you to write the book and, and what is it all about?

Dan Wolfe (05:42):

Sure. so yes. Yeah. So I just recently had a book called becoming the change five essential elements for being your best self. And it’s it came out June 1st and it’s it’s available on Amazon and how it all came to be was our, our county was really big into social, emotional learning otherwise known as SEL since we have a million different acronyms, but just in case for listeners that did know what SEL was, that’s what it stands for. And what we decided to do as a district was develop pre-K through 12 SDL standards. So we could have that continuum just like we do for the academics. We wanna do it for the social emotional part because it’s like that Maslow before bloom philosophy, you can’t get to that bloom part. And so you have the Maslow mm.

Dan Wolfe (06:31):

You have to Maslow before you bloom is what they say. So so what we did is we developed standards in the there’s five elements or areas there’s self-awareness self-management social awareness relationship skills and responsible decision making. And while I was interacting with the group and everything, I I’m a big fan of quotes. And I came across a quote by Michelle Obama. And she referred to things as you know always reflecting on your own moral compass. And I just had this visual of that, those five elements are like our, our own moral compass within each of us. You might not even even know you’ve had it, you’ve always had it within you. They’ve kind of guided you through life cert during certain things, you know, whether it’s making responsible decisions or enhancing those relationships or, you know, or, or just knowing where you stand in the world, that self-awareness piece.

Dan Wolfe (07:26):

So what I decided to do is I decided to write a daily blog. I originally titled it, our moral compass, which eventually got changed to becoming the change just cuz it just, it kind of fit better into, you know, we were talking about that trajectory in life and things. So that was kind of like one of these things, you start off one thing, but that’s, you’re always open the change. So so I, I, what I did with the blog is I went ahead and took different quotes by different famous people. And then I would analyze them how it, how what it meant to me. Mm. And then I would go ahead and write about it and then ask the, the the reader, what it meant to them. Because when you look at a quote that you might have read 10 years ago, and then you read it again today, I’m sure it probably means something different, entirely different than it did back then because of your experiences, you know, and whatever you do, not just education, but just in life in general, you you’ve grown that much more.

Dan Wolfe (08:19):

So it’s gonna mean something different to you. So that’s what I started with and then decided, you know, why don’t I turn that into a podcast? So all was all I did was just re you know, record previous readings that I had done. And then just put it out there for the, you know, social media for the listeners, just, just for fun, just, you know, people listen to it. Great. If they didn’t that’s okay, too, if it, if it had some kind of impact on somebody that’s all that mattered. Hmm. And then all of a sudden the pandemic hit as it did for everybody <laugh>. And, and so I wanted to do something, you know, once I was done with my school day, I said, you know, know, I feel like I need to do something more, a way to kind of give back.

Dan Wolfe (08:58):

So I decided then to go ahead and write this book called becoming the change. And what it essentially has is it has a self-assessment within there where you go ahead and a, it has questions that, or statements that you go ahead and answer based on the five elements of where you are currently. And you’ve gotta be, this is where you have to be vulnerable. You know, we ask our students in education to be vulnerable. We, as educators are just, as people have to be vulnerable too. And the only way it change is ever gonna happen is if we’re honest with ourselves. So you have to be honest when you answer these questions within there. And then it’s gonna show you your strengths and it’s gonna show you your limitations. I don’t like to use the word weaknesses because I feel like it has a negative connotation where limit limitations, you know, you still have that area for, for, for growth.

Dan Wolfe (09:49):

And sometimes the limits we have are the ones that we put on ourselves. So you know, so within that what you’re able to go ahead and do is you go ahead and read it. Each chapter is broken down for each of the different elements. And what I have at the end of each chapter is if there, if your listeners remember in the seventies, eighties and nineties, there was a choose your own adventure book where you’d get to certain pages in the book. And then you, if you flip to this page, you know, there could have been a fire breathing dragon, or you, you know, went to another page. It was like treasure. Well, I don’t have any of that in my book, but what, what you’re able to go ahead and do is it’s your life, it’s your own adventure.

Dan Wolfe (10:30):

You get to choose a pathway. So if you’re strong and let’s say self-management, and you want to deepen, you know yourself in that area, you would read that chapter and then you get to choose what next, you can choose another strength, or you could choose a limitation and then eventually be able to read the whole book, but again, in the order that you want and I’ve throughout the book, I’ve got a lot of I have what are called compass checks along the way. And they’re basically things I, I pulled some of my blogs that I’d written from a couple years ago and put those throughout for each of the different areas. You know, so, so it’s got different facets, and then I have an image of that compass, just like you have a compass when you if you get lost in the woods, you, you look at that compass, it’s got the north south, east and west.

Dan Wolfe (11:17):

Well, that’s how the moral compass is set up with the five elements in the center at, at the epicenter is self-awareness. And then at each of the other four Cardinal directions are the other four elements. Mm. So it all comes back to self-awareness and some, and some days you lean on other elements more than than others. And but it, the one thing that’s good about the self-assessment is you can take it multiple times after you’ve, you know, focused on some different strategies that are within the book and everything, and then see if you’ve grown in those areas and, you know so it’s, it, it’s something you can use time and time again.

Sam Demma (11:54):

That’s awesome, man. How long did it take you to pull this resource together? Was it something you worked on throughout the entire pandemic? I’m just curious to hear a little bit about the process.

Dan Wolfe (12:03):

Yeah. Yeah. So it it went ahead and since, like I said, I had a lot of time on my hands when I wasn’t, you know, at school, I, I was just, I, I just had something, you know, just it’s, it’s just like anything else when you get really passionate about something and you just can’t stop, you know, there were times that kind of felt like I was back in college, again, pulling all nighters or whatever, trying to, because I just had to get these thoughts out. Yeah. And then probably, you know it I’d say it took a good, you know, five or six months to go ahead and, and write it and, you know, edit, and, and then it was just trying to learn the process. I mean, I had no idea once I thought that part was hard, just writing the book itself, which it was don’t don’t don’t get me wrong.

Dan Wolfe (12:44):

It definitely was. But then trying to have someone take a chance on you and wanna publish it cuz you know, you know, if you don’t have a lot big social media following or, you know, whatever it is, you’re just not that famous person. You know, they’re not always apt to go ahead and, you know, take a chance on you. I had over 40 rejections it wasn’t until ID finished the book probably in, you know, close to the summer of 2020. And I didn’t get have an interest in it until probably the fall of 2021. And that is when rode awesome, who I’m forever grateful and blessed to, to have taken a chance on me went ahead and showed some interest and we met and everything and you know I got to learn so much within the process.

Dan Wolfe (13:36):

Just even self-promoting and doing, which is not something I normally do. I’m very, I like to keep to myself and everything, but I said, you only go, this might be my only time I ever get the chance to go through something like this. So just pull out all the stops. But this, this was just important to me also to also not only prove to myself, but prove to my students and to prove to my daughter too, you know, about never giving up perseverance and just being able to overcome. And though though, I wasn’t, you know, I was confident that it was, it was gonna happen one day. I just didn’t know when, but I’m just glad I I’m glad I didn’t give up. And yeah,

Sam Demma (14:14):

That’s awesome, man. I love it. When you’re not working on the book or working at school, how do you fill up your own cup? What are some of the things that you do to ensure that you’re showing up to the best of your abilities at work?

Dan Wolfe (14:29):

Well, I think first and foremost, I, I wouldn’t be here without my family love and support of my wife and, and my daughter. And just having that time with them being able to, you know we live down here in Florida, so we’ve got the advantage of going to Disney world or, or things like that, cuz we’re pretty close to it. So that’s kind of like our vice as a family and we’ve done that, that always since she was little. So it’s just, it’s, that’s just, that’s just our thing and being able to do that. And I think it’s just important to always stay grounded to, they talk about work life balance, which is it’s very hard to do. And I don’t know if you can ever really, truly find that balance, but you can definitely put in the effort to make sure.

Dan Wolfe (15:10):

I, I, I think that that’s very important and also just the self care. I, I think, you know taking time, whether it’s, you know, you know, going to the gym, exercising, listening, the podcasts, reading just some of meditating, whatever else, you know, just some of those kinds of things, because if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of others in the field of education. And that, that’s a, that’s a huge thing. Otherwise, cuz if you’re burning the bridge at both ends you’re not, you’re not being a benefit to anybody. So that, that’s huge.

Sam Demma (15:42):

When you think about the field of education, who are some individuals in your life personally, who have had a significant impact on you? Obviously your family you’ve mentioned them, but when you think about work, have you had, you know, mentors or people who have changed your beliefs helped you identified your blind spots and limiting beliefs and helped you grow into the school leader you are today?

Dan Wolfe (16:04):

Yeah. So one of ’em was definitely one of my college professors actually in graduate school Dr. Clint Wright he just, he just said it like it was and just told the importance of it. Wasn’t all just about what was in the textbook or anything else like that. He just, he just spoke to you as you would hope an administrator would and you could kind of look at it through the lens of what he was talking about. There are two quotes. Actually, yeah, there’s two quotes that he, that really stood out to me from him. One of ’em was if it’s to be it’s up to me that anything you want in life you’ve gotta go out and get it life. Isn’t gonna give you, gonna put it out on, on a silver platter for you.

Dan Wolfe (16:47):

You need to go out and get it. In my 25 years most of my time has been spent at title one schools, which are the lower socioeconomic status. And I, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. Because just being able to tell the students there, the potentials that they have, that their, their life script has not been written yet. They get to write it themselves and being able to tell them if it’s to be it’s up to them, I’ll be there as that guide on the side, but in kind of giving them that push, but they’re the ones that can really make it to that next level. And then he said another quote as an administrator that I ha I try to always remember it’s a poor frog that doesn’t praise its own pond and it’s always letting others know how grateful you are for them.

Dan Wolfe (17:36):

And again, showing ’em, you know, telling ’em specifically, not just saying thank you, but thank you for what, what is it that, you know, to let them know that they matter? And again, it, it doesn’t matter what the position teacher, custodian, food and nutrition, office staff, whoever they’re everybody’s of value and they’re of equal value. And I always look at titles as just titles. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s what you do behind the title. That is what that is, what truly means something so that Dr. Clint Wright was for one thing a big mentor in my life. And then another one is Todd Cluff. He just recently retired from our county. He’s still doing consulting for leadership and everything else like that. But he really showed me what it’s all about to be that servant leader.

Dan Wolfe (18:25):

I had mentioned earlier in, in the podcast that I was part of like I did, I was a curriculum specialist where I supported 18 different schools, kindergarten through 12th grade that we had at one time in our county, what were called regional teams. We were the Northwest regional team and we all 18 schools were title one. And what we were able to do is kind of flip the script as far as showing schools that we were supporting them, that we were all family, that it wasn’t like uhoh, district’s coming out, cuz we’re all part of the same district. It was never, and he led the charge and all of that, just to show that grace that compassion it just, it, it was all about those relationships because that’s, what’s really gonna push you through any any challenges or obstacles that are in the way it’s the, it’s the trust and everything.

Dan Wolfe (19:15):

And, and he was able to show that and serve first and lead second and just, just his teachings and just watching him do what he, what he did just always amazed me and I did. And he was always still positive. And just try to it, it was, it went beyond data scores and things like that. It was about the people, it was about the kids. It was about the culture E each school. There’s no title one school, just like there’s no, non-Title one school, that’s the same. You can cross the street and you’re gonna have a different kind of culture, a different dynamic, a different need. And we were able to differentiate between those 18 schools over, you know, the, the time that we were a regional team and it’s definitely memories. I’d never, you know, trade for the world and it just, it made he made me a better leader because of it. So I’m a forever grateful to him.

Sam Demma (20:09):

Hmm. It sounds like they both had a significant impact on you. And I think having a significant impact on others is really one of the main reasons why people get into education. Everyone hopes they can help inspire young minds and guide them on their path and be a resource. I’m curious if there are any stories that come to mind of students who have been impacted by, you know, your leadership or the leadership of the staff around you that you have watched kind of soar. And the reason I ask is because sometimes educators forget why they started teaching, especially during very difficult moments. And I think at the heart of it sometimes the heart of the reason why they get into education is because they wanna make a positive change. So these stories of transformation in the student might help rekindle that fire in their, in their heart to keep going. Do you have any stories that come to mind of, of students or

Dan Wolfe (21:06):

Yes, I actually have. I have two, one as a teacher and then one as an administrator. Cool. And what’s interesting is, you know, both had a significant impact, but it’s from a different lens. And I think that that’s the and with the teacher one, it was early on in my educational career. It was a a girl in my class that could not read. Her mom had said her last couple of teachers that she’s had told her, told her already your, your daughter’s probably never going to read. So basically, you know, kind of like, I mean, again, I wasn’t there to hear it, but she basically told me it was like, kind of like the throw in towel. And she was like third grade. And that wasn’t, you know, again, I was in my second or third year.

Dan Wolfe (21:49):

I mean, something like that, throwing in the towel was not in my vocabulary to go ahead and do that. And I said, we’re, I’m gonna do all that I can. So what I even did is I went ahead and tutored her after school as well. And we continued to work on, we did site words. We did a lot with phonics and things like that, all those things to go ahead and build up her confidence within there. And I just told her I would be there every step of the way. And long story short, she was able to read. And she even, we had, we had a state test that year, where in Florida, if they don’t pass the state test and reading they’re automatically retained in third grade. So, but she passed. Mm. So she was able to, and the mom just was so thrilled, not because of the passing part, but the fact that her child could sit with her now and read and everything.

Dan Wolfe (22:40):

And I mean, I, and again, I don’t, I don’t ever take the credit for those kinds of things. I, I, that’s just, cuz it’s a team effort and you know, she put as much work into it as well. But it was just showing her that never quit attitude. And you know, I, I’m not sure what ha you know, it is been quite some time now, so I’m hoping she’s doing quite well, but I mean, just that, that right there, that that’s your why to be able to do that. Now from an administrator lens, it was a little bit different. Of course, fast forward, you know, quite a few years and a lot of things that as you know, across across the world, the nation, everything like that is a lot with mental health and the importance behind that. And we have within our district like threat assessments and things like that that we have to do, whether it’s threat to others or threat to themselves.

Dan Wolfe (23:31):

I had a student that was in fourth grade just a few years ago. He just had a lot of just threats to self and I mean, it never only, you know, once or twice did they have to, you know, you know be baker acted or things like that to be able to get the help, but there was a program called safe and home that, that is within our county and within our state where they have intensive services, where they even the counselors push into the home, help with coping skills and strategies. And you have to put in a lot of, you know, it’s not, you have to put in a lot of paperwork and requests to kind of get to that point and be able to, but I, I just knew that we needed to do all we could as a school to get him on cuz he had, so he had so much potential and, you know, just, just because of whether it was home life or whatever else or just his own self-esteem was suffering because of all this.

Dan Wolfe (24:29):

And you know, like I said, counselors would push in, they would go ahead and show skills self coping skills for the students they’d even work with the, the family as well of how the, you know, best help, you know, parenting strategies, cuz again, they don’t have those handbooks or things just to hand to the parents to say, here he goes, this is how you raise your child or anything like that. But fast forward a year later in fifth grade we have turnaround student awards and he was a turnaround student in his class and just the confidence in things like that. And you know, he was very closed off and everything. And one of the things that he even did when he, when he saw me recently is even just, he gave me a hug, he just came right up and I mean, I never would’ve expected that or anything else like that, but it’s just, I saw such a side to him that I always knew was there, but I was just, I would just hope that I just was able to help be that glimmer, that flicker of hope in his life to, you know, to, to show him that that, that things are possible.

Dan Wolfe (25:32):

You know, so those are two examples, you know, you know, of the kind of impact and it just kind of always rekindles that why, and, you know, just, just to be there and just just one of the sayings that we have at our school is my job is to keep you safe and your job is to help keep it safe and that’s not just physically safe, but that’s socially and emotionally safe. And I think one of the biggest things is educators out of the five elements is that social awareness piece where you try to look at it through the lens of others and it’s not just for the kids, but for your staff or whatever. It’s more about empathizing more than sympathizing within there. And it’s just, I, I think that’s just an attribute or an element that I think needs to be more pervasive as a society now more than ever with all that’s going on in the world right now is that social awareness piece. But yeah, so,

Sam Demma (26:26):

Ah, I love it, man. Thank you for sharing those stories. I know that whoever is listening is definitely feeling inspired or reminded about the impact education can have when you lead with self-awareness and as a servant leader, like your mentor, would’ve taught you and, and you know Clint yeah, your professor. When you think about your experiences in education, if you could bundle them all up, travel back in time to the first year, you stepped into a classroom to teach knowing what you know now, what advice would you have, you know, shared with you younger self, not because you wanted to change something about your path or journey, but because you thought it might have been helpful to hear at the start of your career

Dan Wolfe (27:10):

Perfectionism is a myth and it it’s important to be vulnerable. I think those are, I mean, it it’s something that you, you think that everything has, has to go a certain way. And you you’ve got your, your, your script or whatever your lesson plans in front of you, but they never go according to plan. And if they, you know, and you know, sometimes they go better than expected and then other times you think it was gonna be an awesome lesson and then it crashes and burns and that’s okay. The way that I look at it is in, in our county, we are, you know, in our state we have 180 school days. So I look at it and I tell a lot of today’s younger teachers too. It’s weird to me to say younger teachers now because I used to be one of ’em and <laugh>, I remember I had veteran teachers saying, Dan, you’ll be there one day soon.

Dan Wolfe (28:01):

And they were right. But I look at it there’s 180 or like 180 performances kind of like on stage, you know, not, you, you think of it as actors and actresses, not every play or performance goes well, but if one doesn’t go, well, you got 179 more to, to do better and you always try to, you know, you’re never gonna have that perfect one and that’s okay, but that’s what strives you to try to get to that. But when I, and that vulnerability that’s something not only as a beginning teacher, but even as a veteran teacher, it’s okay to have that. I, I even have it as an administrator, if I don’t know the answer to something or I make a mistake in something I’ll either, you know, I’m definitely gonna own up to it. If it’s a mistake or whatever, and say, I’ll fix that.

Dan Wolfe (28:48):

And I’m sorry that, you know, whatever it was, didn’t turn out the way that, whether it was a decision I made or, or anything else like that, that I thought would’ve turned out better. And it didn’t, or if I didn’t know the answer to something, I will go ahead and ask somebody that does, cuz I won’t have all the answers and I’m not gonna pretend like I do because you give the wrong answer, you get into a, a deeper hole than you started and, and you might as well just come out and say, okay, I don’t really know, but let me find out. I, I think as, as my advice to, you know my younger self would just be, you know trust the process and just be vulnerable.

Sam Demma (29:23):

Love that. It’s awesome. Thank you so much Dan for taking the time to come on the show and share a little bit about your book and your beliefs around education. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, get in touch, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?

Dan Wolfe (29:39):

So probably the best way, I’m definitely Twitter is definitely my social media jam or whatever in regards to it. So my Twitter handle is @servleadinspire. So it doesn’t have the “e” on “serve” and it’s not that I can’t spell. It’s just that it won’t allow that many characters within the handle. So I said, so I do know how to spell serve. I just can’t spell it the way I want to on Twitter, but anyways <laugh>, but that’s, that’s probably the best way to definitely feel free to follow you know, or, you know, send me a DM, whatever, you know, anything I can do to help, you know we’re all, we’re all in this together.

Sam Demma (30:23):

Awesome. Dan, thank you again. Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon my friend.

Dan Wolfe (30:28):

All right, thanks so much, Sam.

Sam Demma (30:29):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dan Wolfe

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.

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School
About Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson (@ScottJohnsonP) is the principal at Bowmanville High School. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario and after a 2 year move to Alberta, returned home to a variety of teaching roles.

He has taught every grade other than Kindergarten and Grade 5 and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in Special Education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at BHS as principal. 

Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school.

Connect with Scott: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bowmanville High School

Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

Cult of Pedagogy

Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell

Wikis, Blogs, and Podcasts: A New Generation of Web-based Tools for Virtual Collaborative Clinical Practice and Education by Applied Research Press

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Scott Johnson. Scott Johnson is the principal at Bowmanville high school. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario, and after a two year move to Alberta returned home to a variety of teaching roles. He has taught every grade other than kindergarten and grade five and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in special education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at Bowmanville high school as the principal. Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching, and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success, and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school. I hope you enjoy this interview and I will see you on the other side. Scott, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Scott Johnson (01:58):

Thanks Sam, and, and thank you very much for for having me on the podcast. My name is Scott Johnson. I am currently the principal of Bowmanville high school in Bowmanville, Ontario. We are a 9-12 school with approximately a thousand students located right in central Bowmanville.

Sam Demma (02:18):

When did you realize in your career journey growing up that education was the field you wanted to pursue and work in?

Scott Johnson (02:26):

Well, to be honest with you, I, I would be, I, I think I’m fairly late to the game in terms of determining what I I wanted to do. I was a PHS ed student at the university of Toronto and had the opportunity towards the end of my degree to do some work in some local high schools in downtown Toronto. And really, really enjoyed the experience I got to work with. I actually played hockey at the university of Toronto and I got to work with a, a former teammate of mine who had moved on to become a teacher. And I just really enjoyed the experience and thought to myself, this might be a, a, a good career move for me. I, I really enjoyed Fette as a, as a student and played all kinds of sports growing up and thought, you know, maybe I could join the ranks of the PHED teachers of the world.

Scott Johnson (03:19):

And so that’s sort of what got me into education and lots happened between then and now sort of over the last 17 years to get me you know, into the role of principal. And I, I, I’ll be honest, I’ve, I’ve enjoyed every, every step along the way. So I think the goal was to be a PhysEd teacher. I’m not sure if I ever actually realized that because I, I was his ed teacher for a very brief period of time, but I’ve got to do a lot of interesting things in a lot of interesting places and yeah, I’ve really enjoyed all, all the steps along the way.

Sam Demma (03:52):

Let’s unpack some of that journey, the 17 year journey from the start to where you are now, what was the start? What role were you in? What school take us through the journey from then to where you are today?

Scott Johnson (04:06):

Well, it was an interesting journey. I actually went to teachers college directly after university and then took a year off after university to go play hockey over in Germany for a year. Wow. Which was a great experience. It was tons of fun. But probably three quarters of the way through that hockey season. I, I kind of got the itch to, you know, I wanted to get started on this career in teaching. And so made the decision, you know, towards the end of the hockey season that I was gonna try and pursue this, this teaching career more seriously and ended up <laugh> I ended up actually accepting, I was so excited to be a full-time PHED teacher that I applied for and took a job at a school that I, I didn’t know really what the school was. And it turned out that it was a PHED teacher job in a youth correctional facility where I worked for a year.

Scott Johnson (05:03):

And, and I, I, I, it was a, a very bizarre way to start my career in terms of just not being something that I would’ve expected, but it, it couldn’t have been a better start to my career. I learned a ton working in that setting and working with those students and that I, you know, can say quite clearly, that, that had a significant impact on helping me get to where I I am today. You know, just, just dealing with students who had obviously been in conflict with the law and, and had lots going on in all assets or all aspects of their lives and, and seeing how school could, could be a, a positive influence on their life, really, you know, set me on a, a, a, I think a good track teacher wise after that. My, my now wife and I decided to move out to Alberta for a couple of years.

Scott Johnson (05:56):

And so we moved to a very, very rural community in, in Alberta. And I actually ended up teaching at a, at a incredibly small school, K to nine 160 students in a town that didn’t have a single stoplight. And it was just another great experience, just great kids, great families got the opportunity to teach a whole bunch of different grades. And again, really enjoyed the experience after a couple years, my wife and I decided to come back and I ended up teaching grade seven, and then I taught a little bit of special education in high school. And then I taught at an alternative education school. Then I moved to a, a lead teacher of special education role, and then moved into being a vice principal at an ed school, and then vice principal at a large rural school. And then at a small rural school. And now principal here at, at one of the larger urban schools and in our school board. So it kind of bounced around a lot, a lot of it by choice, but I, I think having that varied experience has been very helpful in the role that I’m in today.

Sam Demma (07:08):

What do you think you took away from your time working at the correctional facility with students who might have been in trouble with the law? What are some of the things you learned from those experiences that maybe informed the way that you show up today and in, in the high school you work in now

Scott Johnson (07:26):

To put it in its simplest terms? I learned very clearly that every student has a story, and I can’t tell you how much that has impacted me in my teaching career. It, it, it, I just working with those students, learning, you know, you work very closely with them, you work with them every single day. And you just, you learn so much about their story and you start to understand that there’s so much more to a student than what you, you may see, or what they may present, you know, in, in a 75 minute class. And, you know, now in my role as a principal, every single student, or every single issue that that comes across my desk, I, I get, get taken right back to that sort of touch point. That is, what’s the story here there, you know, you talk about, you know, you might hear things that for every misbehavior, there’s a reason, or, or, you know, if a student’s not being successful, as we think they could be there’s, you know, peeling back the layers of the onion kind of thing, to, to try and sort out why.

Scott Johnson (08:39):

And I go back to that very first year, really starting to recognize there is a story here for every student and it’s our job to try and work with them on, on all levels to try and help them be as successful as they can. And, and that, that lesson, like I said, you know, for, for, to get that as a first year teacher, I think was, it was difficult in the moment but has served me well over the last 17 years and, and will continue to serve me well for the rest of my career.

Sam Demma (09:09):

What resources, including people have been very instrumental or helpful in your own development, professional development in this career and job, maybe it’s some people you can think of who have mentored you along the way, some books you’ve read or courses you’ve been a part of, like, what has helped you show up at your best every day at work. And obviously you’re a human being. So there’s days where you don’t feel your best, but what do you think helps you show up to the best of your ability every day?

Scott Johnson (09:39):

Well, I, I think there’s a lot of things. And, and you mentioned, you know, the human aspect of it. The one great part about teaching is that you get to see a lot of people every day. And I mean, you know, we’ve dealt with this, the COVID pandemic over the last couple of years. And I think if you talk to, to any student, any educator, anybody involved in education, or even outside of it, the thing that they miss is that human interaction. Mm. So, you know, as a principal, I love being out in the halls. I love chatting with kids. I love chatting with teachers. I love you know, having conversations with parents, sometimes those conversations with any of those groups are not the easiest conversations, but they’re, you know, we’re all working in the best interest of students. And that’s, that’s kind of what gets me to work with a smile on my face every day.

Scott Johnson (10:31):

In terms of, of long term impact. I mean, I’ll go right back. They, they, they make you do a cheesy kind of assignment back when you were in teacher’s college, talking about your, you know, the favorite teacher or the teacher that, that inspired you. And I, I can think of a couple of teachers that I had along the way, you know, my grade two teacher, Mr. Jameson, my grade six teacher, Mr. Black, just people that had significant impacts on me growing up and, and, you know, having the hope that maybe I could replicate that experience for, you know, a young person growing up was certainly part of my motivation in terms of getting to where I am today, I’ve had all kinds of people who have been incredibly helpful. I, I, from principals to teachers just people and, and I think this goes back to you, you really can’t underestimate the impact that your words can have on another person.

Scott Johnson (11:29):

You know, I can think back to one of my principals who encouraged me to be a vice principal back when I had never really thought about being a vice principal. And, and she put that in my head and I was just like, oh, and I, I just got a sense of her belief in me and, you know, the, a small conversation on her part at a, you know, a lasting and, and significant impact on my life. So those are things that, that I try and pay it forward for lack of a better term, but there’s definitely been, been tons of people along the way, who, who just through their, their words and conversations have a, have had a big impact.

Sam Demma (12:04):

You’re one of the only guests we’ve had on who pulled out a blue ye USB microphone, and sounds like a radio host. <Laugh> gonna,

Scott Johnson (12:13):

I have been told that I have a face and a voice for radio. So I’m I’m good with that.

Sam Demma (12:18):

It leads me to believe that you might listen to a few other podcasts. Is there any educational podcasts that you’ve tuned into, or people that you’ve listened to that have helped as well as a resource?

Scott Johnson (12:30):

Well, to be honest, Sam, if, if you knew me as an educator one of the things that I like to draw upon is other other areas and bring those into education. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>, I like that you know, I’ve listened to lots of, of great educational podcasts. I mean, I started, I think my first educational podcast was the cults of pedagogy which is a, you know, a wonderful series, but what I’ve really, what I’ve really tried to bring in is some more, some different parts of, of the world and how they relate to education. So you talk about a guy like Simon Sinek you know, and, and his start with why book and, and, you know, he has a podcast. Seth golden, I think has a, a lot to say about leadership that is applicable across disciplines. I mean, a lot of it’s into business and marketing, but you take that and apply some of it to a school setting.

Scott Johnson (13:34):

Those are a couple of the podcasts. I’m sure you’ve heard of revisionist history with Malcolm Gladwell in the way that he, he can look at a seemingly straightforward issue and sort of flip it on its ear and, and you kind of, wow, I never looked at it from that perspective. And those are the kinds of things that I think are important in education. I mean, we’re faced with some fairly unique problems in this day and age. And if you’ve just, you know, that old saying, if you always do what you always done, you’ll always get what you always got, sort of thing. And, and, you know, trying to do things differently, cuz these kids are growing up in a different world in a, in a world that we really haven’t seen before. And I like to, to bring those other discipline in, in just to, to try and get a fresh perspective on some of the issues that we’re facing. And, and I find those people have, have some really quality ideas that can be translated directly to the work we do each day.

Sam Demma (14:36):

I love that if you could travel back in time to your first instance of teaching in a classroom, in a school setting and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Scott, not that you need any advice right now. Not that you wanna change anything about what’s gonna happen in your future, but this is what I think would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just beginning your career in teaching, what advice would you have given to your younger self or another educator listening who might be just starting this work?

Scott Johnson (15:09):

Well, I’ll tell you, I, I, I don’t have to necessarily go back in time because I got that, that the piece of advice that was critical to me. Mm. I got that from another person. And the lady’s name is Dr. Kathy Bruce. And she is I don’t know her exact role at Trent university right now, but she was the Dean of education. And I had the very fortunate opportunity at my old grade eight school to be her final teacher’s college associate teacher before she ended her teaching career and moved on to the world of teacher’s college at university. And I remember Kathy is a bit of a math guru, not a bit. She is a, a definitely a math guru and, and has done lots in the, the world of mathematics. But she had tasked me with teaching a math lesson to her grade seven class.

Scott Johnson (16:03):

And the question I asked her was, okay, where’s the textbook that you use? And she said, we don’t use a textbook. And that to me, that moment, and I’ve used that moment over and over again, over, over the last couple of decades was the, the first, the, the seed that was planted that said the education for these students does not have to look the same as your education. And I think that is the piece of advice. We, most people that go into teaching go into it because they love school and they had a, a great positive experience at school. And so oftentimes we will default to the experience that we had at school and that moment, which terrified me and sent waves of anxiety through my body saying, how am I ever going to teach math to grade sevens without a textbook? Because that’s what I was used to.

Scott Johnson (17:00):

And that’s what I was comfortable with. That is the piece of advice that I needed to say. We can do things differently. And I remember, you know, I use that again, when, when will Richardson I don’t know if you know, will Richardson, but he wrote a book in the mid two thousands called Wiki’s blogs and podcasts. You know, you, you, you mentioned the microphone. And I was, I was presented that by a teacher here at the school and I immediately was like, I’m gonna do a podcast. And I, I look back to that, you know, with my students and we’re gonna start a podcast and we’re going to do those things. And we’re talking, this is back in, you know, 2008, 2009. But it was that moment with Kathy Bruce that said do things differently. It’s okay to do things differently.

Scott Johnson (17:52):

So not only did she challenge me, but it was almost like she gave me permission. It was like, oh, okay. We can bring some of these innovative ideas, you know, into the classroom. And so, you know, I don’t know, going back to my former self, listen to your elders, listen to those people who have experience. I mean, you know, they’re the people who are doing it. And there’s lots of great stuff out there. And, and I, you know, I think of if I was a new teacher starting in 2022, you know, between Twitter accounts and podcasts and you know, other social media groups and websites, there’s tons of great resources to draw on. It’s just trying to find your niche in finding those people that that can help you. And, and I was fortunate to have a couple of those people really early on in my career.

Sam Demma (18:36):

One of the things that I believe is attractive about education is impact on young minds, shaping future change makers and seeing a student progress from potentially struggling to success or some form of clarity where they have this aha moment and a breakthrough because of years of help and support from caring adults in their lives. Could you think of a moment in one of your schools that you’ve worked in, or maybe even when you were teaching where you saw a student go from serious struggle to some clarity and some success that really brought a smile to your face, and if it’s a serious story you can change their name just for the sake of privacy. And the reason I ask you to share is because I think it will remind other educators listening, why this work is so important and inspire those who haven’t got into this work yet to seriously consider it as a pot, a potential career path in the future.

Scott Johnson (19:33):

Yeah, well, I can, I can, I can share an example of one that just happened recently. And as I, I think I started off saying that my dream was to, to be a, a PhysEd teacher and, and, you know, I, I didn’t really elaborate, but I, I, I never really made it as a PhysEd teacher because I think that first experience in the, in the correctional facility led me down a path towards special education which turned into student success, where you’re often dealing with students who have stories and those stories are often, you know, incredibly challenging. They have led incredibly difficult lives and, and have overcome so much just to even be with you in front of you know, in the classroom with you each day. And so I can think of a student and I won’t mention their name, but very difficult life history.

Scott Johnson (20:36):

Very challenging. I met this student back in, I believe their grade nine year obviously had difficulties in school, but again, having that ability to recognize the story there is more to this than what you are seeing each day, and just working with that student day by day getting to know them, working with some community agencies, just reaching out and trying to be that person. And it wasn’t certainly just me. There was a whole team of people that, that got to impact this student over the course of their high school career. And I, I ended up switching schools and, and we ended up reconnecting at, at the, the new school. And again, just continuing to be patient and working with that person. And I, I actually got news just a little while ago that they had graduated high school and were starting college in January.

Scott Johnson (21:40):

And, you know, if you, that, would’ve been a tough picture to imagine way back when we met in grade nine. And I think that’s the power of education. It’s the power of you know, in, in, in my context high school is we, we get four years to work with someone and we can do a lot in those four years. It doesn’t have to all be accomplished right away. But if you look at the, the growth that all students experience, you know, coming in at grade nine at 13, 14 years old and, and leaving high school at, at 1718 we, we have the opportunity to make a significant impact and, and in a lot of cases you know, I, I think we’re able to really help students get on the trajectory that they want to get on. And, and hopefully we, we do our best to, to bring the best out of them. And again, that’s, that’s kind of why we’re here and if you’re interested in helping people out with that, then education is definitely a career that will, you’ll find very fulfilling.

Sam Demma (22:46):

If someone is listening to this inspired, wants to reach out, ask you a question, or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Scott Johnson (22:58):

Just send me an email. I’m on Twitter @ScottJohnsonP, not as active as I once was as, as other things have, have caught up and we’ll see where things go with Twitter, given the, the recent, the news of recently, but yeah. You, you know, my email address is, is checkout Bowmanville high school. My email address is, is there along with my picture and I’d be happy to chat. You know, one of the things that got me involved in education was some chats with some people who were in the business. At the time I was fortunate to go to the University of Toronto and be close to OISE and, and know lots of people that were in education so if anyone’s interested, I’d be, be, I’d be happy to chat. It’s a, it’s a great career. It’s got its ups and downs as all careers do, but at the end of the day, I’m, I, I, couldn’t be more happy with the decision that I made way back when

Sam Demma (23:55):

Scott, it’s a pleasure to bring you on the show here today, to talk about the journey, some of the ups and downs, some of the learnings and philosophies you hold about teaching. I cannot wait to see where the next five years of your career take you and, and what you’ll be working on and doing. Keep up the great work and don’t ever hesitate to reach out again in the future and thanks again for coming on, coming on the show.

Scott Johnson (24:19):

No problem Sam. Thanks for having me and thanks for doing what you’re doing. It’s, it’s a pleasure listening to your show and, and I appreciate the opportunity.

Sam Demma (24:27):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Scott Johnson

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.

Jennifer Meeker – Principal of Special Education K-12 at the Upper Grand District School Board

Jennifer Meeker – Principal of Special Education K-12 at the Upper Grand District School Board
About Jennifer Meeker

Jennifer Meeker (@jennmeeker), is the Principal of Special Education K-12 at the Upper Grand District School Board. Starting as an elementary teacher turned secondary Administrator she has embraced the power of Ross Greene’s mantra, “Kids do well if they can”. She believes it is the adults job to figure out the barriers and to work alongside the student to dismantle those barriers. She has been an Administrator for 13 years and has learned a lot from the youth and families she has served.

In her new role as a system Principal she is supporting students with special education needs from a system perspective. She tries to understand the many reasons why students might be challenging. She works with specialized teams within the UGDSB to make sure that supports are in place so that schools can help students reach their true potential. In the role of highschool Principal she supported having all voices at the table when decisions were being made or programming considered for a student(s). She would tell you that her best learning came from the challenging students who became her teachers.

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Upper Grand District School Board

Who is Ross Greene?

Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the show is Jennifer Meeker. Jennifer is the Principal of special education, K through 12 at the Upper Grand District School board. Starting as an elementary teacher, turned secondary administrator, she has embraced the power of Ross Greene’s mantra. Kids do well if they can. She believes it is the adults’ job to figure out the barriers and to work alongside the student to dismantle those barriers. She has been an administrator for 13 years and has learned a lot from the youth and families she has served. In her new role as a system principal, she is supporting students with special education needs from a system perspective. She tries to understand the many reasons why students might be challenging. She works with specialized teams within the Upper Grand District School Board to make sure that supports are in place so that schools can help students reach their true potential. In the role of high school Principal, she supported having all voices at the table when decisions were being made on programming considered for students. She would tell you that her best learning came from the challenging students who became her teachers. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Jenn, and I will see you on the other side, Jen, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Jennifer Meeker (02:20):

Great. Thanks Sam. I really appreciate being here. My name is Jen Meeker. I’m the Principal of special education, K to 12 for the Upper Grand District School board.

Sam Demma (02:28):

If you traveled back in time to when you were just a student yourself, at what moment, if you can recall, do you remember making the decision and knowing that you were gonna pursue education in your future

Jennifer Meeker (02:43):

Education as teaching, as in, yeah, my teacher two years, three years out of university.

Sam Demma (02:52):

Mm. So what was your path?

Jennifer Meeker (02:54):

<Laugh>? my path was actually polys, sci and economics. Okay. Wanting to be in I don’t know, in training, definitely doing training of some sort. I was always coaching. I was always involved in, in athletics and working with people and I really enjoyed that part. But I always enjoyed the coaching aspect of everything that I ever did. So all through my life, whether it was riding, skiing, rowing, whatever, it was always something, there was always a coaching element to it.

Jennifer Meeker (03:28):

Hmm. I think that’s where it took me, but definitely it was someone that I worked with. I wasn’t in education, but I was working alongside educa education in a nonprofit role. And the person that I worked with was in education. And at one, one day she just said, when are you gonna become a teacher? And I was like, really thrown back and you talking about, she goes, you need to be a teacher. And so it was a time of my life where there was probably some need to be changed, things needed to change. And I was like, Hmm. So I applied to one school U of T at the time to OISE and thought if it was meant to be, it’ll be. And I guess it was <laugh> so, and I went and haven’t looked back. I’ve left once. I should say I have left teaching once.

Sam Demma (04:16):

Okay. Well talk about that in just a second. Tell me a little bit more about this nonprofit. So you graduate and start working in the nonprofit sector.

Jennifer Meeker (04:24):

Yes. well, no, I, I <laugh>. I started with an airline first. I worked for Alaska airlines. Nice. then I was working for an entertainment insurance broker. Okay. And circumstances ended up that I didn’t have a job and I ended up on unemployment actually at one point. And I should never have received unemployment, but when they called my boss, who, the company that I had left for good reasons she, the woman from unemployment called me and said, oh my God, we’re starting your unemployment today. You could never, I would never wanna work for that, man.

Sam Demma (04:59):

Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (04:59):

So it was it was actually a great opportunity for me. And then she gave me some, there was a couple programs where you worked for a nonprofit who received funds to be able to employ you on a sort of a contract basis. And this one just happened to be, it was the career education council at a Guelph and the person in charge that hired me was awesome. She was a great, a great mentor in the beginning in terms of developing the program. And it was a real, it was a, a, something that was very much in its infancy at the time. So I developed partnerships between businesses and schools to offer opportunities of, you know, realistic experiences for students around what was, what careers could be in the future. What was going on? You gotta take this back.

Jennifer Meeker (05:47):

This was 19 90, 2 93 91, something like that. And so things were very different then. But we, we had these great partnerships between, I, I remember Linemar was partnered with, I believe it was gateway, like drive public school in Guelph. And some of the things that they did was just, was just incredible. We had, I developed a teacher internship program where teachers went out into businesses in the summer and learned skills to see what pathways career pathways were out there. And I remember a tech teacher who wanted to go in and see what it would be like to be a first year apprentice. So we set that up. And within, I think it was day three, maybe he called and said, this is garbage. I know I don’t wanna do this anymore. You know, all they’ve got me doing is sweeping floors. And so we sat down and met with the, the plant manager and talked about it. And he said, you wanted to see what a, an apprentice might start at. Mm. And this might be something until I know who you are and your responsibilities, ability to do skills and things like that. Then I have to make that decision as to when you’re ready. And so once the teacher had learned that it was like, okay, I’m gonna ride this out. And he did. So I gave him full credit.

Sam Demma (07:00):

Wow. You’ve had such a diverse experience. What, what drew you towards entertainment when you were working in that position as well?

Jennifer Meeker (07:11):

Sadly, that was just a job. <Laugh> it was an opportunity. I needed to pay bills and I, I took it not an interest at all. I don’t think at the time because it was inter insurance, it was a lot of paper, paper pushing a lot of reading of contracts and things like that. Not, not what I wanted to do for sure. Not, not really working with people. And that’s always been my I would say that’s always where I’ve been drawn to is working with people working on teams.

Sam Demma (07:41):

Hmm. You mentioned that there was one occasion where you did step away from education before obviously returning, cuz you’re here again now. <Laugh> yeah. Bring me back to that moment. What, what was going on in your life during that period of time and what prompted you to step away?

Jennifer Meeker (07:58):

So it was probably the birth of my second son. And you know, I took the maternity leave, which had just become the year long maternity leave. Nice. And my husband is self-employed so we were, you know, the company was doing well and we as a family, it was a good decision. I, I still, I shouldn’t say that I totally took leave because I left education, but probably month eight of my maturity leave. I started working for a friend nice some basically being a, was an accounts manager for a company. And I was enjoying that because again, it was that working with people and got me out, but it was part-time and I could, you know, make, sort of make my own hours, which was great for my family. And then we had some life circumstances that, that said, you know what?

Jennifer Meeker (08:51):

You need a job that’s stable because you never know what’s gonna come down down the pipe. And, and I had never left touch with teaching for sure. I was still coaching different things. So I was always still doing that role and said, you know, it was time to go back. So I took a three year hiatus but I went back and went into a role. I had been teaching mostly grade 8, 7, 8 for the most part and really, really enjoyed that age level and really got along with with those students. And then when I went back, cause I’ve been gone so long, new principal, new school, well school wasn’t new, but a lot of staff had changed. Yep. And no one thought I was coming back. So they shoved me in a portable teaching grade, two, three split. And I took all the kids and nobody else wanted to teach, I guess, because my class list was quite quite an interesting group. But you know what, probably one of my best years of teaching, mm. I went back in going home, you know, oh my God, <laugh> what do I do? And partnered up with my ESL teacher at the time. And he and I had a great year. And in fact the following year we took that group forward and taught them again and took in another group as well. So we actually, he and I became team teachers. It was a something the principal decided she let us try. And it worked really, really well and definitely a highlight of my career for sure.

Sam Demma (10:18):

Tell me more about that. You said it was one of your best years in teaching from your perspective. Why is that?

Jennifer Meeker (10:26):

I think because it wasn’t easy. I think that I, I had to struggle. I had to figure it out. I felt that those students probably taught me more than I taught them in that year, for sure. Just about being, you know, I hadn’t taught that age group. I hadn’t taught students how to read before I hadn’t worked with ESL students before. And I had parent volunteers coming into my classroom, which didn’t happen in grade seven and eight <laugh>. I had an amazing apparent volunteer who came into my classroom and she was just amazing with the kids. And it just, I don’t know, I think, and I was out in a portable, so I was kind of out on my own. But I was, I was left be to, it was the, I think it was the only two, three split as well. So I was sort of on my own for everything. And that really just really have to struggle. And I, I spent a lot of hours doing that, but I actually would tell you that I grew a lot as a, as a teacher. I grew a lot as a human, but I definitely grew a lot as a teacher, too.

Sam Demma (11:31):

Most people would say it was their best experience because it was fun, enjoyable, and easy. And you’re telling me it was your best year because you struggled. Where does that mindset of yours come from? That struggle is something that, you know, leads to growth. And although difficult is a necessary step in the process of life. Is that from sports or like, like where do you think that comes from?

Jennifer Meeker (11:55):

Yeah, I think that’s, I, I think it’s from sports. I also think it’s how I was, you know, how my parents raised me too and everything. I mean, I never wanted for anything necessarily. I, I definitely lived a white privilege life. There’s no question about that. And I acknowledged that, but I also know that my parents didn’t hand me things. And I started working, you know I grew up in the country, so I started working very early on. We had a farm. I worked for a couple of big horse farms and so I was always pushed to work. So I, I have a, I think I have a strong work ethic. I, when I look back and it’s just, I’m just, that’s just daunting to on me, as you asked the question, when I look back over my life so far, all of my experiences that have been the best experience in my life have been because of challenge.

Jennifer Meeker (12:44):

Mm. So maybe I seek that out. I don’t know. You know, these sports that I chose to be involved in are not typical sports that everybody gets involved in. They’re, they’re tough. They’re, you know there’s always a challenge there and always an element of danger, well, not danger, but Del element of pushing yourself beyond your, your limits for sure. I would say that this, my jobs as I’ve chosen, you know, I never wanted to be a teacher thought got in, did it, whatever it was a challenge. Definitely. It challenged me for sure in the beginning. And then when I became a principal or when I became a vice principal, first of all, I mean, I had no intentions of going that route either. And it was someone who tapped me on the shoulder and said, it’s time you need to do this.

Jennifer Meeker (13:32):

And so I did it and you know, those are, those are life experiences where you’re not sure what it’s gonna be like on the other side. Exactly. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you’re comfortable where you are and comfort is a nice place sometimes. And then someone taps you on that shoulder and says, you should, you need to do this and including this most recent job. So I’m, I’m close to my retirement time. And I’ve taken on a whole new role, which again, first three weeks, first month and a half of the job, I was like, why did I do this? <Laugh> you know, I had to, but I love it. I love my job now. Yeah. And you know, I learning every day, I think learning for me is always, my, my husband would tell you I could be a professional student. I’m always wanting to learn more. So

Sam Demma (14:20):

Let’s talk about your current role right now. What are you doing day to day? What were those first two months like, and what do you love so much about it now?

Jennifer Meeker (14:31):

Again, I think it’s challenge for sure. There’s there’s new challenges every day is something new coming at me. Yeah. Because of the job. So I work with as the principal of special education, I work with teams, multidisciplinary teams across our board to support students in need. So whether it be students who are in a life skills program to students who are in a regular class placement, but have large learning challenges ahead of them. I work with families. I work with an amazing team of special education consultants including we call them team. Awesome. And I work with mental health with our psychologists and that department and our speech and language department. So we work as a team again. So I’m, I’m always attracted to teamwork for sure. And we try to, to support schools in providing the supports that students need in their building.

Jennifer Meeker (15:30):

So it’s a lot of it’s a lot of meetings. That’s, that’s one of the downfalls for me. I’d rather be on the, on the ground, but it is a lot of meetings, but I do get to work with some amazing people. And I, I don’t necessarily always see the successes at the end, but I hear about them. And I hear from the schools when you know, when the student is really, really struggling and we have some really high need struggling students and families. And I hear that, you know, something was got a little bit better. That’s, that’s just makes my day,

Sam Demma (16:07):

Let’s bring your brain back to one of those moments. When you think about certain emails like that of school or calls of schools reaching out and telling you, Jen, we had this student that was really struggling and we had this little win today. Are there any of those examples that come to mind that you’d like to share? I think stories of, of growth in young people is one of the main reasons why adults work in education. It’s like we wanna, you know, provide a positive impact on the lives of a young person. So if someone’s burnt out right now, it’s stories like that, that I think will really reunite their fire if teaching is what they should be doing.

Jennifer Meeker (16:46):

Yeah. And not in this, I mean, I have had current role too, but I’ll take back to when I was a vice principal I had a student who wasn’t on the radar at all completely not on the radar in in terms of the office was a, you know, a, B plus student never missed a day of classes, never missed a class, was easy to get along with you know, like not a, not an issue at all. That student had some struggles in her own life. And the student checked herself into care, basically put, he put her herself to the family children’s services who then placed her in foster care. And that was a sadness story. And I met with her and her worker and we talked about you know, her strengths and her needs.

Jennifer Meeker (17:40):

And, you know, we got to know her. She happened to have a love of courses as do I. So the two of us bonded in that moment. And and then I sort of became that her person for a while. And she struggled and it, what really, what she taught me was that even when we give students everything or when we give people everything that they, we think they need or we think is going to make their life better, it doesn’t always work that way. Mm. So I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden she became a behavior issue in class. She wasn’t attending school on, you know, regularly. She wasn’t getting the work done. And she was in on the radar of the office all the time. And I said to her, her worker, one day, I said, I don’t understand she has safety. She has a roof over her head. She has food on the table. She doesn’t have to worry about those things anymore. So while all of a sudden is she not succeeding. And she said, because now she’s being a teenager.

Sam Demma (18:45):

Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (18:46):

And she has the ability to do that. And that really, that really shot a light for me on on taking each case differently that each student that I, that I met and that I dealt with and understanding what their real needs are before I assume what their real needs are, I guess. So we then backtracked and then she had a job later on, this is, so this is a couple of years later, she had a job first job, you know, and the, I happened to know the employer and she wasn’t showing up for work regularly. And they were about to fire her. And I said to the employer, you can’t, here’s why you can’t because she needs you, you can’t because she doesn’t have someone there who is saying, you know, what, if you don’t show up to work today, you might get fired.

Jennifer Meeker (19:43):

Cuz she’s on her own. She’s making these decisions for herself. There’s nobody telling her that on a regular basis that really, really cares about her. And I said, so you need to be that person. So they didn’t fire her. And eventually she left on her own. But in a good way. And yeah, so, and she, and I had many, many conversations about that, but she’s remained in contact. I’ve lost track of her in the last year or so, but she had remained in contact up till then has a family of her own and ah, yeah. And, you know, and is in a good place from what I, from what I know. So yeah.

Sam Demma (20:20):

That’s awesome. I, I think it’s

Jennifer Meeker (20:22):

On this shoulder all the time, just telling me

Sam Demma (20:24):

<Laugh> yeah. What I need to do. It’s just a really cool reminder to realize you can have such a massive impact working in education, whether you’re on the front line or not like every single person plays a significant role in making sure a student feels safe and has an opportunity to learn and grow. How do, do you think we ask students what their needs are? Is it as simple as asking them, like how did you uncover her needs when you realized that what you wanted for her, maybe wasn’t what she thought she needed.

Jennifer Meeker (21:01):

That’s a good, that’s a good question. I mean, I think that I’ve always Ross green who wrote a book called kids do well, if they can is probably one of my biggest mentors in terms of thinking about students. And so I always look at, and, and this is one of the things she taught me, you know, she could do well when she could. And when there was a barrier that she couldn’t get through, that’s when things fell apart. And so as the adult, I needed to, to be able to be alongside her in that journey. And when she came up against a barrier that she couldn’t remove, I need to figure out how to help remove that if I could so that we could learn from it and then move forward until she hit the next barrier. And I think, I mean, I think that’s how we, we all do life. We just don’t realize it. But when we’re watching, as adults, as parents, we, you know, we look at our children and we try to remove all of those barriers for them. We never wanna see our children hit barriers, right. Because that’s, that, that means that they would experience hurt and they would experience failure or whatever. But in my life, failure has taught me probably more than success.

Sam Demma (22:11):

Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (22:12):

And again, I go back to those challenges. Right. I think I have to fail before I, before I succeed often.

Sam Demma (22:20):

Yeah. And you could even just swap the word failure with learn because every, you know, failure is just feedback from whatever event you were trying to accomplish or, you know, achieve. Yeah. So I think that’s a really great perspective. You mentioned this book. Are there any other books or resources that you found really helpful that have informed the way that you teach your professional development? It could even be courses or people I’m just curious to know. Yeah. Some of the things that kind of shaped your belief system.

Jennifer Meeker (22:53):

Well, definitely the work that I did with Ross green and I’m still following has been really important for me to take a look at, especially in special education, because we, we label students with a, with a disability, a learning disability or an intellectual disability and sometimes people get stuck on those labels. And he and another Dr. Mel Levine, who’s no longer around. They didn’t, they don’t look at students that way. They look at students from a whole, the whole student perspective. They get to know the student. And one of the, the questions I always say when there’s challenge, when a student, when I was a principal and a student was having difficulty and they’d come into my office rather than I may know a whole bunch already, but rather than assuming that I know what’s going on and what the issue is, I would ask I hear you having some difficulty what’s up with that. Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (23:54):

And they might not go right to it immediately, but we would dance around that for a long time if we had to. But I would just keep coming back and say, tell me more about that. What’s up with that. You know, and I’m not gonna say that I was, I’m always perfect in the moment because sometimes you get caught emotion. We gotta, yeah, we got the motion or we gotta get this done. Or, you know, I’ve got four other people waiting outside there to talk to me, whatever. But I try to stay present in that moment with whomever. It is that I’m, that I’m working with, whether it’s a staff member, another colleague, or with a student or a family or with my own family to say, what’s up, what’s up with that? How can I help? And they may not want my help. So just, you know, sort of getting the idea of that. So that came a lot from, from raw screen, I would say. I’ve done a lot of work with oh, I’m having a, a brain pause here.

Sam Demma (24:57):

I like that you used the word pause. <Laugh> strategic. I like it. <Laugh>

Jennifer Meeker (25:03):

You can give another one, but <laugh> yeah, I guess I’ll leave it at Ross because he is the, so, oh, the other, I guess the other book that I’ve been reading most recently is grading for equity. And it’s a resource that has really had me look, I, I never, I was always the teacher that thought that report cards were, were ridiculous that we should be having conversations cuz I’m more of a talker probably than a writer. Mm. And to have conversations with people about where they are with my students, I used to do that, to talk with them about know where you’re at, here’s where we need to go next. What do you think? What do you, how are you how are you gonna achieve this? How, how am I gonna help you achieve this? And when I look at the book grading for equity, you know, marks are often subjective. I can’t tell you that we all grade the same. So when I look at that and I look at you know, people coming from diverse backgrounds and who cultural upbringings, that, that don’t value, the same things that I might it’s, it’s a problem. So I’m just, I’m partway through that book and I’m really learning a lot again about, and I think about <laugh>, oh boy, 20 years ago, I wish I could go back and teach differently and great differently. And but you know,

Sam Demma (26:30):

Everything happens for a reason, you know, and at the time it’s supposed to happen. But speaking about traveling back in time, if you could take like the wisdom and experience that you have now, you know, close to the end of your career and go back in time and tap young, you know, younger Jen, you’re still very young, but younger Jen on the shoulder. <Laugh> and you know, you say, Jen, this is what you needed to hear when you were just getting started. Not that you would share any advice to change your path or the way you’ve taught, but what advice would you have given yourself that you thought would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation?

Jennifer Meeker (27:07):

So it’s interesting that say that because I just I had a teacher that I hired at the beginning of the pandemic and she’s just starting her career. Got to know her, got to be in her class and see what she was doing. And I was so impressed with how her maturity for the beginning of her career come from. And I think that a lot of our new graduates are coming out with a different outlook than I had when I graduated. Right. and so I find, I found that she seemed to be so much further ahead than I was in my first year, my career. And so I actually gave her the two books that I just talked to you about and said, if I knew this, when I started my career, I think my career would’ve been different in many ways.

Jennifer Meeker (27:55):

I think I would’ve been a more effective teacher. I think I would’ve been a more effective administrator along the way. So if this helps you, if you can connect with it in any way, you know, this is what I leave you with. And so she’s, I’ve given her both those books and we’ll we’ll chat cuz I’m not going away and she goes and you know, she could, I think she’s got a great career ahead of her. So I think that’s what I would, I, and, and people did. I, I shouldn’t say that people didn’t do that cause I definitely, I mean the whole reason I’m in teaching is because of one, one woman who Deb McGaha, I’ll never forget her who did tap me on the shoulder and who did give me that sort of advice here and there.

Jennifer Meeker (28:38):

And there were other people along the way that that did in moments, you know? But that would be someone who definitely got me into the area of teaching. And then it’s the people that I work with now that, you know, keep me asking those questions and keep me you know, looking for, for differences, for different ways to support family, different ways to converse with kids, different ways to make things, programs better for students who struggle. And I think I, I, I look to those people all the time, cause I certainly don’t have all the answers.

Sam Demma (29:12):

It sounds like a through line of your advice would be building strong relationships with others, right? Like reading books written by other people, like learning from others. You know, you mentioned how much you look forward to working on teams a few times throughout this interview, and then again, referencing the people around you and how they question you and challenge you. So it sounds like, you know, making sure you’re not working in a silo is something that’s really important in education.

Jennifer Meeker (29:40):

Absolutely. We learn so much from each other. And why would you, why would you reinvent the wheel when you can take the wheel and just make it smoother?

Sam Demma (29:49):

Mm smart. I like it. Jen. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. If someone’s listening right now, inspired by it, wants to bounce some ideas around or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Jennifer Meeker (30:02):

They can reach out to me via email at jennifer.meeker@ugdsb.on.ca.

Sam Demma (30:08):

Awesome. Jenn, thank you so much. This was phenomenal. I appreciate you making the time, enjoy the rest of the year and we’ll talk soon.

Jennifer Meeker (30:15):

Thanks Sam. Take care. Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (30:19):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jennifer Meeker

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.

Larry Paquette – Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls

Larry Paquette - Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls
About Larry Paquette

Laurent (Larry) Paquette is the Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls. He started his career at L’école secondaire catholique l’Horizon in Val Caron in 1992. Since then, Larry was a Physics, Math, Computer Science and Communications Technology teacher at Saint Charles Garnier in Whitby and then Northern Secondary School.

Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Northern Secondary School and then Widdifield Secondary School in North Bay. For the past 10 years Laurent was principal at Northern Secondary School, the school at which he graduated from as a student. While at Northern Larry brought in two High Skills Specialist Majors (SHSM) into his school; one in Hospitality and Tourism and the another in Mining.

He also brought in Lego Robotics and Vex Robotics into Design Technology courses at the school. The favourite part of his job as a principal was the mentoring that he got to experience with his various vice-principals.

He is looking forward to retiring at the end of the August after a long successful career. What he will miss the most about his profession is the time that he spends with countless number of students. In retirement he plans to focus on his firewood business, travel and spend more time with his family.

Connect with Larry: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Northern Secondary School

L’école secondaire catholique l’Horizon in Val Caron

Saint Charles Garnier

Widdifield Secondary School

High Skills Specialist Major Program (SHSM)

Lego Robotics

Vex Robotics

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:58):

This is the first episode of season number three, with your host Sam Demma. Today our special guest is Larry Paquette. Larry Paquette is the Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls. He started his career at L’école secondaire catholique l’Horizon in Val Caron in 1992. Since then, Larry was a physics, Math, Computer Science and Communications Technology teacher at Saint Charles Garnier in Whitby and then Northern Secondary School. Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Northern Secondary School and then Widdifield Secondary School in North Bay. For the past 10 years Laurent was principal at Northern Secondary School, the school at which he graduated from as a student. While at Northern, Larry brought in two High Skills Specialist Majors (SHSM programs) into his school; one in Hospitality and Tourism and the other in mining. He also brought in Lego Robotics and Vex Robotics into Design Technology courses at the school. The favourite part of his job as a principal was the mentoring that he got to experience with his various vice-principals. The favorite part of his job as a principal was the mentoring that he got to experience with his various vice principles. He’s looking forward to retiring at the end of August after a long successful career. What he will miss the most about his profession is the time that he spends with countless numbers of students. In retirement, he plans to focus on his firewood business, travel, and spend more time with his family. I hope you enjoy this reflective episode with Larry as he is now retired, focused on his business, and I will see you on the other side. Larry, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Larry Paquette (02:39):

So I’m Larry Paquette. I’m a principal at Northern secondary school in sturgeon falls. I’ve been here as a principal for 10 years and this is my last year before I move on to retirement. So it’s, it’s been a great journey for me and I’ve, I’ve spent most of my career in this school. And actually I was a not only a principal here. I was also a vice- principal for four years, a teacher for twelve years and, and a student for for five years. So this has been my home for, for, for a long while.

Sam Demma (03:16):

That’s, that’s amazing. Thank you for your service. <Laugh>.

Larry Paquette (03:20):

You’re welcome.

Sam Demma (03:21):

When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education? Was there a special moment? Was it gradual? Tell me more about that.

Larry Paquette (03:31):

Yeah, so, so that’s a, that’s a great question. And, and for me, it’s going way back, right? So I can attest this to to probably some teachers of mine who were awesome and there’s a number of them along the way. And I struggled when I was in elementary school, but flourished in secondary school. And for me English is my second language. So I, I learned English in high school and I went to a French elementary school and then came to Northern to learn English that that was, you know, back in that day, we didn’t, we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have that, that many opportunities to learn a language. And, and I came to Northern and I, and I had many great teachers here. That’s not, when I decided though I kind of, you know, went off to university studied engineering for a bit and then went into computer science and, and that’s my background, computer programming and software engineering.

Larry Paquette (04:31):

And I graduated in 91 and back then we were kind of in a recession and, and a bunch of us all French speaking. I went to a French speaking university in Subbury loon university, a bunch of us decided, Hey, let’s go to teachers college for a year. It’ll give us an extra year, something else in our backpack. Maybe a little more employable and ended up doing teachers college for a year and ended up in teaching. So there was no aha moment. It’s just, I gradually stepped into that role and, you know, enjoyed working with with students. That’s always been my passion.

Sam Demma (05:09):

Where did your interest for computer programming and computer science come from <laugh>?

Larry Paquette (05:13):

Oh my God. That, that, that also goes back to the mid eighties. It started here at Northern actually we had we had Vic twenties back then with a, a tape recorder and I had this awesome teacher, Mr. B Brenner was my teacher. And we learned about programming in basic. And actually I didn’t do well. I, I, I, I almost flunked the class, took it again in grade 12, my dad had encouraged me to keep at it for some reason. He kinda felt that computers would be the wave of the future. And my dad had a great eight worked in the mines and said, Ray, I’m not sure what he saw in computers, but he said, you know, you should keep at it because that’s gonna be, that’s gonna be taking over the world one day. And, and if you zoom back to 1985 not many computers around, I kinda lucked out. My mom bought me a, a Commodore 64. And that’s how it started for me. It’s just that passion of coding and, and getting a computer do to do things for me. And it went from there and, you know, I studied computers in university and I, I even had my my business at one point when I first started teaching and wrote some software for the ministry and wow. It was awesome.

Sam Demma (06:31):

What a awesome transition and initial starting point in education. Well, what are the different roles you’ve worked in since you started what schools, like, tell me a little bit about your journey chronologically.

Larry Paquette (06:44):

Yeah, so, so I first started teaching adults at night back then we were teaching word. Perfect.

Sam Demma (06:50):

Okay.

Larry Paquette (06:51):

And, and the funny thing about that story is that my girlfriend at the time took the course with me and we ended up getting married <laugh> so she’s, we’ve been 20, well, we’ve been married for 29 years this year. And, and I always joke about it. Like, I must have done a half decent job cuz she’s still around <laugh>. So that’s how I started teaching adults at night. They were mainly secretaries from the Subbury board. Okay. and then moved into a long term occasional position teaching computers and Ft. Even though I’m French teaching FCE was very challenging for me, but you know, it was a job. It gave me a couple months experience and moved into an LTO, a long term, occasional position in computer science. I think I was teaching some physics in, in a school in Whitby.

Larry Paquette (07:48):

Nice. So I spent a year there and then, you know, I was desperately trying to get back to to Northern and I knew the principal at the time. He was one of my teachers and I actually, I called him every two weeks on a Friday at two, just to connect with, ’em asked about the school and back then, like there were so few jobs. They hired three people that year. It was our board hired three people and I was one of the three and you know, more or less like the HES, the rest is pretty much, much history, but I, I moved into admin early on into my career just because of the opportunities. Right. So I, I ended up being a teacher in charge. I think I was about maybe 32 years old. Ah and then went and got qualified as, as an administrator and became principal here at Northern. And I was principal, I mean, vice principal here at Northern for, for four years. Then I was moved to north bay in a big school and worked there for two years. And actually I was fortunate because the principal who I worked with here at Northern as a vice principal, moved to Whitfield in, in north bay and I, I moved and worked with him there. So, and then came back here and then became principal. And, and I’ve been principal in this building for, for 10 years now.

Sam Demma (09:10):

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of the role you’re working in right now? And soon to be retired from <laugh>,

Larry Paquette (09:20):

It’s such a rewarding career overall and, you know, people will ask me, what did you like the most? Actually, I love being a vice principal the most, that was my favorite part of the job, because I got to work with kids on a one to one basis. As the principal though, you, you, you even have a bigger effect because you’re working with teachers also. Mm. and the community. So everything’s a a reward, right. Just, you know, knowing that you’re making a difference in your, your community. And, and this is my community. I grew up here and I’ve spent most of my life in this community and, you know, everybody knows you <laugh>, you know? Yeah. I’m the principal in my, in my community. There’s not 10 of us. Right. Yeah. So it’s and people reach out to you and, and, you know, I bump into people that I taught back in the day and they remember things and it’s, it’s, it’s such a, a rewarding, but challenging profession.

Sam Demma (10:21):

You mentioned your first role was teaching adults. How did that come about? Is that like typically a way that teachers usually start or tell me more about that experience?

Larry Paquette (10:35):

Not, not necessarily. I was kinda I kinda got into that by luck. I had a friend who was teaching adults who said, Hey, Larry, you wanna, you know, they’re looking for people who have that computer science background to teach to teach secretaries. Cool. And, and, you know, there were not that many of us in that, you know, in that, having that knowledge and I was still in university, I was like a computer science student when I first started teaching. Right. So it kinda gave me a taste of what teaching was all about. So, and also I ended up paying into my pension early on, so I kind young, still to retire, which is a real bonus. Right.

Sam Demma (11:15):

That’s awesome. Very cool. Along the journey, you mentioned you had some teachers that inspired you, impacted you along the way. I’m wondering if you can recall who some of those people are, and I’m sure there’s way too many to name, but maybe one or two that had a significant impact on you and what they did for you.

Larry Paquette (11:34):

Well, yeah, for sure. So, so the first one ISPR new, my grade eight teacher, and he probably doesn’t even know that he still lives in our community, but he kind of, you know, it’s just that patience, right. Cause I was a bit of a squiggly kid grew up on a farm. So, you know, sitting in a classroom was not my big thing, but I, I, I understood the importance of school. But, but that grade eight teacher was probably the first person that kind of made me realize, you know, I could do it. And then, you know, zoom forward to to high school. I, I had a couple the principal that hired me his name was Don Cole and, and Don taught me drafting in grade nine. And you can imagine moving from a small com small, small, rural school community into a bigger school.

Larry Paquette (12:27):

And I call this a bigger school, but it’s not a big school. We, we were maybe 400. Okay. and I took drafting with Mr. Cole. And, and I remember that first assignment, I got a hundred percent came back home and told my parents, man, I’m good at something I’m good at drafting, not knowing that every kid in the class got a hundred percent on his first assignment, that was kind of his shtick of okay. Of getting us to believe that we could do it. Ah, I shared that story with my staff. And, and I had a, a math teacher. His name was Ken Brener and I kinda replaced him here when I, when, when I got first hired, Ken was so patient and spent so much time, you know, he was always available at lunch before school, after school.

Larry Paquette (13:13):

Wow. if you wanted to learn more about Matt, Ken was your guy. And then I had a couple of university professors. One was his name was Dave Goforth was one of my computer science professors, just a, a all round nice guy. And then one of my faculty teachers who, cuz I was about to quit in November, in October and November, I just said, I’m done I’m I’m gonna go start my business, do my own thing. And he kind of took me a aside and said, Larry you know, you’re, you’re two months in. I think you’re gonna be a great teacher, just stick with it. And I did, which thank God he had that conversation with me.

Sam Demma (13:52):

Wow. And I love that story of giving every student a hundred percent on their first test quiz. When you realize that everyone got that, what was the Le like what lesson kind of came to mind or how did you perceive it?

Larry Paquette (14:07):

I, I was a little young to understand why that had happened. Really. Yeah. I understood that actually it took a while. I was probably well into my teaching career before I really realized, Hey, that’s like, that’s a nice little trick. Right? Yeah. Doesn’t cost you anything. And why be stingy with marks they’re just marks. Right. So yeah.

Sam Demma (14:28):

I love that. That’s such a great way to put the battery in the kids’ back and help them believe in themselves. You know,

Larry Paquette (14:35):

That’s, that’s, that’s exactly it.

Sam Demma (14:38):

Cool. thinking about your journey through education if you could take the wisdom and experiences you’ve had and bundle them up into a piece of advice for your younger self travel back in time and tap Larry on the shoulder in his first year and say, Hey Larry, this is the advice that would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just starting this career. Not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice would you give to your younger self?

Larry Paquette (15:08):

Forgive yourself for making mistakes. Don’t focus on those mistakes run with your horses. You’ll always have people who will challenge you, but they keep you honest. Mm. and, and, and zoom out. And, and actually for me, that just came about in the last month, <laugh> where I’m zooming out and, and saying, Hey, I’ve got, I’ve had an awesome career. And, and actually I’ll, I’ll give credit where credit is due on this one. They’ve parachuted in a vice principal into our school at the start of may. And she’s the one, you know, she’s, she’s, she’s younger than I am. And she just said, you know what, Larry, you’ve had a great career focus on that, going out and, and keep your head high because we tend to be critical. Right. We tend to focus on the negative instead of celebrating all the great things that we do. And when we do zoom out, all those little things that happened along the way, they made us better people and they’ve kept kept us honest. So that, that’s what I would say. Just be forgiving of your, your, your challenges, your mistakes especially if you have like, you know, if you, if you have noble intentions.

Sam Demma (16:18):

Yeah. I think we spend so much time focused on all the things we have yet to accomplish yet to do. Whereas there’s so many things we have accomplished and achieved and we forget to give ourselves the flowers for those things, or don’t reflect on them enough and celebrate them for a small moment in time and then never revisit them again. Right. speaking of some ch I mean, we didn’t really get on the topic, but along with successes and accomplishing things, I know the past two years have been a little bit difficult with the global pandemic that no one knew was gonna come. What are some of the challenges your school community was faced with over the past few years? And along with the challenges, what are some of the opportunities that you think came out of the situation?

Larry Paquette (17:08):

Well, so, so many challenges, it’s hard to zoom in on, on the one thing, cuz we’re kind of in the middle of it still. Yeah. And I kind of feel someone said at one point, like, we feel like we’re building a plane at the same time as we’re trying to fly it. Mm. so you know, the mental health issues are, are certainly coming to, to, to the forefront. And the importance of supporting kids, mental health is more important than actually the curriculum that we’re trying to teach. So yeah. So that’s a huge shift for us, for us as, as principals, but also for our teachers especially the ones that are, are kind of stuck, like in a bit of a rut in the classroom where they’re not seeing the bigger picture. Mm. so that’s been a, certainly a challenge and we’re really filling it with, you know, there’s about 12 days left before the end of the, the school year.

Larry Paquette (17:59):

Nice. You know, the wheels are coming off, right. The kids are really struggling right now. And, and so are the staff and everybody’s so tired, we’re just trying to get to the end of the year. You know, and part of my job is, is, is to to keep the focus right. To stay calm if, if I lose my wheels, then for sure things are gonna go south. Yeah. and staff look up to their principal to get us a pulse of how they should feel. So it’s, it’s been it’s been interesting and how I go about trying to keep that, that even keel is I, I I, I do I produce firewood <laugh> of all those things. And I think Sean might have mentioned it in his podcast. So I go out there and I, I work in the backlog, I cut wood, I split wood. I sell with customers. Nice. And I, you know, it, it keeps me active, keeps me in shape and clears my mind. Right. So I, I think that’s, that’s pretty much I, and I’m, I’m fortunate. I, I have I have an awesome family. I have five children wonderful wife. I, I rely on my faith to, to get me through the, the, the stormy waters

Sam Demma (19:16):

Love that. I, I love chopping wood. We, we have a little cottage about an hour and a half from our house. And from a young age, my grandfather had taught me how to, you know, safely swing the ax and we would chop up logs and, you know, use ’em for the bonfire pit. And it’s such a therapeutic activity. <Laugh> so you don’t do that a part as a part of school though. You do that outside when you’re not working outside of the classroom, like outside of the office.

Larry Paquette (19:49):

Yeah. I’m just gonna check. Can you still hear me?

Sam Demma (19:52):

Yep.

Larry Paquette (19:53):

You can hear me. Yeah. It was telling me that the microphone disconnected. Okay. We’ll back up a story about that. That’s okay. Yeah. No, this is totally separate. It’s it’s a separate business. There’s a bit of story behind that is just, it’s just like, instead of seeing a therapist, I go chop some wood and actually like I’ve got machinery. I’m not doing everything by hand. Yep. Yeah. I’ve got tractors and the processors and all this nice jazz, so yeah.

Sam Demma (20:17):

Oh, it’s cool. When did that begin and why what’s the, what’s the story behind it? <Laugh>,

Larry Paquette (20:24):

It’s a long story. As I told you, I grew up on a farm. Yep. and I have four brothers and, and we always worked so back in the eighties times were really different. We, we work together regularly and at one point my dad told me, like, he, he noticed I was struggling in, in, in being a principal. It was, it was a grinding job, not much. I, I wasn’t feeling like I was successful. And you said to me, you need to go back to your roots. You love producing wood. Maybe you should start producing wood, like just even for yourself. And that’s how it kind of started one little chainsaw with one ax and slowly built, you know, started selling a bit of wood, bought a wood splitter, bigger chainsaw tractor. And it just mushroom. So in retirement, I’m, I’m, I’m gonna be doing that full time.

Sam Demma (21:15):

Why do you think it’s important people working in education also have something like that. It doesn’t have to be wood cutting, but a hobby where they can forget about their work during the day, let their mind run loose. Like, how has that been helpful for you?

Larry Paquette (21:33):

Well, you need to recharge. And that was one of my biggest mistakes. When I started as a principal here, I was working 70, 80 hours a week. I was in six days a week and I was frustrated because nobody else was doing that. I, it was a choice that I had had made. Mm. And it came to the cost of my, you know, my family, my personal relationships. And I don’t think I was a good principal because, you know, I, I, I never took that time to rest and recharge and, and come back on a, on a different angle almost. Right. So, and I was fortunate, my, my superintendent took me aside and said, you know, Larry, I don’t even work 70 hours a week. So why, why are you working so hard? And I kinda learned to work smarter, right? Yeah. To delegate, to get people, to to, to take on some of those some of those pieces and let them run with with it.

Sam Demma (22:28):

One of the most rewarding aspects of a career in education is the impact you get to make on the lives of thousands of young students and young minds. And for those people who are listening, and obviously can’t see this, cuz there is no video <laugh> big smile across Larry’s face. When I said that, I’m curious to know over the years, if there are any stories of students who you can recall that were seriously transformed due to education. And if it’s a serious story, you know, you can change their name and explain it with a totally different name just to keep their privacy respected.

Larry Paquette (23:04):

Yeah, no, absolutely. So couple weeks ago I bumped into a parent and we are a small community. So, you know, I, she said, Hey Larry, how’s it going? Remember my son? And of course I did remember her son. And, and she had come to a parent teacher interview night and she said, you remember that parent teacher interview night? I said, no, I don’t. I remember your son, but don’t remember that teacher interview night. And she said, you know, you had told me that my son was great in math and her son, like not, not the type who would sit down in the desk. He was really active, a sports kind of guy like football, hockey, but in the classroom, not so much, didn’t do that well on tests, but I knew he was smart. I, I knew it because he would choose the toughest question on the test.

Larry Paquette (23:56):

And he’d answer that question. And not just the one question and hand in his test. Now, if I would’ve marked him, you know, usually traditional ways of marking, he, he would’ve failed because he would’ve only gotten that, that one question. But I knew he knew all the question. He knew all the answers. Anyway, she, she kind of, you know, she, she, she’s kind of beaming with pride when she was sharing that, that, that that experience and so fast forward about 30 years now I won’t, this kid now owns a, a company in our community, a big mining company and wow. You know, he, he runs that. I’m not surprised. I, I knew this guy was going places. You know, if I would’ve judged him on, on traditional ways of, of evaluation, you know, he, he, he wouldn’t have done well. And there’s so many stories like that.

Larry Paquette (24:49):

<Laugh> like, yeah. And that that’s, that’s the piece. And, and, and I’m sure I will be bumping into people for the rest of my life. People that I’ve taught. I’ve had one kid come back and said, remember that game doom. We used to play back in the nineties. Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, we had used that game to learn about 3d modeling in my class. And he said like, that’s the one thing I remember from high school. I is learning how to use doom to like, we created like the school, we built the school.

Sam Demma (25:19):

Oh, wow.

Larry Paquette (25:20):

As a 3d model.

Sam Demma (25:21):

Okay. So

Larry Paquette (25:22):

It was outside the box thinking, but I have to give credit to my principal Don Cole, who I was talking about to gimme that, that leeway, that permission to trust me, to try something different. And I’ve tried to emulate that as, as a principal. If I have a, a teacher who comes in here with an outside the box idea, I run with it. I let them run with it. I encourage them to try it. The worst thing that could happen is we fail big deal.

Sam Demma (25:50):

Yeah. I, I love that. And I think it’s so important that we actually give ourselves the opportunity to fail. Because most of the time, before we try something, our brain actually stops us and we hypothetically fail. We don’t even actually know what the result’s gonna be, cuz we don’t even do it. <Laugh> I think. Well,

Larry Paquette (26:09):

Yeah. And I’d even add to that Sam, like if you’ve never failed, you probably haven’t tried hard enough. Right? Yeah. You’re always down that safe road where there’s, no’s no, I’m success meed many times and I’m okay with that.

Sam Demma (26:28):

Yeah. Because you keep picking up the acts and trying again, it’s like exactly, you’re gonna keep chopping away until we figure it out. Right. Yeah. That’s awesome. I’m excited to see your transition after you, you know, retire and it’s not, I don’t think retire is the right word. Just it’s a transition of your time and, and your efforts, right.

Larry Paquette (26:46):

It’s a change, right. It’s part of like being a principal is, is very demanding, very rewarding. But you know, you get to a point where, okay, I, I I’m, I’m getting there. I’m I wanna leave on my, my terms on high. I feel really good that Sean is gonna be taking the school over. Nice. and Sean’s excited too. And I I’m gonna be in the wings. Right. I, I told him if you need help, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll be happy to help out, but there’s, he’s coming to an awesome school. There’s a lot of great things happening. And, and I, I know I’ll hear about it and, and I’m glad for for him.

Sam Demma (27:22):

Awesome. Ah, I’d love to hear it. Thank you so much for taking some time to share some of your stories and wisdom today on the podcast. Thank you for your 29 years of service. I wish you the best in your transition. If there’s an educator who’s listening to this right now, wants to reach out, have a conversation or ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Larry Paquette (27:42):

So there’s two spots, I’m at on Gmail. So it’s laurent.paquette@gmail.com.

Sam Demma (27:51):

Sure.

Larry Paquette (27:52):

If you look me up on Facebook, you’ll, you’ll, you’ll find me, you’ll see my picture there. I usually have drone pictures up on my Facebook page and I, my business is on there too. So if you want to chat, I’m we didn’t talk about this, but my favorite part of being a principal is also mentoring VPs and moving them into into the leadership position of the principal. So I would love to help out in any way

Sam Demma (28:28):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Larry Paquette

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.

Tara Connor, Ed.D. – Principal, Abbey Park High School in the Halton District School Board

Tara-Connor-Ed.D.-Principal-Abbey-Park-High-school
About Tara Conner

Tara Connor is the Principal of Abbey Park High School in the Halton District School Board. She spent her upbringing following her passions of music, but her love for teaching and youth guided her toward a journey working in education. She spends her time thinking about how we can improve, not just as individuals but as schools and a system. 

Tara holds both a master’s and doctorate, has lectured in Universities and has an obsession with helping youth. She believes students don’t have to have it all figured out and advocates that students/educators follow their nudges and passions. 

Connect with Tara: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Abbey Park High School

Halton District School Board

What are Advanced Placement Classes?

International Baccalaureate Program (IB)

Certified Practicing Principal Certification (CPP)

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 (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Tara Connor. Tara Connor is the Principal of Abbey Park High School in the Halton District School Board. She spent her upbringing following her passions of music, but her love for teaching and youth guided her toward a journey working in education. She spends her time thinking about how we can improve, not just as individuals but as schools and a system. Tara holds both a master’s and doctorate, has lectured in Universities and has an obsession with helping youth. She believes students don’t have to have it all figured out and advocates that students/educators follow their nudges and their passions. I hope you enjoy this conversation with her, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m so excited to chat with today’s guest, Tara Connor. Tara, please start by introducing yourself.


Tara Connor (02:01):
Oh, thanks so much. Sam, I’m delighted to be here. So again, my name’s Tara Connor. I am a Principal with the Halton District School Board. Currently, I’m the principal of Abbey Park High School, which is a wonderful high school in Oakville, Ontario.


Sam Demma (02:13):
When did you realize growing up that you wanted to be in education, work in education, become a teacher and a principal


Tara Connor (02:23):
so I, I would say that wasn’t in my growing up years likely I didn’t I didn’t kind of have it marked and planned at eight or nine or 10 years of age, which I know some people do if they project their plans for the future. You know, to me, quite honestly, actually I spoke to one of our great 10 careers classes, not too long ago, but a similar type of question. It was very evolutionary for me. I moved into a, a undergrad program that was music program, so classical music and I also loved science. So I was going kind of where passions were and not really a, a deep sense of where I might wanna land. Interestingly I have an older sister that moved into education. I think almost as an antithesis to that, I thought, well, I’ll never do education.


Tara Connor (03:09):
That’s kinda her thing. And, and then of course, as I, as I went through it and started consider where I wanted to be and what I’d love to do, I, I reflected on the fact that I spent lots of years as a lifeguard and a swim instructor and a piano teacher and a babysitter. And I love young people. I love children and I love teenagers. And and so for me, that just that kind of moved into a launch of what made lots of sense in terms of where I was at the time as I was considering career paths. I never went in if you’d asked me second year in my, in my world of being a teacher, if I would ever be a principal, I wouldn’t have even had it on my radar, quite frankly. But what I did find as I moved into my career is that I, I really loved thinking about how we could be better as not only as a classroom teacher, but as a school and as a system.


Tara Connor (04:00):
Mm. And so quite naturally, I just started to wanna be part of bigger and broader conversations because to me that really resonated in terms of what scope and sphere of impact I may have in terms of service in the work that I do as I move through my professional life. So you know, through that, I, I navigated a masters of education, a doctors of a doctorate of education, and have taught at a number of universities and graduate level and, and always with the drive to know, and understand better how we can best serve and support our students. So as I said, at every juncture, I remember sitting in my master’s and folks talked about a doctorate, and I thought like, who who’s thinking about a doctorate? And I just, I think I just wanna do my master’s. And then two or three years later, I was enrolling in an international doctoral program, completely engulfed and excited about being able to do that launch. So I, I I’ve said to my grade 10 class and my own children, I have four you don’t have to have it figured out that life unfold, you follow your passion, you follow what you what you love doing. And at each juncture, you’ll figure that out in terms of what your next stage is.


Sam Demma (05:07):
I couldn’t agree more. I definitely am someone who followed my passion and didn’t really have a perfect understanding of where it was gonna take me. Yeah. so it’s so it’s so, so true. Tell me more about where your passion took you. So what were the different roles, the different steps the different schools you’ve taught in positions? Like take us along the entire journey.


Tara Connor (05:32):
Wow. This will be a long journey. I, I will start by saying just just to your last point. I, I still don’t think my journey’s over, so I don’t, I still am excited about what that, the future and what may lie ahead, what opportunities I’m able to be able to connect with and expand and learn and grow from. So, yeah, if it’s a value I can tell you, I grew up kind of in a typical public school situation, not lots of role in terms of professional women, at least in my life in higher education was not kind of a lived experience in my family or, or really community that I was connected to. So as I moved through undergrad, and then eventually pursuing a, a degree in education my first position actually was in a private all girls school.


Tara Connor (06:19):
And I oversaw a program from grade seven to grade 13. And for me, it was in it, it was an entirely different juncture and experience that I had in my own education. And it really started me to think about some of the challenges, barriers complexities of what schooling is and ensuring all students have an equal and opportunity to Excel and to succeed. I, I moved from within that period of time, I was fortunate to have a number of great professional leadership experiences. I also was able to travel on some professional exchanges, quite extensively, internationally to places like Japan and Australia to Germany and, and trips around north Africa and Spain, Turkey, Italy. And so it really broadened my scale and scope in terms of education beyond the world of Ontario. And again made me challenge and question how we serve and support our students so that all students irrespective of background context family situation has an opportunity to really be who they’re meant to be in this world and to bring all their gifts to the world around them.


Tara Connor (07:34):
So that, that was that created some dissonance for me around private and public education about all, you know, single gendered education that, that drove me to do a master’s. I I’ve always done my graduate work while working full time or raising a family. And then I bumped over to the public poor because at that point I knew I was thinking leadership and I wanted to be able to be part of a community of school so that I could move around and have some flexibility of learning and growth. And then I would say a really profoundly rich experience from there with, to be a vice principal at Sy app, which at the time changed a little bit in its focus, but was for students that were sentenced under these criminal justice act, as well as students that were receiving were, have very profound mental health issues and concerns.


Tara Connor (08:24):
And so I really I really was able to see and understand the complexities of our student populist and, and some of the deficits of our school system and the driver that at times we expect our students to fit a school system that doesn’t work for them as opposed to building a school system that meets the needs of all students. And so I, I, I moved from that by special principalship to a number I’ll, I’ll say I was at a number of schools across the region of Halton large schools small schools kind of re the program between, you know, advanced placement AP or IB, or CPP. So community pathways, types of programs, so real diversity in terms of schools and settings. And I also moved into a program or actually kind of a regional program about maybe 10, 12 years ago.


Tara Connor (09:18):
So a couple of years into my role as an administrator where I was managing information for student achievement. So that was a very broad scale role that was working with all elementary and secondary schools to be able to critically look at data and information, to be able to drive the work that we did both in the classroom at the school level and at the system level. The other, the other probably experience that’s worth referencing is that I prior to this position was also in a, another school as principal that served adult alternative and continuing education. And that that portfolio was had responsibility for maybe thir 13 to 14,000 students in the region. It looked after both the day school components adult education, and then a whole umbrella of continuing education programs, inclusive of things like night school summer school for elementary and secondary international languages, elementary programs.


Tara Connor (10:17):
We had a rich and still have a rich educational program in both correctional facility at Maplehurst correctional. So the male and female prison systems. And and again, that, that was really rich for my own growth, but also my own passion around students don’t age out in terms of when they need education and support and how pivotal education is in the lives of our youth and adult in being able to secure a way to support themselves, support their families, contribute and connect to society. And we as educators have a duty and responsibility to serve and support our students from my perspective right from the time that they come to us through to the point that they that they are ready to, to step back and move into their next phase or stage of life. So, so lots of different experiences, all of which I’m grateful and all which I’ve, and my under able to support the needs. All students


Sam Demma (11:23):
You’ve really played every position on the field , which is,


Tara Connor (11:29):
Oh, there’s probably still more out there. I’m sure. I hope I haven’t hit the wall yet, but yeah, no, I’ve been lucky. I really, I, I, for me, I, I I’m grateful everything that I’ve done has just, has just challenged me in a new and different way. And I think again, has made me a much better deeper thinker as an educator. For sure.


Sam Demma (11:46):
I’m wondering if you could speak about how any of the experiences you’ve had, and maybe you can pick one, cause I’m sure there’s hundreds that you can remember and how it has shaped, how you look at education today. Maybe it was an experience with a student or an experience overseas, like any type of situation that further informed the way you look at education and approach it today. Do any kind of his stories or experiences that were really foundational to you come to mind?


Tara Connor (12:15):
Oh, I think there’s, there’s lots in there and certainly lots of students that I can think of and talk about. The one that I was the one that I was reflecting on a little bit prior to our chance to talk together. I know you talked either, we had talked about it, might there be a story or situation and, and that, that there was an impact that we were able to see that that student experienced in moving forward. And one of the pieces, I, I remember one thing that was really very moving for me is I was quite an early vice principal. So a couple of years in the job, I think was my second or third school. And I remember working with a student who was 16 at the time who was 16 ish, who was struggling with mental health issues and drug issues.


Tara Connor (12:59):
And what stood out for me at the time is that her drug of choice or her addiction with cocaine. And so that in and of itself’s an expensive drug with have her getting involved in issues with police and and theft to be able to support was what was a very serious addiction for her at the time. And it was, it was, you know, I, it was upsetting obviously, and really disheartening. And I remember working with her and trying to work through that. And she was in a real state of crisis in a number of different places as one could imagine, and, and self-medicating, and really trying to manage life at that time. And and, and then probably a year and a bit later, I was moved to yet another school. And I thought about her as we do think about lots of our students and many years later.


Tara Connor (13:53):
So when this was probably 10 years later, I became, as I mentioned, principal of Gary Allen high school now, Gary Allen learning center that, that serves and supports the all alternative continuing education within this region. And I remember being at our first graduation ceremony and the program had some day school with our adolescent students. So students that were looking for alternative learning across I had multiple sites. So Georgetown, Milton Oakville, and Burlington and then adult learners that educa that that connected to learning and credits through either day schools or evening classes. And then we had some flexibility with e-learning as well at the time or some virtual learning. Anyway, we had a graduation service and I was going to each of our events at, amongst all of these different sites and, and having the joy and pleasure of of helping to oversee the granting of diplomas.


Tara Connor (14:48):
And about the third or fourth student that came across the stage with this beautiful, wonderful probably 24, 25 year old young woman who was the same young woman that I remembered as a teenager, about 10 years ago. And and she was there with a loving, supportive family, and she proudly claimed her high school diploma that she had worked sometimes certainly to be able to achieve. And that was really profound for me in that it just reminds us that, you know, there’s, there is no, there’s no time that we tap out of serving and supporting our students and our adults and our community in terms of the access to education, the access to a high school diploma, that is the portal to be able to move forward in terms of either post-secondary or apprenticeship or or workplace pathways. And yeah, that was, that was for, it was, it was wonderful.


Tara Connor (15:42):
It was, you know, it was by happenstance that our path crossed are path. And, you know, you often wonder you do stay connected with some students, but not all, some of the most disconnected, you’re probably least likely to be able to see people and, and evolve is one is school. This is not, you know, high school years are not always the time that everyone can do the same thing in the same way to be able to at, you know, 17 and a half, get their high school diploma handed to them. And there are many complexities that kids carry and live through in their lives. That for whatever reason, make that, not the time, although we do lots of flexibility and access and support and wrap around to help there are times that they’re, they’re just not able to, and, and that notion of student success, they don’t age out at 18 or 19 or 21.


Tara Connor (16:37):
We are here until until they’re able to get what they need from us to be able to move to their next juncture of life. So that, that was really profound. It really drove in me a passion for a adult education. I loved that position because of what I, I believed it was doing in terms of service and support in our community. And it resonated for me as an educator, who’d been in traditional day schools and I became the voice amongst many of our day schools to say always connect. Even if students have a foot out the door and are saying, they’re done, always let them know the door is open and the hand is there and we will wrap around and support at any stage and age in which they’re able and willing to engage in engage in learning.


Sam Demma (17:20):
When you think about other educators who, what a beautiful story, by the way when you think about the educators who impacted you growing up, wh who comes to mind and what did those individuals do for you that made such a big difference. And also as you started your professional career, kinda like a two part question did you have any mentors or I’m sure you had many but any mentors that had a significant impact on you?


Tara Connor (17:47):
Mm-Hmm so I think for, for me, and I would probably liken this to probably anybody that has positive memories of their educational experience in either elementary or, or or high school secondary school, you know? Absolutely. I had a wonderful music teacher and, and I, I already was connected to that world prior to moving into high school. But, but he was a very, very powerful individual in so many of the lives of the folks the students that I was around and connected to. So what do we know about who are those teachers, who are those people? And we know that those are, we always know those are not necessarily the teachers that have the most profound pedagogy, and that can prepare, you know, the best set of notes. And that the, the ones you remember are the ones you connect with and the ones that build relationships and the ones that care and the ones that motivate you and challenge you.


Tara Connor (18:51):
And and, and know you beyond the student, that’s sitting in, you know, row two for fourth chair down. And so I would say that would be the same in my own educational experience as well. We did lots of trips and travel and rehearsals, and it was all the outside of class as much as inside of class of of just, you know, feeling connected and part of something that was big and rich and meaningful and powerful. That was a, that was a great connection in high school. And then in regards to mentors, that’s a great question I grew, I don’t wanna let on that I’m a million years old, but I can tell you in my context, where I grew up, it was kind of a low, lower middle class neighborhood that I grew up in my parents were super young when they had me, I think when mom was about 17 and my dad was 18 or 19, I, I didn’t grow up with role models of women who were either in professional lives or careers, or certainly having families and also balancing what that looked like.


Tara Connor (19:55):
And and I also juxta, you know, again, I would say the other piece of that is I also didn’t have anybody or many people that I knew that had gone through university and had kind of, again, a career path that, that connected to higher education. And so I, I, you know, navigating through that, I, I didn’t have lots of reference points or frameworks around that. So when I moved into my professional life, I was surrounded by other people that certainly became mentors and supports to me. And one thing that I’ll just say of, of maybe some interest is that as a woman, I didn’t have anybody that I knew, as I said, that the mantra that we used, I remember saying it in high school, well, I’ll have a career, but I, you know, I definitely won’t start my career until I, all my kids are in school and everybody’s, you know, where they need to be.


Tara Connor (20:46):
And, and I have a four kids, so that would’ve been about probably 15 years if I had followed that mantra. And so I, I was, for me, there was lots of women that were leaders that I spent lots of time talking to. And, and it was understanding the challenges, the path with areas, the just hearing their stories and, and to be quite Frank. Sam, I actually pursued a doctorate in looking at the knowledge, skills and attributes of female leaders. And I know that’s quite a dichotomous way to think of gender. It was the way that 20 years ago, that was what we had the language of very insular language we were talking through, but the experience of female leaders in moving into senior physicians of educational administration. And part of my research was a narrative point, obviously there’s research involved.


Tara Connor (21:36):
So one of my data tools was being able to in kind of my mid to late twenties, meander around all over the province to talk to all of these wonderful, creative, engaged professional women in the field of education to talk about their own career pathways and their own challenges and experiences in the workplace barriers what, what would drive them, what would inhibit them? You know, all of those things that I was so deeply curious about and that I was defining and refining within my own mind and framework of how I was hopeful to live my life and have my career and, and life unfold. And, and so I would say many of those individuals have been measures and many of those individuals, individuals have continued to be mentors for me even, even, even to present day for sure.


Sam Demma (22:25):
Hmm. That’s just, that’s awesome that you still stay in touch with them and your research sounds like it was a really enlightening experience, roughly how many female leaders did you talk to, or if you remember, like how many did you interview or get to chat with throughout that project?


Tara Connor (22:41):
Yeah. So I, again, when you, when you get into kind of doctor level research, you tend to do, there’s a triangular you know, methodology right. Triangulation, and that you have a number of data collection tools, and then you kind of just suppose to see if there’s some commonalities or somatic pieces that come through that research. Hmm. So the individuals, I, I think it was under 10, I would say it was probably eight to 10 individuals. But it was, it was deep in terms of that narrative process. So it was really and, you know, with your experience in interviewing and, and working with individuals, it was quite a structured process because it would be in, in the nature of that level of research. But it was really, you know, all the pieces, many of the things that you’re saying in that, you know, how did you do this?


Tara Connor (23:28):
And, and why did you do this and what drove you to do it? And what were the things that you have found challenging? And what are the things that you in, in, in making your decisions and pathways and, and working through kind of your next steps, you know, what, what were the things that were most frustrating? And, and, you know, I would hear lots of failures before success that’s really relevant and how people would navigate talking about their family life. I would have women that would say, I never mention the fact that I have kids, or if I ever had to stay home, it would never be because of a child because of their fear of judgment around what they bring to the role and, and what they can or can’t do within the, the job itself. So not an overly large group, that’s not a typical again, depending on the type of research that you’re doing a much broader had a much broader kind of range of data sets more expansive in terms of number of individuals in the, in some of the other ways that I was navigating that research, but for me, it was amazing and it was really compelling.


Tara Connor (24:28):
And it challenged me in lots of ways, personally and professionally in the way I thought about I just thought about understanding, understanding systems and, and leadership, and, and also that marriage of personal and private personal life and public life and professional life, all of those, all of those different pieces, for sure.


Sam Demma (24:50):
Today, education might look a little bit different than the, you know, the first year you got into it. Mm-Hmm, especially with the global pandemic, but hopefully coming to a close now that has brought a dozen different challenges into education. But I think with challenges also come some opportunities. And I’m curious, absolutely. To know what you think some of these new opportunities are that are arising because of the challenges and why you think we should be excited about some of them.


Tara Connor (25:20):
Yeah, no, thank you for that. Well, one thing I’ll start off with is I think that our, when I look at my the, the students who surround me, they are amazing, wonderful, brilliant individuals. And they have, when I think of what our youth have had to navigate at such a pivotal point of their own development and stage, and, and still the optimism, the creativity, the resilience what they bring each and every day to not only their, their daily life, but to their, their future. I think that’s very hopeful and optimistic and, and that we should all feel really excited for the future. When we look at whose hands the future will be in, in the years ahead. The other piece, I would say there’s a few parts of this that actually think are quite interesting. I think we’ve had clearly a significant shift in terms of the use of technology in supporting student learning.


Tara Connor (26:19):
And so we have had a learning for some time. We’ve had lots of, you know, we’ve had, you know, virtual experiences or online experiences for students that we’ve had or in, in the last probably certainly 15 years or so excuse me. But what I think it’s quite interesting is we had, we had a really polarized position prior to going into March, 2020, where we had educators adamantly articulating that we cannot have all students involved in e-learning that, that there are certain things we can’t do through an online platform that we can’t teach certain subjects that we can’t test with the same level of integrity certain aspects of learning by the nature of virtue of being online. And, and as a, as a necessity through this pandemic, we have had to develop the capability and the ability to be able to develop rich, robust learning experiences and opportunities for all students across all grades across all subject areas.


Tara Connor (27:26):
And we’ve been able to successfully do that. I will, for sure say that virtual learning or online learning is not a great fit for all students. And there are students that this is not a platform that serves or supports them well because of the way that they learned and the way that they connect with their learning. But there are lots of students that do very well with it. And we have teachers now with the skills and ability that can’t say we can’t do it because we know we can. And so the question would be how we use it and how, in what ways we utilize it to be beneficial and supportive of students. And and certainly we’ve, we’ve got flexibility from my mind, again, particularly coming as a former principal alternative education, that ability to be innovative and flexible, and as many ways that we can think of to be able to wrap around and support students where they’re at and what their learning needs are in my mind, technology just creates a whole nother range of opportunities that we can tap into now that we have a, a restir of experience and knowledge to be able to do that work.


Tara Connor (28:30):
So I think I will just say, I think that’s a positive by necessity, it’s driven innovation and by innovation, we’ve been able to drive action that I think will have future positive implications for, and, and and I think flexibility and access for students. The other piece I would say is, you know, we get stuck on doing things the way they’ve always been done. And so and I think, you know, it’s very easy to fall into a state of inertia particularly when you’re dealing with kind of the busyness of the day to day life. And so we do teacher interviews a certain way, the way that we’ve always done them. And parent council meetings always start at seven o’clock on a Monday night, and they’re always up in the library and they always run for this, like the time in our agenda always kind of looks like this.


Tara Connor (29:09):
And, and so one of the things that I think, again, that the pandemic has this experience of, of schools being closed of people being not being able to do what they’ve always done has driven us to do things differently by sheer necessity. And so, again, to the two examples of parents, teacher interview or parent counsel, you know, parent teacher interview is fabulous for parents that are available and, and accessible to come into the school between seven and eight 30 on a Thursday night and meet some of their teachers of their students teachers as they go through it. But what we know is not all parents can do that. And lots of our parents commute, and many of our parents are out of country or in job locations or have work schedules that look very different from what our day to day life looks like in school.


Tara Connor (30:02):
So I, I think that we all should be challenged to say, who have we made, what processes we made better or more accessible or more has built connections that end product has allowed us to be able to do what we intended to do, which is essentially connect parents as partners with their teachers and their students to be able to support the learning of the students in our school. And so if the goal is accessibility and the goal is the opportunity and the connection, then when we think in very siloed, very traditional ways, we have to think about who we’re not capturing and we have the function ability to do better. So I think those are, those are some of the things that we should all be teasing out to say, you know, we don’t wanna go back to, to the way it’s always been. We wanna say, what can we do to always be better? And I think there’s some great opportunities to do that, for sure.


Sam Demma (30:57):
I love it. It sounds like you’ve reflected on this. those are some great ideas and the accessibility piece is a huge one. I, I know from speaking to educators as well, it’s something that people are realizing the differences in access have really come to light because of the entire two years being stuck at home and other reasons as well. So I’m, I’m hopeful that it will continue to change and evolve and adjust. And yeah, that, that you’re one of the people that are leading the change. So keep it up.


Tara Connor (31:32):
Well, we have to do that work that that’s work that has to be done. I think


Sam Demma (31:36):
When you think about, you know, Tara in her first year of teaching if you could bundle up all of your experiences right now, and advice and travel back in time and tap her on the shoulder and say, you know, here’s what I think would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting in this profession, in this vocation. Not that you would change anything about your journey or path, but what advice would you have given your younger self or another educator? Who’s just getting into this vocation now.


Tara Connor (32:05):
Yeah, that’s a great question. I have to think way back in the reservoir to go back to that first year as I think about where I was and where I am now you know, I, I think reflectively around you know, kind of advice that that I would think, or that I would offer to others, or I think about for myself is that I think, you know, we do this work because we wanna serve and support. All right. And we want to always do the best by our students, but always do the best by our school communities, whether we’re in the classroom or at, at, at a principal level or at the board level, at, I think at every level of education or provincial level as well. And we set the bar, if, if we’re doing the job well, we set the bar really high for ourselves mm.


Tara Connor (32:48):
In that we want to always do it. Right. And we want to feel like we always did the best and the right thing in the moment at that time. And I can tell you you know, the reality is the jobs that we do are complex. They’re challenging. You’re often in, I would say certainly as administrator, you’re often in the grades, it’s very often very, very rarely that you have, this is the right decision, and this is absolutely the wrong decision. So you’re always trying to navigate with real kind of reflection and clarity that this, this is the right decision to make. This is the right action to make. This is the right way forward. And and I think through that, again, one of the things that we are should be great at is reflecting to say, how could we get better?


Tara Connor (33:35):
So what I would say in terms of advice is that don’t be so hard on yourself. Always do the best. You can always take the time to reflect how to get better. And so there’ll be times that things go, especially if you’re innovative and especially if you’re trying to do things differently, there’ll be things that go great. Cause that’s the nature of innovation and things that don’t go so great and celebrate great reflect on how you could be better action, being able to be better and get better, but then let it go, right? Don’t, don’t hang onto the things of what if I had only done and what if I, and with an, and there was another way I could have handled that there may have been, but be gentle it with yourself. And, and and know that that’s the part, part of part of doing this work is sometimes is always getting better.


Tara Connor (34:25):
And so that has to be comfortable with knowing that you, you can always build from, and you can always get better from where where you’ve been and that so I think we get stuck in ruminating around why did, why did this happen a certain way? Why maybe I should have done something else. And, and again, I don’t think that honestly, I don’t think that’s a particular value or helps you be your best self. I think reflection is important. I think having a, a strategy to be able to deepen as you continue your work moving forward, but at times you have to say, I did the best that I could in the moment with what I had and what I knew at the time. And and I’m gonna keep using those things to get better and be better at what I do and how I service support others.


Sam Demma (35:06):
Mm. I love it. Such great advice. If someone is listening to this and wants to reach out to you, ask a question or chat about something you share on the podcast, what would be the best way for someone listening to get in touch with you?


Tara Connor (35:23):
Yes. No problem at all. So I, I hope to be part of the Helton board for lots of years. So I do have an email through the board that anybody could email me at if they have an interest. The last name is connort@hdsb.ca and I’m always happy to connect and always happy to learn and and be connected to communities with people that would like to talk and like to learn and grow together.


Sam Demma (35:48):
Awesome. Tara, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate your time and insights. Keep up the great work leading the change, and we’ll talk soon.


Tara Connor (35:58):
Wonderful. Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (36:00):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tara Conner

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.

Jacqueline Newton – Superintendent of Education Innovation & Ingenuity School Operations, VSS & Gary Allan Learning Centres

Jacqueline Newton - Superintendent of Education Innovation & Ingenuity School Operations, VSS & Gary Allan Learning Centres
About Jacqueline Newton

Jacqueline (@Super_Halton) is entering her 35th year as a learner and is on a quest for more! Having taught in three Ontario boards as well as at the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto, she has also co-authored several textbooks and articles for educational journals.

In Halton, Jacqueline has been a school administrator at Lord Elgin High School (now known as Robert Bateman HS), TA Blakelock, Iroquois Ridge, Nelson and was the founding principal at Dr Frank J. Hayden SS. As Superintendent of Education for the schools in Milton, Continuing Education, and the portfolio of Innovation and Ingenuity, Jacqueline provides the fuel to The Shift team. She believes that no one should have to “play the game of school” and wants to create the conditions that allow students and staff to be more excited for Monday mornings than they are for Friday afternoons.

She provides TOTAL support mixed with the spirit of saying “Yes, and…” to help push the edges of the school sandbox to awesome places. As we are in the depths of solving the wicked challenges of COVID, it is exciting times as we are never going “BACK” to the 150 year old model of schooling … we are moving FORWARD and imagining what school could be….


Are you ready to TRY, FAIL, LEARN & SHIFT?

Connect with Jacqueline: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – University of Toronto

Robert Bateman HS

TA Blakelock

Iroquois Ridge

Nelson

Dr Frank J. Hayden SS

The Shift Team

The Shift Blog

Gary Allan Learning Centres

High Tech High

Books by Tony Wagner

What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

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 (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Jacqueline Newton. Jacqueline is entering her 35th year as a learner and is on a quest for more! Having taught in three Ontario boards as well as at the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto, she has also co-authored several textbooks and articles for educational journals. In Halton, Jacqueline has been a school administrator at Lord Elgin High School (now known as Robert Bateman HS), TA Blakelock, Iroquois Ridge, Nelson and was the founding principal at Dr Frank J. Hayden SS. As Superintendent of Education for the schools in Milton, Continuing Education, and the portfolio of Innovation and Ingenuity, Jacqueline provides the fuel to The Shift team. She believes that no one should have to “play the game of school” and wants to create the conditions that allow students and staff to be more excited for Monday mornings than they are for Friday afternoons.


Sam Demma (01:54):
She provides TOTAL support mixed with the spirit of saying “Yes, and…” to help push the edges of the school sandbox to awesome places. As we are in the depths of solving the wicked challenges of COVID, it is exciting times as we are never going “BACK” to the 150 year old model of schooling … we are moving FORWARD and imagining what school could be. She has a question for you. Are you ready to try fail, learn, and shift? If you are, keep listening to this podcast, you’re gonna enjoy this conversation with Jacqueline and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Jacqueline Newton. Jacqueline, please take a moment to introduce yourself.


Jacqueline Newton (02:43):
Hi Sam. I’m Jacqueline Newton, and I currently am a superintendent for the Halton District School Board.


Sam Demma (02:48):
When throughout your own career journey, did you realize you wanted to work in education?


Jacqueline Newton (02:56):
I would say two, two moments for sure. One moment was I was in grade six and the English teacher that was teaching us an English study. He was not very engaging and he didn’t really wanna be there either. And so I was not being very respectful for sure. And so at one point he turned to me and said, do you wanna teach a lesson? And I said, move over and give me the chalk, which was not a good move . So I was removed from the class right away. And my poor parents, I certainly was consequenced at home as well. But I thought, you know what, like I can make, I can make learning fun, like we can do this. But then I went off, you know, and studied other things and, but it was always in the back of my mind.


Jacqueline Newton (03:41):
And the other turning point was I worked in probation as a probation officer assistant before going into teaching. And I remember the clients, there were 77 clients. Mm. Two of two of whom were females. So that was interesting. And when I got to know a lot of the kids cuz you had to visit them every couple weeks, they often would often it was because they weren’t they didn’t enjoy school. Mm. And, and, and they weren’t proficient at playing the game of school either. And so for me, one, you know, a couple of them said like, you should really get into teaching. Like you, you do know how to talk to kids. Like you get, you get us teenagers. And so I guess those were the two points that I did. And then the third point is my mom is my hero and she was a elementary school teacher and phenomenal. So I always had a homeroom teacher. So I always got to go in at the last week of school and help sharpen the pencils for the kids for the desk and do the bulletin boards. And however, I never went into elementary. She said, no, you’re not suited for elementary. You need to, you need to go to secondary. You can’t last on yard duty one minute.


Sam Demma (04:54):
so, oh man,


Jacqueline Newton (04:56):
There. So that’s true. I, I I love playing with teenagers. They were amazing.


Sam Demma (05:03):
What did the journey look like once you figured out yes, this is something I’m really excited about, passionate about, and I wanna do take us along the whole journey.


Jacqueline Newton (05:13):
Right? So in university I studied economics, history and criminology, so that’s been helpful. Nice and and applied to the faculty of ed and I, a number of faculties and I did not get in. So that was devastating for me. I’ve never been rejected before. That was really hard, was a hard, it was a good hard lesson. Later in the summer I was offered U F T offered me acceptance, which was awesome. And and I really enjoyed working working out there. And then of course at the end of the, the class of that year there were no jobs that was 1988, no jobs. And so back in the day, when you applied for a job, you did a nice, you got nice, bought nice two tanks, resume, pretty, you know, all kinds of portfolio things.


Jacqueline Newton (06:04):
And I mailed them to 70, 75 school boards. Oh. And and schools. Right. And all across Ontario. So I was prepared to move anywhere for a job. And a lot of people weren’t like I founded the faculty, they wanted to stay in Toronto. If they’re from Toronto, they want, but anyway, Guelph phoned me up and offered me a job and never been to Guelph before. Okay, we’ll go to Guelph. So so that was, that was exciting then when he landed there it did all kinds of coaching, love, love sports, and loved the program. But at the end of the day, I taught elective areas such as the histories and economics. And so it depends on course enrollment and was, and being a young teacher was declared surplus. So then I moved to the peel board.


Jacqueline Newton (06:52):
They offered me a job there growing board, right in offered job there. And so anyway, I spent 10 years in appeal and in that time I was also offered a job to teach back at U Ft who had rejected me the first time. So I thought full circle to teach at the faculty and loved it. So teach teachers how to teach. And at the same time teaching regular day school teaching, which was great, gives you a real authentic experience. And then thought I’d like to try administration. So in doing that, I decided to change boards again. So this is the third board and moved to I lived in Oakville at the time I was pregnant with my second child and thought I don’t want this commute into Toronto, love Toronto love peel, but I don’t really want that daily commute. And so looked at moving to Halton and came in 1998 three months after my son was born as an administrator and had loved it. So it’s been fantastic.


Sam Demma (07:54):
That’s amazing. It sounds like you’ve done so many different roles in education. Each are so special and unique. They all provide different opportunities to impact students, parents, the community. Tell me a little bit about your role today, what it entails and why you’re passionate about it.


Jacqueline Newton (08:13):
Right. So I, I would say before, before before becoming a superintendent, I was I was a administrator for 10 years a little more in 10 years. And but some of the it’s been interesting going to different schools. So every school I went into, I was only there for three to five years, which I love that restlessness. Right. Mm. And change. And it was always interesting to go into an older school and pick up what the traditions are and then how to honor those traditions and yet move it forward. And but the highlight was opening a new school in Halton, a new high school that we’ve never done this model before, where you partner with the city and you partner with the library and then you partner with your board. And so it’s really a campus.


Jacqueline Newton (08:58):
And so it’s Dr. Frank J. Hayden in Burlington’s phenomenal. And the bonus of it was, it was named after an incredible man who won’t tell you his age, because then you’ll treat him like a nine, three year old . But he comes out to every games. He he’s unbelievable, but he started the special Olympics. So he was a doc doctor studying down syndrome. Children said, these kids can do sports. And so he, he was the founder of the special Olympics for the United States. And and he lives locally right now. And that’s phenomenal. So moving from there, I moved into superintendent was fortunate to apply for super, which gives me basically overseeing schools in Milton from K to 12. Mm. Which is a real wide span. And I thank my lucky stars after six years in this game that my elementary cohorts teach me all about elementary.


Jacqueline Newton (09:54):
Cuz I don’t know. I still say I don’t, I don’t get this nutrition break stuff. Yeah. they’re phenomenal. And then I have high schools as well. And I also have the virtual school, which was interesting two years ago to start up a virtual school as a pandemic response rather than what a virtual school could really be. Cuz that would be amazing. But right now it’s contained. And then I’m also look after our continuing education program for adults. So that’s and very alternative ed for kids that don’t like learning in the box, which is my kind of learner. I love those kids and adults. So really helping them along. And probably the most energizing piece is six years ago the director said I’m gonna create this portfolio. I don’t know. I think I’ll call it innovation and ingenuity and I just want you to do so like pardon.


Jacqueline Newton (10:46):
So basically it was, there’s the title, blanks, slate table, ASO, do whatever you want. And since then it’s grown to be what we now call and Halton the shift. Mm. And it’s a team of three coaches and they go into schools and they lead workshops all over podcasts. They have their own website. But it really is about doing things differently within the box of bumpers. For sure. Like you can’t just really nearly do whatever. Yeah. but they have been they’re they call ’em a shift and we do things like, you know, play on words, share your shift where shift disturbers. And that whole piece has been a great network across Ontario in the United States. So and those cats, they know how to roll it’s they fill my soul. They’re pretty amazing. So it’s been a, it’s been a great ride.


Sam Demma (11:35):
Were you at all overwhelmed when your your director told you, do whatever you want, are you


Jacqueline Newton (11:41):
Like, I’m like, bring it on and by the way, you have no money. Oh, okay. That’s fun. And you’re doing it by yourself, which is not great. And but anyway, it was exciting instead of in, you know, school’s always about you know, here’s the box that we always play in. This is your box this, but so to be given a new sandbox that didn’t have parameters, it was pretty, pretty exciting. And it still is though. I have to say it’s challenging cuz a lot of people don’t understand that. So one of my best friends is a superintendent and she is amazing, but she’s given a portfolio that’s very much in the box, like has to report to the ministry, has money, financial like extreme, extreme responsibility. So she always looks at me and she says, do you get to the fun stuff? When I get to do the fun sucker stuff? I said, I know, I know. And I like it that way.


Sam Demma (12:35):
that’s so cool. So how many years have you been in this role?


Jacqueline Newton (12:42):
Yeah, this is, this is going on seven, which is hard to believe. I’ve never been in a role for more than five. So, but they, but again, it’s different pieces and meeting different people and different portfolio shuffles and our senior team is changing too, which is always good. It’s sad too. Cuz lots of good people who are superintendents but you learn new dynamics and you’re given new opportunities and C’s been awesome. I know a lot of people don’t wanna hear that, but for the first time teaching no longer is a private act. Mm. Like people actually can see your classroom. Even if you’re not in virtual school, we’ve come to that now. So much more inclusive that way. Plus people were forced to change how they teach. Yeah. If it, like you had no choice in the past week, can Jo you, Hey, try this thing, see how it flies.


Jacqueline Newton (13:32):
And now it’s like, ah, new you will learn how to use a computer and I know a camera and a microphone and by the way, we need you to make it engaging and fun and learn. Right. So it was it’s been for sure, it’s been like a plane in the sky, you know, you’re building it as you fly. But the other part of it is, and I dislike the word so much now cuz we’ve used it so much, but we’ve had to pivot and pivot and pivot and pivot and it’s it’s so, you know, I’m a baseball player too. You know, I was a pitch it’s like, okay, now today we’re throwing another curve ball. So like, and we want you to hit it outta the park. So let’s go. So it’s, it’s been great. I have to say though, the ride has been exhausting. There’s no doubt about it. People crave not to go back, but to take the lessons we’ve learned and move forward mm-hmm but pieces that people really value kids really value that, you know, eating together as a fellowship and playing sports and having proms and per in person grads. Like those are all things we did the best we could virtually, but it’s not quite the same dancing by yourself and prom on a camera. Not quite.


Sam Demma (14:37):
I asked my question, dance in person when I was in middle school and she walked into the woman’s change room and never came out. So I didn’t have a dance and I, it wasn’t because of virtual


Jacqueline Newton (14:50):
Totally get it. Yes. Those are the other sides of, in person that as administrators and I have to say my favorite kids, honestly like obviously you, you have to learn to play the game of school a little bit, right? Yeah. Like, and I was a kid that would just say to teachers politely, I learned to be polite respectfully just say, look, you know what? Like I’ll read the textbook, thank goodness. We don’t do that anymore. Write textbook reading and multiple choice exams. Geez. But you know, I’ll show up for the exams, but why don’t we just have that? Cause I liked being around school, but I didn’t like bell to bell kind of thing. And I had some amazing teachers. So it wasn’t that at all. It was just, that just wasn’t my style. So yeah, I probably would’ve really thrived in alternative bed or, or something to that effect.


Jacqueline Newton (15:35):
So I really love those kids that really, they just can’t sit. They just, and, and so they’re out at the Creek or they’re out doing other stuff and you know, we kind of have to learn from doing those mistakes too. And that’s okay. Our, our saying is like, we try try something and if you fail that’s okay. Learn and shift again. So that’s where we’re kind of we’re at that with kids, but we also need to give permission for adults to do that too. So for principals to try some, you know, as a superintendent, that’s what I get to say. I get to say, try it. Like I got your back. I’m giving you permission. Try it. And if it doesn’t go down the way, well we’re used to that now in COVID not, everything goes down the way we think it’s gonna go down. And so I’m hoping that I’m hoping as we come out of this, we see more leaders and more learners that are not the way our grandparents learned in school.


Sam Demma (16:27):
Mm it’s so important. We move with the shift


Jacqueline Newton (16:31):
Yes. We need to shift.


Sam Demma (16:33):
Yes. . Who has mentored you along your journey, maybe people that actually come to mind, but also courses or books or programs or things you’ve been a part of that you think have informed the way that you show up. So yeah. Human resources and maybe even some additional things that have been helpful for you.


Jacqueline Newton (16:53):
I have to say one of the most influential was a public health nurse married to back. So I started at my first principal is at qua Ridge and I was scared like scared. Like I’m all of a sudden like, oh my God, like you’re responsible. Right? Yeah. And and she walked in and she said didn’t know her. She was assigned to the school, not to give needles and stuff, but just to kind of be there as a counselor support. And she said, I think you’ve got the skills to blow this place out of the water. I’m like, what I was just coming into just like, let’s, let’s see how we do school here. Yeah. And she said, let’s start a let’s you and I start a program called Tuesday at 10, and that’s where we invite parents in.


Jacqueline Newton (17:35):
We can talk about whatever they want for an hour and then they can go off and build community themselves. And so that was pretty influential. She always, and she still is. She is a personal life coach. And does her own work now and she’s worked with our kids network, but she always is about building relationships with kids, with parents and community. So she was huge in saying you can think differently. And I remember one time there was a, that was the first thing. There was a grant that was being offered at Washington under a S C D. It’s a, it’s a, an affiliate of their thinking out, down there in Washington. And she said, Hey, I found this on the website. Let’s fly. And I’m like, what? And it was like I said, okay. So I gathered six amazing people together around a table.


Jacqueline Newton (18:22):
I said, we got one hour. We’re gonna write this grant and see if we get it. And they gave it to us. We were shocked $20,000. And it was about building relationships wow. With, with your community, we were blown away. And from that, they just kept throwing money at us coming up and visiting. They flew us to Texas. They flew us to Vancouver. We got to bring the kids with us. So the kids who were instrumental, the youth that were instrument in making this happen and know nowadays we talk about student voice and it’s kind of a joke. It’s like, invite them when you wanna find out what color to paint the wall. Right. But this was no, this is how you own your school. They own the school. So that was pretty, pretty wild. I’d never thought I would be that out there. And yet other people say, oh yeah, you’re so out there, like, you know, you do those personality continuum.


Jacqueline Newton (19:07):
yeah. Like I’m on the far side. Right. and I need to be pulled back, which is good to have a partner. I think the other moving piece for me was was an opportunity. I got to fly out to see high tech high and it was Ted dither Smith and Tony Wagner. And again, another consultant for the board said, you need to read this book and you, you will, you will change how you look at school. Cindy Constantino. Fabulous. And Tony writes about, it’s not about marks. It’s about how you learn. And it’s about finding your passion for kids. So, you know, give every Wednesday, give it up and say, calculus can stand on its own today. Let’s do something you’re passionate about and getting teachers to be passionate. So the one school I was at Wednesdays were a, I, I don’t think people wanna hear that, but it was a throwaway day.


Jacqueline Newton (19:55):
It was, here’s a group of teachers that do things really cool in their private life. And they’re willing to share that experience with you. So if you wanna learn to ballroom dance or you wanna learn to skateboard, I had teachers out in the skateboard park, like with the dudes who know how to do that, the kids teaching the teachers, like it was talk about community, right. So I think high tech, high Tony Wagner’s book on what school could be. And then the follow up to that was Ted dither Smith’s partner. And seeing what schools should look like. And we’ve built one that looks like high tech, high SIE MCIL we just opened it phenomenal. It’s all about pod learning in class and movement. And mark Dooley up there is the principal’s amazing. But Ted di Smith, interesting. He wrote a book called what schools could be.


Jacqueline Newton (20:44):
So again, I’m promoting his book too. But what he did is he took a year and he toured every state in the United States to find a good school. And he ranked them pretty scary. Some of the rankings . And in the end of the day, he, he, he decided to do a side trip when he was in Seattle and he went up to Vancouver and he went, oh my God, this is what a school should be. So of course I follow ’em on Twitter cause I’m on Twitter or not. So I follow ’em. I say, Hey, you wanna really see how things rock in Canada. You come to Ontario and I’ll show you what we’ve gotten. we’ve got amazing, amazing things happen. We don’t have these. We’re not regimented like the states with these exams every year. Yes. I know we have E Q a O, but they’re so regimented in the hours they spend, I said, you need to come to Ontario, happy to tour you around all kinds of boards cuz that’s, what’s nice about this job as a superintendent, you meet so many good people that are doing really good stuff all over.


Jacqueline Newton (21:39):
So so those were the, those I would say are the professional ones. And then I, I would say, I really have been turned on by Daniel Pink’s writing and really like writing. That’s not about education. Yeah. Welcome Gladwell. I’m always a fan of his, but I also love Brene brown. I love that dare to lead, dare to fail finding what people like and, and, and one of my shift coaches, Matt Coleman, who’s amazing reminded me yesterday when I was talking to him. He said, remember that book, we, we wanna do a coffee talk on and with BNE and it’s the, the story was a vignette about an army Sergeant who the whole army, they were coming back from a tour and that they were, they were upset and tired and just, just fatigued. And the morale was so low.


Jacqueline Newton (22:29):
And when bene dug into the story with her, the reason why morale was so low and people were exhausted and just fed up, which is kind of where we are right now in education. Right. Just trying to hang on to June it’s cuz they’re lonely. Mm they’re lonely. And they also feel that they’re not good enough. And so I think of that quite often with Brene brown that I think we as people, whether we’re an education or not, whether you’re a spouse or a sister or an educator or that we, we just don’t feel we’re good enough, no matter what we do. And I think that’s a real thing that we need to get over. But right now I also think getting over being lonely and super tendency can be very lonely. Like you don’t have us big honk in 2000 school kids running.


Jacqueline Newton (23:14):
It can be very lonely and I’ve, I’ve had to really work at not being lonely by being in schools. But you get saturated with reports and things like that. But yeah, I think that’s what we have to work on in education that kids. So we talk a lot about mental health right now. But it’s always been an issue and the issue is not about mental health so much as people not feeling good enough and feeling very lonely and how to tap them in. And then when they are, when we have serious mental health issues, absolutely knowing how to recommend people and support people through that.


Sam Demma (23:51):
I love bene brown, Malcolm Gladwell, his book, the tipping point was something I read when I just got outta high school and was starting to build this, picking up garbage initiative called pick waste with me and my good high school friend, Dylan. Yes. I really loved his ideas of social proof, Daniel pink on his books about sales and how to sell as human, like such, such good


Jacqueline Newton (24:13):
Stuff. I know that’s what it is, right. It’s not about, okay, you gotta have a diploma and graduate, do stuff and grow up right away. It’s like, no, man, you’re selling, you are selling. And I’m thinking it’s so true. You’re selling somebody’s passion. You’re being human about it. And I love the story of apple. They really aren’t selling a product. They’re selling a whole image and feel good about buying lifestyle, this product lifestyle. True. It’s so true. That’s stuck with me too. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:39):
So if you could travel back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder when you were just starting your first job in education, what advice would you have given your younger self? Not because you would’ve changed anything about your path, but what do you think would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just beginning in the case that an educator listening right now is just getting into this vocation.


Jacqueline Newton (25:03):
Yeah. I needed more. I needed somebody to tap me to say, just fly mm-hmm. like, I was scared. I, I have to save. So fair enough. I started teaching when I was 24, 25 and and there were 19 year old boys in the class. Right. So I made an effort to really like dress like a prude. look old, like get looking old. Because I didn’t like, I was so afraid about like, here’s my role as a teacher and here’s your role as a student? So the really clear defined rules. Yeah. As opposed to we’re teaching together and we’re collaborative and we’re learning and we’re those pieces. So I think the confidence, like I was scared to really articulate and be edgy. I’ve been told, I have edgy language. I have to tone it down sometimes. so I’m learning to control my edginess and people are like, no, that’s who you are.


Jacqueline Newton (25:54):
But I wa I wasn’t edgy. I, I mean, I was in my head inside as a younger person, but to have the courage to go out there, I really lacked the confidence. And it’s really funny cuz I played tons of sports. And I had all kinds of confidence out there on the court or on the baseball field. But when it came to like finding my voice and really questioning how things are done or how to add value. I yeah, I would’ve said just having more confidence. So telling people I really do believe I, you need to, you need to not. And I was in a hurry to grow up, like hurry and get a career, get set in a career get married buy a house, have kids. And I’m like, oh my goodness, please don’t do any of that till you’re 35 maybe.


Jacqueline Newton (26:43):
But try different things. You don’t have to be loyal to a company. You don’t have to like really find your authentic self. And and in education that’s allowed me to do that, but I think in a lot of other professions it’s not. And, and many of my friends for years have said, and they’re very successful people in the business world and they have turned to me and they said, you know, Jake, cuz they call me Jake, you know, Jacqueline Jake, my son’s name’s Jacob. And he plays baseball in Florida. You know what you need to, you know what, you’re the only one that’s truly happy with what they’re doing and that though you could have gone into business, hands down and sell like nobody’s business and made tons of money. We look at you and we say, you talk passionately about what you do sometimes that nausea what you do.


Jacqueline Newton (27:33):
and, and you have the best stories about what happens in, in in schools. But so they, you know, it’s that it’s finding something, you really find joy and I’m really, I was intrigued by you Sam and looked up of course I’ve lurked you and looked you up after you were reached out. And I, I thought, yeah, like you’re doing what you wanna do. You’re putting you, you know, and you can do whatever, like try it out, see how it flies and who knows the networking and what happens. Right. So now at this age of my life, as I’m, now I’m trying to stay, say, don’t look so old and PR she’s trying to stay looking young for crying out loud and and trying to be confident trying to say, okay, what else is out there right now?


Jacqueline Newton (28:17):
Right? Yeah. So yes, superintendent today, but Hey, like what’s kind of cool and out there and doing something different again. So and I would say my, my daughter Sid’s taught me an awful lot. She’s gone through, gone through her battle and with cancer, she’s a warrior. She would not give up. She just went in that ring 11 rounds and pounded it. And but with grace and poise, and then I watched her speak at a relay for life event with thousand people and grabbed that mic and it was like, wow. So if I could be like her, I would be so I’m so proud of kids my own children too, as well, but so proud of so many kids who find the courage to just be themselves and, but add value to their life by also adding value to our lives. And I think I know lots of book on relationships and stuff like that, but to really give people permission to do that, I think that’s pretty cool.


Sam Demma (29:17):
This has been such a nice conversation. Thank you so much, Jack. for taking Jake.


Jacqueline Newton (29:24):
My dad’s actually, the story was the story was my I was, I was supposed to be a boy, supposedly my dad told my mom always gonna be a boy. It’s gonna be a boy when I, and he bought to bulls or toy bulls are before I was born. And then I came outta girl. He’s like, what? So? And I love my dad and mom, my aunt. So Jacqueline was the name after Jack. My son’s name is Jacob. Right. and we’re Dutch. So we spell it with a gay and but what was very cool. My dad, my dad was the one who made us play like a boy. So this thing, you know, a girl play like a boy. So he was the one he pitched balls with my sister and I like nobody’s business. We played and played and played baseball like nobody’s done. And he was at every game. Like, just so it’s the love of yeah, it’s the love. And I think that’s part of it too. I’ve been always been taught to think in both brains, right. Not to, to do that, but Sam, I thank you very much. It’s been so fun to reflect with you and I really admire your work. And and thank you for this opportunity.


Sam Demma (30:28):
If someone wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce, some ideas around, open a door, make a connection, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch?


Jacqueline Newton (30:38):
Yeah, probably on Twitter, to be honest. I’m a Twitter nut, love to showcase schools and what they’re doing. So my handle is @Super_Halton or my email, which is newtonj@hdsb.ca. Or probably google, you know, you lurk all over the place. yes, I’m on LinkedIn too. And yes, I know I got old stuff on there. I gotta clean up, but yes, lots of, lots of social media pieces.


Sam Demma (31:09):
Awesome. Jacqueline, thank you so much for taking the time. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work you’re doing and we will talk soon.


Jacqueline Newton (31:16):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (31:18):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jacqueline Newton

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.

Josh Windsor – Principal at Grand River Collegiate in the Waterloo Region District School Board

Josh Windsor - Principal at Grand River Collegiate in the Waterloo Region District School Board
About Josh Windsor

Josh Windosr is the Principal at Grand River Collegiate in Kitchener, Ontario. He has worked in numerous sectors including social services, business and marketing, and for the past 22 years as an Educator. Josh began his teaching careers in Health and Physical Education and Special Education but has taught Math, History, Geography, Science, was a Department Head of Special Education and a consultant responsible for professional development and a district elearning program.

Josh was a Vice-Principal at 3 high schools in the Waterloo Region before becoming the Principal at Grand River. In addition, Josh has been a long time coach in various sports in the community, at secondary schools and at the University level where he has been the head Men’s rugby coach at both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

As a leader, Josh believes that growth mindset and self determination theory are the key components to school improvement and fostering innovative teaching practices that support student learning.

Connect with Josh: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Waterloo

Wilfrid Laurier University

Grand River Collegiate

What is an EA?

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 (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Josh Windsor. Josh Windosr is the Principal at Grand River Collegiate in Kitchener, Ontario. He has worked in numerous sectors including social services, business and marketing and for the past 22 years as an Educator. Josh began his teaching careers in Health and Physical Education and Special Education but has taught Math, History, Geography, Science, was a Department Head of Special Education and a consultant responsible for professional development and a district elearning program. Josh was a Vice-Principal at 3 high schools in the Waterloo Region before becoming the Principal at Grand River. In addition, Josh has been a long time coach in various sports in the community, at secondary schools and at the University level where he has been the head Men’s rugby coach at both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo. As a leader, Josh believes that growth mindset and self determination theory are the key components to school improvement and fostering innovative teaching practices that support student learning. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Josh. I surely did, and I will see you on the other side. Josh, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Josh Windsor (02:19):
My name’s Josh Windsor. I’m a high school Principal at Grand River Collegiate in Kitchener, Waterloo in the Waterloo Region District School Board.


Sam Demma (02:27):
And you’re sitting in the seventh house that you will be flipping . Tell me about your unique journey into education. And when you realized that education was a thing that you wanted to work in.


Josh Windsor (02:42):
Yeah. So when I was young Sam, I had I, my father died very young and I kind of lived on my own right around 17 because my, my stepfather and my mother moved away from town and the relationship I had with my stepfather. Wasn’t great. So I just decided I didn’t wanna leave my friends. I stayed here and I had worked pretty much full time from the time I was 14. Like I, well, full time summers part-time jobs. And I started delivering newspapers. I had two newspaper routes, one in the morning, one in the afternoon when I was in grade six. Right. So I banked a lot of money. So I had some money that I could sit on rent. I rented a room from one of my parents’ friends and, and stayed here. And at about 19, I started working in group homes.


Josh Windsor (03:30):
So with kids and and that kind of led me into some positions where I was in a school. So kind of being a bit of an EA with kids that needed extra support. So one to one support for kids that kind of struggled with behavior and things like that. So I did a few of those stints through university and then 22, I started working for the children’s aid society and I did that offer around eight years. So one of my jobs well, most my, the job I did the longest was a night job while I finished university. It was 10 at night till nine in the morning. And part of that job was crisis support for foster parents. So I would go into foster homes when there was crisis issues and, and try to calm kids down, support the parents, you know do some mediation, those kind of things.


Josh Windsor (04:19):
And and kind of finishing school. I then really like, I liked working with kids, but I started I stayed with that night job. Then I did some business stuff during the day, and I ended up leaving, leaving that night job because I was eventually the director of sales and marketing for a very small software company. Nice. I decided I wanted to go to teachers college because it wasn’t really that fulfilling. So at 30 I went to teachers college. I continued to work in that business while I went to teachers college. And then I had my employers, they were, they were great. And they allowed me to do that because I could continue to do my job. And then when, when the Mike Harris government kind cut a lot of funding to municipalities, our software business started to decline quite a bit. And you know, the owners had said they, they probably can’t keep staff on. So they said, you know, if you have job prospects go, go around. And I was, I was done teachers college for about six months and I went in and saw a few principals and I had a job starting in January.


Sam Demma (05:21):
Wow. How did your upbringing inform the way you work with kids today?


Josh Windsor (05:30):
It, I think I have a, I have a unique perspective just around kids that live in situations and poverty. I would say, you know, I’ve, I I’ve learned through education, so I, I did my master’s bit. I I’m about three years finished my master’s and I learned quite a bit about equity work at that time, I dunno if you’ve ever heard of Laura Malindo, she’s a M P P for province of Ontario. She was actually one of my professors in


Sam Demma (06:01):
Wow.


Josh Windsor (06:08):
And she was shoe section with poverty and things like that. So I started to recognize kind of my privilege and thought I was a self-made person, my whole life. Right. I kind of


Sam Demma (06:17):
One


Josh Windsor (06:18):
Sec, Josh, that ceiling


Sam Demma (06:19):
You, you cut out after you said the word professor, you don’t mind just going back and say she was my professor and continue.


Josh Windsor (06:25):
Sure. Yeah. So Laura, me, Linda was my professor and


Sam Demma (06:32):
Oh, can you hear me?


Josh Windsor (06:35):
And I learned quite a bit about equity as cutting out.


Sam Demma (06:38):
Yeah. It’s chopping in and out just a little bit. Well try one more time. If it, if it cuts out, there’s also a call by phone option and you could just add a, a call. You could just call into this. I could give you a phone number. Okay. And we’ll get the video on, but then the, like, there’s very little chance that it’ll cut out on the phone, but it’s funny every time you say professor, it cuts ,


Josh Windsor (06:58):
But okay. Let’s I can probably go to a different computer and see if I can hard wire in might you think is my wifi.


Sam Demma (07:05):
It could be shouldn’t


Josh Windsor (07:06):
Be, but,


Sam Demma (07:07):
Well, it was fine. The whole, like first section, so kinda odd. Let’s let’s try it one more time. If it cuts out again, I’ll I’ll, I’ll pause you and we could try something else, but okay. Yeah. Start again at professor.


Josh Windsor (07:20):
So, okay. So Laura Malindo was one of my professors and a lot of the coursework was around equity and she taught me a lot about intersection between poverty and, and race and, and other types of situations where people have to deal with deal with being disenfranchised right in our society. And so thinking that I was a self-made person for a long time, I started to recognize the privilege that did have just basically white individual, right. White male. And so understanding kind how to work with kids that kind of live on those margins recognizing difficult situations. I’ve, I’ve been able to, I think build really strong relationships with students and staff. And and that helps me, I think, as we, you know, think about, especially with pandemic learning that trauma informed lens that we need around everything we do. And, and my, you know, my values are students first. And so, you know, we work to try to support students and, and we make decisions that are based on what’s in the best interest of the student at any given time. So that’s really how I, how I see things and, and how I work with students.


Sam Demma (08:41):
How do you build strong relationships with students, whether on the margins, you know, marginalized youth or not? I think there’s they definitely need different things, but I think all young people also need some standard things to build relationships with adults and teachers and educators. How do you think you go about building relationships with students?


Josh Windsor (09:05):
Well, I think, I think the first thing that we need in a school setting is, is we need good structures in place to support students as they understand what their responsibilities are and, and what their opportunities are. And so making sure that you know, students understand kind line around, around behavior and what’s acceptable, but then also recognizing that each day is a new day. So making mistakes is what we do when we’re young and, and that shouldn’t penalize you for an extended period of time, right. There’s consequences for our actions. But you know, if, if a student kind of does something that’s inappropriate in the school that, that warrants some kind of a consequence, then that next day, you know, I welcome. I, I welcome that student. You know, I make sure that my, my staff are treating that student respectfully all the time and, and try to kind build those relationships from the perspective of recognizing that, that we do make errors in our life.


Josh Windsor (10:09):
And I’m not perfect. I made a lot of errors when I was a kid, right. So I know what that can be like. And when you get those multiple chances and when you have those people that care about you in your life, especially you know, your parents, but also your teachers, when those, when those people that are a little bit different from your, from your family situation can invest in time in you and, and make you realize what’s out there and what your potential is. Then, then you feel way more confident in being able to move forward. Right.


Sam Demma (10:37):
Tell us about one of those caring adults you had in your life that made a significant impact on you when you were going through a difficult time or just trying to get by.


Josh Windsor (10:50):
Well, I would say like from the perspective of, you know, family, my mother always, you know, provided those moral values that I still hold today. And and, and then as, as kind of, I went through school, I, I would say there’s a few teachers that, that really supported me. So one of them, his name’s Jeff Sage I, I started to play rugby. So I was a varsity rugby player at university. And when I started to play in high school, I was, I was 18 years old, never played the sport, didn’t know much about it. And he just really encouraged me. And then he, he had said to me, at one point, you know, you could play rugby at university. And I said, really, I’d never thought about going to university. I’ve got three extended families with, I probably have 150 cousins.


Josh Windsor (11:38):
And I would be the only one out of that whole group that’s ever gone to university. Right. And so that was that to me was kind of inspirational where I, I, would’ve never thought about that pathway but I began to love this sport. And then I, and then I thought, well, Hey, maybe I can do that. Right. So that, and that’s where I say, when you have a, a teacher that just says to you, Hey, you could do, you could do this, or you could be this, or you’re good at this, right. That, that makes a kid feel so good. And, and, and they’re encouraged, right. And that confidence and that you know, capacity to think about themselves in a different light is, is really how, how we change lives and how we make sure that, that students can move forward and be good citizens.


Sam Demma (12:26):
Tell us more. I couldn’t agree more. I think back to the educators in my life who made a big difference and it’s people who listened people who got to know me on a personal level and built a relationship regardless of the curriculum or topic or subject they were teaching. Tell us a little more about what your journey looked like after you got your, you know, your degree in teachers college to where you are today. So the various roles you worked in education, what they looked like. And yeah, the whole journey in essence.


Josh Windsor (12:59):
So I, I started out teaching at Waterloo collegiate and I was a, I was a phys ed teacher, and I also worked in the special education department. So I was a coach as well. So I, I coached a lot of different sports. And so you got to see, you know, through, through that coaching and through PHZ, you gotta see lots of different kids, but lots of, kind of really motivated students. And then through my work in the special education department, I got to see students with learning disabilities and other needs that, you know, were needed, needed much more support weren’t as confident, right. So I had kind of, you know, those, those two real different experiences. And I worked there at WCI for about five years just different contracts, you know, never really having a full, never really having a, a tenured position at that point in time.


Josh Windsor (13:48):
And then I got a phone call from a principal Preston high school. And he was an interesting guy, like, I would, you would think like cowboy, right? Like in education and, and back then a lot of the principals were like that right there, wasn’t, there wasn’t a whole lot of rules about what they could or couldn’t do as far as hiring and, and those kind of things. So he said he said, Hey my name’s my name’s Murray baker. I hear you’re pretty good. I need a special education department head. You gotta tell me by noon. And that was, that was kind of the end of the conversation. So I, I went upstairs and talked to my principal who, who was a bit of a different character too. And he was, he laid out kind of, well, you kind of need to have more experience.


Josh Windsor (14:32):
And, you know, I had this seven year plan where I did each position for seven years and he says, you know, I don’t think you should take it. And you know, I thought about that a little bit. And then I, then I realized that, you know, opportunity doesn’t always knock. So I called him back and said, sure. So I, I did that for three or four years as a special education department had at Preston high school. And then an opportunity came up I was a gentleman by the name of Mark Harper, who was a superintendent at the time. He’s done a ton of work now. He worked at the ministry of bed and then he was a consultant for a while and he was going, he’s been going around the world to different ministries of education for different countries and supporting them.


Josh Windsor (15:15):
Wow. You know, he’s a incredibly intelligent guy. He’s, he’s super smart, but he was a superintendent on our board of did tell me, he called me and he said, I need someone to spearhead and run this new eLearning program, and then you’ll have some other duties. Would you come and be a consultant? And so I did. So I, I ran our eLearning program for a few years there. And then I went I, I went back to a school for a little while and, and after teaching for a little bit longer as a student success teacher and, and special education, and then some PHED I decided I might want to get into administration. So I became a vice principal at Huron Heights collegiate. And then I’ve been at I was at three schools as a vice principal and grand river. Now I, this is I’m into my fourth year and as a principal there, and it’s my first school. So that’s kind of my journey through different things in education anyway. So it’s been about 20 years.


Sam Demma (16:13):
That’s awesome. When you’re at here on heist, did, did you cross paths with Bob Klein?


Josh Windsor (16:18):
I know Bob Klein very well. Yes. So I actually taught leadership as I was a half vice principal, and I was the leadership teacher. Yeah. At Huron Heights before Bob Klein came to do leadership. Cool. so he, he kind of, he was doing a little bit of work with me initially, and then I got, I got moved school, so I went to kitchen and collegiate. And then Bob kind of took over leadership there. So yeah, he’s a, he’s a great guy. He’s full of energy.


Sam Demma (16:48):
Now you have a reason to call him and say, Hey, I was just to this young guy, Sam mentioned your name. such a cool journey through education. I love that. You mentioned that idea, that opportunity doesn’t always knock often. So when it does, you know, pounce on it, if it’s something that fires you up, say yes, try it out. At the beginning of this conversation, you told me that along with your career throughout education, you kind of self taught yourself to flip and renovate and sell houses. Like at what point did, did you start getting to that as well? And do you think it’s important that people in education also pursue things outside of the classroom to keep their fire lit?


Josh Windsor (17:35):
Yeah. So to probably Sam, I, cause when I started teaching, I was still working at the children’s eight society on nights and weekends. Got it. Mostly that was because I had a, had a, I just had a child. So my son was born, we kind of needed money. My wife was off. And I, I had bought a house a few years earlier with my brother that we had to sell cause he was moving. And so a lot of learning those things was just because I didn’t have enough money to, to pay anybody to do it. Right. And then and then I just started to like it and, and got into a few other things. I had a couple student houses at one point in time. The other thing that I’ve done and partway, you know, through that career in education, I’ve been a varsity rugby coach at two universities.


Josh Windsor (18:22):
So I coached at Wilford Laurie for seven years and I was I left L Wilford, Laurie. And I went back to my Alma mater, which was Waterloo. And I was there for five years as, as the head coach. So I’m not doing that now. I stopped doing that kind of the year before I became a principal, just because I didn’t feel like I was able to do everything well. And that was what I decided to give up. I also knew my son is now at university of Waterloo. So that son that was born when I first started teaching is now 20 and he’s playing varsity rugby at Waterloo. And I knew he was kinda going down that path and I likely didn’t wanna coach him. I stopped coaching him at the 13 because he, we, we wouldn’t get along very well when I was his coach. So


Sam Demma (19:07):
Awesome. I love, I love it. It’s funny. My dad was in a similar role coaching or helping very heavily with soccer programs. I was on up until about 11, 12, 13, and that’s when he took on the spectator role of quietly sitting on the stands and, you know, analyzing the game and we’d have those conversations in the car after the game ended, when it was a phenomenal performance, we had great conversations and when it was a terrible performance, we had great conversations. sometimes here in the harsh truth or feedback is difficult. Although it’s, it’s shared with you from a place of love and support in the hope that you’ll take it and improve your performance, how do you think you break sometimes hard criticism to young people, not only in a sports sense, but also, you know, in classrooms.


Josh Windsor (20:02):
Yeah. I, I think it’s really important to be honest with people. And so having those difficult conversations is something that as a, as a school administrator you really have to work at. I mean, as a principal, I spend more time with staff than I do with students now. Yeah. I really push myself to get out and, and talk to students and work with students. And because I’ve got a I’ve got a love for leadership. I try to do a lot of work with those kids still. So men in our school board, we still have kind of quasi activities directors that kind of run leadership classes. And then we have an administrator that oversees budget for those things. And so I always take on that role, despite the fact that in almost in most of our schools, it’s a, it’s a vice principal that does.


Josh Windsor (20:47):
But I, I just enjoy it. It’s an opportunity for me to, you know, be with great kids and, and support them and help them. But also then be a presence in this school. So when I have those, when I have those difficult conversations with some of those kids, it’s usually around kinda, you know, here’s the reason why we can’t run this event, right? Here’s the procedure, here’s the, you know, here are the worries that I have from a safety perspective. And so you’re gonna have to go back to the drawing board. And so, you know, students that have spent a lot of time on something have to kind of hear that, take that feedback and then go back and, and try to work. So you, you talk about positive things as you give them the, the advice or the, or the, you know, the negative feedback that they can’t do.


Josh Windsor (21:35):
Something I like to use one of the techniques that I, that I use is like a it’s inanimate third object. So if we’re, so if we’re talking about your, your planning process, for example, so when a kid tries to run an event, when our students run an event, they, they go through this planning process. There’s a template that they have to use. So when I give the, when I give the criticism or the feedback I’m talking about the template, not about them. Ah, and so using re using language like, so, so this plan is, needs some work because as opposed to, you need to work on this plan, right? So the language that, that we use is really important when I, when I use the term, you you’re, you are going to inherently take that as a personal comment. Right. And so you’re gonna internalize that when I talk about your plan though you’re not internalizing that as much. So that’s one of the techniques that I would use to kind of provide feedback to people that they maybe don’t want to hear. It usually makes things go a little smoother, right. Also use a lot of eye language. So I believe, I feel and, and that, you know, makes them recognize that I’m a part of that process. So you take on kind of that responsibility on their behalf.


Sam Demma (22:57):
I, I love that idea. I’m gonna steal it. when I have to break some bad news to people. I think when you said, I language, my mind also went to like, people’s physical eyes. I think it’s so important that when you not break bad news, but share a truth or an honest feeling with somebody that they can hear the tone of your voice and see you because you can tell if someone’s sincere in their remark or, you know, if they’re just brushing you off, whereas if you were to write it as an email, there’s so much left for guessing. Right. And people could assume one thing when you meant something totally different.


Josh Windsor (23:41):
Yeah. Agreed. I mean, there are some other techniques that I use, especially with students because body language and stance is really important. So a lot of the research out there would let you would tell you that males, for example, when you, when you are face to face with an individual, with a, with a male your shoulders are square, that, that really, to us signifies conflict or, or you know, challenge. So a lot of times when I talk to students like boys when they’re upset or angry, I go sit beside them. And so you’ll, you’ll maybe hear this, like there’ll Bey, there’s psychological kind of research and books around it. So when you wanna talk to your, to your son, you talk to him in the car. Cause you’re side by side. Right. And because, because you know, the, your tone and of that face to face stance really, really triggers kind of their, their fight or flight.


Josh Windsor (24:40):
Got it. Response rate. So, so when you sit beside them, then they don’t have to look you in the eye, which is, which is, if you think about kind of things from the animal kingdom. Right. And you know, you, look, you look at cat in the eye, for example, that’s con that’s like a challenge, right? Yeah. So there’s, so that works with humans quite a bit too. Whereas if you’re having a conversation with a, with a young lady, then they want that face to face contact, right. That, so you do square up and then you make sure your body, your body language is open. So you would never sit with your arms crossed, for example, cause that’s a closed stance and that means I’m not willing to listen. Right. So those body language things that you, you have to really think about as you have those conversations.


Josh Windsor (25:21):
And I use those quite a bit with students, but also with parents, because you can have parents that come in that are hop and mad about something, right. And then, you know, you have to try to calm them down and, and work to a solution. And that’s that’s one of the things that I find really interesting about education. And when you talk to you often talk to people in the business world who you know, think teachers get paid too much or, you know, there’s, there’s too much money spent on education and things like that. And, and I always explain it to them this way. I say, when you’re, when you’re managing a situation in your business, whatever that business is, you, you really have two points of view. You’ve got your customer and you’ve got your employee. Right. And so you’re trying to manage those two points of view when I’m trying to manage a situation in a school.


Josh Windsor (26:05):
So let’s say it’s a conflict of some kind between two students. I have four parents, if I’m lucky, cuz lots of times I have eight parents. Right. I could have outside agencies like the children’s aid and other things. I have to think about any of the adults that staff, that work with those individuals that may be involved in this. I have to think about the, the public perspective of what education should look like. And then I have to think about the policies and procedures of the school board and the school. And so I’m taking, you know, 6, 7, 8 different perspectives as I try to make a decision, which normally isn’t gonna make anybody happy. Right. Mm-Hmm, in those, in those conflicts. And so you know, you navigate those waters and, and really have to, you have to be able to build relationships and, and be able to kind of adhere to your moral compass as you, as you work through those things,


Sam Demma (27:05):
What resources have you found helpful in your professional development that has given you greater awareness at work, but also personally in your own life, you mentioned the NPP that taught you during your master’s degree. It sounds like she was a massive resource, but I’m wondering if anything else has been an inspiration or like a north star and guiding compass for, for your belief system and who you are today.


Josh Windsor (27:33):
I, I would, I would say recognizing that the public education system needs to be good for all students. Yep. Is one of the things that really drives me to continue you know, trying to do, trying to make those good decisions on a daily basis, trying to build a school culture that is welcoming to everybody and, and trying to help our young, you know, our, our young people recognize that they need to be engaged in the world to be good citizens. So you know, diff reading different, reading, different things all the time. So I’m always interested in, in research education. I’ve got a keen interest in science and physics cause that’s kind of a new area and I don’t know much about it. I was never science or physics trained, but when you hear kind of some things that are, that are happening out there, like around vision or, or other things where it’s like magic, these, these things that are going on.


Josh Windsor (28:31):
So, you know, I, I, I read different articles on a regular basis. I think about those things. And then learning from other people I think is where I, I truly get most of my kind of passion is just, just listening and talking to people, being engaged in professional development opportunities where you’re working in a group. So I think those are the, those are the places where I gain my efficacy at around, you know, what I believe. And then you know, trying to, trying to move barriers over the way a school board is school boarded, administrative of education is a significant bureaucracy. So I really work at trying to navigate through some of those things to make, make sure that things can happen. It’s really easy to say, no. You know, especially from a leadership perspective, which is where you do a lot of your work, right?


Josh Windsor (29:24):
So, you know, a student comes with an idea like we wanna have a hot dog eating contest. Right. you know, that would be one that we would say no to, but how do we then navigate through, what is the purpose of that activity? What is it that you, what is the end goal of that activity and how do we modify it to make it safe, to make it inclusive, to make it, you know, good for all of our students and to bring people together as opposed to do something that a couple of you, your friends wanna do. Right. so where where’s the greater good in what we’re doing? Where is the service leadership in what we’re doing? And, and I think, you know, from that perspective, it’s part of the reason why we’ve moved our school is a, an SDG school. And I dunno if you know what that is, the UN global system, the goals.


Josh Windsor (30:12):
Yeah. So I’ve got those goals posted up in our hallways, around our schools now. So the 17 goals are in each of our hallways. I’ve got teachers really working to try to do some real world things in their classrooms. So one example of that is we had a, a civics and history class. So two classes with one of our teachers last year start to engage some of the politicians in our community because my school is on Indian road. Mm. And the iconography, the original iconography of the school was a was a caricature of an indigenous person. And so that went away about 12 years ago. But our school nickname was the renegades and there’s still some of that residual feeling kinda around those things. And so some of our students didn’t think it was appropriate that the school was on Indian road.


Josh Windsor (31:04):
That’s our address. So we have started a process of, of engaging politicians around that with, with student support our students were at delegation at a city council committee meeting where they passed the, they, they they passed the motion to change the name of Indian road. And then that went to the, the larger council. So city council has passed that and we’re beginning a consultation process with people in the neighborhood beginning in may with our students being involved and, and teachers and things like that to, to try to move forward around, around making that change. So engaging our students in real world issues at the municipal and, and maybe provincial level, but also globally is I think how we have them recognize the change that they can make in the world, but also you know, understand that, that we all have a role as citizens to, to do the right thing.


Sam Demma (32:10):
I couldn’t agree more. It’s so cool to hear that the SDGs are on the walls in the hallways throughout your school. And teachers are actively trying to integrate those holistic outcomes and challenge based learning into the classroom. If you could take all your experience in education, bundle it all up, travel back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Josh, this is the advice I wanted you to hear when you were just getting into education. Not that you would change anything about your path, but think about how you felt when you first got into this work and some advice or ideas that would’ve been helpful when you were just starting.


Josh Windsor (32:52):
I, I think what I would’ve told myself is just to be a little more confident in situations where, where you were working with other people mm-hmm I would say colleagues where you felt the decisions or the things that they were doing were not okay. Not in the best interest of kids. So I think as a young, as a young educator you have, you have your Federation and you hear things like, well, you don’t wanna say that to another teacher because that would be a member to member issue. And so you stay quiet on some things. And that’s one of the things I’m trying to do with some of our young teachers is encourage them to use their voice. Our, our young teachers coming out of teachers college, truly understand education. They’ve, they’ve been taught all of the right things that are research based.


Josh Windsor (33:40):
And I would say for the most part, the people that we’re hiring there’s, there’s still others there. But they’re still not confident. And they feel like they can’t say what they need to say. Right? So a lot of, a lot of the really good work gets hidden. So I think it’s, it, it’s such a, it’s such an issue with public education that we, we hire somebody at whatever 24 years old, you know, give or take a year or two. Then we put ’em into a classroom with 30 students and we have them close the door and we really don’t talk to them support them, or do much with them for a period of time. Those processes are getting a little better, but it it’s, you know, it, the professional development time that’s needed to build a, a quality teacher is extensive.


Josh Windsor (34:31):
And I, and I think, you know, I would go back and tell myself to have those conversations with those older staff that you don’t believe are doing the right things for kids. Cause it’s, it is easy to get jaded in, in this, in this business or, or industry because you will never, ever get paid anymore for working harder. And lots of times things occur that are negative in your, in your professional life that you feel like are causing you more stress, more issues. And so then you start to pull back on the things you do, right. And, and you’ve seen that clawback of time provincially over the last number of years. So things like planning time and prep time for teachers is, has continuously been clogged back while real wages have, have been reduced. And so people just don’t feel valued, right? And, and when people don’t feel valued, their efficacy drops and their capacity to be optimistic goes down and then their willingness to work hard really kind of starts to fade. Right. And and I think that can be, that can be combated just by bringing in young people that, that, you know, can energize you right. When you have those conversations.


Sam Demma (35:45):
Got it. Love the advice, not only applicable for education, but for any industry. If someone had a question about anything you shared on the podcast, wanted to reach out, chat with you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Josh Windsor (36:01):
Well, they could reach me via email. So, you probably have my email. So do you want, do you want me to say it out loud?


Sam Demma (36:08):
Yeah. You can share it out loud, but I’ll put it in the show notes as well.


Josh Windsor (36:11):
Okay. Yeah. It’s josh_windsor@wrdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (36:21):
Awesome. Josh, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Josh Windsor (36:28):
Thanks Sam. It was really good to talk to you.


Sam Demma (36:31):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Josh Windsor

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.

Heather Pierce – Principal at Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute

Heather Pierce - Principal at Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute
About Heather Pierce

Heather Pierce is the Principal of Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph. After completing her BA., BEd. in 1998, Heather began teaching at Gateway Dr. Public School. She entered the teaching world during a period of significant change, including the introduction of EQAO testing and the new Ontario report card. After 2.5 years in the elementary panel, Heather moved to the secondary level, teaching English at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute.

Throughout her 16 years at GCVI, Heather had the opportunity to teach in 4 departments and took on the role of Head of Student Services. Heather’s passion for working with diverse learners led her to two program positions at the Upper Grand DSB (Student Work Study Teacher and Pathways and Postsecondary Education Lead). In 2018 she was placed at Centennial Collegiate as Vice-Principal and in 2021 she was appointed Principal at the same school. 

Heather’s experience teaching everything from Kindergarten to grade 13 has allowed her to watch students develop through all stages of the education system. She feels strongly that all postsecondary pathways need to be honoured and is focused on supporting students as they navigate the wide variety of opportunities beyond high school. She is committed to supporting students and families to end the stigma that university is the “best” path. 

Heather maintains her sanity by making personal fitness a priority; this comes in handy while she follows her two teens around the competitive sports world.

Connect with Heather: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute

Gateway Dr. Public School

Upper Grand DSB

EQAO testing

Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman

North American Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Student Success Programs at Upper Grand DSB

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.


Sam Demma (00:59):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Heather Pierce, the principal of Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph. After completing her BA and BED in 1998, Heather began teaching at Gateway Dr. Public school. She entered the teaching world during a period of significant change, including the introduction of EQAO testing and the new Ontario report card. After 2.5 years in the elementary panel, Heather moved to the secondary level teaching English at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute. Throughout her 16 years at GCVI, Heather had the opportunity to teach in four departments and took on the role of the head of student services. Heather’s passion for working with diverse learners led her to two program positions at the upper grand district school board; student work study teacher and pathways and post-secondary education lead. In 2018, she was placed at Centennial collegiate as Vice Principal and in 2021, she was appointed Principal at the same school.


Sam Demma (01:55):
Heather’s experience, teaching everything from kindergarten to grade 13 has allowed her to watch students develop through all stages of the education system. She feels strongly that all post-secondary pathways need to be honored and is focused on supporting students as they navigate the wide variety of opportunities beyond high school. She is committed to supporting students and families to end the stigma that University is the best path. Heather maintains her sanity by making personal fitness a priority. This comes in handy while she follows her two teens around the competitive sports world. I hope you enjoy today’s insightful conversation with Heather and I will see you on the other side. Heather, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Heather Pierce (02:45):
I am Heather Pierce and I am the Principal at Centennial Collegiate in Guelph, Ontario.


Sam Demma (02:52):
When did you realize that you wanted to get into education?


Heather Pierce (02:57):
I think that I am, am kind of genetically predisposed to work in institutions. I come from a long line of teachers. My grandmother was a teacher in rural Quebec. My mom, I refer to her as the super teacher. She actually has won teaching awards at the provincial and board levels. Wow. And she, she was just growing up. I watched her you know, jump out of bed at five in the morning, so excited to go to school every day and stay up late, you know, working on, on projects for her kids and, and, and working through lessons and assessment. And she definitely didn’t make the job look easy, but she made it look so rewarding. And I think as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. So I created a little school in my basement when I was little and I forced my brother.


Heather Pierce (03:49):
very meanly, forced my brother to be my student. And, and I followed her footsteps into the elementary panel and did start at that level. And then after about two and a half years, decided that I really enjoyed the working with the older kids. So I made the switch to secondary and and then I gravitated towards students that struggled. Once I was in the secondary panel, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. I taught a lot of alternative education which was so rewarding. And so I had zero intentions of ever getting into administration. I loved being a teacher. And when my principal at the time in 2001 said, I think you should think about administration. I said, you’re crazy. It’s not gonna happen. And by 2018, I just got the itch and I decided to give it a try.


Sam Demma (04:41):
You mentioned growing up your, you know, your mom didn’t make it look easy, but she definitely made it look rewarding. What, what did that look like? So how did you know, growing up that from watching her education was such a rewarding career path?


Heather Pierce (04:58):
Yeah, I think the enthusiasm and the energy that the, the job brought for her like I said, she was super mom on top of being super teacher, but she would bake cookies at 10 o’clock at night for her students. And we would always, my brother and I would always ask, are those for us or your school kids? So she just, he gained so much energy from the job. And my mom is tough as nails, but I saw her cry at times as well. Cry with happiness, but then also cry with frustration and just the for anybody that really likes a challenge and who really believes like I do that, the best things are the most difficult things to achieve. It’s, it’s the perfect job for that because that’s, I saw that through her and she would go and visit. She would actually go and watch her, her students play hockey at night. They, I have a game tonight and she’d find a way to pop by and watch a period or something. So I just saw the joy that it brought and the frustration, but then the triumph when she would tell a story about how she got through to a student who was struggling with a learning disability or some behavior issues, and just to see the accomplishment, that kind, that came out of that. That’s what really drew me in.


Sam Demma (06:16):
What about your role now and your own journey in education? Have you found extremely rewarding about working in education?


Heather Pierce (06:24):
I, I love the fact that working in education has very measured successes and they come in such interesting ways because a success for one student may be that they came to school for two days in a row. For another, it may be achieving honor roll and for another, it may be just that they actually advocated and asked a teacher for help on an assignment instead of sitting there silently for 75 minutes, you know, being confused. So I love that those, I like to I’m a little bit of a type, a personality, like a lot of teachers, but I like to have goals and cross those off and, and really see and measure success. And so those small wins that happen all the time are, are just what, what keeps me going and what I love about it. I love problem solving mm-hmm and bringing people together to communicate.


Heather Pierce (07:16):
And as an administrator, I find 99% of the time that we are dealing with issues it’s because of miscommunication. Mm. So I love being that person that mediates all parties and kind of brings everyone together. And it’s amazing when a student finally says, you know what, this is the reason I’m not coming to class. And it’s like, like, it just kinda blows your mind. Oh my gosh, we could have figured this out much sooner if we just all sat at the table together. And I love watching young people try to navigate through being trapped into minds. So there’s the child mind and then the adult mind. And and I love trying to figuring out, figure out what they need and, and what they want. And I am the parent of two teenagers. So that has been invaluable just to understand what’s relevant for teens. And you know, I, I don’t feel so uncool sometimes because I actually know some of the things that are going on in hip, so to speak.

Heather Pierce (08:15):
Very uncool way of saying it.


Sam Demma (08:18):
That’s awesome. You definitely have the pulse being that you are the parent of two teenagers, which is awesome. If you didn’t have kids, I would say, go on TikTok and spend a couple hours on there. Yeah. You know, you, you exude positivity and enthusiasm. It’s clear you’re doing the work that you love doing. What are the various roles that you’ve worked in within schools? You mentioned something about not wanting to leave the classroom. And I had a pass guest mention, you know, the perfect candidates for administration are people who love teaching and don’t wanna leave the classroom. Mm-Hmm, mm-hmm, what are some of the kind of pros and cons or pros and challenges of each of the different roles that you’ve worked?


Heather Pierce (09:02):
Yeah. I, I did love teaching in the classroom and I I’ve had the opportunity to teach kindergarten to grade 13 through my career, which is incredible. And so what I loved about the classroom was you know, the instructional piece, the instructional leadership of bringing things that I learned in PD into the classroom and trying them out and really trying to reach each student and through assessment, really trying to move everybody forward wherever they were. But I was also able to extend my classroom experience into some leadership roles as the head of student services in my last school. And that was essentially the head of spec ed but also alternative education and ESL education. So through that, I started working with small groups of students because generally that’s in spec ed. Yes. Or AltEd, that’s what you do.


Heather Pierce (09:57):
And I loved being able to really have deep conversations with small groups or one to one. And then as I was doing that job, my administrators started asking me if I wanted to be designated. So if there’s ever a meeting offsite or, you know, a principal has to be outta the building, they’ll ask, designate to come in and fill in. And I started doing that work here and there. And I absolutely loved it because it was again, an extension of that work that I was doing in spec ed and Ted, and trying to, to deal with difficult situations. And so what the role of administrator you do lose that whole, you know, experience of being in front of 30 kids and bringing a program to that room, but you gain so much in those really, really small conversations that then you can be an advocate and a mediator for you know, that student between the teachers or the parents or social workers or whatever it is.


Heather Pierce (10:55):
So there’s definitely a level of responsibility that comes with administration that you you have a little bit more control or you feel that you’re a little bit more in control when you have 30 kids in front of you and you kind of know where everybody’s at, but when you get to a school where there’s 1700 students, but you’re ultimately responsible for in families it gets a little bit overwhelming at times. But but again, I, because I get to have those small conversations and intensive conversations I, I find that to be the most rewarding piece of my current role


Sam Demma (11:31):
For an educator listening, who loves teaching in the classroom, but maybe has been tapped on the shoulder before, by others to say, Hey, you should consider administration. And they’re unclear, like, how the heck do you make a decision for 1700 students? Like, can you give us some insight into how in an administrative role you’ve like, decide to do things or how decisions like the process of decision making?


Heather Pierce (11:59):
Yeah. The the key to making decisions that are going to work effectively for everybody is forming the relationships the minute that you get into the building. And of course, you’re going to have to make big decisions before you really get to know everybody. Yeah. But the faster that you can get into all of the department, offices and classrooms and meet with the teachers you, you get an idea of where the priorities are, where the passions are. What’s been done in the past and maybe where some of the, the issues are. And I think when administrators first get to schools, they kind of sit back on committees and just watch what’s going on to get a pulse on where, where some of the issues may be. I’m very, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m very open with people and say, look, I have the, you know, the big job of making this decision.


Heather Pierce (12:52):
And there are people that are not gonna be happy. My goal is to make the decisions that are the best for our students and the student success and their families. I obviously care a lot, a great deal about my teachers. So I consider those you know, that perspective as well. But I think when you’re really honest with people and you have a process and you clearly lay that out, it’s really effective. So for example, we just had a huge, a tech refresh order that had to go in. And of course we are relying on technology more than ever before. And we’ve lost a lot of devices because we’ve had shutdowns and students have borrowed devices from the school and ended up, you know, a lot didn’t come back where they were broken. So everybody wants their department to be, you know refreshed or whatever.


Heather Pierce (13:39):
So it’s, as long as you have a process and say, look, I looked into what we did last year. And the year before this department got this, this department got this, these students are, you know, in the most need of technology at this point, or this is how much we’ve lost. So really doing your homework getting some data. And I, I always tell my staff, I’m a data nerd, whether it’s quantitative or qualitative, I gather as much anecdotal information or just crunch numbers as I can. And I rationalize my decisions that way. And I find it also works with parents. If I’ve made a tough decision, you know, if there’s a mark appeal or if there’s, you know, something that’s very serious something that’s related to an I E P development or something like that, you need to have the data and the evidence to back it up. And then if you, if you make it clear that you have the student’s best interest at heart then it, it works.


Sam Demma (14:32):
What resources throughout your career have been helpful in developing yourself professionally and also just giving you more ideas or resources. And that could be books, you’ve read courses you’ve been through and even humans, like human resources as well.


Heather Pierce (14:50):
Yeah. Our board, the upper grand district school board has really put a lot of people, power and money into particularly the topic of equity and C R P, which is culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy. So there have, there are books that like for, for example, right now, it’s I’m reading a book called grading for equity and just kind of opening your mind on, it’s not a one size fits all. You don’t just write one test and that kind of measures everybody’s success within a classroom. So that’s an example of a, a book, but it, it comes from the board. And I find my board in particular has been really good about providing those paper resources. But I also think that the biggest resources, just talking to people talking to my colleagues and, and getting out into the school, I do not tie myself to my office.


Heather Pierce (15:48):
I am out in the halls as much as possible I’m in and out of department offices in and out of classrooms. And so you get an idea of what’s going on and you ask questions and you find out, you know, which, which websites, or, you know, teacher resources have been effective. I love doing TPAs teacher performance appraisals for new teachers, because they’re coming out of, out of teachers college with incredible information yeah. And experience. And some of them are doing master’s degrees in equity topics. So they, they’re a huge source of information for me. And then one most recent one that really hit me is a man named Kevin Cameron. And he’s actually the director of the north American center for threat assessment and trauma response, which sounds like a very complicated position. And he’s been called into he’s a social worker by training.


Heather Pierce (16:45):
But he is been called in to respond to tragedies, like the Humboldt bus crash the shootings in Nova Scotia, Columbine and also with COVID because there’s trauma associated with COVID and that’s carried over into our classrooms. And so our board brought him in for a couple speaking engagements, and I found it fascinating because he is presenting this idea of a connection gap. So there’s, you know, you’ll hear teachers say, there’s an academic gap. We just, how are we gonna close that gap? They’re missing. The kids are missing so many skills, but Kevin Cameron’s idea is that we need to go right back to the connection gap. And until we make those connections again with the students that have been behind an avatar on a screen for a while we need, we need to deal with that piece first. And then the academic gap will close. So he’s been a huge source of professional development for me recently.


Sam Demma (17:42):
That’s amazing that that sounds like a phenomenal person to learn from and steal, steal some ideas. There’s a book called steal, like an artist. And it’s like this idea that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel that the ideas are out there. Sometimes it’s just a matter of, of finding them and, and implementing them in your own unique way. I’m curious to know throughout your career you’ve definitely had programs implemented in the school. And one thing that I think really inspires educators to remember the importance of their role is hearing a story about a student transformation. And I’m wondering of all the programs you’ve run. If there’s any stories that come to mind about a student, you remember who was transformed or changed, or very impacted positively by a program. And if it’s a serious story, you could definitely change the name just for the sake of privacy.


Heather Pierce (18:37):
Yeah. some teachers at my school about 10 years ago created a program called cadence, and it’s an offsite alternative education program. That’s available to all the students in our board, in the program grant board. And the motto of the program is a leader looks at the world and says, it doesn’t have to be this way. Mm. And then does something about it. So the kids are programmed from day one when they go in there. And this is a collection of students that have struggled from probably about eight different schools. And they are programmed to think if you don’t like what to see, then you can be the, be that agent of change. And of course you can imagine that kids that are coming out of those situations don’t have a lot of confidence and don’t see themselves as leaders or having the potential to, to make any change.


Heather Pierce (19:29):
So this, this one student named Jordan she, I didn’t actually ever hear her speak back at, at our homeschool. She was her attendance was spotty. She had no confidence at all, a lot of family issues going on had some learning issues in an IEP and was credit poor, like, I mean, S years old with five credits. And she went to this program cadence, and at the end of the program, they do a lot of experiential things. They go to camp Muskoka they volunteer and get their volunteer hours at yeah, food bank in town hope host and just, they’re given a lot of leadership opportunities to build skills. And I talk about measurement. I mean, this is the biggest example of measuring success at the end of the course, every student in the program stands up in front of a huge room of people. Most of them strangers, some of them have supports. Like I went to support, you know, my students to watch, but in general, they don’t know all of the people that are in front of them. And each student does a speech. And it is, they lay it all out there of how they’ve grown. And she stood up and at the microphone and looked out at this room and she gave a five minute speech. That was unreal. You would think she was the professional speaker.


Sam Demma (20:53):
Wow.


Heather Pierce (20:54):
And so like, I just about fell off my chair because to see the change that she went through and it was just chipping away slowly and building that confidence and building those skills. And I, and saying, building skills can live very up in the air and it’s very abstract, but they give specific, like, these are things that you need to do when you are creating a speech or communicating with someone or standing up to, to, to pass on what you’ve learned. And so she returned after doing that program she returned to school and she is in a position to graduate now, which I mean, awesome. There’s if you had have asked people at that point, they would’ve said no way. So it is definitely a success story. And I, I look forward to every semester I look forward to going and hearing those final speeches cuz it’s, it’s amazing.


Sam Demma (21:46):
That’s so cool. So the program is still running now. Like it still goes on yeah.


Heather Pierce (21:50):
Currently running right now. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:52):
Very cool. That’s amazing. Do you know how the idea came to life or what originated it?


Heather Pierce (21:59):
I, I know the teachers quite well that that created it and I think they just saw the need for an alternative for students that were not comfortable in the building, in a traditional building, sitting in a desk, looking at a chalkboard. And, and they really, I think took time to identify what was it that was missing. And it’s that sense of belonging and the sense of community. And that drives so much of that program. So I think it was a to get it offsite and get it out of a school building so that students could feel at ease and really feel like they were part of something special too. I think that was really important. And then for that, for thet two teachers to identify the motto of making change and doing that through community and collaboration, it was just amazing. So I think it was just from regular they’re, both PHED teachers. And they, they saw a need and they just jumped in and, and got, they got you know financial contributions from different groups in the community to make this happen. They did presentations to the board, they did their homework and and they pitched the idea and, and people absolutely loved it.


Sam Demma (23:12):
It sounds like they, they were a living example of the motto, see something in the world. You don’t like, you can do something about it.


Heather Pierce (23:20):
That’s exactly right. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (23:22):
That’s awesome. If you could travel back in time, but take with you the experience and the wisdom you’ve gained teaching in education and working all these various roles go and speak to Heather in her first year of education. What advice would you have given your younger self? Not that you want to change anything about your path, but things you think would’ve been helpful to hear earlier in your career.


Heather Pierce (23:47):
Yes. I look back on 1998, Heather, and I, it, it, I’m a totally different person and I often wish I could go back. And actually I taught grade six that year. And it was a very challenging class with six kids receiving self-contained spec ed support. And I went into that as a brand new teacher with a lot of theory in my head. And it was a very difficult time in education because it was very beginning of EQAO testing. Ah, it was the first year of EQAO testing and it was the, the first year for the new report card. And so people were spinning and I was so focused on the curriculum and the 125, you know, science expectations that you need to get to and preparing the students for the next stage and the big move to grade seven.


Heather Pierce (24:41):
And so I was buried in curriculum and paperwork and making sure that I was crossing everyt and doting every eye. And so my advice to that, Heather would be just to look at the big picture, not that I’m encouraging people to not teach curriculum, cuz obviously we do, but really looking at the big picture and sitting down with those expectations and saying really what do they need to know? What’s the bottom line. And learning about the kids first I would spend, like I encourage my teachers now not to give out a course outline on the first day of school. That’s always what we do in high school. We, we give them a Chris outline. We say, okay, 30% of your mark is this. And 20% of your mark is this. And then I, why not just spend the first few days or even the first week or in elementary you could spend a big chunk of time just getting to know who plays hockey in their spare time and who plays the trumpet. And you know, just getting to know the kids as individuals, because that will get you so far with the curriculum. Because then you can make it relevant and tailor it and responsive and, and just have the big picture. So I was buried, I was overwhelmed and when I was young and I was just so attached to that curriculum document and I, I would say focus on the kids in front of you first and you’ll be fine.


Sam Demma (25:58):
Yeah, that’s such a good piece of advice. One of the teachers that had a big impact on my life knew us all on such a personal level that he could teach a lesson and then apply it to every single one of our personal interests. Like he would stop and say, Sam, for this for you, this means X. And Kavon, for you in the fashion industry this means X, and I’ve stayed in touch with him. He knows how much of an impact he had on me. I’m actually going to his farm this, this summer to help him. Yeah. And, and I think it’s because he got to know us on a really personal level that I invested was invested much more in the things he wanted to teach us. That’s a great piece of advice. If, if, if someone wants to reach out to you after listening to this conversation, maybe they have a question about a program or something you shared or said, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Heather Pierce (26:50):
Unfortunately, I’m a really private person, so I’m not active on social media, which I love to follow other people on social media, what we’re doing, but I’m not really that person. So email would be the best and I can, I can have that in my bio. Email would probably be the best way to reach me and I’d love to connect with, with other administrators or teachers.


Sam Demma (27:11):
Perfect. I will make sure to also include it on the show notes of the podcast episode, if anyone wants to reach out. But Heather, this was amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it a lot. I know it’ll be helpful for educators all over the globe, whoever chooses to tune in. So thank you for doing this. Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Heather Pierce (27:31):
Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (27:33):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Heather Pierce

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.

Kathleen Moro – Principal at Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School

Kathleen Moro - Principal at Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School
About Kathleen Moro

Kathleen Moro (@MrsKathleenMoro), is the Principal at Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School in Burlington, Ontario. She has worked with the Halton Catholic District School Board for over 30 years in both elementary and secondary roles, including Special Education. 

Kathleen believes in student-centred decision-making and working with a collaborative team to ensure that students are supported throughout their academic journey.  With an inquiry mindset, Kathleen pushes her school communities to value dialogue, persevere through tough questions, and embrace mistakes as much as success! 

Kathleen is an avid supporter of the arts and athletics, recognizing that these are vehicles for student engagement, community building, and empowering young people to realize that they can make a difference in the world.

Connect with Kathleen: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School

Halton Catholic District School Board

University of Waterloo

Butterflies in the Trenches by Curtis Carmichael

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Kathleen Moro. Kathleen is the Principal of Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School in Burlington, Ontario. She has worked with the Halton Catholic District School Board for over 30 years in both elementary and secondary roles, including special education. Kathleen believes in student center decision making, and working with a collaborative team to ensure that students are supported throughout their academic journey. With an inquiry mindset, Kathleen pushes her school communities to value dialogue, persevere through tough questions and embrace mistakes as much as we embrace success. Kathleen is an avid supporter of the arts and athletics, recognizing that these are vehicles for student engagement, community building, and empowering young people to realize that they can make a difference in the world. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Kathleen and I will see you on the other side. Kathleen, welcome to the High Performing Educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the podcast today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Kathleen Moro (02:01):
Thanks Sam. I’m Kathleen Moro. I work for the Halton Catholic District School Board and I’m a Principal at Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School in Burlington.


Sam Demma (02:11):
When in your own career journey, did you realize you wanted to be working in education?


Kathleen Moro (02:19):
Well, that’s a great question. And I think that it’s something that, you know, I was born into a family of educators, so I think it’s just something that’s always been in my blood. And like, it’s kind of funny when you go back and look at your, your own report cards from kindergarten grade one, it, it seems to be something that I’ve just always, you know, I’ve been kind of a leader I guess. And I liked playing school when I was a little kid, so I would set up all this stuff to animals. My mom was a teacher when I was growing up and my dad was a professor of engineering. So just been in the, in the family, in the genes, I guess.


Sam Demma (02:59):
Did they tap you on the shoulder saying this would be a meaningful career or did you discover that on your own throughout school and growing up?


Kathleen Moro (03:10):
I’d say a little bit of both. I think my dad always left the door open for anything that we wanted to do. And because he was in engineering, he was really interested in ensuring that his, he, I have a sister and a brother ensuring that all of us were being exposed to sciences and those kinds of things. But my mom, I think really, really saw a lot of herself in me. And she had been a teacher for her entire career and that was, you know, she was definitely guiding me towards that.


Sam Demma (03:41):
Take us back to the start of the journey, deciding to go to teachers college or whatever pathway you took, like bring, bring us through the, the journey.


Kathleen Moro (03:52):
Okay. So I can clearly remember having a couple of conversations about not being sure what I wanted to do even going from high school into university. I, I, I mean, I guess to my father’s chagrin, I was not the engineer daughter that he had hoped for. I wasn’t particularly strong in the sciences. I’ve always been a little bit more of a communicator language based dramatic that’s like type of a person, the arts play the guitar, you know, that’s kind of my forte. So when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, and I knew that teaching was kind of a passion. I liked working with kids and I liked being in relationship with other people. I went to my mom and dad both and they had already kind of steered my brother and sister before me and, and my mom said to me, why don’t you go and talk to a teacher at your school who you really feel has had an impact on you and see what they say.


Kathleen Moro (04:59):
So I remember that conversation. I went to see Mr. Steve keen, who was my grade 13, cuz it was grade 13 back then he was my English teacher and I went to him and I said, I love English. I’m not really sure how to make a career out of that. And he sat down with me and he helped me pick out the right university. And you know, he knew my personality well enough to say, I think the university of Waterloo would be a good fit for you, which isn’t normally a school that people go to for for English and drama, but that’s where I went. So, and it was a great choice. I loved my four years there.


Sam Demma (05:41):
So you finished your four years? Yeah. And then what


Kathleen Moro (05:46):
Yeah. Sorry. I should kept going. No that’s OK. so then in that fourth year, you’re, you know, you’re starting to think about what you’re gonna do next at the time teachers college was only a year program. So I applied to various different teachers’ colleges because it was still something I, I wanted to do. And received a couple of offers. I ended up going with Brock university, partly because I was engaged by that time. So you’re making kind of life decisions about, you know, proximity to my fiance at the time and also wanting to be close enough to home that I could commute to the school, save a little bit of money that way. So did teachers college there for a year and had all of my placements were with I think they were all, no, I had actually two placements with my current school board that I’m working for now. And one that was amazing. It was with Waterloo and it was in an outdoor education facility where I was like teaching. I, I didn’t even know how to do this, but I was taught how to crunch trees, milk cows tent, farm animals, and then kids would come in on field trips and I would be teaching them. And that was such a cool experience. I love that.


Sam Demma (07:06):
That’s so awesome. Did, did you have a background working on a farm or anything or it was totally new experience.


Kathleen Moro (07:13):
that was just a complete, like, it was just amazing. It was just something that was kind of proposed to me as, Hey, here’s a cool potential option for a, a placement in outdoor education and no, I hadn’t ever experienced anything like that. I did a couple other outdoor education courses after that though. Cause I liked it so much.


Sam Demma (07:34):
And after the placements I’m assuming you, have you worked your whole career in this board or have you bounced around like tell me a little bit about the different roles. You’ve worked in within the school board.


Kathleen Moro (07:47):
Okay. So though I haven’t bounced around at all from, I’ve been with this school board the entire time. The thing that I think is one of the things that makes a career in education, such a good option is that there are so many different opportunities within education. So I started out teaching grade eight at an elementary school and then I moved to grade a five, six split. And then I moved to grade seven where I team taught with somebody. And then I moved to secondary school and I taught English for eight or nine years. Then I moved into special education and then I became a special education department, head vice principal, and now principal and over over my career, I think I have taught now in eight of our 10 secondary school, maybe seven, seven of the time, a lot of, lot of movement and opportunities to be a part of the staff that opened a brand new school. It’s just been such a rewarding experience to be able to be a part of so many different communities and see the, the diversity there too.


Sam Demma (08:59):
Tell me more about the rewarding aspect of the work you do. I, I think teaching is one of the most honorable jobs. You have the opportunity to influence young minds that one day could change the world and one day will. And you know, not only that is in your position, you also influenced the staff. But tell me a little bit about what you believe some of the rewarding aspects of the, the work you do are.


Kathleen Moro (09:25):
Yeah, so interestingly enough, I was just right before I, I got on this call with you. I was just on a call, I’ve got four kids of my own and I was just having that, you know, life chat with one of mine about what are they gonna do with their lives. And I said, you know, teaching is a great opportunity because you, you have your, you know, what you teach during the day, but then teaching also presents you with opportunities to do all of those other things that you love. So one of the rewarding things for me was I could teach English, which I loved doing in my classroom. But then after that I could help coach cross country or I could run a choir or I could have kids involved in a play. I did the Christmas float for years, and then you get to see kids partake in building a community together.


Kathleen Moro (10:15):
And that is very rewarding. So some of the, like of the things I have a bulletin board in my office that has pictures of me and a lot of the students that I would have considered gave me gifts like their, my time with them was maybe I gave them something, but what they gave me was, was like lasting memories of joy and of that. You know, a lot of them are kids who struggle and then became successful. So that’s what I find the most rewarding is when I can look back on the times that I spent with those kids who were struggling through high school, who now still stay in touch and they’re you know, they’re, they’re successful. They’ve just graduated from business school or they’re working as a dentist or whatever the case is, but they’re having a really tough time when you were 15 or 16.


Sam Demma (11:13):
If it isn’t too much to ask, can you share one of those stories, if you feel comfortable and you could even change the name of a student, if it’s a very personal one. I think the stories of transformation are one of the common trends that inspire other people to remember why the work in education is important and motivate people outside the vocation and job to consider actually getting into it.


Kathleen Moro (11:38):
Sure. I can think of one student. I think he’d be okay with me using his name, but I’m gonna leave it out just in case. Okay. So this this man now recently reached out to me and we’ve been in touch since he graduated from, from high school. But he reached out to me to ask if I would be a reference for him because he was applying to the O PPP as a police officer. And I said, I cannot believe how far you have come. Because when he was with, when we, when I was teaching, he wasn’t in my class, but we kind of got to know each other because he volunteered in a program that we had this school called best buddies and best buddies were students who helped. They were neurotypical students who helped students with developmental disabilities. And this kid was happened to be the friend of another boy who had a brother who had developmental disabilities.


Kathleen Moro (12:32):
So that whole group of kids was just an awesome group of kids. They all came together and wanted to be part of best buddies, kid struggled school with some behavior issues. He wasn’t like of the top of the, the class by any means in terms of academics. And he got into some trouble. And when he asked me for this reference letter, he said, you know what, when they call you, you can be completely honest because I already told him that I was suspended and I said, I said, okay, I was gonna ask me about that because they generally do ask questions of teachers. And and in his case, he, he had just, he was advocating for something, got really passionate about it, got into a bit of a conversation or a, I guess, a, a conflict with the vice principal at the time.


Kathleen Moro (13:22):
And, you know, used some language towards the VP that a VP couldn’t tolerate or, or accept. And he ended up suspended for a day or two. And he came to my office just fuming, cuz he knew he was gonna be going home. And you know, he said to me, I’m just so I, I don’t know if I even said this at the beginning of the conversation, but this is a black student. And at the, when he came into my office, he said, I’m so sick and tired of seeing only white teachers in this school. And I don’t have anybody that I feel like I can talk to who understands me. And, and I said to him, if you wanna see black teachers in this school, you need to be the black teacher so that other kids can feel, don’t have to feel the way that you’re feeling that they can, you know, they have somebody to relate to. And he said to me, when he was asking for the application, you know, or for the reference, he said yeah, I, I, I remember that. And I also wanna see black police officers and I want to represent and you know, those kind of transformational conversations. It, that, that really stuck with me because it made me, you know, as a person, white, cisgender woman of privilege, it really brought to me the, that feeling of reality for the students that I was dealing with in that community at the time too.


Sam Demma (14:46):
That’s so awesome. D do you know if he got the job or is it still he, so he is working for the O PPG.


Kathleen Moro (14:53):
He’s working for the O P I think he just finished his training. He is such a great I can say kid, he’s such a great kid. He’s such a great man. He’s he’s just like, that’s the type, he’s the type of kid who can walk into a room and light it up with his smile and just a decent human being who, you know, cares about everyone. So it’s absolutely the right profession for him, I think. And I’m happy for him that he’s met with success there,


Sam Demma (15:22):
Hopefully since then the school has become a little more diverse. Yeah. What are some of the challenges that are going on in education right now? And also because of them, maybe some of the opportunities that you think will come up as a result.


Kathleen Moro (15:42):
So actually not a bad segue because I think that, you know, just like everywhere else in the world, there’s a big focus on equity and inclusion and diversity and culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy. So one of the challenges that we have in education is to ensure that we are delivering curriculum from I guess from a place of recognizing our own bias when we’re doing that. So for instance, I can, I can think about when I taught English, even the material that we are now seeing in our English classrooms is changing significantly. So you know, we’re now looking at having material that’s written by indigenous authors. That’s written by black authors by Chinese Canadian authors. We have so much more available to students now that would reflect their own lived experience. So I think that, you know, in terms of it being a challenge, I think we do still have a lot of education to do. And I think our human resources departments still have a long way to go in terms of ensuring that the you know, that the makeup of staff, teaching staff and administrative staff is representative of the student groups that are at the school as well.


Sam Demma (17:02):
Got you. Yeah, it sounds like one of the opportunities is diversity, like really making sure that moving forward things are done with a lens of diversity in mind. One of my really close friends, his name’s Curtis Carmichael, he wrote an amazing book called butterflies in the trenches, and it’s about his story growing up as a drug dealer. And then turning his life around basically te teaching himself how to code starting an academy, like an accelerator for kids and his book is becoming like recommended reading and universities at U O I T. And it’s just like such a cool story. And when you talked about the changing of material in English, English class, he kind of came to mind that’s


Kathleen Moro (17:49):
Yeah. I, I will hand that recommendation on for sure. That’s fantastic.


Sam Demma (17:53):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Curtis Carmichael, butterflies and the trenches. When you think about your journey throughout education, who comes to mind as mentors, people who have shown you the ropes, or you think you you’ve learned lots from maybe it’s other educators, maybe it’s even books you’ve read or programs you’ve been a part of, I’m just curious to know where you think your philosophies came from or teaching style.


Kathleen Moro (18:20):
So very early on in my career, I, I was, I struggled with classroom management because you know, I, I’m kind of a energetic type of person. And I think kind of what you bring with you into a classroom kind of gets mirrored a little bit by your students. So I, my classes were always a little bit more energetic and there were kids standing up and sitting down and in groups, and sometimes that’s hard to manage until you really learn how to. And so the first, I’d say first four years when I was in elementary, I really looked to a few people who could command a room just by merely walking into it. And I ended up doing my my project for my master’s in education, on classroom management, because for some people it just comes so naturally. And for other people, you really have to learn it and practice it.


Kathleen Moro (19:18):
So I had to go to to people who were really good at that. And so some of the mentors I went to there was one who was an educational assistant, who was in my classroom at the time, who was excellent with like conflict resolution. So Steve MCLA, who was one of my mentors early on my mother was always a mentor to me because she did have that ability to just walk into any room and command a presence. She’s like, she’s got that enviable gift of being able to work a room really well, too. So she can talk to anybody at any time and make them feel comfortable. I would say as I moved on, there were a couple of really strong administrators who, who I look to as my mentors and now probably two of my greatest mentors are people who are in senior administration, in our board as well.


Kathleen Moro (20:12):
So, you know, you look for those people who may just a little bit in the next role that you’re not, you haven’t yet reached because they’ve been where you’ve been and, you know, you can learn from those people. And I, you know, the first thing that popped into my head when you asked me who my mentors were, I thought about like my, my high school teachers that I really respected, but I also thought about the students that I’ve taught, because I think it’s really important to recognize that when I’m working with students, I learn probably as much from them as they learn from me. And I, I really like that, that that’s, that’s part of my educational philosophy really is. And you know that when you, you know, you respect a student, then they’re going to show you that same respect when you teach somebody something there’s so many things they can teach you. And it doesn’t matter that they’re only 14 or 15 years old, they’re living through a different time period at a different than you experienced. So yeah, lots, lots of different people I think had journey.


Sam Demma (21:24):
That’s awesome. It sounds like the philosophy is that mentorship is not really linear. It’s not about, you know, being side by side with people, your age, it’s also vertical, you know, on an age kind of graph, like you could be mentored by someone older or younger. I guess it’s that idea, that experience isn’t really solely dependent on age, right? Like someone who is 75 years old may have never spent a minute of their life picking up a camera, taking photos, but a 14 year old kid might have already taken 3000. And so experience is more about experience, like experience comes from experience. And the beautiful thing about life is that we all have very different experiences. And if you approach every, I guess, conversation like that, it, it sounds like everyone can be your mentor in some way. which is like a really beautiful perspective to take. You mentioned English being one of your favorite subjects. Has reading been a, a way for you to learn or also a hobby on your downtime? Growing up English was my toughest subject. although I developed a reading I a passion for reading after high school ended. I’m curious to know how that’s, how also played a role in your life.


Kathleen Moro (22:39):
I actually think that happens to a lot of people because you know, what you’re saying is that you eventually, because you were able to then choose the material, it was something that nobody was telling you, you had to. Right. I think I’ve always been, I’m not, I wouldn’t call myself an avid reader. I have more more recently, I, I listen a lot to audiobooks podcasts, that kind of thing. But as growing up, I was like almost solely dedicated to fiction. So I would read stories and kind of escape into that world. And like, I like movies, I like music. I like, I like all of those entertaining types of, of things, but also I’m about those character driven movies, character driven books. So anything that had a really strong character development story and I thought was always gonna grab me, I think more recently what I’ve been reading is a lot of autobiography I’m at, I guess I’m at a point in my life where you become reflective about what you’ve done. And so you know, I started looking at some celebrity biographies, autobiographies, that kinda thing, and, and you know, just seeing what their journey has been and how they got to where they got and what they’re gonna do.


Sam Demma (24:05):
Very cool. If someone was, I didn’t , this is on the small question. If someone was writing your, your biography and they asked you the question, if you could travel back in time to the first day you started teaching, but with the wisdom and knowledge you have now, like, what advice would you give to your, your younger self? Not that you would change anything about your journey or change anything about the way it’s unfolded, but just some words of wisdom that you thought may have been helpful to hear at the beginning of your career.


Kathleen Moro (24:39):
I think I would say don’t be so hard on yourself. Like I was just, I was, you know, slugging it out and I kept wondering why, you know, what am I doing wrong? Why isn’t everybody learning everything? And this was a grade eight class in portable with 32 kids. I remember some of their names still. And you know, they were, you have that many people in that smallest space and, and 14 year old boys and girls who need to move a lot. I think I was expecting more from them and too much from myself. So, you know, if I could go back and give that person some advice, it would be, you get to, you know, don’t worry less about what you’re teaching, worry more about who and how you are teaching, because all of it comes down to relationships. They will learn from you.


Kathleen Moro (25:35):
If you care about them, that’s basically it. And, and you know, it didn’t take me long to realize that I, I developed, you know, those those good parent or teacher pupil relationship with my kids. And I, I think it’s so funny too, that teachers generally will call that the people in front of them, their kids, they don’t call them their students. So I, I was with my kids today. And because it, it almost feels like that because you get to know them, especially when they’re in elementary school and you’re with them all day, every day, they become a really important part of your life for about a year. And, and in, in some cases that stays over time, you do develop that relationship with some of them where they come back and check in with you. But yeah, I think I would probably give myself the same, the same advice now. Just don’t be so hard on yourself. It’ll work out. Just, you just need to relax a little bit.


Sam Demma (26:36):
I have one of those security questions on my banking. That’s like, what’s the name of your favorite elementary teacher? it always makes you think about that individual. And when I was in high school or, sorry, when I was in elementary school as well, one of the teaching assistants in our classroom developed a really deep relationship with me and my good friends, Nick, Angela, and Raquel, and every once in a while will take her out to dinner and like catch up and back then she obviously couldn’t tell us too much or explain things. And now she’s like telling us all these cool things that were happening in the school that we knew nothing about when we were little kids and it’s really cool experience like full circle. And she obviously feels like she’s definitely made a big impact, right? I’m sure it’s a really cool experience for her. And it is for us as well. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I think that’s amazing advice. I’m going down a rabbit hole here.

Sam Demma (27:32):
Thank you so much for taking the time, Kathleen, to come on the podcast. Talk a little bit about your experiences, some of your philosophies around education. If someone wants to reach out, ask you a question, get in touch, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?


Kathleen Moro (27:49):
Probably through email. So that would be moroaa@hcdsb.org.


Sam Demma (27:59):
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Keep up the great work and I look forward to talking to you again soon.


Kathleen Moro (28:04):
All right. Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (28:06):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

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